Well hello midsummer, good to see you! The end of June means it’s time to look back at this year’s reading and see how 2021 is shaping up – and this year’s check in will be harder than ever, because it’s been quite a year of books already. Let’s take a look…
Before I get started, a quick note on names. This tag was created by ReadLikeWildfire and Earl Grey Books, but I won’t be using their name for it from now on as it uses ableist terminology. It’s easy to miss when it comes to words that have become ingrained in our slang, but that doesn’t mean using them doesn’t cause unintentional harm.
Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
And I thought this was a tough question last year. 2021 is shaping up to be excellent: I’ve rated over half my reads as 4 stars or higher, and a whopping 6 have achieved 5 stars (by comparison, I only awarded 5 stars to 8 books last year – and 4 of those were rereads). I’ll hold one back for the next prompt, but no way am I playing favourites between the other 5, I’m just creating arbitrary mini-categories:
- Best debut: The Unbroken – CL Clark (review in progress, currently mostly incoherent screaming)
- Best start to a new series: The Jasmine Throne – Tasha Suri
- Best serial read: Bookburners – created by Max Gladstone, produced by Realm.FM
- Best addition to an ongoing series: Fugitive Telemetry – Martha Wells
- Best stand-alone novella: These Lifeless Things – Premee Mohamed
Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
Thankfully this one’s easy: I adored A Desolation Called Peace as a thoroughly satisfying sequel to my favourite 2019 space opera A Memory Called Empire. Arkady Martine extends her themes and her world with another many-layered novel exploring communication, conflict and the overpowering importance of having the right context.
There’s so much going on here – politics, diplomacy, the unintended consequences of technological advances, cultural imperialism, questions of identity – all delivered through the lens of engaging characters grappling with conspiracy and aggressive first contact and distracting romantic impulses. I have no doubt I’ll find more to unpack when I reread it, but it’s cemented this duology on my list of all-time favourite reads.
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet but Want To
Oops: I still haven’t read 2 of the 3 2020 releases I named at this point last year. FOR SHAME.
I’ve done a good job of staying on top of my ARCs, but that’s about all I’m on top of. I haven’t read any of this year’s Goldsboro SFF books (oops) or got to even half the books I identified as my most anticipated releases in the first half of the year.
I really really really need to get to Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse and The Mask of Mirrors by MA Carrick. I somehow haven’t yet read The Galaxy, And The Ground Within by Becky Chambers or Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell. At least those are all on the shelf – I haven’t even got my hands on a copy of The Councillor by EJ Beaton or The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin yet. And have you seen the releases lined up for July? I’m never catching up, but dammit these books will get read. Eventually.
Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year
I haven’t done a lot of looking ahead yet, so I’ll limit my answer to the ‘most anticipated ARC already on my TBR’. As with all these prompts, this is tough, but P Djèlí Clark wins by a whisker with his debut novel A Master of Djinn. Clark has stunned me with every one of his novellas, and I loved his steampunk Cairo so I’m really looking forward to his first long-form adventure in that world.
While this has been an amazing year so far, there have been some disappointments. Unfortunately, The Vela: Salvation just wasn’t very good. I thoroughly enjoyed The Vela, but the new writing team seemed to be working to a different brief – and not for the better. Perhaps Salvation was doomed to disappoint given the first season was penned by Yoon Ha Lee, Rivers Solomon, Becky Chambers & SL Huang – big shoes to fill! – but it made me realise that other Realm.FM titles I’ve enjoyed through multiple seasons had consistent showrunners and writing teams. I’ll be sceptical of any future Realm.FM titles that switch team between seasons as Salvation suggests they don’t have the editorial talent on staff to make that work.
I’ve got two here – which I refuse to consider cheating because one is fantasy, the other space opera.
The Black Coast was my first Mike Brooks novel. On the surface, it sounds like a fairly traditional epic fantasy – a childless god-king, a teenage rival, demonic invaders, dragons – but this delighted me by subverting the expectations it sets up to deliver a narrative focused on cultural integration as hereditary enemies try to solve their differences through communication. And those dragons are dinosaurs, which only made me happier.
Similarly, A Pale Light In The Black was my first KB Wagers novel, combining many of my favourite tropes – found family, a hotly-contested championship, space rescue/salvage – with a conspiracy plot and a cast who are as adorable as they are insecure (everyone sees their talent except them). Why such a surprise? The blurb makes a big deal of it being inspired by the real-world activities of the US Coast Guard, so I had this pegged as milSF-adjacent – which it is, but as Katy said on Twitter ‘The #NeoG isn’t your mama’s military scifi‘. Max Gladstone’s blurb is a better guide: think Becky Chambers but with more kickboxing.
Favourite New Author
On the strength of These Lifeless Things – which was absolutely tremendous – probably Premee Mohamed. I’ve already got my hands on her next two novellas (due out later this year), although I’m not rushing to read her novels (anything Cthulhu-adjacent is a tough sell to me). I’ll certainly be watching to see what she writes next.
Newest Fictional Crush
Nope, still don’t really understand this concept.
Newest Favourite Character
While it’s tempting to yell about the crew of Zuma’s Ghost (yes, Jenks is my favourite, who am I kidding, but I love Rosa and Max and Niko too), they’re just pipped to the post by my favourite team of Vatican black ops archivists. The Bookburners – don’t call them that to their faces unless you’re braced for a ten minute lecture on how they don’t burn books, actually – are glorious individually and as a dysfunctional group. How could I resist a dutiful priest, a closet magician, a haunted hacker, a cursed martial artist who would like you to stop talking so she can read her book, and an ex-cop who never loses sight of the fact that the point is to save lives (not kill demons)? They’re damn good at what they do, they’re better together than alone, and they are always accruing reasons not to pull together. Of course I love Grace best – her issues unspool season after season as she grapples with her curse and its implications, and I am not ready for where her path may end.
Book that Made You Cry
I don’t feel I’ve done quite as much sobbing into the pages this year, but A Desolation Called Peace got me going more than once and Zen Cho definitely had me wipe my eyes towards the end of The Order Of The Pure Moon Reflected In Water. More recently, I tweeted my surprise that it was Jenks who set me off in A Pale Light In The Black.
Book that Made You Happy
Most of them, but especially Fugitive Telemetry, which may be the perfect spin-off. Murderbot solves a murder is every bit as much fun as it sounds, with reluctant spiky allies and a ban on hacking Station systems to go with the mysteriously dead body. I loved every minute, and am looking forward too more Murderbot adventures in future.
Favourite Book to Film Adaptation
I haven’t watched many new movies this year – I’ve rarely been in the mood to watch something when I could read or game instead. I’ve rewatched a bunch and half-watched a few more, but none were adaptations of books I’ve read.
In fact, possibly the only adaptation I’ve seen was Shadow and Bone on Netflix, which was …fine, I guess? I haven’t read the books and it hasn’t made me want to, although I’ll come back for season two if it promises to deliver more of Ben Barnes smouldering and the Crows kicking ass.
Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Every book I’ve received from the Goldsboro SFF Fellowship has been drop dead gorgeous – they are doing criminally beautiful sprayed edges on pretty much every book and I am here for it. Here’s The Library of the Dead by TL Huchu (an Edinburgh-based urban fantasy) and Sistersong, Lucy Holland’s re-imagining of a Cornish murder-ballad:
What Books Do You Need to Read by the End of the Year?
Dozens – new releases and books already on my shelf. I already mentioned A Master of Djinn; I’m looking forward to The Splinter King (sequel to The Black Coast), Hold Fast Through The Fire (sequel to A Pale Light In The Black) and Witness For The Dead (not a sequel to The Goblin Emperor) next month; and to Cassandra Khaw’s debut novel The All-Consuming World later this summer.
In other 2021 releases I haven’t yet read, I’d really like to read the other two Solaris Satellite novellas (Pollen From A Future Harvest by Derek Künsken and The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling by Wayne Santos) and the upcoming batch of novellas from Neon Hemlock (starting with The Necessity of Stars by E Catherine Tobler and And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed).
Plus I want to dive into those gorgeous Goldsboro editions that are taking over my shelves – I’m lining up The Library of the Dead for Spooktastic Reads, and it would seem appropriate to squeeze Sarah Moss’s Summerwater into my bag when I head up to the Highlands next month. I’ve no plan after that, just aspirations.
You know how it is: the list is endless.
What are your favourite reads of the year so far?