I read 198 books this year in a split of: 39 ARCs, 59 audiobooks, 85 manga volumes, 9 physical copies, 2 light novels, and 6 eBooks. As my boyfriend said, “That’s a lot of things, Jo.” It is that time of year where I want to share my favorites, so please enjoy my top 20 2021 books, top 20 books from before 2021, and, a new feature, 5 manga.
I realize that I make lists for books I’m excited for and book I want to read, and failed on both those lists. So, my lists for 2022 books is mostly about boosting others works regardless of if I personally get around to reading them. That’s just how it is when you’re employed and vastly mis-measure what kind of focus you’ll have as the year goes on. Moving also robbed me of a bunch of my focus, which should not have been as surprising as it is. On top of working full time. On top of being in a relationship and trying to participate in the communities I’m a part of.
May came at me like a freight train. Specifically, Kentaro Miura, creator of Berserk, passed and that has been a sledgehammer to my heart and creative spirit. To get completely too personal, I’ve had to do an inventory of all my things and file them under “survival” and “creativity.” The blog is here to stay, don’t worry about that.
For yet another month, the mind is still a mess, but the reads have been fantastic.
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Fantasy Year Release: 2021 Source: Library Audiobook
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Listened to the audiobook Content warning: Deceased parent
In this charming and heart-warming novel, Alder sees that the walnut tree between his house and his neighbor’s had been cut down. A new girl, Oak, moves right next door and the two are off to a rocky start. But due to school projects and adopting kitten siblings, I found it really sweet from start to finish and a brilliant use of literary devices to make an exceptionally satisfying resolution.
During the fall, I had taken Arnold’s Revision Season class and I feel like a lot of the concepts were on display here. The pieces of this story’s puzzle and its mystery fit so perfectly together, allowing the reader to fall to the rhythm and charm from start to finish. Great care was taken to make sure that motifs fit and that concepts were repeated, but not so much in a way that seemed repetitive. Really effective, really tight writing to be found here.
I greatly appreciated the range of children’s experiences and emotions present throughout the book. It was really great to see them disagree with their parents and have that interaction be honest and respectful. The fact that is mirrored among the children also added a necessary cohesion to the prose’s evolution as the we learned more and more about the goings on around.
Overall, really quick listen with a satisfying mystery to boot.
We made it through January 2021, the longest month in a while. I managed to read 18 different things, and thus, I am switching up the format of these recaps. I’m going to show a grid of each work by category with links to the reviews to read at your own leisure. Feedback appreciated.
This month’s author interview was with S.T. Gibson, to celebrate the release of her Dracula’s brides retelling, A Dowry of Blood.
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Year Release: 2020 Source: Libro.fm
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Listened to the audiobook Content warnings: abortion, animal death, attempted sexual assault (author’s note), vomiting
I took Elana K. Arnold’s Revision Season course last fall, so before getting into the book itself, I felt like I had an insider knowledge of its revision cycle. I got my ears into the audiobook and dove right in.
This work follows Nina Faye as she navigates her teenage years with the social pressures as they relate to autonomy and sexuality. Her mother tells her that there is no such thing as unconditional love, and Arnold explores the different modes of love during key moments of Nina’s life. It feels like the contemporary precursor to Damsel, so if you enjoyed the brutally honest way it explored its topics through fairy tale, you will enjoy this.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2020
Source: Edelweiss ARC
Read an ARC acquired via Edelweiss
Trigger warnings: gore, murder, sexual assault (off-page, but heavily implied)
I devoured Damsel—Arnold’s other take on classic tales—last winter break. The way the story examined common tropes of princess narratives blew my mind, so naturally, I couldn’t wait for Arnold’s next work. Red Hood uses Little Red Riding Hood as a vehicle for a tale examining feminine power, menstruation, and how to survive in a world that protects awful men.
Though mostly downplayed, I really liked the fantasy elements in this. The villains in this book are men who have the inexplicable ability to turn into wolves. Bisou, our main character whose introspection and journey we follow through a second-person narrative, magically has the ability to sense when these men are afoot, and when wolves attack. I wish this element had been more explored from a world-building standpoint, but it very much fit what Arnold seemed to be doing with the narrative.
I especially admired how Bisou and her friends gain more agency as the story progresses, turning into a coven alongside Mémé, Bisou’s grandmother and parental figure. The atmosphere here is also exquisite. Arnold works magic when it comes to melding contemporary and real-life fears with the terrors of the fantastic. The mysterious wolf attacks are horrifying, but so is the awfulness that is being a girl in high school.
A must-read for fans of more literary prose and loose but terrifying takes on classic fairy tales.