The four previous reviews have been archived and cross-linked on the main Brightdreamer Books site. And, as this is the last update (and last day) of 2020, it's time for the Reading Year in Review.
2020 Reading Year in Review
It’s time once again for the Reading Year in Review, where I look back at the books I read in 2020 - a needed escape in a dark and wild and often hopeless time.
January turned out to be my most prolific reading month, with few titles that disappointed. It started with Susan Choi’s beautiful picture book Camp Tiger and ended with the fairy tale of Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead. In between were numerous interesting reads. Even my least favorite title of the month, Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective, had some fascinating ideas and images. The rest ranged from the harrowing Come Tumbling Down (Seanan McGuire), The Rage of Dragons (Evan Winter), and The Fifth Season (N. K. Jemisin) to the humor of Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines.
In February, I finally finished the unabridged classic novel Don Quixote, with mixed impressions. High points were A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Soonish, a glimpse of the future that might be (or might not) in emergent technology by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith.
March was a mixed bag, with titles that stumbled at the conclusion (The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, by Jackson Ford), were victims of age (Cards of Grief, by Jane Yolen), or never quite came together like they should have (Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds.) The best book of the month was Adam Savage’s exploration of creativity, Every Tool’s a Hammer.
I had better luck in April, as the classic The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle) proved its staying power and George Takei’s graphic novel They Called Us Enemy proved eerily timely in its reflection of past efforts to dehumanize Americans by race and origin. The School for Good and Evil (Soman Chainani) examined the often-dark and -warped roots of fairy tales, while Updraft (Fran Wilde) took me to an original and imaginative world of living bone towers above the clouds. Another classic, however, aged poorly, Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer.
May started with the timely horror story of a pandemic that has remade the world in Mira Grant’s Feed, an intelligent (and prescient) start to a trilogy I still need to pursue. Three Martha Wells titles wrapped up the Murderbot novellas in a fun and action-filled fashion; I have yet to get the first full-length novel, but I’m looking forward to future adventures of the artificial construct whose fondest desire is not to become human but to be left alone to stream entertainment. The House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess took familiar parts and made a solid story with them, in a tale of humans and their dragon companions competing to fill the empty imperial throne. There were a few disappointments, though. Neil Gaiman’s classic graphic novel The Sandman Volume 1 was very much not my cup of cocoa, leaving a dark and bitter taste in my mouth, and Patti Larsen’s thriller Run petered out by the end after a promising and adrenaline-filled start.
June was largely a mediocre month with a couple highlights: a Kickstarter art book (going to wider release in September 2021, last I read), artist C C J Ellis’s An Illustrated Guide to Welsh Monsters and Mythical Beasts, and the first installment of Brian K. Vaughan’s renowned graphic novel series Saga.
In July, I only manged three books. Far and away the best of them was N. K. Jemisin’s surreal modern fantasy The City We Became, followed by the conclusion to the retro-future Adventures of Arabella Ashby in David D. Levine’s Arabella the Traitor of Mars. The third title, Kate O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon Festival, was bright and simple but lightweight even for a picture book.
I got more books read in August, starting with a nonfiction book on an essential topic in Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. Joshua Williamson wrapped up the main arc of his Birthright portal fantasy graphic novel in the ninth volume, War of the Worlds, while Catherynne M. Valente turned her unique way with words to the young Bronte siblings in Glass Town Game. I also ventured into R. A. Salvatore’s The Demon Awakens, hoping to find a new epic fantasy to follow but instead finding another story that can go on without me.
September started with the light humor of Graeme Base’s The Discovery of Dragons and ended with the brilliant, uplifting fairy tale for grown-ups The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, easily one of my favorite books of the year. I finished off Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s young adult sci-fi romance Starbound trilogy with Their Fractured Light, only to find the conclusion subverted by a heavy-handed message. And I took a stab at self-improvement with Jessica Abel’s Growing Gills.
October only saw five new book reviews, beginning with the superb fantasy (with horror overtones) Middlegame by Seanan McGuire and ending with another Catherynne M. Valente title, the hallucinatory yet spectacular Space Opera. I continued with Marie Brennan’s intriguing tales of Lady Trent with the third book, Voyage of the Basilisk, and was not disappointed... unlike my venture into the Peter Pan pastiche of The Wendy by Erin Michelle Sky and Steven Brown, which never quite seemed to figure itself out.
November was another prolific month for reading. The wordless graphic novel Haunter of Dreams by Claudya Schmidt impressed with its dreamlike visuals. Seanan McGuire turned her skills to younger readers for the first time in Over the Woodward Wall (under pseudonym A. Deborah Baker), in an homage to classic portal fantasies that takes on extra significance for grown-ups who have read Middlegame. The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart made for an intriguing start to a new epic fantasy trilogy, while Grant Snider’s I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf comic collection once again found the beauty, humor, and poetry in reading and writing. N. K. Jemisin’s short tale Emergency Skin turned a beloved sci-fi trope handily on its ear. Unfortunately, the month wrapped on a low note, as G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen turned into more of a “message” book than I care to read.
And in December, I finished off Rick Yancey’s 5th Wave trilogy with The Last Star, which didn’t quite stick the landing but mostly satisfied. I wandered along The Cloud Roads in the start to Martha Wells’s imaginative and popular fantasy series. And I was left dangling on a cliffhanger at the end of the third installment of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, The Girl Who Flew Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. A Jeff Lemire graphic novel, Sentient, rounded out the month.
Thus concludes my reading year, which, even at its lowest, was far superior to the year presented by reality. Here’s hoping for a better 2021, and more memorable adventures on the page and off.