2020 Wrap-Up: Statistics & Top Books

This is a follow-up to my 2020 End of the Year Wrap-Up, which focuses more on what happened – now come the stats and recommendations.

I think we can all agree 2020 was a strange, strange year. I said in the 2019 Wrap-Up that the year was the best one for reading so far, had high hopes for the next year, and then…2020 actually happened. I ended up reading and reviewing far fewer books than before and was in a slump more often than not.

Regardless, this is the first time I managed to get the stats out before February, so that’s something!

Continue reading “2020 Wrap-Up: Statistics & Top Books”

September to December 2020 End of the Year Wrap-Up

I tried.

I really really tried. But in the end, the hiatus ended up being three months long and I’d consider it still ongoing.

It’s been clear for a while that I’ve been struggling with reviewing and posting. I’ve been in and out of reading slumps periodically this year, unable to focus even on the most anticipated of ARCs, but this one was the worst so far. A depressive episode did me in completely: I wasn’t able to read anything, didn’t mod, my online activity dropped to near zero. I couldn’t bring myself to feel excited about much, and even the nonfic I did feel like reading, I read very very slowly and got easily distracted by starting another book instead of finishing the current one. Where I once averaged about 6 books a month, I’m now lucky if I can finish three and you can see that it’s mostly novellas, romance, and nonfiction.

Additionally, what has started as wanting to research historical inaccuracies in a musical (and I wouldn’t at all consider myself a fan anymore) has developed into a full-blown obsession with the 18th century – first the American revolution, currently the strange love/hate relationship between Frederick the Great and Voltaire (drama goldmine, that, so much drama), eventually I plan to look into the French revolution as well, it’s quite broad. I thought it was a phase back in August, I kept thinking it was a phase for nearly half a year, but I finally had to admit to myself that it looks like it’s here to stay and adjusted my book buying habits accordingly. It brings joy and it made me rediscover how fun research and learning things for their own sake can be. I even started learning French!

I’m not sure what this will mean for this blog – I don’t plan to stop reading and reviewing fantasy books and I don’t review nonfic (occasional exception aside), but it will probably take quite some time before I’m able to juggle both. 

September:

  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark (mini review): Pretty good, with very vivid worldbuilding and much funnier than I expected
  • …and the new Beowulf translation by Maria Dahvana Headley: I struggled because epic poetry is simply not for me – I find it extremely difficult to pay attention to every word of a text. No fault of the translation, really, at least I could finish it. Anything more archaic and I could not have.

October:

  • Finished nothing.

November:

  • Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma (mini review): A delightfully bureaucratic romance novella. I have never read contemp but this was lovely! Highly recommended.
  • Slippery Creatures by K.J. Charles (mini review): Post-WWI romance with spies. Needed a faster read, this delivered.
  • The Threefold Tie by Aster Glenn Gray (mini review): Another historical romance novella, about trying to make a MMF relationship work. Very, very sweet.

December:

  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (mini review): Excellent. I usually have issues with pacing in novellas but this was perfect, the structure of each chapter really worked in its favour.
  • Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford: A long review that could have easily been even longer. This was just so much joy. Do you like drama? Do you enjoy reading about people being completely ridiculous? Then you should absolutely read this. Yes, it’s nonfiction, and I had to pause reading several times to laugh, facepalm, or go “you wouldn’t believe what these people got up to, omg.” And even though there are a few bits that raised an eyebrow, it aged well for a book very nearly as old as The Lord of the Rings(!).
  • Frederick the Great by Nancy Mitford: I consider it to be more or less a companion book to Voltaire in Love, they have to be read together. This is more of a classic biography, covering a whole life, slightly more serious, but still plenty entertaining. I am moving to more serious books, but Mitford makes an excellent intro.

I have periods where I feel sufficiently better to write the occasional post and read a little more. But posting will continue to be sporadic, depending on how I feel and what I manage to read.

A post about general 2020 reading statistics to follow shortly.

Books read in 2020: 44 (+ 9? rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 16/25 (60%)

Review: Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford

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I haven’t been able to read or review much in quite a while. My sudden, intense shift of interest to 18th century history, combined with inability to stick to one book or finish things (“start all the books and let god sort it out” is a phrase I keep using) and general 2020 melancholy, and my blog ended up being on hiatus for months.

But this? This brought joy. History presented in a readable, snarky style, with plenty of drama and general ridiculousness, it’s all I needed.

Continue reading “Review: Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford”

July & August 2020 Monthly Wrap-Up

This is going to be long, but then again, I did have to combine two months. For some reason, I took a completely unplanned hiatus in August, unable to even finish the July wrap-up, or read much worth reviewing. My fault for parallel-reading two massive books I guess. There was one week in between when I was sick – regular sick, not the plague – but otherwise, there isn’t really any explanation other than “idk, time just went somewhere, you know how 2020 is” or “I was too busy being a massive Hamilton fan” (more on that later), none of which is really much of an explanation, but there you go.

But, after some reshuffling, I am 12/25 done with the Bingo challenge.

And also, I ordered a shit ton of books.

Posted:

Read:

July

  • By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey: Had a rather annoying first part (a lot of “not like other girls”) that nearly made me quit, but then, after everyone grew up a bit, it got good. Kero is competent, decisive, and you don’t often encounter a protagonist who puts career before everything.
  • Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender (DNF): Picked this up for the sake of a bookclub, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It felt very repetitive and I was not in the mood for completely unlikable villain protagonists.
  • A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian: Delightful. Liked it a lot more than the first book. The emphasis on trust and consent is wonderful.
  • Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian: Perfect romance novel as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always been a sucker for stories where a character is sick and their love interest takes care of them, and the dynamic is just…ahhh I love it so much. I already reread it once and I think I will do so many more times.
  • Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh: I had high expectations based on my friends’ reviews, but unfortunately, it’s another of those novellas that would have worked better as a novel, with more space to breathe. Oddly paced and not quite enough.
  • Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky: I was a fan of the concept – what happens after the dark lord is gone – but not at all a fan of the execution. The plot was incredibly repetitive.
  • Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, and Alyssa Cole: A whole lot of fun. I really enjoyed all three novellas, and I’d highly recommend it if you like historical romance that’s a bit different from the norm.

August

After Hamilton, I got a serious case of a time period fixation. Get out, medieval fantasy, it’s 18th-ish century (17th or early 19th also acceptable) or bust. Fantasy set in that era proved surprisingly hard to find, especially since I very much did not want fantasy of manners, but I make do. And there is always historical nonfic (if I don’t post much in September either…well…).

I may have only finished two books, which sounds shamefully little, but with them being about 200k and 400k words respectively, and slow at that, it’s really more like six.

  • Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry: A book set in the 18th century, just as I got obsessed with the time period? Yes please! Plot-wise, it’s pretty much a straight retelling ot the French revolution, except with magic, but that suited me just fine. It was a bit slow at points though.
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: This was what I was busy with for a large chunk of August. Of course because of the musical, what else? At near 400k words, it’s longer than a lot of epic fantasy books, and dry, and massively, annoyingly biased at points, but I still found it surprisingly engaging and easy to read. There are a lot of fun anecdotes (as my friends are all too aware of, since I couldn’t resist a regular “you gotta hear this shit” monologue and I ended up with 15 pages of notes) and reading about all the feuds they had was super entertaining. Go in with a massive pinch of salt and ready to think critically…and bring popcorn.

Books ordered:

2020-july-august-orders

Sometime in the past couple weeks I realised I have only ordered two physical books this year. And since I also got some money, I decided it’s time to fix this.

  • Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman: It’s a western, it has a pretty cover and..honestly that was more or less it. I’d really like to continue with my westerns project.
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (preorder): My most anticipated book of 2020. I have tried and failed to get an ARC, but with how erratic my reading habits have been, that’s probably for the better.
  • Congress of Secrets by Stephanie Burgis: I have wanted to read it for ages, but I especially want to read it now with my…history thing…and all. Found I could get it used, and that was that.
  • Vermilion by Molly Tanzer: Been eyeing it for a while since it looks like it could be western-ish. Another one I was able to get used.
  • Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger: Asexual MC (I still need something for that Bingo square!), indigenous #ownvoices, and illustrated chapter headers. And the hardcover was cheap.
  • The Ikessar Falcon by K.S. Villoso (preorder): For when I’m feeling up to epic fantasy again.
  • Revolutionary by Alex Myers: It’s set during the American revolution and it’s queer and I could get it used. That was enough for me 😂

…and I’m also thinking of getting Maria Dahvana Headley’s new Beowulf translation and preordering the omnibus of the Ambergris series by Jeff Vandermeer, since two books in there are out of print.

Musicals:

A little unusual of a header, but I figure that since there were a couple months where I listed movies I watched, it’s not too odd. And given how embarrassingly deep down the Hamilton rabbit hole I went, it at least deserves a mention.

I decided to join a Hamilton watchalong on, of all days, July 4th because why not, group watches are fun and I have heard a fuck ton about it and was curious what all the fuss is about. Little did I know I would end up completely, head over heels, love at the first song, wanting to know everything about it obsessed. I was never really into musicals, or rap, or American history, but something about Hamilton just works. It’s catchy as all fuck. It has incredibly dense, complex lyrics with lots of references and connections that are fun to pick apart. There’s humour and tragedy. The choreography with the turntable is fantastic. There’s so much going on you don’t know where to look (me, on the first watch: at the subtitles 😂). From the technical aspect, it’s a masterpiece. I do have my issues with it, namely how it plays into American nationalism and the whole bootstraps bullshit, but honestly, being highly critical doesn’t mean I don’t still absolutely adore it.

Hadestown was my next conquest. I haven’t managed to find a watchable version, but I did listen to all three versions in one day – concept album, Broadway, off-Broadway, in that order – while doing commentary and came to the conclusion that the concept album and the off-Broadway versions are superior and Broadway has a boring Orpheus. While I have listened to it quite a lot since, I haven’t really done a deep dive as with Hamilton, mostly because it isn’t nearly as dense (I also had a Greek mythology phase as a kid already).

After that…I actually haven’t felt the need to check anything else. It was a bit uncertain whether my interest once I finished going through all the song annotations and wanted more would swing towards other musicals or towards history, but then it swung towards history hard. My journey essentially went from song annotations, to tvtropes, to tumblr history blogs, to biographies.

It’s quite possible September will be spent reading a lot of nonfiction, and I honestly don’t know what am I going to do, I can hardly start posting my rambly, super casual, excessive notes on early American history on a SFF blog and I’m still more than a little wary of talking about my latest interest online.

Currently reading:

  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark: I expect to finish it today, it’s a novella and pretty good. Much funnier than I expected.

Books read this year: 35 (+ 9 rereads)
r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge progress: 13/25 (52%)

Review: The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman

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Once in a while, I’ll take a break from fantasy and read a nonfiction book. This one in particular has caught my attention because I have read City of Lies a few months before – a fantasy book focused on poisons – and wanted to know more about how it worked in real life. I was not disappointed and ended up enjoying myself very much.

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Review: The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich

Image result for unwomanly face of war

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I want to shove this book at everyone I know.

Can I find the right words? I can tell about how I shot. But about how I wept, I can’t. That will be left untold. I know one thing: in war a human being becomes frightening and incomprehensible. How can one understand him? You’re a writer. Think up something yourself. Something beautiful. Without lice and filth, without vomit…Without the smell of vodka and blood…Not so frightening as life…

This is a collection of accounts of Russian women who went through WWII – soldiers of all kinds, partisan fighters, and medical workers mostly, but also washerwomen, bakers, mechanics, civilians…both about the war and what happened afterwards. All of them women whose stories were forgotten; silenced or forced to keep to a certain, more traditional narrative of glory. It’s hardly a traditional war book. No listings of great battles, victories, losses. Only very human, personal stories from the perspective of those who did not get to tell them until then.

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