I have been looking forward to this reading round-up even more than I usually do. On average, I read about eight books in a month, which makes a list of five quite easy to form. I’m quite an easy-to-please reader - give me a one-bed-trope and I’m sold - so I always have at least five books to recommend.
But this time, I have been on holiday! I have been waiting for my trip to Greece for months, and I couldn’t wait to just plant myself on the beach with my Kindle and read to my heart’s content. I was lucky enough to travel with a fellow bookworm, who was more than content to read in silence beside me. One day after returning from Greece, I travelled to France for work, which gave me plenty of reading time on the plane and train.
So for once, I had a large selection of books to choose from. Which was exciting, until I realised that I would have to narrow down my list to the top five…
So from fourteen books, here are the top five novels I read in May and June. Best enjoyed on a beach in Greece, or even sunning yourself in your local park.
I knew this book would make the list before I even opened it. Well, there was a chance it wouldn’t, there’s always the possibility that an author will make a misstep or that it simply won’t be to my personal taste. But thankfully, this book did not disappoint. I have huge standards for Emily Henry, and she doesn’t fail to deliver.
This book feels like holding a breath for as long as you can, until it physically hurts, and then releasing it in one huge gulp of air. It was achingly beautiful. Emily has a way of utilising familiar tropes - like fake dating or forced proximity - and then making them unrecognisable.
This is a book about love, not just between two ex’s, but for yourself. It’s about choosing who you want to be. It’s also a book about friendship, the kind that spans years and has its ugly moments too. I adored it, and know I’ll be rereading it until my book is tattered. Plus, it’s a gorgeous pink colour that will complement any Instagram pic!
“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
Last year, I ventured into the world of fantasy books for the first time since I was a teenager. I was initially hesitant, telling my eager friend, “I’m just not a fantasy reader”. She begged me to try ACOTAR, just for her. She was right. I loved it. Then I loved Throne of Glass even more, which might be the best series I have read in my entire life - yep, that’s a bold statement from a book reviewer.
So I figured it was time to try more fantasy books to avoid entering a time loop of non-stop rereading Sarah J Maas books. I did some research and decided to try Leigh Bardugo. I can’t bear to deviate from chronology, so I planned to read the Shadow and Bone series and then Six of Crows (which was more highly recommended).
I started the first book in the series on the plane to Greece, and finished it by the second night in Athens. I read the second two within days of reaching the Greek islands, and I was hooked. I even convinced a friend to read them at the same time so we could discuss, and we had plenty to say.
I must admit book one was a little underdeveloped for me, I feel like an overzealous editor cut out about one hundred pages. But book two picked up and book three was an absolute treat! I definitely recommend reading the Shadow and Bone series before you read Six of Crows, and it gives you a lot to think about. In particular, the conversation around religion/sainthood grabbed my attention.
“Soldier. Summoner. Saint. Follow Alina Starkov through Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising as she discovers her dormant powers and is swept up in a world of luxury and illusion. As Alina struggles to fit into her new life, a threat to the kingdom of Ravka grows―one that will test old alliances and challenge the very limits of magic, one that will forge a leader from a frightened girl.” - Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo
While we’re talking about Leigh Bardugo, let’s move on to her next series that I read on holiday. Shadow of Bones was good, and a great follow-up for people who enjoyed Sarah J Maas and are impatiently waiting for her next relief. But Shadow of Bone walked so Six of Crows could fly.
Let me explain.
Due to the extensive worldbuilding in Shadow of Bones, Six of Crows could skip that whole step. There is quite a bit of assumed knowledge, which is why I really urge you to read SoB first. But this allowed Leigh to truly dive into the story and focus on creating such complex characters. These characters leaped off the page and firmly implanted themselves in my mind. I was initially hesitant at the thought of a ‘heist story’, but that term doesn’t do these two books justice. I was hooked and couldn’t put it down, something I haven’t experienced since the Throne of Glass books.
Read Six of Crows. Read Shattered Lands. Trust me, you won’t regret it. But be warned: you will CRY!
“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
So little time, so many great fantasy novels to read! So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard the huge discourse surrounding Fourth Wing. And for once, it’s positive discourse. Everyone has been talking about how great Fourth Wing is, and it’s currently holding an astounding 4.7 on Goodreads.
Naturally, I had to see what all this hype was about. I went in with very high expectations - Emily Henry-level expectations- and this book managed to succeed them.
I loved the world-building, it felt truly unique. So much thought went into every aspect and I felt drawn into this complex power structure. I loved that the dragons were their own force to be reckoned with, and not simply a horse to be ridden. The characters were complex and didn’t fit neatly into hero or villain. I did find that there was a bit too much effort to make it ‘cool’, and the talk of sex sometimes bordered on cringy. But the plot kept me hooked, and while some things seemed evident, others truly took me by surprise.
The next book is coming out in November, and I can’t believe the cliffhanger will be resolved so soon. It seems rare for fantasy books to be released so quickly, and Rebecca is truly putting in the work. And she’s confirmed that she has plotted for a five-book series, so there is plenty more to come.
“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
This was a book I often saw mentioned on lists, and yet never really discussed. Having read it, this surprises me as I can’t stop thinking about it.
I love reading books about writers. Not just because I’m a writer myself, but because there is something so meta about a writer writing about a writer. I think it’s a key moment as writers will let too much of them slip through into their character, and it’s almost a game of spotting the difference.
This novel managed to both glamorise the life of an unpublished author and yet also show its bleakness. It carefully toed the line between dreams and harsh reality throughout, allowing the reader to not feel overwhelmed and continue to urge Casey on. It was beautifully written, with bare descriptions of sex, desire, anxiety and loneliness.
I found myself unable to put it down, and I realise how much I had invested in Casey’s happy ending.
“Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.” - Writers & Lovers, Lily King
It was quite a fantasy-heavy period, as these books are perfect for reading at the beach. But if you’re doubting whether fantasy is for you, simply give it a try! I feel like fantasy books can get a bad reputation, just like romance, and be considered ‘lesser’ than other genres, but this doesn’t have to be the case. I personally love the escapism and high stakes of fantasy, and it often comes with the most stunning prose.
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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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