Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here at the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 21 books in December (holy crap!), which means I finished out the year strong!
Including the chapter books that I read aloud to our kiddos (but not the picture books), I read a total of 126 books in 2016. Those books added up to 38,713 pages of reading. I look forward to reading even more in 2017 and bring more great author interviews and book recommendations to this site. Happy New Year!
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
Grab the tissues. We all know that stories about dogs have to end in tears, right? Well, this one is sweet and endearing and funny and memorable. Steven Rowley loves his dog, like we all love our dogs, and she is a member of the family. Lily is a sweet little wiener dog. The octopus is the tumor that grows above her eye. And this is the story of their journey together, and Steven’s battles against Lily’s octopus. You will laugh. And you’ll definitely cry.
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
This has all the makings of the books I love the very best: a year-in-the-life, travel, Europe, and Anthony Doerr’s prose. His writing is so fantastic, and the details he picks out to illustrate the story are always spot-on. This book tells the backstory of the year he spent as an Artist in Residence in Rome, while he wrote All the Light We Cannot See, another favorite of this year! I listened to it on audiobook, which was fine, but not spectacular, except for the fact that it allowed me to finish this one super quickly.
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman
I ended up short-listing this as one of my favorites this year! This debut novel shares the story of the two families of brothers Abe and Mort. The family drama is so lovely. They live together in one big house on Christopher Street in New York. The tragedies and love and sacrifice and day-to-day that these families face together with their lives intertwined are all beautifully written. I enjoyed every moment.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
I listened to this wonderful collection of essays (read by the author) about writing and life and love and nuns and dogs. They each are wonderful in their own ways. I cried a few times, smiled many times, and shook my head plenty. Patchett is one of my favorite writers and I thoroughly enjoyed this group of her writings in short story format, and it is what convinced me to put “read a collection of short stories” on my reading challenge list for next year.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
I loved this book. I loved the way it took me out of myself and my life while making me feel like it was just another version of how my life may have gone. I loved Frankel’s writing, her witty dialogue between characters, and her soul-searchingly deep treatment of a tough topic. I know it will continue to stick with me for months or maybe years. This one also ended up on my favorites of 2016 list!
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Such an interesting look at the development, abolishment, and resurgence of public shaming, using real-world examples of people who have experienced internet shaming, those who have been sentenced to shameful consequences, etc. I found it so interesting that the internet gives us the power to be judge/jury/executioner for regular people, for “crimes” that they may or may not have committed, and it gives us immense power. I am so intrigued by the whole premise of this book. Jon Ronson also did a great job narrating, but I wouldn’t recommend this one on audio, since there are a few places in which he has to verbally describe photos that are pertinent to the story and are included in the book but are not, obviously, available to the audio listener.
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Honestly, let’s be real here. I love elephants. That’s why I picked up this young-adult short story when it was the Audible deal of the day. I know DiCamillo has a huge backlist of titles, so I’ll be sure to pick some of those up as well, because this story, about an elephant that is accidentally summoned by a magician, was charming and lovely. I’m sure I’ll put in on my list of books to read aloud to the kiddos one day!
How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King
Oh, man. This might be the most empowering parenting book I’ve read about the age and stage of parenting that I (and most of my friends) am currently in! This collection first gives you the information and tools (in part one), along with myriad examples of what those tools look like in action. And then, in part two, they dive into specific situations and examples and how to use those tools to deal with tough behaviors. The authors also acknowledge that parents get ANGRY sometimes, and sometimes even yell, but it doesn’t have to lead to damaging your relationship with your child when done in the right way. In the six days it took me to read this book, I started using the tools and tips immediately. This morning, when the boys got into a bit of a scuffle, my oldest used his words to identify his feelings instead of lashing out at his younger brother. It was a breakthrough! Not only are they working for my kiddos, they are absorbing the information and it’s helping to make their relationship better! I feel like this one will go on my list of “parenting books to recommend to all the friends” from here on out.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Another of the books that ended up on my 2016 favorites list! Wow. Just phenomenal. And heartrending. And so beautiful. And sad. Cora, a slave on the Randall plantation, decides to escape with Caesar and makes her journey on the LITERAL Underground Railroad. (Isn’t that what we all imagined when we first learned about it in history?). This novel by Colson Whitehead draws on the true atrocities of slaves in the pre-civil war American south. Engrossing and unputdownable.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
This book had me dying to finish it and once I had I was so creeped out I couldn’t sleep. *shuddering goosebumps*
Anne and Marco are a sweet young couple with a 6-month-old baby that disappears when they are next door at a party. The whole thing is just horrifying. and as details are revealed and the case comes together, it pulls you deeper into the story. Really well done.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This is a classic story about greasers and socs, rival gangs, two sides of the same town. Ponyboy is a greaser, along with his two brothers, Darry and Soda Pop. This novel reminded me quite a bit of West Side Story’s jets and sharks, but without the Romeo and Juliet-style love story as well. I’ve been told that I now need to read Rob Lowe’s memior about making the movie. I wouldn’t have picked this up if it hadn’t been for the Mom Advice Book Club!
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
I’d probably rank this as the best YA novel I read this year, although I did get to some other great ones! Madeline is sick. Sick enough to not ever get to go outside. And then handsome Olly moves in next door.
Oh my heart, I really loved this story. It was so typical teenager without being at all typical. A quick read that is sweet and funny and silly and sad and scary, just like teenagers. Can’t wait to pick up her next one, newly-released The Sun Is Also A Star.
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I would say this isn’t my typical genre, which may explain why I won’t rave about it. Although I thought the plot was intriguing and well-constructed, to me the characters (especially our protagonist Emma), fell a bit flat. Her turmoil over the choice between Jesse and Sam was a bit… meh, for me. I don’t think the fault lies with Reid’s writing, more that Emma wants everything, and, as is often the case in real life… can’t have it.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Very much in the vein of A Man CalledOve, it’s starting to feel like Backman can only write one type of character (the crotchety curmudgeon, male or female). Of course, this isn’t the case in My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, but he certainly writes them well! This one is about Britt-Marie and the time immediately following her separation from her husband, Kent. She has so many idiosyncrasies, probably more than a touch of OCD, and plenty of socially-inept tendencies. But she has a place, she just needs to find it and herself in the process. I recommend reading My Grandmother before this one as it kind of sets the stage for this novel.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
One more fiction favorite from this year! I loved this beautifully written adventurous tale about Captain Kidd and Johanna as they journey south through Texas. Johanna (10 years old) was taken captive by the Kiowa tribe 4 years ago and needs to be returned to her relations. captain kidd (71 years old) is the one to do it as he travels the small towns of Texas reading from local and far-fling newspapers the news of the world. My friend Sasha from Pathologically Literate convinced me to pick this one up, and I’m so glad she did!
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
So grateful for this freebie from Audible! Trevor Noah brings his trademark humor to some really tough stories about growing up during and after the fall of apartheid in South Africa. Read by the author, these stories are full of wit and fun and a bit of horror. Just like The Daily Show, just like life.
I’m giving myself a pat on the back for this one because I bit the bullet and contacted his publicist about arranging an interview for this site. Of course, he is insanely busy, so the answer was no, but if I hadn’t tried, I would have always wondered! This was one of my top non-fiction picks for the year!
Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson
Another beautifully written piece of lyric prose from Jacqueline Wilson. This one is fiction (she talks about developing her characters at the end of the book). But she uses her memories of her childhood in Brooklyn to fully develop and flesh out the setting. As such, it is lovely to read. I did LOVE Brown Girl Dreaming a bit more though, so that’s my recommendation from this author.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
I love me some Ann Patchett, but this one didn’t grab me. It was beautifully written, as all of her books are, but it felt a bit disjointed and I didn’t connect well with the characters. There are so many “main characters” to keep track of (and more introduced even up to the final chapter!) that I didn’t care enough about any of them. I think it comes down to me enjoying her plot-driven novels quite a bit more, overall.
Fairest by Marissa Meyer
This novella that proceeds the final installment of the Lunar Chronicles is mainly to fill in the gaps for the “Lunartics” that want to know EVERYTHING about this world. It recounts Levana’s childhood and ascent to power. It was fine, but you can tell that the whole point was to answer the questions, not to give us anything substantial. with that in mind, it’s still fun to return to the world of Marissa Meyer.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My favorite part about this book is that the inspiration came from old found photos. The story and characters are well-written, it’s just not REALLY for me. I have to say that I’m kind of confused about the intended audience for this book. It’s scary enough to mess with my head as an adult, but it’s about 15-18 year old children, so you’d imagine young adult readers. Either way, creepy in a good way, but I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequels.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
I picked this up from the library on audio on the day Carrie Fisher died. All the copies of all of her books were sold out/backordered on Amazon, so I was glad I could snag it that way.I liked hearing Carrie Fisher read her book. She is silly and pokes plenty of fun at her major ups and downs in her life. But it also seemed like she wasn’t really invested in it. Hearing he tell her own obituary just a day after she died was very poignant.