All My Favorite Books of 2021

Last week, I posted a list of all the novels and novellas I read in 2021. This week, I’ll be discussing some of those books in a bit more detail, with categories like Fastest Read, Favorite Horror Novel, Favorite Sci Fantasy, etc.

As always, any book I read in 2021 is eligible for these superlatives because if I only discussed books published in 2021, well. Let’s just say this would be a much shorter list.

FASTEST READ

Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stair, and The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson

This YA mystery trilogy (well, okay, it’s not technically a trilogy anymore) is delightful, and I quickly powered through each of these three novels. I want Ellingham Academy to be a real place, even though definitely nobody should ever go there because, yeah, all the murders. Still! Stevie is a great heroine and teen detective, and I really enjoy most of the supporting cast, particularly introverted writer Nate, who speaks the language of my fucking soul. The concept is fun, the humor is great, and I just really had a good time reading these. I’m definitely looking forward to checking out The Box in The Woods sometime later this year.

Honorable Mentions: Think of England – KJ Charles; The Poisoned Chocolates Case – Anthony Berkeley; Finna – Nino Cipri; The Final Girls Support Group – Grady Henrix; The Inugami Curse – Seishi Yokomizo; Network Effect – Martha Wells; The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji; Bryony and Roses – T. Kingfisher; Rock and Riot – Chelsey Furedi

FAVORITE BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY

The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa

Oof. This one sits heavy in the chest. I can’t really discuss why without spoilers, but I can say that this is a story about loss, and each loss here is more strange and terrible than the last. The imagery is really quite lovely, and the ending ties the whole novel together so well. The Memory Police is fantastic, and I’m genuinely glad I read it, but damn, I was one big bundle of Existential Feels after finishing this book. Read with a comfort snack, or six.

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Rock and Riot, Vol. 1 – Chelsey Furedi

When I found this graphic novel, I didn’t initially realize that it had begun life as a web comic, but I figured that out when I devoured Volume 1, immediately tried to buy Volume 2 and 3, couldn’t find them anywhere, cried, and then found the whole series here to read for free—and read it, I did, all in one night. (I mean, I know that’s not a huge accomplishment—this is not a dialogue-heavy comic—but I appreciate anything that makes me feel that sweet must keep reading, must keep reading rush.)

Rock and Riot is about The Aesthetic. It’s a queer, 50’s, greaser romcom set in high school, and it is adorable; oh my God, is it cute. I love the main ship, I love all their friends, and the ending with the Prom is such pure perfection. 2021 was often pretty bleak, but this comic was a great pick-me-up.

Honorable Mentions: Die, Vol. 2: Split the Party – Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans; Goldie Vance: Volume One – Hope Larson & Brittney Williams; Princeless – Raven: the Pirate Princess – Book One: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew – Jeremy Whitley, Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt; The Wicked + The Divine, Book 3 – Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

Ace: What Sexuality Reveals About Desire, Society and the Meaning of Sex – Angela Chen

One of my favorite things about this book is that it doesn’t approach asexuality from a narrow perspective. Angela Chen interviews a wide variety of people from all over the spectrum and specifically delves into the various experiences, stereotypes, and challenges that aces with intersectional identities come up against. The book also explores some really interesting ideas about compulsory sexuality and how experiencing sexual attraction in today’s society isn’t just considered the default; it’s automatically assumed to be superior to experiencing little to no sexual attraction, a perspective that’s omnipresent and needs to change in both queer and heterosexual communities. It’s a well-researched book, and I’m really glad I read it.

Honorable Mentions: Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre – Alison Peirse (edited by); Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels – Gwen Hayes

FAVORITE MIDDLE GRADE

Root Magic – Eden Royce

I didn’t read many middle grade books this year, but I’m so glad I picked this one up because the Gullah-Geechee rootwork here is just so interesting, and it’s exciting to read a fantasy novel set in this culture by an author who actually is Freshwater Geechee. Root Magic felt innovative to me, different than many of the MG fantasy books I’ve read before, and it’s something I wish I’d had the opportunity to come across when I was a child. I particularly like that this story gives multiple characters space for some moral ambiguity. People aren’t perfect here, but they do care, and I like that. There are also just some fantastically creepy moments in this book that I adored. I definitely hope to read more by Eden Royce in the future.

FAVORITE YA

The Valley and the Flood – Rebecca Mahoney

I initially discovered this novel because I love the author’s fanfic, and I’m so happy I did because it’s such an odd, fascinating, and moving story about surviving and living with trauma. It’s also funny as hell, and I love pretty much the entire cast of characters. I am, admittedly, a sucker for magical stories about weird little towns (this one has multiple prophets who are rated by their accuracy, it’s great), but I also really love just how much time and space is given to Rose’s emotional journey here. I wish someone would pick this up for a limited series because I would watch the hell out of it. So, like. Get to work, Netflix!

Honorable Mentions: Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson; The Vanishing Stair – Maureen Johnson; The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson;  Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger; Summer of Salt – Katrina Leno; Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko; Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao; Loveless – Alice Oseman

FAVORITE ROMANCE

One Last Stop – Casey McQuiston

So, I really enjoyed this. It’s a very queer, very living-in-your-20’s kind of story, and I ship our main romance, which is obviously huge. (One of my biggest problems with love stories—within ALL genres—is that I either don’t care if the couple gets together or, worse, I actively don’t want them to get together. It happens more often than I’d like.) August, though, is pretty great (and another true crime solver—someone needs to write me the One Last Stop/Truly Devious crossover fanfic immediately), and I like Jane, too. I don’t know if time travel romances will ever be my bag, but trapped-and-displaced-in-time punk heroines from the 1970’s? Yeah, I’m here for that. Plus, I really love how this book dedicates so much time to August’s platonic relationships, too, primarily with her roommates Niko, Myla, and Wes. I was 1000% invested in all their friendships.

Honorable Mentions: Paladin’s Grace – T. Kingfisher; Frederica – Georgette Heyer; Think of England – KJ Charles; The Midnight Bargain – C.L. Polk; Bryony and Roses – T. Kingfisher

FAVORITE HORROR

Night of the Mannequins – Stephen Graham Jones

Oh, wow. Night of the Mannequins is a morbidly funny delight from beginning to end. It is also, hilariously, not quite the book I’d expected when I started reading the story because I must have misread or misremembered the back-cover blurb somehow? Honestly, though, I think that surprise actually made the novella even better, the slow unfolding as I realized, Oh, wait, are we—oh, SHIT, we’re doing THIS. It’s my FAVORITE NOVELLA I read this year, and such a perfect combination of weird slasher and disturbing psychological horror all in one. In the unlikely event I ever teach a class, and I want to do a lesson on voice? Night of the Mannequins will be one of the assigned texts.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Horror: The Bayou – Arden Powell; The Final Girls Support Group – Grady Hendrix; The Secret Skin – Wendy N. Wagner

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Bayou – Arden Powell; Finna – Nino Cipri; Here, The World Entire – Anwen Kya Hayward; Burning Roses – S.L. Huang; And What Can We Offer You Tonight – Premee Mohamed; The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – P. Djèlí Clark; And This is How to Stay Alive – Shingai Njeri Kagunda

FAVORITE MYSTERY

TIE!

The Poisoned Chocolates Case – Anthony Berkeley
The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji

Both these mysteries surprised me for different reasons, although it’s hard to explain exactly why without spoilers, which I’m reluctant to include even in the case of The Poisoned Chocolates Case, which is literally almost 100 years old. I first discovered this book while reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, and I’m so glad I picked it up. The format is so interesting. There’s very little actual investigation on the page; instead, it’s a group of self-styled detectives discussing their proposed solutions to a recent unsolved murder, and it’s an awful lot of fun, witty and engaging and rather meta in its “let’s poke some fun at these tropes” humor, which is extremely in line with Golden Age mysteries. I had a ball reading this.

Meanwhile, it’s no surprise I checked out The Decagon House Murders because any book with such a fun And Then There Were None premise is always an automatic read for me, but I have to give special kudos to this novel because the twist is so GOOD. I know some writers always get mysteries correct, but the truth is, I don’t: I have a tendency to overcomplicate things while puzzling out the many ways a story could go. Hell, I didn’t get The Poisoned Chocolates Case correct. (Parts, damn it. My theory seemed so sound, too!) But I’m not usually, like, stunned, either. The Decagon House Murders stunned me. It’s been a long, long while since I felt so blown away by a twist I didn’t see coming at all, and that was very exciting for me. One of the best surprises of the year. Also, yeah, I kind of want my own decagon house now.

Honorable Mentions: The Inugami Curse – Seishi Yokomizo; The Honjin Murders – Seishi Yokomizo; Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson; The Vanishing Staircase – Maureen Johnnson; The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson; Fortune Favors the Dead – Stephen Spotswood

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

Chaos Vector – Megan O’Keefe

The sequel to Velocity Weapon, this is an absolute doorstop of a book and also a wild ride, full of twists and turns that are like, Oh, shit. OH. SHIT! You’d think I’d be prepared for that after the first book, but damn. Specifics are difficult to discuss without giving anything away, but this is a fantastic space opera with a great lead heroine and several supporting characters that I’m invested in. There are still so many mysteries left to uncover in the third and final book, which is already in my To-Read pile—and like, not even my metaphorical someday pile. It’s in the stack of physical books towering over my desk. Enticing me. Intimidating me. Reminding me silently we’re heeeere.

Honorable Mentions: Network Effect – Martha Wells; The Galaxy, and The Ground Within – Becky Chambers; Finna – Nino Cipri; Riot Baby – Tochi Onyebuchi; The Memory Police – Yōko Ogawa; And What Can We Offer You Tonight – Premee Mohamed; The All-Consuming World – Cassandra Khaw

FAVORITE SCI FANTASY

Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Yes, it’s true, I did read Harrow the Ninth roughly a year after the rest of the world, but I got there eventually, damn it! And it’s an awesome read, one which definitely activated the Mystery Lover part of my brain, only in this case, the primary mystery is less all right, who killed this dude and more like, okay, but for real, though, what the FUCK is going on? I had an awful lot of fun trying to figure out, indeed, what the fuck WAS going on. (I got, IDK. Half of it?) Reading Harrow’s super traumatized, wildly unreliable, and goth as hell POV was pretty great, too. All of the characters are fantastic, TBH, and while this is—as one is legally obligated to point out—a very different book from Gideon the Ninth, it is still just as witty, wild, and fantastically weird as its glorious predecessor.

Honorable Mention: Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

I enjoyed Piranesi well enough while I was reading it, but it wasn’t until I reached the end that I truly fell in love with it. This is definitely one of those novels that throws you into the deep end right away, but it’s interesting to slowly piece things together, and that bittersweet conclusion just makes everything which came before that much more powerful. The prose is absolutely lovely, and I really like our MC, too, his kindness, how he takes care of the dead, his deductions—even when they’re wildly wrong. The whole story is gently melancholic, but I don’t find it unbearably tragic, either; in fact, I’ve actually been considering buying the book to reread it, which is very rare for me. (It may not happen because of the aforementioned towering TBR pile, but still. I’m seriously considering it.)

Honorable Mentions: Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger; The Memory Collectors – Kim Neville; The Valley and the Flood – Rebecca Mahoney

FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow

I read this book relatively early in 2021, and I knew that no matter how many other awesome novels I read in the upcoming months, The Once and Future Witches was definitely making it on my Top Ten. I’m not always drawn to historical fantasy, but a story about witches and sisters and suffragists? Particularly one written by Alix E. Harrow, who writes some of the best, most striking prose in the business? Obviously, I was here for that. And the book is written beautifully, of course. There are so many good lines here. I became very invested in the relationships between the three Eastwood sisters, and I love all the rhymes and spells and stories. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read this one yet, you should definitely check it out.

Honorable Mentions: The Midnight Bargain – C.L. Polk; Paladin’s Grace – T. Kingfisher; Under the Pendulum Sun – Jeannette Ng; The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – P. Djèlí Clark; Bryony and Roses – T. Kingfisher; The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo; Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko; When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain – Nghi Vo

TOP TEN FAVORITE NOVELS + NOVELLAS OF 2021
(not in any particular order)

1. Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
2. Night of the Mannequins – Stephen Graham Jones
3. Chaos Vector – Megan O’Keefe
4. The Valley and the Flood – Rebecca Mahoney
5. The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow
6. Network Effect – Martha Wells
7. The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji
8. The Poisoned Chocolates Case – Anthony Berkeley
9. The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
10. The Bayou – Arden Powell

Because my system is imperfect, I always have at least 2 or 3 books on my Top Ten that I don’t have a specific superlative for, despite how awesome they are. I refuse to only discuss 8 of my 10 favorite stories of the year, though, so I’m also here to recommend the following fantastic novels and novellas:

Network Effect – Martha Wells

Okay, no one actually needs me and my readership of, like, 4 people to recommend Martha Wells. It is a well-acknowledged fact that Murderbot is The Best. But just in case you’re also playing catchup, Network Effect was an absolute delight to read. I am 150% here for the humor, the relationships, and all the Feels—you know, the ones that Murderbot pretends to not experience. IMO, Murderbot continues to possibly be the most relatable MC of all time, and I’m looking forward to reading Fugitive Telemetry sometime later this year.

The Bayou – Arden Powell

Would you like a spooky, queer, Southern gothic novella set in the 1930’s? Of course, you would, and that’s great because I have one for you right here! The Bayou is a super quick read and atmospheric as hell, and that ending, damn. Everything comes together so beautifully at the end of the story when All is Revealed. The horror is just so good here; also, I absolutely loved the writing, like, just so many good lines. This is the first work I’ve read by Arden Powell, and it will definitely not be the last.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo; When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain – Nghi Vo; Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir; One Last Stop – Casey McQuiston; Here, The World Entire – Anwen Kya Hayward; Paladin’s Grace – T. Kingfisher; Fortune Favors the Dead – Stephen Spotswood; The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Becky Chambers; Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson; The Vanishing Stair – Maureen Johnson; The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson; Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko; Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao; And What Can We Offer You Tonight – Premee Mohamed; Loveless – Alice Oseman

Yes, well, the plan was to only list 5 Honorable Mentions, but very obviously, I failed. Look, I read a lot of awesome books last year, okay? Be happy I kept it under 20.

Here’s to hoping 2022 is filled with even more fantastic reads!

TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2021

It’s December, which means–well, a bunch of things, really, but today it means that I’ve come to talk about all the television I’ve been watching for the past three months. Here are the shows:

What If . . . ? (Episodes 1-5)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (Season 2, Episodes 4-10)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8, Episodes 7-10)
Running Man/Classic Running Man (Random Episodes)
Black Spot (Season 2)
Last Week Tonight
Nailed It! (Season 6)
Squid Game
Slasher: Flesh and Blood
Yumi’s Cells (Ep. 1- 7)
Evil (Season 2)
The Great British Bake-Off (Collection 9)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Ep. 1 – 7)
Hawkeye (Ep. 1-3)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether it’s currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings. I may discuss events from past seasons, however, without such a warning. Which is to say, I won’t spoil any of Nancy Drew, Season 3, without a big heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 or S2 are totally fair game.

Shall we begin?

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TV Superlatives: June, July, August – 2021

Well, shit. I regret to inform you that there hasn’t been a lot of TV this summer. For a few different reasons, but primarily because one of my cats has been very sick and TV just kinda fell by the wayside. Some shows got dropped (I’m so far behind on Legends of Tomorrow that I’ll just have to wait until the season pops up on Netflix), and others never even got started (I promise I haven’t forgotten about you, The Witch’s Diner!). Still, here’s the list of everything I’ve managed to watch over these past few months:

Legends of Tomorrow (Season 6, Episodes 1-5)
Sell Your Haunted House (Episodes 14-16)
Doom at Your Service
Star Trek (Season 2, Episodes 23-26)

Running Man/Classic Running Man (Random Episodes)
Last Week Tonight
Black Spot (Season 1)
Evil (Season 1)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (Season Two, Episodes 1-3)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8, Ep. 1-6)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether it’s currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Continue reading

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!

TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2020

It’s TV Superlative Time! Except . . . there’s a problem: over the past few months, I’ve dropped nearly every television show I’ve started watching. I am officially in a TV Rut.

This is rare for me. It happens with books more often than I’d like and also with movies, but not so much with television. Which means that instead of our usual overly long list of nonsense superlatives, we’re gonna have to do things a little differently today. Thus I present to you my list of What I’ve Been Watching (And Abandoning) In Fall of 2020.

(Spoilers: it’s mostly K-Dramas again.) Continue reading

TV Superlatives: June, July, August – 2020

It’s that time again! We must discuss only the most prestigious of TV Awards: Favorite Sidekick, Best Revenge, Most Horrifying Fashion, Favorite Ship, and more!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching with such awards, whether they’re currently airing or not. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked. As a reference point, here are the shows I’ve been watching for the past few months:

Agents of SHIELD (Season 7)
Village Survival: The Eight (Season 2)
Star Trek (Season 2: Ep. 7-10)
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (June 7th – August 30th)
13 Reasons Why (Season 4)
Floor is Lava
Mystic Pop-Up Bar
Dear White People (Season 1)
Unsolved Mysteries (2020)
Dark (Season 3)
The Baby-Sitters Club
I Remember You (Hello Monster)
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Chip-In
Love in the Moonlight (Moonlight Drawn by Clouds)
Lovecraft Country (Ep. 1 – 3)
Running Man (er, just a bunch of random episodes from multiple seasons)

(You may notice that some shows have two titles listed. K-dramas usually have at least two, and sometimes my brain flip-flops helplessly between both. I’m going to attempt some consistency throughout these superlatives, but I make absolutely no promises.)

Also, clearly, it’s just . . . it’s a lot of K-Dramas, folks. MY LIFE HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER BY K-DRAMAS AND VARIETY SHOWS, AND I’M OKAY WITH IT.

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TV Superlatives: December, January, and February – 2019/2020

It’s that time again: our winter TV Superlatives!

A quick reminder for how these work: I will bestow whatever TV shows I’ve recently been watching (whether they’re currently airing or not) with awards like Favorite Bromance, Favorite WTF Moment, Best Profanity, etc. As always, any awards with spoilers will be very clearly marked.

As a reference point, here are the shows I’ve been watching for the past few months:

Busted! (Season 2)
His Dark Materials
Nancy Drew
The Mandalorian
DC Universe’s Harley Quinn
Watchmen
The Expanse (Season 4)
A Black Lady Sketch Show
The Witcher
Barry (Season 2)
The Good Place (Season 4)
Star Trek: Picard
Legends of Tomorrow (Season 5)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 7)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

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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!

TV SUPERLATIVES: April and May, 2019

TV Superlatives are a pain in the ass. I love coming up with them–I kind of love superlatives in general–but it’s hard to keep up when there are, at any given time, 87 different TV shows to watch, and they can start any month and be any episode length, and available all at once or only week-to-week. I tried for a couple of years and eventually gave up.

Now, I’m going to try something new, and we’ll see if it works or not, but here it is: Quarterly TV Superlatives! Or, who knows, maybe Occasional TV Superlatives! Look, it’s a work in progress. But the idea is to discuss whatever TV I’ve been watching recently (whether it’s currently airing or not) and come up with fun awards like Best Musical Number, Worst Death, or Best Reaction to a Supposedly Dead Parent Coming Back to Life.

For today’s post, we’ll be focusing on the television I’ve been watching during, say, the past two months or so. Any spoilers, as always, will be clearly marked in the very hard-to-miss Spoiler Section.

With that all said, let’s get started, shall we?

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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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