The Great Book Superlatives of 2018, Part I

The time has come for, you guessed it, exactly what it says in the header: BOOK SUPERLATIVES.

This year, however, I’m shortening these rather drastically. Don’t worry; that still means I’ll use about 3,000 words more than necessary; a new year heralds change and all, but not, like, that much change.

In Part I, you’ll find important literary awards such as Best Christmas Story, Book I’d Most Like To See As a Movie, and–of course–my Top Ten of the Year. As always, feel free to leave your own favorites in the comments; I’d love to hear some recommendations, especially if they come with a side of muuurder.

OBLIGATORY MY GEEK BLASPHEMY DISCLAIMERS

1. Any novel or novella I read for the first time last year, whether it was written in 2018 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 the Book Superlatives. Still, I do plan to discuss these books a little, so if you’re very, very strict about spoilers, you may wish to read with caution.

All clear? Then, let’s hop to this.

FAVORITE OPENER

“The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and, indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.”

Have His Carcase – Dorothy Sayers

I have never loved anything in my whole life as much as I loved this opening paragraph. Dorothy Sayers just gets me.

Honorable Mentions:

It starts when you pull the lamp chain and light doesn’t come. Then you know you will never wake up in time, you will not make it to the end of this paragraph alive. – Meddling Kids

Sometimes you have to pull a knife. It’s not a good thing. I don’t enjoy it. But sometimes you just have to get a knife in your hands and make it clear which way the stabby end is pointing. – The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, “What’s most important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.” You’ll notice that wasn’t even the question. – Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed. – Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

So far, magic school was total rubbish.
Elliot sat on the fence bisecting two fields and brooded tragically over his wrongs. – In Other Lands

BEST CHRISTMAS STORY

Mystery in White – J. Jefferson Farjeon

Admittedly, I don’t think I read any other Christmas stories. And the wrap-up to this one didn’t hold up quite as well as I would’ve liked; still, the book was a lot of fun to read, and the premise hooked me immediately: on Christmas Eve, a handful of stranded train passengers take refuge from a snowstorm in a nearby country house, a house that appears to have been very recently and very creepily abandoned, only to discover there are murderers running about–and possibly ghosts, too. Farjeon is a very witty writer; if you’re a Dorothy Sayers or Noël Coward fan, you might enjoy his novels, too. I’d watch the hell out of a movie adaptation, provided a few updates could be made.

BOOK I’D MOST LIKE TO SEE AS A MOVIE

When The Moon Was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore

Oh, man. This book. This book is a visual feast, and if someone could do it properly, I would love to see this take on a La Llorona story up on the big screen. Glass coffins and glass pumpkins. Roses growing from wrists. Painted moons hung up all over town. This could be such a stunningly beautiful film. Plus, witches, a sweet romance, Mexican folklore, and solid trans rep? TAKE MY MONEY, HOLLYWOOD.

Honorable Mentions:  Creatures of Will & Temper; Binti; Mystery in White; The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women; River of Teeth; Snowspelled; Let’s Talk About Love; Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, Anna Dressed in Blood; Thirteen Guests; Hollywood Homicide

BOOK I’D MOST LIKE TO SEE AS A TV SERIES (OR MINI-SERIES)

Jade City – Fonda Lee

Take The Godfather. Add in magic. Add in martial arts. Set it in a modern and Asia-inspired second world, and you’ll have the ingredients for a fantastic book that’s just begging to be adapted into a television show, probably on Netflix or HBO. Actually, with feuding families vying for power and complicated inner-family dynamics on display, I think Jade City could fill the soon-to-be hole in the hearts of billions of GoT viewers. (Way more than any lame prequel series, which, fine, it could be good, but we could also just adapt something new.) Plus, I just gotta see some of these action sequences. The world is dark and full of terrors; we deserve these fight scenes in our lives, damn it.

Honorable Mentions: Meddling Kids; Trail of Lightning; The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue; The Black Tides of Heaven; The Good House; In Other Lands; Summer in Orcus; A Study in Honor; The City of Lost Fortunes; Dread Nations; Envy of Angels; Depth

FASTEST READ

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

This was a cute, quick read that I devoured in, like, 24 hours. (And in case anyone was wondering, no, I haven’t seen the movie yet and absolutely need to.) Blue’s RL identity is sort of ridiculously obvious, like, double facepalm obvious, but the romance is still sweet and Simon is a fun, likable narrator. Great voice, super quotable. I like his family, too, how they’re simultaneously  supportive and awkward and not 100% perfect; no one’s condemned, but fuckups are still acknowledged, rather than swept under the rug. This goes double for the book’s primary antagonist, Martin; it’s great that Simon has sympathy for him while at the same time never actually forgiving him. Emotions are allowed to be conflicting and messy without letting anyone off the hook.

Honorable Mentions: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue; One Dark Throne; Meddling Kids; Strong Poison; Beneath the Sugar Sky; The Collapsing Empire; In Other Lands; Summer in Orcus; Trail of Lightning; Mystery in White

FAVORITE BOOK THAT SHOULD BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOL

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Obviously, I couldn’t have read this in school without benefit of time travel, but I think it’d be an excellent book to add to a modern curriculum. I definitely think it should be assigned reading for high schools like the one I went to, where the faculty and student body were both roughly 98% white, and racism was primarily taught as something that was defeated back in the 1960’s. I, certainly, would have benefitted from reading a book that taught perspective and current affairs from such a nuanced perspective. It’s also just a really well-written book with great characters and a surprising amount of humor to balance out the inherent bleakness of the ripped-from-the-headlines premise.

Honorable Mentions: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

FAVORITE NON-FICTION BOOK

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women – Kate Moore

I’m not gonna lie to you, folks. This one is a rough read. It’s a fascinating read and I definitely don’t regret picking it up, but also, nothing good was happening to my BP that week, like, this book oughta come with a warning label that says “Caution: Causes RAGE.” It’s worse than just gross negligence, too: there are absolutely horrifying accounts of how these companies in the 1920’s knowingly allowed these women to die, like, literally just one example is a company that gave its employees physicals and then lied about their test results for years–including straight to a woman’s face who, I shit you not, had just had her arm amputated due to the radium poisoning she’d suffered at her job. This is not a book you read if you’re looking to be inspired about the inherent goodwill of humanity. Basically every note I wrote pretty much consisted of “UGH” and “I want to murder you” and “JFC” and “Can I set you on fire now?”

I’m saying, I highly recommend the book. Just, like, take happy breaks or something. Don’t pair it with the news. Maybe don’t read it back-to-back with The Hate U Give or anything else that’s too depressingly true to be just fiction.

Honorable Mentions: Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius; The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Abbott – Saladin Ahmed

I didn’t read very many comics this year, unfortunately, but I did get Abbott for my birthday and enjoyed the hell out of it. Abbott’s a black, bisexual investigative journalist in the 1970’s, dealing with racism, sexism, and, oh yeah, THE OCCULT. I wish the story would’ve moved a little slower at certain points, especially so we could learn more about the SF/F elements, but this comic has got a great protagonist and atmosphere is spades. I definitely plan to keep up with this one. (I assume more is coming? Please say more is coming!)

Honorable Mentions: Jughead, Vol. 1 – Chip Zdarsky

FAVORITE SF NOVEL

The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi

I am awarding this against my will, since John Scalzi killed off a character I did not want killed off, damn it, and I have not chosen to forgive him for that yet. (No, I don’t count ‘a character dies’ as a spoiler. That shit happens pretty commonly.) Still, despite this obviously unacceptable behavior, I really enjoyed this book. The whole concept of multiple worlds abruptly being cut off from the rest of the universe, threatening humanity as a whole and forever dooming the current galactic empire, is really interesting. Also, the starship names are great, and there are a bunch of awesome female protagonists I really enjoyed. I haven’t checked out the sequel yet, but I’m definitely interested to see where this story goes.

Honorable Mentions: Binti; The Tea Master and the Detective

FAVORITE HORROR NOVEL

Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero

Man, talk about a novel that appears to be written just for you: a group of teen detectives who grew up to be various damaged people–or died–must come together as adults and solve a supernatural mystery. This one’s commonly touted as Scooby Doo meets Lovecraft, and overall, it’s a really fun book: the premise is great, the story is playful, the writing is generally hilarious–though I will mention that the format is, ah, frequently odd, and there are a few moments here or there that definitely made me uncomfortable, and not like in a cool, “horror is creepy and thought-provoking” uncomfortable, but more of a “some of these language choices feel othering and a little icky” uncomfortable. Your mileage might vary on that sort of thing, but it’s probably not a bad thing to research ahead of time.

Honorable Mentions: The Good House; Experimental Film

FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY NOVEL

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter – Theodora Goss

This is a delightful book. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a feminist take on classic horror novels with either new or re-imagined characters (Mary Jekyll and Justine Frankenstein, for instance) founding the Athena Club and getting mixed up in various murder investigations and mad science shenanigans. I probably could’ve done with a few less interruptions–if an intrusive narrator drives you up the wall, best you don’t pick up this novel–but I still had a great time reading it: the book is laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are fantastic: well-rounded and captivating. Mary’s probably my favorite, but I really love all the women and the bonds they form with one another. I’m absolutely looking forward to reading the sequel. (It came out last July, but my To-Read pile is already two stacks high, unfortunately.)

Honorable Mentions: A Skinful of Shadows; One Dark Throne; The Black Tides of Heaven; Creatures of Will & Temper

FAVORITE YA OR MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

I can easily provide criticisms of this book. Like, I think it’s longer than it needs to be, and if it is going to be this long, I might’ve preferred a less episodic plot. Some of the humor, while fantastic, probably could’ve been thinned for a smoother reading experience. But in the end, none of that mattered because, my God, nothing gave me the Feels the way In Other Lands did.

For instance, the protagonist Elliot? Sure, he’s a frustrating, abrasive little shit, but I still adore him desperately; there’s never really a point when I don’t like him, even if I do want to shake him. I really loved watching his character growth over the course of the novel, especially as he slowly learns to navigate his own emotions. (It helps, too, that Elliot shows some welcome maturity at certain key moments in the story.) And I’m all about the ship in this book, as well as some of Elliot’s more platonic friendships. The queer rep is pretty great. The constant digs at Narnia are awesome. The satirical reverse sexism of the elves gives me life. I read a lot of great things this year, but I don’t know if anything made me laugh quite so hard as this book.

Honorable Mentions: Summer in Orcus; The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue; The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy; The Hate U Give; Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; A Skinful of Shadows; Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword; Dread Nation 

FAVORITE BOOK OF 2018

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

For pretty much all the reasons I just said, plus this: if you sometimes wish books had more fanfiction sensibilities, this might be the portal fantasy for you. The combination of humor, Feels, snark, angst, and an adorable ship I rooted for every step of the way made this exactly the right book for me, which is why it also wins for FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY NOVEL.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Contemporary Fantasy Novel: Summer in Orcus; Beneath the Sugar Sky; The City of Lost Fortunes; Envy of Angels; Trail of Lightning; Jade City; Jane, Unlimited

And that, of course, leads me to the rest of my TOP TEN FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2018.

2. Summer in Orcus – T. Kingfisher
3. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue – Mackenzi Lee
4. Jane, Unlimited – Kristin Cashore
5. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
6. Trail of Lightning – Rebecca Roanhorse
7. Beneath the Sugar Sky – Seanan McGuire
8. Jade City – Fonda Lee
9. The Black Tides of Heaven – JY Yang
10. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter – Theodora Goss

(Disclaimer: I only linked the novels that hadn’t already been linked above. I trust in your scrolling abilities. Also, these are not ordered in any meaningful way. Summer in Orcus was definitely my other top contender for Favorite Book of 2018–people, I loved it SO MUCH, and more on that in Part II–but after that, I pretty much just gave up.)

Well, that’s what I’ve got for today. Stay tuned tomorrow (or, at the latest, Monday) for the rest of these awards. Maybe you can already guess BEST USE OF KILLER ANIMALS, but how about BEST DEATH or BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY LIKE A SMALL CHILD? These are the questions, people. These are the real mysteries that need to be solved.

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