2020 Year in Review: Turbulent Highs, Lows, and a Preview of What’s Next

I’m not going to lie, but 2020 is a rough one, folks. It felt (still, feels) like an avalanche of misfortune after another, and everything just snowballed to a point where I couldn’t even tell apart my emotions anymore. The turbulent turns in this year has left me overwhelmed by so much intense sentiments. I’ve felt alive, dead, and sometimes both at the same time.

Most prominent feeling I’ve had throughout the year, though, is loss. This was my final year of university (I’ve graduated this past May). I lost out on having my family visiting and attending my graduation. I lost out on hanging out with my friends in our final semester and spent months practically isolated from them. The pandemic has also thrown a wrench in my post-graduation job-hunting plans to the point I wish I’d delayed graduation, or applied to grad school instead. I’m finding myself losing more and more brainpower compared to when I’m still active in school (so much that I desperately go through some mental gymnastics to find a way to put academic spins on the books I read, just so that my brain doesn’t get left unused). I’m spending much of being 21 in lethargy, loss, regret, anxiety, fear, and frustration.

On the other hand, however, this year has made me realise that I should be grateful for how I still manage to coast through the year. I’m privileged enough to still have my family around to support me even when I’m unemployed (my parents have even asked if I want to return to school, something I may have to put on hold until 2022 at earliest due to some circumstances), and that I’m still able to read and buy the special editions of books I want. I still can get in touch with my friends, old and new, who readily provide emotional support whenever I need it.

In spite of the epic mess that is 2020, I’ve managed to cope by picking up several things to help me pass the time: I’ve picked up learning Korean (y’all can blame my newfound obsession with K-pop and dramas this year) and French, working on my cooking skills (shoutout to my mom with her insights on seasonings and ingredients; the Gordon Ramsay videos with their hilarious roasting and to-do/not-to-do lists; and my oldest brother who’s been a constant subject to my experiments), and managed to also come back to revive The Books are Rising after a 9 month hiatus. This gives me hope that perhaps I’m not so much of a useless person after all, and maybe all these new things I’ve set out to do would enhance my quality of life in the coming years.

Besides that, it really has been a good year for reading. There were so much incredible books releasing this year (not that the previous years have sucked in releases, but 2020 just had this astonishing spike of book releases that truly impressed me). Sure, a lot of people manage to read 100-200 books (at least as far as I know), but reading 22 books is already such an accomplishment for me. Coming back to revive The Books are Rising after a 9 month hiatus has not been a fleeting mistake after all. I’ve also been extremely lucky to have been provided early copies by publishers to review. I’d been excited to review books and share my opinions to every one of you, and this year I truly felt that love and passion reciprocated.

One thing I’m also really grateful for is the fact that I’ve decided to branch out from YA SFF to Adult SFF. I’d grown up on YA books (e.g. The Hunger Games, The Young Elites, the Lorien Legacies series) and been stuck entirely in the genre through high school and well through half of my university studies. Until 2019, where I’d discovered The Poppy War and found a whole new world that was both familiar and new. Needless to say, my shelves ended up suffering for it ٩(◕‿◕)۶

I won’t go through *all* the books I’ve read and featured here; but I particularly enjoyed Anna Stephen’s The Stone Knife, Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun, Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter, and it would be a crime for me to forget R.F. Kuang’s The Burning God. There’s a reason I featured these books on this blog (☆ω☆) If you’re curious about these titles, they can be found under my Reviews List! In case some of you are new here, the common trend here is that I would review the books that I’m really excited for, and I would post my reviews here regardless if I loved them (last year I didn’t review much and what I did review I ended up loving; and this year happens to be one where there were just tons of books I adored) or if I was sorely disappointed.

Without further ado, here are some books that made their unique impressions on me. The good, the bad, the astounding, the underwhelming. Here are the spotlights of this year.

2020 Year in Review Spotlights

The Year of the Witching (Bethel #1)
Verdict: Underrated Book of the Year #1

I discovered this book when Rena Barron (author of Kingdom of Souls) recommended it on Twitter. I’m not typically one for horrors, but this book surprised me in all the good ways. I came in expecting more witchery, but found a more morbid, heart-pounding journey of reformation from a puritanical, oppressive society rooted in fanatic evangelism. I hadn’t read much dystopian nowadays but Henderson’s thrilling and cinematic writing make for an achingly tense and exciting return to the genre. The darkly horrific imagery, twisted allusions to the Christian Bible, and the blunt depiction of Bethel’s grim reality makes for a brilliant blend of horror and paranormal fantasy – forming a unique entry in the dystopia genre.

The City We Became (The Great Cities #1)
Verdict: Underrated Book of the Year #2

There’s no way I could let this book go unnoticed! I heard Lovecratian monstrosity + Power Rangers + NYC + found family and I went running for this book. Jemisin’s writing is truly impressive. Her characters are complex, nuanced, and incredibly human with all the good/bad/pretty/ugly that entails. This ode to New York City is a very unapologetic book that doesn’t exactly deliver its angry message against bigotry and racism in a subtle way. It’s also a very timely book calling out the worst monsters, especially ones who tend to think themselves as nice people who only “try to be decent.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Verdict: This ain’t it for me, chief

I really wish this book had stuck its landing with me better than it actually did. The concept of an woman stuck in an immortal, yet damned-to-be-forgotten existence in a slow-burn fantasy sprawling 3-centuries had caught my attention the second this book was announced. For a story of a woman who’s been through a lot of pivotal moments in history and culture, and was said to be longing for more to see in the world, this story unfortunately ended up being stuck on the same, self-absorbed, Eurocentric scope and ultimately became repetitive in dynamic. I liked the prose, though.

My full review here.

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights #1)
Verdict: A♯ writing

This book had a very risky package: a re-imagination of the Shakespearian classic Romeo and Juliet (with all its romantic angst) set in 1920s Shanghai, a particularly gruesome horror, and a commentary on Western imperialism. Gong pulls this intricate and sophisticated story off masterfully, filled to the brim with with violence, pain, and heartbreak set in an exquisite blend of richly layered history and fiction. Most of all, however, I adored Gong’s chilling, sharp writing. The chapters depicting her monster are a perfect depiction of an unknown, potentially supernatural horror – and I really hope this aspect of her writing returns in the sequel (out Fall 2021).

My full review here.

The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire #1)
Verdict: Debut of the Year

This book pleaseth me in all the right ways. This East Asian-inspired fantasy has wickedly clever plotting, seamlessly interwoven storylines, superb world-building, sharp and disturbing genius in the magic system, rich and compelling characters. Stewart’s larger-than-life epic presents an enjoyable and vivid reading experience coursing through numerous intrigue and mysteries that plague the empire as its Emperor’s failing rule invite whispers of revolution. The second book The Bone Shard Emperor is slated for release on November 11th 2021!

My full review here

The Stone Knife (Songs of the Drowned #1)
Verdict: Bloody insidious

The Stone Knife is grimdark with heart. Stephens brings out her core strengths present in her previous books: visceral prose, bloody carnages, violent clash of beliefs, and masterful character work; and sets them in an ambitiously complex world to explore her equally ambitious themes. Never has music sounded more terrifying in The Stone Knife, where colonialism is as unapologetically bloody as it is devious. This beautifully woven and executed book is indisputably one of the most impressively insidious entries in the fantasy genre I’ve read in 2020.

My full review here

The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)
Verdict: Read of the Year

I’ve been a huge fan of Kuang’s The Poppy War series, and this searing finale did not disappoint. This book sees through the completion of the overarching themes the series have set out to explore, and Kuang’s narration spares no mercy as Rin’s journey is brought to a final reckoning in its riveting, heartbreaking, and perfect conclusion. Kuang also flexes her academic prowess with several eerie historic parallels as she laments not only the devastating horrors of war, but also how a revolution struggles to keep its flame.

My full review here

2021 Previews!

2020 is coming to an end, and publishers are gearing up to plug their 2021 releases. Needless to say, I’m quite excited for a few titles (some of which I’ve read, reviews pending!) and really think y’all need to gear up for these too. Strap on, folks, we are in for quite an onslaught.

Winter’s Orbit
Verdict: I think this one’s to be a sleeper hit

I liked Winter’s Orbit for what it ended up becoming for me: a quick, refreshing, and delightful book full of sweet slow-burn, nuanced romance between two people brimming with history and circumstance wrapped in an intriguing, twisty space opera. It also handles the sensitive, heavy topic it sets out to do in a mature and realistic way. I may have longed for more in terms of world/space-building, but what this book has it does really well. The diversity in this book is impressive, and I liked how easy and accessible Maxwell’s prose is. It’s definitely something I would recommend to Science Fiction-Fantasy fans looking for a quick, comforting bite of romance as this book would appeal for fans of both genres.

My full review coming real soon after the New Year! Winter’s Orbit is slated for release on February 2nd 2021 (US) and February 4th 2021 (UK)

Reaper of Souls (Kingdom of Souls #2)
Verdict: Reapeth these feels of mine

This roaring sequel of Kingdom of Souls absolutely has everything I wanted in it: dark plot, more drama, generous helpings of insane plot twists, and high-octane suspense on top. It’s a profound book exploring passion, hard decisions, and heavy consequences that come with every single choice transcending ancestral lines. It may be a much more intimate, emotional, and character-driven book compared to its predecessor, but it is no less explosive (if not even more). This impossible-to-put-down book promises an explosive finale to this epic West African-inspired fantasy trilogy I sure wouldn’t want to miss.

My full review here. Reaper of Souls is slated for release on February 16th 2021 (US) and February 18th 2021 (UK)

She Who Became The Sun (The Radiant Emperor #1)
Verdict: Radiantly awe-inspiring

A bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor, founder of the Ming dynasty) where a girl strives to escape from her fate of nothingness, even if it meant stealing her brother’s identity. After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against the harsh Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness. I’m (still) in awe of this ferocious beast. It offers a dazzling, exciting re-imagination of Chinese-Mongolian history, yet it stays true to its dark, blood-soaked roots.

My full review coming soon! She Who Became the Sun is slated for release on July 20th 2021 (US) and July 22nd 2021 (UK)

The Mask Falling (The Bone Season #4)

Samantha Shannon makes her comeback, and this year it’s the long-awaited fourth book of her The Bone Season series. This is the middle point of the 7-book series, and Shannon has pitched this book as the one where this series’ scope truly expands to reveal just why this series had to be 7 books. Bring on The Mask Falling!

The Mask Falling releases on January 26th 2021

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost #1)

A sapphic North African-inspired epic political fantasy where two women (a cranky princess, and a cranky soldier) clash in a world full of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire.

I’ve been fortunate to have received a review copy of this book! I’ve heard tons of good things about this book, and I cannot wait to get to read my review copy!

The Unbroken is slated for release on March 23rd 2021 (US) and March 25th 2021 (UK)

The Shadow in the Glass

I was told this book would be a dark, gothic retelling of Cinderella set in Victorian London perfect for fans of Erin Morgenstern — and I was immediately sold. I’ve heard good things about this book, and I’m excited to see how Harwood puts her spin on this classic fairy tale.

The Shadow in the Glass is slated for release on March 18th 2021

Malice

A sapphic retelling of Sleeping Beauty where the dark fairy has to race against time to stop her only friend’s (maybe more?) deathly curse and undergoes a corruption arc? SIGN ME UP.
I always have a soft spot for dark, passionate, morally gray stories—such as The Poppy War and The Young Elites—where the main characters aren’t so good, ruthless, and cruel.

Malice is slated for release on April 13th 2021

The House of Always (A Chorus of Dragons #4)

Well, well, well… the powerhouse author Jenn Lyons will be back with the fourth book in her Chorus of Dragons series! This series has absolutely got everything: dragons, magic, assassins, everyone’s queer, diverse, polyamory, twisted relationships, secret children, death, sex, rich history and world building. After the cliffhanger in the third book Memory of Souls, I expect a lot of stuff to go down in House of Always so I probably should prepare tons of brain cells to keep up!

The House of Always is slated for release on May 11th 2021

Threadneedle (The Language of Magic #1)

If any of you follow me on Twitter, I think y’all would know this title is one of my most anticipated reads of 2021! This upcoming series is set in contemporary London where magic exists on the fringes. Vintage shops that sell memories, underground libraries where librarians feed off words, and most of all, clubs where revellers get high on spells! That last bit, was the one push this book needed for me to get on board, as I am extremely curious of how that would work neurochemistry-wise (this is what being a recent Psychology graduate who took Neuropsychology courses does to yours truly). I will definitely update y’all on Twitter (and this site, once I have finished my full review) once I get my hands on this book!

Threadneedle is slated for release on May 27th 2021

How We Fall Apart

I’m a simple man. I heard dark academia + Crazy Rich Asians + thriller, and I’m already adding this book to my list of 2021 anticipated reads!

How We Fall Apart is slated for release on August 3rd 2021

The Second Rebel (The First Sister #2)

Lewis’s debut The First Sister was a ferocious space epic that I absolutely loved for its unapologetic, fearless attitude. I’m definitely on the edge of my seat for this sequel!

The Second Rebel is slated for release on August 24th 2021

(I also did a Q&A with Lewis to celebrate The First Sister‘s publication)

Iron Widow (Iron Widow #1)

A Pacific Rim x The Handmaid’s Tale retelling of the rise of Wu Zetian (the only female Emperor in Chinese history) in which a re-imagined version of her avenges her sister’s murder by an intensely patriarchal military system that pairs boys and girls up to pilot giant magical mecha based on creatures from East Asian myth (Nine-Tailed Fox, Moon Rabbit, etc.), but in which boy pilots are treated like celebrities, while girl pilots must serve as their concubines.

Xiran Jay Zhao is not here to play 🔥🔥🔥🔥 I am so ready for this book!

Iron Widow is slated for release on Fall 2021

Jade Fire Gold

In order to save her grandmother from a cult of dangerous priests, a peasant girl cursed with the power to steal souls enters a tenuous alliance with an exiled prince bent on taking back the Dragon Throne. The pair must learn to trust each other but are haunted by their pasts—and the true nature of her dark magic. This East Asian myth and folk tales-inspired fantasy has lots of good stuff going on for it, and I surely have high hopes for it.

This book is slated for release on November 2nd 2021.


I’m sure 2021 still has many more good books up its sleeve, so feel free to hit up the comments with your own list of anticipated reads! What book really impressed you in 2020, or what book you wish had stuck its landing better? How did you cope with 2020? Hit up the comment section too! Feel free to share a 2020 Year In Review of your own 😉😉

And that is all for me, folks! If you’re in a region where winter has come, bundle up and drink some hot beverage. If you’re in a region where the heat still perseveres, enjoy some icy delicacies. Cozy up however fits you!

Happy holidays (as happy as it can get), and let’s see each other again in the new year with hope for a more uplifting year! ヽ(o^▽^o)ノ

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