Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2016

2016 turned out to be a pretty good year for reading.  I logged 30 books on my reading list and I usually miss recording a few due to my lack of regular posting these days.  As a matter of fact, I've added two while writing this post...because one of them was a favorite that was never recorded! One of the reasons for my having such a good a year was the gift I gave to myself of a Book of the Month membership. It has exposed me to books I may never have picked up on my own.

From my 30 known reads/listens this year, here are my favorites:

5.  The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
I loved this one so much that I purchased both the hardback and the Audible version so I wouldn't have to wait so long to rejoin the Cafe Society lives of Truman Capote and his swans - socialites Babe, Slim, C. Z., Gloria and Pamela.  Based on real people and true events, this work of fiction so swept me up in 1950's New York City that I found myself looking up pictures of the places mentioned and remembering some of my own visits to these once glamorous places. It even sent me on to read Truman Capote's novel Breakfast at Tiffany's.  It was a fun read and yet I found myself both admiring and feeling sorry for most of the characters.

4. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
I heard about this one on the 'What Should I Read Next' [WSIRN] podcast and decided to download it from Audible.  BEAUTIFUL story!  Told so well that you can't help but care about everyone in it - including the crotchety old lady, the mostly absent, dream-chasing father and even the sometimes misguided and goofy scout leader.  I probably would never have picked this one up on my own because it's description says 'when the boy dies suddenly.' Not a spoiler, it is the premise of the book, yet the death of a child is hard for me to read about. This book, however, paints such a beautiful picture of how his short life touched others and how those he touched found their way through the grief together. It sounds horrible -- but it is 'oh so good.'  Try it!  It's short and easy to read -- or at least to listen to!

3.  The English Spy by Daniel Silva
Maybe it's because I have so much invested in this series (it's the 15th in the Gabriel Allon novels), maybe it's because I love the characters in this one (many of the same from the first book I read which got me hooked on the series The English Girl) or maybe it is because I decided to treat myself before this book was released and pre-order a hand signed copy from Barnes and Noble.  Whatever the reason I loved, loved, loved this one so much that I cherished every minute I spent reading and hated to see it end.  I've never seen myself as a spy novel kind of girl, but Israeli spy Gabriel Allon and his team capture my imagination and I feel very invested in their lives.  The Black Widow is the only one left that I haven't read, but I can't bring myself to start it until I know another one will be waiting in the wings!

2. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
This has been my absolute favorite from my Book of the Month selections. Again, I probably wouldn't have chosen this one if it hadn't been talked about so highly on the WSIRN podcast. I talked about my love for this book, it's beautiful prose and the quotes I can't stop thinking about in the post I won't bore you with a repeat here.  But let me add that I could see myself in many of these characters -- the teenagers, the parents and in the church mothers.  For good and for bad.

And now for my #1 book of the year:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!  This one I bought on Audible but come Friday I could not imagine waiting until Monday morning's commute to rejoin the magic and intrigue, so I stopped at Half-priced Books and bought a hard copy. Again, this has beautiful prose and gorgeous imagery, with fantasy and magic on top.  It reminds me of a world much like J. K. Rowlings's created in the Harry Potter series but grown up a bit.  I have given this book to Deborah in hopes that I can have someone to talk it over with.  It's the story of a magical competition taking place in the setting of a black and white circus that travels about at whim and is only open at night.  It is beautiful and tragic and romantic and I really, really, really hope someone turns this into a movie because it has the potential to be a great one!

These were my favorites but I have to mention two others that were close contenders:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley was a Book of the Month pick that kept me riveted until the very last page.  It is so well written that I could envision it all in my head like watching a movie. I guess that would make sense as the author is a screenwriter.  Great, fun thriller -- but not to be read on an airplane!

Still Life by Louise Penny was another one I kept hearing about on the WSIRN podcast.  I hear the books get better with time (#2 was mentioned in the post below and I just finished #3 while sick this weekend).  But the first one reminded me of how much I loved reading Nancy Drew as a girl and  Agatha Christie as a teenager.  I'm so glad to have found another series to enjoy!

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