Our Favourite Book Covers of 2016

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Angel Cruz

Staff Writer

Angel Cruz is a professional enthusiast, living and writing in Toronto. She has been blogging about books since May 2011–her favourite genres are magic realism, contemporary fiction, and historical fiction. You can also find her at Women Write About Comics, reviewing front/backlist books and manga, as well as critically examining Asian representation in both Western and Asian media. Her copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker is paged through more often than is probably healthy. Ice cream, Broadway musicals, and Arashi are her lifeblood. Blog: Angel Cruz Writes Twitter: @angelcwrites

Covers are often the first thing many readers see of a book, and sometimes the sole reason we pick up a title or two. A great eye-catching design can help to complete an excellent story, and ensure that even the most casual peruser’s mind might be changed on the way out of a bookstore.

Here at the Riot, we love talking book covers, and 2016 has been a wonderful year for interesting new concepts and beautiful designs. Check out our favourites, and let us know what covers you’ve fallen in love with this year!

Favourite Covers Collage 1: Yoon, Brown, Stanisic

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte Press)

This cover is incredibly striking at first glance, and rewards a closer look, revealing the miniscule threads and points that connect to each other. It’s a lovely reflection of the novel, in which two seemingly random people find an undeniable connection to each other, and the ways that connection forges others in their lives.

Angel Cruz

The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown (Anchor Books)

I haven’t read this book, but I am completely in love with the cover. The cutaway painting with the woman’s eye staring dead at the reader is captivating. I love the use of depth and the paint flecks that serve as a background for the text. I also love the font the designer used. The overall effect is beautiful and mysterious.

– Kate Scott

Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić (Tin House)

I knew the moment I saw this book it would end up being my favorite cover of the year. It’s as weird and beautiful as the story under the cover. Whoever designed this deserves a raise. I would get this as a tattoo if I didn’t think it would drive the tattoo artist insane. Also insane is the fact that there was another cover with leaf-fox images released in 2016. (The Trees by Ali Shaw.)

– Liberty Hardy 

Favourite Covers 2016 Collage: Stiefvater, Cordova, Monks

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic)

I’ve liked all the covers for the Raven Cycle series, but I especially like this one. I fits in with the previous covers, of course, but by including only a stag and ravens and the ley line symbol, the cover gives the sense that the story is about something even bigger than the main characters. Even if I weren’t already a fan of this series, I’d pick up this book if I saw it on a shelf.

Teresa Preston

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks Fire)

This cover is beautiful, creepy, magical, and mysterious, just like the Latinx fantasy world the book is set in. The gorgeous photograph of the girl, the fancy gold lettering of the title, the floral witchy pattern at the top, it’s just all so good. It totally does justice to the story of teenage bisexual bruja Alex.

– Casey Stepaniuk

Monsters of Appalachia by Sheryl Monks (Vandalia Press)

In a world of minimalist covers as the style of choice, this one throws all of that out and it’s a winner. We have bright colors, flowers, leaves, and a house all smashed into a tiny cover and everything about it works. I’ve not read the book yet, but the second I saw the cover and read the description — stories about characters living in Appalachia who are “staring into the abyss” — I knew that it was a book calling out to me. The cover seems to pay homage to a bygone era of design in the same way the book aims to do something similar. It’s on my winter break reading pile.

– Kelly Jensen

Favourite Covers 2016 Collage: Pollock, De Waal, Kowal

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday)

Although I DNF’d this book, I loved the cover. The juxtaposition of a gun and a feather, the subtle blood spatter, and the antique-style font were perfect for a book about a family of criminals in the early 20th century. It felt like a memory or a half-remembered family story, either of which will always work on me.

Ashley Bowen-Murphy

Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal (W.W. Norton & Company)

The leopard is sitting in an unnatural pose on the cover of de Waal’s latest book, and that makes us take notice. Of course, it would have been great if the title of the book had been, “Are Humans Smart Enough To Know How Smart We Are?” How many book browsers would have been intelligent enough to think the leopard was asking? Anyone who contemplates the nature of consciousness should read this book.

James Wallace Harris

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

I’m a longtime admirer of Tor’s art director, Irene Gallo, and the collaboration between Kowal, Gallo, and cover artist Christian McGrath resulted in my favorite cover of the year. Kowal wrote a fascinating post about the process of designing the cover.

Kay Taylor Rea


The Mothers by Brit Bennett (Riverhead)

The cover of The Mothers doesn’t tell you what the book’s about. But it tells you a ton about what it will be like when you pick it up and dive in. The gentle but conflicting fields of color, some flat, some textured. The lines, varying in thickness and winding their way across the cover. The letters, strong and bold but also a bit broken. This is a cover I’ve been thrilled to see all year. Oh, and the book is pretty amazing, too.

Derek Attig

Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor (Melville House)

The cover brought back pleasant memories of primary school, learning to write in cursive on lined paper. The smell of ink and the soft feel of a particular brand of paper in Belgium (Clairefontaine) are my happy place and remind me I’ve always wanted to be a writer — always been one, really. I think this cover — along with the great title — called up all of this for me subconsciously. I probably would have picked up the book anyway after hearing Liberty talk about it on All The Books, since it’s about a literary translator and that’s exactly the kind of nerdy thing that fits neatly inside my warehouse. It ended up being one of my favourite reads of the year, too.

Claire Handscombe 

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner)

Striking primary colors and a bold black typeface grace the cover of this intelligent yet accessible book about the history of the gene. The graphics are reminiscent of molecular structure, but also have a Mondrian-style whimsy that tell the reader they’re not reading a textbook about what makes us us. This cover art tells you that you’re going to be educated but in a way that will keep you turning the pages from basic discovery to eugenics to The Human Genome Project.

Elizabeth Allen

Favourite Covers 2016 Collage 5: Wolk, Russo, Mabry

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

The gorgeous cover design of this middle grade fiction book caught my eye at the American Library Association Conference, where I was literally surrounded by hundreds of attractive book covers. The handwriting artfully arranged and blended with the tree branches gently draws the eye to the small silhouette of a girl writing underneath the trees. I caught a glimpse of that cover and thought: I don’t know what that book is about, but I must have it. In other words: job well done cover designers. Turns out, the book itself is a perfect reflection of the cover art: subtle but powerful, with surprising moments of emotion and vulnerability.

Kristy Pasquariello

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Flatiron Books)

From the contrast between light and dark to the models beautiful face–which seems to express changing emotions the longer you stare at it–everything about this cover is beautiful. It was what made me need to read this book and then, when I finished reading it, I realized how perfect the cover expresses the content inside. It is the definition of beautiful on the inside and out.

Jamie Canaves 

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry (Algonquin Books)

Picking a single, striking book cover is not an easy task for me. Gorgeous books are a danger to my wallet and my shelves overflow with stories in gorgeous wrappers. I’m surprised by the number of beautiful YA covers I saw this year – maybe we’re finally escaping the YA cover tropes (white girl on cover, usually photoshopped to death). This vibrant foliage-covered cover is going to disappear when the paperback comes out in 2017, so snatch up the hardcover while you can. This beautiful design from Allison Colpoys evokes the Caribbean setting, Dutch still lifes, and vintage botanical prints.

Brandi Bailey 

Favourite Covers 2016 Collage: Gray, Padian, Yatsuhashi

A Million Worlds with You by Claudia Gray

It’s the colors! It’s the contrast between the reds and golds of Moscow to the darks of deep space. I bought the first book in the Firebird trilogy, A Thousand Pieces of You, based on the cover, and had to complete the collection when the final book came out this year. While I had a few problems with the book (which I’ll leave for another day), I’m happy to own it and display it alongside its beautiful sisters.

Jeanette Solomon

Wrecked by Maria Padian

Every time I scroll through images of the books of the year, this one strikes me. The pink scribbles make it just the perfect cover for a book about the discovering and unraveling of a campus rape story.

Ashley Holstrom

Kojiki by Keith Yatsuhashi (Angry Robot Books)

This cover is beautiful. I love the artwork and the combination of the orange yellow and blue which was a combo I didn’t think could work. It would stand out on a shelf and who wouldn’t pick up a book on dragons?

Ardo Omer

Fave Covers 2016 Collage 7 - Roberts, Hitchcock, Reid, Reynolds

Cannibals in Love by Mike Roberts

As if the title wasn’t enough to hook me in…I thought I was looking at something lewd and/or pornographic before I realized they were knuckles. And I love how the text looks like it’s been exacto-knifed right onto the image. Admittedly, I still need to read this, even though from what I gather it’s not literally about cannibals in love.

Jan Rosenberg

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchock (Wendy Lamb Books)

The richness of the color with the brilliant texture of the stars made it impossible for me to look away when I first saw this cover. I also really like how the illuminated cabin looks solitary yet illuminated. This luminous cover image is perfect for a story about living in Alaska in the 1970’s.

Tirzah Price

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid

The cross-stitch style of this book cover immediately caught my attention. It’s home-style appeal speaks clearly to the Southern romance told between the covers. The consistency of all the covers in this series makes it easy to identify and pretty to display together.

Nikki DeMarco

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

This cover managed to be simple and convey what the story is about at the same time. I also love seeing the race of the main character portrayed. Books featuring main characters of color are rare, but covers showing characters of color are even rarer. The tagline appearing below the title also totally drew me in: Running for his life. Or from it? These word had even greater resonance after I finished the story.

Alison Doherty