Every Brilliant Book I Read This Summer (2020 Edition)
After reading and testing new recipes, reading fiction will always be one of my greatest loves, and while I share what I’m reading weekly over on my bookstagram, I love that all of you who come here every week for new weeknight recipes and cooking tips also find new books to read through my quarterly mix of fiction and non-fiction reviews that span a mad mix of everything from fantasy to historical fiction, to food writing and politics.
A little bit of housekeeping here: usually I mark all my affiliate links (ad) where I make a little bit of money back if you click on my link and buy something. However, as all of the below links are affiliate links back to Amazon (I have to pay my mortgage somehow!) I’ve added ‘*’ instead as it looks a lot tidier. Also, running a book instagram I’m sometimes lucky enough to be given free books to review. In the interests of full disclosure, I’ve marked these also as gifted, below.
Tidelands is the very best book I read this summer. As a teenager Philippa Gregory and her biographical historical fiction books about Tudor and Plantagenet Queens and Princesses used to be my absolute favourites, but towards the end of these books they became so samey and repetitive I never finished the last one. So, I put off reading Tidelands, the start of her new series featuring on an original character in Civil War England because I was really worried that I’d be disappointed in my once favourite author.
In the end I raced through the book and I’m super excited to get my hands on the next book in the series, Dark Tides*, which is coming in November. Alinor Reekie, the local midwife is neither a wife or a widow, with her husband vanished at sea. Left alone to make her way with their two children a chance meeting with a Catholic priest sets her on a path towards an uncertain future filled with betrayal, romance and witch hunts she could never have imagined.
There is not much I can really say about Kingdom of Ash, the final book in Sarah J. Maas’ epic Throne of Glass series except that it is everything I could have possibly hoped for: full of twists and turns, a gripping read, and with a conclusion for all of our favourite characters – even if some of those conclusions are, frankly, heartbreaking. If you’re looking for a new epic fantasy series to curly up with this autumn, just go ahead and order the box set (no, really, it is the only way to get the American editions in the UK which are just so much nicer looking!)
I started writing about food as my full time gig because I read a book: the now late food writer Anthony Bourdain’s seminal work Kitchen Confidential under a tree between classes when I was studying in Los Angeles. Medium Raw is the follow on from that book, food stories and opinions from the new life as a food celebrity rather than a New York chef after Kitchen Confidential changed Bourdain’s life. It’s a pretty disjointed book without an overarching narrative, but it is still brilliant if you’re already a Bourdain fan.
If you’ve read my roundup of Every Brilliant Book I Read (Last) Winter you’ll know how much I enjoyed We Are Blood And Thunder* by Kesia Lupo after meeting her at my reading group. Taking place in the same world as We Are Blood And Thunder, We Are Bound By Stars is another beautiful stand alone YA fantasy novel to get lost in this autumn. You’ve got a set of magical triplets, kept away from society and bound to make magical masks that enhance the power of the mage who wear them, an accidental heir who is torn between his secret double life and his new found – and unexpected – responsibilities, and a very uncertain future when the order of things starts to collapse around everyone, threatening Civil War on their tiny, magically gifted island.
One of fans of biographical historical fiction here with strong, royal female protagonists here, perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory’s books* or Alison Weir’s Tudor Queens series*. Bright and engaging The Silken Rose follows Alienor of Provence who comes to England age 13 to wed Henry III. It’s wonderful Medieval, vivid and enjoyable – I particularly enjoyed how the narrative did not just rely on Alienor, but how through her embroiderer Rosalind we got a second narrative for a woman whose ending is not written in the history books.
Book two of the trilogy that started with A Curse So Dark And Lonely* I started in the spring, this equally as enjoyable sequel moves away from being a purely Beauty and the Beast retelling into being just a very good YA fantasy with good characters (we’ve switched protagonists which is a relief, as I found Harper a bit annoying!), world building and lots of suspense. If you’re looking for a good trilogy for the cooler months, the final book, A Vow So Bold and Deadly* is out
Full disclosure: Natasha is a good friend of mine, but that does not stop her latest series being utterly fantastic. Girls of Storm and Shadow picks up just where the first book Girls of Paper and Fire* left off, and is full of adventure, and of course because Natasha is Natasha some epic fight scenes and a pretty heart-wrenching loss. I raced through this one as I did the first, so if you’re looking to read more Asian or LGBT fiction this autumn, these books are absolutely incredible.
So, did the start of the new (adult) epic fantasy series from Sarah J Mass live up to all the hype? Yes, yes it did. It has everything you’d expect from a good Maas read – strong characters you can’t help but root for, vivid and complex world building, this time of a world that is a bit more modern and a bit more SciFi than your usual fantasy read, and steamy romance. I also really appreciate the murder mystery running through the middle. We’re introduced to Lunathon, which now goes by its more progressive name Crescent City – a vibrant, modern metropolis populated by fae, shifters, angels and others, addicted to their mobile phones, trashy reality shows and so many other modern touches usually missing from high fantasy. After a personal tragedy hits Bryce, a half fae, half human she is ordered to investigate a theft and a murder that somehow seem interlinked along with Hunt – a fallen angel now inslaved to serve the Republic after leading the rebel forces as their commander in the uprising.
Moving away from YA and fantasy, this is one of the best books in this selection, but to say I enjoyed it is perhaps the wrong word? It’s an emotional and psychological rollercoaster, and to be quite honest you can read it for a couple of hours in one stretch and not realise how emotionally drained it has made you until you put it down.
The year is 1793 and Herbert Powyss, a botanist and country gentleman seeks to undertake an experiment that will make his name at the Royal Society. He is to pay a man to live underground, without human contact for 7 years to note the effects of a lack of human contact and society. Books, food, everything he could want it provided for him via rich furnishings and the dumb waiter, and in return his family will be taken care of and he shall receive £50 a year every year for the rest of his life on release. Told first through the perspectives of Powyss and Warlow, the uneducated farmhand who is the only man to answer Powyss’ advertisement and the one sent underground, later on we hear from Powyss’ servants who are roped into the experiment, as well as Warlow’s wife. Needless to say, the results are not what anyone could have predicted.
This is the dark read you need for dark autumn evenings.
This was actually a re-read for me as I read it as a library book as a teenager, but I’d forgotten most of it aside from the fact I really enjoyed it, so it was wonderful to listen to is all over again as an audiobook (if you’re not already an Audible member I promise you have audiobooks for when you’re cooking or exercising will change your life – if you’ve not already done so, get your first book free – or first two if you’re an Amazon Prime member – when you sign up here!*)
I had this brilliant book as an ARC (advanced reader copy) to review on my book instagram Lilac & Ink, and it is one to pre-order as it is not out until next Thursday. However, including Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood* The Bone Shard Daughter is the most exciting new epic fantasy series I’ve read this year. Go and pre-order your copy now, I promise you if you’re into lush world building, unique and clever magic systems, sympathetic main characters and epic twists that you have know possible way of seeing coming I promise you you won’t regret it!
Lei is the Emperor’s daughter. Once heir to the throne she must compete for her birthright against her fathers ward to master the bone shard magic that fuels the empire – shards of bone are trepanned from every citizen to power constructs of animal parts to defend the empire against a threat no one has seen in decades – gradually sapping the life from the donor once their shard is put into use. Elsewhere, revolution is brewing against the Emperor’s crumbling rule and the brutal constructs that control people’s lives, but which of the rebels are in it for the greater good, and who simply wants to implement their own personal version of the status quo?
I honestly think this is going to turn into one of those series everyone talks about, so I really recommend that you get in there early!
This is another dark, gothic book perfect for dark autumnal nights. Lily Bell has always dreamed of becoming an actress and she believes that she’s finally got her chance when her stepfather sells her off to settle his debts to Erasmus Salt, a self-styled Professor of Ghosts with a chequered past. Lily is to be Erasmus’ ‘ghost’, playing the projection of a recently dead woman summoned back by him from the dead in a limelight illusion he leads his audience to believe is real. However, things start to take a more sinister turn when he forbids Lily to show her face in public, has a tomb stone erected for her in the local churchyard, and writes to Lily’s mother to inform her of her demise.
Told from both Lily’s perspective and that of Erasmus’ sister Faye who acts as Lily’s chaperone, delving back into the siblings past secrets as they start to be ‘unforgotten’ the similarities between the two women’s stories start to intertwine in such a way that they begin to rely on each other for their survival and happiness.
I don’t think by now it is a secret how big a fan I am of Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s series by now. Plan for the Worst is the latest instalment, a book I’d give 6 stars out of 5 to if I could, and I think contains the biggest ‘what the fuck how long has Jodi Taylor been planning this?’ moment so far.
For the uninitiated The Chronicles of St. Mary’s follow the adventures of a group of tea soaked disaster magnets (otherwise known as historians) who help make up the Institute for Historical Research at St. Mary’s Priory where they investigate major historical events in contemporary time. Do not call it time travel. Join Max and her team as they rocket up and down the timeline where even thing in history seems destined to go horribly wrong in the most hilarious way possible! We all need a bit more fun in our lives this year, so if you’ve not already done so, go get yourself a copy of the first book, Just One Damn Thing After Another* and join the club!
Caraval is the first book of the best YA fantasy trilogy I started this summer. I read books about witches and fantasy worlds almost every week, but it is not often I can describe a book as pure magic. One of the most gripping and wonderful YA reads I’ve read in a long time Caraval is one big, vivid, magical, colourful adventure where you think you know what is going on and you think you know what is real and what is part of the game at almost every juncture, only to be proven wrong every time.
Every year is a new chance to play Caraval – a wonderful, magical, though slightly twisted scavenger hunt inside a world of magic constructed by its ringmaster Legend with an impossible, magical prize on offer for the winner. At the start of every game participants are reminded twice to remember it is just a game – the magic of Caraval feels so real it is just too easy to be taken in, and people are said to have gone mad playing – or even die. Scarlett and Tella grew up obsessed with stories of Caraval and when the chance to play might also be their ticket to freedom off of their small island and out from under the thumb of their abusive father they both find that Caraval is a lot more than they bargained for.
When you order a copy, do also order the second book, Legendary*, and the third, Finale* at the same time because you’ll be really annoyed if – like me – you have to wait for the next book to arrive – my copy of Legendary arrived damaged and I’m still waiting for the replacement! Or, if you’re a Kindle reader like me, you can get the trilogy as one book for £6.99*.
And, finally we’re onto my current read. I finished The Wrath & The Dawn last week, and now I’m just on the final quarter or so of The Rose & The Dagger*, the second half of this wonderful duology.
A rich and bold retelling of the Arabian nights, Shahrzad is to become the wife of the Caliph in a plot to avenge the death of her best friend that might mean she does not live to see another dawn. Every night the Caliph takes a new wife, and every morning each girl must die to make way for the next. Shahrzad is determined to find the Caliph’s weakness before she herself is executed and to kill him, putting an end to the deadly cycle. However, she quickly discovers that all at the palace is not what it seems, especially the Caliph. Could she really find it in her heart to love a monster? If you love a good retelling and lush world building, The Wrath & The Dawn is a wonderful read. Engaging, and unpredictable even though you know where it must be going Ahdieh makes something unbelievable credible with her careful storytelling.
The Wrath & The Dawn is only 99p in the Amazon kindle store at the moment, so do grab a copy!*
So, what books should I be adding to my reading list for autumn? Up next for me I’m going to be starting The Confessions of Frannie Langton* which I’m super excited about (they’ve just optioned it for an ITV drama) and as far as new releases are concerned, as well as the new Philippa Gregory book* I’m really looking forward to Kerri Maniscalco’s new book Kingdom of the Wicked* (I’m really enjoying her Stalking Jack The Ripper* books) and The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue by V.E. Schwab* in October, and the final instalment of the Frances Gorges books by Tracey Borman* in November. Remember, for more reviews and bookish content from me, do follow along over at Lilac & Ink!