December 2023 decided to kick us in the teeth on the way out, evidently. We’re OK, we’ll be OK, but this last week has been eighteen years long, I tell you what.
According to Goodreads, I read 65 books this year. Considering how many graphic novels, manga, and novellas I read this year, that’s not a lot, and I don’t care.
Here we see the silliness of rating book length in the first place: that’s an omnibus edition of Chrestomanci, not one book. But whatever. The uniting factor in this slide is Excellent Women Fantasy Authors I Wish I’d Discovered Earlier in Life, But Am Now Glad to Know About. (This theme will continue)
As with last year, I’m going to talk about the Least because it’s a more interesting story (I read and liked Cerulean Sea, I refuse to get involved in the Discourse(tm) about it, the end). A little bit ago, there was a thread on Reddit’s r/writing forum about …where did it start? Things you don’t like about fantasy, maybe?
Anyway, I ended up saying, among other things, that I was hungry for fantasy novels that used magic for interesting, non-combative purposes. I got a lot of recs, which I’ll follow up on eventually. This was one of them; the author messaged me about it. It’s a modern-ish fantasy where fairies and humans live side by side, if a bit uneasily, and its crystal/element-based magic is used in a sort of steampunk-esque way to power technology as well as in a more typical “cast a spell” sort of way. The book itself is a murder mystery. So hey. Sometimes you spout off on the internet and actually get a good outcome.
Here’s the Big-Ass List of Covers. I’ll comment in between. I do not, I’m sorry, have the wherewithal / patience to caption everything. The whole clickable page is here.
Whoops on the hover text. The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches is a truly delightful book that doesn’t deserve to be occluded.
Our Dreams at Dusk was SO GOOD AUGH. It’s kind of a series of vignettes after the story gets going. A gay high schooler stumbles into a local unofficial LGBT+ community center / hangout spot, and the rest of the series explores various stories about the people who hang out there. It’s messy and relatable and feels real in a way a lot of LGBT-themed manga does not. On a similar thread, Is Love the Answer? is extremely Asexuality 101, but its characters also have some complexity, considering its much shorter (one-shot) run-time. I’m glad it exists.
As for two menopause books within the first couple of months, lolsob. The Menopause Manifesto was a more straightforward batch of information; What Fresh Hell is This is more of a memoir, and more relatable on a personal level. (For one thing? Acknowledging that not everyone with a uterus is a woman and vice-versa! Thanks!)
I had many, many hours to read about it when I couldn’t sleep. So that’s nice…
Theme: We contain multitudes okay
Boys Weekend was fantastic, a graphic novel about a bachelor party turned dystopia (along with realizing that you don’t fit in with your old friends, who expect you to be someone you’re not) (and a bunch of other things)
Started a very slow reread of Earthsea last year; with this reread I realized how influential The Tombs of Atuan was on my own work. I mean look, I will never say that I’ve even slightly approached the quality of this book or anything else Le Guin did, but “immature backbiting when you should be paying attention to the journey” came from somewhere. It’s just that it’s one-sided in TToA and two-sided in my book.
Ladies on Top: Hi, I’m a partly asexual person who also sometimes reads R-rated romcoms with A Lot to Say about normative gender roles and approaches to sexuality. (Really.) I’ll also wave toward this article on AniFem, which is what got me to try it out in the first place. It’s about communication! And people figuring out what they want instead of what they’re expected to want! And it’s funny. Good times.
Land of the Lustrous is bananapants. I watched the anime series first, then jumped over to the manga at the point where the anime abruptly ended. It got progressively more and more bananapants as it went. Did I enjoy the ride? I think so? I’m kind of glad I saw it through? I enjoy surrealism in anime, so yeah, this is up my alley to a certain extent. The themes missed me entirely until I read analyses by fans, and even then I had to be like “uh, okay, sure.” And it never really did anything with Cinnabar after all, sadly. Still. Not sorry I saw it through.
In which we see my newfound dedication to reading new-to-me series straight through instead of slow-rolling them as I used to do. The Penric and Desdemona series was fun. And I’m actually kind of annoyed that I’ve never read any Tamora Pierce until now. (Annoyed at myself 99%, annoyed at the universe/fate 1%.) The Protector of the Small series here is exactly. what. I. would. have. needed. as a tween, even if I might not have been ready for it at the time. Still, it was nice to read now.
I enjoyed That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon, but I absolutely do not understand why people rec it as cozy fantasy. It’s a violent sex comedy. And hey, I’m about as anti-cozy-policing as it gets. Read what you want. But it’s like asking people what their favorite ice cream flavor is and they answer “bacon.” Bacon is tasty! And there are a lot of wild ice cream flavors out there! But really?
We Contain Multitudes II: Late Fall & Winter
I read Codependent No More as research for a potential 8th Therapist book that I decided to shelve; after doing so, I don’t think the character I had been planning was codependent after all. If I do end up writing it eventually, I’ll have to sort out what exactly is going on in his head. It was still an insightful read. (for all four Therapist fans out there: Burleigh, one of Berry’s former adventuring partners from book 3. Henry would be the primary and maybe the only narrator, but Burleigh would be a pivotal character.)
Just finished Before We Were Trans today. I feel like I’ve heard of most – not all! – of the people/cultures/topics touched upon, often through my archive binging of Queer as Fact last year, but I appreciated the overall arc of the book. Namely, that it’s counterproductive to border-skirmish over “claiming” historical figures or whether we can “correctly” label them with labels that didn’t exist when they were alive. Different people can find parallels with their lives in historical figures for different reasons. This is a simplification, of course, but overall: I appreciate that approach, and enjoyed the book. (As usual for me, I bought it after listening to a podcast interview with the author. Ever wonder who’s suckered in by episodes like that? Me. A lot.)
Realizing now how little science fiction I’ve read in the last year. This is partly because I have been working my way through a set of recommendations made to me on r/cozyfantasy; I’d asked for not-quite-cozy stories with a little more bite/realness/messiness/heft/??? than what most people classify as True Cozy. This had been inspired by Irregular Witches, which I felt exemplified that feeling with its distinction between “nice” (socially acceptable, not making a fuss, may actually be toxic) and “kind” (actually caring about human beings, even when it’s messy or inconvenient).
Out of this year’s reading, that included Chrestomanci, The House on the Cerulean Sea (which is a standard cozy rec, but it does have some teeth in its depiction of the “acceptability at all cost / destroy things that make us uncomfortable” townsfolk), the Penric and Desdemona series, and the Protector of the Small series (First Test/Page/Squire/Lady Knight). I’ve got a swath of recs to go, and I intend to keep working my way through them alongside the “interesting uses of noncombatant magic” recs and whatever else catches my eye.
So those are some books. I practice as close to TBR Zero as I can manage, so I don’t know what’s next, apart from continuing my Earthsea reread and eventually, finally doing the homework to finish Real Self-Care (another book I picked up after hearing about it on a podcast). As soon as I have the bandwidth to do so. See above, re: December 2023.
Until then, let’s see this year off and hope for a good one next year. As we always do. And a whole year is often not unalloyed good or unalloyed bad, of course. But I’ll hope for more good than not, for everyone.