Every Brilliant Book I Read This Winter (2021 Edition)
I’ve never been happier that winter is over and we can now enjoy spring, and, life hopefully getting a little better. But, while we’re still at home I’ve put together some mini reviews of my favourite books I’ve read this winter in case you’re lacking a little bit of reading inspiration!
A little bit of essential housekeeping: usually I mark all the affiliate links in my blog posts as #ad, but in larger posts like this I use a ‘*’ instead to keep things tidy. Think of it a bit like having your own literary private shopper helping you pick what to read next!
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab*
The book everyone has been talking about. Honestly, it really, really does live up to all the hype. This book is beautiful. It’s is own thing, transcending genre and any other box you try to put it in.
Addie has always been a dreamer, and to escape an impossible marriage and follow those dreams she makes a deal with the darkness: to live forever, but never to be remembered. No one will know her name: only Addie knows Addie LaRue. But an encounter after 300 years of wandering the earth changes Addie’s outlook on the world forever.
With this simple, but actually quite complex premise V.E. Schwab has created a book about love, about loss. About art, about companionship, about leaving your mark. About sacrifice. About being remembered. She’s out into words thoughts, feelings and realities I could never have the words to communicate and I want to just turn to the beginning and start it again all over again. Read this book.
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis*
Teenage Grace Mae is committed to a Boston asylum by her rich and influential family to conceal her pregnancy. However, when a visiting doctor discovers her sharp mind he helps her escape the horrors of being locked in the cellar to an ethical asylum where she helps him assist the police in solving gruesome crimes.
I’ll admit I was unsure about the book at first, I did not quite connect with Grace and it took a while to get going, but once we moved onto her new life I came to love her, the new friends she made among the mad at her new asylum, the good doctor, and of course the crimes they were sent to solve. It was fun, engaging, and yes while the end is a little unbelievable, it’s was a surprisingly light, enjoyable YA read for those of us into the gothic and Victorian-ish era crime solving.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo*
So, I figured I’d try and read Shadow and Bone before it came to Netflix next month as it is the sort of thing I’d watched, and I finished it 16 hours later – and that was with making dinner and a good nights sleep in that time too!
Alina, an orphaned soldier who has never stood out as good at or for anything knows she might not survive her first trek across the monster-filled Shadow Fold with her regiment. But when they’re attacked she unleashes powers no one had ever realised she’d had (including Alina herself) which leads to her being whisked away to train as a Grisha, a practitioner of Small Science, able to manipulate natural forces with an effect just like magic – the future of her war-ravaged country resting on her success.
While except for the beautiful and rich world building I don’t think there is anything unique here to readers of YA fantasy, I still loved the book and I think this is a great series to start if that is what you’re looking for right now. The characters were engaging and endearing, the romance caused my heart to leap when it appeared in the most unexpected place – I’ve also read the second book, Siege and Storm* this month, and it is a wonderfully engaging tale.
My Last Supper by Jay Rayner*
Shall we move onto some books about food? I read Jay Rayner’s first book, Greedy Man, Hungry World* about eating and our food system when I was at university and I loved his vivid, irreverent and thought provoking storytelling that carries on into this, his most recent release.
People have a strange fascination with last suppers, but Jay wonders what the point of a ‘last’ supper is, because is not most of the enjoyment gone because you know you’re about to die? Why not have a last supper when you can still enjoy it? So, he set about creating what his ideal ‘last’ supper would be for a group of friends, telling the stories of why each dish and course is important to him, visiting producers and traveling the world to identify the best of the best. It’s a tale of love, obsession, loss, food produced with love and how memory and tradition can sometimes be the strongest motivators of them all. Put frankly, this is a brilliant book if you, like me (and I’m assuming you do as you’re reading this on my food blog) love to eat.
The Restaurant: A History of Eating Out by William Sitwell*
This is the first of William Sitwell’s books I’ve read (well, listened to) and it is a wonderful history, of, well, the restaurant taking us from some of the first known eating establishments in Pompeii through the history of how people have eaten outside of their homes, to how the French Revolution accidentally gave birth to the fine dining restaurant, to today, taking us right up to just before the start of the pandemic. It is an engaging read full of fascinating facts and fun stories, again, a must read for those of us who love to eat.
The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller*
If you love fantasy novels and you’re looking for a bit of fun, stand alone escapism, The Shadows Between Us is for you!
A self-proclaimed Slytherin romance, the premise is simple: Alessandra has one simple, three step plan. Make the Shadow King fall in love with her, marry him and become his Queen, then kill him and steal his throne. This book is SO much fun. Edgy characters, lots of glamour, a romance that you think is predictable but actually really, really isn’t, and a big whodunnit that is woven through the book that I promise you won’t guess either. It’s light, enjoyable and the perfect escapism read that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone, even if you’re not usually a fantasy reader because to be honest, that element is nothing to do with magic, it just makes everything more exciting.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng*
While I’d already seen the Amazon Prime adaptation, after I reviewed Everything I Never Told You on my bookstagram, so many people I should still read Little Fires Everywhere, and they were so right. Yes it is the same story, but with some very unexpected, and actually quite glaring differences. The writing is brilliant, the characters are both relatable and very, very flawed, and the plot (as well as the issues about race and identity explored therein) builds and turns in such a way that leaves you questioning everything you thought you knew and believed. This one is good for a binge read, so perhaps one to grab for the sun lounger this summer, even if said lounger is more likely to be in your back garden rather than abroad!
Hungry by Grace Dent* (gifted)
Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure I’ve never read one of Grace Dent’s restaurant reviews, but I love food memoirs so I was happy to receive an advanced copy of this! While food, taste and memory of meals and dishes is an important thread through the book it’s not actually a food book: it’s about family, but I loved it none the less.
I raced through the book reading at least the first 60% in one sitting one rainy Sunday afternoon – I probably would have read the whole thing in one of I’d not had a lamb shoulder in the oven calling out for attention. The writing is funny, irreverent and personable. She writes how as a working class Northern girl she broke away from the life and future that was expected of her, breaking into the ‘glitzy’ life of London journalism, and of how her family keeps her rooted to home. At times the book is heartbreaking, detailing her fathers steady decline into dementia and how Grace as a child slowly uncovers family secrets. And at others, it is deeply nostalgic, making me smile being reminded of things from our pre-internet lives for the first time in decades, such as Teletext, and that Ant & Dec used to be a musical duo. Hungry is heartbreaking and life affirming. Even if you’re not that much into food, or if like me you’ve never read one of Graces columns, I still think you’ll enjoy it!
The Foundling by Stacey Halls*
This was the February pick for The Book Coveter’s Book Club, and it really was a five star part historical, part gothic read for me. I’d already loved her first book, The Familiars* (which is just £2 for the paperback on Amazon at the moment!), when it first came out and how much I also enjoyed this one has promoted me to pre-order Mrs England*, her next book which is out in June!
The year is 1754 and Bess, returning to the Foundling Hospital she delivered her daughter Clara to 6 years before to claim her is horrified to discover that ‘she’ apparently has already claimed her. We’re taken on a rich and heart-wrenching ride through London as she searches for the daughter she had no choice but to give up – and another woman lives a life shut inside with her infant daughter, locked away by her own fear less than a mile – but in the eyes of society – leagues away from Bess’ own existence in her humble lodgings. However, what they have in common is the luck (or misfortune) of their birth, as much as their experiences, have impacted the way their lives unfold in a way that neither woman can control, no matter what she does to try and take charge.
This book is wonderfully compelling with vivid and evocative writing. The characters are vibrant and sympathetic, especially the portrayal of women. It’s smart, emotional, and comes to life on the page in a way that few writers can manage, and great if you prefer a stand alone read rather than getting your teeth into a whole series.
The Duke & I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, Romancing Mr Bridgerton, To Sir Phillip, With Love, When He Was Wicked, It’s In His Kiss, On The Way To The Wedding by Julia Quinn*
I want to preface this by saying that I do not read romance novels. But when, like everyone else I binged Bridgerton on Netflix over a weekend and then saw the book it was based on, The Duke & I* as the Audible daily deal for just £1.99 I sparked an audiobook obsession that was pure, wonderful escapism for the full eight books it lasted (while my two April credits are accounted for, I’m planning to start the prequels in May).
Each Bridgerton book focuses on each one of the 8 Bridgerton siblings, and this book is roughly the plot of season one which is Daphne’s story. The season is upon us, and the young, marriageable ladies of society and heir pushy mothers are out in search of husbands. Daphne Bridgerton is that girl everyone loves as a friend, but would not consider marrying. All Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings – the seasons most eligible bachelor – wants is to avoid said ambitious mamas, and after a chance encounter the two realise that the solution to both of their problems is to fein a courtship.
Why you should read the Bridgerton books even if you’re not really into romance novels: they’re laugh out loud funny, full of so many twists that you’ll always be on your toes, and the characters are just as brilliant, unique, loveable and vivid as they are on the screen. They also keep getting better and better: Daphne is actually my least favourite Bridgerton sibling, and the next two books, The Viscount Who Loved Me* focusing on Anthony and An Offer From A Gentleman* which tells Benedict’s story (and which also doubles as a Cinderella retelling) are my favourites.
Still looking for something to read? As a little side project, I run an Instagram account, Lilac & Ink that is all about books and reading, and where I post at least one new review each week!