Reading Goals and Challenges: 2021 Wrap-Up

Hello, dear reader friends. Happy New Year! What a year this has been… Despite everything that’s going on (and if you’re reading this in early 2022, you know what I mean), silly things like reading challenges still exist and those among us crazy enough to participate actually care about their stats and “winning” a challenge. So let’s look at how I did in 2021:


Goodreads Reading Goal

I have once again surpassed my Goodreads reading goal and unlike last year, it wasn’t due to a whole lot of graphic novels.

When it comes to page count, which makes things a little more accurate and easier to compare years, I ended up quite behind 2020 but I still read almost 35,000 pages. It’s not a new best, but it’s a second-best and that’s enough to make me feel proud.


Beat the Backlist Challenge

This was the only official year-long challenge I took part in this year but I wasn’t all that eager to fill the entire Bingo card. It mostly helped me choose backlist books when I wasn’t sure what to read next.

  • Prompts fulfilled: 34/52
  • Bingo: Yes, twice

Reading the Hugo Awards

This two-part challenge was very one-sided in 2021 but that’s okay because technically, I did some groundwork for an older Hugo winner (meaning I read the first three Foundation books so I can read the Hugo-winning one soon-ish). As for current finalists, I did much better. The fact that WorldCon happened in December as opposed to AUgust definiteley helped me to catch up on the Best Series finalists. Here’s where we ended up:

  • Best Novel: 6/6
  • Best Novella: 6/6
  • Best Novelette: 6/6
  • Best Short Story: 6/6
  • Best Graphic Novel: 6/6
  • Lodestar: 6/6
  • Astounding: 2/6
  • Best Series:
    • Daevabad: 3/3
    • Murderbot: 5/6
    • Interdependency: 3/3
    • Lady Astronaut: 3/3
    • Poppy War: 3/3
    • October Daye: 3/14

That’s not too bad! Sure, I would have really liked to read the Astounding finalists as well but by that point, I was close to a Hugo burnout and I want to keep reading fun, after all.

The second part of this challenge is to read a few past Hugo winners or finalists. I had a handful picked out at the beginning of the year but I haven’t done too well so far. I hope I can do two more this year.

Past Hugo winners/finalists read: 1

Well… we can’t win all the time, I suppose.


Magical Readathon: Orilium – The Novice Path

G’s Magical Readathon is back and it is cooler than ever! Naturally, I participated in the very first introductory chapter which took place during September.

The prompts (as always) helped me pick up a variety of books, some of which I wouldn’t have read this soon otherwise. Most of my reads were fantastic and I got to go on a magical journey and create my very own character for future readathons by reading them.

NOVICE PATH STATION/
CHARACTER TRAIT
BOOK TITLE
Novice Path EntranceRobert Jordan – The Great Hunt
Ashthorn TreeJohn Scalzi – The Consuming Fire
Mists of SolitudeNicole Kornher-Stace – Firebreak
Ruin of the SkyeKatherine Arden – Small Spaces
Obsidian FallsSarah Gailey – The Echo Wife
Tower of RuminationJordan Ifueko – Redemptor
Orilion AcademyTori Bovalino – The Devil Makes Three
IltirianColson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad
ElfMary Robinette Kowal – The Relentless Moon
KeradorLinden A. Lewis – The Second Rebel
UrbanAlaya Dawn Johnson – Trouble the Saints

Since we only had to fulfill two journey prompts and still have time until April 2022 to get all our character reading done, my readathon was very successful. And even better, I’m all set to start the next Magical Readathon with my character Sistani.

Sistani belongs to the Archivists, which is your sort of guild at the fictional Academy, and I cannot wait to see what that means for the 2022 readathons. I’m sure I’ll have to read a 500+ page book or something.


Read More Black Authors

Well, I suck. Or at the very least, I sucked this year whan it came to reading books by Black authors. I kind of knew it was going to end up this way what with my Stormlight Archive re-read and me starting the Wheel of Time and reading a bunch of white authors for the Hugo Awards…

Books by Black authors read: 15/20

Technically,I read an additional three short stories by Black authors, but I only counted novels for this challenge.

And to put this all into perspective, I did read 32 books by Authors of Color, but many of them are Latinx, Asian, or Indigenous so I didn’t count them toward this challenge. Which is why I’m adapting it next year to include all sorts of authors and not focus on merely one group


New Releases

I did okay with this one. There are still a lot of books from 2021 that I want to read before nominating for the 2022 Hugos, but I have already discovered some favorites as well as some others I can safely ignore for my ballot.

2021 releases read: 28

Favorites: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente, The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, Noor by Nnedi Okorafor.

My biggest wish was to find a new favorite book by an author I hadn’t read before and – hooray – it was fulfilled. First came Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace. And very late in the year (November and December) two more books came up that I absolutely loved: Little Thieves by Margaret Owen and This Marvellous Light by Freya Marske. Three new author crushes in one year is pretty damn nice!


Five Star Predictions ★★★★★

This year’s predictions just go to show how misleading blurbs and markting campaigns can be. Especially newer books that have super hyped early reviews and little else can end up far from what I had hoped.

Alechia Dow – The Sound of StarsRead1.5 stars
Everina Maxwell – Winter’s OrbitRead3.5 stars
Vonda N. McIntyre – DreamsnakeRead4.5 stars
Catherynne M. Valente – The Past is RedRead5 stars
Hannah Whitten – For the WolfRead1 star
Fonda Lee – Jade LegacyNot Read

In this case, Cat Valente and Fonda Lee were my sure thing and Valente did not disappoint. Sadly, I haven’t managed to read Jade Legacy yet. Dreamsnake is old enough to have garnered all sorts of reviews, many of which I found helpful, even ones that didn’t like the book (because they disliked it for aspects that I tend to enjoy in books). Winter’s Orbit was buzzed about a lot but not in a crazy way, if you know what I mean. And I ended up quite liking it.

Now the one book that received what I would call hype, and way before it even came out, was For the Wolf. The author posted aesthetics and playlists and quotes out of context that sounded super dramatic and impactful. And then it turns out this book is about nothing. Even the one thing it seemed to want to tell – the sappy romance – wasn’t well developed. Ironically, it may have the the worst book I read all year! Followed closely by another 5-star-prediction, but at least The Sound of Stars had some nice ideas and very basic world building.

What I have learned through this experiment is not to trust early reviews (if I don’t know the people who post them) or the sort of hype that is based mostly on pretty pictures or Pinterest mood boards. If all you have to say about your book is that the characters are really pretty then it’s probably not for me. So. Overhyped books will not be read too soon after publication. I’ll give them a year or so to stew. Critical reviews, both positive and negative, can be trusted more than over-excited, gif-filled, cover-focused, character-appearance-adoring ones.
Lesson two: Favorite authors are favorites for a reason.


And this wraps up my2021 reading challenges and goals. I did pretty well on most of them but there is room for improvement next year. How did you do on your challenges? Do you participate in 20 of them each year as well or are you normal? 🙂

Best of 2021: My Favorite Books of the Year

I’m not going to lie, this has been a pretty shitty year. Dealing with this pandemic is starting to take its toll and I think you can tell from my reading choices when things got better and when they got worse. But reading was, in fact, one of the small comforts that accompanied me throughout 2021, so let’s focus on the positives and celebrate all the cool shit I read this year. 🙂

To keep it organized (and to cram in more favorites, hehe) I’ve split this list into categories just like I did last year.


Favorite Books Published in 2021

Novels

Last year was absolutely insane when it came to SFF novels. This year felt like it’s keeping up rather well, with the only difference being that I’m way behind. There are quite a few books I think might end up being new favorites still on my TBR but here are the ones that I’ve already had the pleasure of reading and that all got 5 stars from me on Goodreads. Now that I look at them all in one place, I realize they couldn’t be more different!

All the Murmuring Bones by A. G. Slatter (Angela Slatter) was the first book that made me squee with joy in 2021. It’s part Gothic fairy tale, part family mystery, part coming-of-age female empowerment story and I loved it to pieces! Slatter has been a favorite of mine for a while now but this book, while keeping the fairy tale vibe her short stories tend to have, was a step in a new direction. It took me a while to find my way into the story but once I was there, I found it absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait for next year’s The Path of Thorns.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey came next and I knew pretty early on it would be one of my top books of the year. The funny thing is that as I read it, every twist and surprise and every bit of character development cemented the book’s spot on this list. A not very likable protagonist, clones, questions of morality, how far science can and should go, questions of womanhood, a bit of light murder, and great twists until the very end make this one of the most exciting books of the year. It reads like a thriller but offers a lot of food for thought. And I just love Gailey’s writing and their complicated characters.

Nnedi Okorafor published a novella and a novel this year, the first of which (Remote Control) I liked but didn’t love. The novel, however, stole my heart. In Noor, we follow a young woman who has a lot of artificial/robotic body parts. This makes her something of an outsider and eventually she has to flee from the society she wants to be a part of. She meets with a different sort of outsider and together, they not only fight for their basic right to live (!) but also unravel a mystery of epic proportions. This book is short but it really has everything. Great characters, cool science and technology, a kick-ass plot, and deep emotional impact.

A Marvellous Light by debut author Freya Marske is something completely different. It’s a fantasy romance set in Edwardian England with one bookish protagonist and one sporty, impulsive one. But despite the romance being stunning (and quite, quite sexy!), Marske put a lot of effort into her world building and magic system as well. I loved the idea of cradling – magic spells require specific hand movements – and the way the magical society works in this story, and I especially love how women, who are considered too weak for difficult magic, use their powers quietly and show how powerful they really are. But, yeah, mostly I loved this for the romance, the sexual tension, and Edwin and Robin’s budding relationship. Can’t wait for the sequels.


Young Adult/Middle Grade

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He was my first YA crush this year. I was already taken with the author because of the amazing Descendant of the Crane but here she shows that she didn’t just get lucky with her debut but rather that she is someone to watch. This climate-fiction tale of two sisters who have been separated and are trying to find their way back to each other has layers upon layers and is hard to talk about it without spoiling. But believe me when I say that you’ll get great science fictional ideas, intricate characters with difficult emotions, many gasp-worthy twists, and a truly touching story about sisterly love. Plus a little bit of romance. Basically, it’s as amazing as the cover is pretty.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko didn’t get to me as quickly as the first book in this duology, but after reading for a while, I noticed how this tale of found/chosen family and heavy responsibility had sneaked into my heart again. I was struck by how well everything falls into place, how Ifueko managed to introduce a lot of new characters and made me love them as much as the old ones. There are still more surprises to discover. If you liked Raybearer, you will also like this book. The ending was just beautiful and I will forever be a Tarisai fangirl.

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen stole my heart and ran away with it like the thief that narrates this novel. This was one of my late-in-the-year five star reads that I totally didn’t see coming. It’s a loose retelling/sequel of the fairy tale The Goose Girl but it very much brings its own ideas to the table. First person narrator Vanja is the best kind of cocky, there are a lot of cool ideas to discover during this tale, and there’s an effortless diversity of sexuality to be found, all with an understated lovely romance, a kick-ass heist-filled plot that piles on the trouble but somehow resolves everything by the end. I am glad that we will get a sequel in (probably) 2023. I wish I could read it right now!


Novellas

My favorite novella of the year comes from none other than Catherynne M. Valente and it was The Past Is RedThis post-apocalyptic story set on the Pacific Garbage Patch – known as Garbagetown – is devastating and hopeful, expertly crafted, with characters that break your heart, prose that sings and dances, and even a great twist. It gave me all the feels and I’ll cherish and re-read it forever. Tetley Abednego is a protagonist who sees beauty in dirt and reminds us that oftentimes the world could be so lovely if only we learned to appreciate it.

Secondly, we have the very different but just as stunning Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente. Hey, it’s not my fault she wrote two brilliant novellas in one year, okay? This one is eerie and atmospheric and best enjoyed without knowing anything about it beforehand. Although the twist at the end is its climax, it has great re-read value because once you know what’s going on you can go hunting for all the clues that you missed the first time. And there are so many of them! Valente shows that she can jump between genres as if it was nothing, all while staying true to her beautiful prose.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow was another top novella, although it is much lighter than my other favorites. It’s Harrow spiderversing a fairy tale, in this case Sleeping Beauty, and it just worked although I think it will not be for everyone. The writing is easy and filled with references to pop culture and literature, the characters aren’t super deep, but the themes hit home nonetheless. Protagonist Zinnia suffers from a rare disease that will most likely kill her before she turns 21. When she accidentally lands in a parallel world where she meets an actual Sleeping Beauty type princess, things don’t go quite as expected. This was a fun romp, it had things to say about feminism and gender and choosing your own path and I unabashedly loved it even though I would have preferred it to be longer.

And let’s not forget Becky Chambers‘ latest novella, A Psalm for the Wild-Built. This was both what I expected and also totally different, if that makes sense. The nonbinary tea monk protagonist felt so utterly relatable it hurt, and while their journey wasn’t filled with shocking moments or daring adventures, it was exactly the quiet, philosophical kind of book we’ve come to expect from Chambers. Then again, it also felt somehow new and fresh. The hopepunk setting, the slowly building friendship between human and robot, it all worked together beautifully and I need the sequel now.

Sadly, these are (yet again) all Tor.com titles and I was determined to have at least one novella from a different publisher among my favorites this year. If you have recommendations, please leave me one in the comments.


Favorite Books Published pre-2021

Once again, I have to thank all the people who nominate books and series for the Hugo Award. The Best Series category, which is still pretty new, has been a treasure trove when it comes to backlist titles that aren’t old enough yet to be classics but not new enough to be the newest hot shit that everyone is talking about. Many of those in-between titles ended up on my list and that makes me super happy.

The Poppy War Trilogy by R. F. Kuang absolutely wrecked me and even though The Poppy War was a re-read, I’m counting it in this category, alongside The Dragon Republic and The Burning God. Because, damn! That’s right, that is the summary of my feelings.
But seriously, I don’t know what impresses me most. The fact that Kuang entered the scene with an unbelievably great debut, that she tackled a very dark period of history, that her characters are multi-faceted and flawed and believable, that her world building is impeccable, her writing engaging… I mean, at this point I’m just describing all the elements of a perfect novel. But you get the idea and I am forever destroyed by what these books have done to my poor heart.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune needs no explanation. Anyone who has read it will know why this heartwarming tale of found family ended up on my list, and people who haven’t read it have probably been told how this is a warm hug in book form a million times. It really is, though, and if you ever feel down and want a story you know is going to lift you up, make it this one. I can’t wait to pick up the book’s spiritual successor that came out this year, Under the Whispering Door.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler has convinced me that Butler will probably always end up on my Best of the Year lists, at least until I’ve read all her books. This is all the more impressive as the book in question is pretty much the opposite of the Klune in terms of atmosphere and vibe. Sure, Butler always conveys that shining bit of hope but the world and setting she uses in this duology is anything but nice. Still, one  of the most impressive and impactful books I read this year.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett was not surprising in any way. It’s fairly early Discworld but it does exactly what Pratchett always does so well. It holds a mirror up to humanity, with humor and heart and respect. This book made me laugh and cry, ponder and wonder, and most of all it made me miss Terry Pratchett all over again. As it tackles religion, which can be a… let’s say difficult subject, we should be all the more impressed how Pratchett managed to make fun of certain aspects of it without ever, EVER, disrespecting people or their faith!

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal is a bit of a departure from the first two books in her Lady Astronaut series. The plot happens parallel to the story of The Fated Sky, only this time we focus on Earth and the Moon colony as well as on a new protagonist, Nicole Wargin, pilot and politician’s wife and also super capable Moon survival person. This took a while to get going but once the story had taken off, I was reeling from all the amazing ideas. Whether it’s basic survival moves on the Moon or dealing with an eating disorder, or handling politics, it’s all there, it’s all done well and I ended up loving this book much more than I had anticipated.

The Interdependency Trilogy by John Scalzi was one of my biggest surprise hits this year. And my favorite volume of the three was probably the middle book, The Consuming Fire. I usually put a lot of Serious SFF (TM) on here but that’s not the only type of story I love. So this year, I’m adding this hilarious space opera romp by Scalzi because, while maybe not dealing with the deepest philosophical questions of humanity, it was just pure and utter fun! I adore Kiva Lagos and her filthy mouth, I loved the idea of the Flow and I simply enjoyed following all these characters as they are trying to save the world.

The biggest surprise, without a doubt, was how much I enjoyed Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. You may recall how much I disliked Gideon the Ninth, how I found it messily plotted, with flat characters (one exception being Gideon herself) and told in unnessecarily convoluted prose. The prose is still overly verbose and showy, but everything else about Harrow has taken me by storm. Damn, I want to know what happens next, how all these crazy revelations impact the world, and where this story will lead us eventually. And so I find myself actually happy that the trilogy has grown into a 4-book-series and that we’ll get Nona the Ninth in 2022. Yay!

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers was just lovely! I had really liked Small, Angry Planet but I bounced off Spaceborn Few for a long while (the ending turned it around but overall, my opinion was rather meh), so I didn’t have the highest expectations. And then Chambers just goes and tells not one, but two hearbreaking stories in one novel. My eyes were perpetually wet as I listened to this on audiobook and it is now by far my favorite book in the series.


I am not feeling too great about the pandemic at the moment (not that I ever felt great about it, but you know what I mean) but at least I am happy with what I read in 2021.

Top of my TBR: Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chen, Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune, Summer Suns by Lee Mandelo, The Chosen and the Beautfiul by Nghi Vo, The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

If you’ve posted a best of the year list, let me know in the comments. I love looking through other people’s favorite reads of the year. I’m especially interested in 2021 publications that I might have missed and should prioritize. 🙂

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Series

I love this category and I hate this category. This year, I was quite lucky in having read at least the first book each in five out of the six series but as we know, the first book isn’t enough to properly judge whether a series/trilogy as a whole should get a Hugo. But with WorldCon being moved to December, this was also the first year where I had enough time to properly catch up and even finish most of the finalists!

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

I am so glad this category exists even though it makes me gasp at the amount of pages it wants me to read every year. This year was also the first one where I thought a bit more about why this category exists and whether it’s fulfilling its original purpose. Cora Buhlert has some excellent thoughts on this (that’s why she is a finalist for Best Fan Writer) and I absolutely see where she’s coming from.

Best Series is meant for those books/series that usually wouldn’t have a shot at a Best Novel Hugo even though they might be deserving. If you loved the 10th Dresden Files book or the 14th in the October Daye series, it’s unlikely it will become a Best Novel finalist and, even if it did, how many voters unfamiliar with the series would read through the previous 9 (or 13 or however many) instalments to get to this particular one?
But in the Best Series category, you can nominate that series precisely because book 14 was so great. And other people might nominate it based on the instalment they’ve just read – whether that’s book 3 or book 8 – if they think that the series overall is worthy of a Hugo.

But what we’ve seen in the few years since the category has been around is, yes, some long-running series like the ones I described above, but also lots and lots of trilogies, many of which had volumes nominated for Best Novel as well. And look, I myself am guilty of this. I nominated The Winternight Trilogy and I nominated The Murderbot Diaries as series as well as some of their individual instalments for Best Novel. And on the one hand, that’s because I don’t have any super long-running series that I follow (unless you count The Stormlight Archive, which I suspect will unfold its true brilliance once the final book is out and that’s when I plan to nominate it (unless it starts sucking along the way, of course)). On the other hand, I nominated those trilogies because they didn’t manage to get their single volumes onto the Best Novel ballot, so I feel vindicated.

But however you look at this category, it’s an important one that makes the Hugos just a little bit better and more modern and more interesting than they used to be.


The Finalists for Best Series

This category grows on me more each year. Last year, it led me to discover two series (one trilogy, one quartet) that I have since continued because they are really damn good. This year, it forced me to continue lots of series I had already started AND introduced me to a trilogy I would’t have picked up at all if it weren’t for the Hugos but ended up loving.

I think my biggest difficulty in this category is the question whether I should be voting for the series I had most fun reading or the one I think is most accomplished or some mix of both. Maybe I should go for the one where I think it being a series makes it bettern than each of its instalment on its own? Because, let’s face it, the most accomplished is easily The Poppy War Trilogy. It’s ambitious, incredibly well written, and all the more impressive because Kuang is such a young writer. But it’s also super dark and not as easy to digest as, say, a John Scalzi trilogy or a Murderbot book.

I wasn’t that happy about Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon being nominated for both Best Novel and the series for Best Series at first, mostly because the first book already won a Hugo. But the Lady Astronaut series actually did what I wish every series would do. It got bigger and better and more fun along the way. The Calculating Stars deserved its Hugo win and I loved the book by itself, but it was also super uncomfortable to read because it shows just how unfair the world can be. The Fated Sky continues to show what it’s like belonging to a minority (or, you know, being a woman) and all the unpleasantness and injustice that comes with that, but it was also more fun to read. Not everything was always terrible and it focused on space travel and real-world science a bit more. It ended up being my favorite of the series so far. Then I picked up The Relentless Moon, and even though it took me a while to let go of Elma and Mars and instead follow Nicole Wargin on the Moon, I ended up falling completely in love with that book! So yeah, this is a series that gets better and bigger along the way and is thus a perfect finalist in this category.

Murderbot is a similar case but not quite, because this year is the first time that the series has an entry that is a full-length novel. I’d like to think that even if that novel hadn’t come out and Martha Wells had continued writing only novellas, Murderbot would have made the final ballot for Best Series anyway. Here my feelings are almost reversed to The Lady Astronaut series. I feel just slightly less inclined to vote for the Murderbot book in Best Novel because I think the series as a whole is better than the novel on its own. I wouldn’t have loved Network Effect as much if I hadn’t already known Murderbot and its backstory. So if I had my way, Martha Wells would not win the Best Novel category (which is incredibly strong this year) but would win Best Series. Except maybe not this year (I’ll explain why later) but definitely in a few years. We know that Murderbot is here to stay – at least for a few more years – and if the quality of Wells’ writing stays at this level, the series will definitely be nominated again. And I absolutely want it to win a Best Series Hugo because it is deserving and also a perfect example of what I think this Hugo category should be for.

It feels a little unfair for me to even rank the October Daye series at this point because, although I read another instalment this year, I am so far behind that I can’t possibly judge the current state of the series. I have read three out of fourteen (!) volumes and if the other voters nominated it based on the strength of its most current book and not just because they like the author, then I have no way of knowing whether I agree with them. I still enjoy the series – although the first book was the best and they got slightly weaker from there – and I want to continue reading it. I guess it will show up on the ballot again in two years and maybe by then I’ll have caught up a bit more. At the point I am right now, it’s a fun Urban Fantasy series that I enjoy but nowhere close to the other entries on the ballot in terms of originality, quality, or impact on the genre. Maybe that will change as I continue reading and that’s why I feel my ranking may not be very fair but I’m judging as honestly as I can given the books that I have read.

Thanks to this ballot, I finally finished The Daevabad Trilogy and mostly agree with other readers that it’s a great trilogy with a satisfying ending. S. A. Chakraborty is an author I will watch because not only did she write a story about djinn, bringing a refreshing perspective into the fantasy genre, but she also does politics and court intrigue really well. Her writing style is engaging and I enjoyed all three of these books, even if the middle one felt like a filler and the last one was too long and a bit slow for my taste. So here comes the hard part again. My esteem for this trilogy is pretty high and I will pounce on Chakraborty’s next book, whatever it is. But in comparison to some of the other finalists, it didn’t feel as innovative and doesn’t get me equally as excited, and so ends up in the lower area of my ballot.

Damn you, Scalzi, I thought it was a safe bet that I could put The Interdependence Trilogy safely in the lower half of my ballot. And then you go out and write three books that are fun, exciting, finished way too quickly, and make me want to read more of the same. This trilogy was the only one I hadn’t even tried prior to the finalists being announced and I didn’t have high expectations. And look, this may deal with a galaxy-spanning empire but it’s not exactly deep. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, this may have been my favorite of the ballot when it comes to pure enjoyment. I can totally see myself re-reading it when I need something exciting that makes me laugh out loud, cheer on the good guys and cackle when the bad guys get what they have coming. Granted, it can’t keep up with some of the other finalists in terms of scope or ambition, but it has great ideas, highly engaging writing, and it gave me several hours of pure fun! Plus, Kiva Lagos and her filthy mouth are everything!

The last series I tackled for this year’s ballot was The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. I had read the first book when it came out, was deeply impressed but not very hyped to read the next book – not because I didn’t like it but because it gets so very dark! So I did a re-read to refresh my memory this year and then went on to read the whole story in one swoop. It was both rewarding and terrible because my already very insecure ballot got mixed up even more. I mean, how could I not put this in my number one spot? The first book was even better on a re-read and that doesn’t happen often! The second book upped the stakes, didn’t feel like a middle book at all, and ripped out my heart several times over.
How can an author so young write a debut that is this brilliant? And as if it’s not enough that the writing is amazing, the characters multi-layered and difficult, but it’s also got rich world building, is inspired by real historical events, explores dark and important themes, and pushes the boundaries of the genre. I didn’t finish the third book before the voting period ended (I read it very slowly because (1) I was scared of the ending and (2) I didn’t want it to end), but I was certain that Kuang would deliver a bombastic end to her trilogy and deserves my top spot.

My ballot:

  1. The Poppy War
  2. The Lady Astronaut
  3. The Murderbot Diaries
  4. The Interdependency
  5. The Daevabad Trilogy
  6. The October Daye Series

Voting is now over but here are my thoughts from just before I finished up my ballot:

Okay, so a lot of this ballot is a mess and I have no idea how to rank these and not feel shitty about it. The Poppy War will stay on top, that much is certain. No matter how I twist and turn it, there is simply no way I can justify putting it any lower.
My bottom two series will stay where they are as well even though I might still swap them. Spots 2 through 4 are giving me a headache of epic proportions, however. I think I like Murderbot more than the Lady Astronaut, but here’s where my brain goes into strategic mode. I really, really, really want The Poppy War to win and I think Murderbot is its strongest contender, so by raking Murderbot one lower than I normally would, can I give The Poppy War a slight edge? I also want Murderbot to win but that series is still ongoing, unlike The Poppy War which has its last chance of winning this year. And since none of the individual novels won (which is a shame), I want it to win Best Series even more.

I realize that this approach may not be how other people vote (and that’s fine) but this ballot is so hard to rank that this is the only way I feel halfway comfortable with. All of that said, I will be more than happy if Murderbot or The Lady Astronaut series win this year. R. F. Kuang will likely write another masterpiece and let us shower her with Hugos sooner or later.

That’s it folks!
I didn’t get to the Astounding Award this year. I probably could have managed it but I honestly felt a little burned out on reading so many books because I “had to” (you know what I mean). I’m currently reading by mood and enjoying the hell out of it. But I’m not going to lie, I already look forward to doing this craziness all over again next year. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this series of posts. Now let’s all be excited for the awards ceremony and cheer on those finalists!

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Novel

Once again, we have reached the Big One. The Hugo Award for Best Novel.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

This year, I had only read three out of the six finalists, although two of the unread ones were already on my TBR. The sixth was a book I wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been nominated. And that just goes to show how valuable the Hugo Awards are because I ended up ranking that book pretty damn high for something I wasn’t even interested in…

2020 was an insanely good year for SFF publishing. The finalists could have included 15 additional novels and it would still have been a fantastic ballot. Seriously, this was the first time I felt bad because I had to leave several worthy books off my nominations ballot as only five works can be nominated. Now as for ranking the ones that made it… oh boy.


The Finalists for Best Novel

When the finalists came out, I thought I had them all figured out. I expected to hate Harrow the Ninth, I may have loved Piranesi but it doesn’t feel like a Hugo book to me, and Network Effect has now won both a Nebula and a Locus, so I could rank it a bit lower without feeling bad. Roanhorse and Kowal were the big unknowns for me. But then Harrow turned out to really get its hooks into me, Black Sun – although it can’t stand on its own and reads more like half a novel – impressed me enough to keep floating around in my mind and all of that just leaves me stumped. I can’t possible compare these books, much less rank them!

Nobody is more surprised than I am at Harrow the Ninth turning me into a fan. A reluctant one, sure, but a fan, nonetheless. I still don’t like Muir’s writing style, I don’t see its merit for the story and/or characters, and I simply don’t enjoy reading it. BUT. Pretty much everything else about Harrow the Ninth was super fun. The crazy magic system, the puzzling nature of everything in this book, how nothing makes sense until it suddenly does… I even got quite emotional at times and that’s something that was completely missing in Gideon for me. Reading this book felt like work a lot of the time and it made me shout “What the hell is going on?” many, many times, but I keep thinking about it, I keep making up theories, I keep wishing for the next book to come out soon because I have to know how it all ends. And that’s just amazing to me and pushed this book up on my ballot.

With Network Effect, I’m taking an approach that not everyone may agree on. I adore Murderbot as much as the next person and I was very fond of this full-length novel in a series otherwise comprised of novellas. I nominated it myself and it would originally have ended up as number 2 on my ballot. But – and here’s my controversial voting strategy – I would much rather see Murderbot win Best Series because I think the series as a whole is better than its individual instalments and also more than just the novel on its own. I mean, the novel won a Nebula and a Locus Award, both absolutely deserved, but it makes me kind of want the Hugo to go to another book. 2020 was such a great year for SFF and the awards scene shouldn’t make it look like Network Effect was the one and only great book we got. So yeah, these are the reasons why I’m ranking this brilliant, heartwarming, action-packed book that I loved, quite low on my ballot.

N. K. Jemisin may feel like a similar case. After doing what nobody has done before and taking home three consecutive Hugos for her Broken Earth Trilogy, it would feel a bit… repetitive to give her another Hugo. But then The City We Became is going in a completely different direction, showing her amazing genre-busting skill. It was the first 2020 publication I knew I would nominate and it feels like it should be number 1 on my ballot. My opinion of it is colored by the amazing audiobook version which turned the book into a proper event. Out of all the books on the ballot, I read this one the longest time ago, and yet I still remember certain scenes vividly, I still have the character voices in my head, and I still loved the story arc. So it has to go in my top three at least, but maybe not in the number one spot anymore?

Rebecca Roanhorse’s new series starter, Black Sun, didn’t impress me all that much while I read it. Most people unabashedly love this book and I found it fun to read as well. I liked the characters, I loved the world building and the set up, but I found the story quite predictable and derivative. You could tell where each story line would go from the very beginning, so, much like her Urban Fantasy, the only thing that set this apart from other stereotypical books of that sub-genre, was the setting and the character diversity. As these are two things I value greatly, I believe we can commend Roanhorse, but does that make her novel worthy of an award? Add to that the fact that Black Sun isn’t even the kind of trilogy opener that tells a full story and only leaves a handful of questions open, no no, it actually just stops mid-tale. If I didn’t know there were more books coming, I would be majorly pissed that this is how the book ends. Because it doesn’t, it just pauses. To me, this makes it a much more fitting contender for the Best Series category (depending on how good the sequels are, of course). I will be reading the next book and I look forward to it. But I don’t believe that Black Sun has enough to offer to merit a Hugo Award.

My last read was The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal because I first had to catch up on the second book in the Lady Astronaut series. In hindsight, I regret not reading it sooner because I would have nominated that for a Hugo last year! Now this third book took me a while to get into, mostly because of the change in protagonist, but then Kowal worked her magic again and I was caught in the world of scientists and astronauts, of a sabotage plot with a hint of spy mystery, of deeply human characters with believable relationship. And I ended up loving it so much! This book is making voting harder not just in this category but also in Best Series. Because the series is getting better and even though you can read the books as standalones, it’s so much more than the sum of its parts when you follow the series as a whole.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Mary Robinette Kowal – The Relentless Moon
  2. Tamsyn Muir – Harrow the Ninth
  3. N. K. Jemisin – The City We Became
  4. Susanna Clarke – Piranesi
  5. Martha Wells – Network Effect
  6. Rebecca Roanhorse – Black Sun

Maaaaaan, this is a difficult year! I don’t think I’ve ever had such trouble ranking the Best Novel finalists. The only book I’m sure about is Black Sun in my last spot (again, not because it was bad, but the other stuff is just better). I’ll probably also keep Network Effect at number five because it’s already won so much and I’m ranking Murderbot higher up on my Best Series ballot.

But 1-4 are a complete mess that I have changed about fifty times by now and I’m never quite happy with my ranking. I’ve been debating putting Harrow first but then Jemisin’s newest book was so much nicer to read and Kowal’s Relentless Moon hit me really hard emotionally… And Piranesi was brilliant even if I think it’s not a typical Hugo book. So you see, the ballot I’m posting here could stay the same or it could change a hundred more times before the voting period ends. Your guess is a good as mine.

The great thing about this is: I would be happy for any of my top 5 books to receive the Hugo Award. As much as I complain about difficult choices and rankings and blah blah blah, it’s a truly wonderful year when we can’t decide what should win because everything is so damn good.

Up next week: Best Series

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Novella

The Best Novella category this year is dominated by Tordotcom more than ever. Since the publisher started their novella initiative, the popularity of novellas has risen dramatically, not just in SFF fandom in general but also when it comes to my own reading. I used to think of novellas as “not quite novels” for some reason, like they were somehow lesser because they needed fewer pages to tell a story. I have since learned the error of my ways and come to appreciate the novella for the amazing form it is.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

This year, I had already read four out of the six finalists, although one of the unread ones was already on my TBR. The sixth was a book I wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been nominated. As I quite liked the latter and didn’t much like the one I had had on my TBR, that just goes to show you that awards ballots are great and can push you to read better books. 🙂


The Finalists for Best Novella

As much as I love Tordotcom and their novellas, they have become so numerous that the quality isn’t as top notch as it was in their first year of the novella initiative. They are still publishing amazing stuff, don’t get me wrong, but there is one book among this list whose appearance on the ballot I just can’t understand. But let’s talk about the individual titles a bit.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark is my clear and absolute favorite. I nominated it myself and I’ve been wanting it to win a Hugo since the moment I finished it. Of course, I first had to read some other finalists but I honestly didn’t expect anything to get much better than this. It’s about a group of women who hunt Ku Kluxes – the very real monsters you turn into when you’ve been part of the Klan too long. What I enjoyed so much about this was the mix of exciting adventure, crazy cool world building, deep characters, and a clear message. And when I say message, please don’t think you’re going to get a “don’t be a racist” lecture in this book (although, obviously, don’t be a racist) but rather that Clark manages to give us sympathetic characters we care about and then shows how unfairly the world treats them. Plus, the monsters are extra cool, there is a magical sword, and I actually cried during one chapter… Yeah, this is an easy number one for me.

It’s been a bit longer since I read The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo and unfortunately, I didn’t review it here so my memories aren’t as clear as I would like. But I do remember the gist of the story – a young historian finding out the story of the former Empress through stories evoked by common everyday objects. And that story turns out to be how women, even when they are seen and used as pawns on a political chess board, have power if they stick together. A quiet power, sure, but power nontheless. It’s also about finding happiness in the most dire of situations. I remember loving the language of this novella and how slowly, over the course of its pages, an image evolves of the Empress that is quite different from the first idea we have of her. I’d be totally fine if this book won because although I liked the Clark more, Nghi Vo is an author I (and many other SFF readers, I suspect) will follow closely.

The middle of my ballot gets a little tricky. You may know of my strange relationship with Seanan McGuire, especially with the fact that all her work gets Hugo nominations simply because, but on this not-super-strong ballot, her fifth Wayward Children novella Come Tumbling Down is going to end up on my number three spot. At least for now. It is by no means a perfect novella, not even a great one, but it does many things right. Presenting intriguing protagonists, setting up a cool problem for them to solve, and sending them off to a creepy world togehter – what’s not to like?
The story does fall flat in the second half when it turns out McGuire bit off too much to chew when it comes to world building and juggling too many characters who all want to be protagonists when really, there should be a maximum of two per novella. But the story does reach a rounded ending. While I didn’t find it emotionally impactful, it was satisfying from a storytelling point of view.

To my own surprise Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby is not at the top of my ballot. I expected to completely love this book but, well, I just didn’t. I had different expectations from the blurb and while there are many lines that feel like they perfectly encompass certain truths about our world, what I was missing the most was story. It’s about a brother and sister, the sister has superpowers but somehow they barely make an appearance or rather they don’t become important for the plot until very late. As for plot, there really isn’t any. The brother goes to prison, which goes about as well as you can expect for a young Black man, and Onyebuchi shows us harrowing scenes of that life, but that’s not a story, is it? So for that reason, while I liked the writing and I have adored Onyebuchi’s book War Girls, this one just didn’t work for me. It’s got a lot of things to say that are important but it didn’t manage to wrap them in an engaging story.

Another novella by an author I normally love but which didn’t work for me was Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted. This book has a story, although not a particularly original one. It’s set in such a cool world that could be a parallel universe or a post-apocalyptic Earth where the Wild West has made a return of sorts but LGBT+ people aren’t accepted at all. Our young protagonist is a lesbian and has run away from home to join the Librarians – which is a group of people travelling the land. With horse-drawn wagons. And guns.
This book was more about coming of age and coming to terms with your own sexuality and how to stay true to yourself in a world that doesn’t want you to be yourself. It’s about finding family in unexpected places, and maybe even finding love. So I’m all for the message but I just didn’t connect with the characters and I didn’t feel the world building came across as that well thought-out.

The last novella I read and the one I think shouldn’t be on this ballot is Finna by Nino Cipri. The idea is sooooo great! A wormhole suddenly pops up in an IKEA-like store and an elderly shopper wanders into it. In order to save her from whatever parallel world the multiverse has opened up, Ava and her very recent Ex Jules go on a mission into the wormhole. I mean, this could have been so much fun, but sadly nobody told Cipri that rushing through seven worlds in less than 100 pages is a bit too much.
The characters just made me sad because they didn’t get to be proper people. Jules’ only concern and the thing that apparently defines them in this story is that they’re nonbinary (serioulsy, real people’s personality consists of more than they gender identity or sexuality… like give them a hobby or something) and Ava is just annoying until we find out she suffers from depression. Neither of them have hopes, dreams, goals in life, or any human connection beyond their failed relationship.
The world-hopping itself could have been fun and the worlds we get to see aren’t bad. It’s just that arriving, staring in wonder, getting into danger, fleeing , and getting to safety in the matter of 3 pages doesn’t make for good reading. It’s too fast, none of the worlds felt real or got to shine, and so this read more like something you’d write in school for an assignment than a professionally published novella. This needed a lot of work and maybe full-novel length. The way it stands, I am not impressed.


My ballot (probably)

  1. P. Djèlí Clark – Ring Shout
  2. Nghi Vo – The Empress of Salt and Fortune
  3. Seanan McGuire – Come Tumbling Down
  4. Sarah Gailey – Upright Women Wanted
  5. Tochi Onyebuchi – Riot Baby
  6. No Award
  7. Nino Cipri – Finna

So my top three spots are pretty firmly set. I don’t know if I’ll switch Sarah Gailey and Tochi Onyebuchi around but as I don’t plan on re-reading either book, I don’t see why I would do that. I am still debating on whether to leave Finna off my ballot completely or simply rank it last. The thing is, I really don’t think it should win an award. It does nothing award-worthy whatsoever. All the other books, even the ones I didn’t enjoy, either do something new and original and/or they tell a great story. Finna is just a nice idea badly executed.

All things considered, I am not too impressed with this ballot. Sure, I liked most of the books in some way, but there has to be more out there than what Tordotcom publishes. Which would also mean a greater diversity of ideas. Let’s all try to read at least one novella not published by Tordotcome this year, okay? Maybe this way, we’ll discover a hidden gem and get other publishers on the ballot for next year.

Up next week: Best Graphic Story

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Novelette

I always look forward to the Best Novelette category because unless one of my favorite authors has published one, I don’t read novelettes. I just don’t come across them and even if I did, I wouldn’t necessarily know how to tell it apart from a short story.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

Prior to the finalists being announced, I had only heard about one of the stories – the one that now goes by the title “Helicopter Story”. I went into all of these blindly with only the title and, in the cases where I knew them, the author to give me some idea of what I’d get. It’s pretty rewarding, not knowing anything about a story and being surprised by twisty turns into horror territory or character depth where it wasn’t expected.
It can also be to a story’s detriment when you read it without context and it has to stand on its own. Stories don’t exist in a vacuum, of course, but a story should work whether the reader knows its origin or the author’s background info or not.


The Finalists for Best Novelette

  • A. T. Greenblatt – Burn, or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super
  • Isabel Fall – Helicopter Story
  • Aliette de Bodard – The Inaccessibility of Heaven
  • Naomi Kritzer – Monster
  • Meg Elison – The Pill
  • Sarah Pinsker – Two Truths and a Lie

Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker was a cool surprise. I hadn’t looked up any of the plots for these novelettes beforehand and the Pinsker story welcomed me with wonderful creepiness and a bit of a shock. It’s about a woman helping an old friend clean out his dead brother’s hoarder house. The protagonist, fitting with the title, has made a habit out of… embellishing the truth, making up facts about herself and her life that aren’t true, of lying so cleverly that people usually don’t catch her. When she makes something up and her friend says he remembers that as well, the story starts going in a new direction and follows an eerie spiral down into the past. I don’t want to give away any more than that but I loved how Pinsker managed to give me goosebumps and made me go WTF several times. This was truly delightful to read, although I was a tad disappointed by the abrupt ending.

Naomi Kritzer’s Monster is making the ranking decision hard for me. Because as a story, it’s nice enough, with a bit of a mystery, a nice science fictional idea, and a good ending, but what makes it more than just good is the characters. I admit I found it rather easy to identify with the outsider nerd protagonist as she struggles to find friends as a kid and only really feels at home when she discovers other SFF readers. But that’s just the beginning of this novelette and once it gets going, it goes pretty dark. I can’t tell you why exactly but I liked the revelations and their implications. Paired with the title, it offers a lot of food for thought and makes you look at things from a different perspective. I really liked it, even though I felt Pinsker’s story was better written and Greenblatt’s story had much better pacing.

I vaguely remember some ruckus about Helicopter Story by Isabel Fall when it came out under a different title, was taken off the internet, then put back online. Something about it being transphobic which made Twitter explode? Then the author came out as a trans woman to put her story into perspective and make her intentions with it clear. To be honest, as much as I love fandom, sometimes the Twitter mob can be a vile piece of shit and I don’t have the will or strength to look up exactly how things went down when this first came out. But none of that has anything to do with the story as such – at least not for me. So the author is a trans woman. I don’t think her gender identity would change my opinion about her story and as sorry as I am to say this, I really, really didn’t like it.
To start with, there’s very little “story” at all. A fighter pilot named Barb is bombing a school building, gets hunted by an enemy pilot and tries to get away. That’s it, that’s the plot. Interspersed are Barb’s memories and thoughts about gender, particularly about being a woman. While I agree with many of the things Barb feels and thinks, this is supposed to be a fiction novelette, not random musings about how shit it can be to be a woman. I believe these bits would have better fit in an essay. The one sfnal idea of this tale just wasn’t enought to carry a story – namely that gender identity can, in this particular future, be manipulated directly, and so the protagonist does actually sexually identify as an attack helicopter because the government made her. I like this idea for an SF story and I believe I see where the author was going with it. But I’m sorry, when I pick up fiction I want a story of some kind and this just wasn’t one. At the very least, not a good one. Based on the story’s merits, it sadly goes below No Award on my ballot.

Which leads me to the next novelette which was well written but so predictable and preachy. Meg Elison’s The Pill didn’t really need a synopsis to create certain expectations. It’s a story by a fat author in a collection called Big Girl, so I was fairly certain I would get a science fictional fat loss pill story. I was excited to see where the author would take this idea because there are sooooo many possibilities. Unfortunately, the author took it exactly down the one road that was the most predictable and the least interesting. A fat loss pill is invented and it actually works. Except 10% of people who use it die. Really cool idea, a well written story, but a sadly boring plot.
The way good and evil characters are represented here, this reads almost like a fairy tale, everything is sooooo black and white. Either you take the magical pill that gives you the “perfect body” and that makes you evil for the purpose of this story, or you refuse, like our brave heroine, and you’re good. There is literally nothing in between.
There are many things the author brings up that I get and that are important to be woven into stories. Being stared at or even mocked because of the way you look is terrible and in a perfect world, we’d accept people of varying body shapes and sizes, heights, skin colors, etc. just the way they are, without judgement. But. Is the way to point out these societal problems really to just flip things around? Fat good, skinny bad? That’s not a very nuanced approach, especially when only these two extremes exist in your story. If you preach body acceptance and diversity, shouldn’t you show it as well? Where are the non-obese characters who refuse the pill? Where are the skinny ones who didn’t need the pill and find their own body better than the “perfect” one? What about disabled people? Pregnant people? There were so many things to explore here, yet all we get is “fat good, skinny bad”.
The way I read it, the story is mostly a vehicle for the author’s message. It’s one I completely agree with – there’s no one perfect body but rather beauty in the range the world has to offer. Tall, short, super skinny, medium sized, flabby, muscular, chubby, curvy, fat, round, pear shaped, it’s all good and the world is much more interesting and beautiful because of this variety. But getting hit across the head with a message hammer has never been fun for me. The extreme good/evil characters, the predictability of the plot, the preachiness and the lack of further exploration lead me to a rather low ranking of this on my ballot. I do, however, want to read more by this author as I enjoyed her prose a lot!

A. T. Greenblatt’s Burn: Or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super was a lot of fun! As the title suggests, we get episodic glimpses into Sam Wells’ life and, thorugh his story, into a world where some people develop superpowers. Except these people aren’t celebrated as heroes as you might expect but they are are unwanted in society. They form Super Teams, to build a community of their own, to fight for acceptance in the wider world, and to save lives when possible. Sam’s talent isn’t all that useful (what do you do with a burning head?) but the story is much more about finding a place to belong, especially when you’re an outsider. You can read this as a metaphor for marginalization or you can read it as a straight up story about a young man learning to deal with his super powers. I thoroughly enjoyed this. The only minor gripe I have is that the ending is a bit anticlimactic.

I thought for some reason that Aliette de Bodard’s sory The Inaccessibility of Heaven was set in her Fallen Angels universe but that’s wrong. Now that I know it’s not part of a larger series, that changes my feelings about the novelette quite a bit. Because there were certain things about it that I felt were lacking. There seems to be this deep backstory between the witch protagonist and her Fallen friend, and I just assumed it was something I’d get if I had read the novels set in that universe. But this is it, the novelette is supposed to stand on its own, so those missing pieces of backstory, those emotional beats that didn’t reach me, they weren’t my fault. The plot as such is exciting and fun, there are glimpses of great world building here and I’d love to read a whole novel set in this world, but in this shorter form, it wasn’t enough. Every aspect needed just a bit more. So I liked it and it made me want to pick up those Angel novels (even if they are set in a differen time, different place, and have nothing to do with this novelette) but I wasn’t super impressed with this story on its own.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Two Truths and a Lie
  2. Monster
  3. Burn
  4. The Inaccessibility of Heaven
  5. The Pill
  6. No Award
  7. Helicopter Story

Up next week: Best Novella

Reading the Hugos 2021: Best Short Story

The only time I read short stories is when I pick up a collection or anthology (which is rare enough). Occasionally, I’ll read one that I stumble across online, but there’s just too much out there for me to know what to nominate. So I leave that to other people and then simply bask in their choices when the finalists are announced.

You can find my tentative ballots and thoughts on the other finalists here:

As expected, I had read zero of the finalist stories before they were announced but I have read stories and/or novels from four of the nominated authors. As I have liked previous work from the known-to-me authors, I was super excited to dive in but I’m also glad that there were new writers to discover. After all, I want the Hugo Awards to show me what else the genre has to offer, not just the authors I would read anyway. And this year’s crop of short stories did not disapoint.


The Finalists for Best Short Story

  • Rae Carson – Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse
  • Vina Jie-Min Prasad – A Guide for Working Breeds
  • Naomi Kritzer – Little Free Library
  • T. Kingfisher – Metal Like Blood in the Dark
  • John Wiswell – Open House on Haunted Hill
  • Yoon Ha Lee – The Mermaid Astronaut

This was a great choice of short stories and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they were published in a variety of places (as opposed to all in the same magazine, say). I read all of them in a day, one right after the other with breaks in between to digest each story but to keep them all fresh in my memory. I thought this would help me rank them. It didn’t particularly.

I started out with “Badass Moms of the Zombie Apocalypse” which is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. Two women living during zombie times are preparing for one of them to have their baby and they both know it’s going to be brutal. These zombies are attracted to the smell of blood and while women have managed to deal with menstruation pretty well, giving birth and all that that entails is a whole different story. But these badass moms come prepared and we follow them on their trip to a (probably… mostly) safe birthing place where the chances of survival are at least measurable, although by no means high.
It’s an exciting story that combines the stress of an impending birth with the stress of the zombie apocalypse. Because one of those by itself wouldn’t have been scary enough, I guess. I enjoyed this a lot although the SF content is secondary to the birthing story.

“Little Free Library” might have been the shortest of the stories but no less impactful for that. A girl sets up the eponymous library and accidentally gains a pen pal through it. Because books are taken out but none are returned and she leaves a note saying that’s not in the spirit of the library. Instead of books, the mysterious reader then leaves other gifts behind and those become stranger and stranger.
I adored the tone of this as well as the way the friendship between book taker and librarian grows over the course of the story. The speculative aspect only comes up right at the end which is sadly a bit abrupt and cuts off at the most interesting part. If Kritzer decides to turn this into a novel some day, I’ll be the first to pick it up though.

I knew I liked Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s writing from reading some of her stories when she was an Astounding finalist, and “A Guide For Working Breeds” was especially cute. It’s told through chat/instant messages between a new working robot and their unwilling mentor. It’s also about the fact that dogs are the cutest and how knowing your rights is important! I adored both style an idea from the start and I would have ranked this as my number one story if it hadn’t been for the too cutesy and adorable ending. It didn’t feel right for one of the characters to suddenly change that much. I still loved it but that was a bit too sugary sweet an ending.

T. Kingfisher’s “Metal Like Blood in the Dark” is the story that has stuck with me the most. It’s about two robot “siblings” who live off sunlight and “eat” metal which lets them change or enhance their bodies. They live through a Hansel and Gretel like story, except in space and way cooler! For Kingfisher, this was a pretty dark tale without her trademark humor but instead with cool ideas and surprising character depth for a short story. Especially for characters who are not human. I liked it while I read it but out of all the finalists, it’s the one I keep thinking about the most months after reading them.

Yoon Ha Lee didn’t surprise much with “The Mermaid Astronaut” which is a pretty straight forward retelling of The Little Mermaid. In Space. The eponymous mermaid wishes to explore the stars more than anything. Her sister takes her to the sea witch who grants her legs so she can join the humans when they travel among the stars. I loved that the mermaid’s reason for wanting to become human isn’t a dude but rather her life’s passion, I loved that it’s her sister who wants to help, and I loved the little twist at the end. But the story as such wasn’t all that gripping and the plot beats stuck predictably close to the fairy tale.

Lastly “Open House on Haunted Hill”, which has won the Nebula for Best Short Story, had the tough job of meeting my high expectations. And unfortunately, it was my least favorite story. It was by no means bad, just very, very underwhelming. It is told from the point of view of the house on Haunted Hill, or from the point of view of the entity that haunts it. Turns out that entity is actually pretty damn nice and just wants people to live in the house so it can make life easier for them (by opening and closing doors for example). Sadly, that’s it. People come to visit the house, some spooky (but not really) stuff happens, story over. I guess it’s cute but apart from a sweet idea there’s nothing about it that makes it stand out. Again, a novel based on this premise is definitely something I’d check out.

My ballot (probably)

  1. Metal Like Blood in the Dark
  2. A Guide For Working Breeds
  3. Little Free Library
  4. Badass Moms of the Zombie Apocalypse
  5. The Mermaid Astronaut
  6. Open House on Haunted Hill

My ballot is unlikely to change and that’s honestly such a relief. I am still very unsure about some of the other categories, I’m dreaming about how I could shift things around to best represent my feelings and it’s stressing me out. But this category, I feel pretty good about. I’d honestly be okay with any of these stories winning, although I do think my top picks are more deserving of a Hugo than my bottom ones (thus the ranking, after all).

Up next week: Best Novelette

Orilium: The Novice Path – Readathon Wrap-Up

September and the new-and-improved Magical Readathon are over and it’s time to look back at the journey, see how I fared, what books accompanied me along the road, and what my character for upcoming Magical Readathons looks like.

I didn’t have as much time to interact with my fellow novices this time around, but I soaked up all the YouTube videos and blog posts about your TBRs and characters. Seriously, some of you got so creative with your character designs that it blows my mind!

I very much enjoyed the choices we had to make on the Novice Path (on Twitter and the Discord) and I wonder what they will mean. G from Book Roast created these amazing situations for us, like finding magical runes or getting caught in poisonous gas, and then we had to choose one out of four options on how to proceed. I’m sure our choices will have consequences for the next readathon and I can’t wait to find out all the details.


The Novice Path Journey

For the Novice Path, these are the books I read or am still reading. Two of the prompts remain only partly fulfilled and the easiest prompt of them all I didn’t even start. I thought “a book from the top of my TBR” would be an easy pick because I could just go with whatever I was in the mood for, but then time ran out and so that’s the one I haven’t even attempted.

BOOK TITLEREADING PROMPTFULFILLED
Robert Jordan – The Great HuntNovice Path Entrance reading
John Scalzi – The Consuming FireAshthorn Tree
Nicole Kornher-Stace – FirebreakMists of Solitude reading
Katherine Arden – Small SpacesRuin of the SkyeYES
Sarah Gailey – The Echo WifeObsidian Falls YES
Jordan Ifueko – RedemptorTower of Rumination YES
Tori Bovalino – The Devil Makes ThreeOrilion Academy YES

All things considered, I did very well and I am happy with how the readathon turned out. I started with a couple of shorter books but then ended up picking up chonkster after chonkster (what’s wrong with me?!).

  • Books read: 7
  • Pages read: 2641

That means I have surpassed the goal of the readathon but I haven’t reached my secret stretch goal of fulfilling all the prompts. I could have probably done it but life doesn’t only consist of reading, after all, and I don’t regret spending some of my time doing other things. 🙂


My Character

There is no urgency in creating my readathon character Sistani, but I still like that I managed to get most of her traits done in September. She’s a half-Iltirian half-Elf girl who lives on Kerador. She grew up in a big city and loves the bustling city life and its multicultural inhabitants. That last part you just have to believe me because I didn’t manage to read the book for the “urban” prompt yet.

BOOK TITLEPROMPTFULFILLED
Colson Whitehead – The Underground RailroadIltirianYES
Linden A. Lewis – The Second RebelKeradorYES
Alaya Dawn Johnson – Trouble the SaintsUrban
Mary Robinette Kowal – The Relentless MoonElfYES
Sistani

As there is still time until next April to create and polish our characters, I will definitely catch up on fulfilling the final prompt for my city girl. I may also come up with a more elaborate backstory for Sistani, just because it’s fun. You’ll see whether I followed through next March, I guess.

ETA: Last night, G revealed the consequences of those choices we made on the journey to Orilium Academy and I am so excited!!! Because our choices helped us find our Guild, which is basically our group of likeminded people at Orilium Academy but which also grants us each certain abilities, specialties, and probably weaknesses that will be relevant in the next instalment of the readathon.

My character turned out to be an Archivist, which totally cracks me up because they are essentially the nerdy book club of this fantasy world. 🙂
Our colors are white and gold, we can make a pact with a god (!) and we are granted access to the Academy’s incredible spiral library that goes all the way down into the crater the Academy is standing on.
I find the other three guilds really interesting as well and I’m certainly a bit jealous of their abilities but I feel very much at home in this one.


The Books (the long part)

The first book I finished was Small Spaces by Katherine Arden with its spooky cover and its spooky plot – fitting for Ruin of the Skye. This middle grade novel was exactly what I had hoped and 12-year-old me would have gobbled it up with even more delight. Young Ollie is still grieving for her dead mother and doesn’t really care about school or friends or much of anything anymore. When a school trip takes a dark turn, she has to take part in the world again, however, and she’ll learn that she has a lot to live for. Her delightfully non-cliché dad as well as the friends she picks up on the way make this a really charming read. There are creepy moments, of course, but it’s very mild and child-friendly which isn’t to say it’s stupid or dumbed down in any way. There is a cool backstory and nice world building about the particular creeps of this book (the cover gives you a big hint as to what that is). I really loved it and can’t wait to read the rest of the series. It’s the perfect reading slump antidote.

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was the book that cemented my Iltirian heritage with its red cover. I’d say I knew some of what was coming, this being about an enslaved woman fleeing the plantation where she was born by using the (literal) Underground Railroad, but I really wasn’t prepared. I’ve read a fair amount of books with graphic descriptions of violence in them, and I expected the slave characters to be treated terribly, but Whitehead still managed to write scenes that absolutely punched me in the guts and made me gasp out loud. Was this a fun read? Hell no! Do I recommend it? Absolutely!

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey is proof that this author has an endless amount of great ideas and knows how to tell a story. A recently divorced woman has to team up with her clone (with whom her ex-husband has been cheating) in trying to cover up the murder of said husband. Perfect thriller material for Obsidian Falls.
It’s about science and agency, about what it means to be human and how far technology should go. It’s about being a woman and not conforming to expectations (such as motherhood). It also has murder and betrayal and twists galore. I cannot praise its complicated characters enough or the way Gailey just always nails the pacing to keep you engaged every damn page. I loved this book.

Next up was The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino, a book that perfectly fit my current mood because Dark Academia just goes so well with the season and the weather and schools starting again. So I chose it for the Orilium Arc prompt. It started out well enough with dual POVs of its fleshed-out characters, each with quite complicated family lives. Tess and Eliot accidentally summon a demon and then have to deal with the aftermath. Sadly, there was a large slumpy part in this book, the solution was super unoriginal and the one tiny twist was predictable from miles away. I did like the understated romance and the characters as such, but the plot was paper thin and the whole supernatural aspect felt like it was thrown in there as an afterthought because there’s so little worldbuilding. This book wasn’t bad, but I think I’d much prefer to read a contemproray romance by this author.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko was my five star prediction and thus my book for the Tower of Rumination. This second part of the duology did many things really well, others suffered a bit because they needed more time to be fleshed out. I can’t believe I’m saying this but maybe a trilogy would have been better?
Either way, I adore Ifueko’s characters, the way she writes found families warms my heart, and the ending to this series felt like putting the last piece of a puzzle into its slot and smiling to yourself happily. I highly recommend this YA duology and I even more highly recommend reading them one right after the other. Especially if you like reading about diverse characters and found families.

My audiobook for the month was The Second Rebel by Linden A. Lewis, sequel to The First Sister and thus my choice for the Kerador prompt. I had more trouble than expected remembering everything that was important in the first book, so it took me a while to find my way back into this universe of warring factions, tech against religion, evil corporation versus rebel groups. But despite the many confusing things, I thoroughly enjoyed Lewis’ ideas, the diversity of the characters, their relationships to each other, and the excellent twists. Maybe when the third book comes out I’ll do a re-read of the first two and just eat up the trilogy in one go.

Lastly, I read one of my top two books of the month, Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon. With its moon on the cover and in the title, this book made sure everyone knew my character is a (half) Elf. After my initial unwillingness to let go of beloved characters and follow a new protagonist, I quickly fell into this story of sabotage, life on the Moon, scientists being sciency, astronauts doing astronauty things, and the deep humanity of all people involved. In no way did I expect this book to touch me so deeply but I found myself crying several times. It does everything Kowal does best: hard sci-fi, mental health, racism and sexism, the beauty of science and the importance of love and friendships. Damn, this was a good book!


So yeah. This was a great readathon and I already look forward to April 2022 at the Orilium Academy! See you there. 🙂

Reading Goals and Challenges: Mid-Year Check In 2021

Hello, dear reader friends! Since it’s already mid-July (how did that happen?!), I thought it would be a good idea to check in on my reading goals and challenges. My gut feeling is telling me I have fallen behind on some of them and I may need a course correction, but cold numbers speak louder than fancy words. So here’s where I stand on my reading goals, how I am going to adapt during the second half of 2021 and which challenges I may be dropping or loosening up a bit.

Goodreads Reading Goal

I’m doing quite well on this one, at currently 7 books ahead of schedule. Just like last year, reading novelettes, novellas, and graphic novels for the Hugo Awards has pushed me ahead and there’s still some of those left for me to read. So I should have a buffer for a hypothetical reading slump or some big books that take me ages to finish.

I’m not gonna lie, if I could read 150 books per year I would be ecstatic but 100 is a fine goal that I will be happy to achieve. Considering some of the chonkers I’ve read (hello, Stormlight Archive re-read), I’m even a little proud.


Beat the Backlist Challenge

This is the only offical reading challenge I’m participating in this year but I’m not taking it super seriously. Mostly I just read whatever I would anyway and see if the book happens to fit one of the prompts. It does push me to pick up older books, however, and for that I already consider the challenge a win.

  • Prompts fulfilled: 18/52
  • Bingo: almost, but not yet

Reading the Hugo Awards

This is a two-part challenge, actually, because on the one hand, I want to read past Hugo Award winners and finalists, but on the other, more pressing, hand, I need to read this year’s finalists in order to rank them on my ballot. As this is the first year with a lot of time to catch up on the nominated works(WorldCon being in December instead of August for Covid reasons), my plans have become more ambitious. Meaning I want to read more complete categories than I usually would be able to. Here’s my current status:

  • Best Novel: 4/6
  • Best Novella: 6/6
  • Best Novelette: 5/6
  • Best Short Story: 6/6
  • Best Graphic Novel: 4/6
  • Lodestar: 6/6
  • Astounding: 2/6
  • Best Series:
    • Daevabad: 2/3
    • Murderbot: 5/6
    • Interdependency: 1/3
    • Lady Astronaut: 1/3
    • Poppy War: 1/3
    • October Daye: 3/14

Technically, I still need to read 3 books to be fully caught up on Best Novel because I’ve only read the first in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series and the third volume is nominated for Best Novel. But the series as a whole being a Best Series finalist means that I’ll be able to finish two categories in one go.

I have no plans of finishing the entire Toby Daye series but a couple more volumes can definitely be done.
I’m actually caught up on the nominated Murderbot books but by now there’s another novella out which I want to read. Because Murderbot.

And I’m not sure I should really do it but I’m debating a Poppy War re-read before I finish the rest of the trilogy. I have forgotten so many details and I know the series will destroy me anyway, so why not make it a full trilogy of emotional destruction?

The second part of this challenge is to read a few past Hugo winners or finalists. I had a handful picked out at the beginning of the year but I haven’t done too well so far. I hope I can do two more this year.

Past Hugo winners/finalists read: 1

I just bought the Graphic Audio adaptation of C. J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station and I’m very much looking forward to that. My second Hugo winner will either bei Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog or A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller.


Read More Black Authors

I am quite, quite behind on this one and I blame Brandon Sanderson. No, not like that, the poor guy didn’t do anything. It’s just that my Stormlight Archive re-read (or rather: re-listen) has taken up a lot of time that would have otherwise gone to other audiobooks. I’m not saying all of those books would necessarily have been written by Black authors but I have a few favorite Black writers who tend to get incredible audiobook narrators, so chances are I would have listened to at least a couple of them instead of the incredibly long Stormlight Archive. Either way, this is why we’re checking in on our goals, so we can still adjust and reach our goals by the end of the year.

Books by Black authors read: 6/20

The Hugo Award finalists are also not helping a lot because this year, there aren’t many Black authors on the ballot (at least not ones whose books I haven’t read yet) and a large percentage of my yearly reading is for the Hugo Awards.

I am currently reading the new Rivers Solomon book (so amazing!) and I can’t wait to get into P. Djèlí Clark’s Master of Jinn but I want to do better in general during the second half of the year. In addition to these 6 books by Black authors, I have read another 10 by non-Black Authors of Color, so my reading is at least somewhat diverse. But still, lots of room for improvement.


New Releases

I’m doing okay on this one. There are still plenty of novels that came out this year (or are still coming out) that I want to read before nominating for next year’s Hugos, but I have already discovered some favorites as well as some others I can safely ignore for my ballot.

2021 releases read: 10/??

Favorites: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente, The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter. Unsurprisingly, these are all authors who have previously written books that ended up being favorites. I wouldn’t mind a new favorite author discovery now and again. Just sayin’.


Five Star Predictions ★★★★★

Again, I’m doing alright. Not only have I read almost all the books on this list, I also guessed pretty decently. Sure, one of my predictions ended up getting 1.5 stars only so… that was a miss. But the others ranged from very good to excellent.

Alechia Dow – The Sound of StarsRead1.5 stars
Everina Maxwell – Winter’s OrbitRead3.5 stars
Vonda N. McIntyre – DreamsnakeRead4.5 stars
Catherynne M. Valente – The Past is RedRead5 stars
Hannah Whitten – For the WolfNot Read
Fonda Lee – Jade LegacyNot Read

The books actually got better in the order that I read them. I’m wondering now why I put For the Wolf on that list instead of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid but hey, I hope they both end up being five star books. Jade Legacy will of course blow my socks off, I have no doubt about it.


I guess things could be worse. I am pretty disappointed that my Black author reading challenge is going rather poorly but while it’s not an excuse, the Hugo Awards and my Stormlight Archive re-listen at least serve as a sort of explanation for it. The year is far from over though and I have a ridiculous amount of exciting books by Black authors on my TBR. I will just have to get to them sooner rather than later.

How are you doing on your reading goals? Do you even set yourself goals? Are you participating in any challenges (and can you recommend any)?

#Mythothon 4 – Wrap-Up

This is it! Mythothon is officially over and it’s time to see how I did.
Let me say first of all that I am super happy with this readathon. I am not the hugest King Arthur fan so I thought the prompts would make things difficult for me. But they are vague enough to fit many books and yet, there was enough King Arthur vibe to this readathon to actually get me in the mood for more.

General thoughs

The month of April was a bit meandering for me. Work was crazy most of the time, I had picked some bigger books (that’s not a super smart idea for a readathon), the Hugo finalists were announced, making me throw my entire readathon TBR out the window, and I got a Covid shot appointment (yay!). But yeah, it was mostly work that got in the way of me really rocking this readathon.

I started out okay but not super fast with a few shorter reads. I re-read the first book in the Song of the Lioness series, determined to just race through the entire series in April. Well, that didn’t happen. Because the Hugo Award finalists were announced and that gets me super excited every year. Since I’m voting again this year, I needed to start reading the finalists right away because reasons. There’s time until December so I really didn’t have to worry but you know how it is. But for what it’s worth, that gave me a reading boost and upped my motivation. I didn’t finish as many books as I would have liked but I’m happy with how I did, especially since I discovered some great books.

In addition to these fine knights I have recruited, I also finished the group read and the team prompt. The latter turned out to be my favorite read of the month, even though it was very different from what I expected and took a while to get going.


Books finished

Books started:

  • Darcie Little Badger – Elatsoe (Sir Percival)
  • Catherynne M. Valente – Under in the Mere (Sir Lancelot)
  • Tade Thompson – The Rosewater Insurrection (Sir Bors)

The books


As you can see, I’m also behind on my reviews. Next week will probably be hell again at work but after that, things should relax a little and I’ll have time to catch up on reviews and current reads and maybe even do a tag or something. 🙂