My Ten Favorite Fiction Reads from 2019

Most everyone (as far as I’ve seen) throws up their top lists in December, but I’ve never been able to get it together to be able to do it before January — so here I am. In 2019, I read a total of 55 books, many of which were great reads. Here are the ten fiction books that stood out to me over the course of the year. I’ll be talking about my favorite poetry books in a separate post.

 

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

In the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, the future looks bleak, with the city in a state of decay, cracked streets lined with broken bottles and the skyline lined with factories left to rust.  Having graduated from high school, Phoebe and her best friend Jacqueline make plans to escape — but then the girls in their neighborhood begin to change, their “bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.” No one understands what’s happening, not the girl’s parents, the doctors, or the government men. Faced with loosing her best friend, Phoebe desperately struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens.

The body horror of the girl’s transformations is counterbalanced by the horror of how the people in the city treat them, with Phoebe at the center, caught between the two. At times this book is unsettling, and at times it is touchingly beautiful, with the relationships between the girls at the center. This was a book I clutched to by chest as soon as I was done reading. (Full review.)

 

Rolling in the Deep / Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Rolling in the Deep / Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

If you’ve been longing for a book about terrifying, blood thirsty mermaids, then   the novella Rolling in the Deep and the full-length novel Into the Drowning Deep are the books for you.*

In Rolling in the Deep, a crew of filmmakers and scientists on the ship Atargatis set out on a journey to the middle of the ocean to film a “documentary” examining the possible existence of mermaids — something no one on the team believes in. What they discover is so much more horrifying than they expected.

Into the Drowning Deep follows a number of years after the events of the first book. A new and more thoroughly outfitted team is of scientists, security guards, hunters, and filmmakers is assembled with the primarily aim of finding out the truth of what happened to the Atargatis. For all their focus on defense, none of them are fully prepared for the terrible dangers they encounter.

While Rolling in the Deep plays feels more like horror comedy, using a found footage style to express the absurd horrors that befall the crew, Into the Drowning Deep is straightforwardly thrilling and, at times, legitimately terrifying. There were moments reading Drowning Deep in which I was too scared to keep reading, but also too compelled to put the book down. Paired together, these two volumes can make anyway wary of the shadowy ocean depths and what they might be hiding.

*Yes, technically, this is cheating, since it’s two separate books, but the first one is a novella that you can easily read through in an hour or two, and they’re part of the same series, so they really go together — and, besides,  it’s my blog, so I do what I want. 😉 

 

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

Following her mother’s death, Mary Jekyll is left alone and penniless. Seeking a way to keep herself afloat, she dives into her father’s mysterious past and discovers that Edward Hyde, a murder and her father’s former friend, may be still be alive. With the hope of a substantial reward, she pursues the breadcrumbs before her and discovers other young women who are tied to a deep and dangerous mystery.

Many stories have taken up the task of retelling classic horror and scoff stories, from Frankenstein to Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Using a witty and fun style, Goss brings these stories together, centering them on clever, intelligent, and strong women, who find in each other a makeshift family. With two more books in the trilogy, I’m looking forward to reading more of these adventures.

 

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Casiopea Tun works as a servant in her grandfather’s household, dreaming of a life beyond its oppressive walls. When she opens a chest and accidentally releases the Mayan god of death, Casiopea is bound by blood and bone to help the god regain his throne or meet her own death. Their journey carries them across the states of Mexico in the 1920s — offering up a charming adventure, full of magic and danger, humor and romance. Another fantastic read from Moreno-Garcia.

 

The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila

The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila

Amparo Dávila is considered to be vital and foundational figure in Mexican horror. Appearing in English for the first time, her short stories examine the social conditions of women in Mexico under the guise of chilling tales. Whether it’s women faced with the threat of a terrifying houseguest, an unsettling breakfast conversation, or the oppression of a family secrete, these tales offer a subdued beauty that calls forth the underlying tensions and terrors of daily life. (Full review.)

 

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

When an illness decimates a large percentage of the human population, a bleak world is left behind. Children are nonexistent, women are rare, and many of the men who are left rove around in gangs claiming the few women still alive as slaves. An unnamed woman protects herself by pretending to be a male and roaming from place to place, looking for food and safe shelter in which to survive. When she encounters others, particularly women, she issues what little help she can in the form of medical care and contraceptives to prevent pregnancies that could be life threatening.

Apocalyptic stories can be bleak, presenting the worst side of humanity — and The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is no exception. However, the book doesn’t dwell there alone. For all the awful things that happen, there are people who show compassion, try to help, or at the very least try not to do harm. Ultimately, this story carries the slender thread of hope through its pages, moving me to tears several times.

 

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Waking in pain and suffering, Shori has no member of who or what she is. All she knows is that she is wounded, lost, and starving — and all that will sate her hunger is blood. Fledgeling is one of the most fascinating portrays of vampires and vampire society that I’ve read in a long while. Wrapped in a compelling mystery, this novel provides a number of compelling layers to unpack — from the fact that Shori is a 53-year old black vampire who looks like she’s a twelve-year-old girl to considerations like racism, genetic manipulation, familial power structures, polyamorous, just to name a few. It makes for a meaty, fascinating storyline complicated, interesting characters.

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Magic in Orïsha is gone, the maji long dead. Only their children remain, marked as outcasts by their silver hair. After a chance encounter with a rogue princess, Zélie learns that magic may return — if Zélie, her brother, and the princess can survive long enough to conduct an ancient ritual. With rich an fascinating world building, Adeyemi presents an epic YA fantasy with multi-layered characters and complex relationships. The second book in the trilogy comes out this year, and I’l definitely be continuing on

 

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

When a strange disease called the Tox strikes an island, the Raxter School for Girls becomes quarantined. The disease twists the people and creatures who are infected with it into strange new forms, making monsters of the wildlife outside of the school fences. The girls are changing, silver scales, seeping wounds, glowing hair, and other odd developments appearing on their bodies. In the face of hunger and near certain death, Hetty and her friends Byatt and Reese band together to survive — no matter what it takes. Wilder Girls is a fantastically told story of body horror, offset by a claustrophobic sense of isolation and complex, intimate relationships between the friends.

 

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Established on a tidally locked planet (in which one side is always facing the sun), the people of Xiosphant live strictly regulated lives determined by circadian rhythms. Stepping out of the rules even a little bit can result in severe punishment, as Sophie learns when she is cast out into the dark beyond the city’s walls and left to die of hypothermia or at the teeth of one of the planet’s vicious wildlife. Instead, she makes an unexpected friend that who could change everything. With wonderfully complex worldbuilding, The City in the Middle of the Night offers interwoven storylines that explore how human beings can become emotionally entangled with other humans in ways that sometimes feel more like a chain than a bond. A strange and beautiful book.

Honorable Mention: Books of Blood, Vol. 1-3 by Clive Barker, because this was a phenomenal collection of disturbingly beautiful horror stories — and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the volumes.

What were your favorite reads from last year?


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Six Books I Love to Reread

Apparently, today is National Book Lovers Day — and since I love books — I thought I’d share six books I love to reread over and over again. These are books that connect with me on a deep level. I’ve read each of these books at least twice, and I will likely reread them again in the future.

In fact, just talking about these books makes me want to pick them up again.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni MorrisonBeloved is a book about being haunted — at first Seth is haunted by the memories of being a slave and later by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless. This is a stunningly beautiful book, the culture, the characters, and the layers richly textured. I’ve read Beloved three times and each time I’ve been swept away by the poetry and power of Morrison’s story. Every reading offers new discoveries, new linguistic treasures.

It broke my heart this week to learn of Morrison’s passing. If you want some profound words in honor of her life and work, here are eight black female writers and thinkers on Toni Morrison’s legacy. For my small part, I’ll be rereading Beloved for the fourth time and seeking out some of her work that I haven’t had a chance to read yet.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank HerbertDune is a political science fiction book. The Atreides family is sent off to take control Dune, a desert planet and the only place where the spice Melange can be produced — the most valuable substance in the universe. The story is fraught with intrigue, with scheming and betrayal coming from every angle,

Story time: Years ago, I picked up Dune on the same day I was heading over to a friend’s house for a sleepover (because I always bring books with me on the chance I need something to occupy an empty moment). When my friend went off to tell her mother something, I picked up the book intending to read a page or two. . . . Then my friend returned.

What should have happened is me putting down the books so that I could hang out the way a socially aware, polite person would do. What actually happened is I spent the rest of the night reading — pausing only long enough to eat, go to the bathroom, and sleep for an hour or two. I finished the book early the next morning, very grateful that she was still willing to be my friend.

When I reread the book again years later, pretty much the same thing happened (except I had adult responsibilities to attend with).

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E ButlerI’ve long been a fan of apocalyptic dystopian tales, with Parable of the Sower being at the top of my list as one of the best. Set in a California ravaged by poverty, drugs, and chronic water shortages, the story follows Lauren Olamina as she escapes from her home after it burns down. Trying to forge her own path through a dangerous world, she develops a belief system built on the practicalities of the world around her, which she shares with the fellow refugees she gathers around her — all making their way North in pursuit of some somewhere safe to call home.

Parable of the Sower moves me each of the times I’ve read it. In a world full of desperate people, fighting brutally for survival, I love the way these characters come together and care for each other. I also find the Lauren’s parables, presented at the beginning of the chapters, fascinating and beautiful.

Her by Cherry Muhanji

Her by Cherry MuhanjiI discovered Her during a summer-long internship at the publisher Aunt Lute Books. The novel, which won the Lamda Literary Award in 1991, explores the relationships between a community of black women in 1950s Detroit. The language is liquid in its beauty, irreverently illuminating the streets of the Motor City, contrasting the hard work of the automotive plants with the rowdy bars leaking jazz out into the night.

My fellow interns and I read Her twice over while helping to helping to copy edit the book for its second edition — and I’ve since read it a third time for the sheer pleasure of the language and the story it enfolds. I’m so honored to have taken any tiny part in working with Aunt Lute on this book.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburyThe Martian Chronicles is a novel comprised of interconnected short stories that imagine humanity’s repeated attempts and failures to colonize Mars, from the first visitors to the cities of humans that sprouted over the planet. The stories range in tone and styles, with some being thrilling, others being humorous or haunting.

On the whole, I’ve read The Martian Chronicles twice — but the individual stories, I’ve read many times over. “There Will Come Soft Rains” — one of my all-time favorite short stories and powerful in its standalone compact form — I’ve probably read a dozen times. Below is a recording of Leonard Nimoy reading the story:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenOne of the things my sister and I have in common is our love for Jane Austen, especially her well-loved novel, Pride and Prejudice. We have both over the years read this novel several times over (although I’m certain that my sister has me wildly beat on that count). We love this story of the Bennet sisters and their search for marriage and love, with all its ever present wit and misunderstandings and prideful mistakes. Reading Pride and Prejudice is a soothing pleasure and delight each time I pick it up. In the end, the characters we love come together and find happiness.

Are there any books that you’ve read more than once? Which are your favorites?


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Culture Consumption: February 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games — most of which was heavily inspired by my deep dive into Women in Horror Month.

Books

Fledgling by Octavia E. ButlerOctavia E. Butler’s Fledgeling is the story of a 53-year old black vampire who looks like a 12 year old girl. When the story opens, Shori has no memory of who or what she is — all she knows is that she is wounded, starving, and lost. As she heals, she begins to dig into her past in an attempt to discover who she is and who tried to kill her. This is one of the most fascinating portrayals of vampires that I’ve read, presenting a unique complex culture with found families based on symbiotic relationships between vampires and humans. There are so many layers here work unpacking: genetic manipulation, power structures, interesting family structures with polyamorous love, and racism, among other things. It makes for a fascinating storyline with complicated, interesting characters. One of those books that’ll go onto my favorites list.

Two other books from my Women in Horror reading were also phenomenal: Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant (a brutal mermaid story discussed here) and Things Withered by Susie Moloney (a stunning collection of short stories discussed over here).

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

(I have interviews with both Isobel O’Hare and Sara Ryan that I’ll be sharing soon.)

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: February 2019”

Best Reads in 2013!

STATS: Total Books Read = 100, of which
67 were Fiction (a mix of scifi, fantasy, horror, and classics)
9 were Nonfiction
13 were Comics/Graphic Novels
11 were Poetry
11 were Audio Books
1 was DNF (read enough to count it, but didn’t actually finish)

Best Reads in 2013

Best Reads in 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann
The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler
The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff
17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Best Science Fiction Book
Parable of the Sower was a reread and I loved this apocalyptic world and the survivors who wander through it just as much the second time around as I did the first.

Runner Up: Even with all the techno babble, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem was fascinating.

Best Fantasy Book
I think my love for Dying is My Business can be best summed up by my review. Click through for flailing, squeals of joy.

Best Horror Novel
Rosemary’s Baby just about blew my mind. On the surface, it’s almost not a horror story. It reads like a literary tale of a couple dealing with the challenges of creating a home for themselves, and yet, the thread of threat is subtly there throughout. It’s amazing.

Best YA Novel
Though there are three great YA novels in my best of list, I think I’ll go with Eleanor & Park for my top. It’s just such a sweet story of young love between awkward teenagers.

Best Short Story Collection
I really enjoyed Scheherazade’s Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing, and Transformation, edited by Michael M. Jones. The stories are consistently good throughout and explore many aspects of gender while telling entertaining speculative tales.

Best Graphic Novel
Alison Bechdel presents a moving portrait of her young years in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a story as much about her father and his eventual suicide. The mix of literature and cultural references, along with the structure makes this a fantastic read.

Runner Up: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a fantastic ghost story, which is scary and well told.

Best Poetry Book
The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg was by far my favorite poetry read this year. It was a fantastic mix of poetry and voices, all with the speculative spin that I love.

Runner Up: Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey

Best Poetry Chapbook
8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford is a lovely exploration of youth with moments of hurt and humor. Highly recommended.

Best Nonfiction Book
The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang told the story of a family torn between honoring their grandmother’s wishes for a proper, traditional burial and respecting the new communist system, which requires cremation. This painted an honest look at family life and was a fascinating look at Chinese culture in a state of transition.

Best Audio Book
Eleanor Bron’s reading of The House of Mirth is spot on. She hit the perfect tone for the story, which contributed to it also winning the honorary award of Book that Made Me Weep in the Front Seat of My Car.

What were your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.