Coulda, Shoulda, Didn’t: Books I Failed to Read in 2020

Posted 19th January 2021 by Sia in Top Ten Tuesdays / 2 Comments


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I don’t do this on weeks the prompts don’t interest me, but I quite like this one: Books I Meant to Read In 2020 but Didn’t Get To. Does anyone ever get to every book they mean to read???

Looking back, I’m pretty pleased that I read (or tried to read) all of the books on my Most Anticipated Releases of 2020 list! And in fact, there were very few 2020 releases that I was interested in which I didn’t get to. So while this list has a few 2020 releases on it, it’s mostly just…books I meant to read last year and didn’t, regardless of the year they were published! I think the prompt is phrased in a way that allows that.

So, not counting books I DNF-ed or set aside to try again later, here are 10 books I meant to read last year and still really need to get to!

The Sunken Mall by K.D. Edwards
Genres: Queer Protagonists
Representation: Gay MC, M/M, queernorm world

Brand and Rune will generally do anything to avoid equinox shopping, but they're determined to buy their ward, Max, gifts to make him feel like a member of the household.

That's when the principality Ciaran tells them about the Sunken Mall. In the early days of translocating buildings to the city of New Atlantis, there were...mistakes. There's a myth - which Ciaran claims is real - of an entire mall that was lost during Christmastime in the 80s. Ciaran knows the location: it's hidden deep in the island bedrock, undisturbed for decades.

What could go wrong?

How have I still not read this yet?! The Tarot Sequence is my favourite ongoing series, so what the hell??? But I was weirdly cruel to myself last year and didn’t let myself do a lot of rereading – and I really want to read Sunken Mall in its chronological order, which means rereading Last Sun first.

Which I should sit down and do, because, you know, Last Sun is a joy and what even is wrong with me???

Ember Boys (Flint and Tinder, #1) by Gregory Ashe
Genres: Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bisexual MC

Emmett Bradley thinks his adventures are over. Together with his friends, he stopped an ancient evil and lived to tell about it. But life as a survivor, even as a survivor of a victory, isn’t easy, and when Emmett runs away from Vehpese, Wyoming, he takes a few things with him: a battered ego, a broken heart, and his addictions. He’s lucky that Jim Spencer, his former English teacher, happens to have ended up in the same small, coastal town. He’s even luckier that Jim is doing everything he can to help Emmett hold himself together.

When Emmett’s parents commit him to the psychiatric ward of an infamous hospital, though, Emmett finds himself struggling day to day to remember that the life he’s lived—a life with monsters and psychics—is real. Every day, he finds himself a little less certain that he can trust any of his memories.

A chance encounter with a strange girl, though, forces Emmett to confront the possibility that things around him aren’t quite what they seem. The hospital may not actually be a hospital. His adventures may not be over. And the ancient evil he stopped in Wyoming might have been only one strand in a larger web.

Then Emmett is attacked by a dead man, and he realizes that he’s caught up in a war he doesn’t understand. He must hurry to learn the truth about what’s going on, and he’ll need Jim’s help to do it. He just has to convince his old teacher that things between them aren’t too complicated already—but first, Emmett will have to convince himself.

Note: Emmett has previously appeared in the Hollow Folk series.

This is the start of a sequel/spin-off series to the Hollow Folk books, aka one of the greatest series to ever exist. And yet, I haven’t opened up Ember Boys! Mostly because I’ve felt too fragile to make it through a Hollow Folk reread, and am willing to bet Ember Boys isn’t going to be soft and fluffy either. I need to work myself up to this level of angst, okay?

The Storm of Life (The Brilliant Death, #2) by A.R. Capetta
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Secondary World Fantasy
Representation: Genderfluid MCs, NB/NB

The sumptuous and powerful conclusion to the gender-fluid duet begun by The Brilliant Death, hailed by Kirkus as "a delicious and magical intrigue too tempting not to devour" (starred review).

Teodora diSangro and Cielo, the strega she loves, are on a mission to save their country of Vinalia from its manipulative leader, who wants to exploit streghe and use them as his weapons. But will marshaling a small but powerful band of streghe be enough to wrest power from a cunning dictator? And what if Teo's been setting her sights on the wrong enemy all along?

This epic sequel to The Brilliant Death completes the Italian-inspired fantasy duology with shocking twists, steamy romance, and magic that will dazzle your imagination and make you wish Vinalia were a real place.

Besides having a jaw-droppingly beautiful cover, Storm of Life is the sequel to The Brilliant Death, a gorgeous Italian-inspired fantasy about shapeshifting, genderfluid witches. I loved the first book and I’m so annoyed I still haven’t managed to get to the sequel!

Finding Faeries: Discovering Sprites, Pixies, Redcaps, and Other Fantastical Creatures in an Urban Environment by Alexandra Rowland

Discover where faeries and other mythical creatures are hiding in our modern, urban environment with this beautifully illustrated guide to uncovering magical beings.

From the musty corners of libraries to the darkest depths of urban sewers, faeries, boggarts, redcaps, and other fantastical species can be found all around us—but only if we know where to look. And like every other being in the modern world, these wonderous creatures have been forced to adapt to the climate, industrial, and cultural changes of the modern era. Many formerly common creatures from akeki to cave trolls have been driven out by the urban sprawl, technological advancements, and climate change while others, including ether sprites and brownies, have been able to thrive in abundance, creating homes within electrical hotbeds and massive landfills.

Featuring descriptions of magical creatures from around the globe, this encyclopedic collection details the history and adaptability of more than fifty different species of fae. Describing little-known and fascinating creatures such as the Luck Pigeon of Baltimore, the Ghost Cat of India, and the Brain Sucker of South Africa, this book will expose readers to fantastical species from a variety of cultures and communities.

Combining scholarship with modern lore and environmentalism, and featuring stunning hand-drawn illustrations, Finding Faeries is a captivating look at the fantastical beings that inhabit our world today.

I’m a worldbuilding fanatic, and I love the Fae, so this ought to be a match made in heaven! But… I haven’t really started this one yet. I really can’t tell you why, since it sounds like it was written just to delight me!

Susurrus on Mars by Hal Duncan
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Science Fantasy
Representation: M/M

This novella-length collection of Erehwynan Idylls offers readers an indulgent and weird agglomeration of randy boys and revelations, as the embodiment of a small breeze--actually the gene-spliced child of the gods Zephyros and Ares--flirts and seduces fleshlings on a terraformed future Mars. Hal Duncan's acclaimed style is both alethic and erudite and offers a fresh telling of philosophical musings and classic Greek mythology for 21st century readers.

I was all ready to read this…and somehow it slipped down the back of my tbr pile without me noticing. Duncan’s Book of All Hours duet is an underappreciated masterpiece and two of my favourite books ever written. Sussurus sounds strange and beautiful and right up my alley, so…hopefully I get to it this year!

Knife Children (The Sharing Knife #4.5) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Genres: Secondary World Fantasy

Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush returns from two years of patrolling the bitter wilds of Luthlia against the enigmatic, destructive entities called malices, only to find that the secret daughter he'd left behind in the hinterland of Oleana has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of Barr's mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.

A stand-alone story set in the world of The Sharing Knife.

The Sharing Knife series is one of my favourite comfort reads, and I was so excited when Bujold came back to the Sharing Knife world with Knife Children! But this is another case of, I need to reread the earlier books, and I just haven’t managed it yet.

Floodtide by Heather Rose Jones
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Historical Fantasy
Representation: F/F, multiple sapphic characters

The streets are a perilous place for a young laundry maid dismissed without a character for indecent acts. Roz knew the end of the path for a country girl alone in the city of Rotenek. A desperate escape in the night brings her to the doorstep of Dominique the dressmaker and the hope of a second chance beyond what she could have imagined. Roz’s apprenticeship with the needle, under the patronage of the Royal Thaumaturgist, wasn’t supposed to include learning magic, but Celeste, the dressmaker’s daughter, draws Roz into the mysterious world of the charm-wives. When floodwaters and fever sweep through the lower city, Celeste’s magical charms could bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor of Rotenek, but only if Roz can claim the help of some unlikely allies.

Set in the magical early 19th century world of Alpennia, Floodtide tells an independent tale that interweaves with the adventures.

Floodtide is the fourth book in the fantasy regency romance series Alpennia, named for the fictional country it’s set in. Again… I just need to reread the rest of the series first. I’m also a little wary because this is the first installment written in first person, and first person…is not my preference, generally. That said, I’ve loved the series so far (I think it’s gotten better with every book) so I will read it. You know. Eventually?

The Cloudship Trader by Kate Diamond
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Secondary World Fantasy
Representation: Nonbinary MC, queernorm world

While visiting a famed mountaintop market, cloudship flier Miris and nir companion, the Wind spirit Seres, find a merchant selling Star spirits imprisoned inside glass lamps.

And then ney learns that the lamps are only one piece of a cruel plot to capture and enslave Stars, a plot that could spell disaster for the peaceful relationships between people and spirits that have shaped their world for generations.

Joined by the merchant’s assistant Belest, a man running from a terrible situation and desperate to mend the harm he unwittingly aided in, Miris and Seres fly north, seeking the source of the lamps so that they can end the practice before it becomes widespread and unstoppable.

On their journey, they visit wondrous places, meet healers and thieves, politicians and priests, make friends both human and not. But if they are to put a stop to the slavers’ work, Miris and Belest must first learn to trust each other.

This sounds like a beautiful little book that I would very much like to get to know better. It’s another, like Sussurus, that just got shoved out of the way by pushier books on my tbr. But a nonbinary MC bonded to a wind spirit, flying ships and captured stars??? I must make time for it!

Realities (Rhapsody of Blood, #4) by Roz Kaveney
Genres: Queer Protagonists
Representation: F/F or w|w, varied queer cast

From the deep dark forests of primordial Europe to the deserts of Africa... From the gardens of what was once Hell and is now something new and different to the sinister silent halls of a rebuilt Valhalla... From the gloomy London of the late Victorian London to a very different London of bright lights, coffee shops and cocktail parties...

Mara the Huntress and a newly apotheosized Emma pursue the mysterious enemy who devised and teaches the Rituals of Blood, and the people he has corrupted - the Huntsman god, some annoying hipsters and the man they called the Ripper. With new friends like H.G. Wells and Mary, the mother of Josette, and old acquaintances like Polly Wilde, Elodie and the restored and resurrected Sof, they frustrate some of the enemy's schemes but still have no sense of his end game.

This fourth volume of the much admired Rhapsody of Blood sequence is as grim and occasionally hilarious as its predecessors.

The fourth (and maybe final? I’m not sure) book in the Rhapsody of Blood series came out in 2018…but only made it to ebook last year. I did embark on a series reread this time, but I’m currently just starting book 3, so I didn’t manage to get to this one last year. But soon!!!

The Deep and Shining Dark (Marek #1) by Juliet Kemp
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Secondary World Fantasy
Representation: Queer MC
Pages: 270

You know something’s wrong when the cityangel turns up at your door .

Magic within the city-state of Marek works without the need for bloodletting, unlike elsewhere in Teren, thanks to an agreement three hundred years ago between an angel and the founding fathers. It also ensures that political stability is protected from magical influence. Now, though, most sophisticates no longer even believe in magic or the cityangel.   

But magic has suddenly stopped working, discovers Reb, one of the two sorcerers who survived a plague that wiped out virtually all of the rest. Soon she is forced to acknowledge that someone has deposed the cityangel without being able to replace it. Marcia, Heir to House Fereno, and one of the few in high society who is well-aware that magic still exists, stumbles across that same truth. But it is just one part of a much more ambitious plan to seize control of Marek.   

Meanwhile, city Council members connive and conspire, unaware that they are being manipulated in a dangerous political game. A game that threatens the peace and security not just of the city, but all the states around the Oval Sea, including the shipboard traders of Salina upon whom Marek relies.   

To stop the impending disaster, Reb and Marcia, despite their difference in status, must work together alongside the deposed cityangel and Jonas, a messenger from Salina. But first they must discover who is behind the plot, and each of them must try to decide who they can really trust.
Book 1 of Juliet Kemp’s gripping new series

The “absolutely gorgeous” cover artwork is by renowned artist Tony Allcock.

I remember being utterly seduced by the excerpt I read of this, but as a 2018 release it got pushed aside by all the books I felt I had to get read last year. But it remains one of the titles on my tbr that I’m most excited about, even if I don’t remember the specifics of why!

What did you not manage to read last year?

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2 responses to “Coulda, Shoulda, Didn’t: Books I Failed to Read in 2020

    • I admit I bounced off Hal Duncan’s Testament, alas, but I’ve loved everything else of his I’ve read. And YES, I really, really need to get to Cloudship Trader!!!

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