If I think too much about the fact that we’re halfway through 2023, I’ll start to panic. It is July… where did the time go?
So instead, I’m going to frame the past six months as something that brings me no panic, and instead will relax my racing heartrate…books! I’m going to take a moment to reflect on the past six months in terms of the best books I’ve read.
You’ll quickly notice that I’ve been a little cheeky with this list and included two series, which technically makes it more than seven books. But these series have been incredible, and deserve a spot without dominating the entire list.
Here are the seven best books I’ve read so far in 2023.
I might have been introduced to fantasy reading and Sarah J Maas in particular by A Court of Thorns and Roses, but Throne of Glass is what truly cemented my love for it.
This is one of the best series I have ever read in my life. It’s seven books long, and towards the end, the books reach almost 800 pages, and yet I struggled to put it down at any point. I read late into the night, I almost missed my train stops, and I forwent social situations just to read more.
What makes Throne of Glass so good? I think a large part of it is the main character, Celaena. I loved having a powerful and ambitious female main character. She was a force to be reckoned with, she wasn’t always good and moral, she did what had to be done. I think it’s such a beautiful contrast to one-sided female characters. I also liked that she wasn’t forcibly ‘pure’. She talked about sex, she had sex, and she didn’t just immediately meet her one true love.
The first and second books are my least favourite of the series, so if you’re struggling a bit with those, please bear with it! By book three, you’ll be hooked, I promise.
“In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.
The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass--and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.” - Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas
Emily usually publishes one book per year, and for me and my roommate, that is the event of the year. We count down the days until the release, and have both pre-ordered our copy way in advance. We also secretly hope that it’ll accidentally be sent earlier, so we can be amongst the first to read it… that didn’t happen.
My point is that I have high expectations for any Emily Henry book, and it’s safe to say this book completely surpassed them. This book felt like a familiar ache, one you grow so accustomed to that it becomes a comfort blanket. Harriet jumped off the page quickly, and her pain becomes your own.
I thought that the intrigue of the book would centre on why Wyn and Harriet broke up, but that really wasn’t the heart of it. Instead, you’re more focused on what will come next. The friendships in the novel are almost as important as the relationship, and create a wonderful melody of characters, dialogue and tensions.
This is both a book about holding on to something for too long, and letting go of something too soon.
It’s a beautiful book to enjoy by the pool, or tucked up with a cosy blanket.
“Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.
They broke up five months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.
Which is how they find themselves sharing a bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blissful week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.
Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best?” - Happy Place, Emily Henry
One of my favourite book genres is ‘sad girl in her twenties’. You know the kind I mean, think of anything by Sally Rooney, or books with a light blue wavy cover and a girl looking away. I can’t explain the appeal, maybe it’s comforting to see characters who self-sabotage even more than I do, or maybe it’s a chance to undo the unrealistic expectations early 2000s TV set on my twenties.
Careering manages to tick off the ‘sad girl in her twenties’ genre while also being funny and quick-paced, which is something that the genre can struggle with. I love the London publishing scene as a setting, and I liked how it approached the complexities of writing about sex and relationships. In particular, it really tackled how easily you could become fetishised by your own work, and how they can almost neglect your consent.
“Imogen has always dreamed of writing for a magazine. Infinite internships later, Imogen dreams of any job. Writing her blog around double shifts at the pub is neither fulfilling her creatively nor paying the bills.
Harri might just be Imogen's fairy godmother. She's moving from the glossy pages of Panache magazine to launch a fierce feminist site, The Know. And she thinks Imogen's most outrageous sexual content will help generate the clicks she needs.
But neither woman is aware of the crucial thing they have in common. Harri, at the other end of her career, has also been bitten and betrayed by the industry she has given herself to. Will she wake up to the way she's being exploited before her protégé realises that not everything is copy? Can either woman reconcile their love for work with the fact that work will never love them back? Or is a chaotic rebellion calling…” - Careering, Daisy Buchanan
This book has been on my to-read list for years, but I’ve honestly been a little afraid. There are those books that you know will be incredible but so heartwrenching. I remember reading Chanel’s victim statement all those years ago. I remember the tears I shed as I read about one woman’s experience, which could be every woman’s experience.
I finally brought myself to read this book, and I’m so glad that I did. This book takes you further than that statement, and brings a face to the powerful words. It discusses the impact of this trauma in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. It showed how one night can worm its way into your identity. I remember feeling outrage at Brock Turner’s sentencing all those years ago, but that rage is minuscule compared to the fury I felt once I had read this book.
Throughout the book, Chanel focuses on her story and doesn’t fill in the gaps for Brock. She focuses on her own journey, the impact of sexual assault, the trauma of going through a trial, and the path to healing.
“Universally acclaimed, rapturously reviewed, and an instant New York Times bestseller, Chanel Miller's breathtaking memoir "gives readers the privilege of knowing her not just as Emily Doe, but as Chanel Miller the writer, the artist, the survivor, the fighter." (The Wrap). Her story of trauma and transcendence illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicting a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shining with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.” - Know My Name, Chanel Miller
When it comes to hyped books, it can be a tricky case. Due to algorithms, Booktok, and bestseller lists, it’s easier than ever for a book to suddenly be absolutely everywhere. And while this is amazing promotion, it can also work to its detriment. People love to hate something that’s popular, and people can set their expectations so high that nothing could reach it.
I was worried that this would be the case with Fourth Wing. It was getting the most incredible reviews and suddenly seemed to be everywhere. How could a fantasy novel suddenly appear and be this popular? Was this another case of Lightlark?
I had to find out for myself, and I am so glad that I did. This book deserves all of the attention it is getting. The plot is carefully crafted and wonderfully unique. The characters are complex and don’t neatly fit into the rigid categories of hero and villain. I loved her take on the dragons, how they were more than just horses to be ridden, but sentiment beings with their own hierarchies.
Try this book, and hurry to read it so that you’re ready for when the sequel comes out in November!
“Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general―also known as her tough-as-talons mother―has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.
But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.
With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter―like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.
She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.
Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.
Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda―because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.” - Fourth Wing, Rebecca Yarros
I was introduced to the magical world of fantasy novels by Sarah J Maas, which left me with quite the predicament once I’d finished her vast collection of work. Finishing Throne of Glass left me empty, as how could anything compare?
I decided to try and expand my fantasy reading to get over my Throne of Glass hangover, and Six of Crows came highly recommended. Naturally, I did my due diligence and first read Shadow of Bones, which really helped me to enjoy Six of Crows fully.
I think what makes Six of Crows so incredible is that all of the extensive worldbuilding surrounding Grisha and their magic is handled in Shadow and Bone. That allows Six of Crows to focus on the new setting of Ketterdam and the characters. As a Dutch person, the obvious references to Amsterdam were a bit on the nose at times, but I appreciated the effort.
To label this a ‘heist book’ would be incorrect. It is so much more than that. This book is carefully crafted, with intelligent characters that are always two steps ahead of the reader. It is filled with incredible dialogue that I kept stopping to highlight on my Kindle. I particularly loved how it addressed the character’s various traumas. The sequel, Shattered Lands, was equally fast-paced and riveting, and I particularly appreciated how Leigh approached the impact of physical trauma on Inej and Kaz.
“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price - and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone.
A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction - if they don't kill each other first. - Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
I’m a big Greek mythology nerd, and I’ve read many Greek fiction retellings in recent years, so it’s unsurprising that one found its way onto this list. Medusa is a figure that has undergone a big PR shift in recent years, becoming a symbol for sexual assault survivors and the #metoo movement. But before that, she was one of the iconic Greek monsters, a villain to scare children.
This book explores Medusa’s story in unflinching detail. It takes you further than a story of a woman wronged, to the gods that set the scene, the so-called hero we chose to worship, the love of sisters. The prose bordered on poetic, and I found myself crying several times.
What made this book really stand out compared to other Greek myth retellings is the creative liberty that Natalie took with her narrators. She employed multiple narrators, giving each a unique voice, and even had inanimate objects partake in the story. This is a great nod to the original myths, that often employed this method.
“They will fear you and flee you and call you a monster.
The only mortal in a family of gods, Medusa is the youngest of the Gorgon sisters. Unlike her siblings, Medusa grows older, experiences change, feels weakness. Her mortal lifespan gives her an urgency that her family will never know.
When the sea god Poseidon assaults Medusa in Athene’s temple, the goddess is enraged. Furious by the violation of her sacred space, Athene takes revenge—on the young woman. Punished for Poseidon’s actions, Medusa is forever transformed. Writhing snakes replace her hair and her gaze will turn any living creature to stone. Cursed with the power to destroy all she loves with one look, Medusa condemns herself to a life of solitude.
Until Perseus embarks upon a fateful quest to fetch the head of a Gorgon . . .” - Stone Blind, Natalie Hayes
Alongside reading, I’ve had the chance to visit several destinations, go to the London Book Fair, quit my job, start my life as a full-time freelancer, and much more. I can’t wait to see what the second half of 2023 will bring, especially in terms of books!
If you have any book recommendations for what I should read in the coming six months, let me know in the comments. I look for any excuse to ignore my growing TBR pile and jump onto something new.
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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