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  • Writer's pictureIsa taranto

Reviewing every book I’ve ever read because of BookTok

I feel like TikTok has joined COVID-19 in the category of subjects that "No One Can Stand Talking About Anymore". As a person who doesn’t have TikTok (not for any moral reasons, but rather knowing that I wouldn't do anything else in my life if I had it), I agree more than anyone else with that placing: no, I don’t want to hear more people talking about, in extensive detail, the intricate and/or world-changing impact this specific app has had in all industries and regions and different types of people. And yet, here I am, writing about this very subject because, as an assiduous and decently regular reader, I could not have escaped BookTok even if I wanted to.

As the App-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named gained popularity and people began understanding how the platform in and of itself works more, niches started to appear, created through hashtags and an especially fast algorithm, resulting in holes a person could fall very deep into in terms of content. The community of readers gained traction like many other sub genders - such as the thirst traps, the dances, and the humor content -, but it has gradually surpassed many of the others to become an unpredicted phenomenon and a thing of its own, with thousands of small and big content creators that passionately talk about their favorite or most hated reads. BookTok, as it is called (yes, it has a special name) is now a deeply united community of people who cry over mostly fictional tragedies and raise their expectations over entirely fictional love interests; a platform with a surprising power to give visibility to otherwise obscure authors, books launched years ago, and self-published work that would not have gained much attention through the “conventional” industry. The fact is, BookTok is now a crucial part of how readers choose books and how authors market them.

Eventually, BookTok could not be restricted only to TikTok anymore. We now have influential Bookstagram and Booktube platforms, too, which, despite having begun years before BookTok was ever a thing, were in contact with a selective group of people who were literature-lovers and looked specifically for that kind of content. I feel that after BookTok, however, is when these contents began expanding and being viewed by a larger audience, since people became curious to see their favorite BookTokers on other platforms, too. With that, these networks seem to have started to suggest more book-related posts to people who don’t necessarily search for that or are a part of the assiduous audiences, not relying as much on the users to spread book content beyond its usual borders.

I began receiving book content suggestions on Instagram, many times directly imported from TikTok. I interacted with the recommendations more and more because of my ever-growing obsession with buying books and not reading them for a very long time (buying books and reading are two completely different hobbies) and began noticing a pattern in what these influencers deemed worthy of five stars. More specifically, some books kept showing up over and over again, praised for the writing, the storylines, the character development, the plot twists. Naturally, my curiosity ended up getting the best of me, and with those recommendations drilled in my mind by repetition, I entered the world of reading through BookTok.

So far, I have read ten books because they have popped up often in my feed. Many of them were very good, and most were interesting in their own way. And, well, why not rate them?

Please keep in mind that some of these books deal with adult topics and are better fitting for an older audience, so research before reading! I could not find the age appropriateness for all of the books, so I didn’t include it, but they range between 13+ and 16+ years. Also, I’m not an expert in any way and my reading of classical literature is restricted to Pride and Prejudice, but, other than that, below is the list of all of the BookTok books I’ve read and my (spoiler-free) thoughts on each.

10. Beach Read, by Emily Henry.

Summary of the plot: January Andrews and Augustus Everett are writers: she writes romance, he writes dark literary fiction. They were rivals in college and, due to a sick twist of fate, are also now neighbors. In one evening, they strike a deal to switch genres, in an attempt to get both of them out of a creative block and determine that each will take each other on educational trips, to show the other about what they write about, in practice.

Review: This is the only BookTok book I genuinely disliked. My first problem with this book was that, right off the bat, I could not bring myself to care for these characters. Although this is a romance book and thus the characters don’t necessarily need a lot of depth, the extreme shallowness of pretty much all of them made it hard for me. And I am okay with accepting shallowness of characters, but there should be humor somewhere to balance that out, and this book was not funny or lighthearted at all to me - the language was kind of depressing at times and these situations of misery didn’t really do anything for the characters. The suffering seemed pointless because they didn’t change at all, in my opinion. Beyond that, if there is one thing I dislike in books is “pick-me-characters” (the ones who pretend that they are really different just to call for attention when they are literally like everybody else), but there is no better way of describing the protagonist of this book, and I didn’t especially care for her love interest either. The only parts of this book worth saving are two of the side characters, but it was generally insufferable to read and I only really stuck to it because I had really enjoyed People We Meet on Vacation, by the same author. I rated this one 1.5 stars, and I do not recommend it.

9. The Guest List, by Lucy Foley.

Summary of the plot: A celebrity wedding of what seems like a perfect couple - Jules, an ambitious magazine editor, and Will, charming reality show star - is set to happen on a remote island on the coast of Ireland. However, the perfectly-planned wedding begins to crumble in little details, until someone turns up dead - and the murderer is one of those people, trapped in a little island surrounded by tempestuous waves.

Review: This is a suspense/murder mystery book that had me hooked right away with a very interesting plot. Although it includes both multiple POVs and time jumps, which are difficult to execute well, I think that these two structures are pretty well organized by the author and are quite easy to follow. The storyline reminded me a bit of the Murder on the Orient Express movie, being that both have a lot of rich people stuck together in one place and a body comes up. I definitely think that the way the author connected every character to the victim was quite interesting, and the plot points were divided pretty equally between being very predictable and very shocking. I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I found more interest in the genre itself, and the writing annoyed me a little bit because the sentences are really short at times(but that is something that bothers me specifically). Still, this one was a solid three stars for me, and I would recommend it to someone who is looking for a book to grab their attention and to read in one day.

8. One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus.

Summary of the plot: Five students walk into detention on a Monday, but only four of them come out. The death of Simon, an outcast who owned a gossip app where he posted about his fellow students, does not seem to have been accidental, and, to add to the mystery, the now victim had planned to post about all four of his fellow detention colleagues on the next day, which puts them under suspicion. The four teenagers have to come together and try to find who the real murderer is - or they might pay for a crime they didn’t commit.

Review: This book is really good. Fast-paced, easy to read, and with writing that is clear and balanced, perfect for a YA audience. I think that the plot was extremely original and the twists were overall good, and I loved to see the characters’ evolution as they try to find out the person to blame for murder while being investigated themselves. The fact that it follows multiple characters left me a little bit confused sometimes to situate what was happening in the general timeline, and the main character was a little annoying (again, “pick-me-girl” vibes) but other than that I have nothing to complain about. I do think I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it when I was twelve or thirteen, but I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking to get into reading. Three stars!

7. We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart.

Summary of the plot: Cady grew up in privilege, spending glorious summers at a private island owned by her extensive family. When the book begins, however, she is a shadow of who she once was, the victim of an accident that left her with chronic pain and memory loss - she can’t remember her that day. Returning to spend the summer at the family island, she vows to discover what truly happened, but everyone seems to be hiding things from her - and the more she digs, the more secrets she finds.

Review: I love reading character-focused books with pretty writing, and that is what drew me to this one in particular. We have an unreliable narrator (another thing I love), a dysfunctional family, a secret everyone knows but our main character (and, by extension, us readers), and a plot twist that is advertised on TikTok as the best one many people have ever read. I enjoyed how the plot development was executed, the writing was astonishing and the author does a great job at pacing the little details that are revealed to our main character about the tragedy that went down. And granted, I was absolutely shocked by the plot twist at first, I must admit, though, that after a while, I just found it cliché. The book kind of destroys the reader’s affection for some characters by revealing their “situation” (I’m trying to not give too much away), and it disappointed me to see a twist that is overused. I would, however, recommend this book to anyone who, like me, loves books not for their plot but for their writing, and who is looking for an impactful read at the time (but it won’t be too remarkable in the long term, at least it wasn’t for me!). I give this book 3.5 stars.

6. People We Meet on Vacation, by Emily Henry.

Summary of the plot: Poppy and Alex are best friends since they met in college. They are polar opposites and live far away from each other, but they have the tradition of traveling together every year, just the two of them. But, when the book begins, they have not spoken for a year - something happened on the last trip that changed everything, and we don’t know what it is. Poppy convinces Alex to go on one last trip, to try to mend their relationship - what could go wrong?

Review: This book is the romcom of romance books. It is cute, fast-paced, and it made me laugh out loud more than once. I love that the main characters were complete opposites, and we get to see them get completely comfortable with each other in an extremely funny and endearing friendship dynamic. The author also perfectly balanced humor and character development, bringing to this perfect romance story elements that make the characters relatable. I would like to have seen more depth with the side characters, but I understand that it wasn’t the priority due to both the storyline and the type of book this is. Finally, I think Emily Henry handled the conflict very well at the end. T it an actual problem - by not over exaggerating it and neither writing one that is silly and solved in five pages, just to get that part done before the happily ever after. Would certainly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a quick, warm read that will give them hope for love. 3.5 stars!

5. The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black.

Summary of the plot: Jude was stolen from her parents when she was seven years old, kidnapped, and taken with both of her sisters to a world of fairies she could never have imagined existed. Now, ten years later, she wants nothing but to fit in that same world, but she faces the challenge of prejudice against humans in the fairylands - embodied by her arch-nemesis, Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. She begins to be more and more involved with the politics and the royal relationships of the kingdom and finds more and more secrets along the way, entering a world of treason and cruelty hidden in the shadows.

Review: First of all, the world-building in this book is just perfect - not as extensive as in Dune (thank God) but detailed and descriptive in a way that makes you wish to live in a world of fairies. This book also has one of the best main characters I’ve ever read: she is flawed and divisive and just mean sometimes, but I still couldn’t help but like her. The plot is interesting, the side characters have a lot of depth, the romance in this book is flawless (there is a knife-to-the-throat scene and I couldn’t love it more), and the plot twist is amazing because it comes from the main character and narrator without the reader having a clue. It was a little bit slow-paced sometimes, but other than that I have no complaints. Four stars, absolutely recommend it - including to people who, like me, aren’t used to reading fantasy.

4. Flatshare, by Beth O’Leary.

Summary of the plot: Tiffy doesn’t have a place to live following her breakup, and needs to find an apartment her job in a small publishing company can afford - and fast. Meanwhile, Leon is a nurse and works night shifts, and he needs some extra money, so he finds the perfect solution: to rent out his one-bed apartment for someone who will be out during the day. The pair share an apartment, sleep in the same bed, but have not met once - that is, until they are brought together by chance and their lives intertwine…

Review: BookTok seems to be hopelessly deluded because this is another fluffy romance book that grips you from the beginning. This book has one of the most interesting premises I’ve ever read in a romance book, and the first meeting of the two main characters is just phenomenal. I absolutely love the pairing of these two and I think that they fit perfectly, brought together by their differences. I love the construction of the side characters, too - something that isn’t usually the case in books of this type that I’ve read so far -, and their storylines are just as cute to follow and root for. This is a comfortable book, predictable without being boring, and unrealistic at the perfect amount. It is funny, witty, interesting, and great for much-needed escapism. Four stars and I would absolutely recommend it.

3. They Both Die at the End, by Adam Silvera.

Summary of the plot: In a world where people are warned on the day that they will die, Rufus and Mateo receive the dreaded call early on a September morning. Complete strangers, they meet through an app called Last Friend, where people who are destined to pass away can meet others who are in the same condition as them. And together, they embark on one last adventurous journey, vowing to live as much as they can in one day.

Review: This book is devastating and it is perfect - It made me ugly cry while I smiled, and if that isn’t an indication of how good a book is I don’t know what is. Its premise is very interesting - it narrates the happenings of a day the characters know they will die at the end of - and the execution of this title spoiling the end is phenomenal. The writing is easy, fast-paced, and captures the many emotional moments very well. It is a romance book that also brings very important reflections of mortality and a message of “enjoy your life to the fullest”. The chemistry between these characters kind of disappointed me a little and it is a slooooow burn, but other than that I have no complaints. Brace yourself for an emotional ride with this one, but read it anyway. It’s worth it. 4.5 stars.

2. Red, White, and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston.

Summary of the plot: Alex is the prince of America. Son of the President and adored by the tabloids, the teenager loves the life of politics, except when he has to meet Henry, the Prince of England, on official occasions. When photos of a disaster between the two at a royal wedding involving a humongous cake threaten to affect the President’s reelection campaign and the view of the relationships between the US and the UK, Alex and Henry are forced to take on a fake friendship, which quickly turns real - and maybe more than that.

Review: I was kind of scared to read this one, worrying it would be a disappointment to my already very high expectations, but let me tell you, it is worth the hype. This is fluffy, funny, and the most heartwarming read on this list. The level of delusion of this book is off the charts, but it is especially good because of it, sorting for the perfect read of when you are feeling down for any reason - I guarantee you it will make you involuntarily smile. The chemistry between these two main characters is absolutely flawless and their romance is the cutest, the writing flows easily, and the cast of side characters in this book is impeccable. Beyond that, the author is able to tackle difficult subjects and give depth to the characters without taking the innocence off the narrative and keeping the focus on the main couple. It is a "comfort" read, and a predictable “happily ever after” book that just blew me away. 4.5 stars.

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Summary of the plot: Monique is a journalist with a stagnated career, but her life takes a turn when Evelyn Hugo, one of the most famous actresses of Hollywood’s 20th century, decides to share her story to the full - and demands that she is the one to write it. The reclusive woman, now in her seventies, recollects her seven husbands and lets Monique into the secrets of her private life, all while the young journalist is intrigued by the reason Evelyn chose her. The journalist becomes more and more invested in the former actress’s life, and together, so do us, readers, which leads to a poignant story about life, death, and love.

Review: This book is arguably the most advertised in BookTok but it is not only worth the hype, but it should get more. Gorgeously written, gripping, and told in flashbacks, the story is glamorous, giving us readers a glimpse of Hollywood of the earlier decades of the 20th century - is there anything better than that? The main character is perfectly human and flawed, and the author is great at making the reader slowly become more and more invested in Evelyn Hugo’s life and her mysteries. I love that the book goes beyond the obvious, and I feel like the plot twist of this book should be more mentioned - it blew me away and I still think about it to this day, almost a year after reading it. I can’t think of one single detail to complain about it - the writing is astonishing, the characters are ambiguous and human and impossible to not grow attached to, the story is extremely interesting - and I have no alternative but to give this book 5 stars. If you take one thing out of this article, is how indescribably good this is. It’s a necessary read.

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