Jan 03 2019

Looking Back on 2018

My compatriots here at The Frumious Consortium have guilted me into doing a recap post, gj, all.

Between here and my work for Criminal Element, I read (with a big thanks to Goodreads for crunching the stats for me; hey, feel free to be my friend there, if you’re reading this) 185 books in 2018, which is definitely my most exhausting amount since I’ve started keeping track. A lot of this was due to picking up more work for my publisher at CE, as well as through building contacts with other absolutely lovely people in the industry. I’ve never felt more happily overwhelmed by reading and reviewing books, one of my greatest pleasures in life. You can check out my full reading list via the Goodreads link above, but I figured I’d add a Top 10 list for the year here as well. In no particular order:

1. The City Of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty — A complex examination of politics and competing motivations set in fantasy realms inspired by Islamic mythology, this book was one of the first I read this year and still one of the best and most memorable. It’s got a strong heroine, twists at every turn and some really terrific writing. The author really knows her stuff, displaying the diversity of Islamic history and experiences and incorporating all of that seamlessly into a convincing, compelling whole.

2. There There by Tommy Orange — This contemporary novel follows the lives of several Urban Indians in Oakland, California during the lead up to the Big Powwow. It is probably the best written of the books on this list, effortlessly tying together multiple plot threads and creating a glorious tapestry that practically breathes immediacy. Moving and smart, it’s won a ton of awards for good reason.

3. The Arrival Of Missives by Aliya Whiteley — This is a book I want to make everyone read. It’s short, barely clocking in at 200 pages even with the inclusion of the accompanying short story, but it’s powerfully subversive, taking a fairly commonplace trope and exploding everything you thought you knew about the (sci-fi bildungsroman) genre. Deeply feminist, it’s a wonderful reminder for our times. I really hope Ms Whiteley writes more of Shirley, the heroine.

4. Spook Street by Mick Herron — The fourth (more or less) in his Slough House series, this is so far my favorite. I read almost the entire series this year and could not get enough of this team of misfit MI6 spies languishing in professional exile in South London. Things come to a head in this novel, when their chief, Jackson Lamb, must go above and beyond to rescue an old spy, burning essential bridges in the process. Filled with both humor and grim existential despair, this is my favorite spy series ever. Books 5 and 5.5 are waiting in my Kindle as a future reward, for when I finally have free time, whenever that is.

5. Now We Are Dead by Stuart MacBride — In the same vein as the darkly hilarious Slough House books are Mr MacBride’s Logan MacRae novels, which center on policing in Aberdeen. NWAD centers MacRae’s irascible, infuriating former boss DS Roberta Steele as she tries to stop the serial rapist she got caught fitting up from striking again. References to A. A. Milne abound but you don’t have to be a Winnie The Pooh fan to be absolutely charmed — probably in spite of yourself — by our horror of a protagonist.

6. Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett — Having already awarded City Of Brass the prize of being my Best Fantasy Novel of the year, I didn’t feel at all like I was shortchanging Foundryside by deeming it the best cyberpunk of the year. It’s a dazzlingly intelligent sci-fi novel dressed up as a delightfully meaty fantasy. Best of all, it’s unapologetically and gracefully diverse. I kinda wanted to have its babies.

7. Annihilation by Jeff vanderMeer — I wanted to read this book before watching the movie and am so glad I did! An ode to introspection, it was also the most compelling love story I’ve read all year. It won’t surprise you to hear that I found the movie greatly disappointing in comparison. Some of the stuff with The Biologist’s companions was neat but the rest of it was mainstream Hollywood garbage, a disappointingly exploitative adaptation of a delicately nuanced book.

8. The Warlock Holmes novels by G. S. Denning — I’m not ordinarily a fan of Sherlock Holmes pastiche but these not only kept me furiously turning the pages but also had me going back to the source material to examine the similarities. A hilarious occult take on the classic cases and definitely my favorite homages to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

9. Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao — An East Asian re-imagining of Snow White’s evil stepmother’s story, this novel is brutally honest about women and ambition and rivalry in a way that made my soul ache with familiarity, far more so than any novel set in the real world has been able to (tho Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive comes close!) I’ve heard not great things about the sequel that came out in November but plan on reading that soon, and will share thoughts once I do!

10. A Death Of No Importance by Mariah Fredericks — I read so many great novels this year, but for warning us of the perils of ignoring our history, this definitely took the prize. A rich examination of Gilded Age New York City, it was unafraid to draw parallels to modern American life while also presenting an intelligent whodunnit with an outstanding heroine.

Honorable mentions go out to Cornelia Kidd’s Death And A Pot Of Chowder which was unquestionably my favorite culinary cozy this year; Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, which Doug and I have gone on at length about; Victoria Thompson’s City Of Secrets, another socially aware historical mystery, and Jay Kristoff’s LIFEL1K3 with its gonzo post-apocalyptic android teens. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson was another really amazing novel I read this year that I can’t put on this list because you should only read it after reading the first two books in the Stormlight Archives. Each installment so far has been over a thousand glorious pages but has also required that I go back through previous novels (or the Wiki!) to refresh myself on the who or what or why of certain things. Even so, I think I’m missing more stuff because I’m bad at remembering details of the Cosmere plus I haven’t read Warbreaker yet.

Special mention to the really terrific page to screen adaptations that came out this year, especially the ones that improved upon their subject material (so not you, Annihilation.) I was pleasantly surprised to be as besotted as I was by Crazy Rich Asians and A Simple Favor, both of which starred the delightful Henry Golding. Though I haven’t read Lynda LaPlante’s Widows, when I read that Gillian Flynn was doing the screenplay, I knew I had to watch the movie adaptation, which was definitely worth my time. I also binge watched the terrific first two seasons of Riverdale, based on the classic Archie comics, and am currently part way through its sister adaptation, The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina. Amazon Prime served up two more excellent adaptations for me: The Expanse (based on a series I’m itching to read) and The Man In The High Castle, which is just outstanding in so many respects, not least in the way it circles back round to the source text.

It’s been a great year for me and the written word, and I’m so pleased to have been able to share my experiences with you. Here’s to more in a terrific 2019!

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