2016: Very Good Reads

Of 200 books read in 2016, here are my VGRs:

Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans: This was an excellent book set during WWII in London. Noel, aged 10, has been living with his godmother Mattie, a former suffragette with an unconventional lifestyle. When she dies, Noel is evacuated to the suburbs and is taken in by Vera, a woman in her mid-30s with a very messy life. Together, they come up with an unscrupulous scheme to get money and form an unlikely and lovely friendship.

Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: Uniquely told YA sci-fi. An evil corporation attacks an illegal mining operation, and thousands of people are killed and others evacuated to 3 space ships. The story is told in emails, files, transcripts, etc. as one giant dossier about the event. It’s a really fun, fast read and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova: Another winner by Genova. This novel is about Sarah, who has a demanding job she loves, 3 young children, and a loving but equally hard-working husband. She gets in a terrible car accident and develops left neglect as result of brain injury – a condition where the left side of everything ceases to exist for her. Even with extensive rehab, simple things like walking and reading are still a struggle for her, but the changes in her family and her relationship with her formerly estranged mother take center stage and lead her to a more fulfilling life.

Soft Apocalypse, by Will McIntosh: This is an excellent look at society breaking down in the face of food shortages, water rationing, designer viruses, and economic collapse. The novel follows Jasper and his “tribe” over several years as their situation, and that of the world, worsens. This is an apocalypse that you can actually picture happening – no zombies, no aliens, no asteroids – and it is scarier for that reason.

Stitching Snow, by R. C. Lewis: If you liked Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles series, you will love Stitching Snow. It’s a sci-fi retelling of Snow White set in outer space, with robots taking the place of the dwarves. This was a very fast, entertaining read.

Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen: Fantastic new entry into the crowded YA fantasy genre. Nettie Lonesome, half Indian and half black, is a slave in all but name to the couple who took her in as a baby. One night, a mysterious man attacks her, and when she finally manages to kill him, he dissolves into sand. Although Nettie wants nothing more than to wrangle horses and be a cowpoke, the world has other plans for her, as she is given a quest to track down a horrible monster, the Cannibal Owl. Can’t wait for the next book in the series!

Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace: Wasp is an archivist, a ghost-hunter, and each year she has to fight other “upstarts” to the death to keep her job. When a ghost asks for her help finding his old partner, also a ghost, Wasp finds a whole new world and life opening up to her. This was a very interesting book, quite dark at times but fascinating all the way through.

Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women, by Sarah Helm: This book was incredibly well researched and crafted, and details the entire history of Ravensbrück, about which little has been previously published. I learned a lot and had a hard time not walking around in a complete depression while reading it, but I highly recommend it as an essential WWII read. Helm did a great job gathering research from all sources and managing to interview the few remaining survivors she could find.

The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman: Goodman never fails to build interesting, thoroughly detailed worlds, and it’s clear she put a ton of research into this new book. It’s set in Regency London, and features an orphan heiress, Lady Helen, being raised by her aunt and uncle. Helen has inherited special demon-hunting powers from her mother, and those start to manifest in her 18th year. I can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy!

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes, by Anna McPartlin: Have a box of tissues handy when you read this wonderful novel about a loving Irish family and their daughter/sister/aunt/mother Rabbit Hayes, in hospice dying of cancer. The book jumps around all the family viewpoints and also provides some of Rabbit’s backstory. It is funny and heartbreaking and very well written.

It’s. Nice. Outside., by Jim Kokoris: John Nichols takes his 19-year-old developmentally challenged son Ethan on a long road trip from Illinois to South Carolina in order to attend his oldest daughter’s wedding. This book was excellent, heartbreaking and moving and hopeful and complicated. The family dynamics are the heart of the story, and a father’s relationship with his son who will never be an adult.

The Opposite of Everyone, by Joshilyn Jackson: Jackson, as always, delivers an unforgettable story and characters. I loved this novel about Paula, a tough Atlanta lawyer with a troubled past, and what happens when that past – with some big surprises – catches up to her. As the kids say, “All the feels.” 🙂

Morning Star, by Pierce Brown: This is a violent, action-packed finale to Brown’s trilogy, and he does a great job of putting his characters in wrenching situations while still delivering satisfaction to the reader. Revolution is never going to be easy or pretty, and Brown conveys the horrors of war and revolution very well. Fabulous trilogy.

Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold!, by Terry Brooks: This was a re-read for book club, and I had forgotten what a fun story it is. Ben, a 4o-year-old lawyer and widower, decides to buy a fairy kingdom that he sees advertised in an exclusive catalog. Although the kingdom exists, it’s not exactly what he expected, but he attempts to make his rule a fair and righteous one. Accessible even for people who don’t normally enjoy fantasy.

What Lies Between Us, by Naomi Munaweera: This is a wrenching, beautifully written novel told mostly in flashbacks. You know at the beginning that the narrator has committed a horrible crime, but as her past is revealed throughout the book, your heart still breaks for her.

The Start of Me and You, by Emery Lord: Gorgeous novel that is the best YA I’ve read in ages. Paige is trying to get her life back in gear after her first boyfriend drowns. She has a great, supportive group of friends and Lord makes all the characters in this book immensely likable.  The emotions are skillfully drawn and there’s pretty much nothing I didn’t like about this book

The Golden Son, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda: Excellent novel about a man from a small Gujarati village whose father encourages him to become a doctor and leave home despite conflicting expectations from the rest of his family. As Anil struggles as an intern in Dallas, his childhood friend Leena finds herself in an awful marriage and struggles to deal with her new life. Gowda handled the complex issues deftly and gave the reader a satisfying and realistic ending.

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson: At long last, Simonson’s second novel! This was just as delightful and charming as Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, despite the serious setting of the dawn of World War I. Beatrice Nash is the new Latin teacher in a small British town, and not everyone is happy with a female taking the job. I do think the book could have benefited from tighter editing, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel.

The Storm Sister, by Lucinda Riley: An enjoyable second novel in a projected 7-book series about six women who lose their adoptive father and find themselves dealing with the mysteries of who he was and their own pasts. This book focuses on the second sister, Ally, a musician-turned-professional-sailor. The author invented fictional Norwegian musicians in her biological background and wove them into real history, including Edvard Grieg. The books are meant to be able to stand alone, but I think it’s worth starting with the first one, The Seven Sisters.

On the Edge of Gone, by Corinne Duyvis: This novel tells the story of a comet about to hit the earth in 2035, and takes place over the days before, during, and after the comet’s arrival. The story is centered around Denise, an autistic teen, and her drug-addict mother as they head for their shelter and end up finding refuge in a spaceship that couldn’t leave the planet before the comet hit. If you’re looking for an action-packed dystopian, this probably won’t be for you, but it’s an excellent exploration of character. The characters are wonderfully rounded in this novel and make a lot of selfish and/or bad choices, as you would expect in the face of an epic disaster.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E. K. Johnston: Excellent YA about a popular cheerleader who gets roofied and raped at cheer camp before her senior year. Hermione, the main character, is tough and smart and wonderful, and has a terrific supporting cast of friends and family. I could not put this book down.

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn: This was a re-read for book club, so it’s hard to review it when the emotional impact is lessened by remembering the gist of the story. However, it is an excellently written and plotted novel starring Libby Day, survivor of a horrific night where her mother and two sisters were murdered and her brother convicted of the crime and serving life in prison. Libby is a mess of a person, understandably, but you still find yourself rooting for her to get her life together as she gets to the bottom of what really happened that night – and like all Flynn novels, there are some big reveals and surprises.

Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain: Although I really enjoyed this fictionalized autobiography of aviatrix and horse trainer Beryl Markham, I was left wanting more when I finished. I think I will try to read Markham’s own autobiography for a more in-depth focus. Markham was a remarkable woman, well ahead of her time in every way, and her life in colonial Kenya is filled with adventure and color. In the end, the first-person narrative used with a person who really existed produced a false sense of intimacy. I still think this is worth reading, as it’s well done and gives a good flavor of the time and place.

Flight of Dreams, by Ariel Lawhon: Excellent novel about the flight of the Hindenburg. Lawhon researched the facts surrounding the Hindenburg, and used real people in her novel, but made up her own narrative about the explosion and how it happened. The story jumped between five different viewpoints: a stewardess, navigator, cabin boy, female journalist, and an American businessman who is not what he seems. Because of that, it took longer to get into the story, but once I did, I flew through it.

The Stainless Steel Rat, by Harry Harrison: A reread for book club. Although a few things come across as dated upon rereading TSSR (it was written in the 1960s), I still love the story and Slippery Jim DiGriz’s antics. The most jarring part of the story is the assumptions about women and their abilities and intelligence. I certainly didn’t pick up on it when first reading the novel in middle school, but it was mildly offensive this time around. Even so, I have to give this a VGR.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling): I know some of the reviews have been mixed on Rowling’s mystery series, but I loved this first Cormoran Strike novel. Rowling’s formalized prose mixed with her excellent plotting and characters kept me hooked throughout the novel, and I can’t wait to read the next two books in the series.

Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel: I loved this sci-fi novel told through a series of case files that included interviews, journal entries, and reports. A giant metal hand is found deep underground in South Dakota, and as a team is formed to search for more metal body parts, the mystery builds of what they are and why they were left on Earth. I’m really hoping there will be a sequel!

What She Knew, by Gilly Macmillan: This was a well-plotted and well-paced debut thriller about a woman whose 8-year-old son disappears one day when he runs ahead of her in a park they frequent. The story is told through the voice of the mother, Rachel, and the police detective, DI James Clemo, and covers the 9 days after Ben’s disappearance as well as a brief epilogue over a year later. I thought the author was a bit heavy-handed with the red herrings, but it was very engrossing and I didn’t guess who the bad guy was.

The Wrong Side of Right, by Jenn Marie Thorne: Terrific YA debut about Kate, who discovers at the end of her junior year that the father she never knew is a Senator who just happens to be running for president. Thorne writes very compelling, fully developed characters, and this was a fast, entertaining read.

City of the Lost, by Kelley Armstrong: I loved this new thriller by Armstrong. Detective Casey Duncan is fleeing her past along with her friend, Diana. They wind up in a small settlement in the Yukon territory, where people go to disappear. She is investigating a series of grisly murders and navigating a working relationship and growing friendship with the prickly sheriff, Eric Dalton.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick: This was a very sweet, fun debut about a 69-year-0ld widower who finds a charm bracelet among his wife’s belongings and through it tracks down the adventurous life she had before they were married (which he had known nothing about). The way everyone’s life was sorted out and happiness achieved by the end was a little too facile for my taste, but nevertheless this was a wonderful read.

Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard: Modern fairy tale about 2 sisters, one a writer and one a dancer. They both are awarded fellowships to a prestigious artists’ retreat, and they slowly are drawn into the world of the Fae. Lots of Tam Lin in the storyline, and interesting exploration of sisterhood, sacrifice, and art.

The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith aka J. K. Rowling: I loved this second Cormoran Strike book just as much as the first, and immediately put the third one on hold even before I finished The Silkworm. In this book, a novelist is missing and his wife hires Strike to try to find him.

Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman: This novel, translated from Swedish, was a delightful read. Britt-Marie is sixty-three, fastidious, and has walked out on her loveless forty-year marriage. Her husband has told her for decades that she is socially incompetent (which she is, but you have to assume a lot of that is because of him). She winds up taking a job in a small town that has been devastated by the financial crisis and somehow becomes the children’s soccer coach. I will definitely be checking out Backman’s other novels.

Company Town, by Madeline Ashby: Ashby drops you right into her futuristic sci-fi thriller set in Newfoundland, so there is an adjustment period as you figure out her world. That said, this is a terrific story and Hwa, Daniel, and Joel are all excellent characters. In a world where everyone has enhancements and modifications, Hwa is 100% organic. She works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada, escorting workers to their appointments and protecting them when necessary. When her town is bought by a big corporation, she ends up working as a trainer and bodyguard for the CEO’s son, Joel. Her immediate boss, Daniel, is a mysterious but likable man.

The Forgetting Time, by Sharon Guskin: This was a very interesting debut novel that deals with reincarnation. Noah is four, and talks about his other mother and knows things he should have no way of knowing. Janie, his mother, is raising him alone and has no idea how to deal with his nightmares and difficult behavior. She eventually teams up with a psychologist who threw away his promising academic career to research children all over the world who remember a previous life. The psychologist has a form of dementia and is also still grieving the death of his wife years before. They join forces to discover the truth about Noah’s life and past and uncover some interesting history.

Dear Leader, by Jang Jin-sun: Audiobook. This was our book for book club this month. Jang Jin-sun (not his real name) was a poet laureate of North Korea and one of the upper echelon there, but he started questioning the country’s policies almost right away. When he is caught having shared secret South Korean reading material with a friend, they are both forced into a hasty attempt at defection. Jang eventually makes his way to South Korea and a successful life after a typically harrowing escape through China. I must say that I found myself skeptical at multiple stories in this memoir, and Jang came across as entitled and arrogant. Still, it’s a fascinating read from someone whose life in North Korea was very different from the other memoirs I’ve read.

Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith: I hope Rowling is writing a fourth Cormoran Strike book, because I am loving this mystery series! In this novel, Robin is sent a package containing a woman’s leg at the office, and there are 3 strong suspects from Strike’s past. I especially enjoyed getting more of both Robin and Strike’s history as their own relationship becomes a little more complicated.

Their Fractured Light, by Amie Kaufman & Meghan Spooner: This was a very satisfying end to the Starbound trilogy. Hacker Gideon and conman (woman?) Sofia are the focus of this story, but Lilac, Tarver, Flynn, and Jubilee all make appearances as the story wraps up in epic fashion. Gideon and Sofia are each trying to take down LaRoux industries for different reasons, and they get caught up in LaRoux’s plans to use the alien whispers

Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley: I really enjoyed this YA novel about Solomon, an agoraphobic teen who hasn’t left his house since having a public breakdown in junior high. Lisa, an ambitious high school student trying to get into one of the best psychology programs in the country, decides to make him the subject of her college essay with a plan to befriend and “cure” him. Her boyfriend, Clark, also becomes Sol’s friend.

Journey into the Whirlwind, by Eugenia Ginzburg: Beautifully written memoir. Ginzburg was a university professor and journalist in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. She was a loyal Communist and her husband held an important post in the party. Nevertheless, she was swept up like so many in Stalin’s purges. This account of her first years of imprisonment and labor camps, including two years in solitary confinement, is articulate and profoundly moving. The story ended rather abruptly when she still had many years of labor camps to survive, and at times it had a curiously detached feel, but Ginzburg’s strength and power to endure is inspiring.

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery: A reread for an online L. M. Montgomery book club. I have no idea how many times I have read this book and the others in the series, but I really feel that Anne is timeless. It is interesting to see the response from adults reading it for the first time, though, and I wonder how I would feel about the books if this were my first introduction to them at age 42.

Stiletto, by Daniel O’Malley: Finally, the follow-up to the fantastic novel The Rook, which came out in 2012. It took me a while to get into the book, but once I settled in I tore through it. The Grafters and Checquy are forming an alliance after centuries of hatred and war. Although Myfawny, the star of The Rook, is in this novel, it mainly centers around a Checquy Pawn, Felicity Clements, and Grafter Odette Leliefield. Loved the book, could have done with fewer long forays into Grafter history. I think tighter editing would have helped.

The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love, by Sarvenaz Tash: Terrific contemporary YA about a group of friends attending NY Comic Con one weekend. Graham is in love with his best friend Roxy, and working up the nerve to tell her so. Unfortunately for Graham, the weekend doesn’t go as smoothly as he had planned.

You and Me, Always, by Jill Mansell: This is a newer book of Mansell’s, and the last few I’ve read have been older ones re-released. There’s a definite difference; her writing is more polished, the characters are better-rounded, and the stories hang together better. This one is no exception, and it might be my favorite of her novels so far. Lily lives in a small Cotswold village, and has a happy, settled life there after losing her mother at a young age. I love the cast of people around her, each of whom have their own stories to live through, and I also love that Mansell is willing to let her heroines have happy, decent relationships with men who aren’t “the one,” even when you can clearly see who “the one” will end up being.

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher (Audiobook): Fisher’s first memoir, which she narrates herself. She has an engaging, open style and doesn’t try to hide anything about her struggles with addiction, bipolar disease, and her subsequent electroshock therapy. At times it comes off a little glib, but I think humor is her way of dealing with all the really dark stuff in her life, and this was adapted from her one-woman show. It’s a very fast read (or listen), and I will definitely read more of her work.

Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters: This book blew me away. Winters is such a terrific writer. In this novel, he imagines a dystopian present-day America where slavery was never abolished. Our hero, a former slave who has been blackmailed by the U.S. Marshal office into capturing runaway slaves, is complicated and filled with self-loathing. His newest case feels fishy, and as he finds out more about the man he’s pursuing and the secrets everyone around him is hiding, he is forced to make difficult choices and put himself in some very dangerous situations.

Necessity, by Jo Walton: The perfect finish to Walton’s trilogy about Athena’s experiment setting up Plato’s Republic. There was so much of interest in the novel, and I definitely need to reread the whole trilogy someday. Aliens, gods, philosophy, human relationships, quests… Walton is truly a brilliant writer.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi: Excellent novel that starts out in 18th-century Ghana and details two different women’s lives – half-sisters who don’t know each other. One of them marries a British officer and stays in Ghana, and the other is taken in slavery to America. Each chapter is a vignette focusing on one of their descendants, going through the generations into the twentieth century. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik: Fabulous fantasy novel that kept me up reading even when I was so exhausted the words were blurring in front of my eyes. To her and her entire village’s surprise, messy, clumsy Agnieszka is chosen as the once-in-a-decade tribute by the “Dragon,” a powerful wizard who lives in their region. It turns out Agnieszka has a knack for magic herself, and it’s a very different type than what the Dragon is trying to teach her. There is an epic evil to battle and the book is very well plotted and paced.

The Memory Book, by Lara Avery: A very moving YA book about a senior who has been diagnosed with a very rare genetic disease that causes dementia, loss of body control, and finally death. Sammie is an overachiever, valedictorian and successful debater at her high school, but she doesn’t have many friends and is socially awkward. She writes her memories and life down in her laptop to help herself remember who she is, and watching her grow as a person as she is losing herself is heartbreaking.

The Passion of Dolssa, by Julie Berry: This book absolutely blew me away. The premise didn’t grab me right off the bat – 13th century France, the Inquisition, a young woman with uncanny gifts branded as a heretic. But the characters are so alive, even the minor ones, and Berry does an amazing job laying out this story of a mystic saved from burning who is found and cared for by a peasant girl, Botille, and her two sisters. Berry is a fabulous writer.

Starlight, by Melissa Landers: This was a really fun SF/adventure/romance novel that gave me a strong Firefly vibe throughout the entire book. Solara indentures herself to the bully quarterback from her high school in order to get passage to a far-off planet where she has a job offer. Circumstances conspire to land them on a beat-up spaceship, the Banshee, with a disreputable crew hiding secrets of their own. I read the book in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Betrayals, by Kelley Armstrong: After flagging a little with the 3rd book in this Cainsville series, I enjoyed Betrayals much more. Even the love triangle among Olivia, Ricky, and Gabriel isn’t as annoying as love triangles usually are. In this installment, someone is murdering street kids – who are actually lamiae, another type of fae. The mystery is interesting and engaging, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Anne of the Island, by L. M. Montgomery: Finally, my L. M. Montgomery book club is on my favorite book in the Anne series! Anne goes off to college, endures some bumps along the way – romantic and other -, and finally, in the last hour, realizes she feels more than friendship for her old chum Gilbert. As usual, Montgomery paints excellent characters and scenes, and although the overly pious tone intrudes at times, I manage to ignore it and just enjoy the story.

Watching Edie, by Camilla Way: Creepy, engrossing psychological thriller about two friends who had something go badly wrong with their friendship. The story alternates between the present and past, and Way tells the past scenes from one girl’s perspective and the present scenes from the other. Not crazy about the ending, but the whole book was an interesting ride!

Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain, by Pete Egoscue: If you’ve ever had any sort of chronic pain, read this book! If you ever think you might have pain in the future, read this book! Okay, excuse the enthusiasm, but I love the Egoscue approach to pain management and his explanations of the musculoskeletal system. It’s helping me understand my body much better and deal with some back and neck issues.

The Gate to Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper: Our September book club selection. This novel is set in a post-apocalyptic feminist dystopia, and despite some flaws it is an engrossing, well-written book. The story is told through the viewpoint of Stavia, and her story alternates between her present and past. Don’t be put off by the first chapter if you try this novel; it’s written in a very florid, stylized manner, but the whole book doesn’t continue in that vein. There’s a specific reason for that chapter being presented that way which will become clear as you read.

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch: A high-octane SF thriller that is a wild, gripping ride. Jason Dessen is abducted by a masked man one night and wakes up in an unfamiliar world without his wife and son. His journey to get back to them gets crazier and crazier, and I couldn’t stop reading to find out what would happen next.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman: This book squeezed my heart. It is better than Britt-Marie Was Here, although I loved that book as well. Ove is a curmudgeonly 59-year-old man who has recently lost his wife, and he has carefully planned out his suicide so that he can join her. A chatty new neighbor gets in the way and he finds himself drawn into life in his neighborhood despite his best efforts.

Summit, by Harry Farthing: Fabulous, gripping novel that jumps between a modern day Everest climb that goes badly wrong, and a fictitious secret Nazi attempt on the summit in the 1930s with a solo German climber and one Sherpa

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett: This book was a slow starter for me, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. It dips in and out of the lives of the Cousins and Keating families. Bert Cousins fell in love with Beverly Keating at her daughter’s christening party, and when she left her husband Fix for Bert, it had lasting effects on the two Keating daughters and the four Cousins children. Nine chapters cover five decades and rather than feeling my usual annoyance at stories that skip over huge sections of history, I was fully engaged with the emotions and feelings explored in each new chapter. Patchett does a brilliant job of painting a whole picture without having to spell everything out for the reader.

The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue: Every review I’ve read of this novel uses the word “atmospheric” to describe it, and that is spot-on. I loved Donoghue’s story of an English nurse who is brought in to a small Irish village to observe an 11-year-old girl who claims to have survived on nothing but “manna from heaven” for four months. Donoghue has crafted a beautiful novel from start to finish.

Crosstalk, by Connie Willis: I love Willis’s writing, and this SF rom-com does not disappoint! It’s definitely on the lighter side, and the story follows fairly predictable lines, but I still enjoyed every page and sped through it. Briddey is an exec in the mobile phone industry whose oh-so-perfect boyfriend convinces her to get a surgical procedure that will allow them to hear each other’s emotions. Something goes wrong in the surgery, and Briddey is unexpectedly able to communicate telepathically with the geeky tech guy at her company, C.B., and unable to sense her boyfriend Trent at all.

Three Amazing Things About You, by Jill Mansell: This was a little different from Mansell’s usual novels, but I really liked it. The story follows three different women, none of whom know each other, but from the beginning you know they’re all destined to meet up. Hallie has cystic fibrosis and is near death waiting for a lung transplant. Tasha meets the love of her life, an adrenaline junkie, near the beginning of the novel, and they have to sort out their very opposite lifestyles. Flo works in an old age home and gets involved with a man who has a narcissistic, obnoxious sister.

Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood: This was a fabulous new offering in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Atwood presented a retelling of The Tempest, and did a great job with it. The book starts with Felix being ousted from his role as director of a theater festival by his devious assistant. The path to revenge is a long one, and mirrors the play. At the same time, Felix is putting on a production of the actual Tempest while working with prisoners in an educational/rehabilitation project, and it all ties together.

Conspiracy of Ravens, by Lila Bowen: Conspiracy picks up right at the moment Wake of Vultures ended, and Bowen keeps up the fast pace and rich detail in this second installment. We get to see Nettie settle in to her life as Rhett and embrace being a man, as well as learn to control her bird form. In this novel, Rhett faces a powerful alchemist who is building a railroad across the prairie.

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo: Leigh Bardugo is a fantastic storyteller. In this sequel to Six of Crows, we’re immediately plunged back into the world of Kaz Brekker and his gang of misfits. Bardugo tells each chapter from a different character’s perspective, and works it seamlessly and in a way that only deepens and strengthens the story. She also throws a whole lot of curveballs in the plot, rips your heart out at multiple times, and gives you excellent relationships to root for. The ending is both completely satisfying and completely unsatisfying in the best way. You want more, but you also know it ended in the right place.

Anne’s House of Dreams, by L. M. Montgomery: Anne and Gilbert are newly married and have moved into their cozy “House of Dreams.” This book flows easily from Anne of the Island; it was written just two years after, with Windy Poplars, the book that takes place chronologically between the two, written 20-some years later. As always, Montgomery does an excellent job with the side characters and stories, as well as the beautiful descriptions of Prince Edward Island.

The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis: Excellent, raw book about rape, sexual assault, and slut-shaming. The story is told from three different perspectives: Alex, a violent loner whose older sister was raped and killed three years before the book takes place; Jack, the golden boy who finds himself falling for Alex; and Peekay, the preacher’s daughter who volunteers at an animal shelter with Alex. Brutal ending but it felt right.

It Ends with Us, by Colleen Hoover: Lily grew up in a household of domestic violence, and the novel starts with her father’s death when she is in her twenties. As the novel unfolds, we learn more about her teens, when she helped a homeless boy and ended up falling in love with him. As an adult, she is just entering into a relationship with a complicated, sensitive, temperamental neurosurgeon when that same boy from her past crops up unexpectedly. This book deals with some very sensitive subjects in an honest and raw manner. I haven’t read any other Hoover novels, but from what I can tell this is definitely different from her usual fare, and it’s understandable when you read her author’s note at the end.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman: Despite its long title, this is the briefest of stories, not even a novella. It’s a beautiful, moving portrait of an old man, senile and dying, and his relationship with his grandson and son. Most of the story takes place in the grandfather’s mind, as he loses pieces of his memories and visits with his dead wife.

Unquiet Land, by Sharon Shinn: The fourth book in the Elemental Blessings series focuses on Leah Frothen, newly home after her years of spying in Malinqua. I really like how different each book has been in this series. I think you could read this as a stand-alone, but it would be more enjoyable and interesting having the back story from the other three novels. Leah is home to get to know the daughter she left behind five years earlier, but the regent Darien also asks her to open a shop in the city to spy on foreign ambassadors.

Faithful, by Alice Hoffman: Hoffman can be hit-or-miss for me, but I loved her newest novel Faithful. It’s about Shelby, a lost girl who can’t emotionally recover from the car accident that put her best friend in a coma. After years of guilt and suffering, she slowly reenters the world of the living and starts to create a life for herself. Beautifully written, especially the relationship between Shelby and her mother.

The Wolf Road, by Beth Lewis: This was an excellent post-apocalyptic novel about a young girl raised in the wilderness by a serial killer. When Elka discovers the truth about the man who took her under his wing when her grandmother died, she takes off on a long journey to try to find her real parents, who left her as a child to go search for gold in the Yukon. Terrific writing and pacing.

The Last One, by Alexandra Oliva: A gripping and well-written take on the survival story genre. Twelve people are competing in an extreme survival reality TV show. The book is mostly focused on one woman, nicknamed “Zoo” by the producers. What Zoo doesn’t realize is that partway into the filming of the show, a brutal pandemic kills off half of the world’s population and she is living a real survival story, not a filmed one. She keeps thinking that the dead bodies she sees are props and every difficulty is a challenge to be won.

Heartless, by Marissa Meyer: Meyer just gets better and better with each new book. In Heartless, she presents the backstory of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Catherine loves to bake and doesn’t enjoy the attention she’s getting from the King of Hearts. Jest, the King’s new Joker, has definitely caught her eye, however. Meyer pens the transformation of Catherine from a sweet, likable girl to the angry, broken Queen of Hearts, and it is an excellent read.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach: As usual, Roach never fails to entertain. This book on military science explores the non-human adversaries soldiers face: panic, exhaustion, noise, diarrhea, and genital reconstruction, to name just a few. Some of the chapters have more substance than others, and I think my favorite was the one on preparing combat medics for performing their duties in the stress and chaos of a war zone.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, by Stephanie Oakes: Fascinating and well-written novel about a 17-year-old girl who has escaped from a brutal religious cult. Minnow has had her hands chopped off as punishment for disobeying the cult’s leader, and she is in juvenile detention after brutally attacking a boy she runs into after her escape. I had to skim some of the more violent scenes described, but as the story traveled between Minnow’s present and past, it completely hooked me and I stayed up late to finish it.

Bound by Blood and Sand, by Becky Allen: The start to a promising series by a debut author. Jae is a slave on a desert world that is running out of water, and her entire race of the “Closest” is compelled to obey orders by a centuries-old magical curse. Allen does a good job with the world-building and magic system, and despite some over-the-top melodramatic moments, I really enjoyed the story and can’t wait for the next book!

Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly: This novel is based on real people and events, and it was fascinating to read it after having read the nonfiction history of Ravensbrück concentration camp earlier this year. Kelly alternates between three women’s stories: New York socialite Caroline Ferriday, who worked tirelessly for war efforts and later reparations (though Kelly did create an imaginary love interest for her, which seemed unnecessary); despicable Ravensbrück doctor Herta Oberheuser; and Polish prisoner Kasia Kuzmerick (not an actual person but an amalgamation based on real Polish prisoners). Kelly obviously did her research, as many events and depictions of Ravensbrück lined up with what I had already read about it.

The Hike, by Drew Magary: This was a weird, fantastic, entertaining, bizarre story. It’s probably not for everyone, but I was completely engrossed. It’s a fantasy quest saga about Ben, an average middle-aged man who gets lost in the woods while away from home on a business trip.  He encounters a talking crab, a man-eating giantess, creepy evil demons, magic seeds, and many other weird and awful things. He is desperate to return home to his wife and three children, but every time he tries to leave the path he’s on, someone or something tries to kill him. Ridiculously awesome little twist at the very end.

And I Darken, by Kiersten White: YA set in a slightly alternate history during the Ottoman empire. This is a rather brutal book, but compelling reading. Lada Dragwyla, princess of Wallachia, is violent and ruthless. When she and her gentle, sweet younger brother Radu are abandoned by their weak father to be raised as pawns in the Ottoman court, they both end up as the sultan’s son Mehmed’s best friends. Radu is drawn to the new Islamic faith, while Lada trains with the Janissary soldiers and dreams of returning to Wallachia. This definitely does not follow any of the usual YA tropes, and although it can be rough reading at times, I really enjoyed it.

News of the World, by Paulette Jiles: Fantastic and fairly short novel set in the aftermath of the Civil War. Captain Kidd is a 70-year-old veteran and widower who travels through small towns in northern Texas reading news from the rest of the world to the isolated inhabitants. He agrees to transport a 10-year-old girl who has been a captive of the Kiowas for four years back to her German relatives in San Antonio. They have a rough and at times harrowing 400-mile journey but form a sort of grandfather-granddaughter bond along the way. Beautiful writing and story.

The Girl Before, by Rena Olsen: Well-done psychological suspense (though it’s not actually that suspenseful) exploring the horrifying business of human trafficking. The novel starts with Clara’s home being invaded by armed men, and she is separated from her beloved husband and “daughters.” From there, the story is told in alternating chapters. In the present, law enforcement is trying to get Clara to provide evidence against her husband and Clara is slowly starting to realize that her idea of normal is not right. In the past, we get lots of vignettes and insight into Clara’s life with her husband and his family and her own participation, naive as it was in some ways, with the family business.

My Sister Rosa, by Justine Larbalestier: Psychological thriller about Che, an Australian teenager who loves to box and has been dragged all over the world by his parents for their work, and his 10-year-old sister Rosa, who Che is convinced is an undiagnosed psychopath. Che is caught up with trying to protect the world from Rosa, exacting promises from her such as not to kill anything – animal or human. Rosa plays increasingly disturbing mental games with everyone around her, including Che, and the book has some pretty intense reveals.

Still Life with Tornado, by A. S. King: I almost quit on this book in the beginning, when I thought it was just a teenage angst-ridden novel. However, due to some reviews from trusted readers, I kept with it and was so glad I did. Sarah has dropped out of school and hints at awful things that have happened but they are slow to unfold for the reader. Along the way, she interacts with herself at 10, 23, and 40 and discovers more about family events her memory had buried. We also hear from her mother from time to time, filling out the picture of this family that is falling apart.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone, by Laini Taylor: Solid YA fantasy set in Prague featuring Karou, a teen art student raised by monstrous beings called chimaera, and Akiva, an angel whose race is at war with the chimaera. Looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa, by Haruki Murakami: I’m not sure how much of interest this book would be to non-musicians, but I was enthralled! Murakami has long been an avid fan of music, both classical and jazz, and has an extensive knowledge of music for a non-musician. This book is comprised of transcriptions of conversations between Murakami and Ozawa, digging deep into differences in recordings and giving a remarkable overview of Ozawa’s musical genius and career arc. Must-read for all musicians!

0 Replies to “2016: Very Good Reads”

  1. Great list! I am reading Illuminae right now (and enjoying it!), and I also see a few others I’ve read and loved on there. Also I am truly amazed you read 200 books, I find it a struggle to get to 50.

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