As the first week of January 2017 draws to a close, I’m looking back what I read in 2016. To do it in style, here’s a list of sixteen superlatives to sum up the 54 works I read last year. Note that in certain cases, I did list two books in a category if one of them was a reread.
- Favorite Books:
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson (reread)
My father-in-law is a great fan of Stephen King and recommended his collection Different Seasons. Since one of my 2016 reading challenges included reading short story collections, I thought that it would be a great fit. The second story, Apt Pupil, ended up being much too much for me, and I only read the first – Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. That was enough though. It’s a nearly perfect story. It brought me to tears and cemented my respect for Stephen King as an amazing author.
I also had a lot of fun rereading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy this year. It’s one of my favorite series of all time. If you’re a fantasy fan who hasn’t read it yet, I’m envious of the possibility of reading it for the first time – please add it to your TBR! If you’re not a fantasy fan, this probably isn’t the best introduction to the genre – I would suggest The Hero and the Crown (which all you fantasy fans also need to add to your TBR if you haven’t already read it!).
- Most Underrated (in My Opinion): Six Months, Three Days, by Charlie Jane Anders
(The link above sends you directly to the story, which is available for free online.)
I determined the most underrated and most overrated works by comparing my own Goodreads rating to the average. This story won the 2012 Hugo for Best Novelette (a work between 7,500 and 17,500 words), so I’m clearly not the only one who thinks it’s a five-star read. However, the average rating on Goodreads is just 3.66. Part of me wonders if the ratings were affected by the Hugo kerfuffle that’s occurred the past few years. Or perhaps, it spoke to me more than others. Whichever is the case, this story is short enough and easy enough to obtain, that I think you need to give it a shot – it’s the story of two people who can see the future and how it affects their everyday lives. I found it moving and thought-provoking; Anders is now on my list of authors to read more of this year.
- Most Overrated (in My Opinion): Calamity, by Brandon Sanderson
Oof. I feel obligated, even though I’ve already spent time in this post extolling Sanderson’s Mistborn series, to say that he is one of my favorite authors – one of the few authors whose work I will automatically buy. But this final volume in the Reckoners trilogy was unimpressive. Usually, the conclusions of his books and his series are the very best part, but Sanderson’s characteristic climax scenes were nowhere to be found and the overall explanation for the changed world of the story was sorely lacking. I’m still a Sanderson fan, but I was disappointed with Calamity.
- Least Favorite Book: Romancing the Duke, by Tessa Dare
I’m sorry, Tessa Dare. Despite a steadfast and strong-willed heroine with a devoted fandom (don’t ask), I couldn’t bring myself to even like the hero of the story, which is fairly essential for a romance novel. I gave this two stars on Goodreads, but gave Dare another try with Do You Want to Start a Scandal, which was better.
- Best Return to My Reading Roots: the Beka Cooper trilogy, by Tamora Pierce
Like many fantasy-loving girls growing up in the new millennium, I loved Tamora Pierce. Scratch that – I still love Tamora Pierce. Most of her books are set in a fairly standard fantasy world – feudal kingdoms with mythical creatures and magic; her protagonists, though, are typically young women who are breaking down the glass ceilings too often found in this standard fantasy setting. In this series, Beka Cooper, our main character, is a member of the Provost’s Guard, essentially a medieval police officer. I read all three books of the Beka Cooper series in three weeks and it refreshed my endless love for Tamora Pierce and her books.
- Favorite Book Published in 2016: This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live, by Melody Warnick
I only read five books published in 2016 last year, and quite honestly, none of them were on my top ten list. However, as a person in the process of settling into her home and trying to invest herself in her community, I liked This Is Where You Belong – I would recommend it to fans of Laura Vanderkam and Gretchen Rubin.
- Newest Book: Do You Want to Start a Scandal, by Tessa Dare (published September 27, 2016)
I’m still feeling my way around the romance genre and I picked this one because the summary sounded a lot like the board game Clue. And I kept saying the title to the tune of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” There wasn’t too much mystery after all, but still a pretty good read – I gave it three stars on Goodreads.
- Oldest Work: Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare (published 1601)
I read this to prepare myself for seeing Twelfth Night in Louisville in January and it reinforced my belief that the worst way to learn about Shakespeare is by reading his work silently and on one’s own – the play’s the thing! I’m glad I read the book (script) beforehand, but seeing it on stage makes his work come to life: after all, that’s how it was meant to be seen.
The top left picture is cover art for Six Months, Three Days featured on Tor.com; the bottom left picture is a minimalist movie poster I found on Pinterest; and the picture on the right is the cover art on my copy of The Beacon at Alexandria.
- Longest Books:
And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts – 656 pages
The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson (reread) – 796 pages
These are some decently long books, but I’ve got some 1000 pagers on my shelf, so let’s see if I can beat this in 2017!
- Shortest Work: Six Months, Three Days, by Charlie Jane Anders – 26 pages
See, it’s short enough for you to read right now!
- Favorite Nonfiction: And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts
And the Band Played On covers in a period too close to modern times to be covered in history classes, but long enough ago to be a distant thought for most young people today. The reality of the AIDS epidemic in the 1970s and 1980s is hard to believe, but essential to understand. Shilts writes clearly and straightforwardly, brilliantly communicating what it was like to live through those times.
- Favorite Mystery:
A Morbid Taste for Bones, by Ellis Peters
Have His Carcase, by Dorothy Sayers (reread)
My favorite new mystery, A Morbid Taste for Bones, was the start of a series, thank goodness! I’m looking forward to hearing what happens next to Brother Cadfael, the unofficial detective of his twelfth century Welsh monastery.
And of course, I can’t neglect one of my most favorite mystery series of all time. Rereading Have His Carcase, starring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, reminded me just how much I love this Golden Age mystery series. If you’ve liked Agatha Christie in the past, but wished for more characterization, Sayers is the author for you.
- Favorite Historical Fantasy: the Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik
I originally had categories for both fantasy and historical fiction, probably my two favorite genres, but had trouble picking favorites. When it comes to historical fantasy, though, there was a clear winner. In this series, Novik reimagines the Napoleonic wars – with dragons. More fun than a 800-page history of Napoleon and more nuanced than Anne McCaffrey – a real winner in my book. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series in 2017.
- Favorite Science Fiction: Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia Butler
Wow. Butler is more famous as a novelist than as a short story writer, but this collection showcases her talent exquisitely. I can hardly pick a favorite.
- Most Read Author: Brandon Sanderson – 4 books
Okay, this is the last time I’ll bring up Brandon Sanderson. I read the three books of the original Mistborn trilogy plus Calamity.
- Most Likely to Reread:
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons
The Beacon at Alexandria, by Gillian Bradshaw
Cold Comfort Farm is a perfect parody of the Gothic novel that is excellent even for those who love them (and I count myself among those numbers). Flora, our protagonist, ends up at a ramshackle country manor with her depressed relatives, both of which are supposedly cursed, and proceeds to wonder why they don’t spruce the place up and get out more. It’s very funny – for self-actualized Bronte fans.
The Beacon at Alexandria is the kind of book I really like to reread – an adventure story of a young woman making her own place in the world without giving up on her dreams. (See Tamora Pierce, above.) In this case, in the fourth century of the common era, Charis dreams to travel to Alexandria and study medicine. Unique and recommended.