I read approximately 30 books last year, and there were some gems among them, including a new favorite. I narrowed it down to six favorites for this post. I can only tell you what I loved about these books, sans spoilers, and maybe convince one or two of you to pick up something that you wouldn’t usually turn to.
Sharp Objects (Mystery/Thriller)
This book, this book right here. Wow. You want to be punched in the face and then falsely comforted by a book? Look, I didn’t think I did either, until I read this. All you have to do is go ‘look inside’ on amazon, and read the first couple pages. Flynn reads like a Sylvia Plath poem in a crime noir. Every sentence builds on the previous all the way to the sick-to-your-stomach merry-go-round ride at the end. Read Gone Girl or Dark Places? Great, now read this, and be happy you saved the best for last.
Camille Preaker, fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and looking for approval from her editor, is sent back to her hometown to look into a potential serial strangler of little girls. Problem is, returning to Wind Gap means facing her past, specifically her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, her ethereal half-sister Amma, and the ghost of her dead sister, Marian.
Sisterland (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction)
A compulsive contemporary read with a semi-fantastical element, this book was shocking in its vivid realism. Kate is the good girl of the sisters, the one that cares about what other people think, the one that ‘does things right’. Violet is the non-conformist, brutally honest, true to herself sister that embraces the psychic ability that they discovered at an early age and her premonition of an impending earth quake that gets her a spot on the national news.
This novel should not be written off as only chick-lit or a book about psychics. Sittenfeld combines masterful storytelling with subtle acknowledgement of all those what-if forks throughout our lives. Bringing to mind Niffeneger’s deft handling of that slice of magic through ordinary life in her Time Traveler’s Wife, Sisterland observes friendship, and romantic and familial relationships with a sharp emotional clarity.
Night Film (Mystery/Thriller)
Horror is a third genre in which this novel fits (from my 2016 reads, see also A Head Full of Ghosts and My Best Friend’s Exorcism). Though this novel did call to mind House of Leaves in its experimental story-telling method, it is also unique.
Night Film had a hard-boiled tone to it in some parts, a thrilling ghost story in others, and the recounting of great and dark man’s horrific legacy overall. While about a prolific horror film director, who went to all lengths to capture true, unaffected horror, the story is told by Scott McGrath, the reporter who once tried to out director Stanislas Cordova’s sinister methods and lost everything in the battle. Now that Cordova’s daughter Ashley has turned up dead (and was pretty ghostly before she died), McGrath declares war. Will he find the truth he is looking for? You’ll have to read to see.
Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (YA)
I read a lot of YA last year. My reread of Carry On aside, this was the most flawless, engrossing, teen-angst-ridden book I could have devoured in two days. And I did. (I can also highly recommend First & Then and P.S. I Like You for light-hearted, touching reads, but for heavier/darker YA, Nest, Looking for Alaska, and Wintergirls were also great.)
Simon’s day is already going south quick when he realizes that awkward class clown Martin (think Ackley from The Catcher in the Rye) is blackmailing him, threatening to reveal his homosexuality far before he’s ready. A timely disturbance to the butterflies he feels when emailing his also gay, anonymous pen-pal, who quite possibly attends Simon’s school. This book took me back to high school, to drama club, to starbursts in your chest of like-like and love, and to trying so hard it hurts to define yourself while defying the definitions placed on you from without.
After diving into Downton Abbey, I thirsted to read about how the other half lives in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as represented by Baker. I was not disappointed. Some Austen and/or historical purists disdain this book for historical inaccuracies or perceived misinterpretations of Austen’s text. In my opinion, it is a good story beautifully written. It dug into my heart and lives there still. How can I convey how much and why I love this book? Okay, you have a certain food that you love, right? The ultimate comfort food. Maybe you throw it together on rainy days, maybe you just need it after having a really bad day…or a really good one. And you know how you feel, afterward, in the pit of your stomach? Not just full, but satiated? This is a book you will want to eat. And it will satiate you, I promise.
*FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016*
The Madwoman Upstairs
And my absolute favorite book of 2016, which has been bumped up to my top four favorite novels ever (sitting prettily aside Jane Eyre, House of Leaves, and The Catcher in the Rye), was The Madwoman Upstairs.
So, if you’ve ever done any type of feminist research on the Brontës’ works, you probably ran into a little tome called The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar), not to be confused with the novel, The Madwoman Upstairs. Lowell’s title is a play on the excellent collection of feminist analyses, but I promise the book is less homework-y and more fun. 🙂
If you take immense pleasure in archaic romances (as defined here), you will enjoy this book. Not to be shallow, but debating great literature and semi-colon use with my hellishly good-looking Literature tutor in the pubs of England and yes, the halls of Oxford University, sounds like a little slice of heaven. Even better though, someone else struggles with inarticulateness in the face of the intimidating don. Samantha Whipple, the last Brontë descendant, was home-schooled by her late eccentric father. She is a bit of an odd ball and fairly alone in the world. She comes to Oxford to study literature, gets sequestered in what must surely be an inhabitable tower of the school, and begins to find startling pieces of her past on her doorstep. The mystery of whether her father left her the Brontë legacy, or any legacy at all, absorbs the reader into Sam’s growing obsession. Sam is far from perfect, but this is what makes her a heroine you will adore (or maybe you’ll hate her, but I adored her). Her sense of humor had me laughing out loud, ex:
“The trajectory of the academic year was now spanning out in front of me, and it looked like one blackened stream of intellectual dictatorship. The more time Orville and I spent together, the more I would become one of those pale-faced vampire children in films who emerge only to say something unsettilingly prophetic in a half whisper” —The Madwoman Upstairs
God, I could pull so many passages from this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for you (because you’re about to go buy it, right?). However, it wasn’t just about the narrator voice, or the romance, or the Brontë ghosts Sam spends over three hundred pages chasing (and avoiding in some parts). This book made me think, made me reconsider my own analyses on the literature addressed therein. Part scavenger-hunt, part romance, part spiraling descent into academia (with a touch of madness, of course), this novel leaves you struggling to discern truth from fiction.
Read any of these books? What did you think?