January 28, 2021, 08:37:03 AM

Author Topic: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020  (Read 399 times)

Offline ScarletBea

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The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« on: January 03, 2021, 10:37:40 AM »
We talked about numbers and statistics, now let's talk feelings!

Which books did you like best and worst in 2020?
Any interesting discovers? Disappointments?

Note that I don't mean "published in 2020", it's what *you* read in that year, regardless of publishing date.


I'll start.

A major thing for me in 2020 was finishing Erikson's Malazan. While before I read 3 books in 2018 and 2 in 2019, and I thought I'd continue in that trend, I actually ended up reading the remaining 5 books all in 2020 (even if in 2 distinct time periods). This series' scope, in plot, characters and tone, marks it as one of the most relevant in fantasy history, but that's not to say it's for everyone.
I loved it, but it certainly puts you through the ringer in terms of emotions...

Speaking of emotions, we all had our ups and downs throughout 2020. 2 books that were absolutely the right ones for the time, making everything nice and magical, were Erin Morgenstern's The starless sea and Susanna Clarke's Piranesi. I'm all for epic fantasy, but sometimes you just need "feelings"...
(and when you want to combine the two, there's Samantha Shannon's The priory of the orange tree)

2020 was also the year I re-read Lawrence's Broken Empire, a series that I always said was one of my favourites ever. Even though it didn't have the strength of feelings of the first read, I'm glad to have discovered that I still love it, and it still speaks to me in a very strange way.
On the other hand, I read the second series of an author I loved, John Gwynne's Of blood and bone (including a re-read of book 1), and it didn't really hit the right notes - I just think I wasn't feeling the best at the time, and it was a case of 'right' books at the 'wrong' time.

I discovered RJ Barker with his Wounded Kingdom series, and I'll definitely read whatever else he publishes. I also finally got to Django Wexler (still reading through The shadow campaigns series) and it was another super discovery!

Finally, I'm happy to see that I didn't give any fantasy book less than 3.5 stars and I didn't DNF any book.
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Offline isos81

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2021, 11:14:51 AM »
I think the best books I read in 2020 were SPFBO books (thanks @Bender for the recommendations). These are:
  • Orconomics
  • Paternus

Divine Cities (thanks @eclipse ), Dune and Gentlemen Bastards are also memorible picks of 2020.
Kallor shrugged. 'I've walked this land when the T'lan Imass were but children. I've commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I've spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?'

'Yes' said Caladan Brood. 'You never learn'

Offline cupiscent

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2021, 11:18:56 AM »
I finally gave in and read Andy Weir's The Martian and had to admit it was just as great as everyone had said. ;D (Makes me itchy, enjoying something so VERY sci-fi...)

This year I've noticed that I really read much less YA stuff. There were a handful that I started and DNFed, because I just wasn't enjoying them - too pacey at the expense of depth, too glib, too same-old - and more that I looked at, on top of my to-read list, and went, "...actually, I'm not interested any more." Partly, I think, this is because a lot of YA fantasy from the recent explosion IS rather glib, formulaic, flash-over-substance. Partly it's that the things I used to turn to YA fantasy for - wild ideas and stories driven by diverse voices - are now showing up in adult fantasy more frequently, and with much greater depth and weight.

(That said, I did read a couple of amazing YA fantasies this year. Big recommendations for both S Jae-Jones's Wintersong and Sarah Tolcser's Song of the Current, and Claire Eliza Bartlett's The Winter Duke was a lovely read.)

Looking over my 2020 books again... I am genuinely surprised not to hear more about Jenn Lyons' work here. It's sort of too epic-fantasy for me, so I would've thought most of all y'all would be all over it. :D

Offline eclipse

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2021, 11:27:23 AM »
Two of the biggest disappointment this year were Jenn Lyon , I gave up half way on the story it just didn’t work for me felt like I read it all before and the same goes for Orange tree.

 I loved Orconomics and Thomas Fool and Starless Sea.

And I thought Made things by Adrian Tchaikovsky was awesome. If you love female rogues and wooden puppets check it out.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2021, 11:46:35 AM by eclipse »
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

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Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2021, 11:43:15 AM »

Looking over my 2020 books again... I am genuinely surprised not to hear more about Jenn Lyons' work here. It's sort of too epic-fantasy for me, so I would've thought most of all y'all would be all over it. :D

Jenn Lyons is on my list of potential purchases. I'll get around to her one day.

My highlight of the year was Rhythm of War which delivered absolutely everything I wanted it to. The Burning God was also one of the best conclusions to a series I've read in recent years and I'm glad I stuck through the rocky first half of The Poppy War. Rediscovering the joy of Star Trek books was also a big win for me.

There weren't too many disappointments thankfully. Seven Devils was one of very few books I've pre-ordered but turned out to be absolutely dreadful. There were also a few duds from the new Paolini ( To Sleep in a Sea of Stars) and a rare misfire from Tchaikovsky (The Doors of Eden), but overall it was a very, very good year.
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Offline eclipse

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2021, 11:48:42 AM »
Is the seven devils the one by Laura Lam or Sara Danvers?
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

Jonathan Stroud:Ptolmy's Gate

Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2021, 12:30:36 PM »
Is the seven devils the one by Laura Lam or Sara Danvers?

Laura Lam & Elizabeth May co authored
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Offline cupiscent

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2021, 02:25:06 AM »
Two of the biggest disappointment this year were Jenn Lyon , I gave up half way on the story it just didn’t work for me felt like I read it all before and the same goes for Orange tree.

Valid decisions! I mean, it's always fine to set a book aside for whatever reason, but I think both of those authors very consciously set out to take core tropes/cliches of fantasy and do something different with them, which I found interesting in both cases, but it does mean you are cleaving to those core things to a greater or lesser extent, and that can easily feel tired to an experienced reader. I found Shannon heavier on the "mythic" vibes, and Lyons heavier on the "adventure/epic fantasy" vibes (which is why I think it might be of interest to other folks here :) ).

Offline Bender

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2021, 02:40:16 AM »
This has been a weird year. I forsook all serious reads for LitRPG and Superhero fantasy books.

This year, I plan to focus more on SPFBO books.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2021, 03:45:00 AM »
I'll do a best list, but I don't really do worst. Generally if I really don't like a book it winds up becoming a DNF, and I don't include those in my what I've read list. I may have a few that disappointed me, though.

Best:

This Body's Not Big Enough for Both of Us by Edgar Cantero. This was fun, a PI that shares two separate bodies and personalities. It's totally different from the other book of Cantero's (Those Meddling Kids) that I've read, too, and it's a standalone, although it would be possible to do a sequel if he wanted.

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire. McGuire just never misses with her Wayward Children series, and this installment hits the bullseye again.

The Resurrectionist of Cailgo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga. This was one of those odd books that I really liked the cover of, so jumped it up the tbr pile. Glad I did, it's definitely quirky, being set in a sort of quasi Victorian world and concerning itself with a cross between a corpsetaker and a private detective, but he's a very engaging protagonist and it's a fun ride overall, despite the subject material.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heap by H. G. Parry. I adored this. I'm a sucker for things that feature literature that gets into the real world (think Jasper Fforde's  Thursday Next series) and that's what this does. It probably also helped that it was set in Wellington New Zealand and that's a place I visited not that long ago, so could identify with it quite well.

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Vampire Slaying by Grady Hendrix. Hendrix is another favourite of mine. This one concerning a book club fighting off a vampire that has infiltrated their sleepy little southern suburb was right on target again. It's now a tie between this and My Best Friend's Exorcism as to what is my favourite Grady Hendrix work.

The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic and The Burning God by R. F. Kuang. This entire trilogy was a triumph of modern epic fantasy. I loved every moment of every book and she stuck the landing. There's nothing particularly original in there, but that in fact is a strength, because it makes the whole thing more relatable. Her characters are where it shines, Kuang makes them real and the reader feels for them and takes the ride with them.

Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air by Jackson Ford. The first book in this series (The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind) was a favourite as well and I was happy to see that this maintained the standard. It was for bigger stakes this time and that also improved the story.

I didn't have any major disappointments, maybe Ready Player Two, but it was readable for the most part and I had a fair idea what I was getting into. Luke Arnold's The Last Smile in Sunder City probably belongs here too, it didn't have a lot of idea what it was really about and none of the characters really appealed to me. Arnold's quite a talented actor, he should stick to that, although he already has a sequel out.
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Offline ScarletBea

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2021, 09:34:06 AM »
The Burning God was also one of the best conclusions to a series I've read in recent years and I'm glad I stuck through the rocky first half of The Poppy War.

The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic and The Burning God by R. F. Kuang. This entire trilogy was a triumph of modern epic fantasy. I loved every moment of every book and she stuck the landing. There's nothing particularly original in there, but that in fact is a strength, because it makes the whole thing more relatable. Her characters are where it shines, Kuang makes them real and the reader feels for them and takes the ride with them.

I keep hearing praise for this series... based on what you know I like, do you think I'd enjoy it?
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Offline cupiscent

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2021, 09:42:47 AM »
My thoughts on The Poppy War were that it was very good, but very grim. It covers, in heavily fictionalised fantasy form, a lot of the history of China in the first half of the twentieth century, so there's a LOT of bad things that happen. Like I said, it's very good, but I just found it way too bleak to enjoy it enough to continue.

Offline Elfy

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2021, 09:57:14 AM »
The Burning God was also one of the best conclusions to a series I've read in recent years and I'm glad I stuck through the rocky first half of The Poppy War.

The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic and The Burning God by R. F. Kuang. This entire trilogy was a triumph of modern epic fantasy. I loved every moment of every book and she stuck the landing. There's nothing particularly original in there, but that in fact is a strength, because it makes the whole thing more relatable. Her characters are where it shines, Kuang makes them real and the reader feels for them and takes the ride with them.

I keep hearing praise for this series... based on what you know I like, do you think I'd enjoy it?
You do like the darkness of Malazan and it definitely has some of that, although I never found it grimdark as others have said. With me it’s about characters, and I really connected with the ones in the series. I also shed a tear or two at various times.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline Peat

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Re: The good and bad/best and worst of 2020
« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2021, 10:04:21 AM »
I am delighted that Bea enjoyed The Wounded Kingdoms.

I am less sure she'd enjoy The Poppy War. There's some pretty bleak stuff in there... but more than that, I found it tonally dissonant and pretty dull and cliche in places. But I guess I'm in the minority?

As for my best and worst - I do have a top 10 post https://peatlong.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/top-10-books-read-in-2020/ but for those who cannae be arsed to click -

Curse of Chalion was fantastic and just about everything I ever wanted in an Epic Fantasy

The Traitor Baru Cormorant will haunt me.

Children of Earth and Sky by GGK and Cold-Forged Flame by Marie Brennan were my other "wows" of the year.

Disappointments...

The Goblin Emperor and The Thief are both books I finished and don't really think about much any more.

I DNF'ed my review copy of Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker, which is heartbreaking considering how highly I think of The Wounded Kingdoms.

Rob Hayes' Where Loyalties Lie was a very vaunted indie read that I'm DNF'ing as well.

Not sure I'll finish Priory of the Orange tree now either. Put it down for a while and ain't sure it's worth the candle to pick it up. Kinda ditto for Crowley's Aegypt.

Three Hearts and Three Lions wasn't all that either.
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