Hi, Hollis here! A few years ago I bemoaned all my started-but-unfinished series and went to some painstaking effort to shelve them on GR to keep track. I quickly discontinued that effort but the fact remains that we as readers, and us here at A Take from Two Cities, start so many series and only manage to finish some. Whether that’s because said series are yet to be completed, delayed, or just forgotten about amidst all the other new releases, who can say. But to keep us accountable, I want to start a blog series not unlike our Five On Our TBRs but where we try to complete (at least!) five series a year.
Topping my list for series I’d like to complete in 2021 are :
Libba Bray’s The Diviners series. This will necessitate a reread of book one but considering how long ago I read that? It’s needed.
Sabaa Tahir’s The Ember in the Ashes series. This will also require a book one reread but now that the final book is out (!), there’s no time like.. well, 2021.
Mary E. Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles has been on both my finish series list, my reread list, and my physical TBR list. If I can smash these out? Hoo boy, success. For this one, at least, I had read books one AND two. But I’ll reread both before embarking on the finale.
Emma Chase’s Royally series. This was one I was all excitement about after finishing book one and then I never picked up anything else. Whoops. This should be a fun easy contemporary series to smash through though to break up all these fantasy reads.
And lastly, for this round up, Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands series. I really enjoyed book one, back in 2016, and then never continued. Shame gif.
Are there any series you’re prioritizing this year? We’d love to know!
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!
We are (depending on your timezone) mere hours away from the New Year and we don’t know about you — though we kinda do.. — but here at A Take From Two Cities we are hoping for a much better year than the one we’ve all (barely) survived.
Whether you’re having a quiet celebration with your household, hanging out on your own, or virtually with a big group, we are raising a glass to you and hoping you are all safe, well, and content (we almost said “happy” but the bar is low..).
Here’s to not only a fresh start in 2021 but also a ton of great books, maybe a little less need for social distancing (if we are lucky!), and a lot more laughs.
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) :
We just wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best. Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Solstice, Christmas, or nothing at all, we are thinking of you and hoping you are well and, particularly this year, safe and hale.
This has been a rough few months for us all and for some of you this holiday season may be adding to that; especially for those of you on your own or unable to celebrate. You are all in our thoughts.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or so they say. However you choose to celebrate this time of year — whether it be with long reading sessions curled up on the couch under a throw, hot drink nearby, or decking out your spaces in fairy lights and fragrant trees, as you watch holiday favourites, or even both at the same time — we wanted to put together a list of books that give us those chilly wintery vibes. Whether they bring you comfort and nostalgia, hope and joy, or frosty chills.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Twenty-seven-year-old Josey is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season; she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle; and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night …Until she finds her closet harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tender-hearted woman who is one part nemesis – and two parts fairy godmother …
This Winter by Alice Oseman
A short story, based on characters from Solitaire – praised as ‘The Catcher in the Rye for the digital age’ — The Times
I used to think that difficult was better than boring, but I know better now …
I’m not going to think about the past few months, about Charlie and me, and all of the sad. I’m going to block it all out. Just for today.
“Happy Christmas,” I say.
The festive season isn’t always happy for Tori and her brother Charlie. And this year’s going to be harder than most.
The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish
Last month, Alex Barrow’s whole life imploded—partner, home, job, all gone in forty-eight hours. But sometimes when everything falls apart, better things appear almost like magic. Now, he’s back in his Michigan hometown, finally opening the bakery he’s always dreamed of. But the pleasure of opening day is nothing compared to the lonely and beautiful man who bewitches Alex before he even orders. Corbin Wale is a weirdo. At least, that’s what he’s heard his whole life. He knows he’s often in a fantasy world, but the things he feels are very real. And so is the reason why he can never, ever be with Alex Barrow. Even if Alex is everything he’s always fantasized about. Even if maybe, just maybe, Corbin is Alex’s fantasy too.
When Corbin begins working at the bakery, he and Alex can’t deny their connection any longer. As the holiday season works its magic, Alex yearns for the man who seems out of reach. But to be with Alex, Corbin will have to challenge every truth he’s ever known. If his holiday risk pays off, two men from different worlds will get the love they’ve always longed for.
Winterspell by Claire Legrand
The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince…but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.
New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.
Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.
Her home is destroyed, her father abducted—by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets—and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed—if she leaves at all.
Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves.
Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil.
As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.
Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
Bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces.
As this is a sequel we are not including the synopsis! Look it up at your own peril.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
With A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens created a modern fairy tale and shaped our ideas of Christmas. The tale of the solitary miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of the season by a series of ghostly visitors and given a second chance, was conjured up by Dickens during one of his London night walks, who “wept and laughed” as he composed it. Taken to readers’ hearts for its humour, compassion and message of redemption, it remains its best-loved book.
This is obviously not an exhaustive (though it feels like it! I’m tired) list and so we wonder : what is one book (or series) you aren’t seeing listed on anyone’s recommendation round-up for this season? Is there any special read you’re planning to get to in the next few weeks? Did anyone else notice all of these covers are various shades of blue? Let us know!
Reading is such a subjective pass time, what’s my love is often Hollis‘ meh or hate and vice versa. That said, we’re still entitled to dislike books. If we liked them all, it would be great…but would we really appreciate other books as much?
In this feature we wanted to just give a flavour of those books we’ve unfriended, then you can get to know more about our tastes and what doesn’t float our boats. If you’re a blogger or bookstagrammer, we’d love you to use the tag and have a go #unfriendingbooks.
Micky here with some of the books I’ve unfriended and why…
Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught. There is no book I hate more than this one because abuse is written as love and I hated the hero beyond my wildest nightmares. If you want to know more my GR review is here.
His & Hers by Alice Feeney and this is a strange one. There’s nothing really wrong with this book, other than I should never have picked it up, it definitely wasn’t for me. I’m a scaredy cat, this scared my inner cat, especially as it was on audio and the serial killer had a pov using a voice distorter. Nightmare territory.
Dark Notes by Pam Godwin. Again, abuse written as love, power over a minor. You can probably see I have a problem with these themes and shouldn’t read them but the blurb didn’t tell me what this was going to be like. Also, it had a piano on the cover which renders me helpless. My GR review is here.
My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan and this viewpoint is a really unpopular opinion but one that I stand by with gusto. The palliative care situation was butchered in this book, in a most unrealistic way. I have clinical expertise in this area so I know this needed much better research and a direction change in the writing.
While we’re here, lets mention that’s why I hated The Flatshareby Beth O’Leary. A side story delved into children’s pallitative care (my job for 15 years, I have a PhD in the subject) and it was painfully unrealistic. I understand that these books are completely enjoyable without this insight so please just go ahead and enjoy them; I just can’t.
Adding a note for the same old reason (sorry) about Full Tilt by Emma Scott. The weeks running up to a characters death were completely unrealistic but the death itself was beautifully written. Even so, it’s still a thumbs down for me.
Another unpopular opinion about This Is How We Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I love sci-fi but I just didn’t get this one, I’ll quote my own review by saying it was a love story between robot-horse-wolf-seeds in shades of red and blue through letters…
Now that’s enough spouting from me, let’s hand over to Hollis.
Whiteout by Adriana Anders was a book I picked up earlier this year because Micky had such a good time reading it but alas.. we did not get along. You can see our double review here and decide for yourself! This suspense thriller adventure is set in the Yukon and.. that’s about all that recommends it for me. So, not at all, really.
Infinity Son was, like I think for many of us, a total disappointment. What should’ve been exciting queer fantasy just was.. well, queer fantasy, but not particularly exciting and definitely not enjoyable. A one star should make it obvious that I’m disinclined to continue the series but I’ve yet to decide if I might read on or not..
The Fantasyland series by Kristen Ashley. Yes, this was a five book series, yes I read them all (reviews can be found on GR if you’re curious enough to hunt for them), yes it was quite the adventure. I liked some, hated others, even sorta hated the ones I did like. But it was a series I thought had the best chance of winning me over considering I was already dubious about the author’s others works (later, Micky and I tried to read the Honey series.. elle oh elle to that disaster) and ultimately I’m just unfriending the author as a whole. But at least I saw this series through to the end!
Swear On This Life by Renée Carlino is memorable to me because Micky and I were reading this at the same time back in 2016 and ended up on opposite ends of the spectrum. She with a five star, me with a one star. This had flashbacks, reunion with childhood friends, a story-within-a-story.. all things that should’ve worked, and none that did.
The Duke’s Perfect Wife by Jennifer Ashley is book four in the Mackenzies and McBrides series, a historical romance series I thought would be a new favourite and was excited to binge (I think there are currently eleven books, as well as novellas? not sure if it’s even complete yet..), but which pretty tanked any momentum to continue on back in 2017. I ranted quite a bit in my one star review on GR. Granted, my enjoyment was steadily decreasing after book one so maybe it was just inevitable.
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff was yet another disappointment considering it should’ve once again been something right up my alley. Historical, women-centric, some action, some romance.. but no. Poorly drawn characters, ridiculous circumstances and events, forced love stories.. and more. You can check out my thoughts here.
Last but not least (for this round, at any rate!) is The Binding by Bridget Collins. Another that appealed to me on almost every level, the concept of magic, the vibe, the cover!, but yet failed, because the elements that were featured in the marketing of this book just didn’t seem to live up to the reality. This one didn’t net itself a one star but it wasn’t far off. This read also pre-dates the blog, like most of this list, but I have a review on GR here.
What have been some memorable book unfriendings for you? Or maybe some recent ones? We’d love to know!
Happy cozy and/or spooky season to one and all! However you choose to celebrate this time of year — whether it be with long reading sessions curled up on the couch under a throw, hot drink nearby, or decking out your spaces in glittery skulls, pumpkins, as you reach (or watch!) murder mysteries or thrillers, or even both at the same time — we wanted to put together a list of books that give us autumnal vibes, terrifies us, or just put us into the seasonal mood, in the hopes that we can spread some cozy comfort or spooky thrills.
UPROOTED by Naomi Novik is a fantasy story that is incredibly atmospheric and descriptive and also perhaps a wee bit terrifying because of what the author describes, and how. You might never walk through a forest at night again.
Katherine Arden’s Small Spaces series, both books one and two, focus on a specific season theme and book one is set in the fall, complete with scarecrows and haunted houses, but book two, set in the winter, has ghosts and chilling nightmares to haunt you with. This series is MG but will still get that pulse racing!
NINTH HOUSE by Leigh Bardugo is a dark academia story, though definitely adult in theme as opposed to the author’s previously YA releases, and it is.. well, dark. There are ghosts, magic, secret societies, and homicide investigations galore. This recommendation may require you to check out some trigger warnings if you are in need of them.
SAWKILL GIRLS by Claire Legrand is spooky and bloodthirsty and heartbreaking and sexy and feminist and full of asskickery and girl power and representation and magic and monsters. This would make an absolutely great Hallowe’en read.
UNSUB by Meg Gardiner might be the only true horror that gets added to this list but it earns that distinction for a reason. You want pulse pounding? You want twisty? You want mindfuckery? Look no further.
I don’t think SADIE by Courney Summers is actually set in the fall but somehow the book still makes me feel like it is. Maybe it’s the telling of it, the Serial podcast style of the mystery, I don’t know. Maybe just because it feels tragic and you want to bundle yourself up as you read it, keep the chill from your bones. Either way, it’s a story definitely worth reading.
THE BONE HOUSES by Emily Lloyd-Jones is a YA story featuring gravediggers, a remote village, and a curse that brings the dead back to life. This was basically written to be read in the fall! Which makes sense as it had a September 2019 release. Clever.
TheLocked Tomb trilogy by Tamsyn Muir (even though we still have to wait for the final book!) is definitely seasonally appropriate with it’s goth skull aesthetic and space monsters galore. Book one, in particular, is basically a big haunted house Clue-style mystery.
Rather than list individual thrillers, which would extend this post well past the point that anyone would continue reading, we’re just going to shout out particular authors or series you should try if you haven’t already! Basically, anything by Karin Slaughter (start with Grant County before you read Will Trent), Lisa Gardner (all her series cross over but I think it’s best to start with DD Warren and split off from there), Karina Halle’s Experiment in Terror series covers a whole host of paranormal adventures and types, and, to wrap up, we’ll finish with A.R. Torre’s Deanna Madden series is a sexy and dark Dexter meets FIFTY SHADES OF GREY mash-up that will keep your pulse pounding.
This is obviously not an exhaustive (though it feels like it! I’m tired) list and so we wonder : what is one book (or series) you aren’t seeing listed on anyone’s recommendation round-up for this season? Is there any special read you’re planning to get to in the next few weeks? Let us know!
You know when your friend moves away and although you’ve always loved them, you appreciate them more? Who’s feeling like this about their library in pandemic times? Us, that’s who! Hollis and I are going to tell you a bit about our habits and why we use and love our particular libraries.
Yes, we can still access all the ebook and audio goodies. They have also been a treasure in these times but our libraries have been through thick and thin with us. All those times when we couldn’t get a book any other way, we requested it and ta da…there it was. When a book was so expensive we couldn’t justify it, there it was. When they bought something we requested, that’s the best feeling. Getting us something from another library in the district, no problem!
Micky here. My local library is in the small market town I live on the outskirts of. It’s a 15 minute walk from home, 2 minutes in the car. It has fantastic opening hours, lots of computer space, kids activities (I use to take my kids to story time and sing-a-long stuff), groups that meet there AND I used to have PhD supervision there with my supervisor who lives in the same area. The best thing about it is the range of YA, fantasy and sci-fi books, I love browsing the stacks. Biggest shoutout to Crompton Library!
Up until about three years ago you could hear me moaning a lot about the poor ebook and audio library services for my area. I don’t think they listened to me in particular, but they generally invested in the future of this kind of library media. We now have BorrowBox app which is okay but not as good as Libby or OverDrive, but it will do. We do however, have a pretty fab selection of books on ebook and audio, usually without a huge wait and they are renewable which I love. Here’s what I’ve borrowed lately (I didn’t get to them all) and what I’m on hold for.
Hollis, unlike many, has been blessed by the library gods pretty much from day one. Toronto has a ton of branches, intra-library own if your local is too small to carry a title at all times, and our OverDrive system is pretty topnotch. We might not always have something right away (though the turnaround time between new release and availability is generally quick, particularly for popular authors or buzzy titles) but the amount of books that get added each and every day? Astounding.
So tell us, are you a library user, either long-time or newly converted? Or are you a click-and-buy and to hell with potential wait times? Let us know!