Have I read my most anticipated releases of 2020?

Every year I round up my reading – amongst other things I look if I have gotten around to the books I was most excited about. To be fair, mostly I only read about half of the books I mentioned in my various lists (you can find my post from last year here)- and let’s see if I even did that this year. I only posted one list of books this year (here) because the second half got away from me.

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey: I did not read this one because the early reviews were kind of atrocious – and especially because Rachel did not like this (review) and we often agree on this kind of book.

The Island Child by Molly Aitken: I also did not get to this one – even though I got an ARC. I was just never in the mood for this. I really should remedy that.

Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch: I read but didn’t love this. This is probably my most disappointing read of the year because I was looking forward to a collection of short stories by one of my favourite authors for a while.

The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams: I DNFed this – I just did not get on with this one at all and other reviews (mostly Rachel’s again) convinced me that this would not change.

Daughter from the Dark by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko: I cannot believe I did not get to this yet – I adored the other book by the Dyachenko that was translated into English so much. I really need to by this one soon.

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks: I read and enjoyed this. I don’t think Sparks can even write a short story collection that I would not like.

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Larkwood: I loved this; my favourite epic fantasy novel of the year.

So We Can Glow: Stories by Leesa Cross-Smith: I am upset I did not get to this because I am still convinced I would love it.

The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin: This is the main victim of my weird reading year. I started this the moment it arrived, having pre-ordered it ages ago, and then somehow did not manage to finish it. I have been reading this for months – something about it hits a bit too close and it is also my least favourite of her books so far. I am determined to finish it before the year ends though!

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: Loved it, will read everything Samantha Irby ever writes.

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker: Another victim of my only reading e-books; the cover is so stunning I would want to own a paperback copy.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell: I own a copy, but haven’t read this.

I Hold A Wolf by the Ears by Laura van den Berg: Read and loved it. Made me want to read every short story collection Laura van den Berg has ever written.

Most anticipated SFF releases of 2021

I love December in the bookish world – everybody is talking about their favourite books (I am still hoping for a few amazing books, so I will post in January) and about the books they are most looking forward to. The last few years I tried to write about my most anticipated books twice a year (for the first and the second half of the year) but as I am back at work from June on (then obviously with a child), I am unsure whether I will manage (I did not this year). Thus I decided to post more than one list now and include books for the whole of 2021. First up are the books I am currently aware of and excited for that can be categorized as SFF (the spectrum runs more from fantasy to speculative romance, rather than proper science fiction). I organized them by publication date; clicking on the covers will lead you to the books’ Goodreads pages.

Blood Heir (Aurelia Ryder #1) by Ilona Andrews (published by NYLA, January 12th 2021)
A new book in the Kate Daniels world? Sold. I don’t know much more but already preordered it. I will eventually read everything Ilona Andrews’ have ever written but the Kate Daniels series has my favourite worldbuilding.

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long (published by Titan Books, January 19th 2021)
I only read as far as the first half sentence of the blurb before requesting this book on NetGalley: “Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream.” I love books featuring gods (see my recommendation post here), which will be completely obvious by the end of this post. Early reviews are favourable and I hope to agree. I do not read enough epic fantasy given how often I adore it.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1) by C. L. Clark (published by Orbit, March 23rd 2021)
What first piqued my interest is the, frankly, disgustingly perfect cover – I mean, just look at that perfection. I also enjoy the author’s presence on twitter and I am always up for kickass women in my fantasy. And two morally grey women fighting and possibly falling in love? Sign me right up.

The Helm of Midnight (The Five Penalties #1) by Marina J. Lostetter (published by Tor Books, April 13th 2021)
I happen to really like books that combine more than one genre – when it comes with speculative elements, especially when it’s done in an epic fantasy kind of world, especially so. Thus my interest was already piqued when I realized this was serial killer novel fantasy. That the cover is beautiful didn’t hurt either. I am very excited for the magical homicidal death mask angle and the hints of a plotline and mythology.

Son of the Storm (The Nameless Republic #1) by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (published by Orbit, May 11th 2021)
I adore fantasy novels that explore the idea that mythologies might have been passed on wrong – and the idea of an island nation that other places insist does not exist with magic of its own sounds like absolute catnip to me. Add shape-shifters and forbidden magic and I am all in. For some reason I never got around to Okungbowa’s debut even though it features gods, so if I like this one, I’ll surely go back and remedy that.

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley (published by Bloomsbury, May 25th 2021)
To be totally honest, I requested an ARC of this mostly because it was compared to David Mitchell and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Like I said, I like genre-bending books and I am always looking for something like Mitchell’s writing. This is apparently an alternative history, science-fiction, time-travel kind of book – this will either work brilliantly for me or not at all. I am excited.

A Dance of Smoke and Steel (A Gathering of Dragons #3) by Milla Vane (published by Berkley, June 8th 2021)
I loved both books in the series so far (I haven’t yet read the novella because I am pacing myself). This is the dark and gritty fantasy romance of my heart. I thought the romance worked better in the first book but the world got way more exciting in the second part. Again, this features actual gods, mythology that differs depending on who is telling it, and kickass women – this series is basically custom-made for me. This might be the last book in the series but I am kind of hoping not because there is so much world yet left unexplored.

For the Wolf by Hannah F. Whitten (published by Orbit Books, June 15th 2021)
I am easily swayed by comp titles, it seems. This one has been compared to Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale, both of which I adored, so this seems like it will be right up my alley. Fairytale re-tellings can be brilliant if they are done right – this seems to be a spin on Red Riding Hood and the wolf is not a monster but a man. Sign me right up, this sounds wonderful.

She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1) by Shelley Parker-Chan (published by Tor Books, July 20th 2021)
Speaking of re-tellings, this is based on Mulan which on its own would have been interesting but the setting during the Ming dynasty intrigues me to no end. I will have to see how I get on with the “pretending to be her own brother” part of the plot, as lying often makes me anxious but everything else sounds just too amazing.

Last Guard (Psy-Changeling Trinity #5) by Nalini Singh (published by Berkley, July 20th 2021)
I cannot wait for this. I loved the first arc of this long-running series and I am excited to see where Nalini Singh takes her story next. I can always trust in her ability to spin stories I enjoy and her worldbuilding is impeccable. I should also be up to date with her other series (Guild Hunter) come next year, so I am also excited for the next book there.

The Thousand Eyes (The Serpent Gates #2) by A. K. Larkwood (published by Tor Books, August 24th 2021)
I am SO excited for this. I adored the first book in the series (review) and loved where it left off. I love the way Larkwood blends fantasy with science fiction, I obviously adore the way she employs mythology, I thought the first book was perfectly plotted, and I just think this could be absolutely perfect. (No cover yet; link to Goodreads here.)

Which SFF books are you most excited for?

Best ARCs I read

I realized that I usually talk about my review copies in terms of being late and feeling overwhelmed – and this gives a wrong impression, I think. Because I just love getting review copies and have read some really really brilliant ones over the years (I checked, I have been on NetGalley – my main way of getting review copies – since 2016). It feels right using this low-key readathon to talk about some of my favourites.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (review)

I read and reviewed the complete trilogy early – and it is one of my absolute favourite series. I thought both the first and the third book were pitch-perfect and I cannot wait until Arden writes another adult book (she has hinted on twitter at something in the same world as this series and I just cannot wait.)

The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)

I requested this on a whim, unsure whether I would like it but absolutely loving the cover. I needn’t have worried – this book was just perfect for the kind of reader I am (I also convinced quite a few of my blogging friends to read this and so far they all liked it!). I am currently reading Broder’s second novel which is also really good but so far not as absolutely brilliant as this here was for me.

The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood (review)

I am unsure if I would have gotten to this if I hadn’t been able to read an ARC (there are so many fantasy books coming out and I am not always good at reading series) – but wow, I loved this. I do love fantasy books about gods a lot and I thought that Larkwood executes her premise brilliantly – and pulls her different threads together so very satisfyingly at the end that I cannot wait to read the next one, whenever it will be released.

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko (tr. by Julia Meitov Hersey) (review)

What a thrill this book was – I adored everything about it. But it is also one of those books that seem to custom-made for me that I am unsure if I can recommend it to people. It is dark, and weird, and set in the deep of Russia, and just so very much my kind of thing.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay (review)

I would definitely have read this anyways – but I loved it so much, I am glad I got to it early (it was also one of my earliest reviews that got enough likes to be prominently featured on the book’s Goodreads page). It is still one of my all-time favourite short stories and possibly the one that cemented my love of the format. Such a brilliant book.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (review)

I do not think I would have gotten to this, if I hadn’t requested it fairly early on in my blogging journey. When I read it, I was one of the very first people to review the book on Goodreads – and then it obviously got longlisted for the Women’s Prize. The book is brilliant, compulsively readable, and incredibly emotional.

In writing this blogpost, I realized just how many brilliant books I have read as ARCs – this is helping me a lot to get even more motivated to use these two weeks to catch up with some of my unread ARCs – who knows what brilliant things I will discover.

Wrap Up August 2020

I cannot remember the last time I had a reading month this good. It seems like my choice to finally finish reading some of the books I had started months ago was a very good thing indeed. I have also finally gotten back into the groove of reading and reviewing ARCs – I do hope I can keep the momentum going. Especially because Rachel and I are planning on doing our two-person-ARC-readathon again at the end of September, this time without me being pregnant and not reading. (You are all invited to participate! But it’s super low-key and I am famously bad at reading plans.)

Books I read in August:

  1. Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. Alpha Night by Nalini Singh: 4 out of 5 stars
  4. The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Larkwood: 4.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  5. Sisters by Daisy Johnson: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  6. Luster by Raven Leilani: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  7. Diamond Fire (Hidden Legacy #3.5) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  9. Saphire Flames (Hidden Legacy #4, Catalina Baylor Trilogy #1) by Ilona Andrews: 5 out of 5 stars
  10. Emerald Blaze (Hidden Legacy #5, Catalina Baylor Trilogy #2) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars

I also started and DNFed The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E. Harrow.

Favourite of the Month:

Quality-wise, The Glass Hotel, hands down. I knew I would love it but also was scared of not being able to properly appreciate it during the pandemic and kept putting it off – I am so glad to have finally read it, it’s as good as I hoped it would be. But my proper favourite is probably Saphire Flames which I kept putting off because I know how addictive Ilona Andrews’ writing is. It’s so good! I had such a blast!

Stats(ish):

I read ten books, seven of which were written by women and the other three by a husband and wife team. Five books can broadly be categorized as literary fiction, one is a fantasy-scifi hybrid and four are some form of romantic fantasy.

Currently Reading:

Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates #1) by A. K. Lardwood

45046552Verdict: Delightful, clever, incredible world-building – not my favourite main character.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi

Published by Pan Macmillan, February 20th 2020

Find it on Goodreads.

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.

Csorwe leaves her home, her destiny, and her god to become the wizard’s loyal sword-hand — stealing, spying, and killing to help him reclaim his seat of power in the homeland from which he was exiled.

But Csorwe and the wizard will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

I loved very many things about this. The worldbuilding is impeccable and wonderfully integrated into the main storyline, giving just enough details to make the world(s) believable without overwhelming the narrative. I loved the prose which I found lyrical enough to work for me while being somehow quintessentially “fantasy”. I nearly always love fantasy books dealing with deities and this one was no exception. Set in a multi-world multiverse governed by many different deities, some of these half dead or lost, with many different belief-systems, our focus is Csorwe who was supposed to be a sacrifice to her (creepy and horrifying) god until a visiting wizard rescued her and made her his bodyguard/ assassin/ ward.

I adored this – the book just worked for me in every single way, except for Csorwe who I found indistinct and to be honest, sometimes painfully daft. She kept getting herself into situations that obviously would not work out the way she expected them to and she never seemed to learn. I did really appreciate her rivalry with another of the wizard’s men and their banter was great. I also loved the fraught and complicated relationship she has with her mentor and the way this wrapped up had me glued to the page. I was not so keen on the love story which ultimately kept me from giving this the whole five stars.

My favourite part of this sci-fi/ fantasy hybrid was the underlying mythology and the way in which Larkwood fleshes it out with different deities and their believers; in parts creepy, in parts interesting, always fascinating. There are so many ways in which the story can be developed next and I am excited for most of them. I had such a great time reading it and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. This is the best high fantasy novel I have read in ages.

Content warning: disfigurement, death, huge serpents, death cults

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wrap Up July 2020

Books I read in July:

  1. The Harpy by Megan Hunter: 3 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. I Hold A Wolf By The Ears by Laura van den Berg: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson: 5 out of 5 stars
  5. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I also DNFed Beach Read by Emily Henry. I might come back at another time but for now the book was just not what I expected and was in the mood for.

Favourite of the Month:

Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson is as incredible as everybody said. I cannot recommend it highly enough – I listened to the audiobook and just love the way Gleeson narrates her essays.

Stats(ish):

I read five books this month. Of these books four were written by women. I read two non-fiction books, one thriller, one short story collection, and one literary fiction novel.

Currently Reading:

Still too many books. Whenever I am reading more than four books it really messes with my reading mojo, so I am currently trying to finish as many books as possible before starting new ones. Ideally I would get it down to zero because I love being able to choose all new books but we’ll have to wait and see if that will happen.

Wrap Up June 2020 or Reading Whatever Works

I have stopped pretending that I will be back to my pre-pregnancy reading pace any time soon and am now just taking the months as they come. Having said that, this was still a surprisingly good month quantitiy wise, especially given that my daughter apparently decided that sleeping anywhere that isn’t her father’s or my body is unacceptable, at least during the day. Which is lovely! But also kind of exhausting. Also, I have not managed to drink my one tea a day while it was still hot for what feels like ages.

I have also stopped pretending that I can adhere to any sort of TBR or reading challenge and will now just read whatever I can manage. I have been saying that for ages and still held out hope.

Books I read in June:

  1. The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley: 3 out of 5 stars
  2. Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons: 3 out of 5 stars (mini-review)
  3. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall: 4 out of 5 stars
  4. Archangel’s Heart (Guild Hunter #9) by Nalini Singh: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. Daddy by Emma Cline: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall is all kinds of brilliant. I listened to the audiobook read by the author herself and really appreciated it.

Stats(ish):

I read 5 books, 4 of which were written by women and one by a man. I read two short story collections (none of which blew me away), one paranormal romance, one memoir, and one essay collection. Three of those books were ARCs. I am not doing well with reviews but I am trying my best.

Currently Reading:

 

Wrap Up May 2020 or the world is burning

May was even weirder than the months before. The world isburning and everything is kind of awful (to be clear: racism sucks, Black lives matter, property destruction is a great way to protest. I have no idea how to properly address what is going on but I wanted to be clear where I stand ideologically.) but at the same time I gave birth and so everything is also kind of wonderful. I have no idea how my blogging will look like from now on, but I am determined to at least post sometimes. Currently my daughter is happiest sleeping on top of me – so writing anything even slightly long is difficult.

Books I read in May:

  1. Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island by Nibedita Sen: 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Home Remedies by Juliana Xuan Wang: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. Archangel’s Legion (Guild Hunter #6) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Archangel’s Shadows (Guild Hunter #7) by Nalini Singh: 3 out of 5 stars
  5. Archangel’s Enigma (Guild Hunter #8) by Nalini Singh: 4 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

I had a pretty mediocre reading month – but Archangel’s Enigma was my favourite of the Guild Hunter series so far. I am still vastly prefering Singh’s Psy-Changeling series but I as always appreciate her world building.

Stats(ish):

I read four books and one short story (I was planning on reading the Nebula and Hugo nominated short stories but as I said, I usually have a child on top of me which means all my reading will be done on my kindle from now on apparently). Three of those books were paranormal romance and one short story collection. Everything I read this month was written by authors of colour.

Currently Reading:

 

I am reading way too many books – and have the attention span for literally half of them maybe. I am trying to give myself the room to just pick up whatever I feel like because I do not want reading to feel like a chore.

 

Wrap Up April 2020 or the world is weird.

April was still weird but maybe a bit more bearable? I don’t even know. The world is weird. Being pregnant is weird. Everything is weird.

Books I read in April:

  1. The Dom Who Loved Me (Masters and Mercenaries #1) by Lexi Blake: 2 out of 5 stars
  2. How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa: 4 out of 5 stars
  3. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: 3 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Girl by Edna O’Brien: 1 out of 5 stars (review)
  5. Mr Salary by Sally Rooney: 5 out of 5 stars
  6. White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) by Ilona Andrews: 5 out of 5 stars (reread)
  7. Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews: 5 out of 5 stars (reread)
  8. By a Thread by Lucy Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

My favourites were my rereads: the second and third book in Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series are as brilliant as I remembered them. I am really looking forward to finally continuing with the series in preparation for the next book coming out.

Stats(ish):

I read 8(ish) books, all of which were written by women. I read two romance novels, two urban fantasy books, one short story collection and one short story, and two literary fiction novels nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Currently Reading:

Books I should get to soon:

I have for now given up on the Women’s Prize longlist and will instead be focussing on whatever strikes my fancy and hopefully a lot of fantasy reads. Given that I am currently always tired and napping all the time, I am unsure how much reading I will be doing at all, if I am being honest.

Women’s Prize coverage by other bloggers:

Rachel, Callum, Naty, Marija, Emily, Gilana, Laura

Wrap Up March 2020 or it’s Women’s Prize Season!

March was weird, I am sure everybody will agree. And I am not sure April will be any less weird but maybe I will be more used to the weirdness by then? In positive news, the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced and I have started making my way through it – and for the most part I have enjoyed the books so far, although I am weary if that’ll stay that way.

Books I read in March:

  1. Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey: 2 out of 5 stars
  2. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  3. Weather by Jenny Offil: 4 out of 5 stars (review)
  4. Actress by Anne Enright: 4.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  5. Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: 1.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  7. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: 4 out of 5 stars
  8. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie: 2 out of  5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

Actress. I did not think I would like this book and was then very happy when I did. It is so far my favourite of the longlisted books.

Stats(ish):

I finished eight books in March, all of them written by women. Of these books five were on the Women’s Prize longlist and thus fiction. I also read one romance novel, one short story collection, and one memoir. I also spent a lot of my time re-reading parts of the Psy-Changeling series because those books always make me happy. I did not completely read any of those books though.

Currently Reading:

Books I should get to soon:

I am still kind of planning to finish the Women’s Prize longlist (except for the Mantel) before the shortlist is announced on the 22nd. I am unsure whether that is at all doable but I am still going to try my best.

Women’s Prize coverage by other bloggers:

Rachel, Callum, Naty, Marija, Emily, Gilana, Laura