Bookish Ramblings: January Wrap Up

Today is day 312 of January and whilst as a British citizen of the EU today is tinged with great sadness, I’m pretty happy to see the back of this month. January is full of awful anniversaries for us and with the youngest paperback sleeping worse than ever my mental health has been pretty fragile, but today is payday, we’ve booked a holiday and having something to look forward to has definitely helped! I did still manage to get a fair bit of reading done though and I’ve made a good start on my 2020 reading challenge with 7 books read, thanks to the amazing Rebecca Gibson for sending me an Arc of the new Sarah J Maas! I’ve also rounded up my .5 ratings in the list below 🙂

My 5 Star Reads
My 4 Star Reads
My 3 Star Reads

I’ve been so lucky this month with books which has helped bring me some cheer, I have had some amazing looking books from Titan to review (check out tomorrow’s TBR post) I’ve won a full set of the Battle Ground books from Rachel Churcher and today I found out that I had won a signed arc of Dark Skies by Danielle L Jensen, which as it’s one from my most anticipated list was just amazing!

When I wasn’t Reading

Honestly I’ve not had much time outside of reading to do much more, my lack of blog posts this month probably attests to that more than anything. However I’m loving that Star Trek has returned to our screens, the first episode of Picard blew us away, it had such a nostalgic feel to it and I love having this character back. Gaming wise I have not been playing much but when I have it’s been Spyro Reignited, for a little more nostalgia. I’m sad to say that I just don’t think I can bring myself to finish Zelda at the moment, I only have the final boss to complete but it just seems all to complicated for my tired brain.  I’ve also been back to formatting this month, which has been lovely as it’s been so long since I’ve created a book!

Looking Ahead

I’ve set my Tbr for February and I’m looking forward to being part of a blog tour for one of them, I’m also likely to do a giveaway for the Arc of Crescent City, so keep an eye out – I’m just about to pre-order the sprayed edges version from Waterstones! I’m hoping to get some more formatting done, and for one of my most anticipated reads no less! Ascent, the next in Bethany Adams’ Return of the Elves series will hopefully be coming soon! For now though I’m looking forward to getting a much needed day of sleep on Monday, I’ve taken a day off to do pretty much just that, and I may finally get that Tbr cart that I’ve been coveting for so long.

Review of The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

A group of three young thieves are pulled into a centuries old magical war between ancient beings, mages, and humanity in this wildly original debut epic fantasy.
The city has always been. The city must finally end. When three thieves – an orphan, a ghoul, and a cursed man – are betrayed by the master of the thieves guild, their quest for revenge uncovers dark truths about their city and exposes a dangerous conspiracy, the seeds of which were sown long before they were born.
Cari is a drifter whose past and future are darker than she can know. Rat is a Ghoul, whose people haunt the city’s underworld. Spar is a Stone Man, subject to a terrible disease that is slowly petrifying his flesh. Chance has brought them together, but their friendship could be all that stands in the way of total armageddon.

Do you ever get that feeling that when you buy a book off the back of a ton of 5 star reviews and then you wonder if in fact you read the same book as everyone else? That’s what I got with The Gutter Prayer. This was really sad as it was a book that I was so excited to read but I was left feeling underwhelmed at times and more than a little confused.

Firstly though I have to admit that there were some amazing parts of this book, the characters really made the piece for me and a vibrant world was created within the limited confines of the city itself. The author shows fervent imagination with the creation of the fantastical creatures within the pages. The terrifying Tallowmen, extreme peace keepers created from lives that have been lost and remade in vats powered by wick and flame, they are unstoppable and frightening. The Ravellers as well paint a gruesome scene, consuming and unforgiving, the two create a formidable foe to run alongside the usual wheelers and dealers or gutter life. Our protagonists are many and morally grey, some that feel initially throwaway actually have a large part to play, which was great for keeping me guessing although it did make it harder to decide which of the characters to fully invest in. Stand outs were Spar the stone man, I found the depiction of his plague to be well thought out and explanation of it’s toll deeply saddening. Rat the Ghoul was incredibly complex and I felt the Ghoul hierachy was fascinating, with Rat’s sense of morality a nice juxtaposition. Sweary Aleena was a breath of fresh air in her no nonsense approach and her stab now worry later attitude. Eladora and Cari felt pitted against one another and actually for me, goody two shoes Eladora actually came out on top, I felt her development had the best arc overall.

Unfortunately the writing felt muddled and struggled with maintaining pace and flow, there were glaring continuity issues which totally pulled me from the story and there were many times when I had to go back and reread passages to get my head round what had happened. I felt like many climactic moments didn’t reach their full potential and a few times we were diverted from the main action which was a shame. The main climax was all crammed into the final chapter too which honestly left my head spinning. Because of the volume of characters I felt that not everyone got the time they deserved, there were so many amazing ideas but none really had enough time on the page to allow for them to gain their full potential. The story was a little predicable at times and it honestly didn’t need the addition of sex. If it serves no purpose then don’t bother, that dynamic would have been the same without it and it was as awkward to read as it probably was for the author to write it.

Whilst The Gutter Prayer creates an interesting fantasy world, with many unique elements and touch of steampunk thrown in, it falls down from having too many ideas to contain within it’s pages. What we are left with are half explained concepts and situations fizzling out off page which could have been rectified with more focus. There are some brilliant moments though and they do really stand out like beacons as they are fully formed set pieces. The characters are both endearing and chilling and for me they are what brings this review up to a 3*

Six for Sunday – Bookish Habits

Today’s #sixforsunday is all about bookish habits which got me thinking a lot about my reading and how my reading spreads outwardly from just the simple fact of a book, so here are my habits, in no particular order!

Buying Bookish Candles

I’ve actually been much better with this after I realised how many candles I had about 6 months ago, I have been going through and burning quite a few although some I can’t bring myself too, especially the Whizzpop ones that I can’t get any more. But I do have a bit of a problem when it comes to bookish candles, I just love them and especially for bookstagram, they are always so beautifully labelled and many have wonderful melts on top too. Now I’ve stopped getting book boxes I’ve started getting candle boxes instead and I love supporting some awesome small business.

Matching my bookmark to my read

This is something that I try and do as much as I can, I know it might sound silly but I just think it’s nice to have my bookmark matching in, if its fandom specific then great but I’m happy to match in with colour or general theme too. One great bookmark from Jessica Jade Designs is multi fandom and has about 20 different series represented so that’s always a great go to!

A glass of wine is always fine

So you can probably tell by the blog name and my IG feed that I do enjoy to settle down with a glass of wine whilst I read, I don’t drink every day though and rarely on a school night! I just love relaxing this way, good book, glass of wine, blanket and snacks. I couple of years ago Mr Paperbacks got me a specially made Harry Potter “Accio Wine” glass which I adore!

Netgalley nightmare

No, not Negalley themselves but that moment that every blogger or book reviewer has experienced and I never seem to learn from. It’s so easy to browse through netgalley and request the books that catch my eye, before I know it I’ve requested a ton of books and been granted more than I thought I would. Cue mass panic about how on earth I’m going to get them all read and reviewed by release day – why do I do it to myself!

Having more than one book on the go

I usually have around 3/4 books on the go at the same time, I will have a couple of physical books usually a review copy and a book from my tbr, I’ll have an ebook for me to take out and about with me and then an audio book to listen to in the car during my commute. I have found that I can manage this most of the time although after a particularly tiring day I don’t tend to take in much of the audio book, especially if i’m not keen on the narrator.

My little corner of the sofa

It’s the closest I can get to a reading nook but my little corner of the sofa is firmly my domain, I don’t tend to read in bed often so it’s where nearly all of my at home reading gets done. I have a couple of books stacked up on the arm, sticky tabs to mark out quotes I like or discussion points if i’m buddy reading, it’s also close enough to the table for me to have drinks and snacks available. I’ve just ordered the Illumicrate Darkdawn blanket and together with my bookish cushion will make it a space that will be near impossible to get out from!

Review of The Manifestations of Sherlock Holmes by James Lovegrove

Maverick Detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful chronicler Dr John Watson return in twelve thrilling short stories.

The iconic duo find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events: an otherworldly stone whose touch inflicts fatal bleeding; a hellish potion unlocks a person’s devilish psyche; Holmes’s most hated rival detective tells his story; a fiendishly clever, almost undetectable method of revenge; Watson finally has his chance to shine; and many more – including a brand-new Cthulhu Casebooks story.

Firstly I would like to say a huge thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy of this great book for review! I do love a short story collection from time to time and this one really hit the mark.The stories themselves are make up from those pulled from existing collections and new reads just for this release. I especially enjoyed the personal opener to each story from the author. The thing I enjoyed most about this book was how diverse the stories were, there are of course classic Holmes tales however there are plenty which have a true fantasy feel to them, which as a fantasy reader at heart, rose my enjoyment of the book exponentially.

Standouts for me were The Problem of the Emperor’s Netsuke, which was actually delightful and a testament that there doesn’t have to be high grade nefarious goings on to make a great Holmes’ story. Compare that to the total darkness of The Strange Case of Dr Sacker and Mr Hope though and you can see what I mean about diversity, that story gave me the chills and actually one that I would love to have a full length story on. I also have to give a shout out to The Adventure of the Innocent Icarus as well for bringing Holmes into the world of superheroes which is a cross over we definitely needed! There was only one story that I had read before, The Adventure of the Deadly Seance, and it was a interesting decision to include it considering it was only published last year in The Sign of Seven anthology.

This is ultimately a wonderfully rich, yet bite sized selection of some of the best Holmes short stories by one of my favourite writers of the pastiche. There is a story for every mood covering a whole wealth of genres, each one filled with great story telling and a lot of humour; some dark and some deliciously crazy “I wasn’t going to enter that room unarmed, not with a pterodactyl on the loose!” This is a great pick up and put down book and a perfect addition to both established Holmes fans collection or a gateway book for those who want to dip their proverbial toes!


Review of Dark Age by Pierce Brown

For a decade Darrow led a revolution against the corrupt color-coded Society. Now, outlawed by the very Republic he founded, he wages a rogue war on Mercury in hopes that he can still salvage the dream of Eo. But as he leaves death and destruction in his wake, is he still the hero who broke the chains? Or will another legend rise to take his place?
Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile, has returned to the Core. Determined to bring peace back to mankind at the edge of his sword, he must overcome or unite the treacherous Gold families of the Core and face down Darrow over the skies of war-torn Mercury.
But theirs are not the only fates hanging in the balance.
On Luna, Mustang, Sovereign of the Republic, campaigns to unite the Republic behind her husband. Beset by political and criminal enemies, can she outwit her opponents in time to save him?
Once a Red refugee, young Lyria now stands accused of treason, and her only hope is a desperate escape with unlikely new allies.
Abducted by a new threat to the Republic, Pax and Electra, the children of Darrow and Sevro, must trust in Ephraim, a thief, for their salvation—and Ephraim must look to them for his chance at redemption.
As alliances shift, break, and re-form—and power is seized, lost, and reclaimed—every player is at risk in a game of conquest that could turn the Rising into a new Dark Age.

So this is going to be a really hard review to write. The first 3 books in the saga I absolutely adored, brilliant writing, plot twists that had me gasping and characters that I fell in love with. Iron Gold I struggled a bit with when it came to meandering plot but it did pull it back, but now comes Dark Age. Both dark in name and content it really couldn’t be any further from the YA roots of Red Rising. This book is totally and utterly depressing. I mean it, I just felt bereft and sad throughout.

Death, torture, mutilation, genocide – these have always been present but never in such a relentless way, I was exhausted reading this and I was just left feeling pretty empty as it’s all so mindless and repetitive. Pierce Brown basically has laid smack down to George RR Martin when it comes to character death, some of which I was utterly devastated by and a couple which I just can’t forgive.

I did like how we finally got Virginia’s POV in this book, her voice has been missed and I actually felt I got to enjoy her character so much more, she always felt cold and distant but this time she gets to shine again and get more down to the level of the Institute again rather than the lofty sovereign. Her arc actually was actually my favourite as her chapters were sparing but they were full of plot (something that the others suffered with – but more of that to come) and the best reveals. I have to admit I was totally floored by the revelation of the syndicate queen and the abomination was just all kinds of creepy. Lyria had a fantastic story line too, intertwined with the fabulous Figment, she finds herself with quite the unlikely cohort to take on the Red Hand with and with a whole new depth that finds its way to her, she feels far from the whiny Lyria that came before. This change up in her really pushed her to new limits and I am genuinely excited for how her story grows. At this point I would also pretty much die for Victra.

Alongside of the depressing content issue was the need for another round of edits. Ephraim for me just didn’t cut it this time (which is a shame as he was the stand out for me in Iron Gold) his chapters just felt a little tedious and didn’t seem to go anywhere until the penultimate part of the book. Combined with the “at home with the Obsidians” skit which gave us an insight into their day to day activities that we neither wanted or needed – there were a good couple of hundred pages of story which just ultimately felt self indulgent. This is frustrating as there were times where I wanted to know more (the abomination) and where I wanted things to be explained – like how many Yellows were there kicking about in random places to deal with all these mortal wounds that characters survived.

Throw in Darrow giving the Terminator a run for their money, Lysander being a total brat and the biggest plot twist that pretty much everyone saw coming, I just felt let down. I know that there are tons of people who loved this book but ultimately I just couldn’t deal with just how dark this book got, many characters I felt didn’t get treated with the dignity they deserved (Orion) and ultimately how even those closest to the rising just felt expendable. One thing I have discovered through writing this review is that actually one huge thing Pierce Brown did right was to make the women totally wipe the floor with the men when it came to characterisation and arc.

I will continue with the series because, honestly I’ve come this far with it now and the final part of the book did start to pull it back. I was left more hopeful that the lions share of the grim was done with and that we can get back to story telling I fell in love with alongside of some hopefully amazing things for Lyria!

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Six for Sunday: Books people associate with me.

This weeks #sixforsunday is all about books that people associate with me! So who is the person who knows me best? They would be the one to know surely? Yup, I asked Mr Paperbacks to name 6 books that he associates with me. Never before has a single question registered such fear and confusion on his face. But he got there, mainly because of TV and film adaptations that we’ve seen, and here’s his list, in his own words.

Those books that I got you for Christmas

That would be the Illuminae files! These are books that I have wanted to read for ages and he got me the Forbidden Planet editions which had been signed by Jay Kristoff! I read book one last week and absolutely loved it, I’m planning on reading Gemina next month and then buddy reading Obsidio in March!

The book that your cushion is from

One of my favourite ever items from a book box, I think it was the Fairyloot “talk faery to me” one, is my ACOTAR cushion cover! Featuring the quote “only you can decide what breaks you ” from A Court of Wings and Ruin. I sit with it every day and I’ve squished it so much that I might need to get a new filling for it!

The Hunger Games – because you like that fashion woman

That fashion woman being Effie Trinket, who is actually pretty much one of my favourite characters from the series. I love her turnaround and development, she is also unwittingly hilarious. He knows her only through the films though, where I forever gush over how great she is!

Game of Thrones – because you didn’t spoil it

In possibly one of the loveliest things he has said to me recently, he is forever grateful that we sat through several series of Game of Thrones (until the series overtook the books) and that I didn’t say a word about anything, even when he asked me. Honestly, sitting on the Red Wedding was so hard but then he had the double shock of both the event, and that I had managed to keep it quiet!

That book that sounded like you were listening to porn

Ahh that would be Nevernight, Gentle Friends. I picked this up for free on audio when I signed up to the publishers newsletter at YALC which was amazing as it was a series that I had wanted to start for ages. Any how, I tend to listen to audio books when I’m in the bath and he came in to ask me something, just as Mia was, well, you know. He looked at me and said nothing, until several hours later when he asked me if I was listening to porn, technically I suppose I was? If you’ve not yet read these, I can highly recommend the audio books as the narrator is amazing and the footnotes are seamlessly added in.

Harry Potter

So it would be hard for him not to associate Harry Potter with me, I have been to the studio 4 times, have various special editions and house editions and when we went to Edinburgh last month we did a themed escape room and then potion making of molecular cocktails! It a fandom that I have passed on to our daughter so he really can’t escape it!

Let me know in the comments if there are any books that you associate with me 🙂

Six For Sunday: 2019 Favourites

I have to admit that I did debate whether or do the prompt this week as it’s only been a couple of weeks since I published my year in review but then I thought that this would be the chance to expand upon some things and revisit some thoughts or things I may have missed. I’ve also featured Lauren James’ Quiet at the end of the World in the header image as for some reason I completely forgot to add it to my top reads of 2019 stack!

Change of Blog Name

I think that this is my favourite thing that I did in 2019! Post Apocalyptic Playground will always hold a place in my heart but it was always something that I did for others. Paperbacks and Pinot is something that I did entirely for me and feel that I have 100% control now. I post when I want and about what I want and I’m reading books that are from a far wider range of genres – I have never been happier as a blogger!


At the beginning of the year I finally got a handle on Negalley and whilst I did drown myself to start with (we’ve all been there) I learnt more about how to approach publishers and what they wanted to know about me. I got to a point where I reached out to publishers and tour companies for physical arcs in the middle of 2019, with varying results, but I have been so blessed to have received many amazing reads that I perhaps would not have always gone for or been on my radar – it’s even got me back into reading more adult fiction!


Yalc was a great experience for me but more in the fact that I got to meet in person so many amazing friends that I have met online. I picked up some books and other bits but it was the connections that meant the most and that everyone was even more lovely in person than they were online. I have built up a great working relationship with an author I met there and discovered that Bex Hogan also loves Hero Quest!

Little Miss Paperbacks

Biba played such a huge part in my blogging in 2019 and will continue to do so I hope in 2020! From online unboxings with me to being selected as a brand ambassador for We Read Box, everyone we have met has embraced her 100% in the community and it has been an amazing experience for us both to do together.


Chapter Con was held in London in June of 2019, it was a conference for Indie authors, bloggers and publicists. It was a wonderful event, full of kindness and support and run by the ever inspirational Katie M John. I loved being there and got to meet some fantastic people, again I also got to meet some amazing people that I had known online for years. I was invited to speak on a panel and took part in a wonderful awards evening, where I’m happy to say I didn’t come away from empty handed!

Turning 40

In December I reached another decade on this planet, I was a complete mess about it. To take the sting out, Mr Paperbacks and I went to Edinburgh for our first child free time away in 9 years. We did lots of amazing Harry Potter themed things, experienced our first escape room, made lots of cocktails and did A LOT of walking. I’m still not entirely over moving up another bracket for the tick boxes but I’m getting there and visiting Scotland helped so much with it!

Tell me what your 2019 highlights were?



Review of A Throne of Swans by Katharine Corr and Elizabeth Corr

When her father dies just before her birthday, seventeen-year-old Aderyn inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, a dominion in a kingdom where nobles are able to transform at will into the bird that represents their family bloodline. Aderyn’s ancestral bird is a swan. But she has not transformed for years, not since witnessing the death of her mother – ripped apart by hawks that have supposedly been extinct since the long-ago War of the Raptors. 
With the benevolent shelter of her mother and her father now lost, Aderyn is at the mercy of her brutal uncle, the King, and his royal court. Driven by revenge and love, she must venture into the malevolent heart of the Citadel in order to seek the truth about the attack that so nearly destroyed her, to fight for the only home she has ever known and for the land she has vowed to protect.

Firstly I would like to say a huge thank you to Darkroom Tours and Hot Key Books for sending me a copy of this fantastic book for review. I mean I just took one look at the cover and fell in love with it.  It’s apparently inspired by Swan Lake which I have to admit I really know little about which probably helped with how original and intriguing I found this story. From the first page I was totally drawn into the story in way I’ve not been for a long while. I just didn’t want to put it down as everything felt on a knife edge from start to finish.

Aderyn may at first seem like a typical sheltered teen, naive and a little selfish at times, however I adored how her story and character developed. She needs to get savvy and quickly. She does learn by making many mistakes at the start but her adaptability and fortitude really get the chance to shine as she becomes more adept at life at court.  I felt that her flightless status was actually handled in a considered way, not only down to the physical aspect but the deep seated emotional trauma from what she was forced to watch. Add on top of that the likely overwhelming anxiety of leaving home to attend a strange place with a need to prove herself, its small wonder that she finds herself overwhelmed, especially with the attentions she receives. I really had a lot of time for her and her situation.

I really liked the concept of the Nobles being able to shift into birds and indeed different types of birds depending on their family line. The powers of the nobles being able to totally rule out a particularly overused YA trope, which was a nice touch, either by design or not. If there is one thing that this story has in spades it’s tension. I started by saying that I felt the story was on a knife edge and I can’t think of a better way to describe it, so many secrets, lies, whispers and rumours. Everyone has an agenda and the times where Aderyn is left without her Clerk, Lucian, I felt terribly anxious about what would happen to her her next. There are so many layers of deceit and simmering revenge, showing a much deeper thread to the tale. In retrospect there were a number of breadcrumbs laid and I loved how things started to slot together revealing a truly terrible but exciting puzzle underneath.. The plot went far deeper than I thought it would for a YA book, it has a real maturity and darkness to it at times, but also some sweet romance and plenty of dancing!

For a book that was so glorious though I have marked it down slightly because I felt frustrated with Aderyn at times as she was so unable to follow a singular piece of advice – trust no one. I accept a level of naivety on her part but I would have hoped for more caution. I’m also not a huge fan of cliffhanger style chapter endings and I felt that too many chapters finished mid conversation, it was a dramatic flare that I didn’t feel the story needed. This is of course down to reader preference but these things did bug me a little. What I did find incredibly helpful though was the beautiful map and family tree at the beginning, I think there is a place for a family tree in plenty of books and it was a real help here at understanding the history and putting Aderyn’s findings into context.

A Throne of Swans is a wonderfully complex tale of intrigue and revenge and it completely wrapped me up in its world. I still feel a little heartbroken and wronged by the way certain things came to pass, I’m totally on a particular characters team and the sneak peak of book 2 at the end has left me totally desperate to find out what happens next with them. The quote on the front from the wonderful V.V James describes it as a Dark and Glittering Fantasy, and I would have to wholeheartedly agree.

4.5 Stars

Guest Post: The Importance of Sandwiches by Rachel Chucher, Author of the Battle Ground Series

The Importance of Sandwiches: Food and Drink in the Battle Ground Series

Welcome to January – season of left-overs and let-downs. After the excesses and shared meals of Christmas celebrations, the new year’s food offerings can feel a little disappointing.

And it matters, doesn’t it? Going back to work in the dark and the cold, with nothing but soggy sandwiches to look forward to – no wonder January is a peak month for depression.

Food is more than just fuel. You eat meals with your eyes before you taste them. Good food makes you feel good when you eat it. And food is a focus for coming together with other people – sharing a meal is a powerful social experience.

So what makes food and drink important in the Battle Ground series?

Food as a feeling

I like food. I enjoy eating amazing meals, and sharing them with good friends. Food provides a focus for conversation and connection. A shared experience, and a reason to stay at the table and talk.

In stories, food can hint at connection or separation. Sharing food can be the glue that brings characters together, or the trigger that breaks them apart. Withholding food can be a sign of cruelty and neglect, or an indication of the balance of power, or the importance of class. Stealing food is a sign of desperation. The quality of food tells you something about the class and wealth of the person eating it.

How important is food and drink in the Battle Ground series? I didn’t set out to make eating and drinking central to the story, but the more I wrote, the more the symbolism of nourishment and connection slipped into the plot. I didn’t plan this up front, but as I lived the events of the books with my characters, mealtime scenes kept creeping in. Meals, food, and drinking became essential to their journeys.

Bex: Protagonist

For Bex and her friends, sharing meals and preparing food for each other are fundamental elements of their relationships. Most of their conversations take place over meals, whether at their army training camp in Battle Ground, in the safe house they share in Darkest Hour, or later in the series. Mealtimes are their breaks from training in Battle Ground, and the highlights of days spent in hiding in Darkest Hour. They provide a pause in the demands of the lives of the characters, and an opportunity to connect with the people around them. They deepen relationships, and give the characters the strength to keep fighting.

If they’re not eating together, and they’re not training or fighting, the chances are that Bex and her friends are making tea for each other, or pouring coffee for someone who needs it. A warm, comforting drink is at once a recognisable social ritual, and a metaphor for the comfort the characters find in each other. It’s a reinforcement of the idea that they don’t have to face the harsh realities of their lives alone.

And when they celebrate? Chocolate cake and beer bring this group together. Chocolate cake is their comfort food, and beer is an occasional indulgence – and an indication of the tension between the ages of the teenage characters, and the adult responsibilities imposed on them. No one in this group drinks to excess, and beer is always seen as a privilege – a reinforcement of their need to grow up fast.

Bex: Competition and Collaboration

There’s a flashback scene early in the first book where Bex and two of her friends use chocolate as currency in a game of cards. The first scene of the final book shows Bex sharing a bar of chocolate with two of her friends, and it is noticeable who is present, and who is missing, compared with the scene in Book One. I hadn’t planned this at all, but if you notice the connection, the effect is heartbreaking. 

The competitive use of chocolate in Battle Ground, and the act of sharing in Victory Day, also reflect the journey the characters have followed. In the flashback scenes, Bex is at school, with no reason to believe her life will change until she graduates. The classmates engage in friendly competition, not suspecting that they will need to fight together, and eventually trust each other with their lives. By the time Bex shares the bar of chocolate in Victory Day, she is taking care of her team. There is no competition between the characters – they are looking after each other, and sharing a moment free from external demands.

Ketty: Antagonist

Ketty’s story is different. Unlike Bex, Ketty is used to fighting alone. She treats other people with suspicion, always figuring out what they can do for her, and whether they are a threat to her ambitions. Unlike Bex, Ketty rarely sits down for a social meal. In the later books, she seems to survive on coffee, water, and painkillers. 

When we see Ketty sit down to eat, it is either with Jackson – the only person she trusts at the army training camp – or as a performance, to intimidate other people. Mealtimes with Jackson are filled with competitive banter, and she is just as likely to eat alone as she is to spend time with him. In False Flag, when she realises she is in danger of losing her job as Lead Recruit, she deliberately choses to eat a meal with her competitors, just to demonstrate that she is still in command.

Ketty: Addiction

Alcohol and alcohol addiction are an important element of Ketty’s story – not for her, but for the people around her. She uses her awareness of addiction to manipulate other characters, and to reinforce her place in the chain of command. And when Ketty celebrates? It’s with vodka and whisky. There’s no cake, no chocolate, no comfort food. Shots are a way to get drunk, and she can sober up afterwards without making meaningful connections with anyone else.

Where Bex deliberately builds a team, taking care of them and trusting them to look after her, Ketty keeps herself deliberately isolated. She sees herself as strong, disciplined, and capable, and her childhood with an alcohol-addicted parent has convinced her that she can’t trust anyone else with her wellbeing and her secrets. This isolation is reflected in her preference for eating alone, and her manipulation of other people’s addictions. 

Dan: Sandwiches

I can’t talk about food in the Battle Ground books without mentioning Dan, and sandwiches. Dan’s sandwiches are a running theme in Bex’s story, and they reflect his personality as well as their friendship.

Unlike Bex and Ketty, Dan isn’t a Point of View character. As a reader, you’re never inside Dan’s head. As a writer, I have to find other ways to show who Bex’s best friend is, and what his motives are for joining the group.

Dan comes from a privileged background. His parents are both lawyers, he attends an expensive boarding school, and he can’t understand why anyone would cut corners with something as important as food. Among his friends, Dan’s sandwiches are legendary. Limp slices of cheese with margarine will not do, and his mission to share deep-fill multi-topping creations with everyone around him is a symbol of his generosity, as well as providing some much-needed comic relief. He wants to nourish and protect his friends, body and soul. He has grown up in a household where food is plentiful, and his instinct is to share that with the people he loves.

Trust me. Dan is someone you want on your team.

Charlie: Chef

And then there’s Charlie. Cool Aunt figure to Bex, and to Topher in Making Trouble, Charlie is the adult member of the group. She cares about Bex and her friends, and understands that they have been forced to grow up quickly. She sees their inexperience while respecting their abilities. She gives excellent pep talks. 

It’s no accident that Charlie is a professional chef. Like Dan, you never see the story from her point of view, so it is important that her actions reflect her character. 

Charlie connects with people. She nurtures and protects the teenage characters, while allowing them to grow and take responsibility for their actions. She’s the cool Aunt, enabling things a parent would have nightmares about, but keeping the teenagers safe as much as she can.

And she cooks. She brings food and drink. She provides the focus for group meals and connection. When she smuggles food and hot chocolate to Bex in Battle Ground, it is an act of extreme kindness, in direct contrast to Ketty’s cruelty. When she first meets Bex, she shares chocolate and beer with the sixteen-year-old – acts that define her attitude to the teenage characters. By providing comfort food and an illicit grown-up drink, she establishes a connection, shows kindness, and guides Bex towards her place in the adult world. She shows that she cares, and understands, what the protagonist is going through.

Fiction and Reality

So here’s to the end of the festive season. The end of feasting and snacking and too much to drink. And here’s to the meals that come next – actual meals with family and friends, and fictional meals that bring characters together. 

There’s a lot you can learn from someone’s attitude to food. Their generosity, their need to connect or remain apart, the importance of shared experience. Friends, family, and fictional characters will all give you clues to their thoughts and feelings through their relationship with food.

So in this post-Christmas darkness, I wish you sandwiches like Dan’s, hot chocolate like Charlie’s, and mealtimes of companionship worthy of Bex and her friends. 

Victory Day, Book Five of the Battle Ground series, is published today on Amazon. To celebrate the launch, Battle Ground, Book One of the series, is FREE to download on January 9th and 10th. 

Review of Victory Day by Rachel Churcher

Bex Ellman and Ketty Smith meet in London. As the war heats up around them, Bex and Ketty must learn to trust each other. With her friends and family in danger, Bex needs Ketty to help rescue them. For Ketty, working with Bex is a matter of survival. When Victory is declared, both will be held accountable for their decisions.

It’s always going to be hard ending a series and especially one that has been as emotive and compelling as Battle Ground. Living up to reader expectation about a finale that has been building over four previous books may not always hit the mark, but interestingly, what Rachel Churcher does, is to take you in a completely unexpected direction entirely!

Rather than slowly building tension up to a final climactic showdown and rescue, that is only part of the story and one that is over surprisingly quickly. It then becomes clear that Victory Day is more of a reflective piece, what comes next and how does society rebuild? Just how do people reconcile the choices they have made? One of the most touching parts of Victory Day is how the group reflect upon their actions and actually hold themselves to account in a show of maturity beyond their years. That though, is masterfully balanced with scenes where time is taken to remind us that these characters are just still kids underneath it all. This stark contrast really stood out and left me feeling pretty emotional at times.

Bex and Ketty continue to blur the lines between them with the way they are being used, morphing from one front line doll to another as their manipulations become the same, both inhabiting and then rejecting the roles that they had been bound in. Bex did pull it back for me in this book, I found her to be a little cold and, I thought, going down a dangerous path in Fighting Back, but as always it’s her friendships that see her right. I just also want to take this point in time to say Kudos to the author for not once sending Bex down the romance route, and letting her be the strong and brave character that she is by her own volition. Ketty, I have slowly warmed to in the last couple of books and whilst I did still find her to be calculating and out for herself, probably more than ever, her human side was given a chance to shine. I really liked how she slowly came to realisations about her choices and how each time she was challenged she again reflected rather than lashed out. There are some nice touches with their last chapters but I’ll let you see those for yourself.

In balance, I did struggle a little with the quick fire POV changing chapters near the start, it left me a little dizzy with the back and forth and the slight overlap. I suppose it gave more of a feel of what the characters were going through with the chaos going on around them, perhaps it’s just my old brain! I’m not sure how I felt about the King either, but hey, its fiction and it’s really a small part that he plays.

Victory day was a truly satisfying ending to the series though, I felt it went in a great direction and the ending was spot on without resorting to saccharine and left a feeling that everyone is where they should be.  Given the turn of events in the UK which occurred between the release of Fighting Back and Victory Day it really did bring a new dimension to how I felt reading, I hope more than ever that this series remains a fiction.