Sunday, January 1, 2017

Favorite Reads from 2016

According to Goodreads, I read 142 books in 2016 (this does not include rereads, however - my own calculations indicate that I read 149 books, not to mention that reading four Game of Thrones books is like reading a dozen ordinary books!).  Here are my favorites:


The Dead House, Fiona Griffiths, #5 – Harry Bingham
This is the most compelling suspense series you haven’t heard of and I insist you go back and start with the first book in the series, Talking to the Dead. Set in Wales, this one is set against the backdrop of a mysterious monastery. Fiona is an extremely odd but endearing detective whose commitment to victims she is assigned to investigate (and those she is not) takes precedence over everything else in her life. She is also desperate to decipher the secrets of her birth, and it seems likely these two story lines will stay connected as the series continues.
I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh
The despair of Jenna Gray, the main character in this novel of suspense is almost too much to bear and requires occasional application of Kleenex. The story begins with a fatal car crash, then follows Jenna, as she tries to escape from her past in a remote cottage in Wales, while back in Bristol, two detectives are trying to track her down. I liked the detectives and hope the author will return to them in a future book.


Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
I really enjoyed this story about three very different women, which begins when their children attend a kindergarten orientation. Told in flashbacks, with hilarious comments from the other parents incorporated, it leads up to an over the top (but very convincing) school fundraiser, where all previous conflict comes to a head. Moriarty, sister of Jaclyn Moriarty who wrote another fave, The Year of Secret Assignments, blends humor and serious topics effectively, and I couldn't stop reading until I finished at 2:30 am. I think I subconsciously noticed that HBO is doing a miniseries in February and decided I wanted to read the book first, but the trailer shows it is perfectly cast: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley as the shy newcomer to town.

The Hating Game – Sally Thorne
This book, which I reviewed for TLC Book Tours in August, was a delightful read about two work enemies, thrown together when their publishing companies merge, who inevitably fall in love, but as I noted then, it shouldn’t be dismissed as chick lit.

Historical Fiction
The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson
Some of you will remember the charming Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, which came out in 2010 and was a popular book group read, including with my Radcliffe Reading Group. This book was delightful in a different way: it is about a plucky young woman (a penniless orphan, naturally!) who becomes the Latin teacher at a village school in 1914, just before WWI breaks out, and how she interacts with the locals, including the handsome medical student visiting for the summer. This is one of my favorite time periods, and in particular, I like reading about how war transformed the people in small villages like this one.  It's not as funny or unusual as Major Pettigrew but just as enjoyable!

Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Game of Thrones, #1 – George R.R. Martin
I am late to the party on this legendary series, and others have described it more eloquently than I but, once I started, I devoured the first four books. It helped that I had brought the first book with me to the Emergency Room when I accompanied my father to the hospital in August. Something made me watch the first episode of the first season (once the Summer Olympics were over, I suppose I needed a new distraction) and I was mildly intrigued but not addicted. It took another episode to start figuring out who everyone was and start caring about them. For me, it worked very well to watch the HBO series while more or less simultaneously reading the books. This helped me keep track of the many characters a little better (there are way too many and it wasn’t until I finished the book that I found a useful list of characters broken down by kingdom/family). His greatest skill, in addition to his world building is making the reader care about unlikeable characters by writing from their point of view. It is somewhat amusing to me that Martin kills off readers’ favorite characters so ruthlessly – most writers are so in love with their creations, they can’t do it – but it can be very disconcerting. My friend Kimberly told me there is a bumper sticker that says, “Guns don’t kill people, George R. R. Martin kills people.”

Best Reread Elizabeth Cadell
I am grateful for those who fight to bring beloved authors back into print and now Cadell has a fan club.  Cadell's charming series about the irrepressible Wayne family is a must read for those who enjoy light English fiction set in a village where everyone knows everything about everyone else and makes it up if they don’t. The Lark Shall Sing, The Blue Sky of Spring (I think I missed this one when I first read this author in my 20s), and Six Impossible Things should be read in order and are newly available in paperback and as eBooks. The only thing I don’t like is that the bossy oldest sister is criticized for trying to organize her siblings into doing what’s best for them – what’s wrong with that, I ask? There should be a support group for misunderstood oldest sisters.


Jess Tennant books - Jane Casey
Exciting news! There is a new Maeve Kerrigan book in Casey’s adult crime series coming in March (as one cannot wait for the U.S. publication in July) but if you can’t be patient until then, it’s time to try her YA books about Jess Tennant, who moves from London with her mother to tiny town on the English seaside where her mother grew up and constantly finds herself in the midst of controversy (this requires some suspension of disbelief when the heroine is a teen whose only connection with law enforcement is her on again off again boyfriend’s menacing father) but Casey makes it work. Jess’s only flaw (but perhaps I am just jealous) is her effortless appeal (everyone falls for her or wants to be her friend – except when they want to kill her) and her somewhat annoying habit of recklessly putting herself into danger, although one could argue this behavior is somewhat necessary when investigating criminal activity.  Start with How to Fall, which is followed by Bet Your Life and Hide and Seek. There is a strong resemblance between Maeve’s annoying colleague Josh Derwent and Jess’s boyfriend’s father which is very disconcerting! It is unclear to me if this series has ended – maybe Casey herself has not decided.
The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You – Lily Anderson
I loved this witty and hilarious version of Much Ado About Nothing involving two super-competitive teens whose friends tire of their bickering and come up with a plot to make them more than tolerate each other. Full of pop culture references and humor, this is a story about all the people you wish you’d known in high school. This was one of the few 5 star reviews I gave this year.

Winner’s Trilogy – Marie Rutkoski
I came across the dazzling Winner’s series when I attended a joint event she did with Kristin Cashore in Cambridge. As I already owned all of Cashore’s books (and because my friend Barb recommended it), I bought The Winner’s Curse for my sister. A gift is doubly successful if you have time to read and enjoy a book before you wrap and give it to someone, as was the case with this fantasy about a general’s daughter who buys a slave to save his life, and then recognizes he is more of a soul mate than the young man she is supposed to marry.  The author manages to transcend a lot of the cliches too prevalent in fantasy, asking many questions about who the winners actually are.  Unusually, I think the third book in the series was the strongest, although the first was also excellent.


Book Scavenger – Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
I reviewed this in March before giving it to a nephew for his birthday. Inspired by a classic, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Book Scavenger launches a series perfect for the fourth or fifth grader in your life who loves books and puzzles. It involves a game where participants all over the country hide books and leave clues online for the first person to figure it out. The heroine, Emily, has just moved to San Francisco and is looking forward to paying Book Scavenger in a new city, not knowing she is about to be plunged into a mystery involving Edgar Allan Poe. I look forward to more adventures of Emily and her friend James, coming with book 2 in July.

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White – Melissa Sweet
I recently reviewed this biography of the author of Charlotte’s Web, which is told in text, pictures, and replicas of items that were important to Andy White, as he evolved from child who loved the country to young writer for the New York to acclaimed essayist who moved to Maine and tried his hand at a children’s book.


Patricia Wentworth backlist
What wonderful news that a small publisher, Dean Street Press, has brought every Patricia Wentworth back into print!  Wentworth is one of the grandes dames of the Golden Age of British crime fiction.  I am a huge fan, not only of her Miss Silver books, but of the more obscure titles, some of which are so rare I had to photocopy them to own a copy. While she is best known for her creation of Miss Silver, an elderly spinster sleuth like Miss Marple, Wentworth’s talent is blending suspense, humor, and depiction of how ordinary people cope with stressful situations. My Christmas gift to myself – a long anticipated title, The Dower House Mystery, which so far is just as good as anticipated.


GSGreatEscaper said...

Hi Constance, I will join that support group with you! I look forward to putting some of these on my list for 2017.

Goodreads should add a 're-read' tracking feature - I read the Barchester Towers series again but it didn't count on GR since I'd read it 30 years ago!

JaneGS said...

I'm currently reading The Summer Before the War and really liking it--such a poignant story, given how the war turned the world upside down.

Yang Kuo said...

I will join that support group with you !

thanks for sharing...