When I started thinking about what books I was going to put on this list, it was harder than I thought it would be. I had a difficult time choosing ones I loved versus ones I simply enjoyed. Overall, though, the list turned out pretty well.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is definitely my all-time favorite book of the year, and one of my favorite books in general.
I read this book at the very beginning of the year, so you know it was a great read if it stuck with me for this long. It is set in Barcelona, Spain, during the height of the Spanish Civil War. The story centers on Daniel, a young boy whose father owns a bookstore, who becomes fascinated with a mysterious author named Julian Carax. Only someone is going out of his or her way to destroy all of Carax’s books in print. What’s more, Daniel is surprised to discover that his life mirrors that of the late author.
The writing in The Shadow of the Wind was beautiful and flowed so well. The pacing was not too fast and not too slow. I really liked Daniel and his friend Fermin is easily my favorite side character from any book.
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
I have a whole review of Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco that I posted last month where I am basically gushing about how much I love this book. So, naturally, it deserved a spot on this list.
Stalking Jack the Ripper follows budding forensic pathologist Audrey Rose Wadsworth, who becomes caught up in the Jack the Ripper murders. The writing was great; I was hooked from the first sentence. The depiction of what was happening in London during the Victorian era, both economically and socially, were historically accurate. The issue of women and gender was also brought up frequently. Justice for Jack the Ripper’s victims, all of them unfairly judged prostitutes, was pushed as much as the capture of the killer. I appreciated all these aspects very much.
Audrey Rose, the protagonist, has made it onto the list of my favorite heroines. She’s smart, determined, sassy, and independent. She does not care what others think of her, she rejects society’s expectations of her gender and her social status, and is not afraid to get her hands dirty inside a corpse. And she still loves pretty dresses.
Other characters I enjoyed in this novel are Thomas Cresswell, a fellow forensic pathology student, and Dr. Jonathon Wadsworth, Audrey Rose’s uncle. If you love Will Herondale from Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy, chances are you will love Thomas. Though he still practices the usual manners of the era, such as refusing to say “prostitute” in front of a woman, Dr. Wadsworth does support Audrey in her ambition to pursue a profession society frowns upon for her gender.
The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
One of my new favorite authors of the year, Dawn Kurtagich writes spectacular horror novels written in some of the most interesting formats. The Dead House is the first book I read by her.
Told through diary entries, police interview transcripts, newspaper articles, video transcripts, and other formats, the novel focuses on a mysterious fire that burned a boarding school to the ground, taking the lives of three teenagers. One student, quiet Carly Johnson, is missing. But there is a piece to the puzzle no one could figure out. In the attic of the school, the charred remnants of a diary belonging to a girl named Kaitlyn are found. Except no one has any idea who this Kaitlyn is.
I thought the format the book would throw me off, but it didn’t. The way the story was told added a new level of creepiness to it. Through her diary entries, you see Kaitlyn slowly losing her grip on her reality, struggling to protect Carly while maintaining her own existence. I thought I wouldn’t like the ending either—there is no straightforward answer. But, somehow, for this book, it worked.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Salt to the Sea pulled my heartstrings like a violin. Set the near end of WWII, the story follows four characters as they flee Eastern Europe and boarding the doomed Wilhelm Gustloff, whose casualties were greater than that of the Titanic.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I never learned about the Wilhelm Gustloff in school. Salt to the Sea was eye opening and emotional. Ruta Sepetys did a beautiful job painting a picture of the heartbreak and the tragedy, never shying away from gory details.
The characters all felt real, too. I got attached to three of the four main characters (the fourth was a dimwit Nazi that I did not like at all) as well as some of the minor characters, like the shoe poet. How could anyone not love the shoe poet? The only problem I have with this whole book is that the ONE CHARACTER I did NOT want to die, died.
We Believe You by Annie E. Clark
This book made me uncomfortable, sad, and very, very angry. In other words, it was a good book.
We Believe You is a collection of testimonies from anti-sexual violence activists and college campus sexual assault survivors. It details what these women and men encountered during and after their assaults, the injustice many faced when taking their cases to court, and then taking their lives back by standing up to the sexual violence happening across college campuses.
First of all, I have to say TRIGGER WARNING to anyone that wants to read this book, particularly those who were victims of assaults themselves. While I personally have never been sexually assaulted, several of the accounts in this novel are graphic. Although, given the purpose of the book, that was likely their intent. Let me tell you: it worked.
I was angry with many of the colleges featured in this book. They were more interested in making it go away than getting justice for the victims and protecting the students. I was shocked even more about the lack of support many of the survivors received from friends and family. That made me really, really sad and very, very sick.
Aside from all this, I am so glad I read this book. It was inspiring and thought-provoking. Anyone, whether you are a victim of sexual assault or you know someone who is a survivor, you can find strength in this book, and words of wisdom on how to deal with your own situation, reminding you that you’re not alone in what you are feeling.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Wrath and the Dawn was as beautiful as everyone promised it would be. I love Shazi, the protagonist, who could give Aelin from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas a run for her money as a badass lady. She’s smart and brave. She loves her friends and family. She’s not afraid to risk it all to do the right thing, even if others don’t always agree with her. Shazi is what made The Wrath and the Dawn for me.
Another aspect I loved about this book was the world building. Until I read The Wrath and the Dawn, I had not read a lot of books set in the Middle East. I thought I would be confused by the magic system or the mythology behind it. Only it was written in a way I could understand and the explanation behind what was happening was not complicated as some other high fantasy novels are.
Also, can we take a moment to gush about Khalid? Seriously, who would not want to be this boy’s queen?
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
I loved The Wrath and the Dawn and An Ember in the Ashes in equal measure, so it was hard for me to rank these two on my favorites lists this year. In terms of writing, I would have to say An Ember in the Ashes wins. I found myself rereading passages several times while reading this book.
I was also fascinated by the world: a high fantasy atmosphere mirroring Ancient Rome. The school for the Masks was my favorite part. These kids are trained to be warriors, with both the emotional and mental states of soldiers. Then, you have Elias, one of the main characters, rebelling against everything he’s been taught because he was not entirely brought up within that society. He risked a lot to stand up for what was right—and putting his bitch of a mother in her place.
As for Laia, the other protagonist, I identified a lot with her. Going undercover as a slave to help her brother took guts, but she has such a low self-esteem she still sees herself as weak. I suffer from self-doubt a lot, so that is something I can understand. Plus, I loved how she and Elias worked together, balancing each other out.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Absolutely my favorite book in the Cormoran Strike mystery series by Robert Galbraith, Career of Evil made me wish JK Rowling would give up writing more Harry Potter stories to focus on her Galbraith books.
Career of Evil is the most thrilling and complex mystery in the series so far. Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin are two of my favorite characters. They are flawed, but likeable characters and smart, determined investigators. While some people say they prefer them as work friends, I personally would like to see them come together as a couple. I detest the people Strike and Robin are currently paired with. But if that never happens, they still make great detective partners.
Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
I read Queen of Shadows, book 4 in the Throne of Glass series, in January, and Empire of Storms, book 5 in the series, in November. When I read Queen of Shadows, I wrote in my Goodreads review that it was my least favorite book in the series thus far. However, that title now belongs to Empire of Storms.
The writing in Queen of Shadows was great and the world building fantastic. The plot was complex in a good way. But I felt that, at some parts, it dragged on and 100 pages could have been shed off. I cared for all the characters. I grew to adore Manon and I was scared for Dorian. I like Rowan a lot as a character, but I found his relationship with Aelin to be forced. I was concerned for Aelin, but I felt she was making a lot of poor choices that told me she was not ready to be a queen. And I absolutely detested the horrendous character shaming directed at Chaol. But the twist at the end made up for all that.
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Jessie Burton is another favorite author I discovered this year. I read two of her books, The Miniaturist and The Muse, and enjoyed both of them in equal measure. But between the two, it had to be The Muse that was my favorite.
Set in alternating time periods, one in London 1967 and the other in Spain 1936, the novel follows the perspective of two different young women, whose lives are connected by a mysterious painting. That is all I’m going to say.
The best way to read a Jessie Burton novel is to go into knowing as little as possible. She writes complicated plots filled with twists. She leaves just breadcrumbs for the reader to put the pieces together for themselves. But, chances are, what you are thinking is about to happen, might not.
Her writing style is beautiful. The Muse is hunker of a book, but Jessie Burton writes in a way that makes the story a breeze, as well as urges you to keep reading. She also has a way of vividly describing historical events, exploring the social and economical issues of the centuries she writes in. The characters are realistic and flawed, but still as likeable as they can be. On a side note, though, don’t make any of the couples in The Muse your next OTP.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The most heartbreaking book on this list, Thirteen Reasons Why reminded me of how much I hated high school.
A strange reason to add a book, but I understand why even my friends that don’t read as much as I do love Thirteen Reasons Why. Everyone can see a little bit of himself or herself in either Hannah or Clay. Hannah was the new girl in town that only wanted to make friends and fit in. Then, she makes one silly mistake and everyone turns against her. People targeted her for a perceived slight. She was left alone to deal with the problem. Her secrets and her loneliness pushed her over the edge.
As for Clay, he was a good kid who was only trying to do the right thing. In the end, he does. Instead of letting Hannah’s suicide be for nothing, he stopped history from potentially repeating itself.
Thirteen Reasons Why taught me—and everyone else—that, no matter what “clique” you were a part of in high school, those four years are a bitch to everyone.
This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
My first ever book by Victoria Schwab and it did not disappoint. I received this book in my July Owlcrate box “Good vs. Evil.” I read it a month later and, though the beginning was slow, once it picked up, the story was great.
The writing is some of the loveliest I have read in a book. Victoria Schwab was not trying too hard to be poetic; she just is. The world is fascinating. Monsters born from the violent act of humans is one of the most original ideas I have seen in books. It was enough dystopian and fantasy that it worked. The main characters, Kate and August, were amazing. I loved August and I enjoyed watching Kate grow as a person. No one in this world was strictly good or evil.
The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter
The first book I ever reviewed on my blog, The First Time She Drowned is a dark contemporary young adult novel about a girl, recently released from a mental hospital, and her chaotic relationship with her unstable mother. As someone who identified with the main character because of my relationship with my own mother, this book left a lasting impression on me.
The writing was beautiful and the author does a good job at making you question the protagonist’s sanity at several moments. The main character, Cassie, was realistic and flawed, but still likeable. The novel is classified as young adult and there is a romance in the story. However, the relationships Cassie benefits from the most are her friendships and her counselor. And what I love most about this book is that it’s Cassie who saves herself in the end.
The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
I had to put The Women in the Walls on this list, even though I only read it back in October. This is another book I wrote a review on for my blog, if you are interested.
The Women in the Walls is advertised as a horror and fantasy young adult novel, although I would say more under the former than the latter. For most of the book, it would fall under the category of psychological horror. Is Lucy, the main character, hearing things or is the house really haunted?
Most people would be sick of the “haunted house” trope, but Amy Lukavics has a way of making it work. She created an atmosphere that was unsettling and creepy. Anything strange happening in the novel usually surrounded Lucy’s aunt Penelope or her cousin Margaret. It doesn’t get truly gory until the last thirty pages, which is refreshing.
My favorite aspect of the novel, though, was Lucy. She knew something was wrong and she wanted to find out why rather than bury her head in the sand. She was surprisingly determined for someone that grew up sheltered by her wealthy but dysfunctional family. While she struggled with self-harm, Lucy knew it was not healthy and sought help for it, knowing her family would not give her the support she needed. Plus, the ending was not one I ever expected.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
I remember, when I first started reading Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, I wanted to give it 3.5 stars. The writing was very good, only the plot started off slow and it bothered me—until the end of the book really—what the main character’s father asked her to do. Then, I reached the halfway point and I bumped it up to 4 stars.
I really liked Jo, the main character. She was a good person with great values. I love her friendships with Dana, her best friend; B.T.B, a sweet mentally challenged boy she meets at school; and George, a boy with two moms she befriends. They impact the story as much as Jo’s budding romance with Mary Carlson, another character I liked. (Although I was not a fan of how she was pushing Jo to come out to everyone in town, even though Jo lied to her about already being aware of her sexuality). This book was a great diverse contemporary read. It was fun and I highly recommend everyone read it.
And I Darken by Kiersten White
When I first heard of this book, a retelling of the Ottoman Empire if Vlad the Impaler was a woman, my first thought was GIMME! While I was not blown away by this book like many others were, I still enjoyed it immensely and I will pick up its sequel, Now I Rise, as soon as it becomes available this summer.
And I Darken was my first book by Kiersten White. The writing was beautiful and the author clearly did her research on the Ottoman Empire, such as what happened in history at that time, what daily life was like for people, particularly women, and the corruption within the different courts. The beginning started off slow, but once the story picked up, it was hard to put down.
As for Lada, the main character, I liked her, except I had mixed feelings about her. She was strong and cunning, and survived by her wits. She was considered unattractive, yet she didn’t care. On the flip side, I did not like how she treated her brother Radu, her polar opposite and my favorite character. He was such a sweet boy and I’m really worried about what’s going to happen to him in the next book. As for Mehmed, the prince of the Ottoman Empire, I have no idea how I feel about him. In a more contemporary novel, I would have called him a sexist prick. But given the time period And I Darken is set in, I have to admit, he is true to character. I’m curious to see what’s going to happen with him the rest of the trilogy.
If asked to review my reading in 2016 as a whole, I would have to say it was not the worst but not the best. I read 89 books this year, plus at least five rereads. Compared to 2015, which I read 108 books, that’s significantly low. Although, several of my friends that struggle with reading would roll their eyes at me.
However, 2016 was also when I became more critical of books. Unlike previous years, I didn’t hesitate handing out 2 star ratings, even if I did actually like the book. I learned that you could like a book, but know it’s not something overly impressive and will have problems you can’t get past.
The good news is I haven’t run out of material to read. I have a whole list of books I hope to read in 2017 and I know which ones to read to start the year off right. 2017, if the trend of odd number years sticks, will be another great reading year for me.