I read 132 books in 2016. (Yeah, I know. It’s kind of ridic.) Although these books came from multiple genres, a larger portion than usual this year were fantasy. (It’s almost like 2016 was a year I was wanting to escape from. Go figure.)
Since there were so many books to choose my best picks from, a lot of my recommendations below are ties. In order to make the post load faster I only chose one cover to feature for each book though. This doesn’t mean that book was “the winner.” I simply chose the lesser known or prettier cover. Also I should clarify, not all of these books came out in 2016. That’s just when I read them.
This year, I read Morning Star by Pierce Brown, the third and final book in the Red Rising Trilogy. (I gushed about the two earlier books in previous blog posts.) The trilogy is Sci-Fi and kind of falls into the category of a space opera. It’s a doozy that never seemed to get the credit (I felt) it deserved. I’m jealous you get to read all three books back to back and enjoy it at once. I had to wait a year between each installment and it made me antsy.
Best Young Adult (YA)
My favorite straight up traditional YA would have to be The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. If you can, I recommend reading it all in one sitting. It’s hopelessly romantic, but also very honest, quirky, fun and, at times, sad. The truth is, magical stuff happens all around us all of the time and most of the time we miss it. I’m a fan of any book that asks you to take advantage of those opportunities when you see them.
Best Fantasy – YA
This is a tie for me between Gilded Cage by Vic James and the duology, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I read an advance copy of Gilded Cage (thanks Netgalley!) and loved it. Imagine you lived in a world where there are gifted people and not gifted people and everyone who is in the later group has to serve 10 years of slavery for the former. Six of Crows is an Ocean’s 11 style heist with a bunch of young adults who have cool skills/powers. The story continues and nicely concludes in the second book, Crooked Kingdom.
Best Fantasy – Grown Ups
Again, a similar tie for me. I finally made time to read the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and found it enchanting. I also read two books in the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin: The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate. These are incredibly well-written with great world-building (and an interesting take on gender and sexuality.) I can honestly say, I’ve never read anything quite like them.
I read A LOT of these, so this ended up being a three way tie. The first is Blood on Tracks by Barbara Nickless mainly because the main character manages to avoid all of the female detective tropes. She’s a war vet and a railroad cop who works with a seriously bad ass dog (who is also a war vet!) The second was The Faithful by S.M. Freedman. I wish I could tell you more about why this book is cool (and why it’s not just a straight-up thriller) BUT THAT WOULD SPOIL ALL THE FUN. The final book was The Silent Girls by Eric Rickstad, a fast-paced, twisty thriller with a creepy opening scene.
Best Literary Fiction
Another three way tie here. My first favorite was, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Dark topic, but really compelling story/characters. The second was The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood, which highlights the friendship between an 11 year old boy and an 104 year old woman. I found myself smiling a lot while I was reading it. The third book was In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. So happy to still be delighted by this woman’s work after 30+ years of faithfully reading her stuff.
I also read A LOT of books about “The End of the World As We Know it” (aka: post-apocalyptic.) The one I liked most this year was The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey I read a short free preview (which is still available on Goodreads) when this book was released and really dug it. At the time though I thought, “I really need to stop buying so many books,” and stopped there. Glad I doubled back (before the movie comes out) to read the rest. Great action, great characters, and one great kick-ass little girl who indeed has some serious gifts.
Yet another tie, this one between Zeros by Chuck Wendig and Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Zeros is technically classified as “cyberpunk” and follows a band of coder misfits who are being chased by some bad guys. Seriously someone should just go ahead and make this into a movie already since it already reads like one. Dark Matter is about Time Travel. IT WILL MESS WITH YOUR MIND. Into time travel and don’t want to read a whole book? Check out the short story, The Forever Endeavor by Chuck Wendig.
Horror doesn’t really have it’s own category anymore, but since I know some people (like me) enjoy it, I thought I’d call out a few books from my “thriller” list that more fit this bill. If you like your scares more Silence of the Lambs, you might want to check out The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison. It’s pretty dark, but a novel premise. If you’re more into spooky scares, check out The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff. It’s a straight up ghost story. (Kind of like The Breakfast Club meets Poltergeist.) Honorable mention goes to Security by Gina Wohlsdorf, which didn’t scare me as much as impress me with it’s truly unusual narrator and structure.
Another three way tie and all three memoirs were superb. My first favorite was Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, an astounding story that has forever changed how I look at The Daily Show host. The second book was The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. No matter how bad your childhood was, trust me…this lady had it worse. The third book was A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy by Sue Klebold, a truly heartbreaking story of a woman who is still searching for answers after her son committed murder/suicide in 1999.
My top choice here is Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Although this is technically classified as Literary Fiction, let’s be honest, it’s a romance (and a good one at that.) Even though I knew the ending going in, I still enjoyed the book. (And cried too. Because, hormones.) I read After You, it’s sequel as well. Didn’t like it as much, but found it to be a nice continuation of the story. If you are the kind of person who likes your romance less “wooing” and more “screwing,” then you should check out A Bouquet of Gardenias by Judy Kemp. Hands down one of the most formidable pieces of erotica I’ve ever encountered. Like 100+ pages of sex scenes. For realz.
I don’t enjoy reading non-fiction. But I do it anyway, because sometimes I need to learn new things and reading is how I do it. The book that most helped me with that task this year was APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. This is a pretty exhaustive guide to self-publishing, so helpful that even when my free access to it through Kindle Unlimited ran out, I purchased a second copy to keep for the long haul.
Best Stephen King
I read three Stephen King books this year. The best of the bunch was End of Watch, the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy. Of the three books in the trilogy, this was my favorite because it not only involved an intriguing bad guy, but an intriguing bad guy who can do kinda supernatural things (which makes him even more bad.) Also I hate playing computer games and this book gave me a good justification for avoiding them.
Best “Who Knows What Category This Falls Into?”
I don’t dig Westerns, but I do dig weird, and A Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen certainly fit the bill. Some people say this has a Wild West meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of vibe, but I think it’s a little more complex than that. Lots of surprises, and interesting take on gender, etc. I’m adding it to the list because out of all the books I read this year, I remember it the most (maybe because it was so weird.)
Best Book(s) Worthy of the Hype
This is a tie as well. I read two books this year that had big buzz surrounding them and both of them lived up to the hype. The first was The Girls by Emma Cline. While it didn’t wow me, I must admit the writing was impeccable. The second was The Nix by Nathan Hill (Entertainment Weekly’s choice for top book of the year) which I loved. The Nix is huge (600 pages), but it was worth the read for me personally. Lots of great quotes and interesting turns of phrase.
I hope within this list you can find YOUR next great read for 2017. To check out all the other books I read last year, visit me on Goodreads.