2020 Recent Reads: January-March

I have to admit, it’s kind of nice to have some sort of normalcy on the blog when everything outside isn’t normal. And something that is normal is writing a Recent Reads post. For those of you who are new to my blog, I like to recap what I’ve read over the previous 3 months. This is the first one of 2020!

And man is my reading year off to a great start. My secret? … I read a bunch of romance novels. This is new for me, but I’ve got to get over myself and my literary snobbiness. I mean, I liked them and it’s my spare time, so that makes them worthwhile. (Do I sound like I’m trying to convince myself? Probably because I have to unlearn my literary snob instincts.) Anyways. Let’s get reading!

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In this blog post, book-lover Kate the (Almost) Great shares the books she read in the first quarter of 2020.

Ruin and Rising – “The Darkling rules from his shadow throne while a weakened Alina Starkov recovers from their battle under the dubious protection of the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Now her hopes lie with the magic of a long-vanished ancient creature and the chance that an outlaw prince still survives. As her allies and enemies race toward war, only Alina stands between her country and a rising tide of darkness that could destroy the world. To win this fight, she must seize a legend’s power—but claiming the firebird may be her ruin” (x). This was my first read of 2020 and it was incredible. The ending! I didn’t see it coming at all. I’m really excited for the Netflix series. (No clue what the timing will be because of the pandemic.)

The Duke and I – “By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend’s sister—the lovely and almost-on-the-shelf—Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth—it’s all an elaborate ruse to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it’s hard to remember that their courtship is a sham. Maybe it’s his devilish smile, certainly it’s the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her . . . but somehow Daphne is falling for the dashing duke . . . for real! And now she must do the impossible and convince the handsome rogue that their clever little scheme deserves a slight alteration, and that nothing makes quite as much sense as falling in love” (x). I couldn’t read this fast enough. I stayed up really late finishing it; I couldn’t stop reading to go to sleep. Regency romance novel fans are probably super familiar with the Bridgerton series, but I had never heard of it, and then I couldn’t stop reading! As a heads up, there is a scene with consent issues.

The Viscount Who Loved Me – “But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry–he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield–the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate’s the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams… Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes to not make the best husbands–and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate’s determined to protect her sister–but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself…” (x). This is the second book in the Bridgerton series! I liked it but preferred the Duke and I.

An Offer from a Gentleman – “Sophie Beckett never dreamed she’d be able to sneak into Lady Bridgerton’s famed masquerade ball—or that “Prince Charming” would be waiting there for her! Though the daughter of an earl, Sophie has been relegated to the role of servant by her disdainful stepmother. But now, spinning in the strong arms of the debonair and devastatingly handsome Benedict Bridgerton, she feels like royalty. Alas, she knows all enchantments must end when the clock strikes midnight. Who was that extraordinary woman? Ever since that magical night, a radiant vision in silver has blinded Benedict to the attractions of any other—except, perhaps, this alluring and oddly familiar beauty dressed in housemaid’s garb whom he feels compelled to rescue from a most disagreeable situation. He has sworn to find and wed his mystery miss, but this breathtaking maid makes him weak with wanting her. Yet, if he offers her his heart, will Benedict sacrifice his only chance for a fairy tale love?” (x). You guessed it – this is another Bridgerton novel! It’s also a Cinderella retelling (evil step-mother, anyone?). I enjoyed it!

The Amber Spyglass – “Throughout the worlds, the forces of both heaven and hell are mustering to take part in Lord Asriel’s audacious rebellion. Each player in this epic drama has a role to play—and a sacrifice to make. Witches, angels, spies, assassins, tempters, and pretenders, no one will remain unscathed. Lyra and Will have the most dangerous task of all. They must journey to a gray-lit world where no living soul has ever gone and from which there is no escape. As war rages and Dust drains from the sky, the fate of the living—and the dead—comes to depend on Lyra and Will. On the choices they make in love, and for love, forevermore” (x). This was a reread, but I hadn’t read it in a LONG time and I had forgotten a lot of it. I forgot how beautiful it is, how sad it is, how wonderful it is. It was so much better than I remembered it being.

The Pretty One – “Keah Brown loves herself, but that hadn’t always been the case. Born with cerebral palsy, her greatest desire used to be normalcy and refuge from the steady stream of self-hate society strengthened inside her. But after years of introspection and reaching out to others in her community, she has reclaimed herself and changed her perspective. In The Pretty One, Brown gives a contemporary and relatable voice to the disabled—so often portrayed as mute, weak, or isolated. With clear, fresh, and light-hearted prose, these essays explore everything from her relationship with her able-bodied identical twin (called “the pretty one” by friends) to navigating romance; her deep affinity for all things pop culture—and her disappointment with the media’s distorted view of disability; and her declaration of self-love with the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute” (x). This book of essays touches on a lot: race, disability, media, and more. Keah is such a good writer (she recently announced that she has a children’s book coming out next!), and I enjoyed it a lot, but it was definitely hard to read at times.

City of Girls – “In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest. Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it” (x). This was one of those books where I liked it, but I didn’t think I loved it … and then I realized I had read 200 pages and it was a few hours later than I had started. Overall, it’s really good, and features themes like found family, which is always a favorite of mine.

Reviewing City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, review of City of Girls, City of Girls review, what to read, book recommendation, book review, historical fiction

Romancing Mister Bridgerton – “Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend’s brother for . . . well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret . . . and fears she doesn’t know him at all. Colin Bridgerton is tired of being thought of as nothing but an empty-headed charmer, tired of the notorious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who can’t seem to publish an edition without mentioning him. But when Colin returns to London from a trip abroad, he discovers nothing in his life is quite the same—especially Penelope Featherington! The girl who was always simply there is suddenly the girl haunting his dreams. When he discovers that Penelope has secrets of her own, this elusive bachelor must decide . . . is she his biggest threat— or his promise of a happy ending?” (x). Penelope is easily one of my favorite characters in the Bridgerton books! So I love that she is Colin’s love interest. And I love the secret that she revealed.

To Sir Phillip, With Love – “Sir Phillip knew that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, and so he’d proposed, figuring that she’d be homely and unassuming, and more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except . . . she wasn’t. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking long enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her . . . and more. Did he think she was mad? Eloise Bridgerton couldn’t marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking . . . and before she knew it, she was in a hired carriage, on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except . . . he wasn’t. Her perfect husband wouldn’t be so moody and ill-mannered, and while Phillip was certainly handsome, he was rough and rugged and totally unlike the London gentlemen vying for her hand. But when he kissed her . . . she couldn’t help but wonder . . . could this imperfect man be perfect for her?” (x). Yup, another Bridgerton book! I really enjoyed Eloise and Phillip’s relationship.

Highland Raven – “Scotland, 1026–Descendant of the line of MacAlpin, Gruoch should have been born into a life of ease. But fate is fickle. Her father’s untimely death, rumored to have been plotted by King Malcolm, leaves her future uncertain and stained by the prophecy that she will avenge her family line. Escaping to one of the last strongholds of the old Celtic gods, Gruoch becomes an adept in arcane craft. Her encounters with the otherworld, however, suggest that magic runs stronger in Scotland than she ever imagined. Haunted by dreams of a raven-haired man she’s never met, Gruoch soon feels her fate is not her own. She is duty-bound to wed a powerful lord, if not the Prince himself; however, she’s not sure she can stop her heart when she meets Banquo, a gallant highlander and druid” (x).

This book is a first in a fantasy series about the real woman Lady Macbeth was based on. (Which is a complicated concept to explain! Basically, the woman was real, this is in Scotland in the 11th century, sadly there’s no evidence magic is real.) I enjoyed it a lot but it wasn’t a you-HAVE-to-read-this book. I might get the other books in the series, but I’m not really sure.

When He Was Wicked – “In every life there is a turning point . . . A moment so tremendous, so sharp and breathtaking, that one knows one’s life will never be the same. For Michael Stirling, London’s most infamous rake, that moment came the first time he laid eyes on Francesca Bridgerton. After a lifetime of chasing women, of smiling slyly as they chased him, of allowing himself to be caught but never permitting his heart to become engaged, he took one look at Francesca Bridgerton and fell so fast and hard into love it was a wonder he managed to remain standing. Unfortunately for Michael, however, Francesca’s surname was to remain Bridgerton for only a mere thirty-six hours longer—the occasion of their meeting was, lamentably, a supper celebrating her imminent wedding to his cousin. But that was then . . . Now Michael is the earl and Francesca is free, but still she thinks of him as nothing other than her dear friend and confidant. Michael dares not speak to her of his love . . . until one dangerous night, when she steps innocently into his arms and passion proves stronger than even the most wicked of secrets . . .” (x). Meh, I didn’t like this one very much, or at least in comparison to the others in the series. I can’t really pinpoint what it was that I didn’t like, it was just meh.

Reviewing Livingston Girls, the queer contemporary fantasy novel by Briana Morgan. #whatiread #whattoread #bookreview #bookrecommendation

Livingston Girls (gifted) – “After an affair with her teacher, Rose’s parents ship her off to Livingston Academy, a stuffy all-girls’ boarding school. Ashamed of her past and herself, sixteen-year-old Rose just wants to chill, pass her classes, and make friends. The last thing on her mind is becoming a witch… Until the enigmatic headmistress gives her the chance to join a coven secret from the rest of the school. Desperate to prove herself and looking for a purpose, the headmistress’s offer seems too perfect to pass up. Rose puts on her metaphorical pointy hat and becomes a Livingston witch. She quickly discovers that the other witches don’t want her in their group—especially because she’s filling their dead friend’s space—but if they can’t band together, the witch-hunting headmaster of the boys’ school will kill them. Meanwhile, Rose struggles to understand her growing feelings for her roommate, who may or may not hate her guts. You know, typical boarding school stuff” (x).

If you’re looking for a fun read that will take you out of our current world, but you don’t want to go too far, Livingston Girls is for you. And it just came out! If you’re looking for a modern, more-inclusive Harry Potter, this is your pick. I absolutely adored it. Trigger warnings include blood, vomit, violence, suicide mentions, teen pregnancy, drug use, smoking, alcohol abuse, strong language, sexual abuse mentions, and death.

The Secrets We Kept – “The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story–the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the Gulag and inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara–with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. From Pasternak’s country estate outside Moscow to the brutalities of the Gulag, from Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, The Secrets We Kept captures a watershed moment in the history of literature–told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail. And at the center of this unforgettable debut is the powerful belief that a piece of art can change the world” (x).

This fascinating book is easily one of my favorites in this post. As the above says, it’s about the CIA’s (very real) mission to get the book Doctor Zhivago to people in the USSR in the 50s. We meet the author’s (real) mistress and muse, the secretaries of the CIA, and spies of the CIA in the beginning of the Cold War. I had no idea this happened! Content warnings include sexual assault, period-accurate homophobia, and showing life in a gulag.

The Song of Achilles – “A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner” (x). This retelling of The Iliad and the myths around Achilles was incredible. It was so beautiful. Greek myths and The Odyssey are big favorites of mine, so it’s not surprising that I liked this.

What have you read recently?

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