Non-Fiction for Fiction Lovers

Reading non-fiction often feels, to me at least, like choosing the healthy option at a restaurant. Yes, it might nourish my mind and it might be quite enjoyable, but surely it won’t be as tasty as a novel?

Lately, however, I’ve been branching out and discovering some non-fiction authors that I genuinely enjoy reading as much as fiction. In each case, these authors manage to do something that the best fiction writers do, whether it’s portraying colourful characters, telling an engaging story, or exploring fascinating themes.

For characters, try reading… Ben Macintyre

If you’re the type of reader who forgets the plot of a book seconds after finishing it but remembers the characters for years, you should definitely consider reading some Ben Macintyre.

Everything I’ve read by him has been about WWII – a time at which there was rather a lot going on. But instead of focusing solely on events, Macintyre gifts the reader with colourful, insightful, and often humorous pen portraits of the main players.

The language employed to convey personality is often beautiful. Douglas Bader – a famous, flawed, disabled fighter pilot – is described as “a man with legs of tin, a heart of oak and feet of clay”. Paddy Mayne – one of the original members of the SAS – is described as “a man with enough personal demons to populate a small hell.” There is nothing dry or dusty about Macintyre’s portrayal of historical figures.

For plot, try reading… Tara Westover

I’m mainly talking about her bestselling novel Educated, but Westover has also written powerful and provocative essays such as I Am Not Proof of the American Dream and Is College Merely Helping Those Who Need it Least?

Educated shows that non-fiction can be crafted with the narrative clarity of a novel, including strong character arcs, good pacing, and increasing tension and jeopardy. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to create something like this from your own life, particularly if your own life has been a difficult one, but Westover shows it is possible.

For themes, try reading… Margaret Atwood

One of the main reasons I love fiction – especially literary fiction – is because it engages with big, complex themes that rarely get discussed enough in everyday life. It also tends to do this in an accessible way, without being dry or over-intellectual.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that some fiction writers can also address meaty themes in non-fiction. Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, does this frequently in her essays. She writes about freedom, memory, the power of art and the responsibilities of artists, and she does it all with passion and humour.


Have you read any great non-fiction lately? What would you recommend to someone more used to reading fiction?

My Nautical Fiction Reading Challenge

Ahoy shipmates! As you may or may not recall, I set myself a nautical fiction reading challenge back in January. I’m aiming to read a bunch of fiction set on or near the sea, and to find nautical books that fulfil the following criteria:

  1. Female protagonist
  2. Set before 1500
  3. Pirates!
  4. Diverse cast
  5. Mystery
  6. Written by Patrick O’Brian
  7. Set during WWII
  8. Mermaids!
  9. Animals (must be central to the plot)
  10. Romance (aka ships on ships)

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle

This ticks off challenge no. 5 – mystery – in a very satisfying way. It’s a classic whodunnit in the vein of Agatha Christie, set on a transatlantic voyage in the 1920s. The plot unfolds in a perfectly measured way, tantalising the reader throughout the beginning and middle of the novel. Then you get towards the end, which is where the real magic happens.

As excellent as the plot is, I was less impressed with the characters. Timothy Birch is nuanced and sympathetic, but Inspector Temple just comes across as a one-note grump. He’s one of those characters who’s always growling, which is a pet peeve of mine. The more minor characters are pretty well-drawn, but it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s who.

It’s not the most nautical of nautical novels, as the size of the ship means the action could be unfolding in a luxury hotel. Still, there’s something deliciously sinister about being stuck on a ship with a killer, surrounded by nothing but the icy ocean.

Das Boot by Lothar Günther Buchheim

I read this for challenge no. 7 – set during WWII – as it follows the crew of a German U-boat through storms, enemy attacks, and basically one disaster after another. It’s a book to sink your teeth into, with rich detail about everything from the workings of the U-boat to the clouds on the horizon.

To say that this book is slow-paced is both an understatement, and completely missing the point. It’s not an adventure story where incidents are covered in a few paragraphs or a couple of pages. It’s a story of endurance, where events often play out with agonising slowness. When the men are attacked by depth charges, you feel like you’re there with them, shakily praying for it to end.

It’s a little strange to feel this level of sympathy for literal Nazis, but a testament to the psychological depth of Buchheim’s writing. He presents a world of ordinary men (and a couple of extraordinary ones) doing terrible things and having terrible things done to them simply because it’s their job.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

A triple whammy! This book fulfils: challenge no. 1 – a female protagonist, challenge no. 3 – pirates, and challenge no. 10 – romance. And it’s not even a big fat novel, but a slim volume with brisk pacing.

I read Rebecca a few years ago, so I assumed that du Maurier wrote gothic psychological thrillers. It turns out our girl had range, and was equally capable of crafting a swashbuckling adventure-romance.

Frenchman’s Creek is very much an escapist novel, with the desire for freedom portrayed just as viscerally as the heightened emotions of first love. But bear in mind that this was published in 1941 and the protagonist is a mother of two young children. There’s always the sense that her escape out of a stifling society and into the arms of a pirate can’t last forever.

I now have five challenges left:

2. Set before 1500

4. Diverse cast

6. Written by Patrick O’Brian

8. Mermaids!

9. Animals (must be central to the plot)

Do you have any recommendations for nautical fiction that would fulfil any of these challenges? And have you ever read A Fatal Crossing, Das Boot or Frenchman’s Creek? What did you think of them?

The First Ten Books I Randomly Grabbed from My Shelf

I’m kinda loving the laziness of this Top Ten Tuesday topic! What I’m not loving is how small my bookcase is. I live in a tiny flat and don’t have room for a full-size bookcase, let alone a big library with rolling ladders like I totally deserve.

Nonetheless, I closed my eyes and grabbed ten books at random, and here is what I came away with…

(Please note, this post may contain spoilers.)

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I love my gorgeous, illustrated copy of Neverwhere. It’s not my favourite Gaiman novel (that would be Good Omens, which is also my favourite Terry Pratchett novel and my favourite book about the apocalypse) but the world-building is glorious and it makes an ideal introduction to urban fantasy for those who are new to the genre.

Wool by Hugh Howey

I haven’t read this one yet, but I should really get a move on because the TV adaptation is airing on the 5th May. I know the book is always better than the movie, but I feel like there’s no clear consensus on whether this is true for TV series.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I’ve read Little Women twice – once as a teen and once as an adult – and both times I was completely sucked in by it. Alcott’s characters are so vividly drawn, and the joys and griefs of growing up are captured so powerfully.

The only thing I don’t like about this book is the ending. I understand that Alcott was under a lot of pressure from both readers and publishers to get Jo married off, but did it have to be that guy? A boring older man who calls her stories trash? For a more interesting (and queer, and Laurie-centric) ending, read So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow.

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

This was the first Ken Follett I read, and while I found the plot consistently engaging I’m not sold on Ken Follett’s style. There’s a bit too much “showing off the research”, which is a bugbear of mine. However, he does write in genres other than historical fiction so maybe I should give one of those a try.

Grand Union by Zadie Smith

This excellent short story collection covers just about everything – desire, friendship, cancel culture, futuristic videogames, a trans woman’s attempt to buy a decent corset – with Smith’s incredible skill and generous humour.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

I bought this book after seeing the film but still haven’t read it. The whole time I was watching the film I kept thinking ‘I bet the book goes into this in more detail’, so buying it was an obvious choice. But having seen the film also means there are some scenes I’m dreading because they’re just so grim.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

Despite its beautiful prose, this one disappointed me in the same way that most fantasy romances disappoint me – not enough fantasy! I wanted to find out more about the mermaid’s world and instead she just goes to live in a guy’s bathtub and loses her tail.

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley

I’m interested to read a love story with an older protagonist – Posy Montague is approaching her seventieth birthday – but apparently not interested enough because this has been sat on my bookshelf for ages.

Common Bonds by various authors (including me!)

I swear I picked this at random and not to promote my own work (though, err, if you fancy a copy you can buy it here). It’s an anthology of short stories with protagonists who are aromantic – they don’t experience romantic attraction – and with a strong focus on platonic relationships.

My personal favourite is Cinders – a fairytale retelling so crammed with jokes that it makes Shrek look humourless. There’s also father-daughter bonding in space, and a cursed seamstress who becomes friends with a witch. My own story, Spacegirl and the Martian, features a superhero getting drunk and wandering around London with her nemesis.

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

The author of the Anne of Green Gables series seems to have a reputation for writing cosy, feel-good books. This book, about Anne’s daughter Rilla and her coming-of-age adventures, certainly has its fair share of warmth and sweetness. But it’s also set during WWI, and Rilla has brothers and a love interest being sent away to fight. I may have cried a bit.


Thanks for taking this haphazard tour of my bookshelves with me. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

My Top Ten TV Shows

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is a non-book freebie, so I’m going with my top ten TV shows. I’ve been strict with myself and only picked from shows where I’ve seen literally every episode. This rules out stuff like The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer which I have loved passionately but sporadically!

I’m also ruling out anything that has only had one season, so that sadly means no Severance (a thriller about a dystopian workplace) no We Are Lady Parts (a comedy about an all-female, all-Muslim punk band), and no SAS: Rogue Heroes (a fictionalised account of the formation of the SAS). So, here are my top ten…

Being Human

The original BBC show of course, though I’ll admit the American remake had its charms. In a nutshell, this is a comedy-drama about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who share a flat in Bristol. It’s frequently a laugh-out-loud show, but it doesn’t pull its punches in terms of the horror or the emotional turmoil of the characters.  

Not only do I love this show with my whole heart, but it has also influenced my writing more than most books I’ve read. I’m constantly striving for the same beautiful and unsettling mixture of weirdness, darkness, and warmth.


Hmm, it would seem my two absolute favourite shows have certain things in common, including dark humour, an Irish vampire, and a major religious figure as an antagonist (in Being Human it’s the devil and in Preacher it’s God, which should illustrate the difference between these shows).

Preacher is cheerfully nihilistic, dark as a barrel of tar, and has a lot of excellent, very inventive fight scenes. But at its core it’s about a guy, his girlfriend, and his best friend, who all love each other a lot but badly. I think that’s why it’s a show I keep coming back to.


Girls is such a marmite show – some people love it, some people hate it. I adore it, and I think the show’s main character – aspiring writer Hannah Horvath – is one of TV’s greatest antiheroes. Also Jessa is a legend, Marnie is a subtle monster, and Shoshanna is … honestly I never quite figured her out.


I went on a bit of a detective show kick in the early 2010s, but Sherlock was the show that started it by creating something new and vibrant out of characters I’d grown up with.

There weren’t many episodes but each one was like a movie, and the epic scale of this show definitely gave it an edge. While other detectives had ‘cases’, Sherlock and John had ‘adventures’.

Raised by Wolves

Every fangirl has that one show they are forever salty about because it was cancelled too soon. For me, it’s Raised by Wolves – a British sitcom about a single mum and her home-schooled (but mostly unschooled) kids that lasted only two seasons.

I’d like to think that if there was any justice in the world, this would have had at least five seasons and become as popular as Derry Girls. In reality, the writing probably wasn’t broad enough for mass appeal.

The Umbrella Academy

OK, this is a fun one to describe. Basically, this guy adopts a bunch of kids and raises them to be superheroes, but they keep causing the apocalypse. My favourite character is a 58-year-old assassin, trapped in the body of a teenage boy due to time travel shenanigans.

This show is just a good time. Great fight scenes, a soundtrack that doesn’t strive to create a particular mood but is just wall-to-wall bangers, and the most gleefully dysfunctional bunch of siblings you’ll ever meet.


As a 90s child, Friends was bound to appear on this list. I know that makes me a basic bitch, but this show is consistently funny and full of warmth and optimism. It ended when I was 16 and I mourned it like a dearly departed relative.

The Sopranos

Another big hitter with a very different vibe. Part crime drama and part family drama (with many connections between the two, since everyone in the mob is someone’s cousin) this show is truly a work of art. The acting is phenomenal and the writing is *chef’s kiss*.

This is England

No other show makes me feel as much as this miniseries about the coming-of-age adventures of a group of ex-skinheads. It takes the typical dramas of an average soap opera – infidelity, fights, break-ups and betrayals – and creates something raw and powerful.

This show just does things that other shows don’t. It unambiguously states “violence has consequences”. It subtly explores forgiveness and its limits. It normalises loving and affectionate relationships between working-class men. Watch it, but be prepared for a rollercoaster.


I started this list with a show about supernatural housemates and I’m ending the list with a show about supernatural housemates, so clearly this is my favourite type of show.

Ghosts is a delightfully silly comedy about a couple who inherit an old house filled with ghosts that only one of them can see. The ghosts all come from various historical eras, from the stone age to, err, the early 90s. My fave is Robin – an emotionally intelligent caveman who loves playing chess but also loves chasing squirrels.

Thanks for reading my TTT. Have you seen any of these shows? Would any of them make your top ten?

My Favourite and Least Favourite Genre Tropes

I should probably start this post with the disclaimer that these are just my personal opinions. I don’t think any of my least favourite tropes are inherently bad ones, so if you’ve read a book that might make me love a hated trope, feel free to recommend it!


Favourite trope – the Detective Team-up

What’s better than a brooding, lone-wolf protagonist trying to solve a murder? Two brooding, lone-wolf protagonists shoved together to solve a murder. Or a brooding, lone-wolf protagonist who has to work with a lovable dimwit.  

In a dark genre that often focuses on violence and death, a growing friendship can provide some much-needed humour and heart. It works particularly well when the two detectives have vastly different skillsets, and are able to do things as a pair that they could never manage separately.

Least favourite trope – Amnesia

This one always has me rolling my eyes. It just seems a little too convenient when a character is brain damaged in a way that conceals a crucial piece of information without being otherwise affected. It’s overdone and almost always medically inaccurate.


Favourite trope – the Quest. But also The Tavern!

I love it when characters in a fantasy story set out on a journey with a clearly defined goal to reach. Gimme a big, epic adventure that will push everyone to their limits and possibly kill one or two of them!

That being said, I also adore tavern scenes, when everyone gets to take a breather and the reader can take a moment to enjoy the rich worldbuilding. I’ve recently dipped my toes into cosy fantasy (I read Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree and relished its simplicity and sensuality) and could see myself reading a lot more slow-paced, low-stakes fantasy.

Least favourite trope – Good vs Evil

The battle between good and evil is often the least realistic thing about traditional fantasy. I know it’s escapism, and it allows the reader to focus on the action scenes rather than going “Hang on, should he actually be killing this guy?” But fantasy with a little moral complexity is much more interesting as well as more relevant.

The most annoying form of this trope is when a book has an entire species that’s conveniently evil. I could go down a whole rabbit hole about how that’s a reflection of real-world racism, but people way more eloquent than me have already done that.  

Science Fiction

Favourite trope – Time Travel

Who doesn’t love time travel? The endless possibilities, the “fish out of water” protagonist, and the way authors approach it in vastly differing ways. It can be used to kick-start what is basically historical fiction (e.g. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon), explore a future dystopia or utopia from a modern perspective, or just whizz around the timeline having adventures.  

Least favourite trope – Interspecies Romance

I know it’s occasionally done well, and used to explore human relationship conventions or the way certain relationships are stigmatised. But so often it’s just some guy hooking up with a hot green girl who has a tail or an extra eye or an extra tit or something. No judgement if that’s your thing, but it doesn’t really do anything for me.


Favourite trope – Enemies to Lovers

By “enemies”, I don’t mean two people who dislike each other. I mean two people on opposite sides of a war, a feud, a business rivalry, etc. It forces the issue of principles vs people, which is something most of us will have to deal with at some point. Plus, there’s all the drama and the tension and the pining!

Least favourite trope – Friends to Lovers

To be honest, my dislike of this trope is mostly due to my own experiences. I’ve no doubt that plenty of friendships blossom into beautiful romances, but my own experience of “friends to lovers” is losing almost all my male friends after coming out to them.

So many dudes feel entitled to romantic/sexual relationships with their female friends, and the insistence on turning the majority of fictional m/f friendships into romances just seems to further reinforce the idea that “men and women can’t be friends”. Of course the dynamics are different with queer romance, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a lover of this trope.


Favourite trope – Dual Timeline

I’m a big fan of narrative shenanigans. Gimme stories within stories, scattershot structures, and dual timelines galore. As long as it’s done well, thereby avoiding confusion, it adds intrigue and complexity to the plot.

A dual timeline in historical fiction is an ideal way to highlight the differences between past and present. For example, characters in different eras could face similar situations and deal with them in very different ways. Alternatively, a dual timeline can highlight the similarities of humans throughout the ages, with our universal needs, wishes, and fears.

Least Favourite Trope – Showing Off the Research

There’s nothing more off-putting in historical fiction than a big, steaming infodump. I’m as nerdy as the next hist fic fan and enjoy learning historical facts, but if these facts aren’t properly woven into the story, they pull me right out of the narrative.


Do any of my favourite and least favourite tropes match up with your own? Or maybe my fave is your least fave and my least fave is your fave! Book recommendations that include my best-loved tropes are always welcome, and I’ll even take recs for books that include my least-favourite tropes if you think they’re good enough to change my mind…

A Novel Approach to Novel Writing

Writers can be divided up into ‘plotters’ and ‘pantsers’. Plotters are those who spend a lot of time and effort planning their work before they actually start writing. Pantsers are those who “fly by the seat of their pants” and write according to instinct rather than a detailed plan.

I lean strongly towards the plotter end of the spectrum. I might attempt a short story without too much planning, but anything longer requires a lot of prep work, research, character profiles, a scene treatment, etc. If I don’t know the name of my protagonist’s best friend’s cat, I’m not ready to write.

But I’ve now decided to try something new. About a year ago, I wrote a 1,700-word short story called Daddy Issues, about a teenage girl coming to terms with her dad’s violent past. Now, I’m going to try turning it into a novel.

I’m resisting the urge to plot, plan, write a scene treatment, draw up character sketches, etc. I’ll use the short story as the bones of the book, and flesh it out as I go along. I’m not expecting it to be a smooth process, but I’m certainly expecting it to be interesting.

Have you ever tried something radically different to your usual approach to writing? How did it work out?

The Waiting Game

I think most authors would acknowledge that rejection is a significant part of being a writer and that it’s not fun at all. Pouring your heart and soul into something only for an agent or a journal editor to say “No, ta” is demoralising, and when it happens again and again and again it can be downright depressing. The only thing that makes it worth it is the thrill of having your work accepted.

But the waiting, when rejection and acceptance exist simultaneously in a writer’s mind like Schrödinger’s cat, is sometimes the hardest part of it. If you’re waiting to hear back from a potential publisher or agent, it can be a frustrating and confusing time. You might worry that they haven’t even received your manuscript, or that they hate it, or that they’ve gone travelling for a year and left your short story on their desk.

To quieten the brain bunnies (and perhaps shorten your waiting time) here are three questions to ask yourself:

What am I waiting for?

Some magazines and journals allow “simultaneous submissions” – you’re allowed to submit your piece to other places while waiting for a response. This should be clearly stated in the submission guidelines, and if it isn’t you could try checking Duotrope (just google the name of the magazine + Duotrope so you don’t actually have to pay for Duotrope).

If simultaneous submissions are allowed, try to focus on sending your piece to other places rather than twiddling your thumbs and waiting for that one response. It might be your dream journal to be published in, but when it comes to finding a home for your writing, monogamy isn’t realistic.

If simultaneous submissions are not allowed, the journal ought to get back to you relatively quickly. Personally, I think it’s bad manners to keep a writer’s work for months and months while not allowing them to submit elsewhere, and I avoid submitting to journals that do this.

Have I been waiting longer than I’m supposed to?

Sometimes it can feel like you’ve been waiting for years but it has actually been three weeks. Long waits to hear back from journals or magazines can take a while to get used to, but a wait of several months is perfectly normal. Journals often receive huge numbers of submissions and have few staff to read through them.

Check the journal’s website to see how long the expected wait time is. This will usually be in the submission guidelines but might be in another section, such as FAQs. It’s also worth double checking that they’ve actually received your manuscript – you will usually receive an email notification if they have.

How can I gently give these people a kick up the arse?

If you’ve been waiting for a response for longer than the expected wait time, it’s sometimes acceptable to email the publisher and give them a nudge. I say “sometimes”, because some journals, agents, etc clearly state on their website that they cannot respond to every submission and that a lack of response indicates they are not interested in the manuscript. If this is the case, definitely don’t bother them.

If it’s not the case, then word your email politely and include all the necessary details for them to check on your submission: your name, the title of your piece, and the date you submitted it.

Wishing you all the luck (and patience) you need!

My Little Free Library Adventure

Is there any better box than a box of books? Surely not. A while ago, my publisher sent me a box containing 25 copies of my novel Other People’s Butterflies. There were 25 copies because in my home city of Bristol (UK), there are about 25 ‘little free libraries’.

Maybe you’ve come across one of these in your own hometown. A little free library is an accessible place where people can find free books, and leave books that they no longer want. Some are as small as bird feeders, while others are as large as bus shelters. Some of them are just adorable!

I don’t have a car, so schlepping all those books around Bristol was a challenge. I started by spending an afternoon focussed on central Bristol, where there are quite a few little free libraries.

It was chilly, drizzly, and my GoogleMaps wasn’t working properly for some reason. Luckily I had my best mate Tea with me, who has a much better sense of direction than me. Some of the little free libraries we found had a great selection of books, and I couldn’t resist nabbing a copy of Lark Rise to Candleford, which has been on my TBR for ages.

After tackling central Bristol, I turned my attention to libraries in more out-of-the-way areas. A few of them were out of use or too difficult to get to, but that meant I had some books left over to take to the village I grew up in – Little London in Hampshire.

If you don’t happen to live in either Bristol or Little London, you can still grab a copy of Other People’s Butterflies on Amazon, in paperback or e-book form. It’s a YA contemporary about identity and friendship, with some 1940s spy stuff mixed in because why not?

Do you have any little free libraries near you? And have you ever discovered any brilliant books in them?

Books Without Romance – Why We Need Them and How to Find Them

“Why would anyone want to read a book with no romance in it? Romance is AMAZING and gives you ALL THE FEELS. I can’t get invested in books without romance. If a woman says she doesn’t like romance in books, she’s just trying to prove she’s not like other girls”.

If you’re a (female) reader who craves books without romance, you’ve probably heard some variation of this. It’s a pain in the arse, but when people try to talk about the need for no-romance books, the response is often a rhapsody about the joys of romance in fiction.

Perhaps a little defensiveness is understandable. After all, romance novels are frequently dissed and dismissed. At best, they’re considered almost proper literature. At worst, they’re considered trashy and insubstantial. We trivialise romance so much that I’ve actually heard Jane Austen novels referred to as “chick lit” because they end with marriages.

But despite this undoubtedly sexist trivialisation of romance, it’s still the best-selling genre by far. It’s as pervasive as it is popular, with romantic storylines often featuring prominently in books of other genres. This can be an issue because believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t want to read kissing books.

There are many reasons for this. Firstly, can we please stop insisting that romantic love is a universal part of the human experience? It’s not. Many people (yours truly included) are aromantic – we don’t experience romantic attraction.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t like romance in books – just ask Alice Oseman, the openly aromantic author of the Heartstopper graphic novels. But sometimes it means exactly that. Sometimes we’re icked out by romance, or we just can’t relate to it.

There are plenty of other reasons why a reader might be looking for a book without romance. Perhaps they’ve just gone through a horrible break-up and don’t want to read yet another book about how romantic love is the key to happiness. Perhaps they’re looking for a book for their teenage daughter and are drowning in a sea of YA novels about how important it is to have a boyfriend.

Probably the most common reason for wanting a romance-free book is just a craving for something different. Something where the plot isn’t overpowered by an unnecessary love triangle. Something where friendships or family relationships take centre stage. Something where characters are gazing out into the world together instead of into each other’s eyes.

So how do we find books with minimal romance? Here are my top tips:

Read books aimed at men

It pains me to say this, but when it comes to centring platonic relationships in fiction, dudes do it better. There’s no expectation for straight male writers targeting straight male readers to include romance in their books, and this frees them up to focus on other relationships. “Brothers in arms” type friendships and father-son relationships are particularly popular.

So grab a blokey book if you fancy a break from romance. Something with a sword on the cover. You might be pleasantly surprised at the emotional depth of the platonic relationships in these books.

Read middle grade

Although romance does make an occasional appearance in middle grade fiction, there tends to be much more focus on friendship. One of the loveliest things about MG is that it’s full of loving, uncomplicated, boy-girl friendships, which are rare as hens’ teeth in YA.

Look for clues…

OK, I realise my advice for finding romance-free books has been pretty depressing so far. I’m basically saying that if you’re female and over the age of 12, every book marketed at you will be chock full of romance.

But it’s actually a lot more nuanced than that, and figuring out the rules of romance in fiction can be fun. Here are some tips for figuring out which books are romance-heavy and which books are light on the kissing.

Clues in the genre: Outside of the romance genre, some genres are more likely to lean heavily on romantic storylines than others. For example, fantasy tends to have more romance than sci-fi. With historical fiction it gets really interesting, because apparently someone decided that certain time periods are romantic and others aren’t.

  • Regency? Super romantic.
  • Middle ages? Not romantic (too much plague).
  • Vikings? Not romantic, but maybe a bit sexy.
  • World War 1/2? Lots of tragic romance.
  • Ancient Greece? Lots of gay romance.

Clues on the cover: If the front cover of a book aimed at adults shows two characters, this usually means they will do a romance at some point. But look carefully at the posing of the figures.

Characters looking at each other or standing back-to-back are almost certainly love interests, while characters both looking in the same direction (e.g. looking straight out of the cover) may have a platonic relationship.

Clues in the blurb: Sometimes a blurb will be explicit about a romantic storyline, and sometimes it will only hint at it. If a character’s appearance is mentioned, that character is probably a love interest. Also, if a female character moves to a small town and discovers purpose, friendship, and maybe more… the more is a dude and she hooks up with him.

If all else fails, Google is your friend. Type in “books with no romance” and you’ll get a bunch of recommendations, which might come as a relief to readers who feel like the odd one out for preferring fiction without romance. I’ll leave a couple of starting points for fiction categories that tend to be heavy on romantic storylines:

Happy reading! What is your favourite book with no (or just a little) romance?

The Three Types of “Bad” Review That Make Me Want to Read a Book

Five stars with one of them shaded in.

It’s pretty obvious why authors live in fear of bad reviews. Not only do they bruise the ego, they also damage sales. Readers frequently check reviews before buying books, and negative reviews are bound to put some of them off.

But maybe we should worry a little less about bad reviews, because it’s not quite as simple as bad review=no sale. Now that I think about it, there are certain types of bad review that actually make me more interested in a book.

The “unlikeable female protagonist” review

She’s a bitch. She’s toxic. She’s problematic. Hooray, I love her already! Reviewers often throw these words around to describe any female character with genuine flaws, rather than the Allowable Flaws For Women which are:

  • Being chaotic (but never in a way that causes actual problems, just in a cute way)
  • Being hot-tempered (but only with people who deserve it, not genuine anger issues)
  • Swearing
  • Having messy hair and bitten nails

I feel like the era of antiheroes ended too soon, and women and minorities never got to see enough characters like us being messed up and morally questionable. I’ll take a flawed and complicated female character over a perfect angel any day.

The “pacing issues” review

Nine times out of ten, when a reviewer says a book has pacing issues, they mean it is slow-paced. This might be an issue for that particular reader, but I’m often in the mood for a leisurely, reflective read, and a slow pace will suit me just fine.

If the review praises a book’s characters but says it’s “let down by pacing”, that probably means it’s a character-focussed book rather than a plot-focussed one. I read for character rather than plot (with a few genre-related exceptions, e.g. mysteries), so I’ll be happy to read it and hang out with the characters even if they aren’t going anywhere quickly.

The “unnecessary gay characters” review

“Waaaaaah, why are there LGBTQ characters in my fantasy/sci-fi/thriller/historical fiction? It’s forced diversity and the author’s just trying to be woke. Queer people didn’t exist before the 1980s anyway so it’s historically inaccurate.”

This type of review pops up when LGBTQ characters star in books that aren’t about romance, sexuality or gender identity. It always makes me want to read the story more because I’m a queer person who rarely reads romance, but I still want to see our awesome community represented in books.   

Are there any types of “bad” review that make you more tempted to pick up the book?