I’ve decided to experiment a bit this Tuesday. I’ve taken my favorite books I read in 2016 and compiled them into one blog post, complete with a short review and book photography of each. (Except for the books I don’t own. These are stock pictures I edited onto a picture I’ve taken.) Each book title has an Amazon Affiliate link, which means if you click the link and buy the book on Amazon, I get a tiny percentage of your money (so thank you, in advance, for your future hypothetical support).
I’ve never really shared my photography on my blog before, so this also gives me a chance to talk about and direct you to my Instagram. I try to post quality photography on there every other day at the most and I post pretty much anything from bookstagram attempts to random pictures of nerd collectibles, cosplays, tea in cool looking mugs, nature, and anything that has to do with writing and aesthetics. My siblings and I also went on a rainy, muddy photo shoot the other day in which I dressed in a cloak and held fantasy books in what we call the “woods” (a small patch of trees behind our neighborhood). Future Instagram posts will feature those, and I personally think they’re epic, thanks to my brother, the photographer (Michael Jr.).
As of today, I haven’t Instagramed below book pictures, so you get to see them on the blog before they make their way over there to my *cough* very professional photography portfolio.
Without further ado (and before you begin nodding off), here are the list of books I highly enjoyed and recommend with some pictures and a review for each.
by Orson Scott Card
This was probably the first book I read in the year, so I don’t remember much about it. I do remember, however, that it was one of the best classic science fiction books I’ve read and I’m very impressed with the characters, arcs, plot, and the main idea, all of which were very deep. It’s an intense story, but so full of hope with an uplifting outlook on the future of humanity.
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Study in Scarlet!!! This was the second time I read it; I wanted to go back and read the first book of the Sherlock Holmes series right after finishing the last one. It’s a very refreshing, fun, short read full of good old London detective adventure. I also love comparing it with A Study in Pink, the first BBC Sherlock episode, which was based off of A Study in Scarlet and there are a few events that are the same.
by Hannah Heath
This book is precious. Not just because it’s written by my good friend, but because the story and the characters are very real, representing the gritty truth of pain. It’s a short story Christian dystopian about Gabriel, who has stopped believing in Paradise, yet who supports his beloved sister, Lily, who doesn’t give up hope amidst pain that is worse than her brother’s. It’s a heartbreaking, instense story, but so, so good.
Here is my orignal, longer review if you are interested in reading more about it. Please click on the link in the title. I don’t care if I get a percentage or not. READ IT. And I know I’ve said it 100 times on this blog, but please check out Hannah’s blog while you’re at it.
by Patrick Ness
This book was, as another reader put it well, a “raw experience.” In other words, I do not recommend reading it in one sitting, during nighttime, when you’re the only one awake. It’s not that it’s creepy, but it didn’t settle well with me emotionally and even physically (I was shaking and nauseous upon finishing it; the ending was just overpowering). The whole story is overpowering, actually, and it was so terribly good I couldn’t put it down. The whole story is about a boy encountering his monster, and how it changes his life and relationships, particularly with his mom. The boy’s monster tells him all about the importance of story, which I found very thought provoking. The writing and style was beautiful too. A volume of necessity for any bookshelf.
by James Dashner
This book had a lot of unique things about it. First of all, I think it was my first time reading a YA modern dystopian, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. But now, after reading Divergent and Hunger Games, I want to go back and read this one, knowing that I liked it much better than Divergent and maybe even better than Hunger Games. It’s about a group of boys stuck in a maze (think the tributes, stuck in the arena), but there are walls around them that keep them safe from the outside monsters, the Grievers. These walls close at night. But the only way to get out of the limbo they’re stuck in, a few brave Runners must encounter the outside of the maze before the walls close and they must find the Griever Hole that will take them out of the maze … if they can escape the bites of the monstrous Grievers, which guarantees death. The whole idea is just more interesting and well developed than Divergent and very similar to Hunger Games with a different vibe and writing style.
by Andy Weir
The Ares mission was going well, until a storm hit, forcing the crew to abandon one of their mates, thinking he is dead. But he’s not. He decides to give life on Mars a chance, and plants potatos in Marian soil while punching Neil Armstrong in the face.
So I loved this book. There are so many space terms I will probably never understand, and the author, Andy Weir, made sure that this story was as realistic to space travel and science as possible. Of course, there is a ton of cussing, but I think that is the only flaw. The perspective and even the writing tense jumps around a lot from Watney, to the space team at NASA, which was one unique aspect I enjoyed.
Here’s my longer book review I wrote about a year and a half ago. It’s slightly more sustaining than the above paragraph and it is also compared with the movie.
by Jun Mochizuki
To be honest, this manga series is so confusing and has such an amazingly complex and intricate plot that I don’t think I’d even be able to begin writing a brief summary better than this attempt: 15-year-old Oz meets a girl named Alice and they both go on a mission to get Alice’s memories back. Now there is a LOT more to this story, but it is a lovely (though also dark) one. I love the series not just because of the plot I’ll never understand, but also because of the characters, the way they dress, their character arcs, and the art. I have to say that when Japanese characters express extreme emotions, they are utterly adorable. If I had to compare this book series to anything, it would be to Inception. Both involve layers and layers of time travel and things called “chains” that act sort of like dreams, and lots of other similar confusing stuff that comes into play.
by Rick Riordan
This book series is fun, witty, and wonderfully hilarious. If you’re looking for a great fantasy series that is not dark, read the Percy Jackson series. The characters are so memorable and the humor is among the best. The series is for a younger audience, but there are so many adult fans of it as well. One of the main things I love about these books is how the Greek gods are personified. For example, the human form of Posiedon, Percy’s father, looks and talks like a surfer dude, and Ares, the god of war, is a buff, no-nonsense motercyclist. Percy and his friends go on lots of adventures to either save or kill demigods and to deal with the main Greek gods to help our world go round. Like Harry Potter, this story delicately intertwines with us mortals (or muggles) and the mundane Earth, where it takes place. It’s such a memorable series and a great family read-a-loud.
by John Flanagan
This is one of my new favorite fantasy series. When I first saw the cover, I wasn’t expecting much. It looked like one of those cheap, eye-catching YA thrillers (like it was trying to look too epic on purpose if you know what I mean). But I had heard the author was known as a modern day C. S. Lewis (which is a heavenly compliment for any author, by the way) so I decided to give it a shot, and boy am I glad I did.
The entire setting is medieval fantasy (my absolute FAVORITE kind of fiction), involving knights, lords and ladies, castles, moats, grassy plains, inns, taverns, swords, bows and arrows, and rangers. RANGERS. As in Strider from Lord of the Rings. Their duty is to patrol the outskirts of the kingdom and bring back word immediately upon spotting any villainous detractors or foreign invaders. They’re known as dark, mysterious, and silent killers with the task of always being ready and observant. I could go on and on about how epic rangers are, but I’ll save that for a future post. The book follows a young lad, Will who becomes apprenticed to Halt, a seasoned ranger, and their first mission together. The book was slow paced, with a little bit of action here and there, but I loved the style of writing (simple ‘tho it was), the characters, and the description. The description!!! There are at least two pages where the author talks about nothing but different kinds of weapons, what they look like, and how they are used when Halt trains Will how to use knives or execute one on one combat. I was enthralled. Obviously, Flanagan had done much research as far as weapons go, and I loved it.
The only thing I disliked was that the sections of dialogue were slightly awkward and some words were used more than once in a couple paragraphs. But other than that, this book gets a 5 star from me. Yeah! This is my kind of fantasy, y’all.
by Grace Crandall
Ashes is a beautifully written indie published story, with a wonderful set of characters, prose, and theme. Grace Crandall is an amazing writer and I’ve read a couple of her fun and clever short stories on her blog, Sleepy Tiger Stories (which you need to check out). She is also an artist, and she has incredible illustrations of each of her characters on her Instagram.
The story’s setting reminded me much of Lord of the Rings and Fendin, the main character, reminded me of Aragorn. The writing style is beautiful and captures a lot in one moment. The whole story was only 49 pages and the pacing was perfect. Crandall has a way of describing things; the phrasing is very well done not only in Ashes but also in other short stories I’ve read by her. The characters were also very well developed, the plot was dramatic and intriguing, with a beautiful plot twist at the end. It was a very enjoyable read. You can read my full review here.
Don’t forget to read other stories by the talented Grace Crandall while you’re at it! Just click the link above to her blog.
by J. K. Rowling
It was so fun to enter the world of Harry Potter again and read about all the familiar characters and get introduced to some new ones. It’s all about the second generation involving Harry’s children, and I love how it was published not only for the first fans of the series, but for the second generation fans, the readers’ children who get a new Harry Potter story as well. The whole story was beautiful and I loved the plot. There’s a lot of time travel and unexpected surprises, such as seeing Snape again! It was very different to read it all in play format, but I enjoyed it. For me, it’s almost easier to read that way (see how engrossed I am in above picture: the book dragon in her natural habitat).
by J. Edward Ritchie
I’ve always wanted to read a book, even if fictional, about the Fall and Satan’s background. So when indie author J. Ritchie asked me to review his book, I was excited to begin. It’s written from a non-religious perspective, but the overall story made so much sense that I wondered how similar it really was to the actual event. The story itself was beautifully written, with elegant writing style and prose, intriguing characters, and a suspenseful and dramatic plot. The worldbuilding was just jaw-droppingly amazing, with descriptions in depth about the setting, the angels, the different jobs they have, their relationship with their Father, etc. The things I didn’t enjoy about it was the violence and constant gore, particularly towards the end of the book where there is a very long, drawn-out battle between the angels and demons. There is also some sexual adult content, but thankfully not a whole lot. Besides that, I definitely recommend this book if you don’t mind a very intense, but beautiful, read about Satan, his hero brother Michael, and the Fall.
Here’s a much longer book review I wrote a while ago.
by Patrick Rothfuss
This is one of THE best fantasy novels I’ve ever read. In fact, it makes it to the top 10, maybe even 5. The worldbuilding was stunning: it had more of a medieval or ancient British Isles setting, similar to Lord of the Rings, which I love. The character development, particularly with Kvothe, was probably my favorite thing about the book, besides the writing style. What struck me interesting about Kvothe’s character arc is that Kvothe, while telling his story, doesn’t approve of his past. And nor should he. Before he became an innkeeper, Kvothe was rash and arrogant, making stupid decisions right and left, but none of them decisions that didn’t make him heroic. Not to get me wrong: there were beautiful things about Kvothe’s character, and there was also his dark side: and that is what made Kvothe’s character so well rounded. There are things to admire as well as things to learn from Kvothe’s story.
The writing style was beautiful and almost poetic. The prologue, for instance, talks only about silence, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so gorgeous in a modern fantasy novel. The very last chapter tied together with the beginning, wrapping up the whole novel like a neat little package. It was so cleverly done I just wanted to close the book and sit and cry: not just because of the ending, but because I had just finished such a beautiful story. It was overwhelming, but just for a precious second. The pacing was well done, even though it was 660 pages long. Usually it takes me forever to read 400+ page novels, but not with this one.
To sum things up, I loved this book and am glad I own it. As a fantasy writer, I look up to Rothfuss, a master of words and a professional storyteller. Here’s my full review.
by Nate Philbrick
I really enjoyed this novel and I was impressed with the writing style. The characters, personalities, and general playful and light feel of the story reminded me a lot of the setting of Hobbiton and the daily life of hobbits. Percy Durbity, a minor character who I hope gets more page time in the sequel, made me think of Samwise Gamgee. The point is, a lot of fantasy novels these days are very dark, depressing, and foreboding. It’s hard to find a well written fantasy that’s light hearted and easy and fun to read. Where the Woods Grow Wild, however, fits this unfortunately scarce fantasy genre wonderfully. I would even recommend it as a family read aloud, a book that can be enjoyed by all ages.
I loved the characters. I feel like we could have had more background with the main and secondary characters. All we know is what they do, where they live, and what they like to do. But I was left wondering about the protagonist’s past and family. (Well, there’s always the sequel.) As for the plot, I loved how it starts simple and stays simple. The twists were fun and well done, I believe, though the pacing could have been done better. The setting and worldbuilding was fantastic. The village is a stereotypical fantasy village, but the woods are teeming with unique, quirky little creatures and plants, including the turtleblossoms, flying foxes, shapeshifters, puddle plants, finch eggs, prickle toads, dryads, puffernuts, and trunders.
I highly recommend this story. Here’s my longer book review. Also check out Nate Philbrick’s blog and get Where the Woods Grow Wild while you’re at it!
by Matthew Stover
(Before we begin, I know this, um, background picture is a very strange pick. I had no other photography of my own that color-coordinated with the book, until I found an aesthetic photo I took last month of some dorito chips. Sorry for the epic cheesiness.)
Here’s my defense for the Prequels in a nutshell: Revenge of the Sith.
Just Revenge of the Sith.
The movie Revenge of the Sith is a great movie, but it has a very puny story compared to the book, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve always been fascinated by Anakin Skywalker and his journey to becoming Darth Vader, and my fascination only grew with reading the book. The characterization was written so well, it was much more emotionally tugging, and the writing style only complemented it. Much of the book was a lot of Anakin’s inward thoughts. This made his actions believable and real. His problems generated sympathy. I also loved the personalization of the Dark side of the Force. In the beginning and end, and in between each Part, there is a paragraph about the Dark side, beautifully and hauntingly written.
Overall, I doubt I’ll read another Star Wars book that is as good or better than this one. Matthew Stover is now my new favorite author, and I was quite happy to learn he has written other Star Wars books. The Revenge of the Sith is the book you are looking for, complete with the mastery every writer must learn from and enjoy, from plot, to character arcs, to style, to emotion and suspense. I highly recommend this book to not just every Star Wars fan, but even to people who aren’t even sci-fi nerds, simply for its being a good book. This is how a Star Wars book is written. Done right.
Here’s the rest of my review.
I think I see this as more of a bonus post because only after writing it do I realize that it’s actually quite a feat to write small reviews of 15 books, even if it’s taking excerpts from reviews already written for some of them. Let me tell you, it’s exhausting. But I’m glad I did it.
Which books have you read and loved/disliked? Do any of these practically beg you to pick them up and read them? Thanks so much for reading and remember to snack on some doritos next time you read Stover’s Revenge of the Sith.