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  • Anouchka Harris

November Books Round Up

November was kind of rough... Between flu season and tonsillitis, it felt like half the time I wasn’t up to doing much but watching the new She-Ra on Netflix. But here’s a few thoughts on what I read!

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill

Run for Life by Sam Murphy

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

This is a great YA fantasy novel told from multiple points of view. In this corner of her fantasy world, Green writes about three countries; Brigant, a patriarchy ruled by an ambitious tyrant; Calidor, once part of Brigant, but now ruled independently by the king of Brigant’s brother; and Pitoria, a cultural hub, but also home to demons. The five perspectives are Catherine, a princess of Brigant sent to forge an alliance by marriage; Ambrose, her guard and object of her hidden affection; March, servent to the ruler of Calidor and one of the few surviving Abask people, a region that was utterly destroyed in the Brigant-Calidor war; Edyon, a thief; and Tash, a fleet-footed, thirteen year-old who hunts demons to collect the smoke they release upon death, which is largely used as a recreational drug.

This is the first novel in a series and there’s a lot to explore here. There’s a wealth of history and political alliances that this novel only begins to explore. Green does a good job of informing the reader, but always keeping back enough to make them feel they’re only getting one part of the story.

My biggest complaint with this novel was that Catherine and Tash are such brilliant characters that the others pale in comparison. Catherine is an intelligent, sharp-witted young woman living in a world that doesn’t value women. Tash is an enthusiastic, adventurous, and sometimes reckless girl. Both are compelling and enjoyable to read, in their different ways. While Ambrose, Edyon and March are all also interesting characters, they never gripped me in quite the same way.

The story follows Catherine as she tries to make a new life for herself in her new country before she marries the prince. Ambrose is trying to keep her safe. March is looking for revenge against the prince he serves. Edyon is just looking out for himself. And Tash is chasing after Edyon, who stole a bottle of demon smoke. Green does a good job of keeping the tension going with just how these characters are going to end up in the same place. The connections are gradually built up until all the pieces neatly slot together and set up a solid foundation for the next book in this series.

Hugely enjoyable, imaginative, and I would definitely like to read the next one.

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab

This is Schwab’s recently released sequel to Vicious. If you haven’t read it yet... what are you waiting for? It’s amazing. Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read Vicious.

With that out of the way, Vengeful is a spectacular follow-up. In it, Schwab repeats her suspenseful, timeline-jumping structure, which makes this a really unique novel. It took me quite a while to figure out where the story was going. I sometimes find this a problem, but Schwab pulls it off beautifully. She fills in some of the gaps left by Vicious, meaning that the reader gets a whole lot of Eli’s backstory. The reader also gets to catch up with Victor, Sydney and Mitch five years down the line. Sydney has been working on her own power, running from her own demons. Mitch is still her protector and guardian. Victor is looking for a way to stop himself from repeatedly dying, each time taking him a little longer to revive.

Schwab also introduces a new, powerful EO; Marcella. One of the things that frustrates me about female characters depicted fiction and media is the way people often conflate characters being sexualised with being sexy. Marcella is an attractive woman, a femme fatale, but Schwab never sexualises her. Her appearance is the least interesting thing about her, beautiful though she is. She is, in fact, a woman who has been undermined and underestimated because of her physical appeal. She is also someone filled with rage, ambition and confidence in her own power. It’s so rare to see such a fascinating female character that embodies these things. And that is just one of the gems to be found in Vengeful.

The door has definitely been left open for a third novel in this series and I’m certainly keeping my fingers crossed for another one. Schwab has a talent for leaving just enough of the loose-ends to keep things interesting without making for a dissatisfying stand-alone story. I really can’t recommend this enough. It’s a brilliant follow-up to Vicious. Honestly, I’ve never been disappointed by anything I’ve read by V.E. Schwab and I don’t see that ever changing.

Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill

Mostly poetry, with some prose thrown in here and there, this is lovely book to dip in and out of, although it’s also surprisingly compelling. I found myself just wanting to keep going. I don’t often read that much poetry, although I do enjoy it, so this was a nice change of pace from some of the other stuff I’ve been reading lately. Gill re-imagines all kinds of fairytales from many perspectives, some expected, others less so.

Her poetry offers a vast range of emotional resonance, from compassion and empathy through to pity and ferocity. Gill’s choice of characters, and the voices she gives to them, is one of the remarkable things about this poetry collection. Her poetry is inspiring and perpetually hopeful, even at its most melancholy. Even when the line between hero and monster isn’t as clear cut as we would like to pretend. At the start of the collection, the poem ‘Once Upon a Time’ actually made me cry. And from that point on, I was hooked.

If you feel like you’re missing a little magic from your life, I would definitely recommend Gill’s poetry. At the very least, follow her on Instagram and check out some of her work.

Run for Life by Sam Murphy

Not exactly a sit-down-and-read-cover-to-cover, but this is another book I’ve particularly enjoyed over the past couple of months. It’s specifically tailored for female runners although there’s a lot of good information in there for everyone. I had originally started running in a very haphazard, structure-less way. This is the book that made me properly rethink how I was exercising and I started the advised beginning program. I’m actually still doing it. I’m not just a runner, I use it to support my other areas of fitness, but this has been a great introduction and reference source whenever I have a question or concern.

But it isn’t just a running program. It gives tips on getting going and making it a habit, ways to build up a unique training program that will work towards your goals, warm-ups, cool-downs, stretching and strength training to avoid injury. There are sections on the right kind of footwear and clothing, how to fuel yourself before and after your run. There’s even advice on staying safe during your runs and on how to deal with injuries and when to consult a medical professional.

Murphy’s writing is both knowledgeable and very accessible. She writes warmly but practically, without ever feeling ‘preachy’. When I first started running, I had a persistent knee injury that would sometimes make it difficult to even walk up stairs. Eventually I realised that this was because I wasn’t supporting my running with enough strength training. This is exactly the kind of information Run for Life provides, ensuring that people have the knowledge to run in a safe and constructive way.

While Murphy does talk about weight loss, this isn’t primarily a book about weight loss. It’s a book about running, and Murphy doesn’t assume that your primary reason for wanting to run is weight loss. And in a world where it feels like everyone is talking about calories, this is actually very comforting. She instead gives all kinds of other reasons to run and positive benefits, both physical and mental. This is a really informative and motivational book and I would definitely recommend it to someone with an interest in starting to run on a regular basis.

That's all for now, but I'll be back in 2019 with more!

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