The 2017 Book Superlatives, Part I

Well, here’s the sad truth: I’ve pretty much given up on posting any 2017 movie superlatives. I really didn’t watch that many movies last year, and I reviewed even less. (Can you believe I never even managed to write about The Lego Batman Movie? I’m still bummed about that.) More importantly, though, I’m just anxious to move forward with the new year, rather than spend the rest of the month feverishly writing yet another retrospective. 2017 sucked. I’m really done with it.

Except. I did manage to read a fair amount of books last year. Thus what I have for you today: the 2017 Book Superlatives, Numero Uno.

Let’s just get right to it, shall we?

Okay, let’s do a couple of disclaimers first, and then get right to it.

OBLIGATORY MY GEEK BLASPHEMY DISCLAIMERS

1. Any novel or novella I read for the first time last year, whether it was written in 2017 or not, is eligible. (If you missed it, those books are listed here.)

2. Big Spoiler Awards–Best Death, for instance–will not appear until Part II of these Book Superlatives. But obviously I do plan to discuss these books a little, so if you don’t want to know anything about whatever book you haven’t read, well. Sorry.

All clear? Let’s hop to this.

BEST TITLE

Rocks Fall; Everyone Dies – Lindsay Ribar

I mean, come on. I nearly bought this book based on that title alone. (The description on Goodreads was also a selling point, although it later caused me to raise my eyebrows to new, undocumented heights, like, I don’t know exactly what “Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow” would look like, but uh. This ain’t it.) Thankfully, there’s much more to appreciate here than just the amazeballs title. Like some of the plot twists and turns. Also, the solid conclusion. The third act letdown is a common problem for many books, but that’s pretty much the opposite of what happened here.

Honorable Mentions: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place; The Long Goodbye; The Murders of Molly Southbourne; The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

SUPER ABILITY OR GADGET I WOULD MOST LIKE TO STEAL

TIE!

Virtual Reality Horror Therapy – Final Girls
Storing Memories, Words, or Strength in Metal – The Final Empire

Okay, I know the whole VR slasher therapy would be terrifying and obviously end in disaster, but . . . I mean . . . it still sounds kind of neat, right? If you could trust the person operating the controls, that is, which I absolutely would not. Like, I wouldn’t even trust most people I know with that kind of shit. Still. The horror movie and escape-the-room enthusiast in me just craves the whole immersive experience.

More practically, however, the ability to save up your memories or strength or what-have-you to literally pull out later when need be? That’s just neat. I very much enjoyed the various magic systems in The Final Empire. In fact, how the magic worked might have been my favorite thing about the book.

Honorable Mentions: Call animals, including having an animal familiar (Three Dark Crowns); Invulnerable to eating poison (Three Dark Crowns); Calling fire and storms (Three Dark Crowns); Cloning (Six Wakes); Burning pewter (The Final Empire); Having a Spirit Face (Akata Witch); Surviving certain death by the power of belief (Raising Stony Mayhall); Tattoo bots (A Closed and Common Orbit); Math superpowers (Zero Sum Game); Muse Fae Echo (Phantom Pains); Absorbing other’s pain and battle-singing (The Prey of Gods); Telling a lie to discover a truth (The Lie Tree); Orogeny (The Fifth Season); Turning living creatures into stone (The Fifth Season); Having an elevator that goes every direction on a whim (The Shadow Cipher); Cheeses that tell you forgotten truths you once knew (A Face Like Glass); Talking to ghosts (Such Sweet Sorrow); Shapeshifting (The Rise of Renegade X)

BEST SUPPORTING CHARACTER

Owl – A Closed and Common Orbit

There are always roughly a million or so nominees for this particular award and it’s forever a tough battle, but this year I ultimately settled on Owl, a ship’s AI who takes on a maternal/teaching role to a child who’s been–well, let’s just wildly undersell it by saying she’s been imprisoned and severely mistreated. (Owl and Jane’s relationship is so spectacular. In fact, they also win for BEST DYNAMIC DUO.) I have always had a thing for AI’s and robots who feel and/or express emotions–if not necessarily in the same way humans do–and Owl is just so sweet and nurturing. Pretty much, Owl is just the best.

Honorable Mentions for Best Dynamic Duo: Arsinoe & Billy (Three Dark Crowns); Kell & Lila (A Gathering of Shadows/A Conjuring of Light); Pepper and Blue (A Closed And Common Orbit); Sunny & Orlu (Akata Witch); Coffin Ed & Grave Digger (A Rage in Harlem); Nettie & Winifred (Wake of Vultures); Millie & Caryl (Phantom Pains); Faith & Paul (The Lie Tree); Essen & Hoa (The Fifth Season); Jennifer & Sosie (Beauty Queens); Damien & Sarah (The Rise of Renegade X)

Honorable Mentions for Best Supporting Character: Mak Genggang (Sorcerer to the Crown); Damerall (Sorcerer to the Crown); Alice (The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place); Mary Jane (The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place); Louise (The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place); Mrs. Vellet (The Lie Tree); Billy (Three Dark Crowns); Natalia (Three Dark Crowns); Kika (Certain Dark Things); Tieren (A Gathering of Shadows); Calla (A Gathering of Shadows); Joanna (Six Wakes); Sabita (The Stars Are Legion); Cassamir (The Stars Are Legion); Mr. Blunt (Raising Stony Mayhall); Alice (Raising Stony Mayhall); Hastra (A Conjuring of Light); Helen (Ghost Talkers); Mrs. Richardson (Ghost Talkers); Ham (The Final Empire); Fox (The Bone Witch); Orlu (Akata Witch); Winifred (Wake of Vultures); Mensah (All Systems Red); Pin-Lee (All Systems Red); The King in Red (Two Serpents Rise); Rio (Zero Sum Game); Mary (Down Among the Sticks and Bones); Tjuan (Phantom Pains); Claybriar (Phantom Pains); Shock (Phantom Pains); Hoa (The Fifth Season); Alabaster (The Fifth Season); Jaime’s Grandmother (The Shadow Cipher); Cricket (The Shadow Cipher); Zoelle (A Face Like Glass); Marjorie (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club); Miss Dorland (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club)

FAVORITE SHIP

Rhy/Alucard – A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light

A Darker Shade of Magic remains my favorite novel in the trilogy, but the sequels come with some lovely additions, like Alucard, and Alucard’s glorious ship with Rhy Maresh. I’ve been sitting here for a while, trying to come up with some articulate way to express why I like them so much, but I’m coming up empty . . . I just ship the hell out of them. They are, however, one of many, many reasons I’d really loved to see a live-action adaptation of the Shades of Magic trilogy.

Honorable Mentions: Ginger/Ben (Ghost Talkers); Petra/Sinjin (Beauty Queens);  Dimple/Rishi (When Dimple Met Rishi); Lois/SmallvilleGuy (Double Down); Ash/Kaisa (Ash); Lila/Kell (A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light); Millie/Claybriar (Phantom Pains); Muzi/Elkin (The Prey of Gods); Syenite/Alabaster/Innon (The Fifth Season); Alice/Leland (The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place)

BEST BROMANCE

Carlos & Riley – Midnight Taxi Tango

This was a fun follow-up to Half-Resurrection Blues–as always, Daniel José Older owns when it comes to witty dialogue–and Carlos and Riley’s friendship is one of the many highlights. Riley is best, of course, when he’s trying to talk some sense into Carlos. Like, in this exchange (which does have considerable  SPOILERS for HRB):

“It’s okay to feel pain. I mean, shit, she was carrying your child. You ain’t seen her in what, four months?”
“Six months and seven days.”
Riley leaps up. “See? That was a test, and you failed. You counting the days, man. Just be upset and be okay with being upset.”

See, Riley brings the perspective. I like Carlos and all, but perspective is something his mopey ass usually needs. Which is probably why Carlos and Kia also win for Best Platonic M/F Friendship . . . cause Kia (who awesomely gets her own POV this time around) is great, and she definitely brings perspective.

Honorable Mentions for Best Platonic M/F Friendship: Lila & Alucard (A Gathering of Shadows/A Conjuring of Light); Caleb & Teo (Two Serpents Rise); Tea & Likh (The Bone Witch); Vin & Sazed (The Final Empire); Wimsey & Marjorie (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club)

BEST LADYMANCE

Kitty, Mary Jane, Alice, Louise, Elinor, Martha, and Roberta – The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

There’s a lot to like about this book (of which I’ll discuss shortly), but one of my absolute favorite things was the close friendship between all of the girls. There’s never any manufactured drama between them. Occasional fighting, sure, some peevishness, but these very different young women are all absolutely devoted to one another, and I really enjoyed that. After all, no one wants a book about catfights and jealous best friends, do they? We want more “friends help you move/real friends help you move bodies” books . . . and wouldn’t you know it? That’s literally what this novel is about.

Honorable Mentions: Nicole & Shanti (Beauty Queens); Mary Lou & Adina (Beauty Queens); Cecelia & Kate (Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot); Arsinoe & Jules (Three Dark Crowns); Celaena & Nehemia (Throne of Glass); Esther & Jennifer (Final Girls); Sunny & Chichi (Akata Witch); Sidra & Pepper (A Closed And Common Orbit); Neverfell & Zoelle (A Face Like Glass); Dimple & Celia (When Dimple Met Rishi)

BEST SIBLING RELATIONSHIP

Kell & Rhy – A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light

This was close. I waffled a lot (Tea and Fox in The Bone Witch were also serious contenders), but ultimately I had to go with the Maresh brothers, who risk so much for one another over the course of this trilogy. I especially enjoyed their dynamic in A Gathering of Shadows, how they were dealing (or sometimes not dealing) with the fallout of events from A Darker Shade of Magic. And, as always, I can’t help but adore Overprotective Kell. Overprotective Kell is kind of my fave.

Honorable Mentions: Tea & Fox (The Bone Witch); Stony & Alice (Raising Stony Mayhall); Winifred and Dan (Wake of Vultures); Junior & Dino (Mapping the Interior); Rishi & Ashish (When Dimple Met Rishi)

BEST EXAMPLE OF AN AUTHOR TURNING A STORY ON ITS HEAD

Beauty Queens – Libba Bray

If you thought Lord of the Flies was conceptually interesting but wished it came with more girls and satire, then this might be the YA book of your dreams.

I really wish I’d read this when I was a teenager. I mean, that would’ve been impossible because it didn’t come out until I was in my 20’s, but still. I think it would’ve been good for me and that whole #NotLikeOtherGirls brand of feminism I’d unfortunately bought into at the time. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun, and I know the absurdist satire would’ve really appealed to me at 16 or so. I think schools should start assigning this immediately after kids finish reading Lord of the Flies.

Honorable Mentions: Raising Stony Mayhall; Final Girls; Ash

FASTEST READ

Zero Sum Game –  S.L. Huang

This was just a fabulously fun read, fast paced and action packed. I didn’t want to put it down, and I always value books that engage me like that. And it’s kind of neat, having a badass heroine who’s also a giant nerd, like, math is genuinely our protagonist’s superpower and it’s kind of awesome. (But never fear, fellow math-phobes; numbers aren’t exactly my strong suit, and I still thought this book was super approachable.) I would watch this as a movie or a TV show in a heartbeat. Speaking of which . . .

Honorable Mentions: Six Wakes; A Gathering of Shadows; When Dimple Met Rishi; Pasadena; A Conjuring of Light; Mapping the Interior; Phantom Pains; The Shadow Cipher; Midnight Taxi Tango; The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

BOOK I WOULD MOST LIKE TO SEE AS A MOVIE

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – Julie Berry

There are always a lot of nominees for this one, but man. I would sign up SO FAST for a madcap murder mystery where the varied teenage girls at a late 19th century boarding school have to work together to hide their headmistress’s body. (Not to mention figure out who killed her. Her brother, too.) This was a thoroughly charming read, just the kind of thing I needed in this bullshit year of 2017.

There are not nearly enough movies that celebrate girl friendships, let alone girl friendships and body disposal. Come on, people. We need this film in our lives.

Honorable Mentions: Final Girls; Ghost Talkers; Zero Sum Game; All Systems Red; The Lie Tree; The Winter People; The Unpleasantess at the Bellona Club; Such Sweet Sorrow; The Shadow Cipher; The Murders of Molly Southborne; When Dimple Met Rishi

BOOK I WOULD MOST LIKE TO SEE AS A TV SHOW

Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty

I’m not gonna lie: I have some pretty serious resolution problems with this book. In my dream TV show, I’d probably change some stuff. (It would also be a limited series, rather than an ongoing show.) That being said, I had so much fun reading this novel. It was incredibly engaging, easily one of my quickest reads of the year, and come on. An amnesiac clone murder mystery in space? Dude, this was MADE for me.

I’m just saying, TV executive people. You make this show, and I will subscribe to your channel. I don’t care if I don’t watch a single other thing on it. IT WILL BE MINE.

Honorable Mentions: Three Dark Crowns; Wake of Vultures; Sorcery & Cecelia; Zero Sum Game; Beauty Queens; Certain Dark Things; Hammers On Bone; The Final Empire; The Bone Witch; Akata Witch; Two Serpents Rise; The Prey of Gods; Phantom Pains; Double Down; Midnight Taxi Tango; Tinseltown; A Face Like Glass; The Rise of Renegade X

BOOK I WOULD MOST LIKE TO SEE TURNED INTO A VIDEO GAME

Such Sweet Sorrow – Jenny Trout

Begin game. Choose player: Hamlet or Romeo. Go on quest to save Juliet from the Afterworld. (Unlock playable character: Juliet.) Explore various Afterworlds for trophies. Defeat bosses: Fenrir, Valkyries, Various Mirror Versions of Player 1, etc. Escape back into the land of the living. Win game, probably. (Choices can affect outcome.)

I mean, come on. Doesn’t that just sound fun? Like, I would pre-order that shit.

BOOK I WISH I COULD FALL INTO FOR AT LEAST A DAY

The Shadow Cipher Laura Ruby

I’d love to get a ticket (preferably for at least a week) to visit this alt-New York City, with its steampunk origins and endless puzzles. In fact, I’d get tickets for all my friends too. We probably wouldn’t crack the cipher, but it’d be a lot of fun running around this world, solving riddles and, presumably, taking lots of touristy pictures. Finally, a scavenger hunt I can get behind!

Honorable Mention: A Closed and Common Orbit; A Face Like Glass; A Gathering of Shadows/A Conjuring of Light; The Bone Witch; Sorcerer to the Crown; Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot; Phantom Pains

FAVORITE WTF BOOK

The Stars Are Legion – Kameron Hurley

Deeply weird and deeply ambitious, this was definitely one of the most original books I read all year. The world is sometimes confusing (like, no one is holding your hand here) but it’s still fascinating, and the women populating it . . . I mean, damn. These are some fierce, murderous, unrelenting women. It’s fucking awesome.

I will say that I read a lot of reviews warning that The Stars Are Legion is not a book for the squeamish, and . . . I don’t know, folks. I mean, don’t get me wrong; it’s definitely visceral, but, like, I’m not a fainting flower? But if gore and childbirth and body fluids make you nope out of a story, you might wanna pass on this one.

Honorable Mentions: The Prey of Gods; Raising Stony Mayhall; The Shadow Cipher

FAVORITE SHOULD-HAVE-READ-THIS-IN-SCHOOL BOOK

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics – Jason Porath

Usually, this award is given to a book typically assigned in high school (or college), but this year it’s going to a book that’s absolutely not assigned in high school. It just should be. I’m so angry that I’ve never heard of most of these women before. And even the ones I have, like Harriet Tubman, are usually missing fascinating information from the textbooks. Any one of these ladies could totally be the subject of a badass Academy Award winning biopic. Do you hear me, world? There are actual biopics I could be interested in. Get on this.

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places – Colin Dickey

This wasn’t quite the book I thought it’d be when I picked it up–I suppose I expected a slightly more personal account, more the adventurous tourist than the academic tour guide–but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway. For starters, the guy can just write. There were so many great passages in this book, many of which sparked my Writer Brain into action.

Also, I just found the material fascinating. I was especially interested in the connection between Spiritualism and the suffragist movement, something I’d like to read more about. I’d recommend this to anyone who’s interested in American history, the function of ghost stories, or both.

Honorable Mentions: Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics – Jason Porath

FAVORITE HORROR

The Winter People – Jennifer McMahon

I got into this. There were things that didn’t totally work for me (villain motivation, for instance), but overall, I thought it was a creepy, atmospheric, melancholic read, and I enjoyed how this was a horror novel that really focused on women. It’s probably because there are just huge gaps–nay, chasms–in my horror education, but a lot of what I’ve read in the genre has been very guy-focused, and I found The Winter People a pleasant change of pace. Some nice twists and turns, too.

Honorable Mentions: Raising Stony Mayhall; Final Girls

FAVORITE ROMANCE NOVEL

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon

So, I’ve barely dipped my toes in the ocean that is romance lit (although I’m looking forward to reading The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue soon, and I’m pretty interested in checking out Let’s Talk About Love), but overall, I found this an enjoyable YA romance without the kind of manufactured angsty complications I associate with a lot of rom-coms. (Like the classic ‘I saw you kissing her’ misunderstanding. I’m not sure if those kinds of complications are as common in romance lit as they are in films, but either way, I was happy not to see them.)

Dimple and Rishi are cute, and I was rooting for them to get together. Their problems feel real and relatable, and I like that I can always see where both of them are coming from, even if I don’t agree with what they’re doing at the time. (Talking to you, Dimple!)

Honorable Mentions: Bearly a Lady

FAVORITE YA/MIDDLE GRADE

The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

This one started a little slow for me–the Big Thing that instigates the plot doesn’t happen until at least 100 pages have gone by–but by the time I finished the novel, I felt the slow open had been earned and then some. Cause hot damn, I liked this novel. (Which is why it also wins FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY BOOK.) It’s a fascinating blend of historical fiction, Victorian murder mystery, and . . . is “feminist as fuck” a genre? Probably not, but I’ll count it anyway.

If I had any doubts that Cuckoo Song (one of my favorite books last year) was some kind of spectacular one-off, The Lie Tree put them to bed; I’m pretty sure I’ve converted to the Church of Frances Hardinge for life.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite YA Or Middle Grade: Akata Witch; Sorcery and Cecelia; The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place; Wake of Vultures; Double Down; The Shadow Cipher; Beauty Queens; Three Dark Crowns

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy Book: Wake of Vultures; Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot; The Fifth Season; A Conjuring of Light; A Gathering of Shadows; Three Dark Crowns

FAVORITE MYSTERY

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club – Dorothy Sayers

It’s been a while since I’ve gone back to the Peter Wimsey mysteries. Turns out, this was just what I needed at the time: a good old-fashioned detective story, wry and so very British. I like the basic setup, the twists and turns and red herrings. I got almost everything right, too, which is always a pretty satisfying feeling.

Mostly, though, I really enjoy how this series continues to explore the effects of shell shock on soldiers after World War I. Also, there’s an honest-to-God “the facts of the matter are these” line, which I can only hear in the Narrator’s voice from Pushing Daisies. Obviously, that made me grin ear to ear.

Honorable Mentions: The Lie Tree; Six Wakes; The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place; Pasadena; The Long Goodbye; And Then There Were (N-1)

FAVORITE SF BOOK

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet was one of my favorite books in 2016, and I might have liked this standalone sequel even more. It is easily one of my favorite A.I. stories of all time, and as previously mentioned, I became really invested in Pepper’s backstory, specifically her relationship to Owl. This one is all identity and self-exploration and optimistic found family feels, and let me tell you, folks: I was here for it. (Which is why it also takes FAVORITE SEQUEL, very narrowly defeating both Phantom Pains and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.)

Honorable Mentions for Favorite SF Book: Zero Sum Game; The Fifth Season; All Systems Red; Six Wakes; The Stars Are Legion

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Sequel: Phantom Pains, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club; A Conjuring Of Light; A Gathering of Shadows

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY BOOK

Phantom Pains – Mishell Baker

Speaking of Phantom Pains . . . this is an excellent follow-up in what’s quickly becoming an amazing urban fantasy series. Millie is in a better place, psychologically speaking, than she was in the last novel, and I really liked seeing her emotional growth here (her dedication to therapy, for example). Also, the basic mystery is solid. Everything went a whole different direction than I was anticipating, culminating in some pretty huge developments for the series going forward. People, I’m into it.

Honorable Mentions: Akata Witch; Down Among the Sticks and Bones; Midnight Taxi Tango

FAVORITE BOOK OF 2017

TIE!

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

For all the reasons I pretty much already said (plus some more I’ll add in Part II of this post), I narrowed the list down to these two and pretty much just gave up. These are both excellent, excellent novels, and if you haven’t read them, they are well worth your time.

With those two books tying for first place, here is the rest of my top ten, listed in no particular order (and also well worth your time):

  1. The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
  2. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – Julie Berry
  3. Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
  4. All Systems Red – Martha Wells
  5. Phantom Pains – Mishell Baker
  6. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club – Dorothy Sayers
  7. Zero Sum Game – S.L. Huang
  8. Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot – Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
  9. Wake of Vultures – Lila Bowen

That’s it for now! Look for Part II next Monday or Tuesday, where I’ll get into the more spoiler-heavy superlatives, like Best Death or Ultimate Survivor. (Not to mention Favorite Quote. Oh my god, people. SO MANY QUOTES.)

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