And once again, somehow it’s June. A year ago I was still trying to wrap my head around a pandemic; now we’re coming out of it and I’m trying to wrap my head around the “new normal.” That extends to my reading, as changes in jobs and how I consume media has changed my reading habits in general. With fewer opportunities for activities in my daily life, I turned more and more to video games as a more engaging way to spend my free time. Video games require me to use my brain in a different way than books, and that stimulation was what I needed at a time when board game night was out and hanging with humans could only happen through a computer screen.
But I’m still reading and I’m still finding gems!
Goodreads Challenge:27/50 Books Read
Despite feeling like my reading is up from the end of last year, I still find my numbers down overall; last year I’d read about 32 books by this point. To be fair to myself, I’m reading some pretty chunky books, and I think I’m just finding them exhausting (as I write this, I’m powering through MASTER ARTIFICER, which clocks in somewhere around 865 pages). I’ve also been playing more video games, and doing some freelance work on top of my regular job, so I suspect it’s just a matter of I’m not spending as much time reading of late. This is one of those stats where I have to remind myself it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the fun we had along the way, and I’m still well on track to hit my Goodreads goal either way!
I also noticed a big change in my reading this year: I’m not reading YA. This wasn’t a conscious decision, but more the result of the types of ARCs I’m getting. Almost all of my “current releases” (ie, 2021) come from ARCs. I’ve been getting fewer YA ARC approvals, which means fewer are ending up in my TBR, as my backlist priorities have tended to be adult. I think I also got a bit burned out on seeing some similar tropes over and over and getting burned by hyped releases that just weren’t great. I’m not done with YA, but it was a bit shocking to realize not a single book in 2021 was from that genre!
Favorite 2021 Fantasy Release
THE MASK OF MIRRORS by M.A. Carrick
This was an easy one to choose – hands down THE MASK OF MIRRORS won me over in just about every way possible. I know there were some people who bounced off the pacing, but sometimes a book just CLICKS with you. I loved the world and I loved the characters and I didn’t really care (or notice) that there were 600 pages to read because I simply DEVOURED the book. For those who haven’t checked this one out yet, THE MASK OF MIRRORS is a tale of a con woman named Ren who is attempting to convince a noble house that she’s the daughter of an estranged relative, here to make amends. But in the process of ingratiating herself into the family, she also gets tangled up in the city’s politics – including the threat of a magical menace threatening the city. With its tarot-inspired magic system and Venetian-feeling city, I was HERE FOR THIS BOOK.
Honorable mention to THE HOUSE OF ALWAYS by Jenn Lyons, which was a true-to-form BONKERS book four that managed to make a bunch of people trapped in a house an incredibly tense affair. Also there’s a kraken v. dragon fight.
Favorite 2021 Sci-Fi Release
THE LAST WATCH by J.S. Dewes
This was a hard choice, but I’m going with debut THE LAST WATCH. Once Dewes puts her foot on the pedal, there’s no stopping this thrill ride. A disaster movie put to page, THE LAST WATCH is about a military space ship at the edge of the galaxy that is full of various troublemakers. But when the ship realizes the literal edge of the galaxy is collapsing, they only have themselves to rely on if they’re going to survive. It’s one crazy space stunt after another, with fantastic characters and deft world-building that sets up the stakes for the sequel with ease.
Honorable mentions to FUGITIVE TELEMETRY (Murderbot forever!) by Martha Wells and A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE by Arkady Martine.
Favorite Backlist Read
HOLLOW EMPIRE by Sam Hawke
This juuuust slips under the wire into the backlist category as it was a December 2020 release I didn’t get to it until 2021, but I’ll take any excuse to shout out this fantastic murder mystery spy thriller. Imagine, if you will, a series of murders are taking place at the fantasy equivalent of the Olympics, and the list of suspects ranges from visiting dignitaries to disgruntled politicians to angry citizens who might be starting a rebellion. The sequel to CITY OF LIES picks up a few years after the events of the first book and shows that the political and social problems that were uncovered in the first adventure did not magically get solved over night. Cannot recommend enough!
Honorable mention to THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie. Character work FOR DAYS.
Backlist vs. New Releases
I’m doing pretty good keeping close to a 50/50 split on backlist vs. new releases; in fact, until May/June hit and a wave of ARCs swept across the land, I’d actually read more backlist than new releases for once! Hoping this summer will allow me to balance out the scales once more as the summer ARCs reduce to a trickle before September kicks the hornet’s nest all over again. I’m also proud to say that backlist reading in part has been a result of my goal to read a self-published book a month – see below fore more!
Nothing shocking here, I’ve read exclusively sci-fi and fantasy this year. Sci-fi is up overall for me (this time last year sci-fi only made up 12% of my read books), but I don’t expect this split to change to drastically throughout the rest of the year. I love me a good space opera but have found its much easier to find fantasy books than sci-fi that pique my interest.
Great Series Read Progress
Okay, so this project has gotten a little out of hand. I feel like I’m at that stage of unpacking where I’ve thrown everything onto the floor, and it looks really messy, but it will look a lot neater if you give me a second. I’m currently in the middle of 14 (yes, FOURTEEN,) series. This ballooning of works-in-progress is the result of a combination of mood reading and some ARC catch-up where I decided to request a whole series from a publisher and now I’m desperately trying to catch up. The good news is, in 7 of these series I am just one book away from finishing the whole dang thing. I’m going to try very hard not to start any new series until I’ve drastically reduced this “Currently Reading” section, which I’m hoping won’t be that hard.
As for positive progress made, I’ve finished four series and caught up to date on another four series! The one caveat is that all of these came from my ARC pile. Progress on my backlist has been much slower, but still happening. For instance, I’ve read 4 out 5 of the self-published AMRA THETYS series, and 2 out of 3 of the FIRST LAW books! It takes a little more effort to find time to squeeze backlist in, but I’m trying very hard to only request books in series I’ve already started, are something I REALLY am interested in, or are a new series from an author I like. My success on those rules have varied, but I’m trying! If I can succeed at whittling down my ARCs, then I’ll have more time to get to those backlist books that are forever taunting me.
Self-Published/Small Press Reads
This year I am trying once again to read at least one self-published book a month. I extended that this year to allow small press books to count for my sanity. On the whole I succeeded! Thus far I’ve read 4 self-published books and one small press, with a fifth likely on the way for June. Of course, all the self-published books are in the same series, but that’s actually a double-win because it’s self-published AND it’s Great Series Read Progress! I’ll be finishing the AMRA THETYS series soon, and have plans to jump back into Stephanie Burgis’s regency fantasy novellas next, as I really liked SNOWSPELLED but never continued the series. I also have plans to get to Dorian Hart’s THE GREATWOOD PORTAL, book 3 in his HEROES OF SPIRA series. But I have a bunch of other self-published books I’d love to check out later this year, so hopefully they’ll make their way to the top of the stack!
And that’s how 2021 is going so far! Tune in at the end of the year to see my final Top Fives and full Great Series Read breakdown!