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Sunday, January 3, 2021

2020 Review / 2021 Preview - Łukasz Przywóski

2020 was a strange one. All doom & gloom, wherever you look. Good books, sport, and work helped me to cope with these interesting times. I read a lot of books this year. A lot.

Without further ado, here are my ten favorite reads of 2019. Not all were published in recent years. I see no reason to limit myself this way. What makes them best for me? Well, it's easy. Not all of these books got a stellar rating from me, but these are the books I found most memorable and impactful at the end of the year. In other words, I just can't get them out of my head.

Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley - Pretty Little Dead Girls is in turns sad and funny, heart-breaking and heart-warming. Above all, though, it's beautiful. 

I absolutely loved it.

Sweet Harmony by Claire North - Times being what they are, I should probably pick more optimistic titles. But I have no regrets. Claire North has mastered the novella format. In Sweet Harmony, every word counts, every scene serves a goal, and Harmony's decisions have a cost. North's take on nano-upgrades, a sense of identity, and addiction is terrifying, plausible, and intelligent. An outstanding novella.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. Jones Mandell - Like “Station Eleven,” "The Glass Hotel" is a puzzle book. Mandel isn't afraid to use flashbacks, flash-forwards, alternating points-of-view, and alternate realities, to tell the story of two siblings moving in and out of each other’s lives.

I'll keep my review short. You'll easily find in-depth studies of this book elsewhere. If you loved Station Eleven, you'll love The Glass Hotel. It's beautifully written, haunting, and unforgettable.

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman - Buehlman twists the vampire mythos and makes it feel fresh. His vamps, a tribe of unscrupulous blood-drinking monsters preying on humans, ARE about death. Joey’s voice entertains and is a source of many laughs but don’t trust him. He’s a deceiver waiting to break you.

The ending is vicious. That’s all I have to say.

A terrific read.

The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley - it's lyrical and bizarre. It analyzes the nature of love and the illusions we choose to feel good. In Whiteley's world, people shed their skin (and with it their feelings) every seven years. It was a difficult read. I can't say I love it (heck, I'm not even sure if I like it) but I can't get it out of my head.

For a Breath I Tarry  by Roger Zelazny - a brilliant novelette that aged well (It's almost 60 years old and still packs a punch). It focuses on a computing machine's quest to understand the nature of Man, an extinct species. Nobody gets killed, there's no actual action or an army of robots and yet it makes you think and feel. A thing of beauty.

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand - I loved everything about it. The mystery, the supernatural, the suspense. It left me confused and hungry for more.

The Scaled Tartan by Raymond St. Elmo - the last book in St. Elmo's excellent Quest of the Five Clans Series. I loved it, it's a perfect conclusion to the insane series playing with subgenres and not being afraid (or ashamed) to be different.

Kings of Heaven by Richard Nell - A spectacular culmination to the Ash and Sand trilogy. As a whole, the series is a masterpiece. If you haven't read it yet, you should ask yourself what the hell is wrong with you.

Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher - Black Stone Heart is addictive and compulsively readable - it forced me to prolong my lunch as much as I dared because I couldn’t bear to stop reading it. If anything depended on me, I would forbid Fletcher to work on anything but The Obsidian Path series. I need the sequel.

Graphic Novels

I got myself a Comixology account. It's frightening how easy it is to spend money there. It's a bottomless money pit. And yet, I regret nothing. It allowed me to catch up on reading graphic novels. The three standouts are:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - Amazing. I bought all three collected editions in hardcover and I'm waiting for the new entries in the series.

Something is Killing The Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell'Ederra - Wow. Tynion IV doesn't pull any punches but he knows what he's doing. In Something is Killing the Children, he finds a perfect balance between a morbid, disturbing atmosphere and dramatic writing. Add haunting artwork to the mix, and you get something special. Loved it.

East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta - I want more graphic novels like EAST OF WEST. It stands apart from most of the releases and awes with a futuristic/sci-fi Western feel. From the illustrations to the writing, it delivers BIG TIME. So, if you're looking for a genre-bending, character-driven story about the apocalypse, it's here. And it's great.

TV Series

I don't play games, but I like movies and TV Series. Interestingly, I had little interest in bingeing anything this year. The three shows that bullied me into doing it were:

Queen's Gambit - Say what you will, but it's one of the best Netflix mini-series ever.

Doom Patrol Season 2 - They did it again. Love the series.

Umbrella Academy Season 2 - I wasn't crazy about UA's season 1 so I had little expectations about season 2. What I got was a pleasant surprise. An excellent TV show with great character development and strong acting.

Anticipated in 2021

I have plenty of stuff to read in 2021, but I'll mention three new series/books I'm excited about.

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman - I've read all of Buehlman's published books. I'm beyond excited to check his first fantasy series.

The Empire's Ruin by Brian Staveley - Staveley's The Chronicles of The Unhewn Throne series is in my Top 5 fantasy series ever. I need this book asap.

Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky - Tchaikovsky's Dogs of War is one of my favorite books ever. As soon as I get my hands on Bear Head, its sequel, everything else will have to wait. Basically, I'll read anything Tchaikovsky publishes.

Other than that, I'll read anything published by indie authors I follow: Craig Schaeffer, Raymond St. Elmo, M.D. Presley, Richard Nell, Dom Watson, Michael R. Fletcher, Angela Boord.



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