My Top Ten Favorite Reads From 2016
I've read more books this year than probably the last ten put together. As of the start of December, the count is at 36! Y'all, that's insanity. Truly. So it is with great pleasure that I share my ten favorite books from 2016! Not all were published this year; I just read them this year. Pull out your TBR list, and let's do this.
In order but not really...
1. Red Rising - Pierce Brown
Red Rising has everything - spies, class warfare, coming of age, star-crossed lovers, high-stakes competition - all set in space. The story centers around 16 year-old Darrow, a lowly Red from Planet Mars, who, after his wife is killed by the powerful Golds for breaking a simple rule, infiltrates the highest color by becoming one, hoping to bring them down from the inside. The story is engaging, well written, full of interesting characters with snappy dialogue, and despite this being a debut novel, Brown is a terrific world builder. I'm almost done with the third and final book in the trilogy, and unless the ending just blows, it's one of my absolute favorite series ever. If you like dystopian YA, you'll be so into Red Rising.
2. Bellweather Rhapsody - Kate Racculia
The description of Bellweather Rhapsody reads like a Wes Anderson film. High school students arrive at a remote hotel in upstate New York to attend a music camp, and one of the attendees is murdered. It's quirky and bold with a story that moves and characters that have surprising dimension. A huge arc of the story is when the orchestra plays a particular piece, and as the author magical described the music, I realized I could listen to the actual music while I read. MAGIC. Such a fun bonus to an already great book. Plus it has a gorgeous cover.
3. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
Earth is decaying and gross, so naturally everyone lives in a massive, global virtual reality. In the real world, the poor live in government housing trailers that are literally stacked one top of another, their money exclusively going to gaming equipment so they can put on goggles, grab a controller, and escape into a virtual world. People work, go to school, play sports, travel, and do pretty much everything virtually. The more money you have, the more expansive your virtual experience.
When the creator and coder of this VR dies, he leaves his entire fortune and control of the VR empire to whomever can solve an impossible treasure hunt within the virtual world. Ready Player One follows one such treasure hunter in the highest staked puzzle anyone has ever seen. There are dozens of references to 80s pop culture and gaming, and even though I knew about 8% of the references (I grew up in the 80s but wasn't a teenager in the 80s), I still luuuuuved the book.
4. Falling Free - Shannan Martin
I gave up highlighting Falling Free because every page would've been neon yellow. Shannan Martin is a stunning writer, and her debut nonfiction work is challenging, engaging, tearful, hilarious, and gritty real. She shares stories from her life of moving to the wrong side of the tracks, of adopting one of her sons who her husband met while working as the local jail chaplain, of kindly questioning whether our pursuit of 401k's instead of pursuing the least of these is really what God calls us to. It's kind in its questions, gentle in its admonishments, and devastatingly authentic as Shannan shares her own screws ups in kingdom work, giving us permission to keep doing it wrong... as long as we keep doing it. I. Love. This. Book. It's a yearly read for sure. Also another winning book cover.
5. The Nightingale - Kristen Hannah
A beautiful novel worth the spot on many top lists over the last couple of years. The Nightingale set in World War II (aren't they all), but it's rich in thoughtful characters, an easily imagined setting, and a story that takes you through the war like you were living in it yourself. A close friend is reading it at the moment, and she texted me this: "If Kaz were deported and you were sent to a concentration camp, I would raise your children for you. Carry on." Granted, that's a little dark for a Wednesday in 2016, but the characters in this book feel like you and me, regular people responding to a slowly encroaching war and trying to make it work. We'd watch our friends get taken away and then care for their children without a second thought. We'd eat less so our families could eat more. We'd chop wood and mend fences and do all the things necessary to keep our houses running while all the men are fighting a seemingly senseless war. We'd carry on and love even when it's not safe. It's a harrowing story that also feels incredibly regular. You'll cry so much, but it's worth it.
6. Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates
An essential read. I'm a white woman who has known little want in my life, and it's imperative that I understand how others do not live the same way. In Between the World and Me, Coates write to his son about how to live as a black man in America, and it's remarkable. It changed me. If you haven't read this, you must. Truly you must.
7. How to Cook Everything Fast - Mark Bittman
Sure, it's a cookbook, but I legit read it cover to cover. Such a page-turner. The recipes use normal ingredients, simple techniques, and they're broken down in a brilliant way, showing you not just how to cook the food but how and when to prep it while you're cooking. Not only has every recipe I've made been great and super easy, it's helped me become more efficient in the kitchen while enjoying the process even more. There are no pictures and a million recipes, but it's my current dinner go-to. I love it on the Kindle so I can highlight and sort, but if you're a real-life book person, prepare for the heft. It's the size of three Trapper Keepers.
8. Jane Steele - Lyndsay Fay
What if Jane Eyre was a serial killer? Read Jane Steele and see. This is such a fun, smart read, and it pays homage to the classic without disrespecting it. I wondered if I'd be annoyed by the loose retelling because I love Jane Eyre so much, but Jane Steele feels like a separate story seen through a snarky mirror. It's fabulous and surprisingly fun. Beautiful cover alert number three.
9. The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland - Rebekah Crane
This one was released just a week ago, so I'm excited to share it while it's still a book baby! If you liked Eleanor and Park or Mosquitoland (both great reads), you'll love this one. It's set at a summer camp for troubled teens, so of course the characters are wildly rich. There's a compulsive liar, a mouthy anorexic, and a kid named Grover Cleveland. Relationships that shouldn't make sense on paper come together in a psychotherapeutic fishbowl, full of trust falls, archery, and "share-apy." It's funny and uniquely beautiful. At the time of this post, the Kindle price is only $4.99, so snag it for a quick and quirky read come January.
10. The One-in-a-Million Boy - Monica Wood
I've read it, I've heard a lot of people talk about it, and I still have a hard time describing it. Yet here I am whole-heartedly recommending it. The One-in-a-Million Boy stands alone in its uniqueness. I guess you could say it's... wait for it... one in a million. (Sorry.) It's about a boy, an old lady, an attempt at breaking a world record... and yet none of those things really. The story transcends its parts, and the writing is some of the best I read all year. No word is wasted. Try and read it in as few sittings as possible; I find it needs a long runway.