It’s been a pretty great reading year for me. I might have not have hit as many books as in years past, but the quality of books that I’ve read this year have been stellar (and I have a few more great books in the stack that I’ll likely finish by year’s end).
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen unfolds the story of Luli Wei, a talented and beautiful Chinese American woman, who is desperate to become a star in pre-code Hollywood. In order to do so, she navigate the fair-like realm of the Hollywood system, which exacts a sharp (and sometimes deadly) price on those who long for fame. The magic here is at once beautiful, wicked, and mundane.
Vo’s prose is rich and lyrical, evoking a sense of magic, menace, and desire on nearly every page. Siren Queen is a work of art; it is powerful and evocative — a book that I plan to read again and again.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The City We Became is another masterpiece from N.K. Jemisin. It presents a vision of New York City as a living creature about to be born with a human avatar — except a dark presence nearly aborts the process and the avatars of various boroughs (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island) are awakened to hold back the tide of darkness.
Jemisin is a phenomenal writer, and the story she unfolded in this book made me fall in love with a place I have never been. I cannot wait for a sequel.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
In Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher, Marra, a shy princess raised in a convent, initiates a dangerous quest to save her sister from her abusive husband, a man protected from retribution by his status as a prince. Beginning in a desolate region of the dead, Marra undertakes a series of impossible tasks leading to what seems to be the most impossible task of them all — murdering a prince.
This is a gorgeously dark fantasy with a wonderful cast of quirky characters, from grave witches to former soldiers to bone dogs to fairy godmothers. Together, they bring a light to what otherwise would be a grimly dark tale — which is really a testament to Kingfisher’s skill as a writer.
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart Is a Chainsaw is a love song to slasher films. The story centers on Jude, a young woman who is an outcast within her small town and who enamored with horror films, particularly slashers, which bring her a sense of comfort, an escape from the brutality of her life. There is even a part of her that longs for a slasher event to occur, so that the people of her community can get their comeuppance.
When a young woman moves to town — beautiful, smart, and charming — Jude immediately assumes that this young woman would make the perfect Final Girl. Soon after, Jude starts seeing a number of signs that (according to the rules of the movies she watches) a slasher will soon take place, so she tries to convince the new girl of her destiny.
Jude is angry and acidic and all sharp edges — and deep down she is also vulnerable, lonely, and (deep down) caring. Her passion for slasher films swims off the page, as does her underlying desire for companionship. Her journey in this book is brutal and terrifying and somehow, in the end, manages to dredge up some hope.
Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
“I realize I want to hear my voice and only mine. Not the voice of my voice within a cacophony of old pains. Just mine, now.”
Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds is a strange and beautiful book, one that feels like a blending of fiction, poetry, and memoir. The series of vignettes in this collection encapsulate small moments, dreams, or deep emotional experiences, for which Slate layers imagery and sound in a beautiful cacophony of weirdly wonderful passages. It’s one of those rare books in which I found myself drawn to underlining favorite pages, or rereading phrases to taste them over and over again.
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor’s Noor is the story of Anwuli Okwudili, who goes by AO. Due to an accident when she was young, AO has had a number of necessary body augmentations on her arm and legs — a fact that that makes some superstitious people in Africa believe she is evil or wicked. When she is attacked by men in her local community, she fights back with incredible power and flees into the desert. On her journey, she finds new companions, faces off against an powerful corporation, and finds opportunity in the form of utopian community finding safety within the winds of a man-made natural disaster. At novella length, this is a fun, quick read, with fantastic characters and world building.
Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste
In her most recent horror novel, Reluctant Immortals, Gwendolyn Kiste dives into the 1960s to tell the stories of two forgotten women from Dracula and Jane Eyre. Lucy Westenra (turned vampire) and Bertha Mason (turned immortal by Rochester via some other arcane means) face eternity while forever fighting off the men who changed them. A beautifully dark tale of two women banding together in sisterhood to take a stand for themselves against the forces of dangerous men.
Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke
In the opening of Kealan Patrick Burke’s novella Sour Candy, the main character, Phil Pendleton, goes to the supermarket and witnesses a bizarre and unsettling event involving a women and her child — one of the most uncomfortable scenes that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. When he leaves this moment behind, Phil finds his entire world has shifted sideways, making it impossible to return to his normal life. The cosmic horror that follows grows increasingly terrible in the best of ways. This quick read provides a satisfying punch.
The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walwrath
In her beautiful poetry collection, The Smallest of Bones, Holly Lyn Walwrath uses the skeleton of the body as a means of structurally shaping the collection. Each section begins with a poem of various bones, from the cranium to the sternum and beyond. The poems that follow explore love, sexuality, gender, religion, and death, among other aspects of humanity and the supernatural. It’s a gorgeous collection with crisp, clear, and lyrical language.
This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko
This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko is a stunning collection of poems centering around Minidoka, a concentration camp for Japanese Americans built in Idaho during World War II. The author blends history with myth and folklore to explore how the scars of the past carry through generations — from grandparents through to their grandchildren. The wounds caused by racism and hate continue on through memory and story. These poems are evocative and beautiful, providing an important memorial for an aspect of American history that should never be forgotten.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, Saga features a beautifully illustrated and rich scifi fantasy, in which two people from the opposing sides of a multi-generational war fall in love, have a child together, and attempt to escape the conflict — only to be hunted down as outlaws.
In addition to providing powerful storytelling and some wonderfully weird worlds and societies, one of the many things I love about these books is the relationship between the two main characters. The conflict in their relationship comes not from getting to know each other, but from the struggles of trying to hold on their love in the face of their desperate circumstances. I’ve only read the first four volumes, but I’m completely invested in all of these characters and cannot wait to continue with the series.
Odessa by Jonathan Hill
Odessa by Jonathan Hill is a graphic novel about an apocalyptic future following an earthquake that tore apart most of civilization. The Crane family scratches by through scavenging and other odd tasks, which the barter for their food and other needs. When Virginia Crane suddenly receives a letter and gift from her mother (whom the family has long assumed was dead), she begins a journey traveling across the Western U.S. looking for her — along with her two younger brothers who stow away to join her. The siblings face violence, but also find support and kindness from those whom they meat along the way. Most importantly, they face the dangers of the world together. It’s a beautiful story with gorgeous two-tone artwork.
Secret Passages 1985-1986 by Axelle Lenoir
Secret Passages by Axelle Lenoir is a fictional memoir about growing up in a small town. The story imagines the author as a young girl being raise by parents (who may or may not be aliens) and whose brother’s imaginary friend may be a blood-thirsty demon. As a girl, she has a hard time relating to school, which seems like a strange place to her, and so she communes with the forest for comfort. It’s a delightfully weird book, and I hope the author continues the tale.