Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

We are heading into August now. This has to be one of the most eclectic months of reading I have ever had. It also contains what is, without a doubt, the best book of the year. Here we go!

My Imaginary Mary by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Ada Lovelace and Mary Wollstonecraft were best friends? And created an automaton? And had Percy Shelley helping them evade a mad scientist? Well, you are in luck because Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows already did that for you with their latest collaboration, My Imaginary Mary! While it wasn’t my favorite collaboration of theirs, it is a rollicking good time. The combination of Mary Wollstonecraft and Ida Lovelace is crazy. Add the automaton and the mad scientist, and the word insane comes to mind. All you can do is stay for the ride. For a wholly distracting and yet charming insanity break, you can count on Mademoiselles Ashton, Hand, and Meadows to provide just that.

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean
The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean is a weird story, but I loved it! A woman fighting against a patriarchal society, a secret society of supernatural beings who eat books instead of food, and a mother desperate to save her child are only the tip of the iceberg for this debut novel. The Book Eaters is a complex exploration of family dynamics alongside the ups and downs of motherhood and womanhood. In many ways, while the supernatural element is key to the entire story, as it drives the behaviors of several characters, this plot element takes a backseat to the central theme of family and everything Devon does to protect hers. It is also a powerful story, flitting between past and present, which allows readers to understand the Book Eater family dynamics while following along with Devon as she searches for solutions to an untenable situation. If you are like me, the idea of someone physically reading books will draw you into the book, but you continue reading because you will find yourself invested in Devon’s story. Highly recommend!

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Emily Lloyd-Jones got her inspiration for her novel The Drowned Woods from Welsh mythology, which is very different from Slavic mythology, apparently, much more pleasant without a lot of nasty monsters intent on harming humans. Anyway, the plot of the story is relatively simple, so the charm and ongoing interest lie in the motley band of characters who follow the heroine on her quest to enact revenge on the prince who tricked her. I mean, one member of that band is a dog, so you automatically have to continue reading because dogs rule. The pacing is fast, which keeps you reading, but not too fast that it borders incredulity. I enjoyed my time with Mer and her fellowship and loved how Ms. Lloyd-Jones ended this story. The Drowned Woods is what I consider a beach read for the fantasy set – fun, somewhat mindless, and quick.

Haven by Emma Donoghue
Haven is Emma Donoghue’s latest novel and is quite the departure from her previous novels. The setting is ancient Ireland when Gaelic and Latin still ruled, and Christians were the minority rather than the majority. Following one priest and two monks seeking a new land to claim for Christianity, the story should be rather dull. Instead, a lot is going on within its pages. Ms. Donoghue captures the hypocrisy of modern Christian religions in Artt, the priest who views himself as the leader of his little tribe simply because he has more scholarly knowledge. As Artt’s plans for his new community quickly flounder, we see in Artt much of what we’ve seen in fundamental Christians throughout the US over the past few years. Haven is not so much a story to enjoy as it is a story that warns and educates. It is the type of novel I contemplated not finishing because I detest any story with a strong religious undertone, but I am glad I finished it because of its messaging. Descriptive and powerful, Haven may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a life-altering read for a particular reader.

Babel by R. F. Kuang
Babel by R. F. Kuang is, without a doubt, the best book I’ve read this year. Its theme of language usage is a fascinating commentary on imperialism, revolution, and resistance. As compelling as the story is, and it delivers a little nugget of insight on almost every page, the language of the story is the true star of Babel. Ms. Kuang’s writing style is perfect. While it most definitely is prose, each sentence has a beauty that feels like poetry. Between the story, that magical setting that is Oxford, and the language, Babel left me in awe. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland
A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland left me pleasantly surprised. I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did because there isn’t much to it. The plot is simple. A prince, who has zero self-esteem, decides to step up and investigate a mysterious plot. That’s it. That’s the story. There is magic and romance, but it is a basic plot. I enjoyed A Taste of Gold and Iron because of the setting. It is so lush and exotic, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The romance is a bonus.

Belladonna by Adalyn Grace
Belladonna by Adalyn Grace was one hell of a way to end the month. From the opening scene, when we first see Signa taking poison on purpose, to the twisty ending, all you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride. This Gothic romance has all of the best tropes. Plus, I cannot help but think it would be somewhat cool to be able to take any poison and live through it. What got me, though, is the addition of Death as a character. Ms. Grace writes him in such a way that makes my dark heart flutter. Ms. Grace already announced the sequel and its release date, and is already on my must-read list for 2023!

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