I have loved reading this year. If you haven’t heard me say it before, I will say it again now: Kindle reading has changed my life. Sean gifted me a Kindle for Mother’s day almost 3 years ago. At first, I didn’t think I would use it. But then I discovered the e-book lending program through our public library and I was hooked. I could not request and devour books fast enough! I always thought I’d be partial to the real deal, but I have no problem saying, I am a sell-out when it comes to reading. Convenience has won out and I’m into the e-book, hook, line and sinker. (That said, I still LOVE the real deal. It just takes me longer to read the real deal. Though I am still teaching my kids that there is nothing like the smell of a new book. Gia already totally gets this!)
So, I read 63 books this year, surpassing my goal by 1 book. I’ve read what seems to be a lot of series or sequels, which I’m ok with. Continuing a book I loved is like getting a whole new season of Parenthood after I thought it was over. I also discovered a couple of authors that I found I really enjoy, for different yet equally challenging and moving reasons. (See below.) I only read one book that I wound up really, really disliking though I think that has more to do with my policy of no- shame-in-tossing-aside-a-book-I-don’t-like than it has to do with my staying power to muscle through a miserable read. I read a wide range of subject matter, though surprisingly, most of my favorite overall books hangout in the non-fiction category. So here’s my year of books, in review.
Series & SequelsIn 2015 I began a series by Nancy E Turner called “These Is My Words.” It is a 3 part anthology following the life of a woman named Sarah Agnes Prine. It takes place in the late 1800’s in the western territory of what came to be known as Arizona, and it follows Sarah from childhood all the way through adulthood and old age. This year I finished the last two books in the trilogy, Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden. I loved them all dearly and still, almost a year later, find myself thinking about Ms. Prine. The first book is difficult to read as it is written more as a journal, but if you can power through that to get to the other two books, they are written in a much more conventional and readable manner. SO GOOD.
Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)’s Cormoran Strike mystery series. There are three books so far in this series of mysteries that follow a washed up, miserable but lovable private detective, Cormoran Strike. They are The Cuckoo’s Calling, Silkworm and Career of Evil. Well written (duh) and an all around good mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.
You may also have noticed I’ve started reading The Babysitters Club series again. (I say again because I read them in my youth.) There is a fantastic podcast called The Babysitter’s Club Club where two 30-something guys read through each of the books and discuss them. It sounds lame, but it is actually incredible. You just have to listen to it to see what I mean. Its even better if you read the book first then listen to the corresponding episode. Trust me. Just do it.
I read the first book in a couple of other series (Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series and Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series) but to be honest, I was reading a lot of mysteries in succession and they all kind of melted together. So I’ve put them off for a bit and will read them one series at a time in the future.
I was so excited to read the sequel to my favorite 2015 book, The Kitchen House. It is called “Glory Over Everything” by Kathleen Grissom and continues the stories of the character in The Kitchen House, though its not quite so obvious how the characters are connected in the beginning. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.
Hot Books of 2016I read quite a few of the “hot books” for 2016. You know, books that had really good press and hype surrounding them. Most lived up to the hoopla, though a few were just OK. The good ones stand out as June, The Wonder, Murder House, All the Missing Girls and Girls in the Garden. Just OK were Girls and The Mothers.
Authors I Loved This Year
I started reading Ann Leary’s The Good House because I had heard a lot of good things about her book The Children. But, it wasn’t available through my library yet (I was 19th in line) so I looked for other books by her. The Good House is a classic New England tale about a (sort of) recovering alcoholic who is a realtor in an idyllic town who really just needs a friend. If I were to pick the perfect setting for a book, it would be some idyllic small town in New England (think Dawson’s Creek). So I immediately loved this book. As I read more and more of it, I began to wonder to myself, “Am I an alcoholic?” Now, pause that thought and fast forward to me reading Leary’s book The Children. It is about the complicated life of a blended family as the navigate life after death and illness. One of the main characters has classic bipolar disorder and as I was reading that book, I thought to myself “Am I bipolar?” That’s when it dawned on me that Leary’s writing is just that good— she drew me in to the characters in such a way that I identified with them to the point of questioning my own sanity! Now that was a first in my reading life, an occurrence with which I was highly impressed. I will be reading more of her this new year.
Another author I loved this year was Lois Lowry. You may remember her from your youth— we had to read Number the Stars in 6th grade and it has stuck with me ever since. Same with her book The Giver (a series I read last year). I started by rereading Number the Stars when I was in a funk of “what should I read next.” I found that it was not just some childish tale that I could read in my sleep, but an engaging and thought-provoking work of art that kept me thinking long after its 150 pages were over. When I was reflecting on the book after I was finished, I was awed at the breadth and depth of Lowry’s storytelling in such few pages. Realizing that is an area where I need improvement (brevity of thought does not come naturally to me) I decided to read more of her works, to learn her ways and hopefully better my own writing. I read Gossamer followed by A Summer to Die and with each quick read, I was floored at the power of Lowry’s storytelling. Next, I read an autobiography that was fascinating… she took snippets of her personal life and wove them in with quotes and inspiration from her novels. I have loved every one of her books and plan to read more this year. I’ve found that they are the perfect palate cleanser when I am in need of something to read when I’ve just finished a heavy or lengthy book.
FavoritesAnd finally, my favorites.
5. Mischling- The story of two Jewish twins who survived the torturous experiments of Mengele at Auschwitz. The story is fiction but inspired by true events. After reading this novel, I read the real-life account from which much of this book was derived and was struck with the weight of history. We must not forget, just because something is horrific and painful to think about. History is important and cannot be erased, though many people try.
4. The Life We Bury- This is a novel about college student, Joe Talbert, who has to write a biography of an older person in order to fulfill an english class assignment. With no family nearby, he seeks someone out at a nursing home. It turns out most of the patients there have alzhiemers or dementia, but a nurse points him in the direction of one man in their care who is in full capacity of his wits: a convicted murderer, Carl, who has been released to the nursing home because he is in his final days of pancreatic cancer. Carl agrees to be interviewed for the assignment, promising all honesty and declaring his innocence. Joe begins to believe that perhaps this man is innocent of the heinous crimes he has been accused and rushes against death to exonerate Carl before he dies. I liked the writing on this and the story fit together perfectly.
3. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End- This is a non-fiction book by surgeon Atul Gawande. He fearlessly reveals the struggles of his profession and examines its ultimate limitations and failures as life draws to a close. He uses real-life stories from patients as well as his own father’s last days. He follows a hospice nurse on her rounds, a geriatrician in his clinic and reformers turning nursing homes upside down. He finds people who show us how to have the hard conversations and how to ensure we never sacrifice what people really care about. This book helped me to realize that when it comes to dealing with illnesses in our loved ones, perhaps prolonging their lives with us is not what matters most, but preserving their dignity and being able to love and live well until the end is most important. A great read for anyone and everyone— especially those of us who have parents who are still living and healthy. Its easier to have the hard conversations now than it will be later.
2. Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Season- This was almost a tie for first place but Columbine pulled ahead just by a hair, only because of the insane grit and research that went into Columbine. In many ways, Roots & Sky is the exact opposite— it is a simple memoir of a woman and her family’s first year in an old farmhouse called Maplehurst. It begins when they came home to a house but it describes a journey home. I am a homebody through and through and have long been obsessed with the concept of Home (both here and Heavenward). As the author Christie Purifoy herself describes the book, “Roots and Sky is a book for anyone who longs for home but worries we can never come home on this side of heaven. Roots and Sky is about all the ways heaven comes to us. Today. In this place.” I’ve long believed that anything good on this earth is but a glimpse of the greater good God has in store for us when we are with him in Heaven. That pertains to feelings as well, and to think that this feeling of “home” that so comforts me here is but a mere glimmer of the fullness God has for me— well, it takes my breath away! This book is beautiful and if you’ve ever felt that way, then it is right up your alley, too. And, just for what its worth, I have recommended this book and gifted this book more than any other on my list.
1. Columbine- I was a Junior on April 20, 1999. Perhaps that’s why Columbine and all that surrounds this tragedy is so strongly etched in my memory. In many ways, Columbine was the turning point of a generation. It was the first time we saw a consistent police presence at our schools, and certainly the first time that police office was ever armed. Author Dave Cullen spent 10 years researching this book. Cullen is a journalist by trade and his investigative instincts and research tactics served his writing well in this book. This book dispelled many of the myths that surrounded the massacre for nearly a decade. For instance, did you know that it had nothing to do with school bullying, jocks, the gothic subculture, Marilyn Manson or the so-called Trench Coat Mafia? And that it was intended primarily as a bombing- a terrorist attack- rather than a school shooting? And did you also know that there was, in fact, no dying declaration of faith from Cassie Bernall? The book as two main storylines, told in alternating chapters: the ‘before’ story of the killers’ evolution toward murder, and the ‘after’ story of the survivors. There are also shorter ’during’ accounts of the attack, dispersed though the book. The amount of material and supporting research and data collected in this book is staggering and helps paint a clear picture on an event in history that for more than 15 years has been clouded by myth and misconception. This was by far my favorite book of the year for many reasons: The writing is fantastic. Cullen knows how to tell a story. The story is completely factual and there are personal interviews, eye-witness accounts, and video taped recordings that support the evidence. This is a story of survivors. While many people lost their lives at Columbine, Cullen does a great job of bringing the heroes to the forefront, not the killers. If you were a child of the 90’s or have interest in true crime, this book should be first on your list for 2017.
So there you have it! My books of 2016. Whew! Now, to get on to reading for 2017. What books are you going to read? Do any of these look interesting?