Mad’s Favourite Book of 2016: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

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Madeleine Cassier
Producer
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2016 was a great reading year for me: my average star-rating on Goodreads was 3.9, so of the 143 books that I read, I enjoyed the majority of them. You’d think that having to pick a favourite from that list would be difficult, and had it not been for this book, I probably would have had a hard time narrowing it down from the list I originally made.

So, before I begin unabashedly gushing about my favourite, a quick little moment for the honorable mentions that were all so close, but not quite there: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Dictator by Robert Harris, The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski, The Black Count by Tom Reiss, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sara J. Maas, Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Kill the Father by Sandrone Dazieri, Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and Augustus by John Williams.

Right, now that that’s through: to the favourite!

Once upon a time, a man wrote a Red book and shot my emotions out of an airlock into the cold, dark vacuum of space. I thanked him for it, and moved on to the Golden sequel which took my heart and pummeled it into pieces so small, I was no longer sure there was anything left within the cavity of my chest. And so I plunged into darkness, whatever remains of that life-organ too terrified to beat for fear that this man and his Morning Star would truly obliterate it for good.

It’s no secret to anyone who either knows me in person or follows me on the internet that I adore the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown — they are definitely my kind of books, filled to the brim with Classical allusions, full of heart-stopping battle sequences, and featuring a diverse range of rich, complex characters that make me laugh, cry, and swear in equal measure. The ever more prescient commentary the trilogy provides on politics and power, prejudice, and general humanity make me re-read it continuously, finding ever more parallels to our world — the good, and the not-so-good.

Besides all of the feels that this book provides me, I love how kinetic it is: it’s relentless, rarely pausing to let you catch your breath as it thunders its way to its gory and brutal, yet wholly satisfying and well-earned conclusion. And yet, through all of that, it never lets you forget that every action has a consequence; everything has a cost, and the people we love can die, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all.

I have a hard time trying to keep this post short, as I’d happily sit and ramble for pages and pages on every detail of Morning Star that I loved, and then continue on by going back to Red Rising and Golden Son to ramble about their high points as well — is this a perfect trilogy? Probably not, but it’s perfect for me, and it’s hard to imagine my fiction-loving life without these books.

This trilogy, and especially its conclusion, speak for itself, and I, as a reader, feel lucky to have been graced with Pierce Brown’s magnificent gift for storytelling. And, like many a Howler across the world, am now eagerly awaiting what he will bring us when showing the consequences of revolution in Iron Gold.

Omnis vir lupus.

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Dorothy’s Favorite Books of 2016: Station Eleven & Born A Crime

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Dorothy McQuaid
Showrunner for Pycera/Social Media for BWP
Twitter | Blog | Email

Hello, Whisperers! Happy New Year! I loved Rebecca’s post about her favorite book of 2016, and I wanted to make my own.  I was fairly certain what I would choose for most of the year – I said things like “this is the best book I’ve read in years” and actually went so far as to get a quote from it tattooed on my living flesh. However, in the very last days of 2016, I listened to an audiobook version of another amazing book (which was actually published in 2016,) and honestly couldn’t decide between the two. Luckily, one is non-fiction and one is fiction, so I can choose both!

My favorite fiction book I read in 2016: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (published 2014.) Although this book received accolades and awards when it was released, somehow the hype went over my head and I didn’t hear anything about it. Really it should only take four words for you to want to read this book: “Shakespeare after the apocalypse.” What more could you possibly want? Oh, a reference to Star Trek that makes you want to cry and sing and laugh and run out to the tattoo parlor? This book has that too. The core of this book is going beyond survival, into…. thrive-al(?) in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While others cobble together a living from the land or the remains of the cities, this book follows a cast of actors, musicians and other artists who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare and classical music. Because survival is insufficient.

My favorite non-fiction book I read in 2016: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (published 2016.) I don’t watch The Daily Show and have only seen a few clips of Trevor Noah, but when several friends of varying literary interests began raving about this book, I had to check it out. I ended up listening to the audio version, and I’m glad I did – it is narrated by Trevor and he speaks the different African languages, accents for each person, just a generally fabulous narration. I couldn’t put it down. Trevor manages to address social issues like racism, sexism, institutionalized poverty, code switching – WAIT DON’T FALL ASLEEP – while also telling great stories about pooping on the floor and getting abandoned by a dog named Foofy. Listen to this book. It will make you laugh and cry.

Rebecca’s Favorite Book of 2016: Illuminae

Rebecca Kordesh, Director1dd72c74-dd4f-4789-8d3d-694ba1279a47
Twitter | Blog

2016 was a big year for me because it was the first year where I was active enough on Goodreads to participate in a reading challenge and to watch as my numbers went up and up and I finally met that 150 books read goal. Goodreads is also nifty because it keeps track of the books you’ve read for you, so now that we’ve hit 2017, I get to go back and look at what I read in 2016 and reminisce.

If I’m totally honest, about half of those 150 books were somewhere between “meh” and “NO!” on the scale of enjoyment, but the other half were a real treat. That’s maybe the advantage to pushing through about three books a week — yeah, you find lemons, but you also find gems. Lots of them.

So many, in fact, that it was quite difficult for me to land on a single book to talk about. So before I go an wax lyrical about Illuminae, I’d like to give a shout out to a few of the other fantastic books/series I was lucky enough to experience in 2016. Here’s to you, The Raven Cycle, so beautiful and pure in your spot on my favorite’s shelf. I love you. And here’s to you, Red Rising trilogy. Thank you for rekindling my husband’s love of books. Cheers to Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, y’all rocked my world. I’ll raise a glass to you, Menagerie, one of the coolest creepy little things I stumbled upon. And a toast for the books I’d already loved that I got to love again in 2016, from the Harry Potter series to A Series of Unfortunate Events to Sandman and down to a wide array of Juliet Marillier classics. Annnnnd one final shoutout to the 40ish books that did not make this list but were also fantastic and provided many feelings and great joy to my year.

51puwgixkl-_sy344_bo1204203200_And now, to the main event.

Illuminae. 

Man oh man what a book. It’s difficult to even know where to begin with this because reading Illuminae was such an experience, but I shall try.

First, this is not a traditional book. Rather than straightforward narration, Kaufman and Kristoff tell this story through a series of IM chats, data files, reports on security camera footage, classified military files, and eventually information from the server core of the main AI unit, AIDAN.

While I’m usually impressed by clever forms of narration like this, I don’t often read them because I’m a trandtionalist with books. I like them to be straightforward narration style. But the style of this book could not be more perfectly done. The execution was brilliant, the use of tiny visual details superb, and the lack of straightforward narration did absolutely nothing to take away from the emotional impact of the story. It was a wild, fun, emotional, and intense ride.

Seriously, I was invested within the first 30 pages and I spent this entire experience caught somewhere between laughter and genuine tears. Illuminae is funny, it’s fun, it’s intense, violent, and fast-paced, but it is also deeply philosophical and altogether incredibly emotional. AIDAN, the possibly insane AI of the Battleship Alexander, really takes the cake on this. I simultaneously hated it (you know, ’cause of psychotic AI things) and favored the parts of the book from its perspective because that’s where many of the most poignant moments were delivered, and flawlessly.

The main two characters, Ezra and Kady, are both phenomenal. Kady is everything I ever wanted in a snarky space heroine, and Ezra is just bae. Their backstory and their development throughout the book was incredibly compelling and just absolutely wonderful.

Illuminae was literally everything I could ever have wanted from a book. It was a fantastic escape, a brilliantly imagined alternate reality that somehow felt familiar. It engaged me with characters that were both human and otherwise and got to that part of me that genuinely cares about those characters even while I rationally know they don’t exist. It got me thinking about the big questions without being too heavy-handed about it and without trying to provide any answers. It was one of those books that provides the entertainment you want from leisurely reading while also encouraging you to think about the world you live in and the nature of the things you know.

Illuminae, I adore you.

(I also adore Gemina, the sequel that this blog post would have been about if I’d read Illuminae in 2015 when it was released).

But seriously, hat’s off to Kaufman and Kristoff for this delightfully wonderful thing, and thank you 2016 for bringing Illuminae to me. A+.

Jennifer Donnelly

“I tried to be goodly. I tried to be godly. But I got so tired of being ignored. Cry your grief to God. Howl to the heavens. Tear your shirt. Your hair. Your flesh. Gouge out your eyes. Carve out your heart. And what will you get from Him? Only silence. Indifference…Because God loves us, but the devil takes an interest.”

Dear Jennifer Donnelly,

2014 was a strange and tumultuous year for me. When I read your book, Revolution, I had only just learned that the full-time job I was in was not going to exist by the end of the year. That I was soon to be 23 and unemployed, unmoored in life, and suffering inside. It was an emotional maelstrom, and then suddenly, while audiobook-surfing my library’s website at midnight, I found Revolution. I found this novel I knew nothing about, but that presented me Andi and Alexandrine, two young women fighting against hatred, inaction, despair, and the ever-elusive search for hope.

I suddenly felt alive, torn apart one thread at a time by the glorious harmonic dissonance of your writing — as if you had transcribed the beauty of the diabolus in musica and minor keys into words. The angry splatters of red blood was my own roiling confusion and rage; the swooping blackness of these characters’ true despair was my own disillusionment and self-loathing. It was beautiful and terrifying all at once.

It was the full-colour spectrum of my emotions displayed out before me: taken apart and then, as if by magic, put ever so slowly back together. Because what you wrote, Ms. Donnelly, rang so profoundly true to real life that I had never at that point been so cathartically and emotionally wrung-out in a long time, and it was everything I needed in that moment. It was ecstasy, in all the pain and joy that word implies.

I suppose that means you were the “devil” of this story — who broke the painful silence and, just by writing this book, took an interest.

And so, thank you for writing this. For giving me a novel that, even thinking back now, reminds of the pain it put me through — how it amplified my own darkness and forced me to stare into the void in order to confront it, to deal with it in a healthy way: through fiction, through Andi and Alexandrine by proxy.

And thank you, also, for writing stories of young women trying to be themselves when the world or even their own mind tries to sway them otherwise. Young women like myself greatly appreciate everything you bring to us.

Sincerely,
Madeleine, who also wears a red ribbon