I like words

2016 Top Ten

Seriously, how is this the last week of 2016? I won't be sad to see it go, what with the disaster that befell us in the last two months. But thank the universe for all the amazing authors who gave us worlds to disappear into!

I set my reading goal at 50 books this year, with the hopes to surpass that and reach 52 (a book a week, yay goals!). I see some bloggers completing reading challenges of 100, 200, even 300 books in a year and I just can't fathom how they do it. Given I read much faster than a book a week, I still have a full-time job that requires at least a week of travel each month, a house to run and maintain, renovation projects, adventures overseas, and an ever-growing manuscript. Not to mention yoga time, family time, friend time...but now I'm just listing the many distractions from my reading list. I'm really never still, and weeks can fly by without me realizing I haven't started a new book...that's when it's time to binge five in one week!

Anyway, the point is, I feel really good about 50 books in a year. 50 books, and 50 critical examinations of each (ahem, aka "reviews"). I'll even most likely get to that 52 mark. So, of those 50, here's a look at my top ten books of 2016:

1. Crooked Kingdom | Leigh Bardugo

Published: September 27, 2016

The official winner of my favorite book of 2016 award, Crooked Kingdom was everything I wanted it to be, and more.

Leigh Bardugo has crafted such a complete, complex, and absolutely perfect human cast of broken characters. The plot is air-tight, I found no holes to slip through, no logic to be questioned in the rules of this world. The character development is absolutely stunning, I feel as if I deeply know each and every one of the Crows.

There are some characters that sink their claws deep inside you, never fully letting go, and this cast of Crows are among them. Damaged, dark, twisted, and morally questionable, each of these characters were heartbreaking and real, and I while I am sad to leave their story behind, I applaud Bardugo for knowing the trick of a perfectly-timed ending. Though I won't lie...I have a hope we'll see some cameos in future stories, and I will cheer to come across them.


2. A Court of Mist and Fury | Sarah J. Maas

Published: May 3, 2016

On to my second favorite book of this year, and it's a close second. The book that demanded a re-read of every page, every sentence, every word within two weeks of first completing it. A Court of Mist and Fury just would not leave my head, and I suffered a serious reading slump afterward, searching for a story I could fall into as deeply.

I picked up this sequel trying to stay blind to the premise. I hoped we saw more of Rhysand, hoped that we saw deeper beneath the villain exterior we were given in A Court of Thorns and Roses. I saw glimpses in the first book and wanted emotional impact without the typical love triangle nonsense. I wanted this book to be good so badly that I was afraid to look at reviews or even read the jacket copy. 

This book is an ADULT romance first, fantasy second. Usually, the main conflict in these is the issue of choosing between two love interests. Here, Maas takes us on Feyre's personal journey through depression and coming to terms with the truth that she has suffered both physical and emotional abuse in the name of love. It's hard even for the reader to see the detrimental effects of Feyre's relationship with Tamlin, though we can clearly see her sinking deeper into numbing darkness. Maas writes strong female characters—I'm thrilled that in this series, I actually believe them and believe IN them. Plus, she's damn good at a slow burn.

Full review here


3. The Winner's Kiss | Marie Rutkoski

Published: March 29, 2016

The Winner's Kiss was the perfectly functioning realization that I'd been complacent with the flaws of others for a long time. Something I didn't think YA novels capable of is a properly formed conclusion. Story arcs are reached, and then BAM it's over in two pages with barely any wrap-up. Here, Rutkoski takes the proper time to end each of her characters' stories, and when I realized I was getting that which I so often ask for in a book's end, I was grinning like an idiot (yes, on my couch, grinning as I read the last pages).

Clearly we've already done the "will-they or won't they" fall in love theme in The Winner's Curse, and the pining, "We want to be together but can't be together for dumb reasons" in The Winner's Crime, so what is left for book three? I cringed to think it could be the "you lied to me about your reasons and now I don't know if I can be with you" or "because I was in the prison I am too scarred for a relationship" angles. But, I assure you, what Rutkoski delivers does not disappoint.

Full review here.


4. The Rose Society | Marie Lu

Published: October 13, 2015

I was sucked in from the moment I started, and it's safe to say I Lu successfully hooked me, getting me emotionally invested in Adelina and her future. I didn't care for the Daggers in book one, or their quest to take back the throne...and I wonder if Marie Lu set that up purposefully as it was never reallyAdelina's desire, more the Daggers' making use of her. Which sets us up perfectly to hate them right alongside her.

 So many times authors feed us characters who are supposed to be evil but their thoughts are always showing the true hero underneath and how good their intentions are. Not here. Here, Adelina has stopped running from the inner voices that have cried out for revenge and brutality since she discovered her power. She's not acting for others anymore, she's acting for herself. She's collecting her own group of Elites to return and stamp out Teren, the Daggers, the Inquisitors...everyone. Adelina won't be hurt any longer in the paths of others' ambitions...she's got her own. Every evil, spiteful thought you would find yourself thinking of your enemies, Adelina thinks and acts on.

And yet somehow, Lu has given us an anti-hero that we still cheer for, still want to see succeed and be saved at the same time.

Full review here.


5. Forbidden Wish | Jessica Khoury

Published: February 23, 2016

For me, The Forbidden Wish hits all the check marks.

The Forbidden Wish is a loose retelling of Aladdin, told from the Jinni's point of view. It is a romance, but such a subtle romance that for most of the read I felt more strongly for Zahra's inner struggle for her freedom than for the romantic feelings that are developing in the background. Jessica Khoury does a fantastic job bringing these characters to life, and her lush prose fit all too well with the mystic setting and Zhara's nature.

I was hypnotized from page one, and applaud Khoury on taking a classic tale and making it her own. If you are familiar with the Disney version, then you'll see some key similarities pop up in terms of the three wishes granted Aladdin, an evil vizier, and a princess promised to marry someone whom she despises. Aside from that, however, I really didn't see much else to compare. We're given a history of the Jinn and the dark one who rules over them, and a backstory for Zahra that puts her thousand years into perspective. 

Full review here


6. Nevernight | Jay Kristoff

Published: August 9, 2016

I can't decide if this book is madness or genius. This was my first book by Jay Kristoff, and it is abundantly clear that this man's a poet. At least in Nevernight, anyway, phrases and entire pages read like poetry. Kristoff takes creative license with the very structure of each page, and while my editor mind balked at this approach initially, once I calmed it was a fantastic read.

Murder, mystery, vengeance, blood magic, a library of dead books, flesh sculptors, a completely new world, darkin...

My mind was spinning by the end, as Kristoff is as brutal as Mia with dangling mystery after mystery and wringing out our hearts in unexpected ways.

Full review here.


7. And I Darken | Kiersten White

Published: June 28, 2016

And I Darken is actually the only one on this list that I didn't full out love, or really like too much either. But it was simply done too well for me to leave it off the list.

I can see everything people love in it. It's written beautifully. The characters are real. Really real. Lada is glorious in her strength, and not in a fantastical way. And the relationship between Radu, Lada and Mehmed was one I have not seen done before, nor done so well.

The relationship between Radu and Lada, Radu and Mehmed, Lada and Mehmed, and the three of them together is a perilous one, full of love and danger for what that love means to and for each of them. Not that And I Darken was overly romantic...it's not romantic in the slightest, actually.

Mehmed wants to keep both of them, and become the great sultan his Prophet foretold. Both have given their hearts, have sacrificed much to be at his side.

But one will sacrifice more, for something no man can give, and no man can take away. If the next book follows Lada running Wallachia like the ruthless warrior she is, I am so in.

Full review here.


8. The Winner's Curse | Marie Rutkoski

Published: March 4, 2014

The first in The Winner's Trilogy, this makes the list for how surprised I was to find so much more than what the cover and initial glance suggest.

On the surface, The Winner's Curse is a romance. It is marketed as such on the back cover copy - a mistake in my opinion. Never mind my pet peeve of book blurbs that tell the whole damn story right up front - why would I bother to read when you just gave me a two paragraph synopsis and left no mystery? - but it seemed as if all I'd be getting were more details about how a slave and his new owner fell in love. I am glad something pulled me to finally give it a chance. 

Marie Rutkoski crafts a good start with The Winner's Curse, shaping a promising foundation for a story that only grows in intrigue and examination of the human condition. Plus, Rutkoski is an editor's dream. Well, this editor, anyway. She can turn a phrase beautifully, and her writing is superb.

Full review here.


9. Eona | Alison Goodman

Published: April 19, 2011

Everything I was waiting for in the first book--Eona to embrace her power and the fact that she's a woman, action, mystery, a touch of romance --it's all here. One of the things I like most about Alison Goodman's style is how quickly she moves the story along. We don't waste time on overly long journeys or drawn out conversation. I can't imagine how long this book would have been if we'd had to sit alongside the characters every time they trekked across the continent on their next mission.

While I was ultimately disappointed in the lack of proper conclusion, this makes the lists for all the philosophical exploration we're given on our journey with the characters. Do you save a friend's life at the expense of their freedom? Do you save many friends' lives at the expense of breaking sacred laws and murdering thousands? Would your choices reflect the best interests of others, or only yourself? Eona explores all of these questions--in life and in war.

Full review here.


10. Anna Dressed In Blood | Kendare Blake

Published: October 17, 2011

Another book I was late to the game discovering is Anna Dressed in BloodKendare Blake came across my radar when I found her then-upcoming novel Three Dark Crowns, and discovered she had a few stories out I'd never explored. I normally stay firmly planted in epic new worlds, but I needed something different from my usual fantasy genre as I felt a slump coming on. Plus, in doing my "I discovered a new author" homework, I found Anna Dressed In Blood, which had great reviews and seemed a safe bet for a quick read to familiarize myself with Blake's writing.

So glad I did! I connected with Cas immediately, the cocky ghost hunter (don't you dare call him a ghostbuster) who keeps everyone at a distance lest he grow too attached to one place or person. This is a story steeped in Wicca and Caribbean magic; the themes are dark, the things that happen to these characters are violent and bloody, and yet the bond that develops between Cas and Anna is sweet and innocent. I LOVED IT.

Full review here.

Virginia DeFeo