Series Review: ‘Girl Online’ by Zoe Sugg [Spoilers!]

Warning, warning! This review contains spoilers!

I’ll admit it. When I found out that Zoe (Zoella) Sugg was releasing a novel, I rolled my eyes a little bit. It just felt like a publicity ploy. But I watched her channel a lot when I was younger and I love seeing how successful she is now, so I didn’t hesitate to buy her books when they were released. As I’m writing this, the series stands at three books: Girl Online, Girl Online: On Tour, and Girl Online: Going Solo.

My honest opinion is that people tend to be either too generous or too harsh in their reviews, usually in response to Zoe herself. If they’re diehard fans, they’re very happy to rate them five stars without even having opened them, and if they’re more skeptical of Zoe and her fame, they’ll a little bit mean. As for the supposed ghost writer drama? I don’t really care. If the ghost writer herself doesn’t care, why should I?

The books follow a teenage girl, Penny. She’s a little awkward, but finds solace on her online blog. Then she meets superstar, Noah, and they fall madly in love. But their relationship is hardly perfect, and they both have a lot of other stuff going on.

After reading the first book, Girl Online, I had one immediate thought. And that thought was simply that I wish that the main character, Peggy, felt a bit further removed than Zoella’s online personality. Like Zoe, Peggy is a blogger. She suffers from anxiety. She lives in Brighton. She’s extremely family-orientated. She has a gay best friend.

I mean, I feel like I have to qualify this a bit. Because you know what? I get it. Representation is important. And it’s great to see that Zoe used her book to represent things that are important to her. Anxiety, I suppose, being the big one here. But it would’ve nice to see more of a distinction between Peggy and Zoe.

And I wish that Zoe hadn’t tried to fit so much into such a short series. Following a fairly standard romance plot, I feel like she didn’t have the opportunity to explore those important matters. Since the books focus so much on the romance, there’s little room for Zoe to really develop Peggy’s relationship with her anxiety. The blogging aspect falls to the wayside. And her bestie, Elliot’s, problems also jump up from time to time with little consistency.

When discussing these with a friend (who has also watched a fair few of Zoe’s videos), I said: I mean, sure, it’s not really my kind of book. But it’s quick. It’s fun. And it’s exactly what a lot of her viewers will want from her.

Having now read all three, I still stand by that. These aren’t the kind of books that are going to make you think deeply about life. The romance is too clichéd, the characters lack depth, and the writing style is far from poetic. But I don’t really think her fans were expecting the next Booker prize winner.

In the end, it’s a simple book. But it has enough of that Zoella charm to make you smile once in a while and has a pretty cute romance to boot. And the anxiety aspect, close to Zoe and many of her fans’ hearts, is likely to win over many a reader.


I do have to say that the last book, Going Solo, is probably the one that disappointed me the most. Why? Because it fell into one of my least favourite traps: the unnecessary love triangle. In my mind, an unnecessary love triangle is when despite multiple love interests, everyone knows who is going to end up with who. Seriously, with Noah and Penny’s break-up at the end of On Tour, there was a great opportunity to make this all about Penny. Penny and her blog. Penny and her life with anxiety. Penny and her friendship with Elliot. But nope. We had to throw in Callum. We had to throw him in, bring Noah back, and suffocate in the drama.

A lot of books aimed at younger audiences have this kind of love triangle, and I just hate them. I feel like it’s a total waste of time. For me, it’s the kind of device that adds little to the plot and absolutely nothing to character development. And, to be honest, for a book titled Going Solo, the huge focus on romance did seem a bit out of place.

Overall, these are a quick and sweet read. I didn’t love them, but I can see how they’re popular with younger readers. I just thought there were a lot of promising aspects sacrificed in the name of romance. In regards to the possibility of continuation? Well, I think it’s all wrapped up rather nicely now, but I wouldn’t say no to a completely new series.

How did you feel about this little trio? Do you think reviewers are being too harsh or too kind? Would you be happy to see this series continued?


Reading Chinese Classics: ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. I’m currently making my way through Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. It’s one of those pesky Four Chinese Classics and one of the obvious picks for this personal challenge of mine.

It’s also super long. So I’m working my way through it slowly (very, very slowly) and decided picked up something a little shorter during one of my breaks. And so, I picked up a copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu.


The Art of War is undoubtedly a book that I never thought I was going to read. I mean, a book all about battling? That’s not exactly up my alley.

On a non-content based note, I also just want to talk about the copy that I picked up. I picked up Watkins’ The Art of War: The New Illustrated Edition translated by Samuel B. Griffith. Guys, this copy is freakin’ beautiful. The red is this beautiful fabric, the characters are a stunning shiny gold, the pages are thick and glossy… Is it obvious that I’m swooning? It even has one of those fancy bookmark things attached (…what are those called, anyway?).

This edition comes with a great introduction. It includes a brief overview of China at the time and a biography of Sun Tzu. The contents itself is heavily footnoted. It has useful clarifications, references specific characters… I just can’t imagine how it could possibly have been better done.

On to the content! This definitely isn’t like anything else I’ve ever read. Essentially, it’s a list of guidelines on how to successfully win battles. I’ll admit that it didn’t exactly thrill me, but I did genuinely find it super interesting.

I mean, it’s been around a long time. And because of that, there wasn’t exactly anything that I hadn’t heard before. But I can definitely see how something like this was once revolutionary.

Overall, I’m really glad that I looked a lil outside my comfort zone and picked this up. Although I was more than skeptical, I actually really enjoyed this.

Let me know if you’ve read this before! Did you love it? Hate it? And if you haven’t read it, do you think you’ll ever be inclined to do so?

On the Books I Read for High School: Year 13

My final year of high school was my best school reading year yet. I’ve talked about my lacklustre Years 9-11 and my mixed Year 12, so it’s nice to look back and know that I ended high school on a high note.

For English class, I read two novels and one play. Only two were compulsory reads. The first compulsory read was Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. I fell for this book. Truly and madly. I thought it was hilarious. I thought it was romantic. I loved the simplicity of the premise and the complexity of its execution.

I also read my first Shakespeare. My teacher picked Othello and I have to admit… I was a wee bit disappointed. Of all his plays that actually intrigued me, Othello didn’t quite make the list. That being said, I didn’t hate Othello. I thought I would, but I didn’t. Although it didn’t really excite me, I did like the different themes and found it an interesting read.

An optional book (for all those opting for a feminist lens when writing comparative essays), was Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I absolutely devoured this book. Devoured it. I stayed up half the night so that I could finish it in one sitting, and even when I’d finished it I didn’t want to put it down. It made my heart feel heavy.

For Classics, I read three books. We started the year off with Homer’s The Odyssey. Most of the girls in my class weren’t a huge fan of this, but I actually really enjoyed it. I thought it was an epic tale. I thought it was exciting. And I’m so incredibly grateful that I got to read this in class, because I’m not entirely sure that I would’ve got to it otherwise.

We also read Virgil’s The Aeneid. The whole point of the assignment was to compare the two. And to be honest? I found The Aeneid really hard to read. It felt a lot more political (probably because it was) and the plot didn’t feel as fun. There were endless pages of killing and fighting, and while it certainly planned on mythology of the time, it didn’t have that fantastical element that The Odyssey did.

My teacher also recommended that we pick by Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a spin-off The Aeneid, focusing on Aeneas’ wife, Lavinia. Spin-offs in themselves are always interesting reads, but I do have to say that this one didn’t really grip me. To be fair, that probably has something to do with not particularly enjoying the original.

And there you have it! All the books that I had the great joy (…well, that’s probably pushing it) of reading in high school. My final year was infinitely more enjoyable than the others, and I’m forever grateful to both my English and my Classics teacher for setting texts that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

#BetterWorldBooks Challenge: ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Brontë and ‘Panic’ by Lauren Oliver

A while ago, I posted about the first two books I read for the 2017 BetterWorldBooks challenge. And, surprise! It’s time for me to talk about another two challenges on the list that I’ve fulfilled recently.

The third challenge I opted to complete was to read a book that is more than 100 years old. I do actively try to read books written in various decades and centuries, so picking a book that was over 100 years old was as easy as going to my bookshelf and finding one that I’d maybe been putting off a bit.

In the end, I settled for Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Brontë. I feel like I would’ve enjoyed this a lot more had I not had preconceived notions and expectations for this novel. I wanted this to be my new favourite, you know? I wanted to love this as much as I’d loved Sense and Sensibility and Middlemarch (and we all know that I really loved them).

…I sort of hated it. Okay, okay. ‘Hate’ is putting it way too strongly. It’s a love story. A love story that goes very, very wrong. And even though that’s the sort of summary that usually piques my interest, I just couldn’t get into this. I didn’t connect with the characters, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the writing style, and the plot didn’t blow my mind.

So sure, it was all right. I know there are so many people out there who love this book. It just wasn’t for me.

img_4943It only seemed right to pick (what is, in my mind) the complete opposite of an ageing classic for the next challenge: to read a young adult novel. And yeah, I know that YA isn’t the newest genre on the planet, but no one can deny that its definitely picked up its pace in the past few years.

I decided to pick up Panic by Lauren Oliver. When this book came out, I was stupid excited. I don’t even know why I was excited. Anyway, I was super excited and so, unsurprisingly, I didn’t bother to read it.

The story follows a group of friends. All in their senior year, they have the opportunity to participate in a game: Panic. The game is essentially an extreme version of Dare, and the winning prize is over $60 000. As the game gets more and more dangerous, relationships become more strained, and each character begins to reveal their motives for participating.

It’s an interesting premise and I can see why there was so much hype when this book first came out. My issue was just that I didn’t buy it. The whole competition seemed bizarre to me. With the exception of the money (and to be honest, how the money was acquired also seemed strange), I couldn’t figure out why the hell anyone was bothering with it.

Besides that, I wasn’t invested in the characters at all. So while I appreciate that it was a quick and easy read, it wasn’t one that really thrilled me.

Let me know how your challenges are going! I hope you’re all being pushed out of your reading comfort zones and finding new treasures.

Reading Chinese Classics: ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’ by Cao Xueqin

In my first post of this series, I talked about reading Six Records of a Floating Life. My next pick was a recommendation from my father, The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. It’s what I (and no doubt, many others) would call the Chinese classic.

The copy that I decided to go for is translated by H. Bencraft Joly. It took me a while to realise that this version only has the first 56 chapters on this massive saga, and I had to pick up three volumes from Penguin to finish it off.


I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one. This took me ages to get through. I was reading 100-150 pages a day and even though that’s not usually too much for me, I really struggled.

And so, I found myself breaking this book up a lot with graphic novels and comics. I guess I just needed a break. Seriously, no matter how much I read, for a while there it seriously felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.

this was just a hard read for me. I found it hard to get involved in the story, I found it hard to keep up with all of the characters (trust me, there are a lot)… And I’ll be honest. I found it hard to keep up with the story and may have opened a CliffNotes tab or two to make sure I was on the right track.

But I was dedicated. I wanted to read it. I wanted to make sure I was understanding the story. I made sure to pick it up at least once a day and to just give it a go.

By the time I’d made my way through Tuttle’s publication and picked up Penguin’s, I was well and truly exhausted by this story. But Penguin’s edition really surprised me. The translation was just so much better.

I just loved it. I loved the characters. After 900 pages of feeling… well, not a lot,  I was finally able to totally fall in love with the romance. I was able to appreciate the characters and what they were going through. I began to see just how far these incredible families were falling. How they were struggling with less cash than they were used to, but had no desire to give up on the high class customs they had grown up with.

Honestly, I just began to recognise it as a damn good story. Who doesn’t love the story of a fall from grace? Who doesn’t love a forbidden romance? Who doesn’t love reading about some poetry, drinking games, and a good old devious plot or two?

This book ended up surprising me in all the best ways. I only wish that I’d started with the Penguin translation!

Have you read this Chinese classic? How did you fare juggling all the characters? Let me know your thoughts!

Review: The Madness of Hallen (The Khalada Stone #1) by Russell Meek

A few years ago, I attended Armageddon in Dunedin. A small convention, there wasn’t a huge amount going on and I don’t recall spending more than a couple of hours there. I did, however, stop by Russell Meek’s booth, where is he was selling copies of his first novel, The Madness of Hallen. He was also taking pre-orders for the sequel.

Three years later, I’d still not picked them up. But after learning that the third volume of the series was soon being released, I finally began to read them.

But honestly? I don’t even want to talk about the book right now. Well, I do, but there’s something I want to talk about first. Russell Meek opted to go down the self-publishing route, but let me tell you, he pulled out all the stops. This book? It’s so incredibly well made. Like, this thing is heavy. And not just because of the book’s size. The pages feel expensive, man. It feels so polished. Honestly, I was just so impressed.



Anyway. Onto the contents. The Madness of Hallen is the first of the Khalada Stone series. It’s a fantasy novel. Not my expertise, but let’s not get too tied up in that fact.

The novel starts off a little slow. Fair enough. It’s fantasy. Fantasy always needs a little time to create a world, y’know? There’s building involved. But eventually things get underway. We get pulled into Orhl and Faerl’s world. There’s a bit of romance (which I totally loved), a bit more action (which was great), and a lot of magic (which was super exciting).

Orhl and Faerl have extraordinary powers, linked to ancient stones. Combined, these ancient stones are the mind of al-Din. But, of course, the mind of the Sword of the Faith is desired by many. It all makes for a pretty thrilling story.

I loved how Meek easily introduced a whole host of characters, carefully juggling perspectives. For me, the transitions were smooth and I found the story, though complex and filled to the brim, easy enough to follow.

The magical elements were, to begin with, a touch confusing. I didn’t always know how exactly it was working or why exactly it was necessary. But as the book progressed, things slowly began to make more sense. And as things made more sense, things became more interesting. While there wasn’t a lot of character development, the world building was really well done, and I feel like the series has a lot of potential.

I already have its sequel, A Brother’s Bond, sitting on my shelf. I’m excited to see how the series progresses! It’s always exciting to see self-published authors doing well, and I whole-heartedly hope that Meek gets the success he deserves.

Let me know if you’ve read this series! Do you make an effort to support self-published authors? Are there any recommendations out there?

Review: ‘Spider-Woman,Volume 1: Switching Gears’ by Dennis Hopeless [Spoilers!]

Warning, warning! This review contains spoilers!

When I first saw Spider-Woman, Volume 1: Switching Gears on a shelf in my local comic store, I basically lost my mind. Seriously, guys. Jessica Drew is pregnant! This is sort of the most exciting premise I’ve seen for a comic in a while.


This collection starts off with Jessica, fully pregnant. She’s frustrated because she feels as if people are babying (haha, see what I did there?) her. It’s at odds with how she feels. Far from taking a break, Jessica still feels ready to kick butt.

I really liked this part. It felt very real. Here she is, trying to balance suddenly being responsible for more than one life, but also not wanting to give up her current lifestyle. She’s a superhero though-and-through, but all of a sudden people are offering to help her walk across the street and carry her groceries.

But of course, Jess gets her chance to kick butt. Carol advises that she to go to this space-hospital. What Carol didn’t know was that this hospital would soon be under attack! Skrulls have taken over the hospital! And Jess (with the occasional help of other expectant mothers) totally saves the day.

To be honest, this particular storyline is why I dropped a full two stars. I just didn’t love it. I mean, come on. Jess is great and would certainly beat me in a fight (not that that’s saying much), but Jess is full-term at this stage. She’s full-term! And then she literally gives birth and five seconds later is back to kicking butt.

I just didn’t buy it. It sounds insane. And while I can’t say I’ve ever read a comic and thought Oh my! How believable!, I also don’t expect to read one and think …what? Seriously? How? Is this a joke? Are you kidding me?.

So while the middle was a bit of a flop for me, the last issue really brought it back home for me. The final issue of the collection shows Jess in full-blown baby mode. She’s totally overwhelmed and unsure of how to care for this kid and care for herself at the same time. This was what I wanted to see right from Issue 1. Instead of a full-term pregnant woman still backflipping and punching her way through life, I wanted to see one of my favourite superheroes figure out how to be a mother while saving the world.

Of course, with some help from a couple of friends, Jess manages to learn how to balance the two. She learns that she doesn’t have to get it right straight away, that she can lean on other people… and that she might not have to give up absolutely everything.

Overall, I think I was a little disappointed with this. But the final issue in this collection made me feel like I’m going to love this series as it continues. I’m super excited to pick up the second volume!

Were you as excited as I was about this premise? If you’ve read it, how did you feel about Jess taking on all those Skrulls? Let me know!