Once again, I disappeared for months. Since last year’s best of posts to be precise. But these are still my favorite posts to write and my favorite to look back on for myself and so here we are again. It was a weird reading year for me, with lots of time away from reading when my brain couldn’t focus and a struggle to find things that caught my interest at the right times. Even in the weirdest years though, there will still be media that catches our interest and grabs hold of our hearts and those things are always going to be worth celebrating to me. This year’s Hugo nominations were particularly strong and the most I enjoyed reading all year so if you’re a sci-fi or fantasy fan, I’ve listed a few of my favorites below but I would strongly recommend checking them out as a whole. Working my way through the nominees is one of my favorite yearly traditions for the opportunity to try things I wouldn’t have necessarily picked up and discovering something new you love is really rewarding.
So here are my top 5 (which a robust Honorable Mention section) books of the year! This list is woefully short of romance recs so if that’s what you’re looking for, head over to Marvelous Geeks because Giss has you covered.
Be the Serpent by Seanan McGuire Of all of the worlds Seanan McGuire has created, October Daye is my heart. My door, if you will. Even more than Newsflesh, which solidified and clarified so much for me as a person. And what a stunning entry in a series this was. Brutal and heartbreaking but still so full of love and family and the hope for something different than has existed before. In the eyes of Faerie, Toby is so incredibly young. She hasn’t seen worlds fall and be rebuilt like her aunt. She’s human enough to know that there are more possibilities than millenia have given the Fae and to see the patterns that have repeated out of tradition and where they have so utterly failed. And she is determined to break them. To change her world for herself and her family. It’s a book that builds so surely from the groundwork laid over the past 15 books and lays the path moving forward and to wrangle both the emotional journey and the mythology so deftly in one book speaks to McGuire’s incredible skill and love for this world she’s created.
Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki I finished this book while I was stuck in an airport with a delayed flight after a very good vacation and nearly cried at the gate. There is a kindness to this book in a world that like ours, isn’t very kind to those it marks as different (specifically, trans teens of color and especially in the upper echelons of classical music). Despite needing her to fulfill her literal deal with the devil, Shizuka cares about Katrina because she takes the time to see her. She sees her connection with music that may not have been the cleanest or have the strongest technique, but there was a passion and a voice that shone through her playing. There was feeling and life instead of a technical checklist to master. She sees her for who she is and defends that and protects and nurtures that feeling. They both find family and community and that is the answer because that’s always the answer. That love and those ties give you more freedom and creativity, not less, and those are the tools needed to break free.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao I haven’t read a lot of mecha stories (or watched Pacific Rim, which I will get to and probably love at some point) so I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this story. Did I fully understand the world and the actual mechanics of these devices or how they are used in battle? No, I could explain nothing to you there. But I did I love how we saw the shape of the society that formed because they existed and were deemed necessary for protection through their use? Absolutely. There’s a lot in here that appeals to my sociology roots and how systems arise and support the things that the powerful decided are needed to keep the status quo intact and their power unthreatened. But on top of that, we got a love story that went in an unexpected direction and gave me an ending whose possibility excited me so much that I spoiled myself halfway through so I could believe it was actually happening. Love triangles serve their purpose, particularly in this area of YA, even if they’re not my favorite. Both of these boys have so much more depth than we initially think and watching Zeitan really see who they are (and also watching them see her anger and strength as something that brings them life and clarity instead of something to be feared) and watching them team up to form something incredibly powerful that is going to both save and change their world is incredible. All three of them are needed and all three of them want what the other two offer and that is my absolute favorite type of triad. It’s balance and stability and love and it was so refreshing to find when I wasn’t expecting it at all.
Legendborn by Tracey Deonn Stories about loss are still hard for me. Even though the circumstances of Bree’s mother’s death couldn’t have been less similar, losing your mom is hard. And watching her be unmoored and driven for answers and some form of understanding so she wasn’t just left with the pain before finding comfort in her memory and life was the story I needed when I read this book. On top of that, this was a really cool urban fantasy story with a take on Merlin and his knights that was unlike any I had read and I loved it. Like Iron Widow, there’s some good commentary about how injustices are upheld under the cover of necessity instead of the reality of their construction. I love the two different approaches to magic and how that manifests itself in Bree and the power contained within her (and how threatening that power is to the whole Legendborn system bc I have a type when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy books and it is knocking down harmful and oppressive structures). It is such a solid and compelling debut and I’m looking forward to getting to book 2 and anything else Deonn writes in the future.
Shake Things Up by Skye Kilaen After reading Tell Me Anything last year, I knew I was going to have to read more of Skye Kilaen’s books. I love being able to feel the love and care romance authors have for their characters and their story and that is once again, exactly what you find in Shake Things Up. First of all, where is my equivalent of Knockdown Cafe? I would like amazing baked goods in a casual and supportive queer space. Second, watching people fall for each other and become each other’s people never gets old. And watching Allie and Matt find Noelle and the way she fits so easily with them and the ways they all realize it at different moments and in different ways but are supported and cared for the whole way through was something so fun and special to experience. I loved Matt and his journey to figure out himself and what he wanted and I love the way Allie loved him so consistently once he was ready to share. I loved Allie finding someone who wasn’t Matt and couldn’t replicate that bond but could add to it and develop something equivalent and just as deep. I loved Noelle stepping off the very focused road she was on and finding somewhere she could do what called to her heart and be exactly who she was. I truly cannot recommend Kilaen’s books enough and I can’t wait to see which one (or ones) call to me for 2023.
Honorable Mentions: Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher, A Prayer for the Crown Sky by Becky Chambers, Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire, A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark, Christmas Inn Maine by Chelsea M. Cameron, Checking it Twice by Lucy Bexley, The Hookup Project by Farrah Rochon, Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez