Operation 2021: Success! (or Favorite Books from this Year)

This year has been an amazing one for reading! I was planning on doing a top 10 books that I loved in 2021, but I could only narrow it down to 20. Even that was a difficult thing to do. Eventually I managed to get down to 20 books, but it was hard! So, in no particular order, and after a ton of internal wrestling, here’s my top 20 books of 2021.

*These are books that I enjoyed this year, not necessarily books that were published in 2021.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio



On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

If We Were Villains was named one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year, and Mystery Scene says, “A well-written and gripping ode to the stage…A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth.” (taken from Amazon)

“If you’re looking for a book to suck you in and leave you floored, this one is for you.”

Review

Lexcalibur by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

A collection of nerdy poems for adventurers of all ages, written by Jerry Holkins and featuring illustrations by Mike Krahulik. 

“The poems are engaging enough for children with enough wit and little nods that adults will be just as entertained.”

Review

The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga

With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.

“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart. (taken from Amazon)

“A brilliant must-read for fans of books the include grimy, smog-filled streets, shady doings, and ridiculously fun characters.”

Review

Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight

The last of a dying breed, a holy warrior must rise up against a growing darkness in Evelium.The most unlikely of heroes, a lowly itinerant mercenary, Umhra the Peacebreaker is shunned by society for his mongrel half-Orc blood. Desperate to find work for himself and his band of fighters, Umhra agrees to help solve a rash of mysterious disappearances, but uncovers a larger, more insidious plot to overthrow the natural order of Evelium in the process. As Umhra journeys into the depths of Telsidor’s Keep to search for the missing people, he confronts an ancient evil and, after suffering a great loss, turns to the god he disavowed for help. Compelled to save the kingdom he loves, can he defeat the enemy while protecting his true identity, or must he risk everything? (taken from Amazon)

 “This book would make anyone fall in love with fantasy.

Review

Dragon Mage by M.L. Spencer

Aram Raythe has the power to challenge the gods. He just doesn’t know it yet.
 
Aram thinks he’s nothing but a misfit from a small fishing village in a dark corner of the world. As far as Aram knows, he has nothing, with hardly a possession to his name other than a desire to make friends and be accepted by those around him, which is something he’s never known.
 
But Aram is more. Much, much more.
 
Unknown to him, Aram bears within him a gift so old and rare that many people would kill him for it, and there are others who would twist him to use for their own sinister purposes. These magics are so potent that Aram earns a place at an academy for warrior mages training to earn for themselves the greatest place of honor among the armies of men: dragon riders.
 
Aram will have to fight for respect by becoming not just a dragon rider, but a Champion, the caliber of mage that hasn’t existed in the world for hundreds of years. And the land needs a Champion. Because when a dark god out of ancient myth arises to threaten the world of magic, it is Aram the world will turn to in its hour of need.

” It isn’t too often that I call a book perfect, but that’s what Dragon Mage is. It is absolutely perfect.”

Review

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Exiled by her despotic brother, Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while trapped in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
 
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
 
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze. (taken from Amazon)

“Savagely beautiful, The Jasmine Throne kept me riveted from the first page all the way through until the last heart-stopping moment.”

Review

Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire

In the city of Agatos, nothing stays buried forever.

Only an idiot would ignore his debt to a high mage, and Mennik Thorn is no idiot, despite what anyone might say. He’s just been … distracted. But now he’s left it too late, and if he doesn’t obey the high mage’s commands within the day, his best friends’ lives will be forfeit. So it’s hardly the time to take on an impossible case: proving a woman who murdered a stranger in full view is innocent.

Unfortunately, Mennik can’t resist doing the right thing – and now he’s caught in a deadly rivalry between warring high mages, his witnesses are dying, and something ancient has turned its eyes upon him.

The fate of the city is once again in the hands of a second-rate mage. Mennik Thorn should have stayed in hiding. (taken from Amazon)

Review to Come

We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley

The Render Tracers always say magick users deserve to burn. Aren couldn’t agree more, Keluwen would beg to differ, and Corrin couldn’t care less either way.

In a world where most people use swords for protection, Aren uses tools that let him see what no one else can see, and he takes advantage of loopholes that can undo magick in order to stop the deadliest people in the world. He is a Render Tracer, relentlessly pursuing rogue sorcerers who bend the laws of physics to steal, assault, and kill. But his next hunt will lead him to question his entire life, plunging him into a world where he can’t trust anyone, not even his own eyes.

When Keluwen finally escaped her fourthparents’ home and set out on her own to become a thief, she never thought she would one day be killing her own kind. She honed her magick on the streets, haunted by her past, hunted by Render Tracers, and feared by a society that hates what she is. Now she joins a crew of outcast magicians on a path of vengeance as they race to stop an insane sorcerer who has unlocked the source of all magick and is trying to use it to make himself a god.

Corrin is a sword fighter first, a drinker second, and a…well, there must be something else he is good at. He’ll think of it if you give him enough time. He is a rogue for hire, and he has no special powers of any kind. The most magick he has ever done is piss into the wind without getting any on himself. He is terrible at staying out of trouble, and someone always seems to be chasing him. When he gets caught up in a multi-kingdom manhunt, he finds himself having to care about other people for a change, and he’s not happy about it.

They are about to collide on the trail of a man who is impossible to catch, who is on the verge of plunging the world into ruin, and who can turn loyal people into traitors in a single conversation. They must struggle against their own obsessions, their fears, ancient prophecies, and each other. They will each have to balance the people they love against their missions, and struggle to avoid becoming the very thing they are trying to stop.

All they have to do is stop the unstoppable. Simple. (taken from Amazon)

We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.”

Review

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.

Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours. (taken from Amazon)

“This book is wonderful. It’s comfort in written form. It’s a reminder that happy endings (or maybe happy beginnings) exist, often found in the most unexpected of places, if only we’re brave enough to look.”

Review

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.

And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.

But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home. (taken from Amazon)

“…insightful, sad, hopeful, and exhibits a faith in humanity that is rarely seen in books now.

Review

Campaigns and Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Alexander Watt

Grab your dice and pencil, sit your pets down, teach them to play… and immediately regret your choices.

Hilarious collection of Dungeons & Dragons-themed pet jokes by acclaimed comics creators Andi Ewington, Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi

What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

…unless your pets are jerks. (taken from Amazon)

“I got a Nat 20 with Campaigns and Companions (those who know me know that I never roll 20s, so this is a momentous event).”

Review

Small Places by Matthew Samuels

Jamie is a lonely, anxious kid when he has a run-in with a witch in a remote Somerset village. He’s almost forgotten about it thirteen years later when unpredictable storms and earthquakes hit England – and that’s the least of his worries. Suffering from anxiety, terrible flatmates and returning to his family home after his mother is diagnosed with cancer, he’s got a lot on his mind. But Melusine, the witch of flesh and blood, lures him back with the offer of cold, hard cash in exchange for his help investigating the source of the freak weather; something’s messing with the earth spirit, Gaia, and Mel means to find out who – or what – it is. As they work together, travelling to the bigoted Seelie Court and the paranoid Unseelie Court, meeting stoned fauns and beer-brewing trolls, Jamie must reconcile his feelings about the witch’s intentions and methods all while handling grief, life admin and one singularly uptight estate agent. (taken from Amazon)

“I loved the combination of ordinary and flat-out bizarre, the day-to-day grind and the unexpected.”

Review

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)

“Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. “

Review

The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism, attending séances in the hope they might reach their departed loved ones.

William Jackson Crawford is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sitting around the circle, voices come to him – seemingly from beyond the veil – placing doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

Based on the true story of Professor William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunted, twisted tale of power, paranoia and one ultimate, inescapable truth… (taken from Amazon)

” The Spirit Engineer is an engrossing book that delves deep into the subjects of loss, paranoia, belief, and what can happen when a person’s beliefs are questioned.”

Review

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
 
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
 
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
 
But can she trust them?  (taken from Amazon)

“… a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.”

Review

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world ― all trying to steal a secret that will allow them control of the shadow world and more.

Review to Come

The Infinite Tower by Dorian Hart

Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.

The Black Circle erased it.

Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.

In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.

“Read this series for an escape into a fantastic new world, peopled with some of the best characters you’ll ever read.”

Review

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…(taken from Amazon)

“Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.”

Review

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive.

“This book combines fact, rumor, and creative license to weave a tale both unsettling and engrossing.”

Review

White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton

Not all magicians go to schools of magic.

Adam Binder has the Sight. It’s a power that runs in his bloodline: the ability to see beyond this world and into another, a realm of magic populated by elves, gnomes, and spirits of every kind. But for much of Adam’s life, that power has been a curse, hindering friendships, worrying his backwoods family, and fueling his abusive father’s rage.

Years after his brother, Bobby, had him committed to a psych ward, Adam is ready to come to grips with who he is, to live his life on his terms, to find love, and maybe even use his magic to do some good. Hoping to track down his missing father, Adam follows a trail of cursed artifacts to Denver, only to discover that an ancient and horrifying spirit has taken possession of Bobby’s wife.

It isn’t long before Adam becomes the spirit’s next target. To survive the confrontation, save his sister-in-law, and learn the truth about his father, Adam will have to risk bargaining with very dangerous beings … including his first love. (taken from Amazon)

” White Trash Warlock was a supernatural show-down combined with complicated real-life problems.”

Review

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 2021: Extra Ideas

My long list of gift ideas continues! The items on this list don’t necessarily fall into any of the other categories I’ve already talked about (picture books, middle-grade books, and adult fiction) but are all great ideas, if I do say so myself. And I do!

Campaigns and Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt


What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

… unless you have pets like these. (taken from Amazon)

This book made me laugh out loud. With hilarious dead-on jokes and fantastic artwork, Campaigns and Companions would be a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys TTRPGs (whether they have pets or not). Review here.

Frostbeard Studios has the best bookish candles! I have tried most of them at this point and I haven’t found a scent that I didn’t like. My favorite is Sherlock’s Study…or Winter’s Keep…or Les Cirque de Revés…or…the list keeps going. I highly recommend these candles.

Frostbeard Studio

Goblin by Eric Grissom and Will Perkins

I loved this beautiful graphic novel! The story was so wonderful and the illustrations are amazing. You can read my (slightly) more eloquent rave here.

Smugglers Coffee

You can find the most delightfully nerdy coffee on this site! From D&D-themed, to coffees featuring homages to great movies or books, you can find it all here. Check out Smugglers Coffee!

Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set

I have seen a lot of people asking how to dive into Dungeons and Dragons. While I personally prefer playing in worlds or stories created by the DM (the “Dungeon Master” is the person who runs the game), this is a good jumping off point for anyone who is a little trepidatious about diving into the deep end. It has everything you need for a campaign, including dice. Of course, you’ll end up hooked and rushing out to buy your own dice, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide, but you can always start here.

Amazon

Art Photography by Rich

I have this photograph on a canvas near my favorite reading spot. It’s so pretty and peaceful! I think some of his stock is on sale right now. You can find it on etsy at Art Photography by Rich.

Goblin by Eric Grissom, illustrated by Will Perkins

A young, headstrong goblin embarks on a wild journey of danger, loss, self-discovery, and sacrifice in this new graphic novel adventure.

One fateful night a sinister human warrior raids the home of the young goblin Rikt and leaves him orphaned. Angry and alone, Rikt vows to avenge the death of his parents and seeks a way to destroy the man who did this. He finds aid from unlikely allies throughout his journey and learns of a secret power hidden in the heart of the First Tree. Will Rikt survive the trials that await him on his perilous journey to the First Tree? And is Rikt truly prepared for what he may find there? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with Goblin in exchange for my honest opinion. Goblin is available for purchase now.

Masterfully told and beautifully illustrated, Goblin is an unforgettable journey, full of both action and heart. The story follows Rikt, a goblin who tragically loses his parents. He vows revenge on the human who killed them. What follows is an adventure of epic proportions as he searches for the means to avenge his parents.

First of all, Rikt is a wonderful main character! He’s adorable with a young innocence about him that he slowly loses after the death of his parents. I grieved a little for the loss of his naiveté, although it was replaced with a thoughtful goblin, full of both hurt and heart. Author Eric Grissom’s portrayal of this little goblin as having such big emotions was astounding. I don’t know how he did it, but I absolutely loved it.

As Rikt travels, he interacts with other creatures, and faces all sorts of challenges. The biggest challenge he faces, though, is the hurdle of who he will become after experiencing such loss at such a young age. Will he let his anger drive who he becomes? Will it be a “despite” or a “because”? Each choice he makes shapes him in ways both surprising and touching.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention how much artist Will Perkins adds to the story. Just look at that cover. The art is absolutely gorgeous. Yes, he made a graphic novel with a goblin in it look gorgeous. These are some of the best illustrations I’ve seen in a good long while. Rikt’s personality shone through in how animated his facial expressions were. The pairing of the fantastic storyline and the beautiful art combined to form the perfect whole.

So: who should read Goblin? Simply put, everyone. If you want a tale of love, loss, and finding oneself, this is for you. If you want beautiful artwork, this is for you. If you want a fantasy adventure with a little bit of humor and action, and a whole lot of heart, this is for you.

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

Eight Bookish Awards for the First Half of 2020

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I’m pretty sure everyone could use some good right about now. Something to cheer us up, or distract us a teensy bit. Joe at Black Sail Books came up with a fantastic idea: why wait until the end of the year to celebrate some awesome books? Let’s talk about some of our favorite books so far this year! He runs a truly amazing blog, which you can find here. If you’re not already following him, you should drop everything and go do that. I’ll wait.

Let’s hand out some awards, shall we?

1. MVB (The Most Valuable Book Award)
Awarded to the book that has been my favorite so far, one that has stuck with me. The winner is…

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

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Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.
I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.2. My services are confidential.3. I don’t work for humans.
It’s nothing personal–I’m human myself. But after what happened, to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help. (taken from Amazon)

Everything about this book is just awesome. The main character, Fetch, is a Sam-Spade type in a fantasy world. You’d think it wouldn’t work, but it does. Brilliantly. This was one of the first books I read in 2020: it started my reading year off with a bang and gave me a wicked book hangover. I’ve waxed enthusiastic about the it here. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

Honorable Mentions: The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs and Feathertide by Beth Cartwright.

2. The Narrative Genius Award
Awarded to the book whose narration was unique and added an extra level to the book. The winner is…

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore

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I was home alone on a Saturday night when I experienced the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard in my life.

Beautiful Remorse is the hot new band on the scene, releasing one track a day for ten days straight. Each track has a mysterious name and a strangely powerful effect on the band’s fans.

A curious music blogger decides to investigate the phenomenon up close by following Beautiful Remorse on tour across Texas and Kansas, realizing along the way that the band’s lead singer, is hiding an incredible, impossible secret. (taken from Amazon)

This book is deliciously bizarre. The narrator adds to the feeling of falling down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Seeing him go from dubious to terrified makes the book that much more memorable. You can read my original post on the book here, if you are so inclined.

Honorable Mentions: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

3. The Comfort Zone Expansion Award
Awarded to the book that helped me step out of my comfort zone and appreciate a new type of story. The winner is…

Thornhill by Pam Smy

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Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t often read graphic novels. There’s something about them that my brain just can’t follow. I suspect it has to do with my epilepsy.  I was able to read this book, though. I think maybe the fact that the pictures weren’t colored, combined with the lack of speech bubbles is what worked. At any rate, I loved it! You can read my original review here.

Honorable mentions: Fences by August Wilson and Craigslist Confessional: A Collection of Secrets from Anonymous Strangers by Helena Dea Bala

4. The “They Are Who We Thought They Were” Award: 
Awarded to the book that I tried, knowing it was outside my comfort zone that ended up being what I thought it was.

One? by Jennifer L. Cahill

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It’s London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future. One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4. (taken from Amazon)
Let me first say: this was not a bad book. I just don’t read lighter fiction. I stepped outside my comfort zone to give this one a go and was reminded that this genre really isn’t my thing. However, if you like lighter, romantic fiction, you’ll enjoy this book.

Honorable mentions: no others considered

5. The New to Me Award
Awarded to the book that introduced me to a new author that I’ve fallen in love with. The winner is…

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

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In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s propulsive epic fantasy.
War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.
In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.
And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood. (taken from Amazon)

Wow, Devin Madson can write! I need to read everything she’s ever written, and everything she writes from here on out. I heard this book was great: man, was that an understatement! You can read my original review here.

Honorable Mentions: Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall and Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

7. The MVC (Most Valuable Character) Award: 
Awarded to the character who represented the make-or-break point in a book I liked. The winner is..

The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs

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A mixtape of Friday Night Lights, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and early ’90s nostalgia blasting through fifteen-inch speakers.

After Marcus Brinks left mysteriously two decades ago, financial ruin and his dying mother brought him back to his hometown of Rome, Alabama. Brinks, the former lead singer of ’90s indie-rock band Dear Brutus, takes a job teaching at his old school, where years ago, he and his friend, Jackson, conspired to get Deacon, the starting quarterback and resident school jerk, kicked off the football team.

Now it’s Jackson, head coach of Rome, who rules the school like Caesar, while Deacon plots his demise. This time Brinks refuses to get involved, opting instead for a quiet life with Becca, his high school crush. But will dreams of domestic black go up in flames when the repercussion of the past meet the lying, cheating, and blackmail of the present? (taken from Amazon)

Chad Alan Gibbs created the perfect characters for this book. It could have gone in an overtly smushy (that’s a word, right?) or angst-ridden direction, but instead Gibbs’ characters brought both heart and humor to this book. Silas, in particular, made The Rome of Fall a joy to read. This is easily one of my favorite books this year. Check out my review here .

Honorable Mentions: Rizzel in Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall and Fable in The Unready Queen by William Ritter.

8. The Audio Hero Award:
Awarded to the narrator who brought the audio book to life. The winner is…

You tell me! 
I don’t listen to audio books. I can’t concentrate enough (also, it’s way too noisy most of the time, since I have kids at home). What book do you think wins this award?

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There it is! According to my Goodreads, which I’m trying to be better at updating, I’ve read 70 books this year. These ones have found a place in my heart. I hope you give them a go. What books would you give these awards to?

 

 

The Netflix Book Tag

I saw this great tag on Reader Gal’s blog. Her blog is awesome, so make sure to check it out. Original credit for this tag goes to A Book Lovers Playlist. Since we all sometimes put our books on hold to binge a show on Netflix, I think this makes for a fun tag. Here goes nothing:Recently Finished- the last book you finishedIt was either Venators: Magic Unleashed by Devri Walls or Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan (my review). I actually think I finished them both on the same day. I really need to make more of an effort to mark my books “read” on Goodreads the day I finish them.Top Picks- A book that was recommended to you based on books you have previously readDreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style was suggested to me by Irresponsible Reader (follow his blog!) based on my review of A World Without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age (review here).Recently Added- the last book you boughtI grabbed The Library of the Unwritten, which I’m dying to read. Have I started it yet? Um…Popular on Netflix- Books that everyone knows about (2 you’ve read and 2 you have no interest in )I read and loved both The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Daisy Jones and the Six. I think both of those are ubiquitous at this point. I have absolutely no interest in The Gilded Wolves or Gideon the Ninth.Comedies- a funny bookFowl Language: Winging It had me in stitches. That little duck really understands parenting.Dramas- a character who is a drama king/queenCity of Bones. Both Clary and Jace rate pretty stinking high on the drama-o-meter.Animated- a book with cartoons on the coverI’m not sure if this counts, but I’m going with Thornhill (click on book name to get review).Watch It Again- a book/series you want to rereadI reread both The Night Circus and The Dragonlance Chronicles every year.Documentaries- a non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyoneI loved For the Love of Books: Stories of Literary Lives, Banned Books, Author Feuds, Extraordinary Characters, and More . Okay, the name is a bit much. Actually, it’s way too much. The book is excellent, though.Action and Adventure- and action-packed bookKings of the Wyld is chock-full of action. It also has amazing writing, and a sense of fun that it seems a lot of fantasy has been missing lately. I highly recommend it.Well, there it is. What do you think of my answers? I’m not going to tag anyone here, but I’ll probably bug a few people on Twitter. Ha ha! If you do participate, please tag me,so I can see your answers.

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Image result for thornhill by pam smyParallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art—Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense. (taken from Amazon)

I am so proud of myself! I struggle with reading anything that could be even remotely considered a graphic novel. I think it’s because of my epilepsy; my brain just doesn’t process that setup well. However, I was able to read this book no problem. Yay!

This book was interesting in that two stories were being melded into each other. One was told through a diary; the other, in pictures. The story told through diary entries is that of Mary, a lonely orphan who lives in Thornhill Institute in the early 80’s, right as it is closing its doors. She doesn’t speak, and has no friends, but she is extremely talented in making dolls and puppets. Because of her quirks, she’s horribly bullied by the other residents in the institute, and by one girl in particular.

As her story continues, we see illustrated pages scattered throughout. The illustrations tell the story of Ella, who has moved in next door. Ella’s story takes place in 2017, and seeing the two tales meet was pretty cool. They begin to merge slowly, as Ella finds some damaged dolls that belonged to Mary years ago. From there, a mystery unfolds: what happened to Mary? And how will it relate to Ella?

The prose was striking in its simplicity, and the illustrations were evocative of isolation and the need for human connection. While at its heart this short story is eerie, it’s also very sad.

This book is very short and I was able to read it in about an hour. That doesn’t lessen its effect though; this one will stay with me. It’s very thought-provoking (plus-those dolls are creepy!)

I recommend this book to those who like their (light) horror stories with a bit of mystery thrown in.