Reading Wrap-Up: May 2021

Previously: Ace of Spades Book Review | Coming Soon: June TBR

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Captain America, vol.1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you are looking to read some Golden Age Captain America, then you have come to the right place. Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Captain America, Vol. 1 collects issues #1-4 of the original 1941 run. It collects the issues in full, which include the ads, and additional stories, and have some additional writing by Roy Thomas and Joe Simon to begin and end the book which helps to give a little context to what you’re reading. It is a great way to read Captain America almost exactly as it would have been read originally, and earn a deeper understanding of those original comics, and how they wanted Cap to be perceived by his readers. You can easily jump into this collection, even if you know nothing about the characters because this is their first iterations. The stories themselves show variety. When you think of Cap, especially the original Cap, you tend to think of Red Skull, Nazi’s and HYDRA, but these stories show him fighting anyone from crazy doctors to mind readers, to monsters on a movie set. While the undertone of patriotism is inevitable, and completely, expected it is very interesting to see the different ways in which it manifests itself. Overall it is a well put together and cohesive collection and a must-read for any Cap and Bucky fans. 

If you want to know more about this collection, and see more of my thoughts, then do check out my Twitter thread.

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Wildfire is the third book in the Hidden Legacy series, an urban fantasy romance set in Houston by husband and wife co-authors, Ilona Andrews. The series takes place in an alternate version of Houston, where magic exists and the more you have the wealthier and more prosperous you are. After falling in love with the first two books I finally decided it was time to return. Sometimes when it’s been a while between books you find that you feel differently about the series. However, I am ecstatic to report that it was not the case here. I loved Wildfire just as much as the previous two books. It did take me longer to read, but only because I had to ration the chapters out or I would just have read it in a single sitting and ignored everything else I had to do. The series has just been so much fun, and Andrews is really clever in the way that they keep it interesting. There is an overarching plot, and it is very relevant in each book as we learn more about what is happening and who is involved. By linking it to individual cases which Nevada takes on as part of her PI business you find yourself very invested in both the large picture and the smaller picture. The relationship between Nevada and Connor is still one of my favourites. Ordinarily, I would lose interest as the angst dissipates, but in their case, this has not happened. There was an opportunity for angst in this book with Connor’s ex playing a big part, but the author steered away from that in favour of showing the stability of their relationship, and I loved it. It is the sort of book which I enjoy while reading, and can’t stop thinking about once I’ve finished. I can’t wait to continue with the series, and I am already looking forward to rereading it in the future.

Picnic by William Inge ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Picnic is the 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning play that takes place on Labour Day weekend, and the arrival on down-on-his-luck Hal and his relationships with the close-knit community. After finishing the play, I immediately picked it up again because it deserved a second read. Inge’s script is so rich that you will get something different out of it each time you read it. There is so much said, and not said, that you can’t help but keep thinking about the play long after the final curtain. The use of the train, which you only hear through dialogue or the sound of its while, was a great repeated motif that made you keeps drawing you back to the theme of escape, and of travel. There are fascinating conjunctures made regarding gender roles, of how they play off one another, and how Hal, a new male arrival, changes the pre-established dynamics of an overtly female setting. His arrival acts as a catalyst for several changes, some direct and some indirect. In the UK this play is not well-known at all, despite the 1955 film adaptation, and as far as I can see has not had a West End run. I hope that I will get to see a live performance of this play someday in the future.

The Suffragettes by Various ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Suffragettes collects a small selection of historical documents to do with the suffrage movement in England. The majority is pro suffragette, there’s a smaller section about the anti-suffragette movement, and then there’s also a small section about the suffragette’s victory. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but it was not what I got. This is no a bad thing, and as I gangue to read I realised just how interesting it was to read historical documents. It’s worth mentioning that the book reproduces posters, but doesn’t transcribe them, so they can be quite hard to read given the size of this book and the quality of the printing. As a result I’m not sure it is the most accessible book. It also doesn’t offer any commentary to discuss what’s being presented, or to link everything together. However, by the end I realised there I didn’t learn anything new in this book. I’ve never studied the suffragettes but most of what is in this book was common knowledge to me. Of course, that will not be true for every reader, and I can see this book a appealing to plenty. For a non0fiction historical book this is very un-intimidating, and easy to pick up and put down, without you feeling as though you’ve forgotten something. If you don’t know anything about the suffragettes then this is a pretty decent place to start.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Wives and Daughters is Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell’s final work and remains unfinished. It follows the seventeen-year-old Molly Gibson, whose father remarries, and her relationship with her new stepmother and stepsister. I read this as part of a book club and was prepared to read a little every day in order to finish by the end of the month. However, I quickly realized that convincing myself to read this was not going to be difficult because I was instantly enamored with the story. There are classics that you have to drag yourself through, and sometimes you’re glad you did and sometimes you’re just glad to reach the end. This was the sort of classic that I wanted to read, and I loved every minute of this 800-page book. I found Molly to be a darling protagonist, who was too good for the world. Hyacinth, the stepmother, was so ridiculous I count help but laugh at her regularly. Towards the end, I was almost crying, despite the fact that what happened wasn’t all that surprising. Gaskell does a brilliant job of taking you through a whole range of emotions. The worst part of this is that it remains unfashioned and I would give anything to have had Gaskell be able to write an ending. This is my third Gaskell novel, and while I have enjoyed all of them, this is the first one that makes me want to seek out more from her. 

Empire of the Sand by Tasha Suri ⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a middle-eastern inspired young-adult fantast that follows Mehr, the illegitimate daughter of a governor, who has inherited the magical gifts of her mother, which are coveted by the evil Emperor. There is a lot more to the plot, and a lot of effort has clearly gone into world-building and the mythology of the magic. However, the book feels exceedingly slow when you’re reading it. It’s so slow that you don’t realise the plot is unfolding around you, and I am not sure that is a good thing. I felt nothing towards this book which was very disappointing for me. It has so many elements that I love and was actively looking for, including a female author and a non-European fantasy setting. Even the romance, which is an arranged/forced marriage and is something I would usually eat up, felt stale. I just did not care about anything or anyone. Until around 90% it very much felt like our protagonist Mehr was only able to act when she was enabled by other people and did not make very many decisions on her own. Even when she did it felt as though she was just following the script of the YA female protagonist. I know this review is hardly a growing recommendation. Is it a bad book? Definitely not. Is it a book for me? No. I can see why people could love this book, but it just did nothing for me personally.

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Diamond Fire is a novella that bridges the gap between the two halves of the Hidden Legacy series. Written by husband and wife co-authoring team, Ilona Andrews, we follow a family-run private investigation firm in a version of Houston, Texas where magic is everything. The three books prior to this are from one perspective, and the following three books are from a different perspective. This book is a smart way for the author to ease us into the new angle that the series is taking. We get one chapter from the original perspective, and the rest is from the new perspective. Although we have met this person before, this is a great way of introducing them as a perspective. The plot is a little trial, despite the potential life and death ramifications, so that you can concentrate more on the character. Before reading this I was resistant to the perspective change, but afterwards, I can’t want to continue with the series. I already know which ship I want to be sailing on, and I hope that it will be cannon. The only critique I have is that when we see that original perspective as a character they didn’t seem like the person from the previous three books. I am willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the change of perspective. I can understand if they wanted the focus to be wholly on the new perspective, but this was a missed opportunity for a couple of lovely moments. Overall, this was a great little novella, and the perfect way to bring the gap in the series.

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Swimming in the Dark sees Ludwik looking back on the first time he fell in love and recounting that story to the subject of his affections, Janusz. Set against the backdrop of 1980s Poland, which was both communist and catholic, the boys move from this idyllic countryside setting to the harsh realities of life, and what they have to do to survive. Having never read anything from this time period in Poland the book did a fantastic job of opening my eyes to an experience that I was unaware of. I tend to think of the post-war communist regime in Russia, and in East Germany, but forget of the many other countries that were also affected. The book proved to be educational, along with being entertainment. I have to be honest that I picked this book up because it sounded a little like my favourite book, Call Me By Your Name. I have done this with other books in the past and been disappointed many a time. However, this time I was right. What makes this so much like that book is not the subject matter of two boys falling in love in the 1980s, but the writing. Tomasz Jedrowski’s lyricism elevates this book so that it becomes more than a love story or an examination of the death of the communist regime in Poland. It is something that is truly special, and despite my comparisons, stands apart from other books. The writing is like nectar that you cannot help but keep drinking every last drop. It created imagery that is so vivid you cannot possibly forget it. I was enamoured and entranced the whole way through. I borrowed this as an audiobook from my library, but I know that I need my own copy immediately, and I am eagerly anticipating Tomasz Jedrowski’s next book.

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Batman: Hush is the iconic story that sees Batman’s foes play a part in a deadly game, with a mysterious gamemaster. Written by Jeph Loeb, and drawn by Jim Lee, this edition collects issues #608-619 of Batman, and an interlude from Wizard, and is everything you could possibly want from a Batman story. It’s a detective story, it’s a romance, it’s a thriller, it’s an action piece, it’s a character study. This is a story that ticks all the boxes. I have always maintained that Under the Red Hood is my favourite Batman story, but Hush is definitely giving it a run for its money. The story unfolds brilliantly over the course of the run, with Loeb leaving clues for you to find, and try to solve the mystery alongside Batman. This is extremely well balanced with the way he dedicates time to exploring the characters behind the masks so that this isn’t just a Batman story but also a Bruce Wayne story. It’s a very human story that plunders the depths of Bruce’s psyche, as all the best story ought to do. One of my favourite things to see in any Batman story is Bruce’s weakness’ because that drives home the truth at the heart of this character. He isn’t an alien, he doesn’t have superpowers, he’s just a man with a lot of money and a desire to affect change. That is something everyone can relate to, whether they’re hanging out on rooftops dressed as a bat or not. Loeb’s art is the perfect accompaniment to this, particularly the way in which he draws the flashbacks. The watercolour washed vibe of those flashbacks created a gorgeous contrast with the traditional look of the present-day pages. To me, this really suggests the way that memories can become a little more indistinct over time, and I loved it. I loved everything about this book and only wish that I could read it again for the first time. I can’t imagine how torturous it must have been to have to wait a month between issues and salute those who survive that trial. Luckily, it was clearly worth it.

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sapphire Flames is the fourth novel in the Hidden Legacyseries, or the first novel in the Catalina Baylor trilogy. After reading the novella Diamond Fire which does a great job at introducing Catalina as a narrator, I knew what to expect to form this novel, and from her narration in particular. What I didn’t expect, however, was to already see that character growth, and I was very pleased by that. When we first meet her in Burn for Me she is a teenager, but now that she has grown up quite a bit she makes for a great narrator. I really enjoyed the route that the plot took in this book, and I think it was very smart to get Nevada as far away from the plot as possible in order to give Catalina the opportunity to shine. The love interest, Alessandro, who we have met briefly in Wildfire was a great addition to the plot, and not just because of his smouldering good looks. I appreciate that his story is quite different to Rogan’s because as readers we are naturally inclined to compare the two. The romance was nice and angsty, as all great romance should be, and I can’t help but love the veneer that Alessandro projects. not only is it fun to read in the moment, but I can feel it building to a lovely tender scene and I’m already excited about it. As you can tell I loved the continuation of the series, and while I can’t wait to pick up the next book I’m keenly aware of the fact that I will have to wait for the one after that, and that hurts me already.

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem by Manda Collins ⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem is an adult romance set during the Victorian period. We follow widowed Katherine who finds herself embroiled in a murder while at a country house party, and the detective sent to investigate. Sometimes when romance is crossed with another genre, it can feel a little shoehorned in. In this instance, Manda Collins does a good job of balancing the two, so you care about the romance and the mystery. My favourite part of this mystery was the way it incorporated literature into the story. The house involved once belonged to a disgraced poet who was a contemporary of Wordsworth. While Romantic poetry is not my area, it was a lot of fun to have that as the background for the mystery. Romance is always a tricky one to review because while the romance in this book did not give me butterflies, it was handled well. There was development in the relationship, although I did think that more could have been done with the tension that is there at the beginning. I know what I like in the Romance genre, and while this didn’t quite tick all of the boxes it was a fun read. The pacing of the mystery kept me engaged with the book, and while things did wrap up rather quickly it was an enjoyable read overall.

White Hot by Ilona Andrews ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Picnic by William Inge ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (ARC)

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (ARC)

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller ⭐️⭐️⭐️ [Coming Soon]

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