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Top Ten Reads of 2016

Most books I read aren’t new releases, but I thought I’d do my own list of my favourite books that I read this year. Some are new, others not. I decided to stick to books that I read for the first time this year, so that rules out favourites like Hamlet and The Lord of the Rings. I chose books that made me fall in love with them because they are clever, well-written, and just add to the literary discourse of the human heart.

10. The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I read this book in my American Literature class this semester and I quite enjoyed it, more so with scholarly readings in hand as well. Hawthorne writes of a socialist farm experiment which fails when the beautiful Zenobia, the “Queen” of Blithedale, commits suicide. However, it seems underneath the surface that Coverdale, the unreliable narrator, has actually been lying to his readers all along and that he, in fact, murdered her because he could not have her.

9. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

While I love the entire Queen’s Thief series, the first book is so clever it needs special mention. Not only does Eugenides, the main character, trick all the characters, but he fools readers until the very end of the book. I still can’t quite get over the fact that a children’s book could be so clever.

8. The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater

“And Ronan closed his eyes to be blessed. Please God tell me what I am.”

It’s not so much the story or the characters (although I do love both) – it’s really Maggie’s writing that got to me. Her descriptions are so lovely, and her style of writing is so clever that I didn’t even get the foreshadowing until after I had read the entire series – so everything comes as a surprise. Some of my favourite characters have come from this series, as well – such as the Gray Man (one of my favourite villains). And I love Ronan because he’s so troubled and human and real. While I would have written his character arc in a completely different way since he’s Catholic (Maggie obviously doesn’t know much about Catholics), I just get him. And did I mention the writing? I have so many favourite quotes from this series because they’re so meaningful. The writing verges on the sophisticated, but never as pretentious as The Secret History. Therefore, in the end, it’s really the minor details about this series that really “get” me, not the big picture. {See my review of this series.}

7. Battle for His Soul by Theresa Linden

I loved this book because it made me think about my guardian angel, and see the daily struggles I go through as more important than I might have earlier thought. Linden’s book is so different from anything else I’ve read before, and was therefore quite delightful. It’s a book for young adults, but deals with important issues thoroughly, instead of brushing them aside (like some other authors I know *cough*Stiefvater*cough*).

6. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

What a thrilling tale! This was one of those books that I pushed to the side because the cover didn’t look all that interesting, so why would the story be? (Of course I was wrong.) The Scarlet Pimpernel is the first superhero (or so I’ve heard), and what a character! The romance subplot with his wife was also very sweet. The marital troubles, double lives, and endangered lives definitely kept me on the edge of my seat.

5. Selected Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

I really love psychological stories, and, of course, Poe is a master at weaving such a complex tale. One of my favourite stories in this collection was “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.” Here, the narrator tells of his visit to a psychiatric institution, where he slowly realizes that the mentally insane have locked up the doctors and nurses and are posing as them. I was also quite delighted to see that Poe also writes detective stories, and is, in fact, the precursor to Arthur Conan Doyle (I definitely could see similarities to Holmes and Watson in Poe’s stories).

4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Wilde has a great capacity for wit, but he can also write a story that is perhaps just as psychologically complex as Poe. I love Dorian Gray because I love stories that explore human depravity – and also just because Wilde is such a fantastic storyteller.

3. Smoke by Dan Vyleta

Another modern book that I think can easily be counted on the high-quality literature scale (see #1 as well). This is a story set in a Victorian world where the rich and powerful keep the impoverished in check by declaring that while the poor are sinful, the rich are pure of heart – and yet, as one will see through reading this book, it’s quite the other way around… {See my review of this novel.}

2. The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde by Joseph Pearce

I loved this book a whole lot. In fact, I’ve loved everything I’ve read of Wilde’s, and I knew a little of his story – but this really opened my eyes and wow. I can’t even count the number of times I cried while reading this book. Pearce has a good sense of humour and a great capacity for wit, perhaps just as much as Wilde. I love how he can bring down disputing scholars quite easily, with a touch of sarcasm for a cherry on top. A++.

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This book is so pretentious and problematic but perhaps that’s why I love it. I love how a modern book can seem so classical at once. I find Julian’s (the professor) hold on his students to be so eerie and yet also incredibly interesting. This is one of those books that really shows the depravity of human beings, but I think that’s why it’s so fascinating.

Other Notable Mentions…

My friend Gina Marinello-Sweeney came out with her second book in the Veritas Chronicles, The Rose and the Sword, which was a really great read – and quite a page turner. (See review of book here.) I started reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events – and I have to say, I have never enjoyed a children’s book series quite as much before. My favourite part is whenever Snicket stops the flow of the story to explain the meaning of a word.

I also enjoyed The Quest for Shakespeare by Joseph Pearce, vampire/Gothic novella Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, All Fall Down by Ally Carter (a YA book about international relations), Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney (a quite well-written children’s fanfiction about Shakespeare’s Macbeth), the fantasy YA Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, and Lynnette Porter’s Unsung Heroes of The Lord of the Rings. The last is quite an ingenious book which compares the portrayal of minor characters in both Tolkien’s books and Jackson’s trilogy.

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