2016 was the year I wrote more and read less. I’d have thought reading fewer books would make me easier to please but the opposite proved true. Not many books knocked my socks off in 2016. The ten on this list did.
The Trespasser by Tana French
I’ve been a devotee of Ms. French’s complex, character-driven mysteries since I read her first, In the Woods, almost ten years ago. While my favorite is still Faithful Place, The Trespasser is next on that list.
As I wrote in my review, I devoured the book. The prose is vivid and assured and Ms. French’s pacing and plotting expertly done. Her characters are among the realest I’ve read and oh how I hope to encounter all of them–Moran, Conway, Breslin, O’Kelly and the rest of the Murder Squad–again.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
There’s a reason seven AAR reviewers put this contemporary on their Best of 2016 Lists. It’s everything we say it is: sparkling, sexy, witty, funny, and compulsively readable. Josh is my pick for hero of the year and even the setting, which many of criticized for being locationally vague, worked for me. (I thought this love story could be unfolding anywhere and that gave it heft.) I just finished reading the book for the third time and, yep, I still think it’s a treasure.
Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas
I am startled this book isn’t on more of our staff’s Best of 2016 Lists. I thought it was wonderful. In my DIK review of it, I wrote: Marrying Winterborne has everything I could want in a romance: Appealing leads, great secondary characters I can’t wait to see more of, a convincing love story, wonderfully torrid scenes, elegant prose, and a wry sense of mirth.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Twenty five thousand readers at Amazon are not wrong.
This 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner is a five star, tell the world about it, for gods’ sake just read it book. I listened to it–the audio by Zach Appelman is heart-breakingly perfect–and for two weeks resented any time I couldn’t live in Doerr’s world. Just writing about it now makes me long to experience Marie Laure, Werner, and the walled city Saint-Malo again for the first time. We routinely draw a distinction between great reads and great literature. All the Light We Cannot See is both.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
In her very impressive debut novel, Ms. Mackintosh gave the world a page-turner thriller. AAR’s Kristen picked it as her book of the year and called it enthralling. I’d add remarkably suspenseful and genuinely shocking. If you like cunningly crafted psychological suspense novels, this book’s for you.
I feel about Edge of Obsession the way I felt when I met my husband. He neither looked nor–as described by my roommate–sounded like my type. I was wrong about him and I was wrong about Ms. Crane’s book. This was one of the funnest reads of my year. As I wrote in my DIK review, It’s dystopia as written by Buffy which means I, of course, loved it. This is–and I mean this in the best way–a smart sexy trashy read.
A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver
This was not my year for historical romance. With the exception of Marrying Winterbourne, releases by my favorite authors didn’t wow me. I picked up Ms. Weaver’s book on the basis of Twitter recommendations and, wow, was it a joy. It’s a marriage of convenience/big misunderstanding love story with a sexy but initially unlikeable hero and a heroine whose inner strength saves them both. I loved it and I give Ms. Weaver props for making a trope I’ve read a hundred plus times seem new and surprising.
Against the Wall by Jill Sorenson
Ms. Sorenson’s leads, Eric and Meghan, first appeared in the very good Edge of Night. There they were teenagers with a class gulf too great to overcome. In this book, the distance between them is still vast and their path to an HEA unlikely.
This might be my favorite book by Ms. Sorenson. I love Eric and Meghan as a couple and as individuals and feel the limitations Eric’s past placed on his future are realistically portrayed. This is a book full of tension–sexual and suspenseful–and I couldn’t put it down.
Plus, the use of birth control in this book should win an award. At the very least, I’d offer it as one of the best in contemporary romance. People, this is how it’s done.
Oral History by Lee Smith
Ms. Smith first published this book the summer after I graduated from college (in 1983). I read it then and longed longed longed to be a writer of Ms. Smith’s power. Since then, I’ve read it at least once a decade and did so again this past January. It’s not perfect–the ending is a bit rushed–but it’s damn near close.
It’s the story of an Appalachian family over several generations. Ms. Smith brings each member rawly alive as each tells his or her story. Oral History is just that and each time I read it I am again struck by the power of Ms. Smith’s rural mountain voices.
Since this book, Ms. Smith has established herself as one of the American South’s greatest living writers. For me, this book show why.
Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown
Ms. Brown explores in temporally brilliant detail what happens when you fall in love with the person you can least afford to fuck things up with. Travis, Emmy, and their bandmates Cole and Joey are fully rendered musicians—I spent much of my mid-twenties hanging out with indie bands and I promise you this is what is like. The road trips, the sound checks, even the drinks on the house are so authentically an indie band in the 1990s that reading this book is an immersive experience, one that I desperately didn’t want to end.
There will be readers frustrated by Emmy’s inability to see that, sometimes, you get the dream and the dreamboat. But Emmy’s love limiting fears are grounded in something so inherent to her as an artist, as a female artist in a male dominated world, that I had faith she’d find a way to love and to sing.