2020 was a terrible year in way too many respects, so it was a pleasure to be blessed with enough time to escape from it into books as often as I did.
Despite the time needed for the kiddo’s online schooling, and my striving to do more self-improvement and write more this year, while being a busy stay-at-home dad on all other fronts as well, I’m pretty sure the volume of my reading has gone up since last year. (Long-time readers may recall that early this year I decided to stop keeping a strict count of what I’ve read.)
And of course, even when we aren’t trying to keep favourites in mind as we see movies and hear music and read books, favourites inevitably emerge.
In chronological order as I read them, my top picks of the year are:
The story of a character seeking penance in a world where magic was recently wielded with an iron fist by what became an oligarchy, leading to the rise of a rabidly opposed, militaristic faction whose faith lies only in what can be built. This is a long-ass book, clocking in a several hundred pages, and was dense enough that when I put it down about half way through for a short period, I was lost on key elements and had to start again. Given how frustratingly slowly I read, that was real dedication, earned entirely by how well crafted and engaging this world and characters are.
It was worth every minute.
Easily my new favourite adventure fantasy series. A city in the midst of monster-ravaged wood has several guilds where the best and brightest are chosen to live and work when they’re of age. The main character’s promising future, however, is derailed when the bottom-of-the-barrel adventurers guild selects him to join them. His best friend chooses to join as well, for ulterior reasons, and together they uncover a plot already in motion to take down the city from within.
This is one of those books–one of those whole series–that is far better written than others of its genre. Even for casually interested readers, I can’t recommend these books enough.
A family man has his head injured in a bicycle accident and suddenly decides that he’d prefer to live on his own in a nearby forest in a tent. There, he kills a moose to eat, only to find out doing so orphaned a young moose who takes a liking to him and effectively becomes part pet and part companion.
His monologues blend with interactions with the baby moose and other people, and delve into the purpose of his life.
Bittersweet as a whole but much funnier than I had expected it to be.
A heartwarming and at times laugh-out-loud funny look at Gondelman’s life and thought processes. It wouldn’t work half as well on any front if Gondelman wasn’t as blunt and honest about laying himself bare, but doing so is what achieves the excellent result. Easily the funniest book I read this year.
Red and Blue are the names of two time-travelling agents of different factions who are each tasked with undoing the work–ideally the very existence–of the other agent and faction, in order to better control what happens along myriad time threads. But what happens when they no longer wish to destroy the other, but instead find the other intriguing? Even… appealing?
Stories where time travel is possible, particularly new takes on them, are tricky to do effectively. El-Mohtar and Gladstone weave an engaging, fresh tale of what happens when two people struggle to give up everything they are to get everything they want.
The second book in Lansdale’s excellent Hap and Leonard series finds the two old friends thrown into another mystery. Leonard has inherited some money and a house from his uncle, but on top of now living next to crack dealers, everything Leonard thought he knew about his uncle is thrown upside down when he finds a child’s skeleton buried under the floorboards with old porno magazines.
As with other Lansdale books, this one isn’t for the easily offended. But if you like well-written, tight action and dialogue from believable characters in an engaging mystery, Mucho Mojo is well worth your time.
Stephanie Edgley inherits her uncle’s mansion and fortune, and she suddenly finds herself the focus of attention of creatures of the night she never knew existed. A magical reanimated skeleton–less horrific than wryly comedic and overly self-confident– comes to her rescue and helps her to figure out what secrets her family has hidden that has now drawn so much interest. The top-notch first book of a lengthy series.
Life can be Hell, particularly when you were literally sent there and had to fight your way back to Earth to kill the people who put you there after killing the love of your life. Just ask James “Sandman Slim” Stark, who was badass enough to not only survive but make a name for himself down there, who still has connections up here, and who has brought up a couple of items to help him get revenge.
Open Borders is simply a fantastic, gradually build-up explanation for what would happen globally if anyone who wanted to move anywhere was free to do so. (In short: Way more demonstrable good than potential bad for the individuals, their families, and the countries they move to.) Caplan does an exceptional job of breaking down all common arguments against immigration and uses real-world facts and numbers to explain why the arguments aren’t based on reality. Excellent and eye-opening.
In this turn of the (previous) century tale, Mary Quinn is a young British lady who has had a rough life and turned to crime, but has been caught and sentenced to be killed for it. Unbeknownst to her, she has also been watched for some time by a top secret all-female agency that takes on high risk, sensitive cases which other organizations aren’t suited to handle.
Using their school-for-girls front, The Agency spirits Mary away from the prison and raises her before giving her the opportunity to work for them.
I’m usually not a big fan of turn of the century settings, but this was was so engrossing so quickly, and so well done, that I put the rest of the series on hold at the library before I was even through this one.