It’s December and we’re all a bit tired.  2018 was a hard year.  If modern women were allowed to “take to their beds” like Victorian women often did, I would have done so.  The next best thing was to bury myself in books.   This year I read not only the most I’ve read in a decade – 30,000 pages and counting (thank you to Goodreads for the calculation), but I read some of the best books I have in years.

This year I tried very hard to incorporate diverse voices with stories by and about POC, LBGQT+ and women.  The real world might have been a burning, stinking dumpster fire this year, but the reading world was such a joyous experience.  Here are my favorites.

Science Fiction:

Space Opera by Cathrynne Valente.  Ms. Valente is probably the best author you might have never read.  Despite being quite prolific, brilliant and hilarious, she’s not generally popular (though she absolutely should be).  She has a decidedly cultish following, of which I am a proud member.  If you only ever read one of her books (and I recommend you read ALL of them), it should be Space Opera.  As the title suggests, it’s a space opera – about SINGING IN SPACE.  Get it?  Amazing.  As always, her writing style is mind-bogglingly, psychedelically wonderful.  Her prose is to be savored, not rushed through.  The characters are compelling, and the story is laugh out loud funny.

Honorable mention:  The Power by Naomi Alderman.  In the year of #MeToo, this book was cathartic and thoughtful.  The premise is that young women around the world suddenly have the power to send electric shocks from their body.  These young women are also able to awake this power in adult women.  The shifts in power, politics and culture that result are instantaneous and the fallout is fascinating.

Adult comics:

Monstress Volumes 1-3 by Marjorie Liu. These comics are gloriously drawn and are both breathtaking and terrifying to look at.  The story involves a non-human young woman named Maika Half Wolf and her discovery of a monster that lives inside her, one that she cannot completely control.  Her dystopian story of self-discovery is violent and mysterious and filled with fantastical creatures and characters.  She is a warrior and fair warning; this comic is often graphically (pun intended) violent.  Definitely not for kids.

Middle grade Graphic Novel (standalone):

The Prince and The Dressmaker by Jen Wang. This book is just plain wonderful.  It is the story of a prince who loves to wear dresses and the seamstress who helps him awaken into his true (beautiful) self.  It’s about self-acceptance and unconditional love.  Beautifully drawn with engaging characters, this book is great for both children and adults.

Middle grade Graphic Novel (series):

Delilah Dirk Volumes 1-3 by Tony Cliff was one of my favorite series I read this year.  Delilah Dirk and her companion, Selim (who she almost haphazardly picks up on one of her adventures) are one of the best relationships I’ve seen in middle grade writing.  Their repartee is funny and interesting and real.  Full disclosure:  My 8-year-old daughter had zero interest in these.  I, on the other hand, found it delightful.

Classics:

This year I discovered Anne Bronte and I’m here to tell you she is by far the very best Bronte sister.  It is a tragedy that she only published two books.  Tennant of Wildfell Hall is the better of the two. The story is mysterious and compelling.  It must have been downright scandalous at the time.  Anne’s mature and full realized characters reveal just how shallow and flighty those of her sisters’ books are.  She’s definitely the Bronte for adults.

Essays:

Shrill by Lindy West.  On page 3 of, Ms. West writes about the body positive role models of her youth.  She begins her list with Lady Kluck and Little John aka Baloo (in drag) from Disney’s Robin Hood.  Like many women of a certain age, this movie is a touchstone of my childhood; it is part of my DNA.  So when I read this, I was filled with pure joy.   I have never fallen in love with an author quicker.  I recommended this book to my sister based solely on those 3 pages. The rest of the book did nothing to dampen my adoration.  She is a voice everyone should hear.  BONUS:  Shrill is becoming a TV show starring the gloriously funny Aidy Bryant.

YA Fantasy Series (A Tie Because I Couldn’t Decide):

The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater (4 books total) is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read, not just this year, but ever. It has a bit of teen romance among an overarching story involving dead kings, magic, ghosts, and demons.  Despite what the “boys” of the title may suggest, there are many strong female characters.  The plot is intricate, and each book is a page turner.  If you like her writing, I also highly recommend her standalone novels All the Crooked Saints (her best work so far) and Scorpio Races.

Also:

The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.  Nothing I can say would do Ms. Bardugo justice.   If you like Fantasy, just do yourself a favor and go ahead and read everything she’s ever written, including the Six of Crows Duology and  The Language of Thorns. I read her entire works in 2018 and I look forward to her new series coming in 2019.

Nonfiction:

Small Animals by Kim Brooks.  In a dumpster-fire world, it’s not hard to feel anxious or terrified.  As a parent, it’s especially hard to keep actual danger vs. perceived danger in perspective.   This book is part memoir of a fearful parent and part researched assessment of today’s anxiety-ridden parenting culture.  It explores why we are so afraid and what we can do about it.  A must read for all parents.

Middle Grade Fiction (Another Tie Because I Can’t Decide):

In this banner year of books, my absolute favorite was Thisby Thestoop and The Black Mountain by Zac Gorman.  A middle grade book about a girl who grows up as the gamekeeper of monsters inside a black mountain.  This book is funny and endearing, with a strong female main character and a hilarious assortment of supporting characters.  My 8-year-old supports this rating.

Also:

There is a revealing moment in The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, a story about Baba Yaga, her granddaughter and a house with (yup) chicken legs,  when I said “Woah” and had to place the book in my lap and breath for a second.  It wasn’t so much a surprise I didn’t see coming, it was the unexpected emotional impact of what was revealed.  This story is about Life and Death and Love and it doesn’t shy away from the impact of any of these things.  This book is written for middle grade; however, the emotional landscape of this story is powerful for adults as well. Both my mother and daughter wholeheartedly agree that this is a great read.

Adult Fiction:

Kate Morton is one of my perennial favorite authors.  With The Clockmaker’s Daughter she doesn’t disappoint.  Every time I think I’ve got her formula figured out, she surprises me.  As with her previous books, there is a mystery and a multi-generational perspective.  This book is ambitious with four different timelines.  Ms. Morton handles this deftly and almost seamlessly.  She makes you think you’ve got it figured out (you don’t).

YA Fiction:

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl.  This story defies description, which is entirely the reason I loved it.  It’s part mystery, part fantasy (there are some “time-y wimey” things happening), part existential teen angst, and part nihilism.  I’ve never read anything like it.

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