Remember when it was 2019 and I posted things on time? Anyway. Exam season still hasn’t ended, but I managed to put together a version of this I was ok with, so here we go.
Despite being late, I still haven’t managed to find enough favorites to fill all questions with answers that are as satisfying to me as last year’s. I haven’t even had a bad reading year, not really; it’s just that most of what I read has been… good. I gave so many four stars compared to previous years.
1: Best book you’ve read so far this year:
I’d usually use this spot for novels, but this has been the year of nonfiction, and there’s no doubt that the best book I’ve read so far this year is In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. It’s a memoir about domestic abuse in a relationship between two women written in a very nontraditional format – the author looks at her own experience through archetypes, literary tropes and genre expectations – and it has so much to say about the way homophobia shapes abuse survivors’ experiences, and so many other things as well. I don’t think anything I can say can do this book justice, and so I’ll tell you to read it if you can. If what’s holding you back isn’t the heavy subject matter but the fact that you’ve barely read nonfiction/memoirs before and don’t know what to expect from one, I can say that was the case for me too.
2: Best sequel you’ve read so far this year:
Without a doubt, The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty, sequel to The City of Brass. It took the politics, intrigue, and pain to a whole new level – but it’s the complex, tangled web of character relationships that keeps this series alive, and this book started making use of its full potential. I can’t wait for the third book to follow the consequences even more. TKoC’s ending was explosive in so many ways. (And to think I almost didn’t continue the series. I have so many questions for past!Acqua)
3: A new release you haven’t read yet but really want to:
Surprisingly, I think I kept up with the new releases I was interested in pretty well! That was probably “helped” by some of them being pushed back. Anyway, apart from the obvious – it being that I still need to read the newly-released The Empire of Gold and definitely intend to do that before the end of the year – I’m looking forward to the recently-released The Damned by Renée Ahdieh, sequel to one of my favorite books of last year (The Beautiful), and to A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (loved the audiobook sample). My real problem is older backlist, I have so many books from last year I still want to read and haven’t even tried.
4: Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:
This answer is actually a lie! Or, incomplete; three of my most anticipated releases I’ve already included in an upcoming “5 star predictions” post and didn’t want to be repetitive, so they’re not here. Here, I’m going to talk about Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, a West African-inspired YA fantasy novel I’ve heard enough wonderful things about to be curious but not enough to be intimidated in any way by the hype (*hides from a stack of hyped YA fantasy avoided for exactly that reasons, the main one being King of Scars*); Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker aka Seanan McGuire, a book I know nothing about apart from its… meta ties to the alchemical masterpiece that was Middlegame; and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, sequel to one of the best and most unusual novels I’ve read this year.
5: Biggest disappointment:
It’s only by coincidence that The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon didn’t end up in a “5 star predictions” post. As it turns out, the bad reviews were right. This was described as “old-school fantasy, but make it diverse”, but it is only like old-school fantasy if you take away what made it feel special. That’s mostly nostalgia, let’s be honest; however, the unhurried, wandering nature had its own merits in that kind of books, and despite its length, The Priory of the Orange Tree is always in a hurry. It did keep all the worst parts of old-school fantasy though, the ones I’m glad we left behind years ago – the stiff writing style, the good vs. evil framing that was common back in the day, the way some of these old fantasy books relied on coincidences – while flattening everything as much as possible to fit it into a standalone. There’s no complexity; it was epic only in length. The only thing this book has going for it is the diversity, and I didn’t even like what it did with queerness and worldbuilding (more details in the review).
6: Biggest Surprise:
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders wasn’t even on my TBR. I hadn’t liked anything I tried by this author before, and this novel didn’t even have a great average rating on
the hellsite goodreads. Then I decided to challenge myself to read all the Hugo finalists for best novel, and The City in the Middle of the Night ended up being my favorite novel I’ve read so far this year. The combination of layered worldbuilding full of cutting political and social commentary, the dreamlike atmosphere, and themes of unrequited queer love made it a stunning and unforgettable story. For a different reader, it might feel removed and anticlimatic; for me, it was perfect. (Also, if something is set on a tidally locked planet I automatically Love It. That’s just how it is.)
7: Favorite New Author (Debut or New To You):
This is always a difficult question because I never know whether an author is a favorite until I read multiple books of theirs, and that’s not something that can happen easily with debuts. Anyway, a new debut author I definitely want to read more from is Nghi Vo, author of The Empress of Salt and Fortune, a quiet, introspective, atmospheric novella even though it’s technically about toppling emperors (and now I can’t wait for the sequel); a new-to-me author who isn’t a debut is C.S.E. Cooney, who wrote the lovely and weird Desdemona and the Deep, probably the best fae book (whimsical, queer, very unromantic, with a dash of disturbing: as it should be!) we will ever get.
8: Newest Fictional Crush:
I didn’t really have one, but the closest thing I can currently think of is Parvaneh from Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. What could ever be better than a morally questionable immortal moth girlfriend?
9: Newest Favorite Character:
I don’t have a new all-time favorite character this year – as I said before, everything I read in 2020 was mostly good but there were surprisingly few standouts, and this is true across categories. I’m going to answer Felix Love from Felix Ever After, mostly because he surprised me: I don’t feel strongly about characters in contemporary the way I do in SFF. Felix was memorable in the way 90% of YA contemporary characters are not – he leapt off the page, and now that it’s been more than a month, I still think about him. There’s enough of a difference between my experience with this book and most of this genre that now, while I’m reading another contemporary that happens to be Just Perfectly Fine, I’m finding the characterization dull and mediocre, because the last contemporary I read was Felix Ever After and this just can’t compare.
10: A book that made you cry:
A discovery of the year is that while I rarely cry because of fiction, everything is different with nonfiction. I think the one that made me cry the most is All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. For many reasons, but mostly these three:
- the way it talked about the effect of gender roles on small children
- the way it talked about extended family in the context of queerness
- the way it talked about coming out in real life vs. the narratives we’re sold
I had very different experiences with these things than the author, and yet close enough for it to seriously hurt (in a good way). These aren’t topics I often find in the [fictional] books I read, both because of the age ranges I prioritize and because of the topics that are prioritized by publishing (white American gatekeeping says that romance is the most interesting and relatable part of the teen experience, and you’re lucky if a YA book talks about family at all, much less the extended one. Support systems and one’s complicated relationship with them are “boring” apparently)
11: A book that made you happy:
Gideon the Ninth nails a certain part of my sense of humor perfectly. I’m… not that interested in clever witty banter in most situations, but when it comes to deliberately horrible puns? Keep throwing them at me, thank you. And I also found Phoenix Extravagant really funny, because the main character Jebi was a walking disaster and the mecha dragon, a pacifist weapon of mass destruction, was not.
12: Favorite adaptation:
I’ve only watched one, the Netflix show The Ghost Bride, so I guess that’s the answer. It was entertaining and I did like it, but as with 90% of the things I watch on a screen, I don’t think about it often.
13: Favorite post you’ve written:
Definitely On Rules and Magic Systems. I’m really proud of it, even though I’m not sure I was able to convey my point the way I wanted – and there was a bigger point to be made as well, mostly about the ways gatekeeping manifests itself through writing advice.
14: Most beautiful book you bought or received so far this year:
I honestly wasn’t a fan of this cover of The City in the Middle of the Night, and when it comes to the pictures on the internet I’m still not, but in person… it’s probably the prettiest book I own? It looks like a special edition of a classic. I love it.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me was in last year’s post too, but this time I actually bought a translated physical copy (randomly found it in a bookstore, I didn’t even know it existed!) so it’s here again and just as pretty as I thought. Then, of course, Monstress Vol. 4, which finally arrived this year in my country as well.
15. A book you want to read before the end of the year:
This question is kind of a joke, because every single time I name at least a book I don’t even try to read before the end of the year. To try something easier than three fantasy tomes like last year, I’m going to say a novella – Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor, as I’ve started rereading the series this year – as well as two YA novels, Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (which I will remove from my TBR if I don’t get to it by the end of the year) and The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, which I recently found in my local bookstore when I didn’t even know it had been translated (see a trend? Will never make sense of the Italian publishing world).
Have you read or want to read any of these?