Tuesday, December 22, 2020

My year in books

This has been a busy reading year for me. At the beginning of the year I made an ambitious list of eighty-one books that I intended to read, some of which had been on my to-read list for several years already. And thenlike every yearI promptly began to read books outside my list. It’s more of a guideline anyway…

For this year’s Goodreads reading challenge, I pledged to read sixty-five books, which was fairly ambitious but achievable, as I’d managed that many the previous year. To my amazement, as I write this, I’ve read ninety-three books, with a couple of more still to come. After I discard nine books that I’ve reviewed without finishing them, I’ve read eighty-four books, which well exceeds my expectations.

If I’d stuck to my list, I would’ve managed to read everything on it. But I didn’t. At all. Of the eighty-one books on it, I read fifteen, which is an all-time low. The only books that I read from it were new publications by my favourite authors like Nalini Singh and J.R. Ward that I’d eagerly waited for. I managed to read only one book that had been on my reading list since the previous year. No wonder my TBR pile keeps growing…

That makes sixty-nine completed books read from outside my list. A whopping nineteen of them are by one author, Lindsay Buroker, one of the most successful self-published authors out there. I picked up by chance The Emperor’s Edge that starts her fantasy series of the same name and read the series back to back, and then continued with her new urban fantasy series Death Before Dragons that begins with Sinister Magic. And I have an e-reader full of her other books as well; sci-fi and romance among them, enough to full my reading list for next year.

Other highlights of my year include, among others, A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones, which starts her new modern mystery series of a small town sheriff Sunshine Vicram; Honor Among Thieves, the first book in The Honors YA sci-fi series by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre; and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, the first book in her The Sixth World post-apocalyptic UF series.

But by far the biggest reason why I read so much outside my reading list is because I joined NetGalley in July. It’s a portal where publishers offer early review copies for regular readers; you can register for free and then start requesting books that you’d like to review. The big publishers favour established reviewers though, so I began by reading and reviewing anything that was available for downloading straight away. I ended up reading quite a lot of books by new self-published authors, and debut authors by smaller publishing houses. To date, I’ve reviewed forty-one books there.

Not everything I read from NetGalley was to my liking, but since a review was expected of me, I ended up reviewing nine books without actually finishing them. Some were poorly written, some were hot messes, and some were just boring. But there were a few that were among the best books I’ve read this year.

The highlights include Phoenix Extravagant, a stand-alone historical fantasy by Yoon Ha Lee (author of The Machineries of Empire sci-fi series) set in imaginary Korea, with magic and automations. I warmly recommend it for fans of the genre. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novic (author of Temeraire alt-history fantasy series) starts The Scholomance YA fantasy series set in a school for mages that tries to kill the students on regular bases. If you live, you graduate. And The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, magical realism/fantasy by one of my favourite authors, V.E. Schwab, that tells the story of Addie who is cursed to live forever and be forgotten by all.

A few times I received a review copy for a second book in a series that I hadn’t read yet and had to read the first one too. Highlights among these include The Blacksmith Queen and its follow-up The Princess Knight by G.A. Aiken that belong to Scarred Earth Saga of fantasy romances with centaurs and dragons. Inspired by them, I also started reading her earlier Dragon Kin series that I’ve also enjoyed. The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch are first two books in The Fetch Phillips Archives, a series by Luke Arnold, Australian actor of Black Sails fame. They’re a combination of UF tropes, mainly a down-in-luck detective, and an imaginative fantasy world where magic has died and all magical creatures are struggling to come to terms with the new reality. I liked the first book slightly better, but both are good.

Other highlights from my NetGalley career so far include The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky, an experimental novel where the main character’s dialogue has been omitted completely; The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal, third book in her excellent Lady Astronaut series; and Hall of Smoke by a debut author H.M. Long, a brilliant stand-alone epic fantasy.

To end this long post, I have to mention the book that began my reading year, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang and The Dragon Republic, the first two books in The Poppy War epic fantasy trilogy set in alternative 18th century China. It’s both exciting and gut-wrenching while experimenting with the genre’s tropes, such as the idea of ‘the chosen one’. Both books left me reeling with the direction they took. Third one, The Burning God, is already out, but I made the mistake of asking it for a Christmas present and now I have to wait. Judging by the comments I’ve read so far, it’ll end me.

These were some of the highlights of my reading year. It was interesting and educating, as each review I wrote for NetGalley required quite a lot of thought, especially the books that I didn’t like. I have over twenty books waiting for me on NetGalley already for next year, so I’ll continue to discover new to me authors. I’ll write more about those in my first post next year where I make, yet again, a list of books that I’ll intend to read. Stay tuned for that. In the meanwhile, I hope you’ll have relaxing holidays and that Santa will bring you a lot of books.

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