Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best New Reads of 2016!

2016, man. It's been a year, am I right? Like many of you, 2016 has put me through the ringer in more ways than one. But there's also been some exceptionally good things—chief among them, the number of really fantastic books I've read.

In the last year I've read a total of 87 books, 19 of which were unpublished books I read either as a critique partner or as a Pitch Wars mentor. (I've definitely never had a year with so much beta reading before! And I can't wait until those books are out in the world and I can share them with all of you.) Of the published books I tracked on Goodreads, a whopping 30 were five-star reads. I read very few books this year that I didn't totally love.

Here are my top 14 favorite new reads for 2016, because 14 was as close to 10 as I could make my list go, listed in mostly chronological order. The links in the post aren't affiliate links, because I've never made enough on my affiliate account for Amazon to actually give me the money, so I decided to go the easy route this year. ;)

1. Happiness for Beginners, Katherine Center

Adult fiction. Totally delightful, perfectly-paced, and life-affirming women's fiction that manages to be both sweet and thought-provoking.

2. The War that Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Middle grade fiction. This is one of this year's Newbery Honors, and I just adored it. I particularly loved that while it's a masterfully done historical fiction, the focus is on the character's personal story, not the historical setting. After I got past the really difficult beginning, I loved how hopeful and lovely the story managed to be, despite being about such grim topics.

3. The Thing About Jellyfish, Ali Benjamin

Middle grade fiction. There were a lot of books that really stuck with me this year, but The Thing About Jellyfish tops that list. Gorgeously written, sweet, and sad, it beautifully tackles a very real experience for middle schoolers. I also loved how it was strongly hinted that the main character was likely on the autistic spectrum, but the focus of the story wasn't on her neurodifference, and the way the story told was very inclusive.

4. Hour of the Bees, Lindsay Eager

Middle grade fiction. I was a little bit freaked out when I first saw the cover and synopsis for this book in the spring, because I'd just barely begun querying my own middle grade book about magic bees (which pretty quickly got an agent and sold to HarperCollins, hooray!). Once I read it, though, I was relieved to see it's very different than my own—and fell head over heels for Eager's lovely storytelling and the unique way that she intertwines fables and family history with her contemporary story.

5. Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo

Middle grade fiction. No, I have no idea how I went 15 years after its publication without reading this one, but I loved it. Short, sweet, and guaranteed to bring a smile.

6. Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead

Middle grade fiction. Stead is one of my favorite authors of this year, and of the books I read (the other being the equally fantastic Liar and Spy), Goodbye Stranger is the one that's really lingered in my mind. I love how well it tackles some really hard topics in an utterly sensitive and age-appropriate manner. Stead's sparse and straightforward writing, and her compelling and unique characters, are completely hypnotic.

7. Eleven and Holding, Mary Penney

Middle grade fiction. This was an unexpected gem; Penney's debut novel is another that tackles tough subjects with grace and humor.

8. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

Adult fiction. I'd heard mixed things about this one, and wasn't sure what to expect going in, but I ended up devouring almost the whole thing in one night and absolutely loving it. The ending was a little abrupt and unexpected, but I loved the rest of the book enough that I was able to get over that. Sweet and life-affirming.

9. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island, Dana Alison Levy

Middle grade fiction. I also read Levy's debut novel, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, but while that was also a five-star read, Rock Island edged it out just a bit for me. I read this the week before Christmas, and the grin-inducing storyline plus the warm, summery setting were just what my tired midwinter heart needed.

10. The Key to Extraordinary, Natalie Lloyd

Middle grade fiction. Lloyd's debut, A Snicker of Magic, was actually the first book I read in 2016, and while I also loved that one, The Key to Extraordinary was even better. I loved everything about this book—the setting, the characters, the theme, the folk music woven through it, and all the references to lavender-peach muffins, which I'm still going to try my hand at making one of these days!

11. Courage for Beginners, Karen Harrington

Middle grade fiction. This was an unexpected gem that I picked up off a library display shelf one day. It was such a unique story, and while some aspects of it were so stressful to read, the plucky, voicey narrator kept me turning pages at top speed. Courage for Beginners manages to be both funny and heartbreaking, which is a pretty winning combination in my book.

12. Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles, Shari Green

Middle grade fiction. Green's verse is absolutely luminous, and her subject matter is sweet and sad, in all the best ways. It's also one of the best depictions I've read of a side character with cystic fibrosis!

13. Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton

Adult nonfiction. Let me level with you here. I didn't really expect to love Love Warrior nearly as much as I did. I definitely didn't expect to find it profoundly moving, the kind of book I wanted to buy and reread the second I'd closed the cover. The Momastery blog can be slightly hit-or-miss for me, and while I appreciate a lot of Glennon's insights, I figured this book couldn't live up to the hype. But for me, at least, it totally did. In addition to being an honest and unflinching memoir that avoids stepping too far into navel-gazing or coy I'm-a-disaster-but-I'm-so-cute territory, Love Warrior is also packed with incredibly thought-provoking musings on society's expectations for women and for relationships.

14. The Weight of Feathers, Anna-Marie McLemore

Young adult fiction. McLemore's debut is gorgeously written, evocative, and unique; I can't describe it in words that really do it justice. The magical realism is light and perfect, and the story is so rich with atmosphere you could cut it with a knife.

Runners-up (it was so hard bumping so many favorites into this category):

A Study in Charlotte, Brittany Cavallaro

Conviction, Kelly Loy Gilbert

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

The Passion of Dolssa, Julie Berry

Okay For Now, Gary Schmidt

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy, Karen Abbott

Southern Charmed, Melanie Jacobson