Best of 2017

At last, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Here’s my holiday gift to you, and I hope you enjoy! This post is going live for those still looking for last-minute gifts (like me), and there will be no post this Friday in honor of the holiday. Sorry for shaking things up on you folks, but I thought you’d prefer getting this sooner than later.

I read a lot of books in 2017, though perhaps not as many as I would have preferred. My TBR continues to grow much faster than I can strike things off. But nevertheless, I persist in climbing this mountain! Happily, it’s quite enjoyable.

2017 saw a lot of amazing fiction, honestly, no doubt spurred in part by everyone being pissed off and defiant. I loved some of those pieces, but I also got the chance to discover some preciously clever examples of characters subverting hegemony through self-care and care of others, and those stories were honestly some of the most raw and wonderful. So, as always, we’ll do these grouped by form. I’ll pick five of my favorite short stories, a handful of novellas, and five novels (if I can narrow it down that much).

Without further ado:

Short Stories

With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips by Beth Cato

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Beth Cato is an author I’m just now coming around to following, and I look forward to seeing more of her work. I really enjoyed this story, which is on the slightly darker end set in post-war Britain or something very like it.img_3988

Three May Keep a Secret by Carlie St. George

This story has major content warnings, so please be advised. That said, it’s a powerful story about bringing darkness into the light and how our secrets can be deadly, cemented by a lovely, mostly platonic relationship between the two main characters.

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee

This story was a haunting tale about grief and healing and the nature of death. It also spoke to me about how an entire community can turn on you, but you are forced to live with them. I have complicated feelings about this story, which are the best kind.

Sun, Moon, Dust by Ursula Vernon

Sliding in here at the end of the year is this precious gem of a story that makes me believe in humankind. Honestly everything Ursula Vernon writes makes me feel better. She’s been a huge balm for my soul this year, and inspired me thoroughly as a writer. She also writes as T. Kingfisher, who you’ll see later on this list, and if you want more of her writing I recommend the entirety of Jackalope Wives and Other Stories without reservation.

A Recipe for Magic by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde

This story is another balm to my heart. I am super into kitchen witches and gardeners and anything else bringing magic and power to things domestic and full of love. Please check it out and try not to tear up (happy tears, I promise). It’s up on B&N’s website as part of their new push to publish original fiction.img_3990

 

Honorable mentions to Loneliness Is in Your Blood, The Oiran’s Song, and If We Live to Be Giants. They were all hella good.

Novellas

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

I loved this novella mostly because it felt so real to me. I knew the people that Killjoy described in a way that a lot of characters don’t exactly strike me as real. It’s an urban fantasy, or more appropriately a contemporary fantasy, and it’s an unexpected and delicious story.

Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire

McGuire had several novellas come out this year, and a few books, too. She is super prolific. I picked this one for the list because it was one of my favorites, and also because it’s a great place to start with her work, encapsulating a lot of her reoccurring themes in a standalone text.

Also I have to point out that I read this novella around the same time that I read “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay” by Alyssa Wong, and if you put those two titles together they make a refrain to what could be a bitterly beautiful poem.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

You all know I love Martha Wells, or at least you do if you’ve been reading this blog any length of time. This novella has taken the sff world by storm for its inventive approach to an alien consciousness that nonetheless remains lovable. It was actually a little short for me – I felt like I would have become more emotionally invested given more time in Murderbot’s head – but good news! There are two more planned installments in The Murderbot Diaries to look forward to next year.

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Novels

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

I read the entire Craft Sequence this year, and I cannot recommend it enough. Technically, the book that was published in 2017 is The Ruin of Angels, which is my second favorite book in this series, bumping off Three Parts Dead to take that honor (barely). My favorite, though, is Full Fathom Five. All of Gladstone’s books explore earth-shaking themes with inventive, masterful language and world-building. (What if magic was real and also managed by a bunch of capitalists, for example. Also: what if the stories we told ourselves became sentient?) I recommend these books to everyone I come across. You can read them in order of publication or chronologically (I did order of publication) but just go read them.

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The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Wrapping up The Broken Earth Trilogy is The Stone Sky, a book that lived up to the promise of the series. I can’t say it was uplifting, but it was satisfying.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I wrote about this book a few weeks ago, and it remains one of my favorites I’ve read this year. I’m very much into American West reimaginings that feature women and people of color. I even did a whole blogpost about this subgenre, which you can check out here. Anyway, check out this book, it’s worth it, and can be read as a standalone or as the first in what I believe is a trilogy.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is the only non-speculative fiction title on this list. It’s also the only YA title, I think. It explores similar themes to “Three May Keep a Secret,” mentioned above, so content warnings are necessary. However, this book, too, is about healing, and it was a powerful read for me during this long year when it has seemed like so much darkness has been in the world.

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Surprising no one, another one of T. Kingfisher’s fairytale reimaginings has made my list this year. You will recall “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, above. They happen to be the same person, and all of her stories are amazing. This one tackles Beauty and the Beast, and it’s one of my favorite retellings of that particular tale yet.

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Serials

This isn’t exactly its own category, as I have only one work to mention here. Serial productions seem to be on the up and up at the moment, and I wanted to note one that I think will go a long way towards revolutionizing the genre. Steal the Stars has been a remarkable listen, and it has taught me a lot about what can be done with a serial story. You should check it out.

Essay

The Shape of Darkness as it Overtakes Us by Dimas Ilaw

Essay is not a category I usually include and probably won’t make it in future best-of lists, but I felt like 2017 has been an exceptional year and so we had to make an exception. If you have felt at all hopeless and overwhelmed, I can’t say that this essay will make you feel better. But it will definitely help you to process, I think, just as the author is processing their own grief. And it will help you to step forward, too.


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Atomic Blonde

So PSA, I loved this movie.

I’ve seen some discussion of the problematic aspects of this film, and we’ll get to those because I want to unpack them. But I want to start by focusing on the positives. I had been waiting to see this movie for two weeks when I finally made it into the theater high on chocolate cake and the newest influx of birthday books. From the opening scenes, it did not disappoint. I was able to completely lose myself in this film, and that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

For the most part, spoilers are going to come in the critique section. I’ll put a warning, so read away for the spoiler-free bits of glory.

From the opening scene of Atomic Blonde, I was hooked. No, I’m not talking about the part where the guy gets chased down and shot in the head, though the framing of that shot was unfairly beautiful. Actually, all of the movie was unfairly beautiful, a contrast to the gritty, high stakes plot and grungy setting. Shots alternate between glittering 1980s excess and austere Soviet spaces which reek of industrialism – bare concrete, geometric designs, poor lighting. There is so much neon in this movie – and spraypaint, and boom boxes, and cassette tapes. Do you also have nostalgic memories of growing up in the late 80s and early 90s? Do you want those memories to be turned into a spy novel where no one is ever good – basically replicating the 80s aesthetic? This movie is for you.*

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One of the things that was the most inspiring for me about this movie was not the dedicated femme fatale performance of Charlize Theron, though that was amazing. Nor was it the bitingly lovely and hardcore choreography of the fight scenes, though I was totally down with that. Nor was it, even, the way that the characters actually got hurt and had to live with those hurts and compensate for them. That was all awesome, but that was not the best thing. No, the best thing was how this movie brought the dramas of the Cold War into my timeline.

“What do you mean?” I hear you asking. Well, friends, I’m going to date myself here and admit that I was born the year before the Wall came down. Yet, as a child, I was always taught that the Cold War was something so far away. I think we have a habits of amnesia in this country, of distancing ourselves from very real upsets that we probably, even if unknowingly, lived through. It’s something I’ve seen a lot of people my age struggle with. We think of the Cold War as an artifact of the 50s, maybe the 60s. It certainly doesn’t affect us.

The events of Atomic Blonde may be fictional (I hope they are fictional) but nonetheless the story sheds light in a very immediate way on a relationship and time period that often feels like ancient history. I am totally here for more near-historical dramas, action movies, and political thrillers constructed with such attention to detail.

And now, on to the spoilers.

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There were two major issues with Atomic Blonde that bear discussing. Three, really. First, the movie was pretty white. I’m not savvy on a lot of the migration patterns of the late 80s in Berlin, so I can’t say that I can critique it fairly, but it’s worth noting. I hope that we can see something as original, fast-paced, and interesting as Atomic Blonde that also manages to incorporate POC in the future.

Second, this movie was pretty back and forth on the male gaze issue. There were scenes that were framed well in this regard – I particularly like how Lorraine beat that one guy up with her shoe, this amused me incredibly. Obviously she also spent a lot of the movie bruised, bleeding, and generally doing gross stuff with little regard for what others thought of that except as to how it affected her ability to get what she wanted. But there were numerous scenes of lingerie, and of sex, which were beautifully shot and often relevant to the plot, but which were maybe not so relevant as to be required. With the exception of two, these did not bother me. Which leads me to the biggest issue with the movie, and the one with the spoilers. Really, bail out now if you want to form your own opinions.

Continue reading “Atomic Blonde”

A few recent reads

I’ve been reading a lot lately, because I’ve been super stressed, which means that I read every spare minute. Don’t ask me why this is. I can’t tell you. You would think that, being stressed, I would engage directly with my stressors and then take my time to enjoy books, but not. I’ve just been spamming everything and screaming internally.

The upside of this is that I have read a lot of good stuff recently. Most of my recent reads have been novellas, but I’ve also devoured some novel-length pieces (always more satisfying for me). So what have I been reading? So glad you asked.

Final Girls – I actually went on a binge of Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) around the first of the month and read a bunch of stuff, including some of her free and Patreon-supported short stories in the Toby universe. That was after I read this novella, which was good in the way all ghost stories and haunted houses are good. I highly recommend.

Binti – I’m not sure what I was expecting from this novella, but it wasn’t exactly what I got. That’s not a bad thing. I can definitely see why it won so many awards, and I’m excited for the next one, though it’s not on my immediate to-read list. That said, I think that I will need to read the actual book next time, instead of listening to the audiobook. I love Robin Miles, but audiobook of a novella is a little too brief for me, I think. It was perfect for my drive back from a conference, though!

She Wolf and Cub – I’ve read a lot of Lilith Saintcrow, and I enjoy her stuff. Her worldbuilding is solid, as always, and her system of magic (or in this case, science) is inventive. Sandworms, dystopias, nanobots, and one really made lady – sign me up! I enjoyed this book, though it’s one of the more pulpy ones on this list.

One Fell Sweep – Speaking of pulpy, this is a new book by Ilona Andrews, who always fits that bill. Space vampires and lots of explosions lie within. Check it out if you need something light, but beware – it’s the third in a series.

A Closed and Common Orbit – Reading A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is not a prerequisite for this book in my opinion. That said, it does spoil a small part of the ending of the Hugo-nominee, so if you were planning to read that to see what the fuss was about you might want to get on it before you read this book. I liked this one loads better than Small, Angry Planet, which I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of, mostly because the pacing didn’t quite work for me. A solid book, with two powerfully complex and interesting characters narrating.

All Systems Red – This is a novella, and it is by Martha Wells, and if you know anything about my reading habits, you know I love Martha Wells. Admittedly, you may not realize because she puts out new stuff a little less frequently than, say, McGuire. Anyway, read her stuff, all of it is phenomenal and this novella is no exception. Hands down, Wells remains one of my favorite writers.

On my to read list for my honeymoon and the strenuous two weeks leading up to it, I have: