Most Disappointing Books of 2021

Once I’d reviewed my year of reading and discovered the books that most surprised me in 2021, I knew I had to talk about the books that most disappointed me next. With the marketing hype machines that are publishing houses and authors’ Twitter accounts, you never can tell which books will become soured by disappointment upon finally experiencing them, no matter how excited or hopeful you were for them.

It wasn’t that these books merely fell short of the mark; they were depressingly bad in ways that made me feel like the hype I had for them was silly and wasteful. Many of these books also debuted in 2021, and that in and of itself is a depressing thought. Are books getting worse? Or are my expectations as a reader becoming unwieldy and unrealistic? In an era where stories are becoming bigger and bigger franchises with over-the-top visuals, rehashed plots, and plot-disarming twists, can we be surprised by anything anymore? Have we seen it all?

I don’t think so. While an original story can be groundbreaking, any story that is well-told will travel farther regardless if we have seen its like before or not.

How, then, did the following books fail to live up to my expectations? Time to find out.

Most Disappointing Books of 2021

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

Look at that cover! Isn’t it cool? Well, that’s all the cool factor you get with Persephone Station. I was promised a high-stakes adventure and space opera in the vein of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop with an all-queer cast. What I got instead was an incredibly dull 500-page slog with equally dull characters. Each character had a profession and sexuality assigned to them, and that was the extent of who they were. In addition, everyone’s relationships had already been formed before the novel, and nobody had friction with anybody. There was Some Evil Corporation the group had to overcome, but I never once was encouraged to care about it. I started off my 2021 with this book, so you can imagine how unenthused I was after the fact; that’s where Unsounded came in to save my life.

I mean, gosh, when are people going to learn? Never compare yourself to Cowboy Bebop; you’ll never be Cowboy Bebop.

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Most Surprising Books of 2021

You never can foresee how a reading year will go. There’s nothing that can truly predict what books will surprise you, how they will fulfill some part of you and occupy your thoughts well beyond their end. Or how they will just plain entertain and delight you.

2021 was such a roller coaster for so many, and that notion was definitely reflected in my reading. I didn’t get to nearly as many books as I hoped I would. While I participated in book clubs and reading challenges, I still don’t believe I made a dent in the books I actually owned. Despite all that, I discovered stories new and old to love, characters and worlds that will continue to shape me as a creative, and ideas that challenge my way of thinking. Some of these books, I wrote reviews for, extolling their virtues and being forgiving towards any vices. I wish I had reviewed all of them, but sometimes that’s not in the cards—so spotlighting them here feels all the more important.

But enough waxing poetic. Let’s highlight some all-star books I didn’t expect to love as much as I did because they absolutely deserve the praise.

Most Surprising Books of 2021

Unsounded by Ashley Cope

A few friends have threatened bodily harm upon me for years to finally read the webcomic Unsounded, and this year, I finally did—and became instantly obsessed. Ashley Cope’s wonderful art style and bold storytelling consumed my early months of 2021 as I raced to catch up to the ongoing series, first with the three published volumes and then continuing with the online chapters. I even wrote a fanfic for Cope’s between-chapter hiatus contest, which ended up winning based on popular vote, and I still haven’t gotten over that.

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ARC Review: Iron Widow

Title: Iron Widow
Author: 
Xiran Jay Zhao
Genre: 
Young Adult/Sci-Fi
Version: ebook – ARC
Page Count: 
400
Publisher: 
Penguin Teen
Synopsis: GoodReads | StoryGraph
Notable Notables: 
Based in Chinese culture with a Chinese-coded cast; inspired by China’s only female emperor; polyamorous relationship
Recommended Readers: 
Fans of mecha anime and revenge stories
CAWPILE Rating: 7.14
Rating: ★★★★☆

Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is a stand-out, explosive debut that is sure to capture the imaginations and whet the appetites of readers searching for female revenge stories. With sci-fi being a rarer sight in the YA genre, Iron Widow takes a bold approach with its mecha anime-inspired roots along with being steeped in Chinese history.

In Huxia, boys dream of becoming ace pilots of Chrysalises, which are giant, transforming robots powered by syncing up with female concubine-pilots. It doesn’t matter that the girls die of mental strain, only that the mecha aliens beyond the Great Wall are stopped. Wu Zetian volunteers as a concubine-pilot to assassinate the male pilot who killed her older sister, only to emerge from the cockpit unscathed and with her co-pilot dead after overcoming him through their psychic link. Instead of being his One True Match and Iron Princess, Zetian is an Iron Widow, a much-feared and often silenced female pilot who can sacrifice boys instead. To subdue her, she is paired with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial pilot in Huxia, but she is not interested in being cowed. Instead, she plots to use Shimin and their newfound notoriety to survive attempt after attempt against her life until she can discover why the pilot system works as it does and stop more girls from being sacrificed for male dominance.

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New Books I’m Hyped for: July – December 2021

Welcome back to another post where I highlight books I’m excited for in a truly excessive fashion. Will most of these books be featured on other people’s lists? Probably. Will that stop me? No. I like what I like, and the sounds of these are very pleasing. We have an East Asian YA fantasy that is a retelling of The Wild Swans; an adult fantasy novel where all the protagonists are renowned villains; a work set in Victorian London featuring an African tightrope dancer who cannot die; and much more!

I’m looking forward to seeing which of these will be my favorite book releases between July and December 2021, especially compared to which ones the book community at large will fawn over.

[slaps the roof of this post] This baby can fit so many books inside it, so let’s get started!

July

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
(July 6th)

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

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New Books I’m Hyped for: January – June 2021

[Shaky wave] Hi, there. So, yeah, I’m back, sorta. 2020 was definitely not my year for reading or posting due to [checks notes] oh, yeah, everything that was going on. While 2021 is still proving to be emotionally and mentally taxing in many ways, I’m also feeling an affinity for reading and posting again. Frankly, I miss books, and I’m hoping that by being a bit more active about them, I will rekindle the fervor I used to have. I’m still not counting on posting as much this year as I did in past years. I want to focus much more on things that are exciting and fun for me, along with paying attention to my mental health and what it can stand.

I figured a post about what 2021 is bringing in terms of new books could be a start, a way to look forward about what will come. Here are the ones that seem pretty cool for the first half of 2021.

January

Crown of Bones by A.K. Wilder
(January 5th)

Raise. Your. Phantom.

For fans of epic fantasies and sweeping adventures, this ensemble cast will immerse you in a world of unique magic, breathtaking action and unforgettable characters.

In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come …

A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.

A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the nine realms.

A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.

And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.

My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to surprise us all.

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ARC Review: Persephone Station

Title: Persephone Station
Author: Stina Leicht
Genre: Adult Sci-Fi
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press
Add To-Read on: GoodReadsStoryGraph
Notable Notables: Characters that are predominately female and non-binary with LGBTQ+ rep
Recommended Readers: Seekers of feminism in space opera
CAWPILE Rating: 3.14
Star Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Thank you, to NetGalley and the publisher, for offering this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Review

I was taken in by Stina Leicht’s Persephone Station the moment I saw its beautifully artistic cover and was sold when I read what it was being compared to: a blend of Cowboy Bebop and The Mandalorian but with a leading cast of women, non-binary, and queer characters.

Upon reading it, however, my excitement quickly fizzled. By far the coolest thing about the book is its cover, not the representation it delivers. The author seems to have focused so hard on providing good, squeaky-clean diversity and rep that she forgot a key element: making the characters and its plot interesting. There isn’t a hint of the eclectic friction found in the Cowboy Bebop cast, and it’s also sorely missing the heart of The Mandalorian. If I could sum up Persephone Station and its characters in a few words, they would be “safe and boring.”

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Five-Star Predictions: April 2020 Books

I’m not gonna lie, folks. I’m feeling supremely unmotivated during this period of quarantining and sheltering-in-place, at least when it comes to reading. I’ve been filling my time with a lot of video games, like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the almost-here Final Fantasy VII Remake. Still, I want to aim to get a few posts out this month to talk books with you because staying connected with others is even more important than usual now.

Today, I want to cover the books coming out this April that I believe in my heart will earn a five-star rating from me, and I’d like to remind any readers to support ordering online or doing curbside pickup with your local bookstores should any of these catch your eye!

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Five-Star Predictions: February 2020 Books

Oh, wow, it’s finally February. I won’t lie. I was one of those people that thought January lasted a whole year. Not sure why; maybe it’s winter finally getting to me. (Lies. It gets to me as soon as it comes.)

That’s why I talk about books here. Books make me happy, and February 2020 is coming out with a whole bunch of them. Rather than regale you with every book that’s caught my eye this month, I’m going to try and predict which will earn five stars of pure love and enjoyment from me. Y’know, whenever I get to read them. (And if the cover is blue, odds are it’s here lol.)

b99

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TTT: Books I Want to Reread in 2020

With so many books on our to-read lists, it’s hard to make time for books we’ve read and deeply miss. That’s why one of my goals for 2020 is to stop stressing so much and reread, both because some books are beloved and because I can’t very well read the sequels until I remember what’s going on in the first one, can I?

I deeply encourage anyone reading this to consider rereading at least one favorite book this year, and if you want to compile a list of your own, please do so and tag me! I’d love to see what books are on your mind.

As for me and this Top Ten Tuesday post, I’m happy to see my selection of books I want to reread in 2020 be much more varied than I expected.

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Five-Star Predictions: January 2020 Books

Greetings, all! I must again apologize for my absence of a posting schedule lately, but I’m just playing things fast and loose right now. (And honestly, my life is also being consumed by Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It’s a wonder I’m getting any reading done at all.)

I’ve been thinking about how I can spice up my posts for my most-anticipated book releases from month to month. I feel that sometimes they’re too much and get too long, but finally I’ve figured out what I can do to create more focused posts. Because obviously, I’m going to be looking forward to a ton of books no matter what, but what are going to be the ones that ultimately stick the landing for me?

That’s why I’m going to be featuring 2020 book releases that I’m predicting will nab a five-star rating from me. I wonder how accurate my instincts will be for January.

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