2016 Reading Review

Another great year of books is behind us.  As usual, I read a lot of YA fantasy, but I also read a good mix of other stuff, too (partly thanks to the bimonthly GeekyNerdy Book Club).

This year I read 35 books and graphic novels (not counting re-reads).  Here are some of my favorites:

YA fantasy/sci-fi:

Indie fantasy:

Non-fiction:

There are also a few other genre books that really stood out, but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing them yet, so I’m making some space for them here.

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology

Related imageThis was hands-down my favorite series of 2016.  I wrote previously about the first book, Six of Crows, and I’m now here to tell you that the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is an immensely satisfying conclusion.  The characters are still amazing, and continue to be challenged in new, different ways.  The fantasy aspects also continue to be developed.

It’s not an entirely happy ending, but there was never going to be a perfectly happy ending to this story, and honestly it was happier than I was expecting.  I’m even considering buying the hardcover set, which I never do, because the books themselves have the pages edged in color: black for the first and red for the second.

If you like YA fantasy, grey characters, and complex plots, this one is for you.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

There has been so much buzz around this book since22544764 it was published last year (it was nominated for a Hugo and won the Nebula), and I was not disappointed at all.  The story is a kind of original fairy tale, eastern-European inspired, and walks the line between YA and regular adult fantasy.  The main character Agnieszka is “taken” by the local lord, called the Dragon, and is eventually trained by him as a magical apprentice to help defeat the evil Wood.

There’s plenty of magic, and although the magic system is not well-defined, the book does give us an interesting sense of the different methods of working it (the Dragon is more precise and scientific, while Agnieszka works more based on feel and intuition).  There’s also a great female friendship at the core of the story, and some romance—it wasn’t my favorite ever, but I thought it was done well for the story.

The Wood is a surprisingly good villain, and the story’s resolution seemed very fitting.  Even after everything that’s happened, Agnieska can still empathize with the Wood and tries to work out a solution for everyone’s benefit (it’s very Wonder Woman ^_^).

Also, I pictured the Dragon as looking like Rumpelstiltskin from OUAT, so there’s that.

Rumple

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

25372801I’ve been reading CJA for years, as one of the founders of the website io9.com; her movie reviews are the most entertaining I’ve ever read (some of my favorites are Transformers: ROTF, Gods of EgyptThe Force Awakens, The Martian, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War).

I also loved her short story (and Naomi Novik’s) in our recent GeekyNerdy Book Club selection, The Starlit Wood.  So it’s safe to assume that I love her writing style, and it definitely carried me through this story, which was wonderful and memorable, though perhaps not perfect.

A witch girl and a tech-genius boy grow up together as school outcasts, grow apart, then meet again as adults, which is convenient because one or possibly both of them need to save the world from near-imminent destruction. I loved that there is both fantasy and science fiction mashed up here.  It was fascinating to me that the witches would have destroyed humanity to save the planet, while the scientists were willing to risk destroying the planet to save humans.  It was nice to see scientists wrestling with ethical questions, too.

Overall, this book is a little weird, which is why I loved it.  The narrative is a bit uneven, but you just kinda have to go along for the ride.

Here’s to more great books in the new year.  What books did you enjoy most in 2016?

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Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Finally, a book that lives up to the hype!

23437156I read Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy earlier this year, and liked it enough to give it 4 out of 5 stars, but this “companion” novel blows it out of the water.  It’s easily the best YA I’ve read this year.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

So this is a heist story, which means a wonderful cast of GREY CHARACTERS! My favorite.  Our team of would-be thieves offers many diverse viewpoints, and I loved all of them.  My favorite is Inej, aka the Wraith, who finds an inner strength and purpose over the course of the book.  There’s also some romance developing between some of the team members, but it’s subtle and gradual (no insta-love) and flows naturally from their character development.

The story itself is very suspenseful and entertaining, with some great twists along the way.  I actually didn’t realize that this was not a stand-alone book, and at the end I was so upset that the sequel isn’t out yet!  It can’t come soon enough.

The setting is the same world as the Grisha trilogy, but in different areas than we’ve seen before, and several years later.  (You don’t at all need to read the Grisha trilogy first.  There are a few fun references, though–Inej has named one of her daggers Sankta Alina.)

It’s a nicely developed world, with some parallels to our own in terms of nations.  It also has some fantasy: characters called Grisha who are born with abilities to manipulate various aspects of the natural world; they are alternately hated or worshiped.

A really good fantasy story is one that uses its speculative elements to say something about the real world, and this one delivers on multiple fronts.  The one part I’ve been left thinking about this week is when a character wonders why it seems worse to be killed for being a Grisha than to be killed for being a thief.  It’s because the latter is what you do, but the former is what you are: an essential part of you that you were born with, like skin color or sexual orientation.  When someone is hated or feared or threatened or hurt simply for being who they are…that is a truly terrible thing, and it’s what we have to keep fighting against.

Anyway, I can’t say enough good things about this book and its writing and story and characters and realness.  Also, its pages are edged in black and it looks supercool.

5/5 stars