These are the best ten books that I read in 2016, in order from 1 to 10. I couldn’t read as much as I would have liked to or even as much as I usually do because of my move to Japan and settling into university schedules and new surroundings; also because it is insanely expensive to buy english books here and not to mention the delays.
Sinbad no Bouken (シンドバッドの冒険, The Adventures of Sinbad) is the spin-off prequel story of the Magi (マギ) manga series and follows young Sinbad on his journey to become the High King of the Seven Seas (nanakai no haou, 七海の覇王). It is written by Ohtaka Shinobu, the author of Magi and illustrated by Yoshifumi Ohtera.
The following are my short reviews for the first 6 books I have finished reading this year.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer ★★★
(Book 1 of The Lunar Chronicles)
“Even in the future the story begins with ‘Once upon a time.’ ”
Cinder is a re-telling of the fairy-tale Cinderella where Cinder is a gifted mechanic and a cyborg in futuristic New Beijing. She is hated by her step-mother and she catches the eye of the Prince Kai. When a disease that is already spreading through the country affects Cinder’s step-sister, Cinder is blamed for it. Struck between her step-mother, Prince Kai and a dangerous power struggle going on at the palace, Cinder must turn to her own past and discover who she is, if she is to survive this dance.
‘Wishes are false. Hope is true.
Hope makes it own magic.’
I picked up this book purely because the title was so beautiful and fantastical. While I like and enjoy young adult books, it is always a quick read for me. I find it difficult to get invested in predictable romances and obviously heroic stories. So, when I started reading this book, I didn’t have great expectations. I most certainly did not expect to fall head-over-heels in love with the characters and the world and the story. I loved this book so much that I’ve read it 5 times so far; and re-reading immediately is something I very rarely do.
I read 51 books in the last year. I enjoyed most of them, with an exception of one or two. Some of them were so brilliant and touching and powerful, that they have a special place in my heart and bookshelf forever. These are the stories that I’ll never forget and will always recommend and fall back on. The following 10 books are the best from the ones I read in 2015 (not books released in 2015) and in no particular order.
‘How do you unravel the meaning of something that does not wish to be known?’
A Slight Trick of the Mind is the story of Sherlock Holmes in his nineties in his retirement in Sussex, who spends his time writing and bee-keeping. Into this seemingly peaceful narrative two other stories are interwoven – the events of a recent trip to Japan that Holmes undertook in order to see a rare plant in its natural habitat and a case which Holmes had undertaken in his detective days, a case which left an indelible mark on him. While in the original canon, Holmes has always felt like a larger than life person, he is undeniably human. This book deals with the steady diminishing of that great mind due to age which is also acerbated by his declining physical abilities. While this Holmes is different from the ones we have met in various forms, he is also undeniable our Holmes. He deals with his reality head on, is under no illusions and is till sharp in tongue and mind. With a case that pushes our detective to his best, subtle references to the canon stories and an unflinching portrayal of Holmes’ humanity, A Slight Trick of the Mind is a character study of arguably one of the greatest characters created and a love letter to the great detective.
‘You can build a whole world around the tiniest of touches. Did you know that?’
14 year old June Elbus feels out of place. She is distant from her elder sister, Greta and shy at school. The only time she feels like herself is when she is with her uncle, Finn, a renowned but reclusive painter. Finn and June develop a close relationship with their mutual love of the past, art and culture. When Finn dies suddenly due to AIDS related complications, June is devastated. The refusal of June’s family to discuss Finn’s death makes the loss more unbearable for June. At Finn’s funeral, June sees a young man standing outside and watching her. Then she receives a beautiful teapot which used to be Finn’s in the mail and invitation to meet from a man called Toby. Despite her initial misgivings about meeting a stranger, her dislike of Toby living in Finn’s apartment and her sadness that Finn never told her about his partner, Toby; June goes to meet him. As June and Toby meet and spend more and more time together, June realises she is not the only one who loved and misses Finn and she is not the only person whom Finn loved.
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it.
It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The Night Circus is a magical-fantasy story set in Victorian London. Two experienced and rival magicians, Prospero aka Hector Bowen and a man known only as ‘the man in grey’ or Mr. A H compete is a magical battle. For this contest, they choose two protégés. Bowen chooses his daughter, Celia and the man in grey chooses an orphan, Marco. Celia and Marco are trained in magic for the sole purpose of this contest. But, the rules of the contest, who will be their opponent, where will it take pace and most importantly what constitutes victory is never explained to them. Year later, Chandresh, a theatre producer brings together a set of eccentrically talented (and magical in their own ways) people to create The Circus of Dreams or Le Cirque des Rêves. Celia and Marco are intimately involved in the creation of the circus when they are informed that the Circus will be the stage for their contest.
‘The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.’
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actor named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theatre, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded. Life disintegrates.
I came to them out of mists and rain
I came to them in dreams at midnight
I came to them in a flock of ravens that filled a northern sky at dawn
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England – until the reclusive Mr. Norell reveals his powers and becomes a celebrity overnight. Soon, another practicing magician comes forth; the young, handsome, and daring, Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.
I came across this book through an article about this book by one of my favourite writers, Neil Gaiman. I finally decided to start reading it when the mini-series based on this book arrived and received good reviews.
It is 1947, and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son. He tends to his bees, writes in his journal and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind. But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers to questions of his own – about life, about love and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know.
‘How do you unravel the meaning of something that does not wish to be known?’
A Slight Trick of the Mind has 3 inter-woven stories. The main story is that of Sherlock Holmes who is now in retirement in Sussex and is spending his time with writing and bee-keeping. The second is the events of a recent trip to Japan that Holmes undertook in order to see a rare plant in its natural habitat. The third is of a case which Sherlock Holmes had undertaken in his detective days, a case which left an indelible mark on him.