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A Thrilling End to the Year

Hi, readers!

Quick couple of things:

  • Please remember to vote on the favorite book poll found here.
  • Our upcoming genres/themes are thriller (the poll below) and disability. Feel free to submit any recommendations for the latter here.
  • As a result of the poll I put up a few weeks ago, our new wordcount qualifications are as follows: two weeks if a book is under 120,000 words, 4 weeks if it exceeds this. Exceptions can be made if you feel it is necessary. 🙂
  • As the world starts returning to some semblance of normal, please think about how well or not our Saturday evening meetings will continue to suit your schedules. I’ll revisit this in a few weeks to see if we need to consider changing the day and/or time.
  • One of you recommended in the satisfaction form that we consider switching a social meeting for a book meeting if a book meeting is going to fall on a holiday weekend or other time when many people won’t be around. I think this is a great idea and will plan accordingly in the future.
  • Lastly and related to the above point, thank you so much to all of those who have submitted any feedback to me. I appreciate all of your words.

Aaaaaand to the books!

Verity by Colleen Hoover

(86,000 words)

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

Notable Review by Chai

(This person writes consistently brilliant reviews for books, and you can donate to them here or read their blog here

Me, rollerblading into my therapist’s office with heart-shaped sunglasses and a piña colada and dropping this book on the desk with a resounding thud: Boy do we have much to talk about today!

Why read Verity when you can just pull out a Ouija board and summon a demon? I’m sure it’ll have the same effect. I finished this book feeling completely sapped of life, as if I’ve been bleeding freely for the past few hours instead of simply reading. I wish I could just shake my head to dissolve the memory of that ending, to disarrange it somehow. My mind is still at war with itself, because, of all the things I’d braced myself for, that was not it.

So, what’s this book about?

Lowen Ashleigh is set free from the long tedium of her daily life when she’s employed by Jeremy Crawford to ghostwrite the remaining books in a popular series his wife, Verity, is unable to finish due to an unfortunate accident. Lowe acquiesces in the spirit of hope: that this opportunity would help her acquire some small measure of celebrity that would be pure oxygen to the fire of her career. But nothing prepares Lowe for the purity of dread that clamps down her like a vise when she stumbles upon Verity’s autobiography. Verity’s secrets soon take up so much space in the house that there is barely any room left for Lowe’s body. Now she has to force what she’s reading into what she knew of Verity, Jeremy, and their lives together. She has to weave it in among what she expected.

Sooner or later, the whole truth would spill, and this fraught waiting would come to an end—with havoc, and screaming, and loss.

“After all, this is a house full of Chronics. The next tragedy is already long overdue.”

I relish books that make me backtrack my own declarations of preference, the ones that catch me completely off-guard, astonish me, keep me on my toes. Verity is not at all what I expected, and I think it is all the better for it. I’d gone on in mystery, but not without speculation and a vast deal of skepticism. I made the mistake of perceiving this book through the haze of my opinions on Hoover’s early books, and it didn’t look quite like I remembered. I’ve never been happier to be so astronomically wrong, because this book absolutely lives up to the buzz.

Verity is a fiendishly clever, mind-bending whirligig of a book. It’s a hall of mirrors where everything is a vacant reflection, including the people who live there. Hoover lures and tricks and sets obstacles to drive you into her toils. She wields her unreliable characters to stunning effect, confounding, disturbing and delighting in turn, and draws you into a world where illusion informs reality and time enfolds hauntingly. Not only is nothing what it seems, it’s not even what it seems after it’s been revealed to be not what it seems. I was entrapped in this story long before I even realized that the net has been cast.

I love how wild the energy was in this book, barely controllable yet perfectly controlled. Hoover drapes Lowe’s unease and confusion over the reader by keeping us in the same disconcerting darkness. Danger pulses all around. Every page is very thin ice to skate on. You can scarcely see the freshly hideous future taking shape ahead of you, yet you can feel it all the same. I have a quirk of prudence in me that’s hard to break and if I were Lowe, I’d have gotten the hell out of that place. I couldn’t fathom how her fear couldn’t properly kindle. I’d have been impressed if I weren’t too distressed and I’d have appreciated her courage if I weren’t too preoccupied repeating a litany of “GET OUT OF THERE” in my head.

And, oh my God, the ending. It struck me backhanded. Verity offers you no solidity of truth that you could hold in your hands. Even as I was reading the last chapter, I was mining it for clues, trying to make sense of something so innately senseless. Everything I’ve read up until that point felt like a false memory, and I was left shaking my fist at the whole book for leaving me on such a hideous note as it did.

In conclusion, stories like Verity, are the reason I’m going to be one of those parents in their forties that make their kids go to sleep at 6 pm so they can drink scotch in the bath and have an existential crisis about that book they read back in 2018!

False Witness by Karin Slaughter

(Wordcount unknown; this book comes out on July 20.)

AN ORDINARY LIFE

Leigh Coulton has worked hard to build what looks like a normal life. She has a good job as a defence attorney, a daughter doing well in school, and even her divorce is relatively civilised – her life is just as unremarkable as she’d always hoped it would be.

HIDES A DEVASTATING PAST

But Leigh’s ordinary life masks a childhood which was far from average… a childhood tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, and finally torn apart by a devastating act of violence.

BUT NOW THE PAST IS CATCHING UP

Then a case lands on her desk – defending a wealthy man accused of rape. It’s the highest profile case she’s ever been given – a case which could transform her career, if she wins. But when she meets the accused, she realises that it’s no coincidence that he’s chosen her as his attorney. She knows him. And he knows her. More to the point, he knows what happened twenty years ago, and why Leigh has spent two decades running.

AND TIME IS RUNNING OUT

If she can’t get him acquitted, she’ll lose much more than the case. The only person who can help her is her younger, estranged sister Calli, the last person Leigh would ever want to ask for help. But suddenly she has no choice…

Notable Review by Elle

The thing I love most about Karin Slaughter is that she wastes no time. Every single book of hers just absolutely clocks you right away, sometimes in the prologue, but always by the end of the first chapter. This one had the one-two punch of monumental twists in both, which left me reeling. I genuinely don’t think I’ve been this floored by a plot twist like this since Triptych.

False Witness is a standalone, so you’re not going to be getting any appearances from good ‘ol Sara Linton or Will Trent. But I think fans of Slaughter’s previous books will enjoy this one, and newbies to the Slaughterverse (I just made this up) can also comfortably jump in with this one and not feel like they’re missing context. Everything you come to expect from her—action, tension, biting wit, incredible twists and a grand finale made for premium cable—is present here. Though in all the ways this book is like its predecessors, it also fairly different from her typical novel structure.

“The law was never what anyone thought it was or wanted it to be.”

For one, this is not a police procedural. I think this was a smart move, taking a step back from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. I will go to bat for Will and Faith any day, but besides the obvious skepticism around policing in the US currently, I like that we’re seeing a different side of crime presented. Mainly, through one of the two main characters, Leigh, who is a defense attorney. Her sister, Callie, is living what feels like a flipped mirror image of Leigh’s life, struggling with addiction and living barely off the street. The two had an already tumultuous childhood before a violent event impacted them both irreparably. And though they’ve tried to move on, nothing can prepare them for how Leigh’s new case forces them to confront the monsters of their past.

I love how Karin Slaughter writes sisters. Whether it’s Charlotte and Samantha in The Good Daughter or Sara and Tessa in the Grant County series, she just captures dueling personalities so well. Callie and Leigh are no exception here. Going through traumatic events links people together in a way that’s hard to explain to anyone on the outside and leaves them with complicated feelings towards one another. But like any good sisters, no matter how much they fight with each other, there’s no doubt they will also kill for one another.

And look, Slaughter is no novice to writing violence and sexual violence. If you go into one of her books, you’ve got to prepare yourself for that inevitability. The violence in False Witness, though, did have a different feeling to it. Usually I would expect the very beginning to have an assault or murder, then the middle would be a sometimes graphic investigation of those crime(s), with the ending usually containing a violent confrontation of some kind. For its part, False Witness was less explicit than say, Pretty Girls, but there were a good number of assaults peppered throughout the middle as well. And this violence was a lot more brazen and unrepentant, if at times a little cathartic.

I’m trying to make sure people don’t feel completely blindsided, but this was actually more of a feature for me than a drawback. The action is a lot more street-level, since the investigative angle is out of the picture, and there’s a grittier quality to the plot which I loved. This is not the neat and easy thriller you walk away from feeling satisfied. Trauma is messy. So is revenge.

For me, False Witness is one of the few written-during-the-pandemic books that actually worked. COVID as a topic is neither a completely avoided nor all-consuming, just a reality of the characters living through it. In the afterword she discusses more of her reasoning behind those choices, so don’t skip that! And for someone who’s written over 20 novels, Slaughter’s ability to not just write a relentlessly good thriller, but also retain a prescient cultural awareness never ceases to amaze me. I loved the intensity of this book and it’s going to be my go-to recommendation for summer reads.

*Thanks to my favorite librarian Merricat for sharing her ARC with me! Libraries are great everyone should visit them and become friends with librarians!!!!!!

Dear Child by Romy Hausmann

(98,000 words)

Gone Girl meets Room in this page-turning thriller from one of Germany’s hottest new talents

In a windowless shack in the woods, Lena’s life and that of her two children follows the rules set by their captor, the father: Meals, bathroom visits, study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.

One day Lena manages to flee–but the nightmare continues. It seems as if her tormentor wants to get back what belongs to him. And then there is the question whether she really is the woman called “Lena,” who disappeared without a trace 14 years ago. The police and Lena’s family are all desperately trying to piece together a puzzle which doesn’t quite seem to fit.

Notable Review by Kat

“Love. It’s love. No matter how sick, distorted and misunderstood, it’s still love. Love that spurs us on. That turns us into monsters, each in our own way.”

If I had to pick a quote from this book to summarize it, I’d say that’s the one. Romy Hausmann’s debut novel is a powerful look into the psychology of both love and trauma, and how it expresses itself uniquely through different people, sometimes in horrifying ways, and sometimes in healing ways.

The story is told in three narratives by ‘Lena’, the victim of an abduction who is forced into a surrogate wife/mother role to the abductor and his two children, the abductor’s daughter, Hannah, and finally Matthias, Lena’s father. While that seems fairly straightforward, an accident happens that reveals that there’s more to ‘Lena’s’ story than was first imagined, and the book follows the implications of these new discoveries on her life, the lives of Matthias and his wife Karen, who’ve been searching for Lena for 13 years, and on Hannah and her brother Jonathan’s lives, among others.

This is one of those books with start to finish tension. There’s an intentional confusion to the story which never lets you get comfortable that everything will be OK, because every new reveal knocks you back down a little. You’re never sure who to trust, which adds a nice creepy, suspenseful feel to the story, and I truly didn’t see the revelation of the abductor’s identity coming. The characters are universally flawed in this story, so there’s not really a “feel good” character to latch onto, but I think that made everything more realistic. Trauma is messy, and so are these characters.

There is a big undercurrent of power dynamics in this story. An abductor exerting his will over his victim, a grieving father fashioning a future path for he and his wife, regardless of her opinions on it, children who’ve never questioned their obedience to their father, and conversely, the power of victims to survive their circumstances. Everyone is holding onto whatever control they have over their situations, whether fair to the people around them or not. Love takes on a distorted form that each character justifies in their own way. There were a few characters I had a difficult time with (I’m looking at you Matthias), but by the end, when all was revealed, I could at least understand all of them enough to feel sympathetic.

It’s not a fast-paced book, but it kept me completely invested. If you like a psychological thriller heavy on the psychology, this is a great one. I’ll definitely be watching for more from this author.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

(135,000 words)

“Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day . . . quite unlike anything I’ve ever read, and altogether triumphant.” – A. J. Finn, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

Aiden Bishop knows the rules. Evelyn Hardcastle will die every day until he can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest at Blackheath Manor. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others. With a locked room mystery that Agatha Christie would envy, Stuart Turton unfurls a breakneck novel of intrigue and suspense.

For fans of Claire North, and Kate Atkinson, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a breathlessly addictive mystery that follows one man’s race against time to find a killer, with an astonishing time-turning twist that means nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

This inventive debut twists together a thriller of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

Notable Review by Chai

I didn’t expect to tear through this book, but I did—there was just so much restlessness in my reading, an urgency to reach the ending. It’s been days and I am still so keenly, strangely, extensively aware of explosions still taking place inside my head. Honestly? If Hollywood doesn’t turn this into a movie….I will personally riot.

So, what’s this book about?

Our narrator wakes up in a dripping forest, with nothing but the shade of an old unnameable fear, and the eerie sensation of being followed, an invisible gaze locked on his back. He has no recollection of who he is, and he has no more notion how he got there than he did the moon. But his head is firing thought after thought that can’t seem to complete themselves and they all begin with a name: Anna, and never seem to end.

He later learns that his name is Aiden Bishop and he’s trapped inside a stranger’s body. A masked figure curtly informs him that he must unveil a murder disguised as to not look like one if he wants to earn his release, and he must do so by reliving the day of the murder eight times, but each morning he will wake up in the body of a foreign soul. If he fails to uncover the name of the would-be murderer, he will return to the first day, memory moped clean, and start all over again as he has apparently already done innumerable times before.

Matters are made worse when Aiden realizes he isn’t the only one carried so long here and there on a stream and washed now to this strange shore: two other people are also ensnarled inside this time loop, and a knife-wielding Footman is out for their blood.

Aiden, Anna and the anonymous rivals are pieces on the game board, and there is everything at stake.

“How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?” 

Normalcy has its place, but you won’t find it in this book.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a dazzling, mind-bending murder mystery…without a murder. It’s a locked-room thriller with a nearly imperceptible warp wavering in its center. A brilliantly balanced knife’s edge of a book—unfolding gradually but deliberately, with secrets unveiled as more lies are told. Every sentence was a labyrinth to navigate and my mind often felt like a door blown open in a storm. The whole experience of reading this book felt like an elaborate lie to me, some made-up fantasyland I was locked in for a set number of hours a day. And like Aiden, every moment, I was caught between another dead end and another lead. So many pieces of the story but how the hell do they fit together?

In richness of ideas, and in glory of sentences, this book is spectacular. I was deeply impressed by the sense of scope, the minute turnings of characters and their choices and how those ripples affect other players, by the hints strewn like breadcrumbs throughout the narrative and the puzzle pieces that were constantly moving around. This was genuinely brilliant and so intricately crafted and I’m still left marveling at how one person’s brain can contain multitudes.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle might be focused on the story of Aiden Bishop but the stories of many others are caught up in the wheel of his, and as that wheel turns, so do these many intertwined lives and fates. The narration lingers in the memories and lives of each “host”, dipping in and out of them like toes in a pool. The book makes you question what you know about these characters, their lives and their secrets. Everyone is unreliable, everything is questionable. Aiden’s very sense of self is threatened to be overruled by the personalities of his hosts, most of which were nasty pieces of work: more than slightly sexist, selfish, mean, manipulative, abusive, more often than not physical and moral cowards—yet still compelling even when you can’t bring yourself to like them even a little bit, and I think that says a lot for the author’s skill.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle corkscrews into a tighter and tighter coil with every page and it isn’t long before Aiden’s constant picking at the stray threads of his new jarring reality makes the whole come apart, revealing far more than was ever dreamt of. I did not see that ending coming at all, and I was left astounded into an awed slow-clap at everything the author has accomplished here.

When I flipped that last page, all I could do was breathe out, with the kind of eloquence and poise perfectly befitting the situation: “Holy shit. What did I just read?”

❗️TRIGGER WARNINGS❗️ fatphobia, murder, suicide, discussions around rape and sexual abuse, alcohol and drug use.

Vote Here

What Shall We Read Next?

  • False Witness by Karin Slaughter (55%, 6 Votes)
  • Verity by Colleen Hoover (27%, 3 Votes)
  • Dear Child by Romy Hausmann (9%, 1 Votes)
  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (9%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 11

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Our Year in Books

Around this day last year, I was sitting on my kitchen floor (as I am weirdly prone to doing, don’t judge me) when I had the sudden idea to start a book club. I am the queen of starting projects and abandoning them, but with the help, ideas, and encouragement from many of you, Rather Be Reading was born. I stepped so far out of my comfort zone by creating this, and each and every one of you has made it a worthwhile and exciting journey.

After copious discussion about where it should be hosted, when it should happen, and other logistical questions, our first poll was put up on July 20th. We met for the first time on August third to talk about the first half of The Fifth Season. Lots of firsts, apparently.

Since beginning, we have read 16 different books (including the current) and met some number of times that I am too lazy to calculate. You have stuck with me as I’ve changed meeting days, times, and locations on multiple occasions in the search for the best fit.

I would like to extend my gratitude to every single one of you, whether you have attended one meeting or every meeting since the start. I’ve said it before, but we would not be where we are if it weren’t for your guys’ dedication and interest. It continues to amaze me to see how many of you show up to talk about books together. Thank you for helping me to start this and for helping to keep it alive.

Favorite Book Poll

Below is a poll containing every book we have read. Regardless of how many of our books you have read with us, you are invited to select your favorite! I am excited to see what you guys loved and disliked.

Below that is a form where you can put in any comments you have for how your experience has been so far. You don’t have to put anything there, but if you have any comments, concerns, hopes, or questions, you are welcome to share. I am always interested in knowing what you think of the club and if there’s something you wish were different. It is anonymous, so feel free to be as honest as you like. 😊

Vote Here!

What was your favorite book that we read?

  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (45%, 5 Votes)
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (27%, 3 Votes)
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (9%, 1 Votes)
  • The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (9%, 1 Votes)
  • The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin (9%, 1 Votes)
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (0%, 0 Votes)
  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions by Neil Gaiman (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Surface Detail (Culture #9) by Iain M. Banks (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Survival Quest (Way of the Shaman #1) by Vasily Mahanenko (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Sinister Magic by Lindsay Buroker (0%, 0 Votes)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 11

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Books About Books!

Hello readers!

This poll came about very abruptly, but I still managed to get some book submissions from you, so thank you!

Our theme is books about books, libraries, or bookstores. We have quite a few options, so you can vote for up to 3. If you feel like this isn’t enough, please let me know and I can modify the poll accordingly. I have no idea what number is best for this large of a selection.

We will be meeting this Saturday (July 3) to discuss all of Never Let Me Go, so our first meeting for the next book will be on July 17. If a follow-up meeting is necessary, I’ll add it to the calendar once the book has been chosen.

Finally, I’m going to modify the book submissions poll to include the question “Have you read this book before?”. This will help me decide which books take priority in terms of being included in the poll. If you haven’t read the book before, I encourage you to check out its ratings and reviews to see if its summary seems reflective of the book quality.

See you guys Saturday!

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

162,000 words

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

120,000 words

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them–and to the men they love–becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic–a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

72,000 words

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER – NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE ON NETFLIX – A remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb…

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

175,000 words

A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. The Forgotten Garden is a captivating, atmospheric and compulsively readable story of the past, secrets, family and memory from the international best-selling author Kate Morton.

Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra’s life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.

Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace—the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century—Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself.

Lost For Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland

86,000 words

You can trust a book to keep your secret . . .

Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look closely, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are things she’ll never show you.

Fifteen years ago Loveday lost all she knew and loved in one unspeakable night. Now, she finds refuge in the unique little York bookshop where she works.

Everything is about to change for Loveday. Someone knows about her past. Someone is trying to send her a message. And she can’t hide any longer.

Lost for Words is a compelling, irresistible and heart-rending novel, with the emotional intensity of The Shock of the Fall and all the charm of The Little Paris Bookshop and 84 Charing Cross Road.

The Printed Letter Bookshop (Winsome #1) by Katherine Reay

97,000 words

Love, friendship, and family find a home at the Printed Letter Bookshop

One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened Madeline’s heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care.

While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. Reeling from a recent divorce, Janet finds sanctuary within the books and within the decadent window displays she creates. Claire, though quieter than the acerbic Janet, feels equally drawn to the daily rhythms of the shop and its loyal clientele, finding a renewed purpose within its walls. When Madeline’s professional life takes an unexpected turn, and when a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. She begins to envision a new path for herself and for her aunt’s beloved shop—provided the women’s best combined efforts are not too little, too late.

The Printed Letter Bookshop is a captivating story of good books, a testament to the beauty of new beginnings, and a sweet reminder of the power of friendship.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

69,000 words

This is a love story.
It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.
Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1) by Jasper Fforde

101,000 words

Great Britain circa 1985: time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. Baconians are trying to convince the world that Francis Bacon really wrote Shakespeare, there are riots between the Surrealists and Impressionists, and thousands of men are named John Milton, an homage to the real Milton and a very confusing situation for the police. Amidst all this, Acheron Hades, Third Most Wanted Man In the World, steals the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit and kills a minor character, who then disappears from every volume of the novel ever printed! But that’s just a prelude . . .

Hades’ real target is the beloved Jane Eyre, and it’s not long before he plucks her from the pages of Bronte’s novel. Enter Thursday Next. She’s the Special Operative’s renowned literary detective, and she drives a Porsche. With the help of her uncle Mycroft’s Prose Portal, Thursday enters the novel to rescue Jane Eyre from this heinous act of literary homicide. It’s tricky business, all these interlopers running about Thornfield, and deceptions run rampant as their paths cross with Jane, Rochester, and Miss Fairfax. Can Thursday save Jane Eyre and Bronte’s masterpiece? And what of the Crimean War? Will it ever end? And what about those annoying black holes that pop up now and again, sucking things into time-space voids . . .

Suspenseful and outlandish, absorbing and fun, The Eyre Affair is a caper unlike any other and an introduction to the imagination of a most distinctive writer and his singular fictional universe.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

113,000 words

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

73,000 words

Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Inkheart (Inkworld #1) byCornelia Funke<

148,000 words

One cruel night, Meggie’s father reads aloud from a book called INKHEART– and an evil ruler escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Suddenly, Meggie is smack in the middle of the kind of adventure she has only read about in books. Meggie must learn to harness the magic that has conjured this nightmare. For only she can change the course of the story that has changed her life forever.

This is INKHEART–a timeless tale about books, about imagination, about life. Dare to read it aloud.

Vote Here!

What Shall We Read Next? (3 votes)

  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (21%, 7 Votes)
  • The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1) by Jasper Fforde (21%, 7 Votes)
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (15%, 5 Votes)
  • The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (12%, 4 Votes)
  • The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (6%, 2 Votes)
  • Inkheart (Inkworld #1) byCornelia Funke (6%, 2 Votes)
  • Lost For Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland (6%, 2 Votes)
  • The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (6%, 2 Votes)
  • Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (3%, 1 Votes)
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (3%, 1 Votes)
  • The Printed Letter Bookshop (Winsome #1) by Katherine Reay (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 12

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Dark Academia Poll

Why hello there, my wonderful readers!

We are back with another poll. This time: dark academia! This is a fairly new genre for me, and I’m excited to read any of the below options.

We are meeting this Saturday (June 19) at 9 pm EDT to discuss the final half of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. After that, we will meet on July 3rd for whatever book wins this poll. A follow up meeting will be decided when the final results are in.

If you have any ideas for our next genre, send them and any book recommendations my way!

We are coming up on a year since this book club was started. Thank you to each and every one of you who has attended a meeting, submitted a book recommendation, helped me decide how to proceed, or any combination of these. We would not be here today if it weren’t for each member’s contributions.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

108,000 words

Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.

As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

Bunny by Mona Awad

89,000 words

Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move and speak as one.

But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled “Smut Salon,” and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.

The spellbinding new novel from one of our most fearless chroniclers of the female experience, Bunny is a down-the-rabbit-hole tale of loneliness and belonging, friendship and desire, and the fantastic and terrible power of the imagination.

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

102,000 words

Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly.

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

97,000 words

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

141,000 words

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Confessions by Kanae Minato

66,000 words

Her pupils killed her daughter.
Now, she will have her revenge.

After calling off her engagement in wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation.

But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.

Narrated in alternating voices, with twists you’ll never see coming, Confessions explores the limits of punishment, despair, and tragic love, culminating in a harrowing confrontation between teacher and student that will place the occupants of an entire school in danger. You’ll never look at a classroom the same way again.

Vote Here!

What Shall We Read Next? (Choose 2)

  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (31%, 8 Votes)
  • A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik (19%, 5 Votes)
  • Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo (19%, 5 Votes)
  • If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (15%, 4 Votes)
  • Confessions by Kanae Minato (15%, 4 Votes)
  • Bunny by Mona Awad (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 14

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Romance Selection

Hi, readers!

To my delight and surprise, the majority of you were quite content to do a romance genre, so here we are! Below you will find six books from which to choose. Four of them were recommendations from you all, and I had help from Stella to wade through dozens and dozens of books to find the final two. Thank you all so much for making an incredibly stressful week a little easier!

You may vote for up to two books, which I think will be sufficient. Since we have a mix of types: LGBTQ, YA, adult, and traditional, please let me know if you’d like a future genre with a specific type. I like to do broad selections like this for our first time in a genre to hopefully narrow it down later. There are also plenty of subgenres I didn’t include, so if you’d like to see those represented in future, also let me know!

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

110,000 words

At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.

Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways… but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.

Notable Review by Emma

I’LL GIVE THIS BOOK THE SUN. FIVE SUNS. More than that, if Goodreads had ever answered my impassioned plea to add a sixth star (which I sent by pony express after Ready Player One). (Pony express means mail, right? I’m a fan of that.)

How do I love thee, book? Let me count the ways. (That’s both a reference to this book and an illustration of how difficult it will be to put my intense adoration of it into, like, a semi-coherent review.) (Sidenote: I’ve never strived for anything higher than semi-coherent.)

Let’s start with the characters. God, do I love the people in this book. They are so, so, so imperfect – imperfect doesn’t even begin to cover it. They should suck, honestly. I should hate them. In fact, I should hate this whole shindig for the things that happen in it. In any other context, they’d give me second-hand embarrassment cringes so hard it’d shoot this book down to two stars. But NOT HERE. This sh*t is different.

These characters are so human. They’re so lovable and deeply good that you’d forgive them for anything. Seriously. All of them do at least one thing (and mostly more than one) that should be, like, narrative-shatteringly awful, and instead manages to make them even better. I can’t explain it. YOU JUST HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.

This book has alternating perspectives between 2 twins: Noah when he was 13, and Jude when she’s 16 (which is the present). Noah is so creative and talented and amazing, and Jude is such a badass and so interesting and equally amazing. Their mom’s a whirlwind, which has its ups and downs, and their dad starts off not great but becomes the best. There’s Brian, who loves space, and Guillermo, one of the greatest sculptors ever, and Oscar, who I’m not going to try to put into words. (Hands down the most inherently confusing character.) They’re all so wonderful and I wish I knew them in real life and could join their lil ragtag group of pals.

The character development is just unreal.

Also, the depiction of family is pretty amazing. (I’m going to use the words “great” and “amazing” a bajillion times in this review, AND I’M NOT GOING TO APOLOGIZE.) They can mistreat each other and fight and generally seem toxic, but they all love each other and they’re all good people. SCRATCH THAT – MAGNIFICENT people. (You thought I was done talking about how much I love these characters? Ya burnt. I’m going to spend the rest of my life talking about them. Every review from now on? Name-dropping Noah and Jude. Get used to it.)

What else, what else…the writing was just really beautiful. I’m always really happy to see that in YA. It’s pretty rare for a young adult contemporary to just be genuinely, no-holds-barred gorgeous.

And y’all know I love when my books are filled with fun facts. I wish every book had some character just inserting cool information in every once in awhile. This book? EVERY CHARACTER IS DOING THAT. There’s so much fun sh*t about superstition and art and sculpting and space in this book. Ugh. God, it’s perfect. It’s like Jandy Nelson read my mind and made this book to check all my boxes. WHAT A DREAM.

I thought there’d be one major downside. That’s the discussion of fate and ~true love~ in this book, neither of which I believe in and both of which I pretty consistently find dumb in like, every YA contemporary ever. But this book, no surprise at this point, IS DIFFERENT. It’s so well done and just makes you feel all warm inside and root for the characters. Hurray, hurray. I miss this book already.

The cherry on top, you ask? The best fictional encapsulation of and response to slut-shaming I’ve ever seen is contained within THESE VERY PAGES. When thirteen/fourteen-year-old Jude and her mom are fighting about everything, including Jude’s clothing and makeup choices, mommy dearest always asks if she reallyyyyyy wants to be “that girl.” Pretty yuck, right? The only blemish on the perfect record of this masterpiece.

But then. But then! Blemish surgically removed, or whatever. (That was really gross. I’m so sorry.) Jude has a realization. A great, perfect, better-than-cherry-on-top epiphany. I like cherries, but this is more like the lottery ticket on top, or the Zac Efron in Baywatch (a bad movie) on top. Jude realizes: “Maybe Mom was wrong about that girl after all. Because that girl spits on guys who treat her badly. Maybe it’s that girl who’s been missing. […] I didn’t bring the bad luck to us, no matter how much it felt that way. It brought itself. It brings itself. And maybe it’s that girl who’s now brave enough to admit [it].”

A little bit of editing to remove minor spoilers, but how amazing is that?

Your clothing or your makeup don’t change who you are. They don’t prevent you from being a badass, or a good person, or brave.

God, I love this book. Read it in a couple days, and miss it already.

Can you believe how genuine this review was? That’s a testament to my loveeee for this book.

Bottom line: This is going on the all-time favorites list. EVERYONE: READ THIS PLEASE. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Even better the second time around.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

54,000 words

New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

Notable Review by Justin Tate

Please forgive me if I get too excited during this review – but seriously, this is a novel worth getting excited about. It doesn’t matter how old or how gay you are, you need this in your life.

Although it’s modern YA, Two Boys Kissing is narrated/overseen by the collaborative voices of gay men who died from AIDS. Their voices tell the stories of various current-day gay youths. We see them succeed, we see them fail, we watch them make mistakes and atone. If the structure sounds complicated, it’s not, and yes it works. It’s poetic and tear-jerking and reveals aspects of the world in unique, enlightened ways.

Gay readers will admire Levithan’s ability to honestly depict every day joys and struggles, but you don’t have to be gay to appreciate what he accomplishes. It’s my hope that teachers and parents and straight readers also pick it up, or anyone who might struggle to understand the gay experience. Especially the young gay experience. I don’t know that there’s any better way to learn what it’s like.

The stories speak to the old as much as to the young. For those who lived through the peak AIDS crisis, many segments will no doubt be particularly touching. For the younger crowd, it’s an important reminder how truly devastating those years were. It also showcases how significant life is and how to cherish it.

I could go on forever. Every word is perfect. The hook is instant, the dull moments never. Completely gorgeous, entertaining, and truly a work of art.

Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton

93,000 words

For fans of Close Enough to Touch and Me Before You comes a poignant and moving novel about two patients who fall in love as they recover from traumatic injuries in the same hospital ward…all without seeing each other.

Alice Gunnersley and Alfie Mack sleep just a few feet apart from one another. They talk for hours every day. And they’ve never seen each other face-to-face.

After being in terrible accidents, the two now share the same ward as long-term residents of St. Francis’s Hospital. Although they don’t get off to the best start, the close quarters (and Alfie’s persistence to befriend everyone he meets) brings them closer together. Pretty soon no one can make Alice laugh as hard as Alfie does, and Alfie feels like he’s finally found a true confidante in Alice. Between their late night talks and inside jokes, something more than friendship begins to slowly blossom between them.

But as their conditions improve and the end of their stay draws closer, Alfie and Alice are forced to decide whether it’s worth continuing a relationship with someone who’s seen all of the worst parts of you, but never seen your actual face.

A tender novel of healing and hope, Before I Saw You reminds us that connections can be found even in the most unexpected of places—and that love is almost always blind.

Notable Review by Fay Flude

For me this is just the kind of book that is easily worth 5 stars, and more, because of the sensitive and compassionate way a complex and traumatic subject matter is handled. And yet I am not a fan of real life survivor tales or harrowing memoirs. This is a work of fiction and it is the the minutely observed and acutely perceptive emotions and interplay between a cast of amazing characters that heralds the triumphant arrival of debut novel Before I Saw You.
Mainly set in the Moira Gladstone rehabilitation ward at St Francis Hopspital, this book is funny, heart wrenching and uplifting.
It charts the recovery, both physically and mentally, of two patients side by side in their beds, each unseen by the other. Alfie Mack is a gloriously cheeky, upbeat and charming young man and Alice is the opposite, a lonely young woman, who has isolated herself from human contact as a result of a troubled childhood and a grim determination to make her ambition and career a substitute for friends and love.
Through dialogue, physio, family visits and lots of puzzle solving we are treated to an epic journey of self discovery and healing. The ward is populated with some colourful characters, not least of all Mother Angel or Nurse Angles to give her her proper title, and Mr P, a 92 year old and very wise man who pretends to be grumpy and fed up of Alfie’s relentless good cheer, but in reality loves the young man like a grandson. There is also Sharon and Jackie and Ruby, Jane and Robert Mack, Mr Warring and Sarah as well as Darren, to meet in this family of patients, staff and visitors.
There is sadness and loss which will bring tears to the eyes of many a reader but mostly this is all about Hope. The very thing every single one of us needs with which to survive, live, adapt and try again. It is funny and beautiful, profound and a very easy to read engaging story. I was mesmerised from the very beginning and fell in love to the extent that I found it very hard to let go at the end.
I am astounded quite frankly at the talent of Emily Houghton to produce this, a debut novel, which has such an emotional depth and accuracy to it, revealing the very personal way in which tragedy affects us in varying degrees to shape the way we cope and carry on.
It is still very early on in a new year, but it will take a lot for subsequent books I pick up to match the quality and beauty of this novel. I will confidently predict this will be a top 5 read of the year for me.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Find out what I am talking about and fall in love with life itself.
Thank you to Emily Houghton, the publisher and Netgalley and Pigeonhole for allowing me to read ahead of publication in exchange for this honest review.
Take care Alfie and Alice, keep on holding hands, and Emily Houghton, I look forward to your next genius novel!

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

111,000 words

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Notable Review by Chaima

Is it possible for your whole body to grin? The answer is hell yes.

Red, White & Royal Blue is a story lit up like a beacon to the weary and the lost. My heart still swells with so much delight. I know the words but none of them really encompass the feeling of deep contentment, mixed with the kind of frustration one feels at waking from a sweet, joyous dream. I promise you that what memories you will keep of this book will warm you in the cold, and taste like candied almonds when the world runs sour. Do not miss it.
So, what’s this book about?

Ah, yes. The one trope that sings to me the most: rivals to “ugh I can’t believe I have to be in the same vicinity as you” to “ugh we’re forced to work together to save our countries’ reputations but it’s not like I like you or anything” to “wait, we actually connect pretty well and have a lot of things in common but don’t read too much into it” to “I would lay down both of my kidneys for you but that doesn’t mean anything alright” to “I’ll fistfight the moon for you and kill anyone who dares lay a finger on you” to lovers.

Alex Claremont-Diaz, the Mexican-American first son of the United States, tolerates Henry, the Prince of England, to about the same degree that Henry tolerates him, but the claws are never entirely sheathed. When one of their verbal sparring matches ends in a “cataclysmically, internationally, terrible way”, Alex and Henry have no choice but to play nice with each other. Of course, building a friendship with your sworn nemesis is never easy. Doing it out of a reluctant sense of obligation is virtually impossible. Only, neither Alex nor Henry are prepared for when it all ceases being pretend. There is no pretending away the momentous thing tentatively taking shape between them. Henry has worn at the shell surrounding Alex’s heart with every traded truth, every phone call at an ungodly hour and every stolen moment in a hotel room. And with every crack, it is harder to deny the connection blazing between them.

Yet, all the same, reality threatens to shatter it all.

“Do you feel forever about him?”
And there’s no room left to agonize over it, nothing left to do but say the thing he is known all along. “Yeah,” he says, “I do.”

Red, White & Royal Blue is an astonishingly polished debut novel. A beguiling story of romance that pulled a smile from a new place in me where so much delight had been waiting in reserve. The novel’s warm heart leaped out to my cold one, and I held on like I suspected this all of being a dream that’s about to end and leave me falling. I found myself drawing out the last 50 pages or so, absolutely unable, unwilling, to let this joyous incredible book go.

The rumors are true, folks: I am a hopeless romantic.

All I want is for someone to feel for me some glimmer of what Henry and Alex feel for each other. To find that one person who has so much aching tenderness for you, who you can talk to and emerge each time a bit less bewildered, a bit more yourself. The one person who will help you lay the skeins of your life out neatly, so there’d be less of a tangle in your heart. Just the sheer joy of simply knowing another human being.

There’s such a flood of love spooling out between Henry and Alex, tender and joyful and pure. I love how Alex had glided into love unaware, not knowing if it was love or just a suchlike cousin. Then, he plummeted, and it was unmistakable. And all the while, Henry has been there, with a lit cinder of hope in his gaze, and the calm resignation to the inevitable that you’d associate with people aching with the yearning to be loved back.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

113,000 words

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Notable Review by Meltotheany

“I spent half my time loving her and the other half hiding how much I loved her.”

This is one of the best books I’ve ever had the privilege to read. It is probably in the top five for best books I’ve ever read in my entire life. I have been looking for a book like this my entire life, and no combination of words I’m about to type, and you’re about to read, is going to do this masterpiece justice. But I will say that Gabby, Joce, and Elyse were all right, and I’m so happy I listened to them, because this book is worth every single ounce of hype.

And when I say that this book is lifechanging, I truly mean it. This book is sold as a historical romance, where you learn about a fictional, famous, old Hollywood actress and all her marriages. What you get is a book that stars a bisexual, Cuban woman who was never allowed to talk about the love of her life; her wife. And when I say I cried during this book, I truly mean that I probably need to buy a new copy because I was the biggest mess you’ve ever seen.

“And it will be the tragedy of my life that I cannot love you enough to make you mine. That you cannot be loved enough to be anyone’s.”

On top of this being a powerful book about race, sexuality, misogyny, and having to conform to societies norms, the true meaning I took from this book is that life is short, so damn short, and we shouldn’t spend it pretending to be something we aren’t. And we shouldn’t spend it doing anything less than loving the people who are worthy and deserving of our love.

“I didn’t need boys in order to feel good. And that realization gave me great power.”

We follow Evelyn from the very start; losing her mother very young, her body developing very quickly, noticing others noticing her developing body, marrying a man so she can leave the dead-end city she grew up in, so she can become something more. Evelyn is unapologetic with her actions, and it is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever read. She plays so many more parts than the roles she is cast in. And Evelyn learns really quickly how to play each and every man she is forced to interact with, and she quickly learns what she can gain from each and every one of them, too.

This story is told from two different timelines and two different points of view. One from Monique Grant, who is a biracial (white and African-American) woman who is going through a fresh divorce and trying to make something of herself in the journalism field. And her life changes the day her editor tells her how Evelyn Hugo is demanding her, and only her, to write something for her.

“Heartbreak is loss. Divorce is a piece of paper.”

The other timeline(s) are all the different times in Evelyn’s life, and the different seven husbands that she had, while she is recounting the events that lead her to be telling Monique this story. Evelyn has lived a very full life, and is in her late seventies now, and is finally ready to talk about her life. But the entire book we are guessing why she has chosen only Monique for this job.

“Make them pay you what they would pay a white man.”

If you guys have been following my reviews, you’ll probably know that I talk about found family and how important it is to me a lot, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the epitome of how beautiful a found family can be. Evelyn and Harry’s friendship in this was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read in my entire reading life.

“When you write the ending, Monique, make sure the reader understands that all I was ever really looking for was family. Make sure it’s clear that I found it. Make sure they know that I am heartbroken without it.”

And the romance? The true romance in this book is the most romantic thing I have ever read in my entire life. And you guys know I’ve read a ton of romances, but they are all lesser to this. Every single one of them can’t compare with the romance in this book. I feel like every time I’ve used the word “perfect” to describe something that wasn’t the romance in this book, then I used the word wrong.

“Please never forget that the sun rises and sets with your smile. At least to me it does. You’re the only thing on this planet worth worshipping.”

I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif

55,000 words

Tala, a London-based Palestinian, is preparing for her elaborate Middle Eastern wedding when she meets Leyla, a young British Indian woman who is dating her best friend.

Spirited Christian Tala and shy Muslim Leyla could not be more different from each other, but the attraction is immediate and goes deeper than friendship. As Tala’s wedding day approaches, simmering tensions come to boiling point and the pressure mounts for Tala to be true to herself.

Moving between the vast enclaves of Middle Eastern high society and the stunning backdrop of London’s West End, I Can’t Think Straight explores the clashes between East and West, love and marriage, conventions and individuality, creating a humorous and tender story of unexpected love and unusual freedoms.

Notable Review by Angie

Thoughts on a book so good I’ll need more time to wrap up my thoughts…

I really, really like this book. It is not just well-written and thoughtful, gripping and genuine, _I Can’t Think Straight_ speaks to anyone who has ever felt pressured to be part of something because parents or society expect it, not because it is what you yourself truly want.

‘But there was a reason why romance and passion were so suited to fiction; and to learn this lesson was a function of maturity…a growth away from the hotheadedness of youth.” A mother thinks this as she busily and self-importantly works on the finishing touches of her daughter’s engagement party. She dismisses love as a reason for marriage or she would if she even gave one second of thought to her daughter’s impending marriage as a personal thing and not THE event of the season.

“Maybe we expect too much,” a daughter says to her new friend, in the beginning stages of questioning why she is not more happy to be in a relationship with a man she feels she’s supposed to love, but not one she does.

Shamim Sarif perfectly and painfully captures how smothering it can feel to do something out of family obligation and societal demands.

Understanding that life and love are not what they are in romantic comedies is one thing (some of us may even feel that movies ruined us for love) but looking at passionless marriage as “our lot in life” is something else entirely. No one should have go to through life like that.

Here’s a passage about “silent yearnings” and emotions one confronts when self-denial is no longer an option:

“What they (her crushes) all had in common was that the attraction was usually hidden, forever unspoken and always unrequited…Not that this potential meltdown was a reason to lie to herself, she knew, but up until now, it had happened that all the women she had liked IN THAT WAY were unavailable, uninterested or entirely unconscious of the situation and this had largely removed from Leyla’s shoulders the burden of deciding what to do in the event of an actual relationship… What she wanted, what she one day hoped for, was a simple mutual attraction.”

I Can’t Think Straight may be in large part about two nice, likable and realistic women eventually finding and falling in love with each other after years of not understanding why they each just couldn’t fall in love with a “nice young man.” But it’s also about how being forced to follow the path that is deemed “moral” and “fitting” for a young woman can ultimately hurt every one in her life, especially the men they so desperately try to have romantic feelings for, but just end up hurting.

Shamim Sarif delivers an extremely touching, sincere, lovely, non-preachy, heartfelt story about love that is breathtaking and
unforgettable.

I need more time and better words to give it the justice it deserves. Already, I’ve bought Shamim Sarif’s The World Unseen. Her lyrical prose will make you want to read everything she has written and hope that she is working on more! 🙂

Vote Here

What Shall We Read Next?

  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (29%, 7 Votes)
  • Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (25%, 6 Votes)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (17%, 4 Votes)
  • Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton (17%, 4 Votes)
  • I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif (13%, 3 Votes)
  • Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 12

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Fantasy Poll

Hi, readers,

Okay, so I went a little overboard in picking books for this genre, on top of receiving a couple of recommendations. And there are, like, five that I didn’t include but wanted to. In my defense, though, the genre is huge. There are eight options total, from which you may select up to three. I know that not everyone in the group is a big fantasy reader, so I tried to find somewhat lighter books. It’s a little hard to tell if something is such purely based on its summary, so… I may not have succeeded. Observing the voting pattern along with any feedback you can provide will help me decide in which direction the club wants future fantasy polls to go.

There are both young adult and adult titles here, and the wordcounts are pretty variable. I also have included a review for several of the books to help with clarifying or expanding upon the original synopsis. If this is helpful, let me know and I’ll continue doing it in future. I have also included the Goodreads ratings, which matter to some people and don’t for others. If this is something you’d rather not see (because I know it can influence some people’s choices), let me know that as well.

We are meeting this Saturday to discuss the Smoke and Mirrors short story collection. Since this discussion will span the entirety of the collection, our first meeting for our fantasy book will take place on May 22nd. Whether or not we will have a2nd (or… possibly third? Two of those books are pretty long!) meeting will be announced when all the votes are in.

This is a relatively experimental poll, so if you hate how I’ve done it, do say so.

Please note: All synopses are under level 3 headings, all reviews under level 4, and the polls are always under level 2. Hopefully this makes navigation easier.

Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey

88,000 words and 4.09 stars with 38,589 ratings

Follows the adventures of Talia as she trains to become a Herald of Valdemar in the first book in the classic epic fantasy Arrows trilogy

Chosen by the Companion Rolan, a mystical horse-like being with powers beyond imagining, Talia, once a runaway, has now become a trainee Herald, destined to become one of the Queen’s own elite guard. For Talia has certain awakening talents of the mind that only a Companion like Rolan can truly sense.

But as Talia struggles to master her unique abilities, time is running out. For conspiracy is brewing in Valdemar, a deadly treason that could destroy Queen and kingdom. Opposed by unknown enemies capable of both diabolical magic and treacherous assassination, the Queen must turn to Talia and the Heralds for aid in protecting the realm and insuring the future of the Queen’s heir, a child already in danger of becoming bespelled by the Queen’s own foes.

Notable Review by Mark

This book took me by surprise. I picked it up because I wanted to discover more classic fantasy novels written by women. I didn’t really know anything about it other than that it was a coming-of-age tale… and it is, of course, but it’s much more than that. It’s a book about friendship, and found families; it’s about people helping each other out when times get tough, and accepting one another despite differences in age, gender, or sexual orientation.

It’s also what I might call a “small-scale epic fantasy,” although I understand that sounds like an oxymoron. What I mean is, it still feels epic in the sense of the world itself; there are mystical powers, and there is a sense of vast in-world history. There is weapons training, and there is nobility. There are magical animals and rumors of other strange creatures out there somewhere. But it’s small-scale in the sense that there is no world-shattering threat. There are no wars taking place, no monster attacks, and no Dark Lords bent on destruction. None of that – in fact, the bulk of this story takes place in a school (the Collegium) and goes through the daily trials and tribulations of Talia as she finds her place in this newfound situation. That’s not to say the story is bereft of conflict. There are conspiracies and betrayals, there are altercations with other students, and there is loss and heartbreak. I found this story to be rather emotional despite the relatively low key plot.

The characters are also memorable and mostly likeable. The interactions and the dialogues are written in a way that you feel like you’re really getting to know the people in the book. Talia has already earned her place as one of my favorite protagonists in the genre. And speaking of the characters, I found this book to be somewhat progressive for a novel published in 1987 – there are at least two LGBTQIA+ characters in the story (important ones, too), and another two referenced as historical figures. Granted, the representation isn’t quite the same as you might find in a book written in 2021, but nonetheless it is noteworthy and (in my opinion) handled well.

Then there are the Companions! These are horses who form a lifetime bond with their Heralds (kind of a magical civil servant who performs a variety of functions for the kingdom), and who actually choose who will become a Herald based on that person’s qualities. Fans of animal kinship, and especially horses, will enjoy this aspect of the book.

There are admittedly a few eyebrow-raising moments in the area of traditional gender roles (a trap that a lot of pseudo-Medieval fantasy falls into); but I will still say that the good FAR outweighs the bad, and I suspect it may have been written this way to show a before/after contrast. The world Talia is running away from, in which girls must get married at the age of 13 or basically become nuns… is very different from the world of the Heralds, in which women are commonly found in roles of power.

Recommended for fans of The Goblin Emperor for its focus on empathy and kind characters. Also recommended for fans of The Name of the Wind (specifically the University sections) for its Fantasy School drama and emotional moments.

The Bear and the Nightingale (The Winternight Trilogy #1) By Katherine Arden

97,000 words and 4.09 stars with 139,206 ratings ·

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

121,000 words and 4.03 stars with 739,163 ratings

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Notable review by Maggie Stiefvater

Five Things About THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

Ordinarily when I do my recommendations, I do a “five reasons to read _____,” but I think opinions will be so divided on THE NIGHT CIRCUS that I think “things about” will be more useful.

1. This novel is not what it says it is. Well, back page copy is always a weird thing anyway, as it’s not written by the author. And a weirder thing because it is essentially a glamour shot of the novel. It is not a lie. But it isn’t really what the novel looks like when it’s wandering around in its bathrobe getting coffee and trying to figure out if that smell is coming from the kitchen sink disposal or under the table. The resemblance is always a bit sketchy. THE NIGHT CIRCUS’ resemblance to its cover copy is sketchier than most.

2. This novel is about a thing. It has people in it, too, but it is mostly about a thing, the eponymous circus. It’s told in third person omniscient, which means it sounds like God is narrating the thing, if God decided he really loved black and white tents and fancy umbrellas. The voice that narrates this book is interested in humans, too, but mostly about how humans make the circus and the circus’ magic interesting.

3. This is not a romance. There is a love story in it, which is good, because love makes the world go round, but it is not a romance. If you go in imagining to be swept off your feet from page one, you can keep on imagining. The novel starts before our lovebirds have hit puberty, so you’re going to have to imagine for quite awhile.

4. The circus is not really a circus. This is fine by me, because I actually don’t care for circuses. They smell, the animals always have that look of dubious maltreatment, no, I don’t want to win a prize by shooting that thing off that other thing over there, and also, clowns look a little grubby to me. No, the Night Circus is a circus in the respect that there are tents, and there are performers, and some of them are acrobats. Mostly it is a place where pretty, pretty magic is passed off as illusion so that us muggles won’t be scared by it. I’d go to that circus.

5. This is not a thriller. This is a not an action-packed adventure. It’s not even a simmering revenge or bubbling rivalry novel. It is a novel about a thing, with love in it, and it spans over a decade. If you have a problem with that idea, it’s best you walk away now. But if you like Ann Patchett or Audrey Niffeneggar novels, or if you really thought JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL was the bee’s knees, well. WELL. You have just found your next read. Enjoy. I did.

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin

70,000 words and 3.99 stars with 258,117 ratings.

Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

Notable Review by Nataliya

“It is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.”

This seemingly simple statement actually says a lot about the human nature – just as all the Ursula Le Guin’s books that I’ve read so far seem to do.

***
A Wizard of Earthsea is a simple but beautiful and magical coming-of-age story of a young wizard Ged, who starts out as a brash and cocky boy who in his arrogance unwittingly releases a terrible Shadow upon the world, but who eventually grows up and succeeds in embracing the darker part of himself. A word of caution if you are expecting a traditional fantasy adventure – it is, more than anything, an introspective book, so be warned.
“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do.
————————————————————
A 1968 book with a non-white hero! LOVE.
————————————————————–
There are the traditional coming-of-age fantasy elements – wizarding school, true friend, bitter rival, fighting a dragon, finding love. But there is something that sets this story apart from the newer variations on the similar theme, featuring Kvothe and Harry Potter and the like. Part of it, of course, is the narration. The story is told in the fairy tale tradition, with that particular strangely fascinating, lyrical and melodic fairy tale rhythm. But mostly is because instead of focusing on what is on the surface – the learning and the adventures – A Wizard of Earthsea goes straight for the deeper meaning, for what lies beneath the surface.
“You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.
In her amazing brilliance, Ursula Le Guin takes what could have been a straightforward tale of the fight of good versus evil, and turns it into something more – a lesson in self-discovery and acceptance of the darkness that lives inside all human beings. This is a story about the fascination with knowledge and the temptation of power and dangers of presuming too much and upsetting the natural balance. It is a story about getting to know your own self, including the darkest corners of your soul. And the resulting epic battle of good versus evil… well, let me tell you that the resolution was brilliant and poetic, and I did not see it coming AT ALL.
“He knew now, and the knowledge was hard, that his task had never been to undo what he had done, but to finish what he had begun.”
Ursula Le Guin takes the elements that would be a dangerous set-up for fail in the hands of most other writers and somehow unexpectedly turns them into the strengths of this book. Take the characters – except for Ged, they exist only as sketches to support the ideas in this story; it’s not supposed to ever work but it does. She brushes over the years of Ged’s life and training in just a few words, not detailing the tedium as many writers are prone to doing. Her worldbuilding is not very detailed, but manages to capture the essence of this world in a few brush pen typewriter strokes. We know Ged is in no danger as from the beginning the book refers to his subsequent adventures as a great mage, but this seeming lack of danger for the protagonist does not diminish neither the suspense nor the enjoyment of the story.

My one criticism goes to the some symbolism overkill (I passionately hated all the high-school teachers’ neverending discussions about symbolism – yawn!), but hey – even Le Guin can’t be always perfect.

Blood Song (Raven’s Shadow #1) by Anthony Ryan

221,000 words and 4.38 stars with 78,125 ratings

The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm.”

Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world.

Notable Review by Mark Lawrence

I won’t lie, some small but undeniable part of me came to this book hoping to find fault. It would take a better man than me to watch Anthony Ryan’s barnstorming success without a twinge of envy.

Sadly I have to report that this is a very good book and deserves the five stars I’ve given it.

Ryan writes well, he brings his world and characters to life with good description. It’s as a story-teller he shines though, and a good story is always the keystone of a bestseller.

Schools in fantasy books are like crack cocaine to readers. The Wizard of Earthsea, Magician, Harry Potter, The Magicians, Name of the Wind (I think), it goes on, and if not a school per se then an extended training period apprenticed to some master (The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Way of Shadows etc). Blood Song has a battle school as its central focus and we watch our protagonist progress from small boy to large young man through arduous training and a series of very dangerous tests, acquiring a group of firm friends with various talents as he goes.

This is all set in a skillfully executed flashback which our protagonist narrates to a historian on his way to a duel. The tale he tells moves past the school to national and then international conspiracy, politicking, and war. Finally it brings us full circle to the historian and the duel.

It’s all good stuff. Don’t come looking for great literature or deep themes, do come looking for a great story and a good time.

I don’t want to damn the book with faint praise – it deserves 5* and (& this is very high praise from me) it has heart, reminding me in many ways of David Gemmell’s work.

The story is very morish, I read this rather fat book in just a couple of weeks, which for me is incredibly fast. Let Vaelin’s tale sink its teeth into you and you’ll be cheering his victories, growling at his set-backs, and having all the feels in between in appropriate measure.

I begrudgingly affirm that Ryan deserves his success and commend Blood Song to your attention.

EDIT – we have the second book! My wife stole it and says it’s as good as the first.

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

160,000 words and 4.04 stars with 69,174 ratings

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J. Maas

241,000 words and 4.48 stars with 133,572 ratings ·
(wow)

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.

Notable Review Excerpt by Mary S. R.

Allow me to introduce you to Sarah’s best writing wrapped up in one book.

I could tell you about the devouring, addictive atmosphere building that captures the urban fantasy mashed up with high fantasy and noir world brilliantly, making use of modernised naming, casual expression-and-slang-filled conversations, deftly written descriptions of drug-addled minds, and generally diving into real and gritty notes on the world—from flashing banners to the inane TV shows.

Or, I could tell you about her no-nonsense storytelling that as usual doesn’t shy away from any part of life—be it a female’s cramps or sex or annoying behaviours in the bedroom or depression or cursing (which you’ll never hear me complaining about) and how considerate she is of everything including qualifications of medical experimentations.

I could even tell you about her easy way with words that paints images straightforward while bursting with the occasional apt turn of phrase, staying more mature than her previous works without any overly poetic and dramatic passages constantly popping up yet still expertly trapping yours and the characters’ emotions to do with them as she wishes.

But I won’t.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

91,000 words and 3.64 stars with 12,339 ratings

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magical. She is perfectly happy with her life. She has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach. (

Notable Review Excerpt by Elle (ellexamines)

Magic for Liars follows private investigator Ivy Gamble as she investigates a death in the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, the workplace of her sister and a location she has envied for years. While she’s living a life she thinks of as simple, her sister is a famous and talented teacher. It is a murder mystery wrapped up in an interesting commentary on chosen one tropes and sibling rivalry, and it had me engrossed from start to finish.

The thing I find the most entertaining about this book, in a nutshell, is how it plays with established fantasy tropes. Ivy is a Petunia-Dursley type character, in that she is the sister to a girl with magic, who was the favorite of the family. I really enjoyed how that dynamic was explored and tackled, especially as it is mirrored by others. The sibling dynamic, actually, is a huge focus of this book. The relationship between her and Tabitha reaches a level of complexity I was not expecting. There is a chosen one, too, and his sister, whose relationship with him is a neat parallel to our two sisters. As the book progresses, Ivy has to ask herself: is her sister’s world really quite as blissful as she thinks?

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Short Story Collection Poll

Hi, readers!

I want to once again express my eternal gratitude for everything that you bring to the club, whether it be your thoughts and opinions, suggestions, friends, or all of the above! We are creeping up on a year since I first decided to start this, and I am so happy that you all are here reading together with me.

This month we will be picking from a list of short story collections. There are a lot more options than usual, so you will be able to vote for up to 6. There is no specific genre or theme in mind for the list, so we will return to the same list (plus any additions anyone wants to include) the next time we want a collection. It’s hard to summarize an entire short story collection, but I tried to find reasonably good synopses or reviews.

Our first meeting for the short story collection will be on May 8th at 9:00 pm Eastern.

I think the only other announcement I have is the existence of our new club on Clubhouse. It is not where meetings will be held; it is simply a medium through which people can hang out and invite any friends to get to know our members. I created it out of boredom during one of my many sleepless nights, and it is intended to be casual and only related to the book club in that it has our current and any prospective members in it. If you want to be invited, let me know! 😊

And on to the books!

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

141,000 words

Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his multiple award-winning stories for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This mesmerizing collection features many of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon Award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and original voices.

The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

125,000

The definitive edition of Calvino’s cosmicomics, bringing together all of these enchanting stories—including some never before translated—in one volume for the first time

In Italo Calvino’s cosmicomics, primordial beings cavort on the nearby surface of the moon, play marbles with atoms, and bear ecstatic witness to Earth’s first dawn. Exploring natural phenomena and the origins of the universe, these beloved tales relate complex scientific concepts to our common sensory, emotional, human world.

Now, The Complete Cosmicomics brings together all of the cosmicomic stories for the first time. Containing works previously published in Cosmicomics, t zero, and Numbers in the Dark, this single volume also includes seven previously uncollected stories, four of which have never been published in translation in the United States. This “complete and definitive collection” (Evening Standard) reconfirms the cosmicomics as a crowning literary achievement and makes them available to new generations of readers.

Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions by Neil Gaiman

100,000 words

In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion… and anything is possible. In this, Gaiman’s first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders — a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under “Pest Control,” and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality — obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible — in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

65,000 words

Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie burst onto the literary scene with her remarkable debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, which critics hailed as “one of the best novels to come out of Africa in years” (Baltimore Sun), with “prose as lush as the Nigerian landscape that it powerfully evokes” (The Boston Globe); The Washington Post called her “the twenty-first-century daughter of Chinua Achebe.” Her award-winning Half of a Yellow Sun became an instant classic upon its publication three years later, once again putting her tremendous gifts – graceful storytelling, knowing compassion, and fierce insight into her characters’ hearts – on display. Now, in her most intimate and seamlessly crafted work to date, Adichie turns her penetrating eye on not only Nigeria but America, in twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.

In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them.
Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. The Thing Around Your Neck is a resounding confirmation of the prodigious literary powers of one of our most essential writers.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

66,000

The strange and wonderful tale of man’s experiences on Mars, filled with intense images and astonishing visions. Now part of the Voyager Classics collection.

The Martian Chronicles tells the story of humanity’s repeated attempts to colonize the red planet. The first men were few. Most succumbed to a disease they called the Great Loneliness when they saw their home planet dwindle to the size of a fist. They felt they had never been born. Those few that survived found no welcome on Mars. The shape-changing Martians thought they were native lunatics and duly locked them up.

But more rockets arrived from Earth, and more, piercing the hallucinations projected by the Martians. People brought their old prejudices with them – and their desires and fantasies, tainted dreams. These were soon inhabited by the strange native beings, with their caged flowers and birds of flame.

Contents:
Rocket Summer
Ylla
The Summer Night
The Earth Men
The Taxpayer
The Third Expedition
-And the Moon Be Still As Bright
The Settlers
The Green Morning
The Locusts
Night Meeting
The Shore
Interim
The Musicians
Way in the Middle of the Air
The Naming of Names
Usher II
The Old Ones
The Martian
The Luggage Store
The Off Season
The Watchers
The Silent Towns
The Long Years
There Will Come Soft Rains
The Million Year Picnic

Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

100,000 words

This is a master class in the art of short story writing. Every short story is finely crafted. Many have humor, many have heartbreak, many have subtle romance.

Almost all have commentary on society, especially American society, that is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s.

What are these stories missing?

You reader. It’s missing you to unlock their meaning and beauty.
(Review by Daniel Clausen)

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson

86,000 words

Remember that monster on the wing of the airplane? William Shatner saw it on The Twilight Zone, John Lithgow saw it in the movie-even Bart Simpson saw it. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” is just one of many classic horror stories by Richard Matheson that have insinuated themselves into our collective imagination.

Here are more than twenty of Matheson’s most memorable tales of fear and paranoia, including:

“Duel,” the nail-biting tale of man versus machines that inspired Steven Spielberg’s first film;

“Prey,” in which a terrified woman is stalked by a malevolent Tiki doll, as chillingly captured in yet another legendary TV moment;

“Blood Son,” a disturbing portrait of a strange little boy who dreams of being a vampire;

“Dress of White Silk,” a seductively sinister tale of evil and innocence.

Personally selected by Richard Matheson, the bestselling author of I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come, these and many other stories, more than demonstrate why he is rightfully regarded as one of the finest and most influential horror writers of our generation.

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

71,000 words

The exquisitely crafted stories in Anthony Doerr’s acclaimed debut collection take readers from the African coast to the pine forests of Montana to the damp moors of Lapland, charting a vast physical and emotional landscape. Doerr explores the human condition in all its varieties-metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts-and conjures nature in both its beautiful abundance and crushing power. Some of his characters contend with tremendous hardship; some discover unique gifts; all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe outside themselves.

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

90,000 words

A long-awaited collection of stories–twelve in all–by one of the most exciting writers at work today, the acclaimed author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Self-Help. Stories remarkable in their range, emotional force, and dark laughter, and in the sheer beauty and power of their language.

From the opening story, “Willing”, about a second-rate movie actress in her thirties who has moved back to Chicago, where she makes a seedy motel room her home and becomes involved with a mechanic who has not the least idea of who she is as a human being, Birds of America unfolds a startlingly brilliant series of portraits of the unhinged, the lost, the unsettled of our America.

In the story “Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People” (“There is nothing as complex in the world–no flower or stone–as a single hello from a human being”), a woman newly separated from her husband is on a long-planned trip through Ireland with her mother. When they set out on an expedition to kiss the Blarney Stone, the image of wisdom and success that her mother has always put forth slips away to reveal the panicky woman she really is.

In “Charades,” a family game at Christmas is transformed into a hilarious and insightful (and fundamentally upsetting) revelation of crumbling family ties.

In “Community Life,”a shy, almost reclusive, librarian, Transylvania-born and Vermont-bred, moves in with her boyfriend, the local anarchist in a small university town, and all hell breaks loose. And in “Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens,” a woman who goes through the stages of grief as she mourns the death of her cat (Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Haagen Dazs, Rage) is seen by her friends as really mourning other issues: the impending death of her parents, the son she never had, Bosnia.

In what may be her most stunning book yet, Lorrie Moore explores the personal and the universal, the idiosyncratic and the mundane, with all the wit, brio, and verve that have made her one of the best storytellers of our time.

How Long ’til Black Future Month? By N.K. Jemisin

115,000 words

In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

92,000 words

Ted Chiang’s first published story, “Tower of Babylon,” won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov’s SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Now, collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer’s stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.

What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven-and broke through to Heaven’s other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life . . . and others.

Vote here!

What shall we read next? (You may vote for up to six titles)

  • Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions by Neil Gaiman (13%, 6 Votes)
  • The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu (11%, 5 Votes)
  • How Long 'til Black Future Month? By N.K. Jemisin (11%, 5 Votes)
  • Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (11%, 5 Votes)
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (11%, 5 Votes)
  • The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi (9%, 4 Votes)
  • Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson (9%, 4 Votes)
  • Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (7%, 3 Votes)
  • The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino (7%, 3 Votes)
  • Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut (7%, 3 Votes)
  • The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr (4%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 8

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Dystopian Poll

Hi, readers!

Please find below the poll for our upcoming genre: dystopia. All books are over 100,000 words, so they will be read over the course of a month rather than two weeks. I’m open to genre and book recommendations for when we finish dystopia. I thought a zombie one could be pretty fun, but let me know if you have alternative thoughts!

Happy reading!

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

103,000 words

Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

130,000 words

Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a “glorious” story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.

In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.

In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.

In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.

And they’re not the only ones.

Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.

Followers by Megan Angelo

117,000 words

An electrifying story of two ambitious friends and the dark choices they make to become internet famous.

Orla Cadden is a budding novelist stuck in a dead-end job, writing clickbait about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Then Orla meets Floss—a striving, wannabe A-lister—who comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they dream about. So what if Orla and Floss’s methods are a little shady—and sometimes people get hurt? Their legions of followers can’t be wrong.

Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity—twelve million loyal followers—Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is based on a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.

Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

103,000 words

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future.

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

Vote Here!

What Shall We Read Next?

  • The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin (42%, 5 Votes)
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (25%, 3 Votes)
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman (17%, 2 Votes)
  • Followers by Megan Angelo (17%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 12

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A Few Important Updates

Hi, readers!

I have just a couple of quick updates for you all.

Firstly, we are now introducing Social Saturdays! On weekends where there isn’t an official book club meeting, you are free to join a Zoom call to hang out if you wish. This is for free form conversation, though you of course may use it to discuss books. These will take place on alternating Saturdays at 6pm PST/9pm EDT. The same link as for the official meetings will be used, and as always, do not feel pressured to show up. It is purely casual for anyone who wants it.

We are also introducing a recommendation window! After the book conversation on meeting days has faded out to general conversation, we will have a window where you are free to recommend anything you’ve read lately or would like others to check out. These will not be official book club reads, just something fun for members to look into if interested. I ask for spoilers not to be present during this window, no matter how many people have already read it. Save it for the social day! 😊

Many of you have asked if we can push meeting times back to 6pm PST/9 pm EDT. We will begin this schedule for next meeting (March 27) unless it is not going to work for enough of you. Please message me if this won’t work with your schedule.

Lastly, remember to submit book recommendations for our upcoming genre (dystopia) or any genre in general if you have ideas. The dystopia poll will be up this weekend.

Thank you for all of your suggestions, thoughts, and assistance while we figure out everything. Each of the above points were recommended by several of you, and I’m grateful for your active participation in where this club is going. Reach out if you have any questions or concerns.

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We Are Zooming Away from Discord!

Hello my Rather be Readers!

We are switching away from Discord! All future meetings will be over Zoom, and a big thank you to those who have helped me test it out to ensure it meets our needs. Days and times remain the same: Saturdays at 10 pm Eastern.

Announcements will be sent via (free for you) text message and Telegram. Currently, only North Americans may opt into texts, but we will continue searching for an alternative. If you are not in North America or want Telegram announcements as well as or in place of texts, you may join the channel.

I’m also offering a social Telegram group if anyone is interested. If anything important is discussed in it, that information will be put into the announcements channel. Nobody has to join/participate in it if they aren’t up for it.

This is all pretty new, so I hope you will have patients with me while I navigate it and iron out any wrinkles that might come up.

Please find our new join page here, where you may opt in to what modes you would like.

Thank you all!