Life Imitates Heart

Reading Challenge 2016 Part II

Without further ado, here are my top 20 favorite books of 2016:

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20The Pale Dreamer – Samantha Shannon – This is Shannon’s first novella for her series The Bone Season (see #12 & #10). This short story centers around how the main protagonist of the series, Paige, gained her second-in-command rank within her syndicate gang. The Pale Dreamer helped to quench my thirst during the LONG wait for book three, which will arrive at my doorstep in early March. I have a good feeling that Samantha Shannon will go down as one of my favorite authors – her world building and story-telling abilities are something of legends.

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19All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven – Told from the view point of two characters, Finch and Violet, this book deals heavily with adolescence and mental health. Violet is counting down the days until graduation, where she can escape her hometown and the memory of her deceased sister. Finch is consumed by the thoughts of how he might die. They plant each other in the present, a reminder of what it means to live in the moment. I read a number of books this year that I felt perfectly encapsulated what it is to be a teenager and this was one of them. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

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18The Rose & the Dagger – Renee Ahdieh – The sequel to The Wrath & the Dawn (#14) and a satisfying ending to an all around solid story. This series is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, and the thing I liked most about it was the POC representation. I’m really excited to see more and more non-white authors cracking through popular main stream literature, and to have the opportunity to be exposed to the rich stories that they’ve created. 2017 resolution is to read more books by POC.

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17A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir – This is a sequel to a book that I read last year called An Ember in the Ashes, where a poor scholar girl watches her family get picked off by Martial soldiers. She’s then recruited as a spy for the resistance, where she meets Elias, the other point of view character. Elias is a mask, the most lethal of the Martial soldiers, but he’s ready to leave the glory and power behind in search for a life of peace. I liked the first book more than this one, but A Torch Against the Night is still packed with action, love, and loss, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the series goes.

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16The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black – Holly Black is my go-to for urban fantasy. Her stories are edgy, dark, sexy, and wrought with creativity. In her latest installment, siblings Hazel and Ben spend their childhood fighting off monsters in a town where fae and humans coexist, and creating stories about the horned boy who has been asleep in a glass coffin in the forest for decades. Then, the horned boy wakes up and Hazel and Ben have to call upon their childhood shenanigans to help them squelch a fae revolt. This was my first read of the year, and I can still feel the magic of it.

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15Gemina – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – A sort-of sequel to last year’s Illuminae, the best part of this series is that it’s told through a series of files. Chat links, video footage, voice communications, you name it. It’s unique, and pretty brilliant. Gemina follows after the timeline of Illuminae, but with a new cast of characters. The dialogue loses brownie points for being overly theatrical at times, but these books are visually stunning. They both clock in at around 600 pages, but you wouldn’t guess it for how quickly the story moves.

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14The Wrath & the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh – Ahdieh’s debut novel begins with a girl named Shahrzad marrying the Caliph of Khorasan, who takes a new wife each night and kills them with each morning. Shahrzad’s best friend was one of the Caliph’s brides, and Shahrzad is determined to enact revenge on her betrothed. Really well written, full of great female characters, star-crossed lovers, and sprinkled with magic. Every character is this book is a badass.

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13Red Rising – Pierce Brown – I reread this and Golden Sun (#9) in preparation for Morning Star (#4) which was released in February.  Overall, the Red Rising trilogy is one of my favorite series. In this hierarchical society, Reds make up the bottom of the barrel and Golds are consider gods. Darrow, a Red helldiver mining for fuel on Mars, is transformed into a Gold in order infiltrate their world. This series is massive in terms of world building and Darrow is easily one of my favorite protagonists ever. Red Rising has flavors of Hungers Games and Game of Thrones but is also unique and captivating. Any time someone asks for book suggestions this book is top of my list.

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12The Mine Order – Samantha Shannon –  Also a reread from last year. The sequel to The Bone Season (#10). Can’t say much more without spoilers for its predecessor, but this series is captivating. I’m so in love with this story and waiting for all seven (!) books to come out will slowly kill me. I go back and forth with which one I like better, but there are a few more slow sections in The Mime Order that knot it at a close second.

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11Sleeping Giants – Sylvain Neuvel – The cover of this book was so beautiful that I couldn’t help myself. A little girl falls into a crater while out riding her bike – she’s later discovered in the hole, being held up by a giant stone- like hand. Years later she’s a scientist trying to track down the rest of this massive statue, pieces of which are buried around the world. This story is told in interview format and is a very eerie, unique, and refreshing science fiction tale. It gave me the creeps in a way that not many books can. I’m intrigued to see where this series goes.

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10The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon – Based in London, the world is wrought with clairvoyance that the government is desperately trying to eradicate. Paige is part of an underground clairvoyant gang, and is one of the rarest types of clairvoyants. One day she’s chased and apprehended by officials and through a series of events she ends up in a living nightmare. I am SO obsessed with this series. It’s weird, though, and use of the glossary is definitely recommended, as there is lots of lingo Shannon uses for the world she’s created. However, those intricacies make the world that much more immersive. Like I said, I am obsessed. I’m slightly more protective of these series than I am of Red Rising because it’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, where Red Rising seems much more appealing to the masses.

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9Golden Sun – Pierce Brown – Golden Sun picks up about a year after the events of Red Rising. Not much I can say without major spoilers, but this novel takes the main characters away from Mars and explores the intricacies of their hierarchical society in greater detail. Golden Sun is my favorite book of the series, but, alas, I promised myself I would leave rereads out of my top 5.

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8. Missoula – Jon Krakauer – Missoula is a town in Montana, whose football team found themselves in the midst of a rape controversy that tore apart the town. Krakauer explores the stories of a handful of women and how the town turned against them when they came forward with their allegations. This book turned me into a monster – I saw red, I felt physically sick at some points. Unfortunately, it tells the story so many women know too well. It’s devastating, and it doesn’t really seem like we’ve made any progress when it comes to holding our male athletes accountable for their actions, or to how our society treats those brave enough to come forward. Everyone on the entire planet should read this book.

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7Me Before You – Jojo Moyes – Louisa becomes a caretaker for a quadriplegic man, Will, who is bent on ending his life. Louisa goes to the moon and back to make sure that Will sees all of the incredible things that he can still do, even in the confines of his wheelchair. This book is adorable and heartbreaking. I’m not big into love stories, and this book reminded me why – they leave me in ruins. I think every book from here on out made me cry because of love, and that’s why they’re at the top of my list. Words that are powerful enough to move me to tears deserve to be celebrated. This wasn’t the greatest book I read this year in terms of writing or plot, but it reminded me that love “is the best thing we do.”

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6The Crossroads of Should and Must – Elle Luna – This book actually changed my life. This was a semi-graduation present, and everything that I needed to make sense of a world where I am no longer a student. The Crossroads of Should and Must examines our shoulds and our musts. Shoulds are the things that we’ve built up as external and internal expectations, while musts are our drivers in life. What makes us tick, what makes our souls come alive? I felt guilty as I read this, because it wasn’t the degree that I had just completed that came to mind. It was writing and traveling. And that’s exactly what I did. My copy of this book is scribbled all over because it just speaks to me in such a profound way. It found me at the perfect time in my life and I keep it close to me, always.

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5Milk & Honey – Rupi Kaur – This is the first book of poetry that I’ve ever owned, and, my god, what a great choice. These poems were so hauntingly beautiful. From heart break, to healing, to body positivity, to female sexuality, to life-altering love, this collection of poems was everything. Rupi Kaur is my hero.

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4Morning Star – Pierce Brown – This is more of a nod to the entire series than the individual book. Absolutely a fantastic conclusion to this incredible series. This is probably my least favorite book of the series, but still stunning, still packed full of horror, suspense, and the tender moments that make it all worth while. Where Red Rising and Golden Sun are bursting with energy, Morning Star is quieter and more introspective. One of my favorite aspects of the series is that Darrow is so cunning, but the reader isn’t always privy to his plans. This makes for break neck turns that are never on display more than in Morning Star.

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3I’ll Give you the Sun – Jandy Nelson – This story is told by twins Jude and Noah, who used to be inseparable. Three years later they’re on awful terms, and throughout the story the book pieces together the reason why. At the center of this book is love. Lost love, unrequited love, queer love, familial love. All types of love that just made my heart collapse and then rebuild. I heard great things about this book and it more than lived up to the praise.

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2A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness – Out of the forty-four books I read this year, nothing gutted me like A Monster Calls. Like ugly-cried into my pillow for half an hour after finishing it. Conor’s mother is seriously ill, and his world is crumbling at the edges. One night, a monster comes to his window, seeking the truth from Conor that Conor doesn’t yet know himself. But the truth will set you free, Conor. A cathartic read that let me shed some much needed tears, but also brilliant and beautiful and haunting.

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1Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt – Set in the late 80’s at the height of HIV/AIDS fear, June has just lost her uncle, the person she holds most dear to her, to the horrific disease. June’s the awkward kid who can’t seem to find anyone else in the world that understands her the way her uncle Finn did. I couldn’t put this book down. It was so deeply moving and emotional in a way that I didn’t expect. I’ve struggled to understand why this book had such a profound impact on me, but the answer is this – June feels like an extension of myself. This was the second I book I read this year, but it clung to me like a second skin. During a year of incredible personal change and growth, Tell the Wolves I’m HomeI’ll Give you the Sun, and All the Bright Places truly captured what it feels like to be on the outside looking in. These books all helped me to reflect on my journey and appreciate the life that I have built for myself. That is why I love reading. In the midst of a story about an experience you’ve never had, you can simultaneously get lost and find yourself again.

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