Here’s the thing – I thought I could, and would actually have to, celebrate my birthday with those of my fifteen roommates who are home. We were asked not to go back to our university cities right now unless necessary because of a major corona outbreak there, but for many that message came too late as the semester is starting up. Personally I was supposed to have a hospital appointment that could not be moved, so I would have to travel there. Turns out, when you have a possible allergic reaction to the kind of medicines I am on and an ambulance has to treat you, it’s suddenly (and thankfully) possible to postpone hospital appointments for two weeks more. I’m good enough right now that I could probably go, but I would have to be much more in and out of the hospital to take tests, and that increases the corona risk so much more than if I was in total lockdown with my friends. Well roommates, but we’re pretty much all friends. Which leads me to do all that here and instead celebrating my birthday alone, but with my lovely mom.
In a few more days I will know how badly my start of the year will look like and I’m not looking forward to it. Sometimes there’s only bad alternatives, and there’s nothing you can do except accept that. Ah, I’ve always told myself and those around me that when physics & math are my biggest problems, my life is good. I’m truly excited for that too be the case again. I had a reminder of that when someone (kindly) asked me if it wasn’t better to take a reduced course-work this year, and the pure rage I felt at having the one good thing taken away from me right now. Of course, at a point I will admit defeat, but that’s not one week in.
I was supposed to do the regular yearly 2020 TBR Update, but then I had to leave a lot of half-finished books behind for winter vacation (the downsides of switching over to physical copies again) and tbh I’ve not had enough energy to read. So I’ll extend that into 2021 and make the post whenever I feel I have caught up a bit, which is probably halfway into the year, let’s be real.
Other books I’ve been reading:
Rereading Corazón and reading Tesoro by Yesika Salgado (poetry)
Shame is an ocean I swim across by Mary Lambert (poetry)
Added to TBR:
In the event this doesn’t fall apart by Shannon Lee Barry (poetry)
2020; the year of a pandemic, of my health declining (unrelated), of spending more time with family (if you want it or not) and not to forget – thinking you will read more, but ending up scrolling through tiktok for hours instead. Ah, how much I love the dark academia aesthetic when I’m forced to be separated from my beloved reading places / libraries.
Also, you know the feeling when you were going to write reviews of all of these books, but reviews of favourites is definitely the hardest because you want to get them right and then you will be too far into the year – ah maybe just me, but the ones that is reviewed will be linked.
Best sci-fi/urban fantasy mix: Zero Sum Game by S. L. Huang and the rest of the series! Because of its exceptionally morally gray / villain vibes protagonist and math superpowers.
Best non-fiction (and audiobook): Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow for the great coverage of the Weinstein sexual abuse cases as the journalist who first exposed them and going in-depth about the women affected and the way it was covered up by major news oulets like NBC who later turned out had Matt Lauer’s sexual assault allegations of their bloody hands.
Best graphic novels / comics: Deadly Class by Remender, Craig, Loughridge for just being the most-fucked up thing I’ve read ever formatted as boarding school teenage villains in training.
Best classic: A Separate Peace by John Knowles – is it a classic? It’s very popular and written in 1959, that counts. A coming-of-age novel set right before a war with all of its moral dilemmas, with an exceptional friendship that seems pretty full of gay yearning to me, but it’s not canon.
Best sequel & sci-fi: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green which is the sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and the sequel so much lived up to my expectations that I cried. About fame, about aliens, espionage, friends- what more do you need? Queer characters. It’s all there. It’s so well done from the one person who’s got the intersection of experience enough (science, social media, business, all the other things) to make it feel a bit too real.
Best poetry:Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong because it’s just amazing. So vivid, so much looking into violence and the family dynamics of being Vietnamese immigrants.
Best romance:Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston for its fun royal/presidental gay romance. I’ve seen a couple of these stories around, but I think this one with its humor as well as real elements is a good top contender. Cute enemies to lovers trope.
Couldn’t get it out of my brain: Wilder Girls by Rory Power for displaying itself as a YA book with some girlpower, but otherwise normal then turning out to be pure horror and abuses of power and fairytale island forest vibes. It stuck around because it has symbolism to girls going through teenage years and puberty, but it was such a good fantasy/sci-fi plot as well. And queer yearning and girls.
Most surprising find: A Woman in the Polar Night is exactly what it tells you it is, but I wouldn’t have found it hadn’t I physically stumbled over it. I did not expect reading about a german woman of the 1930s going to the Arctic and then writing a memoir about it to be such a life-changing experience and at the same time describe certain things I’ve been trying to for years so perfectly.
And then I came to the major & sad realization I didn’t read any straight-up excellent high fantasy this year, or really (only) fantasy at all. That’s usually my biggest genre. I had a lot on my TBR, but most of the year something about my mental state was not ready for the commitment of the brilliant extensive world of any Philip Pullman or Brandon Sanderson book, and otherwise I did not have time. 2021 is the time!
I read the very popular harry potter marauder’s fanficAll the Young Dudes by MsKingBean89 as the last part of this year was spent thinking too much of Harry Potter again. The fanfic follows the marauder’s through their entire Hogwarts years and then into the uncoming war, getting more queer as they grow up. The writing progresses so much as well, which makes sense thinking about how much time this must have taken to write. I got very much into Harry Potter this year, despite hating Rowling, because a close friend of mine read it for the first time and found a lot of comfort in these characters as the pandemic was messing up everyone’s lives. Warning; It’s 520k words (around 1700 pages?) and I read it in two or three days, it was rough to put it down.
I also discovered the absolutely great horror podcast The Magnus Archives this year and it tells such a extensive story, with all of its great cast of character, creepy creatures and meta-storytelling.
Happy New Year’s! So I took my first solo-trip (right before turning twenty-one) to Edinburgh to celebrate new years/Hogmanay (the scottish new years) last year. Actually, the timing was more of a need to get myself out of my family situation, which thankfully has gotten better over the past year. So this trip was created to be alone, experience things, but mostly take a breath after a stressful time, without losing too much money as a college student. I even had people who wanted to come with, but there’s a lot of reasons I’m happy I decided from the start to go on my own. I would love to visit Edinburgh again someday with friends as well, though.
So here’s this short guide to going on a solo-trip to Edinburgh (for book lovers) –
The Real Mary King’s Close! GO! I have already recommended this to all the people I met on the trip. It’s one of the only chances to walk underneath Edinburgh, to visit the old streets that the “new” old city is built upon. It’s from the 17th century, not far underneath the real streets and the guides were awesome. Be warned that you’ll never see the narrow streets the same again when you know how many people died there during the plague, and how the streets were the only plumbing they had. WHAT; I didn’t know before now that City of Ghosts by V. E. Schwab was set in Mary King’s Close? Not that I’ve read it, but that’s interesting.
I stayed at Castle Rock Hostel and really liked it. The whole hostel is castle-themed, but the amount of space and themed rooms inside was amazing, especially as I went in with low expectations. I would have gone for a only-women’s room instead of a mixed room, as a girl travelling solo, but it was sold out. You get a lot for what you pay for and if you have any questions I’m happy to answer them, but I would say the overwhelmingly positive reviews online are correct.
I was trying to get to as many bookstores as possible, made a bit more tricky since it was holiday season and a few of the smaller ones were closed. For example, I wish I could’ve visited Lighthouse – Edinburgh’s radical bookshop. Armchair Books was truly stunning, and worth the trip. Right next to it was Peter Bell Books, which also was closed, but looked to be the same style. Most of the books I bought were from Edinburgh Books and Waterstones on Prince’s street.
Loundon’s has gluten free afternoon tea or breakfast-kind of food! In the Grassmarket area there also were great gluten-free pizza at Mamma’s American Pizza (note; I do not have celiac and can’t vouch for that). I’m happy I found it after wandering the streets, truly desperate to find gluten free dinner close to where I lived. Next time I’ll have to visit PekoeTea as well, I got a taste of their tea from Loundon’s by surprise, although I already knew of them and that they were closed during holiday time. Also I didn’t know what Nando’s was before someone introduced it to me the last day. I really wished I had known that easy-to-eat chicken before. In general, it was really hard to find food I could eat, especially as I was in the older part of the city, where it was a bit of a walk to check if one place or another had gluten-free options. I was limited because on a budget, but I think in general as well. For example, one night I was in an unfamiliar part of town and ended up eating a small piece of steak with pomegranate seeds, because there literally was nothing else on the menu of the five restaurants in that specific area. I would have done a bit more research prior, if I were to do it again.
Other Great Attractions
Holyrood’s castle and St. Arthur’s seat; Holyrood castle was more interesting to me than Edinburgh Castle! It’s something about how it’s still transformed from tourist area to the queen’s actual residence when she is in Edinburgh, and the tour through the upkept and grand palace was so well made. It has a cute garden, and you can go straight out to the Holyrood ruins, with even more history. From there you see the St. Arthur’s seat. I have some experience hiking and was wearing good shoes. Still, the internet might say this is an easy hike (about 1 to 1.5 hours), but beware of the weather. As a norwegian, I considered this, but it wasn’t that bad when we started the hike. And at no point was it raining enough that it was dangerous, but I could see a lot of people struggling because of the mud turning slippery. It was truly the wind taking a hold of you the further up we went that tired me out. It was not an easy hike in those conditions, and there were people I went on the hike with that struggled. Just take into consideration on any type of walk uphill that it’s never too late to turn around. Still, I would absolutely not miss it!
National Gallery; I really liked the modern art part of it. It was a peaceful time walking around. And then I walked past Vanessa Hudgens and was incredibly shocked even though I remained calm. Can’t promise she’ll be there for your trip as well.
The Worse Parts
The actual visit to Edinburgh Castle was a bit of a let-down. It’s most majestic looking up at it, especially as it was the view from my hostel everytime I stepped out. It was particularly exciting visiting on the (early) morning before new year’s eve, as soldiers walked aroud taking care of the huge amounts of fireworks they were going to shoot off. I knew more than most about Edinburgh Castle going into it, and there were little new information. It was cool to see the dungeons. More interesting that it’s still an active military place, but that also meant that the truly interesting parts – the many floors underneath the actual buildings – were off-limits.
So much walking up stairs. And tiny, old alleyways, which really gave the place its atmosphere. (I might have listened to The Magnus Archives first podcast episode right after this trip, and definitely recognized that dark alleyway). Which was my fault for booking a hostel, no matter how lovely, that was so close to Edinburgh Castle. If you can afford it uber was a great thing, which I only as a norwegian used once with other people, because I didn’t spend time figuring it out. The walking also felt a bit more unsafe during the darkness of night because I was alone during the holidays, I think that if I was to be there in a less busy time of the year I would’ve been out more. Honestly I kept to myself because I wanted to, that was a part of the reason for this vacation; I needed time alone. There was plenty of opportunities in the hostel of going out with a group or stay in and be social, even if you were alone.
The first night was truly the only night I regretted the decision to go alone for very much personal reasons, because I got a terrible migraine, which is a semi-uncommon thing for me. I literally could not move, or sit up from my bed before wanting to puke, even with taken all medicines with me as a precaution. Goddamn, I can still feel the anxiety in my chest as I realized it would be one of my worst migraines.
Actual New Year’s Eve
I loved it so much and it will be a cherished memory forever. It was my first time in such a large crowd of people as the whole city of tourists and (at least some) locals joined together in this large street party. I saw mixed opinions on the actual street party that you have to buy a ticket for (we got it free through the hostel), but while I get every local doesn’t want to spend hours on hours outside with long toilet queues, it was absolutely worth it. There were concerts/shows spread out over multiple stages, so the people would spread out as well. There was a parade through the old town, with mythical creatures and lots of show. Then the fireworks over Edinburgh Castle was spectacular and afterwards everyone actually danced in the streets. I was lucky to meet a group of friends at the hostel that I spent the night with, and met a few very nice, very drunk locals as well. I surprised myself with staying pretty sober – which is not my natural state at a party, I promise you. But I just wanted to experience it all fully and remember it, which is why I only have a few photos with the group taken by nice, random strangers and a couple videos of the energy of the night.
A Year Later
This year, 2020, I’m back celebrating New Year’s in my tiny village of 620 people, which I would’ve found hilariously amusing, hadn’t it been for COVID-19 being most of the reason.
Even as someone who’s very introverted I hope it won’t be too long until it’s safe to again get to share the energy of concerts, of massive gatherings and of people doing nice things out of happiness and creating moments together.
It’s another season of new books waiting in the horizon! (Let’s all work towards making this year less bad overall, shall we?)
Lore by Alexandra Bracken
Release date: January 5th 2021
Why I want to read it: Greek gods!! Also I liked this author’s books as a teen. It’s a standalone, which is a plus.
Winterkeep (Graceling Realm #4) by Kristin Cashore
Release date: January 19th 2021
Why I want to read it: Graceling is one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, especially as I grew up along with it, from 2008 to 2012, and now another new book. This magical world is built in such a way that you can just expand it and create crossovers, while retaining some of the elements. I’m just so happy about learning this book will exist.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
Release date: January 19th 2021
Why I want to read it: I’ve yet to read Akata Witch by the same author, but so many seems to like it. I’ve seen this novella described as a folktale/sci-fi story with african futurism,
How To Disappear by Savannah Brown
Release date: February 23rd 2021
Why I want to read it: I always have loved Savannah’s writing, her debut novel “The truth about keeping secrets” was stunning, as is her poetry. So I’m here for more mystery, set in an isolated community where surely the worst things could happen, in secret.
A Court of Silver and Flames by Sarah J. Maas
Release date: February 16th 2021
Why I want to read it: I don’t want to, but I feel compelled to finish what I’ve started with this series, no matter how often I give up on this author. Goddamn. Maybe I won’t and this is what breaks the cycle – I wish.
A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine
Release date: March 2nd 2021
Why I want to read it: I’ve yet to read the first book in this series, but the beginning of this queer sci-fi series has gotten so good reviews. I mean – Aztec empire in space??
Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
Release date: March 9th 2021
Why I want to read it: honestly I’m unsure about this book, even with the stunning cover. But sapphic witches, a magical plague, dark powers and love bargains might be too good to pass on, especially if the reviews I see are positive.
She’s Too Pretty To Burn by Wendy Heard
Release date: March 30th 2021
Why I want to read it: queer girls, a rebel art scene and claiming to be a “sexy, psychological thriller”.