This has been a year of change. In January we were the book section of Women Write About Comics, and now in December, we’re our own site. We (the editorial team at Bookmarked) want to thank you for sticking with us through all of the adjustments and hiccups that we experienced getting to this point. We have a lot of great things planned for the months ahead, but before we jump into 2018, we wanted to take a moment to look back and highlight the books that really stood out for us in 2017. If you’re looking for last-minute gifts or simply something to curl up you can’t go wrong with any of these titles
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Confession time – I still haven’t read Everything I Never Told You. I remember when it came out in 2014 and I would see it everywhere, whether it was displayed prominently in a bookstore I was browsing in, or featured in gift guide during the holiday season. So when I heard Ng has a new book this year I knew I didn’t want to be behind the trend this time. I was a little worried that Little Fires Everywhere wouldn’t live up to the hype but after only a few chapters my worries were gone. The story is just so compelling. If Ng was a less talented writer it would be easy to pick sides in this novel, to find yourself cheering for one outcome over another. But I was so divided. Everyone was so complex that there were no “good guys” and “bad guys,” no clear right or wrong. It was a book that has stayed with me long after I finished reading. (And that convinced me that I need to bump Everything I Never Told You up my reading list once and for all.)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
I listen to quite a few audiobooks this year but Home Fire stands out as my favourite. The book is divided into five sections, each narrated by a different character, and it tells the story of a British-Pakistani family, the Pashas. It starts out a bit slow, as it introduces you to the characters and their day to day lives, but the further you read the more you learn about their family and the legacy/burden of their father’s jihadist past. Despite growing up in the same place, in the same culture, and under similar circumstances, each character has a completely different perspective to share. They’re similar but each approaches the world differently, and the audiobook narrator, Tania Rodrigues, does an excellent job bringing those personalities to life.
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
When I was younger I used to love losing myself in giant middle-grade fantasy novels. One with complex and exciting plots that I could read and reread. And the bigger the better (I’m looking at you Redwall) so that it would last me until our next trip to the bookstore or library. The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby is exactly the kind of novel young Christa would have loved. It’s a fun and action-filled story and at 448 pages it fits the size requirements. It’s set in an alternate version of early 19th Century New York – one filled with incredible machines running on technology no one had ever seen before, invented by the elusive Morningstarr twins. But the twins have disappeared now leaving behind the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the city itself, promising to whoever solves it, a treasure beyond all imagining. As you follow along with Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime while they try and solve the cipher, you can’t help but get swept up in the adventure and try to work out the puzzle for yourself.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
As a new junior editor with Bookmarked, I could not have asked for a better first assignment than reading this delightful little book. The Gentleman’s Guide takes readers back to 18th century, where a roguish, bisexual young lord is about to embark on his last big bang across Europe before taking on the responsibilities of adulthood. Usually, I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, as I often feel a lack of relatability between myself and these archaic characters. However, I had no trouble connecting with the vividly complex characters in this book. Lee’s characters leap off the page with their wit, their love, and that timeless brand of adolescent ennui that hits just too close to home in all the best possible ways. She also dazzles with her beautiful command of language, and her willingness to explore themes like race, sexism, mental illness, and abuse is admirable. Plus, I’m a sucker for romance, and the queer love story between our main character and his best friend is an absolute delight.
By some strange stroke of luck, I also had the opportunity to interview Lee at Flame Con this year, which you can read right here. Spoiler warning for the book’s plot, and general warning for my epic fangirling throughout the interview.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
I’ve talked about this book a lot since its debut in October. I even wrote a review for our site, with other sites, on Twitter, and through a lot of in-person and online conversation. Rather than feel fatigued, however, I feel rejuvenated whenever I think about An Unkindness of Ghosts. Solomon’s debut looks to the last remnants of humanity: a large group of survivors are trapped in space, fruitlessly searching for a celestial Promised Land that will replace the apparently destroyed and barren Earth. Solomon breathes new life into this common science fiction setting by examining the kind of neo-slavery that would arise from these conditions, based entirely on all the old justifications of racism and misogynoir. Then, in so much respectful detail, Solomon focuses on the trials and tribulations the oppressed go through to survive and find their freedom. This story masterfully handles these heavy topics with lyricism, grace, and a commendably bold frankness. Unkindness particularly shines in its depiction of a racially, gendered, and sexually diverse future, embodied by its three main characters. Despite a life of suffering, Solomon shows through their characters that hurt people can find and love each other as they are. It’s such a simple declaration, but it left me near inconsolable. As a queer black woman, I have never felt as seen and fearlessly hopeful as I did when I read this. Truly, this feels like the type of book I will be talking about for the rest of my life.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
I have a love-hate relationship with the horror genre. On one hand, I love its potential for disturbing psychological ruminations on the human mind, exaggerated examples of the inherent grotesqueness of the body, and the thrill I still get from a perfectly timed jumpscare or shocking twist. On the other hand, I sincerely do not fuck with the genre’s poor representation of queer people, people of color, mentally ill and disabled people, poor people, non-Christian religions, non-western cultures, women in general… it’s just a mess. Thankfully, authors of marginalized identities are coming out of the woodwork to explore what horrors societal oppression can really be wrought, and Carmen Maria Machado is an incredible addition to the new horror canon. Her debut anthology tackles the strange idea of womanhood, with a breathtakingly nuanced focus on relationships, sexuality, personhood and gendered violence. Machado marries these realities with the clever veil of speculative symbolism, which only enhances the reader’s fear for each new character. We never know what is exactly going on or what is happening to them, but we have a hunch. Our foremothers often call it intuition, but in the world of Her Body, it might very well be the imprints of generational trauma carved into our bones. And it is an incredible journey to this truth.
But don’t just take my word for it: check out this great review by our very own Susanne Salehi. I don’t care that this is my third shameless plug. I really love the Bookmarked team and all the work we’re doing together. I hope you always do as well.