My only meagre aim of 2021 was to read more. I miss reading books, and for the last few years I haven’t had the time (the story of many people’s lives), and I find that listening to audiobooks doesn’t give me the same level of immersion as reading does (a lifetime of consuming physical and kindle books can’t be beaten by only the last few years of listening to audio fiction). I still listen to audiobooks, but to improve my own writing, I thought it was important to at least try to read more. However, I’m not one of those people who forces myself to finish a book that I’m not enjoying. I completed every book on this list unless otherwise stated (with a very handy percent completed on each one). Here is the list of every book (kindle and audiobook) I consumed in 2021, in the order in which they were consumed (links to Goodreads):
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (V.E.Schwab) – The first book I read (in physical copy, sorry Kindle) this year by who is probably my favourite author. It was nice in January to have time to sit and zoom through this book. A criminally short synopsis is a young woman makes a Faustian deal with an “old god” to essentially live forever, with the catch that no one will ever remember her, until one day a young man does. I did have some gripes, which I’m not going to unleash on you, but it is beautifully written and is a really good story that I enjoyed reading, and would thoroughly reccommend.
The Wolf Hall Trilogy (Hilary Mantel) – I got really into the Tudor era at the end of 2020, and ended up re-watching Wolf Hall by the BBC (a programme I thoroughly recommend if historical drama is your thing). If you haven’t heard of this trilogy, it’s essentially historical fiction that follows the life of Thomas Cromwell, a very important player during the reign of King Henry VIII of England, from his rise to his ineveitable downfall. Mantel does a really good job of making Cromwell likeable, which makes his downfall all the more heartbreaking (there’s no such thing as spoilers in history). If you like historical fiction, this is the trilogy for you. Well written with incredibly fleshed out and nuanced characters. The trilogy comes as a pack on Audible, and, obviously, I listened to the audiobooks.
The Starless Sea (Erin Morgenstern) – The second physical book I read this year (I charged my kindle up after this so no more physical books for me), at the beginning of February. I read The Night Circus, Morgenstern’s debut novel that came out in 2011 to critical acclaim. I can’t tell you how profoundly inspired I was by her first novel when I read it in 2014/2015 that I was really happy when I heard after so long a time away she had written another book. I wish I could write stories like this one, where every tale she so deftly weaves is part of a bigger picture. It really is masterfully written. A few minor personal gripes, but they did not detract from the enjoyment I had as I read this novel. I would attempt a synopsis, but it’s just so whimsical and fairy-tale esque I feel it’s better to just read it for yourself.
A Gathering of Shadows (V.E.Schwab) – I charged my long neglected kindle up in the second week of February and finally got around to finishing this novel. I think I started it in 2018, but then just…stopped reading. I was enjoying it, but then time became a rare commodity and I found audio fiction, and my kindle was left to gather dust. This is the second in Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic trilogy (I finished the first one, A Darker Shade of Magic, about a year before I started the second). Due to this being the second in a trilogy, I’m not going to write a synopsis. Although this isn’t my favourite of her series (go and read her Villains series, I can’t tell you how amazing it is), I still enjoy this world she’s created. I do have a confession to make, though. I didn’t finish this book. I have some major issues with the main characters, which I don’t want to go into details about here, to the extent where I got about 70% through the book, then gave up and looked up a synopsis online. It wasn’t only the characters that annoyed me, it was the pacing of the book that began to bug me, which is such a shame because I used to adore anything written by this author. The story spends more time jumping between the main characters, building up a special event, that ends up only starting 70% of the way through the book. That’s a whole lot of pages with nothing plot-wise significant happening. Needless to say, I won’t be reading any of the future instalments in this series, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend you try it for yourself. (Completion: 75%).
The Secret Ingredient of Wishes (Susan Bishop Crispell) – Oh, boy, was this not for me. As a fiction podcaster and writer I’m a bit reluctant to completely tear into this book, so I won’t. Let’s just say it was not my cup of tea. It has such an interesting premise. A woman who has the ability to grant other people’s wishes tries to outrun her past and her powers, eventually ending up in small town America where there seem to be a few people just like her. It has so much potential and just fell so unbelievably flat for me. Honestly, it read like bad fan fiction rather than a novel. And that’s as harsh as I’ll be. (Completion: 61%)
The Binding (Bridget Collins) – Another audiobook/book I really wanted to like but ended up finishing it with very mixed feelings. Again, another interesting premise. Set in the 19th century (although there was nothing particularly indicative for me, an amateur social historian, that it was the 19th specifically), Emmett Farmer is sent to be an apprentice at the book binder, an old woman who binds people’s secrets into books. I blamed the poor narrator for my inability to get into this book, but it’s actually just that this book is deathly slow, and so bleak (and that’s coming from me, a horror podcaster). The story itself was good, but it took ages to hook my interest, and I ended up finishing this out of sheer will power. It was so ambling at a lot of points it made me frustrated. Pacing is a big weakness of this book. I also wasn’t convinced by the romance, I don’t understand how one character can go from being so irritated by another that they regularly think about or do actually hit them, to being in love with them. Allosexual people, is this how it works? I couldn’t get past my opinion that they hated each other, and fell in love because plot said so. Overall, very mixed feelings about this book. The writing was beautifully descriptive, I really felt transported at certain paragraphs, but my Gods the pacing is awful, and it’s so depressingly bleak that it was a struggle to finish it. Not my cup of tea, but it could be yours.
Scythe (Neil Shusterman) – Another book that’s been in my Kindle library since 2018, with 0% progress. This is part of a YA series set in a future dystopian/utopian-esque universe where humanity has conquered all foes (death, illness, and politics). I usually avoid YA, due to the tropes and teen drama/angst in the characters I have no wish to relive or be irritated at, but the premise of this one was just too good for me to pass up; 3-years ago me, anyway. And I bought it back then, so I was at least going to try and read it. It’s well-written but kind of…dull. I never felt any connection to the 16 year old characters. And to be honest, I couldn’t escape the fact that it felt like the “Scythe” (a human who is selected to act essentially as a grim reaper and kill people to avoid over population), who is over a century old, was torturing two 16 year old children, and making them accessories in sanctioned murder. All the while claiming that he had superior moral standards. No, pal, just…no. Shusterman also made the mistake of heavily foreshadowing the hetero-romance between the two teenagers. I decided to hop off board pretty quickly after I read the cliche rule of “you can’t fall in love with each other” came up. I am, however, in the minority for this book, according to Goodreads. It just wasn’t for me. (Completion: 21%).
The Once and Future Witches (Alix E. Harrow) – After I hadn’t enjoyed the last few books I read, I decided to retreat into familiar territory. This was the most recent book I’d added on my wishlist, and the reason I chose it instead of scrolling was because I thought it wouldn’t have any romance in it. There is a reason for this. Every book above has romance. Every. Single. One. Even if it’s unecessary, which in my opinion is in a few, if not most, cases. I was fatigued with pointless romance. Set in 1893, it follows the lives of three sisters as they try to mend their relationship with each other, and prevent what is essentially genocide of women labelled as witches. One of my pet peeves, as an avid historical fiction fan, is when the small details are wrong about the period. As someone with quite a lot of knowledge of social history, especially the 19th, it completely brings me out of the story when I read something I know to be wrong. I honestly think this book should ahve been set in 1903 rather than 1893 (and I know, a decade doesn’t make much difference, except it does to me). A lot goes on in these decades, especially around the suffragist movement, which this book features a lot of. I also kind of low-key didn’t like two of the three sisters, or the narrow theme they were fit into. A major theme of this book is the neopagan belief in the Triple Goddess (Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Most recently featured in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina). I’m not a big fan of this belief system as I think it’s very narrow, and I especially didn’t like how much emphasis was put on the sister who essentially emobided the “mother”. I was constantly being told she was the “strong one” but found no actual evidence of this being true. As someone who has no interest in being a mother, I find it very irritating when a lot of value is placed on a woman being a mother, so much so that it apparently elevates her above her childless female counterparts, thereby making women without children less important or valuable. Perhaps I’m just taking this too personally, but I hate this branch of thought, that a woman’s worth or strength or value is dependent on whether she procreates. I wasn’t really off to a good start with this, because the Triple Goddess theme is evident very early on in the story. I also wasn’t particularly fond of the sister who was the “maiden”. She strayed a bit too close to the “I’m not like other girls” trope. Overall, a story with a lot of potential, but for me, because the overall themes clash with my own views on femininity, I just couldn’t enjoy this book that much.
Loveless (Alice Oseman) – This audiobook was a bit of a personal choice for me. I’ve alluded to this in the reviews above, but I recently realised that I’m on the asexual spectrum. And I was really sick of reading allosexual romances, and just romances in general. I’d had this book on my wish list since learning and finding out more about asexuality. It took me until I was 27 to realise that I was asexual. I’d never heard of it before, and I wasn’t really sure what it meant. I assumed, like society does, that everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise. I also assumed, like society expects, that one day I would just find romance, or someone I wanted to be in a relationship with. I ignored the fact that whilst everyone else was dating I didn’t want to, and that whilst everyone else was finding serious relationships, I was happy on my own. I ignored the fact that I’d never wanted to have sex with anyone, and that the idea actually freaked me out. I, like many other people, believed that it was just because I hadn’t “found the right person yet”, and that one day I would. I was a victim of allosexual society for a long time, mostly out of my own nonchalance for that kind of relationship. I just thought I was a prude. I’ve heard asexuality being called the “invisible sexuality”, and its lack of visibility isn’t great. The thing about being asexual, at least for me, is that I don’t care about romantic/sexual relationships like that, and whenever I was told or heard dating horror stories I only felt relief that I wasn’t having to go through that, nor did I have the desire to start (going so far as to wonder why people bothered putting themselves through the torture of dates in the first place, I thought it was insanity). But it is strange being in a world full of allosexuals. People can be very dismissive of asexuality, going so far as to say it doesn’t exist, but my answer to this is if a person can be attracted to anyone of any gender (i.e. pansexual, bisexual, etc.), then why can’t a person not be attracted to anyone? We all like to feel represented in media, but to date I’d not consumed anything with an outright asexual character (I’m aware there are some, but I’ve never personally watched/read anything). Which is why I wanted to read this book. To feel seen. I’d recommend if you are curious about asexuality, whether because of your own personal journey or someone you know. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong affinity to a fictional character, but almost everything about the main protagonist (Georgia) resonated with me. Her asexual journey started a lot younger than mine (18 compared to my ancient 27), but I found myself empathising with a lot of the situations she found herself in and the thoughts she had. A lot of the thoughts she had pertaining to romance and relationships I’ve also had. I, too, have forced myself to try and have romantic feelings for someone just because I thought I was supposed to. I did get frustrated at points, at some of her decisions, and the fact I so clearly knew she was asexual before she even knew what it was, but had to continue to watch her try and force herself into the allosexual bracket, and hurt everyone around her in the process (yeah, the protagonist is an awful, selfish person for at least the first half of the book). It was quite painful to listen to at some points. Also, most of the characters are 18 in the book, and my God are they dramatic. I was 18 once, and I swear I wasn’t as dramatic as they are. Such gems as “I’ll die alone”, and “I’ll never find anyone to be with” come up more than once, and as a 28 year-old woman, I rolled my eyes so much at these phrases I was afraid they wouldn’t come back. This was very much aimed at teenagers, and I don’t know if it’s because of my age, but I felt like there were very little consequences to the horrible things Georgia did to her friends. She used one in the most awful way in an attempt to convince herself she was heterosexual, and then went along with hurting the other one by kissing someone she knew her other friend liked. She was drunk for the second one, but that is never, and will never be, an excuse for terrible and hurtful behaviour. It took at least a month to even try and get them to forgive her, it’s like as soon as Christmas came she just forgot about them until she returned to university and even then her main motivating factor appeared to be appeasing her new friend, subsequently also the one she kissed before Christmas. The used friend gave in too quickly for my liking. I think the second friend’s reaction was a bit more believable, Georgia actually had to put in some effort to gain forgiveness. I also feel like this should have been swapped. I think it’s a lot worse to take advantage of and use someone you think has feelings for you, than to drunkenly kiss a person who your friend has a crush on. Don’t get me wrong, both are shitty things to do, but I definitely feel like the first one’s worse.
Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman) – A re-telling of some of the stories from Norse Mythology. It’s quite a short audiobook that I managed to get in a 2 for 1 credit sale, and I thought I may as well, I’ve played God of War (2018). I thought I knew a lot more about the Norse Pantheon than I actually did, so this book was not only really interesting, but informative as well. I’d recommend if you have also played God of War (2018) and want to know how much creative licence they took, and also if you have even the slightest interest in the Norse Pantheon.
The Familiars (Stacey Halls) – I have nothing to complain about with this story, which is unusual, as you can tell. Another historical fiction set at the beginning of the 17th century (so not a time period I know that much about). No romance, so another tick from me. It’s quite a sad story, and quite an ambling one. There’s not really a plot, per se, but that’s not actually a bad thing. It’s quite short (the audiobook was about 9 hours long), which makes the whole thing work. I felt really sorry for the protagonist for the first half or so, for understandable reasons. I had a few minor gripes, but nothng worth mentioning here. Otherwise it’s beautifully written, and I could really see the places where the story was set, so very immersive. Would recommend.
Wakenhyrst (Michelle Paver) – I don’t really understand what I’ve listened to with this book. Most of it doesn’t really have a plot, and even the one that’s introduced very early on is pretty weak. It’s not a bad book, by any means, I’m fascinated with the setting of the Fens (which seems to be very Scotland-esque in regards to lasting superstitions), but there were numerous times in the book when I felt uncomfortable. The protagonists father was also an absolute piece of garbage with no apparent motivation (a bad person for bad person’s sake, a bit like a Disney villain with little to no motivation for acting in such an awful way). It was mainly the father’s passages that made me the most uncomfortable. I also never really identified with the protagonist, but I didn’t dislike her. This book was just a bit…meh. So meh, I didn’t finish it. 5/10.5 hours completed.
Anient Greece Second Edition: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic times (Thomas R. Martin) – I played Assasins Creed Odyssey, and if you’ve played the game then you’ll understand. My first non-fiction audiobook of the year.
Delphi: A history of the centre of the ancient world (Michael Scott) – I’ve always been fascinated by the oracle and Delphi and since I was on an ancient Greek binge, I decided to read this too. I bought the actual book.
Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece (Robin Waterfield) – Another physical book. I find textbook-esque books like this one it’s a lot easier to buy the physical book so you can flip between the text and the figures/maps. The last book in my Ancient Greece binge.
Howl’s Moving Castle (Dianna Wynne Jones) – Did you know this was a book before it was a film? I didn’t. I am massively late to the Studio Chibli films (I know, they’re awesome, I don’t know what I was thinking). As I was Googling the film I found out that it was based on a book by a Welsh author and I had to read it. I’m impressed the film got so many details into it, and the overall essence of the book, but obviously there were a lot of details not in the film. I am surprised this is classed as a “children’s” book, as it was quite serious in places, even quite dark and shady in places. A possibly unpopular opinion, but Howl is a lot better in the film, he’s a bit annoying in the book (to me).
The Midnight Library (Matt Haig) – Oh boy, I seem to be in the minority regarding this book. I didn’t like it. I near loathed the main character. It’s definitely a “me” thing, though. I can’t stand whiny people, or people who don’t try and then blame everyone else when things go wrong. I get that the main character has mental health issues (I think it’s meant to be depression and anxiety), but so do I, which is why I feel like I can take my stance. Believe me, I know what it’s like to have a bad day and mental illness to make everything worse, or to feel like your mental illness prevents you from doing things, but I don’t believe it gives you a reason to use it as an excuse not to try. I do understand that’s not how everyone who suffers mental illness sees things, but I’m a firm believer that you have to at least try and help yourself sometimes. I felt the main character, Nora, didn’t. As I said earlier, her life turned to shit because she never took control of things and then blames everyone else in her life. I decided not to finish this book, and as of about halfway through, there has been no internal reflection, which I kind of feel was needed for this character to fully develop. The premise is good, but it’s very predictable and that took even more joy out of it for me. A bad mixture of irritating main character, and predictable (to me) tropey plot made for a very frustrating listen. This book is very highly rated though, so if you’re not like me (in that you have a very wide threshold for what you consider whiny) then give it a go. 4/8 hours completed.
If You Were There: missing people and the marks they leave behind (Francisco Garcia) – A bit of a serious topic. I, along with many, many people, like to dabble in true crime/unsolved mysteries, and this involved missing people. This is a very humanist and realistic way of looking into the circumstances and definitions we use to identify missing people, and often the way they’re generally failed by the wider system. I definitely think that the author’s own estrangement from his missing father served to run a nice narrative thread through all of the stops he made, and ground the story, giving in that heart that stopped it from sounding too textbook-y. It’s a short audiobook, at about 6 hours. If you’re interested in the, arguably growing, missing persons problem we seem to have in the UK, then give this a go.