My Top 10 Books Read in 2016

The monthly Top 10 list is now a well-established feature here at The Stuff, and like last January 1st, I’m doing a Favorite Books Read list. I guess now that it’s my second year doing it, I can officially call it an annual tradition. Yay! Just like last year, the actual release date of the book doesn’t matter; all that matters is that I read the book in 2016.

I read 37 books in 2016, which is fourteen more books than I read in 2015, but I gave one fewer five-star rating. That doesn’t mean that I read weaker books in 2016; I think I’ve become a tougher rater. But with over 50% more books read in 2016, an appearance on this list indicates that I thought the book really was something special.

If you want to read the original reviews, just click on the cover images. Let’s get to the list!

 

SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 

#10 – Places No One Knows, by Brenna Yovanoff

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did, mainly because of how pretentious and full of herself narrator Waverly Camdenmar first appears. Maintaining this persona to be in the in-crowd, along with acing all her schoolwork and being a top runner on the cross country team, she suffers from severe insomnia. A relaxation candle has the supernatural side effect of transporting her to wherever slacker/recreational-substance-user Marshall Holt is. He’s in his own terrible situation at home, but with Waverly, he can be the real him, and she can be the real her. But how would her clique react to her relationship with a “loser”? The book’s not perfect—I gave it 4.5 stars—but it really made me think not only about how well we really know other people but also about how well we really know ourselves. Those are what I think the titular places no one knows are.

 

#9 – The Girl in the Time Machine, by Debra Chapoton

There’s no way I could describe this book and possibly do it justice. Of all the books I rated 4.5 stars, I’m ranking it my favorite, and the only reason it’s not a 5-star book is for a development at the end that I don’t fully understand. But that’s the nature of this taut twisty time travel story. It has the most unique narrative structure of all the books in this list, as main character Laken Mitchell is writing an explanation and apology to her best friend Skylar, whom she left in the past while on a one-way trip there in her parents’ time machine. But what was the reason for the trip, along with all the other times Laken used the time machine? You have to read the book to find out. I read this book in less than a 24-hour period because it was so engrossing. If you love sci-fi—time travel in particular—then you have to read this book.

 

#8 – The Siren, by Kiera Cass

Narrator Kahlen is compelled to jump overboard, along with everyone else on the boat. Instead of dying, she gets an offer from the Ocean itself: one hundred years of service as a youthful, beautiful siren—one of those mythical beings that can enchant people with their voices. Flash-forward ahead eighty years to present day, and Kahlen meets college student Akinli. Sirens aren’t supposed to fall in love, but she does. They find creative and heartwarming ways to deal with the language barrier (her silence). When I read the book, I was enchanted by the story, but as you see, it’s the first of my 5-star-rated books. The love story is pretty standard, but what raised this book to five stars were the extremely well-developed relationships between Kahlen and her diverse siren sisters, and even more so, the relationship between Kahlen and Mother Ocean.

 

#7 – Five Seven Five, by C.E. Wilson

C.E. Wilson is one of the most imaginative and prolific indie authors I’ve had the pleasure of reading. On the surface, her plots seem like simple ideas, but she manages to make the reader deeply think about her underlying themes. I’ve read a lot of her books in the two years I’ve been blogging—and her story To Nowhere appeared in last year’s Top 10—but here’s my absolute favorite of her works. Now this book and its sequel Five Seven Six have been combined into one volume called The Boy with Words. They were originally released a few months apart, and because I initially experienced them separately, I liked one part (the first) a little better than the other. Narrator White Frost wants more than her dystopian underground world has to offer. When her cousin Shade dies outside of the zones, she wants answers. She breaks the rules and ventures outside, trying not to be seen by the Creators, but… NO. This one I can’t spoil. If you’re going to read this series—and you should—then you need to get your mind blown by the big surprise of who White’s society and their Creators are. It’s expertly done, and the title’s meaning makes perfect sense.

 

#6 – Another Day, by David Levithan

I read Levithan’s 2012 book Every Day in 2015 and placed it at #1 on my year-end list. It told the story of A, who woke up every day in someone else’s body. Usually, A adopted kind of a visiting-only attitude, never trying to derail the host’s day too much…until A meets Rhiannon. After that, A does everything possible to spend time with her. In 2015, Levithan released Another Day, the companion book to Every Day, telling the story from Rhiannon’s point of view. I was skeptical at first, but it was intriguing—in some cases more intriguing—reading the other side of the story. Where the first book explores themes of identity and an individual’s need for some consistency, this second book explores different themes of love and attraction. Is it better to be with someone not right for you or figure out how to be with someone better for you in a difficult situation? Can you truly love a person’s inside regardless of their outside? I think that I liked this book a little bit better than the first, but I couldn’t place it as high on the year-end countdown because of some of the fantastic YA fiction ahead.

 

#5 – Emerge, by Tobie Easton

I’m sure you noticed the similar cover to The Siren, and sireny also plays a part in this book, but the similarities end there. Where The Siren has a lyrical, othertimely feel to it, Emerge is unmistakably contemporary in narrative voice. Aurelia “Lia” Nautilus is a teenage mermaid who lives in Malibu, just getting accustomed to controlling her legs as she navigates a public school. In the world of this book, there are underwater power struggles among the merfolk, who have lost their immortality due to the incident caused by the infamous “little mermaid”—yeah, that one—and several mermaid families now live on land. First off, I love the incorporation of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale (or is it tail?) into this story. There are some standard YA tropes, such as a love triangle between Lia, a boy named Clay, and new mermaid classmate Mel, and it works really well. Also, Lia has to defy her parents and mermaid rules to try saving the day, as only she knows (well, suspects) what’s really going on. It really was a fun contemporary-fantasy story, and this mermaid lover not only included Lia in his Top 10 Mermaids list back in July, but also can’t wait for Easton’s sequel Submerge, coming out later this year.

 

#4 – If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo

If you follow my reviews—or at least if you’ve noticed the previous six books on this list—then you know I mostly read (and like) YA contemporary sci-fi/fantasy, particularly the real world setting with one little speculative alteration. Well, here’s one of two exceptions to that genre on this countdown, as I occasionally veer into true contemporary fiction. If I Was Your Girl is narrated by Amanda, a transgender girl who has just switched to a new school where people don’t know her past. Author Russo admits that she made Amanda’s situation—the reassignment surgery and all the treatment that goes with it, the support system she has, etc.—a little unrealistically easy for purposes of making the story accessible. More importantly, do you want to know what else was instantly accessible? Amanda’s voice. From the get-go, she’s clearly Amanda—bright, funny, tough, vulnerable, real. And that’s the point; people are the people they are, and none of us have the right to judge them for being themselves. You can argue that some of the plot points are YA cliché, but again I argue that that’s the point. It shouldn’t have to be an “issue” book just because the main character is a transgender teen. It needs only to be an enjoyable, insightful book about a teen. People are people, and this book is excellent.

 

#3 – Translucent, by Dan Rix

I started 2016 binge-reading the first four books of this six-part series. The final two parts came out later in the year, and it was a scary, gripping, intense, alien-invasion meets psychological thriller of a saga. But it all starts here. For full disclosure, I actually gave a 5-star rating to one other book in the series (Part Four: Slaying Shadows), but I’m focusing on only one of them in this countdown, mainly to spread the love around. Also, the first book is my favorite in the series. Narrator Leona Hewitt and her friend Megan have a dark secret which I won’t reveal here. While on a night out camping, a meteor hits nearby, and the rock secretes a weird, oily substance that can be stretched around an object or person and render it/them invisible. Invisibility as a plot device was enough to get me to read the first book, but I was hooked for a variety of other reasons. Author Rix doesn’t skimp on the science, and this physics teacher appreciated the discussion of refraction and dark matter. From a thematic standpoint, I thought it was especially impressive how Leona uses her newfound invisibility both to hide from her guilt and later try to atone for it. The book is clear YA with a dark and scary vibe, and the series explores interesting uses of the dark matter and introduces a frightening villain in later installments, but you can’t get to those without looking through this one first.

 

#2 – Gemini, by Sonya Mukherjee

All of the books on this year’s list have first-person narrators. Places No One Knows is mostly narrated by Waverly, with occasional narration by Marshall. Here we have a book told in alternating first-person narration by conjoined twins Clara and Hailey. Like If I Was Your Girl, here’s a realistic contemporary YA book about characters trying to live without prejudice from others, though Clara and Hailey’s situation isn’t one they could even try to keep secret. And like If I Was Your Girl, we get a solid YA story about love, fitting in, finding oneself, and figuring out the future. Like before, I argue that a book about conjoined twins need not have to make an “issue” out of it, and that’s exactly what Mukherjee does here. Clara and Hailey have distinct personalities, interests, goals, and so forth, but they have to figure it all out together. The girls have friends and crushes, and they can’t avoid comments and questions about their conjoinedness. Mukherjee uses the alternating narration in clever ways, sometimes withholding information that the non-narrating twin discovers, and other times reacting to an experience of the non-narrating twin. The story is beautifully constructed, and when I read it, I laughed, cried, gasped, and cheered with them. I was convinced it would end the year at the top of this list, and though it came close, I only hope that Clara and Hailey will be okay with being #2, especially considering they’re always together as two.

 

And finally, MY FAVORITE BOOK READ IN 2016…

#1 – HOW TO HANG A WITCH, by Adriana Mather

“Salem Witch Trials meets Mean Girls” was the claim made on the product page, and it’s a perfectly accurate description of this fantastic book. Narrator Samantha Mather is a direct descendant (like the author) of Cotton Mather, a minister who supported the actual late-1600s witch trials. When Samantha moves with her stepmother into her grandmother’s old house in Salem, weird things start happening. Her name called out during classroom attendance is enough to incur the ire of the Descendants—a group of students who are descendants of people accused and tried of witches. It seems there’s a curse in Salem that triggers when too many descendants live in town at once, and suddenly strange things start happening including some death while people point fingers. The Salem Witch Trials are one of many times in U.S. history when paranoia won out over rational thought and scapegoats were named. It happened again in the 1950s with McCarthyism, post-9/11 with ethnic profiling, and it happens regularly in high schools to kids socially banished for one pointless reason or another. Mather covers that theme well, but she also adds a ghost with unfinished business, a kind of love triangle, and a multi-layered mystery. All this works because Samantha is a solid protagonist—snarky, smart, and a little stubborn, but with a good heart wanting to do the right thing. I read this book around Halloween, but it’s good for all times of the year, and certainly excellent enough to hang the title of my favorite of the year on it.

 

If you haven’t read any of these wonderful books, I obviously recommend them all. What are the best books you read this past year? And what are some you’re looking forward to this year?

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