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The Compulsive Reader: December 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

My Favorite Books of 2016

I hate compiling my favorite books of the year in a single post until the year is actually dead, partly because, well, what if I read my most favorite book on December 31st? It would be ridiculous and untrue to include it in 2017's list (and anyway, I might not remember it very well a year from now). But I'm fully aware that most people stop caring about best of lists after January 1st, if indeed they ever cared to begin with, so here we are. If I read something truly great in the next three days, I promise that I'll let you know about it.

This was a weird reading year! For the first time since I've been keeping a reading record, I had no assigned reading for school. None! I was a free bird, and I used my newfound reading freedom to re-read a lot of childhood favorites. Most notably was the Great Harry Potter Re-Read of January, the first time I read all of the Harry Potter books straight through. That was wondrous, and I found myself enjoying the books just as much now as I did 10+ years ago, and reading them all in a row brought about some really interesting insights. Other re-reads include Phillip Pullman's Sally Lockhart series (oh, Freddie!!!) and Garth Nix's (original) Abhorsen trilogy. Now, I'm not saying that my re-reads caused this, but look, I re-read those books and suddenly 2016 gifted us with a Harry Potter sequel and an Abhorsen sequel...so...I mean...maybe I should re-read Sunshine by Robin McKinley a few times in 2017!? Hope springs eternal.

Anyway, all that aside, here are some of my favorites read in 2016, in no particular order, from no particular publication year, because 2016 was the year I embraced reading chaos:

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This middle grade book made my heart grow three sizes. The protagonist is believably discriminated against and neglected in an awful way, and her life begins when she escapes London during WWII and finds a home for the first time, and therapy in a delightful little horse. Plus, no terrible animal peril! Plus, there's going to be a sequel. I can't wait.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This book has been getting incredible buzz since 2014, so I was suitably blown away when I finally read it. It's smart and emotional and dark. I loved the Michigan setting, and the fact that many pivotal scenes occur in very familiar (local) landscapes. The way Mandel beautifully wove in between present and past to connect a great many characters still astounds me.

The Scorpion Rules and The Swan Riders by Erin Bow

I'll admit, I didn't read the first book in this duet as soon as I should have, and what sent me running to it was the fact that there is a f/f romance. I'm both shallow and predictable like that. But I am so glad I picked them up--these books are razor-sharp smart, with a memorable antagonist AI who speaks like a millennial and a plucky, strong protagonist who wants to be strong and do what's right, but learns that doing so requires great sacrifice...just not that kind she was prepared for. I desperately want Erin Bow to publish more books about Greta and Talis and Xi, so please please please support these wonderful books!

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock

Alaska, 1970's. Four teenagers growing up in a very distinct, wildly beautiful, and sometimes harsh setting. Their stories stand independent at first, but slowly wind closer and closer together over the course of a year. The writing, the characters, the snapshots of life in Alaska were all so very beautiful. This is probably one of the most overlooked books of the year.

Of Fire & Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

I could say a lot about this book, but I'll leave it to this: Fantasy! Princesses falling in love! Magic! HORSES! KISSING! This book is pure fun, heart-flutteringly romantic, and quite adventurous. I could re-read it every month.

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

Gertie is memorable in the same way that Ramona Quimby and Gilly Hopkins is--a well-intentioned, sometimes misbehaving kid who wants so much, and who runs head-first into things without fully thinking them through. Her adventures are funny and real and sometimes painful, but always uniquely her own.

You Know Me Well by David Leviathan and Nina LaCour

This book! Is so gay! And I mean that in the best way possible, of course. It's like Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, only everyone is gay. And it's set in San Francisco during Pride Week. If those sentences haven't sold you, I honestly don't know what will.

The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

You already know that I believe Melina is the Queen of Everything, and The Piper's Son is just proof of that. I loved this book as much as Jellicoe Road, if not more. It's an odd duck, not quite YA and not quite adult. But the writing is lovely and the emotions are real, and I read it in almost one setting, sobbing along the way.

Georgia Peaches & Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

I love this swoony, Southern romance about Jo, who falls for a girl she knows she shouldn't fall for, and struggles to prove that she can be both an out lesbian  and a good Christian. Brown gets all the props for tackling the gay and Christian issue so fearlessly and so gracefully, plus, you guys, this book is REALLY ROMANTIC.

Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin

TECHNICALLY a 2017 release that I blurbed, and by a fellow VCFA writer. I heard Bonnie read an excerpt from this at her graduation in 2014, and trust me, it'll blow you all away. I so cannot wait for it to be out in the world, so look for it in May.

An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Yeah, yeah, I know, everyone already knows how amazing this series is but I just finally read it this year, okay? So I'm jumping on the caboose here, but let me tell you, I am here. An Ember in the Ashes was tense and exciting and then A Torch Against the Night was even better. Plus, Tahir took something that is usually a pet peeve of mine (adding an additional first person POV to a sequel) and made it incredible!

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

So, I read all of Fiona Wood's YA books this year (Six Impossible Things and Wildlife) and they are all great. I just wanted to say that upfront. Read them all. But this one was my favorite, because it has the sweetest love story at the center of it, and because the protagonist Van Uoc wants and wants so much, and her life and her emotions are messy, but she battles through her fears and doubts, and she is strong. I love her.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I mean, ditto what I said about Tahir's books here. I finally read this duet and I am in love. All I can say is that Bardugo is Queen of Plot. I bow down at her throne. Also, I sobbed buckets at the end, damn it!

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

It's always a special sort of delight to read writing that is so lovely, a story that is so heartbreaking and enchanting, a book that is so very important for our world. This is one of those books. It's a fairy tale set in the real world, and it's about the power of love, and identity, and names. I will happily thrust this book on anyone and everyone.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta

My girl Melina took a step out of her usual YA category and released an adult novel this year. I was so very worried that I wouldn't like it because it was so different from what I was used to, but I ADORED it. It's an adult mystery, but all of the things I love about her writing--strong ensemble casts, memorable teen characters, heartbreaking back stories, beautiful emotional arcs, and meditations on the immigrant experience--were present here. It was like a brand new recipe using all of my favorite flavors.

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

This was a surprising little story. I've been wanting to read this book for a long time, and when I mentioned it to my mom, she exclaimed, "That's one of my favorite books!" I immediately borrowed her copy and was completely absorbed in this story about wartime courage and strength and resistance, and how the two characters who only chanced upon each other during the war found each other again years later and, together, built something greater than themselves. I truly enjoyed this book, and part of my sentimentality towards it is the connection it gave me to my mom.

What were your favorite books of 2016?