Where Ideas Grow

A blog for students of creative writing at York St John University

What the Editors Read in January

Alongside all the wonderful pieces you’ve submitted, the editors at Where Ideas Grow have been busy readers this month! Below are our reviews for (one of the) book(s) we’ve each read in January 2024.

Grab a drink, get comfy, and prepare your reading wish-list. We might just be the ones to inspire your next read…


‘Really Good, Actually’ by Monica Heisey

Genre/Category: Adult Fiction

Page count (including epilogue + acknowledgments): 376

Synopsis: The novel centres around twenty-nine-year-old, Maggie, trying to navigate a new normal following a divorce with her ex-husband, Jon.

Personal rating of content: 3/5


  • This novel was heavily character-centric, which allowed for deep human analysis and thought-provoking content.
  • The characters were all thoroughly-explored, complex, and three-dimensional. This is necessary for me to immerse myself in a story and ultimately empathise with its characters.
  • Maggie is often unlikeable in a charming way; the sort of way that makes readers think: “oh, of course she’s acting like this. She’s only human!” A big pet-peeve of mine as a reader is when protagonists lack personality or appear to be wholly perfect. Maggie is neither of these things. I saw a lot of her faults in myself, and despite her fictional nature, I ended up genuinely wanting the best for her.
  • Heisey’s writing style is noticeably very clever and witty. It made me laugh out loud a few times, which is often quite difficult to achieve with most written material.


  • Whilst there are obvious benefits to the novel being character-centric, it was also occasionally its downfall. The story could be incredibly slow at times, and there were perhaps only five or six actual plot points throughout the course of over three-hundred pages!
  • Due to the “inner-monologue” format that the majority of the novel takes, its narrative naturally grew repetitive in certain areas. Whilst the book intends to be realistic, there are only so many paragraphs I can read that follow the lines of: “I’m lonely and I miss my husband!” without needing to take a break from it.
  • Much like the narrative, Heisey’s humour grew repetitive. Whilst I did, in cases, find Heisey’s writing so funny that it elicited a physical reaction, the novelty quickly ran dry. The less-funny jokes all take a somewhat self-deprecating tone. The more frequent the “I hate myself and I am unlovable” jokes became, the more disengaged I became with them.
  • Whilst sometimes charmingly unlikeable, there are times where Maggie is just generally unlikeable. She is rude, distant, and conceited towards a lot of her friends throughout a great portion of the story, and consequently ends up (temporarily) losing her relationship with them. Throughout the novel, there are other times in which Maggie is cruel to the people around her, using her recent divorce as both a cushion and an excuse. I know that she was likely written this way with purpose, but it does ruin my reading experience when I begin to actively dislike the protagonist.

Personal rating of cover: 1.5/5

The cover that I’m referring to can be accessed through this link: Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey | Goodreads

Whilst I’m all for minimalism, the cover gives me a bit of a headache, to be honest. There’s too much orange. I don’t like how the orange looks against the blue. I don’t like that the title is in white but the author’s name is in orange. I don’t find it aesthetically pleasing at all, and – completely subjectively – I don’t like it.

However, there is another edition of the book, and I love that cover a whole lot more: Really Good Actually A Novel 9780063235410 | eBay

Favourite Quote?

“I want to make a positive first impression. I don’t want to ‘sweat the small stuff’. I don’t want to habitually look at the social media profiles of people who have hurt my feelings, or who make me feel bad about myself, or who I think I am better than. I want to have literally no idea what I look like. I don’t want to spend all my time telling myself and everyone else that I am ‘enough’. I want to know how doomed we all actually are, as a species. I don’t want to look at my face every day. I guess I want to do something about the earth? I want to know what that something is.” – page 336.

Would I recommend?

If you have the patience to sit and enjoy a slower paced story – one that delves deeply into an individual and has a very slow, very uneventful plot, then yes. Whilst I personally enjoyed it, I wholeheartedly understand why many wouldn’t. It was a cosy read, and I enjoyed the feeling of “getting to know somebody”. The novel is successful in making you feel “part of the action” (however limited that action may be!), and the presentation of everyday life made it difficult to feel detached. If New Adult realist fiction is your cup of tea, like it is mine, then I would definitely recommend you give it a go!

I would recommend this novel only for individuals aged 16+ due to regular references to sex and sexual material.


‘If We Were Villains’ by M.L. Rio

Genre/category: Mystery/theatre fiction

Page count (including epilogue and acknowledgments): 430

Synopsis: Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.

As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless. (Goodreads)

Personal rating of content: 4.5/5


The novel takes a very raw and emotional journey through the ups and downs of academics, of Shakespeare students in concrete, with well-developed characters and a ‘dark academia’ setting. Seven thespian students in their last year of university experience life-changing situations and handle them very differently. When tragedy strikes and one of them is found dead, the others are so involved in playing their part to avoid being blamed that they start becoming the characters they play. By the end of the book, you become so attached to the characters and their personal stories that reading the last few pages will leave you speechless and unable to function properly for at least a few hours. At least that was my case.

The writing is beautifully haunting and so different to anything I’ve ever read before. The author has a way of bringing imagery to life in a way that she could be describing a leaf fifteen times and none of them will portray the same feeling or even use the same word.


The pacing of the novel felt slow at times, but in a sense it’s part of what makes the story compelling and fitting to the genre. If you are not familiar with Shakespeare novels, like in my case, it might become a little overwhelming at some points as the characters often communicate to each other in quotes from his works, and to be honest I skimmed through most of them. That almost felt like an inside joke between them, which made the group feel quite pretentious and very closed, but that was the point anyways.

Personal rating of the cover: 4.5/5

I have a bit of an advantage here, for the copy of the book that I have is the exclusive 5-year anniversary edition. It is everything it could need, including the school’s crest and a colour palette that fits the mood of the story. It’s not the specific type of cover I tend to be drawn to but it is beautiful anyways. The original one, on the other hand, just feels like it’s missing something, almost too bland. I would give that one a 3/10.

Favourite quote: This book was filled with beautiful quotes, but as a writer, I think I have to choose the most popular one, which is popular for a reason: “You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.”

Would I recommend?: Definitely. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for the academia or mystery lovers (or both!), it is 100% worth the read. Bear in mind that it might change you forever, though.


‘Orbital’ by Samantha Harvey

Genre/Category: Adult Fiction

Page count (including epilogue + acknowledgments): 136

Synopsis: This book focuses on 6 astronauts from different walks of life and countries who are orbiting around Earth in their spacecraft. It spends delicate time describing each of their relationships with people back on earth, their families, their partners, their children. It also recounts the mundane things they do such as how they eat and brush their teeth, while revealing what it was that made each of them want to become an astronaut. The book views the entirety of Earth through the spacecraft’s window, reflecting on both its beauty, its systems, its simultaneous smallness and largeness, and the people on it. The crew also witness natural disasters. It is both educational and enjoyable and really takes you on a ride through space from the comfort of your armchair.

Personal rating of content: 4/5


This book is astoundingly written and manages to be unpretentious given its content. The author is highly informed to the point it reads as a biography of a real astronaut. It is fleeting and momentous, and connects both the vastness of humanity to the closeness of our personal relationships. Each crew member is a three dimensional character that is introduced through meaningful, heartfelt and sometimes humorous anecdotes throughout the story. It reads as a stream of consciousness and is perfect read for escaping real time.


As beautiful as this book is, sometimes when I’ve finished a long day at work I found it difficult to pick up a book that made me question my entire existence and made me feel minuscule in the eternal darkness and uncertainty that looms over me in space. Also, while reading it at night, looking out my window into said darkness often made me lightheaded.

Personal rating of cover: 4/5

Favourite Quote?

When describing the photograph taken by Michael Collins from the 1969 moon landing, one of the crew in the story reflects: ‘Everybody is invisible – Armstrong and Aldrin inside the lunar module, humankind unseen on a planet that could easily, from this view, be uninhibited. The strongest, most deducible proof of life in the photograph is the photographer himself – his eye at the viewfinder, the warm press of his finger on the shutter release. In that sense, the more enchanting thing about Collin’s image is that, in the moment of taking that photograph, he really is the only human presence it contains.’

Would I recommend?

Absolutely, for any fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey minus the evil computer.


‘Notes on Heartbreak’ by Annie Lord

Genre/category: creative non-fiction 

Page count (including epilogue + acknowledgments): 383

Synopsis: A woman gets broken up with by her boyfriend and it is about her journey of getting over him and her heartbreak. It revisits the moment she fell in love all the way through to the struggle of moving on. It is a love story told in reverse. It is love in its best and worst and messiest form. It is more than just an account on heartbreak it tells the story of the pain and joy that comes with love, in a way that everyone can relate to. 

Personal rating of content: 5/5

I loved it. I didn’t think I could relate to a book so much and the way the author conveys her own story in a way that resonated with me and so many others is testament to the writing. It made me laugh and cry in equal measure. 

Personal rating of cover: 5/5

The cover is simple and sharp and gives the feeling of half the bed now feeling empty which is the aftermath of a relationship ending.

It could also play on the fact that a partner can hog the duvet which speaks to the wittiness of the book. 

Would I recommend?: I absolutely would. It’s one of my favourite books I’ve ever read. Though I wouldn’t recommend reading it in public, the tears will flow

We hope that you enjoyed reading this month’s reviews! We plan to make this a monthly occurrence, so keep your eyes open for February’s recommendations.

The Where Ideas Grow Editorial Team

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