Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera (Saga, $19.99) reads as if Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and David Bowie had a baby, except this baby is even funnier, more glamorous, more queer, more, well, everything. Space Opera is over the top, it is fabulous, sparkly, and incredibly entertaining. Valente's prose brims with stage effects and makes your whole self vibrate with color and glam and pure joy. And yet it is also a book about the times we live in and how we treat those who are different, and how we deal with dictators (or a whole planet of them), and make wars, and make love. This is the book everyone on your list needs this year.
The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley is dark and gorgeous and absolutely devastating. It is a retelling of Beowulf that hits you hard whether you know every line or have never read the original. It is a beautiful fable about war, trauma, and what it means to keep those you love safe, a book as deep and layered as the mere within it.
My love for Maggie Nelson's writing grows with every book, essay, and poem I read by her. Something Bright, Then Holes is a reissue of her 2007 poetry collection, and it is a keen and vivid book. It will probably not make you feel better during a dark time in your life or the world, but it might give a shape to some of the pain.