Sometimes I Read Happy Books, OK
I read a lot of books this year (116 and counting).
There was a good mix of literary and genre fiction—though much of it ranged from sad to outright snot-busters.
Still, some of it was sweet or even hopeful. So I’m going to step outside my usual book brand (which is despair, in case you were wondering) and rec the top books that filled my bitter heart with joy this year.
- “Sorcerer to the Crown” by Zen Cho.
I love this book so much.
“Sorcerer to the Crown” is basically Jane Austen with magic and people of color. The protagonist is Zacharias Wythe, a black former slave who has become the Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—basically, he’s the highest ranking sorcerer in Britain. He’s trying to figure out why Fairyland has cut off the flow of magic into England with the help of 100 percent BAMF Prunella, who is everything I ever wanted in a character. She’s extremely powerful—she’s Zacharias’ equal, and he treats her as such. She’s smart and funny and doesn’t take shit from anyone. She does what she has to do.
Plus at the end, there’s a giant magic battle that’s just amazing.
If you like Regency and fantasy, you’ll love this. It’s already become a comfort read for me.
- “The Thief” by Megan Whalen Turner.
Some people say this is the worst of “The Queen’s Thief” books. Some people would be horribly, horribly wrong.
It’s hard to say too much about this without spoiling it. The elevator pitch for this book: A king’s scholar thinks he’s found the site of an ancient treasure, but to find it, he needs a skilled thief. Enter Gen, who was being held in the king’s prison. From here, it’s an unwilling team-up story with gods and fights and banter. Just pick it up. It’s 10/10, would read again.
- “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer.
This short story appeared in “Clarkesworld,” and it’s so hopeful and bittersweet. It really shows how hard it can be to care about people and to want to do right by them. It tackles how to be good and what “good” actually means. It’s about an AI who tries really hard to help people—and picks who to help based on the pictures they post of their cats.
It’s just really lovely, and I have it bookmarked on my phone so I can go back and read it when I’m sad.
(Plus, it won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story.)
- “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers.
This book reminded me of “Firefly”—without the discomfort of supporting an MRA. It’s a lovely space adventure with truly excellent people. There’s love, aliens, and (of course, I needed at least one book with feelings) heartbreak. I loved journeying with this crew through space, and I can’t wait for the release of the print version of “A Closed and Common Orbit.” (The ebook is already out.)
- “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell.
This is a story about fanfiction, family, first love and finding yourself in college. The audiobook version of this is excellent. There are two narrators: one for the protagonist’s part, and one for Cath’s Simon Snow (read: Harry Potter soundalike) fanfiction. It’s sweet and funny, and it kept me company while I was sewing far too many Flying Geese quilt blocks.
- “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairlyand in a Ship of Her Own Making” by Catherynne Valente.
This book is so adorable, and I love it so much. It’s about a girl who gets whisked off to Fairyland and the adventures she has there. Guys, she meets a Wyvery (a wyvern with a library for a grandfather—how can you not love that?). Just read it, and fall in love.
- Honorable mention: Matt Wallace’s “Sin du Jour” novellas.
Y’all, these stories—part of Tor.com’s truly excellent novella push—are bananas in the best possible way. Don’t try to logically understand what’s going on here; just sit back and enjoy the ride. The premise is simple enough: We follow a catering squad as they go about their business. But they’re no normal caterers. Instead, they serve a more, um, monstrous and magical clientele. There is witty banter and a magical black ops squad and a giant chicken and David Bowie being perfect and beautiful and a baker who is like a breath of fresh air amid all the chaos. I love these so hard.