Best Books I read in 2016

I am so glad 2016 is over! Though I didn’t read as many books as 2015 (mostly because a lot of what I read was fan-fiction, which I love, but doesn’t count towards my reading goals for the year), I still read a decent amount of good books (232 total). I read a ton of mangas (71 – impressive when you think they’re about 2oo pgs each) and there were a lot of really good ones there. This is the first year I’ve had a separate category for mangas on my end of the year list. The theme for this year appears to have been romances, though not intentionally, mostly just because of issues in my personal life reflecting into what I chose to read. 

Picture Books

jack-frost

  • Jack Frost (Guardians of Childhood #3) by William Joyce – I love William Joyce’s books and this one was a visual masterpiece. I love the Guardians of Childhood series and this is graphically amazing younger children’s version before he brings out the full-on book for the chapter book series. A new interpretation of the Jack Frost myth, and it is this book whose story was featured on The Rise of the Guardians movie that came out in 2013. 
  • I Love You Already by Jory John – brought to you by the same guy that did Goodnight Already!, which I adored. Hilarious sequel about Bear and his neighbor Duck, who annoys the crap out of him but who he still likes. Reminds me of parents and kids. 
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  • Mother Bruce written/illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins – funniest book I read this year, hands down. Goose baby-wearing by a grumpy bear, enough said. 
  • It Came in the Mail written/illustrated by Ben Clanton – Picked it up after discovering his other adorable comic, Narwhal and Jelly (described below). An adorable book and very imaginative. A little boy, aptly named Liam (like my son), wants desperately to get something in the mail. So he writes a nice little note to the mailbox begging for something and gets a surprise, a dragon in the mail. So he asks for more and chaos ensues, but he comes up with a clever solution.

Children

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  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I read this for our tween book club and really enjoyed it, but it is a 337 page verse novel, which can kind of be scary for some kids. It is an autobiographic poem essentially about the author. 
  • The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud – I love pretty much anything this man writes, but this one was a great continuation of the Lockwood & Co series. I have described this as “Ghost epidemic in the UK with kids as ghost hunters but the ghosts can actually kill you, and only kids can see them”. Glad Lucy finally got back with Lockwood, George and Holly. 
  • funny-bones
  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh – tells the story of one of the most famous Mexican illustrators who created a lot of the images we know today about Dia de los Muertos (one of my favorite holidays, along with Halloween)
  • The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock – a wonderfully creative biography of abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, whom I discovered last year, who could hear colors and see sounds
  • Narwal: Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly #1)  written and illustrated by Ben Clanton – a recent discovery that was too cute for words. How can you not love a Narwhal and Jellyfish who love waffles, imagination, reading, and creating their own unique pod full of friends?
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  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – this one had been on my to-read list for ages and finally got read it. It is a masterpiece like pretty much all of his work, which he writes and illustrates. Everyone should read this. The book, which starts in 1766 and ends in 2007, is about the Marvel and Nightingale families and their connection to each other. But it is also a story about love in all its forms, acceptance, understanding, and the complicated relationships within families (which really hit home for me this year). 
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  • A New Hope – The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken – picked this one up as a way to get my son who loves Star Wars more into audiobooks. I loved it, more than him. It had all the cool sound effects, a lot of the movie dialogue, and a whole backstory on Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. Am definitely listening to the other two adaptations. Highly recommended as an audiobook, though more suited to 9-14 yr olds than 5 yr olds.

Young Adult

  • The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, and Winterby Marisa Meyers – probably the best series I’ve read in a while. I love fairy-tale retellings and this one is an awesome sci-fi version with cyborgs, genetically-engineered wolfmen, space pilots, and psychotic Lunars (as the name suggests, people from the Moon). Plus the romances are fantastic and varied. 
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  • Fangirl and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – definitely two of the absolute best books I read this year. I adore all the stuff I’ve read so far from this author, and look forward to reading more in the future. You should read Fangirl first and then Carry On, though they can both stand on their own, as Carry On is literally a big part of the first book. I was totally Cather Avery and wished I could find someone like Levi. Sigh…

Manga see this post for reviews for most of them

  • Kamisama Kiss Vol 20 – 22 by Julieta Suzuki – I love this series, so anymore books I get to read are awesome. See my initial reviews of the series here. 
  • A Silent Voice Vol 1-7 by Yoshitoki Oima – I have never read a manga about bullying, esp as it was about a deaf girl, and that is what drew me to this book. It really was unlike anything I’d ever read and was a very unconventional romance. 
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  • Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda – another unconventional fantasy romance (seems to be the year for them) about a half wolf/half man who meets the love of his life and their children. Great anime as well. 
  • Library Wars Vol 14
  • Library Wars Vol. 14- by Kiiro Yumi – I love the craziness of this manga. I love the ideas of a militarized librarians protecting censorship. 
  • Ouran High School Host Club, Vol 1-11 by Bisco Hatori – loved the anime so decided to read the books to see if there was any extra awesome and there is. 
  • Kimi Ni Todoke (From Me to You), Vol 1-25  by Karuho Shiina – This is one of the sweetest mangas, heck romances, I’ve read in awhile. I can identify
  • Demon Love Spell, Vol 1-6 by Mayu Shinjo – the most ridiculous idea and worst name ever for a manga, but it made me LOL and keep reading till I finished the series. 
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  • Horimiya Vol 1-5 by Hero – another great manga romance series on an unconventional topic; Two high school students, who are not all they seem, fall in love and start a relationship. They are seriously the cutest, most awkward couple ever, which makes it so fun to watch the story unfold. 

Adult

  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) I picked up because it reminded me a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (another awesome aging adult book). It was a bit of a romance, journey to lead you to new discoveries – i.e. your self after a traumatic event, in this case the death of Arthur’s beloved wife. 
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – read this one for my bookclub and just loved the story of two very different sisters in the French Resistance during WWII
  • Dragon Age: MageKiller (Magekiller #1-6) – An ARC I was lucky enough to review this year, I want to read the whole series now. 
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – I’ve loved her books for years and so gladly picked this for my bookclub and enjoyed it as well
  • Poison or Protect: Delightfully Deadly #1 and Imprudence (Custard Protocols #2) by Gail Carriger – 1st one is a novella about one of her characters from the Finishing School series, which was a fun little romp. 2nd one is all about her dad going crazy, a bit of sex education, and the crap really hitting the fan in regards to the G0d-breaker Plague (a continuation of events that happened in her first series, my favorite The Parasol Protectorate).
  • The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories #1-2) by Bernard Cornwell – fabulous series, that they also turned into a miniseries, about life in King Alfred the Great’s court. It is set in the 9th century and told from the viewpoint of a young boy raised by the Vikings who is actually a Saxon lord. Very much looking forward to reading more books in this series

The Kaiser’s Last Kiss

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The Kaiser’s Last Kiss by Alan Judd

To be published: Jan 3, 2017

Kaiser Wilhelm has been exiled to the Netherlands since 1918. In 1940, the German Army (the Wehrmacht) have invaded Holland and are interested in him, or rather interested because of what he might do to support the Allies or the Third Reich. So they send a twenty-three year old SS officer named Martin Krebs to gather intelligence on the former emperor. His secondary mission is to find the British spy known to be in the area and trying to recruit the Kaiser. Despite deciding to use the SS as a way to further his career, he has become a bit disillusioned with the Nazis and what they are doing. Everything goes a little pear-shaped after Krebs falls in love with a young Jewish woman who is a servant at the Kaiser’s house. Will Krebbs be able to complete his missions? 3 stars. 

I really wanted to like this book, but I just felt like it fell flat for me. I liked the parts about the Kaiser, and I think he really stole the show away from Krebs and the Jewish maid. Apparently Christopher Plummer as the Kaiser in the movie adaption does the same thing. I always think of Wilhelm as the young man from the BBC series, Edward the Kingand Judd’s interpretation is pretty similar. I loved that he liked to talk in English and read out passages of Wodehouse to his guests. Krebb and the maid were just a kind of boring story. Yes, it was a forbidden love, especially because he was in the SS, but it didn’t do much for the story. I thought the visit from Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the Gestapo, to the Kaiser’s house was much more interesting and wondered if it was true. Apparently no, though he did get a visit from Goering at some point during the war. 

Winter

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Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer

Winter isn’t completely the completely useless crazy princess all the nobility on Luna maker her out to be. She is beloved by the common people, something her stepmother Queen Levana has never been, and the Queen hates her for it. Winter, in turn, despises her stepmother for using her Lunar gift to permanently scar her face and not allowing her to be with the love of her life, Jacin, a palace guard. She allies herself with Cinder, Emperor Kaito, Cress, Thorne, Wolf and Scarlet as they plot to take down Levana and install Cinder as Queen of Luna. Will they be able to defeat Levana and each be able to find their happy endings? To find out read the exciting conclusion of The Lunar Chronicles! Recommended for ages 14+, 4-1/2 stars. 

I reviewed the other Lunar Chronicles books here and here, and although I ultimately loved this book, it was so freaking long I nearly gave up several times. It took me about a month to finish on audiobook, though that was with several interruptions. I mean c’mon, it was 19 discs. We’re almost getting into Game of Thrones territory here (it had 28 discs). I really think it should’ve been divided into two books as the story took so much buildup to get to the point, which was to take down Levana and install Cinder on the Lunar throne as queen. The theme of this book was about Winter, the stepdaughter of Queen Levana who has been mentioned in previous books but you hadn’t heard much about until this book, and was a reference to the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Winter was so flighty and weird that at first, I kind of hated her character, but as the book progresses the reader realizes that her odd behavior isn’t completely her fault. She has chosen to withhold the Lunar gift (mind control) and therefore has essentially driven herself crazy. 

I loved the character and relationship development between the couples: Kai and Cinder, Thorne and Cress, and Wolf and Scarlet. Kai and Cinder are so awkward when the book starts, probably because of the kidnapping but once he understands everything, they are too cute together and apart (especially when he is dealing with Levana). Wolf and Scarlet were interesting because she was tortured and he was genetically modified, but they are still so in love with each other no matter what has happened. Thorne and Cress are my favorite relationship and characters, aside from Cinder. Cress is very brave despite feeling insignificant all of the time. And Thorne is such a dashing rogue (very Han Solo in my opinion), though at the same time completely petrified at the thought of losing Cress, even though he can’t seem to voice it until the very end.

I found the part at the end, the face-off between Cinder and Levana in the audience room to be completely insane but fantastically written by the author. The way Levana keeps using Cinder’s friends against her physically and keeps thwarting all her attempts, even pretending to surrender; it honestly was kept on the edge of myself till the last minute wondering who was going to come out on top. Apparently there’s a short story about one of the characters getting married in the author’s book  Stars Above, so I am definitely going to check that out later. 

Saving Hamlet

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Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth

To be published: Nov 1, 2016

Emma Allen just got a cute new haircut and she can’t wait to start her sophomore year of high school. She is especially excited this year because she will be the Assistant Stage Manager for the high school’s production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and her senior crush Brandon is directing the play. Only things start to go wrong from the beginning. She is thrust into the role of Stage Manager, the cute soccer guy with no acting skill gets cast as Hamlet (which infuriates her best friend Lulu who had wanted the role and is not talking to her right now), and Brandon is a horrible director. Plus, as Emma discovers one night, she can go through the trap door of her high school stage and ends up in Elizabethan London at the Globe Theater where Shakespeare and the King’s Men are performing the original Hamlet. Because of her short haircut and clothes, she is mistaken for a boy and soon becomes Master Allen. She catches the attention of Master Cooke, the young man playing Ophelia. What is a girl to do? To find out, read this fascinating glimpse into the play Hamlet as seen through teenage eyes. 

I did find it interesting that I managed to read two ARC time-travel books back to back last week. This one was completely different from the other one, but has similar qualities, i.e. about growing up and rediscovering yourself and what you can be. I loved the in-depth study of the play and the characters and their motives, as it is one of my favorites and I enjoy watching different interpretations of it. I’ve never seen the play in street clothes, but it seems like it would work just fine, as it did in the text. The David Tennant version of Hamlet they mentioned in the book is really quite excellent, I recommend it. 

I liked the interpretations of Hamlet and Ophelia that Josh and Lulu came up with during the course of the play. During the “To be or not to be” speech, Josh suggests that “maybe this is about being stuck in a weird place. Knowing that you have to do this thing, but not being brave enough to do it. Being too much in your head.” I am totally guilty of doing this, especially with events going on in my life right now, so I can see where he is coming from about it. My favorite part was about Lulu’s interpretation of Ophelia, which also has points about it that remind me of my life at the moment. She says:

“I’ve always thought that Ophelia was this throwaway character and that Shakespeare was a sexist pig for writing her so fragile…But lately I’ve been thinking: she’s always being controlled, right? By her father, by her brother, by general sexism and the court. But then she has this love and she does everything correctly but loses everything, including Hamlet…She’s just so alone  and so done with living in this sexist world that doesn’t make any sense. So she just lets it take over, and gives in, and lets herself drown in it.” 

Emma is actually a pretty interesting character. She has decided to do drama instead of soccer (even though she was awesome at it) and changed to a whole new better group of friends. Her best friend is bisexual and her friend’s parents are super traditional and are in denial about everything, and making their daughter’s life miserable. Emma likes Brandon, the unattainable older hottie, but he barely acknowledges her existence outside of the play. Then there’s Josh, the untrained actor who rescued Emma from a party last year and she’s kind of attracted to, but not ready to admit it. Then of course, there’s the whole part of the book in Elizabethan England, where Emma becomes a boy assistant stage manager and uses the skills she acquires there to help out Josh in the future. I loved the mysterious Master Cooke character and I kind of would have liked to get to know him better or maybe have her pick him in the end. 

Disclaimer: Thank you to Disney Hyperion, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read a copy in exchange for my honest review. 

 

Moment of Zen: Oct 21-27

This has been an insanely long week for a number of reasons I won’t go into right now. Suffice it to say, that I am very much looking forward to the weekend, especially as my favorite holiday is coming up, aka Halloween! Plus it will be a nice distraction for my son to play in his newly finished costume and have a little fun. 

Fri: Human Body DiscoveryTime went better than I would’ve thought. I found this adorable Brain Hat and used it in the storytime, which went over really well. So well that a colleague wants to use the idea this weekend for one of his programs (so yay for Brain Hat! or as my friend called it, the Brain yarmulke!). 

brain-hat

Sat: Going to Bilingual DIY storytime for Dia de los Muertos with Liam at the library I work at, led by my friend Joanna and new acquaintance Cassi, where I learned how to do “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Spanish. Then he got to decorate sugar skulls as an ofreda, offering for a Dia de los Muertos altar. Then we went up to the 5th floor, so he could pick out another adult dinosaur book. 

Sun: Oct Bookclub meeting, where we discussed The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and ate some yummy French food prepared by our members. We had seven people and had a nice discussion about love and war. 

Mon: Eating the second half of my sandwich from Wildflower Bakery – the Roasted Sweet Potato, it’s amazing and enormous : roasted sweet potatoes, fresh mozzarella, fig confit, arugula, marinated fennel and balsamic vinaigrette on Herb Focaccia, whilst reading more of A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Also started listening to Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, for our November bookclub as a refresher, as I have read it before. 

Tues: 5 years of blogging on WordPress! Creating an activity sheet for my Construction DiscoveryTime for Friday, glad to feel semi-productive as I’ve been pretty distracted. 

Wed: Getting to go to my son’s school and observe him and his teacher in his slightly advanced Kindergarten class. I was fascinated by what they did, and managed to cram into 3 hrs of school, which included: phonics, reading, comprehension, learning to tell time, math, and learning rhythm with drums in music class. 

Thurs: Finishing up Liam’s Halloween costume with the help of my friends Marlene and Caren (and it is pretty damn adorable) and getting to see the gleeful look on his face when he got to put it on. He’s so excited for this weekend and Monday. Pics below. 

costume1                                                  Toothless Costume Front View

costume2                                               Toothless Costume Back View

costume3

Slightly Clearer view of wings and tail

Moments of Zen: Sept 30-Oct 6

I know I’ve not been great about posting much of anything aside from these Moments of Zen lately on the blog, but my life has been super crazy lately (probably will only get crazier), and this is what I can manage. I’m actually impressed that I’ve managed to post every week since I started doing this. I enjoy sharing my weeks with others, and hopefully my readers get a kick out of it too. I will share more of what is going on in the future, but not right now. I’m hoping to ramp up my Advanced Reader’s Copy reviews soon as the new year approaches. I might do an art post in the near future because I’ve been thinking about it for awhile and I miss doing them. 

Fri: Presenting my Rainbow DiscoveryTime to a very enthusiastic group of preschoolers this morning, and have them get really into how the prisms reflected/refracted the light to make a rainbow and creating their own rainbow twirlers (made with crayons instead of paint and sans pot of gold at the end); Starting a new book I won on Goodreads called The Girl Who Fought Napolean: A Novel of the Russian Empire by Linda Lafferty.

Sat: Watching one of my favorite books as a kid, The BFG by Roald Dahl, as a movie with my son. It was a good adaptation, but just makes me want to re-read the book with my son. His favorite part was the farting corgis (no surprise there). 

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Sun: Lately my son has been wanting him to snuggle with him in bed before he goes to sleep. This is both a good sweet thing and makes me a bit sad because he doesn’t want to be alone. 

Mon: Actually going to sleep at 9:30pm. This is a seriously rare occurrence. It’s the first time in forever that I’ve actually gotten 8 hrs of sleep. 

Tues: Helping an adult customer while I was working at the branch library actually. She couldn’t figure out where her Word files had gone and I was trying to explain to her the difference between files and folders. Very basic computers 101, but it felt great to feel like I can really help this person organize her papers so she can easily access them. 

Wed: Decided to finally try Urban Cookies bakery, which is literally 5 minutes from my house and I pass all the time but never stop. I tried their Caramel Apple seasonal cupcake with cinnamon apple filling and caramel buttercream and it was amazing. Sigh…My son got a super chocolately one with vanilla buttercream and these little chocolate balls on top and the first thing he said when he picked it up was “Mind blown – chocolate!”, which I shared with the people in the bakery. Needless to say we will both be coming back in the future. 

Thurs: Trying out new recipes this week: today it was One Pot Beef Stroganoff, which was pretty tasty and Wed it was Chicken with a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. Would definitely make Wednesday’s dish again and perhaps the Stroganoff in a pinch, though would substitute ground pork for the beef. 

Moments of Zen: Sept 24-29

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I had a bit of extra zen when I sat outside and watching the Angry Birds movie with my son, on a giant projected screen, the previous Friday night Sept 23rd. It was a nice time and we both enjoyed it, though next time I would probably bring my own food and drinks and a bigger blanket and a cushion. Sept 25-Oct 1 is Banned Book Week, so please do celebrate your right to stand up and read what you want to read. Here is the Banned Book list of 2015 in pictures. I’m hoping to get to at least one of them on the list this week that I haven’t already read. 

Sat: The few minutes of by myself without worrying about Liam during his swim lesson, where I got to float on my back in the pool and not think about things. This is also a time where I feel particularly lovely and graceful. 

Sun: Sept Book Club meeting, where I presented a mini-talk about author Jonathan Swift and a bit about his book Gulliver’s Travels, and we talked about the book, politics, satire and anything else that caught our fancy. The potluck theme was British food and we had homemade pasties, salad, appetizers, scones (apricot oat ones made by me) and tea. It was perfectly delightful. We decided next months theme would be the French to celebrate our reading Kristin Hannah’s book, The Nightingale. 

Mon: Listening to my Spotify music while I write a new Dragon Age fanfiction story. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish this one. Honestly it’s just nice to have a creative outlet again. 

Tues: Finally starting to weed my parts of the Children’s collection which I’ve been meaning to do for months but haven’t gotten around to doing; working more on my DA story. 

Wed: Playing SWTOR and enjoying my Sith Inquisitor character Skarnax (Force Lightning FTW!). 

Thurs: Finally finished up The Nightingale, which I really enjoyed reading though it definitely was an emotional roller coaster and had me guessing till the end. Should make for an excellent discussion at Bookclub next month; Watching Green Wing on Netflix and absolutely cracking up at Season 1, Episode 3: The Lodger (probably the most random and hilarious episode ever).