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Dec 27, 2016 — Our “Best Of 2016” series will be a bit different than most. Rather than having the staff write about things released this year, we’ve elected to allow anything they’ve listened to/played/read/watched this year that they’ve enjoyed. Favorite programs we’ve hosted also might make lists as well. Our first installment comes to us from Christina Clary, an Associate Library Specialist in our Kentucky Room.
This has been a pretty rough year. Like most people, I am more than ready for it to be over. Unfortunately, this year’s awfulness has even seeped over into my reading list. New releases from my favorite authors ended up being major letdowns, and there just wasn’t anything for me that jumped out as amazing. Nothing was truly bad, but not a lot was great. Maybe I just didn’t read the right books this year? I don’t know. In honor of the theme of this year, which apparently is “Everything is Awful!,” I will be listing my most disappointing books of the year. Never fear optimists! I will then follow up with the books that I actually liked in hope of a better new year. I will probably be writing another post after I read more books released this year. I have a whole stack of them that I am hoping will make up for the disappointing ones.
P.S. I’m not including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in this list. I’m pretending it never happened.
• Mata Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran
I love Michelle Moran. She is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. I will read anything she publishes. Sadly, that includes this book about the infamous WWI spy Mata Hari. This book wasn’t necessarily bad, it just seemed so far removed from any of Moran’s other writings. The book just kind of started, and jumped around from there. I wonder if there was some sort of editing issue that happened, as it felt like a bunch of stuff was cut out and Moran never had the chance to tidy it and make it flow better. While I own all of Moran’s other books, I probably will not be adding this one to my collection. If you want to check out this author, I recommend starting out with Cleopatra’s Daughter. It was my first Moran book.
• A Terrible Beauty by Tasha Alexander
Tasha, may I call you that? I feel like I can call you by your first name, as we’ve been through 10 books and several short stories together by now. Tasha, did someone force you to write this book? Was it your publisher? Did you invest your money in a Ponzi scheme and lost it all and now you have to keep writing books to make more money? Because this book was boring, unnecessary, and bleh. It’s okay if you don’t want to write any more Lady Emily mysteries. You can end it. I mean, you’re at the point where you’re rehashing plotlines (is Emily’s first husband actually still alive?) and the characters aren’t evolving (move on Duke Jeremy!). You had a good run. Quit while you’re ahead. Don’t be a Charlaine Harris and drag this out to a completely unsatisfying conclusion that everyone abhors. Just move on if that’s what you want.
• Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter
This book was good until it got weird, and then it got bad. Real bad. Like, stare at the book after I read the last page wondering what just happened bad. This had so much potential. You don’t find many historical fiction novels about medieval Bohemia. I had such high hopes for this book. And it started out so well. A girl named Mouse with a mysterious past that lives at an abbey and has strange powers, heals the conveniently super-hot teenage king, and joins his entourage. The book gets weirder as it delves more into her oddities, which are revealed to be of supernatural origin that may or may not be from the devil. I had no idea this book had supernatural stuff in it, as it’s not mentioned at all in any of the book descriptions. And then it takes over the historical part of the story, and just gets weirder, but still in a kind of good way. She falls in love with the king and saves him from his crazy father, etc. The usual stuff you would expect from this type of book. And then she runs into woods. And it. Gets. Crazy. That’s the only way I can describe what happens. And then, as if the crazy wasn’t weird enough already, something happens that is just like “whaaaaaattt.” And then it ends. Clearly, Carpenter was setting up for a sequel. Or at least I would hope so, because that was a terrible ending otherwise. And just weird. Have I mentioned that this book was weird, and not in a good way?
• Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
Was anyone else extremely distracted the entire time they read Marie Kondo’s books by her obvious mental issues that were manifesting as a child in her extreme obsession for tidiness? Or do you think she was just exaggerating that part to sell her persona? I hope so. Because I’m pretty sure that’s not normal. I don’t really have much else to say about her books. Why are they so popular? Does anyone else imagine that she lives in a super white and clean house where everything is clean and white and sterile and there’s nothing in it? Or do you think she secretly has a hoarder house? I bet it’s a hoarder house.
The Good – Note: These were not necessarily published in 2016
• Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
I took a chance on this book, as it is sci-fi, a genre I usually tend to avoid. But the premise sounded interesting, and the format was different, so I gave it a shot. It’s all told in the framing of interviews and journal entries, so it has a World War Z vibe to it. A young girl stumbles across a giant metal hand, and grows up to be the scientist studying it. As more pieces are found, it’s become clear that it’s supposed to be assembled together in a human like form that serves as a weapon. How did these pieces get here, and how does the weapon work? Are there others out there, and are they coming from us? Will they be super angry when they see how awful humanity is and punish us? The book only hints at the answers, as this is meant to be the first in a trilogy, because everything has to be a trilogy now days.
• The Tearling Series by Erika Johansen
Speaking of trilogies, I’m cheating with this, as it is not just one book. But I couldn’t really just pick one. The series follows Kelsea Raleigh, a girl who on her 19th birthday leaves her home in exile to take up the mantle of Queen of the Tearling. The books are dystopian. As in, the Tearling was founded as a utopia but then fell apart. So, actually dystopian. There are mysteries, and twists and turns and action and actual character development. Kelsea is genuinely concerned with doing what’s best for her people, even if she messes up occasionally, and learns from her mistakes. Plus, there’s time travel that’s actually interesting, as we learn what lead to the original settlers leaving their home and founding the Tear. Some of the reveals of the main mysteries were a bit of a letdown (after all the fuss that was made about who her father might be, that’s who it was?). And I still don’t know how I feel about the ending. It was not what was expected. If you need a new trilogy, and you like kickass heroines, read this one.
• The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
This year needed a fun book, and this one fit the bill. Also, I may or may not be secretly obsessed with Kate Middleton and her hair. The book is unabashedly fan fiction of the relationship between Middleton and Prince William. American tomboy Bex falls in love with Nick, who just so happens to be in line for the British throne. Hijinks ensue, especially with the ginger-playboy-younger brother (sound familiar?) Was this book perfect? It was written by people who mainly write a blog, so no it was not. But it was addictive and fun and sometimes I just want to read books that aren’t necessarily the best written but are still enjoyable. Even if the characters act really awful and make stupid decisions. A guilty pleasure, you might call it, although I don’t feel any shame about loving this one. Also, see aforementioned obsession with Kate Middleton. And her hair. It’s just so perfect ALL THE TIME.
• The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride by Daniel James Brown
This year may have been bad, but at least I didn’t have to resort to cannibalism to avoid death by starvation. Many of you may know Brown from his book The Boys on the Boat, which I also read this year, and absolutely loved. That book is pretty well known though, so I will focus on his other book about the doomed Donner party. This was a topic that I have heard a lot about, but never really knew of the details. Well I got them, every last gory detail. Those poor people were doomed from the very beginning, when they started out on the trail too late in the season. When you mix that with bad leadership, tense relationships, and shortcuts that weren’t actually shortcuts, they never had much of a chance to make it. What made this book so great was Brown’s descriptions and attention to detail, which made me feel like I was there. I definitely was wrapped in many blankets while reading this.