Monday, January 23, 2017

Top 10 Reads of 2016

2016 was been a year.

But the last two months of 2016 have really overshadowed the earlier chunk of the year, so I feel a kind of melancholy at the moment. But this has been a more exciting reading year for me than the last few years as I've done more "free range reading".

My greatest blogging disappointment has been my lack of reviews. I can't believe that I ended up leaving my favorites un-reviewed, when they're the books that I want to squee about.

I never did a top ten for 2015 (I'm in awe of the bloggers with kids who keep up with the work!), so I can't compare my reading to that, but this year I read about 37 books (and, it appears, I've "read" nothing in December, yikes!). (Not included in this list are the massive number of children's books I've read to Unabridged Toddler; I'll do a top ten of them later on, as some of them are marvelous.)

These ten still stick with me, and have been among my most recommended this past year. All are written by women. Seven were historicals, two contemporary, and one futuristic-ish (maybe?). Three (I believe) were written by women of color.

Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele 

Badass Victorian who loves Jane Eyre but is, herself, far less pious. (I'm not a Jane Eyre fan, what can I say!)

This JE retelling is dramatic, sensational, and wonderfully imaginative, with our heroine Jane Steele being among my top 10 fav heroines ever. In addition to being a fun send up of JE, Faye adds a dash of Sikh history to the mix, which provided hours of rabbit hole researching.

Eva Flynn, The Renegade Queen 

Historical novel detailing Victoria Woodhull: badass mid-19th century American woman, born of hucksters, who decides to run for president. Married off as a teen, lovers with a Civil War hero, she goes nose-to-nose with Susan B. Anthony. Loved learning about her (especially during Hillary Clinton's campaign) and found Anthony's racism eye-opening (especially considering how white women decided to vote this year). I believe this is the first in a duology or trilogy, and I'm so there.
Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere

Nix has the ability to travel through time, if she's given a map of the place. Twist: the map has to be from the year she's to travel to as well. Her mother is from the 19th century, her father from the 20th; he's consumed with returning to Hawaii before her mother dies, and Nix helps him, unsure if this might wipe her out of existence in the end. There's this tantalizing fun world-building, and incredibly rich, complicated emotional landscapes, too. Whirl in some fascinating Hawaiian history, and I was glued to the pages.

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

My love for this book (and series) really can only be described by enthusiastic arm waving. But I'll try to explain. This world is geologically unstable with "fifth seasons" -- cataclysmic geological disasters -- dotting their history. The novel follows three women who can impact geology, all at different parts in their schooling/mastery of this skill, and their talent is hated, feared, and regulated. Part of this novel is written in 2nd person present tense, which I should have hated but loved, and every character was fascinating, intriguing, and vibrant. My tip: read the glossary at the end to internalize some of the world-building, then dive in and be mesmerized. Dy-ing for the final book in the trilogy, due out in late 2017.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers

Mediums who debrief the dead during World War I. I mean, what is not to love? The story was fascinating and heartbreaking, and I really wish it was double the length because I was not ready to leave. World-building was rich but not complicated, and the characters immediately appealing. J'adored.

Catherine Lowell, The Madwoman Upstairs

My affection for this book grows as time goes on; I'm even contemplating a reread because I'm actually in the mood for more of our heroine's quirky charm. The last living descendant of the Brontes, Samantha, ends up at Oxford, studying literature. She's the focus of intense attention from many but her aloof-yet-dreamy tutor refuses to take on the Brontes. At moments, I wanted to shake Samantha, but ultimately, I was hooked by the occasionally over-the-top plot, hint of romance, and awkward, bookish Samantha.

Patricia Park, Re Jane 

Gorgeous, gutting sort-of Jane Eyre retelling, only so much more. I actually hated the Jane Eyre-ish bits and got hung up on trying to ascertain who was Bertha and whatnot. But when I stopped focusing on that, and immersing myself in Jane's story, I was captivated. Jane is a biracial orphan in Flushing, Queens, hungering for love and belonging. She becomes a nanny and finds something like love, and much like Jane Eyre, Jane Re flees. The book's setting provides a fascinating "twist" to the tale that I loved; Jane ends up visiting her relatives in South Korea and is a far more admired woman there. In the end, it's a novel about a young woman coming to love herself and trust her place in the world. It's just been optioned for tv, I think, and it will make for fabulous watching.

Cherie Priest, Maplecroft
Imagine a world where Lizzie Borden wasn't just a mad murderer, but a young woman who killed her parents in an attempt to stave off a far greater evil. And now, that evil -- a wet Lovecraftian evil -- has returned, and she and her infirm sister are the only ones capable of stopping it. If you're not already intrigued, I don't know what to say! I was immediately captivated by this novel, and it was just the escapist read I needed in the weeks leading up to the election. It's more than just an homage to classic horror, as Priest depicts a rather complicated relationship between Lizzie and her sister.
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

I'd long wanted to read this "prequel" to Jane Eyre and was not disappointed. In fact, this kicked of my unofficial 'Year of Eyre' in 2016, and set a rather high bar for everything that followed. This edition included an introduction by Edwidge Danticat, which read as a kind of love letter for both books. I'm planning to reread Jane Eyre this year, and I hope to rearead this one immediately after. Undoubtedly, it will get more rich with each read.

Imogen Robertson, The Paris Winter 

Audiobook "read" so good that I couldn't stop listening, which is saying a lot, as I'm not an audiobook fan. I grabbed this one on a whim -- basically, it was available on OverDrive when I had a day of chores ahead of me -- and I was digging the setting -- late 19th century Paris --with expat women learning to paint. Our heroine, impoverished, is set up to be a companion to a rich Parisian woman with an opium problem, and then BAM! the story takes this crazy, unexpected turn that made it a serious page turner. 


  1. I own a couple of those books and am sad to say I haven't read any of them.

  2. I still haven't read any Jemisin but totally intend to make it happen this year!

  3. I had a Year of Eyre in 2016 too - I read Wide Sargasso Sea, The Madwoman Upstairs and Jane Steele. I haven't read any of the other books on your list but The Paris Winter sounds great!

  4. Many of my favorite 2016 reads went unreviewed (and unmentioned!), too — man, I hate that, but I'm with you... blogging/reading/reviewing is a cycle I'm so out of right now, with little O and the new baby on the way. Still, I love reading these posts, and I'm saving your recs for a rainy day! Re Jane is definitely speaking to me.

  5. Yessss! So many good picks! Are you excited for hte sequel to The Girl from Everywhere, which is coming out this year? I super am. The more time-traveling pirates in my life, the happier I will be. :D