A solemn look back at 2020

Don’t worry…not the whole dumpster fire, just at my reading choices.

What’s the best book you read this year?

I loved The Last Uncharted Sky and both of KJ Charles’ Will Darling books (the second even more than the first) and I can’t pick either of them as absolute favourite.

What’s the worst book you read this year?

JB Lawless – Der Tote in der Bibliothek. There was exactly one good thing about it and that was that I got it from the library and so did not waste any money on it.

Your favourite “classic” you read this year:

*mumbles* I read The Tennant of Wildfell Hall and two Georgette Heyer books (Masquerades and Faro’s Daughter) and considering those classics is probably already a stretch and I wouldn’t say any of those was a favourite. But I guess I enjoyed Masquerades most.

The book that disappointed you:

Well. *awkwardly shuffles around*. You need expectations to be disappointed. And there were two books that were hyped A Lot and that I ended up not enjoying much. There were books I hated much more but I had no expectations for those.

And now I guess I have to name those books…so…I liked neither Red White and Royal Blue nor Boyfriend Material. And now excuse me I have to go into Witness protection now….oh and when I’m at it I can add The Unspoken Name to the list.

The hardest book you read this year (topic or writing style):

Saša Stanišić – When the Soldier repaired the Gramophone. The topic (The war in Yugoslavia) was heavy but it also had a style that made it hard to read more than a few pages at a time.

The funniest book you read this year:

*stares at her 2020 booklist* I laughed a lot at Jeremy Hardy Speaks Volumes. It was a collection of stand-up pieces from a Comedian I really liked so I expected it to be very funny.

The saddest book you read this year:

Well and then I was sad about the same book because it was a posthumously published collection with many essays by his friends. Otherwise I stayed away from really sad books this year because *gestures broadly at everything*

A book that surprised you:

Aliette de Bodard – Of Dragons Feasts and Murder. I had some mixed experience with my previous attempts with her stuff (one dnf, one fun plot but a bit…wordy for me and one meh) but ended up really enjoying that one.

A(nother) book you read this year you want to recommend (maybe one that you haven’t mentioned yet?):

Maggie Robinson’s Lady Adelaide series. Which…is more than one book. And I read the first one last year but 2 and 3 this year and now I have to wait UNTIL SEPTEMBER for the next one. Anyway I love it and it’s great fun.

An author you discovered this year that you will definitely read again:

I picked up The White Ship by Charles Spencer because it was about The Anarchy and what led up to it, a topic I am interested in since reading my mom’s Brother Cadfael novels, and ended up liking it so much that I picked up his To Catch a King afterwards even though Charles II had never been a topic I cared much about but he just has a way to talk about subjects that just maker me interested in them.

A book that you never want to read again:

I mean…lots. Some of which have already been mentioned but to add a new one: I never want to come anywhere near Bruce Robinson’s 800 page rant that supposedly solves the Jack the Ripper case but really is just him yelling constantly.

Were you part of a reading challenge? Did you meet it?

My Goodreads challenge were 53 books and I read over 70. I also had a list of I think 10 specific books I meant to read this year and only read 6 or 7 of those because ‘gestures broadly at everything’

Are you signed up for any in 2021?

I will do the Goodreads one again and probably set my number a bit higher. Otherwise I’m planning to look for some short-term challenges/bingos because I have by now realised that year-long ones don’t work for me.

The book series you read the most volumes of this year:

Well…there are three series of which I read two books each: KJ Charles’ Will Darling, Maggie Robinson’s Lady Adelaide and Sharon Shinn’s Elemental Magic

Which authors featured most prominently for you in 2020?

And then I also read KJ Charles’ final Magpie Lord book, which brings the number of books by her up to a staggering three and she’s the winner.

The last book you finished this year:

Yesterday Maggie Robinson’s Just Make Believe. I am more than Halfway through Sam Hawke’s Hollow Empire but I probably won’t finish it this year…

The first book you will finish in the new year:

…which means it’s probably going to be the first next. That or Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Guns at Dawn.

The genre you read the most this year:

I think this year there was more fantasy than mystery but I am too lazy to count.

Which books are you most looking forward to reading in 2021?

I am repeating myself but Lady Adelaide #4, Will Darling #3 for books to be published next year. Apart from that I have read three of Marshall Ryan Maresca’s Maradaine novels and now want to read the rest of the series

And finally, make a New Year’s Resolution: How many books do you think you will read in the new year?:

As said…more than 53? I think I might go for 60 or so

Yangsze Choo – The Ghost Bride

Title: The Ghost Bride
Author: Yangsze Choo

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lims’ handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits, and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever. 

Unlike other girls, Li Lan really hates sewing and embroidery. She’s really bad at it. She still wins a needle-threading competition but she informs us that she isn’t quite sure how she did it. I did roll my eyes at that bit but kept going because the rest was intriguing. The atmosphere of 19th century Malaysia was vividly described and the question of why the Lim family is so eager for her and only her to be the ghost bride of their son promised a good mystery. Sadly, the rest of the book didn’t really deliver on that promise.

The plot seemed to follow two maxims: maximum convenience and maximum drama. Li Lan is – very conveniently – always in hearing range of people who share vital information so she can eavesdrop and be led to the next place where she can overhear the next vital piece of information that advances the plot (and sometimes it’s not even that. Sometimes she just stumbles over one piece of information after the other without having to connect any dots). Now to an extent, this is hard to avoid. She isn’t a noisy old spinster in 1920s England who can poke her nose into everything and ask slightly insolent questions. She’s a young (not very well off) woman in a society where that means she hasn’t much freedom. But I simply couldn’t get through such an amount of plot-convenient coincidences without a lot more eye-rolling…

Meanwhile, on those occasions where Liu Lan actually does talk to people, she just believes everything they say. Even when she knows their people have their own agenda, even if those people make no secret about how much they hate her. It’s inconceivable that they would lie to her. Hence many a dramatic freak-out.

But, the absolute death-blow for me was how utterly flat the romance fell for me. This book is not a capital-R Romance; there are two man Li Lan develops feelings for and at the end, she has to make a decision. But many of her decisions are influenced to at least some degree by her feelings for those men. I am fairly sure that the story of the book had played out very differently if she hadn’t had those feelings. And…I didn’t buy any of those feelings. I could sort of buy the first as a crush that somewhat escalated due to some very unusual circumstances but I genuinely had no idea that she had developed any feelings for the second guy until she actually said it and that’s…just not exactly great writing.