The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the third and final part of Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy. Set immediately after the events of The Last Graduate (reviewed here) , El is safely back in Wales with her mum having escaped the Scholomance graduation but still reeling from Orion’s choice at the end of the previous book. The Golden Enclaves really picks up when El is invited to help save wizarding Enclaves around the world and eventually finds herself caught in between New York and Beijing – the two most powerful Enclaves in the world – as they prepare to go to war with each other.

While the first two books were set almost entirely in the Scholomance, this one really opens up the wizarding world, giving readers deeper insight into the politics and practicalities of the Enclaves.

The Golden Enclaves answers most of the questions I had from the previous books as it’s full of revelations about El and Orion, the Wizard eating Mawmouths, how the Scholomance and wizarding Enclaves were created, and El finally starts to fulfil the prophecy that her great grandmother made that El would bring death and destruction to every enclave in the world – though not in any way I could’ve predicted.

The whole trilogy very much questions what people are willing to sacrifice and justify for their own comfort and safety, there’s no central villain as such but lots of people using their power and influence to make life better for themselves and their children at the expense of others, and El is such an unlikely hero because she’s such a misanthrope and cynic who shows consistently that doing the right thing is a choice to be made over and over again even if nobody ever knows or thanks you for it.

Without giving anything away, The Golden Enclaves had a happier ending than I expected, but still a bittersweet conclusion as El has to give up her dream in order to fulfil her purpose, which is totally in keeping with her character development as someone who refuses to sacrifice others to save herself and someone who weighs the cost of every choice and action. Ultimately, this is a dark and poignant but amusing and surprisingly heartwarming YA fantasy story about family, friendship, love, sacrifice, purpose and the choices that define us.

Have a lovely week. X

October Reading Wrapup

Sharing my October reads a little late but it was another good month for reading with a mix of fiction and non-fiction.

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown for a while but found this a bit different from her previous books, though it still covers similar themes such as shame, vulnerability, authenticity and courage, but reads like a dictionary of emotions and how to navigate them. Atlas of the Heart is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, packed full of Brene Brown’s humour, wisdom and personal anecdotes.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

I read and loved Beartown back in January (reviewed here), but have been psyching myself up to read the second part of the trilogy as they are such gripping but tense and emotional stories of small town life that often remind me why I was so eager to escape to a city. Barely recovered from the events of Beartown, the little town suffers another scandal around their ice hockey team that leads to another tragedy. While the first book took aim at rape culture and how far the local community would go to protect their star player, the second focuses on homophobia in sports and is just as absorbing. I’m no sports fan, but I was completely drawn in to this story of marriage and families, friendships and rivalries, team and community.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

My husband recommended Martin Seligman to me, and this was one of those books that overlaps different spheres of my life from work to parenting and personal development too, though this definitely falls into psychology rather than self-help. The focus of the book is about the link between learned helplessness, pessimism and depression, and Seligman argues that if these are learned behaviours, then optimism can be learned too. Seligman also makes a strong argument for developing an optimistic mindset given that research suggests it leads to living longer, healthier and happier lives. This book has some profound research on how we talk about events, setbacks and disappointments with kids for parents and teachers. Some of the research may seem a bit dated (a lot is from the 70s) but still relevant, and the book is obviously written from an American perspective with whole chapters on sports psychology, military recruitment and predicting presidential elections that aren’t necessarily relevant to other cultures or nationalities. The final third of the book focuses on developing thought-challenging techniques to combat pessimism, and understanding the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviour, that will probably be familiar to anyone that practices or has had CBT.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

My most eagerly anticipated book of 2022 was the conclusion to the Scholomance Trilogy, and I’m still trying to put all my thoughts and feelings into words about it so will give this one a full length post. Despite a slow start The Golden Enclaves is full of revelations and kept me hooked until the last page trying to work out how it would resolve itself as El finds herself saving the Enclaves she was prophesied to destroy and caught between two of the most powerful Enclaves as they prepare for war against each other. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and The Golden Enclaves provides a very satisfying conclusion.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

My husband bought this when it first came out but gave up on it halfway through, I picked it up recently and was gripped from the start. I enjoy a cosy crime murder mystery and found this one that has four aging, amateur sleuths trying to solve a local murder kept me guessing to the very end as it’s full of clues that didn’t quite fit together with plenty of misdirection and red herrings, and the ending was clever but a bit abrupt. I loved the mischievous and determined main characters who remind us that life doesn’t end in retirement, from the relatable and lovable Joyce to the rogue-ish ex trade union leader Ron, the still sharp as a scalpel psychiatrist Ibrahim, and mysterious ex-intelligence Elizabeth who is nothing short of a force of nature. The Thursday Murder Club was an unexpected delight, and I’ve asked Santa to put the second book in my Christmas stocking.

Have a lovely week. X

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

We’re into the season of dark, stormy nights now that are perfect for stories about witches, wizards and things that go bump in the night, and decided it’s a good time to share my review of the second part of The Scholomance trilogy as the final part is due out at the end of this month.

While the first part, A Deadly Education (reviewed here), covered just a couple of weeks at the end of term, The Last Graduate, covers El’s final year as she, her friends and allies, and her not-quite boyfriend Orion, prepare for the graduation battle they need to survive in order to return to the outside world.

As scathing and bad tempered as she is, El finds herself in demand as she’s sort-of-dating the school hero, Orion Lake, and is a monstrously powerful sorceress in her own right, but one of the main recurring themes of The Scholomance trilogy is who and what are the students (and by extension the Enclaves in the outside world) willing to sacrifice for safety but apparently her hippie-healer mum and heroic-to-a-fault, Orion, have rubbed off on misanthropic El who balks at sacrificing others to save herself again and again, even when it puts her in peril and at odds with the rest of the magical community.

The Scholomance itself is the antithesis of Hogwarts and other boarding schools in fiction as thousands of students are trapped inside with no way of communicating with the outside world, there are no teachers, no holidays (except Graduation and Induction day), the food is scarce and usually past it’s expiration date by years, oh, and the school itself and half the other students are trying to kill you. Yet, despite the loneliness, homesickness and constant risk of death, this is a story about love from familial and friendship to first romances and shared humanity at it’s core.

I really enjoyed the foreshadowing between the first and second parts of the trilogy and there are some interesting hints about what might be happening outside the Scholomance, a strong sense that El and Orion are destined to be star-crossed lovers, and about how the prophecy that El will be responsible for the destruction of every enclave if she survives to adulthood might come to pass. The Last Graduate is a bit less amusing than A Deadly Education, the atmosphere is tense as it builds to a heartpounding cliffhanger that makes the third and final part my most eagerly anticipated book of the year.

Have a lovely week. X

June Reading WrapUp

June was a good month for reading, ticking off four books from the TBR and receiving one eagerly anticipated new release. Halfway through the year now and I’m back on track, let’s hope I can keep up the momentum and make my target by the end of the year.

The Red Admiral by Bella Ellis

The third in the Bronte Mysteries series sees the three sisters and their brother leaving their beloved Yorkshire to help a friend living in bustling and gritty London. I love the ways this series juxtaposes the family dynamics with thrilling mysteries to solve, and always against the backdrop of Victorian society without shying away from the darker side of poverty, abuses and moral hypocrisy. The Red Admiral does cover some dark themes (CW: child trafficking and exploitation) but I thoroughly enjoyed this tense adventure with clever twists, daring deeds and an unexpected dash of romance.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Last year I binge read Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, and was thoroughly captivated by the slow-burn enemies to lovers romance between Jude, a human raised by Fae, and the cruel and decadent Fae Prince Cardan. I’m usually not a fan of spin-offs but couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to this world of cunning and devious creatures to learn more about Cardan. Beautifully illustrated, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is an engaging addition that offers some insight into Cardan’s childhood and formative experiences, as well as a little glimpse of Cardan and Jude’s adventures after the events of the main trilogy.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

This one has sat on my bookshelf for a couple of years now until I was finally in the mood to read it. Helen Russell and her husband were living and working in London at a frenetic pace before he received a job offer from Lego which would mean relocating to Denmark for a year. Russell decided to use the year to start her own career as a freelance writer and undertake some investigative research into why Denmark consistently tops the world’s happiest country. The book is split into 12 chapters each covering a month of their year in Denmark and a different aspect of Danish culture and society from hygge and hobbies to childcare and taxes. It’s an enjoyable and informative read that is both positive and balanced (she doesn’t shy away from analysing the high rates of divorce, domestic violence and cancer for instance), but it’s also a record of her own personal journey as she considers her own work-life balance and infertility.

Vow of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

Dance of Thieves was one of my Top 10 favourite reads last year, and the sequel was every bit the nail-biting, heart-pounding and romantic conclusion I was hoping for. While the first book in the duology focused on the enemies to lovers to enemies to lovers again romance between the protagonists, Kazi and Jase, the plot takes centre stage in the in sequel as the leads fight together and apart to save the little Kingdom of Tor’s Watch from an unexpected villain hellbent on revenge, destruction and domination at all costs. Vow of Thieves was tense and thrilling, and provided a very satisfying conclusion to this YA fantasy duology.

Bridge of Souls by V.E. Schwab

The third and final part of the Cassidy Blake series actually turned out to my favourite as the girl who can see ghosts after a near death experience finds herself being hunted by an Emissary of Death. One of my favourite aspects of this series has been the settings, which are wonderfully described from the architecture and history to the food, and while I was familiar with the locations of the previous two books (Edinburgh and Paris), Bridge of Souls is set in New Orleans which was new and exotic to me. Bridge of Souls is a captivating conclusion to this middle grade series full of ghosts and the occult, family and friendship.

Have a lovely week! X

April & May Reading Wrapup

Reading fell by the wayside during April and I only managed to finish one book so decided to tack that review onto my May wrapup, but hoping I can catch up over the next few months and still reach my target by the end of the year.

How to Be A Calm Parent by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Much like Philippa Perry’s The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (reviewed here), How to Be A Calm Parent challenges the reader to reflect on how their own childhood experiences influence their parenting style and the way they react to their own children’s behaviour. Sarah Ockwell-Smith takes a holistic look at the different stresses that impacts our parenting from a lack of support for parents to financial worries as well as perfectionism and comparisons. I found this book so relatable, and really appreciated when the writer openly shared her own struggles not to shout at her kids when she feels stressed and overwhelmed, as I actually picked up this book after one of the most challenging days me and my daughter have ever had together, full of tears, tantrums, shouting and eventually a lot of cuddles, and it was just the reassuring, reflective and inspiring book I needed.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

This was such a lovely, gentle story to lift me out of my reading slump. The Last Bear follows 11 year old April as she travels with her meteorologist father to Bear Island (near Svalbard) to study the effects of climate change. Left to explore the island while her dad works, she finds an unlikely friend in the form of a stranded polar bear. This children’s story is so full of universal and vital themes from grief, loneliness and friendship to climate change and nature, but despite the seriousness of the subject and the very real threats facing our planet, The Last Bear offers such a hopeful message that even one person can make a difference.

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Linn

This is one of those awkward stories that I liked but didn’t love. Set in a world where Crafters can control origami creations, and where Shikigami (wild origami creatures) wreak havoc, a young woman called Kurara with crafting powers is rescued from a life of servitude and plunged into the battle between the sky-sailing Shikigami hunters and the Imperial family that seek to control the Shikigami to hold and expand their Empire. Rebel Skies is an action-packed fantasy adventure set in a whimsical world that reminded me a lot of Studio Ghibli films with plenty of mystery surrounding the main characters to keep you hooked.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo has become one of my favourite writers, but having read her Grishaverse novels out of order (I started with the Six of Crows duology and only went back to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy last year before the Netflix series came out), I can see how much she has grown and developed as a writer. King of Scars follows my two favourite characters from the Shadow and Bone trilogy, the powerful Grisha General Zoya and the charming King Nikolai as they try to hold Ravka together as enemies from within and outside threaten to tear it apart, and start investigating mysterious and miraculous events occuring around the country. The story also follows one of the Crows, Nina, as she travels undercover through the country of Fjerda (where Grisha are persecuted) trying to locate and help other Grisha escape torture, imprisonment and execution, and learns more about her own powers in the process. I loved returning to the Grishaverse and getting to know the three protagonists better; King of Scars is a gripping fantasy full of suspense, action, slow burn romances, clever twists and cleverer cons, and I can’t wait to read the final part of this duology.

October, October by Katya Balen

This children’s story follows a little girl called October who lives happily with her father in the forest until her 11th birthday when a terrible tragedy changes both their lives. Written from October’s perspective, she’s a fascinating and utterly compelling narrator, and this reminded me a little of Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. October, October is a poignant and captivating story about change, estrangement and reunion, secrets and stories, and nature.

What have you been reading lately? Have a lovely week. X

February Reading Wrapup

We’re only just getting back on our feet after a bout of illness floored us so sharing my February reading wrap-up a bit later than planned. February was another good month for reading, and Lunar New Year had me seeking out books with Asian settings and characters.

Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach

I started February with Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach, which is a YA romance about a Chinese-Vietnamese American girl, Eliza, who has been ruthlessly working towards becoming the editor of her High School newspaper, but whose ambitions are thwarted at the last minute by the cute baseball player Len, who only joined the paper last year but gets himself elected editor instead. Although I’ve always enjoyed stories with a romantic subplot, I really enjoyed how much depth this romance novel had as the teens wrestle with sexism and feminism, stereotypes and double standards, race and immigrations, and other issues. Romance is a new and unfamiliar genre for me but I adored Not Here to be Liked, it’s the perfect combination of adolescent awkwardness, humour, social commentary and romance.

The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

I tend to avoid grimdark fantasy and while I enjoyed The Poppy War (reviewed here), I found some of the descriptions of war harrowing to read, and it’s taken me almost a year to psych myself up to read the second part of the trilogy inspired by modern Chinese history. The Dragon Republic did feel like a middle book, as I found it a lot slower than The Poppy War as Rin and her allies deal with the aftermath of the previous war and prepare for a civil war between the Twelve Provinces, but I didn’t find the descriptions as distressing as those in the first book. Unsurprisingly for a character inspired by Mao Zedong, Rin isn’t always likable or sympathetic but she is fascinating and I’m really intrigued to see how this trilogy ends.

The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee

My husband bought me Jade City for Christmas, and I was only halfway through it when I rushed out to buy the other two parts so I could binge read this urban fantasy trilogy. The story follows the youngest generation of the Kaul family who lead the No Peak Clan, one of the two biggest clans operation in the city of Janloon: there is Lan the eldest brother and a prudent leader, Hilo the charismatic but hot-headed middle brother who leads the clan’s military operations and their younger sister, Shae, the business mastermind of the family. This is a slow-burn story as No Peak find themselves at war with their biggest rival, the Mountain Clan, headed by the ruthless Ayt Mada, but it’s tense, gripping and I was thoroughly invested in the fate of the Kaul family. The world building is brilliant and vivid, and I loved the setting of Janloon, though the story did sometimes get bogged down in describing the politics. I also really liked the magic system where some people can wear jade to enhance their perception, strength and give them other supernatural abilities. The final part Jade Legacy was the longest book and definitely suffered from some pacing issues as it had several time skips forward to allow the children of the next generation of Kauls to grow up but was still full of suspense, heartbreak and tied up all the threads in a very satisfying conclusion to this original and gripping trilogy.

Have a lovely week. X

January Reading Wrapup

I’ve decided to try monthly reading wrap-ups instead of quarterly, and this year is already off to a strong start as I read six books this month, including one that I’m almost positive will be in my end of year Top 10.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

My first book of 2022 was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas which involves the frail but bombastic patriach of the Lee family, Simeon, inviting his relatives for Christmas dinner. The family is absolutely rife with resentment and rivalry, and on Christmas Eve, Simeon is murdered and his uncut diamonds stolen. The retired Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot, is invited by the local police to help investigate, and discovers a multitude of secrets and deceptions among the household as everyone from his sons and daughters-in-law to the valet seems to have a motive for murdering the old man. I’ve read a few Poirot mysteries and I thoroughly enjoyed this one that had me suspecting then dismissing the murderer and kept me guessing until the end.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

I picked this up hoping for a wintry adventure but unusually for a children’s book found this a real slog to get through as it’s very slow paced and I never felt the characters were in much danger. The Dark is Rising follows 11 year old Will Stanton who finds that he is the last of the mysterious Old Ones, a group of druidic Guardians who stand against the Dark that threatens the world. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Stanton’s family Christmas and the pagan and Christmas traditions that are laced throughout the story but not enough to redeem this story for me.

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

Set in Beartown, Sweden, this story follows a group of characters all connected to the local ice hockey team. The junior team is preparing for the national semi-finals and a victory would put the struggling town back on the map bringing tourism and investment. The stakes are high and the pressure on the team is immense, but when one player crosses the line outside the rink, the town has to decide between seeking justice and hushing up the crime. Beartown really captures the stifling claustrophobia of locker rooms, high school and small towns, yet it’s balanced with moments of bravery, loyalty and loving, supportive families and friendships. Beartown was absolutely gripping, tense and full of suspense from start to the end, but not without humour and full of insight about families, friendships, community, wealth and poverty, growing up and growing older, and so much more. This is the first part in a trilogy and I’m really looking forward to returning to Beartown and all its characters, and I’m already predicting that this will be one of my favourite books of the year.

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

After Beartown I was in the mood for something lighthearted and this YA fantasy follows a broken hearted young woman, Evangeline, who makes a deal with Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, to stop her beloved from marrying her step-sister in exchange for three kisses. It’s a very light-hearted fairy tale with a wicked stepmother, Prince Charming, capricious Fates and vampires but it’s far from predictable. This is the first book in the series and I’m curious to find out what happens next.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is the first part in a fantasy series inspired by pre-Columbian American mythology and culture. Black Sun follows four different characters in the days leading up to a solar eclipse, Naranpa, the Sun Priestess, Xiala a sailor who can control the sea with the power of song, Okoa a warrior from the Carrion Crow clan and Serapio, a human vessel for the Crow God. I really loved the setting and the characters but I felt the pacing let this story down as most of the action happens in the last few chapters so at times it felt like reading an extended prologue, but I’m invested enough to want to know what will happen next.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Eduacation was one of my favourite books last year and while I wait for the final part of the Scholomance trilogy, I decided to borrow one of Naomi Novik’s other books from the library. Uprooted is a strange fairy-tale about a young woman, Agniezska, who is chosen to live with and serve the local wizard, known as the Dragon. Agniezska turns out to be more than just a woodcutter’s daughter and has her own destiny to fulfill as she and the Dragon attempt to stop the Wood that threatens the land steadily swallowing up villages and corrupting everyone that it touches. Uprooted has a lot of interesting ideas and plays with some fantasy and fairytale tropes, and I really enjoyed the magic in this story.

What have you read recently? Have a lovely week. X

2021 ~ My Year in Books

I fell back in love with reading in 2021, I derived so much comfort and pleasure from books, and it was the first year I’ve ever managed to reach my goal of reading 52 books. My final tally was actually 66 books and I reviewed 47 of those on the blog.

I began 2021 with a mystery, a new genre to me, and where better to start than with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie ended up being my most read author, as I read five of her Poirot mysteries last year, though Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab and Maggie Stiefvater were close behind with four books each. I started and finished reading whole series last year, binge-reading trilogies and quartets like Shadow and Bone, The Folk of the Air and The Raven Cycle.

Of the 66 books I read, three were actually re-reads. I re-read Maya Angelou’s Letter to my Daughter, as well as two of my all-time favourite novels Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier’s thrilling and chilling tale of smugglers in Cornwall, and Emily Bronte’s gripping story of obsession and revenge, Wuthering Heights.

I read a real mix of fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, magical realism, children’s fiction with a few autobiographies, classics and even a parenting guide thrown in. More than any other genre I found myself drawn to and devouring Young Adult stories, and I found so many new favourite writers and books among them.

My Top 10 favourite books were comprised of stories that captured my imagination, left me wanting more and that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Among my favourites were fantasy stories inspired by the legends of King Arthur (Legendborn) and Owain Glyndwr (The Raven Boys), West-African folklore (Raybearer) and Arabian mythology (The Empire of Gold) as well as enemies-to-lovers romances (The Wicked King and Dance of Thieves), paranormal mysteries (Ninth House) and even a classic (Pride and Prejudice). I couldn’t put them all in order, but I tracked down hardback copies of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education to survive rereads and because I couldn’t possibly wait for the sequels to come out in paperback, these two were absolute highlights of my reading year.

I’m setting my goal to 52 books for 2022 as well, though this year I’m really hoping to make a bigger dent in my TBR pile (which seems to permanently hover around 40 books) though my most aniticipated books coming out this year are the concluding parts of Naomi Novik’s The Scholomance trilogy and The Inheritance Games trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and the sequel to Legendborn by Tracy Deonn.

What were your favourite books of 2021? Have a lovely week. X

October – December Reading Wrapup

I’ve ended up with a little backlog of reviews from the final quarter of 2021 so thought I’d share a wrapup of some of the books I read between October and December.

The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The second part of the Inheritance Games trilogy picks up shortly after the first book with the heiress, Avery, and the Hawthorne brothers investigating the mysterious disappearence of their uncle 20 years ago that led billionaire Tobias Hawthorne to disinherit his family and leave everything to Avery instead. The Hawthorne Legacy is loaded with revelations about Avery’s identity and her connection to the Hawthorne family as well as the kidnappings, death threats, explosions and romance that makes this series gripping and so much fun to read.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The great Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot has retired to the English countryside to grow marrows, but when the wealthy Roger Ackroyd is murdered, he’s compelled to investigate, taking on the narrator, Dr Sheppard as his sidekick. This is a very clever murder mystery as Poirot gradually uncovers the secrets each of the suspects is hiding from debt to drug addiction, until he reveals the real muderer, the motive and method. I actually guessed the murderer fairly early on, but still enjoyed as it’s far from predictable with plenty of red herrings and misdirection.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

This had such a slow start that I almost gave up on it, but I’m so glad I persevered as by the end my heart was racing and it brought a tear to my eye. The Once and Future Witches is set in an alternative history in 1893, and follows the three Eastwood sisters, Bella, Agnes and Juniper, as they bring witchcraft to the women’s rights movement. While suffragettes campaign for the vote and the city prepares for Mayoral elections, an unnatural fever spreads and sisnister shadows stalk New Salem. Threaded by retellings of fairy tales, the Eastwood sisters each represent and subvert the feminine archetypes of Crone, Mother and Maiden, and their own relationships with one another are complex combining misunderstandings and betrayals with love and loyalty. This is a story of female empowerment but full of love, courage, family, friendship, sacrifice and magic.

Halloween Party by Agatha Chrisite

Joyce, a thirteen year old girl, reveals that she once witnessed a murder at a Halloween party, and later she is found drowned in pail used for bobbing for apples. When Poirot starts to investigate, he finds that solving the murder young Joyce claimed to have witnessed may be necessary before he can solve her murder. I admit I struggled with this mystery, partly because it wasn’t the atmospheric or spooky read I was hoping for, but also because almost none of the other characters had anything kind to say about the victim all describing her as a liar and a show-off, which seemed callous regarding the murder of a teenager.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

I put off reading this for a long time because I’d heard so many glowing reviews that I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype. The story follows Adeline “Addie” LaRue who trades her soul in exchange for immortality with an old and capricious diety, who grants her wish but with the caveat that no one will be able to remember her once she is out of sight. Other reviews had me expecting this to be a contemporary romance, and it does focus on two significant relationships in Addie’s life, the first with the toxic, possessive and manipulative God, Luc, who granted her immortality, and the second with Henry, a New York bookseller who becomes the first person in 300 years to remember Addie, but has a few dark secrets of his own. I often find V.E. Schwab’s books have slow beginnings but I actually thought this had a fairly brisk start but lost momentum in the middle and the ending felt rushed, but the pacing issues didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment, it’s a bittersweet and haunting story of love, time, life and Faustian bargains.

Daughter of a Pirate King and Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

This is a lighthearted fantasy swashbuckler duology about a female pirate, Alosa, who is sent on a mission by her father, the fearsome Pirate King, which involves getting taken hostage by a rival pirate crew. The plot is definitely secondary to the romance between Alosa and the First Mate, Riden, but this was so much fun that I didn’t mind at all. In the sequel, Alosa turns against her father when she discovers a brutal betrayal and learns more about her Siren heritage, it’s a tense, angsty and bloodthirsty conclusion but still an easy, fun read.

Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

The second book in this series had a very slow start, but the third lauches straight into the action. The narrative follows Laia as she tries to lead the Scholar Resistance, her lover, Elias who has become the Soul Catcher guiding spirits to the afterlife, and Helene, a Martial Warrior trying to stop the ruthless Commandant and the Nightbringer from destroying the Martial Empire . Reaper at the Gates is tense, brutal and gripping.

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

I was genuinely surprised to find another favourite so close to the end of the year. Dance of Thieves follows Kazi, an orphan and thief that was recruited into the Vedhan Queen’s Elite Guard, who has been tasked with tracking down a fugitive wanted for treason and mass murder, and Jase, the new Patrei and leader of the Ballenger family from a little country eager to prove their sovereignity and legitimacy. I was absolutely hooked by this enemies-to-lovers to enemies-to-lovers again fantasy romance, full of twists and betrayals as the protagonists struggle with their conflicting loyalties and secrets.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

I don’t read much science fiction but I make an exception for Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series because they are such thoughtful, comforting reads. A Closed and Common Orbit is set shortly after The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, following the ship’s AI which has been downloaded into an illegal, synthetic body, and a human engineer called Pepper who agrees to take care of her. The narrative switches between the AI’s present and Pepper’s past leading up to the present. It’s a slow moving but engaging story about found family, friendship, identity and purpose.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

I picked up this children’s classic when I was in the mood for a wintry story, and thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling and chilling adventure about two cousins, Bonnie and Sylvia, who have to outwit the scheming and cruel governesses and their criminal associates trying to turn them out of their home and seize their family’s wealth.

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry

I’ve been dipping into this parenting book since September, and really enjoyed this reassuring, informative and inspiring book that challenges the reader to consider how their own childhood experiences might be influencing their parenting and offers some solid advice on how to strengthen and improve the relationship between parent and child at any age.

Apologies for the length of this post, but 2021 was a great year for reading and I read so many wonderful books that I wanted to capture my thoughts about. Have a lovely week. X

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty

My most anticipated book of 2021 was the final part of the Daevabad trilogy, The Empire of Gold. Having been in a bit of a rut before this arrived, I was relieved and delighted by how quickly I was pulled into this wonderful story full of romance, suspense, betrayals, revelations and Arabian mythology.

Set almost immediately after the end of The Kingdom of Copper (reviewed here), the narrative switches between the three protagonists Nahri, Ali and Dara. When Nahri and Ali fled Daevabad, they find themselves transported to Cairo, while Dara has helped Nahri’s long presumed dead mother, Manizheh, to slaughter her enemies (including Ali’s family) and reclaim her throne. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Manizheh turns out to be every bit as ruthless and tyrranical as the King she replaced, forcing Dara into slavery again, and Nahri and Ali to ally with their enemies.

I’ve loved watching these characters evolve and The Empire of Gold is full of bargains, sacrificies and betrayals as the protagonists fight to save the city they all love. Nahri has always been a firm favourite, growing from a con-artist and thief who only dreamed of practicing as a physician to a gifted healer and surgeon, and a brave, compassionate leader, and it was so satisfying to finally learn her identity and parentage. Ali has changed from the idealistic and self-righteous Prince to a self-sacrificing warrior and wise leader. Finally the redemption of Dara, the most loyal warrior of Manizheh and her people who committed unforgivable attrocities in their name, was genuinely moving.

The Empire of Gold was such a bittersweet read in that I’ve fallen in love with these characters and their world, and I was desperate to know how it all ends, but didn’t want to be over either, The Daevabad trilogy has become one of my favourite fantasy series and one I’ll definitely reread. The Empire of Gold is about destruction and healing, love, friendship and family, loyalty and slavery, revenge, sacrifice and redemption, and it’s an incredibly satisfying conclusion to a brilliant trilogy. Have a lovely week. X