Promises Made and Unkept – 6 Best Books of 2020 and 4 Disappointments

I’m quite late to this, but it’s long overdue.

Last year, I made a similar post – here – highlighting the books I’d read in 2019. Same process here, just with books of 2020. Despite all of 2020’s… Er… challenges, I managed to read 48 books, nearly 20 more than the year before. In terms of rating, I averaged a 3.4 on Goodreads compared to the 3.29. So, on the whole, I enjoyed more of the books I read! But not all was pleasant and there were some less than savory reading choices made.

I highlighted this in my last post, here, but I took a different approach to my tbr list – with some exceptions. It’s been rather freeing and saved me from choice paralysis for the most part. To summarize, I started by plugging my entire TBR list into a random generator and ran it nine times to create a roster. Every time I’ve finished a book, I would rerun the generator and add the next selection to the pile.

However, there’s been some exceptions. For instance, for a while I was a part of a local queer book club in my town before covid hit, so their selections would take precedence in my list. And, more recently, I have become part of an indie book club on twitter hosted by Jodie Renée. It’s because of this group that I plan to start branching out to indie book reviews on this blog, for instance.

But that’s a topic for another time. Onto the main attraction!

Six Best Books of 2020

1. Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I mentioned this in the mid-year wrapup post, but it bore repeating. I adored the main couple. Oftentimes, I find straight romances difficult to enjoy fully, but this book pulled me in with a truly enthralling and complicated romance. And the magic system was incredible, performed via “rites” which are kinda ceremonial dances. It’s fresh and unique. The writing style gripped me. I’m excited to get my hands on the sequel and to, eventually, get my hands on The Jasmine Throne.

2. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Reading through this series was an experience I find hard to quantify. There are some things I wish hadn’t happened, but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this series and especially this finale. It almost succeeded in making me cry, which is very hard to do to begin with. All in all, a brilliant ending to a brilliant series.

3. Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barns

Despite the fact I don’t read them as often as I want to, I love memoirs. I really do. I think I picked this up during some kind of Amazon promotion and finally got around to reading it due to my new reading system. This is mostly about Cinelle’s life in the Philippines and how her family rose and fell from grace. The writing was beautiful in its own right, the actual memoir heart wrenching.

4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This book punched me in the face from chapter one and didn’t relent until the end. This was another one I mentioned in my mid-year blog and it still has an impact on me now. Up until the end I was in love with Evelyn, and even after the plot twists so cruelly, I still loved her. Just… incredibly frustrated by her. It’s such a shame things ended the way they did, but they almost had to. Doesn’t make it any less gut-wrenching, though. And I hate how well it all came together.

5. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Oh. My. God.

First of all, this was a book chosen by aforementioned local queer book club i was in, and we read it right before Halloween, which led to a perfect combination. This book did make me cry, in a good way. I loved the way Yadriel was wrote. I love Julian. I love everything about this book, okay? It is so hard to put into words why I love it and honestly, trying to put my adoration into words fills my brain with tv static. But believe me, this was probably my favorite book of 2020.

6. Secrets My Mother Kept by Rebecca Tucker

This is the last book I read to close out 2020 and is also one of the books from aforementioned indie book club, of which the author is a member! I won’t say too much about this book as it will get its own dedicated review, but wow. What a way to end the year. This book had a lot to say about adoption and one’s own heritage and it truly touched me in ways I couldn’t imagine. If you’re looking for a new indie book to support, this is definitely the one.

Four Disappointments of 2020

1. Gods and Monsters by Janie Marie

This is one of those books where I’m not wholly sure how I found out about it. It definitely was one I saw in an ad, either on Facebook or Twitter, and it most likely was one on sale when I saw it and thought, “Sure, why not?”

Well… this book gave me a whole lot of reasons why not.

For some reason, I thought this book/series was going to have mayyybe polyamory, or at least reverse harem if I was being generous. I also expected a flawed main character who underwent, I don’t know, some kind of development. Instead, I got an entire mess the author called worldbuilding, a disastrous whiner and slut shamer of an MC, unbelievably shitty love interests, and a plot so contrived I still don’t really know what happened. I finished this book and then attempted to read the sequel but ended up DNFing. I’m trying not to rant too much about this book – I did enough of that in my review. To summarize, though, this is some of the worst characterization I’ve ever seen. What an entire disaster. Also, this features a massive zombie – or something – outbreak in book one and I had elected to try to read this riiiight after my state went on lockdown. Talk about timing.

2. Temper: Deference by Lila Mina

Trigger warning: mentions of self harm, heavy kink

What this book promised me: paranormal poly romance with complicated relationships and a heaping dose of BDSM.

What this book delivered: uhhh… not too much of that, actually.

This was definitely a book I bought based on the premise, hoping I would like it. I’ve seen it advertised for years since my Wattpad days, and I was never quite sure if I should leap on it or not. And, truth be told, I should have trusted my intuition on this.

Polyamorous romances are hard to write – harder than monogamous ones. You have to balance multiple people and all of their relationships to each other. It can quickly become a tangled web if you aren’t careful. And honestly, not a big fan of the job Lina did here. Most of the narrative centers on Lana’s and Honda’s relationship – which was fair in the beginning concerning how the story started. However, I really feel like Yuki – Honda’s wife – was left to the side in a lot of respects and especially at the end, Honda was such an asshole to her. I’m sure she becomes a more prominent love interest in later books, but as it was I was so disenchanted with book one that I won’t be continuing.

As for the kink element, well… there’s a difference between hardcore scenes and scenes like towards the end of the book, where Honda comes home angry, demands Lana have sex with him, and then decides to bring out knives in response to her trying to check in with safe words. Like she literally asks “what if I invoke our safe word now” and he fucking slices his chest and tells her to shut up because what he’s doing isn’t for her. I still get angry trying to think about it. That’s not hot. It isn’t. And there wasn’t any aftercare for Lana until Honda and Yuki had an argument over how she had been treated, which is several hours later/the next day. I am really tired of the proliferation of unsafe kink.

On a much lighter note, this is also supposed to be the start of a paranormal series, but there’s no paranormal aspects to be seen. In fact, we don’t get a hint of it at all until the opening of chapter 2, which I only found out about as the first couple of chapters were previewed at the end of book 1. I get there’s a lot already being set up in this book, but you really need to have all of your cards on the table as soon as possible.

3. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

I really didn’t want to include this and in truth, I had higher hopes for this book. Before I tried to read, I was very, very excited over the prospect of lesbian necromancers… in space. What isn’t there to love?

I think the biggest turnoff for me was the writing style itself. I found humor in Gideon’s raunchy voice and snarkiness, but it wasn’t enough to really hold me to this book. It could have also just been the wrong time to try to read this? I do want to try again at some point, as I am so helplessly in love with the concept. But, when I did read it, it just… wasn’t a hit, so I stopped reading pretty early on.

4. Lumière by Jacqueline Garlick

Okay, first of all, the main character’s name was Eyelet. Sometimes funny names are cool (a friend of mine has a character named Olaf – and his real name is much worse). However, I cannot fathom how someone decided such a name was a good idea.

This is another book I did not finish. Mostly due to the above reason, but also because it was honestly kind of convoluted and hackneyed. Back in my Wattpad days, I had a stronger stomach, but I just don’t have the patience anymore for books I don’t like. There isn’t much to say about this one, honestly. I just thought it was kinda silly and I didn’t like it.

Nine Books I’m Reading Now

Finally, to wrap up this post, to go over the current nine books in my reading roster.

  1. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
  2. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  4. The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci
  5. The Long Earth by Stephen Baxter and Sir Terry Pratchett (though I may stop reading this one – I’m just not vibing with it.)
  6. The Throne of the Five Winds by S. C. Emmett
  7. Embassytown by China Mieville
  8. Spice and Wolf Volume 2 by Isuna Hasekura
  9. The Novice by Taran Matharu
  10. (Bonus) Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the current book club pick for a discord server I’m in, so I’m going to try to squeeze this in by the end of this month.

Author: draconako

Alex is a queer writer, game-maker, and mountain of incomprehensible goo living in the Pacific Northwest. When they aren’t being paid to manage insurance accounts, they’re researching whatever interests them, reading from their arsenal of books, playing video games, or spending time with their partner. They can be reached at @draconako on most of the internet or at authoralexharvey@gmail.com

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