The Ry Awards

And now it is time for THE 2020 RY AWARDS! An extremely nonprestigious annual award for the best books read each year by me.

Starting off with my favorite genre —

FANTASY

BEST EPIC FANTASY: The Unspoken Name, by A. K. Larkwood — it went in directions I didn’t expect and came together beautifully
BEST CYBERPUNK FANTASY: Shorefall, by Robert Jackson Bennett — I didn’t even know this genre was possible
BEST FABLE: Redemption In Indigo, by Karen Lord — a charming story, perfectly told
BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY COLLECTION: The Language Of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo — fairy tales wonderfully reimagined and transfigured
BEST WARTIME FANTASY: The Healer’s War, by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough — a gripping and horrifying depiction of war
BEST FANTASY WESTERN: A Stitch In Crime, by Justin Robinson — the finest book he’s written yet, and I was already a fan

Following it up with my second favorite —

SCIENCE FICTION

BEST SPACE OPERA: Network Effect, by Martha Wells — I was a Martha Wells fan before she was super-popular; therefore, I am cool
BEST CLASSIC SF: The Man Who Fell To Earth, by Walter Tevis — by the end, it worms its way under your skin with insidious subtlety
BEST TIME TRAVEL SF: The Psychology Of Time Travel, by Kate Mascarenhas — a locked-room murder mystery, a love story, and a deep look at how time travel might seriously mess with your mind
BEST POST-APOCALYPTIC SF: Memory Of Water, by Emmi Itäranta — poetic, evocative, and thought-provoking

And of course, there was plenty of —

YA

BEST YA FANTASY SERIES: Unicorn Trilogy, Tanith Lee — an utter delight from beginning to end
BEST YA FANTASY BOOK: (tie) The Midnight Lie, by Marie Rutkoski, and Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust — two exquisitely written books
BEST YA SCIENCE FICTION: Catfishing On Catnet, by Naomi Kritzer — the story the book is based on is charming; the book is as well
BEST GODS: Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge — some of the best word-building in the genre from one of the best authors in the genre
BEST YA BOOK I LOVED IN SPITE OF ITSELF: A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik — the setting makes no sense, but the story and voice is so good

This year, for some reason, I read an unusually large amount of —

HORROR

BEST HORROR SHORT STORIES: Things We Say In The Dark, by Kirsty Logan — unsettling tales from an always-excellent author
BEST SCIENCE FICTION HORROR: The Outside, by Ada Hoffman — a big yes to cosmic horror in an SF setting
BEST CLASSIC HORROR: Picnic At Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay — atmospheric and strange
BEST HORROR GRAPHIC NOVEL: Are You Listening?, by Tillie Walden — a great, wild road trip horror story
BEST UNDEAD: The Bones Houses, by Emily Lloyd-Jones — unexpected depth and great characters

Which leaves only the —

GRAB BAG

BEST BOOK WRITTEN BY RY: Love Bites, by Ry Herman — it is possible that I might be biased, but I honestly do like it
BEST MEMOIR: In The Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado — beautifully written and powerful
BEST NONFICTION GRAPHIC NOVEL: Solutions And Other Problems, by Allie Brosh — Allie Brosh once again provides humor, insight, and the occasional emotional gut-punch
BEST HISTORICAL FICTION: (tie) The Rapture, by Claire McGlasson, and The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave — books that made you feel like you were horribly, horribly there
BEST PLAY: Leopoldstadt, by Tom Stoppard — another fantastic hit from a playwright who seldom misses
BEST BAD BOOK: Atlanta Nights, by Travis Tea — awful in the best way
BEST WESTERN: Whiskey When We’re Dry, by John Larison — lyrical language, strong themes, and an awareness that not everyone in history was male, white, or straight
BEST CONTEMPORARY FICTION: Cottonmouths, by Kelly J. Ford — anyone who’s ever been in a really bad relationship will have shuddering moments of recognition
BEST LITERARY FICTION: Art & Lies, by Jeanette Winterson — nearly every single sentence of this book is amazing

Favorite Books — December

Happy New Year! Getting this one out of the way on the early side so that I can do the final tabulations for the extremely nonprestigious Ry Awards (the best books read this year by Ry.)

December had two definite highlights:

THE LANGUAGE OF THORNS by Leigh Bardugo

Of all the Leigh Bardugo books I’ve read — and I’ve read and enjoyed a fair number — this book of short stories is my favorite so far. Fairy tales cleverly, elegantly, and beautifully reimagined and transfigured.

MEMORY OF WATER by Emmi Itäranta

When Noria Kaitio reaches her seventeenth birthday, she is entrusted with the secret of a freshwater spring hidden deep within the caves near her small rural village. Its preservation has been the responsibility of her family for generations. When Noria takes possession of the knowledge, she become much more than the guardian of ancestral treasure; soon, she will hold the fate of everyone she loves in her hands.

All I can say about this one is Wow. It was stunning. Poetic, evocative, and thought-provoking. And also depressing.

Other excellent books I read in December included: THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune, THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE by V. E. Schwab, STRANGE PLANET by Nathan W. Pyle, ORANGE WORLD by Karen Russell, THE THIEF ON THE WINGED HORSE by Kate Mascarenhas, SPIRA MIRABILIS by Aidan Harte, THE CAMELOT BETRAYAL by Kiersten White, STEPSISTER by Jennifer Donnelly, OTHER STORIES AND OTHER STORIES by Ali Smith, METROPOLE by Ferenc Karinthy, and WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens.

Taking Stock

There were several months this year that just sort of … vanished for me, in terms of productive writing. Call it anxiety over world events, or low-grade depression, or simply being blocked, but whatever the reason, there were periods when writing wasn’t happening. I’m finding it useful, though, to look back and take stock of what I *did* accomplish, because in spite of everything, it’s honestly been a remarkable year for me:

MY DEBUT NOVEL WAS PUBLISHED!!!

I finished the final draft and edits for a sequel that will be published next year.

I completed a 40,000 word rough draft of a novella, which may or may not ever be revised into something workable. But at the very least, it was worth it for taking my writing in some new directions, which lead directly to the next one …

I’ve just today reached the 30,000 word mark for a new novel I’m very excited about.

So, I have a lot to be happy about. I really do.

Favorite Books – November

For the first time since I started doing these earlier this year, this past month there was no single book that I would rate as a standout favorite.

Nonetheless, there were still a number of books I enjoyed very much and thought highly of, including: ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS by Sylvia Engdahl, THE FAR SIDE OF EVIL by Sylvia Engdahl, THE AWAKENED KINGDOM by N. K. Jemisin, COTTONMOUTHS by Kelly J. Ford, DESTINY’S CHOICE by Karen Frost, SPEED OF DARK by Elizabeth Moon, HOW IT FEELS TO FLOAT by Helena Fox, WILDTHORN by Jane Eagland, THIEF EYES by Janni Lee Simner, ARE YOU LISTENING by Tillie Walden, STARSIGHT by Brandon Sanderson, and SUMMER by Ali Smith.

Favorite Books — October

Getting this one up almost on time for once! My definite favorite this month was:

SOLUTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS by Allie Brosh

After a seven-year wait, Allie Brosh has come out with a new collection of autobiographical and illustrated essays. She once again tackles her problems, internal and external, with humor, insight, and the occasional emotional gut-punch. This one was, I thought, overall a little more uneven than Hyperbole and a Half, but when it lands, it lands with impact. Standouts for me included her memories of her sister, the story of the ugly frog, her attempts to become friends with herself, her night attempting to overcome all her fears at once, and Slobar the Gentle Orc, among others. Which is a lot of standouts.

Other books I very much liked this month included THE MEMORY OF BABEL by Christelle Dabos, RANDOM SH*T FLYING THROUGH THE AIR by Jackson Ford, PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke, ARCHITECTS OF MEMORY by Karen Osbourne, THE TROUBLE WITH PEACE by Joe Abercrombie, A DEADLY EDUCATION by Naomi Novik, A WIZARD’S GUIDE TO DEFENSIVE BAKING by T. Kingfisher, HARROW THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir, and LAB RAT ONE by Andrea K. Höst.

Lord of the Rings, by Dr. Seuss

“I am Samwise. I am Samwise. Samwise I am-wise.”

“Samwise Gamgee! Samwise Gamgee! I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee!”

“Would you bear the ring with me?”

“I will not bear it, Sam Gamgee. I will not bear the ring with thee.”

“Would you bear the ring to Bree?”

“I will not bear the ring to Bree. I will not bear it willingly. I will not bear the ring with thee. I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee.”

“Would you bear it to Weathertop, where ringwraiths stab you when we stop?”

“I won’t bear it to Weathertop if ringwraiths stab me when we stop. I will not bear the ring to Bree. I will not bear it willingly. I will not bear the ring with thee. I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee.”

“Would you bear it to Rivendell, where Glorfindel and Elrond dwell?”

“Not Rivendell, where elf-lords dwell. Nor Weathertop, stabbed when we stop. I will not bear the ring to Bree. I will not bear it willingly. I will not bear the ring with thee. I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee.”

“Would you? Could you? Through the Mine? (Gandalf will die, but he’ll be fine.)”

“I would not, could not, through the Mine.”

“You could bear it now and then. Maybe to Lothlórien!”

“I would not to Lothlórien. Nor through the Mine, no matter when! I won’t bear it to Rivendell, where Glorfindel and Elrond dwell. I won’t bear it to Weathertop if ringwraiths stab me when we stop. I will not bear the ring to Bree. I will not bear it willingly. I will not bear the ring with thee. I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee.”

“The Morgul Vale! The Morgul Vale! Would you, to the Morgul Vale?”

“Not to the Vale, Lothlórien, nor through the Mine, no matter when! I won’t bear it to Rivendell, where Glorfindel and Elrond dwell. I won’t bear it to Weathertop if ringwraiths stab me when we stop. I will not bear the ring to Bree. I will not bear it willingly. I will not bear the ring with thee. I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee.”

“Say! Past Shelob? Just past Shelob? Would you, could you, past Shelob?”

“I would not, could not, past Shelob.”

“Would you, could you in orc jail?”

“I would not, could not in orc jail, nor past Shelob, nor to the Vale, Lothlórien, or through the Mine. I won’t, and that’s the bottom line. Not Rivendell, nor Weathertop. Not where elves dwell or ringwraiths stop. I will not bear the ring to Bree. I will not bear it willingly.”

“You will not bear the ring with me?”

“I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee.”

“Could you, would you, to Mt. Doom?”

“I would not, could not to Mt. Doom!”

“To drop it in a lava flume?”

“I could not drop it in the flume! I will not take it to Mt. Doom. I will not take it to orc jail! Nor past Shelob! Nor through the Mine! Or to the Vale! I must decline! I won’t bear it to Rivendell, where Glorfindel and Elrond dwell. I won’t bear it to Weathertop if ringwraiths stab me when we stop. I will not bear the ring to Bree. I will not bear it willingly. I will not bear the ring with thee. I cannot bear it, Sam Gamgee.”

“You will not bear it, so you say. Bear it! Bear it! Come what may. Bear it come what may, I say.”

“Samwise! If you let me be, I will bear it. You will see … Say! Gollum, with his nasty cough, just went and bit my finger off! Then fell right in the lava flume, after I bore it to Mt. Doom! And I bore it through the orc jail, and past Shelob, and through the Vale, Lothlórien, and in the Mine where Gandalf died (but then was fine). And I bore it to Rivendell, where Glorfindel and Elrond dwell. And I bore it to Weathertop, though ringwraiths stabbed me at that stop. And yes, I bore the ring to Bree. I bore that ring most willingly. I’m glad I bore that ring with thee! Thank you, thank you, Sam Gamgee!”

Favorite Books – September

September turned out to be a pretty standout month for good books. There were two, however, that ended up being particular favorites:

REDEMPTION IN INDIGO, by Karen Lord

Paama’s husband is a fool and a glutton. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones – the djombi – who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world.

I’ve been meaning to read the works of Karen Lord for years, and now that I’ve read one, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. Redemption in Indigo is a charming story, and perfectly told.

IN THE DREAM HOUSE, by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s innovative account of a relationship gone bad traces the full arc of a harrowing experience with a charismatic but volatile woman, each chapter viewing the relationship through a different lens.

This is a beautifully written book, and a powerful one. It is also a book that I was, for a while, reluctant to read; I have my own history with being abused in a relationship, and revisiting those memories are always hard. And in fact, there was an episode recounted in this book that made my heart race with remembered panic. There were things she talked about that happened to me as well, or almost happened, or could have happened. But that’s also part of the reason that I’m very glad I read it.

I’ll also note that there were two books that would have made my “best of the month list” if the month hadn’t been quite as strong: THE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and the theatrical play LEOPOLDSTADT by Tom Stoppard.

Other books and stories that I very much enjoyed in September included THE WARRING STATES by Aidan Harte, EMERGENCY SKIN by N. K. Jemisin, OUTLAW by Niamh Murphy, TWENTY WORLDS by Niall Deacon, THIS TELLING by Cheryl Strayed, STRAY by Andrea K. Höst, THE DARK DARK by Samantha Hunt, GRACEFUL BURDENS by Roxane Gay, THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET by Natasha Pulley, THE DOLLMAKER by Nina Allan, THE SILVER WIND by Nina Allan, HALFWAY TO FREE by Emma Donoghue, and WATERSONG by Mary Caraker.

The Chocolate Museum

Since the world’s biggest chocolate museum has just opened in Switzerland, I thought this would be an appropriate time to share my own chocolate museum story.

A few years back, we were in Barcelona and had spent a day hitting the museums. We had just been through the Picasso Museum, the daylight was waning and everything was on the verge of shutting down. We were about to head back to the hotel when we noticed the Chocolate Museum — open for another half hour! How could we resist? We bought our tickets (which came in the form of bars of chocolate) and went in.

First, there was a video presentation about the history of chocolate, which went something like this: “Spanish explorers went to South American and [Scene Missing] LOOK OVER THERE! [Scene Missing] WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS PART [Scene Missing] then Europe had chocolate.”

Then, we went into the museum proper, which turned out to be a museum of … chocolate art. Paintings and sculptures done entirely in chocolate. Ancient, horrible-looking, inedible chocolate.

And not only was it museum of unappetizing chocolate art, it was a museum of chocolate art with curator’s notes next to the artwork which had the exact same degree of deadly serious breathless intensity and awe as the notes in the Picasso Museum.

CURATOR’S NOTE: “So-and-so’s innovative use of white chocolate would transform the world of chocolate art forever. His boldness of line and daring choice of subject made him a controversial figure in the chocolate art world. The unveiling of this piece caused riots, and remains a subject of debate to this very day. To look upon his work is to begin to question everything — Art. Society. Ourselves.”

ME, STARING AT CHOCOLATE IMAGE OF A CARTOON BUNNY: “I … don’t see it.”

The chocolate bar tickets were OK.