This year I read 93 books, while my TBR pile continues to grow. I’m pretty sure it’s achieved sentience and is laughing at me. 50 of the books I read were for the Popsugar Reading Challenge, a sort of literary scavenger hunt where the object is to read a book in each of 50 categories (a book with a queer lead, a book with a map, a book set the decade you were born, etc., etc.) I wrote short reviews of those 50 on my website, and linked the reviews below.
Wilkie Collins, Armadale and The Dead Secret
S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Upton Sinclair, A World to Win
Wilkie Collins, a 19th-century mystery/thriller writer, has become a favorite of mine. Armadale has a plot that Hitchcock would love.
The Outsiders is famous for having been written by a teenager, and has a “grittier” feel than most writing for youth in the 60s. The Catcher in the Rye was honestly tedious — the narrator constantly gripes that everything’s lousy and everyone’s phony.
I picked up A World to Win knowing nothing about it, except that the author also wrote The Jungle. Turns out it’s volume 7 of an 11-volume series about a socialist art dealer who goes undercover as a spy against the Nazis. It’s lengthy and has a tangent or two, but I was hooked enough to track down the first 3 books in the series for next year’s TBR pile.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 5-book “trilogy” (reread)
Naomi Alderman, The Power
Remy Apepp, Sand to Glass
Travis Baldree, Legends & Lattes
Catherine Butzen, Painter of the Dead
CJ Cherryh, Fortress in the Eye of Time
Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Cait Gordon, The Stealth Lovers
L.A. Guettler, Red Darkling and Bonkpocalypse: A Red Darkling Jam
T.A. Hernandez, Calico Thunder Rides Again
Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower
Deborah J. Natelson, Bargaining Power
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather , I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepherd’s Crown.
Kit Rocha, Dance With the Devil
S.D. Simper, The Fate of Stars
Katherine Vick, The Narrative and The Taskmaster
Obviously my favorite genre! If you like your SF/F mixed with humor, then the Adams and Pratchett books are obvious picks. Pratchett’s books often have a serious undercurrent (Hogfather in particular). I Shall Wear Midnight and The Shepherd’s Crown are from his series about teen witch Tiffany Aching. I also strongly recommend Cait Gordon’s The Stealth Lovers, a hilarious gay alien love story. L.A. Guettler’s Red Darkling series is about a down-on-her-luck female smuggler; the comedy gets dark in some places, but the books are fun and filled with NSFW acronyms. And Katherine Vick’s Plot Bandits series is sort of a fantasy version of John Scalzi’s Redshirts: the minor characters get tired of being slaughtered and stage a revolt. I’ve reviewed the last 2 this year, but this is a series that needs to be read in order, so start with The Disposable.
If you prefer your SF/F to be hard-hitting and thought-provoking, try Naomi Alderman’s The Power, in which women develop the ability to give a powerful (even deadly) electric shock. You think you know where the story’s going, but the ending has quite a twist. I also greatly enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, about rival 19th-century magicians. The “historical footnotes” add a whole extra dimension to the book.
I’m not sure how to describe Bargaining Power. Urban fantasy spy thriller? It’s a unique brand of weird, and I loved it. The ending did leave some things unexplained. Legends & Lattes is a self-described low-stakes fantasy about an orc opening a coffee shop.
Alexis Hall, Boyfriend Material and A Lady for a Duke
Talia Hibbert, Get a Life, Chloe Brown
Casey McQuiston, Red, White & Royal Blue (reread)
Red, White and Royal Blue remains my favorite queer romance. It’s funny, romantic, and extremely horny. The Amazon Prime movie was also very good; it had to cut out a lot, but kept the heart of the love story.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a straight romance that touches on serious issues. Chloe is dealing with chronic illness; Red is dealing with the emotional aftermath of female-on-male domestic violence. They have fabulous banter.
A Lady for a Duke is a regency romance with a twist: the lady is trans. And because romance is an idealistic genre, the only angst in the story is about the things Viola and Justin witnessed at Waterloo. No one deadnames Viola, and her family and friends have surprisingly few questions when they meet the real her. Boyfriend Material , also by Alexis Hall, is a funny contemporary romance between two men with serious parental issues.
Janet Evanovich, Going Rogue: Rise & Shine 29 and Plum Lucky
Carl Hiaasen, Squeeze Me
David Lagercrantz, The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Kelly Miller, Accusing Mr. Darcy
I like mysteries with a side dish of comedy, so I love the shenanigans in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (and the love triangle that will hopefully never end). Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me involves an unnamed president, his Eastern European wife, an overpriced club in Florida, pythons, and assorted weirdness.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a fairly faithful continuation of the late Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. And Accusing Mr Darcy is...Pride & Prejudice as a mystery/thriller?
Jeff Ayers, Skate the Seeker
Michelle Franklin (illustrated by Jonathan Burrello), Dragons Don’t Celebrate Passover and Werewolves Don’t Celebrate Hanukkah
Patrick Ness, The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Tara Sim, Scavenge the Stars and Ravage the Dark
Angie Thomas, Concrete Rose
The Rest of Us Just Live Here is one of the best books I read this year. You know all those stories where the town is periodically attacked by aliens, ghosts, etc., and a few heroic teenagers have to save the world? This book is about the other teens — the ones who just want to go to prom and graduate before the high school gets blown up. Again.
The Tara Sim duology is a reimagining of The Count of Monte Cristo with a teenage girl protagonist. Skate the Seeker is a sequel to the delightful Skate the Thief, about an urchin whose life was changed when she tried to rob a wizard. Start with the first book.
Concrete Rose is the prequel to The Hate U Give, telling the story of Starr’s father, Big Mav.
The Michelle Franklin books are hilarious, wonderfully illustrated books about Jewish holidays. (Fun fact: dragons tend to overcook matzah.) She also has Gryphons Don’t Celebrate Shavuot and Vampires Don’t Observe Shabbos.
Jack Champlin, The Captain & the King
Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer
Leila Mottley, Nightcrawling
Nightcrawling is a novel based on a recent real-life scandal: Oakland police officers exploiting and trafficking a teenage girl. The Water Dancer is set during slavery, with the narrator discovering teleportation powers. And The Captain and the King is a historical novel about the strange journey of the famous statue of King Kamehameha from Germany to Hawai’i.
Italo Calvino, T Zero
J.E. Feldman, Ed., Life at Its Best
Zelda Knight & Ekpeki Oghenechovwe, Eds., Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa & the African Diaspora
L.D. Lewis & Charles Payseur, Eds., We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2021
Marge Piercy, The Cost of Lunch, Etc.
Dominion has some good SF and fantasy, but the real standouts are the horror stories (including one where a seller of corpse parts for voodoo is confronted with his father’s zombie. It’s awkward.). I also greatly enjoyed We’re Here, which includes a story that had mer-people as an allegory for being trans, and a truly innovative use for being stuck in a time loop: trying & reviewing all the restaurants on a doomed space station.
Marge Piercy’s book includes both fiction and autobiographical nonfiction about her family, her Jewish heritage, and a love affair or two gone wrong.
Life at Its Best is a collection of “women’s fiction” — including one of mine from my Found in Translation series.