Pan’s best friend and first love Tara is a princess, meant to be the prize in an interplanetary jousting ring of mecha fighters. Tara enlists Pan to help her escape this fate, and Pan lives a lonely life until she meets a ring of off-world gladiators dedicated disrupting the patriarchal games. You can also check out this title as eBook on Hoopla.
Disclaimer: These are the *top five books that were (1) read by me in 2020 (not necessarily published in 2020), (2) available in a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh collection and (3) not already recommended in one of my other Staff Picks. For instance, I loved “Apsara Engine” by Bishakh Som and one of the stories in it made me cry, but a CLP location does not yet own it. Also, I read a fair number of old paperbacks and small press comics that wouldn’t be collected in the library system, so they wouldn’t qualify.
This top five list pleases me because it highlights two different reading habits that I cultivated this year: reading eBooks on my phone while the Library was closed, and deliberately reading newer books while still valiantly trying to get to my very long to-read list. Here they are in approximate order of reading:
I had read “In the Dream House” early on in the year, because “Her Body and Other Parties” was so good. A memoir of emotional and physical abuse in a same-sex relationship, it is told in fragments and partly as a description of a metaphorical house. It’s heartbreaking, honest and intense.
“Cosmoknights” was a romp from beginning to end, something to pick up when you want your brain to have fun. It’s a story of gay space knights fighting an interstellar patriarchy – the colors are bright, the characters are plucky, the concepts are vivid, and if there are some plot holes, I’m not thinking too hard about it because I’m too busy turning the pages.
“The Luminous Dead” stood out as I browsed Hoopla this spring desperately searching for an escapist book to distract me from pandemic anxiety. It’s hard for me to find horror books that give me the same dread as watching a horror movie, and this delivered.
Set in a cave system on another planet, and featuring only two main characters, one of whom is just a voice in the protagonist’s head, it had potential to be like a boring stage play. Instead, the worldbuilding fascinated me, I was rooting for the protagonist, and the journey was tense because of the dangers in the caves as well as the possible supernatural elements lurking. I wouldn’t say the LGBTQ part of the book is very strong, but it is there.
Last year, when traveling was a thing that I felt comfortable doing, I went to Toronto. And when I travel, one of my usual activities is to find a bookstore and buy some books. This time, one of the books I bought was “The Night Watch” by Sarah Waters.
I am a fan of her work but hadn’t read this one yet, and it had a lovely cover. And as I delved into my unread pile of books that I own, during self-isolation, I also delved into this tripartite story of women in London during World War II. It’s not the most propulsive story but it makes up for that with indelible mind visuals and finely-drawn and researched characters and settings. I do like to complain a bit about the many WWII books that are published, but actually I quite enjoy them.
Finally, I just finished reading “Gideon the Ninth” on Libby after seeing it pop up on some sci-fi/fantasy awards lists. I didn’t read much about it and I’m glad that was the case because it’s a unique mashup of space opera, puzzle mystery, medieval influenced fantasy, bone magic and dry humor. As well as silly crushes on dying princesses and a slow-creeping fidelity and love between two people who thought they hated each other. The best part is that the second book in this trilogy is already out.
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“In the Dream House” is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming. You can also check out this title as eAudio on Hoopla, as eAudio on OverDrive/Libby and as eBook on OverDrive/Libby.
Gyre Price talks her way into a solo cave mining exploration so she can earn enough money to get off the planet and see her sick mother. With only a voice in her helmet from the surface to help out, she descends into the cave system and discovers the horrifying stories of the group that came before her. You can also check out this title as eBook on OverDrive/Libby, as eBook on Hoopla or as eAudio on Hoopla.