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.)

July Wrap-Up!

Another great reading month! Including three 5-star books, and a couple more that came close! 😆 I also managed to accidentally take part in Jane Austen July, which I didn’t realise was a thing until it was nearly over, even though I’d been reading (or else wanting to read) Jane Austen-related things  all month… 😅

BOOKS I READ

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Vorkosigan Saga story following Miles as he graduates from the Barrayar Military Academy, and is given a very undesirable first assignment as meteorological officer at a frozen base in the middle of nowhere… and promptly gets on the bad side of his new commanding officer. This was a somewhat spontaneous re-read, and I’m pleased to report that I loved the first half of the book (previously published as the novella Weatherman) just as much as I did the first time… but to my surprise, I also had a lot more appreciation for the second half this time around! I remember finding the change in tone, setting, and storyline very jarring (perhaps because I was finding the politics confusing?), and while it certainly still feels very different from Weatherman, I was able to follow along a lot more easily, and really enjoyed the insight we get into Gregor’s character here, as well as Miles’ reunion with Elena, and his battle of wits with Cavilo! 😊

Secret Weapon by Anthony Horowitz. [SHORT STORY COLLECTION]

A collection of seven short stories from the Alex Rider universe, of which my favourites were probably Alex in Afghanistan (in which Alex sneaks into a terrorist base to find evidence of a nuclear weapon) and Spy Trap (an unusually-formatted story about Alex waking up in hospital and trying to piece together the events that brought him there). I tend to prefer the longer stories in this series, as the set-up (plus gadget descriptions) and re-caps don’t take up so much of them (percentage-wise), leaving more room for character development and interactions, so it’s not surprising that I wasn’t blown away by this collection… It was certainly enjoyable (and definitely worth reading if you’re a big fan of the series), but nothing exceptional or out of the ordinary except for the somewhat experimental framework of Spy Trap.

Longbourn by Jo Baker.

A re-telling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the Longbourn servants, who see everything that’s going on in the Bennet family, but are decidedly more concerned by the everyday matters of getting the washing done and the fires lit, and impressing Mr. Collins so that he won’t dismiss them all when he inherits… This was pretty much the perfect complement to Pride and Prejudice (and I say that as someone who has very fixed ideas about P&P and is incredibly picky about spin-offs), but my more detailed thoughts on it were starting to get quite lengthy, so I’ll be saving them for a proper review soon. 😅 Keep your eyes peeled!

Reputation by Lex Croucher.

Abandoned in London with her incredibly dull aunt and uncle, Georgiana Ellers counts herself lucky to have caught the eye of the anything-but-dull Miss Frances Campbell – but as she gets sucked into Frances’ world of parties and boys and far too much drink, she begins to realise that her reputation isn’t the only thing at stake.

This book was so much fun! Hilarious, but with plenty of serious (and relevant to the present day) social commentary. The setting was closer to something like Netfilx’s Bridgerton (in terms of the characters’ behaviour and dialogue, and so on) than how I imagine the actual Regency would have been (not that I’m an expert), but not so much so that I found it distracting… and really, the story was so engaging that I didn’t much care anyway. The characters were all wonderful; they felt very real, and I was super-invested in all of them! And the romance was perhaps a little bit rushed, but so cute! (I loved the flirty letters! 💕)

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

An exploration of an alternative America which has been occupied by Japan after the victory of the Axis powers in World War II… which I found much less interesting than its premise would appear to promise. But there wasn’t much of a coherent plot here; it read more like a day-in-the-life, with too many characters for me to really get invested in any of them. I found myself unfavourably comparing this to 1984 a lot, and I didn’t even really like 1984 that much (though at least it was more interesting than this), so I can only conclude that maybe I just don’t mesh with classic dystopian stories? 😓

Persuasion by Jane Austen.

Persuaded as a young woman to break off her engagement to a man whom she loved, but with very uncertain prospects, Anne Elliot is alarmed to hear that Captain Wentworth – now having made his fortune in the war – will be entering her small circle of society once again. But although Anne’s feelings haven’t changed, it’s impossible that Captain Wentworth might still love her…

My last unread Jane Austen novel! This certainly had some lofty expectations to live up to, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint! 😊 It’s a lot sadder than Austen’s other novels; it still had its fair share of witty dialogue and ridiculous characters, but it is much less about the comedy of life than about hope and regret, and even depression (depending on your interpretation of Anne, I suppose). As a heroine, I liked Anne a great deal, and very much felt for her. Captain Wentworth I was a little less impressed with, but his actions are understandable though often ungallant… and his letter-writing skills are second to none!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

When a local man is found dead, suspicion immediately falls on Kya the “Marsh Girl”, who lives alone with the marsh and its creatures, and is misunderstood and mistrusted by the entire town. Part murder mystery, and part coming-of-age story, Where the Crawdads Sing was both beautifully written and incredibly frustrating in the best possible way. I loved Kya’s character, and it was really hard to follow the investigation knowing how severely public opinion was against her… and in the parts of the story that were set in the years before the murder, I enjoyed learning about Kya’s childhood and her relationships, and how she learnt to survive by herself. I also really appreciated Owens’ descriptions of the marsh, and of Kya’s studies of it, which were written with a lot of care and attention; it’s easy to see that Owens is a naturalist herself!

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.

A retelling and continuation of Pride and Prejudice, following Mary Bennet as she grows up as the least thought-of of her sisters, and tries to find herself and her place in the world. I thought that this was an enjoyable enough story in its own right, but much too long; I found the first (of five) section interesting, and really enjoyed the final two, but the middle of the book dragged quite a bit… Additionally, I found that Hadlow had a very different interpretation of many of the characters to my own, so many of them felt off to me. In particular, her reading of Charlotte was very harsh, but I also felt like a lot of Lizzy and Darcy’s character development in Pride and Prejudice was ignored here, and even Mary – though I can certainly imagine her growing into the woman she’s portrayed as here – is very different from how Jane Austen wrote her…

Thin Air by Michelle Paver.

Stephen Pearce is brought in as a last-minute replacement medic on his brother’s expedition to climb Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. But Kangchenjunga is a merciless killer, and as Stephen and Kits follow their hero’s route up the mountain, Stephen begins to wonder if their team will suffer the same fate. This was a little slow, and less spooky than I was hoping, but it was wonderfully atmospheric, and I liked the main character and was intrigued by the mystery of the Lyell expedition. Cedric was very cute, too, and I always appreciate a Good Dog! 🐶

 

Upcoming Releases: Summer 2021

Happy summer! ☀️ (And all of a sudden it really feels like it! 😎) I’m a little later with this post than I was intending, and have consequently already picked up my absolute most anticipated read of the season (Hannah Whitten’s debut novel, For the Wolf, which came out a few days ago), but oh well! That just gives me more room to talk about other exciting books… and there certainly are a lot of them! Here are the ones I’m most looking forward to this June, July & August:

[All dates are taken from Goodreads unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 8/6/2021.]

Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell (6th July)

The final book in the Simon Snow series, which is one of my all-time favourites! 💕 I didn’t think that Wayward Son quite lived up to the perfection that was Carry On, but it also didn’t feel like its storyline was really complete, so I’m excited to see how everything wraps up here.  Excitement level: 7/10

Reputation by Lex Croucher (8th July)

A Regency-era rom-com from YouTuber Lex Croucher, following a middle-class girl who falls in with a group of wealthy, popular friends, with potentially scandalous results. I haven’t had the greatest of luck with YouTuber books so far, and I tend to be picky about historical romances, so this may end up being a hard miss for me… but I’ve always found Croucher hilarious, and I’m really hoping that that will come through in her writing, too. Fingers crossed! 🤞 Excitement level: 6/10

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (20th July)

A debut fantasy that re-imagines the founding of the Ming Dynasty in China, following the second daughter of the Zhu family, who disguises herself as her dead brother in order to achieve the great destiny that was predicted for him. This has been pitched by Tor as Mulan meets The Song of Achilles, which is super-exciting on its own, but I’ve also seen almost nothing but praise from early reviewers… and just look at how epic that cover is! 😆 I’ll probably be picking this up on release day, and hopefully reading it shortly after! 😊 Excitement level: 9/10

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt (22nd July)

The follow-up to The Nightjar, in which Alice begins her magical training in earnest, only to find herself continually sabotaged along the way. I really loved the Finnish-mythology-inspired world that Hewitt created in The Nightjar, and I’m excited that it seems like that’ll be something that we’ll be delving more into in the sequel… and although my feelings on The Nightjar‘s storyline were somewhat mixed, it left off on a real high note, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things will continue to develop. 😁 Excitement level: 7/10

Honourable Mentions:

  • Darling by K. Ancrum (22nd June) – a dark re-imagining of Peter Pan as a contemporary thriller.
  • Suki, Alone by Faith Erin Hicks (22nd June) – a new standalone comic from the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender.
  • The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett (3rd August) – a new standalone (I think) set in the world of The Demon Cycle.
  • The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould (3rd August) – a YA supernatural mystery from a debut author.