Summer 2021 reading: dynasties, destinies, debutantes and dread

A header featuring three book covers discussed in the post

At the end of the day, it’s been a year of two halves. (Forgive me the football platitude joke. Anyone else remember That Mitchell and Webb Look?) Spring and summer were looking up, the sun was shining, I actually got to go away on holiday to the seaside… and then, well, I caught and then recovered from Covid, I went to the Labour Party annual conference, I ran out of holiday time at work, we got a brand new extra-contagious variant of the aforementioned plague, and I was just hellishly busy all the way up until December. So forgive me for both the lateness and the sparseness of this seasonal reading update. Although one of these books was absolutely enormous, so I think that should count for something.

The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu

What a chonk of a book! I used to own this bad boy in hardback form, but I realised I was never ever going to read it if it meant having to balance that breezeblock of a book in my hands every time I wanted to open it. So I gave it away, and years later got myself an ebook copy. I finally made my way through its 640-odd pages on holiday, which is really the perfect time to read epic fantasy.

And this fantasy is truly epic. A span of years, a whole host of unique characters, nations rising and falling—and yet we never lose sight of our two main characters, Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu. While Kuni is immediately loveable, and Mata is hateable from the start, Liu never allows these characters to become archetypes. Instead he holds each of them up to the light so we can see all their flaws and their graces.

I’m curious to see how the dynasty progresses in the next two books. I might just need to wait for my next couple of holidays to read them.

The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting, by KJ Charles

A standalone m/m romance from KJ Charles featuring Robin Loxleigh—yes, as in Robin Hood—and his sister Marianne on the hunt for a rich and eligible bachelor for Marianne to marry, to keep the both of them from poverty. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan—Robin finds himself right in the path of Sir John Hartlebury, Hart to his friends, and through their combative first interactions they begin to fall for one another. A sweet and enjoyable romance with emotional depths, just what I go to KJ Charles for.

The Anxiety Book for Trans People, by Freiya Benson

A gentle and constructive look at different ways of managing life with anxiety with a particular focus on how to do that as a trans person, with constructive and concrete tips and tricks in each chapter. Freiya Benson has a friendly and readable writing style, and relates episodes of anxiety in her own life to illustrate her points. But it’s not just Benson’s perspective we’re getting—she includes sidebars and quotes from other trans people relating their own experiences of anxiety.

Did this help me with my own anxiety? Well, no, not really. But nothing ever really has, including the NHS, so that’s not Benson’s fault. What it did give me was a wider perspective on the specific kinds of anxieties trans people are likely to share, and a sense of being not so alone with it.


The theme for 2021 is clawing our way through like we’re trapped in a sewer pipe just hoping for some daylight around the next bend, so I’m going to take having made it out alive as a win. I hope you all did too.

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