Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, in which we all talk about a bookish topic and have fun making lists. This week, we’re looking at books you can read in one sitting – so I’m going to focus on novellas and short stories.
I make no secret of my love for bite-size books, whether they’re (collections of) short stories, novelettes or (linked) novellas. One reason is that I commute to work, which means I get up to 2 hours of reading each day. In theory – the reality depends on what route I take, how many changes I need to negotiate, whether I can get a seat, and whether it’s one of those unpleasantly crowded nose-in-a-stranger’s armpit journeys. It’s often a frustrating way to read; you can pretty much guarantee you’ll have to stop at a critical point. Bite-size books, on the other hand, are usually just right. But enough waffling – let’s get on to the top ten!
The Echoes of the Ascended are 4 threads of novellas exploring a fantasy world. Each Echo is perfectly bite-sized and lots of fun; but Faith and Moonlight Pt 2 was my favourite (a close-run thing with Civil Blood), although it doesn’t stand alone – you must at least read Pt 1. I’m excited that Gelineau & King are working on a novel, but gutted that nearly a year later I still don’t know what happened to Kay.
Witches of Lychford / Lost Child of Lychford – Paul Cornell
What if urban fantasy was set in a sleepy market town? Cornell delivers short reads that are somehow bigger than their page count, with nuanced characters, entertaining plot and plenty of snide humour. A vicar, a witch and an atheist must defend a rural town from supernatural assaults – it sounds like a bad joke, but the results are brilliant. Cosy without letting you get comfortable.
Sunbolt – Intisar Khanani
Intisar Khanani writes fierce young women, and Hitomi is no exception: a foreign orphan with dangerous secrets in a city overshadowed by a vicious regime. The world-building is excellent and the action compelling; this novella is complete in itself, but I want to read the sequel.
Jackalope Wives / The Tomato Thief – Ursula Vernon
Grandma Harken is possibly my favourite character from the past year – ornery, capable, and only as respectful as she has to be. She’ll do hard things because they’re right, and things you might regret if you interfere with her tomatoes. These novellas make myth creation look easy, and are full of heart.
The Drowning Eyes – Emily Foster
Can an apprentice master the weather and save the islands when marauders kill the stone-eyed Windspeakers? Like Cornell, Foster packs in so much world-building, plot and character that I was left in awe. The trick is to sketch in just enough: a narrow focus and clever use of detail makes this novella feel like a novel.
You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay – Alyssa Wong
Alyssa Wong is remarkable, and this novelette is rightly nominated for lots of awards this year. It’s another desert myth, but beyond its Old West setting it has nothing in common with Grandma Harken. This takes familiar tropes and makes them new with a twist of horror, a question about identity and belonging, and an appreciation of the difficult commitments of loyalty and love.
Pockets – Amal El-Mohtar
One of the warmest, fuzziest stories I read last year. Whether you come at it from the Baggins angle (‘what have I got in my pocket?‘) or full of the feminine frustration at the lack of pockets in women’s clothing, Nadia’s unusual problem with her pockets starts off hilarious and turns into something clever and compassionate. One of those stories that leaves you with a big grin and a tear in your eye.
Cat Pictures Please – Naomi Kritzer
A deceptively simply story about a do-gooding AI, which jumps straight from self-awareness to self-determined morality. But being good – not to mention being helpful – is hard, not least because humanity isn’t very good at doing what’s best for it. I found this endlessly charming and unexpectedly relatable. People. We’re complicated. But at least we like cat pictures.
Today I am Paul – Martin L Shoemaker
Last of last year’s award nominees on this list, the heart-wrenching Today I am Paul deals with dementia and loss, so shouldn’t be approached lightly. Mildred doesn’t really know who she’s talking to these days, but her android carer can simulate whoever she needs. There’s unexpected heartbreak beyond obvious; I found myself aching for the android itself, exhausted by other people’s emotions and stripped of consciousness when it’s not needed. Poignant stuff.
Lullaby for a Lost World – Aliette de Bodard
Of course Aliette de Bodard. I adore her short form works: the only question was which to pick from a strong field. Lullaby stands out on account of being both unusual and provocative: I fought it as I read it, even while I admired it. It asks big questions about the price we are (or should be) willing to pay for safety, from the perspective of the ghost of a sick little girl sacrificed for her people.
An Ocean the Colour of Bruises – Isabel Yap
I haven’t seen this on any awards lists, and I think it’s a crying shame: it’s arguably the most outrageous craft challenge I’ve ever almost not noticed (ask yourself who the narrator is), and it’s testament to Yap’s abilities that she pulls it off effortlessly. Old friends reunite for a haunted weekend by the sea; but the true horror is the toll adulthood is taking on their dreams. Masterful.
Yes, I can count. I know that wasn’t ten. But I couldn’t narrow it down any further – it’s been quite a year. I need to get back on the bite-size bandwagon to make sure I can have this much trouble if I try to do another round-up this time next year…
Have you read any amazing bite-size books recently?