All my resolutions for 2020 involved starting a new, healthier habit rather than breaking an old, bad habit. Reading more books sat at the top of the list.
I love reading and always have done. Increasing how often I read is less about getting into the habit of doing it and more about ensuring I prioritise time to do it. As an author, I feel a compulsion to spend every spare moment writing—or at least trying to write. Even in bed, I am replying to messages on social media or comments on my books.
Whilst I didn’t want to stop doing all of this—engaging with my readers is important to me—I did want to make sure I achieved a greater balance with my free time. Ask any author for their best writing tip, and I expect most would say “read more”. Including me.
Exposure to different styles, voices and vocabulary improves us as writers, just as practising does. Am I justifying my guilt over spending less time writing? Maybe. But the point still stands.
It’s going well, anyway. I’ve already read four books so far in January and am partway through my fifth. Although I might be writing less, I’m still chipping away at my current work in progress and editing one of my earlier stories, so it definitely hasn’t taken a back seat. If anything, I’m more productive when I do write—whether that’s through inspiration due to the amount of fiction I’m reading, or because I no longer feel like I’m forcing myself to stare at a word document, willing the characters to speak to me.
Whatever the reason, the resolution is paying off and I’ve loved all of the books I’ve read so far.
THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Brief synopsis: Evelyn Hugo, a former Hollywood actress, reaches out to Monique Grant, an unknown journalist, to tell the story of her glamorous and scandalous life. Although Monique can’t understand why Evelyn has chosen her, she also can’t turn down the opportunity to gain unprecedented insight into such a reclusive celebrity. Evelyn recounts details of how she became famous, the people she met along the way, and her seven husbands. There are plenty of surprises, but none as shocking as the real reason why Evelyn chose Monique to tell her story.
Multiple people recommended this story to me, and I also stumbled across plenty of raving reviews on social media.
My first thought before reading was, naturally, about the seven husbands. Why did she marry so many men? How did she find the time to meet these men, get to know them, marry them, divorce them, and repeat? All while having so much success with her career? Without giving away any spoilers, each marriage—and subsequent divorce—made sense and stood its own against the others.
The story alternates between present day and the past, as well as including snippets from articles highlighting moments from Evelyn’s life, which added an entertaining glimpse into the scrutiny she would have faced during her time in Hollywood.
As hinted at in the synopsis, there is a twist towards the end. I didn’t manage to guess it, but I know others did. It’s a believable twist. I’m personally not a fan of a twist being thrown in as a shock factor with no foundation to it. Twists must make sense, and this one did.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read, easily digestible so you can dip in and out of it—although I binged it fairly quickly!
By Alessandra Torre
Brief synopsis: Cole Masten, one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, arrives in the small town of Quincy to film his new movie, based on the real-life Coca Cola millionaires. When there, he immediately locks horns with Summer Jenkins, one of the town’s residents, but the tension between them isn’t just due to their clashing personalities.
Having caught the Hollywood bug, I moved from past movie stars to present day ones. Strong characters and sizzling chemistry kept me hooked with each page, even though the story did take a different direction from what I’d expected.
Told in a dual point of view, the reader gains insight into both protagonists’ heads, yet Cole and Summer’s voices feel distinctly different from one another which is something I’ve found similar stories can lack. Even the supporting characters are fleshed out well with their own personalities and quirks, making them feel like real people.
I enjoyed the pace of the book and felt the character development was strong. A film has also been released, although I’ve not watched it so can’t comment on how true to the book it is. I also wouldn’t be able to finish this review without mentioning Cocky, whose presence in the story made me like Cole a lot quicker than I would have done otherwise!
THE KINGMAKER & THE REBEL KING
By Kennedy Ryan
Brief synopsis: Lennix and Maxim first meet when protesting gas pipelines being laid on protected indigenous land. Lennix is leading the protest, and Maxim is a fierce supporter of clean energy. He’s also the son of the man who’s ordered the pipelines—only he doesn’t tell Lennix that, even when their friendship develops into something more romantic.
When I found out this was a duology and not a trilogy, my heart sank. I fell in love with these characters and everything they stood for; I could have happily read another two books about Lennix and Maxim.
I learnt a lot about American history and loved the diversity within the story. My favourite books are those with strong characters, and each character within The Kingmaker and The Rebel King felt unique, deep and realistic.
Lennix and Maxim have a lot in common, but they also come from very different backgrounds which adds an interesting dynamic to the story and their relationship. What I also appreciated was that neither of them shied away from standing up for what they believed in, even if that meant disagreeing with one another. The author portrayed their chemistry excellently, and you can’t help but become invested in them both as individuals and as a couple.
Although I was disappointed to reach the end of the book—only because I wanted more—I felt like I’d gained a new appreciation for American Indian culture and history. A good book allows you to escape, but an even better one educates you along the way.
Any recommendations for my February reads? What have you read recently that has stayed on your mind long after turning the last page?