Favourite books of 2021

This is always one of my favourite blog posts to write and it took me nearly three weeks into the new year to finally have it up. This does not bode well for my blogging year but let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

My reading year went well – quality wise. I only read half as many books as I used to but I got better at picking books I would love rather those I read for hype or fomo reasons, so this was a nice side effect. As a result, I have 10 books to share today; the first threeI rated a high 4.5 stars, the latter seven all got 5 stars. I tried to put them in order of enjoyment but as always this is a snap shot and could have been different on any other day.

10 Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
I am a huge fan of Sally Rooney and this book worked for me the same way all her books work for me. I thought it was structurally brilliant with its introspective email chapters and the more aloof third person chapters alternating and give different lenses through which to understand her characters – and her characters are what shine as usual. I didn’t love this as much as Conversations With Friends but more than Normal People I think and I cannot wait to see what she does next, or rather what variation on her theme she dos next.

09 Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
This broke my heart. Here the whole was better than the sum of its parts but even the weaker essays are great. Febos puts herself and the reader through the ringer and her honesty and special attention to themes and repetitions makes this a perfect fi for me. I will be reading as much of her work as possible.

08 Animal Wife Stories by Lara Ehrlich
The only short story collection to make my list but what a brilliant book it is. It reminded me exactly why I love short story collections. It is weird and extremely well written, with a strong theme of feminism and motherhood and the stories are the exact perfect length each time (varying from the very short to the slightly longer than most short stories).


07 Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
This an impeccable researched and structured deep dive into the Sackler family (of OxyContin “fame) – my main takeaway is, as usual, capitalism is the worst and regulation is indeed not the enemy. I didn’t quite love this as much as Say Nothing by the same author which took the very top spot of my favourite books on 2020 but it is incredible nonetheless. The Sacklers are indeed the worst and I had a running ranking who was the very worst of them (spoiler alert: it’s Richard).

06 White Magic by Elissa Washuta
This is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words, again. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it. Washuta disects her own trauma, both immediate and intergenerational, while writing circularly about a relationship disintegrating. It is very introspective in the best possible way and I love how she focusses herself more than anything else.

05 The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I knew I would enjoy Didion but I loved this even more. The prose is impeccable, the thoughtful use of repetition and returning to earlier themes and ideas is perfect and the emotional punch is harsh – there is a reason she is counted amongst the best stylists. I want to read as many of her books as possible.

04 Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Pretty much all of this worked for me, from the characters to the peculiar prose to the structure; especially the first half was near perfect for me. I do admit that this just hits a lot of my pleasure buttons and I can see where it might not work for other readers but I am glad that many people have taken a chance on this. Ultimately, on a metaphor-level I think this is a book about loneliness and about the structures we impose to deal with it. Clarke is chronically ill and you can tell she knows what she is writing about here. For me, this hit particularly hard given the slowly becoming unbearable pandamic and the intrinsic loneliness of new motherhood. I will treasure this book.

03 Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger
If you pick up any of my non-fiction recommendations from this list, please pick this one. I loved this and I want so many more people to read this. It took Dancyger 10 years to write this book and it shows. It is so good. She achieves a level of reflexivity that is very rare in memoirs and it is structurally so very well done. It also packs an emotional punch while wielding its sentimentality as a weapon and I am just so impressed with this.

02 Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
I have not been able to stop thinking about this book but at the same time I have trouble putting my thoughts and feelins into words. This is brilliant. I knew very little going into this book except that I will read anything Emily St. John Mandel writes and as such the book surprised me again and again. It is losely connected to her most recent two novels, Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, and I love her extended universe so much. She does this better than David Mitchell, whose writing I also adore, and I cannot wait to read whatever comes next. This book is both perfectly structured and compulsively readable, and as always her characterwork is beyond compare. So yes, I loved this.

01 No Gods, No Monster by Cadwell Turnbull
I ADORED this. So much, that I actually wrote a proper review for it. No Gods, No Monsters is literary fiction maquerading as urban fantasy and if there is anything that is my absolute catnip, it is this. The prose is brilliant, the character work perfect, and the structure made me happy. Turnbull does something so very clever with perspective that it made me giddy with joy – I love a clever play on perspective and here it did not only work stylistically but also made perfect sense in-universe.

Wrap Up September 2021

I am so stressed. Is anybody surprised? I am not surprised. September is always busy and I am trying to juggle so very many things, professionally, that I am glad for every minute I manage to read for fun.

Books I read in September:

During Rachel’s and my ARC-readathon, I first finished two romance novels instead – because of course I did. If I was good at TBRs, the state of my NetGalley shelf would not necessitate a readathon to catch up. I read I Hate, I Bake, and I Don’t Date by Alina Jacobs (2 out of 5 stars) which was banana-pants but I could not look away. If the central couple had been less awful (especially him, whose name I have forgotten but who is a trash person) I would have rated this higher because I was indeed very entertained. Afterwards, I did what I always do when I read a particularly weird and/or awful romance novel and reached for a favourite romance author. I read Love According to Science by Claire Kingsley (3 out of 5 stars) which was my least favourite in the series so far but still a whole lot of fun. Then I finished the absolute brilliant No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (5 out of 5 stars) which I liked so much that I have written a full review for the first time in half a year. I lso read One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) by Ilona Andreas (3.5 out of 5 stars) which I obviousy enjoyed – I do not think they even can write a book I won’t like at this point. I then finished the incredible White Magic by Elissa Washuta (5 out of 5 stars) which is just brilliant but in a way that I find difficult to put into words. It’s both a structurally perfect memoir and one that doesn’t pull any punches and I adored it.

I also decided to DNF Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone during our readathon which meant two reviews written in the two weeks, which at this point, I’ll consider a win. I got increasingly more bored with this and put it down 40% in. I do not think this book knows what it wants to be – it’s a thriller without having thriller pacing but with thriller plot beats, it’s a coming of age story without actually dealing with the coming of age, It’s literary fiction but the language felt more self-indulgent than anything else. This just did not work for me at all – and I am very sad because the premise and the promise of a dysfunctional sibling relationship really are brilliant.

Favourite of the Month:

No Gods, No Monsters – which is so far also my favourite book of the year.

Stats(ish):

I read five books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and one by a husband and wife team.Two books were romance, two can broadly be categorized as speculative, and one essay collection/memoir.

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

Whatever I feel like. I won’t try to police my reading at all.

Review: No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

“‘We’re all blind’, he says after swallowing. ‘Take solace in that. Choice comes first. Meaning comes later.”

No Gods, No Monsters – published by Blackstone Publishing, September 7th 2021

One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark?

The world will soon find out.

Find it on Goodreads.

Verdict: My favourite book of the year.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I am so very much in love with this book – enough to feel the need to write my first full-length review in half a year. As is often the case when a book is this custom-made for me, I am having problems divorcing my enjoyment from that fact – but I loved it so very much!

No Gods, No Monsters is literary fiction maquerading as urban fantasy and if there is anything that is my absolute catnip, it is this. The prose is brilliant, the character work perfect, and the structure made me happy. Turnbull does something so very clever with perspective that it made me giddy with joy – I love a clever play on perspective and here it did not only work stylistically but also made perfect sense in-universe which is something that I assume is very hard to pull off.

At its core, this is a story about bigotry – and while I am not always a fan of using fantastical creatures as a stand in for minority groups, here it worked well because Turnbull also grounds his book in real world oppression. His characters casually but intentionally have diverse backgrounds and gender expressions and sexual orientations and they feel as real as possible. The inciting incident is a case of deadly police brutality that ends up revealing to the world that monsters (and gods?) are real and among us. From this point the story spirals outward and inward, jumping from one storyline to the next in every chapter. I loved this. I loved this all the more because I felt I could trust Turnbull to know where he is going and what he wants to achieve. I did not find this book confusing but I found it challenging – it kept me on my toes and it made sure I was paying attention. I found the way Turnbull pulled of the various narrative strands very impressive, especially the way he made me emotionally invested in all of these (to be fair, quite a few strands are sibling stories and these are often my favourite). And while the book is definitely dark, it is not hopeless and there is a core of community and community action running through this that made the book ultimately an optimistic one.

In short, I adored this, I want more people to read this and most of all I want the second book in the series (even though this one does have a satisfying ending!).

Content warnings: police brutality, bigotry, domestic abuse, drug abuse

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

Wrap Up August 2021

Somehow the end of the month came suddenly. Where is the time going? I had a pretty decent reading month, courtesy of some much needed rereading of favourites of mine.

Books I read in August:

It took me nearly two weeks to finish my first book of the month. I read Tessa Bailey‘s newest: It Happened One Sommer (3 out of 5 stars) which was fun but not my favourite of hers. For some reason I do not get on as well with her traditionally published books. I appreciated that she switched it around and had her heroine be the one with the commitment problems for once and I adored that the hero just wanted her to see how brilliantly he thinks she is. But other than that, I can hardly remember anything about my reading experience. Then I reread the the first book in the second Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews, Sapphire Flames (5 out of 5 stars) – which I loved as much as the first time I read it. I am still sad that the publication of the third book was postponed until the summer of 2022 though. Then I finally read my ARC of Magma by Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir (4 out of 5 stars) – a quick and intense read chronicling an abusive relationship using short, diary type chapters. It made me a bit too mad for it to be a five star read and I didn’t quite love the ending but it is absolutely well worth the hype, with its perfectly sharp chapters with perfectly sharp prose, and its main character who is difficult: she is lonely and judgemental and even in the midst of her (horrible!) relationship that she knows is horrible cannot admit that her friends might know what they are talking about when they say they are worried. Afterwards, I needed something light and fun – and inhaled the next book in the Hidden Legacy series, Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (which I upgraded to 5 out of 5 this time around). I just love this series and the characters and the family dynamics and this time around, Alessandro’s arc really hit me in the feelings in the best way possible. Afterwards I finished the absolutely incredible Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (5 out of 5 stars). This is impeccably structured in a way that blew my mind, the self reflection at the core of this made me realize what memoirs can do, the inclusion of art is necessary and so helpful in grounding this, and I just loved this a whole lot, even the more sentimental parts. Then I finished Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (3 out of 5 stars) which I did not love as much as thought I would. Everybody adores these stories, so do take my opinion with a grain of salt. While there were some really interesting sentences and the observations were really sharp, overall the structure of the stories didn’t ever seem to work for me and with short stories, structure is really what makes a story work for me.

I then decided to DNF Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford – the memoir just did not work for me and once I realized I was actively avoiding listening to the audiobook even when I had the time, I decided to call it quits.

Favourite of the Month:

Negative Space. I adored this book beyond measure and want everyone to read it. It is very clever, very beautiful, very honest.

Stats(ish):

I read six books, three of which were written by women, one by a man and two by a husband and wife team. I read two speculative romances, one contemporary romance, a short story collection, one translated novel and one memoir. I rated three books five stars!

Currently Reading:

What I should be getting to next:

For the next two weeks I will be focussing on my ARCs for Rachel and my #ArcsOfShame readathon. Wish me luck!

Rachel and I have too many ARCs – a low-key readathon, 2021 edition

As is traditional, Rachel and I have too many ARCs, again – and using the first two weeks in September to try and remedy that, again. The last two times we tried this were fun but not always super productive, but maybe third time’s the charm?! As always, you are very invited to join but it is also really, really low-key, without prompts or reading sprints or even a hashtag.

I have finally stopped requesting ARCs, so nearly all of the ones I have left to read are backlist by now and I would love to be able to finally review a few of those. I would love for my NetGalley ratio to be in the 90s by the time I the two weeks are up but this is probably unlikely – it is at 86% currently and I just calculated it (and unless I did something stupid) I would have to review 11 books to get there. So this is my absolute stretch goal for now.

Currently reading:

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (published by Blackstone Publishing, September 7th 2021)

This is incredible so far and I will absolutely keep prioritizing this because I want to be able to shout from the rooftops how much I want everyone to read it. Right now my pitch would be Vita Nostra meets Station Eleven – and if you know me at all, you can guess how giddy this book makes me. It does something very very clever and interesting with perspective, it jumps backwards and forward in time and it is very, very weird. I am in love.

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (published by Orbit, April 8th 2021)

The kind of fast-paced but worldbuilding heavy fantasy that can work brilliantly for me and so far this absolutely does. I enjoy the sprawling narrative and the different POVs and it is making me realize that I haven’t read enough fantasy this year. With around 500 pages this is at the edge of my tolerance, page count wise, but I get the feeling that the book’s world necessitated the length.

Most excited:

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (published by Bloomsbury, January 18th 2022)

This was the last book I requested, even after having decided to not request books anymore, because I am just so excited for it. I mean, look at this first sentence of the blurb and tell me this wasn’t written especially for me: “For fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, Sequoia Nagamatsu’s debut is a wildly imaginative, genre-bending work spanning generations across the globe as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a devastating plague.” It is set partly in the Arctic Circle (love that!), deals with father-daughter relationships (love this!), told from connected perspectives (love that!), and it was blurbed by Matt Bell who seems to have my exact taste in literature (I really should check his books out finally).

Might still read and review in time for the publication date

On Freedom by Maggie Nelson (published by Jonathan Cape, September 2nd 2021)

Yes, I know this is unlikely but I can still dream. I adore Nelson’s writing and as such was very happy to receive the ARC. I absolutely want to read this – but the footnotes aren’t linked and I always basically have to scroll to the end of the book to get to them. So I might try to read this without reading the footnotes which doesn’t strike me as the best idea.

Dinner Party: A Tragedy by Sarah Gilmartin (published by Pushkin Press, September 16th 2021)

This was blurbed as for fans of Kate Atkinson and Anne Enright – so I took the plunge. This sounds like the kind of book that’ll either blow my mind or be too boring for me to make it through, all depending on the prose style and the structural choices. I am excited though, especially for this part of the blurb: “As the past catches up with the present, Kate learns why, despite everything, we can’t help returning home.”

High priority

I really, really suck at reading tbrs, obviously. Even trying to get to ARCs can lead to a reading slump. But for now these are the books that most excite me.

If I even get to a single of these books in addition to the other books I am planning to read, I will count myself very lucky. Some of these have been on my shelf for longer than they should have been, some of those sound so like my kind of book that it’s a shame I haven’t gotten to them, some, like Empire of Sand, are somehow both of these things.

Need to finally decide if I really, actually, really want to read these books

These books’ publication dates came and went a while ago. I have read bits and pieces of most of them and for some reason or other I am never in the mood for any of them when I am looking for something new to read. If you have read any of these, can you help me make up my mind? Otherwise I will try and finally do a “read a chapter” kind of post to decide if I want to keep these books on my TBR.

May 2021 TBR: It’s Wyrd and Wonder!

IMAGE CREDITS: images by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

May is Wyrd and Wonder month – and I have at least tried to participate for the last three years and I am very excited to be part of it again. Wyrd and Wonder is a month long fantasy readathon hosted by Lisa of Dear Geek Place, imyril of There’s Always Room for One More, and Jorie of Jorie Loves a Story. I particularly like the sense of community this event gives me and that I find new people to follow every year.

I am famously not great at following TBRs and my mood reading often leads me down different paths than I anticipated but I am very excited about fantasy at the moment and hope this’ll keep for this month at least. I have some super exciting books I could potentially read and I genuinely hope to be more active this year. My daughter will maybe start day care soon (depending on how the covid cases in my hometown develop), so I might be able to sit down and blog at least a few times this month. I might also be able to read an actual physical book with pages and everything.

I am currently in the middle of three fantasy books which I am going to prioritize. I am enjoying all three of them but especially For The Wolf which is just as good as the blurb made it sound and at the moment on track to be a five star read for me. Dead Witch Walking is fun and the first in a long series – and I would love to get stuck in a longer series again, filling the Kate Daniels and Psy-Changeling shaped holes in my heart. Big Bad Wolf is a lot darker than I anticipated but I am loving the world building if sadly not the romance.

Below is an additional list of books I am excited about that I could potentially read this month. Looking at these books makes me wonder why I ever read anything else but fantasy. I will probably prioritize The Bone Shard Daughther by Andrea Stewart as it is the group read and Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – have no excuse to not have already read that and I am certain I will adore it.