Despite the title, this isn’t a post where we plan to poo-poo on authors who have disappointed us. It’s more to be reflective of the books we were initially anticipating or desperate for.. and how they fared in execution vs expectation. Also please know that if any of these books, or authors, are your favourites, that’s great! Every reading experience is different.
Worth noting is some of these books might have been three stars. But if we expected it to be a five, it’s kind of disappointing to only like, not love, it. Please bear that in mind. Disappointment doesn’t mean hate; but there might be some on those in this list, too.
For clarity, these are books we read in 2021, not necessary books published in 2021, and presented in no particular order.
If you were one of those “lucky” few who caught us (Hollis) accidentally publishing a draft of this early, sorry! But sURPRISE, the nature of our post has changed, so you likely didn’t actually get spoiled by our list. And speaking of which.. do you have a list of any disappointments? Let us know in the comments!
A laugh out loud look at first love, loss and trying to avoid the girl of your dreams.
What a stupid expression that is in the first place: To fall in love. Like you fall into a ditch or something. Maybe people need to look where they’re going.
As far as Phoebe Davies is concerned, love is to be avoided at all costs. Why would you spend your life worrying about something that turns you into a complete moron? If her best friend Polly is anything to go by, the first sniff of a relationship makes you forget about your friends (like, hello?), get completely obsessed with sex (yawn) and bang on constantly about a person who definitely isn’t as great as you think they are.
So Phoebe isn’t going to fall in love, ever. But then she meets Emma . . .
Love is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann is a hilarious, life-affirming novel about all the big stuff: love, sex, death, family, heartbreak, kittens . . . and kisses that turn the whole world upside down.
Title : Love Is For Losers Author : Wibke Brueggeman Format : Paperback ARC Page Count : 508 Genre : Contemporary YA Publisher : Macmillan Children’s Books Release Date : May 28, 2020
Reviewer : Micky Rating : ★ ★ ★
Micky’s 3 star review
Love Is For Losers has a strong and powerful British narrative voice, that is told in a diary format. I loved this format and it accounts for why there are so many pages in the book, it isn’t necessarily a long book but spacing for the diary accounts for some of this.
Phoebe, the protagonist is the kind of character with a big chip on her shoulder, shes spikey, hard to like and I only just got to like by the end. Despite her character, there are many reasons to still enjoy the book because not every protagonist regurgitates hearts and rainbows. Phoebe is on a journey in this book, reconciliation with the state of her maternal relationship, finding first love and losing friends. I found it to be a compelling read.
I did have struggles however with Phoebe, some early attitude towards disability was annoying, even though it was corrected. She was pretty judgey with all of those around her and she didn’t really endear herself to the reader. She came across as immature, judgmental and in need of some familial love. I felt annoyed at her mum and found her to be selfish, so I got where some of that element came from.
Overall, this was a solid read with many enjoyable facets. The diary writing style made it very engaging and kept me invested. There was great open dialogue about sex and sexuality for this mid-teen age group. I would definitely read this author again.
Thank you to Macmillan Kids UK for the early review copy.
One daring to-do list and a crash course in flirtation turn a Type A overachiever’s world upside down.
When her flailing department lands on the university’s chopping block, Professor Naya Turner’s friends convince her to shed her frumpy cardigan for an evening on the town. For one night her focus will stray from her demanding job and she’ll tackle a new kind of to-do list. When she meets a charming stranger in town on business, he presents the perfect opportunity to check off the items on her list. Let the guy buy her a drink. Check. Try something new. Check. A no-strings-attached hookup. Check…almost.
Jake makes her laugh and challenges Naya to rebuild her confidence, which was left toppled by her abusive ex-boyfriend. Soon she’s flirting with the chance at a more serious romantic relationship—except nothing can be that easy. The complicated strings around her dating Jake might destroy her career.
Naya has two options. She can protect her professional reputation and return to her old life or she can flirt with the unknown and stay with the person who makes her feel like she’s finally living again.
Title : How to Fail at Flirting Author : Denise Williams Format : Paperback / eBook (overdrive) Page Count : 352 Genre : Contemporary Romance Publisher : Piatkus Release Date : December 1, 2020
Headlines: Good guy Finding your voice Academia Work complications
This book has left me so up in my feels, warm, fuzzy and satisfied ones. I feel like this book was written for me because it was a great romance and the protagonist was in academia. You can tell the author navigates this life because as a female PhD myself in a male dominated world, on the endless hamster wheel of teaching and publications, there are endless goal posts.
Naya was a superb heroine, flawed and strong, striving and trying to disappear at the same time; I just loved her. This book had definite triggers for some (check out other reviews for trigger warnings or DM me) but that sensitive context really had me drawn in to Naya’s past, her present and future.
Let’s talk Jake, a nerd, cute and a great guy. It took time to reveal his character and I liked that I felt in Naya’s position, trying to work him out, was he really a good guy? The cheese was perfection, the chemistry was firey and delightful and the on-page romantics were just right. I really dug how this story played out, the banter, the sweetness, the demonstration of caring.
The plot lines were wholly realistic but the romance and the relationship never got lost, in fact, it was the navigation of the relationship alongside real life that made this book. Davis…I have no words, what a disgusting creature he was, he totally gave me the chills and not good ones.
I crushed How To Fail At Flirting in less than 24 hours which is pretty good for this woman with a family. Life is full of interruptions but this book had to be pulled from my hands to go out for a walk, that was my sacrifice for the day.
Do yourself a favour and pick this book up. I simply cannot wait for Denise Williams’ next book.
Thank you to Piatkus/Little Brown UK for the review copy.
Hollis’ 2.5 stars review
Obviously, going from the above rave review to mine is jarring and because I’m mostly struggling to like anything right now, it’s also likely worth ignoring.
That said, this isn’t remotely the laugh out loud and have good times romcom I wanted, and felt I needed. There are heavy topics within (seek out trigger warnings if you need them) and some not only uncomfortable flashback/memory scenes, but also stuff on page I did not expect. I think the discussion of partner violence is very important and what Naya, our main character, had experienced and was still processing is not often talked about. I think it was also important to see that there isn’t “one type” of person who will experience it. Or “one type” of person who will inflict it on others. Both these individuals being in academia, respected, was a very real change of pace from what I, at least, have experienced before in fiction. Which, I mean, sounds like a good thing? But it’s also not. Because it made me incredibly uncomfortable how much page time it got. See aforementioned “not remotely a laugh out loud and have good times romcom”.
Moving onto those laugh out loud and have good times, however, the romance was both very lovely and also let me down a bit. Things happen pretty quickly, another thing I did not expect. But, for all that Jake was more or less perfect, he at least came with a carry-on sized bit of baggage. Not much, but something. Though part of his own plot never actually resolved, despite the page time, which is.. convenient? I guess.
While I did enjoy the change in pace from office romances to an academic-set contemporary, I’ll admit I wasn’t too enthralled. I felt we never really got enough into what Naya did, beyond being good at it, and wanting tenure and being worried about department cuts. Honestly, it could’ve been about, and set in, anything else with some creative swapping out of scenes.
So what was good, you ask? Supporting cast. Naya’s friends were the best (a female friend AND a male friend, we love it!), and I liked Jake’s friends, too, even though they had even less page time. Naya trying to break out, take control of her life again — even if it’s more or less browbeat into her by her supportive friends (which I have mixed feelings about..) — and then, through Jake, reclaim her body, take charge of her sexuality, speak her mind.. I really liked that. There were very lovely glimmers in this story that worked for me. It just, in my opinion, kind of made a bit of hash in how some things played out.
Would I read the author again? Probably. No, definitely. This was a debut so I would definitely try again. But that said, I might acquaint myself a little better with a synopsis (gasp, who is she), or a review or three, just to better gauge if the next story is more in line with what I want, or need, in the moment. I’m not usually, or ever, a mood reader but I picked this up specifically wanting fun and fluff and, as mentioned over and over, it’s not what I got. Therefore this gets a cautious recommend from me; if it sounds like something you want, definitely give it a go.
It is with much angst and wringing of hands that we present our Top Ten reads of 2020.
For clarity, these are books we read in 2020, not necessary books published in 2020, and presented in no particular order.
Micky’s Top Tenof 2020
My absolute top read of the year was To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars by Christopher Paolini. I believe it took years to write and it felt like sci-fi perfection to me. It truly was a series in a book and months later I remember so much detail and most of the intricate story line. I loved it truly!
While I did enjoy quite a few reads this year I found putting a “top” list together really hard. Whereas last year there was, indeed, hand wringing to narrow down my five stars, this year it was more, “what books do I still think of, regardless of top marks”. A big tell is the fact that two of these aren’t even out yet! But regardless, all of these books helped to make 2020 a little more bearable.
Have you made a top ten, top three or top fifty? Let us know some of your favourties.
Hollis here. Despite the title, this isn’t a post where we plan to poo-poo on authors who have disapponted us. It’s more to be reflective on the books we were initially anticipating or desperate for.. and how they fared in execution vs expectation. Also please know that if any of these books, or authors, are your favourites, that’s great! Every reading experience is different.
Worth noting is some of these books might have been three stars. But if we expected it to be a five, it’s kind of disappointing to only like, not love, it. Please bear that in mind. Disappointment doesn’t mean hate; but there might be some on those in this list, too. And so with that disclaimer out of the way..
In order of publication, here are the books that disappointed us in 2020 :
While this looks fairly intense when you pit it against our total books read for the year — for Micky (232) and Hollis (235) — it’s not actually that bad! Do you have a list of any disappointments, say top five? Let us know in the comments!
As we are seconds away from closing the door on 2020 (which was officially The Worst), we got to thinking about all the books set to release next year that we know of (which, admittedly, at this point only really spans the January to June-ish portion of 2021, as usual). There are so many! And so many still yet to be announced. So while we know we will have a few of these anticipated release posts throughout the year, Hollis thought to be a little.. mean.
I’m challenging myself, and my blog buddy, to narrow down an anticipated list of only ten titles. Yes. Ten. That’s not even one title per month. Ten. Dix. Dieci. Diez. T e n.
Hollis’ Top Ten (ONCE AGAIN WITH REGRETS) Anticipated Releases of 2021 (in order of publication) :
In this volume we’ll see the Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…
Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?
Title : Heartstopper Volume 3 Author : Alice Oseman Series : Heartstopper Format : online via webtoon Page Count : 320 Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ Publisher : Hodder Children’s Books Release Date : February 6, 2020
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
Sooo because of a case of epic frantic “more more” clicky finger I skipped right past the end of this volume and found myself in what is clearly (after reading the synopsis) volume four. Oops. Spoiler alert : it’s good.
But as for what amounts to this installment, I really did like it. Obviously. That said, I did like a tiny bit less than volume two, hence the slight downgrade, but what I did love is that we spent more time branching out into the friend group — and in a fun little direction I didn’t think Oseman would lean into, loved that element — which makes sense as the boys break out of their insular little twosome bubble.
I’m hesitant to say more as I truly don’t know where volume three should’ve ended if not for being click happy so.. I’ll just button it for now. And maybe come back to this review for some added thoughts once I’ve read the overdrive version.
Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingaleand The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.
The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.
Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.
Title : The Winter of the Witch Author : Katherine Arden Series : Winternight (book three) Format : physical hardback Page Count : 372 Genre : historical fiction/fantasy Publisher : Del Rey Books Release Date : January 8, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
This was a reread for me, though unlike the other books in the series it was only my second time doing so. Not to sound like a broken record but I still cannot believe how long it’s been since originally reading this series, considering how much I love this world, but I am so happy to have been reunited.
“Love is for those who know the griefs of time, for it goes hand in hand with loss. An eternity, so burdened, would be a torment. And yet –yet what else to call it, this terror and joy?“
Unlikemy recent reviews for book one and two, however, I am SOL to cheat and just copy in parts of my original reviews from GR here to the blog. Mostly because I was too in my feels to properly review it at the time. And I’m pretty much right back in the same boat so, like, damn this sucks.
“The world has lost its wonder.“
As opposed to the book which resoundly does not.. suck, that is.
“You shouldn’t have told them I was a girl. Then they might have believed that I was dangerous.“
If I thought I couldn’t say much about book two its a whole lot of that but more for a finale. But if you’re expecting a big confrontation, or two (or three?), a whole bunch of secrets revealed, heartbreak, and romance, and tears, and more? You’ll get it. A lot of all of that.
I am sorry for this awful non-review review but you’ll just have to believe that the book, this series (this author!), is worth reading. I truly honestly cannot recommend this series enough. And cuddling up to it on Christmas Eve, with some much deserved snow coming down? Nothing better.
The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.
Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.
Title : The Girl in the Tower Author : Katherine Arden Series : Winternight (book two) Format : physical hardback Page Count : 384 Genre : historical fiction/fantasy Publisher : Del Rey Books Release Date : December 5, 2017
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
This was a reread for me, my third in fact (!), and yes if you’re feeling deja vue I had also just reread TheBear and the Nightingale for the third time, too. I still cannot believe how long it’s been since originally reading this series, considering how much I love this world, but I am so happy to be reunited.
Witch. We call such women so, because we have no other name.
That said, as with my recent review for book one, I’m going to cheat and just copy in parts of my original reviews from GR here to the blog. Mostly because I’m lazy but also because none of my opinions have actually changed.
“Has the world run dry of warriors? All out of brave lords? Are they sending out maidens these days to do the work of heroes?“ “There were no heroes. There was only me.“
I honestly don’t know how to review this book. So much of this story relies on book one’s plot and information but the basics are : The Girl in the Tower is a story about a brave girl and her impossible horse. But it’s also a story about the tug of war between the faith in the old world, the myths and the legends, and that of God and wealth and power. It’s about the harsh bite of cold, the hollow cramp of an empty belly, villages burned to the ground, girls stolen away in the night, and a power desperate to be unleashed from its bridle. And through all that, Vasya is still fighting for her place in the world — not that of marriage or stuck in a convent, but for adventure.. and to be believed by those she loves. The politics in book two take a sharp turn, though they’ve always been present, and an uprising must be stopped even as an ghost from Vasya’s past, who plays a significant role in a present-day evil, is laid to rest.
It is going to end. One day. This world of wonders, where steam in a bathhouse can be a creature that speaks prophecy. One day, there will be only bells and processions. The chyerti will be fog and memory and stirrings in the summer barley.
The Bear and the Nightingale is like a slow-moving chill, it creeps up on you and chips away at your warmth ever so subtly, until you’re frozen. Whereas The Girl in the Tower is more like trying to out-pace a blizzard. Both books are enjoyable but in this sequel we see Vasya tested even more than she was in the first book.. and we also see her rise above. She gets a glimpse of who she could be if not for the constraints of her sex and it’s bittersweet and beautiful.
“Curiosity is a dreadful trait in girls.”
Knowing how this one played out in advance, I loved picking up on all the clues, all the foreshadowing, that Arden laid out for her readers. None of the excitement was lost; and certainly none of the trepidation, either, for a specific chapter with a certain race. I now feel my own bit of added trepidation knowing what awaits me in book three. I want to race to it but I also want to lurch to a halt and wait. I want both. I want it all.
Suffice it to say, you need to read these books. Arden’s series is atmospheric, harsh, brutal, unkind, beautiful, magical, wonderful, hopeful. It’s everything. You deserve some of that.
Juliet Marillier brings us a beautifully re-imagined version of the Six Swans myth in Daughter of the Forest.
Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.
But Sorcha’s joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift–by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever.
When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all…
Title : Daughter of the Forest Author : Juliet Marillier Series : Sevenwaters #1 Format : Paperback/Audio Page Count : 416 Genre : Fantasy Publisher : Tor Books Release Date : May 5, 2000
Reviewer : Micky Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Micky’s 5 star review
Wow, wow, wow. A late contender for my favourites of 2020 bookshelf but so worthy. I’ve been meaning to read Daughter of the Forest for a few years, had the audio, then recently acquired the paperback and I read it with these formats in tandem.
This was a description-rich story told over a number of years and it captured my imagination almost immediately. The setting of the forest, the Celtic family, the mystical islands and the sense of magic were enchanting. Sorcha a girl on the cusp of woman-hood was a character that I felt invested in. Her affinity and intuition with the forest made for good reading.
I don’t want to speak to the plot at all but it was such a tale, a tale I hadn’t read before but with plot lines that I really enjoyed. Some of the plot was just painful, the difficulties Sorcha and her family endured just hurt my heart. As the story travelled in years and location, the characters navigated some saving moments and awful ones too.
There were some fabulous characters to hate. Lord Richard and Lady Oonagh should win some kind of Maleficent award for their actions and behaviour. All the boos!
As the story wrapped up, I found myself emotional, fulfilled, heart-aching and wonderfully satisfied. I can’t wait to read on in the series
This definitely isn’t a story to rush; its detailed and full of the kind of depth that is worthy of savouring. This was published 20 years ago and although I’m late to the party, I do think readers will be discovering this still for decades to come.