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  • Writer's pictureCassidi Beck

May's Literary Bouquet: A Wrap-Up of Unforgettable Reads

This month was a feast for the literary senses. From a gripping dystopian thriller to a poignant romance, and even a thought-provoking clash between billionaires and hippies in literary fiction, I savored a diverse range of books. What's more, every single book I read this month earned a remarkable four stars or more, adding an extra touch of satisfaction to my reading journey.

May Wrap Up

A Thrilling Journey into a Dystopian Future: "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown

"Red Rising" is the first book in a highly acclaimed science fiction series written by Pierce Brown. Set in a futuristic society, the novel takes readers on an exhilarating journey of rebellion, social stratification, and political intrigue. With its dynamic characters and immersive world-building, it's easy to see why "Red Rising" has garnered a devoted following and widespread critical acclaim.

While this series has been on my radar for a while, it was not a series I had even added to my TBR list on Goodreads. However, after finishing Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes last month, I was definitely on the “futuristic society, hunger-games, rebellion’ sort of vibe. This year also seems to be the year I start catching up on a multitude of fantasy / sci-fi series that I have missed out on the last decade.

The story is set in a distant future where humanity has colonized other planets, with a strict hierarchical society dividing people into different color-coded castes. The protagonist, Darrow, belongs to the lowest caste, the Reds, who toil deep beneath the surface of Mars to prepare the planet for future colonization. When a personal tragedy strikes, Darrow joins a revolutionary group and undergoes a transformative procedure to infiltrate the highest echelons of society and spark a revolution from within.

Brown's expert storytelling blends elements of dystopian fiction, space opera, and epic fantasy seamlessly. He paints a detailed picture of the Martian landscape, skillfully contrasting the different castes to create a world that is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant. The plot moves at a breakneck pace, filled with surprising twists and turns that will leave you breathless. Furthermore, the book explores themes of identity, sacrifice, and the blurred lines between good and evil. As Darrow assumes a new persona and confronts moral dilemmas, readers are compelled to examine their own understanding of morality and the lengths one should go to achieve justice.

The Red Rising Series

While "Red Rising" is an enthralling read, some readers may find the initial world-building overwhelming due to the introduction of numerous terminologies and societal structures. Also most of the book is set during a ‘war-trial’ that seems to hanker on a bit.

I enjoyed the novel and it certainly left me wanting to find out more. I am excited to continue the series and hopefully Brown keeps the series as engaging. If you enjoy immersive world-building, complex characters, and adrenaline-fueled action, "Red Rising" is a must-read that will leave you eagerly reaching for the subsequent books in the series.

"Yellowface" by Rebecca F. Kuang - A Thrilling Satire of the Publishing Industry

Rebecca F. Kuang, known for her recent hit fantasy novel "Babel," as well as the impressive Poppy War adventure trilogy, surprises readers with her bold move and latest work, "Yellowface," a captivating exploration of the world of publishing. In this wickedly funny and clever thriller, Kuang delves into themes of creative theft, racial politics, and the perils of internet culture.

R.F. Kuang & Yellowface

The story revolves around two young novelists in Washington DC: Athena Liu, a critically acclaimed writer who has just struck a deal with Netflix, and Juniper Hayward, a jealous and forgotten debut novelist whose book failed to make an impact. The narrative takes an unexpected turn when Athena tragically chokes to death during a celebratory moment with Juniper, leaving behind her secret manuscript about Chinese workers in World War I.

Juniper seizes the opportunity and publishes the manuscript under her own name, now known as June Song. As success and acclaim come her way, Juniper finds herself entangled in a web of deceit, facing allegations of plagiarism and cultural appropriation. Kuang skillfully weaves a tale of rivalry, revenge, and even touches on the supernatural, all while shedding light on the publishing industry's attitude toward racial diversity.

The strength of "Yellowface" lies in its ability to blend dark humor with incisive commentary. Juniper's character, driven by resentment and ambition, is both relatable and morally complex. Kuang's writing effortlessly captures Juniper's justifications for her actions, leaving readers to grapple with their own judgments. The novel satirizes the book trade and exposes the intricate dynamics that determine which authors and books become bestsellers.

While the book is niche due to its focus on the publishing industry, Kuang's storytelling prowess keeps readers engaged from start to finish. The narrative unfolds at a brisk pace, and the author infuses wicked humor into the plot. Juniper's journey, from the initial excitement of success to the fear of her secret being exposed, creates a sense of tension and intrigue.

Kuang also tackles the impact of social media, particularly Twitter, on the lives of authors. The novel portrays the destructive power of online pile-ons, exploring the anxiety and self-destructive impulses that arise from constant exposure to public opinion. Additionally, the book addresses the complexities of diversity in publishing and the challenges faced by marginalized authors.

While some readers might find the occasional need for explanations on certain industry details unnecessary, "Yellowface" remains an absorbing read. Kuang's ability to navigate the moral gray areas of the story and keep readers guessing is commendable. The novel's dark, clever, and brilliant nature makes it a standout work in the genre.

Rebecca F. Kuang's "Yellowface" showcases her range as an author, transitioning seamlessly from her epic fantasy masterpiece to a thrilling examination of the publishing industry. With its biting satire, compelling characters, and thought-provoking themes, this book is sure to leave a lasting impression on readers.

"Happy Place" by Emily Henry: Witty Rom-Com Escape Filled with Longing and Laughter!

Allow me to begin by confessing that the romance novel happens to be one of my least preferred genres. I often find the storylines to be indistinguishable, making it challenging to recall which author penned which book. Typically, I turn to a romance novel when I find myself in a reading rut, seeking a light and fluffy read before bedtime. But Emily Henry? I’d sell my unborn child for this woman. I have loved all her previous novels and I am excited to say that Happy Place is no different. Henry knocked it out of the park once again!

If you've enjoyed her previous works like "Beach Read" and "Book Lovers," get ready for a slightly different tone in this heartfelt and melancholic tale. With a backdrop of Maine's idyllic coastline and a cast of lovable characters, Henry weaves a story that will make you laugh, yearn, and ultimately remind you of the joy and resilience found in love and friendship.

Emily Henry's Masterpieces

Henry's talent for setting the scene is on full display in "Happy Place." With her vivid descriptions and attention to detail, you can practically taste the lobster, feel the salty breeze, and imagine yourself strolling along the rocky shores of Maine. The picturesque setting serves as the perfect backdrop for the emotional rollercoaster that awaits.

The heart of the story revolves around Harriet and Wyn, a former couple attempting to navigate the complexities of their broken relationship. As they gather with their close-knit group of friends for one last vacation at the cottage, they find themselves faced with the challenge of pretending to be a happy couple. The tension, longing, and conflicted emotions between Harriet and Wyn are palpable, leaving readers eagerly turning the pages to see if they can mend their shattered hearts.

Emily Henry's signature wit and sharp dialogue shine through in "Happy Place." The characters' banter is both hilarious and heartwarming, with exchanges that will make you giggle and swoon in equal measure. Harriet and Wyn's interactions are particularly captivating, as their complicated feelings for each other manifest in fiery clashes and tender moments of understanding. The chemistry between them is electrifying, making it impossible not to root for their reunion.

But "Happy Place" is not solely focused on the romance between Harriet and Wyn. It beautifully captures the essence of friendship, showcasing the evolving dynamics and enduring bonds of a tight-knit group. The ensemble cast, including Harriet's friends Sabrina and Cleo, adds depth and warmth to the narrative. While they may not be as sharply defined as the main characters, their presence adds richness to the story, reminding us of the power of chosen family.

While "Happy Place" is a love story at its core, it also touches on themes of loss, professional burnout, and the challenges of maintaining intimacy in a changing world. Without explicitly mentioning the pandemic, Henry subtly weaves in the effects of our shared experiences over the past few years. The story resonates with the emotions we've all grappled with, reminding us that true happiness lies in our connections with one another.

In true Emily Henry fashion, "Happy Place" strikes a perfect balance between romance and realism. The characters are relatable, flawed, and face genuine struggles that go beyond clichéd rom-com tropes. It's a testament to Henry's ability to craft authentic and multi-dimensional characters that readers can't help but empathize with.

"Happy Place" is a beautifully written romantic comedy that will transport you to a world of longing, laughter, and love. Emily Henry's storytelling prowess shines through as she captures the complexities of relationships, the power of friendship, and the resilience of the human heart. With its breathtaking setting, witty banter, and genuine emotional depth, this book is a must-read for fans of heartfelt romances that tug at your heartstrings and leave you with a renewed sense of hope.

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton: A Wickedly Thrilling Battle of Ideologies

In her latest tour de force, "Birnam Wood," Eleanor Catton unleashes a gripping and wickedly entertaining battle between a billionaire and a guerrilla gardening group. Known for her Booker-winning masterpiece, "The Luminaries," Catton takes a daring leap into the world of contemporary politics and delivers a virtuoso performance that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

Eleanor Catton

Set in modern-day New Zealand, the novel introduces readers to Birnam Wood, a witchy collective led by the charismatic Mira Bunting and her devoted sidekick, Shelley Noakes. This guerrilla gardening group, armed with dark gloves and balaclavas, seeks radical social change by cultivating urban land in unconventional ways. Their world collides with that of Robert Lemoine, an American tycoon with a chillingly calm demeanor and ambitious plans as a self-proclaimed "doomsteader."

Catton's pen cuts through the pages with razor-sharp precision, deftly dissecting both anti-capitalist activists and the billionaire class. As the plot thickens, Mira finds herself tempted by a deal offered by Lemoine, who wishes to fund Birnam Wood's expansion on a vast tract of land. But beneath Lemoine's seemingly generous offer lies a sinister agenda, leaving readers questioning who the true Macbeth in this power struggle might be.

"Birnam Wood" excels in its ability to create well-rounded characters and delve into complex social dynamics. Catton fearlessly explores the underlying tensions within New Zealand society, from the chippiness of successful men to the self-mythologizing tendencies of middle-class do-gooders. The interplay between friendship and betrayal adds an additional layer of depth to the narrative, revealing the delicate frictions that both bind and undermine these characters.

"Birnam Wood" showcases Catton's impeccable plotting skills and her knack for penetrating observations. With its swirling, rhythmic sentences, the novel captivates readers with its intelligent and elegant prose. As the story unfolds, the intricate twists and turns keep readers guessing, making it a true page-turner from start to finish.

At its core, "Birnam Wood" is a thrilling political drama that raises thought-provoking questions about our contemporary world. Catton adeptly exposes the schemes and deadlocks of modern politics, painting a vivid picture of a clash between the ideals of Birnam Wood and the powerful forces of wealth and influence. The collision of these opposing forces adds an element of comic potential, offering a satirical exploration of the hippies-versus-billionaires trope.

In conclusion, "Birnam Wood" is a triumph of storytelling, filled with vivid characters, deft plotting, and Catton's unmistakable wit. It proves that Eleanor Catton is a master of her craft, capable of engaging readers with intelligent and thought-provoking narratives that transcend genre boundaries.

"Godkiller by Hannah Kaner: A Dark and Immersive Debut That Slays with Twists"

"You are not welcome here, Godkiller." When picking a fantasy novel, I tend to stick to those shown all over bookstagram or well-known series. But the plot and these simple words ignited my curiosity from the moment I opened Hannah Kaner’s debut novel and, intrigued, I dived right in. Prepare to be immersed in a dark and gritty world where gods and mortals clash. With its echoes of Sapkowski's The Witcher series, this novel delivers a fascinating dark fantasy adventure. Boasting exceptional writing, excellent pacing, and surprising twists, Kaner's book is a must-read for fantasy enthusiasts.

Set in a world where the killing of gods under the King's orders has caused political unrest and rumors of civil war, the story unfolds in the aftermath of this momentous event. Through the eyes of four distinct characters, Kaner masterfully reveals the intricacies of this fantasy realm. We meet Kissen, a skilled godkiller who harbors deep scars from her tragic past, Elogast, a former knight turned baker haunted by his memories of the god war, Inara, a young noblewoman with a hidden existence, and Skedi, her enigmatic god companion.

The characters' backstories, flaws, and vulnerabilities are gradually unveiled, making each point of view captivating and relatable. Inara and Skedi's connection, shrouded in mystery, defies the norms of gods' survival without shrines and devoted followers. Kaner expertly weaves together diverse elements, such as LGBTQ+ representation, mental illness struggles, disability representation, and sign language, seamlessly integrating them into the narrative to enrich the story and its characters.

"Godkiller" offers much more than a compelling cast. The world-building is remarkable, presenting a unique portrayal of gods and their roles in society. The mythology and history unfold gradually, leaving room for future revelations. Kaner's concise yet vivid descriptions make the world come alive, and the fast-paced plot keeps readers engaged from start to finish. Set against the backdrop of a kingdom where the worship of gods is forbidden, we explore the consequences of faith and the power of belief with great depth.

Despite its relatively short length for an epic fantasy, "Godkiller" packs a punch. However, I couldn't help but crave a deeper expansion in future installments. I longed for more point-of-view characters to provide a broader view of the world, adding further depth and drama to an already impressive narrative. Nevertheless, the novel's events culminate in an exhilarating climax, leaving readers eager for what the next installment will bring.

Hannah Kaner's debut is a testament to her talent as an author. With skillful storytelling and vivid prose, she masterfully crafts a brutal and unforgiving world where the characters' courage and survival instincts are put to the test. The portrayal of gods as entities that can be summoned, bargained with, and physically manifest is both captivating and thought-provoking. Kaner beautifully explores the dual nature of gods, showcasing the comforting hope they offer alongside their insatiable hunger for power and suffering.

In conclusion, "Godkiller" is a dark, immersive, and unapologetic debut that grips readers from the very first page. Hannah Kaner's skillful blend of courage, faith, greed, and survival creates a mesmerizing narrative that will leave you eagerly anticipating the next installment in this thrilling series.

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