I read 72 books this year. Who am I. I mean, to be fair, a few of those are short stories and Goodreads just counted them as books for some reason, but still.
(Also I’m pretty sure the only reason why I’ve read so much this year is because I had a mental breakdown towards the end of my spring semester and then took the Fall semester off and thus am able to read like I’m in high school again lmao.)
But anyway! I thought I’d do some mini-reviews to bring in the new year! I ended up having to split this up into two parts because it got so long lmao, I’ll post part two tomorrow (hopefully).
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo (translated by J.R.R. Tolkien)
AHHH THIS WAS SO GOOD GAWAIN IS VERY BISEXUAL-CODED AND THE WRITING IS BEAUTIFUL. EVERYTHING IS AMAZING. THE OTHER TWO POEMS WERE REALLY GOOD TOO.
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Yeah so this is basically everything I hate about YA. Halfbaked plots and characters, a really immature style to the whole thing, weird homophobic stereotypes out of nowhere?? At least the writing was pretty, though! Full review here.
The Five and Twenty Tales of the Genie by Sivadasa
This was pretty interesting? It didn’t stick with me too much (as an aside, I think this is the only book where the main scene I remember is the sex scene. Huh), but I’m glad I read it. There is some misogyny in here, of course, but it was written in the middle ages, so I’m not going to hold that against it. It provided an interesting glimpse into the time period!
A Treatise of the Nobilitie and Excellencie of Womankynde by Cornelius Agrippa
This was a really interesting read, but the main thing I remember are the virgin birth horses and the reason why we know that the virgin birth horses aren’t real is because of the Virgin Mary or something. The support of women was nice, though! I simply found myself a little distracted by that one thing!
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
I will admit I don’t remember this book very well, but I really liked it at the time. If I’m being honest, the main thing I remember about it is that the nonbinary rep was really good and that I thought the ending was kind of pat, but I liked the rest. That’s it!
AGHHHHHH THIS ANTHOLOGY WAS ABSOLUTELY GODAWFUL AND I HATE IT SO MUCH. Full review here.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Hmm, so I still would have hated this either way, don’t get me wrong, but the ableism towards this one schizophrenic minor character + the ableism in how the main character discusses Jane Eyre did NOT endear me to her. Full review here.
Call It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer
Uh, this was kind of awful. Don’t get me wrong, the book had me invested, it was just also kind of awful. The racism was definitely a no from me, and a lot of plot points seemed to be added in for the drama as opposed to originating organically from the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love drama! I just want organic drama, though. Full review here.
Folk Tales of Brittany by Elsie Masson
I’ll admit I don’t really remember the books I read toward the beginning of the year and I left this unrated and unreviewed, so honestly, who knows? I remember liking some of the stories? I do not remember this book?
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
This was extremely silly but also very cute! I will admit that the insta-love was grating and the love interest was barely above manic pixie dream girl levels. Jordan was great, though, he made the book for me, and I thought the heroine was pretty cute. Full review here.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
I remember loving the writing and the magical realism. The way the author wove in the folklore from the heroine’s country with the narrative was amazing. **spoilers** In retrospect, I would have appreciated it if the hero had had an arc from ‘vaguely defending the heroine’s sister’s abusive boyfriend’ to ‘not doing that and in fact apologizing,’ but maybe the fact that the hero didn’t get an arc was kind of the point? Maybe the point is that he died and thus never got the chance to grow as a person? Idk. Despite my mixed feelings on the hero, I still really liked this book!
Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland by John Gregorson Campbell
This was so interesting and I loved learning more about Scottish fairies! So much super cool information in this.
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
I LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH. It deserves the hype imo. Full review here.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
This is definitely not the worst retelling of Arthurian legend that I’ve read. Now, I know that’s not necessarily high praise because I have read some AWFUL Arthurian retellings, but this book is definitely not that bad. I do think the plot could have held together better, and I don’t really like Arthurian retellings that are set in a modern time period (well. There may be a few fics on AO3 with this premise that I love, but they actually have fun with their premise and make it a comedy. Which yeah, I do think anything approaching the absolute chaos that Arthurian knights in the modern day would bring should probably be a comedy). And Nick, the hero, was bland as flour. But I really liked the heroine, and I think the portrayal of the discrimination really stuck with me? Yeah, I’ve got mixed feelings on this one! Definitely not a terrible book, but it also didn’t stick with me, and it could have been WAY better with a little more editing.
We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal
I loved getting to see my babies again ❤ I miss them already. I should reread this as soon as I’m in a mood to reread things again.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
Unfortunately blah. Another great premise ruined by insta-love. Also, while I did find the political intrigue more interesting than the romance–although there are a lot of things I think I would find more interesting than the romance, to be honest–there were also situations where the heroine would just make stupid decisions. You’re letting yourself get blackmailed over that? Okay.
Full review here.
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
I actually really liked this! It felt a bit unpolished in some respects–there were some weird grammar mistakes, occasionally the representation was a little eh, and there was this one timeskip that was VERY confusing and bothered me an unreasonable amount. Not to mention that the chapters were much too long. But! All that being said! I can apparently be distracted from any flaws in a book by a well-written antiheroine. She was just exquisitely awful and wonderful to watch. Full review here.
Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie Mclemore
The writing was beautiful, but I found the rest of this kind of forgettable. However, I’ll forgive a lot of things for a Snow White and Rose Red retelling. The blurb is a lie, though, unfortunately. Rose is not that manipulative or mean. I’m sorry, she’s literally just a girl in a tough situation. From everything I remember, anyway??? I wish I could get mean antiheroine Rose Red, but alas. Full review here.
The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White
*sobs because this book could have been so much better* There was like. No plot. And Guinevere, Arthur, and Lancelot were SO bland. Mordred was the only bright spot in this book and the poor thing only got like a few pages.
**spoilers for the next book** Let me just rant for a paragraph here. So, I’m reading in reviews that the final book ends up with Guinevere/Lancelot as the endgame ship. If the author was gunning for Guinevere/Lancelot, I literally do not know why she didn’t write it into this one. Mordred is the only person I’m convinced that Guinevere actually likes. (I mean, she seems to at least feel genuine affection towards Brangien, but if we interpret that as romantic, then I feel that we’re getting pretty far into AU land at that point. Although I do ship it!) She likes Arthur because she’s been told to like Arthur. She likes Lancelot because Lancelot is devoted for her, so what else is she supposed to feel for Lancelot? This book did not do its job of convincing me that Guinevere feels anything genuine for like. ANYONE besides Mordred or Brangien, and I’m talking about platonic relationships, too. And yet somehow she ends up with Lancelot in the next book I guess??? Somehow? That was just. NOT built up at all and I’m annoyed, because I’d love some more sapphic Arthuriana! I guess I’ll have to write some, lmao. **okay, I’ve got the spoilers out of the way, you can look now!**
ANYWAY, that got long. Full review here.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Uhh, wow, this is complicated. So, at first I thought it was an okay book, even though it had incredibly simplistic takes on bigotry and was very feel-good. And then I found out that the author had been inspired for his story by residential schools and I feel like the analogy was just. Very weak and not well-used? I’ve seen different people have different takes on the discourse as far as that goes–some people didn’t like it at all, some people thought it was okay because ultimately the book wasn’t that inspired by residential schools–and I’m not sure how I feel about that one, but either way, I found this book very forgettable. Even without knowing what this book was inspired by, I still think this is pretty blah.
Full review here.
The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
Blegh. I’m not even getting into this one because I can’t encapsulate my frustration into one paragraph.
Full review here.
She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen
This was very cute! I have seen reviews pointing out that the arrangement between Scottie and Irene kind of pressures Irene into outing herself, and I do agree with that–and sometimes Scottie doesn’t really treat Irene all that well, I thought that pressuring her into going to her ex-friend’s party was kind of terrible–but despite all that, the story remained engaging for me, and Irene is AMAZING, so I forgive it for its sins. Again, it’s just really cute. Also, the mean girl cheerleader is the heroine?? I love this.
Full review here.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
This practically put me to sleep.
Full review here.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
SO DISAPPOINTED. This anthology looked so cool. I mean, retellings of Asian fairy tales?? But I didn’t like very many of the stories that much. A lot of them were bad YA with bad prose or simplistic characterization, and I think I honestly might be starting to grow out of YA, which is a very sad realization for me.
Full review here.
Almost American Girl by Robin Ha
THIS WAS SO GOOD AND THE ART WAS SO BEAUTIFUL I AM FANGIRLING.
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar
Hi so I loved this with my whole heart?? The portrayal of toxic friendships was really good and the romance was very sweet! Also I’ve got autistic headcanons for Ishu so I know I connected to the main character lmao
Full review here.
Come Drink With Me by Michelle Kan
This was a very cute short story about an aromantic dragon who is friends with a phoenix! I thought that the characterization could have been a little stronger, but it’s not that much of a problem in a 40-page story, so I didn’t mind it. This was very slow and sweet and I really enjoyed reading this!
Medieval Elite Women and the Exercise of Power, 1100–1400: Moving beyond the Exceptionalist Debate by Heather J. Tanner
I LOVED THIS SO MUCH. It’s so interesting to me to learn more about how medieval noblewomen lived their lives and how they maintained and exercised power! It’s a collection of essays about different medieval noblewomen, and I enjoyed basically every one (from what I recall. I can’t really recall any of the books I read this year very well, it’s all a blur tbh).
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
So, this started out slow for me, but I was really invested by the halfway mark. I love scheming empresses. Also, the writing was beautiful for the most part? There were a couple sentences that were clunky, but other than that, it flowed REALLY well.
Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers
*insert long wail of pain here*
I HATED THIS MORE THAN I HATED 2021. IT’S SO WISHY-WASHY AND INTROSPECTIVE IN THE MOST PRETENTIOUS OF WAYS AND IT’S BAD. I DON’T CARE ABOUT SEA SALT, I DON’T CARE ABOUT ASTROLOGY, I DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT MONSTERS IF YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S TELLING ME ABOUT THEM. ALSO ALL OF THE HEROINE’S RELATIONSHIPS SEEM VERY UNHEALTHY AND I THINK MAYBE SHE SHOULD BECOME A BETTER PERSON AND GET BETTER FRIENDS, A BETTER WIFE, AND A BETTER FAMILY (ALTHOUGH HER MOM SEEMS ALRIGHT, TO BE FAIR, AND THE THING WITH HER FRIEND FROM THE TEA SHOP WAS HER FAULT. WHAT EVEN WAS THAT).
*deep breath* alright, caps lock rant is over now. I don’t have a review, but I do have a lot of ranty reading updates if you want to read them lmao
I’m going to skip over the fairy tale books I read for the sake of time but you should totally check them out because the illustrations are gorgeous and looking at them kind of makes me feel like I’ve stepped into a fairy tale world myself!
Goblin Market by Christina Rosetti
AHHH EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS WAS SO GOOD. THE WRITING, THE CHARACTERS, THE FAIRY TALE VIBES, THE SISTERS, EVERYTHING. YOU SHOULD GO READ IT, IT’S FAIRLY SHORT AND YOU CAN FIND IT ONLINE FOR FREE.
Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies
This was really informative and I learned a lot!
Walewein ende Keye
I’ll admit I don’t remember this one very well but a) I’m always down for Arthurian legends and b) GRINGOLET
The Perilous Cemetery
THIS WAS WILD I mean anything with Gawain in it is bound to be wild but THIS FELT ALMOST WILDER THAN USUAL.
My review is here but I feel like it doesn’t encapsulate the whole experience. It’s just. Such a weird little story.
Anyway, thank you for reading such a long post lmao. A lot of the fantasy I’ve read this year has just been…disappointing? Maybe it’s just a case of the disappointments standing out more than the ones I liked, though. Still, when I think of the books I liked this year, the ones that come to mind are the classics and the academic stuff, not really the fantasy. It’s a shame, I hope I find better SFF soon!