My Top Reads from 2016*
*books may have been published in any year, I just read them in 2016
The combination of reading and writing romance left me kind of burned out on the genre, so this year I decided to do a palate cleanser and read non-romance titles. I originally intended it to be just a month or so, but it turns out I really loved and missed reading other types of stories.
Growing up I read romance in starts and fits—I discovered Sandra Brown and read every book in the library, then stopped altogether. Years later, I obsessively read all the Johanna Lyndsey books I could get my hands on—and there were a lot. Then I stopped. When 50 Shades came out I read it because of the hype (turns out it’s really not for me) but it made me aware of all the awesome varieties of romance (and romance writers) out there, and finding some of those stories is what inspired me to start writing my own. I then started reading romance almost exclusively, but as with too much of any great thing, it became, well, too much. There’s a lot of sameness in the stories, and while some people find comfort in that, I found my mind wandering…to any other genre. Which brings us to the list below.
I didn’t read many romances this year, so that’s why there are none here. (Though some of these do have romantic elements.) But if you’re looking for some great non-romance reads in 2017, I’d recommend the following.
Libba Bray – The Diviners Series
A number of years ago I bought my friend a copy of Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. It’s the kind of gift that’s for both of you – she could read it first, then I’d read it after. Unfortunately she dropped it in the bath and it was ruined, and it was some years before I picked up a copy for myself. I loved most of it, but the end fell apart for me and I didn’t continue with the series. Then this year a different friend recommended Bray’s Diviner Series books, The Diviners and Lair of Dreams. I was in the mood for something different, and books set in 1920’s New York about a group of people with various paranormal abilities fit the bill. The first book slowly but deliberately pulls you into its creepy, magical world and doesn’t let go until the last page. I couldn’t wait to pick up book two, and I wasn’t disappointed. According to Goodreads there are two more books coming in the series, so there are plot threads that aren’t answered in these books—but there are so many plot threads that you don’t care, you just want more. Bray has a really wonderful storytelling voice and I love her fantastically original, complex plots.
Blake Crouch – The Wayward Pines trilogy
I’ve heard of the TV show but never watched it and never knew what it was about. Earlier this year I was looking for something new to read and decided to give this series a try. I’m so glad I did. Book one is the story of a guy waking up injured and confused in a town that’s too good to be true…and won’t let him leave. There are so many complicated and strange clues—cicada sounds come from microphones; his former co-worker lives there but now she’s eight years older than him; the road out leads in—that I had absolutely no idea what the big reveal at the end would be. Two of my friends later read the book and they couldn’t guess, either. Books two and three were just as good, and again I had no clue how the story would end—and it didn’t disappoint. They’re really fast reads if you’re in the mood for something eerie and mysterious.
M.R. Carey – The Girl with All the Gifts
Hands down my favourite book of the year, and this is a year with some really great reads. I saw this on a Daily Deal post and because I was once again looking to read something outside of my usual genre, I decided to pick it up. I was lucky enough to see some reviews that suggested I go in blind, and I’m so glad I took that advice. This is a book you should start with no other information than the title (which tells you nothing). I was surprised by how much I cared about the main character, and just when I thought I knew which direction the story would take, it veered into completely new territory. I also couldn’t figure out how on earth it would resolve, and I ultimately found the ending sadly satisfying. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I would recommend this book to people who don’t like their stories tied up with happy pink bows, just conclusions that are believable even as they break your heart.
Amie Kaufman – Illuminae
This book has the very interesting distinction of being a story that was amazing but so exhausting to read that I don’t want to read anymore books in the series. It’s another one I saw as part of a Daily Deal post, and because it was recommended for having an unusual and interesting format, I picked up the e-book. Right after completing my purchase I saw comments saying you should only read the hard copy, as some of the formatting is difficult to see in digital. This is totally true—if you’re tempted to read it, get a paper copy. Otherwise, this story was intense and original, funny, emotional, terrifying, and relentless. I had to take reading breaks just to get my heart rhythm back to normal. It’s told through a series of reports/interviews/transcripts, and it’s the story of a futuristic world wherein a planet is attacked and survivors escape on two ships. There’s a young couple that recently broke up, and they’re on opposite ships. The heroine is a hacker and her ex-boyfriend is a slacker who’s commissioned into the ship’s pilot program because they have no one else to pick from. Together they work together to figure out what exactly is going on with the ships and how to survive a deadly virus outbreak that’s turning everyone into sociopaths. The journey is not easy and it’s oftentimes terrifying, and there’s just enough levity and hope to balance the sacrifice and sadness.
Marie Rutkoski – The Winner’s Curse
Very rarely do I judge a book by its cover, but I saw this recommended on Twitter as part of a “Look at these covers, aren’t they beautiful?” post and I have to agree—they’re gorgeous. I’m kind of tired of books that have kickass heroines simply to say they have kickass heroines, and in this series the heroine is crap at fighting but an excellent strategist and I appreciated the twist. The basic premise is that the heroine is the daughter of a general whose government overthrew a land/people and took over their country, and the hero is a slave (formerly of that land) that the heroine buys. Little does she know, the hero is plotting to overthrow the government—aka her father—and she’s accidentally sort of helping him. I love plots/setups that have no clear solution, and this one has so many obstacles that it was never easy. Unfortunately books two and three weren’t nearly as enjoyable for me—I felt that the couple was kept apart for increasingly inane reasons simply to draw out the series—but a friend who read them thought all three were wonderful. Feel free to find out for yourself. Book one is a winner, regardless.
Michael Lewis – The Big Short
I read this at the beginning of the year before the movie came out. I’m one of those people who has to read the book before they see the movie, and I wanted to understand more about the recession and its causes—and boy did I learn a lot. The downside is I didn’t enjoy the movie that much because it offered simple explanations for all the things I had just learned and I was like, YEAH I KNOW, but it was a really compelling and interesting—and difficult—book that was informative and inflammatory all at the same time. You have to pay attention while you’re reading, but it’s well worth the effort.
Michael Moss – Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
This is another non-fiction title, this one about food making and food marketing and all the pieces in between that put processed food on our tables and add inches to our waistlines. It was frustrating and fascinating in equal measure, and so compelling to see how we started down the slippery slope to eating so much unhealthy food. There’s an entire chapter on Coke—my favourite food—and even though I still love it, it’s crazy to think about the contents. Growing up my sister’s favourite lunch was crackers, cheese and meat, and the later success of Lunchables showed she was not alone. Learning how terribly unhealthy Lunchables are was shocking. I still drink Coke. I don’t eat Lunchables. I’m suspicious at the supermarket.
I had a pretty great reading year, but these are the titles that topped my list. Feel free to get in touch with some of your favourite finds—as you can see, I’m open to anything. Happy reading!