Now that we’ve officially closed the door on 2016, time to look back at all that reading and see what emerged as the best, the worst, and sometimes the most baffling. I read 172 books this year, slightly down from last year but more than I expected! Here’s what was particularly noteworthy…
1) Best of…
I’ve been splitting my “Best of” books for the past few years, so that I can highlight the ones that were best in very specific ways.
1A) Best Premise/World Building: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
This was my favorite of the many parallel universe novels I read this year, with one of the most fascinating and best put together concepts. I loved the deft handling of the timey-whimeyness of it all, and the clever, practical ways Harry and his friends handle something as utterly bizarre as reliving your life over and over.
1B) Best Romance(s): Pivot Point by Kasie West and Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
No (good) Marissa Meyer romance to sweep this category this year, so I’m splitting it between two parallel universe ones. Addie and Trevor are a sweet couple who manage to find each other twice in Kasie West’s two-book series, and I liked Hannah’s romance with childhood sweetheart Ethan too, especially the ways their young romance had influenced their later lives. I didn’t like Hannah’s alternate life romance as well, complicating the overall book, but half the story had an excellent romance.
1C) Best Hero(ine): Hazel in Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Not an epic figure, Hazel is an ordinary, socially-struggling girl who has to deal with an extraordinary (fantastical) situation and I just loved her. It also doesn’t hurt that she looks at a snowfall and thinks it’s too deep for a tauntaun (a la Star Wars).
1D) Best Series: Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente and Magic Ex Libris (Libriomancer series) by Jim C. Hines
I actually did not start and finish any new series this year–or even read more than two books in a new series. So I’m giving this one to two beloved series that I finished this year–I think. Unless Hines comes back for Book 5. I’m never quite sure with him!
1E) Best Nonfiction: SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal
A very cool book, McGonigal combines life goals with game theory, and explores how to gamify, say, a commitment to eat healthy–and why it can really help to do so. I highly recommend her TED talk on the subject, which sent me to the book.
1F) Best Audiobook: As You Wish by Cary Elwes
A strong contender for best nonfiction, this look behind the scenes at the making of The Princess Bride is simply delightful. It’s read on audio by the marvelous Cary Elwes (Dread Pirate Roberts himself) with generous use of audio interviews with other castmembers.
1G) Best Individual Passage: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
The sly narrator’s final farewell…I underlined a good two pages, and it may well be the best single passage I’ve ever read.
2) Worst Book: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
Granted the bar was set high–but this book really was a mess, from the wish fulfillment, conflict-free author storyline, to the badly-written novel-within-a-novel. I just…don’t even know.
3) Most Disappointing: Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Meyer has landed on my best-of list repeatedly, making the iffy-romance, bizarre character arc and thematic disaster of this book especially, well, disappointing. And angry. It kind of made me angry.
4) Most Surprising (in a Good Way): The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
I picked this up at random at the library because, hey, Albom, why not. And then it was surprisingly wonderful, deep and engaging. I don’t always love Albom but he has his moments, and this was one them.
5) Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2016 To Read It: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
I know, I know–but I really never read this as a kid. I started it several years ago and couldn’t get into it. I’ve had a friend badgering me (nicely!) to read it for a couple years now. And I finally did. I still don’t get all the “thee’s” and “thou’s” in here, but I liked it!
6) Most Hilarious Read: A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett
Because, you know, Pratchett. This could go to either Thud! or Maskerade which were really my most hilarious ones, but those are rereads. So it goes to the short story collection, mostly for the story involving Carrot investigating a murder by Punch and Judy puppets, and a long story about Granny Weatherwax deciding to be nice (it goes badly).
7) Most Satisfying Read: Sidewise in Time by Murray Leinster
I loved reading the very first parallel universe story. It’s not often you get to read the beginning of a genre. Plus, Leinster was incredibly prescient in many ways which was just very cool to read.
8) Surprisingly Great Reread: The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
I reread this one after many years and the book was good, but didn’t blow me away–except for one story-within-the-story that I remembered vividly, thought of often, and really liked…without remembering that it was in this book. It’s a story very near the end, about a man with two sons, one of whom will speak words that will be remembered for millennia. It’s not the expected one–but we all have a role to play in the cosmic story, and often we don’t know what it is. I love that.
9) Most Looking Forward To in 2017
A conundrum: there’s no Fairyland book to look forward to! I’ve also quite dropped off in tracking upcoming books, in part because I’ve finished a lot of series recently. Well…maybe Robin McKinley will finally release Pegasus 2? Or Tamora Pierce will give us the long-awaited next Tortall book? I’ve been looking forward to those for…quite a long while now!
And that’s the story for another year! What was your best read in 2016? Or do you have a book to fit any of the other categories? I’d love to hear about it!