New Years is not complete without a round-up of my favorite books of the year. So with just a few hours left in the year, I’ve updated my book recs page to include my favorite books of 2016.
I did not reach the Goodreads reading challenge of 100 books I set in the beginning of the year, or even my reduced challenge of 75 books. Unless you count the nearly 5000 pages of legal cases I read in the last four months, which I don’t because that’s depressing. I didn’t even manage to finish all the books I’m currently reading before the end of the year.
Still, I read 69 books in 2016. There was a fair amount of rereading as well. I reread all the Harry Potter books in preparation for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which you will notice is not on this list because it was a huge disappointment. And in the run-up to finals, I reread all of Tamora Pierce’s Tortoll Books. I also read the first two and a half Harry Potter books in Italian. I’m hoping to get back to that project in 2017, but it was temporarily interrupted by my first semester of law school.
On the whole, despite the number of books I read, I just didn’t find that many that I was absolutely in love with—not enough to add to my book recs page. I read plenty of books I downright hated this year (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Throne of Glass); plenty of books that were good, even enjoyable, but had significant flaws that really put me off or just didn’t click with me (Pastel Orphans by Gemma Liviero, The Infernal Devices Series by Cassandra Clare); and a handful of books that gave me attacks of the feels and made it onto this list.
So without further ado, my favorite books of 2016:
Ever After High Trilogy by Shannon Hale: So these books were super fun. I loved the first two books, and the third book was also really good, but as the ending of the series, it was weird because it had different protagonists and didn’t really resolve the ongoing conflict of the first two books. (Spoiler alert: Even the ending of the third book was weird because everyone forgets all the events of the whole book but still retains their emotional character growth from the experiences.) I know the books are based on a TV show, so that may have something to do with the weird conclusion, but I haven’t seen the show yet, so I’m not sure (it is on my list of things to watch if I ever have free time ever again). But I still really enjoyed these books and would definitely recommend them, with some significant caveats about the ending.
2016 Guide to Literary Agents edited by Chuck Sambuchino: This book was exactly what I needed when I set out to query agents about my novel. It’s a comprehensive guide on writing queries and synopses, choosing agents to target, and what to expect from an agent, as well as a list of a thousand agencies including specifics on what they represent. It helped me figure out how to approach this whole thing. And it wasn’t just helpful. It was also motivating and energizing. Or maybe I just get excited about figuring out how to organize myself into a plan of attack.
Princess Academy series by Shannon Hale: This is one of those rare series where each book is better than the last. Usually, with series, I find the opposite is the case. I read the first book a few years ago, but I forgot to add it to my book recs page when I first created it, so I took the opportunity to reread it, and when I did, I discovered there were sequels. Each sequel took what I thought was a perfectly wrapped up ending but extended the plot to show the logical—and not very nice—ramifications of the characters’ choices and actions. The world and the magic system were really unique. And the ending—oh, the ending! In short, these books were great fun and I definitely recommend.
A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr: Though at times this book was a bit slow, it was overall a fabulous read. It’s the true story of the legal battle over the water pollution that caused multiple child leukemia deaths in Woburn, Massachusetts. I was working at the NH Disabilities Rights Center and waiting to hear back from law schools when I read this—and when I visited Columbia I actually attended a civil procedure class with a guest lecturer working on a similar case—and it gave me a lot of insight into the legal system. But even if you’re not the lawyer type, this is still an excellent book and I highly recommend. Not only does it explore the flaws of the legal system, but it also digs into the flaws of people—their fears and obsessions, their pride and their greed. I’m not usually one for nonfiction, but this book is definitely worth it. Also it was really helpful when I took civ pro because it was a concrete example of what I was studying.
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer: This is a short story collection based on Marissa Meyer’s fabulous Lunar Chronicles series. From a writing standpoint, I was a bit underwhelmed by some of the stories, which didn’t feel like complete short stories so much as detailed accounts of incidents in the characters’ backstories that were mentioned in the books. On the other hand, there were certainly some fabulous stories in there as well, and honestly, it made me so happy as a squealing fangirl that I didn’t really care about anything else.
Many Genres, One Craft edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller: I got this book way back during Alpha 2011. I wasn’t able to find an accessible copy, so I scanned it myself, and I’ve been reading it, one essay at a time, ever since. Over the past five years, I have learned so much and been inspired so many times by this book that I can’t even begin to quantify it. I feel like this is the sort of book I will go back to again and again as I write. So, if you like to write popular fiction of any kind (fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, mystery, etc), I highly recommend getting your hands on this book.
The Martian by Andy Weir: I usually don’t like hard science fiction like this, but I have to admit I really enjoyed this book. There were times when it got a little too technical, even for my astronomy-obsessed self, and the writing really got under my skin—it was way too cinematic, and we never actually got to see anyone’s emotions in real-time and sometimes not at all. But at the same time, the book felt so realistic like I was sure everything it described had really happened, and despite my issues with it, it was a gripping story from start to finish and I would definitely recommend it. Sidenote: The Martian is one of those rare instances when I actually enjoyed the movie a little more than the book, because it fixed the writing problems I had with the book, even though it got rid of lots of fun science.
The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne Valente: This book was a fantastic finale to a fantastic series. I loved every bit of this book, loved it so much I don’t have words. And if you disagree, I will chew you up and spit you out the way Blunderbus makes laws—which in my opinion is the best way to make laws—and I’m a budding lawyer. There was just so much to this world that is amazing and beautiful and perfect. I don’t want to spoil anything, so suffice it to say that finishing this book left me both thrilled with all the awesome and heartbroken that it was all over. But nothing is ever over, as the narrator says, and I can always go back and reread. And I shall!
Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate: This was the first book I’ve read in a while that I just zipped through—couldn’t put it down—and then wanted to force on people to read so I would have someone to talk about it with. So read it guys because so far I don’t have anyone to talk about it with. I’m not usually one for contemporary young adult—I’m more into the fantasy and sci fi side of the category, in case you didn’t know that. But I was hooked right from the start of this book. Seven high school juniors, each representing one of the seven deadly sins, each with their own issues and secrets and stories, and an anonymously reported student/teacher affair combine to make a really great read. Seven point of view characters is a lot, and normally I would shy away from it, or read expecting a train wreck, but Riley Redgate pulled it off really well. Not only that, but the writing was excellent, vivid and beautiful without seeming pretentious or unrealistic, which is one of the big reasons I usually don’t like contemporary young adult. The one thing that wasn’t perfect about this book was that it felt like the climax happened too soon—only halfway through the book at Juniper’s party—and I kept expecting a further escalation of conflict and stakes from that point forward. And while the characters did blow up at each other and do things that were super not cool, it didn’t feel like enough of an escalation to me, and it ended up making me feel like I’d been dropped, if that makes sense. But on the whole, this was definitely a really good book, and you should read it. It raises a lot of important issues—teen drinking, sex and sexuality, parental relationship trouble—in an intriguing, creative way,, and despite the heavy subject matter, it was definitely a fun read.
Birthday Surprises: Ten Great Stories to Unwrap Edited by Joanna Hurwitz: I really enjoyed this book. Some of the stories were a bit young for my tastes—I prefer upper middle grade to lower middle grade, personally, but it was a nice, fun break from serious, high-stakes fiction I’ve been reading. And I really like the concept of an anthology tied together by a shared premise—in this case the idea of a child receiving an empty box for their birthday—and all the different possible takes on that premise. Some of the stories were a bit predictable, but some were really unique and heart-warming.
A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty: This is the third book in Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Colors of Madeleine series (I read the first two books last year). A Tangle of Gold surpassed all my wildest expectations. It was full of twists and turns, all of which surprised me but still made sense. I found myself continually saying, “Wow! I did not see that coming!” It was the first book in a really long time that kept me up all night reading. It had none of the problems of the first two books, and in fact, knowing what happens in this book, it actually fixes the problems of the first two books and makes the whole series shine. And on its own, it was still fantastic, fast and furious and fun. I felt like the plot picked me up and held me in a gut-wrenching stranglehold and didn’t let go until the last moment. I loved how the characters were so flawed and I loved the ambiguity of not being able to decide whose side I was on or how I wanted to see things turn out. And the ending was just perfect! While the first book may have been a bit of a slog at times, it was worth it, because this whole series is fabulous and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: I did not expect to like this book much. I certainly didn’t expect to love it. But I did. I loved it. I loved it so much! I was hooked right from the start, and I couldn’t put it down. There was a bit when I was concerned it was going to be a tragedy. All the references to Eleanor and Park being like Romeo and Juliet didn’t help that impression, but it was not a tragedy—thank goodness. I would have been really mad if the ending had gone south on this one, but it didn’t—it left everything open and inviting, in a good way. Everything about this book, the writing, the dialogue, the characters, the plot, was perfect, and I definitely recommend for everyone, not just people who like YA.
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz: This book was another fun one. It’s a collection of all the Grimm fairy tales that feature Hansel and Gretel and puts them together into a novel. I have a soft spot for Hansel and Gretel, because the first retold fairy tale I ever wrote myself was a retelling of Hansel and Gretel set in World War II Germany. But my own soft spots aside, this book was great, and I was super excited to find out there are two more in the series. So you know what I’ll be reading in 2017.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: This book was beautiful. Just beautiful. Beautiful in every word, every image, every emotion. It wasn’t a page-turner, but it held me fast. It’s funny, because I usually think of historical fiction as something written now about the past, but I now realize that was a dumb idea. A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is historical fiction, written during World War Ii, about the a girl growing up in the years before World War I. I could go on about the poignancy of every moment and the dual simplicity and complexity of the story, but really, if you haven’t read it, just go read it now.
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente: This is a retelling of Snow White in the old west, and it was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. It got a little weird at times, but it’s Snow White, so I knew the wicked stepmother had to show up and put Snow White into an enchanted sleep. If that’s a spoiler for you I’m sorry–there’s a Disney movie you should go watch. Six Gun Snow White was beautifully written. The voice was vivid and real, and just as when I read other Catherynne Valente books, I find myself wanting to talk like her narrators. Finally, this book had the perfect ending, the ending the real fairy tale should have had.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the Amereacan City by Matthew Desmond: I read this as part of my first year reading group. The reading group was called Storytelling for Social Change, about how lawyers can tell stories to create social change. You can see why it attracted me. But I have to say, not only is Desmond not a lawyer, but the writing just wasn’t as fabulous as our professor made it out to be. The book followed too many people to be fully effective, and it dropped several people halfway through and picked up new ones. But I still recommend because it is a fascinating, thorough, and very important look into the grave flaws in our country’s housing system. Warning, this is a heartbreaking book, but it is a necessary book.
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan: I’ve been going back and forth about whether I liked this book enough to include it on this list. I had a really hard time with the first two-thirds of this book. It was slow, and the protagonist was really hard to sympathize with. But things really picked up in the last hundred pages—suddenly I couldn’t put it down—and there was in fact a perfectly good reason for the unsympathetic nature of the protagonist that I won’t spoil but was done very well and made the book work. There are sequels to this book too that I’m planning to read in the new year.
Though I didn’t find as many completely riveting books in 2016 as I have in past years, there are more books to read in 2017. I have 435 books on my to-read list—thank you Goodreads for keeping me straight. So I better get reading. Happy New Year.