Yes, I am still alive. I couldn’t not do this tag even if my blog seems to be on an accidental hiatus (one I am unsure will ever end). Writing this post took me literal months – I do not even know how I did this regularly (remember when I posted every second day?? How??).
Question 1 – The best book you’ve read so far in 2022
Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik
I adored this. It took me half by surprise because I had enjoyed but not loved an earlier book by this author but this was just perfection. And it proved me wrong: apparently I can love a sci-fi romance.
Let’s not talk about the month I had. We can talk about how bad the reading month went though – it was pretty bad but maybe by design?
Books I read in February:
I started the month very strong with Melissa Febos’ Girlhood (4.5 out of 5) which I really really enjoyed, especially as a continuation of the earlier Abandon Me (which made my favourites list last year). I thought this filled in some gaps wonderfully while also being more academic in a way than her earlier memoir. Really really recommended! Afterwards I went on a romance binge because my month went to hill. I first read The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran (3.5. out of 5 stars) because I saw excerpts on twitter and it looked as angsty as I wanted – and angsty I got. This was slightly ridiculous but emotionally resonant and very readable. Then I read the first book in the same series Your Wicked Heart (3 out of 5 stars) which I enjoyed but not as much and where I thought the plotting was not nearly as well done. I also would have liked some more groveling! To get my groveling fix I went back to Lauren Layne and read Broken (3 out of 5 stars). I enjoyed this a lot for the most part. I found the couple believable and their chemistry wonderful – but some plot and character developments were a bit too convenient. I also prefer Layne’s older characters. Afterwards I finished what will probably remain my biggest reading disappointment of the year: On the Edge (The Edge #1) by Ilona Andrews (2 out of 5 stars). These are my comfort authors and comfort I craved but this did not work for me at all. I found the two man characters unpleasant and did not like spending time with them which is the opposite of my usual experience with the authors. So then, I read another Lauren Layne book: For Better or Worse (3 out of 5 stars) which was fine – but I have nothing to say about it beyond this. Then I read a clasic “grovel” book; Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (3 out of 5 stars) which was absolutely banana pants (between a heroine who thinks she can talk to a tiger, a hero who works as a circus manager and who’s a contender for the Russian throne (the novel is contemporary-ish), and a marriage of convenience that makes exactly zero sense it sometimes seemed like the author threw everything and the kitchen sink at her WIP) – but addictive and surprisingly emotionally resonant. I did not enjoy the weird, non-specific Christian tone, but loved the heroine. Finally I finished the short story collection The Americans by Molly Antopol (3.5 out of 5 stars) which was dark, depressing, and realist and which I appreciated more than I enjoyed it. The stories are impeccably structured and wonderfully realized, if sometimes ending a bit abruptly. But they are also relentless in their themes of difficult parents and broken familial relationships. The last story, however, was just brilliant, perfect, no notes. I wish they all had been like this.
Favourite of the Month:
Girlhood was the high point in an otherwise fairly bad reading month. Nevertheless, it would have been a highlight in most readings months. Febos is excellent at what she does and I hope she keeps doing this for years to come.
I read 8 books, seven of which were written by women and one by a husband and wife team. One short story collection, one essay collection, two historical romance, three contemporary(ish) romances, one speculative romance.
I started the month strong with the incredble Animal Wife by Lara Ehrlich (4.5 out of 5 stars) which 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). It did get a bit repetitive but not enough for me to not round the rating up. Then I finished yet another Ilona Andrews book: Sweep With Me (Innkeeper Chronicles #3.5) (4 out of 5 stars) – which I obviously enjoyed. I always love their writing and am slowly making my way through their backlist while I wait for the next books in the two series of theirs I am current with. Afterwards I finished my oldest ARC (let’s just not talk about how long that sat unread on my kindle): Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt (2.5 out of 5 stars). I am conflicted about this because the prose was truly spectacular and I do like the framing device and the way Celt chooses to end her book. I did however not enjoy the pacing at all – it felt a lot longer than the 240 pages it was long and for vast stretches of it I was, indeed, bored. I then finished the absolutely brilliant Abandon Me by Melissa Febos (4.5 out of 5 stars) which broke my heart. Here the whole was better than the sum of its parts and I was right – this is an author whose complete works I want to read. Afterwards, my month went to hell. Which is why I finished a book that was sure to be comforting: Last Guard (Psy-Changeling #20) by Nalini Singh (3.5 out of 5 stars). As always, I enjoyed the worldbuilding and I am excited to see where the series goes next – because I always trust Nalini Singh in her macro plots, but this one didn’t completely work for me. The pacing was off and the central couple not my favourite. The final book I read, I inhaled in a day: The Trouble with Love by Lauren Layne (4 out of 5 stars). This was just what I needed with the perfect mix of funny and angsty. I loved this a whole lot, especially the focus on friendship – I will surely read the rest of this series and the follow up series. I am not often a fan of second chance romances but this worked perfectly because the past storyline never overwhelmed the present storyline (and because what happened in the past was just deliciously angsty without being a dealbreaker – and without them being horrible to each other).
Favourite of the Month:
Animal Wife was not only my favourit book of the month but my favourite short story collection of the year. Really recommended!
I somehow finished 6 books, five of which were written by women and one by a husband and wife team. One romance, two speculative romance, one short story collection, one historical fiction and one memoir.
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.
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.
What I should be getting to next:
Whatever I feel like. I won’t try to police my reading at all.
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.
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!
I will just have to stop complaining that my reading month was awful. There is no way this state of affairs will change, especially now that I am back at work and really, really need to finish my PhD – as I just accepted a PostDoc job starting in August (I am super excited about the job and think I can do it very well but at some point this next year I will need to have the title for it).
This does mean a couple of things for my blog though: I cannot even attempt to write reviews for everything I read (which I have not been doing for about two years anyways) and this will be the part of my hobbies that is least likely to survive. I will for now change the way I do my wrap ups to include mini impressions of the books I read and hopefully will be able to write at least this post each month.
Books I read in June:
I began the month strong by finishing the absolutely incredible Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (5 out of 5 stars): 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. The audiobook is read by the author himself which is always something I adore. Afterwards I listened to my chaotic buddy read: Brood by Jackie Polzin (4.5 out of 5 stars) – which has stuck and grown on me. It is a surprisingly gruesome story about a griefing woman and her chicken – and I loved her so much. She is prickly and sad and so sure of some things (and probably very wrong about them!) while being very anxious and unsure about other things. She is a near perfect character. Afterwards I fell even deeper into my reading slump, as I went back to work and got just hammered with things to do. Thankfully, I still have some Ilona Andrews’ books to read, which is what I did. I inhaled the first two books in their Innkepper Chronicles Clean Sweep (4 out of 5 stars) and Sweep in Peace (3.5 out of 5 stars) – they are just my “break in case of reading slump” authors. At least once a year they manage to ignite my love for reading anew. This is technically the third series of theirs that I am reading and while it is not my favourite, it has all the things I love about their work: great world building, brilliant characters with wonderful interactions, main characters that are just my kind of overly powerful women – and an emotional core that hits me as a surprise again and again. I also finally DNFed A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion which had been sitting at 62% read on my Kindle for six months. This is not a bad book by any means but I found it unfocussed and for me at least the mix between coming-of-age and thriller did not work. I thought the coming-of-age elements, even if they followed expected story beats (the skinny dipping scene, the awkward first kiss, the falling out with friends, the fights with sisters), worked beautifully due to how expertly the main character is drawn. The thriller-y elements on the other hand did neither work for me nor kept me interested enough to keep reading.
Favourite of the Month:
Empire of Pain was as brilliant as I expected it to be.
I finished four books, three written by women and one by a man. One book was non fiction, one fiction and two can broadly be categorized as Urban Fantasy (albeit with scifi explanations).
What I should be getting to next:
I should be trying to finally finish some of the books I have been reading for literal months – and stop adding more and more books to my currently reading shelf. 10 books is just ridiculous!
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.
As a fantasy and romance reader, my reading is often series heavy – and when I enjoy a series this is one of my favourite parts of reading. I love the depth possible when many books are set in the same world, I love how invested I can become in characters when I have multiple books to spend time with them, and I also like being able to be reasonably sure I will love a book.
I have said in the past that I am not good at reading series – this is not actually quite true I have realized over the last few years (and about 20 books in the Psy-Changeling series later). I am admittedly not that great at finishing trilogies but longer series I enjoy I often inhale – especially if they are romance heavy or adjacent.
I have not been able to post as many non-review posts as I would like this last year- and I have especially not been able to shout my love from the rooftops as much (it feels like I read more disappointing books lately than earlier in my blogging journey, although this does not seem to actually have been the case). I am currently writing this series of posts on series (still to come are “Series I Love and Want to Keep Reading”, “Series I Read the First Book of and want to continue on with”, and “Series on my TBR”) in the hopes of bringing more positivity to my blog again. These posts are partly inspired by Caitlin’s brilliant The Great Series Read Project which you should check out if you haven’t done so.
To start that positivity with a bang, here are some of my favourite completed series.
Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews (review and review) This comes as no news to anybody as this series re-invigorated my love for Urban Fantasy a couple of years ago. I binge-read the first four books in a breathless (and sleepless) rush over the span of less than a week. It took me a bit longer to read the next five and then I still had to wait a few weeks for the publication of the last book. Ilona Andrews takes what is a fairly typical UF premise: loner, detective-type person solves crimes involving magic and/ or creatures, while falling in love with one of the suspects, and makes it incredibly readable. The world-building is inpeccable, Kate Daniels is a perfect main character, the voice is wonderful, and I ship the main couple a little bit too much. I am currently making my way through all the novellas set in this world and then maybe I will re-read the series. It is just that good. (I still do not love the covers.)
Psy-Changeling by Nalini Singh The first arc of this still ongoing series finished with book 15 (plus novellas) – and what a satisfying first arc this was! You get the feeling that Singh knows exactly where she wants her story to go and the little hints she plants early on for later books is just brilliant. This paranormal romance series is set in the future and features both Psy and shapeshifters. Each book focusses on another couple but the overall story is what keeps me hooked even if I do not love each individual couple. Incredibly, the series does not show any signs of becoming weaker and I do not foresee myself ever disliking any book Singh writes.
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
N. K. Jemisin is my favourite author and this is her masterpiece. She won three consecutive Hugo Awards for these books – and rightfully so. The trilogy is near perfect, the first book especially was something close to otherworldly for me (review here). I do not know if there is another book that is this perfectly suited to my reading tastes. If you have not gotten around to this series, I really cannot recommend it highly enough.
The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
While not as perfect as the Broken Earth trilogy, this is also an incredible series. It does something I particularly love in fantasy: feature gods. I don’t think Jemisin quite stuck the landing with this one but the first two books were so great. I especially love how distinctly not-human the gods are and I love how the later books recontextualize what happened before. (review for the first book here)
The Divine Cities Trilogy by Robert JacksonBennett
Another series featuring Gods (I love it so!), this is set in a world where after a huge war, some gods are missing and/or dead and everything they have built is still there but malfunctioning without the entities that cancelled out certain natural laws powering them. The first book is a murder mystery kind of character heavy secondary world urban fantasy and absolutely brilliant (review here) – but the two other books in the series are also pretty damn amazing. The books feature some of my favourite characters and some of the imagery will stay with me forever, I am certain.
The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
In what should be obvious by now, this is also a series featuring gods. Set in the North of Russia with its seemingly neverending winter, drawing both on fairy tales and real life history, I adored this. I inhaled the first book (review here) and have been a fan of Katherine Arden’s writing ever since. I didn’t quite love the second book but thought the third book really stuck the landing (review here).
What are some of your favourite series? I am particularly always looking for good urban fantasy, preferably written by women and I also am never unhappy to see a heavy romance focus.
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.
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a New Year’s Eve as good as it could be under the circumstances. Mine was low-key but lovely and I am genuinely excited to live in the new year. I always spend New Year’s Day looking back at my reading and planning ahead. This year I decided to start this with one of my favourite posts to write: My list of favourite books of the year.
I read less in 2020 than I have in the past: usually I easily manage to read 100+ books a year; this year it became clear early on that this wouldn’t happen and I ultimately read 75 books. But I also read some truly amazing books that I want to keep shouting from the rooftops about. Quite a few books on this list can be categorized as “Rachel was right and I should have listened earlier” (if you look at her best of 2019 year list, you’ll see (spoiler alert) quite some overlap).
My list is composed of ten books, 8 of which were written by women, one by a husband and wife team, and one by a man. 5 books are fiction and 5 books non-fiction. The list is embarrasingly white (7 of the ten authors) which is something I want to be more mindful of this coming year.
10) Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo One of the first books I read and one of the very best. I loved this book a whole lot – everything about it just ticked a lot of my boxes. The big draw for me is the way in which Evaristo’s language flows (this will be a running theme here) and the way in which she made me invested into every single character’s story. I would have loved for this to win the Women’s Prize (even if I also really really liked Hamnet) or for this to have won the Booker on its own. (review)
9) Actress by Anne Enright This was hands down my favourite of the Women’s Prize longlist and a book I would surely not have read if it hadn’t made the list. I thought the prose was beyond excellent, and the winding, narrowing stream-of-consciousness narration a thing of absolute brilliance. I think part of my enjoyment comes down to the audiobook which Enright reads herself, absolutely pitch-perfect. I liked this so much that I want to go back to Enright’s older stuff to see what I missed before. (review)
8) A Mind Spread Out On The Ground by Alicia Elliott In this absolutely incredible work of non-fiction, Elliott combines memoir with essay writing, drawing from her own experience and extrapolating to larger societal problems in a way that seems custom-made for me. I thought this was incredible. Heart-breaking. Clever. Impeccably structured.
7) The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel I loved this. So very, very much. It does many things I adore in fiction: old unchronologically from a variety of points of views, featuring difficult characters that I nevertheless rooted for (especially Vincent who I just adored), with hints of the supernatural as manifestation of guilt, scenes that would recontextualize what came before, and above all the author’s incredible way with words. (review)
6) In The Dream House by Carmen Mario Machado One of the rare books that is as impeccably written as it is emotionally resonant. Machado was already one of the writers I am always most looking forward to reading but this was something else. She chronicles her own abusive relationship while also flexing her impressive writing muscles and the end result is a stunning, perfect book of narrative non-fiction.
5) Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews I love, love, love this series by Ilona Andrews and this installment was my favourite of the year by the author duo (and I read 9 books written by them). I cannot believe I have to wait until 2022 for the final book in this second trilogy but I am sure the wait will be worth it. I am making my way through their complete backlist (including the novellas) and I am loving pretty much every minute of it. (review)
4) Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson Incredibly well-written memoir in essays; dealing with female bodies, illness, bodily autonomy, and many things more. The essays hit me right in the feelings and I found them perfectly structured. Everything about this works for me. I listened to the audiobooks which I can whole-heartedly recommend.
3) No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder One of the final books I finished this year and really one of the very best. It is impeccably researched and absolutely breathtakingly structured. Snyder uses case studies to illustrate her points and to drive home the emotional impact of what she is writing about. She did have to make some decisions regarding what she will focus on and I am not always sure they were necessarily the best (she nearly exlusively focusses on heterosexual relationships) but it did make the book insanely readable. I teared up more than once reading this and I want to put this into everybody’s hands.
2) The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy or, the book that should have won the Women’s Prize but somehow wasn’t even longlisted. This is brilliant. Hands down, perfect. Structured incredibly clever, with wonderful prose, and a narrator that I wanted to shake but also could not help but feel for. I will eventually read everything Levy has ever written, probably starting with her ongoing non-fiction project – this book was just that good.
1 ) Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe I read this book back in February and nothing could top it for the rest of the year. This is narrative non-fiction at its finest. Combining more personal stories with a more general overview of The Troubles, I could not imagine this book being any better. I felt more knowledgable upon finishing it while also thinking this was impeccably written. What an absolutely brilliant piece of narrative non-fiction.
What was your favourite book of the year? Have you read any of these?