Best Books of 2020

2020 was not a particularly brilliant reading year for me, even though I managed to meet the lower reading goal I set for the year, just in time. Apart from the obvious (a global pandemic), this is partly because of the fact that I spent a much larger portion of my year writing. My wordcount for the year was the highest it has ever been in my life (again, global pandemic), and that had a corresponding effect on the amount of books I read.

However, while 2020 was not particularly notable in terms of numbers – 50 books, podcasts, and one fanfic that was long enough I felt it warranted a goodreads mention – it was notable in the fact that I discovered some new insta-buy authors! I don’t have many ‘Best Books of 2020’, but the ones I do have are phenomenal!

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September/October 2020 Wrap-Up

Ughh, how to keep on going during the end of the world? I don’t know about you guys, but I’m struggling for motivation, outside of cats and fanfic.

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And still, the world keeps turning. October 2020 has seen a big change for me: I started my funded PhD at the University of Glasgow! I’ve been looking forward to this for the last few months – let’s be honest, even if this wasn’t a huge milestone in my hopes for a future career, any change in the pandemic routine is a novelty at this point. My project, which focuses on the influence of Dungeons and Dragons on literary fantasy, is something I’m super excited to get stuck into. Everything feels a little daunting right now, but mostly I’m just reading, and getting to know people in my university as well as I can via Zoom.

Other than that, not much has changed for me, as we go into second lockdown in Scotland and I prepare for a socially isolated winter. I’ve been playing Divinity: Original Sin 2, which is a fantasy RPG that is more combat oriented than I’m used to, but I’m really, really enjoying. I also watched Dimension 20: Fantasy High – finally! – and enjoyed the show’s imagining of a fantasy high school, particularly one which teaches adventuring and basically fully sanctioned murder. My favourite episode was definitely the one shot involving the school’s theatre kids.

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Review: Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater

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Ever since a faerie cursed her, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear, embarrassment, or even happiness—a condition which makes her sadly prone to accidental scandal.

Why did I want to read? It’s a regency fantasy romance with fairies and women with no sense of propriety, of course I wanted to read it!

Half A Soul was such an unexpected, delightful find. This 250-page story (is it a novel, or a novella? it doesn’t matter, I read it in half a day!) follows Theodora Ettings, a young woman whose emotions have been muted by a fairy curse she was given as a child. When Dora and her cousin meet the Lord Sorcier, Elias, in London, this talented magician offers her a potential cure.

But what will the cost of finding that cure be? And does Dora even want to be ‘fixed’?

[TW: ableism as a plot point – called out]

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Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

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The Scholomance is a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death. Until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

Why did I want to read? Uprooted and Spinning Silver are two of my favourite books, and I love magical school stories, so this was kind of an insta-buy for me.

I’m not going to lie, and honestly it would be counterproductive to hide this fact: this review changed a lot from what I envisaged upon finishing the book. Truthfully, I loved A Deadly Education, and gobbled it up in a day. I’m always a fan of books which feature an unreliable narrator who is unreliable about themselves, rather than events in the story, and that’s absolutely what Galadriel Higgins is, without a doubt.

I flew through this book uncritically, and it was only as I had time to think about it afterwards that I started to see the flaws. Even upon finishing, there was some things that felt a little off. This book certainly had flaws. I think it suffers in comparison to Naomi Novik’s standalone novels, because rather than a climactic conclusion that I’ve come to expect from her plots, everything felt like it… petered out a little. I left the book simply feeling like it had laid groundwork for whatever came next in the series.

But – more importantly – in the two weeks since I’ve finished this book, discourse around A Deadly Education has blossomed and also brought to light a number of problematic and ultimately tone deaf aspects of its handling of race.

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Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

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Princess Soraya was born with poison in her veins, hidden from the view of the rest of her court. When her brother’s wedding draws closer and a new stranger approaches her in her solitude, she tries to change her fate.

Why did I want to read? Because of pretty book covers and monster girls.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn was my first Melissa Bashardoust book, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect other than the fact I was expecting it to be queer. It didn’t fail me, in that respect. However, while I really loved the plot, I felt there was some issues with its execution. Whether it was constrained by its page count as a standalone YA novel, I felt like the story was rushed in some places where I would’ve liked to take a little more time.

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Review: Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

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Cordelia Carstairs is desperate to become a hero, save her family from ruin, and keep her secret love for James hidden. When disaster strikes the Shadowhunters, James, Cordelia and their friends are plunged into a wild adventure which will reveal dark and incredible powers.

Why did I want to read? Cassandra Clare is my guilty pleasure, and let’s face it, it’s 2020. Everyone needs a comfort read.

Everyone knows the general formula of a Cassie Clare book by now: a ragtag group of queer teens, messy love geometry that’s creating chaos and angst all over the place, and a life or death/end-of-the-world-type situation that somehow no one believes in happening even though they’re kind of all part of the course right now. And a lot of self-referential content – I went into this only having read the Infernal Devices but apparently lots of these characters also turn up in novellas I’ve never looked at so maybe I played myself.

Chain of Gold doesn’t really break the mould in any meaningful way, but this book broke my reading slump so definitely deserves a review. The things I loved about this particular addition to the Shadowhunters universe were:

  1. the Edwardian England setting and the amount of fun clearly had with it
  2. getting to see all of the Herondales again, as The Infernal Devices has always been my favourite trilogy
  3. Cordelia Carstairs.

 

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An August (?) Summer (??) Lockdown (???) Wrap-Up

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The title of this post comes from the fact that I have not been very active in this blog over lockdown! It seems that the last time I did a wrap-up on my blog was in March 2020, once more proving that time, in the year of our lord 2020, is completely meaningless.

However, August is the month I’ve finally managed to start blogging again, so I shall attempt to begin abiding by the notion of month’s once more to give people a summary of life and reading!

 

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Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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After receiving a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside and home of the Doyle family, English immigrants to the region whose fortune was built on silver mining.

Why did I want to read? Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a favourite new author I discovered this year from reading Gods of Jade and Shadow and the premise of this new book sounded delicious.

Silvia Morena-Garcia is now officially one of my favourite authors of 2020, and Mexican Gothic has sky-rocketed into being one my favourite books of all time, ever. This wonderfully decadent gothic novel, rich with symbolism, and creepy as fuck, uses horror – typically in service to fear of the Other – to tackle race, postcolonialism, and eugenic white supremacist discourse. It also makes the transition into full horror – there are speculative, supernatural things at work here! – and gives us a horror heroine who makes a series of pleasingly canny decisions, refuses to compromise herself, and brutally does what she needs to survive!

This is a spoiler free review, apart from trigger warnings, which are: racism, sexism, misogyny, eugenics, incest, attempted rape.

 

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Review: Lord of Stariel by A.J. Lancaster

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Everyone knows who the magical estate of Stariel will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? Will it be the lord’s eldest son, his favourite nephew, or his scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?

Why did I want to readThis book was pitched to me as a kind of magical manor house mystery, which sounded like fun.

The Lord of Stariel was such an unexpected joy to stumble across! This whimsical, light-hearted story hit on so many of my favourite things. Firstly, it’s a gaslamp fantasy, with a turn-of-the-century setting mixing magic and modern technology. Secondly it features a practical, sensible heroine, a magical house, some fun Chosen One bullshit, a friends-to-lovers romance. And finally: FAIRY!! PRINCES!! AND FAIRY COURT INTRIGUE! Just sprinkled in, as far as I can see, for the fun of it.

The author of this book is clearly having a grand old time, and I enjoyed every moment of the journey as well.

 

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