Reading Round Up

by Gurpreet Sihat

One of the things I really wanted to do in 2020 was to read more. There was a time where I’d manage four or five three-hundred-paged books and still be eager for more, but as life got busier, this was one of the first things to go. Not anymore! This January, I managed FIVE books! So, here’s my monthly roundup: 

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

There is no doubt about it: Winterwood is my favourite book of the month.

Ernshaw has an incredible way with words, pulling you into the comfort of a present-day world and wrapping a magical blanket tight around you. The simplicity of the story, paired with a slow burn, give it the feeling of a fairytales, comforting and exciting all at once, while sucking you deeper and deeper into the winter wood. And, until the very end, you hear the echoes of loneliness, feel the chill of winter and the tingle of mystery and magic in every page. It’s both haunting and beautiful and easy to fall for. 

Nora is the girl we all want to be: one unashamed of her differences, who lets go of grudges and stands up when she needs to. Who understands the power we each hold within us. And, in true Ernshaw fashion, her complex love interest, Oliver, is dark yet light, mysterious yet transparent, accepting and understanding. And then there’s the character that both intrigues and terrifies us in equal measure: the winter wood. But for that, you have to read the book. 

∞ ∞ ∞

The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh

For me, it was clear that The Beautiful could have benefited from another round of editing before it was published. Not only was it repetitive, but the diversity felt forced and there were moments where I was reading passages that made little sense, as if Ahdieh had googled words from various countries and thrown them in a sentence instead of really understanding how they all fit together. As someone who’s born and bred in the UK and has grown up with cockney her entire life, I was even finding these sections difficult to read. I was also disappointed at how little vampirism there was in this book, despite the obvious influence of Anne Rice. And why was it set in the 1870s?! It could have easily been modern day New Orleans, which probably would have made it feel more natural anyway. 

All that aside, though, I was happy with the plot and the characters. I liked that Celine had a secret (though it was far too quickly revealed) and that she was less Bella from Twilight and more arrogant and rude and playing the game as best she can. Sebastian felt a tad cliché, but who doesn’t like a clichéd hero in a vampire novel, reminiscent of characters like Damon Salvatore? Michael, however, was underused. He’s got a no-nonsense way of handling things, has a past with Sebastian, and has a family that we immediately love, but he’s just not in it enough. The love triangle was definitely the best part of the book – let’s hope there’s far more of it in the second book. 

I had originally given this book four stars, but now, thinking more about it, I’m struggling to give it more than three. Having said that, I’m looking forward to the second book in the series – I hear Ahdieh’s second book in duologies are far better than the first. 

∞ ∞ ∞

A Heart so Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

I was on the fence with A Curse so Dark and Lonely. I wanted to love the book, but it was obvious that Grey was the character Kemmerer loved more, that Rhen was thrown aside. There was something reminiscent of A Court of Thrones and Roses by Sarah J. Mass – we have Rhysand now, we don’t need you Tamlin, go away! – and that broke my heart. Still, I read A Heart so Fierce and Broken as soon as it arrived and I preferred it. I still wanted way more Rhen, don’t get me wrong. Now the comparison to Tamlin is in my head, I refuse to read another Kemmerer if he gets the shittiest of deals in this series. 

Having said that, this book was great. Unlike the first, it’s split between the perspectives of Grey and our new heroine, Lia Mara. She’s everything that I wanted Harper to be in the first book and more. She’s intelligent and compassionate and would rather solve issues with words rather than bloodshed. Despite being a princess, she’s also ready to get her hands dirty – what a girl! Joining the fold are. Not a single one of them are indispensable to the narrative, nor are they forgettable. It really is the greatest ensemble. 

As usual, Kemmerer’s writing is wonderful and the pacing is perfect. There were a few great surprises, an incredible, jaw dropping ending, and the promise of an edge-of-your-seat third book. If there’s anything I’d ask for in the next, it’s that Grey and Rhen get the main points of view (you know, and that Rhen’s okay at the end of it!). 

∞ ∞ ∞

After by Anna Todd

I only read this book because I liked the Netflix adaptation. Nine times out of ten, the book is far better than the movie. In this case? DEFINITELY not! 50 Shades of Grey for teenagers is the only way I can describe this. 

The writing is amateurish, the characters fairly two-dimensional. And, to top it off, it promotes abusive relationships. 

It’s labelled a romance, but the romance is… lacking. They fight, they have sex, he shames her, they have sex, he rejects her, they have sex – over and over and over again until you want to punch them both in the face and scream in their faces. More so when the protagonist, Tessa, is told that she can change him. You shouldn’t want or need to change the person you fall in love with, and if he’s THAT BAD (which he is) you should run for the hills! What’s worse is that Tessa is always talking about classical literature heroines: Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, Catherine Earnshaw. Hardin Scott is NO Darcy, Rochester or Heathcliff. You may be able to forgive him in the movie, but in the book?! Have you no self-respect, Tessa?! 

A morbid curiosity is making me finish the series, much like it did with 50 Shades of Grey, but don’t bother with this one, readers! Apparently it’s Harry Styles fan fiction, and while I know little about him (other than that he was in Dunkirk and is part of a boyband), this is enough to put you off! Having said that… hello, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, who plays a more sedate, lovely version of Hardin in the Netflix adaptation. If you have to do anything, go for that and leave this rubbish behind.

∞ ∞ ∞

A Throne of Swans by Katherine and Elizabeth Carr

After AfterA Throne of Swans soothed my insides. As someone who’s never seen Swan Lake or know anything about it, I went into this one blind, with very little in the way of expectation. I’m so glad I did because it was definitely my second favourite read of January.  

The world is simple: nobles can turn into birds, and their touch burns anyone who can’t. Enter our protagonist, Aderyn. The best kind of books are ones with female protagonists you love from start to finish and Aderyn is definitely one of those. She should be able to turn into a swan, but after she and her mother are attacked by hawks, she finds she’s lost the ability and this makes her a target. She’s watched her mother die, has just watched her father die, has become the protector of her realms, hasn’t left the comfort of her home for years, is unable to shift, is young and naive, and she doesn’t know who to trust… EVERYTHING is stacked against her. Still, she manages to stand tall. She manages to play the game.

The Carr’s have done an incredible job creating all these unpredictable characters that you struggle to decide whether you trust or not. It’s easy to fall from one person’s side to the other and to another, putting you right inside Aderyn’s shoes. The world was clever and easy to navigate, the interweaving storylines both complex yet simple enough to follow, and the writing was splendid. Officially counting down the days to Book 2.

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