Robyn’s Reads of 2021

As you all might have noticed, I’ve taken a bit of a step back from the blog in the past couple of months. Now that I’m working full time, I barely have enough time to read – let alone to write about what I’m reading in any coherent way. Moving into 2022, I’m hoping to continue to contribute occasional reviews and perhaps other posts such as book recommendations, but I won’t take any regular review slots. Despite the chaos, I’ve read some truly brilliant books in 2021, so here are some of the best ones. In no particular order, the books I’d recommend are:

Fantasy:

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

If you’re looking for a well-developed epic fantasy with intricate worldbuilding, complex characters, and lingering tension, this is the book for you. The start of a new series inspired by Indian history, it’s everything I love about the fantasy genre. The sequel, The Oleander Sword, is due for publication next August so there’s plenty of time to get stuck in!

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The sequel to A Deadly Education, Novik’s foray into the ‘magic school’ subgenre, this is a funny, entertaining, and surprisingly insightful novel perfect for fans of excessive sarcasm, antiheroes, and anthropomorphic settings. This is miles better than the already enjoyable first book and the ending sets up a tantalising finale in The Golden Enclaves, slated for a September release.

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

This quiet, atmospheric fantasy novel has crossover appeal to fans of both YA and adult fantasy, and is at its heart a character study about what its actually like being the sort of all-powerful hero foretold in prophecies. Its a beautiful read that packs an emotional punch, and as a standalone there’s no waiting around for any loose ends.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

The only criticism I have about this book is that it’s too short. The start of a new epic fantasy series inspired by the pre-Colombian Americas, its packed with fascinating characters, intriguing worldbuilding, and knife-edge tension. The sequel, Fevered Star, is due for publication in April, and with such a good platform to stand on should take the series to new heights.

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favourite authors, and The Stormlight Archive is his magnum opus – an immense epic fantasy series with unparalleled worldbuilding and characters who couldn’t feel more real. Rhythm of War, the fourth book, takes the series in intriguing new directions, and the ending is so gut wrenching I can’t believe it’ll be a several year wait to find out what happens next. If you haven’t discovered Sanderson yet, now is the perfect time to start.

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

This dark fairytale is perfect for fans of Uprooted, enchanted forests, and lingering atmosphere. The first in a planned duology, the tale will conclude in For the Throne in June.

Science Fiction:

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

The Wayfarers series is like a comforting hug – beautiful, character-driven science fiction that gives you hope for humanity and beyond. Unlike most series, the books are only loosely interconnected and can be read out of order. Chambers has confirmed that this will be the last book, and whilst its sad to come to the end of a tale that cemented my love for the sci-fi genre, this book is a lovely note to end on.

The Second Rebel by Linden A Lewis

The first book in this series, The First Sister, was a solid space opera in the vein of Star Wars – The Second Rebel elevates the potential to new heights, with an intriguing world, complex political dynamics, and fascinating characters. If you’re looking for an intergalactic sci-fi with all the technology, family drama, and witty one-liners of the original Star Wars trilogy, this is the series for you.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

The man who wrote the best-selling The Martian is back with another humorous, science-packed, and clever novel. If you’re looking for a novel that details what it might really be like living in space, with plenty of funny moments thrown in, this could be the book for you.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Dystopia has gone a little out of fashion since the days of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, but if you’re looking for a quieter dystopia and don’t mind a book that makes your head hurt with its complexity, this is a vastly rewarding read.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itaranta

A quiet, atmospheric dystopia highly reminiscent of poetry in its writing style, this is a crossover between science fiction and literary fiction with all the best of both worlds. A surprise discovery that’s been on my to-read list for years, this is a gorgeous feat of wordcraft.

Contemporary:

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

A challenging novel about childhood sexual assault, this is a powerful and gripping read about an immensely important and timely issue.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

A light, fun piece of escapism, this contemporary sapphic romance is the perfect read when you’re having a bad day.

Young Adult:

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

A powerful coming-of-age novel about a teenager with HIV, this is both a highly enjoyable read and an important, educational one. With HIV still so highly stigmatised, this digs deep into the real-life impact without ever losing its accessibility or appeal to a teenage audience.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

An engaging contemporary fantasy about a transgender teen in a conservative Latinx community, this combines fun paranormal elements with serious interrogations of issues including gender, immigration, and class.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar

A coming of age story about identity, art, and purpose, this has some of the most realistic depictions of teenagers I’ve ever seen in fiction. The characters aren’t necessarily likeable, but they’re delightfully real, and highly relatable for any teenager just figuring out growing up.

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

A young adult fantasy set on a series of islands, this is a brilliantly entertaining and exceptionally crafted novel about the power of stories, surviving toxic friendships, and the mysteries of the sea.

Children’s:

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

Last but certainly not least, this delightful story about the friendship between a girl and a polar bear is both a rallying call against climate change and a heartwarming tale for both children and adults alike.

I hope you can find something here that intrigues you! Wishing you all a wonderful 2022 filled with great reads.

Annual Roundup: My Books of 2021

new-years-books

Christmas once again approaches and with it the excuse, should one be needed, to buy books for family and others we care for, including ourselves. The titles selected here represent just some of my personal recommendations from my reading over the past year. I posted reviews for well over one hundred books in 2021 so choosing just a few from the many enjoyed wasn’t easy. I hope those who share my literary tastes will find this post useful, or at least of some interest.

As with my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read my review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

We start with fiction likely to appeal to a wide variety of readers.

stone diaries case study
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, published by World Editions
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet, published by Saraband

Beautifully told stories dealing with just one of the shameful periods in Irish history.

emmet-and-me  small things
Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin, published by Honno
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, published by Faber & Faber

Short stories that capture the Irish mindset with aplomb.

the last resort   intimacies
The Last Resort by Jan Carson, published by Doubleday
Intimacies by Lucy Caldwell, published by Faber & Faber

An academic study of contemporary Northern Irish writing that is fascinating and written to be accessible to all.

northern irish writingNorthern Irish Writing After The Troubles by Caroline Magennis, published by Bloomsbury

Exploring areas of Great Britain – fine non fiction.

coasting  where
Coasting by Jonathan Raban, published by Eland
Where? by Simon Moreton, published by Little Toller

Non fiction with bite.

chauvo feminismChauvo Feminism by Sam Mills, published by The Indigo Press

Fiction with a darker edge.

beasts turned away  fox fires
The Beasts They Turned Away by Ryan Dennis, published by époque press
Fox Fires
by Wyl Menmuir, published by Salt

Fiction that shines a light on our less than admirable behaviours, beautifully told in imaginative ways.

the high house  Pupa
The High House by Jessie Greengrass, published by Swift Press
Pupa by J.O. Morgan, published by Henningham Family Press

Poetry that powerfully explores our present situation, living through a time of plague.

SpringJournal  the heeding
Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, published by CB editions
The Heeding by Rob Cowen, published by Elliott & Thompson

Should have, at least, made the Booker shortlist if not gone all the way.

an islandAn Island by Karen Jennings, published by Holland House Books

Deliciously dark short stories.

dead relativesDead Relatives by Lucie McKnight Hardy, published by Dead Ink

Reminders that I should read more translated fiction.

ramifications  winter flowers
Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París (translated by Christina MacSweeney), published by Charco Press
Winter Flowers by Angélique Villeneuve (translated by Adriana Hunter), published by Peirene Press

For when we need a laugh, within damn fine storytelling.

domestic bliss
Domestic Bliss and Other Disasters by Jane Ions, published by Bluemoose

Encourage children to pick up books by giving them compelling reads.

sunny wicked lady  last bear
Sunny and the Wicked Lady by Alison Moore, published by Salt
The Last Bear by Hannah Gold, published by Harper Collins

So there we have it, 23 books that particularly impressed me, many published by our wonderful small, independent presses – do please support them when you can. Whatever your choice of literature over the festive season and coming year, I wish you many hours of satisfying reading.

Robyn’s Roundup: 20 Highlights of 2020

2020 is almost over! It’s been a strange year in many ways, but perhaps as a form of escapism I’ve read more books this year than I have in the past two years combined. I’m grateful to all of the fantastic authors, editors, publicists, translators, illustrators, and others responsible for creating so many brilliant portals into other worlds for me to escape into – I don’t know what I’d do without them.

As Jackie said in her round-up post last weekend, curating an end-of-year recommendations list is a tough job – every book is special in its own way. This ‘highlights’ list contains books that especially resonated with me and that I’ve found myself thinking about long after I’ve finished reading them. Click on the book title to go to my review or the author’s name to go to the publisher’s website.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Challenger DeepNeal Shusterman – a contemporary with excellent mental health representation

Sorcery of ThornsMargaret Rogerson – fantasy with a strong female protagonist, bisexual representation, and a very interesting cat

Queen of VoltsAmanda Foody – the final book in the ‘Shadow Game’ trilogy packed with LGBT representation and a fascinating magic system

SCIENCE FICTION

Harrow the NinthTamsyn Muir – the second book in the ‘Locked Tomb’ trilogy, filled with more lesbian necromancers in space, utter chaos, and complete hilarity. No sense to be found here

The First SisterLinden A Lewis – Linden’s debut novel, a space opera with own-voices non-binary representation and a central sapphic relationship

FANTASY

The Empire of GoldSA Chakraborty – the final book in the Daevabad trilogy, a fascinating Islamic/Middle Eastern inspired epic fantasy

The Midnight LibraryMatt Haig – contemporary fantasy by the well known self help book author

The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryAlix E Harrow – Alix’s debut novel, a historical portal fantasy with gorgeous prose and a mixed-race protagonist

There Will Come A DarknessKaty Rose Pool – Katy’s debut novel, traditional epic fantasy with LGBT representation and fascinating Roman empire inspired worldbuilding

The Bone Shard DaughterAndrea Stewart – Andrea’s debut novel, East Asian-inspired epic fantasy with a central sapphic relationship and one of the best animal companions of all time

Ninth HouseLeigh Bardugo – dark fantasy, ghosts and secret societies in the heart of Yale

CirceMadeline Miller – a retelling of the Greek myths surrounding the goddess Circe, beautifully written and compelling

CONTEMPORARY FICTION

Anxious PeopleFredrik Backman – a closed-room mystery by the renowned Swedish contemporary author of Beartown and A Man Called Ove

A Girl Made of AirNydia Hetherington – Nydia’s debut novel, a spellbinding tale of a circus entwined with Manx legends

HISTORICAL FICTION

The Sin EaterMegan Campisi – sin eaters atone for the sins of others by taking them on themselves, and are thus shunned from society and banned from communicating – so what happens when a sin eater is the only witness to a crime?

The BetrayalsBridget Collins – blurring the border between historical fiction and fantasy, Collins’ sophomore novel is as gorgeously written as it is packaged

HORROR

Mexican GothicSilvia Moreno Garcia – a classic gothic mansion story set in rural 1950s Mexico

The Year of the WitchingAlexis Henderson – Alexis’s debut novel, the delightfully creepy tale of a Judeo-Christian cult

OVERALL FAVOURITES

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueVE Schwab – the beautifully written story of a girl who makes a deal with the devil to live forever – but in turn is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets

The Once and Future WitchesAlix E Harrow – an alternate history in which the US suffragette movement turns to witchcraft, packed with gorgeous prose and evocative imagery

I hope you’ve discovered lots of brilliant books in 2020 and that there’s something here that interests you! Here’s to a great 2021.

Annual Roundup: My Books of 2020

2020 may not yet be over but, as in previous years, I’ve chosen to put out my annual roundup before Christmas. Books make the perfect gifts, especially as they are easy to wrap and mostly not too pricey. These are my personal recommendations from the titles I’ve reviewed over the past 12 months. It’s not a ‘best of’ list – who am I to judge what is best when so many titles exist and I have only managed to read a few? Rather, this selection highlights some of my favourites – books that I enjoyed reading and that continue to resonate. I hope those who share my literary tastes may find it useful, or at least of some interest.

I posted reviews for just over 100 books on my blog in 2020. Since Robyn took on the role of my intern in June, she has contributed many more. Robyn’s recommendations will be listed in a separate post to be published next weekend.

As with my monthly roundups, click on the title below to read my review and on the cover to learn more about the book.

 

Let’s start with fiction. These first two books tell compelling stories that bite.

 
The Mating Habits of Stags by Roy Robinson, published by Lightning Books
The Nacullians by Craig Jordan-Baker, published by époque press

 

The next two selected are, on the surface, more everyday tales but contain pleasing depth.

 
Cat Step by Alison Irvine, published by Dead Ink
The Blackbird by Claire Allen, published by Henningham Family Press

 

Two that hold a darkness within their pages but not one that overshadows the fine storytelling.

 
The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes, published by oneworld
How Pale the Winter Has Made Us by Adam Scovell, published by Influx

 

For those who want straightforward but still fully rounded stories that are both engaging and entertaining (also proof that I do not only read books from my beloved independent presses!)

 
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, published by Doubleday
V for Victory by Lissa Evans, published by Doubleday

 

More challenging to read but well worth considering.

 
Lake of Urine by Guillermo Stitch, published by Sagging Meniscus
Beastings by Benjamin Myers, originally released by Bluemoose Books, now published by Bloomsbury

 

I also enjoy short stories and these two collections delivered plenty of food to satisfy a variety of literary appetites.

 
London Gothic by Nicholas Royle, published by Cōnfingō
She-Clown and Other Stories by Hannah Vincent, published by Myriad Editions

 

Micro story collections offering short tales that are cleverly complete – they also contain a generous dollop of humour.

 
Postcard Stories 2 by Jan Carson, published by The Emma Press
You Ruin It When You Talk by Sarah Manvel, published by Open Pen

 

Single story chapbooks that pack a punch – so much conveyed in just a few pages.

 
A Stone Statue in the Future by Benjamin Myers, jointly published by Bluemoose and Little Toller
Signal by Michael Walters, published by Nightjar

 

Poetry with the potential to appeal to all readers.

 
Vertigo to Go by Brendon Booth-Jones, published by The Hedgehog Press
London Undercurrents by Joolz Sparks and Hilaire, published by Holland Park Press

 

On then to non fiction. Two books that encourage the reader to look at our world anew.

 
The Secret Life of Fungi by Aliya Whiteley, published by Elliott & Thompson
Unofficial Britain by Gareth E. Rees, published by Elliott & Thompson

 

Proving that non fiction prose can be piercing yet written with poetic beauty.

 
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, published by Tramp Press
My Second Home by Dave Haslam, published by Cōnfingō

 

This illustrated book has been widely publicised with captions quoted as offering help in adversity – something that can put me off a title – but was exactly what I needed in this difficult year.


The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, published by Ebury Press

 

23 books that particularly impressed me – all but 3 published by small, independent presses. Whatever your choice of literature over the festive season and coming year, I wish you many hours of satisfying reading.

Annual Roundup: My Books of 2019

Before anyone points it out, I know there are still a couple of weeks left in the year. Plenty of time to read a few more books and maybe find a gem that could have made it into my annual list of recommendations. However, with January fast approaching I need to make a start on my 2020 TBR pile. Also, I like to get this list out before Christmas in case it tempts anyone to buy another easy to wrap present, or to treat themselves.

A quick count suggests I have read around 135 books so far this year. Unlike Lucy Ellmann (author of the critically acclaimed tome, Ducks, Newburyportand seemingly fond of making sweeping, controversial statements when interviewed), I enjoy reading contemporary fiction including quality crime fiction. Many of the titles selected below were published this year. Not all though. Let’s start with the books I read in 2019 that were not new releases and that I am happy to recommend.

Click on the title to read my review. Click on the cover to find out more about the book.

   
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, published by Corsair
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, published by Picador

   
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges, published by Fox, Finch and Tepper
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, published by Salt


On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe, published by Little Toller

 

It is fair to say that I enjoy translated fiction from around the world. Books selected for translation will generally have been well received in their original language before being published in English – many are award winners. These are just a few read this year that I particularly recommend.

 
Katalin Street by Magda Szabó (translated by Len Rix), published by MacLehose Press
Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn), Published by Charco Press

 
A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig (translated by Anne Milano Appel), published by World Editions
The German House by Annette Hess (translated by Elisabeth Lauffer), published by Harper Via

 

Short Story collections are, apparently, more difficult to sell than novels. Given modern man’s allegedly shortening attention span this seems strange to me. If tempted to dip in then these two books are worth considering – quality writing telling succinct, captivating tales.

 
Witches Sail in Eggshells by Chloe Turner, published by Reflex Press
This Way to Departures by Linda Mannheim, published by Influx Press

 

Most non fiction is chosen by readers because the subject matter is of interest. Sometimes, however, a book is just so original, well written and entertaining that it is worth reading however much (or little) the headline topic may appeal. I believe every reader would find the following two titles both interesting and engaging.

 
Car Park Life by Gareth E. Rees, published by Influx Press
The White Heron Beneath The Reactor by Gary Budden, with artwork by Maxim Griffin

 

Children’s fiction is a genre I would like to read more of. Treat the young readers in your life to this, the second in a series that I am enjoying immensely.


Sunny and the Hotel Splendid by Alison Moore (illustrated by Ross Collins), published by Salt

 

My next recommendation is a recent read so hasn’t yet had time to prove it will linger. Nevertheless, I’m including it because it was so compelling and hard hitting – YA Fiction to open eyes to the challenges faced by troubled teens.


The Raven Wheel by AF Stone, published by The Book Guild

 

Crime fiction is a popular but crowded genre so authors have to offer something special to be noticed. The Marnie Rome series, which I believe finished with this next recommendation (I have read and enjoyed all six books in the series), does so with ease.


Never Be Broken by Sarah Hilary, published by Headline

 

On then to new releases in general, sometimes described as literary, fiction. This includes titles with greater or lesser elements of fantasy – isn’t all fiction an imaginative creation? My longest list of recommendations as it is the type of book I read most often.

 
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession, published by Bluemoose Books
Mothlight by Adam Scovell, published by Influx

 
The Fire Starters by Jan Carson, published by Doubleday
Flotsam by Meike Ziervogel, published by Salt

 
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, published by Granta Books
The Offing by Benjamin Myers, published by Bloomsbury

 
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay, published by Atlantic Books
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, published by Harvill Secker

 

Twenty-four books is more than I would usually include in my annual roundup but I decided not to cull my choices further as all of the above deserve consideration. I hope that each of you will find something of interest in my recommendations. I wish you many hours of satisfying reading.

 

A year of blogging

Today is my blogging anniversary, a year to the day since I pressed publish on my first post. I am still very much a small time blogger. I have never been Freshly Pressed, never had a post published outside of WordPress. I have built up a following of just over 200 people and am grateful to each and every one of my readers for taking the time to peruse what I write. I am particularly grateful to those who like or comment on my posts, but just knowing that I am being read gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The positive and personal interaction that I have discovered in the blogging community has been a welcome surprise.

This will be the 266th post that I have published on neverimitate. I have also published 13 short stories on my fiction blog Dreams and Demons, which I created just over a month ago and has a mere 20 followers to date. I tend to pick up more readers for my short stories on ReadWave (zeudytigre) and Wattpad (zeudytigre), which makes me think that keeping my fiction separate to my personal blog was the right thing to do.

When I started blogging I put a link to each post on my personal Facebook page. I have since set up a separate page, Zeudytigre, that anyone interested in reading my posts can like and thereby get the links on their timeline. Although I also put links to posts on my Twitter feed (followthehens) I find self promotion tough. I want to be read but feel awkward putting myself out there.

Over the course of the year my blog has been viewed just short of 10,000 times. The most views I have ever had in a day is 222, normally this figure is a lot lower. My husband laughs at my stats. I point out that whilst it would obviously be pleasing if they were higher, they are not why I write.

My readers have come from 73 different countries and have found me via 63 different referrers, mainly search engines and links on other blogs. The most popular tags and categories have been Home and Family, no surprises there.

The biggest surprise has been how much I have enjoyed this exercise. I have written far more than I expected to and am deriving a great deal of pleasure from the creative process. Although I still tend to write whatever comes into my head on a given day, I have learned that some topics are covered much more succinctly by others. There are some very talented writers out there and I have enjoyed following their trajectory as their skills are recognised and their work published more widely.

From my own little corner of WordPress though, I will continue to write about whatever comes to mind, to join in the Blog Hops and Prompts, and to try to grow as a writer, even if I am still uncomfortable calling myself that.

My main message for today, on my first blogoversary, is thank you for reading.

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“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”
—Ray Bradbury