Fireside favorites : 10 of my favorite 2020 reads

Welcome back to another Bookending Winter post! Today’s prompt is hosted by Lauren and Becky @ Northern Plunder.

Bookending Winter is a book blogging event run by Clo and Sam, in which different bloggers host a couple of prompts each during the month of December. Anyone who wants to participate can register on the announcement post, make 3 (or more) posts during the event, and link them up on the challenge spreadsheet so others can find them easily!

Prompt Explanation : Take a look back at your favorite reads of 2020. Hopefully these will make it to someone else’s TBR for them to pass the time whilst snuggled in with a hot coco next to the fire.

At the beginning of 2020, I set my Goodreads challenge to 52 books – one a week, I thought, was perfectly attainable, seeing as I used to read a lot more than that, and my current classes at the time weren’t that time-consuming. 52 books, I reasoned, was a perfectly adequate challenge, and one I’d surely be done with in September, at the latest.

That didn’t age well. I’ve been trying my best to get through my ARCs and finish the books I currently own, to maybe get to the 52 books goal, but it might very well not happen this year. Still, I’m trying to not be too bummed about this, and this prompt serves as a good reminder that, even if I didn’t read a ton of books this year, I still read a couple of really good ones!

So here’s – in random order – my 10 favorite books I’ve read so far in 2020.

Note : ⏳ are ARCs gotten through NetGalley or the publisher, 📚 are books I own or borrowed from my local library.

5 stars books

⏳ Better sleep, better you

I enjoyed reading this book a lot! It’s full of useful information on the science of sleep – why we do it, and what we’re doing wrong – and has a ton of advice adaptable for almost every situation so that its readers can improve their sleep habits. I learned a lot by reading this – definitely would recommend as a gift for a friend interested in science or how things work, or for your friend running every day on 5 hours of sleep and not understanding why they’re feeling like crap all the time!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Happily Ever After & Everything In Between

This is the cutest and most relatable thing I have read in a very long time, and every single one of the pages seemed like a situation taken out of my own life. I laughed so much out loud reading this that my partner came over my side of the living room to check if I was okay (and if I needed snacks).

It was my first book from this author, but I’m planning on checking out her other works too!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Surrender your sons

This was… wow. Just wow. You can check out my review here on Goodreads – I wrote it right after reading and I honestly couldn’t say it better right now. Excellent novel and amazing author, 10/10 would recommend.

⏳ Perfect on paper

I was really excited to see what Sophie Gonzales was going to give us next, and she did not disappoint! You can read my full review on the blog – I wrote an entire post about it, it’s just so good – but if you’re just looking for the short version : this is an excellent queer YA contemporary, and you should definitely read it as soon as it comes out.

Find it on Goodreads here.

Related post : check out my review of Perfect on Paper, by Sophie Gonzales

📚 The starless sea

I’ve been trying to write a review of this book for months now, but nothing I can write renders it justice. While this author’s previous novel didn’t work for me at all, this one was so poetic and beautiful that it went into my favorites in January and stayed there the whole year long. I’m planning on re-reading it in the second half of December, if I get stuck on my current TBR and need a break in the form of the most beautiful prose I’ve read so far in 2020!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Leviathan wakes

I read the first three books of the The Expanse series, and rated them all 5 stars, so I’m only citing the first one here or they would take way too much space in this list. I love the narration, the different points of view, the intrigue and the space battles – everything fits neatly into place and it’s extremely entertaining!

If you like politics and spaceship, this is the book you need to pick up for the holidays. I’m waiting for next weekend to get into book 4, and I’m really excited to see what happens next!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 The way of kings

One of my first Sanderson books, and I must admit – this one put him immediately on the list of authors I’ll automatically give a chance to, whatever the subject of his next book may be. It had been a while since I’d read such a long and good novel, and even longer since I’d started a really challenging series – I’m planning on reading more from him next year, maybe make it a small reading challenge?

Find it on Goodreads here.

4 stars books

📚 Skyward

Another Sanderson book! I rated this one 4 stars instead of 5, mostly because I do agree with some other reviewers in the sense that, even though this book was really good, it felt more like a prelude to a bigger novel than an actual first installment in a series. Still, I can’t fault the quality of the writing, and the characters were easy to love and well developed.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Maybe you should talk to someone

A non-fiction book! I love anything and everything psychology-related, so this book by a therapist about her job and her experiences with therapy sounded right up my alley. I really enjoyed reading this, even if it felt a bit longer than it should be in the end. It’s not as informative as I thought it’d be from reading reviews about it, but the experiences described in this book are very touching and complex.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Aurora Rising

2020 was a pretty good year for my sci-fi loving heart! Aurora rising was a fun and easy book to read, filled with humor and nice plot twists. I liked the ending a lot, and my preorder of Aurora burning couldn’t come to my local bookseller soon enough!

Find it on Goodreads here.

What are your favorite 2020 reads ? Did you read and review any of these ones? Let me know in the comments! (And link your reviews if you did, so I can go read them!)

NetGalley TBR – November 2020

Good afternoon!

Today’s post is inspired by Alexa’s NetGalley Update series, which you can go check out on her blog, Writing the universe (and don’t hesitate to follow her blog if you haven’t subscribed yet!).

These past few months, I’ve done my best to improve my NetGalley ratio, which was at a low 65 at some point this year (yeah, I know, that’s pretty bad… I might have requested a bit more books than I could actually read…).

It’s now gone up to 78%, and I’m doing everything everything I can to get it all the way up to the recommended 80% – I feel like I’d be pretty happy if I could get it to 85, but then again, since I’m not a US-based reviewer, it won’t drastically augment the number of books that are available for me, so I’m not stressing too much about it.

Related posts : The eternal frustration of an international book blogger, by @insidemylibrarymind, My story with ARCs as an international book blogger, by Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane books

My NetGalley “to read” and “to review” shelves have now been almost fully emptied, but I do still have some books I’d like to get around to reading and reviewing sometime before the end of the year :

  • Slingshot, by Mercedes Helnwein – I got an invitation to get this e-ARC in my email a while ago, and almost didn’t see it at all – it had slipped in my spam folder by accident. Fortunately, I managed to find it before the publication date!
  • Men who hate women, by Laura Bates – I read a book on this exact topic from a Québécois author last year, and I’m supposed to be taking a class on it next semester, so I thought it might be useful for me to read this one!
  • The truth and other hidden things, by Lea Geller – this just sounded fun and full of drama – exactly what I’ll need once my finals are done in mid-December!
  • Viral BS : Medical myths and why we fall for them, by Seema Yasmin – I felt like this was going to be particularly interesting considering the year we’ve just had, so my expectations are pretty high for this one!

I think I’ll prioritize them by their publication dates – the last one on the list here is due for January 2021, and it’s the earliest one here so far, which means I’ve got all the time I need to read and review them all before I end up with late ARCs.

I did wish for a lot of new ones, but I’m not holding out any hope of actually getting them, since most of them were highly anticipated YA novels for which I’m sure a lot of other people made wishes.

One thing that would be pretty useful, though, would be if NetGalley could add a “wished for” tab in the library section, so we could see those books in the same way we can see the pending requests – I’ve wasted time more than once opening a ton of NetGalley tabs to check out interesting books, only to realize that I’d been here earlier in the month / year and already wished for those…

There’s been a lot of change in my life recently, and lots of added stress, so I’m not sure how fast I’ll be able to check these books off my list, but I’m genuinely excited to read them all, so we’ll see how it goes over the month of December!

An Enchantment of Ravens, by Margaret Rogerson

I read this book a while ago as part of the March 2020 read-along of the books and tea book club, and even if it wasn’t something I might have found on my own, I had fun reading it !

An Enchantment of Ravens is YA author Margaret Rogerson‘s first novel, published in 2017 – you might also know her from her second YA fantasy novel, Sorcery of thorns, published last summer.

Synopsis

With a flick of her paintbrush, Isobel creates stunning portraits for a dangerous set of clients: the fair folk. These immortal creatures cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and they trade valuable enchantments for Isobel’s paintings. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—Isobel makes a deadly mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes, a weakness that could cost him his throne, and even his life.

Furious, Rook spirits Isobel away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously amiss in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending upon each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, perhaps even love… a forbidden emotion that would violate the fair folks’ ruthless laws, rendering both their lives forfeit.

What I liked

The magic system in this book felt very new to me, but it might be because I haven’t been reading a lot of YA fantasy lately – if you’ve read books with the same kind of magic system, please feel free to recommend it in the comments !

In Rogerson’s world, the Fair Folk are physically unable to use any sort of creative ability – what they call Craft, and what they so desperately crave from humans. The village the MC comes from specializes in providing such Craft, in exchange for enchantments given from the Fair Folk – but all magic comes at a price, and the Fair Folk’s magic is especially tricky. If you don’t make a specific, clear, and loophole-free demand, the enchantment you asked for will be turned against you, and could lead to serious harm – or even death.

I loved the sharp wit of the main character at the beginning of the book, and the way she managed to exercise her Craft and sell it to the Fair Folk without falling into any of these possibly deadly loopholes that could be used against her and her family. (And her little sisters were the cutest). We so often see characters who take up the offer of immortality as soon as it appears, without a second thought or a “hey, could I regret this in the future?” that her determination to hold on to her ideals and her stubborn refusal of immortality, even if it might mean death for her, were refreshing to see.

The portrayal of the Fae as more cruel, alien-ish beings than in most other fantasy stories where Fae are just, well… very beautiful and immortal humans, also felt original and added a lot to the overall atmosphere of the story. I liked discovering their inhuman characteristics,the way they looked lie under their glamour or the depth – or absence – of their actual emotions.

I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but I enjoyed the plot twists a lot, and the ending surprised me without being disappointing in a Game of thrones level of subverting-your-expectations (Ugh. Let’s never talk about that again.)

What I didn’t like

I wasn’t such a fan of the romance at the center of the story, to be honest – but that’s probably because I’m not easily sold on romances in action-heavy books. This one wasn’t an insta-love romance, but I still found it a little too fast for me, which made it a little difficult to believe in : as soon as the prince appears on the page, you can see where the story is headed.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the context in which this love develops – for all intents and purposes, Isobel is essentially captured by the prince to be condemned in his kingdom, and something about falling in love with your captor while running for your life and hoping he doesn’t led you to your untimely death is… a bit icky to me.

Conclusion

With a great worldbuilding and lore, and a plot that always keeps you on your toes (except for the romance part), this book is a very fun YA fantasy suited for anyone who likes Fae stories and journey-centric novels, sprinkled with a little add-on of cheesy romance on top.

Related posts : Self-isolation library eBook haul

ARC review : Tweet Cute, by Emma Lord

I know, I know, I’m super late in posting this review. I’ve been trying to adapt to my new university schedule and I thought I had everything under control, but this post was supposed to be up a week ago, in time for the publication of the book… and it clearly wasn’t. But hey, better late than never, right ?

Tweet Cute is author Emma Lord’s debut novel, a contemporary YA rom-com filled to the brim with cuteness, lovable characters, and a ton of food references. It’s everything I was looking for in a book at the end of 2019, and I was absolutely delighted to get to read an ARC of it through NetGalley.

Synopsis

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

What I liked

Finally, a novel where teens using social media actually act like teens using social media ! The cultural references used by Jack and Pepper make the twitter war much more realistic than lots of supposedly “teen” characters in other YA novels, whose only references are their Hogwarts houses and how much they love Lady Gaga – we get it, Harry Potter is very popular, but it’s clearly not representative of everything that teens have an interest in !

The main characters, Pepper and Jack, were what really sold me on this book from the first couple of pages in. Their characterization is well done and they come off as believable teenagers, and the alternating POV helps the readers understand their actions and their behaviours, outside of what they think of each other.

The way they talk about their challenges and struggles is extremely relatable, and the author doesn’t hesitate to tackle the subject of unhealthy competition between students and the academic pressure to get into a good college, be the best of your class, and the effects it has on teenagers’ mindsets.

What I didn’t like

One of the plot points described in the longer synopsis available on Goodreads mentions an anonymous text-chat app that Jack built – and as much as this could have been an interesting way to connect the two characters, I felt like it was a bit too underdeveloped, and could have been cut out of the story without losing much in terms of character development. For me, this specific part would have had its place in a story without the twitter war, but the two in the same narrative felt a bit too heavy in drama.

A thing I would have liked to see more of was Pepper and Jack’s respective parents. Without giving away any spoilers, they obviously play a big role in their children’s lives, and in the reasons for the “twitter war” that starts everything, and I would have loved to have a bit more insight into their motivations and their stories.

Conclusion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, I had a really good time reading this book, and I would recommend it to YA contemporary readers without hesitation : it’s fun, lighthearted, and the romance is terribly cute but also realistic enough to be believable. 

Did you get a copy of this book, or did you add it to your 2020 TBR ? Did you write and post a review of it on your blog ? Feel free to link it in the comments so I can check it out !

ARC review : Only mostly devastated, by Sophie Gonzales

Finally, I’m writing this review I’ve been meaning to write for the past two weeks !

I’ll be honest and say that I asked for an e-ARC of this book without actually thinking I’d get one, and then… I did. I truly didn’t expect it, so I immediately downloaded it and read it in the subway on my way to and from class (really fast, because I just couldn’t put it down !).

Only mostly devastated is a fun, LGBTQ+ themed, YA contemporary romance with a 2020 release date, written by author Sophie Gonzales.

Synopsis

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

It’s time to admit something to you : I’ve never watched grease, ever.

So when this book was described as “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.”, as someone who hasn’t read or watched any of those references, I wasn’t expecting anything from it, because – well, because I just didn’t know what to expect. And I think that actually helped me enjoy this book more than some other reviewers who tended to compare it a lot to those references.

What I liked

Fair warning : the next paragraphs have some spoilers. If you don’t want to see them, feel free to skip until the end of the section.

For a YA romance novel, I thought this book tackled some heavy themes, and it hit me pretty hard. For example – Ollie has to stay in that new city to help a sick relative, and the themes of illness and grief are talked about in detail in a few chapters. This hit really close to home for me : this past year, one of my closest friends passed away after a long illness – the very same one that affects Ollie’s relative in the book, and a few months later, I lost my grandfather of sudden illness.

The character’s feelings and expressions of emotion in the book resonated with me a lot, and I had to take a few breaks at some points. This quote, specifically, felt so real to me that I had to stop and cry for some time before I could start again.

I lost it in the hallway. I pressed my back against the wall and sank to the floor, crying as quietly as I could. I didn’t want to be here in this house knowing [character name] would never be in it again. It was her house. We came here when we visited her. It’d been her house my whole life. This wasn’t right. None of it was right.

That quote echoes exactly my own feelings about grief, and about my personal losses, and I thought the author had managed an extremely just portrayal of what you can go through in that kind of situation.

The themes of fat-shaming and homophobia were also talked about in this book, and I really appreciated it.

What I didn’t like

I felt like some of the character’s relationships could have been developed a bit more – like Lara and Ollie, and Will and his friends. I also had some trouble getting over my initial dislike of Will on behalf of Ollie, even when the main character himself started getting over it.

Conclusion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, this was a good book for me. I really liked reading it, even if it wasn’t as lighthearted and fun as I expected it to be, based on the cover and the description. I’d still recommend it to readers of YA contemporary books without hesitation !

That’s it for today !

ARC Review : Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Mooncakes is a 2019 Graphic Novel written by Suzanne Walker and illustrated by Wendy Xu. Its release date is today, October 15th, which made it a perfect topic for this blogtober post !

Synopsis
mooncakes

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

What I liked
  • The art was really beautiful – I got this ARC from NetGalley so the last few pages weren’t in full color, but the rest of the book was, and it really made me appreciate the artist’s work ! The use of the colors in the story is captivating and helps understand a lot of details.
  • This is a very diverse book, but it never feels “forced” or badly done – the characters feel pretty authentic and it was easy to relate to them while reading, and understand their motivations.
What I didn’t like
  • I felt like it was lacking a bit in the plot department. For a book marketed towards Teens and YA, I was expecting a little more complexity in the intrigue. It stays enjoyable, of course, but feels a bit too simple for the themes it tries to talk about.
  • As you well know if you’ve read any of my posts about fantasy books, I love anything and everything magic. I would have liked to get to know more about the promising magic system that Mooncakes’s cover let me hope for, but it is mostly left unexplored through the course of the book, the author focusing more on the rest of her story than on explaining her world-building to the readers.
Conclusion

I’d give this book a solid 3 stars – not bad at all ! I overall enjoyed reading this and took my time to appreciate the art. I would maybe suggest it to an audience a little younget than the one currently reading YA, though, as the story itself isn’t one of the most complex there is.

Still, I’d definitely recommend this book if you have teenagers, or for something like the new acquisitions display of a school library !