Best Read: What Happened in 2016.

stack-of-booksSo I read a lot of good books this last year, and some achingly bad ones unfortunately.  It wasn’t that hard to narrow down which ones were my favorite.  The list came surprisingly easy.  Before I start I would like to mention that my best friend in writing shenanigans, Ashley Davis, also wrote her own list (and has inspired mine) and having read four out of those five books, I think it’s definitely worth a check out.  My list was dangerously close to being a duplicate of hers, but I wanted to add some more reads true to my regular reading habits.

Okay, as for the first four in no particular order:

  1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik. (fantasy)

I don’t actually read much fantasy, I prefer to watch it.  George R. R. Martin ruined uprootedme I guess.  But I saw this book sitting on a table at Barnes & Noble begging me to read it simply form the plot line reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast.

Agnieszka’s small town borders a dangerous forest filled with dark magic that means death for anyone who steps foot in, around or near the wood.  Their only defense against this horrible threat is a mysterious, immortal wizard, called the Dragon, who keeps watch from his tower and intervenes when necessary.  The catch?  Once every ten years the Dragon comes down from his tower and claims a sacrifice in the form of a young woman.  No one knows what happens to these women while in the Dragon’s care, only that they are forever changed when he returns them.

Okay, the book blurb doesn’t give this away, but I feel like it’s obvious, so I am.  Though the safe bet is that Agnieszka’s beautiful, strong and talented best friend, Kasia, will be taken.  The Dragon chooses Agnieszka, and when I say he does so reluctantly, it’s an understatement.  The Dragon, just like his mythical counterpart (something Naomi Novik is well-versed in) likes beautiful things.  Agnieszka is pretty much the opposite of everything he thinks he wants in a companion.  But aren’t those the best kind of relationships?

I fell in love with the Dragon (inevitable) and I was charmed by Agnieszka (thankfully).  Most of all I love them together.  But it’s the magic that will keep you turning the page just as much.  And Novik’s flawless use of setting to enchant her readers.

            “There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing at rage.”  ~Naomi Novik, Uprooted.

After I finished this book I meandered listlessly through my life like a hollow shell of the reader I had formerly been.  It’s one of those books that once you finish you immediately want to start reading again.  I was so depressed it was over, and one of my sincerest hopes is that Novik continues with this universe, even if she leaves Agnieszka and the Dragon behind.

  1. Lightless (Lightless #1) by C. A. Higgins  (Sci-fi)

Lightless is about a highly classified military vessel, the Ananke, and its computer lightlessscientist, Althea, who thinks of the Ananke like her daughter.  When two fugitives break onboard and plant a virus in an effort to escape, which causes the computer systems to start breaking down one-by-one, Althea begins a head over feet race to save her beloved ship, and is forced to rely on one of the saboteurs, the intriguing yet grossly deceptive Ivan, for help before everything falls apart.

This has definitely been a year where I made a concerted effort to read things I don’t normally read.  When I picked this book up and read the back, I was intrigued, and a little intimidated after I read that the author is a physics major.  (Lisa don’t science all that good.)  The enchanting cover (I know, I know you’re not supposed to do that) and this excerpt from the blurb swayed me into shelling out my hard-earned income:

            “The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon…”

My thoughts: A smooth-talking badass?  Sign me the hell up.  I was not disappointed by said badass, Ivan, either.  Nor was I in the rest of the novel which kind of spreads out before you like the darkness of space, vast, cold and horrifying in its infinity.  I’m that girl who hinges herself delightfully onto the finger holds of any romance, and for those who feel similarly there is no romance in this novel.  It doesn’t need it.  Higgins will captivate you with the chilling mysteries of the Ananke, and the unrolling terrorist plot against the very 1984-esque government that rules this world with its endless cameras and a ruthless iron fist.

This novel is multi-perspective giving it richer, deeper insight into what the hell is going on because you hear it coming from different sides.  I can’t go into much more without getting into aspects of the plot that are best left as a surprise.  Though this obviously science-fiction, I also felt it was literary, much more dependent on character development to propel the plot forward.  And oh, what a plot it is.

  1. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (YA / Literary)

atuawt  Wavonna “Wavy” Quin is more of a parent to herself then her actual parents.  Her mother, a narcissistic addict, and her father, a violent drug dealer, could give less than two shits about her or Wavy’s little brother.  Obsessed with astronomy and struggling to survive, Wavy finds an unlikely ally in Kellen, one of her father’s enforcers.

There is so many things about this book to love.  Greenwood creates a stark and realistic reality for her aptly titled novel, constantly reminding the reader that in order for beauty, you have to have ugliness.  And sometimes what is wonderful to one person is completely awful to another.  A surprisingly multi-perspective novel, Greenwood immerses you in her story that coats your skin like thick molasses from page one.  I stayed up all night, dry and bleary-eyed into the wee hours of the morning reading this book, desperate to finish so the bone-deep ache inside my chest would finally dissipate. I have never been pulled in two so effectively by a piece of fiction in my entire life because as much I loved it, I really, really hated it too.

I can’t say much more about this, I’m not even going to quote from it because there isn’t one single quote that could exemplify this novel because there are so many working parts, so many ways of defining everything: all the tragedy and all the hope.  Expect to be engrossed, expect to feel a little sick, but most of all—except to cry.  Cry for all those ugly and wonderful things.  So many people in their reviews called this a love story, and though it might be, it’s so much more than that.  This book will make your world bigger.  When I finished, I kept arguing with myself in my head, telling myself that I was fine, everything was okay, and that it was good.  So good, but I felt so dirty.  And damaged.  I felt damaged after finishing.  This novel just further proves that the best books affect you profoundly, but they don’t have to affect you profoundly in a good way.  Either way, it behooves me to warn you that you will be grossly affected by the contents of this ugly and wonderful book.

  1. Never Sweeter (Dark Obsession #2) by Charlotte Stein (New Adult)

Okay, ignore the blurb on Goodreads for this book because I don’t feel like it does

never-sweeter
#unrealisticmaletorso

the book justice.  It makes it sound like a quid pro quo “let’s make a deal” new adult relationship.  All you really need to know is that Letty was bullied by Tate throughout high school and is devastated to learn they are going to the same college together, and sharing a survey of cinema class.

At this point, readers well-versed in the romance genre (and yes, I am very much so) can guess where the plot is going to go.  Letty and Tate are forced to spend time together for a project in their shared class, Letty learns there is so much more to Tate and falls for him.  If that’s what you’re thinking, then pat yourself on the back because you’re freaking right!  Honestly, the predictable plot and the utterly unrealistic male torso on the cover isn’t the reason you should pick up this novel.  It’s the quality of writing, the mind-blowing sex, and the all-over human aspect of Letty’s and Tate’s relationship.  She also makes you think of bullies in the way only the bullied can appreciate.  It is a delicate thing to write a victim falling for her bully, but Stein pulls it off effortlessly with humor, wit and honesty.  I know that this is a rather idealistic novel.  Not all bullies are as misunderstood or regretful as Tate, and not all victims are as forgiving as Letty.  But I promise if you suspend that disbelief, jump in feet first, you won’t regret this quick, utterly romantic read.

One should note too that this is the second in a series.  You do not need to read the first, they are standalone, though I did enjoy the first one as well.  There is a third coming out on Valentines’ Day, much delayed because of publishing issues.  I can’t freaking wait.

Before I get to my favorite read of 2016, I have a few honorable mentions.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (horror).  I read this in October, and I still have nightmares about it.

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (The Austen Project, #4) by Curtis Sittenfield (contemporary romance).  I went on an alternative Austen tangent after reading Longbourn by Jo Baker (A must read for anyone who loves Downton Abbey and awesome books).  I had also just read Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfield, and immensely enjoyed it, so this seemed like my obvious next choice.  I was not disappointed.

Beast by Brie Spangler (YA):  I went heavy into LBGTQ romances this year too, after reading Simon V. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli and rereading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.  Beast is about Dylan, who falls for a transgender girl, Jamie.  Any reader who has ever looked in the mirror and not liked what they saw could intrinsically empathize with his story.

  1. The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Samantha Whipple, the last descendant of the famed Bronte family, enrolls at madwomanOxford and quickly finds herself ensnared in the mystery of the infamous Bronte estate when heirlooms of her deceased, eccentric father keep ending up on the doorstep of her creepy tower dorm room.  Falling into the sinkhole of rumored past, Samantha enlists her devastatingly handsome and acerbic literature professor to help her figure out the clues to the legacy her father left behind.

Confession: I did not want to read this book.  My best friend who is much smarter and prettier than I am, picked up this book and twelve pages in blew up my phone insisting that I read it or else our friendship would cease.  I’m not lying, she really did promise to not be my friend anymore.  I read the blurb and was less than enthusiastic.  But because my best friend doesn’t get passionate about frogs, only princes, I decided I would at least give it a go.  So I put down my male torso adorned romance novel and accepted the novel from my friend, who could barely contain her glee as she handed it over.

I loved this book so much I feel like crying thinking about it.  That’s how overwhelming my joy is.  It’s one of those books that will remain close at hand, and when you’re feeling shitty about your life, you’ll pick it up, wrap yourself up in a blanket and re-read it like you’ve never read a single word before.  I feel like there is no way I could intelligently articulate how good this book is.

Second Confession:  I love romance (I feel like I’ve already mentioned this).  Ninety percent of my reading decisions are based on that precarious analysis of the way two people slip from single to attached.  I feel romance is not the focal point of this novel, the literature is.  As well as Samantha’s relationship with her father, and the gaping hole his death left in her life.  Then, of course, enter the intimidating genius of James Timothy Orville III, young literary prodigy, who challenges Samantha like no other.  The slow burn of their relationship is like the purest hit of heroin right into your heart muscle.  Not to downplay the rest of the novel, the fun literary theorizing, the intense mystery and scavenger hunt, and most importantly, Samantha Whipple herself, who narrates her life with a unique, laugh-out-loud funny voice.  If nothing else, the dry way Samantha observes the world around her will keep you moving forward.  Here’s an example.

            “I realized that my life of late had consisted of far too much dialogue and not enough exposition.  I imagined an angry, bespectacled English teacher slashing his pen through the transcript of my life, wondering how someone could possibly say so much and think so little.”      –Catherine Lowell, The Madwoman Upstairs.

As wonderful as Samantha is, let’s not downplay Timothy.  Even though the reader is unfortunately, frustratingly not privy to what is going on in his head, he still feels very much alive, and wonderful and even when I was screaming at him to make better decisions. I wanted to be making out with him at the same time.

I shall give no more away than that.  Just read it!  Read it and feel better about your life for having read it!

Now I’m off to continue my 2017 literary adventures…

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