In which we Book Smugglers present our top 10 books of 2016 and other assorted goodies…
Ana: Hello, I’m Ana.
Thea: And I’m Thea.
Ana & Thea: And we are…BOOK SMUGGLERS!!!!!!!
*play facemelting riffs on air guitars*
We’ve brought you some of our favorite authors and bloggers with their reflections on 2016… We’ve once again proved that the hardest Feat of Strength is to restrain ourselves NOT TO BUY ALL THE THINGS after so many awesome lists… And now it’s finally time to get our own hands dirty! We have scoured our personal libraries, gone through all our reviews for the year, and we are happy to report that we finally have our final picks ready to go.
We Smugglers are proud to present you with our Most Excellent Books of 2016!
MOST EXCELLENT BOOKS OF 2016
Ana’s Most Excellent List:
I think we can all agree that 2016 – self-fulfilling prophecy or not – has been a veritable trash fire of a year. On top of everything horrible happening in the world, my personal life has been pretty stressful too, to the point where I only managed to read 60 – S I X T Y – books this year, an all-time low. 2016, you sucked.
The good news is that, because I read so little, I had to be very careful picking the books I’d read which means that the average rate is pretty dam high at 7.6. This also means that picking my top 10 was particularly difficult.
With that said, here is the nitty-gritty of stats. Out of those 60 books read, 53 were by female-identified authors, or 88% of what I’ve read. The vast majority of those 60 books were unsurprisingly, under the Speculative Fiction umbrella. Genre-wise, 55% are Fantasy and 21% of the books read are Science Fiction. I’ve been reading more and more of Adult fiction with 48% of the books read hitting that category, with the rest split more or less evenly between Middle Grade and Young Adult.
25% of the books read this year were written by authors of colour. 8% of the books I read featured LGBTQIA characters as either the protagonist OR important secondary characters – that’s a shitty number and the worst stat in comparison to last year’s stats. Vowing to do better 2017.
And now, without further ado: here is my top 10 of 2016, in no particular order.
10. The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar
Sofia Samatar takes us back to visit her world of Olondria at a particular point in time for a nation and asks us to witness the lives of four women. Who lives, who dies, who tells your (hi)story is at the center of these beautiful tales of tragedy, love and war.
9. On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
A story of the apocalypse as-it-happens, following a group of survivors in the aftermath of a comet that hit the Earth. This story shows that there is no amount of preparation that can account for everything: the accidents, the unexpected and for human behaviour. But here is the thing: this shows hopeful, cooperative characters trying to do their best.
8. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
I didn’t officially review Ninefox Gambit here but I did talk about it on Fangirl Happy Hour. Thea gave it a ten – and I would have done the same thing. In fact, it’s quite possible that this is my favourite book of 2016. Difficult, confusing at times but ever so smart, tense and oh-so-fun, Ninefox Gambit is a tale of survival and revenge in space with unreliable narrators and mathematics. I’d call it this year’s Ancillary Justice if it wasn’t entirely its own thing.
7. The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
Another novel of the apocalypse as it happens – a slow, snowy climate change apocalypse – and a story about found families too. From my review because it says it all:
A painfully beautiful story of the apocalypse, it would be easy to dismiss The Sunlight Pilgrims as a novel where “nothing happens” given its episodic nature. That’s only true if you think of life as “nothing”: there is nothing little about this novel, nothing unimportant within its pages. From Stella’s wary yet hopeful outlook, Constance’s unapologetic stance, and Dylan’s big heart, this novel is populated with humane, realistic, lovingly portrayed characters against an increasingly scary backdrop.
6. Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Proving that I did not read only sad, heavy books this year, Heroine Complex is a ray of sunshine to light up this list. It is without a doubt, the most adorable, fun, funny novel I read all year and I loved it to bits for the friendships, the main character’s arc and for the hot romance.
5. You Will Know Me by Megan Abott
A book about a teenager gymnast, narrated by her mother – You Will Know Me is a novel about sports and extreme competition yes, but also about something we don’t see that often: female ambition and obsession. It’s an uncomfortable, discomfiting, important novel.
4. Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
An intricate novel that works on so many levels, Poisoned Blade is the wonderful, higher-stakes sequel to last year’s Court of Fives. This is NOT your typical middle-book-in-a-trilogy, with a lot of character growth and plot progression toward a sure-but-slow game-changer ending. Winner of the best line of the year with: Kiss off, adversary.
3. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Following last year’s excellent (and one of our year-end favourites too) Illuminae, Gemina has a similar formula: a high concept, an epistolary narrative, a book that requires the reader to engage with the pages in different ways, a Moment of Despair, incredible twists and awesome characters. Die Hard meets Aliens in SPACE, in a super cool, fun, creative story. Bring on book 3: by the looks of it, my top ten of 2017 already has one of its spots filled.
2. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
An AI and a clone trying to make their way through the world – a book about found families, identity and choosing who you want to be. Companion novel to last year’s excellent The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, these books are the closest thing to Cosy Space Opera I can think of, with their beautiful, joyful optimism.
1. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Another year with a N.K. Jemisin book published, another year with a N.K. Jemisin book as a favourite book of the year. In an incredibly harrowing series, this particular book felt more restrained and personal than its predecessor, but still in an earth-shattering, life-changing, revolutionary way. I don’t think that my heart will cope with book 3.
Thea’s Most Excellent List:
Like Ana, 2016 was a year of enormous challenge for me. From a professional perspective, from a personal perspective, with all of the Real Life things, and other priorities we have going on here at Book Smugglers HQ… all of it means that my reviewing output was severely impacted. This year was my lowest quota yet: a measly 54 reviews. 54 reviews!! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE!?!?! I am very disappointed in myself. I vow to make 2017 a much, much better year.
In terms of quality and breakdown of books reviewed, however, I am very happy with the overall quality of titles. My average rating was 7.69 (astonishingly high!)–there was only one title that earned a 5 rating from me, with a handful of 6s and a lot of very, very good reads. Of all reads, 62% were written by female-identifying authors. Overall, 38% were written by or featured people of color. The most popular genre for me this year is, surprisingly, fantasy–accounting for 27.55% of my book breakdown. YA and MG titles combined accounted for 29.59% of my reading; 17.35% combined general speculative fiction and science fiction; historical titles and horror titles each accounted for 6% of my reading. All in all, a very interesting breakdown (certainly it surprised me)!
Of all of these books, of course, only the best can make the top 10. And here they are, in ascending order:
10. Wayward: Deluxe Edition by Jim Zub, art by Steve Cummings
The tagline for this one is “Buffy in Japan”–which is potentially problematic and appropriative-sounding. The good news is that Wayward is well-researched and respectful to its Japanese roots, and blends yokai and mythology with a new breed of superhero–the young, hungry gods of Japan. With an ensemble cast of awesome characters, gorgeously colorful and vibrant art, Wayward is my favorite new comic of the year.
9. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
Book 2 in the Shades of London series, A Gathering of Shadows takes place four months after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic–and it is SO FREAKING AWESOME. Kel and Rhy’s fates are inextricably linked, and Delilah Bard is an honest to goodness Pirate on the high seas–and they all come back together in a glorious tournament called the Essen Tasch (to quote myself, “a kind of Triwizard-Tournament-meets-Gladiator-meets-The-Empress-Game” showdown). OK, objectively this book doesn’t do much to move the trilogy along on a holistic arc level. But subjectively, I loved every bloody moment of it. These characters! Be still, my heart.
8. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
2016 was a hell of a year–like so many others, the loss of Carrie Fisher hit me hard. Bloodline by Claudia Gray is, hands down, the best Star Wars novel I have ever read. I know those are big words–especially considering Gray’s other standout hit, Lost Stars–but this book is so powerful because she so perfectly captures Senator Leia Organa just a few years before the events of Episode VII: The Force Awakens and the rise of the First Order. Emotionally resonant, true to the Leia I know and love so much, Bloodline is everything I could ever want in an EU novel. I loved it.
7. Strange Star by Emma Carroll
A middle grade horror novel with heart, Strange Star is the first book I’ve read from Emma Carroll, and oh, how I loved it, dear readers. Carroll’s take on Frankenstein is original and refreshing, taking the vantage point of a young girl touched by death, and her love for her sister that propels her across oceans and countries. Emma Carroll is one of my happiest discoveries of 2016–I highly recommend this book, and cannot wait to glom her backlist immediately.
6. Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
The one thing you can always be certain of when reading a Kate Elliott novel is that you will be enthralled. Poisoned Blade picks up right where The Court of Fives leaves off, and runs with Jessamy’s newfound position as a competitor in the ongoing games–but this time, the story includes much more nuanced exploration of the history of Efea versus the Saorese. Loaded with action and drama, Poisoned Blade outshines its predecessor–and I cannot wait for more.
5. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
In the future, when disease and death have been eradicated, humankind must be held in check–so their mortality is controlled by Scythes. Two young teenagers are selected by Honorable Scythe Faraday to train as apprentices as death-takers, and discover just how heavy the mantle of Scythe can be. Ever since I read Unwind several years ago, I’ve been a fan of Neal Shusterman’s–and Scythe is his best novel to date, in my humble opinion. You want complex politics, examination of mortality, human responsibility, and the dream of justice? Read this book.
4. Gemina by Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff
Illuminae was one of my favorite books of 2015–experimental and epistolary in format, with a core trio of characters who made me believe in the power of YA science fiction. Gemina is even BETTER than Illuminae–following a completely new set of characters but examining the same time period as the events of Illuminae, complete with alien space drug bugs, time travel paradoxes, and a romance that never once felt fake or forced. This book is the real deal.
3. Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier
Oh, how I love Rachel Neumeier. This, a standalone fantasy YA novel, follows a young woman who inherits a great power to protect her kingdom. Reminiscent of classic YA fantasy in the vein of Howl’s Moving Castle and old school Robin McKinley, The Keeper of the Mist made me nostalgic but also surprised me, simultaneously, with its originality. The best part? Neumeier’s nuanced examination of power politics from a feminist perspective–especially as many men and external forces come to try to usurp or “best manage” Keri’s rule.
2. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ambitious, confusing, powerfully moving, Ninefox Gambit is creative as hell, featuring a fully-realized complex world, and powerful characters, to boot. In a world where calculations and normalcy are determined by the upper echelons of society, where using unconventional calculations and formations are tantamount to heresy, one soldier with the implanted consciousness of a dangerous genius must figure out how to stop the threat of calendrical rot from consuming her world. I told you it was confusing–but it’s so worth it because it’s also so much fun.
1. Death’s End by Cixin Liu
This is a bit of a cheat–because I finished the novel last week but haven’t reviewed it yet. Suffice it to say that Cixin Liu’s finale to this triumphant series is as complicated, terrifying, and bleak as its first two installments. This third book examines the ferocious, dark nature of the universe and intelligent life, and the many, many mistakes humanity makes in its attempts to stay alive in the face of extinction. Grand, terrifying, and astounding, Death’s End takes a macro look at life, civilization, and the universe itself–and I cannot think of a better book to end 2016 with. Hands down, my favorite book of the year.
Most Honorable Mentions of 2016
As with every year, we have a hard time sticking to just one list. Because we’ve read SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS this year, we feel it’s only fair that we give a shoutout to those titles on our Best of 2016 longlist (all of which have been published in 2016). In no particular order:
Ana’s Most Honorable Mentions:
1. Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel José Older, 8 (Urban Fantasy)
2. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, 8 (Fantasy)
3. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 8 (Fantasy)
4. A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab, 9 (Fantasy)
5. Borderline by Mishell Baker, 8 (Urban Fantasy)
6. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chockshi, 9 (Fantasy, YA)
7. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley, 9 (Non-fiction)
8. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, 7 (Fantasy, YA)
9. Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens, 8 (Mystery, MG)
10. Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal, 8 (Fantasy)
Thea’s Most Honorable Mentions:
1. Paper Girls Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, 8 (Comics, SFF)
2. The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, 8 (Historical, YA, SFF)
3. The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan, 8 (Contemporary Fantasy, YA)
4. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, 8 (Middle Grade, SFF)
5. Morning Star by Pierce Brown, 7 (Science Fiction)
6. Maresi by Maria Turtschanioff, 8 (YA, SFF)
7. Where Futures End by Parker Peevyhouse, 8 (YA, Science Fiction)
9. Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn, 8 (Urban Fantasy, Superheroes)
10. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, 7 (Horror)
Most Excellent Books Published PRIOR to 2016
Last list. Promise. There are a treasure trove of awesome pre-2016 books – especially now with Old School Wednesdays – we have read this year, and here are a few of our favorites:
Ana’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones, 8 (Fantasy)
2. The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again by A. C. Wise, 8 (Fantasy)
3. Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, 10 (Science Fiction)
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, 9 (Children)
5. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke, 10 (Mystery)
Thea’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (MG, Horror)
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, 9 (Children)
3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling, 9 (Fantasy, Children)
4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling, 9 (Fantasy, Children)
5. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, 8 (YA, Science Fiction)
6. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, 8 (YA, Fantasy)
And with that we, your Friendly Neighborhood Book Smugglers, close the books on 2016. Bring on 2017 and don’t forget:
Be Excellent to Each Other, dudes and dudettes!