As I said in my post about my favorite novels of the year, I also have a lot of “favorites of 2019” that aren’t novels, and I will talk about them in this post.
2019 was a great year for novellas, and less of a great year for me actually reading them. I still have to get to a few titles I’m really interested in, like the unanimously-praised Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney and the unusual-looking The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall. And I should definitely reach for more novellas, because I read 15 and 5 of them ended up being favorites, and that’s not even all the five stars. If only with full novels I could find a favorite every three books.
My 5 favorites were:
In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire: Seanan McGuire has outdone herself this year. Both her books were full five stars for me, which I didn’t expect, as I had liked many of her previous ones, but hadn’t rated them that highly before.
I have such fond memories of In An Absent Dream because I listened to it on audiobook (the only audiobook I’ve ever liked!) on the two days I was going with my class on botanical excursions, two of the best days I had in 2019. The audiobook is perfect – the narration was so good I felt as if I could see and feel the goblin market’s world – and the story is as well. It’s about unfairness, navigating two worlds, and how freedom isn’t always defined by choice. It made me think about so many things and it’s one of those stories that will stay for me for a long time. It’s bitter and I wouldn’t change one thing about it, despite how much I wish it could have gone differently.
The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang: I will never not be there for F/F villain romances. As it’s tradition for this novella series, it’s written in an experimental format – this time, it’s a drunken monologue – and I loved that about it, as the point is as much the story as it’s Lady Han’s current feelings about what happened, the hindsight, the hate coexisting with grief. She is telling the story of how her very dysfunctional relationship with the empress led to the dawn of a revolution, and I will always value tragic queer stories that are not tragedies about being queer.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark: this universe (the same of A Dead Djinn in Cairo) is one of the best examples of imaginative worldbuilding in fantasy. I will always love stories about cities that feel alive and chaotic and real, and this is all of that while mixing steampunk and paranormal, which is a great concept in itself. I mean, haunted aerial trams? One can’t do better than that, and the way this novella balances between “paranormal mystery” and “story about the advances in technology and society” is also masterful – it is mostly about the ghost, but also about corruption and politics and there’s a background storyline about women’s right to vote. I hope I will get more from this world, and P. Djèlí Clark is becoming one of my favorite authors.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone: If I had known what this novella truly was – the closest a book can get to poetry without being in verse – I would have liked it even more, so I plan to reread it at some point.
I’ve seen it end up on many other lists of favorites, and I can definitely see why, from the perfect hook “F/F enemies-to-lovers between two spies during a time travel war” to it being one of the most beautiful examples of sci-fantasy I’ve ever seen, with a dynamic between the two main characters that is so intense and… such a powerful positive force in a way we don’t usually get for F/F relationships. A really remarkable novella I expect to win a lot of awards this next season.
Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole: this is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read. I’ve never been to New York and I’m probably imagining it wrong as well, but I felt as if I was walking alongside with the characters: the author’s attention to detail made this sweet romance unforgettable. This is a second chance F/F romance between two Black women and I loved Fabiola and Likotsi’s story so much.
Short Stories & Novelettes
Sadly, I didn’t have as much time to check out short stories in the second half of the year as I did in the first, so I basically didn’t read any after… July? But I did find some favorites during the first half of the year.
Circus Girl, the Hunter, and Mirror Boy by JY Yang: sometimes a story stays with you because it hit you in a way only short stories can, so personal and close that you can barely look at it with any distance. I can’t tell you what it’s actually about, but I can tell you that nothing has ever described so well the feeling of being forced to face your own past coping mechanisms – the struggle between what the world says you should feel about what you did to survive and what you actually feel.
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho: the cutest F/F short story between a human and an imugi who wants to become a dragon. Funny and bittersweet and definitely deserving of the Hugo, it’s about perseverance, and when that is a good idea, and the great things you stumble into while looking for something else.
The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly: the most interesting banquet/revolution story you will ever read, as well as a really smart way to explore the link between food and memory in a more… literal way. I can’t say more without spoilers but I loved this a lot.
I haven’t read an anthology in all of 2019? 2018 was a year of slowly realizing I don’t like them 90% of the time, and this is the consequence. What I can like, however, is collections written by my favorite authors. I read 4, and one of them ended up being a favorite. (The other three, Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee, Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard, and Meet Me in the Future by Kameron Hurley, were also really good but not favorites.)
The Fox Tower and Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee is a collection of delightful flash fiction fairytales. It’s sweeter than anything you’ll find in Lee’s books, but still with the very characteristic kind of writing I love about them – the blurred lines between magic and math, magic and science, and the many, many foxes. Also, many stories are queer, of course. It made me so happy.
Comics & Graphic Novels
After this Out of My Comfort Zone experiment at the beginning of 2019, I decided I wanted to read more of them, and for once, I actually did. I went from having read 4 graphic novels in 2018 to this year’s 16. My five favorites were:
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell: this is a graphic novel about Freddie, an Asian-American girl who is in a toxic relationship with a white, popular girl who keeps breaking up with her. I stayed up late to read it because it’s wonderful, as much a story about the importance of friendships in your life as as it is a celebration of queerness – yes, even though it follows a relationship gone wrong that needs to end. And the art? Breathtaking. I want to reread this soon.
Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn & Claire Roe: as it’s important to me, a queer person, to read about failed queer relationships, it also is to read about morally messed up queer stories like this one. A vital part of being acknowledged as human in fiction is being allowed to be a horrible person without being turned into a caricature, and this was the deeply unhetical noir with a mostly queer female cast I didn’t know I always needed.
Monstress Vol. 3: Haven by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda: I could tell you that I liked this because the story or the art (both are amazing, don’t get me wrong), which is true, but honestly the thing I remember most vividly was just how much I was into some drawings of one of the antagonists. I’m glad my favorite bookish villainesses only exist in written form or I wouldn’t survive.
Sol by Loputyn: this collection of gothic illustrations by Italian artist Jessica Cioffi is the drawn equivalent of a poetry collection, and I’m sad that the author being from Italy means it won’t get any attention outside of my country despite having barely any words in it (it wouldn’t need to be translated). It goes from sweet to sad to eldritch in a few steps, and it’s gorgeously witchy. Most of the illustrations featuring couples are M/F, but there are a few F/F ones as well, and to see queerness in Italian-authored books is everything to me. (If you want to see a little more of the art, here’s my review.)
La mia ciclotimia ha la coda rossa by Lou Lubie: a memoir about living with cyclothymia I liked so much that I made my whole family read it (it helps that it’s short and has an amazing sense of humor) and they all liked it! I recommend it if you ever want to start/continue a conversation about mental illness with someone, even if you don’t have any kind of bipolar disorder – as far as I know, I don’t, but some parts of this were relevant to me as well. It exists in Italian, French (original language) and Spanish.
Poetry is something I should explore more, but I don’t quite know where to start. The only kind of poetry I read this year – The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, a novel written in verse – was a favorite, so I really should try more.
This is a story about growing into your own identity, following a gay Black boy as he understands what he wants from his life and what it means for him to be gay, to be biracial, to be Jamaican and British and Cypriot, and finding his own people as well. It focuses on friendships and family and some of the poems about that really resonated with me.
I would never have thought there would be a section like this in one of my “favorites” posts. While I did watch 3 movies this year (a record? maybe?), none of them was anything like a favorite, but I absolutely have to mention The Untamed, the only show I watched, adaptation of the Chinese novel Mo Dao Zu Shi by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu.
I read the novel and really liked it, but this story ended up working even more this way for me, which I didn’t expect at all, as I usually lose interest in TV shows. And yes, while unlike the novel it can’t let its main character kiss because of censorship, it’s still so blatantly gay that my straight friend got it (without me telling her) during the first episode.
Anyway, if you don’t know what it’s about (which would surprise me, unless somehow you’re never on social media but you are reading this blog – this is everywhere) I can tell you that it’s a Chinese fantasy story involving necromancy, war, and an epic romance – starting out with the resurrection of the most hated person in the whole country, our main character Wei Wuxian.
What did you think of these?