My Favorite Reads of 2018

I thought coming up with my favorite reads of 2018 would be difficult. For the past five months or so I’ve had a hard time concentrating on reading, and it felt like I read few books that were especially noteworthy or good this year. Going through my Goodreads list to write this post, I realized that all my favorite books were front-loaded into the first half of the year. Not sure why that is, but there you have it.

As usual, this list is in chronological order of when I read them.

Jade-City-final-cover-e1495648519644Jade City by Fonda Lee
This was the first fiction book I read in 2018, and hoboy, it set a high standard for all books I read following it for the rest of the year. Fantastic secondary East Asian, post-WWII-esque universe with magic, martial arts, and complex, fucked up personal, familial, clan, national, and international politics, sharp, tense, fast-paced, evocative writing, and the kind of oh-so-all-encompassing character-centric fiction I love to sink into and love myself and entire senses in make this book so fucking good. Fonda Lee is a fantastic author – I’ve read all her books so far and this is the best one yet. I cannot wait for Jade War to come out next year.

51lKPaii3oLThe Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
I first started reading Masha Gessen’s work following the 2016 election with the article “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” and have been reading every article that’s come out since then. The Future Is History is a compelling, informative, and morbidly fascinating narrative history and sociological/psychological examination both of Russia’s transition from the communist, authoritarian Soviet Union to the capitalist, quasi-democratic Russia to the effectively authoritarian Putin-led country of today and how peoples’ sense of itself, its past, and its future have changed over the past thirty years as a result of the transitions.

34381254An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
The story of a generation ship with a hierarchy rooted in the social and racial mores of Antebellum slavery with those of the lower decks serving and at the mercy of the upper-deckers, the book follows Astrid, an autistic, nonbinary lower-decker searching for answers about her mother’s death and the hidden truth of the generation ship she died trying to uncover. Rivers Solomon’s writing is a work of art in the way it melds beauty and brutality and softness and harshness, as is their worldbuilding of a generation ship with all its interlocking, overlapping social structures, languages, routines, and secrets. More than anything, it’s this book’s honesty that really makes it so great.

BloodBindsThePack_144dpiBlood Binds the Pack by Alex Wells
The sequel to Hunger Makes the Wolf, which came out last year and I loved. This book picks up right where the other left off, and is full of outlaw motorcycle gang goodness, union organizing and striking, corporate shenanigans, planetary magic-science weirdness, and, most importantly, Hob fucking Ravani. She’s one of my new all-time favorite protagonists, and I’m fucking bummed there aren’t any future books planned in this series. (Fix this, Angry Robot!)



2343715622299763.jpgSix of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
I’d read the Grisha trilogy a couple years ago and thought it was alright but not great; my housemate and others had read and loved Six of Crows, and that plus the fact I love heist stories made me read this series. I’m so fucking glad I did – I love ensemble casts, especially of the found/forged family variety, and the Six of Crowscrew and each characters’ relationships with each other are a dream. Kaz Brekker’s amorality is so good I honestly have to pinch myself that he actually exists in a YA novel, Inej is just fantastic, and I love Jesper and Wylan individually and together. (Nina and Matthias are fine, the others are just more my favorites.) I love the cleverness and complexity of the cons, the setting of Ketterdam, and all the details that go into making the crew’s exploits, talents, and weaknesses come to life. It’s just a great series35343338

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien
Figure skating meets kung fu! Peasprout Chen, a champion of wu liu, the art of martial arts figure skating, is the first student from the country of Shin, along with her younger Cricket to be admitted to the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. A strong skater and proud of her abilities, Peasprout finds herself alone with few friends or allies at the academy, locked in a bitter rivalry with a classmate who’s her equal at wu liu, and caught in the crossfires of the disintegration of Shin and Pearl’s uneasy relationship. This middle grade novel was an absolute delight – I loved the ingenious and inventiveness of everything about wu liu, as well as the fact that this is a book of proud girls being proud all the time, and it’s a flaw but not a “the narrative is punishing them because girls being proud is terrible” kind of flaw. I’m not sure if there are any planned sequels, but if there are, I look forward to reading them.

13651The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
I’ll be honest, before this year I’d only read The Left Hand of Darkness (which I remember thinking was OK but not mind-blowing or life-changing, though I do want to reread it now that I’m older (dear god I was eighteen nine years ago *cries*))) and had attempted to read A Wizard of Earthsea in high school but stopped a couple chapters in because I was bored. (I’m sensing a theme in not being able to get into Le Guin until I was an adult, which I feel is…the opposite of most peoples’ experiences.) Thanks go to my housemate for continuing to ramble about how much they loved The Dispossessed to the point that I was finally convinced to read it, and dear god I was not disappointed. It’s so wonderfully chewy and such delicious brain food. I was even into the physics musings, and I’m never interested in physics, fictional or otherwise! And I loved how the concepts and explorations of anarchy dovetailed so neatly with Shevek’s physics research, and how thoroughly Le Guin was able to see and identify on the page all the nuts and bolts that make our capitalist, pseudo-democratic society work and what different kinds of nuts and bolts an anarchic society might need. I also love that at the end of the day, it’s not a question of anarchy versus other forms of government, but one of embracing flexibility and change versus defensive and fearful reactionism against it.

35427530Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly
This series is so much fun, which I feel slightly bad about saying since it’s set in a secondary world set in the equivalent of 1930 fascistic Europe, but it’s true. In addition to more of Aristides being a disaster human and Cordelia being the amazing espionage planner that she is, Lillian DePaul, Cyril’s brother, is introduced and brings her ice-cold demeanor and canniness into the mix. Together, the three of them fight and snarl their way into undermining the Ospies not just in Gedda, but in Porachis, the South Asian analogue where most of Armistice is set. Please and yes.



Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
The end of the Machineries of Empire trilogy. While I didn’t love this book as much as its predecessors – I wasn’t that into teenage!Jedao being created to lead the remainder of the Hexarchate (though I loved the Big Reveal concerning the actual resurrection aspect) and Kujen has never been of particular interest to me, so I was never going to be that into the reveals of Kujen’s origins. However, I *loved* that we finally got some chapters from the servitors’ perspective and more of a window into their politics, I loved spending more time with Cheris/Jedao and Mikodez, and I just generally loved spending more time in this world with these characters. While Revenant Gun isn’t my favorite, my love of the series as a whole and the strength of the series’ conclusion meant this book was always going to end up in this year’s round-up of favorite books.

35068534Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
This book fucking destroyed me. My emotions were shot for the rest of the day and a lot of the next after finishing this. Claudia is excited to start eighth grade alongside her best friend Monday, but on the first day of school, Monday never shows up. She’s not there the next day either. Or the next. Or the next. Or the next. Claudia’s parents refuse to answer her questions or believe Monday is missing, nor do any other adults. No one seems to care about a missing Black girl from Southeast D.C, just one more of many. The more questions Claudia asks, the closer she gets to a terrible answer, about Monday and herself. Like Allegedly, this a thriller told by an unreliable narrator, except with Monday’s Not Coming, the unreliable narrator aspect really and truly works. Everything is horrifying and nothing is okay.

36896898Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Spinning Silveris the Ashkenazi Jewish fairytale I never knew I needed but so badly did. I have never read a story before where a Jewish character assesses the anti-Semitic accusations leveled at herself and her family and deliberately embraces them as a form of strength. They think Miryem monstrous for daring to be the moneylender her father couldn’t be and collect on debts owed? She will be their monster if it means her family has enough to eat that winter for the first time in years. Don’t go into debt if you can’t pay the price, a maxim she shares in common with the fae Staryk. Miryem’s acumen as a businesswoman, her ability to turn silver into gold, attracts the notice of the Staryk king, who demands she use her talents in service to him and his kingdom. This Rumpelstiltskin retelling has such a historic Jewish sensibility, particularly in the way Meryem characterizes her role in the fight between the supernatural and mortal worlds. I love this book so much.

Darius-the-Great-Is-Not-OkayDarius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Shy, nerdy, clinically depressed, and kinda chubby, Darius has never felt like he fits in, what with kids bullying him at school and feeling like his own father thinks him a disappointment. While he and his family are visiting his mother’s parents in Iran, Darius meets Sohrab, a neighbor of his grandparents who seems to actually like Darius and hanging out with him and wants to be his friend. The more he and Sohrab hang out, the more he likes the person he is around Sohrab, and the more comfortable he grows in his own skin. This story was down-to-earth but also touching in its openness and honesty. Darius is such a relatable kid, from his nerdy analogies that feel like they’re coming from a real place and aren’t thrown for no reason except to signal nerdiness to his awkwardness with social situations, his body, and how to connect with the people in his life that he loves. At the end of the day, this book is about people trying to find the right language to express feelings, towards other people and themselves, and I *love* the closeness of Darius and Sohrab’s relationship. It’s not explicitly romantic or sexual, and it’s not “about” sexual orientation, necessarily (though there’s hints Darius could realize or decide he’s into guys) – rather, it’s two boys being emotionally intimate and vulnerable in ways they can’t be around other people, written in a way I haven’t seen in YA before.9781419731495_s3

Gullstruck Island by Frances Hardinge
When was the last year I did a favorite books of the year roundup that didn’t include a Frances Hardinge novel on it? Hathin’s sister Arilou is a Lost – that is, someone who can experience the world outside of her body through all five of her senses. As a Lost, Arilou has a place of pride among her people, the Lace, a tribe who for centuries have been outcasts following the colonization of the island by the Cavelcaste, even among other tribes. However, Arilou may not actually be a Lost, and it’s the job of invisible, unremarkable Hathin to ensure no one outside her village suspects. But when all the Lost are murdered – except for Arilou – Hathin must now uncover a hidden conspiracy covering the entire island that’s being overseen and carried out by people as invisible as she is. Like many Frances Hardinge novels, Gullstruck Island has at its center a young protagonist who occupies the periphery of the world she lives in, only to take action that causes her to be the lynchpin with the power to burn the entirety of that world down and build it anew – in this case quite literally. Like her other novels, this one has fantastic world-building, beautiful and clever writing, wry and astute observations, NO ROMANCE, and great characters. Frances Hardinge is so consistently good – I keep singing the same praises every year, because almost every book I’ve read of hers has been so good, every year. (Gullstruck Island is the last of her older books I’ve read; there had better be a new one out next year!)

Honorable Mentions

  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of how Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
  • This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • Tenements, Towers, and Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City by Julia Wertz
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
  • Cross Fire by Fonda Lee
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • So Lucky by Nicola Griffith
  • You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Far From You by Tess Sharpe
  • Annex by Rich Larson
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
  • Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
  • Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

As far as statistics, I fell short of having 50 percent of the books I read be written by PoC authors, the reason being that when I entered my reading funk I started paying less attention to my goal. This year I read 73 books (includes fiction novels, novellas, and nonfiction). Of that total, 30 were written by PoC authors (43 percent, which is the same percentage I had in 2016). Of those 30 books, fifteen were written by Black authors (50 percent), ten by Asian/Asian American authors (30 percent), three by Latinx authors (10 percent), and one each by Native American and Middle Eastern authors (seven percent total). For 2019 my goal is to once again aim for a 50-50 parity between PoC authors and white authors.

I read a grant total of seven nonfiction books this year, which is one more than last year. I still can’t convince myself to read nonfiction during my free time when my brain is clamoring at me about my endless list of fiction books I keep putting off reading. I’m going to keep trying to read more nonfiction in 2019, but this time I’m not making any kind of goal or promise.

Other than that, I’m *very* cautiously hoping that 2019 will be the year I finally embark on my reread of the entirety of Robin Hobb’s books (minus the Soldier Son trilogy) so that I can finally read her latest trilogy featuring Fitz and the Fool. We’ll see if it ends up happening. I’m bad at rereading for the same reason I’m bad at reading nonfiction – I keep feeling like I should be reading fiction I haven’t read before!

I think that about does it. Happy new year and 2019 everyone!

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 2016

So, 2016, amirite?

From a personal standpoint, my year wasn’t half-bad – I finished grad school, got a new job (albeit in something way outside my field, but still! Job! That pays well!), and didn’t have any major mental health breakdowns (which is a huge improvement from last year!) Other than that, I and everyone around me got to have fun watching a screaming orange toddler with a penchant for fascism, white supremacy, and sexual assault get elected to the presidency.


I had a difficult time coming up with this year’s best-of list. Compared to last year, it seems as though I’ve read fewer books I’ve truly loved with both my head and my heart. Which isn’t to say I read terrible books, but that fewer reads instilled in me that mysterious, alchemical (and highly biased/personal) feeling of transcendence and love and deep-seated knowledge that a book is For Me, that it speaks to my soul. As such, my “books I enjoyed” list is almost twice as long as my “favorite books” list. So it goes.

Without further ado, and presented in chronological order of when I read them, from earliest to latest:

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

out of darkness

One of the few historical fiction books I read this year, and inarguably one of the best. This book hurts, in the best possible way, and confronts racism, classism, sexual assault, widespread tragedy, and rewriting of personal and larger narratives in all their ugly reality while honoring the love and tenderness and core of steel possessed by Naomi Vargas and shared between her and Wash Fuller and her siblings Cari and Beto. Out of Darkness caused grapple with what it means to write historical fiction honestly and with integrity.



Illuminae and Geminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

illuminae gemina-by-amie-kaufman-and-jay-kristoffThese books are so much fun – epistolary space opera with crazy plots, serious consequences, ridiculous (by which I mean fantastic) senses of humor, and (heterosexual) romances that AREN’T TERRIBLE. Illuminae is in the vein of my beloved Battlestar Galactica in terms of plot and stakes, and Geminae ups the ante even more so.


The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

parable of the sower parable of the talentsI am simultaneously crying that I read these books on the very year current events aligned to lead us down a path that will very likely resemble the future portrayed within them and relieved that at least I read them and can now walk into that future with further-opened eyes. Octavia Butler is a grandmaster of science fiction for a reason – she’s really fucking good at it.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

the lie tree

The year one of my best-of lists doesn’t contain a Frances Hardinge book if one was released is a year that doesn’t exist, and if it does the year will need to have a do-over in order to set things right. The Lie Tree may be the best of hers I’ve read yet – wonderful, witty, and incisive writing, fantastic horror and mix of genres and stories and exploration of truth and unreliability of both people and narratives, and in the writing Faith Sunderly, Hardinge continues to write the kinds of stories about gender and women and being people that I love best.



Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

roses and rot

Fairytale art sister love. That’s it, that’s the book. Kat Howard has written the most fairytale book of the year and it is a heart-gauger in its honesty and meaningfulness when it comes to the power of art and creation, and what art means as something individual and as something shared. Also “Tam Lin.”




Rise: A Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant


Reading this ginormous book of short stories and novella-length fiction set in the Newsflesh universe felt like coming home. I continue to love Mira Grant’s worldbuilding, and even more so I love her characters, all of them fighting to survive in the ways they each know how in a world where the dead are no longer sacred and the rules regarding survival are as harsh as they are deadly.




Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard


In the first line of my review I wrote “I am Pen and Pen is me.” That statement, the way I explained it, continues to be true. The story of a butch lesbian having strength and confidence in her appearance and who she is against her friends and family who tear her down – all while getting a girlfriend – is a book I love not just because it’s well written, but also because it’s one of those rare books that I personally have that recognizable instance of “seeing oneself” in literature, in a way that’s meaningful.



Radical by E. M. Kokie


I have a type, and that is butch characters in my fiction. And this year I got to read TWO books with butch protagonists. Bex plans to survive anything that happens – she knows how to prep, she knows how to shoot, and she’ll continue practicing even if no one in her family takes her seriously or truly cares about who she is. But when her brother gets himself, and her family, involved something truly dangerous what is Bex willing to do to survive? And who is she doing it for? This book ripped out my heart and crushed it into itty-bitty pieces. Also – actual, explicit F/F sex scene in a YA book from a mainstream publisher! Contemporary is typically not my jam, and E. M. Kokie’s books are one of my favorites in YA.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


This is a perfect book for someone who loves history, specifically the intersection of history as personal as national as personal—seven generations of two branches of a family, one in Ghana and the other in the United States, one side growing out of aiding and abetting in the Atlantic slave trade and the other side forged out of its direct experience of tyranny and brutality under it, connected through their shared history of the slave trade and thrown apart because of it. Yaa Gyasi is a beautiful writer, evoking both fourteen (!) separate historical milieus and fourteen different POV characters with equal skill and grace.


Books I also really enjoyed:

Out of a total of 68 books read in 2016 (including nonfiction and print novellas), 30 were by authors of color (44%), and out of 43 book reviewed on this blog, 21 were by authors of color (49%). My aim for this blog is for half the books I review to be written by authors of color, a parity I almost achieved. I am still much more likely to unthinkingly reach for a book written by a white author, one reason being I’m still used to unthinkingly reaching for white-authored books as a matter of course, and another reason being those books tend to be more immediately available in the library, and individual titles are more likely to be present in larger amounts of copies. For next year I need to start putting more forethought into what my immediate TBR pile looks like (including which books are on my holds list), which requires awareness of which books I’m likely to acquire more quickly in conjunction with awareness of what kind of story I feel like reading at any given time.

This coming year I will also be planning to incorporate a bit more adult historical fiction and nonfiction into my reading list. (The nonfiction will not be getting reviewed because no, I am no longer in school, and I refuse to succumb to any guilt I might feel for not doing a full academic analysis instead of a book review).

Happy end of 2016 (finally!) and best of luck in the coming year. May we all survive the best ways we know how.

Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

the lie tree

Do you like historical fiction novels?

Do you like horror novels?

Do you like novels with a light touch of the fantastic?

Do you like novels written for teenagers that are far superior to many novels written for adults?

Do you like novels about the roles of women and men but especially women set in Victorian England?

Do you like novels about the history of science and scientific exploration?

Do you like murder mysteries?

Do you like prose that is as perfect as prose can be?

Do you like novels about girls who lie, who sneak around and keep secrets, who want revenge, who can be cruel, who constantly defy expectations and face danger and punishment for either being themselves or for being female to begin with?

If you said yes to these questions, then you have no excuse not to read The Lie Tree.

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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.