(illustration by Kirsten Sims)
It’s been a few years since I wrote a “Year in Review” formatted like this one written in 2011. I wrote it listing my favourite books of the year, least favourite, favourite characters, best new author, etc., and I decided my “2016 Year in Review” should return to this format.
An awful work snafu left me sitting at home during the summer months, and I must say some of the best reading happened for me in those months. Great book, after great book landed in my lap and I was able to sit outside on the patio and get some serious reading done. Even with all that time off however, I still didn’t get to all the books I wanted to read! Anyway, here are my lists broken down into categories that enable me to provide a little bit of extra insight as to why I liked them:
Starting with the Best Books Read in 2016 (it’s a must to start off with this category right?) These are in no particular order of likability, they are all stars:
- No Man’s Land, by Simon Tolkien – all the stars and all the love for this incredible masterpiece of storytelling!
- Imagine Me Gone, by Adam Haslett – a fantastic hit for our in-person book club, this was recommended in an off-hand way by Jennifer at Literallife and turned out to be a great success.
- The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, by Christopher Scotton – another one deserving of all the stars – a great blend of the storytelling genius of John Irving and Pat Conroy.
- The Unseen World, by Liz Moore – awesome, you have to read it just to appreciate how clever that last chapter/Epilogue is! (But be carried away by the wonderful story of Ada Sibelius as well.)
- The Invitation, by Lucy Foley – stayed up well past my bed time to finish – this is NOT however an “evocative romance” or “dazzling romance” as it is so mistakenly blurbed!
- To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey – gorgeous! Letters, journals, diaries, newspaper articles make up this epic, romantic and sweeping adventure.
- The Long, Hot Summer by Kathleen MacMahon – a book that flew under the radar – actually recommended this to my mother, a person that never finishes a book beyond one chapter, beyond perhaps a few pages. She devoured it and sent me text messages all along her reading journey describing her love for it.
- Evergreen, by Rebecca Rasmussen – she got me again in the end, just as she did in The Bird Sisters.
- June, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore – a very satisfying summer read! Family secrets, Old Hollywood, a touch of the south – it makes for the quintessential summer reading experience.
- The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson – gush, swoon, love, all the love and adoration for The Summer Before the War. Prompted me to buy my own copy of Middlemarch because the similarities to it were so often mentioned in other reviews.
- Thomas Murphy, by Roger Rosenblatt – what a charming, wonderful and quick read. The Murph with his sardonic wit will touch your heart.
- A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding, by Jackie Copleton – beautiful and I needed tissues at the end.
- The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx – fabulous and I waited this long to read it?!
- A Place Called Sorry, by Donna Milner – left me with a Serious Book Hangover!! Loved it. Beautiful.
- The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon – oh this book. Oh I love it so much. So, so much. No surprise to find this one on this list right?
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead – important, incredible and well-deserving of all its accolades and awards. Still need to find out how Cora is doing – desperately hoping there is a follow-up novel.
- But You Did Not Come Back, by Marceline Loridan-Ivens – a slight, yet absolutely stunning memoir. A must read. Incredibly important given the increasingly frightening political climate in the US and in Europe.
Honourable Mentions in 2016
- The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
- Translation of Love, by Lynne Kutsukake – wonderful story with wonderful characters.
- Lost and Found, by Brooke Davis – seriously charming book that seems to have been lost in the shuffle and deserves far more attention. You won’t be disappointed in this one.
- Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye – a terrific heroine! A fun and fantastic read.
- The Spy, by Paulo Coelho – a solid read about the fascinating Mata Hari.
Best Audiobooks of 2016
Audio took a giant back seat for me this year. I struggled to find audiobooks that I could spend the full time listening to and often bailed on many before just giving up and giving them a rest entirely. Toward the end of summer, and with my return to work in the Fall, I did find audio that I really enjoyed – here they are:
- Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye – narration by Susie Riddell. Riddell is fantastic and has become a new favourite narrator. She was Jane Steele and it was completely delightful listening to her adventures in Riddell’s perfect lilt!
- The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman – narration by Mia Barron. This was the perfect and light-hearted story that came along at just the right time. I laughed, I loved and Mia Barron’s narration added to the enjoyment of this wonderful story of two sisters living with another roommate and overcoming difficult times together. Delightful and highly recommended.
- The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon – narration by Cassandra Campbell and Kathe Mazur. There is nothing more that needs to be said about that- Campbell and Mazur are excellent and The Winter People shines due to their narration.
Canlit Mentions for 2016
My Canlit reading also took a bit of a hit, backseat, or whatever you want to call it, in 2016. It started strong due to the commitment to the CBC Goodreads group, but once that group closed in June, my attention to focusing on Canlit waned, even though I have a tremendous amount of new and old on my shelf that I am desperate to get to – I will get to it in 2017! I still long for working with Jennifer on a good Canlit focused group, or maybe one not only focused on it, but just a good, wonderful and positive group of people to chat with books about. I miss it most days, and I miss working with Jennifer on a project like it. Anway….and then, well, Canlit kind of exploded near the end of 2016 didn’t it? Wow. What a divide. How disappointing. Anyway, I did read some very good Canlit this year and this category deserves its own special spotlight:
- Number 1 has to be A Place Called Sorry, by Donna Milner! It’s mentioned in my Best of up there and it’s got to be #1 here. What a fantastic book, like I said, it left me with a serious book hangover. The book itself is a gorgeously published work of art, and the pages inside feature some of the most wonderful reading I read this year.
- The Hero’s Walk, by Anita Rau Badami – this was read because it was a contender for Canada Reads, and I was really gunning for this one to take the title!
- The Outside Circle, by Patti Laboucane-Benson – this was Long Listed for Canada Reads and it was the first graphic novel I’ve ever read. This should be required reading in every Canadian school. What a powerful story!
- Black Apple by Joan Crate – this was an excellent read with many layers to unpack. The points of view of both Sinopaki/Rose Marie and Mother Grace made for excellent reading.
Disappointing Books of 2016
While there were so many great ones, there are always the ones that just didn’t sing for me. It happens. What can you do?
- Lyrebird, by Cecilia Ahern – I was really anticipating this one, and almost bought it, but glad I only borrowed from the library.
- The Fortunate Brother, by Donna Morrissey – this pained me a little to include here, but I cannot deny I was disappointed by it.
- The Waiting Room, by Leah Kaminsky – blurbed as a “multigenerational” read, it wasn’t at all. It was voiced by one person and I thought it a messy read.
- Faithful, by Alice Hoffman – another highly anticipated read that deeply disappointed me. While I wasn’t expecting exactly what was found in The Dovekeepers, I was expecting to read writing similar to it, and not this elementary, basic style found in Faithful.
- Stranger, by David Bergen – found the writing to be much like what I found in Faithful. Deeply and profoundly disappointed in this one!
- He Wants, by Alison Moore – The Lighthouse this was not.
- Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley – this one didn’t do it for me like it seemed to for others.
- The Memento, by Christy Ann Conlin – another one I so anticipated but only felt “ah bummer” when reading.
- Only Love Can Break your Heart, by Ed Tarkington – the audiobook I hit Eject! Eject! – the gravelly, gritty narration was more suited for a western and the story itself I found boring.
- My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout – I truly did not feel the connection to this one at all.
Favourite New Author Discovered in 2016
This has to go to Ruth Ware! Thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada I was able to read her debut, In a dark, dark wood this summer and was desperate to read her follow up to this break-out hit, The Woman in Cabin 10. Another excellent “locked-room mystery”! I’ll be able to post my thoughts on The Woman in Cabin 10 soon – it won’t be available in Canada until the first or second week of January, so I’ll post it closer to its release date. No surprise to me that I really enjoyed this one too and now sit anxiously awaiting the release of her third, The Lying Game. That one is going to be a long wait – it’s not out until June 2017.
The Books I Recommended the Most in 2016
- In a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware
- The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson
- The Long, Hot Summer, by Kathleen MacMahon
- The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon (*most often)
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
Favourite Inside of Books
Well, hands down this goes to To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. Inside there were photographs, illustrations, journal entries, maps, newspaper clippings, etc. It had the heft and feel of pages in a textbook! It was gorgeous to hold and to read. It’s definitely a book that needs to be owned and displayed on your shelf! I was so very happy I decided to grab the hardcopy instead of reading it on the e-reader, as how I was originally reading it.
My other favourite was definitely A Place Called Sorry by Donna Milner. Everything about this book was beautiful – the French flaps, the weight, the quality and feel to the paper, the chapter titles/headings, the differentiation in text appearance from the journal entries to the regular text. I couldn’t stop touching this book. What a beautiful publication by Caitlin Press! The pride in this publication was evident.
Most Beautifully Written Book Read in 2016
Oh, well, for sure The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. I was swept away by it. Utterly lost and transported to the town of Rye. #2. would be The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon – the cleverness in every single one of her sentences was astonishing. So, so very clever! #3. To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey and #4. No Man’s Land, by Simon Tolkien – you were transported to the battlefield in Somme – absolutely transported. You were there. #5. The Hero’s Walk, by Anita Rau Badami – such exquisite sentences!
Most Memorable Characters
So many memorable characters in this year’s reading to share! These are also in no particular order of how much I liked one character, or characters, over the others – they were all so magical and wonderful!
- Beatrice Nash, Agatha Kent, and her two nephews, Daniel and Hugh from The Summer Before the War. Oh. How I miss these people. I was sad to see my time with them come to an end.
- Adam Raine from No Man’s Land. I fell deeply in love with Adam. I wanted to physically be with Adam.
- Sophie Forrester from To The Bright Edge of the World. She was just a fantastic heroine in her own right. Her steadfast love, but fierce determination to live very much alone while her husband was navigating the wilds of Alaska, all while pregnant with their child. She was lovely, incredible, strong, and reading her journal entries was wonderful.
- Sripathi’s mother in The Hero’s Walk. This is easily one of the most despicable mother-characters I’ve read in a long time! She was absolutely awful!
- Ingrid in Swimming Lessons. I’ll be thinking about Ingrid for a good and long time.
- Marceline Loridan-Ivens, and her father, in her memoir, But You Did Not Come Back. I just got choked up writing this.
- Adeline (Addie) Beale, her grandfather and the teacher, Mrs. Parsons from A Place Called Sorry. I hung on every one of Addie’s words, her grandfather’s and despised Mrs. Parsons!
- Mother Grace from Black Apple. God, I loved this nun.
- Grace and Tilly from The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Grace and Tilly for the win! Enough said! 🙂
- Millie, Agatha and Karl from Lost & Found. Charming characters does not even do them justice. Heartbreakingly fantabulous characters.
- Mata Hari in The Spy. What a fascinating woman!!
- Cora from The Underground Railroad. Cora is a person I will never, ever forget and I need to know how Cora is – I need a follow-up!
- “The Murph”, Thomas Murphy, from Thomas Murphy. My character kryptonite! An old man writing and talking to his deceased wife. Again, I think I just teared up writing this.
I’m sure I could add more – but these people were all wonderful characters to read about and each touched my heart in their own special way.
I considered adding fancy statistical data here as well. But I’ve been very lax, as in, not tracking at all, and not collecting or maintaining any data that could be shown in pretty graphs and whatnot. I would say, just by an “at a glance” look at my Read in 2016 Shelf, that most of my reading was by female authors, which is not really shocking since it’s pretty typical in my reading anyway, always. I did diversify more of my reading however this year, but fell severely short of reading any non-fiction. I own a great deal of non-fiction and even acquired quite a few more this year, so I really hope to get to more NF next year.
And while I am still saddened and get wistful sometimes about no longer co-moderating the CBC Goodreads group with Jennifer, I did join the Litsy gang (available as the Litsy app) and have been enjoying my time with this great community of book lovers tremendously. A great group of wonderful and very positive people from all over the world! It’s become a welcomed community that I’m very grateful to participate in each day.
Of course there were also SO many more books that I wanted to read in 2016 and just wasn’t able to get to – so, so many that are still wanting to be read going into 2017, and so many new ones coming out too, that it’s all sometimes so overwhelming. How to get all the books read? How to stuff them all into my head? It leaves me often with feeling like my brain will explode when I see all the books lining my shelves, sitting waiting for me at the library, being released in the new year, that I think I resemble this image:
2016 was an impressive year for reading for me I think, and it seems to have been sometime now where I’ve been able to really jump for joy about the books I read. Sadly, there was so much else that was fairly soul sucking in 2016 eh?So happily waiting to ring in 2017! Bring on the joy and bring on more great reading!
Wishing you the merriest of Christmases and the all the happy that you can handle in the New Year!