Category Archives: Reading Recaps

May Reading Wrap-Up

I read quite a bit in May (not quite as much as April, my most prolific reading month so far this year, but still a lot) and found a new 5-star read as well as a favorite new fantasy book. I’m quite late with my wrap-up again, as I’ve not been keeping up with reviews very well, but better late than never!

Stats:

Total books read: 11

ARCs/review copies: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 8

2022 releases: 6

Of This New WorldThe Donut Trap by Julie TieuThe Mask of Mirrors by M.A. CarrickTrue Biz by Sara NovićWicked Beauty by Katee RobertNever Have I Ever by Isabel YapI Kissed Shara WheelerChef's Kiss by T.J. AlexanderThe Silvered Serpents by Roshani ChokshiDelilah Green Doesn't Care (Bright Falls, #1)Always Practice Safe Hex by Juliette Cross

Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap (5 stars) – a gorgeously written collection featuring many stories inspired by Filipino mythology. Others involve futuristic elements or are supernatural takes on contemporary issues; all resonate with meaning and are grounded by characters despite their supernatural or otherworldly elements. Highly recommend for fans of fabulist collections.

The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick (4.5 stars) – This book made me question why I haven’t been picking up chunky fantasy books as much in the past few years. It’s a complex, well-written fantasy book told in multiple perspectives and with plenty of mysterious undercurrents. Our main protagonist Ren is attempting to pass herself off as a long-lost relative of a noble family in the city of Nadezra in order to escape the poverty she and her sister have faced all of their lives, and she soon finds herself embroiled in various schemes and mysteries in a city where everyone has an agenda. It has a wide cast of morally gray characters, including a smuggler trying to go at least somewhat legitimate, a mysterious vigilante fighting the injustice the nobility wreaks on non-nobles, and a member of law enforcement out for revenge for his brother’s death. I was equally intrigued by all of the viewpoint characters, and after that ending I’m extremely curious to see what happens in the next book.

True Biz by Sara Novic (4 stars) – I learned a lot about deafness and the deaf community from True Biz, and I hope it’s a book that’s widely read for that reason. I did have some structural and plot-related quibbles: I thought it could have had one less perspective than the three it had, the ending was a bit anticlimactic, and I thought that the plot often focused in less interesting places. That being said, it was an impactful and informative read, which vastly outweighed its less positive aspects.

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake (4 stars) -I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews of this book from readers who are bothered by its “unlikable” protagonist, Delilah, a photographer who is at times self-absorbed, petty, and purposely aggravating. However, as a self-identified unlikable protagonist, I really liked reading about her. I love well-rounded characters with flaws, and Delilah’s flaws had a clear narrative purpose: she spends a large part of the story coming to grips with her childhood grief and neglectful upbringing by her surviving step-parent. Her love interest Claire is more mature and well-adjusted, but I thought that this brought a great tension and contrast to their relationship. I also really enjoyed the small-town setting, tight-knit friend group, and tumultuous sister relationship in this book, which perfectly sets up its sequel. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of Blake’s adult contemporary romance series when it’s released, but I’d also highly recommend her YA contemporary Girl Made of Stars for those who haven’t read it yet. Both would be great June reads for anyone looking for Pride reading recs!

The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu (4 stars) (review copy) – I really enjoyed this underrated, family-focused contemporary romance featuring a millennial protagonist attempting to figure out her path in life while working at her family’s struggling donut shop. Our main character Jasmine is a bit adrift when the novel begins, but starts to find her footing when she attempts to use social media to boost the family business, and discovers love and a new career prospect along the way. I think some readers may have struggled with the fact that although a romance, it focuses just as much as not more on Jasmine’s career prospects and family relationships as it does its romantic ones, but that’s something I enjoy as long as it’s done well. The Donut Trap‘s characters are all flawed in believable ways, and I rooted them because of rather than in spite of their imperfections. I think that this book would work for contemporary readers as well as romance readers for that reason.

I received a free copy of The Donut Trap from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert (4 stars) (eARC) – I continue to love Katee Robert’s romantic Greek mythology-inspired Dark Olympus series; although my favorite book so far has been the second one, Electric Idol, I still enjoyed this third installment featuring an M/M/F relationship. Helen, daughter of the prominent Kasios family whose older brother has recently assumed the role of Zeus, is tired of being relegated to just a pretty face or a prize to be won. When a contest to name the next Ares approaches, and Helen is ordered to marry the winner, she instead enters the contest to fight for the title and prove herself worthy of a seat at the table. Her efforts are complicated by Achilles and Patroclus, a couple who are both fascinated by Helen, but who are also determined to win the title of Ares for Achilles. The three develop a relationship amidst the contest, with the power structure of Olympus hanging in the balance.

I’d say that Wicked Beauty was likely the most plot-heavy installment in the Dark Olympus series so far, as it revolves around a three-stage competition with high stakes. The action sequences surrounding the contest were really fun to read, and we also got to meet a bunch of new side characters who are set to appear in future books (I’m most excited for Atalanta; she was always a favorite of mine from mythology) as well as the threat of new villains appearing from outside the Thirteen. Although the romance at times took a backseat to the action, I still enjoyed the development of a relationship between the couple of Achilles and Patroclus with Helen; I think it’s difficult to do that without making it seem like a third person is intruding on a happy couple, but Katee Robert handles it well. I’ll keep looking forward to future books in this series to be released, and I can’t wait to read more.

I received an eARC of Wicked Beauty from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Always Practice Safe Hex by Juliette Cross (4 stars) – I’ve enjoyed every book in Cross’s Stay a Spell series, which is comprised of contemporary paranormal romances following a group of witch sisters who run the supernatural community in New Orleans. This fourth installment follows influencer witch Livvy and her enemies-to-lovers romance with Gareth, one of the mysterious grim reapers we’ve only seen bits about in previous books. I thought that Livvy and Gareth had great chemistry, and I enjoyed learning more about the grims’ community and abilities. I’m sad that there are only 2 more books left in this series!

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (3.5 stars) – I had mixed feelings about McQuiston’s first YA book; like most of the book community, I absolutely loved Red, White, and Royal Blue and enjoyed One Last Stop a bit less; I’d say that Shara Wheeler is my least favorite McQuiston so far. That’s not to say that it’s a bad book–I think it has a lot of great inclusive messages for teens, its side characters are just as compelling (if not more so) than the main couple, and I thought that its ending was really well done. That being said, this did read a bit young for me (it is YA, but I’d say that the immaturity of its main characters would make it appeal more to a younger YA audience) and a lot of the characters’ actions were a bit too unbelievable for me to be fully on board.

Of This New World by Allegra Hyde (3 stars) – This short story collection was the last book I finished during Dewey’s 24-hour readathon (the reason it’s in my May wrap-up rather than April is that I finished it after midnight, so technically on May 1st) and unfortunately was a disappointment. I like picking up books from indie publishers, and I love short stories, so I wanted to love this collection centered around the concept of different utopias; unfortunately, none of the stories were very strong or impactful for me, nor very memorable.

Chef’s Kiss by TJ Alexander (3 stars) – I wanted to love this cooking-inspired contemporary romance, as that is becoming a favorite subgenre for me, but unfortunately I found the actions and self-centered focus of the viewpoint character Simone too distracting from the otherwise fun story. I think this romance would have benefited a lot from being told in dual perspectives, as its most compelling character, kitchen director and aspiring brewer Ray, never gets to speak for themself. I liked the book’s ending and a lot of aspects of the plot, but I needed more maturity and depth from the viewpoint character and another perspective to make the book fully work.

The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi (3 stars) – A YA fantasy sequel that was sometimes fun, but at other times felt too simplistic in plot to compensate for the great characters and more interesting setup. I enjoyed the previous book The Gilded Wolves more, and I don’t think I’ll be picking up the final book in this trilogy.

April Reading Wrap-Up!

 

April was my most prolific reading month so far this year, thanks mainly to Dewey’s 24-hour readathon. There were no full 5-star reads this month, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy most of what I read. Let’s get into it!

Stats

Total books read: 13(!)

ARCs/review copies: 2

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 9

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate MascarenhasWild and Wicked Things by Francesca MayHook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa BaileyMilk Fed by Melissa BroderBombshell by Sarah MacLeanBelow Zero by Ali HazelwoodFirekeeper's Daughter by Angeline BoulleySadie on a PlateThe Past Is Red by Catherynne M. ValenteOnly a Monster by Vanessa LenHeartstopper: Volume One (Heartstopper, #1)Boyfriend Material by Alexis HallI Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (4.5 stars) – I continue to be a huge Valente fan; she’s yet to disappoint me. For some reason, I went into this novella with lower expectations than I have with her novels, but I shouldn’t have worried; it’s just as intricate and creative as her full-length works tend to be. It’s a dark story with a lighter tone, which provides an interesting contrast throughout, and it’s full of themes of environmentalism and wealth inequality while also turning the nature of optimism vs. pessimism on its head. It’s a good introduction to Valente and also a great readathon pick.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (re-read) (4.5 stars) – I enjoyed this sweet, wonderful, big-hearted contemporary romance just as much the second time as I did the first time. Its sequel, Husband Material, comes out this summer, and I wanted to refresh myself on the characters before I picked it up.

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder (4 stars) – I really enjoyed my first experience with Melissa Broder’s writing. As a not-religious Jewish woman with a history of a difficult relationship with food, there were a lot of elements of the main character that I identified with, and I thought that her depiction of disordered eating (while it might be very triggering for some to read) was done very well. I also liked the stylistic choices of short chapters and straightforward, declarative sentences, although I could have gone without some of the descriptions she chose to include. I hope to soon pick up The Pisces as well, which has sat on my TBR shelf for an embarrassingly long period of time.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (4 stars) – My relationship with YA books is a rocky one lately, but this one had so many glowing reviews that I had to pick it up. I’d say that it’s definitely geared towards more mature YA readers, as it deals with a lot of really difficult topics, and I found it to be well-written and grounded in the characterization of its protagonist, Daunis, who is one of the most well-rounded YA heroines I think I’ve ever read about. I learned a lot while reading it, and though I don’t think the plot is without its flaws, it was still a strong read for me.

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May (4 stars) – Wild and Wicked Things is a darkly atmospheric historical fantasy set on a fictional island off the coast of post-WWI England, in an alternate history where magic has recently been banned after its less than savory aspects were put on display during the war. Our protagonist Annie finds herself on Crow Island for the summer after the death of her estranged father, ostensibly to settle his estate, but finds herself embroiled in the island’s undercurrents of illegal magic. She reunites with a childhood friend who mysteriously left home for Crow Island a year earlier, and also meets her intriguing next-door neighbor, Emmeline, whose reputation of hosting wild, witchcraft-infused parties precedes her.

I’ve recently gotten a lot more interested in historical fantasy, and Wild and Wicked Things was a great example of how to infuse fantastical elements in ways that emphasize the actual tones of an era, like underscoring the horrors of World War I and compounding the excesses of wild 1920s parties. Wild and Wicked Things shines in its foreboding tone and depictions of magic, personified by Emmeline and her siblings Nathan and Isobel; their characters were well-crafted yet made the reader want to see more of them every time they left the page. I found protagonist Annie’s character to be less compelling, although she does serve as a naive window into a new world for the reader. I thought that the book’s mysterious undercurrents and flashbacks were well done, but it did feel overly long and dragged at times that could have been more concise.

I received an eARC of Wild and Wicked Things from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (4 stars) – I’m not much of a mystery reader, but I do like when mystery is ensconced inside of another genre, like science fiction in this case. This is an interesting alternate history SF murder mystery with an almost entirely female cast of characters that takes on the history of unjust treatment towards people, especially women, with mental illnesses as one of its core themes. The worldbuilding and treatment of time travel and in particular the insular culture of time travelers was very interesting, but I thought there were too many perspective shifts, which muddled the story a bit.

Bombshell by Sarah MacLean (4 stars) – Bombshell by Sarah MacLean is a great example of the fact that sometimes you need to give an author you’re not sure about a second chance!

A few years ago, I decided to give historical romance a try by picking up A Scot in the Dark, which I’d heard recommended on a podcast. And…it really didn’t work for me. (I think not vibing with the audio narrator may have been a contributing factor.) But then I started hearing about Bombshell, which centers around a friend group that’s part of a feminist organization secretly protecting and getting revenge for women in Regency London, and I was intrigued enough to try this author again. I’m so glad I did–Sesily is a mature heroine (she’s 30! usually unheard of in historicals) who owns her sexuality and harbors a deep commitment to helping others. Her love interest Caleb is (gasp!) an American she’s had a thing for for awhile, but that didn’t bother me the way it sometimes can in books. I’m really looking forward to more in this series as well, since Sesily’s three best friends are all strong and interesting characters in their own right.

I received a free copy of Bombshell from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer (4 stars) – The concept of this poetry collection–found poems made using hate-filled DMs, political speeches, and in a few cases fan letters–is fantastic, as is the way Baer manages to shift the messages of the original texts using their own words.

Sadie on a Plate by Amanda Elliot (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this delightful contemporary romance, and I feel like it deserves more attention than it’s been getting. If you, like me, are a Top Chef fan (my all-time favorites are Stephanie Izard, whose restaurants I’ve been lucky enough to eat at and were PHENOMENAL, and Melissa King) then you really need to check this one out. The cooking competition central to the story is very closely based on Top Chef, and at times reading it was almost like watching an episode. As a Jewish chick myself, I also really liked that our main character Sadie’s culinary perspective was modern spins on traditional Jewish dishes. At first I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the love-interest-as-judge premise, but I think the execution really worked, and I liked Sadie’s friendships with her fellow contestants just as much as the romance. Recommend to fans of both Top Chef and contemporary romance, and I thought the audio was very well done!

Only a Monster by Vanessa Len (3.5 stars) – Mixed feelings about this hyped YA fantasy new release. It was a very fast read, which worked well for Dewey’s 24-Hour readathon, but it never quite delved deeply enough into its themes or characters for me. I’d say that I liked it but didn’t love it; I’m not sure whether or not I’ll reach for the sequel when it comes out.

Heartstopper, Vol 1 by Alice Oseman (3.5 stars) – After watching the adorable Netflix adaptation of this graphic novel, I wanted to check out the source material, which was also very cute. Personally, I actually liked the show version a lot better, and would highly recommend it!

Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey (3 stars) – Although I enjoyed this book’s plot and romance more than the previous installment in this series, It Happened One Summer, I continue to take issue with Tessa Bailey’s outdated use of gendered language and stereotypes. I’d really like to see this author take into account that being tall/short/big/small does not make a person more masculine or feminine, and that people outside the gender binary exist as well. Outside of that not insignificant issue, this was a fun read for the most part, with a likable protagonist in Hannah, but it was frustrating that she was doing 99% of the work in the relationship and that this was never adequately reciprocated or addressed.

Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood (3 stars) – I continue to be less than thrilled with this novella audiobook series. I thought that the Arctic setting could add an interesting dimension to this last installment, but it was too similar to and suffered from the same issues as the previous two novellas.

March Reading Wrap-Up

Unfortunately, March wasn’t my favorite reading month, although I did still find several books I enjoyed (including a new 5-star read!). Several books I chose were a bit disappointing (or more than a bit, in the case of one in particular). Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

Novellas: 3

Stone Heart by Katee RobertAssembly by Natasha BrownAll of Us Villains by Amanda FoodyAll's Well by Mona AwadThe Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison BechdelOur Favorite Songs by Anita KellyThe Verifiers by Jane PekHouse of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. MaasThe Cult of We by Eliot BrownStuck with You by Ali Hazelwood

All’s Well by Mona Awad (5 stars) – This Shakespeare-infused fever dream reminded me of everything I love about Mona Awad and her creative, entrancing writing. (A reminder: she wrote my FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME, Bunny!) I think that anyone who loved this book will also really enjoy Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, and vice versa, as both use Shakespeare’s works in twisted and modernized ways, but All’s Well is also completely unique. On its surface, it’s about Miranda, a theater professor experiencing chronic pain after a tragic fall off of a stage, who miraculously finds a respite after encountering three mysterious men in a bar; it’s infused with aspects of All’s Well That Ends Well, the play that Miranda insists on her students performing despite their objections, as well as Macbeth, the play that the students actually want to perform. It’s tricky and fabulist, and at times reminded me of cautionary fairy tales. It also extensively discusses the invisibility of chronic pain as well as the reluctance of people to believe women’s pain in general, while subverting all expectations about where the story is going. I’ll keep picking up anything this author writes.

Assembly by Natasha Brown (4 stars) – The writing in this novella is incredible, as is its characterization and discussions surrounding racism. It would have been a 5-star read for me had it not been for one aspect of the plot that I, as a health care provider, can’t get behind, even as a symbolic literary choice meant to emphasize the exhaustion the main character is facing from systemic racism.

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman (4 stars) – This YA fantasy was a surprise hit for me! I haven’t seen many reviews, let alone many positive ones, but I’m here to tell you that this book is dark and underrated fun. The town of Ilvernath hosts a secret, deadly competition every twenty years between its powerful magical families, with the prize being control of a rare type of magic that’s disappeared from everywhere else. This year, however, the secret’s out–an anonymous author has released a tell-all depicting the entire blood-soaked history of the town’s tournament, which involves a teenage representative of each magical family battling each other with spellwork until there’s only one champion left standing. So now journalists and paparazzi have flooded Ilvernath, lending even more pressure and weight to this year’s contest and its unique champions. It’s told in four different perspectives, with great audio narration, and it’s a suspenseful ride full of magic, alliances, betrayal, and a potential enemies-to-lovers romance.

Our Favorite Songs by Anita Kelly (4 stars) – I continued to love Anita Kelly’s sweet, big-hearted, romantic writing with this second installment of their Moonlighters novella series, which is centered around a queer karaoke bar. This one is sort of an enemies-to-lovers story; the protagonists knew each other in high school but each had misinterpreted the other’s behavior, and when they meet again as adults they reconnect in a new way. I’m continually impressed with how fully Anita Kelly develops characters in such a short format, and makes their romances feel complete yet concise.

The Verifiers by Jane Pek (3.5 stars) – I’m very hit-or-miss with mysteries, rarely finding ones I vibe with, and although it did drag at times, I overall enjoyed modern-day techno-mystery The Verifiers. It’s set around the world of online dating, but my favorite aspect was its likable heroine, an avid mystery reader who jumps into investigating the death of a client at her company, and the dynamics surrounding her family.

Stuck With You by Ali Hazelwood (3.5 stars) – I felt similarly about this second book in Hazelwood’s Steminist novella trilogy compared to the previous installment, with the caveat that I think I enjoyed it slightly more? I’m beginning to notice repetitiveness in Hazelwood’s writing style and characterizations; I absolutely loved The Love Hypothesis, but I feel like the protagonists of its two follow-up novellas are essentially the same as in that novel. It was still a fun audiobook, but I’m lowering my expectations for the trilogy’s third installment and, unfortunately, her new novel that comes out this summer.

The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell (3 stars) – After listening to the WeCrashed podcast and watching Hulu’s WeWork documentary, I still had questions and interest in the failure of this once-lauded startup company. Parts of this book were interesting, but parts dragged, and I felt like it focused overmuch on numbers rather than telling a story. However, I’m still interested in the story enough to watch the scripted WeCrashed show that’s coming out this month.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel (3 stars) – I haven’t read a graphic novel in several years, and I picked this one up because Alison Bechdel was doing a speaking event in my city. Unfortunately, I missed her event, and also unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of this memoir that used the author’s fitness journey to discuss her developing relationship with different philosophies. It didn’t work for me as well as her other graphic memoir Fun Home, feeling too didactic and self-aware for my personal taste.

Stone Heart by Katee Robert (3 stars) – I loved the first two books in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series, Neon Gods and Electric Idol, but unfortunately this prequel novella featuring an instalove romance between Medusa and Calypso lacked enough plot and character development for me to fully get on board. I’m still really looking forward to the next book in the series, Wicked Beauty, which I’ve preordered.

House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas (2 stars) – Coming from someone who really enjoyed House of Earth and Blood, this book is without a doubt my most disappointing read so far in 2022. Here is my succinct, fairly spoiler-free pro/con breakdown of why.

Pros:
-I like the worldbuilding and the wide variety of magical creatures
-A lot of the side characters are interesting/compelling

Cons:
-Please stop using the word alphahole
-I really really hate that our male lead is an ANGEL who wears a BACKWARDS BASEBALL CAP
-The plot in this one is really, really rough. It doesn’t make sense, it’s repetitive, and I don’t understand the point of the vast majority of it.
-I really don’t like the central romance
-It’s really not interesting when every single character is the most powerful person ever
-I liked Bryce so much less in this book
-The ending is truly terrible
-The most interesting (to me) characters are either dead or not really even in this book
-If so much of the plot hinges on Danika, she really shouldn’t have died so early in book 1, because it makes no sense that she hid everything about herself from someone she had such a deep bond with
-This book could have been better in SO MANY WAYS that reading it was incredibly frustrating.

 

 

2021: Reading Year in Review + Stats

This post is extremely late, but we’re going to ignore that fact because at least it’s done!

Essentially, even though we’re well into 2022, I still wanted to do my annual look back at my reading from the past year by the numbers. These stats offer a comparison point for past and future reading years, and I always find them interesting, even if this post maybe isn’t as fun for me to create as my favorite books of 2021 post.

Let’s do this thing.

Total books read: 120

Total pages read: 38,727

Average rating: 3.9 stars

Shortest book read: Writing into the Wound by Roxane Gay (39 pages)

Longest book read: Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth (640 pages)

Average book length: 322 pages

Most popular book I read this year (according to Goodreads): A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (1,625,561 other readers)

Least popular book I read this year (according to Goodreads): How the Blessed Live by Susannah M. Smith (633 other readers)

Highest average rating on Goodreads: White Rage by Carol Anderson, 4.56 stars

 

Author breakdown by gender

 

Adult vs. YA

 

Format

 

Release Year

 

Longest books read in 2021:

Winter’s Orbit 448 pages
Black Sun 454 pages
Legendborn 512 pages
Harrow the Ninth 512 pages
Plain Bad Heroines 617 pages

Feb Reading Wrap-Up

My Feb reading involved several novellas, a healthy dose of romance, several scifi selections, and a new favorite for the year. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 10

Novellas: 3

ARCs/review copies: 2

Audiobooks: 3

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen CollinsWahala by Nikki MayUnder One Roof by Ali HazelwoodPortrait of a Scotsman by Evie DunmoreLight from Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiMaking Up by Lucy ParkerSing Anyway by Anita KellyGet It Right (Love at Knockdown, #1)How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia NagamatsuSkye Falling by Mia McKenzie

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (5 stars) – I don’t always find book blurbs or comparison titles to be terribly accurate, but whoever decided to market Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki as Becky Chambers meets Good Omens knew what they were doing. This book combines the feelings of Chambers’ big-hearted scifi with the irreverent humor and unconventional demonic elements of Good Omens, but it also keeps itself grounded with a strong contemporary fiction storyline. Light From Uncommon Stars has so much that I look for in a book: it’s unique, creative, written in a way that’s engaging and immersive, and it has a lot of heart, anchored in its young trans violinist prodigy protagonist, Katrina. There’s a fantastical element–Katrina’s violin teacher is seeking to collect her soul–and scifi as well–the neighborhood donut shop is run by a family of intergalactic refugees–but the story still feels so grounded with emotion. It’s an endlessly imaginative book that’s also full of feelings, which is exactly what I want in a great read, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (4.5 stars) – One of my reading goals for 2022 is to read more short story collections than I did last year, since they’re one of my favorite types of books to read. I’m already ahead of schedule after reading My Monticello last month (which is my favorite book I’ve read this year so far!) and now just having finished Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins, which I also ended up loving. The stories in this collection were written decades ago but not published as a collection until 2016. They’re thoughtful and poignant, with themes involving racism, colorism, and complex family and relationship dynamics present throughout. It’s a very short but impactful collection, and some of the stories actually gave me goosebumps. I did find some stories much stronger than others, which is why this was a 4.5 star read for me, and I’d highly recommend it.

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu (4 stars) – It’s understandably taken me awhile to feel mentally prepared to read a book with any kind of post-apocalyptic or dystopian setting, let alone one featuring a pandemic. How High We Go in the Dark was my first return to this kind of literature, and it’s a take that I haven’t quite seen before. It’s told in a series of interconnected stories, many of which feature recurring characters and themes, that span a fairly contemporary setting during the awakening of what will come to be called the Arctic Plague to far in the future. For these reasons, I’ve seen it compared to Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven; I’d also throw in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for a better idea of its structure. As a fan of short story collections, I liked that the story was told this way, but this also of course necessitates that some stories and characters will be more successful than others. The book opens with a beautifully written section that seamlessly combines climate change, family ties, and archaeology, and if every section had been like that one, this would have been a five-star read for me; unfortunately, I didn’t find every story to work quite as well. I think some readers may still be wary of picking up pandemic-related books, and if so, I’d definitely give this one a pass–although not every story is set during the Arctic Plague, many are, and some can be difficult emotionally. If this doesn’t bother you, I think that many fans of literary science fiction and short story collections will really appreciate How High We Go in the Dark.

I received a free copy of How High We Go in the Dark from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wahala by Nikki May (4 stars) – Wahala follows a friend group of three biracial women who are half Nigerian and half British, and whose different personalities and lifestyles have never gotten in the way of their love for one another–until a new friend worms her way into their dynamic and things slowly begin to change. I really enjoyed reading this book; it switches perspectives often enough that the narrative with any one friend never felt stale. I’m always drawn to novels about complex female friendship dynamics, and Wahala works very well in this theme. I have to call out the Sex and the City comparisons this book is getting, though–the two stories have nothing in common except that both have four central female characters, and I’m not sure why this comp is being used in reviews and marketing. Overall, I found it an entertaining read with a compelling plot that I’d recommend, although some aspects of the ending felt frustrating to me.

I received a free copy of Wahala from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly (4 stars) – A lovely contemporary romance novella that’s a fantastic exhibit of what a novella can and should be, with the exact right amount of character development, plot, and romance. After loving  Anita Kelly’s Love & Other Disasters, my favorite romance of 2022 so far, I immediately went to their backlist and discovered this series of novellas set in and around a queer karaoke bar. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series!

Get it Right by Skye Kilaen (4 stars) – Another great example of how wonderful contemporary romance novellas can be. Skye Kilaen is a new-to-me author, and I’ll definitely want to pick up more from her after this. The romance and characterization developed so seamlessly, and it’s another first-in-series, which bodes well for my future novella TBR.

Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore (4 stars) – I really enjoy this historical romance series that focuses on a friend group fighting for women’s suffrage, and although this was probably my least favorite pairing and plot so far, I continue to enjoy Dunmore’s writing style.

Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie (4 stars) – An audiobook I started somewhat randomly while searching for books read by one of my favorite audio narrators, Bahni Turpin, I ended up laughing out loud many times during this one. There’s a thoughtfulness and character growth to this story in addition to the humor, and I’ll be looking out for what the author comes out with next.

Under One Roof by Ali Hazelwood (3.5 stars) – I knew that this was a novella going into it, but sometimes the stories that authors choose to develop into novellas rather than novels would be better suited to a longer format. I enjoyed the enemies-to-lovers romance in Under One Roof; the main characters had great chemistry and I liked how their relationship developed. I wasn’t a fan of the premise, however, which seemed a bit too silly for me, and I wished that we had spent more time with these characters than we did.

Making Up by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – This isn’t the last book in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, but since I read the last 2 books first then circled back to books 1-3, it’s my last reading experience in the series (unless she publishes more, which it seems like she might be planning to?). It wasn’t my favorite in the series, but was still a very cute and enjoyable audiobook following Trix, an aerialist, and Leo, her makeup artist nemesis-turned-love interest.

Favorite Books of 2021 (in every category I could think of)!

I wanted to highlight a lot of favorites in this post, and I ended up with not only a top 10 for the year but also a runner-up top 10, as well as many different genre and category favorites. I’m still working on my stats post, so that will come later, but first I wanted to talk about as many of the fantastic books I read this past year as possible.

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2021:

The Office of Historical CorrectionsPlain Bad HeroinesLegendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1)Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans – fantastic debut short story collection focusing on themes of racism, with some fabulist elements

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth – genrebending horror with timelines in the past and present, a story within a story with a unique structure and a trio of compelling main characters

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn – the book that restored my faith in YA fantasy this year

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. – a fascinating new fantasy world from a past favorite author

Writers & LoversThe Atlas Six (The Atlas, #1)TenderA Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1)

Writers & Lovers by Lily King – an emotional coming-of-age story about writing, grief, and love

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake – a dark academia fantasy that sets up a fascinating world and cast of characters

Tender by Sofia Samatar – a unique short story collection inspired by folklore and mythology

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik – an incredibly darkly funny YA dark academia fantasy with a memorable main character

The Vanishing HalfMediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – an immersive historical fiction following the diverging paths of two sisters and their daughters

Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo – a fascinating nonfiction book exploring racism and misogyny

 

Runner-Up Favorites of the year:

Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallDisfigured by Amanda LeducWhat We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell – a slow burn science fiction romance featuring an arranged marriage

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall – a big-hearted and wonderful contemporary romance set around a Great British Baking Show-esque competition

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda LeDuc – a nonfiction book combining discussion of fairy tales and folklore with memoir

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons – a short, powerful novel about grief and belonging

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat HowardThe Love Hypothesis by Ali HazelwoodThe Last Graduate by Naomi NovikThe Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard – a short story collection from an author I’ve really enjoyed in the past, featuring a fantastic Arthurian-myth inspired novella set on a college campus

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood – my favorite romance of the year, which was originally written as fanfiction and featuring women in STEM

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik – the second book in Novik’s Scholomance trilogy, which hit me hard with emotion particularly at the end and made me need the final book ASAP

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson – literary science fiction dealing with climate change, overconsumption, and AI, heavily leaning on the concept that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonTranscendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson – science fiction featuring an indomitable main character in alternate universes on the same world plagued by deep inequality, that I read near the beginning of the year but has stuck with me ever since

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – a thoughtful, introspective book dealing with science and religion

Favorite contemporary romance:

The Love Hypothesis by Ali HazelwoodRosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallAct Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia HibbertThe Heart Principle by Helen HoangSecond First Impressions by Sally Thorne

I read a LOT of amazing romance in 2021, but these 5 were the best of the best. 4 were from authors I’ve previously read and loved, and 1 (The Love Hypothesis) is a debut from an author I can’t wait to read more from.

Favorite UF/PNR:

Witches Get Stitches by Juliette CrossBlood Heir by Ilona AndrewsFables & Other Lies by Claire Contreras

I didn’t read nearly as much UF/PNR compared to contemporary romance, but I enjoyed the heck out of reading these three.

Favorite historical romance:

A Rogue of One's Own by Evie DunmoreThe Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian

2021 was not a big historical romance reading year; I kind of thought it would be after devouring tons of the genre in 2020. However, I did read 2 new favorites, and am looking forward to picking up the next installments in these series in 2022.

Favorite nonfiction:

Mediocre by Ijeoma OluoDisfigured by Amanda Leduc

I read a lot of nonfiction in 2021, mainly on audiobook, but Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo and Disfigured by Amanda LeDuc really stood out.

Favorite science fiction:

Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

Favorite fantasy:

Black Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseThe Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Favorite debut novels:

Winter's Orbit by Everina MaxwellThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah JohnsonWhat We Lose by Zinzi ClemmonsThe Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

Favorite YA:

Legendborn by Tracy DeonnA Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Like I said earlier, I was pretty shocked to discover 2 amazing new YA favorites in 2021, after some disappointing YA reads over the past few years. Not only are these favorites for 2021, but they’re also all-time YA favorites for me.

Favorite sequel or next-in-series:

The Last Graduate by Naomi NovikWitches Get Stitches by Juliette Cross

I absolutely loved The Last Graduate, a 5-star read and the sequel to A Deadly Education, and had so much fun reading the third book in Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, Witches Get Stitches.

Favorite novella:

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

This is a great short story collection overall, but my favorite piece was the novella, Once, Future, which is a modern-day King Arthur retelling set on a college campus that also ruminates on the enduring power of myth.

Favorite short story collection:

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle EvansTender by Sofia Samatar

Most disappointing reads of 2021:

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky ChambersFates and Furies by Lauren Groff

I’ve loved several of Becky Chambers’s books, so the fact that her newest novel was underwhelming was a disappointment. And I’ve ranted a lot about the issues I have with Fates & Furies, which I think could have been a really great novel but it had too many serious flaws.

Worst books I read in 2021:

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate BromleyThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

I unfortunately really, really disliked both of these contemporary romances from new-to-me authors. Both had premises that really interested me, but both had extremely unlikable characters and romances that I just couldn’t root for.

Favorite covers of 2021 reads:

Fables & Other Lies by Claire ContrerasA Certain Appeal by Vanessa KingFlyaway by Kathleen Jennings

New-to-me authors I can’t wait to read more from:

The Love Hypothesis by Ali HazelwoodFortuna Sworn by K.J. SuttonA Certain Appeal by Vanessa King

There are a lot of authors who could fit this category, but I wanted to highlight Ali Hazelwood, who has a bunch of books coming out in 2022; K. J. Sutton, whose Fortuna Sworn series I’m looking forward to continuing; and Vanessa King, whose Pride & Prejudice-inspired book A Certain Appeal was a great surprise.

 

What were some of your favorite books of 2021? Let me know in the comments!

January Reading Wrap-Up!

 

I started 2022 off strong with 2 five-star reads and read several more review copies than I normally do in most months. Let’s get into the stats and reviews!

Stats

Total books read: 12

ARCs/Review copies: 4

ebooks: 3

Audiobooks: 3

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

A Marvellous Light (The Last Binding, #1)Never Say You Can't Survive by Charlie Jane AndersLove & Other Disasters by Anita KellyA History of Wild Places by Shea ErnshawCount Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria BellefleurWhere the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuireMy Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole JohnsonAlways Only You by Chloe LieseForged in Fire by Juliette CrossThe Sum of Us by Heather McGheeOut Front the Following SeaElectric Idol (Dark Olympus, #2)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson (5 stars) – Consisting of 5 short stories and the titular novella, My Monticello is written in a way that’s incisive and impactful. Many of the stories center around themes of racism and use uncommon voices (second person, first person collective) to convey their messages. Although all 5 of the short stories were excellent, my favorite part of this collection was its novella, which is, hands, down, the best novella I have ever read. Set in the near future after climate disasters have disrupted the central government and infrastructure, a group of white supremacists drives members of a Virginia community out of their homes. They’re then forced to seek refuge in the only safe place they can find–Monticello. While there, they deal with both the house’s racist history and the threats that they are facing in the present; it’s devastating and so well-crafted.  I’ve been recommending this book like crazy, and I think it’s one that everyone should read.

Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly (5 stars) – This is only the third book I’ve read in 2022, and the first romance, but I don’t see how it won’t be my favorite romance of the year.

Love & Other Disasters is incredibly sweet, well-written, inclusive, and big-hearted, and it made me cry several times (to clarify, these were happy tears due to how absurdly cute it is). It’s a contemporary romance following two contestants on a Top Chef-esque reality show who, after an awkward first meeting, develop a friendship and begin to fall for each other. Our protagonists are at very different places in their lives: Dahlia is recently divorced and struggling with her direction in life and self-confidence, and plans to use the prize money to help pay off her student loan debts; London, the show’s first openly non-binary contestant, is happy with their life and career in Nashville, but dreams of using the prize money to start a charity for LGBTQIA+ youth. Dahlia is outgoing and quirky, whereas London exudes quiet confidence, and their opposite personalities complement one another from the start.

I really can’t overstate how much I loved this one. Dahlia and London have a very sweet and supportive foundation, but also fantastic chemistry. Since I love Top Chef, I liked the cooking show premise, but it never overshadows the development of their relationship; I’d say that it takes up exactly the right amount of the story. I don’t know the last time I read a romance where I felt that the characters fit together so well on both an emotional and a romantic level, and where I loved both protagonists and their perspectives equally. More than anything else, this book just made me really, really happy to read, and I’ll be recommending it to everyone all year.

I received a free copy of Love & Other Disasters from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (4 stars) – An extremely informative and well-researched look at economic inequality and its roots in racism that discusses how racist policies negatively impact not only Black Americans, but all of society. I felt like I learned so much while reading this book; I don’t have much background knowledge in economics, so there was a bit of a learning curve while reading this book, but it’s still accessible.

Electric Idol by Katee Robert (4 stars) – I think I liked the second book in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series even more than the first. It’s a marriage of convenience story between Eros, who for years has been doing the dirty work to keep his mother, Aphrodite, in power, and Psyche, a strategic and good-hearted daughter of Aphrodite’s mother Demeter. When Aphrodite asks Eros to kill Psyche, he finds himself drawn to her and marries her for her protection instead. I really liked the way their romance developed quickly from fake to genuine, and this book seems to also set up several possible subsequent romances. As a Greek mythology and romance fan, these books are a lot of fun; I’ve seen critiques saying that they stray too far from the original stories, but that’s very intentional–they’re inspired by the gods’ characters and power struggles rather than direct retellings.

Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman (4 stars) – One of my 2022 reading goals is to pick up more historicals (fiction, fantasy, and romance alike) and I’m glad to have started off with a book that I loved.

Out Front the Following Sea’s protagonist Ruth is a smart, indomitable survivor and a feminist in a time where it wasn’t safe for women to be anything close to one. The story begins with her trapped in a small New England town that considers her a witch and blames her for the deaths of her parents, and Ruth’s dreams of escape manifest in a twisted sense when she’s forced to flee for her life. Ruth’s saga, and her quest for not only survival but to live without having her intelligence and ambitions quashed, is a twisted path full of different types of danger and occasional unexpected friendship. There’s also a very human love story at the center of the narrative between Ruth and her childhood best friend, half-French sailor Owen, although rising tensions between the English and French threaten to divide them more than societal norms already do. The incredible historical details of life in late-1600s New England keep the story rooted in a deep sense of place, even as its themes still resonate in today’s society. I’d definitely recommend this one; it’s fast-paced and full of both action and emotion, and I really enjoyed it despite not being an avid historical fiction reader.

I received an ARC of Out Front the Following Sea from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Count Your Lucky Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this third installment in Alexandria Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars series, which is centered around a group of friends living in Seattle. Count Your Lucky Stars is an estranged childhood best friends-to-lovers romance between recently divorced Olivia, who is struggling with anxiety and and her tendencies to prioritize others’ needs over her own, and prickly Margot, who after seeing her best friends fall in love is starting to yearn for her own deeper romantic connection.

As teenagers, Margot and Olivia found their friendship deepening into a brief romantic connection, which quickly ended due to miscommunication and lead to their separation for many years. They reunite as twentysomethings when Olivia becomes the wedding planner for Margot’s best friend’s wedding, and find that their chemistry and love for each other is still alive and well. I’m not normally the biggest fan of second chance romance, but I found Margot and Olivia’s connection really beautiful and believable, and I liked how they encouraged and brought out the best in each other by continually advocating for one another. I also liked the reappearance of Darcy and Elle, one of my favorite fictional couples, from the first book in Bellefleur’s series. It’s a very sweet story about friendship and love, and I’d recommend it to any contemporary romance reader.

I received an eARC of Count Your Lucky Stars from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire (4 stars) – I liked this installment in the Wayward Children series much better than the previous one; we learn about the second, sinister rival school to Eleanor West’s, where the previous books are based around, and a new, large-scale, real-world conflict is introduced. It isn’t my favorite book in the series, but I read it in one setting and very much enjoyed the read.

Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this nonfiction audiobook focused on how to write and be creative during difficult times. It’s read by the author, who I’ve been following since she ran the science and science fiction site io9 and who I’ve been lucky enough to see speak at BookCon, and has a lot of really solid writing advice as well as inspiration.

Forged in Fire by Juliette Cross (3.5 stars) – Forged in Fire is the first book in a UF/PNR trilogy that was re-released this month and originally published in 2015. I’m a huge fan of Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, so I was excited to be able to check out one of her earlier works.

Set in New Orleans, Forged in Fire follows Gen, a college student who’s thrown into an underworld of demons and demon hunters when she discovers that she’s a Vessel, meaning that she has access to a variety of magical powers that make her a target for powerful demons looking to use her for evil. Helping to train and protect her is Jude, a powerful demon hunter with a mysterious past, and who Gen immediately finds herself falling for.

I didn’t love this book quite as much as Juliette Cross’s Stay a Spell series, but I really loved Gen as a main character. She’s strong yet flawed, and you can’t help but root for her. She’s determined to hang on to some form of normalcy while being thrust into a world that she doesn’t understand, and she keeps the story grounded through its introduction of more and more otherworldly elements. I also liked the concept of the Vessel and the worldbuilding of a demonic underworld hiding in plain sight.

What I didn’t love quite as much, unfortunately, was the romance between Gen and Jude, which developed a bit too quickly for my taste, and felt too unbalanced in terms of age and experience level. I’d also caution readers that there are several scenes of sexual assault in this book (perpetrated by the villains), which I did at times find difficult to read.

I received an eARC of Forged in Fire from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw (3.5 stars) – I’m very hit or miss with mysteries, and I was hoping that this book, with its mild infusion of fantasy, would hit the sweet spot for me. Instead, it was more of an up and down reading experience; I was really interested in the first viewpoint character, a private investigator with the power to see a person’s past by holding an object they interacted with, who was searching for a missing author of disturbing children’s books. Unfortunately, the middle of the book, where we spend time in the forest cult where we believe the author to have disappeared, really dragged, and the three new viewpoint characters didn’t have very interesting personalities. The ending of the book did add more interest, and my investment in finding out the book’s twist kept me reading rather than DNF-ing, but I’m not sure that I’d recommend this one.

Always Only Yours by Chloe Liese (3.5 stars) – I read my first Chloe Liese contemporary romance at the end of 2021, and decided that I wanted to pick up more from her. I generally steer clear of sports romances, but for some reason (probably because I’m from Buffalo), hockey tends to be a bit of an exception, so I enjoyed most of this romance between a prickly social media manager and a cinnamon roll hockey player. It did get a bit too sweet for me at times, as did my previous Chloe Liese read, but I do think I’ll try her again in the future.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske (3 stars) – My first read of January was, unfortunately, my most disappointing of the year so far. I really thought I’d love this historical fantasy romance, but despite the great premise, I found that the characters and the plot both fell very flat for me. I needed more dimension in the characterization and more intrigue in the plot; I’ve seen so many glowing reviews of this book, and I wish that mine was one of them.

December Reading Wrap-Up!

It’s my last monthly reading wrap-up of 2021!

At the beginning of December, I went on vacation with my family for Hanukkah and got a bunch of reading done at the beach. When I got back, though, I was really struggling to finish books, particularly towards the end of the year. I did, however, manage to sneak in one more 5-star read in December, and read 3 holiday romances, despite never having read one previously.

Stats:

Books finished: 9

ARCs: 1

Audio: 3

ebooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Payback's a Witch by Lana HarperWrapped Up in YouThe Atlas Six by Olivie BlakeComfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. ValenteMurder Most Actual by Alexis HallThe Matzah Ball by Jean MeltzerWhat We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey GordonThe Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava ReidThe Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake (5 stars) – OK, I get it now. I get the BookTok hype, and I get why this indie book was picked up by Tor. I loved it so much. Like a lot of my 5-star reads, I also totally get why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea–it’s very character-focused, and not at all plot-heavy. If that doesn’t bother you, and if you like dark academia, read this book. The Atlas Six has so many things I love in a book: dark academia, a group of misfits forced to band together by circumstance, alliances and strategic machinations. It’s about six people with different magical abilities and backgrounds who are tapped to enter the Alexandrian society, a secret magical organization that holds the knowledge of the supposedly lost Library of Alexandria–except only five of them will actually be able to join, after a year-long trial period. I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel, which comes out in October 2022.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon (4 stars) – An excellent nonfiction book that combines the author’s personal experiences with statistics and broader information that I think is a very beneficial read for people of all sizes. I heard of Aubrey Gordon through her podcast Maintenance Phase, which debunks myths about health and wellness, and her book is a great extension of that.

Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (4 stars) – I was really excited for this novella from one of my favorite authors, and although it was good, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. This novella seemed less creative and less intricately written than Valente’s works that I’ve read previously, although it did have very interesting themes.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid (4 stars) – I’ve seen mixed reviews of this historical fantasy, but personally I really enjoyed it. The Wolf and the Woodsman is set in a world heavily influenced by Hungarian and Jewish history and mythology; it’s a world that contains several different and competing forms of magic, and one that is battling civil unrest primarily stoked by prejudice. Although it’s inspired by history, this world is very relevant to the issues our society still faces today, including xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism.

Our protagonist Evike is an outsider in a small pagan village, and she’s forcibly removed by the feared Woodsmen who believe her to be a seer. She’s not–to her continual shame and frustration, she’s the only wolf-girl in her village born without magical gifts, and although the Woodsman who takes her eventually discovers her secret, she discovers his as well–he’s not merely a Woodsman, but the country’s crown prince, himself an outsider as his mother is from the country they’re currently at war with. They’re natural enemies and both hold prejudices against the other’s people, but they’re forced into a reluctant alliance and eventually begin to develop romantic feelings for one another while striving to somehow save their torn-apart land.

I really enjoyed Evike, who’s an “unlikable” heroine with her prickly attitude, impulsiveness, and bad temper; she’s scrappy and feisty, and never perfect, which I like in a protagonist. I also liked the enemies-to-allies-to-lovers relationship that developed between her and the prince, which never felt rushed, and was built on working towards a common goal and eventually to mutual understanding. The writing of this book is very strong, with visceral descriptions that may be too graphic for sensitive readers; it’s a dark and difficult world that our characters inhabit, and the grittiness of the writing reflects that. At times I did feel that the pacing was slower than it could have been, and that certain concepts and images tended to feel repetitive, particularly when Evike is talking out decisions in her own mind and reviewing what she thinks different people she knows would do in her situation and why. However, I really enjoyed the read overall, and will look to pick up more from Ava Reid in the future.

I received a free copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wrapped Up in You by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I’m on a mission to read through Talia Hibbert’s backlist, and even though I’m not typically a holiday romance reader, this one was very cute and I’m glad I picked it up. It’s a childhood friends-to-lovers romance featuring a Chris Evans-esque famous actor love interest and a very guarded protagonist who reunite at her grandmother’s isolated house for Christmas and finally realize that they’ve both been harboring feelings for each other.

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper (3.5 stars) – I really enjoyed this F/F contemporary paranormal romance set in a small magical town and featuring a magical competition between the scions of rival witch families. I thought that the plot and romance were both well-crafted, and it was a nice surprise to see a protagonist with the same name as me (Emmy!). I’ll look forward to picking up more from this author.

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer (3.5 stars) – As a Jewish woman who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, I was so glad to be able to read a Hanukkah romance this year featuring a Jewish, Christmas-loving romance novelist protagonist with a chronic illness. I really liked this one overall, although the enemies-to-lovers romance was a bit too enemies-focused at the beginning, considering that its roots were in a childhood romance that took place many years ago at summer camp and it seemed as though both protagonists should have matured beyond their grudges as adults.

The Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese (3.5 stars) – A cute holiday romance set in an indie bookstore and featuring a Hating Game-esque enemies-to-lovers romance with an autistic protagonist. I liked the premise of this one a lot and thought it was a very sweet novella overall, but it got a bit too cutesy for me towards the end. Still, I’m definitely interested to pick up more from new-to-me author Chloe Liese.

Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall (3 stars) – Although I LOVED Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, this cozy mystery with elements of parody and references to other classic whodunits was a bit too silly for me; I also didn’t find myself at all invested in the murder plot. I did really like Liza, our true crime podcaster main character, and I thought that her relationship with her wife and their efforts to revive their marriage were the most compelling parts of the book.

Most-Read Authors of 2021 (and 2022 Predictions)

Last year was the first year I started tracking how many books I read per author in a given year, and I find the resulting stats really interesting. It’s fun to try to predict my most-read authors of the year and how that could change next year, and what factors go into determining which authors top my list. I think I predicted my most-read author of 2021 back in 2020, since she’s a romance author with a substantial backlist that I started getting into towards the end of the year, but several other authors who appear on my most-read list were new-to-me in 2021 and therefore definitely not predicted.

Let’s get into my most-read authors of 2021!

Winner: Lucy Parker – 4 books!

Headliners by Lucy ParkerAct Like It by Lucy ParkerPretty Face by Lucy ParkerBattle Royal by Lucy Parker

Lucy Parker writes contemporary romance, and in 2021 I read 3 books in her London Celebrities series, which is set around London’s West End theater community, and her newest release, which is a take on a Great British Baking Show-esque competition with a royal connection.

Tie: 3 books each

Talia Hibbert

The Princess Trap by Talia HibbertAct Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia HibbertWrapped Up in You by Talia Hibbert

I actually had predicted that contemporary romance author Talia Hibbert might tie Lucy Parker for my most-read author of 2021, but she ended up in second place instead. I plan to read even more from her in 2022!

Claire Contreras

Fables & Other Lies by Claire ContrerasHalf Truths by Claire ContrerasTwisted Circles by Claire Contreras

Claire Contreras was a new-to-me author in 2021; she’s an indie author who writes in many different genres of romance. The books I picked up from her last year included Gothic romance and dark academia combined with romantic suspense.

Tie: 2 books each

Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education by Naomi NovikThe Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

You’d think that I’d have more authors like Novik on this list, where they make the most-read authors list because I discover a new series. I wouldn’t say I did a lot of series reading in 2021, but I definitely became obsessed with Novik’s Scholomance series.

Carol Anderson

White Rage by Carol AndersonOne Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson

It’s not common for me to pick up multiple nonfiction books from one author in a given year, but that’s what ended up happening with Carol Anderson, another new-to-me author.

Juliette Cross

Witches Get Stitches by Juliette CrossWalking in a Witchy Wonderland by Juliette Cross

Juliette Cross made this list last year as well, because she writes and publishes her books in the Stay a Spell series quite quickly and I immediately need to read them because I love this series so much.

Alexis Hall

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis HallMurder Most Actual by Alexis Hall

I fell in love with Hall’s writing style after reading Boyfriend Material at the end of 2020, so I knew I wanted to pick up more of his work in 2021. Rosaline Palmer was one of my favorite romances of the year, but I wasn’t really a fan of Murder Most Actual.

Ilona Andrews

Blood Heir by Ilona AndrewsSweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors, so I was glad I had 2 new releases of theirs to read in 2021. Both are parts of series, with Blood Heir being the first book in a spinoff series of one of my favorite series of all time.

Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersThe Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers has written a few books I’d consider favorites, so I picked up her 2 newest books in 2021. Unfortunately, neither will be making any of my favorites lists.

Annabeth Albert

Conventionally Yours by Annabeth AlbertOut of Character by Annabeth Albert

I was intrigued by Conventionally Yours, a nerdy contemporary romance by a new-to-me author, and enjoyed it so much that I also picked up Albert’s 2022 release, Out of Character.

Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt HaigThe Humans by Matt Haig

I’d had Matt Haig’s books on my TBR for years before I finally picked them up in 2021; I thought that Reasons to Stay Alive was a really important and empathetic read, but I didn’t really like The Humans.

 

Predictions for my most-read authors of 2022!

It’s hard to make predictions right at the beginning of a reading year, but last year I did a pretty good job anticipating that Lucy Parker and Talia Hibbert would make my 2021 list, so I’m going to give it a try. Also, it’ll be fun to see how right or wrong I am a year from now!

There are several authors I think I’ll probably read 2 books from in 2022:

Sarah J. Maas – I’m about halfway done with ACOSF right now, and I’d be pretty surprised if I didn’t end up picking up her 2022 release, the second book in her Crescent City series, this year.

A ​Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City, #2)

Talia Hibbert – I really like her, and I want to read even more from her in 2022, including the first book in her new Skybriar series that will hopefully be released this year.

The Roommate Risk

And for my prediction for my most-read author of 2022…

Alexis Hall!

Something Fabulous (Something Fabulous, #1)Husband Material (Boyfriend Material, #2)

(2 other Alexis Hall 2022 releases, Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble and A Lady for a Duke, don’t have covers yet)

I think Alexis Hall might be my most-read author of 2022 because he has so many new releases slated to come out this year. Of course, release dates are always subject to change, but if these all do come out I think there’s a really good chance I pick them all up within the year. I could always be wrong, though!

OR…

Ali Hazelwood!

Under One RoofStuck with YouBelow Zero

Since Ali Hazelwood has 3 novellas and 1 novel planned to come out in 2022, and since she wrote my favorite romance of 2021, she also has a great chance of taking home the crown.

November Reading Wrap-Up & Reviews

I’m really happy about the fact that in November I read from a wide variety of genres and also managed to finish 2 of the remaining books from my Top 10 2021 TBR list (meaning that now I only have 1 left to read in December!). Let’s get into some reviews and stats…

Stats

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 4

ebooks: 1

A Deal with the Elf King by Elise KovaThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi WaxmanThe Stone Gods by Jeanette WintersonWell Matched by Jen DeLucaThe Heart Principle by Helen HoangThe Anthropocene Reviewed by John GreenThe Story of More by Hope JahrenA Certain Appeal by Vanessa KingThe Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky ChambersWhen the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson (4.25 stars) – The Stone Gods is my third read from Jeanette Winterson, who so far does something very different with each book of hers I pick up. On the surface, The Stone Gods is literary scifi set in a future where humans have devastated the planet so much that our only hope for survival is to move to a newly discovered planet that resembles ours in the time of the dinosaurs. Its themes of environmentalism, the cyclical nature of history, and our ability or inability to learn from the mistakes of the past are chilling and permeate the narrative at every turn, and the plot never takes the direction you think it will. It’s a short novel, but saturated with lasting images and concepts. Recommended to literary scifi fans, and I’m looking forward to picking up even more from Winterson in the future.

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang (4 stars) – I wasn’t expecting to find another contemporary romance favorite this late in the year, but I never should have doubted. Helen Hoang is fantastic at character development, and despite the fact that she had fans excited for a romance featuring Quan since the release of The Kiss Quotient, The Heart Principle introduces us to Anna and makes us fall in love with her almost immediately. While still managing to be a very sweet romance based on empathy and understanding, this is still very much about Anna and her character growth. It’s emotionally devastating at times, but very much worth it.

A Certain Appeal by Vanessa King (4 stars) – A super cute contemporary Pride & Prejudice retelling set in New York and revolving around a found family working at a burlesque club. It’s lower on angst and has a more quickly progressing romance than the original P&P, but still stays very true to its spirit. I really enjoyed this one!

The Story of More by Hope Jahren (4 stars) – A nonfiction book focusing on climate change and different aspects of human life that contribute to its progression, as well as changes we can make to help slow the process. I really enjoyed Jahren’s memoir Lab Girl; this audiobook was just as well-written and very informative.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (4 stars) – A thoughtful essay collection where the conceit is that Green is commenting on society’s penchant for rating things on a 5-star scale by rating various things about the world as he simultaneously discusses more personal topics like his mental health and how the pandemic affected him. It’s well-written, with a good mixture of fun facts and introspection, and I really liked Green’s voice as an audio narrator.

A Deal With the Elf King by Elise Kova (3.5 stars) – The first in a fantasy romance series called Married to Magic that’s set in a world where the human world borders the land of immortal creatures such as elves, fairies, and vampires. It was an enjoyable read, although it didn’t have a lot of depth, and I plan to continue in the series when I’m next in a fantasy romance mood.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (3 stars) – Unfortunately, this was a disappointment for me. Becky Chambers can be a hit-or-miss author for me; I’ve given a few of her books 5 stars, but some just don’t quite hit the mark. This is a very quiet science fiction story about unlikely friendships and learning about people from different backgrounds and cultures while being stranded on an unfamiliar planet due to an atmospheric disaster, and although I often enjoy quiet, character-focused stories, this one was a bit too slow and the characters themselves not all interesting enough to hold my attention.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (3 stars) – A cute, sweet read about a young woman working at a bookstore and dealing with anxiety who suddenly finds herself part of a dynamic extended family she’s never met before after the death of her estranged father. I enjoyed this audio listen but wouldn’t say that I loved it; I liked Nina discovering and getting to know her new siblings/nieces/nephews/cousins and her various friendships/book clubs/activities that she uses to help keep a rigid schedule to manage her anxiety, but I wasn’t as invested in the romance and felt it was not really necessary to the plot.

When the Moon Was Ours by A.M. McLemore (3 stars) – I really, really wanted to love this book–it was on my Top 10 2021/5 Star TBR Predictions list for the year. And I did think that the premise, characters, and even broadly the plot were very well-done, but the book’s writing and pacing just did not work for me at all. The writing style is very repetitive; it’s not just that it’s metaphor-heavy, which is something I often enjoy in fabulism, but it’s that the exact same metaphors are used every time certain elements or characters appear, and sentences and phrases quickly became overused. I think that this story would have worked really well as a novella or even a short story, but as a novel there just wasn’t enough content to fill that many pages.

Well Matched by Jen DeLuca (3 stars) – A friends-to-lovers contemporary romance with a fake dating plotline, this one was just OK for me. I felt similarly about Well Met, the first book in this series set around a small town that hosts a yearly Ren Faire; I skipped the second book in the series because reviewers all seemed to agree it was their least favorite. I was looking for an easy audio listen and this one fit the bill; I enjoyed the listen, but it didn’t have much of an impact on me.