I don’t know if I read a single book in all of 2020.
Well, that’s not true, I read a bunch of books at the start of the year, following my usual habits of loading my library holds list and carefully coordinating the timing of suspending and unsuspending holds and tracking inter-library loan transit in order to maximize the enormous piles of books I had my husband bring home to me, all with the dedicated unwavering focus of an air traffic controller. I never read all the books I request at a time, but I have assured myself via several librarians and library employees that circulation numbers are important and no one hates wandering through the shelves to pull someone’s requested holds. I translated that to myself as an understanding that boosting circulation numbers is my job and sending long and varied lists of holds is assigning someone a non-arduous and sometimes interesting task.
I’m sure I read some in the beginning of the year, but I don’t think I could pull a single thing to mind if you paid me (and you could, if you wanted to, seeing as how circulation numbers are my job and I’m doing it), and in March, the libraries closed, leaving me with an enormous stack of my most recent holds. And they sat there. And sat there. And sat there.
I had some false starts here and there — maybe I got through one or two of them, read the first couple pages of a few more. Took a look at some things that had been languishing in my Kindle, tried to read in the bath. Picked out an audiobook or two for tedious tasks. I did read some things at the very beginning of the year, stuff I really enjoyed: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, The One and The Passengers by John Marrs. But it definitely ground to a halt early in the year, when the situation kept going… and going… and going… and the STATE OF THIS COUNTRY kept giving me bigger and bigger eyeballs.
I guess it’s not quite accurate to say I didn’t read anything at all for most of the year, though, because I did read – I read a lot. It was just all fanfics, specifically fanfics that I’ve read at least a dozen times each. Similarly, while everyone was talking about new shows they discovered in quarantine, I was also watching plenty of things, it’s just none of it was new – I watched Sherlock for the jillionth time, I watched kdramas I’ve seen over and over.
80% of the media I consumed in 2020 could be summed up in two words: NO SURPRISES.
That’s what comfort media really is for me – it’s not characters I find particularly lovely or plots I especially like. It’s stuff I’ve read and watched to absolute death, to the point that not a single facial expression, not a single WARDROBE CHOICE is a surprise to me. I can’t be shocked or startled or scared or taken unawares, I have been through this a thousand times and I’m prepared to go through it a thousand more. Nothing new is appealing, because I don’t know what’s coming, and there was enough “I don’t know what’s coming” going on in the world for me, all full up, no thank you, run Doctor Who from the beginning again, please.
Recently, though, my reading picked up at an absolutely crazed pace. At the end of February, I’m already about to surpass the total books I read in 2020. This uptick started at the end of January — hmm, WEIRD TIMING to suddenly develop the mental space for literally ANYTHING AT ALL. I won’t speculate as to what possibly could have changed. At the end of January. In 2021.
If you are similar in that you spent a lot of 2020, or maybe even longer — maybe even the last four years — struggling to find the mental energy for anything but the most mindless of media consumption, or only the familiar, and you think you’re ready to get back out there and play the book field, I have got a suggestion for you.
If you’ve heard anyone talk about this book, you’ve probably heard words like “lovely,” “comforting,” comparing it to a warm hug, and other similar things that are not at all like me to actually say, but here I am agreeing with them. This might be exactly what you’re looking for if you want to read something, but you’re not quite ready to read Something, capital S.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is about a man named Linus Baker, who works for a government agency in charge of the monitoring of the care of magical youth. He’s something like a social worker, I guess, as the most accurate comparison. He’s tasked with visiting orphanages that house children of various magical species and abilities, following the strict guidelines set out in a thick rule book to determine whether or not that particular orphanage should stay open or if the children should be moved or sent to a government school instead. He’s good at his job in that he takes it seriously, he follows the rules, he remains objective, and files his reports on time.
He’s so good at following the rules and maintaining objectivity, in fact, that one day he gets called up to the big bosses and given a special task — extremely classified — to go spend a month evaluating an orphanage he’s never heard of. In fact, it doesn’t seem like anyone has ever head of it. The Extremely Upper Management members are very interested in a full and detailed report on this orphanage, the six children who live there, AND especially the man in charge, specifically from Linus.
He goes to this orphanage and, you know, hijinks ensue.
I think The House in the Cerulean Sea is a perfect Coming Out of the Comfort Cave book because it touches on a lot of themes that we’re dealing with heavily in the real world — discrimination, respecting and honoring differences between people, viewing things from another perspective, the value of children as whole people worthy of all the respect and dignity we assign to adult lives, whether who we are is predetermined or a factor of our environment and the people who surround and raise us. It’s a lot to think about. At the same time, these issues are all dealt with on the page, not left sitting on you and leaving you stewing in fury and helplessness. We get to watch Linus work through all of these things as well as confront his own life, why it is the way it is, what he actually wants from it, and what’s stopping him from having what he actually wants from it.
I enjoyed the shit out of the experience of reading this book. It’s smart and it’s funny and the characters are well developed. I’d call it an equal balance between character-driven and plot-driven, though I did find myself wanting just a little bit more from each side. While I feel like we could have learned a bit more about this or that character, or had a bit more world building or backstory into understanding why the world is the way it is and how it got that way (though I suppose that’s not especially hard to imagine on your own), those are personal wants mostly stemming from the fact that I was enjoying the hell out of everyone and everything and just wanted more and more of it. There is enough in this book – plenty, really – that the arc of the main character, Linus, feels authentic and believable and earned.
What I think is funny, though, now that I’ve finished this — now that it has been one of my initial steps out of the cave of comfort media I’ve barricaded myself into for the last year — is that I know I’m going to buy myself a copy of this book. I like to use the library, because as I’ve said a thousand times, CIRCULATION NUMBERS ARE EVERYONE’S JOB, and I don’t feel pressured to have the newest book immediately, I do like a deep back list, I moved 11 times in 15 years and moving books is hateful, I feel oppressed by all the things I own. But this book, I know I am going to want to read it again and again, essentially turning it into the exact kind of “no surprises, only pleasant” coping media I’ve been living on for the last hundred years and four days.
I’M NOT SORRY, IT’S GREAT.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads | Amazon
Remember when you first got a Goodreads account and started adding every book you could ever remember reading and quickly realized that was an enormous and impossible task, but you couldn’t just add some of them because that would be incomplete and infuriating, but if you just picked up from where you were in book life right then, people might think you’d NEVER READ A BOOK IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE because obviously your Goodreads shelves are empty or have one sad “currently reading” book on them and the whole process of deciding what to include or where to start was so impossible that you just did nothing?
Normally there’d be some kind of introduction in a first blog post, but the only people who I expect to see this are already familiar with the blog that came before this and anyone who is new can get a good idea of who I am as a person from that first paragraph. The important thing is, I can’t start writing a book blog from just some arbitrary point. I don’t have time to be concerned about getting to know each other when I have to carefully decide where to start a thing and what where I start might say about me.
Fortunately, we are still close enough to the beginning of 2021 that I feel I can catch you up on all 15 books I’ve read since then (we are all going to ignore the fact that I finished a book last night, making it technically 16 books I’ve read since the beginning of 2021, but as you can see, that’s probably not a good technicality for either of us to point out to me if we ever want to get anything done here), and from there, carry on as I’d like, as if I’d always been here, which I have, if you think about it.
We all agree to acknowledge the fact that I have read books before 2021, but these are the ones I have read in 2021.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have said it before and I’m probably going to say it 800 more times: this bitch loves a Backman. The premise of this book is ridiculous – a bank robber who doesn’t want to be a bank robber accidentally takes an apartment full of people hostage. Similar to some other Backman books, the plot was almost an afterthought (to me, not the author). The way Backman writes characters is either very clearly Not For You or 100% Absolutely Your Shit, no in between, and it’s not hard to see what side of that fence I fall onto. I love that the quirks that all the characters have seem ludicrous and overblown, but also rooted in the backstory that Backman provides for each character, and truly believable and relatable once you find yourself thinking about them – you are that way, or you know someone who is that way, or you definitely see why this particular someone would be that way. I love it, I love every Backman I have ever read, I cannot tell you how delighted I am to have found my own “I will read everything this author writes” author while they are still actively writing shit.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This book. It’s a dual timeline thing – in the past, Vanessa is a 15 year old student at a fancy boarding school who enters into a relationship with her 43 year old English teacher. I don’t like phrasing it like that, but so it is. In the present, several students have come forward with allegations of abuse against this teacher, and have contacted Vanessa to encourage her to come forward as well. The problem is, Vanessa doesn’t believe she was abused. The book jumps back and forth between the timelines, with the past detailing how the “relationship” began and progressed, and the present dealing with Vanessa’s struggle against reframing what she thought was her one true example of loving and being loved and how that affects the whole rest of her life that has already passed and will come to be. By the time I finished, I swear to God I had grown fangs. I think most women can see their younger selves in Vanessa and you can see how things in the past are playing out exactly how these kinds of things play out, exactly how they have always played out and how it feels like they always will play out. Reading this book was kind of a helpless and invading and strangling experience and it feels weird to say I liked it, so I’ll say I “liked” it. I could say so much more about this book and maybe some day I will, or you can message me if you’ve read it and want to talk about, or if you think you might want to read it but want a warning of exactly what kind of triggering content it contains.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This book contains a lot of my favorite things – isolated groups/locations, building a sort of civilization/community from scratch, group dynamics, but in the end, it was a bit of a letdown for me. The majority of the reading experience itself was fine. It’s about a group of families, lead by a sort of… I don’t know what to call him, a child development specialist? An expert in raising children with various developmental issues? I’m not sure. A guy who likes helping families and has big ideas. He starts a camp called Camp Harmony, with the idea that his core group of initial families (all of whom have children with developmental difficulties of various sorts as well as neurotypical children) will help create the camp/society and live and work there full time, while other families pay to come and stay at the camp for a week or weekend at a time to benefit their children. You know there’s something off from the beginning and it turns out that there is, but for me, this book didn’t really earn its ending.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
This was a perfectly pleasant adult contemporary novel. A recent widow and a baseball player with the yips end up sharing a duplex and hitting it off. The relationship developed at a reasonable and realistic pace, and was also a reasonable and realistic relationship. There’s some misunderstanding, but of the mature, adult variety – not one person getting offended and running off without giving anyone a chance to explain, not someone misinterpreting something they saw or heard and acting on that knowledge and making a whole mess of things. Just two adult people trying to do their best for each other and not always hitting the mark. Everyone behaved the way we expect adults to behave, or at least hope they will. It was refreshing and comfortable to read.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
I’ve said before that when I’m reading thrillers (is this a thriller? suspense? either way) that I feel like I’m a visitor in a genre that is not mine. I do enjoy them from time to time, but I feel like I don’t have a good grasp on what makes a good one vs a not so good one, so you’ll just have to take my opinion on this book as how it was for me, not how I am suggesting it would be for you, because I know that this book is well-reviewed and I absolutely trust the kind of people who like this kind of book to have a better idea of what is good and what isn’t than I do. That said, this crossed too far into weird for me. I didn’t feel so much thrilled or suspended? Suspensed? As I did just kind of weirded out. I didn’t feel like the main character had any sort of internal logic I could connect to. Not for me, but definitely take someone else’s advice on this one.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Chanel Miller is Emily Doe of the Brock Turner Stanford rapist trial. Know My Name is her story from the night of the assault all the way through the trial. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author, and I definitely recommend that route if audiobooks are your thing. Before I started this book, it was hard to imagine being more angry at the state of the world shown through the lens of the Brock Turner trial as it happened, and I don’t know if I’m more angry. I don’t think I could hold more anger on this topic. But I was angry all through that trial and the ridiculous sentencing and the bullshit, and through all of that, Chanel Miller was Emily Doe and we didn’t know anything about her. This feels like necessary context.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This is pretty standard suspense stuff, what we’ve become used to over the last few years. I am not a person who gets upset if I figure out who did a thing or didn’t do a thing or predict a twist that is coming – I don’t feel like I need to be smarter than the book to enjoy it, if it’s well written. And this one was. It was pretty good, for a while. Standard, like I said, but if a formula works, it works, right? It’s just, this one went to the toppings bar and added just a couple too many kinds of sprinkles. Just one or two steps too far.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Goodreads says I gave this book four stars, and since I rate things immediately after I finish reading them, I believe me, but at the same time, I can’t for the life of me remember why. This is another one that had more of my favorite stuff – special schools, weird dystopian elements. Other than that, though, I couldn’t really tell you much about it, and I only finished it a couple of weeks ago. This is a terrible review and this is exactly why I had to catch up on all 15 now and keep up from here on out, because obviously there was something about this book that made me think it was great, but I feel no particular pull to reread it or talk about it.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
Sometimes Christina Lauren is hit or miss for me, but I did like this one. Another of my favorite things, where two people are internet talking and either one or both of them doesn’t know that they’re actually talking to each other. I was really pleased with the way the female lead, Millie, uses her fake profile to explore/set free parts of herself that she’s held back from her closest friends in the past, and her path toward meshing those two parts of herself together as the story goes on.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I don’t know if you want to read a virus book in a pandemic, but if you do want to read a virus book in a pandemic, maybe it could be this one? It was published in 2019, and I think if I had read it then, I would have rolled along more merrily, but since I read it now, there was a whole new weight given to scenes of kids crowded in dorm rooms, sharing shot glasses, and kissing all up on each other. Also, the parts about the government and human response to the illness might have seemed “oh come on, that would never happen like that!” if I’d read it in 2019, but guess what I read it in 2021. There were parts of it that I wish were just more – more fleshed out, more explained, more with this or that character – but all in all, I liked it a lot.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐
This is a “not for me, but maybe for you” contemporary romance. It says on the tin that this book (and series) is about a group of guys who read regency romances in order to learn how to deal with/connect with/solve problems with women. I feel misled by that, I would have liked to see more of like… a book club! The guys sitting around and talking about a book together! You know, like one does at a book club! Not just handing a man a book and hovering around at random as he reads it on his own and tries to figure out what to do with a single fictional case study. To be completely fair, I should have by rights backed out of this book from the start, because I don’t generally like romance with an established relationship. Our main couple is married but currently suffering from a major issue – I will leave it to you to figure out what that issue is, exactly, but upon finding out myself, I had no patience for either of them.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is a book about an aspiring author, not yet published but closing in, living in the tiniest of places with the dickheadiest of landlords, working at a restaurant because she wants to and it suits her and the kind of life she wants to have, her supportive friends and her not so supportive man friend, her distant brother and the seemingly less great man friend. There are no big dramatics, no speeding or slowing of the plot, what the is of one. It’s about living your life in a way that lets you do what you want to be doing, about your personal good man and your personal potentially great man, fitting yourself into someone’s existing life while they don’t shove over for you or choosing to be with people whose lives flow around your life with no one having to displace or be displaced or feel out of place. I think. I liked it!
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Listen, I believed everyone who said it was good, I really did, but still, there was a spaceman on the cover and it was a Matt Damon movie and I didn’t DOUBT that it was good but perhaps not my kind of good but Y’ALL IT WAS SO FUCKIN GOOD.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐⭐*
There’s a lot of controversy that surrounded this book before and when it first came out, and that makes it hard to know how to talk about it – I don’t want to dismiss anyone’s concerns as “not a big deal,” because I liked the book just fine. This is a fantasy book set in a world with a huge amount of systemic racism – against fantasy races, but the parallels are clear and easy to draw to real life. I find it really hard to grasp whether it is a racist book or a book about racism, and I want to read a lot more opinions from a lot more voices before I make a final decision on whether I’m going ahead with this series. That said, I did like the story, which is unusual, because fantasy isn’t really “my” genre. I hope to have more to say about it when I can organize my thoughts.
Goodreads | Amazon ⭐⭐⭐
I really like books that play with time in a lot of different ways and this is definitely one of the more unique ways I have seen. The whole reading experience of this book felt very on a knife’s edge, because you think something bad is going to happen, but then you think it might not, but then you think it might but possibly it’s justified, but then again you think it might not happen but maybe it should, then things move along in such a way that you think oh bitch that better not happen, but then again, if it did, maybe it would be fine, but also it seems like it has to happen, but does anything really have to happen? It’s like you’re standing on the edge of disliking it/liking it with every page turn.
So those are the 15 books I’ve read so far in 2021, and from here on out I will proceed as if I am a normal human who reads books a normal amount and tells you about them in a normal way. Mostly. There’s some other stuff I want to do. This site isn’t finished yet but honest to fuck I can’t stare at one more line of incomprehensible garbleage telling me how to change link colors and it not working for one more second today NOT ONE MORE SECOND. This will do for now. I hope the comments work, but I haven’t checked. If you follow me on Instagram where I’ve been posting a metric fuckton of book content on my stories, please consider following @hellokorio instead, a totally empty account, because I am terrible at taking pictures, but do intend to in the near-ish future move my book-specific content over there, because I feel like if a person is going to change up their whole THING, it is only polite that it be opt in rather than forcing you to unfollow me on my main account which I wouldn’t hold against you, but would pretend I held against you to make you uncomfortable because that’s who I am as a person and I’m too old to change.