The most overrated book I read this year: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard. This was my most anticipated read for 2016. I got an ARC from our juvenile selector and was so excited that I could barely stand myself. I figured I’d go home, plop down, and happily read until I’d finished what was supposed to be an awesome YA fantasy novel. Instead, it took me a long, painful week or so to finish this sucker. If you’re looking for a fantasy with annoying characters, unbelievable romance, and zero (and I do mean zero) world building, then this is a book you’d probably love. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in reading something with an interesting magic system and strong female characters, I’d skip straight to Mistborn instead.
Most enjoyable: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. This was just such a fun read for me. It was a while since I’d read a well constructed, well paced, original fantasy novel. I definitely plan to continue the series in 2017.
Most disappointing: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. The Raven Cycle is one of my all time favorite series. I love the world, the characters, the mythology, the writing style–everything. Books 1-3 are perfection. I expected book 4, the concluding novel, to deliver. There was nothing in the previous 3 books that suggested this wouldn’t be an epic ending to an amazing series. Unfortunately, a lot of the book fell flat for me and I feel like Stiefvater took the easy way out at several key points in the story. I feel like this book doesn’t even belong in the series. I’m still going to read the yet to be release tribology Stiefvater is writing from Ronan’s perspective (because, obviously) but I’ll probably never get over how disappointing this book was.
Most surprising: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The first book was okay. It was fine. It was good enough to get me to pick up the second book. And man, am I glad that I did. There was so much intricate world building and the character development was insane. The romance was believable and I am obsessed with Rhysand as a character. I’m pumped for the third installment of this series (A Court of Wings and Ruin) that’s set to publish in spring of next year. I don’t have my hopes up too super high because I’ve been let down by Maas before, but this second installment is so good that I feel it can stand by itself.
Laziest: Still Life by Louise Penny. I think I discovered that I’m just not into cozy mysteries. I like a little more grit with my murder, thank you very much. While I liked the setting and some of the characters, things just plodded along a little too nicely for me. I kept waiting for something, anything, interesting to happen and it never did. It feels like every other not-too-dark mystery in the world and I’ll be passing on the rest of the series.
Most enlightening: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book was a totally new perspective for me. It’s well written, engrossing, and the writing is beautiful. I’d recommend this to just about anyone.
Saddest: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Ah, Chris Cleave. This man broke my hear with Little Bee and he’s done it again with this novel. I think this one hit me particularly hard due to the circumstances of dumpster fire that has been 2016. I realize we aren’t in a world war by any means but it sure does feel like one bad thing after another keeps slamming into us just like it does in this novel. In the end, the characters find some solace but they don’t find any kind of redemption. Perhaps we will all be as lucky. Perhaps not.
Most hopeful: I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. I’ve been a military spouse for four years now. My husband and I were once a very young, unmarried couple going through some of the same issues in this book. I also grew up poor and with parents who sometimes had a hard time keeping their shit together and had several bouts of addiction and mental health issues. Basically, this book resonated with me on a lot of levels. I found the story unflinchingly honest but also trending upward with hope for the future. Does anyone know if this is getting a sequel? I need a second book!
Most useful: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. In college, I worked with several nonprofits that either directly or indirectly served the homeless population. As a public librarian, I’ve certainly worked with a lot of people facing housing insecurity. Even so, I was unaware of a lot of the cyclical factors that effect poverty and homelessness. This is a great book that’s well researched and well written. I think everyone who works with the general public, many of whom will face homelessness at some point in their lives, should read this and think about how we can apply its lessons to our work in public service.
Most ominous: The Outpost by Jake Tapper. I’m currently reading this but I think I’ll have it finished by the end of the year. It’s a more in depth investigation of the events leading up to the events in Red Platoon. I am amazed at Tapper’s journalistic skill and attention to detail. There is so much information, so many detailed and nuanced stories to tell and Tapper does so in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating. It feels like reading a novel that you know has a really bad ending. Except this is real. The people who die are really dead. The bad choices made have real consequences for soldiers and their families. As someone who is very close to the military, I can say that some of the attitudes that led up to the deaths of so many soldiers aren’t going to be changing anytime soon. If there’s any hope in this account, I haven’t found it yet.
Most irritating: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. God, I have never, and I mean NEVER read a main character that was so insufferable. This book was hard for me to get through. I can see the appeal that it has for kids (especially the insufferable ones among them) but it’s a nightmare to read as an adult.
Smartest: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I don’t mean smartest in the academic sense here, obviously. What I mean is that this book, and in fact the whole duology, was incredibly plotted and (mostly) well paced. I thought the first half of this installment was quite slow but that all of the loose ends were wrapped up nicely, with just the right amount of tension maintained throughout the series to keep things interesting.
The book I’d most want President-elect Trump to read: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I’m very confident that Trump has absolutely no idea how the characters in this book perceive the world. It’s a hefty dose of reality that I think he desperately needs to choke down before taking office. Of course, he doesn’t read so this will never happen. One can hope.
And the best book I read this year: It’s a three way tie, folks! We have All American Boys, A Court of Mist and Fury, and Red Platoon coming in first place. I loved all of these books for different reasons. All American Boys is an honest, unflinching look at race relations in America. A Court of Mist and Fury is an impeccably plotted fantasy novel with stellar world building and character development the likes of which I’ve rarely seen in recent publications. Red Platoon is a sobering, utterly human meditation on war and what is costs us, not only those of us involved in the military but our society as a whole.