Friday, January 1, 2021

2020: Another Year, Another End-of-Year Book Freakout!

I don't know why I still call these round-ups "Book Freakouts." It was the original name of the question set, sure, but the original question set was a tag that I then co-opted and slightly modified so I would have a more interesting end-of-year book roundup than a Top Ten Favorite Reads post. (I mean, I still do a Top Five Favorite Reads post over on Light and Shadows, but it's nice to get a more broad look at the highs, lows, and surprises of the year, y'know?) But in any case, I very rarely actually, y'know, freak out over the books included. Perhaps, come 2021, I will rebrand.


Wait a minute.

It is 2021.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, Y'ALL! (Also, don't forget to check out my New Year's Eve story that I posted last night! And check back in a couple days for my 2021 goals post.)

Anyway. Back to the books! We'll keep that rebranding idea on the table, but while we're thinking about what that might look like, let's recap the highs and the lows of my bookish adventures in 2020.

(It occurs to me that if I rebrand, I will have to make new post banners for my recap posts. Though that might not be a horrible thing.)

As per the usual, let's get started with some statistics! I have read a total of 125 books and 36,384 pages this year, 66 of which were read since my Mid-Year Book Freakout. That beats my overall goal of reading 99 books this year by a very respectable amount. I don't have the exact breakdown of genres like some other people do (mostly because I can't be bothered to track everything on Excel/Google Forms and Goodreads), but I'd guess it's a more diverse spread than it has been in other years and that it particularly includes more nonfiction than usual.

As for specific goals, some numbers:

  • I beat my goal of reading twelve books outside the spec-fic genres with a total of 17 non-spec-fic reads (15 if you remove the book I was specifically required to read for a class and the Narnia cookbook that I skim-read). A solid fifth of those were some flavor of biography, and the rest were a smattering of mystery, classics, contemporary, science, and some theology/philosophy.
  • And for my goal of twelve books written before I was born, I read a total of thirty books that fit that category. Granted, ten of them were in the Redwall series, and a good two-thirds of them were aimed partially or primarily at a similar age group. But it's still quite respectable.

And now that we have the statistics out of the way, let's get specific with the question set!

2020 End-of-Year Book Freakout!

1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2020:

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

It feels really weird to have a non-speculative-fiction book top my list, but A Morbid Taste for Bones was frankly amazing. As I said in my review, it's like someone distilled the vibes of Robin Hood and Ranger's Apprentice, poured it into a 12th-century monastery, and then added a heaping helping of murder mystery. I haven't read the rest of the series yet because I've been busy trying to work through my extant library stacks, but I'm very excited to.

And now, a few runners-up:

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

I've been meaning to read this book for quite a while, and I almost bought it at McKay's mid-way through the summer . . . and then didn't because I read the first chapter and wasn't sure if I'd love it. And then I got it from the library. And it was amazing. It's a clever twist on Sleeping Beauty set in an unashamedly, delightfully magical world. There's an emphasis on family and friendship over romance, and it's almost like a Penderwicks-style slice-of-life type story for most of the book (until you get to the end and things come to a head). It's excellent.

(And for those curious: I did find it again at McKay's several months later. So it now sits on my shelf ready to be reread whenever I like.)

The Dark King's Curse by Wyn Estelle Owens

My favorite of the Tattered Slippers releases, this is a delightful, fae-filled retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It has a very clever take on the seasonal courts and a lovely emphasis on friendships and family without taking the usual route of focusing on the relationships between the sisters. (We actually only really get to know one of the twelve princesses! Which is quite unusual.) The best part of the novel, of course, is Laisren, who is indescribably excellent — the best I can do is to say that he's a magnificent meddler, merry on the surface yet determined and loyal and unyielding beneath, like the best aspects of Mollymauk (Critical Role), Eanrin (Tales of Goldstone Wood), and Rook (An Enchantment of Ravens) all rolled into one and topped off with an actual sense of kingship and responsibility.

2. Best sequel series you've read in the second half of 2020:

I'm changing this question a bit because I didn't read many sequels in this half of the year that I wouldn't also want to mention the book or books that came before. (Or that weren't rereads; there were a fair number of those too.)

The Strange Planet duology by Nathan W. Pyle

I debated a bit about giving this the top spot because it's not really a story, just a compilation of comics. But there are some storylines if you look closely, and these were some of my favorite new-to-me reads of the year, so . . . yeah. Here we are. They're just very clever and enthusiastic and funny and sometimes insightful.

For something with an actual storyline:

The Magus of the Library series by Mitsu Izumi

I read a lot of comics and manga this year, but after the Strange Planet anthologies, this series was the best. It's got a non-European setting (specifically, Middle Eastern-inspired), a heartwarming narrative, and, of course, lots of love for libraries, books, and the magical librarians that tend them.

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to:

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

How have I not read these yet? It's called "it took forever for them to come in at the library," crossed with "When I finally got them in at the library, I was in the middle of other books" and a little bit of "When I am already emotionally drained and stretched thin and altogether too busy, it's not a good idea to start a book that, while amazing, will turn all of those things up higher." They're at the top of the list for this month, though. (There's a high chance that, by the time you read this post, I'll already be in the middle of Return).

4. Most anticipated release for next year:

Love and Memory by Kendra E. Ardnek

2021 looks like it's going to be a quieter year, so I don't have anything on the level of Return of the Thief or Rhythm of War to look forward to. I am excited for the Love and Memory release, though. It's going to be good.

Oh, and I'm excited for whatever Wyn Estelle Owens puts out. I don't know exactly what it'll be, but pretty much everything she's posted snippets of in the last few months sounds delightful.

5. Biggest disappointment:

It's a tie between two books in this category.

Crimson Bound by Rosamond Hodge

This wasn't terrible, but it definitely did not meet my expectations. It had a lot of potential and a lot of good reviews from friends, but it got bogged down in the middle by frustrating character decisions and romantic angst. The ending was great; the rest of the story . . . wasn't.

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern

I actually liked this less than Crimson Bound, but I had lower expectations. I'm not sure why I decided to pick it up, in hindsight — my feelings about the author's webcomics are mixed, after all. But I also usually like stories that make fun of common tropes. Just . . . not this one so much.

6. Biggest surprise:

The fact that I haven't read the books in question #3. Or, for that matter, either of the Invisible Library books that came out this year. Or W.R. Gingell's new Two Monarchies novel. But if you want an actual book, here's two:

Poison's Dance by Tricia Mingerink

I had lower expectations for this book going in (I thought I would probably like it, but strongly doubted I'd love it), but then I ended up really enjoying it! It has a nice twist on the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and it's a nomance on top of that! So that was nice. Also, Tamya is just a really great character.

Runner-up in this category:

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

I mentioned this in my most recent Doings! post, but a friend recommended this to me around this time last year and I planned to save it for the Christmas season. Again, I expected to like it but not love it, but honestly, I enjoyed this enough that I'd probably buy it if I found it for a good price. It's fun and has a lot of emphasis on family and friendship and not letting go of what you have and recognizing what's really valuable and less emphasis than I expected on actual romance. (I mean, there is an actual romance in this one, and it's very cute and I ABSOLUTELY shipped it, but it's not 100% of the plot, nor does it overtake the parts of the plot that aren't it. The different themes and aspects support each other as they should in any good book.)

7. Favorite new-to-you author:

E. J. Kitchens! She wrote another of my favorite Tattered Slippers releases, Wrought of Silver and Ravens, and I'm very excited to read the rest of her books.

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:

Allllllll the couples in The Dark King's Curse. Don't ask me to pick one; I can't. They are all delightful in their own wonderful and slightly heartbreaking ways.

(Also, the one that I probably would pick is the most spoilery of the bunch. So there's that. That's also why I'm not naming them all.)

9. Newest favorite character:


That is all.

Thank you.

(I also really love Siobhra, though. She's a close second.)

10. A book that made you cry:

The Wingfeather Saga books 3-4

Both of these have scenes that would make me cry if I cried at books. That's not a thing I generally do, though, as has been frequently established in these round-up posts.

11. A book that made you happy:

Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede

This is a really fun short story anthology, and I quite enjoyed pretty much all the stories in it! The last one (which involves an enchanted frying pan) is my favorite, but they're all excellent (and nicely bite-sized).

12. Favorite book to film adaptation you've seen this half of the year:

Little Women is arguably the only book-to-film adaptation I've seen this year that I've watched enough of to consider a favorite. But it would probably be my favorite even if that weren't the case. As I said earlier this week, it handles the source material very well and managed not to mangle my favorite characters' arcs.

13. Favorite post(s) you've done this half of the year:

A few picks:

14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:

Behold the beauty of the revamped Wingfeather Saga! (Technically I only bought the second two books this half of the year, but it still counts.) I have hardcovers of all four, but I don't feel like staging a new picture right now.

15. Any other books you want to babble about for any other reason?

I finally read Diana Wynn Jones's Aunt Maria! I've been meaning to for years, since she mentions it very frequently in the essays in Reflections, but I never quite got around to it or got my hands on it. It was . . . interesting? It explores some clever ideas and concepts, and the villain is excellent and of a type not usually seen in fantasy fiction. I didn't quite love some aspects of the writing style, though, and it is one of those books where people are frustratingly non-communicative. I mean, it's mostly for magical reasons, but still.

So! There's my end-of-year book freakout for 2020! I may just switch over to calling it a reading round-up for 2021, but that seems a bit boring . . . well, we've got six months to think about it. We'll see what happens.

What about you? What were your favorite reads of the year? Your biggest surprises (or disappointments)? Also, do you also tend to get behind on books you're really excited for because you have to wait until you're ready to actually enjoy them? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!


  1. Love all your wrapup thingsss! Such a fun post! Most of these are on my TBR. I enjoyed the Wrede one, and yy for finally reading Aunt Maria! I'll be curious to hear how you like the last Attolia book. My brother's been reading/liking them a lot and I will have to get to them at some point...

    1. Thank you! I will let you know my thoughts on the last Queen's Thief book, but I can tell you that the series as a whole is AMAZING.

  2. The Brother Cadfael series sounds interesting. I need a new mystery series now that I'm finished reading the Lord Peter Wimsey books.

    1. You should check it out, then! If they're all as good as the first book, you'll be in for a treat.


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