Best of 2020: BOOKS

Well. 2020 was . . . yeah, catastrophic. But the books, at least, were delightful.  Last week I posted a list of all the novels and novellas I read over the year; today, we’ll be discussing some of those books in more detail.

(A quick reminder: any book I read in 2020 is eligible for these Best Of’s, no matter when it actually came out. If I only discussed books published in 2020, well. Let’s just say this would be a much shorter list.)

FASTEST READ

The Game – Linsey Miller

Listen, I am always, always up for Murder Games of any kind, so this YA–where a high school senior discovers that one of her classmates is killing people for reals in their game of Assassin–was basically my dream premise. I read most of this in one sitting, which is unusual for me; I love to read, obviously, but I don’t have half the speed or focus of many people I know. So, it’s always a delight to find something easy and fun to sink into. Plus, you know. MURDER. Murder is my ultimate jam.

Honorable Mentions: When We Were Magic – Sarah Gailey;  Proper English – K.J. Charles; Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country – Emily Tesh; Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo; Pet – Akwaeke Emezi; My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite

FAVORITE MYTHOLOGY STORY

Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika

Okay, I talked about this book last week, I know. But it’s such an entertaining and original urban fantasy. I especially enjoyed the Hindu mythology because I feel like we don’t get to see enough South-Asian myth in UF, or at least I haven’t. There are honestly so many deities from so many different pantheons here, and it’s a lot of fun to guess who’s going to pop up next. I also really love the complicated relationship between our protagonist and her mother because while tricksters do frequently pop up in fantasy novels, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a Trickster Mom before. The mother-daughter relationship here is easily one of my favorite parts of this whole novel.

Honorable Mentions: Circe – Madeline Miller; Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia; A Song Below Water – Bethany C. Morrow

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men – Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Velvet Templeton is such a great character. Not that this is news: I’m aware I’m still catching up on five-year-old trades. Nevertheless, the world needs way more awesome middle-aged lady spies. And this volume, in particular, ends on one hell of a conclusion. I should probably dream cast this series, at some point.

Honorable Mentions: Velvet, Vol. 3: The Man Who Stole The World – Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting; Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra – Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

FAVORITE ROMANCE

Proper English – K.J. Charles

Okay, an F/F country house murder mystery romance novel? Holy Jesus, yes. This book is delightful: charming, witty, and actively queer, the last of which just isn’t something you get in Golden Age detective fiction, unfortunately. Proper English is definitely romance first, mystery second, but I enjoyed both aspects of the story: Pat is a likable, sensible heroine, and it’s a lot of fun to see her and Fen fall for each other and, also, solve crime. I’d like to see this story as a movie immediately.

Proper English is also something of a spinoff-prequel to Think of England, and you can better believe that novel’s already on my 2021 To-Read List.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics – Olivia Waite; Silver in the Wood – Emily Tesh

FAVORITE MYSTERY

The Santa Klaus Murder – Mavis Doriel Hay

Like I said, I’m a huge sucker for a witty country house murder mystery. These kinds of books are the ultimate comfort read for me, and I suspect I came across this one at just the right time. One of the things I specifically like here is the character work: we get multiple POVs for the first five chapters, and while it’s a bit strange, structurally speaking, it also allows the reader more time to really get to know our suspects. Plus, I had no idea how reliable these accounts actually were, so I had an especially fun time looking for discrepancies and clues. The Santa Klaus Murder is also the very rare Golden Age novel that actually ends on a hilariously fitting line, rather than just sorta clunking to a stop. I love this period of fiction, but some of those endings are just oof.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all Christmas stories are improved by a homicidal Santa; thus, this book also wins for FAVORITE CHRISTMAS STORY.

Honorable Mentions: A Morbid Taste for Bones – Ellis Peters; The Skull Beneath the Skin – P.D. James; The Broken Girls – Simone St. James

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

TIE!

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith – Colin Dickey
Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction – Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

I’ve never read a non-fiction writer whose prose inspires me as much as Colin Dickey. His sentences are thoughtful and elegant, and I always have at least seven new story ideas by the end of one of his books. The material here, too, is fascinating, not just because I find early Christian history interesting, but because of how the saints are analyzed and interpreted here: as punk saints, saints as rejects, etc. Dickey’s most recent book is called The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession With the Unexplained, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Meanwhile, Monster, She Wrote is a remarkably quick read for non-fiction and makes for a fantastic reference guide. I jotted down all kinds of short stories, novels, and authors who I’m shamefully unfamiliar with. I especially enjoyed reading about women authors of the pulp era because that really seems to be a period where women have been selectively deleted from history. Also, seeing The Migration by Helen Marshall get a well-deserved shoutout was a delightful surprise. Helen, buddy, you rock.

Honorable Mentions: The Golden Age of Murder – Martin Edwards

FAVORITE MIDDLE GRADE

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

This one’s a bit tricky: ostensibly, Ursula Vernon’s books are for children, while T. Kingfisher writes for adults, but in this case that appears to be a marketing decision; as Vernon discusses in her author’s note, she visualized this story as a dark children’s novel. That’s certainly how it read to me, so I’m placing it here, marketing be damned.

Shocking no one, I adored this book. It’s sort of warm and fluffy and laugh out loud funny, while also having these fantastically dark and weird bits that I absolutely love. One of the things I particularly like is how this novel discusses responsibility and heroism and never fully lets any of the adults, even the likable ones, off the hook for depending on children to save them. That all felt very real to me. There is also, as you might imagine, quite a bit of bread-related humor. The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is charming, and probably best enjoyed with something to snack on.

Honorable Mentions: Riverland – Fran Wilde; Peapsrout Chen: Battle of Champions – Henry Lien

FAVORITE YA

Pet – Akwaeke Emezi

There are books you spend years waiting to read, and then there are books that you’ve never heard of before, but which absolutely blindside you with just how goddamn brilliant they are; Pet was the latter for me, just so imaginative and exciting and wholly original. There’s so much voice in this book; I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I could really hear the language somehow, and I loved listening to it. In her review on Tor.com, Alex Brown mentions that the dialogue here is “as poetic as the narrative text itself,” and that definitely rang true to me.

The utopia in Pet is fascinating, particularly because it’s flawed without being secretly sinister or cruel. Jam is a great MC; in fact, I enjoyed all the characters, especially Pet. And monster-hunting creatures that emerge from paintings? Come on. That’s just cool. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more books from Emezi in the future.

Honorable Mentions: Blanca y Roja – Anna-Marie McLemore; A Song Below Water – Bethany C. Morrow; Cemetery Boys – Aiden Thomas

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo

Despite absolutely loving Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I didn’t run straight to the bookstore for a copy of Ninth House, mostly because secret society mysteries aren’t always my jam; I often have trouble taking them seriously. But I straight up loved Ninth House, like, okay, it definitely reminded me that I know absolutely nothing about Ivy League academia and rich people shit? But it also has so much amazing noir energy, like, this is exactly what I want from modern noir: interesting characters making morally dicey choices for reasons you understand. (As opposed to assholes being assholes for Asshole Reasons). The characters are great here: Alex is a fantastic protagonist, I liked Darlington straight away, and Dawes is kinda the best. Also: Turner and Mercy. I’m really into the world, too: the various houses and their different types of magic. And the way this one ends, I mean, damn. I NEED THE SEQUEL, PLEASE.

Honorable Mentions: The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith; Riverland – Fran Wilde; Blanca y Roja – Anna-Marie McLemore; Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika

FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Silver in the Wood & Drowned Country – Emily Tesh

I’m counting The Greenhollow Duology as one entity here because I could really see these stories as separate halves of the same novel; also, this is my blog and I make the rules, so. Silver in the Wood has a lovely folkloric/fairy tale feel, while I guess I’d characterize Drowned Country as more of a seaside gaslamp fantasy? Both novellas are charming as hell (which is why they also win for BEST NOVELLA) and feature an interesting world, fantastic supporting characters, and an M/M romance to root for throughout. Tobias/Silver, I ship you madly.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia; The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow; A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: Exit Strategy – Martha Wells; Come Tumbling Down – Seanan McGuire; Ring Shout – P. Djélì Clark; Made Things – Adrian Tchaikovsky

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

A Memory Called Empire has just about everything I love to see in SF: murder, political intrigue, and an in-depth focus on identity and culture. The world-building here is incredible, and I was fascinated by all of it: the naming conventions, the linguistics, the profound impact of colonization on one’s sense of self.  Also: the imago tech that connects our heroine Mahit to her dead predecessor, Yskander. Anyone who’s ever wanted more weird Trill shit from Star Trek, well, this is the book for you. Plus, Mahit is an awesome heroine; in fact, I really enjoy the whole cast of characters. I’m eagerly looking forward to the sequel coming out later this year.

But Gideon the Ninth was pretty fantastic, too, a dark and irreverent SF/Fantasy mashup with monster battles, necromancers, creepy nuns, dangerous challenges, and–once again–murder, just like, a LOT of violent, gory murder. Gideon, herself, is incredibly fun: punk, buff, cheeky as hell. This book’s got voice and then some. Also: serious cosplay potential, which isn’t something I usually find in novels. (I’m not great at visualizing stuff, TBH.) Gideon the Ninth also surprised me at multiple points, especially at the very end. Things get pretty bleak for quite a number of characters, which sounds depressing and, occasionally, kind of is. But it’s also easily one of the most entertaining books I read all year.

Honorable Mentions: Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe; Exit Strategy – Martha Wells

FAVORITE HORROR

The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones

This book. Damn. It’s strange and challenging and, like the very best horror, it lingers long after you’re finished reading it. One scene, in particular, honest-to-God shocked me, and while I don’t find most horror novels scary as a general rule, I will fully admit this scene creeped me out in the best of ways. As always, I love Stephen Graham Jones’s prose: the words he uses, the words he leaves out, the way even his shortest sentences can punch you in the gut.

In her review of The Only Good Indians at Locus, Paula Guran says, “The book will be seen as effective ‘social commentary,’ but it is not ‘commentary’: it is simply the truth displayed and injustice portrayed clearly for all to read.” And that feels about right to me. There’s a lot of truth in this one.

Honorable Mentions: Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark; Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – Paul Tremblay

FAVORITE NOVEL

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Per usual, I vacillated like crazy over this decision. Ultimately, however, I picked Gideon the Ninth because–in a year full of fear, incompetence, deliberate cruelty, and a little more fear– this book was just sheer irreverent fun, and I very much appreciated that.

Here is the rest of my Top 10 (not in any particular order).

2. Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
3. A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine
4. Pet – Akwaeke Emezi
5. Silver in the Wood/Drowned Country – Emily Tesh
6. Proper English – KJ Charles
7. The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones
8. Velocity Weapon – Megan E. O’Keefe
9. The Library of the Unwritten – A.J. Hackwith
10. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Somehow there are always a few fantastic books on this list that I don’t end up individually discussing, so a couple quick shoutouts: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe is a space opera with political intrigue, BIG twists and turns, and characters who are allowed to be both likable and complicated.  Meanwhile, The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith is full of myths, banter, teamwork, and literary tropes. Also, angels. Also, Hell. It’s a very enjoyable read chockfull of excellent quotes. Both books already have sequels out, and they are very much on my To-Do list.

Honorable Mentions For Top Ten: Ring Shout – P. Djèlí Clark; The Santa Klaus Murder – Mavis Doriel Hay; Goddess of the North – Georgina Kamsika; My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite; Circe – Madeline Miller

That’s it for now. 2021 Books, here we come!

2020 Reading List – Novellas, Novels, Graphic Novels, and Non-Fiction

Well. 2021 approaches, finally. Coming to the end of 2020 means a vast number of things, but for today, it means I’m posting the official list of all the books I’ve read this year. Also to be discussed: unsurprising reading trends, a few fanfic recs, upcoming SF/F novels I’m looking forward to, shameless promotion for my super talented friends, and of course, ALL THE QUOTES.

Shall we get started?

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Best of 2019: BOOKS

Normally, I enjoy celebrating the books I’ve read with some silly and–inevitably–lengthy superlative lists, including awards like Favorite Villain, Best Booyah Moment, and Super Ability I’d Most Like To Steal. This year, however, that just sounds kind of daunting? And not terribly fun, which is obviously antithetical to the whole point. So instead, I present you with my only sorta-lengthy Best Of list, i.e., a list of my favorite books in various genres and sub-genres. (From any year. I read all of these in 2019, but one of them was written in 1937, so, yeah. I wouldn’t exactly characterize these recommendations as super current. If you’d like the full list of everything I read, go ahead and click on the link.)

No spoilers were produced in the making of this post.

FAVORITE FAIRY TALE STORY

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher

Bluebeard is one of my favorite fairy tales, specifically Mr. Fox–like, I’m the weirdo who actually adds Post-Its with be bold, be bold . . . but not too bold to bedroom doors and the like. So, when I realized that Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher), one of my very favorite writers, had published her own Mr. Fox retelling*, well, obviously, I was ecstatic. Like nearly every T. Kingfisher book I’ve ever read, The Seventh Bride features a compelling heroine, a cool animal sidekick, and a lot of humor, weirdness, and heart. Also, some truly creepy shit. Also, a fantastic supporting cast: Maria is my absolute favorite. I really enjoyed the hell out of this–it also wins for FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY–and I’m looking forward to reading T. Kingfisher’s other fairy tale retellings, namely Byrony and Roses and The Raven and the Reindeer.

*In nearly every review I’ve seen, this book is described as a Bluebeard retelling, but personally, it strikes me more as a Mr. Fox/Rumpelstiltskin mashup. I know it doesn’t have some of the bigger earmarks of the latter–no naming game, no “I’m gonna steal your baby” stuff–but Rhea is literally a miller’s daughter, and her parents play an arguably significant role in why she’s in this mess in the first place. Plus, “do this impossible thing, or I’ll do something horrible to you” is a plot structure from Rumpelstiltskin, not Bluebeard/Mr. Fox. Also, let’s be real here: the King in Rumpelstiltskin is totally a villain. Like, make me gold or I’ll kill you; make me more gold and I’ll marry you?” Fuck this guy.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: The Black God’s Drums; Clockwork Boys; The Killing Moon; The House of Shattered Wings

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Oh, this was a delightful book. I loved so much about it: the voice, the dialogue, all the humor and Feels. Undead Girl Gang is laugh out loud funny, but it also handles grief in a very real way, and I enjoyed that. The characters are all great; Mila, in particular, is a wonderful protagonist, and I related so hard to how she finds hope and laughter and a certain measure of control in Wicca. (Oh, you don’t even know the middle school flashbacks I was having while reading this one.) The fat positivity in this book was also really refreshing, especially in a year where I managed to stumble across even more fat shaming than normal.

This was easily my FAVORITE YA BOOK I read all year, something I’d happily give my teenage kids if I, you know, had any. As is, I’m just gonna have to keep enjoying Lily Anderson’s writing for myself.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Contemporary Fantasy: A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark; Magic for Liars

FAVORITE HORROR

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay

What’s interesting about this, to me, is that I don’t generally consider myself a big fan of psychological horror, but I absolutely love this novel. It’s occurring to me, finally, that it’s not the entire sub-genre I dislike, just stories where the narrative tension is largely drawn from the majority of characters (plus the reader) questioning the MC’s sanity. That’s just not really my thing; thankfully, it’s also not quite what’s happening here.

And this book, man. It’s a wildly clever and entertaining page-turner (which is why it also wins for FASTEST READ) with a solid conclusion and some absolutely brutal moments. This is my first Paul Tremblay book, and I can absolutely guarantee it will not be my last.

Honorable Mention for Favorite Horror: The Sundial; The Migration; The Twisted Ones

Honorable Mentions for Fastest Read: Undead Girl Gang; Magic for Liars; A Man Lay Dead; The Twisted Ones; From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World To Find The Good Death; The Seventh Bride

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

I enjoyed the hell out of The Calculating Stars: it’s an equally fun and fascinating alternate history, and I really like our MC, Elma. I especially appreciated how this novel explored her anxiety, like, that was just phenomenal. I also enjoy Elma’s friendships with other women in the novel, particularly Nicole and Helen. Elma and Nate, too, were a joy to read: it was lovely to find such a healthy, supportive romantic relationship in this story. I’m very eager to continue with the Lady Astronaut series in 2020.

But no way could I choose between The Calculating Stars and Artificial Condition, which was an amazing follow-up to All Systems Red. (In fact, I actually liked it even more than All Systems Red, which is incredibly impressive.) It is the rare novella that feels like it’s exactly the right length–one of many reasons it’s also winning FAVORITE NOVELLA–and I just absolutely adore MurderBot’s somewhat antagonistic friendship with ART. People. I was invested. This series is so damn good.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite SF: Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; Record of a Spaceborn Few; To Be Taught, If Fortunate; An Unkindness of Ghosts

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Black God’s Drums; In an Absent Dream; Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; To Be Taught, If Fortunate

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans

I mean, just the whole concept of this: teenagers being sucked into a fantasy RPG, experiencing massive amounts of emotional (and in some cases, physical) trauma, and then having to return to the game years later as adults? It’s like It meets D&D. Or, as Kieron Gillen apparently describes it: “goth Jumanji.” People. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to read goth Jumanji.

This one is such a creative and exciting comic, full of fun plot turns and great characters and just awesome magical abilities. Highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions: Young Avengers: Style > Substance, Vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie; Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World to Find The Good Death – Caitlin Doughty

This is both an incredibly informative and fascinating look at how different cultures around the world handle death and death rituals, and while it is occasionally hard to read because of, well, death anxiety, it’s also just vastly neat. There were so many things I didn’t know. Learning more about Indonesian death customs or the ñatitas in Bolivia or the fertilization experiments in North Carolina . . . it’s all just so immensely interesting. I might actually have been most surprised by the open pyre ceremonies in Colorado; I honestly didn’t think that was a thing you could do in America.

I also didn’t know that family had the option of viewing cremations (the more standard kind), though I confess reluctance at the possibility of viewing any myself. Doughty brings up excellent points in its favor, especially as she discusses the idea of giving grieving family members meaningful tasks–but when I imagine going back and witnessing my own father’s cremation, my whole brain just balks in horror. I don’t know. It’s an obviously difficult subject. Regardless, this was a pretty great book, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in cultural anthropology, or books that frankly discuss death without looking down on readers for their own death anxiety. That’s big for me.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara

FAVORITE NOVEL

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels for years, but to my very great surprise, it’s this final book in the series that’s been my absolute favorite–and not just of the series but also of the whole year. (Also, it wins for FAVORITE MYSTERY, in case that wasn’t already glaringly obvious.) Busman’s Honeymoon is regularly characterized as either a “detective story with love interruptions” or a “love story with detective interruptions,” and to my very great joy, I found the balance of murder mystery and established romance utterly delightful. (Many mysteries from this time period include a hasty and thoroughly underwhelming romance, but Busman’s Honeymoon has been building the Peter/Harriet ship for several books and literal years, and I am so thoroughly obsessed with them.)

The mix of witty banter, murder, and newlywed shenanigans are really the best, and I was both extremely surprised to see the novel actually come back to Peter’s PTSD in a surprisingly emotional way. So many Feels with this one. An instant comfort read.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Mystery: The Nine Tailors; Magic for Liars; The Song Is You; A Rising Man; Gaudy Night

Finally, here is the rest of my Top Ten of 2019, not in any particular order. (With links for the books that I didn’t already link above.)

2. The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
3. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
4. The Seventh Bride – T.K. Kingfisher
5. Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
6. Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
7. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
8. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
9. The Twisted Ones – T.K. Kingfisher
10. Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Happy New Year, everyone! I’d love to hear your favorite books of 2019 in the comments!

2019 Reading List – Novellas, Novels, Graphic Novels, and Non-Fiction

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going to finish any more books before the New Year, so I’m updating my official list of everything I’ve read in 2019. Scroll down if you’d like to see a few unsurprising conclusions about my own personal reading trends. (Spoilers: this isn’t the year I finally started reading a bunch of travel memoirs.) You’ll also find some favorite quotes (these spoil nothing) because I just can’t help myself. I will be posting my 2019 Book Superlatives later, maybe even tomorrow if I get my shit together, but expect those to be considerably pared down from years past.

Finally, a guide to font colors: novels are in black, novellas are in purple, comics are in green, and non-fiction is in blue.

THE 2019 READING LIST

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Alex White
“I thought it was best not to kill anyone, given the political ramifications. I see you’ve taken a different approach.”

A Rising Man – Abir Mukherjee
Death smells worse in the tropics. Most things do.

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand
“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander
“We’re scientists,” Kat says. She stands. “All we do is teach people how the sausage is made.”

The Book of M – Peng Shepherd
Who are my people, Ory? The ones I’m with or the ones I want to be?

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark – Harry Connolly
“If I were forced to guess, I’d say they were professional killers hired to murder everyone in the house. What does that tell you?”
“You’re not as popular as I thought?”

Terminal Alliance – Jim C. Hines
“Kumar, any progress?”
“I’ve gotten through 4.5 percent of the A-ring tutorial without killing everyone.”
Mops swallowed her first three responses. “Technically, that qualifies as progress. Keep at it.”

In An Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire
Following the rules didn’t make you a good person, just like breaking them didn’t make you a bad one, but it could make you an invisible person and invisible people got to do as they liked.

The Mystery of The Yellow Room – Gaston Leroux
A week after the occurrence of the events I have just recounted—on the 2nd of November, to be exact—I received at my home in Paris the following telegraphic message: “Come to the Glandier by the earliest train. Bring revolvers. Friendly greetings. Rouletabille.”

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
Sabrina’s fingers and hands are pink with memories of blood.

Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
I phrased it as a question, because pretending you were asking for more information was the best way to try to get the humans to realize they were doing something stupid. “So do you think there’s another reason Tlacey wants you to do this exchange in person other than . . . killing you?”

Alice Payne Arrives – Kate Heartfield
Visit 2070: It’s Not an Apocalypse. Yet. This Time.

The Black God’s Drums – P. Djèlí Clark
The night in New Orleans always got something going on, ma maman used to say—like this city don’t know how to sleep.

All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda
Annaleise didn’t know—I always took the dare.

The Migration – Helen Marshall
Mary’s face is happy, a picture of delight. But the angel? The angel doesn’t look happy. The angel looks bored rigid by the whole mess, the angel has seen it all: the culling of firstborns, the slaughter of the innocents.
The angel doesn’t care. Mortality isn’t his bag.

Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
“Black,” Alec said in tones of deep disgust. “Black is for grandmothers. Black is for stage villains.”

The Nine Tailors – Dorothy Sayers
“If the law had found him, the law would have hanged him, with loud applause from all good citizens. Why should we hang a perfectly decent chap for anticipating the law and doing our dirty work for us?”

The Family Plot – Cherie Priest
“Ghosts or no ghosts, we’re burning daylight. We can’t salvage ghosts. They don’t sell for shit.”

Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells
I didn’t want to see helpless humans. I’d rather see smart ones rescuing each other.

Clockwork Boys – T. Kingfisher
He had not actually been flipping a knife, because hardly anyone really did that, but he looked like the knife-flipping type.

White is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Lily was a bunch of crumpled pockets and Sylvie is a black dress, perfumed scarves, iron posture and whatever else turns a person into an atmosphere.

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson
“I didn’t need the spells to work. They never worked! Spells are just prayers with more steps and a name that scares people.”

Gaudy Night – Dorothy Sayers
“Are you fond of children, madam?”
“Oh, yes,” said Harriet. Actually, she did not care much about children, but one can scarcely so, bluntly, to those possessed of these blessings.

Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente
“HEY THERE! I’m Clippy, your computer assistant. It looks like you are trying to survive the night and not get slaughtered in the next five minutes like the miserably finite mortal organics you are. *Would you like some fucking help?*”

Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal
There is something about having your legs over your head that makes you need to pee. This makes it into none of the press releases, but every single astronaut talks about it.
The men have complicated condoms and catch pouches. I have a diaper.
Two hours into our three-hour wait, I use it, sure that the urine will overflow its confines and spread up the back of my suit. It does not, but I am once again enthralled by the glamour of being an astronaut.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey
A lot of words. I resolved to read them in depth later, when I could focus. When there wasn’t wine in between me and the letters.

The Killing Moon – N.K. Jemisin
“Devout men lie poorly.”

Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan
“Nobles are nobles,” she had said, waving a hand. “Regardless of where they come from. The pettiness of court transcends all cultural boundaries.”

The Song Is You – Megan Abbott
“Developed a conscience now, have we?”
“Well, let’s not get hysterical.”

The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner
All I wanted to do was lie in the dry grass with my feet in a ditch forever. I could be a convenient sort of milemarker, I thought. Get to the thief and you know you’re halfway to Methana.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
Viewed in this way, you can never again see a tree as a single entity, despite its visual dominance. It towers. It’s impressive. But in the end, it’s a fragile endeavor that can only stand thanks to the contributions of many. We celebrate the tree that stretches to the sky, but it is the ground we should ultimately thank.

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans
This isn’t a conversation. This is the sort of monologue you run in your head with lovers you’ll never speak to again.

The Crimes at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham
“You don’t mind, do you? I really couldn’t bring myself to put on my clothes at the hour I usually take them off.”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson
Gloria sat alone for a minute or so, thinking that the sun was warm and the sky was blue, and wondering if they sky would be bluer if Aunt Fanny had never been born.

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas
Grace’s complaints reminded Ruby of her own feelings about university friends. People you’d once die for take appalling paths. It’s not that they become unrecognizable. They become more like themselves. Personality quirks grow more pronounced, and so do values, until you wonder how you ever ignored the differences between you.

Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye
Hereby do I avow that I, Jane Steele, in all my days working as a governess, never once heard ethereal cries carried to me upon the brawny shoulders of the north wind; and had I done, I should have kept silent for fear of being labelled eccentric.

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers
“When I’m investigating a murder, I hate to have too much sympathy with the corpse. Personal feelings cramp the style.”

A Man Lay Dead – Ngaio Marsh
The doctor performed the feat known in Victorian nursery books as “looking grave.”

An Unkindess of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
She expected a reprimand, but his criticism was far gentler than Giselle’s ever was. She tried not to give him too much credit for it. People were so often mean that when they weren’t there was a tendency to bestow sainthood upon them. Aster did not reward common decency with her affection.

The Invited – Jennifer McMahon
Helen did not believe in ghosts. But she believed in history.

The Twisted Ones – T. Kingfisher
This train of thought would end with me crouched in the bathroom with a shotgun aimed at the door. This would not help Bongo and also, I didn’t know how to use a shotgun.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
“What does a child who has everything want?”
More, just like everybody else.

One Bloody Thing After Another – Joey Comeau
The broken-arm tree is wide above them, but Ann doesn’t know that. She thinks this is a straightforward fight to the death, without symbolism.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death – Caitlin Doughty
Women’s bodies are so often under the purview of men, whether it’s our reproductive organs, our sexuality, our weight, our manner of dress. There is a freedom found in decomposition, a body rendered messy, chaotic, and wild.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara
The story starts with an alien man from a planet called Metaluna appearing to Earth’s top scientists, inviting them all to come to his cool Earth mansion. He wants them to help him work on a supersecret alien project, which of course, no scientist can turn down. As far as I can tell, the main reason to become a scientist is so you can make yourself available for these types of cinematic situations.

I Remember You: A Ghost Story – Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Anyway, you couldn’t make demands of the sun this far north in the dead of winter; you simply took what little sunshine you were given and were grateful.

The Red House Mystery – A.A. Milne
Why, you could have knocked her over with a feather. Feathers, indeed, were a perpetual menace to Audrey.

Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
There is nothing more annoying, thinks Ruth, than someone who thinks they don’t have to introduce themselves on the phone, who assumes that you must recognize their voice because it is so wonderfully individual.

Murder in the Crooked House – Soji Shimada
The smile that had been on the face of these cherished dolls had transmuted, decomposed. There was no better way of putting it.
A deep-seated grudge. They’d been brought into the world by the whimsy of human beings, but then not permitted to die for a thousand years. If the same thing were inflicted on our bodies, the same look of madness would appear on our faces too.

A Necessary Evil – Abir Mukherjee
His parents had named him Surendranath: it meant king of the gods; and while I could make a fair stab at the correct Bengali pronunciation, I never could get it quite right. He’d told me it wasn’t my fault. He’d said the English language just didn’t possess the right consonants—it lacked a soft ‘d,’ apparently. According to him, the English language lacked a great many things.

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher
Still, none of it made any sense. If you were a murderer, would you really guard your home with birds saying, “Hi, I’m a murderer”? It lacked subtlety.

The House of Shattered Wings – Aliette de Bodard
“He’s only here because you imprisoned him. Even if he were guilty—which he’s not—it’s a horrible way to die.”
There were no good ways to die, though.

Nobody’s Sweetheart Now – Maggie Robinson
Addie was just getting used to her widowhood when Rupert inconveniently turned up six months after she had sealed him in the Compton family vault in the village churchyard.

Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia + Gabriel Picolo
“I belong to myself.”

Young Avengers: Style > Substance – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie
“Come with me if you want to be awesome.”

Going over this list . . . well, it’s definitely been the Year of Mystery. A lot of Golden Age novels, of course, including finishing up Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series, and also checking out books by other Queens of Crime, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Also: contemporary mysteries, historical mysteries, speculative mysteries, and speculative noir. Otherwise, I’ve primarily read my usuals: SF, fantasy, and horror. Nothing that’s going to shock anyone, I’m afraid–though much less YA than normal, for some reason or another.

2019 is an all time low for comics. I like them, but I also find I have a hard time keeping up with them. Possibly, I should buy multiple trades at once, or just wait for the inevitable omnibus? This is a problem I also have with novellas. I’m working on it.

2019 also saw a slight dip in non-fiction, dropping from 3 to 2 books a year. Alas. I seek knowledge, and yet I’m so often distracted by MURDER.

Most Read Authors: Dorothy Sayers and T. Kingfisher (3 books each). I’ve mentioned this before on social media, but I definitely have a massive writer crush on T. Kingfisher. I’ve made significant steps this year in my quest to read ALL THE WORDS she’s written. Expect this to continue into 2020.

Favorite New-To-Me Authors: Paul Tremblay, P. Djèlí Clark, and Lily Anderson

And finally . . .

FAVORITE OPENING QUOTE:

After the funeral they came back to the house, now indisputably Mrs. Halloran’s. They stood uneasily, without any certainty, in the large lovely entrance hall, and watched Mrs. Halloran go into the right wing of the house to let Mr. Halloran know that Lionel’s last rites had gone off without melodrama. Young Mrs. Halloran, looking after her mother-in-law, said without hope, “Maybe she will drop dead on the doorstep. Fancy, dear, would you like to see Granny drop dead on the doorstep?”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson

Because, dear God, Shirley Jackson knew how to begin a story. Every opening paragraph I’ve read by her is the best opening paragraph. Fucking legend.

Honorable Mentions:

“At least he was well dressed. Black tie, tux, the works. If you’re going to get yourself killed, you may as well look your best.” – A Rising Man

When I was younger, I used to play dead. – The Migration

The whistle isn’t jaunty, not Doris Day. It’s low and slow and the actor Bob Cummings would remember its hot zing for some time. – The Song is You

The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals. – Undead Girl Gang

Ann’s mother isn’t feeling so good today. – One Bloody Thing After Another

2018 Book Superlatives, Part II

Well, it’s the second week of the new year. How’s everyone feeling? My resolutions aren’t going terribly so far: I’ve made some solid writing progress, begun work on vacation plans, finally braved the hair clippers I bought months ago, and even ate some peas! (Okay, that last one sounds less than momentous, but we’re doing a vegetable challenge this year, and we’re easing our way into it.)

Enough about all that, though. It’s time for the 2018 Book Superlatives, Part II!

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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.

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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?

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