Posts

My Best Books of 2023

 It’s time for my annual round up! Other book lists are available.

This year I have stuck religiously to four books per category, but the categories have gone feral.

Romance

Show Girl by Alyson Greaves

A somewhat daft premise turns into a truly delightful fairytale trans romance full of warmth, love and uplift.

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell

A young DeafBlind guy and his interpreter set out to find his lost girlfriend. Fantastic, fascinating descriptions of the interpretation process and a huge heart.  

The Five-Day Reunion by Mona Shroff

Second chance romance with a consciously absurd premise but a great deal of heart, dealing with the real issues of a couple who married too young. Very enjoyable.

The Oak and the Ash by Annick Trent

Super late entry for this year’s best in that I read it yesterday, which just goes to show you shouldn’t do these posts too early. Georgian m/m with valet and doctor, with really well done social milieu, class, and politics, and a lovely romance. Heavy on the realism but with enough hope to lift it.

Fantasy/SF

The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera

Enthralling, beautifully written story of a messiah’s not-the-chosen-one son. Staggering world-building, utterly immersive, properly magical.

The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport by Samit Basu

A wildly exuberant mash-up of top-class storytelling, gleeful mockery, and thoroughly human characters, and the most fun I have had with SF in ages. Delightful. Read it.

The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

Haunting fable-like fantasy set in alt-African country. Wonderfully written and deeply felt. This one will stay with you for a while.

The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan

Marvellous SF about our hamster-wheel society and divided society. A mosaic novel rather than one with a driving plotline, which didn’t impinge on my enjoyment in the slightest.

Romance AND fantasy AND horror

The Shabti by Megaera C Lorenz

Debut romance with an Egyptologist and a fake medium. Thoroughly enjoyable pulp fun with the best haunting motive of all time, plus a nice understated queer romance between middle aged leads. (This isn’t actually out till next year, I got an ARC. Sorry.)

If Found, Return to Hell by Em X Liu

A truly marvellous novella of demonic possession or found family or possibly both, along with modern work and queerness and what ‘society’ really means. Absolutely lovely.

The Helios Syndrome by Vivian Shaw

A necromancer who investigates airplane crashes. Gotta love it. A novella with terrific atmosphere, scares, and heart. The merest smidge of a romance, but it lightens the whole thing wonderfully.

Even Though I Knew The End by CL Polk

1930s Chicago noir with sapphic romance, deals with the devil, occult murder, and the endless battle for queer love and women’s personhood underpinning the struggle over souls. Great historical setting.

Angry Women

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

Pitch-dark humour and satisfying revenge fantasy make this book about abused Indian village wives into a gleefully enjoyable ride.

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen

A darkly fun read about a Chinese-American woman who gets duped into becoming part of a counterfeit handbag operation…or does she. Twistily told and razor-sharp.

Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Filipino domestic workers in Singapore solving a murder. Powerful, humane, extremely angry, and massively entertaining too.

A Crime in the Land of 7,000 Islands by Zephaniah Sole

A police procedural set between the US and the Philippines with a ferocious FBI agent determined to nail a child abuser, told partly in a dreamlike folklore way. Marvellous, if hard to describe, and super compelling: really do not miss this one. If I had to pick one single book off this list as my book of the year, it might have to be this.

Fucked-Up People

The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley

A genuinely stunning novel about a Black lawyer in New York getting caught up in a survivalist group. Whip-smart satire and real feeling. Terrific.

Gigantic by Ashley Stokes

A look into the mind of a true believer. Kevin is a cryptid hunter as an escape from his many many failures, but also because there’s something in his soul that longs for wonder. Funny and tragic.

The Trees by Percival Everett

I read a lot of Everett this year but this is the best: a brutal and astonishing book about US racism and the corruption at the country’s heart. Gut-wrenching dark satire.

Grave Expectations by Alice Bell

A lovely female Randall and Hopkirk Deceased premise (live woman and murdered-in-her-teens ghost bestie investigate murder in bonkers country house), exuberantly told but not shying away from how extremely fucked up that is. Genuinely funny.

Non fiction

Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera

Tremendous overview of British colonialism: what it did, how it feeds into the current British character, and why we’re quite so deliberately amnesiac about it. A terrific read, with lively engaging style, very personal, and dealing with tough subjects in a considered way.

Lost Realms by Thomas Williams

An attempted history of some of the kingdoms that rose and fell in Britain between the Romans and the Vikings, some of which have been almost entirely erased, or possibly never existed. Bleakness, fear and yearning sweep the pages in true Old English poetic style.

Ultra-Processed People by Chris van Tulleken

Oh boy you will not want to eat ultra-processed food ever again after reading this. Ooooh boy. Could have listed it under horror, tbh.

The Three Emperors by Miranda Carter

A history of the run-up to WW1 themed around the monarchs of Britain, Russia and Germany, culminating in the cousin King, Tsar, and Kaiser who presided over the mess. Terrifically written with deadpan humour, and it conveys the family structures and shifting politics extremely well.

Why would you start here, you fool

Paladin’s Faith by T Kingfisher

Book 4 of the saga of the paladins of the Saint of Steel, aka Much-Decapitation-on-the-Marsh. Utterly charming. You could read this as a standalone if you absolutely insist, but why.

System Collapse by Martha Wells

Book 7 of the adventures of an incredibly relatable killer cyborg who just wants to watch media. You need to read Network Effect first as the bare minimum (honestly, glom the lot).

A Christmas to Remember by Beverly Jenkins

Book 11 of the ongoing soap opera of a tiny US town with romance, family, shenanigans, and giant hogs. Don’t even think about starting here. Go directly to book 1 and be consumed.

A Knife for the Juggler by Manning Coles

Book 16 of the Tommy Hambledon post WW2 spy series with which I am still weirdly obsessed. It doesn’t actually matter what order you read these in, or indeed if you read them at all.  

Book Recs for Summer (Book Recs Forever)

I’m reading a lot at the moment. If you are looking to stock your shelves for the summer, here are some recs for every mood. I say ‘every’: some of them are probably quite specific moods. Whatever.

All links go to Goodreads.

If You Read All Of Murderbot Twice But Still Need More

If Found, Return To Hell by Em X Liu is a deeply loving, comforting story of miserable bureaucracy and demonic possession. Absolutely lovely queer found family with marvellous magic and deep humanity. A delight. Written in the second person present tense, but you won’t care. Trust me on this, okay.

The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport by Samit Basu also falls into this category but isn’t out till October, sorry. Put it on your list.

romcom type cover for the Sign for Home with man in dark glasses walking dog, and woman running away.

If You Want a Deep Dive Into a Different Life

A Sign for Home by Blair Fell is about a DeafBlind guy, written by an interpreter for DeafBlind people, and it does a phenomenal job of conveying life for the DeafBlind and how communication works. It’s being marketed like a romcom for whatever reason (see cover), but it’s not; it’s a coming of age story for Arlo and a ‘find your spine’ story for his interpreter. It’s a little overlong in the backstory but keep going, you will not regret it.

If You Got Obsessed with the Whole Submarine Thing

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant does good deep sea horror. I had some niggles but it has the absolutely correct mixture of abyssal monsters and terrifying isolation with the vibes of a quality Jason Statham movie.

Honorary mention: The Helios Syndrome by Vivian Shaw, which does the ‘terrifying isolation and monsters’ but on a plane rather than in the sea, and is delightful with it.

If You Just Want Out From The World

The Last Dragoners of Bowbazar by Indra Das is a delightful, strange, beautifully written novella about a boy whose family are…not from here. Dragons. Memories. Strangeness. It’s unclassifiable and lovely and queer and entirely absorbing.

If You Need an Outlet For Your Rage

Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal is a terrific mystery set among the immigrant domestic workers who serve Singapore’s elite. It’s a magnificently angry book about how people treat others, a cathartic howl of rage, but it’s also a really entertaining story with engaging characters and a very satisfying resolution, plus there’s a touch of queer romance. Highly enjoyable.

If You’re Profoundly Alienated By Our Modern Dystopia

Cover of The Ten Percent Thief. Cover shows a tree whose tope is flowering but whose roots are made of something crystalline and digitised. The cover is divided in half by colour, the top orange and the lower half purple. The impression is of profound division between top and bottom

The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley is about a Black woman struggling to survive in her hideously competitive law firm, whose apparently perfect new boyfriend turns out to be a survivalist. It’s a marvellous look at this very weird group in a way that makes perfect if demented sense, and it’s also a very funny as well as deeply bleak satire of modern US life and its fears and disconnects. (Ignore the frankly bullshit Goodreads rating. You listen to me, not to Goodreads.)

The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan is a marvellous dystopian story set in future Bangalore where everyone is scrabbling to stay in the top 10% and out of the bottom. Hugely engaging, and wonderfully told.

There is also a sort of evil catharsis to be found in the neat short Everything’s Fine by Matthew Pridham, in which corporate workers desperately try to deflect noticing the Lovecraftian apocalypse by talking about reality shows.

If You Want a Romance That Doesn’t Hold Back

You Made A Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi goes head on into a lot of places most romances don’t go, and is all the better for it. If you like your characters flawless and making good decisions, sit this one out. Personally I rolled around in the mess like a dog off a lead. Lovely writing, genuinely moving, huge fun.

If You Want A Punch In The Face

The Trees by Percival Everett is a frankly astonishing book about US racism, corruption, and lynching. It’s brutal gut-wrenching stuff, with satire as dark and bitter as coffee, but an absolute must-read. (Then read Erasure by the same author. Oof.)

Give Me A Break KJ, Can I Just Have A Couple Of Unstressful Romances

Cover of the Five DayReunion with an Indian couple at a traditional wedding

The Five-Day Reunion by Mona Shroff is a hugely entertaining second-chance romance set around a divorced couple who have to pretend they aren’t divorced at a wedding. It entirely leans in to the silliness of the premise and we all have massive fun.

First Time for Everything by Mina V Esguerra is a forty-year-old virgin heroine and her chosen first partner, an old friend, carefully working out how they fit into one another’s lives. Quiet, heartfelt, mature, and angst-free.  

Hen Fever by Olivia Waite is a sapphic Victorian romance of healing, kindness, and chicken shows. Delightful.

Bisclavret by KL Noone is a soothing delight: a queer novella based on medieval legend, with loyalty, love, slow burn romance, and joy. And werewolves (but the medieval kind, no gore).


If you want gruff, unexpectedly ennobled earls, scarred scoundrels with issues, gloomy Gothic mansions, screwed-up families and/or a sequel to The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, my next book is A Nobleman’s Guide to Seducing a Scoundrel, out in September.

2018 Books of the Year Megapost

I read a lot this year. A lot. In fact, according to my read shelf on Goodreads I have read 200 books this year as of 7th December, and that doesn’t include the DNFs that I didn’t bother to track. It is probably worth noting that I read when I feel stressed about current events.

Moreover, I read some damn good stuff. The following list is thirty books and could be significantly longer. I decided not to add more than one book per author as a matter of self control, but just for the record, I have read multiple books by Talia Hibbert, Mina V. Esguerra, T. Kingfisher, and Melissa Scott this year, and I heartily recommend glomming their complete backlists.

This list is romance, fantasy, general fiction and a couple of non-fic, and these are the books I read this year, not necessarily recent publications. I am also including the absolute goddamn worst thing I read this year just for the sake of venting.

Top Ten SF/Fantasy

The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed

A weird and haunting novella set in an alt-Britain with an Edwardian feel. The narrator is one of the only survivors of his regiment after his commanding officer’s calamitous incompetence got the rest killed; he is now living with the disgraced man’s family and haunted by his ghost. A wonderful story about wounds, kindness, cruelty, and how to go on living.

In the Vanisher’s Palace by Aliette de Bodard

This novella will make a lot of lists. Set in a post-colonial fantasy alt-Viet world, where everything has been wrecked and twisted, with a slow burning romance between a young woman and the shapeshifting lady dragon who abducts her as a sacrifice. Packed with imagination and strangeness and thoughts about trying to live in an unhealthy world.

The Wounds of the Dead by Vikram Paralkar

This blew me away. A weird and ghastly fable about a disgraced doctor attempting to run a clinic in rural India when a dead family arrive one night. They’ve been promised they’ll live again at dawn—but they need their wounds repaired first. Subsequent events mix clinical ghastliness with the mundane horror of a deeply corrupt system, and just enough hope to make it unbearable. Thought-provoking topics along with a compelling plot and superb writing. This is the Indian title: it’s getting a UK release as Night Theatre presumably for the usual inexplicable publisher reasons.

Blackfish City by Sam Miller

An intensely plausible post-climate-change dystopia set on a floating city in the Arctic waters. Another SFF, magic/technology combo, with people bonded to animals via both shamanism and nanobots, and a sexually transmitted disease that leads to people sharing each others’ memories. Absorbing, thought-provoking, haunting, and a rattling adventure plot with lots of drama and violence and queer romance.

Temper by Nicky Drayden

Indescribable. Absolutely extraordinary set up of magic, tech, religion, and fable that plays with some really wild ideas in a totally committed way without ever losing sight of the people at the centre of the story. There is no weird-ass plot turn that this author will not take, which makes for a spectacular ride if you’re happy to hang on. I can see how it would not be to everyone’s taste because bananapants; I absolutely loved it.

Point of Sighs by Melissa Scott

I adore the Astreiant series–it’s stunningly immersive, so fully realised and well drawn that it’s actually disorienting when you stop reading. Nico and Philip are terrific leads with their low key romance, the mystery in this has some spectacularly creepy horror elements, and there’s a real sense of doom. Fabulous, beautifully written fantasy mystery romance. This is #5; start at book 1 and prepare to glom. (I also read Scott’s The Order of the Air series written with Jo Graham and loved those too.).

Not So Stories by Cassandra Khaw et al

A fantastic collection of stories riffing off Kipling. Some are new stories in the Just So style like the brilliant Cassandra Khaw opener, or retellings of actual Just Sos; others are more loosely related. Pretty much all of them are about power and its abuse–male power, white supremacy, colonialism, slavery. Thought-provoking in multiple directions, blood-boiling, often hilarious, great writing, diverse casts, and there’s not a dud in the collection. Highly recommended.

The Devil’s Standoff by VS McGrath

This series deserves far more attention than it seems to get. A tremendous read: a brutal fantasy Western with complex magic, twisty plotting, flawed characters, impossible problems, and some spectacularly nasty meanies. Also doesn’t shy away from really gritty unpleasantness in the racism and colonialism on display. Hettie is a wonderful character and I am dying for book 3 (out soon!). Read in order.

Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

An enormously enjoyable urban fantasy heavily based in period pulp (any book where Varney the Vampyre is back and has anxiety is all right with me). Greta is a lovely moral heroine, her gang of vampires are great fun, there’s a delightful slow burn romance, pacey adventure, and a gleefully crap modern edgelord vampire villain in body glitter. Humour, adventure, kindness, and fierce morality. Can’t wait for the next. Book 1 wasn’t as good and I’d basically forgotten the plot but had no trouble picking the story up, so jump in here by all means.

Swordheart by T Kingfisher

This could have gone in romance, it’s so lovely. A warrior’s soul was magically bound to a sword; now he’s a living immortal weapon bound to obey his wielder. Unfortunately, she’s a put-upon widow in a provincial village who just wants to avoid being forced to marry a cousin. Their subsequent adventures and romance save her self-respect and his humanity. Curvy mid-30s heroine, important nonbinary character whose identity and pronouns are never an issue, queerness unquestionably accepted. Glorious funny dialogue, intense but clearsighted compassion and humanity, a fair bit of highly enjoyable murder, and lovely well-developed world-bulding brimming with ingenuity. An absolute joy. I also read and adored the two-part Clockwork Boys story, set in the same world.

Top Ten Romance

A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert

Honestly I could have filled my top ten with Talia. A hero who is kind, considerate, consensual, reasonable. A heroine who’s prickly and angry and allowed to be. A joyously life-enhancing plot, a bad guy who is bad without overshadowing the book, a love that heals people in the way happiness does. Written with exuberant confidence and humour so it whips along gorgeously. Might be my best of the year, although if you want a howl-with-laughter romance try her Mating the Huntress. Or anything else of hers, come to that.

Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder

An exuberant novella featuring a desi woman dragged back to her miserable US small town by family obligation, and the bad-boy-made-worse in a motorcycle gang (not actually a racist thug). This is breezily done, with the concentration very much on the thoroughly enjoyable romance which manages to be low angst despite the set up thanks to the hero’s cinnamon-rolldom and the heroine’s tremendous self-possession and common sense. Sex positive, full of funny lines, and with a gorgeously warm heart.

House of Cads by Elizabeth Kingston

Regency. Marie-Anne is a marvellous heroine: French immigrant, super sex positive, loves her food. She lives fully and enthusiastically, and with her own personalised, clearsighted morality. Her romance with Mason, an eight-years-younger American con artist, is lovely, sexy, and very much led by her. Very funny and extremely lighthearted, with a strongly Heyeresque feel to the subplots–the heroine must sort out the inappropriate romances of three sisters–and despite the house party setting, has the sense of a diverse larger world so often lacking in Regencies. A gleefully feelgood read.

Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

A terrific paranormal historical. The opening is terrifically creepy and compelling, the magic system is really unusual and intriguing–John’s magic is gloriously inventive in particular–the romance is emotional and hot, the setting is Gothically vivid, and the author manages, extraordinarily, to make me absolutely desperate for a sequel starring a character that we haven’t even seen on page. Highly recommended. (Disclaimer: I edited this just so you know.)

Something Human by AJ Demas

Set in an alt-Mediterranean sort of world, with a Germanicish tribe at war with Greekish colonisers. Two enemy soldiers save one another post battle then hole up in a temple to recuperate, falling in love on the way. Beautifully written, with fascinating worldbuilding that supports the characters, a lovely romance that manages to be both moving and unsentimental, and lots of chewy and intriguing thoughts. Plus, it pulls off the rare trick of making you feel better about people. I read it in a sitting and enjoyed every minute.

Snapdragon by Kilby Blades

An absolute stormer of a sexy romance. Doctor daughter of a Republican scumbag politician meets supersexy high flying architect and they agree on a no-strings no-stress sexual relationship. Yeah right. It’s well written, at points very funny, hot, lot of dark undercurrents without plunging into excessive angst. NB this is book 1 of a two-parter so you don’t get your HEA yet; Chrysalis, the second half, is also fab.

Wild Sweet Love by Beverly Jenkins

I read a lot of Ms Bev’s backlist this year but this was my favourite. Teresa July, outlaw bank robber, is fresh out of jail on parole, and forced to live with a do-gooder to reform. She must learn manners and ladylike ways to avoid going back to prison. Ahahaha no, she remains 100% hard-drinking leather-wearing and gun-toting, just acquires more wardrobe options and a hot city banker with a past. Bliss.

Fail Seven Times by Kris Ripper

Justin, a prickly, self-loathing jerk, is in love not just with his bi best friend Alex but with Alex’s girlfriend Jamie. He loves them; they love him and want him to join them in bedwith hope of a proper relationship. The entire conflict lies in Justin’s horrifically aggressive-defensive personality and terror of vulnerability, which causes him to deflect, push away, walk away, and screw up. It’s very hard to pull off a totally convincing romance where all the conflict is internal and based on such a frustrating person, but we see Justin starting to open his mind and heart in multiple directions to get the HEA and it works magnificently. A glorious, affirming book of happiness achieved in the teeth of a lot of stuff. I cried several times.

What Kind of Day by Mina V. Esguerra

I have glommed this author’s entire backlist. Esguerra’s writing is always terrific–vividly realised characters, well drawn settings–and this one works particularly well. Slightly older characters with very relatable career and family and life issues. More steam than usual for her. Mostly a really convincing romance because it shows marvellously how the right person can turn a bad day good, but never falls into the trap of suggesting that love can fix things. Ben and Naya can help one another, but they don’t turn their connection into a HEA till they’ve both got a grip on their own lives. A marvellous romance.

I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif

Rich jetsetting Palestinian Tala, on her fourth engagement, meets middle class British Indian Leyla who works in her dad’s insurance company but wants to be a writer. They fall hard; now both have to come to terms with their sexuality and also with the different cultural pressures. It’s hugely readable, fantastic storytelling, with a lovely soap-opera compulsive-reading quality and a lovely glow of hope. Also absolutely hilarious at points, I laughed out loud. Shoddy editing but I enjoyed it too much not to rec.

Top Ten Other

Mystery

The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas

I’m cheating, sue me. But the three books are very tightly linked and I’m glad I read them back to back. A wonderful riff on Holmes, with sharp writing and plotting and enormously engaging characters. Also a real Victorian London feel. Glom them all.

Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

This mystery series gets better with every book. Brilliant at evoking the feel of the last years of the Raj and the 1920s Indian atmosphere;  mystery plots deeply rooted in the history, which makes them work terrifically. Sam Wyndham is a great character, a decent and progressive Englishman of his time, yet so much unconscious racism and assumed cultural superiority is revealed in his narrative. A really superior read.

General Fiction

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

 Yes I am late to this party. A gigantic epic sweep over India since Partition as told through a Hindu gangster, Ganesh Gaitonde, and a Sikh policeman present at his suicide, Sartaj Singh, plus side stories of a huge cast of minor characters. It’s brutal, tender, funny, hopeful, despairing, filthy, religious, political, violent, divided, diverse and pretty much everything else you can get into 800 pages. Which is a lot. I am glad I read it on holiday so was able to glom it over three days, as the stories interweave over a very long stretch and it would be easy to get lost. A hell of a ride.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

A Japanese combini worker loves her job because the strict rules tell her exactly how to behave in a bewilderingly incomprehensible world. But the pressures of society force her to attempt a stab at being ‘normal’ by letting a dreadful misogynist parasite of a man into her life. This book is a paean to being yourself, whoever you are, and watching our heroine regain her balance and reclaim her niche in life is wonderful. Immensely enjoyable, funny, and surprisingly uplifting.

The Madonna of Bolton by Matt Cain

The story of a Bolton boy growing up gay in the 1980s, and his parallel journeys through uni and work; through internalised homophobia and self-destructive hedonism to self-acceptance; and through Madonna’s discography. It’s really lovely. Charlie’s main struggle is learning to accept and love himself, and the overall arc of the book is triumphantly upward, full of promise, hope, and joy. There’s plenty of snarky humour, mostly at his own expense, but also of his various milieus (Cambridge, crap TV, life in Bolton), and one of the joys is how the many minor characters move from entertaining stereotypes to rounded deeper personalities as Charlie’s own understanding and self-obsession change. I was happy-crying like a baby reading this, in public. A glorious, warm, funny, lovely read.

What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Staggeringly good collection of short stories. Beautifully written, moving, thought provoking, every one with as much meaning and insight into human relations and thought and emotional heft as you might hope to find in a novel. I haven’t read anything this good in a while. Honestly exceptional, not surprised it won prizes, and even if you don’t like short stories or read literary fiction, you want to make an exception for this. Stunningly good.

The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla

A really engrossing family saga. It’s split into four stories of a Kenyan Asian family come to the Midlands in the 80s and coping with hostility in the immigrant community as well as racism from outside. The synopsis sounds really depressing (racism, cancer, failure and death) but it isn’t depressing because it’s so real and human. The little connections, the moments of happiness, the real love among flawed people all come through strongly and make this a story of hope and endurance and survival, and making the most of the life you’ve got. A hugely engaging read and very well written.

Non fiction

The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife

A marvellous book about a bizarre job. Skaife is a Yeoman Warder and in charge of the Tower ravens because if they ever leave the Tower, the country will fall. (He actually shows that to be a relatively recent myth, but that doesn’t make it any less true IMO: every story has to start somewhere.) This is very much a book of stories, one of those reads that feels like you’re in the pub with a really interesting bloke. Chatty, discursive, a lot about the life that brought him to this point, and loads about the ravens he adores.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury

I did not expect a book about wildlife gardening to make me cry. This is extraordinary: the tale of a woman, a decked, concreted, crappy patch of worthless city garden, and her mission to bring it back to life by attracting bees, birds, insects and wild plants. It’s not the usual gardening writing when everyone plans stuff and has magic perfect soil and twenty acres and an unlimited budget. This is the kind of gardening you do when you’re drunk, or you decide to randomly scatter seed like a rebel and then have no idea what you grew, with plants that die and mistakes and looking like a scratty mess. No spoilers but when a particular kind of bee finally arrived I broke down into sobs. A polemic and a lament and a song of praise in one.

The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Absolutely astonishing history of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and the search for causes. It’s extremely well written and intensely, compellingly readable, with some pretty terrifying details, and completely clear even for this scientific illiterate. Mukherjee never loses sight of the humanity of researchers or patients, which helps us understand decisions, responses and deductions that look pretty shonky from the outside. Seriously informative; a real tour de force of popular science.

And One Bloody Awful Book

The Way of a Man with a Maid by Anonymous

I write sexy historical romance, which requires reading period erotica. The goddamn things I do for this job, because this Edwardian “erotic classic” (says the hell who?) is perhaps the single worst book ever perpetrated, combining a spectacularly gross rape/torture/humiliation/forcedincest/male gaze lesbian voyeur fantasy with a bizarre, cloying tweeness that makes you wonder if AA Milne had a weird secret life. I mean, the narrator calls his rape/torture chamber “the Snuggery” and I think we should all pretend this never happened.

__________________

Feel free to follow me on Goodreads if you like a lot of recs. I got ‘em.

My own new books this year were:

The Henchmen of Zenda (swashbuckling pulp with swordfights, lust, betrayal, murder, skulduggery, and bonking in shiny boots)

Unfit to Print (upright lawyer and downright rascal rekindle a romance in the murk of the Victorian porn trade)

Band Sinister (Regency with a hellfire club, a bastard baronet, and an innocent country gentleman)

Of Course You Need More Books: a recommendation post

I have been reading a lot recently—like, a lot—so I thought I’d share some joy. I have divided these into the reading experience rather than genre (because I felt like it, sue me). Somewhat less romance than usual as I have not been in a romancey mood recently.

Books to make you feel warm and fuzzy

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32075853-erotic-stories-for-punjabi-widows

A glorious story of a Sikh Londoner who inadvertently finds herself teaching a remedial English class for the widows of the title, who then start writing erotica, which then starts getting circulated in their community… It’s lively and hilarious and moving, and a spectacular first novel.

Abroad

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34605048-abroad

Another debut novel, this a m/m romance and one of the best of the year for me. Nick is a Russian Jewish immigrant to the US now studying in London, dealing with his sense of rootlessness and not belonging as he slowly comes out of the closet. I can’t wait for book 2.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22733729-the-long-way-to-a-small-angry-planet

Incredibly endearing picaresque tale of the motley crew of a spaceship, with wonderfully likeable characters you won’t want to leave; highly readable even for non SFF fans as it’s very much character based. Book 2, A Closed and Common Orbit, made me sob uncontrollable happy tears for about half an hour, and they can be read independently, but why not glom both.

Kith and Kin

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35126537-kith-and-kin

Another book that made me happy-cry. A really engaging, delightful found-family novel, as a gay couple attempt to adopt while struggling with screwed up family and friends.

The Nothing Girl

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22349087-the-nothing-girl

This is like the literary equivalent of a hot bath and a nice cup of tea on a rainy day. It’s warm and comforting and indulgent, and anyone who has a problem with those things lacks soul. Taylor’s writing has that kind of British fictional 1950s quality, of a comfortable world where terrible things happen but everything is basically okay. Pure escapism.

 

Fun fun fun

Jackalope Wives and other stories

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35058181-jackalope-wives-and-other-stories

I have read everything by T Kingfisher recently and could have recced any of them here. I picked this one because this story collection is superlative. A wonderful wry writer with a deceptively elegant style, magnificent imagination, deep kindness and a dry-as-a-bone hard edge. Read one, glom everything she’s written.

The Glamour Thieves

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34998187-the-glamour-thieves

Sci fi with romance plot (which is not finished in this book, the first in a series, so HEA-needers be warned). It’s about elves and orcs in a hi-tech world stealing cars and fighting necromancers with neuro-controlled drones while alternately pining and having wild elf-orc sex. I mean, you want that or you don’t. (I would. It really is enormous fun. )

Turbulence

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9544621-turbulence

This and its sequel Resistance are more superhero fun than every single Marvel movie put together. Just gleeful. Funny, imaginative, wry, with some brilliant powers, great action sequences, and excellent jokes. Loved the pair of them, massive recommend.

Gunpowder Alchemy

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22837890-gunpowder-alchemy

Nineteenth-century Chinese steampunk! I bought this ages ago and lost it, and then read it with great enjoyment only to discover the books had gone out of print so I couldn’t get the follow up. Fortunately, the author is bringing them back this autumn. Am dying to find out what happens next.

The Prey of Gods

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30129154-the-prey-of-gods

I just loved this SF/fantasy hybrid. Gods and hi-tech in future South Africa with a wonderfully diverse cast (gay and trans MCs, lots of women, I think pretty much all POC) and magnificent imagination. Stonkingly good storytelling and vivid adventure with tons of heart along with the ideas. I couldn’t stop reading this one.

The Djinn Falls In Love and other stories

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30753517-the-djinn-falls-in-love-other-stories

A really good story collection, with something for everyone, which sent me down a lot of rabbit holes reading other authors.

 

Not feelgood, still amazing

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32606889-the-lamb-will-slaughter-the-lion

Queer American dystopian horror, as an off-grid community is attacked by the protective animal spirit they summoned. Gory, dark, and funny, and the first of a series.

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7194279-the-secret-lives-of-baba-segi-s-wives

Do not let the cover persuade you this is chick lit. A compelling and almost soap operatic look at a polygamous household in Nigeria. Secrets both ridiculous and horrendous come spilling out when the ludicrous patriarch Baba Segi can’t get his fourth wife pregnant, balanced by the darkly comic narrative style.

I Do Not Come To You by Chance

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6265288-i-do-not-come-to-you-by-chance

Another book set in Nigeria, this one a look at 419 email scammers. It’s a fascinating look at the people who do these, the social and economic pressures that drive them, the excuses we make to ourselves. Thoroughly engaging and bitterly funny, a terrific and enlightening read.

Escape From Baghdad!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23013966-escape-from-baghdad

Absolutely bananapants gonzo adventure of two arms dealers and a torturer trying to find hidden treasure in Iraq post Saddam’s fall and getting mixed up with ancient mystic cults, also militias and general madness. A stonking book with a massive on page body count and no holds barred, so not for the faint of stomach.

The  Magic Places

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35023468-the-magic-places

There’s a few books recently about children who went to magic worlds and how they cope when they come back. (Every Heart a Doorway and Among Others are two I’ve read recently.) This one is more literary than fantasy, interspersing the story of a long ago summer and a boy who didn’t come back with that of the girl who didn’t go, now an adult and embarking in a wildly inappropriate relationship with the missing boy’s married father. It’s magical and human and reflective about imagination and solitude; I thought it was wonderful.

_________________

If you need more books after that lot, my latest is a 1920s m/m paranormal romance, Spectred Isle, and An Unsuitable Heir is out on 3 October.