2020 Second Quarter Top Reads

I’ve been delinquent in my posts. How is it already July 12th?! Anyhow, I went back and looked at the books I read in April, May, and June, and put together my top five reads. They’re alphabetical by title, not ranked in order of how much I loved them, because let’s be honest, it’s hard to rank a romance novel against a fantasy novel (or at least it is for me!).

Deathless Divide – Justina Ireland

Alt-History Fantasy

I know this is a sequel. Hear me out. Is it fair to recommend a sequel when that requires you to read TWO books? Yes. Yes it is. Because both Deathless Divide and Dread Nation are phenomenal books. And this second book delivers where some sequels drop the ball.

I love these books for several reasons, but I should start by saying I’m not a huge zombie fan. If you, like me, read the blurb and thought ‘eh, zombies, no thanks’, I hope I can convince you to go on this 1,002 page journey anyway.

The backdrop for these books is that the Civil War in the U.S. ended when the dead began to rise from the battlefield of Gettysburg. To protect their precious white-lives, those in power decided to train Black and Native American kids to fight the zombies for them. The schools talked about in these books are based on actual residential schools that were responsible for separating children from their parents in the U.S., Canada, and Australia (and probably other places too because colonizers thought it was a great way to ‘assimilate’ the native populations and maintain control over the lands they were stealing. [This was not a part of American history I was taught in school, but have since researched].

Jane and Katherine are both trained at these residential school in the art of zombie slaying. Book one sees them leaving the school and heading West, and I won’t spoil that book for you except to say Deathless Divide takes us all the way to the West Coast, where we see what’s become of California.

History (and the really fun things Justina Ireland does with the fantasy element to twist history into something still VERY realistic) aside, the horribly relevant commentary on race relations is what made this book a must read for me.

Are you still with me? I’m going to throw one more reason to read this book at you: the deep bond and friendship between two unlikely friends. It’s so great to read a book with two very strong but different women working together and growing as people, but also maintaining their relationship. We need more books/media/games (you name it) showing strong friendships and strong women who support each other.

The Gilded WolvesRoshani Chokshi 

Fantasy – Heist

I hemmed and hawed over reading this book. Have I admitted already that I don’t particularly love historical books set in Paris? I’ve just never been a Paris girl. I was fortunate enough to go to Paris two years ago and honestly I preferred the French countryside. For me, Paris was just another big European city. I’m sure I’ve lost many of you at this point, so I’ll move on!

The point is that my bias about Parisian settings kept me from picking up this YA heist and for that I have some regrets. For one, I had the opportunity to get a signed copy when I attended Sirens last fall. I could have added this lush and diverse novel to my bookshelf, complete with signature, but I let my own silly pre-conceived notions hold me back. After hearing the author speak at Sirens, I should have known this was a book I needed, but it took me another six months to finally dive in.

When I did dive in, I was met with multiple POV fantasy heist, with a fun magical system, and characters I was desperate to know more about.

If you liked Six of Crows, read this book. If you like Parisian historical fantasies, read this book. If you’re looking for a thrilling, immersive YA fantasy heist, read this book.

I’ll admit there were times when the ‘gilded’ aspect of the location and world was too much for me. Again, not my aesthetic. But if that is your aesthetic, this book is a must. Also, the sequel, The Silvered Serpents, is due out this fall, so you don’t have to wait very long to continue the journey. If you happened to have read Six of Crows and were burned by the cliffhanger, I can assure you there isn’t a major cliffhanger in this book. Or at least, enough loose ends were tied up that I felt satisfied.

Kingdom of Souls – Rena Barron

Fantasy

Has the cover alone sold you on this one? It did me. I literally bought this book for the cover: “Magic Comes at A Price” and then that amazing bold woman on a throne (with those skulls!). Yep, I’ll take it.

This book is about a girl who is meant to have magic but does not. She feels like she has to have magic in order to help protect her city from evil spirits that she believes are behind the kidnappings happening in her city.

The book was heavy, but not in a bad way. Barron writes of parental and societal expectations that feed a young person’s perception of themselves. I read this book as a story of figuring out how to reconcile your dreams (and others’ expectations) with reality. Kingdom of Souls introduces the reader to a rich fantasy world chock full of politics. I found it to be a page-turner where it felt like no character was safe and just about anything could happen. I’m a sucker for mysteries, and I had to know if I’d figured out whodunit or not, which kept me reading late into the night.

Only Mostly Devastated – Sophie Gonzales

LBGT Romance/Romantic Comedy

Only Mostly Devastated went on my to-be-read list as soon as I read that it was a spin on Grease. As a kid, that was one of my favorite musicals. I’ve been struggling this year to find a romance novel that delivers what I’m looking for. I’ve also been struggling to define what I’m looking for from a romance, so this is completely a me-and-pandemic problem and not a book problem.

This book gave me exactly what I needed: sweet budding romance, realistic problems that made me seriously question how they were going to reach the happily-ever-after or happily-for-now ending that romance promises, and characters that I was rooting for the entire time. I got those gut-punch moments, and that fuzzy ‘awwwww’ as I read. I also got the ‘real world is real and we’ve got problems’ that is so big in romance right now. Gonzales delivered a balanced book that drew me in, made me feel all the feels, and left me hopeful.

You’d probably appreciate some idea beyond “Grease-like” for the plot, right?

Ollie meets Will while he’s visiting his aunt for the summer. It’s a fling that neither wants to end, but Ollie is from California, so when the summer is over, he has to leave town to head cross-country for home to finish out his senior year of high school.

Except he doesn’t. And when Ollie shows up at his new school, it turns out Will is a senior there too. If you’ve seen Grease, you know all about Sandy finding Danny, so I’ll let you take it from there.

This book doesn’t follow Grease‘s plot to a T, so the reader can expect some surprised and originality here.

Well-Met – Jen DeLuca

Romance/Romantic Comedy

Emily has moved to a small town in Maryland to help care for her sister and her niece. In playing best-aunt to her teenage niece, Emily ends up volunteering at the local Renaissance Faire. There she meets Simon, who is one of the organizers of the Faire and takes his job very seriously. The two clash, and the result is this heart-warming enemies-to-lovers romance.

I saw romance at a Renaissance Faire, and as someone who used to attend the Texas Renaissance Fest with my best friend, I was sold. I mean, those pirates can be pretty hot. And the mead and funnel cakes are delicious.

This book broke a streak of romance/romantic comedies this spring that left me feeling meh by the end. Well Met was (mostly) light-hearted and the growing tension between these two enemies had me longing for a bag of popcorn while I watched from the side-lines.

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