2021 in Review: Highlights

Well, the world may still be crazy, but in terms of reading, 2021 ended up pretty great! I blew my Goodreads goal out of the water (though I had deliberately set it low so that I wouldn’t stress over it this year) with 98 books read, and so many of them were fantastic! 😆 I finally got around to starting a bookstagram account in April, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s going so far… and if I do say so myself, my 2021 My Year in Books page is looking pretty neat. 😋

As for some specific book stuff, I started some excellent new fantasy series last year. Notably, The Stormlight Archive (which has been a very long time coming); Black Sun (which has left me on tenterhooks for the sequel); and The Tiger’s Daughter (a sapphic, Mongolian-inspired fantasy with a heavy focus on its central love story – though I’m very much looking forward to more demon-fighting in the rest of the series).

I also did a lot of re-reading this year, and I’m pleased to say that a couple of the books I re-read, I liked even better than the first time around, those being Komarr, which I now rate among my all-time favourites, and The Edge of the Cloud, which was a burst of nostalgia that came at the perfect moment. And speaking of nostalgia, I managed to end the year on a real high point with Terciel & Elinor, a new prequel to a series that’s been one of my favourites since I was a teenager. ☺️

This was a great year for romance, too! It’s not a genre I’ve ever been super-into, but (like many people, I think), I’ve been appreciating it a lot in the last couple of years, and am definitely hoping to read more in 2022. Some of my favourites were Kulti (a slow-burn sports romance), Beach Read (a fun rivals-to-lovers story), as well as the political sci-fi romance Winter’s Orbit, and the Regency-inspired fantasy romance The Midnight Bargain.

… And my summer in general somehow ended up being very Regency-themed, with me (kind of accidentally) participating in #JaneAustenJuly. At long last, I read Persuasion, the last (completed) Austen novel I had left – and it was well worth the wait. 😁 I re-listened to Pride & Prejudice on my summer holiday not long after, inspired by a couple of spin-offs and continuations of that story that I’d been enjoying; namely Longbourn and The Other Bennet Sister.

And last but not least, an unexpected favourite (though also somewhat Austen-adjacent) was the Mean Girls inspired Regency rom-com Reputation. I was nervous to pick this one up, as I’ve historically had pretty bad luck with authors who I initially liked for other reasons (Lex Croucher, who wrote Reputation, is also a youtuber), but it was absolutely hilarious, and the perfect book for the moment in which I read it. 🎶 I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for their next release, Gwen & Art Are Not in Love, which should be out in early 2023. 🤞

(ROUGH) TOP 10:

  1. Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold* [REVIEW]
  2. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
  3. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson [REVIEW]
  4. Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix
  5. The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
  6. The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
  7. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  8. The Edge of the Cloud by K.M. Peyton*
  9. Reputation by Lex Croucher
  10. Longbourn by Jo Baker [REVIEW]

(*Re-reads included only where I’ve changed my rating.)

Review: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Just as the treaty between the Iskat Empire and the powerful Resolution is due to be renewed, treaty representative Jainan finds himself widowed, and rushed into a new marriage with the disreputable Prince Kiem, to prove that the bond between their peoples remains strong. But it turns out that there may be more to Jainan’s sudden widowhood than meets the eye, and while he and Kiem struggle to find their feet in their new relationship, wheels are turning that may break the whole Empire apart.

Equal parts slow-burn romance and political intrigue (with a heavy dose of murder mystery, too), Winter’s Orbit was all that I had hoped it would be and more. Kiem and Jainan were both incredibly likeable, sympathetic leads, and their relationship – riddled with misunderstandings and miscommunication – was adorable. 💕 I always appreciate stories that move slowly, primarily because I feel that I’m able to really get to know (and become invested in) the main characters, and this book was no exception to that rule! But Kiem and Jainan weren’t the only ones with great development; of the side characters, my favourites were definitely Gairan and Bel, but the whole cast was colourful and memorable.

The different parts of the story (i.e. the difficulties with the treaty-signing, and the mystery surrounding Taam’s death) all tied together really well, and the plot developed in a way that was satisfying and logical throughout, but never predictable. And as the romance was genuinely important to the rest of the storyline, it never felt like it was being given more page-time than it needed (or deserved)… though however much I enjoyed this book, I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like romance at all.

And lastly, the world-building: I found myself a little confused by some of the small details (though none that were plot-relevant), and would have appreciated a map or glossary, but on the whole I just found it so interesting! The relationships between the Empire and its vassal planets; the differences and similarities between their cultures; the convoluted arrangement with the Resolution and the wider galaxy… I would really love to see more of this universe, even if Maxwell has no plans for a direct sequel (which I wouldn’t say no to, even though it would be completely unnecessary).

May & June Wrap-Up

I’ve been lax in my reviewing lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done plenty of reading! 😉 In fact, the last couple of months have been really great for me, in terms of both quantity and quality; I’ve read several really exciting new purchases, a few that I’ve been meaning to get to for years (that were definitely worth the wait), and may even have discovered a couple of new favourites!

BOOKS I REVIEWED WILL REVIEW SOON!

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW TO COME]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrator: Tuppence Middleton]

Feeling oppressed by her mother’s strict rules, Makepeace longs to find her father, but when a traumatic event ends in her being sent to live with his relatives in an old house, full of ghosts, she begins to realise that escape may be her only chance of survival.

This was a really great book, but the best thing about it by far was Makepeace, who made for an excellent protagonist; her character was really distinct and sympathetic, and despite being twelve, she made really great decisions almost the whole way through the novel (which I feel is something of a rarity in YA fantasy). The side characters were also all really interesting and well-developed; James, who was probably the most important of them, was occasionally irritating, but I appreciated that he always got called out when he was being a prat… The plot was probably the weakest part of the book, with no real goal beyond “get out”, then “survive”, then “keep surviving”, but somehow it worked even though the storyline sometimes felt a bit meandering.

Skysteppers by Katherine Rundell. [NOVELLA]

A World Book Day novella that serves as a prequel to Rooftoppers, following Matteo as he begins to make a life for himself on the rooftops, and a treasure hunt across France! My expectations for this weren’t super-high, but I actually ended up liking it a bit more than Rooftoppers! It’s not quite so self-consciously quirky, which I appreciated, and the treasure hunt made for a fun adventure. Matteo was a great lead, too (he was my favourite character in the main story), and his friendship with Mercedes (who’s kind of his rooftop-mentor) was really cute. 😊

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert.

Years after the events of Dune, Paul Atreides now rules as Emperor, but the holy war that brought him to power is one that he’s powerless to stop – and it’s also brought him a great many new enemies. There was a big shift in tone between this book and Dune, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it… On the one hand, I enjoyed the politics of Dune Messiah, and the character exploration as Paul struggles to avoid the worst consequences of the plot against him; on the other hand, it was a lot shorter, and less epic-feeling than Dune was, and there were a lot of uncomfortable sexual dynamics that I didn’t appreciate (particularly in regards to Paul’s sister Alia)… And it also ended on a slightly odd note; I’m not entirely sure where this series will (or even can) go next, but I will at least be picking up book 3 at some point, since I already own it…

Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz.

After receiving a strange email, Alex becomes convinced that his best friend and guardian Jack is still alive, and hatches a plan to rescue here – with or without the help of MI6. This wasn’t my favourite from this series, but it was a solid new entry, and a lot of fun once it got going! I found the characterisation (especially of the villains) quite shallow, but to be honest I’ve come to expect that from these books, and given the heavy James Bond influence, it’s not all that surprising. Highlights included: The return of Wolf! And I also enjoyed the more familial dynamic between Alex and Sabina at the beginning of the book.

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun. [COMIC; Illustrated by the author.]

A short, introspective comic about an alien who’s sent to Earth to observe humans. Very cute artwork, with a powerful message; definitely a bit of a tear-jerker! And there was a little twist right at the end that I really enjoyed, too. 😊 But otherwise, I don’t have too much to say about this one. My favourite panels/episodes were Jomny’s encounters with the tree, and with Nothing (and with the dog! 💕).

Nightwing: Love and Bullets by Chuck Dixon. [COMIC; Illustrators: Scott McDaniel, Karl Story & Roberta Tewes]

The third volume in the Nightwing series, in which Dick Grayson tries to become for Blüdhaven what Batman is for Gotham… with limited success. I haven’t been finding this series hugely memorable on the whole, but it definitely has its moments! In this volume, I really enjoyed Dick’s training session with Tim (the new Robin), and his encounter with Huntress was also interesting.

Vampire Knight, volume 1 by Matsuri Hino. [MANGA; Illustrated by the author.]

Yuki Cross is a student Guardian at the exclusive Cross Academy; her main duty to ensure the separation of the Day class, full of ordinary students, and the Night class, made up of vampires. This was a re-read for me, as I recently purchased some of the later volumes in the series, but definitely need a refresher! 😅 This volume is pretty intriguing, though not as compelling as later ones… but to be honest this rating is more for my impression of the whole series (so far), as each volume is so short that it’s difficult to rate them individually…

Millenneagram by Hannah Paasch.

An exploration of enneagram personality types. This was both interesting and accessible, with very colloquial writing, which made for easy reading, even for someone like me who doesn’t usually get on with non-fiction! I’m not generally a fan of self-help books, but I loved the tone of this, and its colourful formatting, and I’ve been really enjoying categorising my favourite fictional characters since getting a better idea of what each number is supposed to represent. 😁 The best thing about this book by far, though, was the between-chapter pages, which described the way each enneagram type would react to a specific situation (e.g. stuck in traffic); they were hilarious, and I really wish there had been more of them.

Heartstopper, volume 4 by Alice Oseman. [COMIC; Illustrated by the author.]

The fourth entry in the Heartstopper series, which follows Nick and Charlie as they fall in love and learn to navigate a relationship. In this volume, they go to the beach with their friends, are separated over the summer holidays, and agonise over the best way to say “I love you”. As always, this was incredibly cute, but with a little touch of bittersweet to stop it from completely rotting my teeth. 😬 I didn’t like this one quite as much as volume 3 (which was angstier), but it was still solid, and I’m looking forward to volume 5 (which I think might be the last?)!

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik.

Waylaid by an urgent assignment just as they were about to head home from China, Captain Laurence, Temeraire, and their crew must instead set off to Istanbul to collect three dragon eggs on the verge of hatching. I was a little nervous about picking this up, as it’s been so long since I last read anything from this series (and I have almost no memory of the last book), but I was actually able to get back into the swing of things very quickly! 😊 The story was gripping the whole way through, the recurring characters felt like old friends (or enemies!), and some of the new characters introduced here are well on their way to becoming favourites! Tharkay was definitely the highlight of this book, and I loved how Laurence’s attitude towards him changed over the course of the story. 💕 Now I can only hope it won’t be another eight years before I read Empire of Ivory… 😓

Red Noise by John P. Murphy.

A miner stops at a remote space station to re-fuel and sell her cargo, but ends up getting pulled into a vicious turf war between two local gangs. No rating for this one, as I DNFd it about a third of the way through (around 150 pages in), not because I thought it was terrible, it just really wasn’t for me. The writing was a little impersonal, but the plot (so far) was fast-paced and action-driven… so if those last two sound appealing to you, and the first isn’t a problem, maybe give this a try?

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White.

Frankenstein re-told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor Frankenstein’s beloved childhood friend, and later his wife. Knowing her position in the Frankenstein family is precarious, Elizabeth does her best to manage Victor’s whims, and make herself indispensable, but at what cost?

I was quite enjoying the dark/obsessive romance of this book through the first two parts, but was sorely disappointed by the final part, which broke from canon for a very unsubtle and uninteresting twist – and seemed determined to cast Victor as a villain as if man-is-the-real-monster wasn’t already a key theme in the original novel…? Though admittedly, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein was much more blatant about it.

Nightshade by Anthony Horowitz.

The final (that we know of!) entry in the Alex Rider series, in which Alex is brought back into MI6 in order to befriend – and extract information from – a teenage assassin, whose organisation is planning a devastating attack on London. Nightshade took an absurdly long time to get started (apart from a brief prologue, Alex didn’t appear until page 81), but it was a lot of fun after that. I’ve noticed that I tend to most enjoy the books where Alex interacts with people his own age, and this one was no exception to that rule; the friendship between him and Freddy was really nice to read about, despite its dishonest beginning, and I really hope that if Horowitz decides to write more Alex Rider books, he’ll be bringing Freddy back, too! 🤞

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

Notorious thief Kaz Brekker and his crew are hired to break into the apparently-impenetrable Ice Court to rescue a valuable prisoner. I’ve re-read this a couple of times now, and don’t really have anything new to say about it from this time around… I wasn’t feeling it quite so much this time as I have in previous read-throughs, but I love the story and characters as much as ever, and it’s definitely still one of my favourite books. 😊

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse.

As the holy city of Tova gears up for the winter solstice celebration, Sun Priest Naranpa faces threats from both inside and outside her order – but unbeknownst to her, an even greater threat is drawing closer: Serapio, the crow god reborn, who must reach Tova by the solstice if his destiny is to be fulfilled.

This was such and epic story! I was initially hesitant to give it 5 stars, as it’s almost entirely build-up, and we still won’t know until the sequel is out what the true outcome of all that build-up is going to be… but I enjoyed myself so much with this book. 😍 All the POV characters were incredible, and having likeable and sympathetic characters on both sides of the main conflict made the story super-tense… My favourite perspective was probably Naranpa’s, but they were all really interesting, and I can’t wait to see where the story will go next! I know the sequel’s not out until next April, but I need it like I haven’t needed a book in a long time… 😭

Breath of the Wildathon TBR!

Hi, all! It’s readathon time again, and I’m super-excited for this one… because it’s Zelda-themed! The Breath of the Wildathon will be starting tomorrow (Monday 17th), and running through to 23rd May, and all the challenges are based on shrines and locations in Breath of the Wild! You can find the announcement video here, if you’d like to check it out for yourself (or join in!), but here’s what I’m planning on reading:

1) MAGNESIS TRIAL – read a book you’re drawn to – For this challenge I’ve decided to pick up eveyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too by Jonny Sun, which my book-buying ban has prevented me from reading for several years… but now is finally the time! 😆 This is an introspective comic about an alien who’s sent to Earth to observe humans, and ends up making friends with the plants and animals there.

2) CRYONIS TRIAL – read a book with winter vibes – And next up is Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, another sci-fi, but this time featuring a same-sex arranged marriage that’s supposed to prevent an interplanetary war. I’ve heard a ton of people talking about this recently, and it’s made me super-psyched (of all the books I own right now, this is the one I’m most excited for), so here’s hoping it lives up to the hype! 🤞 I also don’t know if this actually has winter vibes, but with a title like that, I’d hope so! 😅

3) BOMB TRIAL – read an action-packed book set in a land far away – In the interest of fitting some more comics on this list, I’ve picked out Nightwing: Love and Bullets for the bomb trial. This is the book I’m least happy about having on my TBR, but “far away” is a pretty relative term, and I’d say America is pretty far from the UK geographically, if not culturally…

4) FOREST OF SPIRITS – read a book with mythical or supernatural elements – I’ve got two choices for this challenge, and which one I pick up will depend on how well the readathon’s going overall; if I’ve read a ton already, with plenty of time left, then I’ll be trying out Ghoster by Jason Arnopp, a supernatural thriller that I got in my last Box of Stories… but if I’m struggling, I’ll read the first volume of Matsuri Hino’s Vampire Knight instead. I recently bought several of the later volumes in this series, but I definitely need a re-read of the earlier volumes before I’m ready to carry on!

5) TEMPLE OF TIME – read a book pertaining to the passage of time – And finally, I want to read The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, which (to my knowledge) doesn’t have much to do with time in its own story, but I’m still counting since it’ll be showcasing the Mistborn world centuries after the events of the original trilogy. I’m dying (and extremely nervous) to see how much things have (and haven’t) changed. 😬

Five books in one week might be something of an ask (even with several of them being comics), since I’ve been feeling a bit slumpy recently, but hopefully this readathon will be just what I need to kick me back into a reading mood. 🤞