According to Goodreads, I read seventy one books in 2016. The majority of those books released in previous years. There are so many great books out there, it is hard to get to them right away. It also makes it hard to do a best of list for any given year. The great thing about books is that they do not get old. Great books hold up for years to come. I cannot do a best of 2016 book list, but I can recommend fifteen books that I read throughout the year. Without further ado, fifteen books that are worth your time ordered by year of original publication and book title.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood [1985]

I have a feeling this book will fall on people’s radar in 2017. Hulu is releasing a television series based on the property. I stumbled upon Margaret Atwood in 2016 and read several of her books over the course of the year. The Handmaid’s Tale was my favorite. Fantastic imagery fills the pages of the book. It tackles meaty subjects of gender, politics, and religion. Doing it with a deft hand. Atwood does smart little things throughout the book, including the way she names characters. It all adds up to an excellent view into humanity that is particularly relevant today.

 

 

 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman [2001]

I got into Neil Gaiman too late in life. He hits on so many things I love in literature, particularly folklore and mythology. The more I read him, the more he rockets to the top of my favorite authors. American Gods is a prime example of what I love in his writing. Gaiman takes the religions and beliefs of those who immigrated to America over the centuries, and weaves a tale about deities and their role in a world that has forgotten them. It is a dichotomy of old and new, tradition and technology. His characters are vibrant and full of life. His settings are real, but sprinkled with aspects of otherworldly mythos. It is a story that is both large and small fit into one cohesive piece. This is another property getting a television series in 2017. Gaiman has his hand in it, so I hope it will pay the respect that its source material is due.

 

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke [2004]

The BBC mini-series is what first brought Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to my attention. I have not watched it yet, but several people, whose opinions I respect, talked about their love of the book when the show became available in America. If there is one lesson I have learned in life, it is that you should listen to the opinions of people you respect. They will lead you to great treasures in life. The book takes place in England during the beginning of the 19th century. Magic is real, but no longer practiced. Magicians can no longer perform spells, instead they study its history and important figures from centuries past. Two figures, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, are not satisfied with this limitation and set out to bring magic back to England. The book is long and reads similar to a history book at times. Some of the footnotes are pages long in and of themselves. I would not fault anyone for not enjoying the book the same way that I did. Yet, I found the depth and robustness of the alternate history within the pages of Clarke’s novel to be spellbinding. It made the story feel plausible. There was no doubt in my mind that these people could be real. That these events could have unfolded. The world swept me up, and I could not wait to see how it all ended. There is definitely a specific type of audience for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. If you are part of that audience, then you are in for a delicious treat.

 

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood [2004]

This is the book that got me on a Margaret Atwood kick in 2016. Set in a future where mankind is on the verge of extinction, the book hops around its timeline to fill in the details of what happened to humanity and how the world looks post-mankind. The story is captivating and touches on subjects like genetics, religion, and evolution. The best works of science fiction provide a setting that feels plausible and real. Oryx and Crake does that in spades. Even the most bizarre parts do not feel too far off from our current technologies. It is an excellent book that stands well on its own. Often times the first book in a trilogy feels like a setup for the reader. That is not the case here. You could never know the two sequels exist and still feel satisfied. Do not get me wrong. The sequels are good. They flesh out the world and move peripheral characters to the forefront of the story. Neither manage to capture the great heights of Oryx and Crake though.

 

 

Room by Emma Donoghue [2010]

It is not always easy to know if you should see a movie first or read the book. If you read the book and love it, the movie may be a big disappointment. If you see the movie first, the book may not feel fresh and new. In the case of Emma Donoghue’s Room, I saw the movie first and fell in love. The acting was incredible, and brought me to tears many times. Shortly after, I grabbed a copy of the book. There are a lot of similarities between the two, but enough differences to not feel redundant. Donoghue does an incredible job of stating things without actually saying it outright. The parts of the book dealing with breast feeding are a prime example. Even knowing the general direction of how things turned out, the story hooked me throughout its pages. It had me invested, and I was as emotional as when viewing the movie. That can be a hard thing to pull off when the readers are aware of your tricks. Room manages it.

 

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman [2013]

Neil Gaiman does not need a lot of pages to pack in a lot of story. His way with words and imagery is spectacular. The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the tale of a man returning to his hometown as an adult. While there, he recalls a number of fantastic events that happened while he was a child. The book is a modern day folk tale filled with mystery, bizarre events, and memorable characters. It is everything that I love in writing. Gaiman is one of the best at what he does. He uses every word and phrase to its utmost potential. He opens up worlds to the reader and makes them want to stay in those crazy places. If you have never read his work, then this short book is a great starting place. If you enjoy it as much as I did, then dive into the rest of his work and come away a changed person.

 

 

My Real Children by Jo Walton [2014]

The idea of considering the what-ifs of life is pervasive in pop culture. One of the most celebrated movies of 2016, La La Land, owes much of its success to the way it uses the theme in its third act. With its prevalence so heavy throughout our entertainment, it can be hard to come across a story of what-ifs that feels unique. My Real Children fits that category. It is the story of a women at the end of her days. In it, she recollects her life and the directions it takes based on different answers to one important question during the start of her adult life. The switching stories could have come off as confusing and weird, but instead, both narratives feel honest and real. How changed could your life be from one simple answer to a question? There could be oceans of difference between the paths. I love how connected I felt to the woman in both branches of this story. My heart connected to hers in different ways for different reasons. What a powerful narrative. One left in a shroud of ambiguity that matches the truth of what our own lives could become based on our choices.

 

Rogues Edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois [2014]

Anthologies, something once popular and fallen out of favor, seem to be making a comeback in literature, film, and television over the past several years. Anthologies can help introduce the audience to new creators. It can give creators room to breath. To tell smaller stories they otherwise would not. They can give life to a property and allow it to morph over time without wearing out its welcome. Rogues is a collection of twenty one stories revolving around the character of the rogue, people who live in the grey of life. The list of authors is a cast of stars, including the likes of Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Gillian Flynn, Joe Abercrombie, and George R.R. Martin. Not every story hits it out of the park, but there is a ton to enjoy about this collection. It introduced me to some great new writers, gave intimate insight into the worlds of some of the most popular series of our times, and provided hours of entertainment. In the end, it is hard to ask for anything more from an anthology. Whether you are looking for some great stories or want to gobble up every last word from the worlds of A Song of Ice and Fire and The Kingkiller Chronicles, this is the book for you.

 

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber [2014]

It is great when an author can take a familiar idea like faith and apply it to an unknown setting. The exploration of a theme through the eyes of something utterly foreign can open up our own minds to think in different ways. The Book of Strange New Things is able to mine the depths of religion, relationships, and priorities in a fascinating way. The pace is methodical and captivating. The characters are strange and endearing. The world is exotic but familiar. Presenting something so human in a setting that is so alien makes the concepts all the more endearing. Faber weaves his words with a craft and elegance that had me eager to stick around until the very end.

 

 

 

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey [2014]

I do not want to say much about the plot of this book. People seem to think it is best to go in blind. I had some of the premise spoiled through Goodreads. With the movie, it may be even harder to go into this book unblemished. I am not sure if I would have felt any different about the book if I had a blank slate. It is a wonderful read filled with great characters, an intriguing twist on a familiar plot, and an unabashed ending. Knowing the basic premise does not change that. It is books like this that help remind us that there are so many stories still to tell, even in genres or subjects that are done to death. With the right creator, anything can be captivating and fresh. The Girl with All the Gifts is a beacon of hope for anyone who feels like life is growing stale. It is an indicator that with a shift in perspective, life has a lot to offer.

 

 

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss [2014]

I came late to the world of the Kingkiller Chronicle. After seeing Patrick Rothfuss on a panel at C2E2, I figured I would see what this burly, bearded man had to offer. It was only after diving into his books that I realized how revered the series has become. The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not part of the main storyline. It is a novella that focuses on the character of Auri and her exploration of the Underthing. I liked the main books in the series, but this novella is by far my favorite part of the Kingkiller Chronicle universe. It is an intimate and personal look into the day to day of the character. It does little to forward any plot, but it is an incredible achievement as a character study. I loved the poetic way the words sprang from the page. It is raw and honest, showing the magic of writing. I, like everyone else in the world, am looking forward to the third book in the series. But, if I was only given more stories like this one, it would satisfy me.

 

 

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu [2015]

The term “silkpunk” gets used a lot when talking about Ken Liu’s series, The Dandelion Dynasty. If you can conjure up the images you think of when you hear “cyberpunk” and mix that with an Asian aesthetic, you have the basic idea. In The Grace of Kings, Liu highlights the lives of two figures through the rise and fall of various nations and empires on the islands of Dara. The Asian perspective is awesome. I love to see books that explore cultures that I am not familiar with. It broadens my horizon and teaches me something new. The other thing that sets this book apart is the pace. A lot of stuff happens in the pages of the novel. A quarter of the book runs through more history than the entire series of A Song of Ice and Fire. It sacrifices some intimacy with characters, but allows the opportunity to see consequences unfold in satisfying ways. It is awesome to see how the lives of these two figures unfold and the way they intertwine as time passes. I was also impressed by the way the book handled women. I know some people complain that there are not a lot of women in the book until near the end. I can understand that. The women that are in the book play very important roles. Liu makes them powerful and badass. They help shape the direction of the empire in big ways. That is not something you see often. For those reasons and more, The Grace of Kings enraptured me. I look forward to seeing where it all ends.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders [2016]

It only took a few pages to get me hooked on Anders’ science-fantasy novel. It throws you into a world of quirkiness as two unique children find friendship in one another knowing that neither will ever quite fit into the rest of society. The remaining pages explore the characters as they grow up and try to find their places in life. The novel is funny and heartfelt. It melds fantasy and science fiction in a modern day setting that feels completely natural, and then springs forward into a world that never feels out of place. The pace complements the great characters and the intriguing aspects of the narrative. I was on my honeymoon in Japan, and still had a hard time putting the book down. There is so much excellence packed into this book. Charlie Jane Anders has a bright future. Even thinking about it now makes me want to revisit the pages. That is a sign of great literature.

 

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch [2016]

Many may recognize the name Blake Crouch from the Wayward Pines series. It was his books that brought a name like M. Night Shyamalan to the small screen. On top of the Pines trilogy, he has also written a bunch of violent escape novels with similar themes and structures. I have read many of his books, and despite the similarities, have enjoyed them for what they are. Having known his previous works, Dark Matter threw me for a loop. It is by far Crouch’s most ambitious work. In it, he explores quantum physics, using it as a backdrop to probe themes of aspiration, life choices, and regret. The novel is a wild ride with many twists and turns. It is thrilling and heart breaking. As the story progresses, the tension and absurdity builds to an incredible climax. Crouch reveals things at the perfect moments making the reader feel both smart and blown away. Dark Matter was one of the biggest surprises for me in 2016. The book came together in all the right ways making for a satisfying experience.

 

 

League of Dragons by Naomi Novak [2016]

Like many before me, the first books in the Temeraire series captured my imagination. The Napoleonic Wars fought with dragons? What a cool concept! After eight books, the series had worn on me. I never thought any of the novels were bad, but they began to feel stretched and unnecessary. I felt conflicted over the release of the ninth and final book in the series. I was happy to see that the story would finally come to an end. All my time in the world would reach its conclusion. But would the book keep me interested enough in the setting to make it all feel worth it? I worried over nothing. League of Dragons does a great job of bringing elements of the whole series together for a satisfying and exciting tale. It has all the politics, battles, and world crafting that made the series fun to begin with, and it brings everything to a place that makes sense for the setting and the times. The book recaptured my love for the series, invigorating my connection to the material. I am even excited to hear the announcement of a collection of short stories. Falling in love with a book, series, or author is an amazing feeling. Being able to fall in love with one all over again may be even better. Novak does true justice to her series, showing readers why it became such a hit in the first place.