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Top Ten Reads in 2020

2020 has been a rather sucky year for just about everyone, as far as I can tell. However, my reading in 2020 has been Ah-mazing. So far I’ve read 161 books, and hope to knock out a few more before the year is up. Pretty sure my top 10 and runner-up 10 won’t change, though, so here we go. These are the books that stood out to me as most original, imaginative, magical, inclusive, and progressive. The ones that have stuck with me and that I still find myself thinking about in moments of downtime. The ones I absolutely, wholeheartedly, unreservedly recommend to everyone who enjoys fantasy (and even those who don’t). The ones I will be anxiously awaiting sequels, follow-ups, and future works by the authors, as well as diving into their backlists.

My Top Ten Reads in 2020 (in no particular order):

And, because I can’t ever manage to stick to a top-whatever list:

My Runner-up 10 Reads in 2020 (in no particular order):

I HIGHLY recommend each of these and would love to hear what you think of them!

And now… bring on 2021!

ARC Review: Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book surprised me. I won an ARC of it from bookishfirst after enjoying the sample, and thought it might make an enjoyable enough read, but it was so much more than that. It’s deceptively simple and very intense, and I loved the depiction of therapy. Ellie’s therapist is awesome. Ellie has endured bullying about her weight from her schoolmates and her family, and her journey to speak up and overcome that was empowering and emotional. Highly recommend to anyone who has ever struggled with their weight or had to deal with unhelpful critical remarks from family – those who should lift you up instead of drag you down.

I love a good novel written in verse, and this one really took advantage of the format to be sparse and cutting and pack a punch. I was crying rather a lot by the end of it, and came away feeling like I could hold my head up a little higher despite my oft-pointed out flaws.

Thanks to bookishfirst for providing an arc to review.

ARC Review: The Governess Gambit by Erica Ridley

Rating: 5 out of 5.
I really enjoyed getting some background for the Duke Heist (which I already read my arc of and LOVED). Bean’s illness was so heartbreaking and I really felt for the Wynchester siblings. And OMG but the new Duke of Faircliffe was infuriating. I even know why from Duke Heist but ugh. Did not like him here. (Yes, I know that’s the point.)

I do see how starting the series here could make it seem somewhat lacking – I am glad to have read this after Duke Heist, though that did make the introductions of all the Wynchesters slightly tedious.

I love the Wynchester siblings so much. They are a wild, wonderful family and I really wish I could know them in real life. Even better, if I could be one of them. Besides their capers and plotting, it’s clear they love one another and trust one another deeply.

Thanks to Erica Ridley and WebMotion for providing an e-arc of this for review.

ARC Review: The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This story was adorable and really shows what outrageous magic middle-grade novels can get away with. Cordelia is plucky and determined, her secret friend Goose discovers bravery, and Sam definitely steals the show. The magical ingredients and their properties and uses were delightful and unexpected, and I definitely enjoyed the footnotes/glossary explaining them when they appeared. The villains were cartoonish and dastardly, and the showdown outlandish and improbable, but also delightful. The Hatmakers were all wonderful characters and I adored the concept of magical milliners to the king and clothing created to imbue the wearer with desired feelings/characteristics. I look forward to the next book.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children’s UK for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: Forever Your Duke by Erica Ridley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I heartily enjoyed this final? installment in the 12 Dukes of Christmas series. As usual, Erica’s characters jump off the page and seem vividly, vitally real. The romance was swoony and felt natural and inevitable.

Cynthia Louise has cast off the rules of society and embraces rule-breaking. The Duke of Nottingvale follows every rule as if his life depends on it. Of course, sparks fly and they can’t seem to stay away from each other. Despite the obvious mismatch in outlook, they’re both genuine and kind, and bring out the best in each other. My favorite kind of romance.

Erica Ridley has become a new favorite author, and I eagerly look forward to catching up on her backlist and reading whatever she writes next.

*Thanks to NetGalley and WebMotion fro providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: A Universe of Wishes edited by Donielle Clayton

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this anthology. Short story anthologies are generally hit or miss with me, and I tend to be very picky about them. But this one I absolutely loved Every. Single. Story. I don’t know if it was the focus on diversity, but every story was so fresh and new and bold.

I haven’t read a Darker Shade of Magic, but it’s definitely moved up my list after the background story in this volume. It’s been years and years since I read the Gemma Doyle books, but I was immediately sucked into the related story and actually was shocked out of the book, blinking, when it ended and I remembered that I was reading a story in an anthology and not another full novel. I would definitely read a full novel about Gemm and her friends after the original trilogy.

For that matter, I would read an entire novel about pretty much all of these stories and will be searching out full novels from all of its authors.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Childrens Books for providing an e-arc to review.

Audiobook ARC Review: the Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo, Narrated by Lauren Fortgang and Ben Barnes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

These stories have the same flavor as Leigh’s other stories, but they lack the depth of those in the Language of Thorns (mostly because they’re shorter). For a book about the history of Saints, however, it’s pretty much what I would expect, and there were some nice tidbits and tie-ins with the rest of the series. Mostly they just made me want to go back and listen to the Grishaverse novels again.

I appreciated them more, with Lauren Fortgang and Ben Barnes reading them, than I would have if I’d read them myself, though I did miss out on the illustrations. The narration was excellent, I loved the intro/finale music, and in general, the audio production was top notch.

Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for providing me with an audiobook ARC to review.

ARC Review: Jolene by Mercedes Lackey

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Who knew that the song Jolene and the fairy tale of the Queen of Copper Mountain would go so well together? This is an excellent tribute to Dolly Parton (though near the end it did get a little pointed, what with the echoing “Jolene Jolene Jolene Jolene” and Anna’s plea), and I’m thoroughly convinced that Dolly’s Jolene is, in fact, a Great Elemental.

The most striking thing about this book (aside from Jolene) is the writing. It’s written entirely in dialect – late 1800s/early 1900s Tennessee – and it is scrupulously consistent. It’s easy enough to read once you get into it, but at first glance, it has little in common with today’s English.

As for the story, it reminded me a lot of Anne of Green Gables but with magic. I never got bored – the pace moves along steadily as Anna settles into life on her Aunt Jinny’s homestead and grows into her magic.

I appreciated that while this is an Elemental Masters novel, it doesn’t rely on knowledge of the previous novels, except for some basic world-building. I have read most of them, but not all, and not in the past few years. Luckily this proved no hindrance. I also had some prior knowledge of the tales of the Queen of the Copper Mountain, but while this allowed me to anticipate some plot points, I don’t think it’s necessary to follow the story.

*Thanks to NetGalley and DAW for providing an e-arc to review.

November Wrap-up

I didn’t read as many books in November as usual, but I listened to more. I also read some longer books, so it ended up pretty average I think.

I would recommend all of these except Knaves – it had some good short stories but most were meh or worse and I had to push through them.

Scorpio Races was my favorite (it was a reread) closely followed by Hollowpox, Left-Handed Booksellers of London (coolest title ever!), and Namesake.

Of the 11 books I read in November, 6 were ARCs.

ARC Review: When a Rogue Meets his Match by Elizabeth Hoyt

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this story! I wasn’t sure at first because it’s rather longer than I expected for a romance, but I ended up loving the slow build. It felt necessary to Gideon and Messalina being able to trust one another and come to care for one another.

The characters were wonderful – so many very unique ones who really came alive. Lucretia, Sam, Gideon, Messalina, Hicks, all of them really.

There were a lot of allusions to the mysterious tragedy where her older sister disappeared/died? that didn’t make much sense to me. Perhaps if I’d read the first book before tackling this one. Everything else was explained/wrapped up neatly.

I would love to see a novel with Lucretia as the main character! She’s so feisty and determined, she practically begs to be the focus of a novel. I would definitely read that one. And I’d love to see more of her older brothers. There’s a lot of potential there.

The only thing I didn’t like about this novel is the sex scenes. They were… awkward and weird to read. If they’d been omitted, it would have been a perfect book for me (though I’m sure plenty of other people would complain if they had been).

*Thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for providing an e-arc for review.