Midsummer has been and gone, so as we approach the end of June I’m taking a moment to catch my breath and look back at the year’s reading so far.
Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year
I’ve been a bit stingier than last year in handing out 5 star ratings. While I’ve once again rated over half my completed reads as 4 stars or higher, only 4 have achieved the full 5 stars. Nemesis Games was a a reread and 1 will slot another in against a later prompt, so I’ll share the honours for this first prompt between these two beauties: Sarah Gailey’s magnificent murder-clone conspiracy The Echo Wife and This Is Our Undoing, Lorraine Wilson’s haunting thriller of family and redemption.
Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far This Year
The God Of Lost Words is the final installment in AJ Hackwith’s afterlife-hopping fantasy of dead librarians and undying stories and oh gosh does it pull together all the drama from the first two and finish the series with a bang. With Hell moving to take control of the Unwritten Wing, Claire, Brevity, Hero and Rami must find a way to create a true safe haven for humanity’s stories.
New Release You Haven’t Read Yet but Want To
Ahem. Look, don’t ask if I’ve read the books I named in this category last year (I’ve read one of them. One). Or the two that were outstanding from the year before. Damn. Right, so, while I’m at risk of retitling this the wishful thinking category, let’s focus on five books I’m just burning to read. First, titles from two new-to me authors: Claire Kohda’s take on vampirism Woman, Eating and CSE Cooney’s Saint Death’s Daughter, which I’ve heard so much about (and all good!). Then it’s all about sequels: Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, revisiting Lina Rather’s rebellious nuns in space; Katherine Addison’s The Grief of Stones because I just know that time with sad prelate Thara Celehar will be balm for my heart; and the answer to the question of how can Mike Brooks possibly wrap this series up with just one more book, epic social fantasy The God Breaker.
Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year
It’s another head to head because I can’t pick between these two:
Look at that fierce sword princess. I loved The Jasmine Throne, so the sequel to yearning murder lesbians and plant magic and blazing revolution tops my list of things to look forward to this summer. But come autumn, the nights will close in and after the tantalisingly dark You Let Me In, Camilla Bruce has a new stand-alone novel coming out just in time for Spooktastic Reads. The Witch In The Well promises to be another Gothic tale of malign influences and murder, and I am ready for it to set my spine tingling.
This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster: to balance out the 8 4.5 and 5-star reads, there have been 5 DNFs and 6 reads I awarded fewer than 3 stars. That said, I didn’t necessarily expect much of most of them, so I wouldn’t necessarily call them disappointments. However, there were two textbook examples of I’m not mad I’m disappointed: A Psalm For The Wild-Built by Becky Chambers and How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu. Don’t take this the wrong way as both are well-written and have garnered plenty of rave reviews for perfectly good reasons. However, I went into them with high expectations and finished them irritated and dissatisfied. For me, Psalm spent far too much time validating Dex’s selfishness (and – double whammy – that selfishness is expressed in ways that make me see red) and Dark was both shallow and repetitive in exploring its themes (although I absolutely loved some of the individual stories within its mosaic); it also eventually delivered a plot point that had me yelling at the page. I may just be really grumpy this year.
This is where my third 5 star read comes in: I wasn’t looking forward to reading Catriona Silvey’s debut novel Meet Me In Another Life, because I thought it was a time travel / dimension hopping romance. Instead, this is an exquisitely executed if mysterious mosaic of personal stories.
Two souls meet in life after life as friends, lovers, enemies, colleagues, student and mentor, father and daughter until they slowly begin remembering their past lives and asking questions. Who are they, and why are they drawn to Cologne – and what keeps bringing them back? The SFnal elements come into play late, and are arguably the least interesting thing – but this is a gorgeous debut.
Favourite New Author
While I hesitate to claim favourite new author on the basis of a single read, I’m keen to see what Lorraine Wilson does next …which – a quick Google later – turns out to be another haunting tale of family and sacrifice called The Way Light Bends out from Luna Press in August, so I look forward to having my heart bruised all over again.
Newest Fictional Crush
Side-stepping the intent of this prompt because nope, not my thing – my favourite crush in fiction goes to Mal’s crush on 22 in Firebreak, which is entirely wholesome and relatable. The bit where well-meaning fans horrify her with suggestions on what she might get up to with him was a delight. THEY’RE GOING TO SIT AND NOT TALK, PEOPLE. THAT’S WHO THEY BOTH ARE.
Newest Favourite Character
Yes, this year my answers are very much dominated by my favourite reads, and this honour goes to Doctor Evelyn Caldwell from the deliciously spiteful The Echo Wife. I liked Evelyn precisely because she’s awful. She has survived terrifying parents, a controlling marriage and reached the pinnacle of a male-dominated profession. She is ruthless, ambitious, a workaholic – and raging in the wake of her husband’s double betrayal. She is deliberately cruel on a regular basis to keep people in their place or to keep them at a distance or just because she can be; but still capable of occasional acts of unexpected compassion. She feels entirely believable to me, a complex character shaped by her experiences, and absolutely magnetic because I could never be sure how she’d react to any given situation. I couldn’t root for her – her ability to compartmentalize and rationalise any act allow her to do monstrous things – but she lives rent-free in my heart next door to Hestillion from The Winnowing Flame as a terrible person who I just couldn’t look away from.
Book that Made You Cry
It’s a truth regularly acknowledged around here that a book in want of a high rating can always employ the tactic of making me cry, and both Meet Me In Another Life and This Is Our Undoing contributed to ocular dampness. However, it’s generally been quite a dry-eyed reading year so far so – at the risk of leaving myself open to emotional devastation – bring it on in the second half of the year, books!
Book that Made You Happy
There’s lots of ways to make me happy, but let’s talk about pure, giggling delight: I loved everything about Calvin Kasulke’s absurd office comedy Several People Are Typing. When PR exec Gerald tries to share a spreadsheet, he gets uploaded to the corporate Slack – a slice of office life complete with client drama, desk politics, illicit romance, passive aggressive Slack messages and body snatching ensue. Think e for the 21st century.
Favourite Book to Film Adaptation
I’m am currently watching TV rather than (new) movies (although I finally saw Seoul Station, which was fab if not an adaptation) – but there’s some excellent TV adaptations around! Until yesterday, 2022 has been the year where I finally felt strong enough to watch The Handmaid’s Tale (I think they’ve done an excellent job on working with and extending the original material, although I weary of the showrunner’s disinterest in letting any subplot develop into even two episodes). I mostly relished Nine Perfect Strangers on Amazon, although I haven’t read the book to compare it to – I felt the ending was a bit pat, though; it feels more like a version Frances wrote afterwards rather than what actually happened. I mostly enjoyed First Kill on Netflix too, although I wasn’t particularly interested in the main characters or their romance; their parents and the off-the-wall World of Darkness vibe (complete with a vision of GMs shaking their heads over unexpectedly successful rolls when players insisted on unexpected actions – yes, Sebastian, I’m looking at you) were what did it for me.
Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Okay, I’m cheating here as I’ve bought relatively few books. So over to my ARCS, where three very different covers caught my eye. I love the architectural styling of The Final Strife and the stylized illustration of Dark Earth (also, they’re both fabulously not-quite-symmetrical; they tick so many of my favourite design boxes); and The Collarbound stands out for its two-tone colour palette and those evocative shapes for the background and cloak snapping in the wind contrasted with the detail around his face and core.
What Books Do You Need to Read by the End of the Year?
I mentioned that I’ve not really read any 2022 releases yet and do plan to read a few – but what I really want to focus on for the rest of the year are my backlist: I have so many books I get so excited about reading when I see them on the shelf, but somehow never do. I’d like to fix that, in spite of the siren song of ARCs and shiny new books. We’ll see how I get on. I’ll be drafting a summer TBR next week to laughingly ignore – combining backlist love with ARC August; and after that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll just let things leap off the shelf at me.
What are your favourite reads of the year so far?