A Year In Books: The 2016 Bookworm Awards

I’d like to blame the lateness of this post on something dramatic, like aliens or politics or a terrible computer virus.  But the truth is that I’ve had this written since the turn of the year and haven’t had the motivation to type it up.  Despite the tardiness of this post, I’d still like to share with you my final round-up on the books I read last year.  There were quite a few, and I have a lot of opinions, so stick with me!

2016 was a pretty good year for me. I participated in my first 10k, I successfully defended my PhD dissertation proposal, and I found out I was going to become an aunt- to twins! Aside from those things, though, my year was pretty uneventful, which was a blessing in disguise as it gave me plenty of time to read.

I keep track of my yearly reading on Goodreads (Jordan Finch; let’s be friends!), and based on my number there, I spent a large portion of this year with my nose stuck in a book.  I guess I really am a funny girl and all that.

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In 2015, I read 132 books. My goal for this past year started at 100, which I surpassed, so I upped it to 150. I passed that goal, too, but I wasn’t sure just how ambitious I wanted to be after that, so that’s where my goal stayed.

When all was said and done, I had read 178 books (Goodreads says 174, but that’s because I still haven’t managed to find a good way to record rereads on Goodreads).  These 178 books came from a number of different genres, ranging from classics to sci-fi to Christian fiction to memoirs for a total of over 63,000 pages.

I should probably be glad I didn’t end up with more paper cuts.

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Here’s a more detailed breakdown of my reading this year:

  • Books Read: 178
  • New Series Started: 14
  • Old Series Finished: 5
  • Series Binge Read: 4
  • Fiction vs. Nonfiction: 156 (88%) vs. 22 (12%)
  • Authors Read: 133
  • Rereads: 9

So probably no one but me that cares about these stats, but I like the numbers.

It looks like I started a lot of new series that are going to require more space on my bookshelves in the future, but I also made the executive decision to let myself not finish a series.  I hate leaving things unfinished, so I normally would have kept up with a series as long as I didn’t completely hate the first book, but this year, I realized that I have neither the time nor the room to keep that up forever.  There are too many books out there that I want to read to stick with ones that I don’t like.  I even let myself sell the first books in these series, mostly because I needed the space, but also to avoid the temptation to keep reading the series out of guilt.  Like I said, too many books to feel bad.

And there really are a tone of books out there to read; just look at my Goodreads ‘To-Read’ shelf.  But I put a pretty good dent in my eternal TBR pile last year, and through the good and the bad, I found myself laughing, frowning, crying, and cringing.  Some books were okay, some were disappointing, and some definitely knocked my socks off.  Or they would have if I didn’t hate wearing socks so much.

But I digress.  My reading last year had its ups and downs, but some books had way more ups and others more downs.  Which are which?  It took some work to decide, but I finally managed to narrow down the best of the best, the cream of the crop, and the ones at the tippy top.  And so, I present to you the 2016 Bookworm Awards, brought to you once again by the brains behind the Literary Laboratory.

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Favorite New Authors: Carrie Firestone and Sarah Porter

These two ladies couldn’t have written more different stories, but they were alike in that neither of them was like anything I’d read before.  Carrie’s book was brutally honest and unexpectedly rude, but it was also heartbreaking and hopeful.  Sarah wrote a story full of magic and danger with a plucky heroine who was unafraid of doing what needed to be done.  To create such fascinating and unique characters and such strangely wonderful situations takes some writers countless tries, but these ladies managed in some of their earliest novels.  Brava to both of them!

Favorite New to Me Authors: Erin Morgenstern and Amie Kaufman/Jay Kristoff

I have no idea why I held off on reading the releases from these three.  The Night Circus blew me away; it was whimsical and mysterious and dangerous and romantic, and if I could live in Le Cirque des Reves, I would.  The Night Circus has fantastically complex characters, but it’s really the world they create that makes this book so great.  It’s easily one of my all-time favorites.  And both Illuminae and Gemina kept me glued to the pages long after I should’ve gone to bed, gotten back to work, or headed out to run errands.  I couldn’t put either of these books down!  The format of these stories is one-of-a-kind, and the stories themselves are heart-stopping and action-packed.  There were so many plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and I was rooting so hard for the main characters, who were all flawed but skilled, broken but determined, lost yet relentless.  I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

Best Beginning of a Series: Illumine (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

As I just mentioned, The Illuminae Files is one of my favorite series of 2016.  Illuminae easily surpassed anything I could’ve expected and had me flying through the pages to see what happened next.  The story started off with chaos and never let up, and I loved following Kady, Ezra, and the rest of the survivors of Kerenza as they tried to escape the people who had blown up their home.  I really liked Kady in particular.  She was smart, skilled, and snarky, and her willingness to put herself in harm’s way to save those she cared about was undeniably admirable.  There were so many twists and turns in her quest for safety, and every time I thought I had things pegged, I was proven wrong.  Illuminae was an explosive—literally—debut for this award-winning duo, and it quickly earned both authors a place on my TBR pile for their individual books.

Best Ending to a Series: The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater, Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo, Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi

In every book series, characters change and grow as they face new situations and new challenges.  These three series, though, had more character growth than most.  The writing in these series allowed the characters to naturally respond to the changes in their lives, both good and bad, and end up somewhere better than I ever could’ve guessed when I began each series.  Each story also had plenty of action, danger, and romance to wrap up the adventures, and the endings managed to be foregone yet still surprising, which, to me, is always a sign that the author has really put work into the finale rather than just giving readers what they want.  Not everyone got their happy ending, but everyone got a proper ending, with hints of more stories in the future.  I can only hope.

Best Short Story Collection: Stars Above (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles is one of my all-time favorite series, and this collection of extra stories about the main characters was everything I’d hoped for and more.  The stories provided looks at the pasts of some of the characters, helping show how they became the people I came to know and love, while the final story provided a new adventure for the four couples as they started their lives after the war.  Something Old, Something New made me smile so much and made my heart swell with happiness for these characters, and I can’t thank Marissa enough for another chance to peek back into the world of The Lunar Chronicles.

Most Disappointing Book: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Ugh, I really wanted to like this book.  The cover was beautiful, and the premise of a young woman training to become a forensic pathologist and finding herself on the path of an infamous serial killer sounded great.  But this book fell prey to the dangers of insta-love, ridiculous decisions by an intelligent character, and a villain reveal that didn’t make sense.  There was very little stalking of Bloody Jack as the title had promised, and to make it worse, the characters were pretty flat, largely predictable, and fairly uninteresting.  This is one series I won’t be continuing.

Favorite Classic: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

I wrote a whole review on this book last February because it managed to do what few books have done and catch me truly by surprise.  The first part of this book makes you think it’s going to be a typical gothic romance with grand, sweeping settings, beautiful but troubled characters, and a dark secret.  And this book is that.  But then the dark secret is revealed, and it was something I never would’ve guessed.  It had me flipping back to reread scenes in a new light and kept me glued to the book until I’d reached the end.  This book is a classic for a reason, and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s a fan of a good mystery.

Favorite Non-fiction Read: Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

This book had my emotions all over the place.  The topic—the Bataan death march and the Cabanatuan Camp—is one that isn’t widely discussed, but it really should be, as it’s a true story of the best and worst of mankind.  I couldn’t believe the optimism, the hope, and the perseverance of the human spirit in such horrific conditions, and it gave me a new respect for the men who endured such cruelty.  Ghost Soldiers is truly a heartbreaking yet inspiring story and certainly one I’ll never forget.

Favorite Reread: The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle is one of my favorite series anyway, and while I love the other three books, The Dream Thieves just feels like a beast of a different sort.  I’d forgotten how much I loved to hate Kravinsky, not to mention how legitimately crazy that dude was, but I loved how he messed with the Raven boys and how he antagonized Ronan in particular.  This book focused more on Ronan and his abilities as the Greywaren, and it felt less like a mystical mystery and more like a reckless, headfirst race into danger and bad decisions than the rest of the quartet.  I was quite pleased to hear that the Ronan- centered series Maggie is working on will be more like The Dream Thieves, because goodness knows I need more of this lovable thug of a boy in my life.

Favorite Retelling: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

I was only vaguely familiar with the original tale of Vasilisa and her magical doll–thanks, random folklore podcast!—and so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book.  I ended up being pleasantly surprised!  The setting of the story was a mix of the familiar and the absurd, the characters were magical and strange, and the story itself was, well, also strange, but also a bit heartbreaking and a bit inspiring.  Vassa was such a strong character, and I loved that she managed to save others by being kind; she didn’t require any special powers, other than what Erg provided, to defeat Baba Yaga, which is unusual for most YA books today.  And since I wasn’t really sure how the original tale ended, I couldn’t guess how things were going to turn out for Vassa.  This is the way modern retellings should be done.

Favorite Contemporary Read: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

This book wasn’t anything like I expected, and that was a good thing.  I expected an interesting story about a girl whose grandmother was dying.  What I got was an open, honest, yet rude, funny, and heartbreaking look at death, letting go, and the love of family.  I loved Maddie and her reactions to all the crazy things that happened on the cruise, and I loved getting to see the sweet relationship between her and her grandmother.  I also loved getting to meet all the other Wishwellians and their families and seeing how all their views of life and death changed as the cruise went on.  The cover of this book, although quite cute, doesn’t really do this book justice as it covers such a heavy topic and really makes you consider what you’re doing that makes life worth living.

Scariest Book: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Most people know Gillian Flynn through her novel Gone Girl, but I’ve only read her other novels, and Dark Places is easily my favorite.  This book was more suspenseful than scary, but it was frightening to uncover the true events of the fateful night that the family of the main character, Libby, was killed.  Libby herself was a rather unlikable character, but she’d suffered so much that I still cared about her story.  It was interesting to have the POV jumps and the flashbacks to unfold the story and create tension from a number of different angles, and the truth of the murders was actually much more complex and scary than I’d imagined.  This book was rather depressing and dark, but it’s worth it to see how Libby changes as she learns more about her family and their deaths.

Funniest Books: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling, and You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

My sense of humor is a bit drier and a bit darker than most, but these three ladies all managed to make me laugh numerous times.  Not at them, of course, more at the various situations they’ve found themselves in over the years and the ridiculous ways they reacted to them.  (They were laughing, too, so I didn’t feel bad.)  It was nice to see that even famous people have awkward moments, whether it’s suffering from foot-in-mouth syndrome or acting like a total fangirl in fronts of someone (else) famous.  Aside from being funny, these memoirs showed the dedication and determination of these women to their crafts, and I loved that they were open about both the ups and downs in their lives.  It makes me admire them all the more for their willingness to share their mistakes and their hard times and to then remind everyone that it’s okay to ask for help, that there are people out there who love you and want to see you happy.  And I feel like these three ladies really show that the bad times don’t last forever and that sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.

Most Unexpected Books: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I know I’ve already talked about both of these a bit, but I want to reiterate that both of these books threw in a huge twist that I absolutely did not see coming.  That happens quite rarely for me, and the fact that it happened twice in one year makes me think I’m either losing my awesome literary foresight or authors are getting better at being surprising.  Well, Rebecca is far from new, so maybe I’ve just been reading better books.  Regardless, even though I’ve told you there are big twists, you should really read these books to find out what they are.  I promise you you won’t be disappointed.

Cover Lust: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater, and The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

I will freely admit that I’m guilty of occasionally judging a book by its cover, and these books would’ve definitely piqued my interest even if I’d known nothing about them.  The covers of these three books are all very different, but they fit their individuals stories so well, managing to portray all the magic inside with a single picture.  A cover picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

These say,

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“Aren’t

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we

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pretty?”

(The answer is yes, yes they are.)

Most Surprising Villain: Tamlin from A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas

In A Court of Thorns and Roses, I liked Tamlin.  He wasn’t perfect, and his unwillingness to stand up to Amarantha to help Feyre irked me, but overall, I thought he was a good match for Feyre, and I was glad they ended up together.  Then I got to A Court of Mist and Fury, and all those happy feelings for Tamlin went right out the window.  Part of me initially wanted to forgive his actions—he was finally free after so many years, and he was clearly still recovering—but the moment he locked Feyre in the house was the moment I lost all sympathy for him.  It’s one thing to want to protect someone you love, but it’s another thing entirely to force them to do what you want because you think you know what’s best for them.  And then that ending!  Yeah, Tamlin jumped to the top of my naughty list.  I loved that Maas was able to flip the tables on Tamlin’s character and show how people can change for the better or for the worse.  I kind of liked Tamlin’s road to villainy, in part because it was so unexpected but also because it made room for Rhysand, which I certainly didn’t mind!

Top Five Couples: 

  1. Blue and Gansey from The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater
  2. Feyre and Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas
  3. Celia and Marco from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  4. Kaz and Inej from Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  5. Juliette and Warner from Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi

You know how some couples have problems with lying or trusting one another or disapproving families?  These couples make those couples look lame by comparison.  These five couples were forced to deal with magic, murder, kidnapping, corrupt rulers and governments, major anxiety issues, their own death—you know, simple stuff—and managed to come out even stronger.  These guys and gals are all strong and fierce on their own, but together, they prove they can do absolutely anything they set their minds to.  Definitely relationship goals, expect maybe with less bloodshed.


And that’s the end!

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This was really a whirlwind year for me in terms of reading; I found a number of books that made it onto my all-time favorites list, and I found some others that convinced me to branch out in regards to what genres and topics I’m willing to explore.

So how did those discoveries work out in relation to my reading goals from last year?  Well, I met—and surpassed—my initial goal of 100 books.  I did manage to read more classics, although I still have plenty to go.  And I read at least one non-fiction book each month, and most months, I read more than one.  I rediscovered that real life can be just as dramatic and violent and romantic and mysterious as fiction, something that I tend to forget as I’m off exploring all the fictional worlds I can find.  Therefore, one of this year’s reading goals is based on my enjoyment of all the nonfiction stories I read last year; yes, once again, I have my reading goals along with my more general resolutions.  This year, my goals are to:

1) Read only nonfiction books for an entire month

2) Read at least 160 books

3) Read more classics…again

I’m quite confident that I can successfully meet all these goals—goodness knows I have enough books on my shelves to do so.  I’m also quite confident that I’ll once again find some new favorites and some interesting historical events to study up on.  There’s a whole year’s worth of reading to explore, and I can’t to see where these stories take me.

I better go get started…

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