Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Best and Worst Books of 2016

Oh hi! It's time for the one post a year I put up on this blog - best and worst books of the year. Even if I posted more, this would be my favorite post because I love lists. I love best and worst of lists. Best and worst of lists are on my "best of" list of life. Before I start, here are a few notes about mine, in list form of course:
  • The books in this post did not necessarily publish in 2016. I just read them in 2016.
  • This post does not include rereads. These are all books that I read for the first time in 2016.
  • All of the books in this post are books I read in their entirety. It's not fair to rate a book I didn't finish because maybe it got awesome after I gave up on it and I'll never know. 
So, here are my top 5 fiction books of 2016:

#5  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Toward the end of the year, I read a few short story collections. Liu writes effortlessly in either science fiction or fantasy and weaves Chinese history and religion throughout. "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" broke my heart and I loved it.

#4  Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

The book blurb comparison to World War Z drew me to this book. The comparison turned out not to be apt, but I still enjoyed this a lot and am looking forward to the sequel in April. A girl is riding her bike and crashes through the forest into a giant metal hand. Where did it come from? Why does it exist? This might be shaping up to be a story about space kaiju. Awesome.

#3  Mostly Void, Partially Stars by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

I love Welcome to Night Vale so much. I have a hard time listening to podcasts because I zone out too easily. But Night Vale's community radio format is perfect. This first volume of transcripts (and the second one, which came out at the same time) is one of my favorite things published in 2016 because it allowed me to revisit episodes of Night Vale that I binged last year and catch all of the details I missed. This is also a great book for people who want to give Night Vale a shot but feel like there's too much catching up to do. I would encourage anyone to read this book, but also don't deprive yourself of Cecil's lovely voice.

#2  The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato

This book was like reading a season of Lost. There are stories within stories within stories in different time periods that all connect in various ways. And so much weirdness. A pop star goes missing on the eve of a huge concert event. Her personal assistant teams up with her biggest fan and a mysterious guy (who derives sexual pleasure from architecture) to find out where she went, and that's just the surface story. 

#1  The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

This book was just so much fun. Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in a park surrounded by dead bodies and has amnesia. To make matters more confusing, whoever she was before this incident seemed to know that it was going to happen and has written her a series of letters. Also, she has super powers. Oh, and one more thing... she's a highly placed government official. The Rook is a little bit Orphan Black, a little bit X-Files, a little bit X-Men, and quite a bit of Kingsmen. It also features my favorite non-romantic relationship in all of literature. Myfanwy Thomas and Shantay Petoskey ace the Bechdel Test with their eyes closed.

Top 5 graphic novels:

#5  The Wicked and the Divine vol. 4 by Kieron Gillen

This series has been one of my favorites from the beginning. A pantheon of gods and goddesses are resurrected every 90 years into the bodies of teenagers. They're treated like royalty, but have only two years to enjoy it before they die. In this volume, it was good to have Laura back after a long absence. Well, kind of Laura. We also get to know a bit more about Minerva and Baphomet. A few questions get answered, which is satisfying, but by the end, even more have popped up. As an aside, I think it's eerie that the pop star/gods based on Bowie and Prince have died in this series in that order.

#4  Bitch Planet vol. 1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick

Read. This. Book. Yes, it's hyperbolic, but hyperbole has roots in reality. Donald Trump is going to be our next president. The only reason non-compliant women won't be threatened with being shot off to a prison planet is because we don't yet have that technology. And you might be wondering what non-compliant means. It means being disobedient, being educated, questioning men, not meeting a certain physical ideal, disobeying reproductive rules, etc. While this book isn't straight up fear-based propaganda - there is a great story in here that holds its own no matter what the real world political climate is - it's chilling to think that we came several steps closer to oppressive reality this past November. Volume two is out in early 2017 - title? President Bitch. If only.

#3  Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

The only reason I don't call Kate Beaton a national treasure is because she's Canadian. If Bitch Planet is deadly serious commentary on misogyny, Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant comic takes the same subject matter and allows us to laugh at it. And I did. Until I cried. And wheezed. Beaton is both smart and silly. She's a history and classic literature buff but also a nerd. Her comics comment on both the atrocity that is Wuthering Heights and what happens when Wonder Woman gets tired.

#2  Unfollow vol. 1 by Rob Williams

This comic pushes so many of my interest buttons, the main one being the Battle Royale. The multi-billionaire creator of Headspace (Twitter) is dying and decides to give his wealth away to 140 lucky individuals. If you're one of those people, an app called The 140 shows up on your phone and money shows up in your bank account. But one day the app reads 139 and a little more money shows up in your account. What do you do? My favorite character is Akira, a Japanese author who cut off his own legs as a form of performance art. I am so ready for volume 2.

#1  Paper Girls vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

This book came out before Stranger Things, but if you liked Stranger Things, get to reading Paper Girls. It's 1988 and a group of girls have fought hard for paper delivery turf in their neighborhood. They're out in the wee hours one morning doing their job and come across a weird spacecraft. One of them disappears. There are giant dinosaur geese, and maybe time travel. Also, Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang are my comics dream team. They totally deliver.

Best Nonfiction:

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

This book isn't specifically for teens or 20-somethings. I just wish it had been available for me to read then. But, better late than never. Hurley addresses gender in geekdom, touching on Gamergate and SadPuppygate, among other things. She also writes about her personal life, letting readers know that the struggle is in fact real, and it's okay to be dealing with it.

Worst books of 2016 (all genres/mediums):

#5  Rat Queens vol. 3 by Kurtis J. Wiebe

What do you do when the main artist on a comic you really like is publicly accused of beating his wife? And then is replaced by a female artist, who is a feminist but also doesn't really capture the essence of the characters the way the artist who co-created them did?  But maybe that's not entirely her fault because the writing seems to be going nowhere in this volume? And in the middle of publication, new artist is surprise fired and wife beating artist is re-hired and all of the dirty laundry is aired online? The politics behind this volume make it hard to read. It's also hard to read because it's not very good (and I say this adoring the first two volumes, pre-knowledge of spousal abuse). I'm not a fan of the art either. This makes me sad because Rat Queens was a really good book

#4  Trees vol. 2 by Warren Ellis

This comic gets mega bonus points for punching heteronormativity in the face. But those are kind of the only points it gets. This comic is boring. Nothing happens. I'm sure something will happen eventually, but two volumes in, I've stopped caring. 

#3  The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

This book is poorly written. The premise seems interesting - magicians go to a magic school and learn how to do magic but they can only specialize in one medium and once they're bonded to that medium, they can't ever work with anything else. This book quickly turns into a teacher/student love story and it turns out the main character is super special and can do all the magics so she doesn't have to be sad anymore. Ugh. No. It should be called The Mary Sue by Mary Sue.

#2  Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex is not number 1 on this list, and I'll get to why down below. But it is quite possibly the worst book I have ever read. I don't usually finish books that make me this angry but it was so ridiculous that I had to see it through. It's about a cursed town that has it's own witch - a woman long ago murdered - who just shows up in places and creeps on you. Her mouth and eyes are sewn shut so she can't curse anyone, but some kids try to open her mouth in the process of sexually assaulting her. Ugh. Look, this is just so bizarre. You can read my full review here, but this book is so misogynistic that I think the author might have a phobia of women or at least boobs. There's a weird dream sequence type thing at the end involving all of the town's children being turned into a giant tit and a grown woman spewing pate out of her vagina that I will never be able to unsee.

#1  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany

Oh shit, here it is. This book may not be the worst book I read this year, but it managed to ruin seven other books that I used to enjoy quite a bit and that's why it gets the number one spot. I've had time now to sit with this and think through my issues. Time to calm down. Time to think about whether or not my reading of this has fundamentally changed all of the other Harry Potter books. The fact that Harry grew up to be an insufferable, selfish, attention whore - all of the things Draco accused him of being as a child - will stick with me forever. That's only the most problematic part of this book. There is so much wrong with it. The time travel aspect is painful. Missing characters are distracting. Other characters behaving completely out of character made me want to cry. If you love Harry Potter and have not read this book, just step away. Love the original seven books and leave this one alone.

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