If you’ve met me, friended me on Facebook, or know….pretty much anything about me, you know that I am a colossal, almost-to-the-point-of-annoying book nerd.
I’ve been reading rabidly since I learned how in the first grade. I was that kid – you know, the insufferably straight-laced one – whose primary source of conflict with my parents in middle and high school was reading past my bedtime – under the covers, with a flashlight. (I know – I’m a badass.)
It’s probably no surprise, then, that I read….a lot. All the time. Pretty much whenever I can get the chance….because if I’m NOT reading, you don’t want to be around me. (It’s not pleasant.) Reading makes me happier, more productive, and generally just a better person.
That said, in 2016, I read 80 books.
(Before you think I’m a freak, just know that I read super fast – the tests I’ve taken for reading speed put me at a little over 500 words per minute. So, that’s the answer to “how do you DO it??” that I get asked so often. I can read a book – or two – between the time my kids go to bed at night and my own bedtime.)
Of those 80 books, 12 of them were books I’d read before, and 68 were new.
And – due to high demand – I’m going to share my top ten picks from everything I read with you.
(You’re welcome, people.)
Disclaimer: these are in no particular order, except the last two, which are definitely the two favorites of the entire year. I couldn’t choose which one I liked better between the two, but they definitely had a more significant impact on me than the rest of the books on the list.
10. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
But that skepticism didn’t last very long, because Lauren Oliver killed it with this one. Post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen now thanks to The Hunger Games trilogy, and given that, it’s really quite hard to bring a story to the table that doesn’t feel tired, overused, and predicable. I couldn’t put this book down – the suspense built so steadily that it was just impossible to NOT continue reading.
Basically, the story is about a teenage girl named Lena, who lives in a post-apocalyptic United States – where, due to the devastating consequences that resulted from “emotional” decisions throughout the world, love (and really any emotion whatsoever) has been classified as a mental illness. A medical “Cure” has been discovered, but due to negative side effects, can only be administered (via mandatory surgery) after someone’s 18th birthday.
The book opens with Lena counting down the days to her surgery (95 days). While most teenagers dread undergoing the operation (but don’t have a choice), Lena looks forward to life after the Cure, where she won’t have to expend so much emotional energy not feeling things – for fear of government punishment. She sees the Cure as a positive thing – her savior, really – and feels this way largely because she watched her eccentric mother defy the government and their operation attempts over and over again, until she took her own life (rather than endure more forced surgeries).
As a result, Lena sees emotion, independent thinking, and noncompliance as destructive. She is a textbook “model citizen” to her statist government: obedient, meek, and unquestioning. She believes the government when they insist that the many rules and regulations imposed on the population are for her own safety.
But, as her operation draws closer, she becomes more restless, for reasons she doesn’t understand – and then, she suddenly meets someone – a boy named Alex – who begins to challenge her and all of those things she has always believed about how things are and how they should be. This friendship, which inevitably blooms into a romance, sets into motion a series of events that have huge consequences not only for her, but for all of her friends and family, as well as her local community.
My favorite thing about this story, honestly, is the transformation we see in Lena in terms of her worldview: she begins with no fight in her – despondent and apathetic – and, through her experiences and through educating herself (which is prohibited), she gradually discovers she has many things to fight for.
Even though the book only spans the events of a view months’ time, I consider the story a coming-of-age one, because it chronicles Lena’s significant mental and emotional maturity. There were many times I actually cheered out loud for her as I was reading. It’s definitely a “heavier” read in terms of subject matter – not a light, quick read – but really quite profound (and a great book club pick). I thought it about it a lot after I finished reading it – it stuck with me (and books like that are my favorite kind).
9. The Grand Masquerade by Amanda Hughes
This was a book that I found through Kindle Unlimited – which is basically a library/book rental service from Amazon: you pay Amazon $10/mo and in return they allow you to pick up to ten books (out of about 750,000 in their inventory) to choose from that are free to check out for as long as you want. (For bookaholics like me, it’s a pretty sweet deal.)
I was browsing the titles on Amazon, and when I saw this, the title kind of put me off – I thought it was a bodice ripper – but then reconsidered once I read the subtitle (Bold Women of the 19th Century) and saw the reviews (300+ above 4 stars). I figured, “I can always just stop reading if it’s awful.”
Let me just tell you – I am so, so glad that I changed my mind. This is another one with a little darker subject matter (there are instances of sexual and physical abuse throughout) but with FANTASTIC writing and storytelling. The story is triumphant; it is a narrative about a girl, Sydnee, who could easily find reasons to become nothing, to pursue nothing, and to blame her circumstances, but instead refuses to be a victim and fights for herself and what she believes in.
I can’t really go into very much detail at all about the book without including spoilers, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one. I can also give you this: it’s set in Mississippi, largely in New Orleans. There is some magic involved – specifically, the use of a popular Creole religion that is a hybrid of Catholicism and VooDoo called HooDoo. But that’s really all I can give away.
This is another one that gave me a pretty bad book hangover, because it was just that good. (Fellow book nerds, you feel me.)
8. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Everyone has been losing their minds over this book on BookTube (which is really just a bunch of book nerds on YouTube who make videos about books and share them with each other…for those of you where were wondering what the heck that was). So, of course, I had to check it out, and it sounded really intense and intriguing. (Definitely different than any other princess story I’d ever read.)
It’s a YA fantasy novel about three princesses who are triplets, and in order to assume the throne as Queen of their kingdom, they have to kill the other two princesses (their sisters). This is something that has occurred for generations, and is simply the way that the monarchy is structured. Every Queen gives birth to triplets, and the triplets are to be heavily trained for sixteen years in order to defeat her other two sisters. Once the sixteen years are up, there’s a ceremony, and then another year begins in which the hunting season has opened – meaning, the princesses are allowed to actively hunt and kill her sisters (doing so before the year begins is prohibited). Whoever succeeds is crowned Queen at another ceremony exactly a year later.
In this kingdom, there are three political factions who are vying for power: the Poisoners, who possess the ability to ingest large amounts of different types of poisons without being harmed; the Elementals, who are able to control the four elements (wind, water, fire, air – so, basically the land and weather); and the Naturalists, who have the ability to wield power over all living things – (plants and animals). Each of the princesses is sent to one of these political groups at a very young age, and they proceed to train her in warfare using their gift. (Each princess possesses a single magical gift, and only the Queen knows what that gift is, and is supposed to send each princess to the political group that specializes in her gift.) The princess/group that succeeds in gaining the throne also secures political power for their group for the duration of that Queen’s reign.
So….yeah. In case you’re wondering, it IS as intense as it sounds. It’s dark, violent, and extremely suspenseful. The thing I really liked about it was that the author made me feel very bonded to all three of the princesses, so at any given point I wasn’t pulling for one over another. All three of them are strong, well-rounded characters. All of the supporting characters are great too, and the world itself is vivid and very well written.
7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This pick is interesting, because it’s not the story itself – as in, the events and characters – that really blew me away, but the method of storytelling, which I found to be very unique and interesting. The entire book is an anthology of stories from characters who are all connected in some way to the central character, Arthur, who is actually only IN the first chapter of the book.
This one is also a post-apocalyptic story: the one event that triggers all of the rest of the events in the book is the onset of a pandemic flu that wipes out over 99% of the human population.
It’s definitely more of a subtle, slow-building story than the other books on this list. In fact, I would say most of the action happens within the first few chapters, and then the story picks up abruptly and begins again (or, I guess I should say, continues on) with a very easy, matter-of-fact method of storytelling.
It’s….different, and that’s what I really liked about it.
6. The Falling Kingdoms Series by Morgan Rhodes
The first book in this 6 book series was my first ever high fantasy novel. Fantasy (think Lord of the Rings) as a genre has always really intimidated me, but I was told that this series is a good introduction to the genre, so I took the plunge. And….well, let’s just put it this way – I binge read the first four books in an entire weekend.
If you watch/like Game of Thrones, you will like this series. (I’ve never watched GoT, but I’ve heard from people who have that this series is a good fit for fans). The story has it all – magic, warring kingdoms, political intrigue, violence, romance….
Here’s the description on the back of the first book:
In a land where magic has been forgotten and peace has reigned for centuries, unrest is simmering.
Three kingdoms battle for power…
A princess must journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.
A rebel becomes the leader of a bloody revolution.
A sorceress discovers the truth about the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.
It’s the eve of war. Each must choose a side.
KINGDOMS WILL FALL.
The fifth book just came out in December, and I actually reread #3 and #4 in the series before I read the fifth one so I could get re-immersed in the world. The sixth (and final) book comes out in 2017, and I CANNOT WAIT.
Also, Jared – my non-fiction-reading (and generally non-reading) husband – is reading this series now and is quite obsessed with it…if that tells you anything. Getting him to read any kind of fiction in the past has been like trying to herd a group of cats – infuriating and fruitless. But he says the books are among his favorite of all time – and that it’s his favorite series for sure.
5. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
If you’ve ever read YA, you know Sarah Dessen is like, THE YA contemporary author, especially YA coming of age and/or romance stories (she held that position long before John Green was a thing). I have been reading her stuff since early high school, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of her novels. Her stories are very real, relatable, and often deal with hard subject matter (domestic violence, addiction, divorce, family dynamics) in a delicate and palatable way. Another thing I really like about her is the fact that when she writes romance, it usually takes a back seat to the main character’s development and storyline. That, and the fact that I can’t recall there ever being a case of “insta-love”; instead, her romances always develop gradually over time (which is my preference and something I think everyone can appreciate).
Of all of her stories, I think this one is probably my favorite. Instead of giving you a run-down myself, I actually really like the Amazon description for this one (and, unlike most, it’s not terrible), so I’m just going to use it here:
“Sydney’s handsome, charismatic older brother, Peyton, has always dominated the family, demanding and receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention. And when Peyton’s involvement in a drunk driving episode sends him to jail, Sydney feels increasingly rootless and invisible, worried that her parents are unconcerned about the real victim: the boy Peyton hit and seriously injured. Meanwhile, Sydney becomes friends with the Chathams, a warm, close-knit, eccentric family, and their friendship helps her understand that she is not responsible for Peyton’s mistakes. Once again, the hugely popular Sarah Dessen tells an engrossing story of a girl discovering friendship, love, and herself.”
I just can’t gush enough about Sarah Dessen or this book: I love the way she writes her characters, the way she develops her stories, and her ability to find the appropriate balance between humor and drama. This book gave me ALL THE FEELS.
4. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
This book was one that I’d had my eye on for a while, just because of the cover. I saw it in Barnes and Noble once and looked at it, but then saw it pop up all over the internet (BookTube, BookRiot, and IG), and every person I heard who’d read it absolutely raved about it.
I’m always slightly skeptical about stuff that’s hugely popular (ahem, Twilight/50 Shades, etc….*rolls eyes*) but since I already had a good feeling about it, I went ahead and bought it on Kindle.
Basically, it’s about a teenage girl named Maddy who was born with an extremely rare medical condition called SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, also known as the Bubble Boy Disease). Because of her illness – and the fact that she virtually has no immune system – she has been quarantined to her own house for the entire duration of her life. She is homeschooled or schooled virtually with tutors, and her mother is a doctor and sees to her medical care herself. The only people Maddy is allowed to interact with physically are her mother and her full-time nurse, Carla.
That is, until a new family moves in next door to them, with a son and daughter Maddy’s age. At first, Maddy is intrigued and begins to observe and speculate about them (the kid deserves something interesting to do, after all). Then, she finds a way to communicate with them – and to Olly, the son, specifically – and their friendship begins to seriously change how Maddy thinks (and, eventually, behaves).
This story absolutely blew me away. Nicola Yoon takes stories that sound like they would be an absolute train wreck and just…creates a masterpiece with them. AND THAT ENDING….. I usually read books without stopping. Since I read so fast, I always just marathon it, and I usually stop only out of necessity (like to use the bathroom…and, truth be told, sometimes I just take the book with me because I don’t want to stop). This book – this ENDING – had me so distraught/shocked/just simply unable to DEAL that I had to put it down and pace, and then I stormed in and ranted to Jared for like an hour before I was able to calm down enough to come back and finish it.
Anyway, I don’t want to potentially spoil anything, so I’ll shut up, but just trust me that it may seem like a more leisurely (or even potentially boring) read – it’s not. And don’t let the description make you second-guess, either – it’s really, really good.
3. The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
So, yeah….I read both of Nicola Yoon’s books this past year – if nothing else, for the covers alone. I mean, can we just TALK about those covers, please? As someone who appreciates a nice, aesthetically pleasing book cover….I ain’t mad about it.
Anyway, story-wise, this book is very different from Everything Everything. It’s told from dual perspectives: a girl named Natasha, and a guy named Daniel, and it takes place in NYC.
Natasha is Jamaican and is about to be deported back to Jamaica, because her parents brought her to the United States illegally when she was a child (the book begins on the morning of her last day). She feels betrayed by both her parents, particularly her father (whose arrest alerted the police to their immigrant status) as well as the by the US government, since she feels more American than Jamaican after living so long in the US (and has almost no memories of living in Jamaica). She is also angry to be feeling so much so suddenly, because she is generally very logical and unemotional (science and “testability” are a big deal to her) and she’s dealing with how she can compartmentalize all of her feelings so that they’re not affecting her so much. When the book begins, Natasha is trying to get an appointment to see someone in the Immigration Office about getting a last-minute appeal on their case.
Daniel is Korean-American, and is the youngest of two brothers in his very strict Korean family. His older brother has recently been suspended from Harvard, and so for the first time in his life, his parents have transferred their nearly impossible expectations for school, success, and life onto him. He really just wants to be an artist – to write – and is battling with if and how to fight his parents over it. On the morning the book begins, he is scheduled to have an interview with a college recruiter from Yale.
The book details the events that occur once Natasha and Daniel’s paths cross – which gets interesting really fast since they’re so different.
The reason this book impressed me so much is just the sheer amount of diverse subject matter in the writing. The book addresses a ton of subjects, like religion, politics, science, and love, and it does so in a very subtle way. Also, the narration is really unique – I guess I technically lied when I said it was dual perspective. It’s actually multi-perspective, and although Natasha and Daniel are the primary narrators, there are several chapters from minor characters (e.g., an immigration worker, Daniel’s college interviewer, etc) that seem almost…irrelevant, but each account offers details that are actually important to the movement of the overall story.
Really, every time I think about this book, I consider how badly it could’ve gone, were it written poorly – and that leaves me even more in awe of what the author was able to do with it.
Also, given the current political climate in our country, and specifically the immigration debate, I think this is something everyone should read – in order to consider different perspectives than our own.
2. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
This is my favorite book of 2016….which really really surprised me. I have never been big into reading anything other than YA and adult contemporary, with some chick-lit and fairytale remakes thrown in….until 2016. I really wanted to start exploring other genres, and I saw this book highly recommended for those wanting to try out the Sci-Fi category.
Now that I’ve read it, I don’t really know if I would necessarily classify it as sci-fi. I mean, I guess technically it is, but I always think of Sci-Fi as something…weirder. Something with aliens or whatever. And that’s not how this book is…at all.
I knew I was going to like it when I first opened the book and read the prologue – which is the best prologue/intro I’ve ever read (and the shortest):
I am writing this for you.
You know, already, you must know.
You have lost.
Seriously!? Does that not make you want to go buy it like, right now? Dude…. Soooo good.
(Ok, sorry – I’ll stop fangirling and tell you what the book is actually about now. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.)
The book is about and narrated by the main character, Harry August, who is a brilliantly dry British man who lives his first life and dies….only to be reborn again a second time, in the exact same life and circumstances as his first life. His first life wasn’t particularly fantastic, so the discovery that he is immortal throws him quite a bit (um, duh) and he spends the next several lives trying to discover what his purpose is, why he (of all people) is immortal, and whether anyone else is like him in this regard. A few lives in, the plot gets really interesting – he receives a message that there is a plot to end the world, and he has to help stop it.
I can’t really give you any more details because 1) I don’t want to spoil it and 2) I really couldn’t do it justice. The writing is fantastic, and the suspense…it’s all a very subtle, slow build, that eventually culminates into something very intense before you even realize that it’s happened. It’s pretty much like, “Okay, this is a very well-written, interesting story….*turns the page* OMG WHAT JUST HAPPENED?”
There are books that help you escape life for a bit, that are easy to breeze through without much thought; and, while enjoyable, they usually don’t leave much of an impact on you. And then there are books like this one, that make you feel a little suffocated because while you’re reading your brain is about to explode with ALL THE CONTEMPLATIONS. It forced me to confront things mentally that I was a little hesitant to think about on my own, but in a really good way.
It also gave me the worst book hangover I’ve had in a long time, because my brain was just…exhausted, and I knew I probably wouldn’t find a book of this caliber – and that I enjoyed this much – for a long while.
1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is easily not only one of my favorite books of 2016, but one of the best books I’ve ever read. And – if you go to Amazon and look at the reviews, you’ll find that I’m not alone in this opinion – it’s got 25,885 five star reviews. (Yes, you read that right – over twenty five thousand.)
Here is the description (from Amazon):
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
I laughed, cried, paced, yelled, and cussed a little because of this book. The writing is some of – if not the best – I’ve ever read in a novel. It doesn’t even feel like you’re reading a book – it’s all so vivid, it feels more like you’re watching a really beautiful film.
You will experience every human emotion on the spectrum, I guarantee it. And that’s all I am going to say, because….I really just can’t say anything that will come close to the description or commentary it deserves. JUST READ IT. (And then come find me so we can talk about it after).
Alright, people…that’s all ten. I hope this post met all of your hopes and dreams and expectations…or, more realistically, helped give you some ideas for more reading material. Let me know if you’ve read any of the ones on my list, and what you thought – or, what you plan on reading! I never get tired of book talk.
Happy reading, suckas.
*Affiliate link, yo. (Which is just a fancy way of saying that I get a small commission if you use that link to buy the book.)