Best of 2020 and the Year in Review

Despite the chaos that was 2020,  I've worked from home for years, so life didn't really change much for me - but my reading habits did. While it may be wrong to judge a book by its cover, format does influence the reading experience for me, and the heavier push towards e-books is partially to blame for the significant increase in did-not-finish and did-not-enjoy reads

Looking ahead, I'm going to scale back the e-ARC requests, restricting myself to titles I desperately need to read RIGHT NOW, and passing on those about which I'm merely curious. At the same time, I'm going to read more from my shelves and dig deeper into the books that have been waiting years to finds their way into my hands.

Also, as you've seen from today's post, I'm making the move back to Blogger from Wordpress, so please be sure to update your bookmarks!


By The Numbers

This year I read 158 books (including a few scheduled for review later this month), which is a whopping 80% increase over last year. Granted, 15 were books I skimmed to completion out of a sense of reviewer's obligation, and there were another 12 DNF titles I didn't count in that total, but that's still a great reversal of last year's decline. I feel like I'm back on track.

Among those books were 25 perfect 5-star reads, a 70% increase over last year, which was itself double the year before. So, yeah, there may have been more DNFs and more disappointments this year, but there were also more books that I loved and lingered over to make up for that.

At a quick glance, my genre shelving is where the biggest changes come in, with Romance/Erotica leaping ahead to take the top spot at 45% (a big increase, but one I fully expected), Fantasy and Urban Fantasy/Horror coming in at 29% each (a surprising drop for Fantasy), and Science Fiction staying steady at 13% (I thought it might grow this year, but this is where many of those DNF titles fell).  Yeah, I know those numbers don't add up, but that's because some books (especially the romance/erotica titles) fall into more than one genre.

Most importantly, the shelves were 62% female-authored this year, which is nearly double last year, and precisely where my reading tastes have been headed. Looking deeper into the social demographics, 61% of my reads were female-fronted (which is just as satisfying to see), with 25% featuring female-led/dominant relationships. Just under 31% featured significant LGBTQIA representation (which is up a few points from last year) and 22% included transgender/nonbinary protagonists.


New Releases I've Yet to Read (But Want To)

The Seared Lands is the third book in The Dragon's Legacy by Deborah A. Wolf, and I really have no excuse for not having read it yet. It keeps nearing the top of the TBR pile, only to get nudged aside for release-day reviews. I loved the first 2 books, so watch for a review soon.

Rhythm of War is the fourth book in The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson and one of my current reads. Since it's a personal read, and not a review title, I'm taking my time with this and enjoying it.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is a review title I should have gotten to last month, and I've had it in hand more than a few times, but I'll blame Sanderson for cutting ahead of the TBR pile. 

   


Biggest Disappointments

I feel like a failure, like I've missed something everybody else hooked onto with Black Sun, but this just didn't work for me. I loved what Rebecca Roanhorse did with gender and sexuality (fantasy needs more of that), but the worldbuilding felt thin and patchy, the religious elements were more grating than intriguing, and I struggled with both the narrative style and the pacing.

While I liked (and even admired) parts of Lauren Beukes' Afterland, as a whole it was largely unsatisfying. As a story of a mother’s journey, it was an okay read, but that's been done (and better) before. As a post-apocalyptic road trip, it had its moments but, again, it's hardly anything new. As a book about sex and gender and the consequences of the manpocalypse, where I felt its greatest potential would be found, I found it sorely lacking.

Again, I feel like I was reading against the grain of popular opinion on The Unspoken Name, but while I didn’t hate it, I also didn’t love it. It was a book that I sort of passively observed, leading me to skim the last 100 pages, with neither the story nor A.K. Larkwood's storytelling leaving any sort of impression on my thoughts or my emotions. 


Biggest Surprises

Prince(ss): A fair(l)y (odd) tale was pitched to me as a high fantasy novel with female leads, queer relationships, and a gender-twist. Sara Gravatt-Wimsatt completely sold me on it, but I still procrastinated in giving it a read, certain it could never live up to expectations. I've never been so happy to be so wrong! This was classic sword-and-sorcery, entirely familiar (in a good, nostalgic way), and yet wholly original, with character flourishes that were a delight, and gentle subversions of fantasy tropes that transformed it.

Forbidden Desire was a pure impulse read, prompted more by the blue-skinned, voluptuous alien sex goddess on the cover than the blurb. Robin Lovett and her Planet of Desire series was completely new to me, but I loved this! As imaginative and exhilarating as the sex was, there was a surprising depth of plot behind it, involving a forbidden romance, a political rebellion, and a spiritual conflict. There’s so much about it to love, from the erotic sci-fi concept, to the romantic characters, to the relaxed sort of gender roles, to the gentle power exchange, and Niva is a character I will not soon forget.

Dominant Business is a book that intrigued me, but I was wholly unprepared for just how deftly J. Scott danced around very real questions of sexuality and consent, transforming what could have been an exploitative, triggering mess into something both empowering and erotically charged. Underlying Ruby’s submissive journey is a romance that is no less powerful for being so unorthodox, and that is what made this so memorable for me.


Best Sequels of the Year

Middle books usually aren't my thing, but Warrior Rising, the second book of The Womara Series by J.L. Nicely, was superb. Like the first book, this was once again an epic fantasy about female empowerment but, more than that, it was also a moving piece of fiction about female identity and women’s agency. This volume advanced all the core plot threads while throwing a few surprises at the reader in the final chapters, making The Ascendancy of Warriors a must-read.

A Chorus of Dragons has been one 5-star read after another, and The Memory of Souls was no different. Jenn Lyons' third book was insane, chaotic, and often confusing – but wonderfully so. It was a beautiful mess of characters and relationships that defies either convention or description. The different narrative voices have nuances and perspectives that alter the story, there are questions of who actually wrote what, and the footnotes are a reading experience in and of themselves.

The final volume of The Nicci Chronicles, and perhaps the final saga we'll see from Terry Goodkind (unless there are finished tiles to be posthumously published), Heart of Black Ice had a weight of significance to it, a looming sense of things coming to an end, doing a fantastic job of wrapping up all the storylines. Goodkind showed no hesitation in killing off key characters, often in ways we don’t see coming, and far sooner than we might have expected, and despite a few little things that nagged at me, this was a solid read that more than delivered on what I was hoping for.


Best Books of the Year

While The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows was a bit of a surprise (I feared there was no way I would enjoy beekeeping as much as astronomy) and something of a loose sequel (being the second Feminine Pursuits book), it needs to be celebrated as my most delightful read of the read. What Olivia Waite crafted here works equally well as a women-loving-women romance, a work of historical fiction, and a character study. I was fascinated by every aspect of it, eager to see where it would go next, and having to wait for the spark of passion to take flame just made the fire between Agatha and Penelope burn that much hotter. So, so, so very good!

Docile was something of a surprise as well, a book I kicked myself to waiting so long to read, but K.M. Szpara's book was utterly amazing and, by far, my most fascinating read of the year. It's a book that has a lot to say about politics, economics, society, family, and kink . . . about slavery, consent, and the blurry, ever-moving line between the two. It was erotic and intense, which I expected, but emotional and thought-provoking in ways that blew me away. As someone who enjoys the power exchange, who is intimately familiar with the mindset of a submissive, it hit home for me in ways it may not for other readers. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Stealing Thunder was a book I didn’t just want to be good, I needed to be good, to set the example, and to open the shelves for more books like it. I put some pretty heavy expectations on Alina Boyden, but she delivered a book I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life to read. It's take on gender and the portrayal of transgender lives was exquisite, the world-building was wonderful, and the romance was absolutely delightful. Razia's progression from daring scenes of thievery, to tense scenes of politics and strategy, to exhilarating scenes of battle, to heart-bursting scenes of romance was everything I wanted in this book and its sequel, Gifting Fire, is my most anticipated read of the new year.

A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer is a bonus entry, a 2005 release I plucked from the shelves and fell in love with. It's a reverse regency, alternate history, female-led romance that was so good, that so utterly consumed me, it left me with a book hangover so profound that I couldn’t even look at another book for days. More than just a romance, it's also a fantastic fantasy novel full of daring rescues, dastardly plots, political machinations, clever espionage, and pitched battles on land and upon the waters of the canal. Aside from the gender roles being flipped, it’s precisely the kind of swashbuckling adventure that you’d expect from the genre, and what makes it work is the sincerity with which Spencer treats the material, flipping the gender roles but then allowing the story to continue just as it would in a more traditional tale. This is a book I will reread until the binding wears out!

Comments

  1. Your 2020 in books ended up pretty strong, glad to hear you discovered some great reads and also read sequels that lived up to their predecessors. I'll be putting up my "best of" post next week, hoping to squeeze a few more reading days out of the year to knock more off my tbr!

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