book reviews,  books

2016: A Year in Books

Historical Fiction

  • Mozart’s Sister, A.M. Baud
  • The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • War Brides, Helen Bryan
  • At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier
  • The Japanese Lover, Isabel Allende
  • The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, Louise Erdich
  • Belgravia, Julian Fellowes
  • Mozart’s Sister, Rita Charbonnier

Perhaps it is the events of 2016 that have thrown me into a desire to see the past brought to life, in only the way that historical fiction can. But, looking at the list, I can see that it’s more that some favorite authors put out books this year.  Tracy Chevalier, author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, wrote a beautiful novel about a terrible family dysfunction that was haunting and terrible, in the most meaningful sense of the word.  Louise Erdich’s The Master Butcher’s Singing Club puts together the story of a town between World Wars, where the daughter of the town’s drunk returns home and finds an unlikely life among German immigrants.  Isabel Allende, who I loved for her novel The House of Spirits, took on the fortunes of two very different families affected by the Japanese internment camps during World War II.  These were all memorable novels, written by authors that are masters of their craft and genre and they move the reader by reminding us of some of the best parts of being human, even when confronted with the worst of history.

Speculative Fiction

In speculative fiction, I spent a year thinking about The Gate to Women’s Country, which is a novel unlike any that I’ve ever read before.  It came to me as a recommendation that I might enjoy and it’s true; it haunted me all year and gave me a lot of food for thought, which is exactly what good speculative fiction should do.  This year also had retreads of Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Johnson’s In Another Life.  Both were worth it.


Mystery & Crime

  • The Second Stage of Grief, Katherine Hayton
  • Broken Harbor, Tana French
  • The Secret Place, Tana French

Tana French continues to be a favorite writer in crime.  It’s not a genre that I’ve read much of since the days when I shelved books in a mystery section as a volunteer high school student, but I’ve always loved French’s police procedurals for their deep dives into human psychology.  Her newest novel, The Trespasser, came out this year, which I am really looking forward to reading in 2017.



Contemporary Fiction

  • Three Weissmans of Westport, Cathleen Shine
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
  • The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout
  • Her Name is Rose, Christine Breen
  • Monkey Bridge, Lin Cao
  • The Taming of Roses with Thorns, Margaret Dilloway

In contemporary fiction, A Visit from the Goon Squad took the cake, even though I wouldn’t have picked it up without a nudge from a book club.  Egan took on the rock n roll industry, writing a novel of interrelated short stories about the people surrounding an aging record executive.  The experimental nature of the book adds some fun to the story as well, with an entire story told via a Powerpoint slide.  It does actually work.  The Burgess Boys was another favorite, though much of that came from how well Strout managed to peg the New York import’s feelings about New York.  As an aging import myself, I found myself nodding and laughing along with some great passages.



  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

I always know that the world is unsettling when I feel a need to reread Pride and Prejudice, which happens at least once every few years.  I’ve spent hours wondering what it is about this particular novel that is so delightful and could probably spend at least a few coffee dates speculating.  I love Austen’s work very much, but Pride and Prejudice is definitely the literary equivalent of your mom’s mac n cheese.  Little Women was a new read for me, though – a novel I’d always meant to get around to and somehow missed.  Although some aspects of the story have aged over the century and a half since it was published, I really understand how it has such a following.  The sequels are on my reading list for the future.


I’ve ended this year with the same regret as last year; I simply wish that I had read more.  I still can’t read with Baba around, because if she sees me reading a book without pictures, she pushes it out of my hands and brings me one of my books to read to her.  And so, if we’re counting board books, my number would triple.  I’ve read five books just today, in fact!  And there is much to admire in such simple story telling.  Some of the books that we read are just beautiful, between the artwork and the storytelling.  They may not be designed for adults, but this adult has really come to love books made for very small children.

As it is, this is the time for New Year’s Resolutions and, also, a new Goodreads reading challenge.  I have some books that I’ve really been looking forward to on my next-to-read list, like Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria and Elizabeth Strout’s much-talked-about Olive Kitteridge.  I’m halfway through Annie Proulx’s Barkskins and have just begun a biography of the Mozart family by Ruth Halliwell.   I’d love some recommendations — what have you read this year that blew your mind?



  • ccyager

    I’m always looking for good books to read, and I’ve added Tana French to my list of authors to try. I’ve also read Sheri Tepper and recommend her “Grass.” It haunted me for a year, and I still think about it occasionally. The books that really blew me away in 2016 were “The Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (“Red Mars,” “Green Mars,” “Blue Mars”), “The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film” by Michael Ondaatje, and “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande, M.D. I seemed to read a lot about Mars this year since I also read Andy Weir’s “The Martian” and loved it. I continue to work my way through the books of P.D. James, Daniel Silva, and John le Carre. I’m looking forward to figuring out my GoodReads challenge list this weekend for 2017. Cinda

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