I did not read much last year, and I never got around to posting reviews for most of it. I will catch up a little here!
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky's, A Girl Corrupted by the Internet Is the Summoned Hero!? is written in the style of a Japanese "light novel". This is not a subgenre I'm familiar with; to me, it read like a dialogue-heavy, description-light novella.
This is kind of a strange concept for a story, because it's kind of about pornography while not actually containing any pornographic scenes. One of the key plot points is that the main character is a teenage girl who shamelessly consumed lots of online pornography. She is summoned to a fantasy world to save them from the "Dark Lord", and the magic system in the world revolves heavily around notions of sexual purity/impurity/desires.
You might think "okay, this sounds like an excuse for erotica" but no, there is no erotica. At all.
What you get instead is a lot of humor, and clever exploits of the way magic and prophecy work in the setting. Some attempts at exploits work, some fail, and the whole hangs together sensibly.
I heard about this novella because Yudkowsky is the author of the fanfic "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", which I'd read and enjoyed. This novella does have the same "clever people coming up with clever solutions" quality to it. There's also a certain genre-savviness to it; the protagonist knows the kind of story she's in, and also that it's not technically a story so may not follow the conventions she's expecting it to.
Overall, I liked it but didn't love it; the characters could've been more engaging, mainly. The protagonist is interesting but the only person one really gets to know as a distinct personality. Still, the premise was cute and the clever stuff is delivered well. I'll give it an 8.
Courtney Milan, Hold Me
I have mixed feelings about this book.
Some of them are from the tropes used: "Enemies to Lovers" and "Secret Identities" are not my favorite tropes, although ironically I was writing a book that used both of them (The Sun Etherium) when I was reading this book. Apparently I only like those tropes when I'm the one writing them. -_- Anyway, if you like those tropes, you will enjoy this book more than I do.
Things I liked about it: the female protagonist, Maria, is a Hispanic transwoman, a fact which is not very plot relevant. It's nice to see trans protagonists just being people in the story as opposed to "This Is A Story About What It Is Like to Be Trans". In a similar vein, the male protagonist, Jay, is a bisexual Thai-American man and that's even less plot-relevant. This stuff informs the backstory of the characters, but it does so in much the way that characters being middle-class white cis American does. Maria does have some distant-past trauma rooted in being trans: her parents kicked her out when she was 12; she grew up with her grandmother, who was both loving and accepting. But it's not the focus of the book and, since Milan always gives her characters traumatic backstories*, it doesn't feel like a commentary on transness per se.
* No, really, she does. I like Courtney Milan's writing but I can't binge-read her books because ZOMG ALL THE TRAUMA. I think her theme is supposed to be "even broken people can find love" but after the third one in a row it feels more like "only people who have known TRUE HORROR AND DESPAIR can understand what love really means".
Anyway, Jay doesn't have a problem with Maria because she's trans. Jay is, however, a disrespectful elitist snob, and he takes and instant dislike to Maria because she's beautiful and well-dressed. He is not precisely a misogynist; he doesn't so much hate women as think that female-coded behaviors like "wearing makeup" and "liking pop music" indicate that a person is shallow and not worthy of being treated with common decency.
Jay exemplifies a certain kind of person, one who thinks that since he respects women who share his own interests, that means he is off the hook from treating people with respect when when they don't. Slowly, over the course of the novel, he pieces together that this is not actually how mature adults behave.
It's kind of exhausting. Like it really shouldn't be this hard to figure out "treat people decently" and "no, it's not okay to assume someone is shallow based on the way they look and also EVEN IF THEY ARE SHALLOW YOU SHOULD STILL TREAT THEM DECENTLY." Seriously. "Treated like a person" is not a thing people need to earn from anyone. It should be the default. Be polite. It won't kill you. Why is this so hard?
There are lots of things to like about Jay: he is smart, loyal to his friends, supportive, and hard-working. But the fact that he really has to work HARD at a thing like "basic politeness" which frankly even most outright bigots can manage better than him is just ... sigh. Okay, Jay.
Maria was much easier to like than Jay; her habit of baiting Jay got a little wearing, but (a) he deserved it and (b) it wasn't that big a part of the book. Also, Maria gave me nerd-like-me feels; she is studying to be an actuary and on the side writes an apocalypse-of-the-week blog, where she researches meticulously various possible ways forms of "the end of the world as we know it" and what the world would look like after it happened. Her blog has reasonable blog-like levels of success, which means it has lots and lots of readers and earns about as much as a good part-time job. It had a good plausible feel to it.
The last 40% or so of the book is mostly Jay trying to make it up to Maria for being such a jerk in the first 60% of the book. I admit I have always had a soft spot for that sort of thing, so this part worked for me.
Overall, I did not love this book nearly as much as the first in the series, Trade Me. But I did like it overall, and will give it an 8.
Alexis Hall, Pansies
This is a contemporary gay romance. Its basic premise is "man falls for the man he used to bully in school" with the bonus of "main axis of bullying was 'because weaker boy is gay'". Which, obviously, the bully turns out to be, too. There's another bonus bit where the victim used to fantasize about dating/making out with the bully.
That last bit was pretty hard for me to relate to; I can't imagine lusting after any of the people who bullied me. But aside from that piece, the book was a fun read and I enjoyed it overall. Not too much else to say about it. I'll give it an 8.