My reading record this year isn’t as impressive as some people’s, but I have read a lot more than I have for years. I joined Goodreads in March, and have been making sure I add what I’m reading there (though I’m not reviewing all of them, just giving them star ratings). I’ve recorded 71 books on there, 68 of which I read last year.
I intended to do a second-half of year roundup on here like I did for the first 6 months, but alas, time didn’t really allow. As it happens, though, I think the second half of the year had a few of my highlights, so hopefully this post won’t be a repeat. I’ve picked 12, as that’ll allow you to read one a month should you like my recommendations. 😉 I’d love to know what you would add to this list, too, so feel free to add a comment or link to any roundups you’ve put together.
So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my favorite 12 books that I read in 2016! I’m rubbish at keeping up to date with recent books, so most of these weren’t published in 2016. You can find me on Goodreads if you’d like to know how I rated my other reads.
This book was inspired by one of the first female sheriffs in the U.S., and incorporates real 20th century headlines. Constance, the main character, is a great character and I got really invested in the story about the Black Hand gang (though I wouldn’t really expect to enjoy a story about gangsters). Mostly, though, I love that this is quite different from anything I’ve read before. It was also just good fun. I picked this up at random on a book swap trolley at work, and I’m so glad I did.
Manja appeared in one of my yarn along posts, so it may be familiar. It’s the story of 5 children growing up in early Nazi Germany, 4 boys who are all brought together by one charismatic, imaginative girl. What sets this book apart for me is that it incorporates not just the relationships between the children, but also includes the relationships between each child & his/her parents. I got a developed sense of character and motivation from this approach. The story itself is heartbreaking, but it was certainly worth reading.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for modern retellings of fairy tales. Uprooted isn’t a fairy tale retelling per se, but it does employ the standard fairy tale tropes of dragons, wizards, little girls taken from their home, and ancient woods. But I promise it’s not a stereotype! Novik manages to take all these elements and create a unique yet familiar story, with a strong female lead who saves the day with her intelligence, has strong female friendships, and is basically great. Novik’s tale is based heavily on old Czech tales, so it’s set in an area I don’t know particularly well, either, which is something I really enjoy in books. All in all, a brilliant lighthearted read.
I read Rainbow Rowell for the first time this year. Isn’t she great? I loved this simple story of two high school outsiders who support each other. I They do have a romantic relationship, but what I loved was what came across as a genuine, warm friendship above all else. I also liked the open ending and was left wanting more. Eleanor & Park is the second Rowell book I read, and I will certainly be reading more this year.
I picked this up at random from a bookshelf at work (a perk of having a job based in a public library). I’d never heard of Ogawa, but Japanese fiction is something I haven’t quite developed a taste for. Everyone else seems to love it, though, so I keep trying. It paid off in this case. The plot is super simple – a housekeeper with a young son is employed to help a former mathematics professor with short term memory loss. He can’t remember more than the previous 80 minutes, but finds solace in numbers and shares his passion with the housekeeper. The characters are well-rounded, and it really is a beautiful portrait of a friendship across generations. I recommend it if you like poetry or descriptive writing. There is a plot, but it’s definitely a slow-paced book based on characters instead of actions.
I love immigrant stories; reflecting on my childhood favorites, I can see what a big theme it was for me. That may be no surprise, seeing that my mom is an immigrant, and perhaps it also explains why I am now an immigrant myself. Americanah can definitely be added to my favorites, especially because it also contains a coming-of-age story. Though I know nothing about Nigerian culture, I think Adichie’s writing has helped me get an idea of what it is like. The characters were realistic, as were the dilemmas they faced throughout their lives. The passages about arriving in the U.S. and adapting were particularly moving to me, but then the part about what happened when she moved back to Nigeria were equally reminiscent of my own experience about travelling back home now. Overall, it was a well-written book with strong characters that seemed to give genuine insight into a life very different from my own. I wasn’t a fan of the ending, but I could understand the character’s motivation, and it’s such a minor quibble that it didn’t detract from the book overall.A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
The beauty of reading is that it allows you to understand other people’s perspectives. A God in Ruins gave me a glimpse into the psyche of an 80-year-old British man, something I never expected. The story was in turns absorbing, heartbreaking, and amusing – but mostly just quite sad in an elegaic sort of way. The characters weren’t necessarily sympathetic, but realistically created. When people have asked about my favorite books in 2016, I’ve recommended this one.
I read this shortly after our miscarriage, and reading about Oliver’s own grief definitely helped me come to terms with my own. It is also just a simple, lucid collection of poems which are portraits of nature and Oliver’s relationship with her mother.
Graphic novels are great, but so far I’ve read mostly autobiography/memoir or superhero graphic novels. McNaught is first and foremost an illustrator, I think. It’s like visual poetry. He uses a limited color palette and cinematic storyboard style with little text to tell two interrelated stories set in the same town. I recommend reading this in the autumn for the full experience.
Between working in a library and having a husband who manages a charity bookshop, I pretty much never buy new books. But I did buy Falling Awake after I came across it at a local bookshop, because a) I wanted to support the bookshop, and b) the two poems I read in the shop totally blew me away. The poems are sparse, with superb enjambment and just the best choice of words. Many of them focus on nature, but definitely nature seen through a modern lens. Really wonderful.
I feel like everyone else has already read this, but I hadn’t read this until Christmas. I’d seen the film trailer, which looks amazing, and it reminded me that I have been meaning to read this anyway. It definitely lived up to expectations. Again, illustrations were key to the success of this book for me. I loved how atmospheric they were. The story itself was pretty heartbreaking, but clearly I have a thing for sad stories. More significantly, the story is important and needed to be told. There are some really important issues addressed in A Monster Calls, and I’m so glad Ness continued Siobhan Dowd’s plans.
This is the other book I’ve been mentioning when people ask me what my favorite books of last year were. If you’ve read my blog before, you probably know that I like science fiction. Much of what I read leans toward fantasy, but this collection of short stories definitely has a variety. Some feature near-cyborgs, some feature centuries-long space travel, some feature Japanese and Chinese mythology, and all are fantastic. Sci fi can often feel gimmicky, but Liu’s writing was stunning. I really can’t fault this book at all. More, please!