Hi! Welcome (or welcome back) to this monstrosity disguised as a book review. I really did not expect to continue this column, but I guess you all can never escape this mess. For our first issue of the year I thought I would start things on a happier note, so I only included books that I really liked. Thanks for joining me, and I hope you enjoy!
Spies in Love:
“The Secret History of the Pink Carnation” by Lauren Willig
Genre & Tropes: Historical Fiction, Enemies-to-Lovers
Eloise Kelly, a Harvard grad student, is writing her final dissertation on history’s finest spies: the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But as more information is uncovered she finds a mystery hidden by time, a third spy, the Pink Carnation. Who is the Pink Carnation? How are they all related? And did the Pink Carnation really stop Napoleon?
As soon as I saw the cover of this book, I knew I had to buy it. Ok, fine, the cover is not that impressive. The synopsis on the back is what sold me. Spies, romance, it is set in the Napoleonic Era, what more could I ask for! Unlike most historical books, it is not the most periodically accurate. Yes, there is fashion and chaperones, but a woman would never have been allowed the freedom that Amy was. Oh yeah, the main character’s name is Amy. Not a very historically accurate name, huh? Arguably the main character is meant to be Eloise, but we spend so much more time with Amy that the honorific only makes sense. I looked up what a pimpernel is, and found out that a scarlet pimpernel is a type of flower. A purple gentian is as well! In context, the name pink carnation makes a load more sense. My description was so vague, but on purpose as the synopsis on the back of the book is pretty minimal too. If I had no clue what I was getting myself into, then why should you get to! I can tell you that there is a lot of romance. And a lot of badass spy stuff. Well, I should make it clear that their definition of spying is very different from ours. Spy movies are unrealistic enough as it is, but espionage was totally different back then. For example, they used ciphers in letters, and there were no cool gadgets. Ok, back to the story. I shipped Amy and Richard from the beginning (#Ramy). I can neither confirm nor deny that they are the enemies-to-lovers couple… or that there is only one… but the romance aspect of the book is fantastic. Initially I would not have coined this as a romance novel, but surprisingly enough it is. You might be wondering who Amy and Richard even are, as I refrained from mentioning them in my summary. Any more mention of them will almost certainly end in a spoiler. All I can tell you is that they are super important. If you are dying to know, I guess you will just have to read the book to find out. Sorry not sorry.
Rating: 10/10 (swoonworthy)
“Where’s Waldo” but with Fish:
“The Dragon Behind the Glass” by Emily Voigt
The arowana (or “dragon fish”) is highly coveted in Asia, and highly endangered. They sell for thousands of dollars, have surgeons specializing in eye lifts and chin jobs, but are rarely found in nature. Emily Voigt’s journey to find the wild arowana took her across the world, up the Amazon river, and into the heart of the aquarium industry. Will she be able to find a wild specimen, or are captivity-bred arowanas the only kind left?
As someone who does not usually read non-fiction, I was a little skeptical when this book was recommended to me. I like to have fun while reading, and this book sounded too close to a homework assignment. I was definitely pleasantly surprised! The beginning is very drama heavy, with an exotic animal smuggling ring, the murder of an arowana dealer, and a trip to Singapore. It immediately drew me in, and I felt excited to keep reading. Not all of the book is as fast paced and showy as the beginning, which is a slight downside, but I think the ending is worth the less interesting parts. The star of this book is all of the people Emily meets along the way. Heiko Bleher, Kenny the Fish, Tin Win, and Tyson Roberts all played a big part in her research, and were really interesting to read about. She definitely would not have found what she was looking for (hint, hint) or have as much of a crazy story to tell without Heiko’s influence. She honestly talked more about Heiko than herself. I am not sure if that is because he talks a lot about himself, or he just had a super interesting upbringing, but at the end I felt like I knew him better than the author herself. The book alternated between her real life searches and information, either about where she was, or about whoever she was talking to, or about the arowana itself. As I said earlier, I am not a frequent non-fiction reader, so I found it interesting that this book is not completely information driven. It is also like a journal, chronicling her adventure! Ichthyology (the study of fish) is a niche subject, so this is probably not the book for everyone. The short description on the cover is what drew me in: “A true story of power, obsession, and the world’s most coveted fish.” If you like learning, intrigue, adventure, and definitely fish, then give this book a try. Especially if you have heard of the arowana before.
Rating: 8/10 (Solid. Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend it? Probably)
The Shadow Game series by Amanda Foody
Book Order: “Ace of Shades,” “King of Fools,” “Queen of Volts”
Genre: YA Fantasy
Not to be confused with Ace of Spades, which is about institutionalized racism, these books are more in the vein of the Caraval series. Come to think of it, I am not sure if I read the last book in the series. Hmm, maybe I only read the first two. Regardless, they made enough of an impression on me that I am writing about them! The story follows Enne Salta and Levi Glaisyer as they try to find Enne’s mother, Lourdes, in New Reynes, the City of Sin. See, the basic premise kinda sounds like Caraval! But, they are sooooo different. First of all, Levi is the leader (street lord) of a gang, the Irons, and eventually Enne expands her talents into being the street lord of her own. Also, everyone has special abilities inherited from their parents. Any mention of what their particular talents are would veer into the realm of spoilers, but the whole family talent thing is super interesting. Of course like any good book there is a dash of romance. Levi and Enne both have a lot of stuff going on, so their relationship is very uncertain. I hate to say it, but I am a sucker for will they won’t they relationships, so this part was an extra bonus for me. My favorite character is Lola, soley for her reluctant loyalty (and cool hair I guess). She is super powerful on her own, but Enne definitely needed her, and I think it is admirable that she joined her. There are also a lot of villains in this story. The scariest, and the one most important to the plot, is Vianca Augustine. She is the head of one of the huge casino owning families in the city, and has a suspicious amount of power over certainh people. I am obsessed with everything about the plot, the characters, and the overall feeling of New Reynes. If you are in the market for a new series to fall in love with, this is the one for you.
Rating: 10/10 (Lola’s hair <3)
Thank you so much for reading! Even though this particular edition was rather rushed, I am very happy to have gotten back into writing these. I hope you had a fantastic summer, and are ready for a whole bunch of book recommendations this year! As always, happy reading, and catch you next time!