You know what I like an awful lot? Books. They’re one of my favorite things. I buy them in great quantities, fill up my bookshelves with them, stack them in tottering piles, and read them with delight. I generally start the year with great ambitions to Read All the Things. This year, I say to myself, is the year I will be fully prepared to make award nominations, because I will be so caught up on all the wonderful books published. Ha! Regardless, I did manage to conquer a good chunk of the many books I had my eye on for 2016. If I manage to squeeze in a few more before year end, I’ll update the post accordingly.
However, before I get to the works published this year, a slight diversion. The reading goal I set for myself for 2016 was to read more non-fiction. There are so many delicious fiction books to read, non-fiction tends to get neglected in my TBR pile, so I wanted to right that. Here are a few titles I particularly enjoyed.
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan, an excellent and highly-readable history.
My Life as a Whore: The Biography of Madam Laura Evans by Tracy Beach, another highly-readable history about life as a prostitute in Colorado in the 1800s. Laura Evans went from prostitute to madam, didn’t take any shit from anyone, and wasn’t particularly interested in playing by the rules, for example sneaking her horse into an indoor winter dance, causing a scene, and a good deal of property damage.
Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic by Steven Johnson, a quick but fascinating look at disease theory, public drinking fountains, the London sewer systems, and discovering the cause of cholera.
Now on to my favorite novels, anthologies, and collections published in 2016 for your general enjoyment and possibly your award consideration.
Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey is a werewolf novel that never once mentions the word werewolf. It also weaves in magic, and mythology, but at its heart, it’s a story about found families – chosen and by birth. It’s also about fighting or embracing the darker aspects of your nature, and finding a way to feel whole. I discussed the book in more depth here.
The Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler. This one is a novella, but it’s right on the borderline of being a short novel, so I’m including it here. It’s a stunningly gorgeous book exploring the origins of Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. I wrote about it in more detail here. Magic, monsters, living shadows, and cabarets. What more could you want?
Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is a ghost story about pain and feeling broken, and the terrible things people do to feel whole. There’s a haunted photo album, promising seductive freedom, a malign presence, and a mysterious house. I wrote more about the book here.
Sword and Star by Sunny Moraine is the final book in the Root Code trilogy. The story started in Line and Orbit feels truly epic in Sword and Star; the stakes are higher, and the world itself feels bigger. It’s full of action, adventure, and quieter moments, too. More thoughts on the book here.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a book of disparate parts woven into a glorious whole. Magic blends with science, humor with darkness, awkward teenage angst with the end of the world. It’s fun, heartfelt, and you can read more thoughts about it here.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard is both a love letter to faerie tales and the importance of telling stories, and a literal tale about faeries. It’s also about art, sacrifice, and family, and is gorgeously told. I wrote about it in more detail here.
The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi is another novel that draws on myth and the stories we tell to weave a beautiful tale of mysterious strangers, other worlds, a self-rescuing princess accomplishing daring escapes, and a flesh-eating demon in the shape of a horse. Further thoughts can be found here.
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal blends mystery, romance, and ghosts against the backdrop of WWI, with a group of women trained as mediums passing messages from soldiers who died in battle along to the allied forces. There are genuinely touching moments, and plenty of action. A more detailed review can be found here.
Cloudbound by Fran Wilde is the second book in the Bone Universe Trilogy, deepening the world first introduced in Updraft both literally and figuratively. The city and the characters are explored from new angles, revealing hidden secrets, evolving their relationships, and adding more tangled political intrigue. The descriptions are stunning, the action scenes visceral, and we finally learn what’s below the clouds and where the bone towers originate. More here.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a crime-thriller set in a Mexico City where vampires are a real, living alongside humans with varying degrees of cooperation and hostility. Domingo, a garbage picker living on the streets, meets Atl on the subway. At first she appears to be simply a beautiful girl with a genetically modified dog by her side, intriguing enough to Domingo as it is, but he’s even more fascinated when he learns she’s a vampire. He’s spent his life reading vampire comic books, but reality doesn’t quite match up to the fantasy. Atl sleeps in a closet, not a coffin, and she turns into something more akin to a hummingbird than a bat. There are different types of vampires, all with their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Atl is on the run from a rich, spoiled, daddy’s boy of a vampire, seeking revenge for the latest killing in a long-standing feud between their families. Atl pulls Domingo into her world, and he willingly follows her, helping her to hide while looking for a way to get her safely out of Mexico City. The cast of characters also includes, among others, Ana, a cop caught up in the war between vampires and human gangs, and Bernardino, a Nosferatu-style vampire, who is incredibly powerful, but whose body is twisted and pained as a result of his vampirism. All of the characters are fascinating, well-drawn, and fully-rounded. There is a true otherness to the vampires; they aren’t simply humans with sharp teeth and very long lifespans. Their wants and needs are different, and they don’t tend to go around mooning over humans. Certain Dark Things is fast-paced, violent, and laced with quiet moments of humanity. I highly recommend it, particularly for those who think they’re burned out on vampire fiction.
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin is the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy, and it is every bit as fantastic as the first (The Fifth Season). Across the first two books, Jemisin does incredible things with voice, character, narrative style, time, and multiple points of view. She blends fantasy and science fictional concepts flawlessly to build what may be a far-future version of our own earth, or an alternate one, where orogenes have ability to manipulate the earth and essentially do magic. Orogenes are shunned and feared for their powers, turned into weapons and tools, and controlled by guardians. By this second book, Essun (who was Damaya, who was Syenite) has found a temporary home in a community that accepts orogenes. She’s still searching for her lost daughter, taken by her husband after he murdered their son. She’s been reunited with her old mentor and one-time lover, Alabaster, who is slowly turning to stone, and been given the impossible task of restoring the earth’s lost moon. She’s also being followed and watched over by Hoa, a wholly inhuman creature of living stone. Nassun, Essun’s daughter, gets her own point of view chapters in the book, as she comes into her own powers, learns to manipulate her father in order to stay alive, and tries to decide who and what she wants to be. The story is often brutal, by necessity, and the choices the characters are forced to make are terrible. They live in an unkind world, and must be unkind in turn. Sometimes love looks like pain, but Jemisin makes each character so rich and full and alive that all their decisions and actions are understandable and even inevitable. The first two books are gorgeous, and I’m very much looking forward to the third one.
Anthologies & Collections
Clockwork Phoenix 5 edited by Mike Allen is the latest installment in a series collecting stories that are mythic, poetic, lyrical, and liminal – not quite fitting easily into any one category. If you follow the link, you’ll find five sample stories posted for free online, which will give you a taste of the kind of stories Clockwork Phoenix has to offer. A few of my favorites include The Book of May by C.S.E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez, The Souls of Horses by Beth Cato, and Sabbath Wine by Barbara Krasnoff.
Furnace by Livia Llewellyn, is the author’s second collection, and it is every bit as dark and weird, sexually charged and terrifying as her first. It reprints several stories, and offers up a new one full of malevolent nature come to reclaim the world. The collection is discussed in more detail here.
Singing With All My Skin and Bone by Sunny Moraine is the author’s debut collection, bringing together some of their best dark and bitter-edged tales, exploring the weird, the beautiful, and the painful in equal measure. I’ve already sung the praises of the third book in Moraine’s epic trilogy here, but their short fiction is just as stunning and well-worth your time.
People of Colo(ur) Destroy Science Fiction edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim is the latest in Lightspeed Magazine’s destroy series, preceded by women and queers, all with companion volumes focusing on fantasy and horror. Many of the stories and essays are free to read online, but the gorgeous paperback edition includes exclusive content. The anthology offers up original fiction and flash, reprints, essays, art, and author interviews. My favorite stories from the anthology include A Good Home by Karin Lowachee, Salto Mortal by Nick T. Chan, Firebird by Isha Karki, An Offertory to Our Drowned Gods by Teresa Naval, Chocolate Milkshake Number 314 by Caroline M. Yoachim, Four and Twenty Blackbirds by JY Yang, and A Handful of Dal by Naru Dames Sundar. Overall, it’s an incredibly strong collection, and I highly recommend it.
Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow offers up new stories inspired by Lovecraft – tentacled beasties, cosmic horror, and a quiet, creeping sense of dread, minus the racism. Datlow is a master at assembling anthologies, and this one is no exception. My favorites were Nesters by Siobhan Carroll, Little Ease by Gemma Files, and Excerpts from an Eschatology Quadrille by Caitlin R. Kiernan.
The Starlit Wood edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe is a collection of retold and re-imagined fairy tales by a stellar line-up of authors. The book itself is also gorgeous as a physical object. My favorites included Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar, Reflected by Kat Howard, The Briar and the Rose by Marjorie M. Liu, and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.
Hidden Youth: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Chesya Burke and Mikki Kendall, is the follow-up to Crossed Genre’s wonderful anthology, Long Hidden. This time around the focus is on younger protagonists. Overall, it’s a strong collection, with some lovely illustrations. My favorites included The Bread-Thing in the Basket by K.T. Katzmann, Feet of Clay by A.J. Odasso, The Girl, the Devil, & the Coal Mine by Warren Bull, In His Own Image by E.C. Myers, and The Mouser of Peter the Great by P. Djèlí Clark.
That’s a lot of wonderful fiction to sustain you in the cold winter months, and perhaps mull over during award season.
To wrap things up, I offer a few bonus recommendations for novels, anthologies, and collections I read this year and would highly recommend, but which were not published in 2016.
Dream Houses by Genevieve Valentine
Dangerous Space by Kelly Eskridge
The Apex Book of World SF 4 edited by Mavesh Murad
Experimental Film by Gemma Files
Kindred by Octavia Butler
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
So that’s me. What were your favorite books this year, old or new? And what are you looking forward to in the year to come?