Every Brilliant Book I Read This Spring (Self Isolation Edition)
One of the few silver linings to the whole self isolation / quarantine / lockdown thing is a lot more time to read. Yes I’ve had some duds, but I think this quarter I’ve got some particularly brilliant books to share with you and recommend as summer reads. Rather than my usual #ad, all the affiliate links in here are marked with an *, and copies that were gifted to me to review over on my bookstagram Lilac & Ink are clearly marked. I don’t usually note this, but times are tough for all digital content creators at the moment as advertising budgets are always the first to go in times of hardship. So, if you want to order any of these from Amazon rather than your favourite indie bookshop do please use my links to do so as I get a tiny bit of the money you spent back every time you buy!
Vox* is the joint best book I’ve read so far in 2020. My best friend recommended it to me, and I raced through, reading it in about 20 hours and staying up late into the night to read. If you only read one book this year, make it Vox. A modern dystopian novel in the same vein as The Handmaids Tale*, Vox takes us into a modern world where the extreme Christian right have taken over the American government and where women are only able to use a certain number of words a day – monitored by a bracelet on their wrists that burns them if they use too many – as a method of control, and in an attempt to bring the country back to a 1950’s-style ideal of the perfect American family. The writing is tight and addictive, the protagonist, Jean is highly sympathetic, and the book will take you to a conclusion that is both horrific, and satisfying.
You’ll enjoy Vox if: you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale.
Q by Christina Dalcher* (gifted)
Q* is Christina Dalcher’s latest novel, and it is essentially Vox* – the same tight, addictive prose, and strong, sympathetic female character fighting for both her own freedom and for her children – but with a different scenario. Needless to say if you enjoyed one, you need to read both. In this world, everyone is marked by their ‘Q’ score – a number marked around your wrist on a bracelet, subject to constant testing that denotes your place in society, from what school you’re allowed to, to what queue you’re allowed to stand in in the grocery store. Eugenics is at the heart of the rotten core in this world, and it makes for both very addictive, and very uncomfortable reading – especially living in a world where governments are increasingly brining in emergency powers both in an attempt to quash protests, but also in an attempt to keep us all safe.
You’ll enjoy Q if: you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale.
A fantasy world re-telling of a Beauty and the Beast, A Curse So Dark and Lonely* is something I ordered for myself simply because I’d heard so many times how good it is! This one is for you if you like strong characters, romance that is both slow burn and not too in your face, beautiful world building, and books that are not stand alones – this is part of the Cursebreaker trilogy, with the second book A Heart So Fierce and Broken* already available and the third book, A Vow So Bold and Deadly* coming in January.
You’ll enjoy A Curse So Dark and Lonely if: you enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses*.
Have you read the Throne of Glass* books yet? I was already reading this, the penultimate book before lockdown started and I finished it right at the beginning. As you’ll notice, there is something of an escapism theme in the books I’ve been reading recently (I wonder why!) so while I’ve talked about these books before (I’m currently reading the final one!) I think now is the perfect time to let people who don’t already know about this epic series (seven books and a collection of short stories) yet in on it. What starts with a Cinderella retelling of an assassin turned slave taken from her servitude in the salt mines to compete in a tournament to become the King’s own assassin – and to win her freedom – turns into a rich, glorious epic of love, war, loyalty and some rather bloody battles for her homeland. The Throne of Glass books are heart-wrenching, magical, gripping, and I think what we all need in our lives right now.
Tower of Dawn is the penultimate, sometimes controversial book – a spin off if you will taking one of the main characters off for his own adventure in a different far off land, before bringing him (and some more characters he finds along the way) back and folding him into the final plot. Throne of Glass fans: please don’t spoil Kingdom of Ash* for me, I’m only 150 pages in, but I’d love to hear if you loved Tower of Dawn or not!
You’ll enjoy the Throne of Glass books if: you’re looking for a long, sweeping fantasy epic series to get your teeth into.
I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Havenfall* not only because it has a beautiful cover, but because I really loved Sara Holland’s last two books, Everless* and Evermore*. I don’t think this new one is quite up to their standard, but I loved Havenfall for it’s beautiful fantasy escapism – something I think we all need a bit of at the moment!
Havenfall is a magical inn (Americans call an inn not what we do, a pub, but as a type of boutique hotel) that serves as the gateway between worlds, and Maddie’s family are tasked with both guarding the gateways, and hosting the yearly summit where delegates from each world come together to talk trade and maintain a peace that has been in place for 100 years. Maddie arrives for another summer at Havenfall, like usual, but soon a murder rocks the summit, cracks start to appear in a door to a world that was supposed to stay sealed, and dark family secrets start to rise to the surface.
You’ll enjoy Havenfall if: you’re looking for a light, YA fantasy read for a few hours of escapism.
As long time followers of my book recommendations will know I’m a MASSIVE fan of Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St. Mary’s books* and I own them all on audiobook to listen to repeatedly whilst I’m in the kitchen. Doing Time* is the first book in her spin off series about the Time Police. While you could probably read this without reading the St. Mary’s books first, you’ll miss so many of the jokes and the references to all the best characters, so please go back and read them first?
Anyway, Doing Time*. This book, following Matthew and two of his colleagues who are as disaster prone as your typical St. Mary’s historian (for the uninitiated, historians at the St. Mary’s Institute for Historical Research investigate historical events in contemporary time. Do not call it time travel!) The new series is just as bonkers, funny and informative as you’d expect – the perfect books for raising your spirits! Needless to say I’ll be preordering the second book due in October, Hard Time* the moment I have a spare Audible credit.
You’ll enjoy Doing Time if: you’re already a fan of the Chronicles of St. Mary’s books.
The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins* (gifted)
My favourite genre forever and always will be historical courtly fiction. A new period for me The Puritan Princess* takes us into the heart of the Protectorate within the ‘court’f of Oliver Cromwell after the English Civil War. Our narrator is Frances Cromwell, Cromwell’s youngest daughter who, along with her sisters fights to make her own way – and her own marriage – in a world where she is suddenly thrust into the role of a princess – bring pulled this way and that in a bid to use her to further England’s interests, rather than being allowed to follow her own. I struggled with this book at first – possibly because I really did not really know much about the time period so it was a lot of effort to follow along – but after the first half the book was simply just brilliant. At times I was in floods of tears, and it is very rare for books to make me cry.
You’ll enjoy The Puritan Princess if: you’re a fan of Phillipa Gregory.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor (ad) is the best audiobook I’ve listened to in lockdown so far, but the cover is so beautiful I kind of wish that I had a physical copy instead! At the outbreak of WWII all of the taxidermy animal specimens from the Natural History Museum are evacuated to Lockwood Manor, along with Hettie, their curator who is charged with their care. Not all is well at Lockwood Manor, however, and animals start to turn up damaged, and to go missing. Add in there a pair of possibly suspicious deaths, an inability to keep young servant girls on at the house, a tyrannical Lord Lockwood ruling the household with an iron fist and a wonderful, blossoming romance this book is smart, rich, layered and clever, building into a terrible crescendo of a lavish dinner and the revelation of a horrific, terrible family secret. For you if you love smart, clever, period fiction and I think one of the best books written for adults on this list if pure escapism is what you’re after right now.
Stalking Jack The Ripper* is the first book in a simply fantastic series that I’ve really been getting my teeth into during the lockdown. Honestly, while I’ve not finished it yet (I’m waiting for Capturing the Devil* to be reduced in the Kindle store) with the exception of Becoming The Dark Prince*, an unnecessary novella that is sandwiched in before the last book, I think you won’t be wasting your time ordering all four books at once (you’ll also need a copy of Hunting Prince Dracula* and Escaping from Houdini*, too) as you’ll want to race through them.
Jack the Ripper stalks Victorian London, and Audrey Rose Wadsworth – an apprentice in autopsy, expressly against her fathers wishes, of course – her uncle (whose tutelage she is under), and another of his young students Thomas Cresswell are hot on his tail, investigating the bodies of the women the Ripper leaves in his wake. The way Maniscalco has threaded her version of the well known story in with her own characters and theories is seamless, her characters people you want to get to know (hence why you’ll want to get your teeth into the more unique stories in the next few books as quickly as possible!) to create a really addictive thriller – you think you know where it is going at every term, but I for one never saw the big reveal coming!
You’ll enjoy Stalking Jack The Ripper: if you love a good historical thriller.
The Five* is my only non-fiction pick of this bunch. On the surface it is a book detailing the lives about the five canonical victims of Jack The Ripper, but once you get into it you realise it is a beautifully composed set of five narratives that tell both radically different, and very similar stories of what it was to be a working class woman in Victorian London. The writing is rich and novel like: The Five is a really easy listen or read, and on this tour through these womens lives you’re taken through fascinating aspects of Victorian life, from what it was like to live in the first Peabody housing associations for the poor, to how lodging houses operated for the very poor. Running through all five narratives is the argument, based in very clear fact that how we view these women is in fact false, exploring the idea that they were not all prostitutes as we have been led to believe in these usually sensationalised tales – there is in fact only evidence that the Ripper’s final victim was.
You’ll enjoy The Five if: you want to learn more about the period but you usually find non-fiction books a bit too heavy.
Red, White & Royal Blue* is the other best book I’ve read so far in 2020. Romances are not usually my thing, but I’d read so many amazing things about this book online I thought I’d give it a go. I raced through it, counting down the minutes until I was free again in the evenings to read it again! Essentially, following an international incident they must patch up the Prince of Wales and the son of the President of the United States fall in love. It’s a twisty, fun, international romance of forbidden love that will win you over even if you think this book is not for you. I promise as long as you overlook some of the American ideas about the British that sometimes might put your teeth on edge, and the indulgent political sermon from the author at the end which I think was a bit unnecessary, every minute of this book is excellent fun.
You’ll enjoy Red, White & Royal Blue if: romance is not usually your thing, but you’re looking for a light, fun read for right now.
What books have you read since the lockdown that you think I simply must add to my reading list? Currently on my to-read pile I have Kingdom of Ash* by Sarah J Maas (I’m so sad this is the final book I have to read in the Throne of Glass* series), Tidelands* by Phillipa Gregory, one of my favourite authors, Queen of Bedlam* by Laura Purcell, Girls of Storm and Shadow* by my friend Natasha Ngan, and another Sarah J Maas read, her latest book Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood*.