As every year, I am surprised that the year is already half way over. I have had a pretty bad reading year so far but not doing this tag felt too sad.
Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2021
By far the two best books I read were by authors whose previous books I also five-starred (I am sure there is a lesson here that I will, as always, forget as soon as I post this). Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain is near perfect: its structure is clever, his use of repetition makes it easy to follow without becoming boring, and his research is impeccable. The Sacklers are the worst though – it took me a while to settle on a least favourite Sackler but I think I got there in the end (It’s Richard). Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is just a perfect book, no word is wasted, no idea left unexplored. I so wish for it to win the Women’s Prize.
I am trying to finish my PhD thesis this year and recently decided that this means that I will have to try to write something every day. This is going, well, not great, but better than before. But this also means that I do not have as much time for reading. I am still quite pleased with my reading month..
Books I read in February:
Hall of Smoke by H. M Long: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
Beautiful Mutants by Deborah Levy: 4 out of 5 stars
The Unwanted Wife by Natasha Anders: 3 out of 5 stars
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: 5 out of 5 stars
Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmermann: 3.5 out of 5 stars (review)
Favourite of the Month:
I adored Piranesi. I was fairly sure I would and Clarke delivered. Her prose is as excellent as ever and this tiny book packs such a punch. I loved trying to solve its mystery and cannot recommend it highly enough.
I read five books, all of them written by women. I read one non fiction title, one romance, one literary fiction, one fantasy, and one thing I would call literary speculative fiction.
What I should be getting to next:
I should just finish the books I am currently reading before my squirrel brain is allowed to start anything new again. I am, however, very excited for quite a few March releases, especially The Unbroken by C. L. Clark and Redder Days by Sue Rainsford – I hope this stays this way, so that I can actually read them.
“Eang, Eang, The Brave, the Vengeful, the Swift and the Watchful.”
Hall of Smoke – published by Titan Books, January 19th 2021
An epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war
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. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.
While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.
Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.
Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.
Verdict: Great world, great main character, interesting mythology – weirdly paced.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Books about gods are my favourite. As such I jumped at the chance to read this – not only does it feature gods, it features gods that walk among their people – and mythology that depends on the country it is told in. I love these kinds of ruminations on the nature of belief and culture.
The book starts with a bang when recently exiled Hessa is the only warrior priestess of Eang – the Goddess of War – to survive a sudden invasion. She was cast out of her order for failing to kill a visitor she had been foretold to kill. Killing him becomes her only focus – in the hopes of earning her Goddess’ forgiveness (a Goddess who is not known for being forgiving). The plot itself did not always grip me as we follow Hessa from one place to another (I am not that into travel fantasy) and I found it weirdly low-stakes given that the literal survival of a country is threatened but what I absolutely adored was the underlying mythology and Hessa herself. The story is told from a very close first person narration, a choice that is unusual for the genre but that worked extremely well as Hessa is our entry point into the world and we learn as she learns. As such I found the worldbuilding well integrated and easy enough to follow. It also helps to show just what a heavy burden is expected of Hessa to carry.
Hessa is a wonderful main character and one of the reasons I was so happy with this book. She is strong and stubborn but ultimately able to adapt to her changed circumstances – and she is warm and caring and absolutely kickass. I love kickass women in my fantasy reading and she definitely delivered.
Content warnings: genocide, gore, loss of loved ones
I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quotations are taken from an unfinished copy and are subject to change.
I am determined to have a better reading year than last year and very purposefully chose my books. I finally finished a few books I had been reading way too long and I am now trying to just pick the books I am absolutely feeling like going forward. This worked out well for this month.
Books I read in January:
Open Book by Jessica Simpson: 4 out of 5 stars
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo: 3 out of 5 stars
Things I Don’t Want To Know by Deborah Levy: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Magic Stars (Kate Daniels #8.5) by Ilona Andrews: 3 out of 5 stars
You Perfect, Broken Thing by C. L. Clark: 4 out of 5 stars
The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Magic Heir (Aurelia Ryder #1) by Ilona Andrews: 4 out of 5 stars
The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Favourite of the Month:
My favourite thing I read this month were the first two installments of Deborah Levy’s living autobiography. The last part will be published later this year and I am very excited. While I do not always agree with Levy’s points, her prose is stunning and her structure impeccable. I cannot wait to read more of her backlist while I wait for her next book.
I read 8(ish) books this month. Six were written by women and two by an author team. Three books can be categorized as fantasy, three were non-fiction, one was translated fiction, and I also read one short story.
What I should be getting to next:
I am very close to finishing A Crooked Tree (started brilliantly, is currently dragging) and Hall of Smoke (great world, great main character, odd pacing). Afterwards I will hopefully start on my March ARCs. I am especially excited for Redder Days by Sue Rainsford and The Unbroken by C. L. Clark. Twitter decided on my next physical book (Piranesi by Susanna Clarke) and I could not be more excited. I also did not read a short story collection this month and need to remedy that as soon as possible.
The year is gone. And I cannot say I am not relieved. This December was different for me than before (I am sure this is the case for many of us!) but also in parts really nice: we had our first Christmas as a three person family! With our very own Christmas tree!
My daughter has not been sleeping well at all, so I have not really been reading all that much but I did read one of my very favourite books of the year, so this is nice. I had lofty ambitions to finish all the books I am currently reading to be able to start the new year with a completely clean slate but alas.
Books I read in December:
Deal With The Devil (Mercenary Librarians #1) by Kit Rocha: 4 out of 5 stars
No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder: 5 out of 5 stars
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso: 3 out of 5 stars
I also DNFed The Ocean House by Mary-Beth Hughes (review) as it just did not work for me and my reading is not great as it is.
Favourite of the Month:
By far my favourite, and indeed one of my very favourite books of the year, was No Visible Bruises. I just want everybody to read this (trigger warnings galore though!).
I finished three books, one speculative romance, one non-fiction, and one graphic novel.
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.)