I feel like winter is peak reading time for me (although maybe I say that about every season?) – I love curling up under a quilt with a hot drink and my latest book and settling in for a good long reading session. Thanks to this I read a bunch of books in July, which made it really difficult to narrow down some favourites to share here! Read on to see what I picked!
My favourite adult fiction read this month was the amazing debut novel City of Lies by Sam Hawke, who happens to live right here in Canberra. I loved it!
It is a big fat (low magic) fantasy novel which could be read as a stand-alone, even though there is a sequel on the way. City of Lies is told from the perspective of a brother and sister, both of whom are living with chronic health issues which means neither of them is the typical invincible fantasy hero.
The brother, Jovan, inherits the task of food proofer to his best friend (and new Chancellor) when both their uncles are killed by a mystery poison. Immediately after the murder the city falls under siege and the young men find themselves trying to save their city from an attack they don’t understand, at the same time as trying to solve the murders of their uncles – and avoiding the same fate themselves.
Whilst this is a fantasy book, the murder and siege central to the story add elements of closed-room mystery, which I loved. I feel like Sam has done an incredible job of creating a rich and detailed setting for the story – not just physically but also (especially?) in terms of how the society works, and how it is different from ours – and I loved that it has the political intrigue, power struggles, and gritty feel that I think is typical of this sort of epic fantasy, but without the toxic masculinity or sexual violence that also seems to be common to the genre. And of course, I’m always thrilled to be able to get behind a local author and tell everyone how much I enjoyed their work!
Young Adult Fiction
I picked up Hive by A.J. Betts after reading her novel Zac and Mia, about two teenagers being treated for cancer, and loving her writing. The premise of Hive could hardly be more different, but the book still blew me away! In Hive we are introduced to a small community living under strict regulations in a sort of compound, which is likened in the book to a beehive. When teenaged protagonist Hayley starts thinking differently from the other members of her community things start to get weird.
I have read a couple of fiction books set in or around cults in the past 12 months or so, and I feel like it’s a setting that works particularly well for YA – maybe because as teen protagonists are moving from childhood to being adults their understanding of the world is broadening all at once and they are in the perfect position to question everything about how their community works, but at the same time vulnerable to new-to-them ideology? In any case, I do enjoy a cult setting, and I loved how this one felt a bit creepy, and also made me a bit uncomfortable, like I was spying on people, and seeing more than I should.
To be completely honest, this month’s favourite picture book is more for me than for my daughter! I think I mentioned last month how much I love stories about female friendship, and The Girls (by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie) is a perfect example of this, in picture book form! The blurb on the back of the book really gives the best description:
“Four girls meet under an apple tree and sow the seeds of a bond that will last a lifetime. Follow their friendship as the years pass by and the girls become women.”
There are so many things I love about this book! It talks about how the girls “were as different as they were the same”, and they do all look different from each other, as well as having different interests. I think the diversity of representation in the book is pretty good – the girls have different skin colours, there is representation of disability, and when they talk about finding love one of the girls has a female partner. I also really appreciated that the book talks about/shows the girls/women falling out then making up and supporting each other through difficult times (including a bad test report at school and a relationship break up) as well as celebrating their achievements and successes.
My only issue with this one is how to read the gorgeous text out loud to my daughter without having a little cry! It is just so lovely, and quite moving! Like this: “When one heart was broken, they all felt the pain. But they had built each other strong enough to heal.” It’s just so beautiful, and I think would be a perfect gift for the special women in your life.
And that’s my July favourites stack! I’m currently reading something quite different from any of these; Inappropriation by Lexi Freiman, which is a coming-of-age novel about 16 year old Ziggy, who is trying to figure out where she belongs on the spectrums of gender and sexuality whilst navigating high school popularity and friendship dramas. It’s a bit confronting and it’s making me cringe a bit, but I think I’m enjoying it!
I’ll be back with my August favourites next month, and in the meantime don’t forget you can always find out more about what I’ve been reading over on my blog, Bookish Bron.