The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2018

WE’RE BACK! I have a few posts that I generally do at the end of the year, or at least at the end of most years, but this post is the only one that I’ve written every year the blog was in operation. I’m reading my 105th book of the year right now, and will probably be at 106 by the end of the night tomorrow, but as both of those books are Walter Mosley mysteries they won’t affect the rankings any. That said, check out the Honorable Mention section at the end.

As always, “new” in this context means “new to me,” not “came out this year,” although for the first time almost all of the books on this list actually did come out in 2018. Also as always, don’t pay a huge amount of attention to where something shows up on the list– the top 5 in particular are really tight, although I’ve had a good idea what #1 would be for months now. Also also as always, you should be my friend on Goodreads, where this list gets constructed as I read throughout the year.

Previous years’ lists:

And off we go:

10. DOOMSDAY BOOK, by Connie Willis. This is the oldest book on the list, originally written in 1992. I went back and forth between it and another book several times before realizing that I could describe the plot of this book quite a bit more clearly than the other one, which is what tossed it the win– I read so many books every year that “I remember what this was about” is actually a pretty goddamn clear indicator of quality. At any rate: this is about the end of the world, which is gonna sort of be a theme today, only it’s about the end of the world in the fourteenth century at the beginning of the Black Death. It’s a time travel book, and the main character is a researcher sent from 2048 back to the fourteenth century, and then all sorts of things go wrong in the modern day, making it difficult for her team to pull her back out. I had some gripes about it when I initially read it, but the gripes all make the book more charming somehow; the author did not very well anticipate future technological advances from her lofty perch in 1992, and this is one of the most British books ever written. Let’s use the word “quirky.” You should read it.

9. THE ARMORED SAINT and THE QUEEN OF CROWS, by Myke Cole. The first of the Sacred Throne books is what got this book on the list, but I read them both this year, so I’m including both here. These are extraordinarily well-crafted, tight little books– both, I think, are technically novella-length, clocking in at barely over 200 pages, but Tor was confident enough in them that I own both of them in hardcover, and honestly I think it was worth it. The books are set in what initially feels like a more-or-less standard European fantasy setting, only with an Inquisition-style religious government in charge of everything, prosecuting the use of magic to the extent of scouring entire villages when they find a mage, and a decent chunk of steampunk elements– as you can probably see from the cover, the titular “Armored Saint” is wearing a suit of medieval power armor. She’s also a queer teenage girl, and she didn’t exactly mean to become, uh, sanctified, or lead a rebellion, or any of the other stuff she kinda tumbles bass-ackwards into over the course of, in particular, the first book. There’s a heavy “What if Joan of Arc …” thing going on here, but it’s well-told; again, Cole’s craftwork is what makes the series shine. I shoulda been taking notes while reading these.

8. THE ENDS OF THE WORLD: VOLCANIC APOCALYPSES, LETHAL OCEANS, AND OUR QUEST TO UNDERSTAND EARTH’S PAST MASS EXTINCTIONS, by Peter Brannen.

Hell of a title, innit? I didn’t read a ton of nonfiction (again) this year, but what I did was well-chosen, and you basically know what this book is about from reading the title: it’s a history of Earth’s multiple mass extinctions, with detours into both the geology behind figuring out how and when those extinctions happened and the social history around the science. Despite the title, it’s not really one of those “here’s a bunch of ways the planet is going to kill us!” books that leaves you convinced that everything is hopeless because the Yellowstone Caldera is gonna erupt any second now and we’re all gonna die. It’s mostly a book that’s going to leave you terrified of carbon by the end of it. Carbon sucks, guys.

At any rate, despite talking about sciences and eras of deep history that most folks don’t really have a lot of experience with, this book does a great job of presenting extraordinarily complicated shit in a clear and understandable fashion; this is science journalism at its best.

7. BECOMING, by Michelle Obama. I just wrote a full review of this a couple of weeks ago, so in the interest of not repeating myself too terribly much (it’s good! Michelle is awesome! Buy it in hardcover, because this book is weirdly fun to touch!) I’ll talk about how I’m an idiot, which is always a fun theme around here: I always make sure to caution folks to not take the actual rankings too seriously as they’re reading through this list, right? This book is exactly why. It’s one of only two nonfiction books on the list, the other one being the #8 book. And I swear to you, just now, as I was resizing the cover image so that it was roughly the same size as the others on the list, I thought “I can’t have this at #7! That puts the two nonfiction books right next to each other!”

Which … what? Stop that. Quit being stupid.

6. EMPIRE OF SAND, by Tasha Suri. This is the most recent of the books on the list; I just finished it on the 23rd and I read it in a day, which you’re going to notice will be a theme for most of the rest of the books on the list. The main character is Mehr, the daughter of a governor in a Mughal India-inspired fantasy world. Mehr’s mother is a member of a prosecuted and occasionally magic-wielding minority and she quickly finds herself in an arranged marriage and shipped off use her abilities to keep the Emperor alive and in power and his empire thriving early in the book. This isn’t a YA book despite the very YA-heavy themes, or if it is it skirts the edge of adult fiction enough that I barely noticed; the star here is Suri’s writing, which I couldn’t get enough of. The reviews of this one are surprisingly mixed and the main knock against it is that it’s slow to unfold; turns out you don’t notice that if you only put the book down once so that you can sleep while you’re reading it. The magic system is fascinating and the way the servitude to the Emperor is dealt with is also a highlight. This coulda been a top 3 book for me any other year; pretty much everything after this is absolutely stellar work.

5. FOUNDRYSIDE, by Robert Jackson Bennett. I have, I think, all of Robert Jackson Bennett’s books, and I’ve enjoyed his previous work quite a bit, but Foundryside is quite simply a massive level-up on his part; this book blew me away. The main character is a young woman by the name of Sancia Grado, a thief in a setting that is, to coin a word, magicpunk– sorta steampunky, but with magic instead of steam, if that makes any sense, and in this world magic actually imbues objects with a (mostly) limited form of sentience. Brandon Sanderson blurbs it and is the top review of it on Goodreads, and while I’ve soured on his work a little bit this book really does have a touch of a “What if Robert Jackson Bennett wrote a Brandon Sanderson book?” thing going on, and the answer to that question is awesome things happen. The characters are the highlight of this book, particularly Sancia herself and Gregor Dandolo, a city constable who starts off as an antagonist and is something else entirely by the end of the book. I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.

Also, you should follow Bennett on Twitter; he’s hilarious.

4. INTO THE DROWNING DEEP, by Mira Grant. Mira Grant, pen name of the ridiculously prolific Seanan McGuire, has shown up on these end-of-year lists before. She writes something like 97 books a year and I read as many of them as I can get to (That’s not a joke. I have, on more than one occasion, thought I was caught up on her new releases and then discovered she had more than one new book out that I was unaware of– and once it was an entire new series that I’d never heard of previously) but Drowning Deep is my absolute favorite of all of her books under either name. Cryptids are a favored theme of hers, and one of her series is explicitly about a family of cryptid hunters, but this one takes a tighter focus, following a boatful of oceanographers who are hunting for mermaids.

Mermaids are fucking terrifying, as it turns out. The book starts off with a ghost-ship mystery, basically, and there’s a lot of “Wait, really? Everyone was eaten by mermaids?” going on at first, and there’s a lot of very satisfying cryptid science going on– all of the characters in this book are very bright people with a wide array of academic specialties, and I’d love to know how Grant found the time to research all of this shit– and when the book turns into a slasher film for the last 40% or so (with an especially cool late-book twist) the momentum just builds and builds and builds and oh GOD would this make a great movie. I want a sequel to this book, bad, but I want to see it on the big screen first. Go read it.

3. THE POPPY WAR, by R.F. Kuang. This is another book that sort of starts off feeling like a YA book; I described it early on to my wife with something along the lines of “Harry Potter, only Hogwarts is a Chinese military academy and Hermione is the main character.”

And then Hermione deliberately burns out her own uterus because menstruation distracts her from her studies, and then everybody goes to war and it turns out that the Rape of Nanking is a big part of the inspiration for this fantasy series, and yeah when it goes adult it goes adult hard and it goes adult fast. In fact, this book really needs a bit of a content warning– R. F. Kuang does not fuck around, guys, and while I loved the book and can’t wait for the sequel there are some of you out there who aren’t going to be able to finish it because of the events of the story– genocide is absolutely a theme, and if you don’t know what the Rape of Nanking was you might want to click on that link and read a bit before you decide to get into this one. It’s a Goddamned brilliant book, but more than anything else on the list, it’s not gonna be for everybody.

2. TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, by Rebecca Roanhorse. The genre of this book is Navajo post-apocalyptic urban fantasy.

Navajo. Post-apocalyptic. Urban. Fantasy.

There’s no point to writing any more, because you already should have stopped reading this and headed off to Amazon or a local bookstore to buy the goddamn book, because that ought to be all you need. And, okay, it’s fair to say that a book needs to be more than its genre, but I get the feeling that Rebecca Roanhorse could write an 800-page book about the life cycle of a specific breed of orchid or some shit like that and she’d still produce something I wanted to read. I loved this book, I loved the setting, I loved the characters– Maggie, the main character, is a great example of a character who is an asshole but she’s a compelling and interesting asshole and she’s fascinating to read about; I had a couple of books this year killed by unlikeable main characters and this is a masterclass on how to do that right. You should probably brace yourself for Roanhorse’s general disregard for anyone’s discomfort with Diné orthography; if seeing words like yá’át’ééh sprinkled through a text is going to bother you … well, you need to get over that and go read the book anyway. This is yet another debut book of a series (GOD, was 2018 a great year for fantasy series debuts!) and I can’t wait for the next one.

1.JADE CITY, by Fonda Lee. Let me be clear about something: this 2018 list is the strongest top 10 I’ve had since I started doing this. 2018, for all its faults, was an absolutely phenomenal year for books, and I finished reading JADE CITY on February 2 and knew immediately that it was going to be top 3 if not one of my favorite books of the year. JADE CITY is a family epic; imagine The Godfather, set in Japan, written by George R. R. Martin and with jade-enhanced superhumans in it, and you have a decent idea of what’s going on here, only in this scenario the Five Families are also the government and the scope of the book starts getting aggressively multinational in scope by the end, to the point where if the second book in the series doesn’t have significant spy novel elements I will be really surprised. And the best thing about it was that I bought it effectively at random because I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket. Everything about this book is great: the writing pops, the setting is refreshing and fascinating, the characters are all interesting people with understandable and well-drawn motivations; it’s great it’s great it’s great. It is the best book I read in 2018, and again: this was an outstanding year, so that’s higher praise than usual. Go read it right now.

(RANDOM NOTE, BECAUSE IT’S ANNOYING ME: That missing space after the period and the 1 up there is not a typo. It’s there because if I leave it out WordPress tries to convert the block to a fucking numbered list and indents everything, and if I then change it back to a paragraph it deletes the number. Rinse and repeat. I love that Gutenberg is still finding new ways to be Goddamned obnoxious.)

HONORABLE MENTION, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER: The Easy Rawlins mysteries, by Walter Mosely, which I’m blowing through at high speed but some of which are rereads and others new, thus making them ineligible for this list, AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS by Rivers Solomon, DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland, CROOKED GOD MACHINE by Autumn Christian, THE OUTSIDER by Stephen King, BLACK WOLVES by Kate Elliott, VOID BLACK SHADOW and STATIC RUIN by Corey J. White, A STUDY IN HONOR by Claire O’Dell and THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle.

WORST BOOK OF THE YEAR: SWAN SONG, by Robert McCammon. No competition.

So FYI

So far I want to drag 2018 into an alley behind an adult movie emporium and work it over with a lead pipe.  How are y’all?

2017 recap post

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The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2017

It’s that time of year again!  I am not a huge fan of the book I’m reading right now, and with three days left in the year it’s not likely that I’ll finish anything that merits addition to the list, so here are the 10 best new books I read this year, where “new” means “I never read it before,” and not “it came out this year.”  I read 89 books this year, a bit off my usual pace, which I blame on my job and the general “wouldn’t dying be easier?” tone that 2017 left all over absolutely every single thing in existence.  As always, once we get past the top 3 or so, don’t pay huge amounts of attention to the specific ranking.

(Also, are you my friend on Goodreads?  You should be my friend on Goodreads.)

Before we get started, though, the list from previous years:

9359808#10: THE DESERT OF SOULS, by Howard Andrew Jones.  I have a weakness for Conan books, and the sword and sorcery genre in general, and Howard Andrew Jones’ DESERT OF SOULS seriously scratched an itch for me.  I found it through Twitter, recommended by Saladin Ahmed, who tends to know his Arabian Nights-inspired prose pretty damn well.  There’s at least one more book in the series, which didn’t hit me quite as hard as the original, and some other pieces after that that I’m having some trouble tracking down for some reason.  The story is set in the real world– 8th century Baghdad, to be specific– but there’s magic and evil monsters and all sorts of fantasy fun to be had, and the voice of the main character is a pleasure to read.

07d#9: WHAT HAPPENED, by Hillary Clinton.  One thing that is sorely missing from this year’s list is nonfiction; I tend to swing back and forth on how much I’m reading (my book collection is probably at least 40% nonfiction) and this year definitely represented a marked swing away from nonfiction and toward escapist fiction.  WHAT HAPPENED was one of a very few examples to the contrary. I almost didn’t read it, as politics makes me ill enough on a daily basis without reading an entire book about the worst, stupidest election America ever had, but it turns out that Clinton is good at a lot of things, and one of those is writing books.  I would not have been strong enough to write this after going through what she did, and if I was strong enough, my book would have featured many times more uses of the word “motherfucker” than hers did.  It also would have been called “You Morons,” not “What Happened.”  There’s a good case to be made that everyone who voted for Clinton ought to read the book in the pure interest of history, but it’s still a good read on its own merits, especially if you’re able to temporarily disconnect yourself from the terrible consequences of the events it describes.

the-stars-are-legion-final-cover#8:  THE STARS ARE LEGION, by Kameron Hurley.  I keep seeing pictures of this book with LESBIANS IN SPACE as the title instead of the actual title, and I honest to God don’t know if they’re real or not.  I definitely want one if they are.  The hook of the book is pretty simple; there are no men, none at all, anywhere, and everything and everyone in the book identifies as female, but while that’s initially intriguing it’s not quite enough to hold an entire book together.  Luckily, it doesn’t need to be, as the story is typical Hurley Weird: dueling worldships hurtling through the void, decaying societies, rebirths and reincarnations, time loops, and genocide.  Y’know, YA stuff.  This book’s meaty as hell and is probably going to get a reread sometime this year.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 1.45.39 PM#7: KILLING GRAVITY, by Corey J. White.  This year’s winner of the Warren Ellis I Want To Eat Your Brain And Steal Your Writing Powers award, KILLING GRAVITY is the book whose pure wordsmithery blew me away the most this year.  I am admittedly mostly a story guy; I can overlook workmanlike writing if the story is awesome, but it isn’t terribly often that beauty of language can overcome a bad story.  Luckily, this book has both; the tone and voice of the book are phenomenal, and the story itself, involving psychic assassins, cloned squirrel-thingies, and a shitton of just general badassery is absolutely enough to keep me enthralled.  This is somehow the only exemplar of Tor’s novella line on the list, which surprises me, as I liked their output a whole lot, and at 160 pages it’s probably the best pound-for-pound read on the list, if that phrase means anything.

71BbpPa_l8L#6: AUTONOMOUS, by Annalee Newitz.  I’ve read one of Annalee Newitz’ books previously, SCATTER, ADAPT AND REMEMBER: HOW HUMANS WILL SURVIVE A MASS EXTINCTION.  I bought this having forgotten I’d read that book, as once an author gets slotted in my head as a Nonfiction Person I don’t always remember they exist when and if they switch to fiction.  With respect to Ms. Newitz, I don’t want any more nonfiction from her, because AUTONOMOUS is so Goddamn good and I want lots more stuff like it instead.  I wouldn’t think that patent law and pharmaceuticals would really make for one of the best books of the year, but I guess that’s why I didn’t write it.  The main character is a pirate who lives in a submarine in the bottom of the ocean and produces illegal generic versions of patented drugs.  One of her drugs goes wrong and produces instant addiction, followed by unpleasant consequences, and we’re off to the races.  Throw in a romance between a human and a war robot and one of the more subtle takes on global warming I’ve seen in a book lately and I’m a happy reader.

51s465hRHsL#5: WAKE OF VULTURES, by Lila Bowen.  Lila Bowen, also known as Delilah Dawson, is an author who I’ve read several books by and had always bounced off of me.  She runs around with a crew of other writers whose work I like a lot but after four or five of her books falling flat I was ready to declare her work Not for Me and move on.  Well, okay, maybe Delilah Dawson is Not for Me, but Lila Bowen?  I’mma read the hell out of Lila Bowen’s next book.  WAKE OF VULTURES is basically urban fantasy, but transplanted into the Old West and with a former slave as the main character.  (So, uh, okay, maybe not so urban, but I hope you know what I mean.) I’m a hard sell for urban fantasy, but the setting change makes it work, and Nettie Lonesome’s voice as a character makes for a compulsively readable book.  I took way too long to get to this book– it sat on the shelf for forever, and there are now two more books out in the series.  I’ll be getting to them soon.

9780345548603#4: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne.  Speaking of the cool people that Lila Bowen hangs out with, Kevin Hearne’s been on my list of faves for a while, and when I heard that he’d started work on a proper Epic Fantasy Series as a follow-up to his excellent IRON DRUID series, I was insanely excited.  A PLAGUE OF GIANTS is different enough from his previous work that I’d have been hard-pressed to identify him as the author after reading the IRON DRUID books, but that versatility is a strength, and the framing device of the story– a bard basically giving a multi-day oral history lesson to a large crowd, by taking on the appearance and speech patterns of the people talking while performing, is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  I’m chomping at the bit for the next installment on this one; it’s getting pre-ordered the second I find it available on Amazon.

33128934#3: STILLHOUSE LAKE, by Rachel Caine.  I read STILLHOUSE LAKE in two or three huge gulps, staying up much later than I wanted to to finish it because I couldn’t stand the idea of going to bed without knowing how it ended.  I’m a big fan of Caine’s, and this is her only series without even a whiff of the supernatural about it– it’s a very 2017 type of horror novel, where the main character is both the ex-wife of a serial killer and the target of an army of relentless internet assholes who have decided she was an accomplice in her husband’s crimes and deserves to be punished for her actions.  It’s a chillingly realistic type of horror and one of a very few books that genuinely scared me while I was reading it.  I just finished its sequel KILLMAN CREEK, and while it doesn’t quite stand out as strongly as STILLHOUSE did (and also lacks that amazingly evocative cover, which would have sold me the book all by itself) it’s a great follow-up.  There’s a third book coming soon but I think the series works well as a duology.  We’ll see where they go next.

f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9f#2: THE HATE U GIVE, by Angie Thomas.  While not my favorite book of the year, I think THE HATE U GIVE is probably the most important book I read in 2017, and in particular I think this book needs to make its way into a whole lot of school libraries.  All of them, in fact.  The title is a Tupac reference; he once claimed that THUG LIFE stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody,” and… well, we’ll just say the book is well-named.  The story is about a young woman whose best friend is killed by a police officer, so it’s a bit triggery and, well, on point given the current fucked-up society we live in.  It’s a hell of a book and everyone should read it, or at least see the movie when it comes out sometime next year.

(SIDENOTE: I also read DEAR MARTIN, by Nic Stone, which is a very similar book in a lot of ways– in fact, the biggest difference is that DEAR MARTIN is about a male character and not a young woman.  I think DM suffered from having read THUG first, and while it’s absolutely worth your time it didn’t blow me away the way THUG did.  Read them both, but read THE HATE U GIVE first.)

30279514#1: DREADNOUGHT and SOVEREIGN, by April Daniels.  Here is the most impressive thing about DREADNOUGHT:  I read it in February, and it is still so much on my mind in December that there was no real competition for it being the best book of the year.  As much as I loved the other books on this list– and you don’t get on this list unless I loved your book– there was never anything this year that came close to how much I loved DREADNOUGHT… unless it was SOVEREIGN, the sequel, which also came out this year and was just as good.  That’s practically impossible.  Superhero prose is pretty rare in general; comic books have such a stranglehold on the genre that most people don’t even really consider superheroics as proper fodder for a prose novel.  Teen Danny Tozer accidentally inherits the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s premier superhero, and one of the first things Dreadnought’s powers do is reshape Danny’s body into his own personal ideal, which means Danny becomes Danielle.  It’s a great superhero book, a great teenage coming-of-age book, a great exploration of how society treats trans people (the main villain of the second book is a TERF) and all around a fantastic pair of novels and the best two books I read in 2017.  I finally got my wife to start reading DREADNOUGHT a couple of days ago, and she hasn’t been able to put it down much either.  Go buy this, guys.  You’ve got Christmas money lying around, I know it.

Honorable Mention, in no particular order:  DEFY THE STARS, by Claudia Gray; YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN INNOCENT, by James Duane, HAND TO MOUTH: LIVING IN BOOTSTRAP AMERICA, by Linda Tirado; FLYGIRL, by Sherri L. Smith; THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, by John Scalzi, THE TRESPASSER, by Tana French; A SONG FOR QUIET, by Cassandra Khaw, and DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES, by Seanan McGuire.

Worst book of the year: ORIGINS, by Dan Brown.  I literally don’t think he can write a worse book than this one.  Let’s all hope he never tries.

The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2016

I do this at the end of every year: the top 10 new books I read during that calendar year for the first time, where “new” means “new to me.”  That said, this list has turned out to be pretty heavy on 2016 releases for some reason; the oldest book on here is from 1989 and the second-oldest from 2005.  The order other than the top three or so doesn’t matter all that much, and had I written this on another day it might be a bit different; anything mentioned on here is gonna be a hell of a read.  I read 103 books this year, and it might be 104 depending on my free time today, so there’s a fair amount of competition.

And, just in case you’re curious, here are the 2015 listthe 2014 list and the 2013 list.

Read all that?  Okay, here we go:

10) THE FAMILY PLOT, by Cherie Priest.  I once got into a (civil) conversation on Twitter with a noted female horror writer about how there didn’t seem to be very many female horror writers.  By the end of the conversation I was convinced that the largest part of the problem was a weird definition of “horror writer” that I had in my head, one that only had room for Stephen King (notably, a dude) and no one else.  Well, fully a third of this year’s entries are horror novels by women writers, and we’ll kick it off with Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot.  This is that most simple of all horror stories: a haunted house.  It is not, I will admit, the most original thing you will ever read, although the hook of the house’s victims being pickers hired to tear the place apart to resell its guts at a profit is a nice touch.  But this book creeped me the hell out, and I stayed up much later than I ought to have two or three nights in a row in order to finish it.  It’s a nice stylistic change for Priest, too, who is turning out to be an impressively versatile author; I’d not have been able to guess she wrote this had I not seen her name on the cover.

9) DEAD SOULS: A NOVEL, by J. Lincoln Fenn.  Fenn is a new author for me this year, and I think I encountered this book through John Scalzi’s Big Idea series.  I have a second book of Fenn’s waiting on the shelf for me to get to it already.  In many ways I could write the same exact paragraph for this book that I just wrote above for The Family Plot, except that instead of a haunted house this book is about a deal with the devil, and with the added detail that this book has easily the creepiest ending to anything I’ve read in years.  I probably should have seen it coming, at least in part, but the ending catapulted the book from something I was really enjoying reading to holy shit find more books by this person and tell everyone they should read this one.  Very nicely done, and I look forward to reading more of Fenn’s books.

161308) ALEXANDER HAMILTON, by Ron Chernow.  I didn’t read a ton of nonfiction this year, and I went back and forth on whether I should rank this book or the next one on the list higher and eventually decided I didn’t care– but Chernow’s bio of Hamilton is a masterwork, and if you’re even vaguely interested in American history you should definitely make time for it.  Make a lot of time, actually, as the book’s big enough to kill small animals with.  For added fun, do what I did and memorize the soundtrack to the Hamilton musical before reading the book, as it will provide a nice accompaniment to the book in your head and will also shed some interesting light on some of the side details that Miranda included in his musical.  Most disappointing: that Alexander Hamilton did not actually punch a bursar while attempting to be enrolled at Princeton.

51ykx5hd5pl-_sx331_bo1204203200_7) AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN, by Ralph David Abernathy.  From biography to autobiography; I actually reviewed this after I read it, so feel free to click over to that for a more detailed look at the book, but the gist of it is this: Abernathy is doing several things here, writing his own autobiography, a history of the Civil Rights movement, and a biography of Martin Luther King, all at the same time and in the same book.  Also true about Ralph David Abernathy: he’s a bit of a dick, and uses the book for some score-settling from time to time, including with King himself, who Abernathy knew better than anyone.  It’s a reminder throughout that some of America’s greatest heroes– and Abernathy should be rightfully counted among that group, even though he’s less well-known than many of the people he discusses– were people, and not the bloodless icons that they’ve been turned into over the decades.  Very much worth reading.

256679186) BINTI, by Nnedi Okorafor.  One of the very, very few positive things about 2016 was the reemergence of the novella as a Thing that is Available to Read.  There are three novellas on this list, and a fourth that really probably ought to be.  Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti was the first I read of the bunch, and it’s a doozy: a sci-fi tale of a woman leaving her home and her culture behind to study at a prestigious university on another planet.  One problem: it’s in the midst of a war zone.  Okorafor can be a bit hit or miss for me; I also read Akata Witch and Lagoon by her this year, and I loved Akata but wasn’t too enthralled by Lagoon.  This one’s outstanding, though.  And that cover.  Damn.

114702775) GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL, by Kameron Hurley.  This is book one and two of a series, and book three is on the shelf waiting for me to get to it.  I went back and forth a bit trying to decide if I was going to include one or both and whether I liked one more than the other and my answer ended up being “Screw it, my list, my rules.”

This series is some of the most original sci-fi I’ve ever read, a story of an assassin living on a planet-wide war zone where all of the men are off fighting in a holy war, the wider culture is loosely based on Islam, and advanced technology and magic are both based on bugs.  Yes, bugs.  There’s gene piracy and organ selling and I think the main character has died three times in the space of the two books already and it’s all fucking brilliant and you should read it immediately.

268835584) THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM, by Victor LaValle.  I said already that this was the Year of the Novella, and this and the next book are both products of Tor’s new novella line– a line I have (I think) bought every single release from and which have all been uniformly excellent.  Kij Johnson’s The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe really ought to be in the top 10 as well, but three Lovecraft-inflected novellas on the same list seemed a bit much.  Black Tom is Tommy Tester, a hustler in 1920s New York, a guy who does what he can to get by, which includes dabbling in moving the occasional magical artifact.  If that setting’s not enough for you to want to pick up this book all by itself, I don’t want to be friends with you.  If you haven’t read Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, you might want to do that before reading.  Or not, I suppose it’s up to you, and it’s not one of his better stories.

301993283) HAMMERS ON BONE, by Cassandra Khaw. This book features my favorite writing of any of the books on this list, writing that makes me want to absorb Cassandra Khaw’s powers so that I can write as well as she does.  It’s another Lovecraft-flavored novella, about a private detective who is hired by a ten-year-old to kill his stepfather.  The stepfather is not what he seems.  Neither, as it turns out, is the detective.  But to hell with the plot, as I said, the writing is the star here, a bizarre Mickey Spillane/ Lovecraft/ James Ellroy-esque pastiche that stays with you for days afterwards.  I would love to be able to write a book like this.  I want to be able to write a book like this.  Cass Khaw already did, and she is awesome.  She’s also got a full-length novel coming soon and a sequel to Bone; I can’t goddamn wait.

172350262) THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, by Mike Carey. I know Mike Carey primarily from his comics work, and wasn’t aware that he wrote prose books as well.  I only found out about The Girl with All the Gifts from the trailer for the movie adaptation, which still isn’t available Stateside anywhere I can see it, which makes me very upset.

Mike Carey should write more books.  The Girl with All the Gifts starts off feeling a bit run-of-the-mill; my wife is reading it right now after being harassed about it for most of the year and just asked me today if the book was basically a novelization of The Last of Us.  But the farther in you get the more enthralling the book becomes, and by the end it’s its own thing and while, yes, it’s still a zombie story, it’s a bloody goddamned great zombie story, one that despite having a damn movie made out of it still hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention.  I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked this up, guys.  It’s phenomenal.

189523811) THE WALL OF STORMS, by Ken Liu. This is the rarest of things, folks: a second installment in a planned long-run megaseries that is better in every way than the first book.  I liked The Grace of Kings quite a lot when I first read it, but by the end of the year the shine had worn off a bit and it only ended up (“only,” he says) in the Honorable Mention section of that year’s list.  The Wall of Storms fixes every single thing that is wrong with the first book and improves on the large quantity of stuff that was amazing.  Liu calls his China-flavored fantasy fiction “silkpunk,” and the discovery of electricity plays a big role in this novel.  So do dragons.  Sort of.  The title of the series, The Dandelion Dynasty, should also be taken seriously.  Note that last word.  It’s kind of important.  Storms doesn’t quite have the poetry of language that Hammers on Bone does, and isn’t quite as pulse-poundingly exciting as The Girl with All the Gifts, but that doesn’t keep it from being a tremendously inventive and rewarding piece of fiction from an author who keeps getting better.  It’s the best book I read this year.  You should read it.  Now.

Honorable Mention, in no particular order: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson, Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, Invasive and The Hellsblood Bride by Chuck Wendig, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, The Rising by Ian Tregillis, The Secret Place by Tana French, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and Bloodline by Claudia Gray.