And That’s a Wrap: Jan and Feb 2021 Edition

As hard as it is to believe, we’re already two months down on 2021. Summer is over and I am so ready for Autumn to hit me up. I’ve been watching less TV over the last few months and reading more than normal, which is why I’m around 6 books ahead of where I was this time last year. Who would have thought, in order to make reading goal progress you just have to…read more? I know, I’m shocked too. Now, before you scroll down and see for yourself, let’s just get it out of the way early: yes, there’s a lot of ACOTAR going on in this wrap up.

In January I read a total of 9 books. *blinks* I’m still confused as to how I did this, especially since several of them were pretty chunky.

The Duke and I (Bridgertons 1#) – Julia Quinn ★★ | Review

As you can already tell, I liked the adaptation better than the book here. I didn’t mind the first half. Sure, there’s A LOT of dialogue and we’re reminded that Daphne knows about men because of her brothers 50 million times, but the banter is good and the friends to lovers shift is nice. The second half, however, is.. icky. Simon telling Daphne that he “owns” her, NO. Daphne taking advantage of drunken Simon to get pregnant against his wishes, MILLION TIMES NO. Also my god, the last couple of pages are so sappy I was inwardly cringing. Not what I was hoping for.

The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager ★★★★

I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. The story revolves around the reopening of a summer camp that three girls went missing at 15 years before. The camp setting was a great choice and provided some quality, creepy atmosphere and tension. I really liked the way the book utilised past and present timelines and how these wove together. The idea of an unreliable narrator was good but I do think it could have been used to better effect. There are parts of the climax that feel unbelievable and lazy, although the epilogue is great. I only wish that the reveals presented in it had been integrated into the main story rather than just the last couple of pages. I’ll definitely be checking out Sager’s other books.

The Burning God (The Poppy War 3#) – R. F. Kuang ★★★★.5

This series is officially one of my favourites. I finished TBG and stared at the wall for ten minutes trying to process the emotional roller-coaster of it all. There were a couple of plot threads I wish had been handled more satisfyingly or with greater purpose (e.g. The Trifecta) but overall, this was great and I wasn’t disappointed. The writing and world building is still fantastic, and I continue to remain in awe over how complex Kuang’s characters, relationships and plotlines are. Nothing is ever easy or what it seems, characters always exist in shades of grey, and despite what the victors lead you to believe, there are no true winners in war. The Burning God is grim, compelling, bloody, and memorable right til the end.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR 1#) – Sarah J. Maas (REREAD) ★★★

This is the third time I’ve read this book and my thoughts haven’t changed much. It’s still a solid three star read for me – enjoyable but nothing mind-blowing. I think that’s mainly because most of the action doesn’t start until well into the book, many of my favourite characters aren’t introduced until book two and Feyre as a lead is on the boring side until later.

A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOTAR 2#) – Sarah J. Maas (REREAD) ★★★★.5 | Review

ACOMAF is my favourite of the original series, but I think that’s the general consensus. I still loved it but while my original review was 5 stars, on re-read I’m knocking it down to 4.5. The second time around I definitely felt the length of the book. As much as I adore the slow-burn of Feyre and Rhys, overall it’s a bit slow at times and probably could have been cut down somewhat. Also, the storyline outside the romance could be better handled and I still agree with myself that the climax is rushed and kind of convenient.

A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOTAR 3#) – Sarah J. Maas (REREAD) ★★★.5 | Review

ACOWAR was also noticeably less enjoyable on re-read. Not hugely so, but enough to push it down from 4 stars to 3.5. I still had fun and love the characters but a couple of things impacted the enjoyment factor. First, the constant uses of ‘mate’, ‘female’ and ‘male’ bugged me more this time and were pretty uncomfortable. Second, there’s a few too many Feysand sex scenes. I love a bit of steam but there comes a point where it becomes repetitive and boring. Third, having just binge-read the previous two books, I found that the 700 page run dragged a lot more this time. And lastly, there are some major plot conveniences, especially when it comes to the death count of characters we know the names of.

From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash 1#) – Jennifer L. Armentrout ★★.5 | Review

Blame Goodreads. The hype made me do it. While it may not have lived up to it, I had an alright time just the same. This book is a trope mine-field and very predictable because of it. The pacing is messy at times and the world building is questionable, too. There’s also a couple of noticeable and repetitive issues with the writing itself. Regardless, it’s a pretty addictive read with decent characters and an engaging enough romance. Not the best fantasy-romance I’ve read by a long shot, but fun enough for me to want to read the sequel.

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash 2#) – Jennifer L. Armentrout ★.5 | Review

I’d heard that the sequel was better than the first book. Um, no. Definitely, no. My main issue with AKoFaF was the lack of plot. Almost nothing happens and for a 600+ page book, that’s saying a lot. The Poppy-Hawke angst was really frustrating and repetitive, and I will never understand why JLA decided that the fake dating trope route was the way to go. This felt a lot more romance based than book one and the vampire aspect was definitely played up more too (which I did like). I’m kind of annoyed because I wasn’t planning on reading the next book but then I got to the last few chapters and they were actually interesting so now…ugh. I think I’m in for more suffering.

If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio ★★★★★

To my surprise, I loved this book! There are a lot of similarities to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History but as blasphemous as it sounds, I liked this slightly more. The story follows a group of Shakespeare players/friends who slowly implode after they let one of their number die. Watching the lies, secrets and guilt slowly tear everything apart was enthralling and I was hooked. I love how Shakespeare’s plays were incorporated into the story (life imitates art) and the way the book was structured like a Shakespearean tragedy. The characters are designed to feel like stereotypes but Rio tries to get underneath the surface to explore their strengths, insecurities, and relationships. James and Oliver’s bond in particular was so good and their scenes were magnetic. Honestly, I’m shocked this was a debut and I’m positive I’ll re-read it in the future.


February was closer to my usual reading pace, still slightly ahead of normal though, and included two of my most anticipated 2021 releases. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up with as many high rated books as I did in January (then again, part of January was taken up by re-reads) and I finished up on 6 books.

Lore – Alexandra Bracken ★★★

I really thought I’d love this book considering it was pitched as The Hunger Games meets Percy Jackson but, in the end, I couldn’t get past a 3 star rating. I really liked the use of Greek mythology and world building (the NYC setting gave me serious Mortal Instruments vibes) but I found myself disinterested in the plot and characters for large stretches. My engagement picked up after the halfway mark but not as much as I wanted it to. One of the other problems I had was that the main villain of the story felt very flat in that there was barely anything to him aside from wanting power for power’s sake, which is super boring. Still, a fairly well-done YA urban fantasy.

The Project – Courtney Summers ★★★.5 | Review

I’d been really looking forward to reading The Project ever since it was announced because I loved Sadie. While this didn’t reach the highs of Sadie in terms of emotional intensity and immersion for me, I still enjoyed it. Well, as much as you can “enjoy” a book about a cult with such dark themes and content. It’s a slow read which takes time to really showcase what it’s trying to say but it’s also very clever, subtle and insidious in how it goes about it. I like that Summers isn’t afraid to use typically unlikeable heroines and that the heart of the book was another complex sisterly relationship. The ending may have let me down in some ways but overall, a strong and emotionally grounded story.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne ★★★★.5

I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this. It follows the life of an adopted, gay man named Cyril living in Ireland in the decades before homosexuality became legalised. The writing in this is so darn good! I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that’s managed to blend comedy and tragedy together as well as this book does. The dialogue is perfection – it’s so quick-witted and flows beautifully. It’s a quirky read and feels a little absurdist at times with the events that occur and coincidences that pop up, but it works. I only wish that I’d gotten to know certain characters better to properly feel the emotional moments surrounding them. I’ve already added two of Boyne’s other books to my to-read shelf.

A Court of Frost and Starlight (ACOTAR 3.1#) – Sarah J. Maas (REREAD) ★★★ | Review

Like the other ACOTAR books, ACOFAS has also gone down rating wise on re-read. I like that the novella tries to show the impact of the war, but it does feel a lot like fan-fiction-ish fluff. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and as a lover of these characters it’s fun seeing them get drunk, have snowball fights and hang out. However, there’s a lot of shopping, talking about gifts for solstice and SO MUCH Feysand acting like sex-crazed teens for such a short read. Can you not for just two seconds? Feyre’s sections also felt more tedious this time through. I do appreciate the way it sets up Cassian and Nesta’s story in ACOSF though.

A Court of Silver Flames (ACOTAR 4#) – Sarah J. Maas ★★★.5 | Review to Come

What a ride. There were certain parts of ACOSF that I really liked and others that were a let down or just frustrating. In the good column was Nesta’s journey. I would have liked a teensy bit more gradual mental/emotional development to go with the physical, but overall I was really happy. Also in that category was the friendship element which I adored. Super sweet and so much female empowerment. In the ‘not so good’ column was the human queen/magician/Eris plot, which I honestly did not care about except for cool magical objects, and the over reliance on sex scenes to build the Cassian-Nesta relationship. Finally, in the GTFO column, we have the Feysand storyline. Like, why? Why are you trying to steal my babies’ limelight? And Rhys, you’re massively on my shit list after this book.

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke ★★.5

This is one of those ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ experiences. For the first 70 pages or so I was bored, confused and considered DNF. Yet, I decided to stick it out to page 100 and shortly after that it started to grow on me. There were definitely stretches of this that I enjoyed but l feel in the end that I wanted so much more from it. Viewed broadly, I like the basic concepts of Piranesi‘s tale (a labyrinth classical mansion in another universe, scholars with crazy theories, an unreliable narrator who has to unravel a mystery of sorts, etc.) but I feel like it either should have been shorter, to cut down the empty beginning, or longer to properly develop the background events, characters, and dramatic reveals. On the whole, different, weird, and something I see other people really liking but not for me.


So, I actually bought a couple more books over the last two months but since I managed to read them during this period as well, I’d rather not list them here again and double up. Besides, it makes me feel better about how much money I spent. Living in a state of denial works for me, thank you very much. A few very different types of books here and I’m looking forward to each of them. I’m so excited I got approved for an ARC of She Who Became the Sun. It’s due out in July which makes me want to hold off on reading it for a while but that may be difficult as it’s being promoted as Mulan meets The Song of Achilles which, as you can imagine, makes me do love heart eyes.


Just in case you missed them, other than my book reviews which are linked above, here are the posts I published over the last two months:


Not much to report so far. Lately I’ve been trying to get some online courses done which relate to qualifications I need to stay in my job. It’s been pretty time consuming and painful, and motivation is low. This month I also started posting the occasional photo to my bookstagram again. The effect my long absence has had on how the algorithm shows my posts to people now compared to how it did a year ago has been disheartening and frustrating but I guess the only thing to do is keep at it, I guess.

On the social side, I finally got to see one of my closest friends recently after not having seen her in over a year. I’m sure you can all relate to this – the struggles of Covid-19. We’re extremely lucky that we live in Australia where our government has managed the virus so well but border restrictions and closures since things first started have made it very hard to see people in different states. My friend and I had a good catch up and went to see Frozen The Musical which was a lot of fun but definitely an experience in having so few people in the audience.


I hope 2021 is treating you all well so far and that good things are in store for March. Let me know what your favourite reads from the last two months were and what you’re most looking forward to next month!

Vampire Romance Makes a Comeback: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I may not be twelve anymore (thank god), but for some reason my ears still prick up at the mention of ‘vampire romance’. I can’t help it. It’s like my brain’s been programmed against my will. So, you’ll understand why this + ‘most hyped romance of 2020’ lead to me giving into FOMO and reading From Blood and Ash.

Who, What, Where?

Our protagonist is Poppy, ‘The Maiden’ and chosen of the Gods. Poppy lives her life with strict restrictions on how she dresses and behaves as she waits for the day of her Ascension – a mysterious ritual that will supposedly secure the future of the Kingdom. However, Poppy longs to experience life outside her limited bubble and is drawn to activities and interests that risk her being found unworthy. After a kidnapping attempt, she’s assigned a new guard, the attractive and alluring Hawke who’s like no one she’s ever met before and makes her rethink her destiny. But when things inside the castle turn deadly and a fallen kingdom rises, determined to retake what was lost at any cost, Poppy begins to question whether everything in her world is what it seems.

You get a Trope! And YOU Get a Trope!

If you’re looking for something original, keep walking. However, if you’re a reader who eats tropes for breakfast, step this way. I knew going into this it’d be trope heavy, just not this heavy. Honestly, I wish I’d had a bingo card. Let’s start a list, shall we? Hidden/growing powers, dead parents, “The Dark One”, the servant confidant, ‘Not Like Other Girls’, the chosen one, a secret identity, forbidden romance, the virginal MC and experienced love interest…there’s more, but I’ll stop here.

Don’t Need a Crystal Ball to Predict This One

Tying in with what I said about the book’s reliance on tropes, From Blood and Ash is very predictable. Even going into this 100% blind, I guarantee you’ll work out all the major plot reveals from a mile away. Unfortunately, you then have to sit through the rest of the book questioning why characters (*cough* Poppy *cough*) are so freakin’ stupid that they can’t work it out themselves.

The Maiden & The Guard

In terms of our leads, Poppy is, for lack of a better word, okay. I love the fact that she knows how to kick ass and I do sympathise with her difficulties, but she also feels annoyingly young at times and extremely dense when it comes to seeing things right in front of her face. Hawke feels like many of the fantasy love interests I’ve seen before (especially if you’re a SJM fan). He’s generally likeable, has some depth, but he’s nothing new.

For the most part, I enjoy Poppy and Hawke’s relationship. It’s banter-y, fun, sexy and I love the scenes where they physically face off. Yet, there are a couple of things that bother me. First, Hawke does verge into toxic ‘alpha male’ territory at times and second, there are a few moments where their interactions verge on forced. For example, Poppy says something, and Hawke just has to give an arrogant/teasing/sexy reply even though it doesn’t really suit. They also weirdly have a couple of the same exchanges repeatedly (‘You’re so violent, it turns me on’, ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you’, ‘You love it’). I know they’re supposed to be in jokes but it’s a lot.

Steam Up Those Windows

No complaints here. If you’re in this book for some solid smuttiness just know that you’ll have to wait a long time to get there but it’s worth it. Also, bonus points for actually mentioning contraception. Woo!

Questionable World Building

Ah, world building. I wish I could say this book doesn’t fall into the trap of dumping boring bits of information on you in heaps right from the beginning, but I can’t, and it does. There’s even a chapter in which Poppy reads passages from a history textbook *face palm*. Even with these infodumps, I was mighty confused for a while. It’s probably all the terms – Rise, Rite, Ascension, Atlantians, Descenters, Ascended, Wolven…lord, help me.

This aside, there are elements that I liked. I just wish they’d been handled better than coming together at the end. I enjoyed the idea of the three different types of “vampires” and the distinctions between them – bloodthirsty traditional vampires, not-so traditional vampires, and the vicious, zombie-like Craven. I also enjoyed the reveal of the history between the Atlantians & the Ascended, although it does paint a very basic good vs evil scenario.

Pacing

The pacing in this book is messy at points. While the opening scenes which take place at a gambling den/brothel are engaging, following this, things get slow and take some time to pick up again. After this point though, I found the story pretty addictive and raced through to the end. The latter chapters, however, is where things get out of sorts again, slowing down and speeding up in a weird mish-mash of events that left me feeling serious whiplash and confusion.

Writing Issues

There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing as I was reading:

  • Ellipses. I’m probably a hypocrite saying this, but boy were they overused in this book.
  • JLA has a weird habit of repeating the exact same information about something in dialogue and Poppy’s thoughts, almost word for word, very close together. It’s bizarre and unnecessary.
  • For a high fantasy book, the language used by the characters is extremely modern. It does make the book more digestible, but the idea of characters using words like ‘totally’ and ‘whatever’ in this context is disorienting.
  • Two words, ‘female’ and ‘male’. Just no. JLA you’re banned from reading Ms Maas.

Now, the two big questions, do I think this book deserves the hype and best romance of 2020? No x 2. Still, despite my massive amounts of complaining, I didn’t mind From Blood and Ash. It’s not amazing or revolutionary but it’s addictive, fun and a good way to shut your brain off. With this in mind, I’ll be reading the sequel.

2.5 Stars

2021 TBR: 24 Books I Want to Read in 2021

A new year, a new probably unrealistic list of books I’d like to tackle before the end of the year. In 2020 I set myself a list of 30 books I wanted to read from a bunch of different genres. I ended up only reading…well, 14 of them. Er, yeah. It could have been better. Anyway, here’s hoping that this year is more productive and less subject to intense shifts in my reading mood.

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte: I bought a Penguin faux leather copy of this and it’s too pretty not to be read. Hopefully I like it a lot more than I did Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier: I’ve been putting this off for YEARS. Now that I’ve watched an adaptation, I feel I really, really need to finally read the book.
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott: Yes, this book was on my 2020 list. Yes, it’s here again.
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: Lately I’ve been wanting to try my hand at writing a ghost story. I should probably see how one of the experts does it.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benhamin Alire Saenz: I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book and it sounds so good.
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne: Heaps of positive reviews, an interesting sounding blurb and recommended for those who liked A Little Life (which I did). Please don’t make me cry.
  • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami: I tried reading 1Q84 many years ago and found it super weird. This is supposedly less so. I might hate it, might love it. Trying it for something different.
  • The Comeback – Ella Berman: There’s something intriguing about this book. It just seems like something I’d like. Plus very topically relevant in today’s day & age.
  • If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio: I read The Secret History back in 2020 and really liked it. This has been regularly recommend as being similar in feel. Yay, dark academia & murder!
  • The Boy From the Woods – Harlan Coben: I came across TBFtW while perusing the GR Choice awards noms. I do enjoy a good mystery from time to time and this one certainly sounds exciting.
  • The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager: It’s bizarre, I am so keen on reading Sager’s books despite having this nagging feeling that I won’t love them. This one is set at a camp which is cool yet creepy.
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: This is my next stop in the search for an amazing YA crime/thriller book. I’ve been burnt before but reviews have been great so fingers crossed!
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini: The size is definitely intimidating but as if I’m going to pass up new Paolini, and an interesting sounding one with a gorgeous cover at that.
  • Dark Age (Red Rising 5#) – Pierce Brown: You guys already know how much I love this series. I FINALLY read Iron Gold last year so that means it’s time for Dark Age. I’m preparing my heart.
  • Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline: Reviews on this one haven’t been great but a) I got it for Christmas and b) I really liked the first book. So we’re doing it in 2021.
  • The Midnight Library – Matt Haig: The Goodreads Choice Awards Fiction winner for 2020! This book sounds so good and I’m almost 100% positive that I’m going to love it.
  • The Burning God (The Poppy War 3#) – R F Kuang: I’m legit obsessed with this series. Book two was my favourite read of 2020 and I’m SO keen for the last book. Pain is coming, I can tell.
  • Piranesi – Susanna Clarke: Shiny foiling on covers, I can’t resist it. Piranesi sounds super different from other things I’ve read in recent years and I’ve seen some amazing reviews, too.
  • The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2#) – Brandon Sanderson: I have a sudden desire to go back to this series (blame Skyward maybe?). I read The Final Empire back in 2015 but for some reason didn’t continue onward. I’ll have to reread it before tackling TWoA but I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: I’ve had Foundryside on my radar for a while now and I think it’s finally the time. Magic, politics, a heist, adventure…sign me up!
  • Layla – Colleen Hoover: It’s been hit or miss with Colleen Hoover reads, but I like the sound of this. Hopefully it’s more Verity & It Ends with Us than Confess. I also got it for $2 on kindle, SCORE.
  • The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver: The concept for this sounds kind of weird but I enjoyed Josie Silver’s One Day in December so I’m keen to give this a whirl.
  • From Blood and Ash – Jennifer L. Armentrout: Blame the hype. I have to see what people are talking about. I’m sure it’ll be tropey and cringey to the max but the FOMO is too intense.
  • Today, Tonight, Tomorrow – Rachel Lynn Solomon: This looks like a solid ya rom-com. It also features enemies to lovers (= my crack). I’m worried about rushed development because of the time frame but we shall see.

What’s on your list of backlist books to read in 2021?