Favorite Books of 2016: Series

10 Jan

I read a lot of books this year, so narrowing it down to favorites is so hard. I’m always impressed by those people who manage to pick 5 or 10 books that they loved the most in a calendar year. For me, that’s pretty much impossible! To make it a little more manageable, I’m going to split my favorites into two posts. The first will be my favorite books I read that are part of a series, and the second will be stand-alone along with some honorable poetry mentions. Let’s get to it!

A little disclaimer first: these are not ranked in any order, just listed in the way I pulled them off my shelves. I also picked only one book per series, so this list is much smaller than it could have been! It’s as much a retrospective of my 2016 series as it is a “favorites” list.

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Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks. Part of the Culture Series. I love science fiction, but for some reason I had never picked up the Culture books. They’re kind of important to the genre, but I’ve heard very mixed things (especially about the first one), so my hesitation won out for years. But 2016 was the year of Culture for me, as I read them at a rate of about one a month!

My favorite was, without a doubt, Look to Windward. It’s a bit more philosophical and slow than some of the other ones, and there are many story threads. But the main themes are so beautiful–loss, regret, trauma. I actually cried at the ending: Culture books don’t usually make you feel a lot of emotion, but this one hit me really hard. It also had the most exciting and interesting secondary worlds and locations (an entire ecosystem based on giant flying creatures!), I really loved every single thing about it. I’m not sure if this is a series I’d ever want to re-read front to back but I know I will be picking this one up many times in my life.

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The Trespasser, by Tana French. Part of the Dublin Murder Squad series. Of all the books on this list, this is the only one where I didn’t start the series this year. I read In The Woods, the first Dublin book, in 2015, and the rest of the series the year after. So now I’m reading it as it comes out… which is a bit painful, if I’m being honest. Ongoing series are hard to commit to! But thankfully the Dublin Murder Squad series is more a linked series of books: characters cross over, but each one stands alone. So you don’t have to worry about forgetting details in the years between books.

While this is not my favorite in the series (that goes to Broken Harbor, with In the Woods/The Likeness tied for second), it’s a very solid entry. We finally get another female protagonist (in the 6-book series, only two of our POV characters have been women), and the core crime is really interesting. It’s a bit slower and less dramatic than some of the others, but French’s writing just sucks you in immediately. And I think Antoinette was possibly her most sympathetic protagonist. I just really loved her tough-exterior/falling-apart-interior dynamic. The only bad thing about reading this book is that now I have to wait 2 years for the next one!

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Fool’s Fate, by Robin Hobb. Part of the Realm of the Elderlings series. I completed two very long series this year, but the Realm of the Elderlings books stood head and shoulders above… well, to be honest, almost every other fantasy series I’ve ever read. It’s pure magic. The world, the characters, the storytelling, the writing… I loved every moment of every book. It gave me those same warm fuzzy “I’m home” feelings as Harry Potter, which is really saying a lot. But I have to pick just one book from it, right?

This actually wasn’t a difficult choice. I loved a lot of books in this series, but none of them broke my heart as badly as Fool’s Fate. I sobbed through the last hundred pages or so. Even though I knew things would probably be okay (there’s a follow-up trilogy after all) I just… I couldn’t handle some of these scenes. Hobb makes you care about characters so much that even the slightest injustice tugs at your heartstrings, and this whole book is just a 900-page rollercoaster of emotion. It hurts so bad but I want to read the whole thing over again immediately.

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Honeysuckle & Pain, by Mark Z. Danielewski. Part of The Familiar series. Danielewski is without question one of my favorite writers, so when I found out that he was writing a 26 book series with 2-3 releasing a year I was over the freaking moon. Basically the best news a House of Leaves fangirl could ever get. Better yet when you find out each volume is 800 pages and we follow 9 different characters, each of whom has a different font, color, and page layout. It’s a weird, complex story and I honestly have no idea what’s going on but I love it.

It’s hard to pick one of these 3 books over the other. They are long, but due to the format and number of characters we only get a peek into their lives each volume. So far my interest has increased with each passing book which is why I picked 3 but really, it could have been any of them. Because despite their length, they really do feel like one continuous story. Which is the intent, I think: each book is an “episode” of a series, and we’ll even be getting “seasons!” The next comes out in about a month and I am way too excited.

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A Night Without Stars, by Peter Hamilton. Part of the Commonwealth series. Pandora’s Star is one of my all-time favorite science fiction books, and the Commonwealth universe is basically the best. I don’t think anyone else in the genre does characterization as well as Hamilton: he has so many memorable people (and aliens), that even after 10 years I can recall them all vividly. Before this there were only 5 books in the universe: the Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained duology and the Void trilogy (which I read last year). This duology takes place in between them… or at least the first book does. The last one, A Night Without Stars, actually goes after the last Void book! It’s a bit of a confusing universe but so worth diving into.

I liked the first book, Abyss Beyond Dreams, but I found it missing a bit of that Commonwealth magic. Thankfully ANWS brings the series back to its roots. It’s an insane romp, and while it’s not as space-opera-y as the others (it basically takes place on one planet) it’s very epic in scope. Awesome new characters, familiar faces, the teasing of some totally amazing alien races… this book was so satisfying. But let’s be honest, it left me wanting more and more in the Commonwealth universe. Hopefully we get another batch of books set there!

So, those were my favorite series books of 2016! in 2015 I read a massive amount of (short) series, so it was kind of a weird shift for me to read two huge series stretched out over the entire year. I really liked it, though: by starting Culture/Elderlings in January and taking a full year to finish them, I felt like I got to live in those worlds. I’ll probably do a combo of long and short series in 2017.

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