Hello! 2016 was a pretty good reading year for me. I read new releases, old classics, and a few that had been on my to be read list forever. (The never ending to be read list!) In general, my least favorite question is, “What is your favorite book?” Picking favorite books is like picking a favorite movie: I just can’t do it! Unless I truly hate a book or cannot bear to finish it, I like them all for different reasons.
For the purposes of this list (I do love book lists), I narrowed my favorites for 2016 down to 5! They are not listed in any order, because I don’t want the books to feel bad about themselves. They’re all number 1 on my bookcase.
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
This is a departure from Hoffman’s regular magical realism genre, and she appears to have made a seamless transition into historical fiction. (Although she does manage to weave a bit of magic in with her excellent writing.) This book tells the story of the painter Camille Pissarro, beginning with his parents. I didn’t know anything about Pissarro before reading this, and after I wanted to know more. His story begins on the island of St. Thomas, with how his parents got there, met, and fell in love, and winds its way through Paris. It’s a journey full of passion, unrealized dreams, and the struggle of doing right vs. doing what we want vs. doing for our families. The unusual way his parents meet and fall in love, and the very unusual stories of the island itself, make this a magical book rooted in reality.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
“Homegoing” is the extraordinary debut novel by young author Yaa Gyasi. This certainly doesn’t feel like a debut novel, and given the years of research Gyasi did for this novel, I’m sure that by the end it didn’t feel like the first for her either. The story spans 300 years in both American and Ghana. The chapters alternate between two sisters: one who gets sold into slavery and one who is married off to an American stationed in Ghana and lives a more comfortable life, if only physically. 300 years in 320 pages sounds impossible, but it’s not. The history of the sisters, and how they intertwine and pull apart over the centuries, is perfectly told, and the end of every chapter left me saying, “I can stay up a little longer to read just one more.” This book has stayed with me ever since I finished reading it almost a year ago, and I already want to re-read it.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
While I do enjoy dystopian YA literature, I don’t gravitate toward end of the world, Walking Dead type novels. (There aren’t any zombies in this novel, but I think the landscape is very similar to that show.) Emily St. John Mandel is a master at writing a popular fiction book with a great hook, which is a page-turner, and is also literary fiction. This story is about Kirsten Raymonde, a member of a traveling group of actors and musicians who tour what is left of America 20 years after a flu pandemic. The novel moves back and forth between Kirsten’s childhood and adult life, and covers the twists and turns that can only result from a lawless land in a post-apocalyptic world. I loved seeing what was important to people, even after an end of the world situation (such as Kirsten’s group trying to keep the arts alive), and what people had to let go of in order to survive.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Can we all agree that we love Liane Moriarty? Her books are well written, her characters are more than interesting, and we can probably look forward to TV or film adaptations of all her books. This one is my hands-down favorite. The premise of this book is, I think, as Modern Mrs. Darcy puts it, one that you shouldn’t pay attention to. Just start reading the book. Since this is a brief review, and I can’t just order you to read it, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Young wife, pregnant with her first child, wakes up on the floor of her gym and discovers that it is 10 years in the future, she has 3 kids, and is getting divorced. As Alice travels through this new-to-her life, she realizes that she is not the person she thought she would, or ever intended to, be, and must decide if she can live with herself or if change is possible. Ignore that this sounds like a Lifetime movie. It’s not. I promise. It made me examine my own life, and think about decisions I’ve made in the past and how my life might have been, or could be, completely different. This book will make an impact on your life, and you won’t be able to stop reading it.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This is historical fiction at its best. Kristin Hannah, author of women’s lit books such as “Firefly Lane” (another of my all-time favorite books) and “Winter Garden,” completely switched up her usual writing genre, and she did it perfectly. The book is about two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, during WWII. One is responsible to a fault, the other is passionate and reckless. The narrator of the novel tells the story from present day . . . but you don’t find out who is narrating until the end. The war is, of course, a major player in this novel, but what’s really at the heart of it is family and how sisters respond differently when under pressure. Hannah was inspired by the real-life nightingale, a Belgian woman named Andree de Jongh, who put her own life at risk to rescue downed Allied pilots from Nazi territory. It is truly an unputdownable book, and if I had to pick one favorite for 2016, this would be it.