Since it’s still the first week of 2017, it’s still a good time to look back on the year that was, right? 😉 On Tuesday I shared my annual reflection on writing, personal life, the blog, and goals for the new year. Today, it’s time to share my list of favorite reads of 2016!
Last year I split my year-end list into two posts: brand new books, and previously published books. But this year, I decided to “condense” and put it all in a single post. So, which books ended up as my favorite reads of 2016? You’ll find a few hints if you look closely at the banner image. Otherwise, let’s head on in and see the full list – and maybe a chance for you to win one of the honored books!
My 10 Favorite New Reads of 2016
1. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows, Book #2 / YA Fantasy)
This book has cemented Leigh Bardugo’s place as one of my current favorite fantasy writers. I binged on all of her previous books last year, including Six of Crows, which came very close to being my favorite read of 2015. Then came Crooked Kingdom in September… and now, all I can think of doing is bowing to Ms. Bardugo. To me, this book is THE reason to read the Six of Crows Duology. It’s so smart, so heart-wrenching, and so entertaining; and I’ve missed its six lead characters ever since I finished it. I couldn’t imagine putting any other book on the top of my list this year…
2. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, Book #2 / Fantasy)
… Except for The Obelisk Gate. This was my fourth Jemisin book in total, and I continue to be floored by her writing style, world-building genius, and unorthodox storytelling choices. In particular, this second book of The Broken Earth Trilogy introduces readers to Essun’s daughter Nassun and expands on the story’s “big picture” to give us a better idea of how dire the Stillness’s predicament has become. How dire? Enough that I can clearly see the best and worst outcomes for the characters and their world – and that makes me all kinds of nervous-excited for the trilogy’s finale The Stone Sky.
3. The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May (The Falconer, Book #2 / YA Steampunk Historical Fantasy)
Notice a trend yet? Several second-in-a-series books (including #1 and #2 above) blew me away in 2016, and Elizabeth May’s The Vanishing Throne was another one. This sequel to The Falconer featured more of what I enjoyed about the first book (action, vivid writing, humor, world-building) and rectified the issues I’d had with it as well. And then it did EVEN MORE, by offering plenty of character growth for Aileana as well as a darker, bleaker atmosphere that both terrified and thrilled me. No “second-book syndrome” here. The Vanishing Throne shows how much May has grown has a writer, and I can’t wait to read the final Falconer book this summer.
4. Blood for Blood by Ryan Graudin (Wolf By Wolf, Book #2 / YA Alternate History)
Like with Crooked Kingdom in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows Duology, I came away from Blood For Blood stunned and more satisfied than I had with its predecessor, Wolf By Wolf. Within the first 50 pages, I was so engrossed in Yael’s renewed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler and end the Third Reich that I was tempted to stay up late – almost every night. The re-imagined post World War II setting remains one of the series’ strengths. But so are its heightened stakes, relentless suspense, and the ultimately rewarding redemption of Luka Lowe. I can’t remember the last time I disliked a character so much in a first book, then saw him with such fresh eyes in the next one.
5. The Reader by Traci Chee (Sea of Ink and Gold, Book #1 / YA Fantasy)
This book was so precious that I hugged it when I finished reading it. The clever and curious Sefia, her loyal yet traumatized friend Archer, the gorgeously rendered archipelago world, Traci Chee’s vivid yet understated prose, the “story within a story” concept that’s richly realized through the book’s art direction – there’s so much to love about The Reader that I still get excited when I talk or write about it. If you plan on checking this out, make sure you get a print copy so you can fully experience it on an aesthetic level.
6. Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley (Alternative Detective, Book #1 / YA Steampunk Mystery)
Another book that wowwed me, and for reasons that now make it a more relevant story than when I read it in September. Inspired by 19th century South Africa, this YA murder mystery with a dash of steampunk brings social and racial inequality to the forefront as the protagonist navigates political machinations, long-buried secrets, and the discrimination she endures daily to find out who killed her steeplejack apprentice and why. Steeplejack has somehow slipped under a lot of readers’ radars, so PLEASE read this if you find it in your local bookstore or library. (Or better yet, request it as one of your giveaway picks. *wink wink*)
7. The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky (Olympus Bound, Book #1 / Urban Fantasy-Mythology-Mystery)
This smart debut was one of several books I heard about this year through my SF&F book blogger friends, and I don’t regret the impulse buy one bit. The Immortals mixes Greek mythology with urban crime drama and an academia mystery. (Think Rick Riordan meets Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy with a dash of “True Detective” Season 1, and for adults.) So it’s brimming with action, intellect, suspense, and expertly rendered modern-day portrayals of Greek gods and goddesses. All that, along with the unexpected laugh-out-loud humor in spots, won The Immortals a spot on this list very early in the year.
8. A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly (Standalone / Historical Fantasy)
From Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to an influx in Prohibition Era-set novels, the 1920s seems to be the current trend in historical fantasy. Lee Kelly’s A Criminal Magic is one such entry – and boy was it a page-turner! Kelly’s illusion-based magic system made an already rebellious time period even more intoxicating and dangerous, and her vivid writing and relatable protagonists reeled me in further. But you know what else excites me about A Criminal Magic? It’s current in development for a future TV show! Fingers crossed that, if it gets the final green light, it will do the novel justice – and if it does, it should be quite the spectacle.
9. DIY MFA: Write With Focus, Read With Purpose, Build Your Community by Gabriela Pereira (Standalone / Nonfiction-Reference-Writing)
(Read the full review at this blog post.)
OK, I might be a bit biased in listing this book, since I’m one of DIY MFA’s columnists… But if you’re seeking more direction in your writing career, then the DIY MFA Book is for you. It adapts Gabriela’s core concepts of writing, reading, and community building without denouncing the traditional MFA program, but rather by presenting an alternative for those who can’t attend for financial, lifestyle, or time management reasons. Whether you’re drafting your first novel or have been writing for years, the DIY MFA Book is chock-full of advice that can enrich and empower you, with topics that range from the practical (e.g., character development, developing a targeted reading plan, networking) to the introspective (e.g., rejection, motivation, inspiration).
10. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (Standalone / YA Middle-Eastern Fantasy)
Choosing which book should round out my Top 10 list for 2016 was tough. I ended up picking Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen, and for several reasons. The desert setting, lush and evocative prose, the rich imagery and symbolism, the intelligent and courageous heroine, the snarky flesh-eating demon horse, the balance of romance with other relationships including family and the self – I could go on, but then I’d be repeating the review I wrote in August. 😉 But in short, all of these factors make The Star-Touched Queen a gem of a debut novel.
My 10 Favorite Previously Published Reads of 2016
1. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic, Book #1 / Urban Fantasy)
Just when I thought this list was all set, I decided to make A Darker Shade of Magic my last read of 2016. And guess what? It changed EVERYTHING at the last minute. 😉 Between the intricate world-building (a portal fantasy involving four alternate Londons), an enthralling plot, sparkling characters, and memorably inventive details, this first installment in V.E. Schwab’s popular Shades of Magic series delivered on all fronts. Not to mention it was so absorbing that it was SO HARD to put down, and so convincing that I’ve already bought its sequel A Gathering of Shadows and pre-ordered the series’ finale A Conjuring of Light.
2. Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson (Gold Seer Trilogy, Book #1 / YA Historical Fantasy)
Walk On Earth A Stranger was a stunning choice for my first Rae Carson read. This Gold Rush-era adventure with a splash of magic follows Leah Westfall, who possesses the ability to sense gold, as she treks to California with her best friend to find their fortune – and escape her murderous uncle. It’s a beautifully written story from all angles; and while the plot’s pace takes some getting used to, it excels at showing the many dangers (from nature as well as other characters) of traveling west in a wagon train. Plus, THAT COVER. ❤ I also read its sequel Like a River Glorious, which didn’t quite make my Top 10 Favorite New Reads of 2016 but was still a delight.
3. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Inheritance Trilogy, Book #2 / Fantasy)
Remember how I said earlier that N.K. Jemisin keeps blowing me away? This second installment of her critically acclaimed Inheritance Trilogy revisits the fictional land where gods and their children walk among mortals while introducing readers to a blind artist who can see the magic within the more powerful characters. I was thrilled with how much The Broken Kingdoms expanded on the series’ world-building while offering a much different story than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Instead of focusing on power struggles and identity struggles, this sequel centers on the power of love and forgiveness – and its final chapter broke my heart in the most sublime way.
4. The Martian by Andy Weir (Standalone / Science Fiction)
I sort of spoiled The Martian for myself by seeing the film before reading the book. But none of that mattered in the end, because I LOVED the movie, then snatched up the book and LOVED that, too. Mark Watney is one of the smartest, wise-cracking heroes I’ve ever met, and the way he “scienced the s***” out of things in order to survive on Mars alone for over a year was pure genius. Did I mention how much epically FUNNY this book is? 😀 Basically, if you enjoyed the Martian movie, go read the book. And if you enjoyed the book, go see the movie.
5. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles, Book #2 / Epic Fantasy)
Quite possibly the best 1,000-page book I’ve ever read. Then again, we’re talking about Patrick Rothfuss, who’s a master of lyrical prose. (Maybe we should dub him that: the Master of Lyrical Prose – or even better, the Master Linguist, based on the University masters!) We’re also talking about Kvothe, the hero-student-musician whose name is becoming synonymous with both “troublemaker” and “living legend.” In the 3 weeks I read it, The Wise Man’s Fear made me laugh until my ribs hurt, tugged at my heartstrings, and stole my breath with its beauty and wisdom. Buddy-reading it with writing pal Rebekah Hendrian made the experience even more fun, too – so much so that I blogged about the benefits of buddy-reading a few weeks later.
6. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (Standalone / Nonfiction-Inspiration-Creativity)
While Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic appeals most to writers, it’s not strictly a writing advice book. Nor does it feature writing prompts or tips on specific storytelling elements or writing techniques. Instead, it offers meditations on the purpose of creativity, insights on how to incorporate more of that magic into our everyday lives, and anecdotes from Gilbert’s experiences on the quirks and beauties of the ever-elusive muse. Gilbert’s unique writing voice, ripe with honesty and energy, only strengthens her messages of empowerment and inspiration. In fact, I’m planning to write some future blog posts that are my own takes on some of Big Magic‘s topics.
7. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Book #2 / YA Fantasy)
I absolutely ADORED Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and was thrilled when I finally dove into its sequel. Even better: Days of Blood and Starlight did not disappoint! Its tone diverges drastically from Daughter, a bleaker and more brutal story that focuses less on romance and more on war, sacrifice, and loyalty. But if Laini Taylor’s acrobatic writing stole your breath in the first book, it will do the same here as well. I wasn’t too crazy about the final book Dreams of Gods and Monsters, but overall this is a sweeping, inventive trilogy that all YA fantasy fans should make a point of reading.
8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Standalone / Literary Fiction)
What I said about The Martian also applies to Yann Martel’s delightful Life of Pi. After seeing the film a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to read the book as well, and enjoyed it just as much when I did. This isn’t just a story about a young Indian boy’s almost-year of survival in a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger. It’s also a story about holding on to one’s faith, the horrors and wonders of nature, and finding companionship where one would least expect it.
9. Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin (Wolf By Wolf, Book #1 / YA Alternate History)
This feels weird to talk about Wolf By Wolf AFTER listing its sequel Blood For Blood. But that’s OK, because I wouldn’t have read the latter if I hadn’t enjoyed the former. And yes, Wolf By Wolf begins the tale that concludes in Blood For Blood, following the Jewish shapeshifter Yael as she enters the Axis Tour motorcycle race in hopes of winning – and then meeting Adolf Hitler so she can kill him. If you’re looking for an alternate history series with solid world-building, a slight supernatural twist, and a frightening glimpse into post-World War II life had the Axis Powers won, look no further than Ryan Graudin’s Wolf By Wolf Duology.
10. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin (Novella Collection / Epic Fantasy)
After feeling conflicted about the most recent Song of Ice and Fire novel A Dance With Dragons, I was pleased to have a more enjoyable experience with this novella collection by George R.R. Martin. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms presents three pre-Ice & Fire stories about the hedge knight Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire Egg (a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen). Each story is light-hearted and entertaining, with two protagonists with refreshing relatable moral compasses – and whose adventures are more like misadventures. 😉 Gary Gianni’s dazzing illustrations further make this a wonderful addition to any Martin / Game of Thrones fan’s bookshelf.
Reading Statistics for 2016
- Number of Books Read: 58, compared to 43 in 2015 (*jaw drops*)
- Genres Read*: Fantasy (73%), Science Fiction / Dystopian (7%), Time Travel / Alternate History (6%), Nonfiction (4%), Steampunk (3%), Literary Fiction (3%), Mystery (2%), Historical Fiction (2%)
- Target Audience: 50% Young Adult, 47% Adult, 3% Middle Grade / Children’s
- Male vs Female Authors: 77% written by female authors, 21% by male authors, 2% written by both / multiple authors
- New vs Familiar Authors: 56% “new-to-me” authors, 27% previously read authors, 17% debut authors (with first novel released in 2016)
- Countries Represented by Authors Read: United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Italy, South Africa, China, Brazil, and Spain
- Frequently Appearing Words in Book Titles: Kingdom, light, stars / starlight, blood, magic, throne, guard / guardian, monsters / demons, shadow, rise / rising, dream
- Most Read Authors: Laini Taylor, N.K. Jemisin, Patrick Rothfuss, Rae Carson, Ryan Graudin, V.E. / Victoria Schwab (2 books each)
*NOTE: This includes genre crossover in some books.
Last But Not Least, the Giveaway!
After a huge turnout for the Favorite Reads of Fall 2016 giveaway, I knew I wanted to have another giveaway for the 2016 year-end lists. And since there are two lists, let’s double the fun! Two (2) lucky winners will receive a book of their choice via The Book Depository: one winner for the Favorite New Reads of 2016, and one for the Favorite Previously Published Reads of 2016. (Click here to see if TBD ships to your country.)
This giveaway is international and ends at midnight Eastern time on Thursday, January 19th. Click on the link below to access the Rafflecopter widget, then follow the instructions to earn points for comments, social media, etc. Also, let me know in your comment which book you’d like to win from either or both lists. (You might want to list second and third choices, in case your first choice isn’t available.) The winners will have 48 hours to respond to my email and claim their prize.
EDIT – 1/22/17: Congrats to Victoria Howell and Faith Rivens for being the giveaway’s two winners!
What were some of your favorite reads of 2016, for both brand new books and previously published books? What are you most looking forward to reading this year?