Books that got me through 2017 – Juliet Kemp’s Smugglivus post

Welcome to Smugglivus 2017! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2017, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2018, and more.

Our next Smugglivus guest is Juliet Kemp, SFF writer and author of “Voices of the Sea”, an upcoming 2018 Book Smugglers novella!


I’ve done a lot of reading this year. Now, as a reader, I can be something of a delicate emotional flower. I don’t like grimdark and I don’t read horror (and my definition of both relies heavily on “do I have to read this with my eyes shut?”). I can’t handle things that make me despair of humanity — if I wanted that, let’s face it, I could read the sodding news. At the best of times, I strongly prefer books that in some sense cheer me up; and this year, that’s gone at least double.

So, for me, 2017 has been about finding books to get me through it. Books that make me feel like, perhaps, everything will, eventually, be OK, or at least make me feel like I can get up in the morning. (Although staying up late reading a wonderful book I can’t put down doesn’t entirely help, so there’s a certai tension going on there.)

Herewith, and in no particular order, a non-exhaustive list of books that have pulled me out of assorted emotional craters this year:

Musketeer Space, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Gender-swapped retelling of The Three Musketeers IN SPACE. Does precisely what it says on the tin, and with sublime and joyous style. You know if this is likely to be your sort of thing, and if it is indeed your sort of thing, then run do not walk to the nearest book emporium of your choice.

Ninefox Gambit / Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

I am slightly baffled to find myself putting these books on this particular list. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they are great. But they are also pretty intensely grim in places; there was at least one bit in Raven Stratagem that I had to skip altogether. And yet, somehow, I came out of the other side of both books feeling inspired, fascinated, and delighted. Maybe this is partly down to the sheer absorbing pace of the reading experience; hold on tight and keep hoping that you will catch up. I loved Kel Cheris. I loved Shuos Jedao, who played right in to my fondness for unreliable trickster characters with complicated morals. Also, mathematics and calendars, I Am Here For This Every Time, ditto Fabulous And Intricate World-Building.

Cantor Has Six Months To Live
by Sacha Lamb

Beautiful #ownvoices trans boy fantasy romance. This made my heart feel happy. The only problem with it is that it’s a short story and I would have happily kept reading for an awful lot longer.

Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

I really, really love KJ Charles’ books. She writes queer historical romance, sometimes with fantasy elements. I have read my way through her entire oeuvre at least three times this year, just to spend more time with her characters, and also because I know it will make the world seem brighter. This one is the first of a 1920s paranormal queer romance series. Its protagonists (and those around them) are still dealing with the aftermath of WWI, both personally, and in terms of its occult ramifications, and it’s just as wonderful as all her other books.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

I first read this when it was the version that was free on her LJ/website a few years back, and I was thrilled to re-read now it’s out as a proper book. This is a slightly different (and extended) version, but it’s fundamentally the same story with the same people. Which is great, because both the story and the people are wonderful. Portal fantasy with magic school, a lot of sarcasm, and a protagonist who is determined to solve problems with treaties and logic rather than with swords, despite the efforts of everyone around him.

A Rational Arrangement by L Rowyn

Someone recommended this to me at UK Eastercon when I was on a Mystery, Fantasy, and Romance panel (probably one of my awesome co-panelists *fistbump*). Neurodiverse poly fantasy romance with a world that includes talking giant cats, which is an awful lot of ticks all at once on my Things I Like To Read About list.

Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A Barnett

This is the first of the Astreiant novels. I read this as part of preparing for the Eastercon panel mentioned above, and then had to (HAD TO, you understand) read all the rest of them before I could get back to my crowdsourced recommendations list. Whoops. Fantasy police procedural/detective story, with a tiny drop of very slow-burn (queer) romance. Lovely engrossing worldbuilding; I especially liked the matriarchal structure of the society.

Borderline by Mishell Baker

Awesome urban fantasy with a protagonist who has Borderline Personality Disorder. The protagonist is fascinating and complex and occasionally makes some really terrible decisions. In a meta-sense, this book is also a wonderful illustration that one of the (many) joys of diversity in fiction is that you get more diverse stories which happen differently because the characters are different, not Yet Another Able-bodied Cis White Dude. I didn’t think the sequel was quite as good as the first one but I am still going to read the hell out of Book 3 when it comes out.

Juliet Takes A Breath — Gabby Rivera

Debut YA novel whose Puerto Rican 19 year old protagonist, Juliet, is off to intern with her favourite feminist writer for the summer, having just come out as a lesbian. So many wonderful queer WOC in this book; and some great interrogation of white- and cis-centric feminism as Juliet tries to work out her own identity and where she fits in the world.

Course Of Honour
by Avoliot

Original fiction hosted on the Archive of Our Own. Space princes (SPACE PRINCES!) with arranged marriage and political shenanigans and a lovely romance.

Other cheering things this year: Thor Ragnarok; Stranger Things II (fine, it’s horror; I am allowed the odd inconsistency in my preferences); Worldcon in Helsinki; over-indulging in fountain pens; and being part of Smugglivus with the lovely Book Smugglers!


Juliet Kemp lives in London with her partners, kid, and dog, and a desk with a fantastic view of the river. She writes fiction and non-fiction.
When not writing, child-wrangling, or dog-wrangling, she knits, sews, indulges her colouring-pen habit, reads as much as possible, puts headphones on to pretend no one else is at home (very rarely actually true), and wanders round the house looking for things to get rid of in pursuit of glorious minimalism. As glorious minimalism is not really compatible with a household containing three adults, a child, a dog, and a large number of books, CDs, and marker pens, this is a never-ending endeavour.
She also enjoys cycling, very lazy gardening, and climbing.


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