And That’s a Wrap 2020: Top 10 Favourite Reads

Here we are, both the last day of 2020 and my final wrap up post of the year! Today is the day that I get to gush about the amazing books I read this year *happy dance*.

According to my reading tracker, my most frequent ratings for books this year were 3 and 3.5 stars. I also did quite a few re-reads in 2020 (which I exclude from these types of lists). With these two things in mind, picking my top 10 this time around wasn’t as difficult as it has been previously. However, it also means that this list only includes a couple of books that I actually rated 5 stars. For those who saw my mid-year favourites post, you’ll notice some familiar faces here.

Like in 2019, I’ll be ordering this list from the bottom to my top read of the year. Now, let’s start the count down!

10. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers

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This fantastic, little novella swept in at the last moment to score a position on this list. For something so short (only 135 pages, in fact), it crafts such a wonderfully immersive journey. The story follows a four astronaut research team sent to explore far off planets and study their local lifeforms. It’s a quiet, gradual story, more focused on scientific discoveries, the joy of exploration, and the bonds between the characters than action or high speed adventure. The writing can be quiet science heavy at points but it really does add to the believability of it all. I loved how diverse the cast was, both ethnicity and LGBTI wise, and how hopeful the story felt. However, I do wish that the mental health of the astronauts had been dealt with in more depth, especially during one troubling part of their mission. As a whole though, beautifully done.


9. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

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Classics usually aren’t my thing, even the modern ones. In the interest of trying new things I decided to give The Secret History a go hoping to find some murderous, dark academia magic. Shockingly, I really enjoyed it. I’m still kind of mystified as to how it happened really – slow pacing, unreliable narrator, characters who are all shitty people, general sense of pretentiousness, and YET it’s so good! The best way I can summarise it is: a group of university classics students who try a Bacchian rite end up killing someone and have to cover it up. Dark, immersive, mysterious, over the top, tension-filled…insert a multitude of other adjectives here. The only reasons I couldn’t rate it higher on this list are my complicated feelings about the ending and a slight lull in the middle. Still, I can definitely see myself re-reading it in a few years time to see what I missed.


8. Boyfriend Material – Alexis Hall

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I confess, I picked this book up because it gave me serious Red, White and Royal Blue vibes. In the end, it was different but wonderfully enjoyable all the same. It’s about the son of a rock legend named Luc who, in an effort to clean up his public image, makes a deal with a barrister called Oliver to fake a relationship for the press. Although it was super sweet, Boyfriend Material was also so much funnier than I expected it to be. The banter and chemistry between Luc & Oliver was fantastic but the supporting cast was hilarious as well. While a plotline involving Luc’s dad didn’t really end in a satisfying way, I didn’t mind so much because of how much I loved the way the opposites attract relationship developed. Easily one of my favourite romances of the year.


7. Know My Name – Chanel Miller

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Many of you will be aware of the Stanford Rape Case in which swimmer Brock Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster during a frat party. For years, this woman was known only to the world as Emily Doe but, in fact, her name is Chanel Miller. In this memoir, Chanel tells her story in her own words. It’s so difficult to rate and review memoirs, especially one as difficult to put to paper as this would have been. However, this is honestly one of the most beautifully written, raw and powerful things I’ve read. I was expecting this to be a hard book to read, what I wasn’t expecting was how fantastic a writer Chanel would be. Everyone should read this and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


6. Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin

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I’ve been raving about this book all year (to the point where I think you guys are glad it’s almost 2021 just so I’ll finally stop). As if it wasn’t going to make an appearance on this list. Wolf by Wolf is an alt-history story set in a world where the Axis won WWII and now hold an annual, deadly motorcycle race across the world. Yael, a shapeshifter, survivor of Auschwitz and member of the resistance enters the race as part of a plan to assassinate Hitler. I’m not usually big on journey narratives but I love a good competition plot and this one was handled fantastically. The pacing is good, the MC is strong yet vulnerable and well developed, the story itself is engaging, the romance is subtle and there’s a great cliffhanger ending. If only the second book had been this good but hey, it was a high bar to overcome.


5. Becoming – Michelle Obama

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By the looks of my top 10, I should be reading more biographies/memoirs. Becoming is a fantastic autobiography and I’m so glad I decided to go with the audiobook. What could be better than Michelle herself telling you her story? I really enjoyed learning about Michelle’s life, all the way from her childhood on the second floor of her great-aunt’s house in Chicago to her time as FLOTUS in The White House. In retelling her journey, Michelle touches on so many important topics such as politics, parenting, relationships, the experiences of Black Americans, and the difficulties of the working class. This is the kind of book I believe anyone could take something away from. I know I certainly learnt a lot. Even if you’re not a Michelle Obama fan, it’s a thumbs up from me.


4. Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney

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As I mentioned in my surprises and disappointments wrap up, I did not expect to love Conversations with Friends as much as I did. This little book came out of nowhere, stole my heart and I’m still shocked. The characters are largely unlikeable people and yet they’re complex and just feel so real and human. The book deals with love, intimacy, monogamy, loneliness, and youth, and I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. It’s about a college student named Francis and her ex-girlfriend Bobby who are drawn into the world of a journalist named Melissa and her husband, Nick. Francis soon begins an affair with Nick which changes her outlook on life and herself. 


3. Starsight (Skyward 2#) – Brandon Sanderson

Another entry from my mid-year favourites list which managed to make its way onto my end of year list. As soon as I finished Starsight, I knew it would be sitting on this top ten somewhere. Skyward was my number one pick of 2019 so I was incredibly relieved that the sequel was so darn good. While it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting and very different from the first book in terms of narrative, pacing and characters, it was still a really engaging and entertaining read. I loved the expanded world building and additional character development, and I am crazy excited for the next book in 2021.


2. A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

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This is another book that I haven’t shut up about this year so no one should be surprised to see A Little Life in the number 2 slot. With its very difficult content and 700+ page count, this definitely isn’t a book for everyone. But despite the fact that it completely wrecked me emotionally, I adored it (clearly I’m a masochist). The book follows a group of four university friends who move to NYC together and showcases the highs and lows of their lives over several decades. I loved the writing and have a special place in my heart for the characters. I don’t know if this is a book I can recommend exactly but I can say that I thought it was beautiful, memorable and worth all the tears.


Okay, time for the big one, my favourite book of everything I read in 2020…

1. The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War 2#) – R. F. Kuang

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Yes, that’s right. While The Poppy War may have cracked the number three spot in my top reads of 2019, it’s The Dragon Republic which takes out the number one for 2020. When the first book in a series is amazing, I always get super nervous about the sequel but this one blew me away. I loved every minute of its 650-ish pages. The world is amazing, characters fantastic, battles engrossing, and the plot is the chef’s kiss, it’s so, so good. There’s so much action but Kuang manages to balance it out perfectly with emotional content and character development. I easily consider this series among my favourites now and I cannot wait to read the final entry. Perhaps it’ll take out the crown in 2021?


And that’s it for 2020! For those who’ve been following my blog for a while now, thank you for your continued support, it means the world to me. To those who discovered me this year, welcome! I hope my little blog has, at the very least, helped take your mind off what’s been a troubling year for many people. I’d like to wish you all and your families a very happy new year and plenty of five star reads for 2021.

My other wrap ups for 2020:

My Favourite Reads of 2020 (So Far)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a few years now (you poor souls) will know that I like to do a mid year check-in of sorts with regards to my favourite reads. The main reason being that it’s always fun to compare the halfway year list to the final top ten books at the end of the year – what’s come out on top, what’s been bumped off by something I enjoyed more, and so on. To keep things fair, re-reads are excluded because how boring would that be?

Now, by this time last year I’d read 39 books which was a decent number to pick a top 10 from. In 2020, so far, I’ve read…err..well…27 books. Yes, I know. But hey, I did say at the beginning of the year I was going to take things at my own pace. So no complaints. However, with a lower number of books to select from, instead of doing a top 10 this year I’ll be doing a top 6 for my mid-year post.

Here they are, in no particular order:

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara | Review

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If you’ve read my review for this book, you won’t be surprised to see A Little Life on this list. I loved this novel, which is such a strange word to use considering how difficult the content is and the fact that it broke my heart into a million pieces then drove a steamroller over them. The book follows a group of four university friends who move to NYC together and showcases the highs and lows of their lives over several decades. The writing is stunning and the characters are beautifully crafted. Although it’s a long book and has a couple of issues, it’s definitely worth the time investment and boxes of tissues you’ll go through in the last hundred or so pages.


Starsight – Brandon Sanderson | Review

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Skyward was my favourite read of 2019 so the fact that I enjoyed Starsight as much as I did was an enormous relief. It’s quite a different story from the first book in terms of the narrative direction, pacing and characters but still super engaging. Sanderson massively expanded his universe in this book which would ordinarily be a bit of a worry for me, but here it was done in such an interesting and logical way. I also really appreciated the growth and development of Spensa, the MC, in this book and I’m really excited to see how this continues. These books are quickly becoming one of my favourite series. I’m just ridiculously mad that I have to wait over a year for book 3, especially after THAT ending.


Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin | Review

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I’ve praised Wolf by Wolf repeatedly since I read it back in March (only because it’s so good!), so the fact that it’s showing up on this list isn’t a shock to anyone. I love competition narratives, historical fiction, fantasy, strong heroines, romance that doesn’t completely take over, and tragic backstories, so this book has pretty much everything I could possibly want. Set in a world in which the Axis won WWII, the book deals with an epic motorcycle race which our shapeshifting lead, Yael, enters in the hope of getting close enough to Adolf Hitler to assassinate him. The pacing is good, the story engaging, the characters likeable, and it ends on a twist that definitely makes me keen for book 2.


The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

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I would never have expected to enjoy this book as much as I did. Like A Little Life, The Dutch House is set over a period of several years and more about characters than plot. It’s a slower, quieter read which unfolds very much like a modern fairytale (wicked stepmother included). The book revolves around the relationship between a brother and sister and their connection with their childhood home, the titled Dutch House. It’s very well-written, with some of my favourite scenes consisting of Maeve and Danny simply sitting and talking with one another. Also, having listened to the audiobook, I can definitely vouch for the narration of the wonderful Tom Hanks.


The Diviners – Libba Bray

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I’m really mad that I put off reading this for so long because it was such an enjoyable read! The Diviners is so different from a lot of the other young adult books I’ve read which was super refreshing. The 1920s setting is wonderfully vivid, full of life and easily one of my favourite parts of the book. However, it also has a dark and engaging story and a diverse group of characters that are layered, rich and likeable. Also, my magic/special ability loving little heart was very much in her element with this one. I definitely see why this is such a popular series and I predict I’ll be giving the sequel a go some time in the next few months.


Becoming – Michelle Obama

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This is another book I read early in 2020 and have mentioned my love for several times since. Becoming is a fantastic autobiography (I say with my very limited experience of biography reads). I really enjoyed learning about Michelle’s life all the way from her childhood on the second floor of her great-aunt’s house in Chicago to her time as FLOTUS in The White House. In retelling her journey, Michelle touches on so many valuable topics and she does it with such grace and engagement. This is a book I honestly think everyone would take something away from. Even if you’re not a massive fan of Michelle Obama, I would have no hesitation in recommending it.


What are some of your favourite reads of 2020 so far? I hope that while the events of the year have been downright awful, your reading has been the complete opposite. Here’s to many more amazing books in the next six months!

And That’s a Wrap: March and April 2020 (+ O.W.Ls Magical Readathon Results)

Another two months of this crazy and unpleasant year down. Slowly, at least in the southern hemisphere, we’re making our way towards winter time. Horray! I’ve read some really great books over the last two months (and some pretty average ones), and, despite the struggle, ended up completing my O.W.Ls magical readathon with almost all the subjects I wanted to.

March

I had a great month of reading in March numbers wise. I read nearly everything on my planned TBR except one book and ended up finishing on a total of eight books. Considering I read about four a month at the moment, this was a nice surprise.

The Diviners – Libba Bray ★★★★.5

Why did I put this off for so many years? The Diviners was like and yet so different from other stuff I read. I loved the 1920s New York setting, which was so vivid – the language, music, costumes, controversies, attitudes. The other standout was the great cast of characters each with their own quirks, personalities and special abilities. The story was engaging, fabulously dark, and a little bit ballsy for a YA novel. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the rest of the series and getting to know the characters even better. Bring on the ghosts and magic.

Red Rising & Golden Son (red rising 1 & 2) – Pierce Brown ★★★★.5 & ★★★★★| Reviews

These two books were rereads for me and both were just as good the second time around. It’s always nice to reaffirm your original feelings about a book or series. I finished them in about a day or so each because, much like before, once I started I couldn’t stop. Red Rising still has a slow start (which is the reason for the less than 5 star rating) but overall I love it. This is definitely one of my favourite series.

The Bromance Book Club – Lyssa Kay Adams ★★★.5

As far as romances go, this was a pretty cute and original story. I really enjoyed the fact that instead of focusing on two people falling in love for the first time it was about a couple working on saving their marriage. The story gets contrived at points, the characters frustrated me a teensy bit, and I wish I’d been able to laugh a bit more, but overall an enjoyable and sweet read. Plus, bonus points for the smart commentary on sexism and gender roles. A very self aware romance!

The Clockwork Angel (The infernal devices 1#) – Cassandra Clare ★★★★

Considering I haven’t read this since it first came out about ten years ago, I knew going in I’d probably feel differently about it. It’s definitely still good – a great setting, likeable characters, and the story’s pretty enjoyable as well (if slow at points). However, I will say that I found Tessa a bit blander, Will more angst-y, and the humour not as laugh out loud funny this time around. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for it? Jem is still a precious cinnamon roll though and I love his and Will’s friendship.

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett ★★★★.5

One of two surprises this month, I really liked this one! The Dutch House is the first Ann Patchett book I’ve read and it’s so nice to finish something where the hype is accurate. This isn’t my typical read but there’s something about well-written books which follow certain characters through chunks of their lives which stick with me. It’s a slower, quieter type of read (sort of a modern fairytale) which focuses heavily on the relationship between two siblings and their connection to their childhood home. Some people won’t be so keen, but I found it weirdly relaxing. Then again, it may just be Tom Hanks’s soothing narration on the audiobook…

Jane Anonymous – Laurie Faria Stolarz ★★

I was super intrigued by the concept for this one – a teen who gets kidnapped and has to try to reintegrate into her life after 7 months in captivity. I liked the structure of the book in switching back and forth between the past and present, and the way it dealt with Jane’s mental state following what happened. Yet, for some reason, I couldn’t get into the story or connect with the characters. It also didn’t help that I could see the “twist” coming from miles away which ruined the suspense somewhat. However, this might be a case of it’s not you, it’s me.

Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin ★★★★.5 | Review

Surprise of April no. 2. Wolf by Wolf is my new hidden gem recommendation. It’s an alternate history story set in a world in which Germany and Japan won WWII. They celebrate their victory every year with an epic and cutthroat motorcycle race which, this year, the resistance decide to use as an opportunity to assassinate Hitler. The plot has great momentum, I really liked the characters (especially the lead, Yael, a shapeshifter and survivor of Auschwitz), the romance doesn’t overwhelm the story, and it ends on an exciting note. I’m massively looking forward to reading the sequel.


April

In April I participated in the O.W.L.s Magical Readathon hosted by G at Bookroast. If you missed my original post about the readathon, you can find it here. Normally I find that readathons spur on my reading but this time around, it put me on the verge of a slump. The first half of the month was very slow. I ended up putting one book down 100 pages in because I knew I wouldn’t finish anything else if I continued. In the end, I was able to read enough to fulfill the subject requirements for my career choice, Trader of Magical Tomes, and one of the two bonus courses I’d planned to do. However, this was only because the comic I intended for my second bonus course fit the prompt for Charms (and made up for the book I abandoned). Phew!

history of magic: Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb 1#) – Tamsyn muir ★★★★

This is definitely one of the weirder things I’ve read. It’s also confusing, dark and quite unique. So pretty much what people said it would be. I have complicated feelings toward GtN. While I enjoyed it and was super interested in the world, magic and characters, there’s not a lot of explanation for things and feeling massively lost through large chunks of the book certainly put a dampener on it. It also takes a little bit of time for the plot to find momentum. However, there’s so much awesome potential here and I’m excited to see what happens in the sequel.

transfiguration: Sword of Destiny(The Witcher 0.75#) – Andrzej Sapkowski ★★★★

Weirdly, I think I enjoyed this second short story collection more than the first. Geralt does a lot less monster slaying here but the adventures were so much fun – mermaids, a quest to kill a dragon, Geralt running around Novigrad with Dandelion trying to catch a shapeshifter… I wasn’t as fond of the Yennefer related material (it reads very melodramatic, but perhaps it’s the translation?) but really enjoyed Geralt and Ciri’s introduction. A pretty easy read. I’ll likely pick up the first novel further down the line.

Ancient runes: The Honey Don’t List -★★.5 stars | Review to come

This wasn’t my original choice for the Ancient Runes prompt but it’s what I felt like reading by the time I got around to completing it. I went into this one with low expectations after reading some mediocre reviews and while it definitely wasn’t anywhere near as good as other CL books I’ve read, it wasn’t a bad read either. The concept was decent and I liked that there was a good focus on both of the romantic leads’ individual stories. However, I wish there had been more humour and much more time devoted to building the romance.

Charms: Fence Vol. 1 – C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad, Joana Lafuente ★★★★

My usual attitude towards anything sports related is: Zzzzzz… So I was super surprised by how enjoyable this was! It’s pretty short (being a comic) but the story’s fun, the characters have strong personalities, and it’s quite funny too. I even went looking to buy the second volume as soon as I finished. It’s safe to say I’ll be continuing with the series.

Herbology: Morning Star (Red Rising 3#) – Pierce Brown ★★★★★ | Review

Just like my re-reads of books 1 & 2 in March, this was similarly amazing. Morning Star is my favourite book of the series and I loved getting to experience it a second time, despite all the emotion the darn thing involves! I’m sure I’ll read these books again in the years to come. Now, I’m ready to try my hand at Iron Gold again, finally.

I bought a few books over the last couple of months and after feeling ready to start requesting ARCs again, I ended up getting two Netgalley approvals as well, Bookish and the Beast & Mexican Gothic, which I’m looking forward to. Here are the new additions to my shelf which I still have yet to read.

My blogging has been lower in frequency lately, especially this month due to my new Animal Crossing addiction *facepalm*. Still, here are the posts if you missed them:

Instead of blogging, reading and taking photos for my bookstagram, these are some of the things that have been occupying my time lately.

With the whole cinemas being closed thing, I’ve been watching more new TV than movies. However, shortly before everything shut, my sister and I went to see the latest adaptation of Emma which I enjoyed. It does get a little slow around the middle but otherwise, it’s good. The scenery and costumes are great and Anya’s really well suited to the role.

TV wise, much like with The Circle, in March I caved to FOMO and watched Love is Blind. I know, I know. As expected, it was a mindlessly enjoyable trainwreck. Also in March I binge-watched my way through season 3 of Elite, one of my favourite guilty pleasure shows.

More recently, I finished Normal People. I’ve read the book the show is adapted from and surprisingly, this is one of those cases where I liked the adaptation a lot more, despite the two being very similar. While I was lukewarm about the book, I thought the show was great. It’s shot wonderfully and the acting is fantastic and heart-wrenching. I found the linear storytelling much easier to follow and the slightly altered ending was a big improvement. I’ve also already hit the soundtrack up on Spotify.

And, last but not least, I recently bought myself a Nintendo Switch Lite and a copy of Animal Crossing New Horizons and…it’s taken over my life. I named my island Isla Sorna, after one of the islands in Jurassic Park, and have been fishing, chopping trees, selling fruit, and getting into the stalk market! This thing chews up hours of my time and I’m having so much fun designing my island.


And that’s a wrap on March and April 2020! I hope you’re all well and taking care of yourselves under the difficult circumstances. Let me know what you’ve been up to and the books/things that have been getting you through social distancing/isolation.

Alternate History, Shapeshifting and an Epic Motorcycle Race: ‘Wolf by Wolf’ by Ryan Graudin

Something I have difficulty coming up with recommendations for is underrated or hidden gem type books. Because, let’s be real, when it comes to my reading choices, I have a strong tendency to stick to novels and authors which are popular, talked about or considered “good”. This is extremely silly because I’m likely to miss out on some amazing books. Books like Wolf by Wolf for instance, which is now officially my “hidden gem” pick.

What If…?

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history story set in 1956 in a world in which the Nazis and Japanese won WWII. Between the two powers, they now control most of the world. To honour their victory, each year the legendary Axis tour is held – an epic, cutthroat, and gruelling motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo. Eighteen-year-old Yael is a survivor of the camp at Auschwitz where she was experimented on, leaving her with the ability to shapeshift. Now part of the resistance, Yael is set the almost impossible task of assassinating Adolf Hitler. However, in order to get close enough, she must first disguise herself as former tour winner, Adele Wolf, and win the race. It won’t be easy though, especially with Adele’s brother, Felix, and Luka, who has history with Adele, among the competitors.

On the Road

I’m not usually drawn to travelling/journey type plots, but Wolf by Wolf is a wonderful exception. This is a book with both a fantastic premise and great execution. The bulk of the novel follows Yael through the different legs of the Axis Tour as she deals with the elements, potentially life-threatening sabotage attempts by other racers, and maintaining her cover as Adele. I loved the competitive aspect. It was exciting, fast paced and a lot of fun. Plus, the couple of unexpected moments thrown into the mix made it even more enjoyable. Even better, the book managed to sustain this degree of momentum right til its last moments.

Slowing things Down

Graudin balances out the action-packed sections with plenty of slower, character-oriented moments. The book flicks back and forth between the present and flashbacks to Yael’s past. These start with her arrival at Auschwitz at five years old and lead up to her resistance training before the race. Yael’s memories are heartbreakingly centred around the people she’s lost and reveal the evolution of her character in an emotional way. I’ve found that books which utilise this method of storytelling sometimes end up feeling a bit choppy but the transitions here were well done.

In the present, the book also works at developing Yael’s relationships with both Luka and Felix during pit stops and rest breaks. Both these characters were very likeable in different ways. I couldn’t help smiling at Luka’s cocky, flirty, bad boy persona and sympathising with Felix who is desperate to avoid losing another sibling. Each brings out something different in Yael and often forces her to rethink notions about Germans and herself.

A Touch of Romance

Yes, there’s a romantic subplot in this book but to my immense relief, it (a) isn’t cheesy and (b) doesn’t take over the main story. It’s there, but just enough to add to the story and aid in Yael’s character development/journey.

Lone Wolf

As far as leads go, I really liked Yael. She walks the line between strong and vulnerable very well – physically and mentally very capable, but at the same time with deep emotional baggage. Also, major point in her favour, she’s not stupid. As a character, Yael has a complicated relationship with identity in that she no longer remembers what she actually looks like, often has to act out other personas (as she does with Adele), and has been separated from her family, culture and heritage. The events of the novel really force her to think about who she is and how her past & abilities define her.

A Few Extra Points:

  • The book takes a couple of chapters to kick into gear but once it finds its stride, it really gets going
  • Some of the side characters are somewhat like window dressing – they pop up when needed and fade into the background the rest of the time
  • The writing style gets a little bit “artsy” at points but as someone who’s not usually a fan of this, I found it alright for the most part

Wolf by Wolf was a huge surprise for me – the really good kind, and I’m so glad I stumbled across it. If you like historical fiction, competition-based plots and well written heroines, I can’t recommend this book enough.

4.5 stars