2020 Reviews in a Nutshell

In 2020, I reviewed 57 books. I thought it might be a fun idea to do a quick recap of those books and what I thought of them, 2-3 little sentences to remind people of some great books they might not have read yet.

January

the-rage-of-dragons

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter – African-inspired epic fantasy that is so damn good and I’m annoyed with myself that I haven’t read the sequel yet. One of the few, “character becomes the best of the best,” stories that I could really get behind.

The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin – Based on the walled city of Kowloon, definitely set on Earth and in modernish times, but Kowloon had a different name and it felt like it author was afraid to actually commit to claiming accurate representation.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzie Lee – Queer historical fantasy that reminded me a lot of Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord when it came to the fantastical elements. But with more boners.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzie Lee – Also queer historical fiction, but with an awkward portrayal of an aroace character, some homophobia, convenient disappearances of a woman of colour when the plot calls for it, and far less subtle coolness about the fantastical elements.

The Lady Rogue, by Jenn Bennett – Historical fantasy that took me ages to figure out was historical, because for a huge chunk of the book there was no indication in terms of speech patterns or behaviour. Plus anachronisms. An okay adventure story, though.

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi – African YA fantasy that I wanted to like more, but a bunch of the plot felt repetitive and one of the romances felt uncomfortably coercive at times. If not for those things, though, I would have enjoyed it a lot.

Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire – Really cool urban fantasy with faeries! Some slightly confusing magical mechanics, though friends have insinuated that things might make more sense later on in the series.

The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo – Historical fantasy with ambiguous supernatural elements and a really damn compelling story. Choo’s work is so freaking good!

Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey – YA dystopia plus monster-hunting, with commentary on streaming and “always being on.” The main character only seems able to make mistakes when it furthers the plot. It was okay. Nothing special.

February

Dekoboko Sugar Days Deko-boko Sugar Days, by Atsuko Yusen – A cute BL manga about 2 guys discovering their feelings for each other. Brings nothing new to the table, but enjoyable enough.

RePlay, by Saki Tsukahara – I have never before seen the terms “pitcher” and “catcher” be used so un-euphemistically. I mean, it’s a baseball-themed BL manga, but still.

The Fox and the Little Tanuki, vol 1, by Mi Tagawa – Written more for kids than adults, I still adore this folklore-heavy manga and recommend it to pretty much everyone. It has a lot to say about knowing and accepting yourself.

My Hero Academia, vol 1, by Kohei Horikoshi – Like X-Men, but if nearly everybody had a superpower. I can see why so many people love this franchise, though I may or may not continue with it.

March

Range of Ghosts

Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear – Fantastic world-building, taking inspiration from parts of the world that we don’t usually see featured in fantasy novels. Feels like the setup novel for something bigger, but it’s still really good.

Shattered Pillars, by Elizabeth Bear – Sequel to Range of Ghosts, and it gets a lot more into the real meat of the story. Fascinating take on the way political shifts have tangible effects on the physical world.

The Queen’s Bargain, by Anne Bishop – Aside from wanting to smack Surreal for doing pretty much everything she should know by now not to do, this was a pretty decent addition to the Black Jewels series.

The Immortals, by Jordanna Max Brodsky – Greek deities in modern day, dealing with mystery and mayhem and old grudges. Definitely worth a read if you’re into mythology.

I Still Dream, by James Smythe – Two different takes on what AI could do and become, the personal journey of the woman who really created it in the first place, and a whole lot about how psychology can apply to artificial intelligence. I adored this speculative novel!

April

Of Honey and Wildfires

Of Honey and Wildfires, by Sarah Chorn – Take the Wild West, add magic, add queer characters, and mix in a bunch of phenomenally lyrical writing, and that’s what this book gives you.

One Word Kill, by Mark Lawrence – Time travel paradoxes and D&D geeks in the 80s, and a whole bunch of concepts that made me have to take a moment to contemplate the ramifications of.

Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames – I admit, I missed some of the, “if adventurers were treated like rockstars,” approach and just accepted this as a damn good brutal yet witty adventure story. Really enjoyed it, and I still have to get around to reading the sequel.

Turning Darkness into Light, by Marie Brennan – A standalone sequel to the Lady Trent books, which very much appealed to my inner archaeologist and linguistics geek. Why are all of Brennan’s books so freaking good?!

May

The Hills Have Spies The Hills Have Spies, by Mercedes Lackey – Instead of dealing with a played-out character, we now deal with the played-out character’s kids. Also, long-established rules about how the world works are broken. Sadly, this is basically modern Valdemar books in a nutshell.

Eye Spy, by Mercedes Lackey – Pretty much the same as the above book, really, only dealing with a different kid. I enjoyed this one more than the previous novel, since it dealt with an uncommon character type. Also, there’s a very blatant Trump analogue, and what I think is an awkward attempt to establish an asexual character.

Spy, Spy Again, by Mercedes Lackey – The last of Mags’s kids gets a book. More weirdness happens that demonstrates that Lackey has kind of lost her edge. I’m sad to see the Valdemar novels end in such a lackluster way.

Finna, by Nino Cipri – Freaking fantastic novella that has a lot of humour and a lot of heart. And also takes potshots at corporate cruelty. I kind of loved it.

Flame in the Mist, by Renee Ahdieh – Japanese historical fiction that didn’t quite seem to know when it was set, and also cribbed some lines from the Memoirs of a Geisha movie. It was okay, it had some good points, but it was also pretty frustrating to read at times.

June

Ormeshadow Ormeshadow, by Priya Sharma – One of those stories that doesn’t even seem like it has fantastical elements until near the very end, which only adds to its impact on the reader. A slow burn, but worth it.

Or What You Will, by Jo Walton – A fourth wall-breaking story about an entity who has been many characters in many novels, trying to get his author to teleport herself into the world of her own books in order to save her from a slow death by cancer. It’s a head trip. It’s Jo Walton, and I love it.

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, by Aliette de Bodard – A Dominion of the Fallen side-story involving, well, exactly what the title implies. Though I’ve only read the 1st book in the series, I still really enjoyed this novella.

Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon – Felt like I was reading an expanded legend, something right out of mythology. I need more Chinese fantasy in my life after this one.

July

Updraft Updraft, by Fran Wilde – A fascinating world in which people live in towers of living bone, and in which flight is a primary mode of transportation. I really do need to read the sequel!

The Ghosts of Sherwood, by Carrie Vaughn – If Robin Hood had kids, what would they be like? This one focused on his daughter, and her desire to live her life out from under her father’s shadow.

The Heirs of Locksley, by Carrie Vaughn – Focusing on another of Robin Hood’s kids, this time his son, and his looming life as a man and all that entails. Including political mayhem.

Jade City, by Fonda Lee – Technology, magic, and clan warfare, set in a city that shows influence from many East Asian (and Southeast Asian, I believe) cultures. So freaking good!

Silver in the Wood. by Emily Tesh – The immortal Green Man archetype falls in love with a folklorist, and if that doesn’t sound complicated enough, trust me, it gets even more so. Short and sweet and filled to the brim with folklore and local legends.

Drowned Country, by Emily Tesh – Sequel to the above, and still good, though I liked it less than its predecessor. Heavy themes of betrayal and finding one’s purpose in life.

August

The Fox and the Little Tanuki 2 The Fox and the Little Tanuki, vol 2, by Mi Tagawa – I still love this manga. This volume has a whole lot to say about scapegoating and how people shouldn’t be blamed for the circumstances of their birth and how enough cruelty can turn anyone cruel in return. Profound stuff for something aimed at kids!

There Are Things I Can’t Tell You, by Edako Mofumofu – A BL title where the main characters aren’t in high school (which is kind of uncommon), but it still has a lot of the same problematic tropes you find in a lot of BL manga, which is a shame.

A Gentle Noble’s Vacation Recommendation, vol 1, by Momochi, Sando, & Misaki – I don’t know what it is about so many fantasy worlds in manga working by video game rules (“Let’s kill monsters to go up levels and be stronger!”), but here’s another one. Interestingly, it’s an isekai title where the primary setting and the home setting of the protagonist are both secondary worlds, which is really uncommon.

Blue Flag, vol 1, by KAITO – Girl 1 has crush on Guy 1. Guy 1 has a crush on Guy 2, and thinks that Girl 1 also has a crush on Guy 2. Girl 2 has a crush on Girl 1. And I will read the rest of this manga just to find out if everyone ends up in a happy stable group relationship!

Venus in the Blind Spot, by Junji Ito – A collection of shorts from a horror manga master. Some are better than others, but all are good, and all are pretty damn creepy.

Fangs, by Sarah Andersen – A love story between a vampire and a werewolf, and something so cliche shouldn’t be as adorable as Andersen makes it here.

September

Storm Front Storm Front, by Jim Butcher – A decent story, spoiled for me by the unfunny sexism and a protagonist who insists on being “chivalrous” and “gallant” even when it’s actively annoying the women around him. I heard that the series improves as it goes, but after such a poor beginning and so many frustrating moments, I have no desire to continue with it.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Historical fiction and Mayan gods and trips to the underworld and this book is a whole load of gimme gimme gimme!

Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max – Based on the hit anime, this is a quick set of 3 comic shorts about the characters, and I have to say, a bunch of the humour missed the mark and more than once characters didn’t act or sound as I had come to understand them from the show. Not bad, especially in the art department, but not great either.

October

Within the Sanctuary of Wings Within the Sanctuary of Wings, by Marie Brennan – The final Lady Trent novel, and one that really appeals to my love of anthropology. (Can it still be called anthropology when the culture in question is decidedly more draco than anthro?)

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman – A huge expansion to the overarching story of The Magicians, and one that dealt very heavily in loss and change. Not an easy read, but a compelling one, to be sure.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V E Schwab – Reminded me a lot of Claire North’s The Sudden Appearance of Hope, at least in initial concept. The follow-through, though, was entirely different, and broke my heart into so many pieces as the story went on. I’m not sure Schwab has ever written anything I’d disliked, to be honest…

November

Come Tumbling Down Come Tumbling Down, by Seanan McGuire – More of Jack and Jill’s story, though mostly Jack’s at this point. I really love the Moors as a setting. Gothic horror is love. Getting emotionally kicked in the heart is also love… sort of.

The Witch and the Beast, vol 1, by Kousuke Satake – Enough twists and turns to the story that I found myself wondering where everything was going to lead, and there’s enough meat to the tale that I’m curious to read more in the future.

The Shadow Queen, by Anne Bishop – Book 1 of Cassidy’s duology, part of the Black Jewels series, and I really love this book and its sequel. So much. They’re both frequent rereads of mine, and for all that they deal with some pretty harsh topics, they give me such hope that hard work and a solid support group can really change things for the better.

Shalador’s Lady, by Anne Bishop – Book 2 of Cassidy’s duology, and one with some very world-changing consequences at stake. Still as beloved to me as the first book, and I lose so much time buried in the story.

December

Remina Remina, by Junji Ito – A sci-fi horror manga that is phenomenally messed up, and really highlights the worst of humanity when a crisis hits. Some of the behaviour in this manga was influenced by a malign presence, but after everything that’s gone down with Covid, sorry, you don’t need an evil demon planet to bring out the worst in people.

The Factory Witches of Lowell, by C S Malerich – Answers the question, “What if women turned to witchcraft in order to make sure they could unionize and be treated fairly in the factories?” Also, gay relationships!

The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman – Capping off the Magicians trilogy with a lot of loose ends getting tied up (but not all of them), some subplots that go nowhere (which is kind of typical for this trilogy), and an entire world being destroyed while the nature of gods is debated.

Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire – A standalone novella in the Wayward Children series, and one of my favourites within it. I could read entire novels set in the Hooflands, I really could!

And there you have it! Quick recaps and thoughts of what I reviewed this past year! Will I review as many in 2021? Honestly, who knows? I’d love to, but given the world and my health and whatnot, I’ve stopped trying to make promises like, “I’ll definitely doing a certain amount of something.” I’ll review when I can, which will likely still be around 3-4 books a month on average, but we’ll just have to see how it all goes. I may have slowed down, I may be a zillion times less influential than I used to be, but I’m still in the game for the moment.

I hope your 2020 reading goals went well, and I hope 2021 is even better for us all!

One comment on “2020 Reviews in a Nutshell

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