Autumn Topping | Nov 8, 2017 | 2
20 Awesome Books I Read in 2016 – Amirah’s “Book Oscars”
Because I have an exciting life, I decided to give awards which I will call the Boscars, or the Book Oscars, for 2016. This listing is of the best books I’ve read in 2016. Most are books that came out this year, but a few are from 2013 or 2015 and made my book list because they were awesome books I happened to read in 2016! It should be noted that in this list, there are a few books with mature content. A content note under each title reflects these more adult books for those looking for a more wholesome read!
And the Awards Go To…
MOST BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL 2016 BOOK
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
“On a cloudless night, inky dark, with only a rind of a moon above, the Golem and the Jinni went walking together along the Prince Street rooftops.”
IF YOU LIKE 1889 NYC, immigrants, and enchanting folklore, you should 100% read this now, because this book is a gem. A gem of a historical/magical realism/Arab and Jewish folklore-infused fiction. The tale of Chava, a golem, and Ahmad, a newly freed Jinni, struggling to adjust to their surroundings of 1899 New York City, is compelling, spellbinding and utterly magical.
I was fascinated by the inventive use of folklore among an equally engrossing historical backdrop. Told from the POVs of the naive, hard-working golem and the impulsive, constrained Jinni, the story of their unlikely friendship is CAPTIVATING. SO READ THIS NOW, OK? It’s sort of amazing in the same vein of The Book Thief. Not that it’s similar, but that its beautiful depth and writing is ….remarkable.
BEST DEBUT, ROMANCE & MOST ENJOYABLE READ OF 2016
A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
“Now that that’s settled, you’re coming with me.”
“Never in a billion suns. Not even if Zeus showed up as a swan and tried to peck me in your direction. I wouldn’t go with you even if my other option was Hades dragging me to the Underworld for an eternal threesome with Persephone.”
Bouchet, as a debut author, excels at everything I love:
-fun Greek-myth-filled worlds
-Slow-burn, hate-love romances (hands down best romance of the year)
-Powerful, smart-alecky heroines (as much as I appreciate an anti-chosen-one plot, don’t you also just love it when your characters have ALL the powers and are ALL the lost princesses?)
– Being on the run with people you can hardly trust but obviously learn to love by the end of the epic, starry-night-filled, horse-racing, dragon-fleeing, goat-cheese-eating journey!
I could hardly put this down, and it’s a great romantic fantasy adventure. The sequel just came out January 3rd, so it’s the perfect time to read!!!!!
*Content note: This is a New Adult series with sex scenes. So read with caution.
MOST WELL-WRITTEN HISTORICAL FANTASY OF 2016
The Dark Days Club by Allison Goodman
“You have far more courage than you think you do.”
The author of Eon & Eona (excellent books with Chinese folklore, historical fiction, and dragon-heavy fantasy) continues to prove her prowess in writing engaging heroines in interesting settings. This book is sort of like if Elizabeth Bennet had to fight demons with Darcy.
Lady Helen becomes drawn to the dark Lord Carlston, leader of The Dark Days Club, a group of special magically-inclined individuals who fight demons threatening this Regency-era society. (Picture Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.) It’s an A+ book, good plot, good romance, and incredibly well-written. Helen is intelligent, headstrong, curious, and she meets her match in Carlston, who has a reputation as dark as his enigmatic eyes…The sequel is out in January!
BEST HISTORICAL FICTION OF 2016
And I Darken by Kiersten White
“So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice? What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power?”
I read this since I really enjoyed White’s Illusions of Fate, but this book is different and even more awesome. The dark tale of a bitter, brutal heroine set in the time of the Ottoman Empire was such an enthralling alternative historical fiction piece that I could hardly put it down. Royal Wallachian (a place in Romania) children Radu and Lada are abandoned by their father in the Ottoman Courts as pawns in a power deal, and they form a friendship with the sultan’s son, Mehmed.
While Radu becomes a charming Muslim, Lada becomes a ruthless woman out to defy the enemy empire she is stuck in. Reading about Muslim characters and Islamic history was awesome since I haven’t read many YA books in such a setting. The toxic, heart-wrenching relationships between Lada, Radu, and Mehmed are painful, angsty, and very well written. Lada is a standout character, from her vicious childhood to her gnarled adulthood, and if there were Oscars for best-written characters, it would go to her. The book has a beautiful focus on the struggle and the power of women – and it’s hard not to be impressed by that combined with the richness of the Ottoman setting.
BEST FANTASY OF 2016
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
“Has anyone noticed this whole city is looking for us, mad at us, or wants to kill us?”
“So?” said Kaz.
“Well, usually it’s just half the city.”
I’ve already endorsed reading the brilliant fantasy-heist book that is Six of Crows, and the sequel is even more brilliant! Kaz and his crew must rescue a member of the team and win back the money they’ve been cheated, as well as take on an even trickier and powerful city villain.
Oozing with cleverness, fraught with strong, tear-inducing relationships (Kaz & Inej, MY PERSONAL FAVORITE Nina & Matthias, and Jesper & Wylan), and full of hilarious comments as our characters fight to escape tricky situations, you shouldn’t miss this book. It’s particularly beautiful seeing the friendships and characters explored in more detail than the first; particularly examining how much each of these ragtag fighters mean to each other. By the time you’re done, you’ll feel like they’re your family too…and you will also totally cry. (Cheesy but true!) Note: Leigh Bardugo is so cool and smart.
RELATED | The 15 Best Young Adult Novels of 2015
BEST SCI-FI OF 2016
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
“A fool pulls the leaves. A brute chops the trunk. A sage digs the roots.”
This epic sci-fi series comes to a predictably stunning end. Darrow’s fight against the Roman-like space society blows up as loyalties come out, war comes on, and friendships show their worth. The political power plots continued to stun me, and overall, it was super epic. I can’t stress how great this series is. Maybe its bestselling status will do that for me! The friendship between Sevro and Darrow is everything!!!
FUNNIEST ROMANTIC COMEDY of 2016
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
“I’ve discovered that it’s very liberating being immune to flirtatious banter. Once one is sage-like and focused on the task at hand, they are also impenetrable; emotionally speaking.”
Our engaging, occasionally dramatic, scarf-wearing protagonist Sofia decides to chronicle the struggles of the hilariously woeful Muslim dating scene (or lack of one) at her job as a London journalist. As she searches for stories, she finds she might be falling in love along the way? This sort of reads like the Muslim girl’s Bridget Jones, and it’s an important read since it stars a Muslim heroine in a rom-com tale – a perspective we don’t read much.
Sofia wears hijab, prays at work, and keeps things halal (as she points out, “Dating a devout Muslim is like dating someone in the 19th century”) and struggles with being called a terrorist (“Terrorists just don’t wear vintage shoes, you ignorant wanker!”), but she’s also just a normal modern British gal obsessed with chocolate and tea and jean sizes. Her character was so refreshingly diverse and simultaneously just a regular heroine that it made my heart so happy!
BEST CHARACTER GROWTH of 2016
A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
“But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night – if you dare to let yourself burn.”
Sabaa Tahir’s saga continues in this sequel (it seems I’m into the Roman-society-dystopian books) with Laia and Elias running for their lives. Journeying and dangerous treks are one of my favorite aspects of a good fantasy book so that part of the treacherous plot was fun. The book is shared between their POVs and Helene’s, Elias’s best friend from the academy. I am including this book on this list solely because of her – as Blood Shrike (read: killer for the evil Emperor), she’s tasked with her first mission – killing the traitors Elias and Laia.
The book’s plot is half about Laia and Elias saving her brother from a terrifying prison, and half about Helene’s internal struggle to protect those she loves even as she is forced to succeed in her terrorizing position. Helene is the most compelling character because we see that she is a good person, made into a brutal Mask, but still retains her capacity to love, sacrificing for Elias even if he does not love her, killing for the Emperor who would soon kill her, and wondering how far she can go before she is truly broken. But she will survive because HELENE IS THE TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT!!!
MOST LYRICAL, BEAUTIFUL, AND ODD OF 2016
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
“In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them.
Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness.
Her raven boys.”
Chances are, you’ve heard of Shiver, Stiefvater’s first series about wolves. I had eschewed that series but went back to read it after finishing the masterpiece that is The Raven Boys series. I can’t quite explain the plot – it’s mostly about the friendship between 4 private school boys and a quirky girl from a family of psychics. Stiefvater’s writing is dazzling and beautiful in a fashion familiar to Jandy Nelson’s, and for that alone, this series is incredible. Stiefvater particularly excels at the funny, but touching friendships between the boys, and somehow makes the odd magical realism work since it’s set in current day, Virgina. Here’s a plot summary from her website: “Four private school boys and a psychic’s daughter quest for ancient magic in the mountains of Virginia, uncovering sentient trees, powerful dreams, and the devils in themselves.”
The Raven King finally ties up the story and the prophecy that starts off the first book – that Blue (our sensible heroine) will kill her true love by kissing him. I mean, don’t you kind of want to know how that ends up?
BEST SEQUEL/UNDERDOG ROMANCE FTW of 2016
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
“He thinks he’ll be remembered as the villain in the story. But I forgot to tell him that the villain is usually the person who locks up the maiden and throws away the key. He was the one who let me out.”
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I love Sarah J. Maas. She’s like the Taylor Swift of the book world. In terms of how much people love her for her popular, awesome and lovable book contributions. This book was so good compared to the first in the series (A Court of Thorns and Roses) that it made me wonder how I’d even gotten through the first! I love when authors amp up the stakes in the second book!
This follows Feyre after her traumatic experience saving Tamlin, as she visits the Night Court to keep her deal with Rhys, gets caught up in more romance, politics and healing herself. Maas, as per her style with her secondary novels, shows that being broken can make you a different person (and therefore have different love interests. AHEM.)
The whole reason I loved this book is because we see that Feyre fell in love with Tamlin because he was the first hot guy to be kind to her…and after her experience in the Spring Court, she actually finds her true identity, which is not as perfect and compliant as her previous self. Falling in love before you have that identity is not really a good thing…but finding someone who loves you for it – that’s spectacular.
I kind of love when the seemingly selfish bad-boy (ahem, Rhys fans) turns out to be much more interesting and complex than the perfect and kind pretty-boy character…so that turn-around is why this book is on the list. Plus, the Night Court was a ton cooler than the Spring Court. I also preferred this love story more…it was more heartfelt. Feyre and Rhys were first allies, then friends then fell in love, and I think Maas tries to show that that’s a healthier sort of love than the sweep-you-up kind.
CUTEST CONTEMPORARY I READ IN 2016
The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
“Ryan Chase was my eighth-grade collage, aspirational and wide-eyed. But Max was the first bite of grilled cheese on a snowy day, the easy fit of my favorite jeans, that one old song that made it onto every playlist. Peanut-butter Girl Scout cookies instead of an ornate cake. Not glamorous or idealized or complicated. Just me.”
This book is super cute. I thought it would just be a cute, beach read, but I actually found myself laughing at the interactions between our heroine Paige and her nerdy friend Max and crying at some of the sad parts of the story about family and friends. A year after her first boyfriend dies, Paige is ready to return to normal, and that’s by trying out new clubs and getting her crush to like her…but she ends up befriending his nerdy cousin, and with her friends’ help, tries to face her fears….sounds cheesy, but it was really enjoyable and had great pop culture references. Forget Sarah Dessen – this is much cuter and more touching. Even if you’re not in high school, it’s well-written and inspires some nostalgia.
A year after her first boyfriend dies, Paige is ready to return to normal, and that’s by trying out new clubs and getting her crush to like her. But she ends up befriending his nerdy cousin, and with her friends’ help, tries to face her fears…. Sounds cheesy, but it was really enjoyable and had great pop culture references. Forget Sarah Dessen – this is much cuter and more touching. Even if you’re not in high school, it’s well-written and inspires some nostalgia.
BEST WORLDBUILDING OF 2016
One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews
“…Something isn’t right with you and this property. Strange things happen around it. I don’t know what is going on, but I will find out. You could make it easier on yourself by coming clean.”
“Sure. This is a magic bed-and-breakfast and the two guys in my kitchen are aliens from outerspace.”
Three words: INTERGALACTIC BED & BREAKFAST.
This year, Ilona Andrews (a husband-wife writing team) became my favorite authors, because they somehow write fun, interesting fantasy books that a) are never boring, b) have great romantic tension, c) feature different ancient myths coming to life in threatening ways for our young smart-alecky heroine, d) have excellent romances with plots that force strong characters who initially dislike each other to work together to solve problems and later fall in love! Wow, that was definitely a run-on sentence!
Innkeeper Dina Demille runs an intergalactic bed and breakfast in Texas that seems quaint on the outside but magical by itself on the inside as it caters to otherworldly customers. When unfriendly creatures start threatening her neighborhood, she has to team up with her “annoyingly attractive” werewolf neighbor and a cosmic vampire visitor to keep the area safe. I really, really loved the worldbuilding, since the species and creatures are interesting, and the inn’s magic (it can stretch to build rooms, it was like an intergalactic Hogwarts) as well as the romance brewing stronger than a coffeepot! One Fell Sweep is the third book in the series.
*Content Note: There is a sex scene in this book and some violence.
BEST URBAN FANTASY OF 2016
Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews
“Did you run any of this by Curran?”
“I told him I was about to do something idiotic and dangerous, and he told me to go ahead and let him know if he could help in any way.”
“I don’t understand your relationship.”
Ilona Andrews strikes again, because even though it’s the 9th book in the Magic Bites series, Magic Binds STILL has it going on. In this present day urban fantasy set in Atlanta, mysterious mercenary fighter Kate and Beast Lord Curran remain relationship goals even as they continue to fight impossible and grim odds with every book and still make it out alive!! I would be more specific, but I don’t want to give out too many spoilers. However, if you’re looking for a funny, great urban fantasy series, start here!
BEST DISNEY-LIKE DESERT ADVENTURE OF 2016
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
“For a second it looked like a mortal horse. The next it was pure sand. Shifting from bright gold to violent red, fire and sun in a windswept desert.”
Rebel of the Sands follows a fast-paced novel about a wiry sharp-shooter who escapes her desolate town for an adventure with a fugitive across the desert. Evil sultan armies loom, mystical horses exist, and magical powers spring up among all the sand. It makes for a fun read! And again, totally feeling the Arabian folklore.
BEST DISNEY-LIKE SPACE ADVENTURE of 2016
(a tie) Starflight by Melissa Landers
“She’d learned that home was a fluid thing and whether on a planet, a satellite, or a rusted bucket of a ship, this crew was her home.”
Starflight should be a Disney movie – it’s about a hardworking orphan, who, desperate to escape the lawless outer realm, joins forces with a former high school nemesis in this world of space-travel. He’s framed for conspiracy, and she’s a former felon. Through some misfortune, they end up on a ship pirated by eccentric shipmates as they try to solve their problems…though they might realize the solutions are right around them! Also, features: hate-love romance, journeying on exiled ships!
MOST FASCINATING PLOT of 2016
This Savage Song by V.E Schwab
“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.”
V.E Schwab’s books have been on my radar for a while since they seem dangerous and addictive…and they totally are! In this book, violence creates actual monsters – the worse the crime, the scarier the monster. In a divided city – the north lets monsters roam free and you buy your own protection, while the south fights monsters to protect the innocent – Kate and August are opposing forces. Kate is the daughter of a dangerous politician who tames monsters and protects humans for a fee, while August is the son of a vigilante fighter and a monster himself – but one who would rather be good. When they collide, war could happen. This is not a romance (yet? There are more books to come), but a fascinating story and world.
MOST THRILLING HISTORICAL FICTION I READ IN 2016
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
“Murder is not a suitable topic of conversation for a young lady.”
Jo Montfort is rich and beautiful and headed for marriage after she finishes school in 1890s New York, but she dreams of being a trailblazing journalist. When her father seemingly commits suicide, she knows it’s a murder and is determined to uncover the truth, even though doing it as a woman makes her seem crazy and undignified.
However, working with an infuriating journalist, she digs deep into the dirty underbelly of the city to uncover scary secrets. This is a haunting and incredibly romantic read, especially with such an ambitious heroine…and offers an in-depth look at the limits placed on women in this time period.
BEST RETELLING I READ IN 2016
Winter by Marissa Meyer
“She would have auctioned off the Milky Way if it would have made his intentions a little less honorable.”
“It’s just like the one Scarlet had.” He flipped the gun in his palms, running his thumbs along the barrel. “She shot me in the arm once.”
This confession was said with as much tenderness as if Scarlet had given him a bouquet of wildflowers rather than a bullet wound. Cress and the others traded sorrowful looks.”
The conclusion to the futuristic world inhabited by our cool Disney princesses is beloved to me and I imagine many others. Winter, aka Snow White, is hilarious, and seeing Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter and their prince-equivalents join up to take down the queen of Luna is WELL worth the read.
MOST TOUCHING READ of 2016
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”
Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi describes in his memoir his question of what makes life worth living. The humanity and sadness of this book make it important to read – the message is meaningful, and the writer, admirable.
BEST MYSTERY I READ IN 2016
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
“He was not a man who told himself comfortable lies.”
JK Rowling’s adult detective series starring the burly, and somewhat surly, Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin, are very good and have that dry JK Rowling humor. The mystery is just as compelling as the desire to learn more about the interesting characters themselves and their relationship.
*Content note: This is an adult series that includes some explicit language, violence, and sexuality.
BEST SUPERNATURAL ADULT I READ IN 2016
The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris
“…But also because I find I really do…” He paused, as if he were about to say something outrageous. “I find I have feelings for you.”
“Oh,” I said, sounding as astonished as Eric had. “Eric,” I said, after a long pause, “I almost hate to say this, but I have feelings for you, too.”
I read the entire Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries series in a month and began to realize why the show based on it, True Blood, was so popular. Sookie, our polite but formidable southern-belle telepath, braves a host of supernatural friends and foe in her small Louisiana town, solving murder mysteries, waitressing, finding romance, and of course, sunbathing.
I really enjoyed Sookie’s sensible perspective, the supernatural characters, and the world, as well as the many romances. If anything, you should read this for Sookie and Eric – their characters are truly memorable.
*Content note: This is an adult series that includes sex scenes (though the series is not as graphic as True Blood), some violence, and some language. Also, the last Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Ever After, came out in 2013.
Notable 2016 Mentions (some of which I haven’t read)
A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess – A prophecy maybe has the wrong girl for the tale?
The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon – An unlikely love story
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake A dark fantasy with three sisters competing to be queen
Heartless by Marissa Meyer – Prequel to Alice in Wonderland
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K Johnston – A cheerleader is raped, but that’s not the end of her story
Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas – The 5th book in the Throne of Glass series
Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima – A new set of characters in the Seven Realms fantasy world
Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – Two best friends living in a world with different types of witchery are on the run with and from princes and villains
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – The sequel to Red Queen follows Mare in this Game of Thrones-y world
The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh– The conclusion to Shahrzad and Khalid’s romantic Arabian tale
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – The lives of three high school friends during their senior year
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson – Forced to spend a summer with her politician dad, Andie learns more about friendship and family
The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury– Retelling of Aladdin with a female jinni
Though I tried to read as much as possible this past year of 2016, too many boys looking for my witty repartee may have been a distraction. So be sure to comment below on your opinions or on all the amazing books I missed! What was your favorite book you read in 2016?