The Books of 2016

Way back, before the horrible year that was 2016 had a chance to get… you know, horrible, I set a Goodreads goal to read 60 books in 2016. And, according to the handy counter on the Goodreads site, I succeeded. Woot! Sort of.

True confession: I didn’t finish all the books I rated and reviewed in 2016. Most of them got finished. And I tried hard, damn hard, to finish them all.But if we all read, loved, and finished the same books there would be less books in the world. Less books would equal far more sadness in the world. And 2016 did not, I assure you, need more sadness.

In any case, if the Goodreads Powers That Be are reading this… my wish for 2017, at least from you, would be to be able to shelve a book I don’t finish without it counting toward my challenge total. Even not giving it a star but marking it as “read” counts toward the total. Can’t there be some other category? Is that wishing my life was harder? Possibly. But I can’t take as much pride in my total if it’s not… honest.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

I hope not.

Anywho… I read, technically speaking, sixty books in 2016. And these, my friends and fellow book lovers, are the ten best books I read in 2016, in no particular order… 

  1. Under A Dark Summer Sky by Vanessa Lafaye … … this book fits into a tie for Best Historical Fiction of 2016, and I read a lot of historical fiction. The effect of Jim Crow laws on the South, the way government and society worked in the 1930s, the inner workings of a small town just a little bit different from everyone else, the effect of a massive hurricane on said town… Lafaye includes it all in this book with a deft hand for storytelling. Having based it on an actual hurricane that hit the actual town of Islamadora on Labor Day 1935, she was able to draw on true, verifiable historical fact to create a fictional setting that pulled me in from the start. I have recommended this book to friends and family, and I recommend it to everyone.
  2. After You by Jojo Moyes … … oh, this book. My first reaction to the news that there would be a sequel to Me Before You was “why?! half of what made it good is gone!” and I did not buy this book when it was first released out of both skepticism and doubt, and not wanting to mess up the original which I love. But I resolved that if I saw it in paperback, at a store, on sale I would buy it. So I did. And, while probably not entirely necessary, I love it just the same. Apparently my psyche needed to see how those who loved and lost Will Traynor carried on. And my psyche was satisfied.
  3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews … … in a year that I also read The Fault in Our Stars for the first time, I have to say that Andrews’ tale of a boy, a girl, and someobdy dying of cancer is the better of the two. It is grittier, it is real in a different sort of way, and it has the honest, harsh humor that would seem to come along with such situations. The characters are less perfect than John Green’s, but you will not love them less for it.
  4. The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers … … this is the other book in the tie for Best Historical Fiction of 2016 (it was an ARC, and I think the actual publication date is next month – February 2017 – so considered it added to your to-read lists!). This book was surprising because there is really no narration. It is a book made up essentially and almost wholly of letters and diary entries. The story is not told in the normal ways. It is told in a way that probably would not work for every plot but definitely works for this plot. It’s sort of what you’d expect the Cliff Notes version of Gone With the Wind to be. The difference is that the second Mrs. Hockaday is not as wealthy as Scarlett, she is not as privileged, she is not as naive. She thinks she is, she tries to be, but she is not. And the fact that she is not any of those things makes for a most interesting story.
  5. Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lytle Croutier … … the best nonfiction book of the year for me, though I realize it did not originally come out in 2016. I requested the ARC of it on a whim and then read it with some trepidation because, what average person really thinks “let’s read a long, detailed description on harems for kicks?” Apparently, I do. Because I devoured this book like I have not devoured a non-fiction book in a long time. The history, the mystery, the intrigue, the drama… I never realized how important harems were or how complicated they could be. It may be an odd book to recommend, but I do!
  6. The Readers of the Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald … … this is, I’d have to say, the best chick lit I read in 2016. A foreign girl finding awkward romance in a tiny town of meddling tiny town-dwellers? What more fun could be had? And that it is a book about said foreign girl and her love of books… well, that just made it all the more relatable to me. Read this book if you love books, love sweet romance, and love a slightly kooky cast of lovable characters.
  7. The Human Body by Paolo Giordano … … true confession, I had not read any novels about the recent wars in Iraq or Afghanistan until I read this book. And this book was originally published in Italy and is about an Italian army unit in Afghanistan, and I had not realized Italy had quite that presence in Afghanistan. This book deserves to be read in every language. It makes war, and the effect that war has on men and women who serve and their families had home more real and more honest. The honesty is brutal at times, but Giordano seems to want to open the reader’s eyes to reality. He opened mine. There is a lot of military lingo and fact and detail that can be a bit of a struggle to get through but the story told around it is worth every minute.
  8. The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly … … we’re going to say that this is my sci-fi best book of 2016, though I didn’t really read that many. But there are dragons so… sci-fi fits, right? Honestly, I could totally see China deciding to breed dragons in a zoo just because. I could see the US doing it. Matthew Reilly chose China, and the setting was perfect! I never thought campy, cheesy Syfy Channel-type movies (see “Sharknado”) could translate well into the written word but Reilly succeeded. This book is campy, cheesy, and slightly cliched in all the right places and, to my honest surprise, I finished the book with ease and happiness.
  9. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie … … this collection of short stories was a re-read for me and it was not any less good the second time around. In fact, it was better. I read the stories more carefully and I understood them better. I think. I want to think I did. I can’t pick a favorite story because they are all woven together and each one is just different enough from the last to make them all stand out. Though the introduction, I have the twentieth-anniversay edition (a signed copy!), may be the best part of all!
  10. After Before by Jemma Wayne … … it’s hard to say which category this book best fits into so I’m just going to suggest you try reading it and see for yourself. The story focuses on three women who could not be more different; dying matriarch, bad girl turned good, and refugee who fled genocide. It could have seemed horribly trope-ish to tie their lives together for the sake of a plot device but Wayne has balanced it carefully to make it real and reasonable that the three could end up in each other’s lives. The antagonist in the story is not clear at first, because we readers tend to look for a character that causes trouble, but it becomes clear as the women come together. The antagonist is life, and all the decisions that lead us to certain places in certain times. And that is the story that this book tells.

    And so, fellow readers, those are one-sixth of the books I read last year (if I did the math right… my sister is the numbers one, I’m the words one). Try them out, if they strike your fancy. You won’t be disappointed. And please, if you’ve read this far and you read a book in 2016 that I should absolutely, definitely read… leave a comment and tell me so!

    Here’s to many good books for all of us in 2017! 

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