November 23 2016 | I set a goal of reading 50 books in 2016. I did it! I want to preface this post with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly 300-500 page fiction, usually of the general narrative, fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. These books are my escape. I rarely read 600+ page non-fiction books, that I’m sure hold merit but not my eyes open at 10pm after a full day at the office and getting a preschooler and a toddler to bed. So before everyone is all “how do you have the time?!” know that I can polish off a 300 page romance novel in about 72 hours, reading it post children’s bedtime. Other books take more time. I also read a lot while traveling. I loathe airports and books absorb me, so I turn to them while flying. I usually knock back 2-3 books per trip.
Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list of my 50 is below too. Note, I count graphic novel volumes as a book. I do not count individual comic books/issues.
The reviews here are mostly what I wrote on Goodreads.com directly after finishing the book. I figure those reviews are the most fresh and frankly, putting this together was enough work. I don’t have time for more in depth reviews, but always happy to talk about books!
Finishing my goal doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading until 2017, so please, join me on Goodreads and finish out 2016 with me!
Finally – SHOUTOUT LINCOLN CITY LIBRARIES! Only two books of my entire 50 were purchased. Thank you for being an important resource to me and my family.
The Department of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Read: October 16, 2016
Goodreads Summary: Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.With cool precision, in language that shimmers with rage and wit and fierce longing, Jenny Offill has crafted an exquisitely suspenseful love story that has the velocity of a train hurtling through the night at top speed. Exceptionally lean and compact, Dept. of Speculation is a novel to be devoured in a single sitting, though its bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations on despair and love will linger long after the last page.
My Review: I read this book on a plane today as I was told it’s best to read it in one sitting. My goodness. At only 179 pages, it still managed to leave me a bit speechless. It’s written in a broken, but beautiful, chain of consciousness and prose. It took me 10 or 15 pages to fall into her mind, but once I did it no longer felt fragmented but comfortably, if not oddly, sequential. I’ve never read anything quite like this. A narrative in short prose, but not poetry, definitely a narrative. A walk through love, marriage, becoming a mother, martial struggles, aging – but without any of the cliches often plaguing books of that subject matter. It’s not an easy read exactly, as I had to re-read several pieces multiple times, but it was thoroughly satisfying.
Sparrow Hill Road
By Seanan McGuire*
Read: September 4, 2016
Goodreads Summary: Rose Marshall died in 1952 in Buckley Township, Michigan, run off the road by a man named Bobby Cross—a man who had sold his soul to live forever, and intended to use her death to pay the price of his immortality. Trouble was, he didn’t ask Rose what she thought of the idea. It’s been more than sixty years since that night, and she’s still sixteen, and she’s still running. They have names for her all over the country: the Girl in the Diner. The Phantom Prom Date. The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. Mostly she just goes by “Rose,” a hitchhiking ghost girl with her thumb out and her eyes fixed on the horizon, trying to outrace a man who never sleeps, never stops, and never gives up on the idea of claiming what’s his. She’s the angel of the overpass, she’s the darling of the truck stops, and she’s going to figure out a way to win her freedom. After all, it’s not like it can kill her. You can’t kill what’s already dead.
My Review: A little more than halfway through this book I found myself thinking that Rose’s POV reminded me quite a bit of Verity Price’s (a lead character from another series by this author). About that time the Healys are mentioned and the shared world is obvious. Loved this book and bouncing around the timeline. A take a ghost stories that only McGuire would be capable of. I love how she blends ancient mythology from a variety of different backgrounds with modern snark. Recommended.
* Seanan McGuire is my favorite (urban) fantasy author. Hands down. No competition. Always, in every novel, Seanan’s voice shines through, full of wit, empathy, and somehow hopeful cynicism. Her character’s are powerful and flawed, and everything is tinged with silliness and yet seriousness. This year I also read her InCyryptid series and her newest stand-alone, Every Heart a Doorway. Her October Daye series dominated my 2015 reading list and is far and away my favorite of her work. I also applaud the diversity of characters in her work and range of characters, though she occasionally leaves some undeveloped. The only real issue I have with most of her books are the covers. I know from her social media she loves her cover artist, but honestly, I find them a little… bad.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
Read: August 9, 2016
Goodreads Summary: The Time of Shedding and Cold Rocks has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.
My Review: This novel is a fictional mystery and a narrative about a 20 something startup failure working in a used book shop next to strip club – but it draws a beautiful metaphor and striking parallel between the development of the printing press and the rise of digitally stored data accessible world wide. What does immortality mean as our ability to literally leave our mark shifts? While is occasionally (ok, somewhat regularly) goes into overdrive trying to be “of the moment” with its tech references, this book is charming, smart, witty, a bit exciting, and thoughtful. Quick read, also. Epilogue is a bit over the top.
Sleeping in Eden
by Nicole Baart
Read: June 18, 2016
Goodreads Summary: The lives of a middle-aged doctor and a love-struck young woman intersect across time in Sleeping in Eden, Nicole Baart’s haunting novel about love, jealousy, and the boundaries between loyalty and truth. On a chilly morning in the Northwest Iowa town of Blackhawk, Dr. Lucas Hudson is filling in for the vacationing coroner on a seemingly open-and-shut suicide case. His own life is crumbling around him, but when he unearths the body of a woman buried in the barn floor beneath the hanging corpse, he realizes this terrible discovery could change everything. Years before Lucas ever set foot in Blackhawk, Meg Painter met Dylan Reid. It was the summer before high school and the two quickly became inseparable. Although Meg’s older neighbor, Jess, was the safe choice, she couldn’t let go of Dylan no matter how hard she tried. Caught in a web of jealousy and deceit that spiraled out of control, Meg’s choices in the past ultimately collide with Lucas’s discovery in the present, weaving together a taut story of unspoken secrets and the raw, complex passions of innocence lost.
My Review: I couldn’t put this down. Finished it in the space of 18 hours, distractions in the form of sleep and my children slowed me down or I’d probably read it in 6! Characters were relatable, empathetically written and the bit in Omaha’s Old Market was spot on. My only complaint is that clues and pieces led almost exactly to the outcome I expected. It took some twists and turns getting there but overall, who “Woman” is was relatively clear from the get-go.
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
By Rita Leganski
Read: June 13, 2016
Goodreads Summary: Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows Bonaventure’s silence is filled with resonance – a miraculous gift of rarified hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer. Bonaventure’s remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mere Letice, plagued by grief and long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed.
My Review: This book impacted me. It was very spiritual but didn’t quite cross into preachy or judgmental (though it edged closely here and there). I’m still sitting with my reactions and deciding how it spoke to me, which it what one should do after a good book.
A Sudden Light
By Garth Stein
Read: March 22, 2016
Goodreads Summary: In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after. But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future. A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.
My Review: I didn’t take the time to review this on Goodreads in writing (though I gave it 5 stars). This book is brilliantly crafted, creepy and emotional. This story has stuck with me.
Rat Queens (Multiple Volumes)
By Kurtis Wiebe, Illustrator Roc Upchurch
Read: January – February 2016
Goodread Summary: A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. It’s also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief. This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!
My Review: There are moments it feels like it’s trying a little hard, but it’s fun as hell. Diversity, flawed entertaining female characters, sex, drugs, and questing. What’s not to like? I really enjoyed the second volume (a) because I love origin stories, (b) I love relationship and battle stories, and (c) this felt more serious and grown up than volume one. As before I love the art, but I felt like this volume was a little inconsistent. Never bad, but a character’s features would look totally different one page to the next.
By Sarah Addison Allen*
Read: May 20, 2016
Goodreads Summary: For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother’s unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town’s constraints. Using her grandmother’s mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business — and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life — upon the family’s peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire’s routine existence upside down. With Sydney’s homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire’s own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways. As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney’s child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.
My Review: It’s been a long time since I read an entire book in one evening, even a 305 page shorty. I love this author for that. Always the right mix of lightness, relaxation, and ease with interesting plots and such fun and subtle pieces of fantasy and magic. It’s like a quilt and coco in book form.
* Sarah Addison Allen is another of my favorite authors for fiction that includes just a touch of magic and fantasy. Her books are a warm fire, a cup of tea, a connection with an old friend. She is amazing at bringing love and warmth off the page and bringing the reader into lovely and magical places.
Graphic Novel Honorable Mentions: Saga Volume 6 by Brian Vaughen, Wonder Woman Volume 3 (Iron), Volume 4 (War), Volume 5 (Flesh), Volume 6 (Bones) by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang
The Full 50: