Here are some quick, paragraph reviews of some of the books that I have read this year. I’m not going to review every book I’ve read this year because I have other stuff to do today. I just picked the ten ‘stickiest’ books I read – the ones that I thought about longest after I put them down.
Pretty good, all the way up to the climax. I didn’t buy the core conceit of the final battle. For those who don’t know, basically the ‘true love’s kiss’ that saves Sophie from dying in the end is between her and Agatha, but Sophie had already spent much of the book treating Agatha like trash and then the final few chapters trying to kill her. There was bone-deep hatred in Sophie’s heart and then suddenly, in the space of one scene, she truly loves Agatha? I just prefer my true love to be preceded by a bare minimum of affection and mutual respect, even if it framed as a sisterly bond. But I did like the rest of the story – especially the way that Chainani explored how tropes of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ rob the concepts of their truth.
This is a book set in a utopian town in America where ‘angels’ defeated ‘monsters’ (I think angels are social workers and monsters are criminals and corrupt officials), and the protagonist accidentally summons a real, biblical angel to defeat one of the monsters still roaming around the town. The story deals with child sexual abuse and how adults try to gaslight kids when they point out when the adults aren’t protecting people like they said they would. Emezi masterfully tells the story and really drives home how complacency is the worst sin an ‘angel’ can commit when they’re in a position of authority.
The main character tries to kill herself and gets sent to limbo where she lives all the different lives that she would have lived if she’d made different choices. Along the way, she learns to love the life that she had and returns to her body in time to go to the hospital and get her stomach pumped. Haig is kind of known for his self-help books so the agenda of this fantasy novel is pretty blatant. There’s some cliche but it didn’t kill the experience for me and the premise is still interesting on its own.
A very self-aware book set in TropeTown, where a Manic Pixie Dream Boy is sentenced to group therapy for going off-script. I really liked this book because it’s just a lot of fun! It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but in the end Appelhans does make some very good points about people who dismiss tropes off-hand without really engaging with them, and how far the concept of the Manic Pixie trope has come since its inception.
This is another one that was so much fun to read. The premise is basically: booksellers fight monsters. The Everygirl female lead gets thrown into fantasy mayhem because her dad is a mountain. Very old-school mythology vibes mixed with early 1980s London. Nix also handled the gender fluid romantic interest very well – that is, he made it clear that it’s not a big deal and no one really cares that much about Merlin’s gender presentation. They’re more concerned about whether he’s left-handed or right-handed!
The story of a woman who made a Faustian bargain to live forever, with the catch being that no one would ever remember her. I’ll be honest – I liked the flashback scenes better than the contemporary ones. I found Addie’s relationship with Luc the demon more interesting than her relationship with Henry the human. That’s a personal taste thing, though, and I really enjoyed Addie’s ingenuity in creating a life for herself in spite of Luc’s bullshit curse.
I loved this book because of the line: “It should never have come down to me. It was miserably unfair that it had come to me and Spindle. There were grown-ups who should have stopped it” – the fourteen year-old protagonist saying what we’re all thinking whenever we re-read Harry Potter and realise that Dumbledore was basically recruiting a child soldier instead of fighting his own damn war. Also the idea that a wizard’s magic is tool-specific is charming and I enjoyed how clever the protagonist was in learning how to use bread to defeat armies.
This is a book I picked up when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I felt like I was being dealt a bad hand and wanted to see how other people had played theirs. The main takeaway from this book is simple, but really hard to swallow: you’re not special. Illness happens to everyone. No one ever promised you a healthy body. You can either incorporate the fact of illness into your self-understanding, and work around it, or you can make yourself more miserable by telling yourself that you’re a victim. Bernhard is much nicer about it than I’m being now. I really needed this book when I read it, and I think I’m going to keep coming back to it as I continue to learn what my new body needs from me.
This was a helpful book because it acknowledged a lot of the feelings I had following the pandemic and contextualised them. The ‘lessons’ are really mindsets that people should consider moving forward; things like listening to experts and not relying on the economy when the humans who hold it up are not safe and healthy. It was American in scope, mostly, though there is some recognition of globalisation – and the fact is, America was such a big player during the pandemic (especially because their economy is so critical to the economies of other countries) that I’m willing to let that slide. It was a very useful book that clarified a lot of things that I’d thought in passing during the pandemic, and provided some useful ways to think going forward.
I haven’t been reading as much as I would like to this year, but I’m still trying to fix my brain so I’m going to be kind to myself about that.
While I was writing this post I kept having the thought: how interesting is it that so many of the books I’ve been reading this year have had corrupt/incompetent officials in charge of groups who had to overthrow them in order to instigate meaningful change? Most of the fiction books have that as a core obstacle for the protagonists to overcome, not to mention the underlying theme in Ten Lessons that people need to be careful about who they elect because those are the people who will lead them through an emergency. All of these books were written at different times, too! It’s not like it’s a new theme. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to that at the moment.
I hope you’re enjoying whatever you’re reading!
PS – I love writing and I love eating! If you want to help with the latter (and ONLY if you want) you can maybe buy me a coffee?