Again, I ask: Why do we freak out in the middle of the year? Are the books coming after us? Is there a stack so tall it’s at risk of falling over on us? It’s just mid-year. Nothing to be frightened of.
Unless you’re worried about the existential dread that accompanies the slow march of time, ever forward, into a bleak and unknown future. . .
So it’s the middle of the year, and not freaking out here. Just looking back at what I have read and looking forward to what I will be reading.
Thus far in 2021, I’ve completed 97 books for a total (according to The StoryGraph) of 29,924 pages.
That’s a lot of pages.
1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2021
I’m changing this up. Best books. With an ‘s’. Because I’m not going to pick a single ‘best book’ of the year so far. I’ll list them in the reverse order I read them in, because that’s convenient for me.
- Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
- A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein
- Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries #6) by Martha Wells
- The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1) by Nghi Vo
- The Councillor by E.J. Beaton
- Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Sudden Death because it’s so weird and complex and spans centuries– all in 272 pages. Hamnet for its shimmering prose and beautifully observed story of a family. A Tip for the Hangman, because who doesn’t love a fictional dash through the Elizabethan era with one of its most famous spies, Kit Marlowe? Fugitive Telemetry because I love Murderbot. The Empress of Salt and Fortune because if Nghi Vo had written an 800-page epic instead of a novella, I would have read that, too. The Councillor because this was Beaton’s debut novel and it was gorgeously written, intricately plotted, had a world of gender equity, and fantastic characters. Ring Shout because P. Djèlí Clark is an amazing writer, I’ve loved every work of his that I’ve read, and this story of the battle between good and evil in the American South hit me like nothing else has this year.
2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021
Again, I’m going to list more than one:
- The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor #2) by Katherine Addison
- Rule of Wolves (King of Scars #2) by Leigh Bardugo
- Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries #6) by Martha Wells
- The Assassins of Thasalon (Penric and Desdemona #10)
- Dance With Death (Barker and Llewellyn #12) by Will Thomas
The Witness for the Dead, because even though it’s not a direct sequel to The Goblin Emperor, I still enjoyed being back in that particular world and finding out all sorts of new things about it. I just wanted to keep following Thara Celehar through his day to day life. Rule of Wolves, because Leigh Bardugo has become a fantastic writer who digs deep into her characters’ psyche, has them doing clever things, and because her finales are satisfying while being true to the world and its people. Fugitive Telemetry, because I love Murderbot, and watching it reluctantly work with station security to solve a murder (under, really, reasonable but silly restrictions) is just great. The Assassins of Thasalon because I will never not love watching a scholarly sorcerer and a chaos demon work together to do good- and endlessly snark at each other. Dance with Death because Thomas Llewellyn and the characters of this series are so much fun to watch, and even though I can often guess whodunnit, I don’t care; also, that ending. I must have the next book as soon as possible.
3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to
I’ve been pretty good about getting to new releases right away since I’ve been looking forward to so many of them, but there are three out that I haven’t picked up yet:
- A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
- Witchshadow (Witchlands #4) by Susan Dennard
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
I have no idea why I haven’t read A Master of Djinn yet. I’ve been anticipating it since it was announced, it’s available at my library and has been at the bookstore every time I’ve gone in, but. . . I just haven’t picked it up. Soon.
I’m waiting for Witchshadow to be available through my library as an audiobook, but I might pick up the physical copy instead if they have it. The narrator is fine, but I’m not in love with her voice and sometimes it gets on my nerves.
I’ve heard so many good things about Project Hail Mary, and I even found a copy for half price at Barnes and Noble. But again, I haven’t picked it up yet. Even though I own it.
4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year
Again, multiple releases:
- Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- My Letters To Conceição by Jorge Molina del Callejo
- The Bronzed Beasts (The GIlded Wolves #3) by Roshani Chokshi
- Matrix by Lauren Groff
- The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
- Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
- Jade Legacy (The Green Bone Saga #3) by Fonda Lee
Mostly historical fiction on this list, partly because a lot of the big SFF releases are parts of series I haven’t read. But the historical titles are standalones, so I don’t have to worry about series.
I’m looking forward to Velvet was the Night because I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, so even though I don’t read many noir mysteries (which this sounds like it is), I will devour this title. My Letters To Conceição sounds weird and compelling and like it could be a mind-bending story. The Bronzed Beasts because I thoroughly enjoyed the characters in the first two books. Matrix because a story about Marie de France, a Medieval English poet, sounds amazing. The Lincoln Highway because Amor Towles is a brilliant writer and because at least part of this book is set in Nebraska, and no one ever seems to write about Nebraska unless they’re from here. Beasts of a Little Land is set in early twentieth-century Korea, and is about two young people growing up amongst political turmoil. Jade Legacy is the final book in the Green Bone Saga, and I was enthralled by the first two books, which told the story of a crime family struggling to maintain their power despite the rapid changes sweeping across their country.
5. Biggest disappointment
I tend to not finish books I’m not enjoying unless they’re ARCs, in which case I feel obligated to finish them (and because I don’t want my NetGalley feedback ratio to be affected if I don’t review them). There are two books that were major disappointments, and they will probably make my ‘Worst of the Year’ list next January.
- The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley
- Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian
In The Kingdoms, the story jumps around through time which makes for a jumpy narrative that never really gels while the non-POV main characters repeatedly withhold vital information from the main POV character for. . . reasons. Not very good reasons. The crux of the plot revolves around a big ship sailing very, very close to the rocky Scottish coast, which is unlikely, even in a fog (also, where was the crew of the ship? There seem to have been only a handful of people on the ship?). How do I know this? I asked a sailor I know who is familiar with the Scottish coast, and she concurred. The ship would have crashed into the rocks. Also, I am sick of characters being forgiven by the MCs for heinous crimes, just because the characters are pretty. If I had watched someone murder a child, I would not end up trusting them with more children. I would have them arrested. A pretty face is not a reason to forgive murder.
Half Sick of Shadows is an attempt at a Feminist reclaiming of the story of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’, but what we get is a muddled story of portents and pasts that overwhelm the storyline of the present, a confused take on Feminism, and characters who think that wearing underwear is a sign of horrid oppression. The prose wants to be lyrical, and while it occasionally succeeds, its anachronisms will distract anyone with a familiarity with Medieval history.
6. Biggest surprise
I think my biggest surprise this year was finding the Brother Cadfael mystery series by Ellis Peters. I’d heard of if before, but never looked into. Then one day, I decided I wanted a quick audiobook to listen to, so I downloaded the first one from my library and listened to the whole thing in one go. And I was hooked! I’ve read five of the twenty books so far, and will probably finish the series either late 2021, or early 2022.
I’m enjoying the historical aspects and the rich detail of the series, and Cadfael himself is a wonderful character to follow. So even though the plots of each of the books are basically the same, I’ve had a great time listening to Patrick Tull’s narration for each one of the stories, just for the characters.
7. Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you)
- E.J. Beaton (The Councilllor)
- Allison Epstein (A Tip for the Hangman)
- Ellis Peters (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael)
- Nghi Vo (The Singing Hills Cycle)
All of these authors have fantastic prose that perfectly suits their genres, and have stories that are compelling and well-paced, with characters that you’ll want to follow through even more books than they’re already in.
8. Newest fictional crush.
I don’t do crushes, so none.
9. Newest favorite character.
I have a few new favorite characters:
- Brother Cadfael (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters)
- Lysande Prior (The Councillor by E.J. Beaton)
- Jewel ATerafin (The Sun Sword series by Michelle West)
- Diora diLeonne (The Sun Sword series by Michelle West)
- Amily (The Collegium Chronicles, The Herald Spy trilogy by Mercedes Lakcey)
11. Book that made you happy.
Any book I enjoy makes me happy in some way, so there are about 95 books that have made me happy so far this year, and listing them all would be ridiculous.
12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)
The most beautiful books I’ve bought this year would have to be The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner and Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
So, so many…
- We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
- Vilette by Charlotte Bronte
- The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
- Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
- My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
- The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike
- The Elder Edda by Anonymous
- Big Machine by Victor Lavalle
- Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
- The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodksy
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
- The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
- The Lights of Prague by Nicole Jarvis
- The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
- All of my current NetGalley ARCs
- Who knows what else I’ll come across before December 31