Hello, hello! If you celebrate, I hope you had a brilliant Christmas, and if you don’t I hope you’ve been having a wonderful December. The New Year is just around the corner and I’m sure many of you, like me, can’t wait to say goodbye to 2020!
In the book world, there’s so much we can reach for in December; there are festive rom-coms, epic fantasies, or those anticipated books we haven’t picked up that we’d really like to read before the end of the year. If one of your goals is to complete your Goodreads Reading Challenge and you’re a few books short, though, today I thought I’d recommend some fun novellas and novelettes* that you can squeeze in before 2021 arrives.
(But please remember that the Goodreads Reading Challenge doesn’t really mean anything – if you haven’t reached your goal, it’s not the end of the world and it’s nothing we should feel guilty about. Reading is supposed to be fun, not homework!)
*The majority of the novelettes I mention are free to read online – just follow the links below!
Siobhan Carroll’s For He Can Creep was nominated for Best Novelette at the Hugo Awards this year and it was the one I hoped would win, but lost out to N. K. Jemisin’s Emergency Skin (which is also good). Told from the perspective of a cat called Jeoffry who fights demons, it’s such a fun, delightfully written tale that reminded me how much I loved reading books about animals as a child. Sarah Gailey’s Away With the Wolves was also nominated for the same award this year and it’s another one I really enjoyed, following a young woman who finds relief from her chronic pain in lycanthropy.
Tina Connolly’s The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections is probably my favourite novelette, a high fantasy tale following a woman and her husband, a baker, who find a way to use food to bring down a tyrant. There’s something about its traditional high fantasy feel, with the streak of rebellion running through it, that really speaks to me and the kinds of fantasy stories I love. P. Djèlí Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo is another novelette I loved because of its setting: an alternate early 20th century Cairo, complete with detectives working in the realm of the supernatural. Clark is releasing a novel-length follow-up to this story in 2021, so now is the ideal time to read it!
I’ve yet to read any of Zen Cho’s novels, but I’ve read and really enjoyed two of her novelettes, The Terracotta Bride and If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again. I loved the setting in The Terracotta Bride – it’s a version of the afterlife I’d love to see Cho revisit – and If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again is such a hopeful, delightfully queer story.
If you’re in the mood for something festive or wintry, Mimi Matthews’ A Holiday by Gaslight and Stephanie Burgis’s Snowspelled are the perfect December reads. A Holiday by Gaslight is a festive historical romance novella set in Victorian England, and if you’re a fan of the relationship between John Thornton and Margaret Hale in North and South I think you’ll be a fan of this story, too. Snowspelled, on the other hand, is set in an alternate Regency era in which women are encouraged to go into politics and men are encouraged to take up magic, and follows a heroine keen to break that mold.
I think historical romance is a genre that really suits novella-length stories, and if you like your historical romances quite saucy then Katrina Kendrick’s A Touch Wicked is worth picking up. I sped through it in a couple of hours when I read it! Still historical, but with much more focus on fantasy than romance, is Katharine Duckett’s Miranda in Milan, a queer sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest that I ended up loving. It deserves more love!
I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune from NetGalley and loved it; it’s a story about stories, and also about the stories that can be lost to history if we only listen to the wealthy, and as a history nerd myself I loved that aspect of it. If you’re in the mood for sci-fi rather than fantasy, though, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Prime Meridian is such an atmospheric, melancholic yet hopeful novella with a dash of Classic Hollywood and the dream of colonising Mars.