Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favorite Books of 2016

As of December 30, I've completed 177 books in 2016. Most of those were comic books and graphic novels, but I did read a full 58 novels and listened to 23 audiobooks. As always, I like to share my favorite reads from the year. Out of fairness, I'm only going to mention books that were published in 2016, otherwise my favorites list would probably be three times as long. (In addition, the book titles link to my reviews on Goodreads or on The Dancing Lawn.) There are in order of how I read them, not how I rate them.

Three Wishes by Lisa T. Bergren
I had the privilege of beta-reading Three Wishes for one of my favorite authors. Three Wishes is a new River of Time book set in a new time period and in a new location: California during the 1840s. I love historical (or time-travel) stories, so I was swept away by Three Wishes. Zara is a fantastic character. It's not my favorite book, but it was wonderful to read.

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
Stars Above holds a special place in my bookish heart for two reasons. The first is that it brings more stories about my favorite characters from The Lunar Chronicles (so I didn't have to say goodbye so soon) and also gave a nice, happy, feels-worthy epilogue to the series. In addition, I bought this book when I went to meet Marissa Meyer, so of course it's special and magical (and signed).

Siren's Song by Mary Weber
There aren't a lot of books that can make me sob. Yes, there are a few, but mostly because tragic things occurred in the stories. (Bridge to Terabithia, anyone? Where the Red Fern Grows?) Mary Weber's Storm Siren trilogy swept me away two whole years ago with the first book. Thus, I was eager to read the final book, and it made me cry--but they were happy, glorious tears. The ending was so worth the wait, and I adore this series for everything it is. Give me more!

Season of Glory by Lisa T. Bergren
Season of Glory wrapped up the Remnants trilogy by Lisa T. Bergren. It was a heart-pounding, nail-biting book that left me satisfied and content. Until I finished the book, I didn't realize how much I adored the characters and the story. Season of Glory contains a powerful message and a lot of hope that I am grateful to have experienced.

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
Ever since I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I've been dragging my feet to say goodbye to the beloved characters and world of the series. I was granted a second series, The Heroes of Olympus, and thought it couldn't get better. But now, Trials of Apollo has come, and I get to experience the Percy Jackson world once more. Yes, Percy isn't around that often in this book. But other characters come and go, the concept of Greek and Roman gods grows larger, and Apollo is hilarious as a human. How can I not love this book?

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes ruined me. Ruined. Me. And I thought I could handle A Torch Against the Night. I was wrong. This book ruined me just as much if not more. It continues the story of Elias, Laia, and Helene in this cruel world, but it opens up a lot more than the previous book. It was a bit unexpected, which was off-putting at first, but by the end, I was sobbing and absolutely ruined. I can't wait until 2018 for the next book!

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Like Stars Above, Crooked Kingdom has a special place in my 2016 list for two reasons. It finished the Six of Crows duology, bringing me back to my favorite characters and amazing world-building and just a fantastic story. But I also had the privilege of meeting Leigh Bardugo during her tour for this book. It was amazing; she's amazing. And Crooked Kingdom exceeded all my expectations and swept me away. Plus, waffles.

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
This book was great. No, fantastic. No, magical. It had the Rick Riordan charm and humor while educating me about Norse mythology. It was so fun! Everything about it is just wonderful. But that ending, THAT ENDING, was too much. I can't wait for the next book, and I'm not crying (okay, I'm definitely crying) and it's just going to be great. Thank you, Uncle Rick. Thank you.

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
This was my unexpected favorite of 2016. I didn't even know it existed until my mom brought it home, and I didn't know I would care so much until I had finished it (in two sittings). It's a biography about E.B. White, but it's formatted like a crazy art journal/scrapbook with beautifully designed pages, cute notes from White himself, and many pictures of his life. I was swept away by the design and by the firm message about writing throughout the book. This book surprised me, and I think that's magical.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
You aren't going to believe me when I say I met Marissa Meyer twice in one year, are you? But it's true! I did. I had a chance to hear her speak and meet her for her Heartless tour, and both the meeting and the book were enchanting. This book was hard to read because it's about the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--so obviously it won't end well. But boy, did it end! The story was great, the characters were swoon-worthy, and the ending was perfect. It's not my favorite book of hers, but it adds to her collection of masterpieces.

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
Okay, so this series. Is. Amazing. I adore all the characters. I adore the world-building. I adore the plot. While the first one kind of left me a little bitter and disappointed (so much potential that just ended!), this one amplified the entire story. It was fun and exciting and clever. I loved meeting new characters and being reunited with the old. I loved the twists and turns and the suspense. And I loved the magic and the Elemental Games. And oh my gosh, I'm ruined. Again. And I need A Conjuring of Light right now. Give it to me!!!

Lumberjanes by Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, and Allen
There are several volumes of Lumberjanes that came out in previous years, but volume three came out this year, so I'm counting it. I love the Lumberjanes series. It's fun, adventurous, and magical. The characters are lovely and diverse. The adventures are hilarious and so freaking ridiculous I can't help but love it all. Basically: it's the best.

Gotham Academy by Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl
The first volume of Gotham Academy left me feeling a bit confused and a little unsure, but volume two made me fall in love with the series and the characters. The story arc and the characters are becoming more and more interesting as the comic progresses, and I just love the little details and the dialogue. It's awesome.

Spider-Gwen by Latour, Rodriguez, and Visions
Spider-Gwen has quickly become a favorite comic book of mine. I love the concept of Gwen with Spider-man's powers. She's funny and relateable. I adore everything about these comics--crazy Matt Murdock, father-daughter relationship, the spider-verse, and more. Honestly, I wish they could just make Spider-Gwen into a movie or TV show and skip rebooting Peter Parker again. *sigh*

Ms. Marvel by Wilson, Miyazawa, Alphona, and Leon
I will never be tired of Ms. Marvel or Kamala Khan. She's great, and the latest volume in her series proves that. I enjoyed every moment of Kamala trying to juggle her life as she officially became an Avenger! She is a true gem to the comic book world.

Groot by Loveness and Kesinger
If I had to pick one comic book that I enjoyed the most this year, I would pick Groot. It was unexpected and magical and just amazing. There were jokes and outer space and friendship. And despite the main character only saying one thing over and over again, this comic book said a lot. I loved it.

Other bookish accomplishments
I completed 177 books.
I met two authors.
I read through the entirety of Les Miserables.
I read several Star Wars books (and they were all terrible).
I started listening to audiobooks and changed my life.
I re-read/listened to the entire A Series of Unfortunate Events.
I finished Library Wars manga series (and cried a lot). 
I hit the 100 mark for books I've reviewed on my blog.
I started reading the Sherlock Holmes books/stories/collection.

You can see my entire year in books from 2016 over on Goodreads

What are your favorite 2016 books?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

As you may know, I like to write fantasy. Every time I try to write a contemporary story or that science-fiction novel dancing in my head, it doesn't happen. I always default to fantasy. Some people might say that's a bad thing and I should widen my horizon, but honestly, fantasy is my favorite and I'm sticking to it. Thus, I also love to read fantasy. The worlds, the characters, the magic--it's all fantastic. And recently, I've been introduced to fantasy that goes beyond the same-old story, the same-old world-building of medieval Europe setting, and the same-old magic systems.

Leigh Bardugo, a YA high fantasy author, knows how to do fantasy, and I love it. Her first series, The Grisha trilogy, swept me away. I loved the world, most of the characters, and the entire magic system. I was eager for more, so I was stoked to hear she was writing a second series (a fabulous duology) set in the same world but with different characters. I needed it immediately.

Fast forward to this year, and the second book was released. If I had to choose one book to my favorite 2016 release, I would choose Crooked Kingdom (though it would be hard, so many books). I loved the Six of Crows duology even more than The Grisha trilogy.

What was it about Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom that not only gave me a grand adventure to enjoy with fantastic characters but has inspired my own writing to reach beyond the same-old fantasy? Let me tell you.

1. The characters

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom follows six unlikely heroes--actually they're thieves, assassins, and criminals--as they take on an impossible heist to not only become rich but possibly save lives. As I read Six of Crows, I couldn't find a favorite character. All six of the characters were wonderful. They had rich backstories, striking personalities, and swoon-worthy abilities. Every time I thought "This is it, this is the one I will love the most," I found myself enjoying another character just as much. I don't know if I've ever experienced a series where I loved each character equally and couldn't choose a favorite. I cared for all of them, and I wanted all of them to succeed.

2. Backstory
Speaking of characters and backstory, the way Leigh Bardugo wove the plot with the characters' backstories was truly magical. It never felt dull or awkward to be thrust suddenly into a flashback or a glimpse of something from their past. It all came together, perfectly crafted. I'm still amazed at how well she did that.

3. World-building

The Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology are set in a fictional world based on Russia instead of Western Europe. And I loved that it was different. The world-building is phenomenal. There is a lot of diversity and detail to every place the characters go and every country involved in the story. The Grisha trilogy had fantastic world-building as well, but I feel that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom was a step up. It's almost as if you can tell that Leigh Bardugo has grown in her story-telling craft.

4. Diversity
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is chock-full of diversity across the board. But it's never done in a trite or stereotypical way. Yes, race and beliefs come into play, but it's not the focus or a plot device. It's just part of who the characters are and what this world is made of. And it's fabulous. I'm tired of diverse themes being thrown into the story to create conflict or raise the stakes; I just want characters to be diverse because that is how the world truly is. Leigh Bardugo pulls that off splendidly.

5. Plot

The plot of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is wild. Leigh Bardugo basically described it as "Ocean's Eleven with magic," but I think it's better than that. It's a heist story filled with the bottom-of-the-barrel (pun definitely intended) characters that suddenly becomes so much more. While The Grisha trilogy was about saving the world, this is toned down a bit--sort of. It's not so big picture, but it's about saving your own skin and maybe your city from internal destruction. And I just love that. So many stories are about saving the world or the galaxy or whatever, but sometimes, I want a story that isn't so cataclysmic. And the Six of Crows duology is that. Yes, the stakes are raised. Yes, they still have to save a large population. But it just comes across different, I guess. Plus, every element of the plot is woven together in a fantastic way that kept me guessing and kept me interested. It was amazing. I admire Leigh Bardugo's writing so much.

6. Waffles
Okay, so this isn't a serious point, obviously, but I loved it nonetheless. In Crooked Kingdom, there are several (almost a dozen) instances where the characters mention waffles or are eating waffles. And it was hilarious. Despite the more-serious tone of the books or the darker themes, there was still room for humor and fun and just good-old bonding over waffles. It made me realize that I can write stories that are serious, that point to real-life situations and problems, but that also have a ray of hope and light amidst the darkness. Whether that hope is through humorous waffle scenes or characters that care for one another, I want to write stories that resound with the same feelings Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom evoked within me.

As always, I'm sure there can be flaws nitpicked from these books. Nothing is ever perfect. But nevertheless, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom stole a piece of my book-loving heart and gave me a grand adventure that I was able to enjoy and also learn from. That, in my opinion, makes for a wonderful story. I look forward to more by Leigh Bardugo.

No mourners. No funerals.

Why yes, I did meet Leigh Bardugo. You can read about it on The Fangirl Initiative.

What books have inspired you to make your writing better?