2016 Favorite Novels and Reading Stats


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I exceeded my expectations in 2016 and read a total of 105 books (goal was 100). Yay! Before I list my favorites, here are some stats, for those interested:

  • 70% women writers, 35% men writers (overlap due to some collections having multiple editors)
  • 25% people of color writers (aiming for 33%)
  • Longest book Middlemarch by George Eliot at 904 pages
  • 20 the Library of Congress labels as nonfiction
  • 15 Young Adult and Middle Grade
  • 24 published in 2016
  • 9 published before 1950

Without further ado, here’s my top 10 list of favorite books I read in 2016, in no particular order. I’ll list my favorite short stories next week.

Books

  1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy and Apocalypse. If I had to pick one favorite book of the year, this is it. It won the Hugo award, so I’m not the only person who feels this way. The magic in this world is orogeny, the ability to manipulate geologic formations, and the ‘fifth season’ occurs when a massive upheaval of the earth causes an apocalypse by wiping out most of humanity until the survivors rebuild once more. It’s book one of The Broken Earth trilogy, and book 2 — The Obelisk Gate — was released earlier this year (I enjoyed it though not quite as much as Book 2), and book 3 is forthcoming in August of 2017.

 

  1. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy. This one’s a super fun read. I wrote a full review on this blog. While book 1 of a series, it stands on its own well. Two magicians try to save England’s magic, but they both have very different ways of going about it. Zacharias, a freed slave and now a Sorcerer Royal, likes to follow the rules, but Prunella, his magician-in-training, chooses efficiency over obedience, especially since the ‘rules’ have never included her anyway. A lot of fun ensues. Book 2 is slated to be published in 2017, though I couldn’t find an exact date for release.

 

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Published in 1993. Adult Apocalypse (though could be read by teens). This is such a page-turner. I’ve been remiss for a while in failing to read Octavia Butler, so this year I finally sat down and read 3 of her novels, and this is my favorite of the 3. Lauren Olamina is not your normal teenager, even compared to the other teens in the gated community she lives in during an economic and social apocalypse. After the community fails, Lauren starts a new religion and collects followers as she travels. A must read, especially in the current political climate. I didn’t like book 2 as much — Parable of the Talents — but notably in book 2 a presidential candidate emerges whose campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again” (seriously), and though he never admits to being racist and bigoted, his followers commit hate crimes with his support. Super scary.

 

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Published in 2015. Adult Nonfiction. I wrote a joint review of this and Kindred by Octavia Butler earlier this year. Written as a letter to his 15-year old son, it explores what it means to be a black man in America, where your body can be taken, beaten, and killed without repercussions. It’s a powerful and essential read.

 

  1. Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World edited by Heidi Anne Heiner. Published in 2013. Fairytale Collection. I wrote a full review earlier this year. Any fairytale lover needs to read this, and especially “Beauty and the Beast” fans. But even if you’re not a B&B fan, there are versions collected here that I like much better than the most popular tale.

 

 

  1. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. Published in 2005. Poetry. Mary Oliver may be my favorite contemporary poet (I really hate picking favorites), and this collection is excellent. If I hear anyone say they don’t like poetry because it’s too inaccessible, this is the collection I will give them. These are lovely, clear and poignant nature poems.

 

 

  1. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. Published in 2016. Adult Fantasy. This debut novel explores sisterhood and art with the fae as a backdrop, and it’s a rare stand-alone fantasy. I wrote a full review of this one on this blog too.

 

 

 

  1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Published in 2016. Adult Genre-mashup. I wrote a full review on this blog — but for the low-down: AI + witchcraft + apocalypse + 2 quirky nerds = super original read.

 

 

 

  1. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Published in 2015. YA Fantasy. Hazel and Ben, sister and brother, live in what would be an ordinary small town — except that the faeries live there too. Another fun, fast read, and a stand-alone fantasy.

 

 

  1. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Published in 2009. MG fantasy. This is an adorable mix of Chinese folktales, with fantastic illustrations. It’s book 1, but it stands alone fine, and the entire series is now complete.

 

 

 

Runners up

What were your favorite reads this year?

 

An Unusual and Murder-y Father Christmas Story


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I came across this Dorset mummers’ play while reading The Leaping Hare (for research on my latest writing project), in which Santa murders his wife over….how to cook a hare. Yep. I can’t imagine why we don’t tell this story at Christmas! I unfortunately cannot find the complete play (source is listed as Dorsetshire Folklore by J.S. Udal), but I thought I would share the brief passage from the play in The Leaping Hare.

Enter Old Bet

Here comes I, Dame Dorothy,
A handsome young woman, good morning to ye.
I am rather fat, but not very tall,
I’ll do my best endeavors to please you all.
My husband he is to work, and soon he will return
And something for our supper bring,
And perhaps some wood to burn.
Oh! here he comes!

(Enter Jan or Old Father Christmas)

Old Father Christmas
Oh, Dorothy!

Old Bet
What have you been doing all this long day, Jan?

Old Father Christmas
I’ve been a-hunting, Bet.

Old Bet
The devil a-hunting is it! Is that the way to support a wife? Well, what have you catched today, Jan?

Old Father Christmas
A fine Jack hare, and I intend to have him a-fried for supper; and here’s some wood to dress him.

Old Bet
Fried! No, Jan, I’ll roast it nice.

Old Father Christmas
I say I’ll have it fried!

Old Bet
Was there ever such a foolish dish!

Old Father Christmas
No matter for that, I’ll have it done; and if you don’t do as I bid I’ll hit you in the head.

Old Bet
You may do as you like or all I do care,
I’ll never fry a dry Jack hare.

Old Father Christmas
Oh! you won’t wooll’ee?

(He strikes her and she falls.)

Oh! what have I done! I have murdered my wife!
The joy of my heart and the pride of my life!
And out to the gaol I shall quickly be sent,
In a passion I did it, and no malice meant.

     But the outcome was not as tragic as it appeared: there was magic as well as a hare about; and the Doctor soon put Bet on to her feet again. For this was simply a rehearsal of the old symbolic ritual, celebrating the eternal cycle of life when the death of winter is followed by the rebirth of spring. And in this kind of context it is not surprising to find the hare.

— pages 100-102 of The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson

Happy Holidays!

Reading Railroad: November’s Reading


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Everything I read in November. I’m a week late posting this, but I wanted to post about holiday gift ideas first (which you can find here and here).

Novels

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Published in 2008. Epic Fantasy. This novel probably needs no introduction, and is easily the book that’s been recommended to me more than any other. An innkeeper, Kvothe, who’s not really an innkeeper but a powerful magician who’s done…something…agrees to tell his story for the chronicler to write down. The Name of the Wind is day one of his life story, where you find out about his parents, his time as a beggar, and his admittance in the university where he starts learning magic. At the university he makes friends, enemies, and there’s one lady that haunts him. Overall, a well-written fantasy. I’ll be reading the rest of the series. My full review is on Goodreads. 4/5

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Will be published in January 2017. Adult historical fairytale fantasy. From the day Vasilisa Petrovna is born, in the heart of winter, her family knows she’s different, though they still love her with a fierce devotion. Her mother dies during childbirth, and her father travels to Moscow where he finds a new wife, Anna, a relation of his previous wife, who like Vasilisa has the sight. Both can see chyerti and domovoi — guardian spirits and creatures from Russian folklore — though when Anna sees them she sees demons, while Vasya sees them for what they truly are. A fun novel given to me to read by Netgalley for an honest review. The full review will be posted here in January. 4/5

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Published in April 2016. YA fantasy. A door appears — a tiny door tucked into the porch railing that shrinks you when you open it, a rainbow door that leads you to a nonsense, rainbow world, a door that leads you to the land where Death is lord. But this isn’t a story about those portal worlds, rather about what happens after the portal world becomes your home and then spits you back out into reality, where your parents think you’ve been kidnapped for months or years, and their home can never be yours again. These teens are sent to Eleanor’s Home for Wayward Children. Everyone in the home has been through a portal world, and everyone wishes to find their door again and return. Nancy is a new student whose portal world was where Death reigned. This could be a new home for Nancy, but when a student dies, and then another, her new home is threatened, unless the students can figure out what’s happening. A fun read, and first in a series. I’ll be reading the others. I posted a slightly longer review on Goodreads. 4/5

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Published in 2012. YA science fiction and fairytale retelling of “Cinderella.” Cinder is a cyborg in New Beijing, but cyborgs aren’t considered ‘humans’ by many. An incurable plague is killing many in New Beijing and around the world, and cyborgs are often taken to be tested on. But so far Cinder’s managed to stay out of the way of the doctors. Cinder’s stepmother treats her cruelly, as does one of her stepsisters, but the other stepsister is kind, and Cinder has an android who’s her friend. She works as a mechanic, and when the handsome Prince Kai brings his broken android to her to fix, and the evil Lunar Queen comes to try to manipulate Kai into marriage, everything starts to change for Cinder. A fun though predictable YA. First in a series. My full review is on Goodreads. 3.5/5

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher. Published in 2014. YA fantasy and fairytale retelling of “Bluebeard.” When a wealthy magician proposes to 15-yr-old Rhea, a poor miller’s daughter, her family has no recourse but to accept. But she’s not his first wife. How will Rhea free herself from the marriage? How about the other wives? A fun, quick read. 4/5

 

 

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. Published in June 2016. Adult post-apocalyptic thriller. When Elka’s seven, a super storm hits and kills her grandmother. Years earlier her parents left to search for gold, so now Elka’s in the woods by herself. She sets out on her own and is eventually found by a man she calls Trapper, and Daddy in her head. He raises her, teaches her wood lore and how to hunt. She loves him and he seems to love her in his own way. The one rule is she’s never to speak of him to anyone else. When she’s seventeen, she goes to the closest town to pick up some supplies, and sees a wanted poster with the face of Trapper on it. He’s wanted for multiple murders, and it’s not until then that she realizes he’s a serial killer. Magistrate Lyon is after him for killing her son, and when she sees Elka’s reaction to the wanted poster, she realizes Elka knows the man. Elka escapes into the woods on a mission to find her long lost parents, but two hunt her — Magistrate Lyon and Trapper. Very exciting read. You can read my Goodreads review here, but I may post a review of it on this blog soon. 4/5

Short Stories

I link to the free stories when they’re available.

The Contemporary Foxwife by Yoon Ha Lee. Published in 2014 in Clarkesworld Magazine. On a faraway planet, there’s a knock at the door, and it’s a foxwife. Great use of folklore in a sci-fi setting. 4/5

 

 

 

“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, read in Stories of Your Life and Others. Originally published in 1998. This is the short story the film Arrival is based on. I originally read this in preparation for watching the movie, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. However, the story is fantastic. It asks, In what ways can language shape cognitive functions? When aliens come to earth, linguist Louise Banks is asked to join a team of researchers to decipher their language, but as she learns their language, the way she perceives the world around her changes too. This one really snuck up on me. One moment I was casually reading, the next I had tears in my eyes. I can’t wait to see the movie! 5/5

Let the Century to Sit Unmoved by Sarah Pinsker. Published in Strange Horizons in May 2016. There’s a pond in a small town and sometimes the people who jump in don’t come out. Yet the main character jumps anyway, as many teens do. I liked the concept and voice, but it was more like world building than an actual story. 3/5

No Matter Which Way We Turned by Brian Evenson. Published in People Holding in May 2016. An evocative flash fiction piece about a girl with no front. 4/5

 

Happy reading in the month to come!

Book Gift Ideas for Reading Fiends


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Last week I wrote about non-book gift ideas for book lovers, so this week I’ll give some book ideas, because what else is there to want? But if they read a ton, it can be difficult to know which books to buy. Here are some ideas.

New Releases.

Do they buy most of their books used? Then it’s quite possible they’ve missed out on some of the great books 2016 has offered. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is a post-apocalyptic thriller about a girl who finds out her adopted father is a serial killer and sets out across the wilderness to escape him (reads like a Quentin Tarantino movie). This Census-Taker by China Miéville is another post-apocalyptic novel about a young boy who has witnessed a murder. All the Birds in the Sky (full review) by Charlie Jane Anders mixes witchcraft and AI in a quirky and, um, apocalyptic novel (I’ve apparently read a lot of good apocalypse novels this year). In the fantasy/magical realism department, I really enjoyed Roses and Rot (full review) by Kat Howard, about 2 sister artists at an exclusive artist’s retreat that turns out to be run by the fae. Peter S. Beagle also released a new novel this year, Summerlong (full review), about a middle-aged couple who takes in a young girl that’s something more than she seems. In the non-speculative department, Faithful (full review) by Alice Hoffman is about recovering from trauma by finding love in animals.

Under the Radar.

Not all great books get the attention they deserve. These are all books with less than a thousand ratings on Goodreads, but really deserve to be read. Bohemian Gospel by Dana Carpenter takes place in 13th century Bohemia about a girl who has special powers, but they may not be powers for the good. Songs for Ophelia by Theodora Goss is a lovely fairytale poetry collection. The Native American magical realism novel Sacred Wilderness by Susan Power switches between the modern day and the 17th century US in a mystical examination of what it means to be Native American (everything by Susan Power is amazing). Myths of Origin by Catherynne M. Valente collects her first four, mythic novels. The Poets’ Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm Fairy Tales is another great fairytale poetry anthology by various authors.

Short Story Collections. 

A lot of readers mainly read novels and miss out on all the fantastic short story collections out there.  Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is a famous Russian author of absurdist fairy tales  who’s rarely read in the US. I recommend There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales. Bone Swans: Stories by C.S.E. Cooney collects fairy tale retellings and fantastical short stories. Roofwalker by Susan Power is a combination of short stories about the modern Native American experience and autobiographical essays. Of course Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman is great, but he’s one of the rare authors that can sell short story collections, so the reader on your list may have already read this one. Dreams of Distant Shores (full review) by Patricia McKillip is a lovely, fantastical collection released earlier this year. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu mixes sci-fi, fantasy, and magical realism in a literary, somber collection of stories.

Young Adult and Middle Grade.  

In MG, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is so fantastic and cute, and I think the series is now complete (Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver). Catherynne M. Valente’s fantastical Fairyland series is also complete. Charles de Lint has 2 cute, connected middle grade novels–The Cats of Tanglewood Forest and Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale. All of these have great illustrations as well.

For YA, Maria Dahvana Headley’s Magonia has space pirates(!!), and she released the second and last in the series, Aerie, earlier this year, though I’ve yet to read it. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black is a stand-alone YA about two teen siblings who share a town with the Fae, and both have a crush on the soon-to-be-awakened horned boy that lies in a glass coffin. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire explores what happens to teens after they go through magical doors and are thrown back into the real world, and is the first in a trilogy (the others have yet to be released).

Collectible Books. 

Another possibility is to buy the reader on your list books you know they love in pretty editions. Folio Society has some really lovely books, as does Easton Press. You could also go with the fancy Barnes and Noble editions, which are a less expensive but still pretty option.

Books on My Christmas List

This is the book list I gave my husband: The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin (because she’s the best); The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe (short story anthology); A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA, coming to theaters); The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente (because I still haven’t finished this series); Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram (I always put at least 1 nonfiction on my list and this one looks really interesting); and Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold edited by Paula Guran (another recent short story anthology. I try to read all fairytale short stories.).

I could honestly go on and on recommending books! But I’ll stop here.