Hello 2021! I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed that the year didn’t bring with it surprises like the baby sleeping through the night, or miraculously having more time on my hands. I know, I know, a couple of days can’t really make a difference, but considering 2020, I would have taken anything really.
Still, it’s a new year, and a good time to let go of some things, and set intentions for the next few months. The biggest theme for me this year is… learning to take more space.
I sent my Mom a bunch of photos of the kids this year, and she asked “But where are you?” I’ve looked at the photos over the past year, and I’ve been the one documenting everything, but I barely appear. Surviving motherhood has squeezed me into the smallest version of myself, and I need to start reclaiming the bits and pieces that make me, me.
Maybe this means more unapologetic selfies. Maybe it means not censoring myself as much and speaking up more for what I believe in. Maybe it means allowing myself to make more mistakes. Maybe this means taking the time to do a face cleaning routine. Maybe it means doing things for fun instead of just because I have to, like getting back to sewing. It definitely means protecting my writing time better, enforcing boundaries, and giving myself a little more grace/runway to get things done. The main obstacle is (always) time.
It’s a new year. Maybe the world hasn’t changed, but I can make a fresh start, and try for better.
Here are some of my favorite reads of the year. 2020 was the year I fell deep into <3 with the romance genre, but I still love spec fic!
Fantasy / Science Fiction / Horror
- Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova (YA) – The whole way through I was thinking “NO, Cordova isn’t going to do that is she…” and she did. WOW the balls. All the tropes, and no holding back. Set in Inquisition Spain, Renata is a rebel with magic powers that the crown wants to use if they ever got hold of her. She has to go back to the palace she escaped to unravel the secrets of the monarchy and save both her people and her lover.
- Slay by Brittney Morris (YA) – This one had my heart racing the whole time. I couldn’t put it down. Kiera secretly develops a VR game to celebrate Black culture that quickly becomes super popular. The only problem is that she’s accused of being racist by not opening it up to the public, and someone is out to get her.
- Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson – The prose is like butter, but the world is creepy, unsettling and dark. This horror story is the Handmaid’s Tale mixed with black magic, and witches in the woods. Immanuelle tries to be good and follow all the rules set by the church, but she’s different. Witch blood flows in her veins and she sets off a curse that her mother proclaimed: Blood, Blight, Darkness, Slaughter.
- A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy (YA) – I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about this book! There are monsters and vampires, and magical creatures. Eva faces a battle to the death against her favoured sister Isa (whom she loves) to inherit the throne. To survive she has to master dark magic that no one understands.
- Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas (YA) – Trans boy Yadriel wants to prove he’s a brujo, even though his family refuses to give him a chance to practice magic. A story about acceptance, with food, family, first loves and friendship. This story was a warm hug with a happy ending.
- Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (YA) – This is a Persian inspired fairy tale about a princess who is poisonous to the touch, and who has been hidden away in a garden all her life. She wants so badly to be free of her curse, that she strikes a bargain with a monster, and it has reprecussions she could never have dreamed.
- The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (YA) – In a future where books and the arts are outlawed, rebel librarian teams up with a cinnamon roll of an alien to save humanity. There’s a road trip, music, and a love story. It’s great!
- Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (YA) – A girl discovers a secret society that traces back to King Arthur, and the magic her mother kept from her. It’s SO GOOD. A story about connecting with your roots and coming back from grief. American history mixes seamlessly with Aurthurian legend, and there are monsters on the loose. It’s possibly the most perfectly crafted YA book I’ve read in ages.
Middle Grade – My taste in MG leans to laugh out loud funny. These stories were so much fun.
- The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta (MG) – It turns out her parents weren’t lying; Kiranmala is a real Indian princess! (Just not from this world) And there are demons out to get her. With the help of two hot princes, she’s on a quest to save her parents. Also, demons aren’t very smart, just really gooey.
- Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (MG) – American folklore! Black history, and humor. (I could use a Gum Baby motivational calendar or app please). Tristan learns to tap into the magic power he’s come into after the death of his best friend, and if he fixes the hole he’s made in the sky, he might just save the world too.
- Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega (MG) – Lucely and Syd cast a spell that goes wrong, and they have to catch all the ghosts they’ve let out. Family love and supernatural creepiness. Special mention to Chunk the cat, breakout star.
Rom Coms – Oddly, I’m bigger on drama than the laughs in romance, so I gravitate more to contemporary. Maybe it’s because humor is so subjective? Nonetheless, these left me feeling warm and fuzzy.
- Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson – When the owner of a yarn store passes away, it’s up to her son Jesse and the shop assistant Kerry (his childhood friend) to keep the business going. Kerry wishes her old crush Jesse would see her as more than just a kid. And Jesse is between jobs, struggling to prove he’s not just the family fuck up. What could go wrong? Sweet and charming, and lots of knitting.
- I’ll Be The One by Lyla Lee (YA) – Skye enters a K-Pop reality TV competition to prove that fat girls can dance. She just has to keep it a secret from her family.
- The Marriage Game by Sara Desai – Layla and Sam seem completely at odds. She’s starting a HR staffing firm and he’s a corporate downsizer. They both want the same office space so they make a bet: if he can find Layla a husband in 10 dates, Sam gets the space. There’s delicious food, nosy family, and a battle of wills.
Contemporary Romance – These are all so different. I probably read more in this category than anything, because my pandemic brain was too tired to deal with complicated worldbuilding. My heart just wanted happy endings.
- Love Boat Taipei by Abigail Wing Hen (YA) – A girl is sent to a summer program in Taiwan that isn’t anything like she suspected. There’s sneaking out to parties, nude photos, futures spouse hunting, secret admirers, and just all around teenaged drama.
- Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren – Two friends reconnect after a lifetime apart, and the story unfolds alternating between the past and the present. Elliot is basically the white boy version of me.
- Flashed by Zoey Castile – This read like a modern beauty and the beast retelling. Lena is hired as a housekeeper for a reclusive agoraphobic celebrity over the summer and they get to know each other without seeing each other. It’s hot and sweet, and a story about turning your life around.
- Fumbled by Alexa Martin – Single mom Poppy runs across her childhood sweetheart (and the father of her child) TK, who’s now a player in the NFL. A second chance romance.
Regency Romance – I don’t usually care for rich people marrying other rich people, but give me the gutters, or the fringes of society, to make it interesting.
- The Bittersweet Bride by Vanessa Riley – Theo is a widow who will do anything to protect her son, but to complicate things, her first love (a soldier whom she thought was dead) reappears and threatens to mess up all her plans. Riley doesn’t shy away from how race impacted Regency society. The genre can sometimes feel like a stuffy room, so it’s a relief to see the wider world acknowledged. I wish this got the Netflix treatment like Bridgerton.
- The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan – A Chinese heroine and a biracial duke! Did you know that soy sauce was available in Britain since the 1600’s? A story about creating a special sauce, set against a silly town competition, plus lots of fun banter.
- The Governess Game: Girl Meets Duke by Tessa Dare – A Filipina love interest! For that alone, I have to give it all the stars. It’s also funny and sweet like all of Dare’s work.
- Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore – A suffragette trying to bring down the system. Class and ambition are two huge blocks in the way of these two getting together and I couldn’t guess how it would actually end.
- Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean – This series feels like grown up Six of Crows fanfiction (even though it’s not).
Thrillers – It’s no coincidence that the two thrillers I enjoyed this year were penned by romance writers. It seems odd at first, but the deep psychological dive into character motivations that you need for romance absolutely crosses over genres.
- When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole – Odd things start happening on a block in Brooklyn, but is it all in Sydney’s head? The dread creeps in around the edges.
- A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh – Anahera goes back to the small rural New Zealand town where she was raised and helps Will, the new detective in town discover its bloody secrets.
Non-Fiction – Yet again, I haven’t done as much reading here as I originally planned, but 2020 happened and I didn’t have the heart for reality. Still, I did read some.
- Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendal – Does an excellent job of describing major problems in North American society and how focusing on serving the most vulnerable populations would benefit everyone in turn. Engaging and very much not a dry textbook. I think everyone should pick this up.
What was the best thing you read this year? I’d love some recs!