I have read many books this year. How many? A whole fucking lot. Nearly 100. And I’m not done. However, it’s close enough to the end of the year that I’m ready to declare my five favorite 2016 releases. In order to be considered for this list, a book must meet only two qualifications: it had to come out this year and I had to have finished it. This prevents me from adding too many books in a series or by the same author, as I have read several by a couple of the authors on this list. It also guarantees I have read all the material, so I can be sure I did in fact enjoy the book enough to call it one of the best of 2016. Also, to prevent myself from having to struggle to determine in which order I preferred them, I am listing them in order of release. And so, without farther ado, I present to you my top 5 books of 2016.
1. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
Release Date: February 20
Official Summary: Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.
In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games-an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries-a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again-and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall.
My Thoughts: Is anyone surprised by this pick? This book takes the conflicts and world laid out in the first book and dials them up by about a thousand. Most of the action takes place in Red London, giving the story a more magical feel than its predecessor. It features intriguing new characters (namely, Alucard and Kisimyr) and brings other characters further into the action (such as Rhy and Calla). We get to see Lila living her dream of being a pirate and attempt even more daring feats than before. Kell is left to deal with the fallout of his decisions and the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, while also attempting to bring joy back into his life. For the first time, I even begin to support Kell and Lila pursuing a romantic relationship, something I did not want in book one. And the Essen Tasch? Honestly, what better way to hook me than to have a magical competition with a cool ass name? The prose was beautiful and lyrical and the feelings this book evoked were through the roof. I even forgive Victoria for that damn cliffhanger because it was so well done. I was left thinking about this book for months afterwards. In fact, I’m still thinking about this book. This book left me so eager for A Conjuring of Light, it became the number one reason I wanted 2016 to be over. And we all know how much 2016 needs to be over.
2. Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Release Date: March 8
Official Summary: It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.
Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…
Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?
My Thoughts: I’ll be honest, I went into this an early The Last Hours stan and was expecting to like this book as much as I like The Mortal Instruments. By which I mean, I really like The Mortal Instruments, but it’s no Infernal Devices. I was very much mistaken. This story is a refreshing take on the now very familiar Shadow World. It reads a lot like a murder mystery meets heartwarming family tale meets romance novel. I am not ashamed to say I shipped Blackstairs from their very first interaction. I appreciate that the new greatest Shadowhunter is a girl- at long last! And truly, I love Emma Carstairs so much. She’s Buffy and Classic Clare all wrapped in one. We also get the chance to explore friendship between women with Emma and Cristina Rosales, a relationship I find beautiful. As for Julian Blackthorn, he is unlike Cassie’s traditional leading men. He is a family man and an artist, someone who may have forgotten what it’s like to be selfish so when he is, it explodes all over the damn place. The entire Blackthorn family is full of eclectic characters, each one brimming with unique personality. Mark Blackthorn finally comes to the forefront, an openly bisexual character I’ve been eager to learn more about. He ran the risk of becoming yet another broody heartthrob, but his years in the Wild Hunt stunted that, giving him instead innocent curiosity and a chance to relearn how to be human. I really appreciate finally getting to learn more about the Fae in this series, as up to this point they have been very mysterious and our only real interactions were with the Seelie Queen. I loved learning more about this other side to Downworld. As an Edgar Allen Poe fan, I appreciated the Annabelle Lee retelling and thought it did the story justice. Clare’s descriptive prose reached new heights in this book and her characters have once again set up shop in my heart. I am eager to be put through more pain and anguish as this series continues.
3. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Release Date: September 20
Official Summary: Three years ago, when her older sister, Anna, was murdered and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best—the language of violence. While her own crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people. Not with Jack, the star athlete who wants to really know her but still feels guilty over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered. And not with Peekay, the preacher’s kid with a defiant streak who befriends Alex while they volunteer at an animal shelter. Not anyone.
As their senior year unfolds, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting these three teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.
My Thoughts: As you may know, I am not a big fan of contemporary. I often don’t find the stories very interesting, as they are things that any of us could go through on any given day. Usually. But I was very glad to give this book an exception. This story was built on an old Rudyard Kipling quote, “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.” On that basis alone, I was willing to read this book. I am very tired of women being severely underestimated. This book challenged that. Alex Craft not only knows how to kill a man, but has killed a man. And gotten away with it. Besides that, she forms a very unlikely and yet wonderful friendship with Peekay, a girl trying desperately to escape the image of being the preacher’s kid. The story follows them, as well as Jack, through their senior year as they navigate through dating, GPA’s, and murder in a small town. This story can get a tad graphic at times, but never without reason. Never for shock value. The prose was very lyrical and quirky, right out of the mind of a jaded small-towner. Ever since I finished this book, I have recommended it to everyone I’ve met. And I won’t stop. Because I know how to make people read a book.
4. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Release Date: September 27
Official Summary: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.
My Thoughts: Once again, is anyone really surprised? This book was my Most Anticipated Book of 2016. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint. It stayed loyal to the tone of the first book, while expanding on the world we’ve come to know and love. The character development in this book was crazy. Every member of the Dregs impressed me. Every relationship developed in a unique manner, appropriate to the characters involved. Each character’s voice was distinct. And if you thought Six of Crows was a good heist book, wait until you read the heists on heists on heists on heists in this book. I especially loved the cameos made by characters from the original Grisha trilogy and the further development of the Grisha mythology. While one event seemed there only for shock value, I really can’t complain. This book was everything I wanted and more and was so impossible to predict. The story was a wild ride from page one and I am very sad there are no more books in this series. I have yet to stop thinking about this masterpiece of a book.
5. Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Release Date: November 8
Official Summary: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
My Thoughts: I was not prepared to like this book as much as I did. I’ve never been a big fan or Alice or Wonderland or Cheshire Cats. And certainly never of the Queen of Hearts. But this book was so beautifully written, I am now her biggest fan. Catherine baked her way right into my heart and Jest magicked himself there. This novel is very character-driven, but I’m a big believer that a book isn’t good if it doesn’t have excellent characters, so I was okay with this. The earnestness mixed with the bizarre was the perfect juxtaposition. The romance was endearing. And, can I just say, this book hands down has the most iconic ending of 2016. A full month later, and I am still floored. This book queened its way right into my top 5 and I’m not even sorry.
A Few Honorable Mentions:
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
(This post was originally posted on my Tumblr in December 2016.)