I kind of fell off the grid this year. I had two monthly recommendation posts and then life fell apart and I lost all interest in both consuming media of any sort or writing. A full October Daye re-read helped bring some of my love of reading back for a while but where I have had enough content for multiple book posts by genre in previous years, this year this is what I’ve got. Because I love books and I love recommending them to people in the hope that they might find something they need in one of them. It was a year of familiar reading to me. Three of these ten books were by a new-to-me author. Everything else was a return to authors I love. Because when everything else is a little too much, you need to put your hands in authors you trust and that’s exactly what I did. I hope you find something in this list that catches your attention and wish you happy reading in 2022!
Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan This was the first book I read this year and I couldn’t have picked a stronger start to a year of reading. The only word that comes to mind when I think about the book and how I felt reading it is “wow”. The writing is absolutely stunning in a way I don’t know fully how to talk about. It’s poetic and visceral and feels so effortless that you know a tremendous amount of skill has gone into creating it. I am not typically a fan of childhood friends turned lovers and am very picky with second chance romances but this one is both and Ryan sells it beautifully. You cannot help but love these two and this book uses flashbacks absolutely perfectly to help understand the depth of Kimba and Ezra as children and who they have become as adults. There is angst and you will feel a lot but it is handled with so much care and you always feel safe in Ryan’s hands.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert I love Talia Hibbert and this series in particular so it’s no surprise that the final Brown sisters book has ended up on this list. It’s grumpy/sunshine at its finest and very few authors are as good with characters as Hibbert. There is so much care and love that goes into them and it results in really fully-inhabited characters who come to life. I absolutely adored Eve and how big and bubbly she was in contrast to Jacob’s very orderly existence. The characters in a Hibbert story are always just allowed to be and that’s where the growth comes from. There is compassion and respect for who they are and where they are on their independent journeys and you see them learn how to best love each other and it is always immensely satisfying. I cannot recommend this trilogy enough and need it adapted for a Netflix series ASAP.
I say this every year and it continues to be true so it’s worth saying again – these two genres are producing so much amazing content right now that it is hard to keep up with it all. But when with as many of them I read this year, there are so many more that generated a lot of enthusiasm that I couldn’t fit in and that is truly an exciting place to be as a reader. I love the variety of stories being told and all the ways these authors and more are expanding the ideas of what these genres can be and who these stories are about and for. These were some of the books that moved and excited me the most this past year, regardless of genre, with many favorite authors and some that I got to discover for the first time this year.
1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune This was my favorite book of 2020. It is beautifully kind and has the most precious found family full of slightly unusual children that deserve all of the love in the world. It’s a fantasy take on a “very regimented main character learns that sometimes a little chaos makes for a happier life” story but mostly it’s about finding your place and your people where you’re allowed to be exactly what you are and so you become a better, fuller version of yourself. Arthur is truly the best adoptive father to his house full of children that no one else would care for and seeing how all of these children blossom throughout the story is heartwarming, as is Linus’s growing love and protectiveness toward them. They may have started as an assignment but they became his and learning to reconcile that with the life he thought he was supposed to have, where he never knew that colors like cerulean could exist and be a part of your life, is the most satisfying emotional journey. It’s a story of good people finding happiness and it was the story I and so many others needed this year. (Add to Goodreads)
2. The City We Became by NK Jemisin I was always going to love this book. It’s by an author I love and it has an amazing premise (5 New Yorkers band together to protect their city from an ancient evil). But even going in with high hopes, it moved me in a way I wasn’t fully prepared for because of when I read it. Fiction is never divorced from our world, it is created from what is and what could be and what ifs. But to read a story of these people fighting for the soul of their city, explicitly against a villain that foments hate and distrust in others, while pausing to browse Twitter and see New York (along with cities across the county) turning out in huge numbers to say that Black Lives Matter and to demand a better, more just world, was an incredibly powerful experience. It is a love letter to New York and the diversity of its residents and neighborhoods and the way they stand together. It’s a world that is simultaneously ours and not ours and that makes the anger and sharpness of the rebukes more straightforward than the sentiments in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (which is also a gorgeous, searing read) but it does the same thing for the hope. It is a book that explicitly says “the world might be awful, but we don’t have to like it that way” and tells us to want and fight for better. It’s a tremendous start to what is sure to be another outstanding trilogy and I cannot wait for more. (Add to Goodreads)
3. A Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire No piece of media I consumed this year gave me as much excitement or happiness as this book. It is the 14th book in the October Daye series and I don’t understand how this series keeps getting bigger and deeper while still feeling so small and character-driven. It’s a book with gigantic plot implications that immediately set my theorizing brain (and that of the wonderful fandom on Discord) going in all sorts of fun ways but it also features one of McGuire’s favorite things to write about and that is the idea of finding your way home. Over the course of the book, it’s a description that could apply to three different characters and each time, it made me very emotional. Home is the place you fit, where there are people who love you. Whether that is a daughter, a squire, a fiance, an aunt, the man you once loved and his wife, or any of the other complicated string of relationships that make up this wonderful universe, it is finding those people and holding on to them. It gave a character I adore the happiest ending (or maybe just a new beginning) that could ever exist for him, in a way I was so utterly unprepared for and that still fills me with indescribable joy, and expanded (or just made official) Toby’s ever-expanding family and was the brightest spot during a difficult time. I am so grateful for this book and this series and the way it continues to mean a little more to me with every passing year. (Add to Goodreads)
4.The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal I absolutely love this alternate history of the space race and attempts to move significant portions of Earth’s population to space after a natural disaster. I think the worldbuilding is fascinating and with this book, we get to see a different aspect of it after the first two books spent with Elma navigating the space program as the first Lady Astronaut. Nicole is a politician’s wife as well as an accomplished pilot with space experience and watching her navigate those two warring identities would have been fascinating enough for a whole book. But then it threw in a compelling mystery with sabotage and betrayal and I couldn’t put it down. I love stories about politically savvy women who are all about image management. They know who they are expected to be and use that to their fullest advantage. I find them utterly fascinating and Nicole is such a good example. She gets to be what others expect her to be on the surface and full of depth below that she is only able to show to a few trusted friends. She’s calculating and brutal and will do it all with a smile and heels and it’s a thing of beauty to witness. It pushes things forward in a very interesting way and leaves you completely satisfied before we return to Elma’s journey to Mars in book 4. (Add to Goodreads)
As with Fleabag and Good Omens before it, Schitt’s Creek is one of those recommendations that you probably don’t need if you’re reading this blog. It feels like half the internet is obsessed with the show and will bring it up all the time. Turns out, it’s for a good reason. While the first few episodes are a little abrasive (and I get why many quit during them), throughout the second season, you start to see what this show will become. The Rose family settles in. This isn’t the life they planned but gradually it becomes the one they will accept, if not fully embrace until later. If the early episodes aren’t appealing at all, the second season finale would make a good re-entry point to the show. The third season is full of growth and love and blossoms into the show that makes everyone rave about it and it only continues from there. The main love story is full of that Mike Schur sweetness and connection that I love and I can’t think of another queer love story like it on television. You can’t help but fall in love with these characters with their occasionally myopic and privileged view of the world but who also continually become better as they open themselves up to the love they’d previously kept at a distance. It’s a beautiful journey, full of laughs and moments that were made for reaction gifs, and so worth a watch.
Book Title: The Light Brigade
Author: Kameron Hurley
Genre: Science Fiction
If you’re a fan of The Expanse (at least the show, I haven’t read the books yet), The Light Brigade will probably be right up your alley. Set in a world controlled by a small handful of corporations, we experience a war from the perspective of Dietz, a soldier who signed up wanting to do good after losing everyone they cared about in an event called The Brink. It’s dark and bloody, as wars are, and full of striking quotes about the dangers of a world increasingly controlled by corporations and the loss of freedom and the overt and covert ways those in power exert that power over those without it. The interview snippets between an unknown person set in an unknown time that are sprinkled throughout the story give us a glimpse into a future event that comes together beautifully in the end. I am a big fan of Hurley’s nonfiction book The Geek Feminist Revolution and you can see some of the ideas touched upon in that book elaborated on and made richer by our investment in this fictional world. She understands that fighting for something, that fighting for those we love, will always be stronger than the choices we make as a result of fear. She understands the power that we have to change the world, even if (or especially when) it means tearing down the systems that brought us to this particular future. It’s that hope and belief in something better than takes this beyond a dark war story and turns it into one of triumph and fortitude. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year and one that will stay with me for a long time to come.
I might be slightly hesitant to recommend an ongoing show with a stellar season three after I was so disappointed by The Magicians last month but no matter where Amazon takes the show in season 4 (and hopefully beyond), I can’t regret falling in love with the Roci and pretty much everyone who has ever set foot on it. Even when you aren’t invested in the plot, you can’t help but invest yourself in these characters. You want to love them and root for them because that’s what they do for each other. Whether it’s Amos’s loyalty to Naomi (and then the rest of the crew) or Alex doing everything he can to make the Roci feel like home and for its crew to be a family, the show offers more than lip service to the idea that these people care about each other. Their relationships drive their actions going forward and in doing so, affect the plot. That’s what I need from my TV shows and why I am so ready for this show to be back.
Show Title: Fleabag
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Yes, I know everyone TV-adjacent is talking about this to the point that it risks becoming oversaturated and pushing people away. And yes, I also know with certainty that it’s going to end up all over my Best of 2019 posts and I will therefore have other opportunities to write about it. But I also haven’t been able to to stop thinking about season 2 and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s ability to craft a show and therefore it deserves a rec for this month. I liked season 1 a lot – the structure was intriguing, I loved Fleabag for all of her flaws and pain, and Olivia Coleman is clearly having an incredible time playing the deliciously wicked stepmother. Season 2 turned my appreciation into a full-blown love affair by giving me a story about healing and being able to move forward despite the tragedy of one’s past as well as the power in letting yourself be seen. It is impeccably constructed, features a relationship with so much chemistry and potential that you’ll root for it even knowing it’s probably doomed, and while it’s probably not a show that will appeal to everyone (much like Waller-Bridge’s other creation, Killing Eve), if it works for you, it will probably really work for you. It was one of my most anticipated returns of the year and it surpassed all my expectations.
Where to Watch: The first three seasons are on Netflix, s4 is available on demand or to purchase)
I originally started this show sometime last fall, got busy and lost interest halfway through season one. After some excited screaming from the fandom in the midst of season four, I got inspired to start the series over and quickly watched the available episodes over the course of a couple weeks. There are some things I don’t love about the first couple seasons but season three is genuinely one of the best seasons of TV I’ve ever seen. It completely rejects the “we’re actually making a ten hour movie” mentality and instead embraces the strengths of its medium by giving us a character-focused, season-spanning quest. There was an overarching storyline that swiftly moved along, but it also took time to make each episode count and play with the form and structure of the show. There are not nearly enough shows that pull off that episode/season balance as well as The Magicians has and while it hasn’t quite hit the same peak in season four, it has still taken risks and embraced the chaos that comes with a fantasy show that isn’t interested in being complete misery at all times. The characters are damaged and messy and make big mistakes but they also love and fight hard for one another, even when they don’t like each other. They grow and evolve in ways that make sense for their journeys and what they have been through and it is beautiful to watch. You can’t help but love them even (and sometimes especially) when they are assholes. And, as you’ve heard if you are at all engaged in fandom spaces on the internet, they are telling what is so far a beautiful and painful love story in an incredibly satisfying way that I am unused to as a fan. They are excelling at so many things that make me love TV and it is everything I needed in this moment. It’s already been renewed for a fifth season and even if you can’t watch it right now, it’s well worth taking a look at before next January.
Book Title: That Ain’t Witchcraft
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Urban Fantasy
I don’t think there’s a current author who knows how to write an ongoing series better than Seanan McGuire. The individual pieces are good and compelling stories with characters that I love but when you put them all together and look at them as a whole, they become something greater. The climax of this book would not have had the impact it did without 8 books and numerous short stories (especially The Recitation of the Holy and Harrowing Pilgrimage of Mindy and Also Mork) to back it up. We needed to know the legacy of the Price women and to understand the purity of the faith the Aeslin mice have in their priestesses. We needed Annie to truly feel the strength of those bonds and her love for her family, blood and chosen. It was emotionally earned and incredibly effective, given how hard it made me cry. This book was, in many ways, the end of one chapter of this story and the beginning of something new and exciting and I am already anxious to see the next part of the extended Price-Healy family’s story.
This isn’t a new show by any means. I’ve talked about this show in nearly every end of the year post I’ve written since the show debuted in 2017 and I will almost certainly continue that trend this year. But once again, it faces an uncertain future with Netflix’s opaque standards and an outside production company, so once again, I will ask that you give this show a chance if anything about it even sounds a little appealing to you.
This show is the new standard for how to do a smart, funny multicam sitcom well. The cast is terrific, the writing is sharp, and you can feel how much everyone involved loves what they are doing. You can feel Norman Lear’s continuing influence on this show and variety of timely comedy that blends laughter with discussion of serious topics like addiction, mental health, and consent. It’s a show that will make you cry because it’s genuinely touching but also because you love these characters and want their success and happiness.
Todd Grinnell is particularly exceptional in the third season throughout Schneider’s relapse and once again, I will be needing Justina Machado to be showered in every award possible. Every member of the main cast is doing truly incredible work and the amount of care that has gone into crafting these characters is evident. Elena gets to be taken seriously as a feminist teenager with a lot of opinions and her relationship with her Syd-nificant other is unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV. Alex gets to be a teenager who makes mistakes but is also a tremendous source of compassion and emotional support for his family. He’s not a warning (although the show is quick to point out the discrepancies in the way drug offences are treated by race in this country), he’s just him. And Lydia is as fabulous as any character played by Rita Moreno should be. She sparkles and is full of life and love for those around her and is a delight every moment she is on screen.
I could gush about the wonders of this show all day because it is incredibly special to me and it means so much to the communities that it represents. It deserves many more seasons and now is the time to start watching it on Netflix and fall in love with it as so many have.
This is my genre of choice. This was the first year I purchased a supporting membership for the Hugo Awards, giving me voting privileges for this year and nominating privileges for next year, and as you will see, that’s where I found a lot of these books. It encouraged me to read books I may not have picked up otherwise, expanded my horizons within the genre, and introduced me to new authors that I’ll now enthusiastically follow. I am so excited by the variety of work that’s coming out and being celebrated within this large and varied genre and can’t wait to read more next year.
1. Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn This book is sort of urban fantasy/superhero meets Devil Wears Prada and is as much fun as that description makes it sound. There are demon cupcakes and difficult people to work with and a fantastic portrayal of the difficulties in taking full responsibility for a younger sibling but that’s not why it attached itself to my heart like it did. In my 30 years of life, I’ve never seen myself in a piece of fiction as much as I have in this book. Representation matters. Letting people see their cultures and people who look like them in fiction as the protagonist of a story is so important and something that fortunately is becoming more common for more groups of people. It’s explicitly addressed in the book as an influence for Evie and Aveda becoming who they are and something I had no idea I could have in this specific way. I am Evie. We share numerous personality traits, areas of academic interest, ethnic backgrounds, and even a favorite comfort food that she was made fun of for bringing to school which I refused to do for fear of the same result. So to read a story in which she worked to overcome her emotional repression (which I was actively doing to an unhealthy degree when reading this book) and let herself feel and own her feelings, both good and bad, was incredibly important to me and I can’t thank Sarah Kuhn enough for that gift.
2. Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire My love for Seanan McGuire’s work is well-established by this point and this series is something special. I was thrilled to be back at Eleanor’s and with some of the characters I fell in love with in Every Heart a Doorway and the introduction of new characters like Cora and Rini. I love that it’s a book about loving and accepting people for who they are, even when you don’t understand their reality. It’s a book about friendship, hope, and kindness and therefore everything I needed. I spent the majority of my first read-through in near tears for reasons I still don’t fully understand, it was just one of those pieces of fiction that resonates perfectly with where you are at that particular moment in time. For a series about finding the place where you fit, this is the story that has called to me the most. Confection wouldn’t be my world but this book is a partial glimpse of what mine would look like.
3. Wayfarers Trilogy by Becky Chambers This character-focused sci-fi series is going to be one of my go-to comfort reads from now on. There isn’t a lot of plot, it’s largely exploring the universe Becky Chambers has imagined and the day-to-day lives of her characters, but there is a lot of heart. There is a gentleness that runs through the trilogy and a sense of compassion for each of these characters that make these books feel warm and cozy. The world she has created is full of different species with different appearances and social structures that often aren’t like our own but without the othering that sometimes comes into the sci-fi and fantasy genre when creating new species or races. Everyone is simply allowed to be. It’s filled with found families and the acceptance that comes with finding your people and your place in the world and that made it everything I could have wanted to read this year.
4. Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin It’s fair to say that N. K. Jemisin is among the best fantasy writers of our generation, if not the best. While slightly more traditional fantasy than her Broken Earth trilogy, it feels anything but stale as Jemisin gives us a world of imprisoned gods and their captors. It’s a story of balance and the way forces push and pull against each other to find equilibrium. It’s a story about love and jealousy and rediscovery. It’s a look at power structures and the way they are perpetuated as well as a reminder that we need each other to survive. Each novel in the trilogy revolves around a different set of characters (though still connecting to the larger whole) to create a full picture of this universe from its creation to the present. The worldbuilding is stunning as are the characters, from the mortals to the gods and everyone in between.