Battles, Quests, and Journeys – Sunday Stack #9

Happy Sunday readers! Today’s Sunday stack prompt was Battles, Quests, and Journeys and I absolutely loved picking books for this stack. I feel like these three things can make or break an adventure novel, and when they are pulled off beautiful it often makes a book my firm favourite.

I tried to pick a range of genres but ended up with fantasy and retellings but each of these books has a very special place in my heart so I can’t wait to share them with you.

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (*****) – I recently discovered this series and I am absolutely loving it. Steeped in Arabic mythology and culture, this series follows Nahri as she discovers her heritage as a daeva – a genie – as she journeys to the city of Daevabad, a beautiful city made of brass. The journey is filled with danger and hidden secrets, and when she eventually gets to Daevabad she discovers the journey has only just begun.

Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for… Good Reads

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (*****) – I think this may just be one of my favourite reads of the year. Miller retells the imfamous story of the Trojan War and the Legend of Achilles, humanising our hero and painting him in a totally new and vulnerable light. The battles series and the journeys that the two central character endure truly pulled on my heart strings and I was a messed when it finished. My full review can be found here.

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.Good Reads

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davies (***) – If you are looking for an action packed YA dystopian that challenges social boundaries, this is the book for you. Escaping slavery and the law, the characters set off on a journey to freedom, each page so action pack that I tore through every page. You can see my full review here.

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls–they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen.

When Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive
. – Good Reads

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (*****) – This is one the cleverest retellings I have come across. A retelling of Dracula but an origin story for Dracula’s wives, this story is steeped in gothicism, folklore, and fantasy. I read this is one day and am desperate for a reread.

They say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…
Good Reads

Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas (*****) – This read seemed to take the book world by storm, and rightly so. I really enjoyed this read, but it was the final chapters and the battle it involved that really wowed me. The sass and drama left me tearing through every page. You can read my full thoughts here.

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.
Good Reads

What are your favourite battles, quests, and journeys?

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

I will admit that I am very late to the game when it comes to this book. Every review for it that I have read gushed at how fantastic it was and this one will be no different. I know my review will be the echo that bounces off the cave walls after the initial undenyable praise, but I so amazed by the sheer beauty of this that I felt I simply had to write a review.

Initially, I didn’t pick up this book for one reason and one reason alone: I do not get on with poetry. I know – I feel like that is almost blasphemous to say, especially considering I am both a Literature graduate and an English teacher, but there is always something I just cannot get … past when it comes to poetry. I think its because I adore the ‘natural-ness’ that comes with novel writing that leaves me completely immersed. Poetry always feels a bit like modern art – at no point are you meant to believe that what you are looking at is a literal representation of life but a mere reflection of it. And, much like modern art, no matter what way I turn my head or how hard I squint, half the time I cannot work out what is happening in the poem.

As we entered Pride month, and I was left to face the glaring gaps in my shelves that should be filled with more diversified voices and characters, I decided to buy the book everyone was raving about and discover it for myself. And let me just tell you – I am agape with the sheer wonder of this read.

Written as prose – a combination of poetry and stylised narratives – The Black Flamingo follows Michael through his life, exploring the impact of every form of identity, both in its liberating qualities and its restrictive forms. It chronicles how relationships change, what is permitted in childhood but forbidden in adolesence, the confusing nature of aging, as well as finding a version of yourself which is just for yourself. Whilst this book focuses on queer and black identity, the discussions within it are instantly recognisable and relatable.

Synopsis:

This is not about being ready, it’s not even about being fierce, or fearless, It’s about being Free.

Michael waits in the stage wings, wearing a pink wig, pink fluffy coat and black heels. One more step will see him illuminated by spotlight. He has been on a journey of bravery to get here, and he is almost ready to show himself to the world in bold colours …

Can he emerge as The Black Flamingo?

My Thoughts:

For me, this is one of the most brutal and honest reads I have come across. On each page you can feel the heart poured onto it, can feel the emotion bleeding from each page, and share in the vulnerability that peppers each sentence. I could not help but emphasise and absorb Michael at each stage of his life, recognising with shame behaviour from others than I have witnessed around me. I felt like I knew the issues surrounding identity before, but it was like I saw them with the torch from my phone and this book became the searchlight illuminating all. This has to be the most powerful and beautiful books I have read this month, if not the year.

Bookish Rainbow – Sunday Stack #8

Good Morning and Happy Sunday! Today I have another Sunday Stack for you and this week’s prompt was to create a bookish rainbow. I have made mine with LGBT+ representation and also tried to pick mainly writers who are BIPOC.

If you are wondering what on earth I am going on about, I hold a sunday stack challenge over on my bookstagram. It has been lovely to see so many people take part in this and see their wonderful stacks. It has definitely given me loads of reading recommendations. If you are interested in taking part, I will leave the prompts below. Make sure to tag me (@babblesnbooks) so I can check out your fantastic posts.

Two quick things before we start. There isn’t a red book at the beginning of my rainbow (Scandalous, I know). This is because the book I ordered to be my ‘red’ read turned up in a completely different colour. For that reason, I thought I’d take this moment to suggests a ‘red’ read instead, and that is A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney. I haven’t read this YA dystopian but I have heard wonderful things about it. The second is that a book I had been waiting for for this stack inevitably turned up when I had just finished writing this post and therefore isn’t included in the picture. Therefore I am going to include it below.

Huntress by Malinda Lo

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
Good Reads

This is actually a prequel to a larger series (I learnt later) but have been assured that it works well as a stand alone. A who knows? Maybe I’ve just discovered a new series I’m going to be obsessed with.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon.

This read has become imfamous for the representation it contains. And but shortly, it is fantastic! I listened to the audiobook when it first came out and fell in love with it. Now, a year later, I decided to by a physical copy and am just waiting for the right time to dive back it.

A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
Good Reads

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Galley

I picked this up because it was a contender for my work book club and, even thought we didn’t pick it, it sounded utterly fascinating.

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.
Good Reads

They both die in the End by Adam Silvera

I don’t actuall know an awful lot about this read but I am definitely anticipating heartbreak and emotional pain.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.
Good Reads

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Oh look! Another post where I rave about The Song of Achilles. Who would’ve thought? I loved this greek retelling and the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is just exquistite. I’m still not over it. I don’t think I’ll ever be over it. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

If you would like to read my full thoughts, my review is here.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta.

I don’t read a lot of verse novels, mainly because I have an unbridled hatred of poetry (blasphemy I know), but I couldn’t resist picking this one up. It has received such a fantastic reception that I can’t wait to dive in.

A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour. – Good Reads

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

I picked this book because, whilst I read mainly representation to do with sexuality – honestly, sometimes it feels like all I read about are Gay Victorians and I have absolutely no shame! – I haven’t diversified my shelves enough when it comes to other areas of identity, such as Transgender identity. This read was bought in the hope to educate myself further on this.

A trans artist explores how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl–and how we might re-imagine gender for the twenty-first century.

Vivek Shraya has reason to be afraid. Throughout her life she’s endured acts of cruelty and aggression for being too feminine as a boy and not feminine enough as a girl. In order to survive childhood, she had to learn to convincingly perform masculinity. As an adult, she makes daily compromises to steel herself against everything from verbal attacks to heartbreak.

With raw honesty, Shraya delivers an important record of the cumulative damage caused by misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, releasing trauma from a body that has always refused to assimilate. I’m Afraid of Men is a journey from camouflage to a riot of color and a blueprint for how we might cherish all that makes us different and conquer all that makes us afraid.
Good Reads

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

This fantastic YA dystopian leaves every YA I’ve read in wanting when it comes to representation and social issues. It is simply astounding and the relationships (of all kinds) within it blew me away. If you would like to know more on my thoughts, you can read my review here.

And there we have it! That’s my Bookish Rainbow for this week. The majority of these reads are in my TBR and I can’t wait to get back to you all with my thoughts.

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

Ok, confession time … I have never read a Graphic Novel.

I know – shame on me – but they have always been something I was interested in, just never quite invested the time to properly look into. During one of my book buying sprees during Lockdown, however, I came across Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg and felt that this was the perfect book to finally try this genre out with.

Synopsis:

Glass Town is an original graphic novel by Isabel Greenberg that encompasses the eccentric childhoods of the four Brontë children—Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The story begins in 1825, with the deaths of Maria and Elizabeth, the eldest siblings. It is in response to this loss that the four remaining Brontë children set pen to paper and created the fictional world that became known as Glass Town. This world and its cast of characters would come to be the Brontës’ escape from the realities of their lives. Within Glass Town the siblings experienced love, friendship, war, triumph, and heartbreak. Through a combination of quotes from the stories originally penned by the Brontës, biographical information about them, and Greenberg’s vivid comic book illustrations, readers will find themselves enraptured by this fascinating imaginary world.

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

My thoughts:

For my first introduction into the world of Graphic novels, I had to say that this was perfect. Greenberg creates a fantastic world, brimming with childlike imagination and reinterpretation of the cruel realties of human life. I loved how innocent the beginning pages were, the clear ache from the loss of their sisters and desperate union to try and survive their grief together, and it was fascinating to watch that morph into something darker and more mature as each Brontë was forced to face real life.

The novel operates across two timelines. The first is Adult Charlotte as she is revisited by one of her characters, and recounts the tale of Glass Town. The second follows the children as they created Glass Town, devising stories, characters, and tragedies to distract themselves. In an almost ‘Narnia-like’ manner, the Brontës are able to interact with their characters, even being led astray by them. What I found so immersive about this read was the utter honest humanity of it all. Glass Town presents a safe space where cruel reality and the harshness it inflicts cannot touch them, and you can truly understand the temptation of such a paradise. However, as the Brontës age and their characters become more complex, this paradise seems to relapse into chaos, reflecting the inner turmoil within the four literary giants. The Brontës lived truly tragic lives, and you can see that beautifully reflected in this novel. It wasn’t immature or undeveloped as I fear, but instead a trascendant masterpiece that leaves you empathising and idolising in equal measure.

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

Of course, you cannot talk about this novel without mentioning the stunning artwork. This is what first drew me to this novel, and it was utterly captivating. Whilst also beautiful, the illustrations are so creatively clever that they perfectly reflect the journey that characters undertake, both actually and emotionally. I desperately want to see if I can get some prints of these because I want to showcase them everywhere.

This graphic novel was utterly gorgeous. It is a beautiful account of human determination and survival when life throws the worst at you, and is both an astounding tale of bravery and a heartbeaking tragedy.

Favourite May Reads – #Sundaystack 7

Happy Sunday everyone! As the first Sunday of the month, I thought I would use today’s post to share my wrap up for the month of May, as well as share my favourites reads of the month. Whilst writing this review I did have to take pause for a moment and reflect on how ‘white’ my wrap up was, and have decided that this month (and for the many months following) I am going to actively diversify my shelves and educate myself, so that my reading reflects the wider world in which we all live – something I would actively encourage everyone to do. I want to write a blog post soon sharing my recent purchases that reflect this.

Today also marks the first sunday for the second #SundayStack challenge that I am running over on my bookstagram, and today’s challenge was – unsurprisingly – May favourite reads. I will leave the prompts down below and feel free to take part. It has been absolutely wonderful to see so many people take part and share wonderful recommendations. Make sure to tag me if you do take part so I can spotlight them and share them with everyone!

Over the course of May I managed to finish 14 books which I think is amazing. I have selected five that I think were my ‘stand out’ books to share with you today. I have to say that May was the month of discovering authors I hadn’t heard of before as well as revisiting those that were beloved to me.

Books I read:

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – *****

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare – ****

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling (audiobook) – *****

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare – *****

Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare – ****

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – *****

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – ***

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare – ****

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis – ****

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow – ***

The Universe, The Gods And Mortal: Ancient Greek Myths by Jean-Pierre Vernant – ***

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – *****

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg – ****

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw – ***

May Favourite Reads

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller This is a wonderful queer retelling of the Trojan War and honestly broke me in the best possible way. I have written a full review here but honestly … just wow! If you are looking for a compassionate and complex retelling that humanises and represents every side of humanity, the best and the worst, this is for you.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton As I explained in my review for this read here, I picked this book up completely by accident, skimming and misreading the title and thinking it was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Honestly, the mirroring in those two titles is scary! This is a timebending, mindmelting thriller that left me reeling and completely hooked. I honestly still can’t quite get my head around it but you simply must go and read it.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid It seems only appropriate that this read goes next. This fantastic queer romance has been celebrated and shouted about all across the bookverse and for good reason. I read this as part of my work’s bookclub that I set up and simply adored it. You can read my thoughts here.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davies Looking for a thrilling YA dystopian with wide representation? Go no further than this brilliant debut. There is so much discussed in this read, covering prejudice of all kind whilst set in a fantasy world, and I frantically turned every page. I read this in about a day and honestly couldn’t put it down! You can read my thoughts here.

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg This month I tried my first ever graphic novel with this read. A reimagining of the world created by the Brontës when they were children, Greenberg creates an almost Narnian reality, where the Brontës can literally escape their world of grief and hardship through this magical world. I have a review for this read coming on Thursday, so keep your eyes peeled!

So there you have it! I am honestly so impressed with how much I read in May and really hope I can use my reading this month to educate myself and do some good. What were your favourite reads of the last month?

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a beautiful retelling that struggles with ideas of identity, destiny, relationships, and integrity. It was a heartbreaking tapestry of heroism and bravery, from military prowess to human morality. I absolutely adored this read and happily gave it five stars!

Synopsis:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

My Thoughts:

For me, the shining star in this read is the relationships. At the core of this novel is a heartbreaking queer relationship of utter devotion and a determination to be tied together despite external forces. However, it was the relationships around each of the characters that I found truly astounding. In a legend that is famous for supposed loyalty and devotation, you see the hypocrisy in public images that many of the Greek Kings and Lords display, strongly contrasted with the honesty presented in personal, intimate relationships, between friends and new found family. This read, for me, and for both Achilles and Patroclus, is about finding where you belong, and who you belong there was. Through the beautifully crafted relatioships, I found myself utterly devoted to the characters and the story line, the conclusion which is imfamous becoming one that I dreaded.

I found Achilles a particularly compelling character, largely because he is so continually affected by the infection of glory. At the beginning of the two Princes’ relationships, there is an innocence that accompanies childhood, where Achilles knows what is expected of him, but it seems more like a far off dream than something that should affect his everyday life. However, as time go on, Achilles cannot escape the plague of prophesy, and he becomes so absorbed with the glory he is expected to inhabit that you have to watch, helpless and heartbroken, as the compassionate, idealistic boy you fell in love with forcibly mutates into a hungry warrior consumed by his reputation.

Whilst I was reading this, it was very clear on social media that I adored it. I pushed and pushed and pushed for others to read it, and am still doing so to this day! One of the main things people asked me though was whether they needed to know a lot about Greek Mythology to understand what was happening. And I completely understand. I have read other books where you feel like you need a character list at the beginning just to work out who everyone is! However, one of the wonderful things about Miller’s writing is that it is so inclusive and assumes no prior knowledge. Miller introduces characters as you meet them, carefully crafting their introductions to show both their reputation in legend and the truth of who they are. I found this when I read Circe too and at no point did either books leave me feeling left in the dark. The world building also aids this greatly, and it spends great time explaining the history before Achilles and how it impacts the journey of Troy that you are reading about. The complicated political histories are laid bare in front of you, criticised by Patroclus honest narrative.

This book was such a gorgeous read. I happily devoured it and have felt like it has stayed with me since – which is always the good marking of a book I think! Determined to reread Circe this month – which happily coincides with a readalong TeaBooksAndTazmyn is running on her Patreon, but I would desperately like more Greek retellings to dive into, so make sure to leave your recommendations below!

Books You Can’t Wait to Read – Sunday Stack #6

Happy Sunday my lovelies and welcome to the last Sunday Stack of May. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this little series I’ve started over here and on my bookstagram. It has been absolutely wonderful to see other people taking part as well.

Today’s prompt is ‘Books you cannot wait to read’ and, considering Lockdown means that I have done nothing but buy books, I had a wonderful collection to choose from! I picked out some of the most captivating reads from my recent additions to share with you and, I have to say, I think they are all absolutely wonderful.

Sunday Stack #6 – Books you cannot wait to read

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I picked up this read after devouring ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ and being eager for more.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire

Winter wood by Shea Ernshaw.

If I’m being brutally honest, this one was completely a cover buy. The book is gorgeous inside and out. I have just started it and have to say it is completely intriguing.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel

This is a read is one that has taken the book world by storm and the moment I heard about it, I was instantly intrigued. Utterly scandalous and perfectly topical for the ‘Me too’ generation, I am determined to read this soon.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher. 

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

I am determined to add more diversity into my reading thus year and this one was definitely bought to achieve this goal. This novel that has been liked to the works of Orwell and the terrors of state surveillance.

Hat, ribbon, bird, rose. To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed.

When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

I picked this read up because it was shortlisted for the international Booker prize for 2020. It is also a translated read and therefore all adds to diversifying my collection.

He’s a trickster, a player, a jester. His handshake’s like a pact with the devil, his smile like a crack in the clouds; he’s watching you now and he’s gone when you turn. Tyll Ulenspiegel is here!

In a village like every other village in Germany, a scrawny boy balances on a rope between two trees. He’s practising. He practises by the mill, by the blacksmiths; he practises in the forest at night, where the Cold Woman whispers and goblins roam. When he comes out, he will never be the same.

Tyll will escape the ordinary villages. In the mines he will defy death. On the battlefield he will run faster than cannonballs. In the courts he will trick the heads of state. As a travelling entertainer, his journey will take him across the land and into the heart of a never-ending war.

A prince’s doomed acceptance of the Bohemian throne has European armies lurching brutally for dominion and now the Winter King casts a sunless pall. Between the quests of fat counts, witch-hunters and scheming queens, Tyll dances his mocking fugue; exposing the folly of kings and the wisdom of fools.

So there you have it! I didn’t get round to writing a book haul for this month but I guess this is one of sorts. I cannot wait to dive into these reads and I hope I get to next month, readathons and all.

Because I had so much fun with this series in May, I have designed another one for June! I have already seen so many lovely and excited comments on Instagram and I cannot wait to get started. Don’t forget, if you take part make sure you tag me because I would love to see your stacks.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Trigger Warnings: drug abuse; sexual exploitation; abuse (physical; emotional; sexual); violence.

I stumbled across The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis when perusing my recommendations on Amazon and it instantly caught my eye. This YA dystopia deals with concepts such a slavery, sexual persecuation, prejudice, exploitation, trauma, and much more. It promised to be more than just a sweet YA but to shock and intrigue, promises it more than fulfilled. I was completely captivated by this story, so invested in the characters, and catapulted along with the plot that I just HAD to write a review. This debut novel left me completely mesmerized and anxious for more.

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Synopsis:

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls–they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen. When Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive

My Thoughts:

I have to say I was shocked by just how dark this novel was, especially for a YA fantasy. It dealt with themes that I have seen adult reads shy away from, and did so in an incredibly mature way so that it didn’t feel like these brutal topics were being exploitated for entertainment but were representative of more real world issues in our own society. I have attached trigger warnings to the beginning of this review, especially as these topics are discussed in such a brutal way in this read that I felt myself getting uncomfortable despite not really having heard them being discussed before in relation to this book before. The novel is set against a backdrop where girls from infancy are sold into what are essentially brothels, branded so that they may never leave but are instantly recognisable, all justified due to the idea that they are being ‘saved’ from a life of poverty. No longer will they have to worry about food, because it is readily available along with drugs that they are forced to take to be made compliant. No longer will they have to worry about shelter, because they can never leave. No longer will they have to worry about protection – the Raveners, bodyguards with the ability to torment other people’s minds, will punish those who try to harm, including the girls themselves if need be. The whole process is justified due to the girls’ identities as ‘dustblood’, meaning they are a race who ‘should be punished’. This world is brutal and horrific, and a lump was in my throat the entire time I read it because I was so disgusted.

Much as the brutality of the world isn’t a cardboard cutout dystopian backdrop I expected, neither are the characters you meet along the way. Each of the five girls who escape – Aster, Violet, Tansy, Mallow, and Clementine – are so distinct and separate from each other that I felt completely immersed in their pursuit for freedom and survival. Each responds to her exploitation and trauma in an individualised way, highlighting that true violence of their experience as it cannot just be swept aside, my main complaint of a lot of books in this genre. For Clementine, her way of surviving is to find the potential for goodness in everyone. For Violet, she has learnt that everyone will try to use you, so try to use them before they can. For Aster, an unexplainable rage seems to consume her and leave her a stranger to her own body.

Their unity and determination in the face of an utter desertion of hope, for me, was what made this book so special and unique. Despite everything they have been through, there is something so inherently human about them that at no point can you forget that they are five teenagers running away from death. Yet, they still manage to hold onto some kind of optimism, some certainity that they won’t turn into the monster that are following and hunting them, even if it means placing themselves in danger along the way.

The novel also contains a huge amount of represetation within its pages, from LGBT to black representation. For something that manages so well to do something that so many do so terribly, I do not know why we are not raving about this more!

This was such a compelling read, and the journey the girls are forced to undertake is so uncertain that I felt myself tearing through each of the pages and every chapter. I was determined to find out what would happen to them, whether justice would happen, and was left vulnerable to every betrayal and deception that occured along the way. I expected a simple, straight forward story, but that is most certainly not what I got!

If you are looking for a read that will leave you at the edge of your seat, with fantastic writing and representation, and featuring characters with astounding heroism, this is definitely the pick for you.

Favourite Genre – Sunday Stack #5

Happy Sunday Lovelies! I hope this week was alright. I have been balancing planning lessons with reading in the sun and I am loving that it is getting lighter in the evenings now. Today I have another Sunday Stack post for you, with this week’s prompt being Favourite Genres.

A reminder that this is a weekly challenge I am running over on my Instagram, each week with a different sunday stack. There are no rules to take part and it has been lovely to see so many people getting involved! I’ll leave the prompts at the end of this post incase you want to take part.

But let’s get on with it and talk books!

My favourite genre is, without a doubt, historical fiction. As an avid history fanatic myself, I love new interpretations of historical periods, learning about new areas of history I didn’t know about before, and the absolute creativity that accompanies this genre. I’ve picked four of my absolute favourites to share with you today and I know you will thoroughly enjoy them if you choose to pick them up.

The Ship of Brides by JoJo Moyes

This fantastic historical fiction is set just after the end of The Second World War and follows four Austrialian brides as they travel to England to be reunited with their husbands, many of whom they haven’t seen since the wedding. It is a beautiful story dealing with some truly difficult themes, such as trauma, prejudice, and sexual inequality. I have written a review for this read here and I cannot recommend it enough. This was an area of history I wasn’t aware of myself but Moyes writing style is completely mesmerizing.

Last Letter Home – Rachel Hore

Continuing with the War trend, with have another book set around The Second World War. I wrote a review for this book which you can read here, but it follows a woman as she tries to uncover the hidden mysteries surrounding her family and their lives in the war. It is a tale of two times lines and centres around sacrifice and absolute devotion. It is a completely heartbreaking read that I cannot recommend enough.

The Corset – Laura Purcell

Oh my goodness, can I rave about this book enough? It is my worst kept secret that I am absolutely obsessed with Laura Purcell, and her reimagining of the Victorian period is completely captivating and fascinating. I have written a review of this read here and I have to say it is my favourite of her books so far. This read follows a Prisoner ‘Ruth Butterman’ who is on trial for murder, however we are left wondering if she is truly murderous or simply mad. Ruth is convinced that she committed her murder through supernatural powers gifted to her needle, thread, and stitches. In a chilling Gothic tale of betrayal and bittereness, absolutely nothing is certain.

The Familiars – Stacey Halls

I have seen this book resurfacing in the bookish-verse recently and I absolutely love that. I found this read really interesting, set in the period of the witch trials. Our main character, Fleetwood Shuttleworth (worst name ever), is determined to protect her midwife Alice Grey, but finds herself thrown into a world of terror, persecution and witchcraft. I have written a review for this read here and cannot wait to pick up her latest.

And there you have it! I hope you find some interesting new reads thorugh these recommednations and I’d love to know what your favourite historical reads are.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“But it hasn’t gotten me very far, that type of kindness. The world respects people who think they should be running it.”

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid seems to have taken the world by storm, much like the titular actress did in her fictional world. I picked this read up as part of my work book club and can totally see why it is such a success. I recently read Daisy Jones and the Six, Reid’s documentary style novel about a fictional band, and can definitely see elements that I loved in that novel at work here, which I why I think I enjoyed it so much. I gave this read five stars, and I have to say it took me completely by surprise. But I’m getting ahead of myself here – something that always happens when I try to write a review for a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Synopsis:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Thoughts:

For me, major success of this novel has to come from Evelyn herself. In her we have a protagonist who at times seems to be her own antagonist. She is utterly fierce, unbelievably strong, and undeniably tenacious. I loved that her confidence meant that she said what ‘shouldn’t’ be said, presenting the world as it truly was, never mind how horrible and cruel that was or the social taboos that people like to cower behind. Evelyn is under no misconceptions about the world, and sees it for how truly exploitative it is. But rather than weep and crumble in the presence of this, she is determined to get everything out of this world that she can. Knowing that the world will just see her as ‘a piece of ass’, Evelyn manipulates her appearance, the media’s fascination with her, and even the men who want to own her, simply to progress her career and protect those she loves. In many ways this is admirable, which causes you to hestitate when you realise how undeniably cruel and manipulative she can be. But Evelyn sees the world as a place where everything is a facade … so why not continue that facade to survive?

“Oh, I know the whole world prefers a woman who doesn’t know her power, but I’m sick of all that.”

Relationships play a pivotal role in this novel, romantic and otherwise. I fell in love with the connections Evelyn made with those around her, and cried my eyes out in her moments of pure vulnerability. For all her ferocity, Evelyn seems to be a character who is simply longing for some place to belong, and some people to belong with. It’s easy to get sucked into the glamour and scandal that accompanies her, but the moments of heartbreaking honesty surrounding her relationships with others truly presents Evelyn as the multi-layered and complex character that has suddenly taken the bookish world by storm.

I also loved that novel covered such a wide range of hard hitting topics. I will put some trigger warnings here for abuse (emotional and physical), death, and alcoholism, just so you are aware if these affect you. I will say, however, that these events are presenting in a way where the reader is left to face the reality of the situation rather than the semantics of them. Evelyn seems to have removed the emotions from such events, for example her early sexualisation in her teens, viewing them in a rational and calculating way which I found quite unsettling. Whilst I didn’t quite agree with her justifications in the face of such horrible events, her determination somehow makes some sort of success out of them, despite the brutality presented. I thought the discussions surrounding social stigma, inquality, and prejudice was particularly interesting and insightful.

You cannot talk about this book without discussing representation. What I found particularly interesting were the layers of representation within this novel. Before reading it, I knew that Evelyn was a bisexual woman and I knew there would be LGBTQ+ representation in the novel, however when reading it I was impressed by the representation of race within the novel, especially towards how it is viewed through a largely white society. Most of the women in the ‘present’ are strong and not of white ethicity, which I found incredibly important. However, what I find interesting is the irony that the representation is so prevalent in this novel, but completely separate to the perception of the celebrity ‘Evelyn Hugo’ in the novel’s media and public consciousness. We, as readers, know Evelyn as this strong queer woman, however she spends the majority of her life crushing any aspect of her that could be ‘different’. She even dyes her hair blonde to not be erronously seen as ‘mexican’, and refuses to speak anything other than English. The only ‘controversial’ aspect of herself that she will allow to exist is her scandalous and sexualised identity, which is as fake as her hair in truth. The autobiography itself is only to be written because Evelyn now views it as ‘safe’ to be seen as anything different, and is only to be published once she has died, and is therefore ‘free’ from being seen in this way, at least knowingly. I thought this was really interesting because I think it defintely makes us think about what the media prioritises and allows, which parts of us it wants to consume and which it wants to reject. When I read this novel, especially Evelyn’s manipulation and persecuation from the media, I couldn’t help but think about how it applies to our own media, and the tragedies that have come from this savagery.

For most of this review I have spoken about Evelyn and those connected to her. For me, she is the reason I found this novel so enjoyable. The second lead, Monique, I found quite clunky and irritating, longing simply to hear from Evelyn instead. I understand why she was there, and also why she was presented in this way, but my-oh-my I did not enjoy her. I also found the big reveal about her character and why she was there quite underwhelming, but I think that’s because it was very Daisy Jones and the Six-y but not as impactful.

Overall, I absolutely adored this read. It is clear to see the Reid has found her niche with this style of writing and I can’t wait to see what she delivers next. A wonderful five star rating from me!