2021 Reading Review

You probably wouldn’t know it from my dearth of reviews this year, but in 2021 I read about 150 books. This year I joined Storygraph to log my reading, so here are some fun stats from my 2021 reading. (You’ll notice it lists 135 as my total because I missed logging a few books)

I only reviewed three books over two blog posts this year, so here are some quick notes on the ones I didn’t have time to blog about, but still want to share.

Fantasy

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore: One of the first book reviews I did for this blog was Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, the third book in the Graceling series, so it was great to come back to the series with Winterkeep. Each book in that series is unique and wonderful, and I’m so happy to say that this fourth installment carries on that tradition. The worldbuilding is fantastic, moving into a new region of the same world, and the intrigue is suspenseful (there’s a character that really reminds me of Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials). The characters both old and new are engaging, and as always representation is on point. One downside: now I have to buy a new set of books so my covers match.

Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater: A fairy story set in the Regency period, which is like catnip for me. It manages to be fun and romantic while having surprising depth. As a debut novel from an indie author, it was one of my favorite surprises this year, and I’m so looking forward to continuing the series.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton: Another Regency fantasy! You’re shocked, I know. But this one is slightly different in that it is a novel of manners set in a world populated by dragons. If you like 19th century British literature, you will like this story. There are obnoxious relatives, country manors, marriages, courtroom drama, and descriptions of hats. All overlaid with dragon culture. It was a slow start for me but once I was in, I was hooked.

Fairy Tale Retellings

Valiant and Flight of Swans by Sarah McGuire: I’m so glad I discovered McGuire this year, because her work needs more hype. Her debut, Valiant, is a clever retelling of “The Brave Little Tailor,” and her next work, Flight of Swans, is a lovely take on “The Six Swans.” I loved them both, but Flight of Swans in particular has stayed with me. It’s a tale of love and loyalty in a beautiful ancient British setting, and I don’t know how she wrote a mute protagonist so seamlessly. I really feel it holds up next to the classics of the genre.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer: This was a solid retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” with a few other similar tales thrown in. It gets major points for its magical-house atmosphere (including a magic library where you can jump into the stories) and the way it blended in the details of the different tales. There was nothing particularly unexpected here, but I really enjoyed reading it and I’m looking forward to the companion novel coming out this year.

Thorn and The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani: I mentioned last year that I got hooked on Khanani‘s first indie works, and this Dauntless Path series is really holding to that promise. Thorn is a fabulous retelling of “The Goose Girl” that holds up to Shannon Hale’s classic retelling of that tale. I had high expectations coming into Theft of Sunlight, and I was still blown out of the water. I think I read it like three times. It moves away from retellings into an original story, wrapping up some things from Thorn while moving into the new territory prepped by “The Bone Knife” story at the end of Thorn. The protagonist Rae is amazing, there is no overt romance just some squishy understated feels, and the plot is really getting interesting. The only reason you should not read this (yet) is that it ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER OMG. I need the next book NOW.

Author discovery: Mimi Matthews

In the course of my historical romance reading, I came across indie author Mimi Matthews and her wonderful, clean Victorian novels…and I kept reading. And reading. I read nine books of hers this year, including one series and several standalones: the most of any one novelist I read. In particular I recommend the Parish Orphans of Devon series and Gentleman Jim. Matthews also has her first release with a major publisher coming out this month, The Siren of Sussex, and I am so ready for it!

Nonfiction

Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild: During the semester I spent in Spain over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to attend an exhibit on the Brigadas Internacionales, the foreign volunteers who fought in Spain’s civil war in the 1930s. I had no idea of this history before then, and frankly many people in Spain still deal with Guerra Civil topics with a light touch. Hochschild’s book gives a good overview of the war, mainly from the volunteers’ perspective, from everyday Americans there to fight fascism to idealistic writers like Hemingway and George Orwell; there’s also an interesting bit about Texaco selling oil to Franco on credit, with no interference from the US government. It is an interesting look at a complex time; of course, it does read a bit like a tragedy since the Republicans eventually lost the war, leading to decades of fascist rule in Spain. For another book on the Franco period, I recommend Ruta Sepetys’s novel The Fountains of Silence.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick: Speaking of autocratic regimes, this book is a fascinating peak inside one of the most closed off countries on the planet. Having read Park Yeonmi’s memoir of her escape and taken in some South Korean TV shows like Crash Landing on You, I wanted to learn more about the people of North Korea rather than the government. This book focuses on the daily lives of six defectors and is surprisingly comprehensive, as much as that is possible. The parts about the famine in the 90s are particularly haunting; whenever I hear about current food shortages in the DPRK in the news I wonder what the real story is and if history is repeating itself there.

Manga

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I was intrigued by Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba when I heard the recent movie had claimed the title of highest-grossing anime release in Japan, beating out Spirited Away and Your Name. After watching the first episode of the anime on Netflix, I picked up the manga from the library and have been reading as fast as I can get it (each volume has a very long wait list). It is a dark story, sometimes creepy and sometimes gory, but the struggles of Tanjiro and his friends, and especially his bond with his sister Nezuko, are really compelling. I definitely had some feels at the end of the Mugen Train arc! If you liked Fullmetal Alchemist and other similar stories, I think you would like this one.

As far as reading goals, last year I said:

I’m not making any reading goals for 2021. I’m going to read whatever I want to!

And I did! haha I’m starting to figure out a way forward with my reading list that works for me as a working mom. Of course I wish I had more time to read award-winning novels or the latest hot thing, or that I hadn’t staying up til 2am reading on that night my kid wouldn’t sleep. But like everything in life, it’s a work in progress.

Next year I really want to get back to writing more, both here on the blog and my own fiction. I already have a couple book reviews kicking around in my head. Here’s hoping you’ll see me around more!

What were your favorite books from 2021? Do you have any reading goals for 2022?

Review: What Matters in Jane Austen?

One of my goals for this year is to mix some more nonfiction into my reading selections, and I figured my mild obsession with Jane Austen was as good a place as any to start.

15793663What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan delves into the subtext of Jane Austen’s six published novels (and her drafts of unpublished ones).  It’s very well researched, discussing many Regency cultural elements her original readers would have been familiar with, such as mourning practices, salaries, pastimes, and (gasp!) sex.  Even more fascinating, it discusses Austen’s brilliant narrative style, including use of dialogue and character POV.

Each of the twenty titular questions has its own chapter, which makes it very convenient reading because I could easily pick up the book and read a chapter on its own, then put it down for a month, etc., all while reading a fiction novel concurrently.  (I think it will be a bit long-winded to be used as a reference book in the future, though.)

The book uses multiple textual examples from each of Austen’s published works, so it really helps if you are already familiar with at least the majority of them.  I personally have read all six; I’ve not read Sanditon, The Watsons, or Lady Susan, but these are only discussed briefly.  If you’ve only read Pride and Prejudice, I would recommend a good annotated copy of that instead, as you might be overwhelmed by the amount of information here.

Mullan also uses Jane Austen’s own letters to support his points, which is a very interesting and helpful source of information that I’m not as familiar with.

I found the chapters on Austen’s writing techniques to be the most interesting.  It was more novel to me than the cultural aspects, and while I had some small differences of opinion with some of his points, it really made me think about why I enjoy Austen’s writing so much, and how I can apply that to my own writing as well.

I wouldn’t claim that this is essential reading for Janeites, but I certainly enjoyed it, and I think it enhanced my enjoyment of Austen’s works as well.  I think I really need to give Emma another chance now.  Or maybe I could just re-read all of them…

4/5 stars