What I'm Reading: The Best Books of 2016

Books a Million: My Reading List, Part XV

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Looking for your next great beach read as we head into the final month of summer? I’ve got you covered.

What I'm Reading: The Best Books of 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This is technically the last book I’ve read, having just finished yesterday, but I’m choosing to list it first because really, no other book matters besides this one. It’s one of those books that the second I put it down, I didn’t want to start a new one because few can live up to it.

I’ve been a fan of Hannah’s for more than a decade now and have read at least half of her 22 novels, but none came even close to The Nightingale in terms of story complexity, brilliant prose and an excess of emotion. The bare bones of the plot is this: Two dramatically different French sisters lost their mother and father at a young age, took divergent paths and both wound up doing her part to help out during World War II—one as a renegade smuggling downed pilots over the border of the Pyrenees into Spain; the other a teacher who saves the lives of Jewish children. This book was heartbreaking around every turn, particularly in light of recent world events, and the tales of life in a concentration camp, as well as the Nazis’ treatment of villagers in their occupation zone—rapes, beatings, even cold-blooded murder—seemed far more realistic than other war books I’ve read. Parts of it reminded me of Sarah’s Key, so I found it interesting to read in the author’s notes that Tatiana de Rosnay helped her out with the historical research.

Moral of this story: Don’t read this book without a box of Kleenex close by.

My rating: 5 out of 5

Lies and Other Acts of Love by Kristy Woodson Harvey

I knew nothing of this book—or its author—until she reached out to me via social media to see if I’d take a glance at her book. I’m all for supporting writers, and so I added the advanced copy to my digital queue. And I’m glad I did, too. In short, this novel was a really pleasant, easy read, Southern fiction at its finest. The two protagonists, a grandmother and granddaughter, reminded me of Fannie Flagg characters—and Flagg has long been one of my favorite authors—funny, almost silly at times, but whip-smart and likable. While the book is tinged with tales of infidelity—not to mention, a death or two—it’s surprisingly lighthearted and won’t leave you sad like The Nightingale. At the core, it’s a story about unbreakable family bonds and how you never really know somebody, blood relative or not.

Ultimately, this is an indulgent beach read for all you gals looking for something to tear through on your summer vacation.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

If you read (and liked) You, I’d venture to say you’ll find its sequel even more riveting. And if you haven’t yet read the precursor, do that first—but be forewarned it’s very graphic in nature (tales of torture, stalking and sex) and not at all for the prudish among us. Mom, I’m talking to you!

Hidden Bodies follows Joe Goldberg out to LA, where he’s stalking his next victim, who left him high and dry at his NYC bookstore when she emptied out the cash register. He goes on a witch hunt to track her down, trying to piece together how to find someone in a city of four million residents while also getting by. Along the way, he falls into a group of high-rolling Angelenos, someone landing a girlfriend in the process. While I wouldn’t call this thriller scary per se—I’m a wuss and still can’t bring myself to crack the spine of Dark Places if that at all gives you a glimpse into my literary leanings—it is deeply unsettling, and the first-person narrative takes you right into the mind of a serial killer where you, at times, even go as far as to sympathize with him.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

This was one of those books I read because so many of you had recommended it in the comments. Alas, it seems everyone wants to read this book—at least here in Nashville where my library is headquartered—as it took six months for my turn on the hold list! But once I had it, I devoured The Good Girl in 48 hours flat.

The story of a kidnapping gone wrong, this quick read told from the perspective of a handful of different narrators, including the mother of the victim, the kidnapper, the victim herself and the detective, chronicles a family wrapped up in blackmail as they search for Mia and try to get to the bottom of the case. I hate to be a cliche, but it’s true: For those of you who liked A Girl on the Train and/or Gone Girl, you’ll love The Good Girl (so many Girl novels out right now!). It’s got several parallels while also slamming you with a zinger—an unexpected plot twist, always—that hits you like a ton of bricks at the very end.

I’ve now added every other book of Kubica’s to my library list, so thank you for those of you who insisted I give her a go.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

With all the thrillers and chick lit I’ve read of late, this was a great way to break up the monotony. I’m not entirely sure where I first read about Americanah, but if we’re being honest, it’s not the type of book I’d normally pick up. I feel like with all the racial tension in the media that consumes my daily reading, that’s the last thing I want to read for fun before I go to bed. But this book, by a well-known Nigerian author, presents the plight of Africans living in America (very different than African-Americans, please note) in an insightful, comic and eye-opening sort of way.

After reluctantly leaving her home country for education in America, Ifemelu decides to return to Lagos more than a decade later, and much of the book deals with her apprehension to leave her fiance and adopted New England home and return to what was once familiar. Despite our origins, I felt many similarities to Ifemelu, the fiery main character, who was a magazine editor-turned-blogger, and I loved the oft-somber but also enlightening picture painted of life in Nigeria, a very foreign-to-me country I’ve yet to explore beyond these pages.

In short, anyone who loves travel memoirs, discussions of racial issues or feminism is bound to find Americanah fascinating.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Me Before You by JoJo Meyes

While Me Before You has long been on the bestseller list, I only downloaded it to read because the movie is out and I love me some Emilie Clark. This is also a great example of why I insist on sticking to most books even when I loathe them in the beginning. While it didn’t necessarily start out super slow, it felt like it was quickly veering into Nicholas Sparks territory, and while I like The Notebook as a movie, I have never read a single thing of Sparks’ that I could stomach. I nearly put this book down several times as I was itching to start Eligible but seeing as I had just spent $12.99 on the download—versus getting it from the library like I usually do—the money-pinching CPA’s daughter in me regretfully made myself finish it.

And I’m so glad I did. The main characters, Lou and Will, both started out as unlikable, but by midway through I was rooting for both of them: a quadriplegic who had everything before he was mowed down by a motorcycle and an unambitious twentysomething who didn’t come from the best of circumstances. Guys, this book isn’t exactly the happiest of reads—I mean, considering the subject matter, would you expect it to be? and you’ll need tissues at the end—but the sentiment was sweet, and I am happy I plowed my way through it.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

After not loving Sisterland, I was nervous this book. So by a couple chapters in when I realized the Curtis Sittenfeld I had fallen in love with over Prep and American Wife was back, I did a silent cheer and proceeded to devour this fun spin on Pride & Prejudice over the course of the weekend. Sittenfeld puts the Bennet family in present day Cincinnati, but uses Austen speak, and I loved the dichotomy of the two, full of tales of reality show drama, Crossfit, transgenders and yoga. Liz is a magazine editor living in Manhattan who comes home to Ohio when her father falls ill and must pull her crumbling family—including a pair of spoiled little sisters who have never left home—back together. She meets Mr. Darcy, a surgeon from a wealthy California family, and well, you know how the tale turns out. This was a brilliant retelling of a beloved book by so many, and I think any Austen fan would be happy with the outcome.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Up next, I started Lauren Weisenberger’s latest read while I wait for the next Royal Spyness book to hit my Kindle on Tuesday. And I swear this will be the month I finally finish All the Light We Cannot See!

But I do need several good reads for my upcoming three weeks in Europe, so please share with me: What’s the one book you’ve read lately that made you never want to pick up another for fear it wouldn’t compare?

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COMMENTS
  • July 29, 2016
    Briel K.

    I will comment more later on your books but it’s actually “Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes. 🙂

    • July 29, 2016

      Ahhh thank you! This Trivial Pursuit deadline has me brain-dead this week. Edited =)

  • July 29, 2016

    Adding a few of these to my list!

    My favorite reads of late are Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, Faking Normal, and Shelter. All totally different but engrossing all the same. 🙂

  • July 29, 2016
    Megan

    I’ve been waiting for one of these posts!! The Good Girl was definitely a favorite, but The Nightengale… Oh wow! It left me so emptionally drained in the best of ways and it’s a hard book to follow!! I have You and Hidden Bodies on my Kindle Wish List, and I just downloaded Burying the Honeysuckle Girls (like a previous poster) and I can’t wait to start it! Recently though, I read We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman, and I loved it. It’s a story about a divorced guy who is forced to face his past, and I love that it’s told from a male’s perspective. It’s hilarious and light-hearted while still dealing with some heavy-ish family stuff. I finished this one in 48 hours and I want to read more of his books!

  • July 29, 2016
    Lauren

    I loved THE NEST by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Also reading A MAN CALLED OVE, which is really funny and sweet.

  • July 29, 2016
    Holly Burns

    I always love your book posts! Didn’t realized You had a sequel, so have added that to my library request list, along with The Good Girl. And I’m right in the middle of Eligible at the moment, which I was also SO excited about and is living up to my expectations so far!

    Best things I have read this year are:

    Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
    All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews
    A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

    I just got done with the latter and it’s actually probably the best book I’ve read in four or five years. Heartbreaking and long and super tough to get through at times (not a light beach read!) but so worth it; it’s stuck with me long after I’ve finished it.

    Oh, one more Gone Girl/Girl on a Train-esque psychological thriller I read earlier this year was In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. Pretty good page turner if you’re on a plane or a beach.

  • July 30, 2016
    Kavita

    If memory serves me right, Adichie’s ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is set in Nigeria. Americanah is my favourite (of the two) though. Was happy to read The Nightingale review as it’s lying around waiting to be read.

  • July 30, 2016

    Yayy, a book post! 🙂 I’ve added a couple of your suggestions from above to my wishlist! I’m moving into my new apartment soon and I’ve bought a huge bookcase, which has the potential to become even bigger. I can’t wait to fill it with good books 🙂 I checked the books I read this year to see if I could give you any tips, and actually apart from Lee Child’s “The Hard Way” there’s nothing I read that I could recommend… I need to pick up one of the books you recommended otherwise this might turn out to be a dull book year 😉

  • July 30, 2016
    Crystal Davis

    And this is why Kristin Luna is my book buddy 🙂

  • July 31, 2016

    Thank you so much for reading Lies and Other Acts of Love! I appreciate it. Have a great day! xo Kristy

  • July 31, 2016
    Linda

    I just finished Hillbilly Elegy and enjoyed it so much. Not fiction but a short,great read about an interesting American life. Also, finish All the Light…especially after the book you just read. I thought it was terrific.

  • July 31, 2016

    I am SO glad you read and recommended You which brought me to Hidden Bodies – I LOVED IT! It seems like there will be a third the way this one ended. Do you like to read about food culture? If so, I devoured (har-har) Rice Noodle Fish from Matt Goulding of Roads & Knights – but then again I love Japanese food. I’m going to check out Eligible.

  • July 31, 2016

    I’m such a sucker for book lists – and I have 306 books on my Amazon wish-list to show for it! Will I ever get through all of them?!

    I just finished Liane Moriarty’s “The Husband’s Secret” which was pretty good. I’m also reading Paul Theroux’s “Deep South” – I love his books, but they are long, and not necessarily nail biters, so I always have to alternate with a page turner.

  • August 1, 2016

    Americanah is on my list! I love Adichie!

    xox

  • August 2, 2016

    Random observation: Compared to my list, yours is so… intense! You’ve got me sold on The Nightingale though. I’ll brave myself and read it when I get it from the library. Another book I read recently that I found really, really profound is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I read it in 2 sittings and then went back to read it again. It was incredibly heart-breaking, but it was also THAT good. AHHH…

  • August 2, 2016
    Kay

    You should check out Open by Andre Agassi! I don’t follow tennis at all and I never really followed his career, but it’s one of the best autobiographies I’ve read in a while.

  • August 2, 2016

    If you liked The Girl on the Train, then you might want to give What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan a go. It’s a good suspense novel.

  • August 4, 2016
    Charise

    A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout is by far the best book I’ve read this year. (The Nightingale was the best I read last year!) It’s a memoir of her time being kidnapped in Somalia.

    Also, there’s a sequel to Me Before You that came out this year called After You and it’s pretty good.

  • August 5, 2016

    Haha I’m still working on All the Light as well, but I’ve got the audiobook. No excuses for me. I just added a bunch of these to my Goodreads account. I also think this is the year I’ll commit to reading Gone with the Wind.

    • September 8, 2016

      I STILL haven’t finished All the Light! I blame it on the number of library book holds that all seem to come into my queue at the same time and mean I have to read, read, read before they all expire at the same time within 21 days, ha! Haven’t read Gone with the Wind either but just got Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil via library holds, speaking of iconic Georgia books I’ve yet to read.

  • August 17, 2016
    Briel K.

    I’m about 60% done with Eligible (my 40th book of the year) and I’m really enjoying it!

    I’ve been reading a lot of Morgan Matson’s books lately. They are young adult and pretty easy reads but I’ve been liking them a lot actually.

    I just read The Nest too and it was pretty good. I just tried to remember what happened at the end though and it took me a minute to recall it (and I just finished it last week) so maybe not that memorable in my mind! Either that or I read too fast and don’t absorb things enough! That is definitely a possibility!

    • September 8, 2016

      Now that I’m catching up…what did you think about Eligible?? I haven’t read Morgan Matson, but I do LOVE me some YA and haven’t read any in awhile, so I’ll add that to my ever-growing, never-shrinking list, lol.

      • September 8, 2016
        Briel K.

        I enjoyed Eligible! I’ve never ready any Austen so I only know the story from the various movies I’ve seen. I did feel like all of the characters were exaggerated, most to the point of being unlikable, but since they were all like that it just seemed like part of the book.

        Did you ever read the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty? Those and almost anything by Sarah Dessen are some of my favorite YA books!

  • September 7, 2016

    Do you like to read about food culture?

    • September 8, 2016

      I haven’t actually read a lot of books about food culture but did just finish Great Kitchens of the Midwest (fiction) and LOVED it. Which food reads would you recommend?

  • January 5, 2017

    thanks for your feedback about the books it really saves a lot of time as you already know the book is a waste and not worthy of getting read … i have also read the hidden bodies i found it the best among the list above

  • March 12, 2018

    Thanks for the detail review. It always gives me a rough idea about which book I need to read next. The Nightingale is my favorite.

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