I haven’t done that much reading in the past month, but it’s more than made up for with how much I’ve been enjoying reading recently. Partly, I think this is because I’ve rediscovered my love of fantasy fiction, which definitely makes me read quicker!
So as this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is: my ten most recent reads, here, have a look at what those books have been! Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly challenge hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, where each week you write a list of ten particular books.
Stronger – Poorna Bell
Synopsis: If you are the girl, the woman who feels like she is never enough, that she will never be as strong, as good, as capable, I am here to tell you that you are enough. I am here to tell you that while it shouldn’t have been your burden, you can write a different story.
Stronger will change what you think you know about strength and, most importantly, empower you to go on your own journey to discover what strength looks like for you. Now a competitive amateur powerlifter who can lift over twice her own bodyweight, Poorna Bell is perfectly placed to start a crucial conversation about women’s strength and fitness, one that has nothing to do with weight loss.
I listened to the audiobook of this, which is read by Poorna Bell herself. Somehow I ended up listening to this a lot while I was working out, which meant the things the author says have become implanted directly into my brain, and now I will undoubtedly think about them anytime I do exercise. Goal achieved!
I’m not a huge fan of wellness books most of the time, but this goes beyond that. Poorna Bell weaves her own personal story into one about a consistent, systematic denial of women’s right to be physically strong, and all of the barriers that stand in our way. It’s both a sobering and eye-opening read, and will absolutely give you an urge to move your body in some way, as well as empower you to take up space.
A Desolation Called Peace – Arkady Martine
Synopsis (for book 1): Ambassador Mahit Dzmare travels to the Teixcalaanli Empire’s interstellar capital, eager to take up her new post. Yet when she arrives, she discovers her predecessor was murdered. But no one will admit his death wasn’t accidental – and she might be next. Now Mahit must navigate the capital’s enticing yet deadly halls of power, to discover dangerous truths. And while she hunts for the killer, Mahit must somehow prevent the rapacious Empire from annexing her home: a small, fiercely independent mining station.
I mean, you’ll know I’ve read this is you saw my recent review, but the sequel to the Hugo-award winning A Memory Called Empire absolutely lived up to the hype and I am very excited for the author’s next novel, whatever or whenever it may be. This year’s shortlist of best novel hopefuls for the Hugo Award was released recently, and I’m only hoping I can find something just as fab!
This duology is both unique and familiar. It has much of the sci-fi tropes we know and love, but it also chooses to spend a lot of time pushing them away. Coupled with continually excellent characters and a truly developed linguistic system for each different world, it’s a delight to delve into.
The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu, trans. Ken Liu
Synopsis: 1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China’s Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind. Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang’s investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable and unpredictable interaction of its three suns.
This is the Three-Body Problem and it is the key to everything: the key to the scientists’ deaths, the key to a conspiracy that spans light-years and the key to the extinction-level threat humanity now faces.
What a journey! I listened to the audiobook of this (which was an excellent choice, especially so I’m not mispronouncing every name in the story), which is almost 15 hours long. And when you couple that with the very scientific sort of sci-fi, this book can be off-putting at times. However, I’m glad I stuck with it.
The weaving of historical events with the colossal discoveries about alien civilisations is done really well; it means the choices characters make throughout the story aren’t outlandish, and the repercussions they may have show well why this is the first book of the trilogy. For anyone attempting to read or listen to this, I would suggest sticking with it. Rather than jumping straight into the sci-fi, it begins with Ye Wenjie’s experience of the Cultural Revolution, which may make you believe you’ve got the wrong genre, but it all comes together well in the end.
Saying all of that, I do think I will need a bit of a break before seeking out the next book!
The Fires of Vengeance & The Rage of Dragons – Evan Winter
Synopsis (book 1): The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable war for generations. The lucky ones are born gifted: some have the power to call down dragons, others can be magically transformed into bigger, stronger, faster killing machines. Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Tau Tafari wants more than this, but his plans of escape are destroyed when those closest to him are brutally murdered.
Here are another two books you will undoubtedly be tired of hearing about if you follow this blog, but what can I say? I like what I like. And I think everyone should read this! I’ll resist from going on about it again, but please have a look at my (spoiler-free) review of book one, The Rage of Dragons, if you are intrigued.
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
Synopsis: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons.
This one had been on my list for a while, or rather, in the bedside-pile-of-books for a while, and I’m just regretting I took so long to get around to it! It is a great book, absolutely deserving of all the hype it gets in my opinion, and showcases extraordinary storytelling in giving us a snapshot of an insular American community which nonetheless contains people of all different backgrounds.
I couldn’t say I have a favourite character or a favourite part of this, which is why I think it reads so well. Rather than honing in too much on one singular character, it shows us them all – Mia and her daughter, Elena and her kids, all their friends and acquaintances – and gives us their strengths, flaws and history, letting us judge them for ourselves.
Blood and Sugar – Laura Shepherd-Robinson
Synopsis: June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . .
This book! It is a sort of historical fiction mystery, which is a genre I didn’t realise I enjoyed until I had a look at my reading list. It takes place in England, at a time of slavery, and I have to say that although sometimes stories about slavery from the perspective of a white POV character can come across as iffy, this absolutely doesn’t fall into the trap of retroactively humanising people. Every character in this book is complicit in slavery – even, most importantly, the ‘good guys’ – and it shows. The mystery that this book unravels also is a journey for the author to take apart, piece by piece, the cruel violence of the British empire and the slave trade, while giving us really great characters with motivations for their actions.
The main character is also enjoyable to read. He kind of reminds me of the protagonist from Temeraire, although maybe that’s just me lumping all old-timey gentlemen into one basket. This is another one I listened to rather than read, and I 100% encourage anyone to go that route – despite the dozen different characters, the narrator is excellent, and they are all very distinct throughout.
Legendborn – Tracy Deonn
Synopsis: After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants to escape. A residential programme for bright high-schoolers seems like the perfect opportunity – until she witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus. . .
This was such a good read, omg. It’s a really fun magic system, both classical in that it is based on Arthurian myth, as well as a unique take on how these secret magical societies work. In fact, the world building throughout the book is consistently excellent; as well as delving into the magic of the secret societies unwittingly finds her way into, it discusses the magic everyone else has too, such as ‘root magic’ owned by Bree’s mother and a community of black women. This is partly upheld by the strength of the characters. There are no tropes here, everyone is a whole person, and Bree is a great POV character, with the right mix of impulsivity and inquisitiveness that makes for an enjoyable YA protag. In fact, the characters are so good I didn’t even mind the hint of a love triangle in this book which, who am I? I usually hate love triangles, but here I’m… not mad at it…
I also have to mention, with this book, how personal the author makes it. This is set in southern US, and as well as embodying the culture of that south, the author makes a clear point to narrate Bree’s experience there, as a black girl. The fact that the magic she explores is based on Arthurian myth, or that it’s a hereditary magic, and thus the clear power imbalance between her and the others through magic as well as race is not shied away from, and it’s both educational and refreshing to read something unapologetic in YA fantasy like this.
The Beauty of the Wolf – Wray Delaney
Synopsis: In the age of the Faerie Queene, Elizabeth I, Lord Francis Rodermere starts to lay waste to a forest. Furious, the sorceress who dwells there scrawls a curse into the bark of the first oak he fells: ‘a faerie boy will be born to you whose beauty will be your death.’ Ten years later, Lord Rodermere’s son, Beau is born – and all who encounter him are struck by his great beauty. Meanwhile, many miles away in a London alchemist’s cellar lives Randa – a beast deemed too monstrous to see the light of day.
This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and I was quite pleased at first that it was a retelling not set in the modern day, as most are. Instead, the setting is the Elizabethan era in England, a time of travelling players and some kind of interest in the occult, both of which are features of this book. I was also interested to see the beauty/beast roles had been switched around. However, for me, it just didn’t land.
I think my main difficulty with this book is that there is no clear point. I do enjoy whimsical, fairy tale writing that is more about the lyricisim than the plot (like, The Invisible Life of Addie La-Rue), but this one had far too many characters with motivations and ambitions that seem unclear all throughout, and a tone of voice that I couldn’t quite sink into. I didn’t find the ending very much a resolution, either, but it did at least stay consistent with the rest of the book. One thing however – this story plays around with the expected gender roles of beauty and the beast quite a bit, and binary gender roles are challenged throughout, so you may enjoy this book if that interests you.
A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik
Synopsis: Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered. There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.
As I said here, I really enjoyed this book! I think it’s a really refreshingly new take on the age old ‘magic school’ subject, and I loved El, the main character, who I think is very likeable. Plus, the whole theme of the book is pretty much ‘found family overcomes adversity,’ so if that’s what you like, I think you’d enjoy this.
I have to say, I always forget to include audiobooks in my ‘recent reads’ lists, mostly because, well, no reading was done. But it’s such a good way to enjoy books in a reading slump or when you have little time (which has been my problem, lately!), and particularly for non-fiction, imo!
What books have you been reading or listening to recently?