I figured this would be as good a place to start as any – my favourite top 10 books of 2016.
I did the Reading Challenge on Goodreads last year. I don’t think I quite managed to hit my target of 50 books, but that’s okay. I know I got quite a good way through it.
So looking down my ‘books read in 2016’ list, I wanted to do a low-down on what were the best books I read last year.
#10 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This was one of those books I picked up in one of my Waterstones hauls. I tend to do this thing where I’m bored, near Waterstones, and I can’t remember the fact that my TBR shelf is literally one whole shelf (which was two massive piles last year). I walk in, pick a load of books up, and look at the cover. If the cover is cool, I’ll read the blurb. If that holds my attention, I’ll flick to a random page and read it. Uprooted was one of these.
This is the blurb:
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
It’s a fantasy novel, and focuses mostly on Agnieszka learning from the Dragon. I don’t want to give too much away, but when I first read the blurb I was very intrigued. Would this be a totally new take on Dragons? Why was it just called the Dragon? Was there more than one?
There’s a lot to be uncovered here in Novik’s novel – of course, we’re all wondering why she’s capitalized Wood, too. And what is so terrible about this Wood? I was asking these questions as I continued the story.
I wasn’t disappointed in the first third of this book, and the middle section had a good pace too. But this was one of those novels which fell down at the end. The resolutions were not the problem – other events during the novel were. The romance plot felt a little forced, although I suppose this was necessary for one of the main character’s development arcs.
Overall I did like this book, but since it’s not one I’ve kept (but would recommend), I have to give it a 3/5.
#9 – Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Marissa Meyer’s first in the Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder is an original take on a well-known fairy story. She’s updated the story to feel very sci-fi. It’s still familiar, however, but not too much so that I was bored.
I really enjoyed the story, and felt the plot was good even if I did guess the twist very, very early on. The characters are well-written and I enjoyed the world. I’m looking forward to picking up others in the Lunar Chronicles, because this book was a good read. It didn’t thrill me to high heaven but it was an entertaining read for an afternoon and I’d recommend it to young teenage readers and YA fans.
Overall I’d probably give this another 3/5 – the plot was solid and the world was interesting.
#8 – Railsea by China Mieville
Having read Mieville’s The City and the City last year, I was pleasantly surprised by his writing style. I bought Railsea after a little bit of thought, not wanting to choose one of Mieville’s heftier reads.
This is another story which is familiar to most of us – it’s heavily influenced/based on Moby Dick, it is spattered with other literary references which you’ll miss if you’re paying too much attention to the plot or trying to get into the world.
The world itself in this novel is well-crafted and well-thought out. I think this book would have benefitted from more illustrations, and because the protagonist was quite young, I think this would be a great book to give to young teenage readers, especially boys, to encourage them to read more. It’s got excitement, adventure, and a bit of mystery.
I enjoyed the first half of the novel, but felt it fell down in the latter second. The characters seemed to be getting rushed through the motions of the plot by this point, although whether this is another clever ‘rhythmic’ aspect to the book by Mieville I don’t know. I’m not prepared to re-read just yet, although it’s still sat on my shelf amongst my favourite books, so who knows? I might just take it on holiday with me.
Mieville’s book is full of little surprises like that, and the illustrations that are there are absolutely gorgeous. It’s a book worth checking out, especially accessible if you’re younger than 20. Not all of his books are easy reads, but this one I sailed through until the last third. I’ll probably be checking out some more Mieville masterpieces in the coming months, if and when I manage to get through what I’ve already got to read!
Another 3/5 due to personal preference, but I think a re-read would probably cause me to push my rating a bit higher (it’s a really, really good book).
# 7 – We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Oh boy, oh boy. One of the biggest books of the 2000’s. I remember this book causing a storm on the prize lists, book clubs and internet forums everywhere. My dad read it ages ago for his book club – which has been running just over ten years now – and I had the fortune to have to read it for one of my modules this year.
It’s brilliant. Wonderfully crafted, very original use of the epistolary form. We’re immediately asking who she is writing to, who is this person? All the way through the novel we are also wondering why Eva never gets any replies.
I have to say, I’d cracked it by the time another character is introduced to the novel, but nonetheless this is a book which is still full of surprises right until the end. I imagine this book is even more disturbing if you’re a parent – could you even conceive this happening, much less it being your own child that would do this? It’s an interesting insight into the mindset of these types of people and definitely one book I didn’t want to put down.
The main thing I really liked about Kevin was the fact that Eva is not a likeable person. She’s headstrong, driven, career-minded, culturally aware, and yet she feels empty herself. And she’s a lot of other things, too. Shriver cleverly twists and turns the novel to make us first like, hate, agree with, disagree with, Eva, until we’re not sure whether it’s nurture or nature that has led to this development. And it’s a development of Eva’s son that takes years and years to happen.
Stick with this one if you’re unsure. It’s meaty and descriptive, two things I’m not always set out to read. In my case, I had to read it. But I would have still continued with it even if I had chosen to read this book of my own volition. It’s excellent and worth checking out.
Overall I’d give this book 4/5. Not one of my all time favourites, but it’s certainly earned all the praise it got when it first caused an uproar.
# 6 – Hell-Heaven by Jhumpa Lahiri
It’s certainly not the prettiest cover for a book I’ve ever seen – and I doubt it’s yours, either. But this short story really made an impression on me last year and I thought it definitely worth a mention.
Lahiri is well known for her short stories and if you’re into women’s writing, you should definitely check her work out.
This is a sweet story. Although, I say that, and I think about the dark places this short touches upon, too. It seems very slice-of-life when you first start reading it, but get into it further and you uncover all the revelations the protagonist had as she was growing up. It’s a beautiful short story about all sorts of things – marriage, infidelity, love, romance, sex, coming of age, mother-daughter relationships, identity, nationality, and acceptance.
Beautifully well written, you won’t stumble on the prose at all. You’ll barely even remember you’re reading a short story. With any luck, this one will make you cry.
Overall, 4/5. So well-written you forget you’re reading, amazing characters given life in such a short space of time, and a great story altogether.
#5 – Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Again, not a book that’s been around for years but it’s certainly gained some attention. My fiancee put me onto Joe Hill because I said I wanted to read more horror. And exactly the type of horror I like reading is what I got.
I managed to finish this in two sittings, and it was very Stephen King-esque (but not to the extremes, which I liked). Hill managed to have all the good parts of King without the bad parts, and injected a lot of his own writing style in there too.
If you’re into your heavy rock and metal bands, you’ll probably enjoy the satirical approach to that in this novel. I have no doubt that there were all sorts of musical references I didn’t get amongst the ones I did manage to pick up on.
The plot I felt got a bit convoluted towards the end, and honestly the antagonist was one of those that I just wish would die and go away. The very fact, though, that Joe Hill managed to make me feel that was probably a good thing. It’s probably exactly how his protagonists were feeling, too!
You grow to love them, even if you’re not on their side right from the start. It’s quite simply written, and has a bit of humour in it too. Who said there’s not a book for everyone?
A good, easy horror read. I would definitely recommend Hill’s other books. 3/5.
# 4- Red Rising by Pierce Brown
I didn’t want to begin negatively, but I can’t tell you how much I wanted to hate this book. I kept seeing it on the tables in Waterstones and just passing it off as another YA series that was making the charts because that’s what everyone is reading at the minute if they’re aged 16-30.
But you know what? I… actually liked it. Quite a lot, in fact. The opening of the book (I hesitate to call it a novel because Red Rising is the first in a trilogy) really got me hooked, and the initial twist was something I didn’t expect (although I was reading a YA story so I should have seen it coming).
From then it becomes slightly… meh for a while. Then it turns into an echo of The Hunger Games. But don’t despair! It’s actually very original in it’s approach and I liked lots of the characters. I felt the tension was high in this book and the characters – even the main one, for once – were pretty complex and at one point you were cheering them on, the next you wanted to bang your head against a wall. I think this book did actually conjure some tears in me for a second, and I’m honestly okay with that.
The main thing I liked about this story is you didn’t know who to trust. It did keep me guessing the whole way through, which was refreshing, and I didn’t find myself ahead of the plot before it had already happened. Of course we know the protagonist is going to pull through, but how that happens is just as interesting as the final result.
The ending was quite… lacklustre, in parts, but I think it did a good job of setting up for the proposed sequels. This book is written as though it was always intended to be part of a trilogy, unlike many YA novels I’ve read where the sequels seem very forced and churned out.
I’m yet to pick up the next two, but I’m stalling until I’ve got less to read. One day, Pierce Brown, one day.
Overall, 4/5. A good YA novel, refreshing in a saturated market.
# 3 – Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb
Last year I read tonnes and tonnes of graphic novels, but this year I significantly pared down what I read. I lost momentum with Attack on Titan and ended up reading a lot of science fiction.
That aside, my fiancee bought me this because I’d mentioned I’d read The Long Halloween but not the sequel.
And the sequel is bloody glorious. Tim Sale delivers beautiful illustrations once again, evoking a really classical Batman feel to this amazing story. It also serves as an origin story for Robin, which fits seamlessly into Loeb’s tale.
I took this one at a leisurely pace. Sometimes I really appreciate books which don’t make me need to sit down and read it all at once. I delayed finishing this by about 2 months, but once I got back into it, I loved it.
Dark Victory features lots of favourite villains and weaves them in cleverly without it feeling forced. I recommend it if you’ve read The Long Halloween or even if you’re looking for other Batman material.
Overall, 4/5. Really enjoyed it, fun to read and a good murder mystery.
# 2 – Low by Rick Remender
I hope you can immediately see why I chose to read this.
There’s a really cool local comic store in the market near me, and he gets in a lot of new material. I’m browsing the shelves one day, doing the same thing I do in Waterstones but applying the same formula to comics, and I find issue #1 of Low. I’m attracted by the deep sea visuals and the sci-fi vibe I’m getting.
So I pick it up. Read it. Next day, I go back and buy issue #2.
Then it’s a long time later that I pick up volume #1. I chomp through it.
And it’s probably my favourite comic series to date. I mean, I love Remender’s stuff anyway, I think he’s a brilliant writer, but this is probably one of his best works (IMO). Not only is Tocchini’s artwork gorgeous, it creates an atmosphere that compliments Remender’s story perfectly.
I really, really recommend this to comic fans and sci-fi fans. Female protagonist, interesting world, lots of hidden backstory stuff.
Overall, 5/5. An honour reserved only for my favourite pieces of literature.
Drumroll, please. #1 from last year was…
#1 – The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Another one of my ‘randomly pick it up because it’s pretty’ books.
This book redefined, for me, what I want in science fiction novels.
I honestly don’t think I can review this book and tell you all why I enjoyed it so much and do the damn thing justice.
Chambers came under a lot of fire from her readers for her lack of plot – evidently these are readers who are used to a strong plot and not much character development. Chambers allows her characters to be the engine of this story, though, and it definitely benefits from that. They’re diverse and well written and complex and the world is amazing. She’s created this multicultural mess of alien species which is so, so interesting to read about.
This book is the only book, to date, which has made me cry a total of probably 6 times. Maximum before that is probably 2 for one book.
It’s my new all time favourite. It surpasses Watchmen, Howls’ Moving Castle, all of those. She’s an exciting new writer and I can’t wait to see where she goes.
(Upon writing this, I have read the sequel, but it’s probably something I’ll review at a different time).
Yep, you guessed it. 5/5. One of the top spots on my favourites list forever.
So that’s it! My Top 10 from 2016. What were your favourite books from last year? Let me know in the comments.