Best Books of 2016: Kendall’s Picks

At the January Books & Bites meeting, we discussed our favorite books from 2016. Listen to librarians Eden Grey, Carrie Green, and me, Kendall Haddix, explore the topic in our Books & Bites podcast, or read on for some of my recommendations.

2016 was a great year for teen series. Looking back over the books I read this year (thanks to Goodreads for organizing my reading lists), I gave five stars over and over to books with awesome world building, finely detailed characters, and interesting concepts that happened to be part of a series.

When awards are handed out, committees often overlook books from series. This is understandable. The book isn’t stand-alone, so do you rate it based on the potential for the rest of the series to be great, or do you try not to factor in the books that have come before? Either way, it’s nearly impossible to compare a stand-alone book to an entry in a series. Until an award comes along that honors completed series, these books will continue to be sadly neglected. Because of this, I want to give some much-needed attention to books from 2016, and share a bit of information about each one’s series as well.


The Raven King book coverThe Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven King wraps up Stiefvater’s acclaimed Raven Cycle. It was published back in April 2016, and was highly anticipated by the multitudes of fans of the previous books. The set-up of the series is that a girl named Blue Sargent is the only non-gifted member of a psychic family, and she has been told from birth that she will kill her true love with a kiss. Through the series, you become intimate with Blue’s family and the “Raven Boys”—a group of students from a private school in Blue’s town. What could be mistaken for clichéd paranormal fiction quickly turns into a magical adventure full of Welsh folklore, ley lines, ghosts, and truly great character development. With the promise of killing with a kiss, it seemed almost impossible for the final book in the series to live up to expectations and yet keep all the beloved characters alive. But The Raven King completed each plotline successfully, and in unexpected ways. I highly recommend the entire series in one binge-reading gulp. As an added bonus, if you listen to the audio book, Will Patton (of Remember the Titans fame) narrates and lends a great accent to the story.

When thinking about what food to pair with this series, I came across the website Fiction-food.com. It has recipes for popular books, TV, movies and even video games. For the Raven Cycle, the website suggests a half-sausage, half-avocado pizza—something the Raven Boys order often from the pizza place where Blue works as a server. There is a description of what the pizza means to the characters, a full recipe for making it, and a quote from the author about the pizza. Overall, a fun resource.


Walk on Earth a Stranger book coverWalk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Moving on to an unfinished series, Walk on Earth a Stranger is the first book in a new series by Rae Carson. So far, only the first and second book, Like a River Glorious, are out. The third book will hopefully be out this year. This one is about Lee Westfall, a girl living in Georgia in 1849. She has the secret gift of being able to divine gold. This is the only magical element in an otherwise realistic historical fiction, but it adds a unique facet that fuels the plot when someone finds out about her, and she must flee. Because it’s 1849, the California Gold Rush is in full swing, and she sets off across the country. The first book in the series details her trip—disguising herself as a boy, joining a wagon train, and surviving harsh conditions. If you liked Laura Ingalls Wilder or the infamous Oregon Trail video game, this one is a great read for you. There is a bit of magic, a ton of adventure, and the hint of a romance. What more could you ask for?

Lee begins her journey in Georgia and crosses the entire country, hunting, farming, and getting by on what she can find for food. It made me think of warm, comforting Southern foods that she may have eaten growing up. I think something like homemade chicken and dumplings would be a great meal for this book, and maybe some dessert with gold edible glitter on top to mix in the magic element, just for fun.