I read 91 books this year, most trending towards horror and escapism. These are my favorites.
A Court of Mist and Fury, Sarah J. Maas
Okay, we’ll start off with the obvious. I read a Court of Thorns and Roses a few years back, and while it was decent fantasy, I wasn’t wild about it. I only picked this second in the series up when booktok started talking about how much of a departure it was from the first book. And thank you booktok. I can’t believe I almost missed out on a series containing all of my favorite romance tropes.
The Bayou, Arden Powell
This was a surprise find for me while searching for queer fantasy. It’s always a delight to find new southern gothic tales, as it is to find queer historical romance. Finding both in one place is a joy, and I hope this novel continues to get more attention, because it deserves it.
Verity, Colleen Hoover
No one twists and turns like Colleen Hoover. This was my first foray into her work, but not my last. It was the perfect starting place for me, given its resemblance to Rebecca, which happens to be the first gothic novel I ever read.
From Highbury With Love, Corrie Garrett
I love a good published Jane Austen fanfic, and this one combines some of my favorite character, who them manage complicate each others’ lives in new and interesting ways.
Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula, Bram Stoker and Vladimar Adsmundsson
When I learned that the Icelandic translation of Dracula diverged wildly from the original story, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed.
A Dowry of Blood, S. T. Gibson
Speaking of the count, how about a book where Dracula’s wives rebel? There’s a reason this queer, feminist take on Dracula has gained so much traction.
Pretty Broken Things, Melissa Marr
Another southern gothic horror, this one a retelling of Bluebeard. All the trigger warnings. All of them.
Wylding Hall, Elizabeth Hand
A folk band holes up in an old manor house to record an album. Told as a documentary, this will take you deep into British folklore.
Into the Drowning Deep, Mira Grant
Killer mermaids is the hook of this book, but that only scratches the surface of its charm. It has diverse, lovable characters and oodles of scientists making believably bad choices for the sake of science. If you’re an ocean person or a science person, you will love this.
Find Me, Ashley N. Rostek
I’ve developed a fascination with the audacity of reverse harem novels, and this one was my favorite of the year. And it truly is audacious. A girl in WITSEC, hiding from an obsessive serial killer, falls in love with the boys next door. How’s that for a premise? If you have any triggers, just assume they’ll be in this series. It is not for everyone, but if you like true crime and reverse harem, you might want to check it out.
The Suffering, Rin Chupeco
The companion book to The Girl From the Well, this book, about a a teen boy and his ghost, centers around Aokigahara in Japan. Both of these books were a wonderful introduction into the spookier parts of Japanese folklore, a subject that I did not know much about.
Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir
Another booktok favorite, my partner insisted on listening to this with me, despite having read it already. I still haven’t forgiven her for the ending.
Twin sisters. A remote island kingdom. A treacherous destiny.
Tired of being seen as ornamental, Aila dreams of slaying monsters like her father before her. Just as she prepares to give up her title and flee to freedom, she meets a warrior who convinces her to embrace both duty and adventure. Unfortunately, he’s her sister’s betrothed…
While her golden sister cavorts about their kingdom, Coira toils in the shadows, trying to find belonging within a family that never sees her value. Always the lesser twin, Coira’s world changes when she finds out that she’s not a twin at all. She isn’t even human. Better yet, she isn’t meant to serve her kingdom — she’s meant to destroy it.
I love Kindle Unlimited, and I love discovering new poets, but I’ve had trouble searching poetry on Kindle Unlimited, which is why I created Unlimited Poetry, a group promo that runs all February. It’s great way to find new poets on Kindle Unlimited. Check it out to find your next read, or, if you happen to be a fellow poet, get in touch so we can get your book up here too.
I love a good murder ballad, especially the old classics. And by old classics, I mean any murder ballad where a woman does the murder. I just think those are more fun, especially if they have a sense of fantasy to them.
When I first heard Old Blind Dogs’ version of The Cruel Sister, where the victim is turned into a harp and exposes her murderer through song, I knew I had to base a book around it. Jealousy? Necromancy? Musical instruments made out of human bones? It was like this song was custom made for me. I was amazed to find how few retellings there were of the song, and set about to rectifying this immediately.
My version of The Cruel Sister is still in the works, but while you wait, take this quiz to find out which murder ballad you are.
Twin sisters. A remote island kingdom. A treacherous destiny.
Tired of being seen as ornamental, Princess Aila dreams of slaying monsters like her father once did. While preparing to give up her title and flee to freedom, she meets a warrior who convinces her to embrace both duty and adventure. Unfortunately, he’s her sister’s betrothed…
While her golden sister cavorts about their kingdom, Princess Coira toils in the shadows, trying to find belonging within a family that never sees her value. Always the lesser twin, Coira’s world changes when she finds out that she’s not a twin at all. She isn’t even human. Better yet, she isn’t meant to serve her kingdom — she’s meant to destroy it.
Unless one or more of my loved ones drop dead in the next 48 hours, I can say with certainty that 2020 was my best year in more than a decade. I published three books of poetry and a short story, wrote fiction every evening, created a complete tarot deck, and relaunched my Etsy shop. I also took my first ambulance ride in January after a nasty fall, and then contracted a two month long illness after a weekend in Seattle in late February. Since said illness, I need 11 hours of sleep a night to function properly, have memory problems, and when I eventually emerge from quarantine I expect to be crowd-shy and stranger than ever. My mental health has never been better.
On paper, 2018 and 2019 looked like they were great years for me. I published books, I visited with family in Switzerland, I walked Camino de Santiago, went to Hawaii and on the JoCo Cruise and then to Hawaii again. I made new friends and hosted parties and went on road trips. I was also at my most dangerously depressed and anxious, both from family emergencies, climate emergencies, and the culmination of years of self-loathing. 2018 and 2019 were not my years, mostly because I was already living in a 2020 reality, fearful for my family, myself, and the world.
On top of that, I felt alone in this reality, knowing that my fears were a mixture of madness and inconvenient truths. I sobbed my way through the summer of 2018, the first year of truly terrible air quality for my region. As the majority acted like everything was fine, my partner acquired asthma from wildfire smoke and another friend with lung troubles had to fly across the country to escape. Caught between my own mental illness and being gaslit by corporations and politicians, I felt like I have often felt: alone at the end of the world.
The truth of the matter is, I’ve been living with the end of the world since my teens. I’m sure there are plenty of other millennials that can say the same. Though born in the fortunate, water-rich Pacific Northwest, I’ve had the apocalypse on my mind more than most Bible-Belt preachers. Chemically anxious and raised on caution, science, and science fiction, I was constantly barraged by World Oceans Assessment Reports, climate change events, and speculation about what the next pandemic would look like.
Speculative fiction teaches us to think about different worlds. It asks what if a thousand times over, sometimes with happy endings, often with dire consequences. We can learn, through fantasy and science fiction, to reach for far better worlds. We can also learn to expect worse ones. The creativity with which my reading and my anxiety outlines possible Armageddons is certainly part of the reason why 2020 hasn’t hit me as hard as it has some, but it’s not the whole truth. Speculative fiction and science literacy taught me to expect changes to the world — sometimes positive, sometimes disastrous, but always unnerving. They didn’t teach me how to handle them. For that, I needed therapy.
My crowning achievement of 2020 is not self-harming even once. I quite literally do not know the last year I could say that about, partially because for much of my life I did not consider my type of self-harm — hitting my head — to count. As far as teenage and early twenties me was concerned, I was just relieving stress in a somewhat whimsical way. Though I understood the seriousness my problem for the past few years, I did not manage to quit until my most extreme incident in 2019, in which I gave myself a small concussion during a crisis.
At that point I’d already been in therapy and on an SSRI for months, but circumstances and years of habit conspired to make me give myself a brain injury. Albeit, a small brain injury, but still an injury to my favorite internal organ. I won’t call it a wake-up call, as I was already fully aware of my poor mental health, but it was a moment of truth. Instead of just going to therapy and taking my meds, I started to take the situations I put myself in seriously. I enforced boundaries and changed my schedule as much as I could to stop my self-harm triggers from building up. I got kinder with myself even when I don’t believe I deserve it. When 2020 hit, I was prepared in every way that truly mattered.
I cried this year. A lot. Honestly, about the normal amount for me, but in more concentrated doses, especially when I was sick. I had some barn-burner fights with family members about proper quarantine safety. I yelled and raged and sang and screamed and punched pillows and felt very, very scared, and I didn’t hurt myself once.
I saw a post going around by someone like me, talking sheepishly about how 2020 isn’t even their worst year to date, and I felt a little less alone. I’ve felt almost embarrassed by how okay I’ve been. I know I’m lucky, and privileged, and my anxiety whispers that my luck can’t hold forever. My privileged section of the world hasn’t quite caught up to my off-med nightmares, but there are plenty of ultra-rich people raring to make my worst dreams come true. I expect I’ll have worse years than this one, and worse years even than 2019. The future is a big, scary place where a lot can go wrong and a lot can go right. I’ve known that since I picked up my first sci-fi novel. Now I’m learning how to experience it all.
If 2020 has been your worst year, or one of the worst, if you feel off track and hit over the head by depression and stress like you’ve never expected, if you’ve done nothing but cry, nothing but mourn, nothing but feel like a failure for reacting badly to events you can’t control, I’m here to tell you that’s okay. I’m so proud of you for surviving this year. I’m also furious on behalf of the people who didn’t. I’m mourning them and I’m not going to stop anytime soon. We all deserved better than this. We all deserve a future that’s not completely terrifying, where we have agency and hope and community. No matter how this year went for you, no matter how you reacted to events beyond your control, you deserve to heal from this trauma. While you’re healing, you will learn from it, and you’ll be more prepared for the next time the future comes knocking with a big old stew of fucked-up. Keep learning, keep healing, and keep working toward a far better world.
Occasionally, a story is best told through poetry.
That’s what I found in the case of this love story, which has been living in my head rent free for at least a decade. The particulars have shifted through the years, dreamtime details vanishing with the moon, but the substance is always the same: a self-proclaimed villain and a self-effacing hero meet in battle and fall for each other. The consequences ripple down the ages.
Love Songs for the Sun is for capital-R Romantics, people who can’t get enough enemies to lovers tropes, and anyone who has experienced an excess of queer yearning. It’s out on November 20th, and up for pre-order now.
Will you teach me to fly? If I teach you how to dive to unknown depths where only madmen dare descend, will you pull me in a spiral toward some burning star? Can we ruin each other for mediocrity?
If you’re interested in a free review copy of Love Songs for the Sun, you can sign up to join my review team here.
It’s spooky season, so let’s find out what kind of ghost you’ll be.
Pick a vacation:
a. A tropical cruise
b. Visiting your hometown
d. A romantic tour of Europe
e. A road trip across the country
Pick a hobby:
b. Martial arts
e. Bird watching
Pick a flaw:
b. Grudge holding
c. Attention seeking
Pick a cryptid:
b. Mongolian Death Worm
c. The Jersey Devil
Pick a Halloween costume:
a. A costume so obscure no one knows who you’re supposed to be
b. Zombie Richard Nixon
c. A terrible pun like “cereal killer” or “eye pad”
d. A ghost, but just one made out of a bed-sheet
e. A slasher film monster
Mostly E: A Vanishing Hitchhiker
Vanishing hitchhikers are a common ghost phenomena in North America. Certain rural roads are famous for apparitions which hitch a ride, then vanish from a moving vehicle.
You love adventure, but you’re constantly forgetting to tell people where you’re going or what you’re doing. Your carefree attitude is contagious, but can make life dangerous.
Mostly D: A Lady in White
Ladies in white are often associated with manors, castles, and graveyards. Some of the most famous ghosts are ladies in white, who are often identified as historical figures with tragic ends.
You like the finer things in life, and believe that classics are classics for a reason. You have a keen sense of drama that can sometimes be a double-edged sword.
Mostly C: A Poltergeist
Poltergeists (noisy spirits, in German) are named for not staying quiet. They like to throw objects around and generally make a ruckus. Poltergeists are traditionally known to follow specific people, but they are occasionally linked to a location instead.
You need to be the center of attention, but you make up for that by being entertaining. You can be a LOT, but that’s okay. You know who you are.
Mostly B: A Revenant
A revenant, in its essence, is a haunted corpse meant to torment the living. In many cultures, these are restless spirits that were not laid to rest properly and need to be dug up and dealt with via ritual. Most cultures have their own variety of revenant, be they vampires, jiangshi, or dybbuk.
You’re so stuck in the past, it might as well be quicksand. Despite this, there’s a physicality to you that people find charming.
Mostly A: A Ghost Ship
Ghost ships are ships found still afloat, with no living crew on board. These eerie reminders of the danger of life at sea have been reanimated into ghost lore, finding a new (un)life in maritime mythology.
People might call you mysterious because they don’t know what else to call you. You do your own thing, and you’re just fine with that.
So what kind of ghost are you? Let me know in the comments, including if you think there’s a kind of ghost that better suits you.