Thinking about finding a great book to end 2020 or start 2021 off on a (relatively) high note? Consult these bite-sized book reviews for some worthy contenders!
I think that we can all agree that 2020 has been a year, in more ways than one. But, while just about everything has felt unpredictable, stressful, and just plain awful, there has been one constant that has continued to bring joy and some much-needed escape all year long: Books.
From tales of ghosts and vampires to epic sci-fi adventures, sprawling fantasies, and swoon-worthy romance books, there have been so many wonderful releases this year that it has been quite difficult to keep up.
And so, I present to you the final installment of Hypables’s bite-sized book reviews for 2020. These books made me laugh, cry, and just stop thinking about the world around us for a little while. They’re ones I’ll be recommending to people far beyond December 31, starting with you, dear reader!
October, November, December 2020 bite-sized book reviews
‘Path of Bones’ by L.T. Ryan and K.M. Rought
Cassie Quinn thought she lost her ability to see and help ghosts. She was moving on with her life. And so, when the ghosts of a mysterious boy as well as a handful of murdered women suddenly visit her and beg for her help, she can’t help but hesitate. But, if she doesn’t use her abilities to help the FBI catch a serial killer, her own life may hang in the balance.
Alright, so I may be more than a bit biased on this one. Full disclosure? K.M. Rought? That’s Karen Rought, one of Hypable’s managing editors and my best friend. So, really, there was very little chance that I’d dislike this book. *BUT,* while I will forever boast about everything that she does, I want to say that I really enjoyed it both because she wrote it and because it’s a great story.
Fans of paranormal mystery will find a lot to sink their teeth into here. From apparitions to visions, rituals to the mundane, the authors have created a very lifelike world where one young woman’s abilities feel more natural than supernatural. Yes, her abilities are pretty neat, but they’re also terrifying, a delicate balance that this book maneuvers very well.
But what Path of Bones does best is discuss and dissect trauma as well as anxiety and overall mental health. (I mean, someone who sees ghosts is going to have quite a bit of baggage.) These discussions really ground the character as well as everything else that’s going on around her.
They also portray her in a really nuanced way. She’s vulnerable yet smart, soft yet determined. Yes, she makes mistakes (some very critical and life-threatening), but figures out a way to get herself out of trouble. OR, in times when she can’t, learns from those mistakes when she has no choice but to be saved.
Like I said, if you’re looking for a good paranormal mystery (and one that you’ll want to read in a single sitting), I recommend you pick up Path of Bones, the first installment of the Cassie Quinn series.
‘Home Body’ by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur’s newest release, Home Body, is a *stunning* collection of poetry that paints a nuanced picture of just what it means and feels like to be alive today. In this moment of the history of time and space.
What it feels like to feel so low and in the dark that it’s hard to see your way out. What it feels like to feel all hope leave your body and fear it’ll never return. But also, how to come back to yourself and take care of yourself and realize just how much your body, your HOME, has been caring for you while you didn’t pay it the attention it deserves.
This poetry collection, the first of Rupi Kaur’s that I’ve personally ever read, is about self-discovery and self-love, as well as the community that exists in each self and how we can raise everyone up. Yes, it’s incredibly personal and intimate, but there’s a constant thread of how knowing your roots and honoring those who came before you can be freeing.
Though it’s an easily bingeable collection of poetry, Home Body is best experienced in small, slow doses so as to savor every word (and read some passages multiple times). This is one collection you’ll want to return to again and again.
‘Teen Titans: Beast Boy’ by Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo
DC strikes YA graphic novel gold again with Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo’s Teen Titans: Beast Boy, the second in their Teen Titans graphic novel series and the follow-up to their Raven title from last year.
Garfield Logan is a (relatively) scrawny, average 17-year-old who hates being a (relatively) scrawny, average 17-year-old. He’s grateful for his friends and family, but has grand ambitions of popularity, strength, and dating the most beautiful girl in school. But he just can’t seem to make any of it happen. Until one fateful day where everything begins to change, forcing Gar to figure out what’s really important to him.
Unlike a lot of other DC YA graphic novel readers out there, I’m a complete newbie when it comes to the Teen Titans. I’ve never read nor seen anything with them before Garcia and Picolo’s novels. And so I genuinely appreciate how accessible they’ve not only made the characters but their world as well. Though I know this origin story differs from the established canon, I still feel like I have a firm grasp on who Gar is at his core and what matters to him.
In contrast to the Raven novel, Beast Boy has far lower stakes, leading to a bit of an anticlimactic climax (of which I’m not quite sure there even was one). But that’s more of a strength than a weakness. This book spends its time and energy on developing Gar as a person rather than as a hero. There’ll be more time for the latter later in the series.
Regardless of if you’re a Teen Titans fan or just a fan of graphic novels, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Teen Titans: Beast Boy. I look forward to seeing where the series goes from here!
Bonus bite-sized book reviews!
Thanks to the election this year as well as the ample reading time the cold weather affords us every year, I went back and read a handful of releases from earlier this year. And so, here are a couple of bite-sized book reviews for titles we previously missed covering!
‘Boyfriend Material’ by Alexis Hall
God, Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material is so wonderful. This book like a shot of saccharine charm straight to the bloodstream, something that’s (seriously) sorely needed in a year like 2020.
Following the ups and downs, as well as the highs and lows, of a relationship between two twenty-something men who hide behind the image of themselves they’re so accustomed to portraying, Boyfriend Material is all about self-love and loving others for who they truly are and not what they do. Luc is a fuck-up and Oliver is a perfectionist/uptight barrister, but also neither of them is either of these things. But what they definitely are is a wonderful couple that isn’t perfect but fits so well together.
I personally love how awkward and imperfect all of Luc and Oliver’s interactions are throughout the novel. They feel so true and uncensored. They’re not polished or perfect like so many other romance portrayals, but that doesn’t make them any less swoon-worthy. (And trust me. There’s so much to swoon about here.)
That being said, Boyfriend Material is slightly more chaste than it appears to be at first glance. And with all of the comparisons to Red, White & Royal Blue I’ve seen, I was expecting a bit more than physically intimate moments portrayed from a birds-eye view through a frosted window. However, all of the emotion is still very much there in every scene and nearly makes up for the lack of physicality.
Boyfriend Material is honestly one of my favorite books of the year. It’s a clever, laugh-out-loud romance that’s nothing short of delightful. If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with this winter, I highly recommend picking yourself up a copy.
‘A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope’ by Patrice Caldwell
I confess: A Phoenix First Must Burn has been sitting on my to-read pile for months now. It has been a book that I’ve *wanted* to get to, but just didn’t for a long while. My delay was a huge, huge mistake. I can’t believe I’ve been sleeping on this one for so long.
This collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories by Black authors, curated and compiled by author Patrice Caldwell, is nothing short of magical. Each story does so much and creates such rich worlds so much in such little space. From tales of magic and dragons to those of distant galaxies as well as that quiet girl who lives just a few blocks away, each author highlights beautiful facets of the Black experience in their own way.
I’d previously read a few pieces by a handful of these authors, but I think these short stories are my favorite things they’ve written. Each story makes its expansive world-building feel effortless and like it has unfolded over dozens of pages rather than a few thousand words. The stories are also so diverse in their subjects and worlds that I never knew what the next tale would hold for me. It was honestly always such a pleasure to find out.
The highlights for me in this collection include Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death and, Subsequently, Her Best Life,” Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “The Rules of the Land,” L.L. McKinney’s “The Goddess Provides,” Patrice Caldwell’s “Letting the Right One In” (gotta love a story about vampire fandom!), and Danielle Paige’s “The Actress.” No two stories here are even close to being similar and yet they all left me with such a wonderful feeling.
Beautifully crafted and masterfully collected, A Phoenix First Must Burn is a must-read for sci-fi/fantasy fans as well as short story lovers and those who just love losing themselves in another life for a little while.
I highly, highly recommend this YA short story collection. It’s without a doubt one of the best things I’ve read all year (which is a statement I am comfortable with expressing seeing how long it took me to get to it!).