Welcome to Smugglivus 2016! Throughout this month, we will have guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2016, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2017, and more.
THE 2016 UNCONVENTIONAL, NOT AT ALL TRADITIONAL, AND COMPLETELY UNSCIENTIFIC BOOK AWARDS
Choosing a “best of” list is one of those tasks that always seems to send me down a rabbit hole of over-analysis, self-doubt, and internal hand-wringing, somehow ending in watching the same “pug confused by butterfly” video over and over again until I can’t remember what I was doing in the first place.
So! Instead of doing a “best of” list, I’m handing out very specific awards to the books that delighted me in very specific ways in 2016. All of these books brought me so much joy and will surely have a spot on my re-read shelf for years to come.
Best Use of Emoji Flirting
Hold Me by Courtney Milan
Courtney Milan is one of my favorite authors, a virtuoso at combining endearing characters, ingenious plots, and scorching hot chemistry on every single page. In Hold Me, the much-anticipated sequel to the brilliant Trade Me, Maria Lopez and Jay na Thalang hate each other at first sight—but don’t realize they’re falling in love via the internet magic of online chat. It’s a tricky feat to give characters palpable, believable chemistry when they’re not even in the same room, but Milan’s depiction of Maria and Jay’s whipsmart, banter-y texts and emails made me die a kazillion swoony deaths. And of course their special use of emojis is [emoji of cat with heart-eyes].
Book Where I Wanted to Hug Everybody the Most
Level Up by Cathy Yardley
This was technically published at the very end of 2015, but I’m counting it as 2016. I’m always a sucker for Nerd Love (pretty much everything I write falls somewhere in the Nerd Love genre) and this is such a sweet, funny, flat-out adorable example, I wanted to step into its pages and hug everyone and be best friends with them forever. Videogame engineer Tessa Rodriguez and her co-worker/roommate Adam London walk an entertaining friends-to-lovers path with tons of help from their totally lovable gang of pals and I adored every moment.
Coolest Superpowers Gained in the Coolest Way
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger
In this deft urban fantasy, recent college grad Bailey Chen falls in with a gang of bartenders who fight monsters using alcohol magic. Yes, that’s right—they booze it up and are granted superpowers and it’s awesome. I love the matching of classic powers like super strength and telekinesis with different cocktails and the book is kind enough to include all the recipes. Add to that a well-balanced cast of fascinating folks and equal doses of snark and earnestness and you’ve got a book that’s more fun than a party tray of extra large mojitos!
Best Sidekick in a Book About Sidekicks Coming Into Their Own
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
C.B. Lee’s take on superheroes would be utterly charming no matter what. In a not-so-distant future, mild-mannered teenager Jessica Tran is the only non-superpowered person in her family—so of course she ends up accidentally taking an internship with a supervillain. Jess is one of those very human, very relatable characters you just can’t help but love as she figures out how to make her way in the world. But one of the coolest (and absolute cutest) parts of Lee’s clever world-building is the incorporation of robot housekeeping appliances called MonRobots (kind of like BB-8 crossed with a Roomba). The MonRobot in the Tran household is a loyal sidekick/pet to Jessica’s family, despite being a few years out of date: it has a vibrant personality all its own and steals every scene it’s in.
Most Awesome Genre DNA Combination
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Charlie Jane Anders’ glorious, sprawling fable is about the beginning and end of the world, the clash between science and magic, and the two completely engaging social misfits at the center of it all. The book melds sci-fi and fantasy concepts in a way that feels effortless, organic, and unique and it’s all tied together by a pair of endearingly odd heroes and Anders’ one-of-a-kind voice. This is one of those books where I had to stop every few chapters just to marvel at the scope of the story and the pure gorgeousness of the prose.
Best Execution of My Favorite Incredibly Specific Subgenre
Off the Clock by Roni Loren
Anyone who knows me well knows that I can’t get enough books/stories/whatever in the subgenre of Smart People Having Lots of Sex. Roni Loren’s Off the Clock is basically the platonic ideal of that. Marin Rush and Donovan West are sex researchers who end up taking their work home with them if you know what I’m saying, wink wink. The sex scenes are off-the-charts hot, but what really made this book for me is the deep emotional connection forged between Marin and Donovan, which had me bawling and giggling in equal measure, sometimes in the space of a few pages. I wanted things to work out for them so badly, I was basically emotionally compromised the whole time. Bonus points for excellent use of Crying Dawson gifs.
Best New Heroine I Totally Relate To
A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
You might think you’ve had enough Sherlock Holmes retellings to last a lifetime—I certainly did, but Sherry Thomas’ Charlotte Holmes totally changed my mind. A square peg trying to fit in the round hole of Victorian England, Charlotte enjoys eating delicious food, wearing over-the-top outfits, and solving seemingly insolvable puzzles. It’s no exaggeration to say I felt a connection to her unlike any other. I can’t wait to see how her adventures develop (and what she chooses to eat and wear while having them).
Best Inclusion of My Very Specific Wish Fulfillment Fantasy
The Sugar Baby trilogy by Rebekah Weatherspoon
The first installment of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s witty rom-com novella trilogy (which consists of So Sweet, So Right, and So For Real) came out in 2015, but the other two books came out this year, so I’m counting the whole thing as one! This series, which focuses on the courtship between hilarious, enterprising wannabe “sugar baby” Kayla Davis and sexy internet billionaire Michael Bradbury, has all the best qualities of a delightfully fizzy rom-com: great banter, great set pieces, great sex. Fun basically explodes off of every page in the best possible way. But I’m giving it this special award for one specific reason: the scene where the hot billionaire invites the adorable heroine on his private plane and offers her chicken tenders for dinner! Finally, a hero who understands my need for fried junk food in the lap of luxury.