2016 wasn’t a great year for me in terms of reading; I fell into several slumps, and a lot of my pacing with reading was on and off. There were months where I read a ton, and months where I didn’t finish a single book. Quality-wise, my average rating was three-stars- which isn’t terrible, I guess, but is an accurate representation of how I felt this entire year: mediocre.
I read a total of 68 books this year, four of which were re-reads. If I don’t count re-reads, here’s the breakdown with star-ratings:
★: four books
★ and a half: one book
★★: fifteen books
★★ and a half: five books
★★★: eleven books
★★★ and a half: eight books
★★★★: eleven books
★★★★ and a half: seven books
★★★★★: one book
Top 10 Books of 2016
10. Fire Boy (Son of Djinn #1) by Sami Shah | Review
I came across this book while I was perusing through Goodreads, looking for books set in Pakistan- which are far and few. And then I came across this, and it sounded so different from the other books in the list that it immediately stood out. An urban fantasy set in Karachi? Amidst the books that told stories about violence, terrorism, poverty and sexism? A fantasy about a teenager who finds out he’s the son of djinn? Fuck, I knew I had to buy myself a copy.
From the minute I started the book and found myself immersed in the vibrant, elegant world-building drawn from South Asian and Islamic lore, I was hooked. Shah does such a brilliant job of integrating the contemporary flavors of Pakistan- the good, the bad, the ugly- into a fascinating narrative. I hadn’t related to a protagonist as much as I did with Wahid- a teenager with a disability, who has friends, who likes to party and read comics, who’s just trying to live his life and get a girl to like him back. Shah breathes life into his characters, makes them fascinating and easy-to-love. And he does so while making his world come alive with terrifying scenes drawn from the creatures of every Pakistani kid’s nightmares.
Trigger warnings apply for torture, rape and sexual imagery.
9. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara | Review
This is a book that I’d heard nothing but fantastic things about, although I’d been warned that it was going to be a hard-to-digest book. I shrugged the warnings off, and the only thing I can tell you right now is: take the warnings seriously. There is not a light moment in this book. It tackles important but heavy subject matter- from child sex abuse to domestic violence, and the warnings aren’t supposed to be taken lightly. If you have triggers, you need to pay attention to the warnings I list below.
Having said that, A Little Life really is a triumph. It’s a book I haven’t fully stopped thinking about since I put it down, simply because the sheer size of it never leaves you. Pages upon pages of tiny font with minimal spacing- you’re bound to fall in love with the characters. And you do; you begin to feel every little thing they feel. From their successes to their falls; you laugh with them, you cry with them, you feel actual pain when they go through pain. It’s written beautifully as well. Big books are daunting, but Yanagihara writes with simplicity while also interweaving informative stuff from the legal, psychological, artistic and philosophical fields into the narrative. Honestly such a beautifully tragic, haunting book that will stay with you for a long, long time.
Trigger warnings apply for sexual, physical, emotional abuse, child abuse, self-harm, suicidal ideations, depression, domestic violence, graphic imagery.
8. More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera | Review
I honestly don’t know why it took me this long to read this book. I picked it up on a whim; I had a coupon, and to avail it, my purchase had to be above $30. This was the closest book to the cashier so I just grabbed it. I was blown away. This was another books where people had told me that it was devastating, that it would break me- I love sad books. They’re my favorite kind of books, but stories don’t usually ‘break’ me unless they really suck me in. I basically cried through most of this, though.
Adam Silvera touches on so many important themes, but it never feels as if he’s being preachy. He just weaves them so effortlessly into the narrative that you start noticing them, asking yourself difficult questions that you probably never would have otherwise. From issues like homophobia and poverty, to more abstract concepts of memory and whether we have a responsibility as human beings to hold onto things that might even be painful for us. It’s sad, but it’s not a sad book. It’s a book that is so hopeful despite everything that goes wrong in our narrator’s life. Told with simplicity and beauty, with characters that feel real and tangible, More Happy than Not is a book that deserves every word of praise it receives. It is truly a triumphant debut.
Trigger warnings apply for depression, graphic imagery of suicide, homophobia.
7. The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles #3) by Mary E. Pearson | Review
The finale of Mary E. Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles was a surprise, to say the least. It’s a hunk of a book spanning over six-hundred pages, and I read it in under 24 hours because I could not put it down. Which is funny because I remember thinking the first book was meh, and being iffy about whether I should carry on with the series at all. I’m so glad that I did, because it’s perhaps one of the best-rounded YA fantasies I’ve ever read; the character development is so profound and real that you can trace exactly how the characters changed, and why they underwent those changes from the first book to the last. The world-building improves drastically in the sequel and carries on until the very last page.
This finale was action-packed from start to finish. It was unpredictable in both its storyline and its romantic subplot. And it was clear that Mary E. Pearson was doing what was best for the story, what was best for the characters rather than what fan-service dictated her to do. So vividly and beautifully written with complicated political subplots, with a swoon-worthy romance, with wonderfully constructed characters and a truly bad-ass heroine, this is a series that will honestly surprise you. If the first book didn’t impress, trust me and carry on.
6. Zayn: The Autobiography by Zayn | Review
You may think that this is biased, and in all honesty, it probably is hehe. But this book meant a lot to me- as a fan, as a Muslim, as a Pakistani, and as someone who’s constantly horrified at the stigmatization of mental illnesses in society. We all know who Zayn is (and if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I’m pretty much in love with him), but the media projects an image onto him that he truly does not deserve. It’s easy to call him the “bad boy” with his tattoo sleeves, his unkempt beard and sharp haircuts. With his leather jackets and heavy combat boots and his signature brood, but open up this book and out pours a young man who loves to eat samosas, who talks about his mom like she’s everything to him, who calls himself a proud feminist and thinks the world would be a better place if women were in more positions of power. Who draws doodles over his lyrics and talks about aliens, superheroes and video games every chance he can. Someone who’s so passionate about his art and takes it so seriously that you can feel the passion reverberating from the very words on the page.
Someone who’s unabashedly proud of his faith and his heritage, yet doesn’t use it to pander to a certain demographic. Someone who’s so open about his issues with anxiety, his ADHD and his eating disorders in the past. Someone who had every opportunity to bash other people so that his book would have sold better for the gossips out there, but who remains classy and unbothered. Zayn is honestly a wonderful human being, and this book gave me insight into him and his life that I never had before, and trust me, my love for him increased tenfold.
5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (ARC)
I was extremely lucky to be able to score an ARC of this book, and let me tell you one thing- and if you’ll ever trust me ever, trust me on this: this book will be a game-changer. It will be a benchmark on which every book that’s even slightly like it will be measured (and there will be many).
The Hate U Give is a novel inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and so it touches on very many important issues- from microaggressions to blatant racism and discrimination, from gangs and how they come to be, from socioeconomic diversity to the importance of sticking together. It deals with these issues so beautifully, giving each side the justice and fairness it deserves while also clearly choosing the right side to be on. The relationships in this book are profound and layered, the characters all feel like real people and it’s a book for black youth- and a book people who do not go through the struggles of black America can learn a lot from. It tackles heavy subject matter; it’s not an easy read, especially because a lot of it feels entirely real. We see it on the news, we see it happening on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, and we all see it die down until it becomes just another thing. Angie Thomas brings you up close and personal, where you get to know the families and the friends that these things happen to. And it’s heartbreaking, it’s difficult, and it’s so, so important. Review to come.
4. A Gathering of Shadows (A Darker Shade of Magic #2) by V. E. Schwab | Review
I really enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic, but everything that it lacked was strategically placed into the sequel. Honestly, everything about A Gathering of Shadows was thrilling and captivating. The characters pull you in and you get so attached to them that everything they do seems like the most exciting thing you’ve ever read. I thought the world-building was also kicked up a notch, and Schwab really decided to push the relationship dynamics between several of the characters. I’m also just generally a sucker for the tournament trope- couple that trope with these characters and I got one of my favorite reads of the year, one of my favorite sequels I’ve ever read, and a book that I could not – for the life of me – put down.
I mentioned this before but the strength of this sequel lies in how Schwab pushed the relationships. I fell in love with the bromance dynamic between Rhy and Kell; you could literally feel their love for each other. I’m still iffy about whether I ship Lila and Kell, because I still kind of get asexual vibes from Lila, but I’m sure I’ll get on board with it. I also loved how Kell’s relationship with his foster-parents of sorts was given a new dimension; it was hot and cold, and very complex. I’m so, so excited for the last book in this trilogy- it’s my most anticipated read of the year.
3. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo | Review
This was definitely a near-perfect finale to a series I’ve ever read; Bardugo sure knows how to end her stories, because Ruin and Rising was definitely my favorite book in The Grisha trilogy. I think she usually does a fantastic job of doing what’s good for the series and the characters rather than doing fan-service, but she failed to do that in this one. Which really hurts me to say because I truly loved and adored this book, except for that one thing that happened. If Bardugo had made a different decision with regards to that one thing, perhaps this book would be #1 on my list.
With that aside, Crooked Kingdom was magnificent. It had some of the best character development I’ve ever seen from a series, where characters like Matthias and Jesper grew so much and became characters that I, as a reader, was proud to root for. Where the relationships felt real, where every character meant so much to me that I never wanted the book to end. It was action-packed from start to finish. Unpredictable. Exciting. Heartbreaking.
2. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch | Review
Dark Matter was my second adult science fiction read, ever. I don’t often read science fiction in general, giving preference to fantasy over its sister genre, but I’m so glad I picked this one up. Even if you’re like me and are somewhat intimidated by sci-fi, do give this one a go. It’s delightful.
It was a complete mind-fuck of a book, so full of action and scientific intrigue, but also more than just science. It played so perfectly on human emotions, on the concept of home, family and love that despite being so outlandish, it was completely relatable. It does a great job of balancing the science with the story and the larger themes at play, and you become completely invested in the main character’s life and his family. Essentially, this novel isn’t a scifi- I mean, it is. But at its very core, it’s a love story about one man’s ability to do anything humanly possible to get back to his life. And not a replication, not a compromised situation- no, his life. His wife. His son. It’s touching, it’s beautifully written, and it doesn’t hurt that at the same time, it messes with your mind and leaves it blown. I know Blake Crouch has another series out, which I’m hoping to get to next year, but he’s become an auto-buy author that I will be on the lookout for in the future.
1. The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel | Review
This was a no-brainer; usually, it’s difficult for me to come up with my favorite book of the year, but The Summer that Melted Everything was my only five-star read of the entire year- the only one that climbed its way into my ‘favorites’ list. It has been over half a year since I finished reading this book, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It’s one of those books that stays with you for so long, haunting you and becoming a pedestal on which you judge every other book from. I’m so bummed that it doesn’t get the recognition that I think it completely deserves. The writing was spectacular, the themes it discussed, the issues it tackled were beautifully carried out. The characters all felt like real people, and I could tell that Tiffany put a ton of thought into the book; each sentence, each scene seemed to serve a purpose in the larger narrative.
I don’t see a lot of talk about this book around the blogosphere, which is a shame because I feel like it’s one of those books that people would really like if they just gave it a chance. Tiffany also reached out to me and told me that because the book’s not doing well in the general public, the publisher is going to stop putting in more resources. This book is so well done, and I hate to see it being overlooked; I urge you to look into it! It’s a difficult read, though. Extremely heavy, dealing with tough subject matter and doing it in an unconventional way- the entire book focuses on the evils and goods of humanity, the demons within us and how nobody is entirely good or bad. But in some of us, the demons take over and even the sliver of good is stomped down by the bad. It’s a sad, terrifying, devastating read, so do pay heed to the trigger warnings.
Trigger warnings apply for racism, suicide, homophobia, depression, graphic violence, abuse.