There’s something magical about winter, and with our anniversary in December we wanted to go somewhere that still felt like winter—not an escapist trip to the tropics. We finally settled on Maine as somewhere we’d never been to before that we could feasibly get to for a short trip.
(Really hard to order this year’s list. Ask me tomorrow and I’d probably put them in a different order.)
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir – Initially I only gave this one four stars, so I’m not sure how it’s ending up at the top of the list (again, ask me tomorrow and that might change). It’s a flawed story. But Andy Weir just does something really interesting when he makes death-defying feats of engineering so gripping. It’s why The Martian was so amazing. This one has some holes. There’s a weak amnesia set up and there’s some overly complicated bits. But overall it’s still a fun story, has more heart than you might expect, and just leaves you wanting more.
The Fall of Koli by M.R. Carey – Loved the conclusion to this post-apocalyptic trilogy. Really unique voice, good characters, unique world.
Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark – I’m not always into fantasy, and P. Djeli Clark’s stuff tends to be weird. But this was a really interesting straggling of fantasy and realism, exploring racism and hate.
Brood by Jackie Polzin – My neighbor down the street and around the corner wrote this one. It’s not my usual read, but it’s so good. It’s darkly humorous and feels very fitting for our pandemic age.
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – Probably one of the best Star Wars novels I’ve read. It follows the original trilogy really well, but it’s a standalone love story that’s not upstaged or overshadowed by the original movies. Quite a feat.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – Another really unique world and a fantasy epic I didn’t think I’d go for. I’m eager for the sequel.
Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – A prequel of sorts to Sea of Rust, and just a fun story of societal collapse (Fun? Uh, I’m kind of messed up, aren’t I?). I’m a sucker for a good robot story.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers – Speaking of a good robot story, here’s another one. Took a while to get going and it’s heavy in philosophy, but it settles into a nice balance.
Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer – And from robot story to AI story. Local author Naomi Kritzer hit it out of the park with her two-book CatNet series. This second installment keeps hitting all the right notes.
Salvation Day by Kali Wallace – A far-future civilization, escaping to orbit, paired with an abandoned space station and a mysterious virus, and there’s just a lot to like here. A good space thriller.
Hard to choose which books to mention this year, and these are all worth a shoutout:
Hard Reboot by Django Wexler – More than a giant battling robot story, this is a story with great characters.
Into the Dark by Claudia Gray and A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland – These new Star Wars stories are set in the High Republic era, several hundred years before the prequels in an attempt to tell more Jedi stories without conflicting with known characters (i.e., sell some content). We already know Claudia Gray can write a good Star Wars novel (see above), and this one is interesting and fun. I had low expectations for Justina Ireland’s entry. I liked her Civil War zombie series, but her middle grade Star Wars books have been meh. But her third middle grade Star Wars outing was downright fun. These are hard stories to do well, and I thought they really achieved something.