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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Culture Consumption: June 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, games, and podcasts.

Books

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora GossI loved The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. The story is about Mary Jekyll, left alone and penniless following her mother’s death. Curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past, she discovers that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be still be alive. With the hope of a reward to solve her financial challenges, she pursues what little clues she has — only to discover Diana, Hyde’s daughter instead. As the mystery thickens, Mary learns of more women who have been experimented upon by their fathers — Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Together, the women begin to uncover a secret society of scientist attempting to transmute the human body in order to unleash it’s potential.

A lot of novels, short stories, comics, and movies have taken on the task of presenting new versions of classic horror and scifi — this was the kind of retelling I didn’t know I was longing for. Reading the Alchemist’s Daughter was a delight, presenting a litany of clever, intelligent, strong women who find companionship and support in each other through their trials, while stuggling against cultural norms.  The style of storytelling is also witty and fun — with the girls interjecting into the record with their own commentary and arguments. I love all of these women and I can’t wait to read about more of their adventures in the next volume.
Continue reading “Culture Consumption: June 2019”

Culture Consumption: January 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.

Books

 

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

I also completed Wolves of the Calla, the fifth book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It was a fantastic read, so I wrote a bit of a post about why I loved the story and characters.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: January 2019”

Legacy of Poetry

The Center for Literary Arts at San Jose University (SJU) hosted Legacy of Poetry Day at the Hammer Theatre on Thursday. The event started off with music and presentations of theater and folkloric from SJU, followed by readings from poet laureates from around California, culminating in a reading by U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

Herrera read some amazing pieces, including at one point a poem about laundry written on the back of an actual laundry bag. He has a generosity of spirit that’s really wonderful. Following the readings, he did a series of signings and for each one, he sat the person down next to them and spoke for a short moment about poetry while he signed.

Alejandro Murguía, the San Francisco poet laureate emeritus, was equally amazing during his reading in which he played off the other poets and performances from the evening — having either come up with the words on the spot or just before going out on stage. It was one of those performances that socks you in the chest because it was that good.

I was also blown away by the work of Arlene Biala, poet laureate of Santa Clara County, who read a deeply moving poem.

What I’m Reading

Apparently, I missed out on a thing called Anne of Green Gables as a child. So here I am reading it and I’m almost done and it’s fairly lovely in a wistful, hopeful way.

Still working on In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood. In the second section, she’s included portions of past essays that analyze SF books and worlds. Some of it’s interesting, some of it’s a repeat of what she’s already discussed.

What I’m Writing

All those thirty poems I wrote during April? Well, now they need editing. A few are almost ready to go. Others need a lot of overhaul. So, I’m starting in. I’m finding myself being super critical of them, even hating some. Mostly, I am just trying not to despair, because sitting around wailing isn’t at all productive.

But that’s all kinda part of the process.

In a similar theme, I speed-wrote the draft of a new poem this week, while my mom was sitting near by. She asked me to read it aloud, so I did. It was too soon. The poem was too rough, resembled nothing of what it had been in my head, fell flat across the polite silence of the room. I should have waited to share it, held on to it and waited to share it when the timing was right as I usually do. No one said anything. The conversation moved politely away from the scope of poetry without commentary. I quietly despaired.

That’s kinda part of the process, too.

Goals for the Week:

  • Continue editing the 30/30 poetry collection.
  • Submit a set of poems for publication

Linky Goodness

Mallory Ortberg on Publishing, Weight, and Writers Who Are “Hard To Look At”

“I was an escapist. That was what, finally although implicitly, he was accusing me of. For a long time I felt vaguely ashamed of being an escapist. But recently I have decided to reclaim the word,” writes Theodora Goss in her lovely piece, Writing My Mother’s Ghosts.

Sonya Vatomsky on The Gendered Experience of Fear & Better Living Through Horror Movies:

“I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies after my assault.

This surprises people, women in particular — horror as a genre is so overrun with male fears and fantasies that it’s almost impossible to separate the human desire to feel fear in a safe, contained environment from allyship with the male fear narrative. They are conflated. Empirically, depending on how broad the range of movies you watch, they can be identical. Because in the same way that a nearly all-male literary canon shapes our personal narratives, male identity also shapes our fears and our perceptions of what should be feared.”

In her piece On Robots as a Metaphor for Marginalization: The Stories We’re Not Telling, Maddy Myers writes, “Much like how the mutants in X-Men serve as a catch-all metaphor for various forms of marginalization, so too do robots end up in that role. They most often serve this purpose in the stories that have a robot in a starring role; a story that is about a robot will generally also be a metaphor for oppression.”