My Favorite Reads of 2017

Another year, another best-of list.

When it came to writing and posting reviews this year, I fell down on the job, hard (although I am proud I was able to read and review all the freely available short fiction nominations for the Nebula and Hugo awards).

Nevertheless, I read a ton of incredible books this year. So without further ado, here’s my long, in-chronological-order-of-when-I-read-them, list of the best books I read in 2017.


 The Devourers by Indra Das
The first book I read in 2017, and I immediately knew upon finishing it that I would be including it in this very list. I love stories about stories and the creation of histories, narratives, mythologies, and peoples, and this three-part epic saga in which werewolves absorb the memories and histories of their prey masterfully combines all these things into an evocative, gruesome, and beautiful story.




newJimCrowBookCoverThe New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
I’m late to the party on this one, but glad I finally got around to joining. A thorough examination of the anti-black racist roots behind the U.S.’s criminal justice system, Michelle Alexander breaks down the racist origins of the War on Drugs, the militarization of the police, and the way each element of the criminal justice system—apprehension by the cops, charges pressed, the prosecutors’ demands, the composition of the jury, time served inside prison, and the parole system for those released—is consciously, deliberately, consistently meant to arrest and imprison black Americans and Latinos. I learned a lot, and I finished this book with a better understanding of the racism inherent in the U.S. criminal justice system and a long list of Supreme Court cases I copied from the book summarizing all the curtailed civil rights of civilians and inordinate liberties granted to cops.

downloadThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I’m not sure what to say about this book that hasn’t already been said, but here goes—it’s good. It’s really fucking good. Starr Carter was with her childhood friend Khalil when a white police officer pulls them over and shoots Khalil, killing him. Now Star has to survive the aftermath, at home, in her neighborhood, and at her mostly-white prep school, all while speaking out against the police and to tell the true story of what happened that night. Starr is a fantastic protagonist (really every single character is fully fleshed-out and alive), the writing and interconnection of every plot element is flawless, and everything about the story—especially Starr’s family—is filled with so much love it hurts. It is 100% a perfect and perfectly written book.

3027951432565582Dreadnought and Sovereign by April Daniels
Superhero books aren’t typically my jam. On the other hand, all other superhero books don’t feature a teenage trans girl named Danny Tozer who a) became a superhero when the then-Dreadnought died and b) in addition to getting his superpowers, had her entire body transformed via Superpowered Gender Confirmation Surgery in the process. Hooray! No more dysphoria! All that’s left for her to deal with are her transphobic and abusive parents, lack of entry into the city’s ultimate superhero fighting league, figuring out how her superpowers work, brand-new friends in the form of a vigilante named Calamity Jane and a mad scientist named Doc Impossible, and various nemeses who want to download all of humanity into the internet, kill all “men” in a fit of TERF rage, and rule the universe, respectively. I loved the writing and world-building, the too-real relatability of Danny’s teenage thoughts and reactions, and—well, I have an essay’s worth of words in me about how I loved the portrayal of Danny’s trans-ness and the way she’s trans as a superhero but also trans as herself, but suffice to say, I loved everything about that.

29939270Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
This book reminds me mostly of The Devourers, despite the fact that subject, setting, and character, and writing style–wise, these two books are nothing alike. What Amberlough does have in common with the above book (aside from being excellent in all of the above characteristics) is color, otherworldliness (despite there being no magic whatsoever), complicated gender and sexuality explorations, and a grimness and brutality that offsets and emphasizes the moments of beauty and hope. Set in an alt-universe version of the 1930s-era Weimar Republic, complete with vibrant artistic scene and fashionable modernity, two men—a modern man–type spy and a flamboyant cabaret emcee slash smuggler, who are lovers—and a striking, street-savvy female dancer play an intricate game inside and outside each other’s orbits as they attempt to save themselves and each other under the growing shadow of the powerful, new fascist political party.

31915219A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Any best-of list written by me is required to contain a Frances Hardinge book. I don’t make the rules, it’s simply the truth. And A Face Like Glass has somehow, incredibly, among all of the other excellent books she’s written, become my favorite. In the underground world of Caverna, where its inhabitants are masters of creating enticing, intoxicating delicacies, as well as court intrigue and assassination, Neverfell, a young girl with no memory of her past and who’s seemingly more than a bit mad, is like no other person in Caverna. You see, she has more than three or five or fifty facial expressions at her disposal. Unlike everyone else, she can manipulate her face at will, to infinity, and without even trying. In a world where deception is required for survival and prosperity, Neverfell’s transparency will shake the foundations of Caverna to its very core. Everything I’ve written about Frances Hardinge’s writing in the past is true here, and in this book her imagination is fully on display, and oh, how magical and exciting and scary and full of hidden depths and wondrous it is.

2604276729808780The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
The reason these two books are excellent is because the characters are nice to each other. Also the writing is good and the world-building is fun and I loved all the different alien species and their different physiologies, cultures, and languages, as well as the way Becky Chambers writes A.I. characters as their own entities who aren’t computer program copies of humans. But the reason I really and truly love these books is because all the main characters—human, alien, and A.I.—form kind, caring, and supportive friendships and families with each other where they figure out how to live and work alongside each other both despite and because of their differences, making jokes and working through misunderstandings along the way. This kind of science fiction, and this kind of storytelling, is soothing to my soul.

25657130All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
The first book I’ve read of Jason Reynolds and not the last. (I went on to read two more of his books this year, both of which are included in my “Honorable Mentions” list.) This story of police brutality is told from two perspectives—Rashad, a black teenager who was brutally beaten on a cop for allegedly stealing something in a convenience store, and Quinn, a white classmate of Rashad’s who witnessed the beating and who knows the cop by virtue of being best friends with his brother. Both Rashad and Quinn struggle to come to terms with the unexpectedness of the police brutality and what it means for them, individually and for the rest of their town. Reading Quinn’s POV as a white person hit close to home. His story goes beyond a simplistic “Hey, what happened to Rashad was because of racism, and racism is bad!”and has him actively struggle to find words to describe what happened, and then struggle to actually say them out loud, both among his white friends and family and his basketball teammates who are friends with Rashad. At its core, All American Boys is about voice and communication—conversation, art, and protest being only a few examples—and Rashad and Quinn learning how best to use them in order to speak about what happened to Rashad.

ninefox gambit30691976Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
The irony is that last year Ninefox Gambit was on my “Honorable Mentions” list because I couldn’t follow what was going on, but when I re-read it in preparation for reading Raven Stratagem, I freaking loved it. I love the world-building behind the hexarchate, the sardonic sense of humor (Mikodez is going to get shot one day due to excessive driving-his-subordinates-and-everyone-around-him-crazy behavior), and I love the twisted paths Kel Cheris and Shuos Jedao’s arcs have taken them. I cannot wait for Revenant Gun in 2018.

28458598When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
I am exceptionally critical when it comes to the portrayal of romance in popular media, especially YA, so the fact that this is one of the best books I read this year says a lot about just how good it is. Our heroine and hero are Dimple Shah, a snarky, aspiring tech developer who is totally not into her parents’ attempts to find her an “ideal Indian husband” and Rishi Patel, a self-effacing closet artist who is totally into meeting his supposedly future wife—Dimple—at the web developers summer program they’ll both be attending. Their “meet-cute” moment is pitch-perfect, and the resulting budding relationship is built off of a shared sense of humor, learning about each other, shared interests and experiences, working through differences, and moments of vulnerability and intimacy. It’s a fun, comforting, and satisfying read.

24885533The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
While I didn’t fully enjoy every single story in this collection, the vast majority were very, very good such that the collection is on this list. I love the way Ken Liu uses Chinese, Japanese, and American history, collective memory, culture, language, and social mores to tell both intricate and heartfelt stories, and that many of them are about the creation, use, and response to the collection and dissemination of knowledge and the resulting construction of stories and narratives and memory, particularly through the lens of nineteenth and twentieth-century history.


25978892The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
This is probably the hardest book I read this year, not just because the subject matter is difficult for me to read anyway (the physical reality of eating disorders has always freaked me the fuck out), but because the story, in which a gay, Jewish teenager named Matt living in small-town upstate New York seemingly develops superpowers as the result of his eating disorder, is so incredibly raw. Matt’s pain, fear, anger, loneliness, gallows humor, and absolutely unhealthy thought processes are on full display, and it is real as heck. This is the kind of book with no clear-cut or happy ending, but one that’s a process in learning to figure out how begin to see yourself as someone with value and deserving of respect and love, from others and from yourself.

31817749The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
The conclusion to N. K. Jemisin’s Ston Earth trilogy is both excellent and a fitting end to all that came before. I don’t want to say much more due to spoilers, but we learn the origin of the Stillness and the Stone Eaters, and Essun, Nassun, and Hoa each undertake the final leg of their arduous journeys to do what must be done—save the Stillness, kill the Stillness, destroy what came before, and start again, anew.



32735037An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard
In the midst of the traditional, deadly contest of duels between New York City’s leading magician families for the House that will lead them in the coming years rises a newcomer with a plan to win and an agenda to fulfill, concerning the future of magic, which will irrevocably change the nature and the balance of power held by all magicians. In two books, Kat Howard has become an auto-read for me. She writes similar kinds of stories to Neil Gaiman and has a similar manner in which she writes the intersection of the magical with the mundane, except her stories and her writing are far, far better.


26810460The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente
Catherynne M. Valente can seemingly write a story about anything, and I’ll fall in love with it. A fantasy novel in which the Brontë siblings as children are transported into their shared make-believe universe of Glasstown (which I learned is actually a real make-believe world the Brontës created while growing up!) seemed like a hokey premise when I first read about it. But because this is Catherynne M. Valente, The Glass Town Game ended up being charming and and witty and clever and oh-so-creative and full of imagination.


Honorable Mentions

  • Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz
  • Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer
  • The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
  • A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab
  • Clariel by Garth Nix
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  • American War by Omar El Akkad
  • The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
  • Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds
  • Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells
  • More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
  • Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
  • A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Same as last year, my goal was for fifty percent of all books I read in 2017 to be written by PoC authors. This year I read 83 books total (includes fiction, nonfiction, and novellas), and 40 were by PoC authors (48%). Honestly I’m astounded this number is higher than last year’s (43%). I did a good job for most of the year averaging one book by a PoC author for every book by a white author, but sometime during the fall I dropped the ball and mostly read books by white authors, some of which was due to scrambling to fit in reading some fall releases before the end of the year. My goal for 2018 is to continue to aim for a 50-50 parity between white authors and PoC authors. I’m also going to start paying attention to the individual races of PoC authors of books I read to see if I’m inadvertently reading more books by authors of one race and fewer books by authors of another race.

In the beginning of the year I tried to read more nonfiction and ended up crapping out because there are always too many fiction books I want to read, and reading fiction takes a much easier kind of brain energy for me than reading nonfiction. As a result, my total read this year was a measly 6 books. I’m going to try again in 2018 and read more nonfiction, but I’m not holding myself to any hard promises.

Aaaaand that’s about it. Happy new year everyone, and I hope everyone has the best 2018 that they can.


My Favorite Reads of 2015

I read a lot of really good books in 2015, to the point that it was annoyingly difficult to put together a “Best of” list, or even a “Favorite Books Read This Year” list. But I did manage to make some hard decisions and cobble together a list of some titles that unequivocally blew my mind. Note: not all of them were published in 2015. Links are provided for my reviews if they’re available.

Listed in chronological order of when I read them:

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge


The story of a young girl who wakes up one day to concerned parents, an insatiable hunger, cobwebs for tears, and a screaming younger sister who swears that thing isn’t human. The story of a changeling child fighting for life and to save her counterpart at the cost of her own life. Frances Hardinge’s writing is as clever and beautiful as always, and her stories are consistently top-notch.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine


The story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set in Prohibition-era twenties’ jazz clubs? Devastating writing and storytelling that’s brutal in its economy and how much it conveys in so few words? Hard-hearted female protagonists who make hard decisions to protect her sisters and because no one else can? Fairytale mystery and grandiose allure juxtaposed with city, real-life grittiness, drama, sweat, fear, and danger? Yes, yes, yes. Yes to it all.

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor


The fantasy/science fiction story of a woman born and trapped in a skyscraper, a genetic experiment whose skin can burn brighter and hotter than her captors ever dreamed, a story rooted in various African peoples’ stories and magics and histories, a story rooted in anti-colonialism and survival, fear, love, and rage. Entry #1 in “Women Full of Rage Who Destroy the World.”

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin


The story of a world wracked by cataclysmic earthquakes, where apocalypses are common occurrences. The story of three women with the power to manipulate the forces of the earth, hated by everyone around them, forced to submit their bodies and their power to a body that tells them they are sub-human, isolated and controlled for their and everyone’s protection. This is a story of endings—the world itself and the individual worlds of all three women. First entry in a trilogy, and Entry #2 in “Women Full of Rage Who Destroy the World.”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


A deeply personal letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son Samori about the ins and outs of being a black man in the United States and the violent history and logic behind race and anti-black racism in the United States. It’s about a story white people have created and continue to believe and enforce, and it’s a story Coates tells his son in order for him to understand whilst condemning the necessity of the telling.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

sorcerer_front mech.indd

The story of Sorcerer Royal Zacharias Wythe, leader of England’s Society of Unnatural Philosophers in Napoleonic England, and his erstwhile student, the polite hellion Prunella Gentleman. A hilarious and pointed Regency tale of racial, gender, and class politics, fairies, international diplomacy, manners, and Polite Society, written in pitch-perfect Regency-esque language. Fun for the whole family.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel


The story of Alison Bechdel’s exploration of her identity through the lens of her relationship with her deceased father. A beautifully and sophisticatedly written nonlinear, multi-narrative memoir that encompasses Alison’s childhood, her father and mother’s courtship, the house she grew up in and her father’s pride and joy, her father’s complicated relationship to his sexuality and sense of self, Alison’s coming out as a lesbian, and her father’s subsequent death. The book of the year where I had no clue how much it would blow me away.

Ancillary Mercy By Ann Leckie


The conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy and the story we were all waiting for of how Breq, Seivarden, Tisarwat, Mercy of Kalr, and Presger Translator Zeiat integrate themselves into Athoek Station and thoroughly subvert Anandaar Minaai. Having loved the other two books to bits, this one was the perfect conclusion and I am still crying that this trilogy is over.

The Shadows Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn


The story of Chloe, the youngest of the three Fates who spin, measure, and slice all mortals’ life threads. The story of how she falls in love with Aglaia, a mortal girl with a beautiful life thread, and the devastating truths she and her sisters learn when they entangle themselves in the fates of mortals. Written with prose that’s so crystal-clear I want to tear my hair out at how good it is. Entry #3 in “Women Who Destroy the World.

And because this year was such a good reading year for me, here’s another list of books I really enjoyed reading:

  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
  • About a Girl by Sarah McCarry
  • Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
  • Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

One other thing I’m pleased by is how much re-reading I was able to accomplish this year. In addition to re-reading the Circle of Magic and Circle Opens quartet for Mark Reads, I re-read Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (in preparation for the third book), and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.

Earlier this year I had committed myself to K.Tempest Bradford’s challenge to not read any books by cis straight white men for an entire year. I mostly succeeded—I slipped up a few times here and there (6 times to be exact), but the majority of authors I read did not fall into all four categories.

I also specifically tried to read more authors of color. Approximately a third of the books I read were authored by people of color, as were a third of the actual authors in question. When I started this blog, my goal was for half the books I reviewed to have been written by authors of color. In this I was not successful—only 5 of the 13 books I reviewed were written by authors of color—so my goal next year is to actually achieve and maintain equal parity.

On a professional level book-wise, I also had a good year. I worked on several books for Ooligan Press this year, including the recently-published YA novel A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel and the upcoming 2016 short story collection Siblings by Kait Heacock. Most excitingly for me, Allison Green’s travel memoir The Ghosts Who Travel with Me, whose publishing team I joined last fall, came out this past June. Leading up to and after the launch, I got to do publicity outreach, proofreading, and designing of the epub version of the book. The highlight of 2015 was being able to cross off “appearing on the radio” from my bucket list—in addition to arranging for Allison Green to be interviewed on the radio show Bookworm, I briefly appeared alongside her to talk about Ooligan.

Personally, I did have some setbacks. I kept getting sick the first third of the year and my mental health decided to take a hike a few months later. Thankfully the latter has been on the mend recently. (I would say the former was getting better too if not for the fact I’m currently stuck in bed with a bad cold and fever on the very last day of the year. Go figure.)

Things I’m looking forward to next year? Finishing my Master’s program and graduating (I’m ignoring for now the part where I’ll be frantically applying for jobs in the meantime.) Working on the publication of Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s as-yet untitled third entry in her YA Jewish-historical fiction-time travel series. (I’ve already read the manuscript and it’s going to be awesome.) Re-reading even more books than this past year, and maybe even throwing in some more literary and nonfiction titles amidst my fantasy, sci-fi, and YA reads.

May your 2016 not be too terrible (it’s Election Year after all) and may it be filled with lots of good books and friends in the meantime.