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.)

March Wrap-Up

Happy Easter!!! 🐇🥚🐣 I wish you all as much chocolate as you can eat! 😁 March, as it turns out, was the best reading month I’ve had in years; I read fourteen books! Fourteen!! 😱 And, for the most part, they were all really good ones! The highlight of the month was, of course, my re-read of Komarr, but in general I was really motivated to read this month, and really enjoying everything I picked up. 😊

BOOKS I REVIEWED

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

[REVIEW]

OTHER BOOKS I READ

The Rift by Gene Luen Yang. [COMIC; Illustrated by Gurihiru]

The third of the Avatar: The Last Airbender continuations, in which the Aang takes the Air Acolytes to celebrate an old Air Nomad festival, only to find that a refinery has been built on top of his people’s sacred land. This story didn’t click with me quite so well as The Promise or The Search, but I still enjoyed it a lot. The main highlight for me was Toph’s role; her friendship with the refinery’s manager, and reconnecting with her father… and although I wouldn’t exactly say I liked reading about her fight with Aang, I liked how it was resolved.

Lothaire by Kresley Cole.

An entry in the Immortals After Dark series (which I am absolutely not reading in order), following the Enemy-of-Old Lothaire, who finds his soulmate possessing a human girl, and endeavours to find a way to give her permanent control over Ellie’s body… but although the goddess of death seems like a perfect match for Lothaire on paper, it’s squishy-human Ellie that he finds himself drawn to.

This romance has a lot of problematic elements, but I appreciate that the narrative didn’t try to gloss over them; Cole did a great job of fleshing out Lothaire’s character in a way that made him a sympathetic romantic lead without making excuses for his (extreme and unrepentant) villainy. And Ellie was such a great match for him; I loved her determination to be a thorn in his side, and the way her feelings for him gradually changed as the book went on… And I also really appreciated that (disregarding the epilogue, which was set years later) their story didn’t leave off with all loose ends tied up and everything forgiven, as this book wasn’t nearly long enough for them to believably work through all their problems.

I still have no desire to read this series in its entirety, but I’d definitely be interested in picking up more of the Dacians books (a subset of Immortals After Dark that follow Lothaire’s Dacian cousins).

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The first book in the Vorkosigan Saga, in which Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Survey Corps is taken prisoner by Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar, whose fearsome reputation is belied by his behaviour towards her. This was a re-read for me, and I think I liked it even more the second time than I did the first! It’s a short book, but the world and characters are fleshed out brilliantly, and the romance develops slowly and believably. My favourite part is the final (maybe-)third of the story, where Cordelia returns to Beta Colony, only to find herself changed by her experiences, along with her family and friends’ reactions to her new self… it’s honestly quite chilling at times…

The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen. [AUDIOBOOK; Narrators: Lauren Fortgang & James Patrick Cronin]

Lara is sent to the Bridge Kingdom by her father to become its queen, and its downfall, but finds that King Aren is far from the brute she’s been told to expect, and his apparent stranglehold over trade to her impoverished homeland may not be quite what it seems. This was such a fun book! The worldbuilding was a little incomprehensible and the story a little, but I really enjoyed the characters, their hate-to-love romance, and the melodramatic storytelling – I’ll definitely be continuing as soon as my reading schedule allows! (In no small part thanks to that huge cliffhanger! It’s looking like The Traitor Queen might be a lot less predictable than this one.) 😁

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

The diary of a Japanese teenager washes up on a beach on the remote island where Ruth and her husband live, and Ruth finds herself consumed by the mystery of what’s happed to Nao. I found this more interesting than enjoyable, as the story was a very heavy one, dealing with suicide and really severe bullying… I thought the ending was a little unsatisfactory, though, and I also didn’t much appreciate the magical realism-y aspects in the last few chapters, nor the theoretical physics explanations, which made my eyes glaze over and were a huge departure in tone from the rest of the novel. However! As I said, it was very interesting, and I was invested in both Nao and Ruth’s storylines the vast majority of the time. No regrets for finally having read this. 👍

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson.

Joel is fascinated by Rithmatics, and with an unusual talent for maths, he seems like he’d make the perfect candidate – but he missed his chance to become a Rithmatist a long time ago, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to try again… But when students at his school start disappearing, leaving behind nothing but strange chalk marks, Joel’s theoretical knowledge may be just what’s needed to help solve the case!

I was a little surprised by how much I enjoyed this, as I thought the concept was one of Sanderson’s less interesting ones, but I’m very pleased to have been mistaken! 😁 The chalk-based magic system actually ended up being my favourite thing about this book, and I loved the technical illustrations that were added in between chapters. The two main characters – Joel and his friend Melody – were also really great; I found Melody a little irritating at first, but she really grew on me as the book went on, and I liked how their friendship developed, given their very different personalities and priorities… The plot, too was pretty solid, though I thought that the identity of the villain was kind of out of nowhere, and there was a little twist right at the end of the book that I didn’t appreciate… but I’ll reserve final judgement on the plot for when (/if) the sequel is released.

A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe.

With her parents determined to marry her off to the rich but odious Mr. Van Peet, Christina flees to her neighbour Oliver, a reclusive inventor whom she accidentally befriended on a walk through his garden. Feeling for her plight, Oliver agrees to marry her with the stipulation that they will divorce a year later, so she’ll be able to make a better life for herself… but as they grow closer, both Oliver and Christina begin to realise that what they really want is each other. This was a pretty cheesy story, but very cute. Both the main characters were very endearing, and I loved their interactions the whole way through – but in particular, Oliver’s surprise at Christina’s interest in his inventions, and in learning sign language (Oliver is deaf) were really touching. My main criticism is that most of the conflict in this story seems very contrived; there are a lot of villains, and they all come across as comically evil, and then go away very quickly.

The River Whale by Sita Brahmachari. [NOVELLA; Illustrated by Poonam Mistry]

Immy loves to dive, and dreams of being a marine biologist, but her big diving test has to be cancelled when a whale gets lost in the Thames, and Immy’s instructor is called on to set it free. I don’t have much to say about this one, except that it was a sweet but simple story, written in a dream-like combination of poetry and prose, and beautifully illustrated. A very atmospheric read.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal.

Zafira has a unique ability to find her way, and so has been hunting alone in the dangerous magical forest of the Arz since her father’s death, and has gained a good deal of notoriety as the Hunter. Nasir is a prince, but has been trained as an assassin his whole life, and now serves his cruel father without question. Both are sent on a quest to recover an artefact that could restore magic to their dying homeland, but although they need each other’s help to complete this quest, their goals are very different.

I liked the main characters and the story well enough, but there was a lot of wasted potential. I feel like the story would’ve been much more interesting (and character and relationship development much more compelling) if Zafira and Nasir (and perhaps Altair) hadn’t had so many random companions along for the ride. Deen’s presence in particular seemed incredibly pointless, but more characters are introduced later in the book with little purpose beyond exposition – if that, even. There were also a few dramatic reveals towards the end that were rather predictable, and I also thought it was a shame that, although the Arz kept being spoken of as this incredibly dangerous and mysterious place, we barely saw it… I was under the impression early on that Zafira was going to have to find her way all the way to the far side of the forest, but when we got to that part of the story, it was just skipped over… 😑 I’m interested enough in these characters (and to a lesser extent the story) to continue, however; I just hope that Zafira and Nasir’s relationship is fleshed out more in the sequel.

Alex Rider Undercover by Anthony Horowitz. [SHORT STORY COLLECTION]

A collection of four short stories in the Alex Rider universe, mostly featuring Yassen Gregorovich, the series’ recurring villain. In The Man with the Wrong Shoes, Alex foils an assassination attempt at his school; in Double Agent, Ash’s loyalties are tested; in Metal Head, Yassen comes sniper-scope-to-face with the man who made his childhood a misery; and in The White Carnation, a client comes to Yassen with an unusual request. Overall, this was a pretty solid batch of stories; Metal Head was the strongest (and, unsurprisingly, the longest) of the bunch, and The White Carnation was probably the weakest, but I enjoyed them all, and my desire to catch up on this series has definitely been re-kindled. 😊

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks.

Street-rat Azoth is determined to escape from his life of drudgery, and his method of choice is to convince Durzo Blint – the city’s most dangerous assassin – to take him on as an apprentice. But becoming an assassin will mean turning his back on everything in his old life, even the friends who helped him get here. I really liked the beginning of this story, and the end of it, but the middle was very confusing, with the storyline jumping all over the place, and a lot of sudden character- and relationship-developments for no apparent reason… It kind of came together in the end (and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel), but I feel like everything would’ve been a lot smoother if Weeks had either spent more time on the Azoth-growing-up chapters, or else just had one clean time-skip in the middle rather than a hundred tiny ones…
3 stars

[EDIT (13/4/2021): Changed rating of The Way of Shadows from 4 stars to 3, after further consideration.]

Review: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

The planet of Komarr has had it’s artificial sun damaged in a bizarre maybe-accident of unknown causes, and Miles Vorkosigan’s first official mission as Imperial Auditor is to find out what happened and why. But his hosts, the Vorsoisson family, have concerns of their own, and it’s not long before Miles’ irrepressible curiosity entangles him in those, as well.

I’ve read Komarr twice now, and although I really enjoyed it the first time, I definitely underrated the impression it would leave on me – and which it absolutely lived up to on re-reading. Miles’ investigation here is a fascinating one, full of twists and seeming-dead ends, and (although this isn’t a constant issue throughout the novel) Miles himself is an interesting choice of investigator; the bloody history between Komarr and Barrayar (Miles’ home planet) provides a tense backdrop to this adventure by itself, but it’s made even more so by Miles’ father’s role in suppressing the Komarran revolt…

To me, however, the best thing about this book was its characters: Miles is as magnetic as always, but the motley mix of Professor Vorthys, Nikki, Tien, and Tien’s co-workers at the Terraforming Project make for interesting interactions all around… and that’s without even mentioning Ekaterin, the most important new character in Komarr, and (in my opinion) one of the best, most in-depth characters in the whole series. Historically, I haven’t been a huge fan of Miles’ love interests (I liked Taura, but his crush on Elena was very one-sided, and Elli only ever seemed to love parts of him…), but Ekaterin became a firm favourite of mine almost as soon as she was introduced; she’s a great match for Miles, as well as an incredible character in her own right. There’s no actual romance between them in this book, but the beginnings of romantic feelings are definitely in evidence.

I also really appreciated how much of the book was told from Ekaterin’s perspective, which I felt let me get to know her a lot better (and quicker) than I have some of the other supporting characters in Miles’ stories. Her part of the storyline – focusing on her failing marriage and her concerns over her son’s health – is incredibly compelling, as emotionally complex as Miles’ investigation is technically. And I loved seeing Miles though Ekaterin’s eyes; her confusion over him, and over her reactions to him, and the gradual way she comes to understand him as their friendship grows…

The Vorkosigan Saga can technically be read in any order, but I would recommend reading at least Memory and the short story The Borders of Infinity (not to be confused with the short story collection of the same name) before checking out Komarr, just for background information on some of the things Miles talks about here.