Year of Books 2020: The Best

Every year from July 4 to July 3, I set aside anything I read so I can gaze upon the shelf of things I’ve read. And every year I do a little write-up on what I’ve read. Today, I’m presenting pellet reviews of my favorites. I’ve broken down two different top lists. First are the favorite prose things I’ve read, and then I’ll present my favorite graphic novels of the last year.

Top Ten:

The Throme of the Erril of Sherill
by Patricia A. McKillip

The magical prose of this book enchanted me. It feels like Dunsany and Peter Beagle had a baby, and it was beautiful. If you’re looking for real old-school fantasy, like pre-Tolkien type fantasy, look this up. I won’t even tell you any more about it, except that it feels ancient in all the best ways.

He Laughed with his Other Mouths
by M. T. Anderson

I love the concept of this novel. Imagine all the old series like Nancy Drew and Tom Swift were based on real people. Now imagine those people were eternally teens. Now place them today. There you go. You got your concept.

One of the opening scenes features a Tom Swift-type character introducing a new invention sure to revolutionize the way we talk! He has cobbled together something roughly the size of a room, and it allows you to talk on the phone without being on a phone line!

…and then everyone in the room simply holds up their cell phones.

How can a person like that be useful today?

Man, this was a fast read, but full of good zip and fun characters.

The Reader
by Traci Chee

It’s got a maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap.

You can always tell a good fantasy story when it’s got a map.

OK, maybe not always, but really. Maps are just cool.

Anyway, in this island-based fantasy setting, there is no writing. There’s no reading. It’s not illegal or anything; it’s just that no one does it. Sefia’s been on the run for a long time, though. Someone’s trying to kill her and her grandmother, and she doesn’t know why – until they mess up, and Sefia discovers…. a book.

So, the story by itself is rich. The world is incredibly lived-in. The author takes time to deliver legends within the setting and the world-building is lavish.

And then you get to the physical book as an artifact. There’s secret messages throughout that enhance the entire story.

This is a book.

You should read it.

Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus
Beginnings
Revelations
Allies
Legends
Cat Magic
by Lydia Sherrer

Lily Singer keeps the library of a women’s college in modern-day Atlanta and is very proper, thank you. It’s such a mess when magical things intrude. Don’t get her wrong, she enjoys learning about magic, but it is so inconvenient to have to deal with wizards that can’t behave. Also, the cat’s talking now.

I got to meet Lydia Sherrer, the author, at a con last year, and I’m so glad I picked up the first few of her books. I’m planning to finish the set this year. If you’re looking for some neat urban fantasy that features not just a prim and proper lead but a roguish love interest and a smug cat, check this out!

The Bombala Mines Fastdraw (Terran Edition)
by H. K. Devonshire

If you’re looking for two-fisted western adventure with real grit, real stakes, and some science fiction thrown in, you need to read this. I’ve interviewed Devonshire before, and this is his second book in the Martian Rangers saga. Ya’ll need to check this out. In this adventure, Roids Cavanaugh takes on an entire dirty town to clean it up. It’s his first job as sheriff… are his wits sharp enough?

The action scenes – of which there are many – are crisp. I really do get the feeling for Mars as a culture, and I can feel the grit between my teeth. Also, I’m partial to the villain of the piece. He’s just so deliciously evil.

The Tales of Mongoose and Meerkat
by Jim Breyfogle

They adventure for coin, from a haunted battlefield to jungles and beyond!

I backed this on Kickstarter to get a pocket-size printing of the novel, and I was not disappointed. If you’re looking for just straight fun adventure, this is solid and I highly recommend it. The stories are fast reads. They’re not going to change your life, but they will make you smile as you go along with the exploits of the two adventurers! It feels like the best of Conan with a touch less gravity, and I loved it.

Chess with a Dragon
by David Gerrold

Humanity is about to bankrupt the planet on the galactic market, and when it does, it’s going to cause everyone to be sold into slavery. That is, unless someone can figure out a clever way to turn the tables on alien civilizations far older and more canny.

I initially picked this book up because it’s written by David Gerrold, who also wrote The Trouble with Tribbles. The book is inventive, clever, and uses a science fiction setting that makes aliens be truly alien. My only complaint is that I wished the book was longer!

A Place in Time
The Cassandra Complex
The Causality Loop
by Wendy Nikel

Wendy Nikel wraps up her excellent A Place in Time series. The idea of time-traveling tourists is something I’ve seen done before, but I really enjoyed both of these stories immensely. The characters pop, and we’re shown a great story. In one story, the main character is told she must go back in time because history says that’s where she spends the rest of her life. Well, go figure, she doesn’t appreciate that and tries to find a way to change time. I loved her character and the story.

Nikel continually surprised me with her series. The book blurb would say one thing, and it would be accurate, but her approaches were entirely novel. Well, well worth the time to read.

The Nest
by Kenneth Oppel and Jon Classen

OK, so this story was just creepy in all the best ways. I don’t want to say too much about it, as it would give away the plot. I can say this, though: Wasps make great enemies… or do they? If you’re looking for a horror story aimed at younger readers, grab this up!

Famous Men who Never Lived
by K. Chess

The earth is dying. Scientists have discovered a way for people to cross over to the next earth in the multiverse, though. So thousands of people are able to escape before the end. Now what, though? What does this new earth do with thousands of suddenly displaced people that never existed before? How do they handle those refugees? And what do the refugees do, suffering from massive PTSD? How do they handle all the changes in this new world?

This book did take me a while to get through; it’s more “literary” than what I usually delve into, but it asked a lot of hard-hitting questions that I appreciated.

Top Graphic Novels:

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Big Squirrels Don’t Cry
by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Rico Renzi

Do you like laughing? Do you enjoy witty comics? Do you know that squirrels are the best animals, and people whose names rhyme are clearly the best people? This collection showed me why Squirrel Girl is so loved by so many comics readers.

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed
by Laura Halse Anderson and Leila Del Duca

What if Diana came into our world… today? What if she was swept up with a bunch of refugees? How would she fight for peace in such a setting? This heartfelt book kept me glued to its pages.

[Ack! For some reason the images won’t link for the Book of Ruth… so, um, click the link!]

The Book of Ruth
by Meredith Finch and Colin Dyer

Finch retells the biblical story of Ruth set in the Depression-era United States. It brings the entire story to life in a new way. The coloring choices stuck with me, as well as getting to know Ruth’s “first” family. It’s just recently available for those who didn’t back it on Kickstarter like I did.

The Oracle Code
by Marieke Nijkamp and Manuel Preitano

Oracle is one of my favorite characters in the post-Crisis DC comics universe. I loved her strength of character and history. This retelling makes Barbara Gordon a teen who’s recently been paralyzed, who goes to Arkham for therapy. While the retelling takes wild liberties, the core of the character is strong. I want to read more stories set in this continuity.

Shadow of the Batgirl
by Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux

And speaking of favorite characters… here’s Cass, the silent Batgirl. This retelling of her origin skips over a lot of the contiuity-laden stories you’d have to slog through and just gives the basics, letting the character shine. This is another story I’d love to see more of.

Long Distance
by Thomas F. Zahler

This is a straightforward romance comic about a long-distance relationship in modern day America. I’m not much for romance, but the character work here was so much fun. The choices of coloring, too, make the pages simply pop. Each state has a different color scheme, so you can tell where the characters are by just glancing at the page. There’s so much heart here. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Black Canary: Ignite
by Meg Cabot and Cara McGee

She’s the daughter of a police chief with a rebellious streak. She loves detective work. And she’s going to get into a lot of trouble. I’ve grown to love Black Canary as a character and appreciated we got to meet her separate from Green Arrow, whom she’s often teamed up with. Just another win!

The Unstoppable Wasp: G.I.R.L. Power
by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier

OK, a superhero who loves being a superhero, who talks to villains to find out why they’re doing what they’re doing and tries to avoid violence, who gets excited to make friends… this is my type of superhero. Incidentally, in volume two she learns she’s bipolar, which just made me love her more. I cannot recommend this series enough.

Diana: Princess of the Amazons
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale and Victoria Ying

Diana will one day become Wonder Woman… but not yet. Right now, she’s growing up on Paradise Island, and she’s bored. After all, she’s the only kid there! But when she asks for a friend and a nearby statue comes to life, hijinks ensue that could threaten everyone…

 


 

And that’s all we’re covering today — and that’s enough! I’m hoping next week to post pellet reviews of everything else I read the last year… Hope to see you then!

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