Favorite Reads of 2016

For once, I actually came up with a top ten list of books that actually sticks to ten books. Kind of.

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Review-A Little Life

 

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Doubleday-March 10, 2015
720 pages
Source-Purchased

This was a rare case where I’m really glad I heard all the buzz I did, because I went in about as prepared as one can be for all of the emotional dark turns this takes. Ultimately, I’m calling it the best book I’ve read in a long time, in large part because of its ability to completely wreck my emotions, but also because it is written beautifully and constructed with such care.

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T5W: Least Favorite Books from Favorite Series

Wednesday came up before I knew it this week, so I’m rattling this one off pretty quickly. Definitely one of the more interesting T5W’s I’ve had the chance to do. I didn’t pick my top five favorite series, just five books I didn’t like as much as the rest of the books in a series I recommend as a whole.

Hallowed (Unearthly #2)

I remember strongly disliking this installment. A bit of a meander, it felt like what could have been a few short scenes in either the first or third book just got dragged out into an entire novel.

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1) 

As much as I love Cassandra Clare’s world, I was definitely not over the moon about it when I picked up her first book. I predicted the big plot twist part way through and so the drama of the big reveal was lost on me. It was a few months before I actually ventured to pick up the next book in the series (the first five were out at the time) and I am very glad I eventually did.

The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5)

I read the first four books of this series in about 2 months and then spent almost 3 slogging through this one. Very little of import to the series happened in it and it felt to me like it was building up to a big confrontation that didn’t happen (until close to the end of book #6 anyway).

Mortal Heart (His Fair Assasin #3)

His Fair Assassin is more a set of companion novels than true series, so each primarily tells the story of its central character with some development of the larger plot. I enjoyed the first one, adored the second, but this third and final instalment was a let down for me. It wasn’t terrible, but it changed the atmosphere a lot from the first two and was just overall a disapointment.

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4)

Queen of Shadows was another hotly anticipated release for me that wound up being something of a disappointment, though not really a terrible book. There was a lot of good action and the plot moved forward but I felt like the characters really didn’t grow at all as individuals; they were just all thrown together into mostly new romantic pairs that just fell really flat to me.

Bonus: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Everyone’s talking about which HP book is their least favorite, so I thought I’d throw that one in there. HBP was a little slow, a little bit of reflection before book seven, but I do love the later half of the Harry Potter series overall; probably even more now than I did when I was younger.

Check out more T5W posts and future topics in the T5W Goodreads group!

Top Five Wednesday: Required Reading

I hated very few books I had to read for school, but I didn’t love very many either. Most I just slogged through, but wound up feeling some sort of appreciation for them when I was done. But most of the books I did love, I still consider to be some of my very favorite books of all time. So extra special thanks to the English teachers/profs who chose/taught these so well:

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

An answer I suspect will be a common one. I read this in 9th grade English and loved it. I reread some or all of it every year or so and it’s been interesting to see how my reading of it has changed over time. P.S. — I still haven’t finished Go Set A Watchman, so let’s not talk about that yet.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This was actually the last book I was ever required to read–in my junior year of college. Really beautiful, and interesting and it was evident it was a favorite of the professor’s as well. It was engrossing, but at the same time challenging, in the best possible sense. Not difficult to read, necessarily, but this twisted reality in a way that really made me think deeply about it.

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The Chosen by Chaim Potok

So this is almost cheating, because I read this in a book club I participated in in high school as an extra-curricular, but I would never have picked this book up without it being on the list for that group, so I’m counting it. The Chosen is one of those books I can’t quite entirely explain my love for. Maybe it’s the simple, striking prose, or the shattered innocence arc of the plot or something, but it’s been an absolute favorite of mine ever since I first read it nearly 10 years ago.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was reading another Fitzgerald recently–The Beautiful and Damned–and I was reminded why I loved The Great Gatsby so much. Fitzgerald makes you stop and go back and reread what you just read, just for the aesthetic of his sentence. The last couple of sentences make up one of the best quotes ever. “Gatsby believed in the green light…”

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The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini

Another extra curricular book club choice, but it was also assigned over the summer for AP English Lit and I put it off for awhile, knowing what was coming. A really haunting story about friendship and forgiveness, set in modern Afghanistan, an eye-opening look at that country for me.


Top Five Wednesday was created by GingerreadsLainey. To view the complete list of participants (and add your name to the list!) click here for the Goodreads group.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who…

This was actually a really tough one, so I’m sure it will be super interesting. I look forward to checking out other responses sometime later this evening. (Work is so busy right now, I definitely won’t be able to sneak a peak at lunchtime like I usually do!)

Top FIVE YA Books which feature characters who have active parents

Ever notice how many YA books–especially YA fantasy books–have lead characters with dead or absent parents? I set out to make a list of books where the character’s relationship with his/her parent is a major plot point. Bonus points if the lead character was involved with something magical or paranormal and the parent is more of a muggle but loves/supports their children anyway. I didn’t want to pepper this list with watered down versions of the kind of relationship I was going for, so I shortened it to five:

1.  The Lynburn Legacy Trilogy (Unspoken, Untold, Unmade) by Sarah Rees Brennan

The kids are at the center of this story, but the whole town is involved and the parents have to fight the good fight as well, even sometimes stepping aside and letting their more powerful children lead the way.

2.  The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane

Kit and Nita’s parents aren’t the type to let their 11-13 year old kids stay out long past their curfew without giving them some grief about it, even if they are just trying to save the known universe from destruction and decay. And, later, when the cat’s out of the bag about their magic and their important missions, they have an even harder task: coming to grips with their pre-teens putting themselves in mortal danger.

3.  The Archived by Victoria (V.E.) Schwab

MacKenzie’s relationship with her parents comes into play in this series as the entire family mourns the loss of a child. It would have been easy to make the relationship completely distant, but instead its strained anyway, made even more strained by her constant absence and sneaking out. If it weren’t for the library of the dead, this has many of the makings of a contemporary YA family drama

4.  The Raven Cycle by Maggie Steifvater

I love a lot of things about The Raven Cycle, but one of the things I love most is the various family dynamics. Blue and the boys make their own family in a way, but everyone is centered in where they come from. Ronan Lynch wouldn’t be Ronan Lynch if his parents weren’t who they are. Blue grew up in a quirky, female-rich household and relies heavily on her mother and aunts as the adventure progresses. Gansey and Adam have absent parents, but the trappings of their disparate raisings are evident in their outlook.

5.  The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski

A little less strong of a parent presence in this one than some of the others, but the first volume of this series in particular struck me with it’s complex father/daughter relationship. It gets paralleled in book 2, between the emperor and his heir, but Kestral’s love for her father is evident even as she struggles to define her own course of action so very different from everything he stands for and the book would be much weaker without that conflict.

So to make this top ten a true top ten, let’s list some topic ideas that I came up with and really wanted to do, but had to reject because I could only come up with one or two books. Please, please, please, leave a comment and give me some recommendations of books that fall into these categories that I missed

Top FIVE lists I wanted to do, but I haven’t read enough diverse stuff yet

Top ten books which feature characters who are transgendered

  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Top ten books which feature characters who are asexual

  • ???

Top ten books which feature characters who are not as perfectly nice looking (too tall, too short, ugly, fat, etc.)

  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
  • Dark Triumph by Robin LeFevers

Top ten books which feature characters who are “incidentally” people of color 

This one is hard to title. Basically, I mean, books where the characters are POCs, but that fact isn’t completely central to their story. Some examples:

  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan

Top Ten books which feature (main) characters who are not romantically linked at all

  • The Chronicles of Narnia (?-I’m pretty sure, but can’t remember)

Leave your recommendations; I’m in desperate need and would love it if we could come up with a list of ten for each. Some of you maybe even did on your own. If so, most definitely leave a link. And, of course, I’m fascinated to see what everyone else choose to list that I didn’t even fathom.

Reading, Race, and the Diverse Books Discussion

I think if you polled readers, you’d get as many different answers to the question: “Why do you read?” as you would have total responses. However, I think it’s something of a universal feeling that readers read to connect to the world, to a character or a story, to the emotions and themes that drive each. Readers read because books provide an escape, but more than that, they provide a way to make the world make a little more sense when it can’t be escaped any longer.

So it’s okay to read what you enjoy, what makes you happy, or to become an expert in a chosen subset of literature. But to me, a reading life is not complete without a broader exploration. It’s problematic to go blindly choosing books, to be seen by my non-readerly friends and family as some sort of high and mighty well-read old soul because I finish 100 books a year. I can’t consider myself to have garnered insights from my reading unless and until I’ve actually read diversely. Explored new genres and read books by authors of different races, from different nations, from different walks of life. And this takes a conscious effort. If we go about our reading hoping that our choices will be color-blind we are sorely mistaken. Booksellers sell the books that people buy the most, that win awards, and stats on the race and gender of the authors that win awards are skewed.

But you’ve heard this before. The read diversely discussion has been going around for awhile on YouTube and, I’m sure, here in the blog community. (I am a spectacularly bad blogger in this sense–I watch a lot of YouTube, but don’t make videos, and I blog, but don’t read blogs all that regularly). I jumped in on it this past weekend when I watched this video:

Steve gets a bit angry in this video–and things get a little bit snippy in the comments of it as well–but he definitely makes a good point. Walk the walk. And I hadn’t been. I haven’t made grand promises about reading diversely, but I’ve been floating along in a little bubble of self-assurance. I’ve read some classics, some adult literature, I do okay on book categories on Jeopardy. I read nonfiction once in a while and I think critically about the very realistic themes in my fantasy novels. I am a smart, discerning reader, I thought. And I know I’ve read plenty of books by black people.

But when I finished Steve’s video, I was sitting on my couch, in full view of nearly all of my books, and so I could count them and prove it without even getting up off my ass. So I did. I thought reading a book by black person this month would be no problem, I’d just go to my 100+ TBR and grab one. Except not a single one is by a black person. There are two by Hispanic and Latino men and, to my knowledge, that is all. Okay, I thought, but I’ve read books by black people before. And I have. On my read shelves, which contain somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 books, I have Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and A Season of Migration to the North by Talib Salih. That’s it. So then, somewhat desperate, I thought back to the small collection of books I had to read in high school that are still at my parents’ house (because my younger brother took many of the same classes and needed them) and remembered Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Finally! Something by a woman of color! But that was all. And all of these books were read for school. Things Fall Apart and Their Eyes Were Watching God for AP English Lit in high school. From which I graduated in 2009, five and half years ago. We read Season of Migration to the North in the one literature class I took as an elective in college in the spring of my junior year, in 2012. Three years ago. I, for one, find that absolutely repulsive. Which got me off my ass and in the car and on the way to the bookstore where I bought books by the only black authors I could think of, the more famous ones, but it’s a place to start:

I read Home cover to cover on Sunday and can’t wait to dig into more Toni Morrison.

So that’s my call to action. Take a good hard look at why you read and what you’ve read and decide if you’re happy with it. If you are, that is great. But if not, be proactive about changing your habits and opening your eyes to all of the different perspectives that are out there. It really is up to you.

P.S. Here’s a small handful of videos and posts I’ve found interesting and/or helpful

A list of books by African-Americans, sorted by year:

http://africanamericanlitlist.blogspot.com/

Rincey Reads does what I just did but with pie charts!

Book Riot on why reading diversely (and why being attentive and proactive about it) is important:

A slightly different topic, but related. The problems that arise when white authors write black characters

Books I Recommend, IRL

In every review I write, I tell you if I recommend the book or not. Usually, if I liked it, rated it four or more stars, I recommend it, but a better test is to see if I actually recommend it to my real-life friends and family. So here’s a list of books that pass that test, sorted by person, that I either have told a friend or two about, or plan to, next time they ask me: “what should I read now?”

Click the titles for reviews I’ve posted, if they’re available.

To Multiple People

These are the books I have given to at least two people and said: “you have to read this.” True recommendations for all sorts of people from books that are just that good, interesting, or that I somehow feel are necessary reading for human existence, because I love them that much.

  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Across the Universe by Beth Revis
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

To Savanna

Savanna’s a good friend of mine, and she reads nearly as much as I do. She’ll pretty much read anything, but she’s like me and sticks mostly to YA dystopian or fantasy adventure/romance.

To Kayla

Kayla’s a slower reader and she’s not as into it as people like Savanna and I are. She does enjoy it though, and when I recommend books to her, I like to make sure they relate somehow to her personality and interests (animals, rock music, and cute boys). She hasn’t read any of these yet (most of what she’s read before is on the “multiple people” list, since I always start people off on the best) but they’re next on my list to get into her hands.

  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
  • Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

To Brittney

Brittney is pretty new to reading for fun. After Savanna and I dragged her to the bookstore one night (a story I chronicled in my Eleanor and Park Review), she started off with Eleanor and Park, then read The Fault in Our Stars, and is currently finishing up The Hunger Games series. So after making her cry for a solid month, I think it’s time to give her something a little happier before diving into another tear-jerker. She seems to like YA contemporary the best, so I’ve been sticking to that:

  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
  • Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • Every Day by David Levithan
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

To My Mom

My mom reads slowly, but consistently. She’s a pretty picky reader, liking character driven, adult, often historical fiction pretty much exclusively. No thrillers for her, but it does have to hold her interest:

  • The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kahled Hosseini
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok

To My Brother

Andy and I have been swapping book recommendations for years and years. Less so now that we’re both grown up and don’t live in the same state, but I still like to see what he’s been reading. He likes epic fantasy, but he also reads a lot of very thought provoking, dense philosophical or historical works. Those I don’t really know enough to recommend, but I thought up a couple things he might like, if I get stuck trying to find him a birthday present in a few months:

  • The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson

From Others

Finally, here’s a few good books that have been recommended to me by the people listed above. Gives you some idea of what they like, and it’s even more books for you to check out, if you haven’t already.

  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett (from Mom)
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (from Mom)
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (from Savanna)
  • The Farm by Emily McKay (from Savanna)
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (from Andy)

As always, leave your recommendations for me in the comments, or you can leave some recommendations for my friends for me to pass along. (I especially need some good contemporaries to tell Brittney about! That genre is not my forte.)

Review: Nightfall by L.J. Smith

Spoilers for The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith through Book 4:  Dark Reunion. 

This is going to be a difficult one to review because I hardly know what to think of it. I gave it a 3/5 stars on Goodreads initially after I finished it, but now I’m thinking more of a 2.5. It’s ok, but I had a lot of issues with it.

Nightfall is technically the fifth book in the Vampire Diaries series, although I believe it is most common these days to find the first four books in two bind-ups. It picks up shortly after the events of Dark Reunion, which left us with the happiest ending we’d seen in the series: Elena returned from the dead, human again.

But Elena, we find, is not quite herself…and neither is Damon. The town of Fell’s Church, meanwhile, is facing even more supernatural weirdness than ever before; facing powers darker than any its ever seen, drawn to the new and strange power that is Elena.

I found this book to be a lot darker than some of its predecessors, it has a lot of scenes that reminded me of movies like  The Exorcist (Not that I’ve seen that movie, I’m a big chicken when it comes to scary movies, but I’ve seen the previews). It usually felt genuinely scary, not too cheesy;  the writing itself was not bad.

However:

This book went in so many crazy directions, I could hardly keep up. I felt like the previously established rules and structure of the supernatural world went completely out the window. Weird little quirky details became major plot points. The rules of magic have changed and continue to change. Some of this change is self discovery and whatever, but sometimes it’s just all too convenient for the plot. In an attempt to explain all the craziness, the book is almost 600 pages long, but that mostly just made me confused for a longer period of time, not less confused.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The characters are quite good. I really wish Meredith in particular was a presence on the television show. Damon had a really impressive, compelling character arc in this one and its almost worth reading on to see what he does next.

But I probably won’t be reading on. I was pretty lost reading this, since it went in a strange direction I wasn’t expecting. I do recommend reading it if you’re a fan of the previous books in the series (this installment is not, by any means, universally disliked) and I recommend the first books in the series to fans of paranormal fantasies.