Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books Read in 2016, Annotated

I know my posts have slowed waaaaayyyy down this year, but I can't skip my annual list! Though I haven't much time for reading, every year I am amazed by how much I get through by reading just 10-15 minutes a night (I like to send my brain on vacation just before I fall sleep), and by using time in the car (shout out to Audiobooks!). I also did a lot of listening while doing house projects like stripping wallpaper and varnish.

This year, I break down my list into those two categories.

Hard Copies (non-audio):

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
This one has been on my mental list for years, ever since Pilot Brother, who isn't a huge reader of long books, told me it was really good. "It's like a soap opera," he said. I didn't think it was quite that accessible, but I did enjoy it, as Russian tragedies go. I finished it, which I can't say for War and Peace, and I've never attempted more than excerpts from The Brothers Karamazov. (Somehow I graduated from Wheaton College without reading it, which is quite a feat! One day, I will. :)

The Heaven Tree
The Green Branch
The Scarlet Seed
(Edith Pargeter's The Heaven Tree Trilogy)
Better known as Ellis Peters, the author of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, Edith Pargeter writes historical fiction set in medieval England and Wales. This trilogy is truly her masterpiece, a tragedy full of heartbreaking beauty, redemption, and some of the most memorable characters and places I've ever encountered. I even bought an extra copy of this book for friends to borrow!

Just One Look (Harlan Coben)
Pulp fiction that I didn't have to concentrate on too much, perfect for reading in snatches backstage during productions of summer Shakespeare in which I was performing.

Hamilton, the Revolution (Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jeremy McCarter)
My niece had this coffee table book at the farm this summer, and I just had to buy it as a gift for myself to read while recuperating from surgery in August. It has the complete libretto from the Broadway musical, plus sidenotes explaining word choices, including historical details they reference, and evolution of the script into its final form. The rest of the book was about the creative process and the collaboration that produced the smash hit (which I think is brilliant on so many levels). I'll return to this book when I need creative inspiration!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (J.K. Rowling)
Couldn't wait to read it, but it was disappointing. The script/screenplay format seemed just a skeleton of a story. It might make a good movie, but it seemed thin even for that. :(

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)
This aftermath-of-9/11 story was creatively told, with various chapters written in first person from different characters' perspectives. You had to read closely to figure out whose viewpoint you were in. I can see why it's assigned reading at the high school level; however, there is some mature material and a lot of language. Many sad and lovely moments.

The Merchant's Partner
(Michael Jecks)
I enjoyed this medieval-era mystery. But I can't think of much else to say about it.

A Fatal Grace
The Long Way Home
Still Life
(Louise Penny)
That's the order in which I read these, but make sure YOU read these in order! After the first one, I realized that besides the mystery at hand, there was a narrative that spanned more than the one book I was reading, turning these books into something more than a mystery series. Set in Canada, it took me awhile to "warm up" to the wintry descriptions of the culture in Three Pines, a quaint Quebecois village stocked with non-stock characters, but there is a thoughtful, artistic quality to these books that I appreciate.

The War Against Miss Winter
The Winter of our Discontent
Winter in June
(Kathryn Miller Haines)
After discovering there were only two books in The Girl is Murder series (see below), I quickly went in search of other books by this author! This sleuth is a spunky, wise-cracking actress in NYC during WW2. Both series are delightfully full of war-era details and slang, peopled with mobsters, private eyes, GI's, flirty girls, and temperamental actors and directors. These books probably are considered YA, but they are so colorful, anyone would enjoy them.

Farewell to Manzanar (Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston)
A completely different look at WW2, this book is an engaging memoir of growing up in a Japanese internment camp in CA. 


(Veronica Roth)
I can see why this series was so popular! Now I need to watch the movies.

Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary)
I remember enjoying this book as a kid, so I listened to it with the two youngest kids, on our trips back and forth to Milwaukee while I was directing the musical Tom Sawyer. We all enjoyed the simple problems Henry and his new dog Ribsy faced in each chapter. A preface by the author explained how it came to be; I didn't realize it was the popular author's very first book!

Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie)
I love the delightful turns of phrase in this classic children's story.

Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)
It was time to revisit this one, which I own. So thankful that I have a tape player in my 2002 Prius!

The City (Dean Koontz)
This was a beautiful story to read while race was a hot issue in the news--or any time. A story of music and childhood, told as a reminiscence into a tape recorder by an old man, a jazz pianist and child prodigy. A little bit of magical realism, a little bit of sleuthing, with tender portraits of people. I liked it very much. (I couldn't recall the author, and having just discovered who it is, I am shocked! This is not one of his typical action-packed page-turners.)

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)
Wow, this one was good!! Probably my pick of the bunch, if you are looking for a recommendation. This is an autobiography of growing up in a highly dysfunctional family, where kids were encouraged to be independent to the point of being totally neglected by their alcoholic father and self-absorbed mother. Just writing that sentence makes me wonder who would want to read this? But the author's tone is what's so incredible--she was able to receive the good that her parents offered, without whining about what they didn't provide. Her clear, objective storytelling even draws humor out of their situation at times. Her story should be encouraging to parents everywhere, not just because we look so good by comparison, but it makes one appreciate how much kids are capable of on their own. It's validating to Montessori, unschooler, free-range parent types, and it's reassuring to the helicopter, hand-holding tendencies that so many of us fight. Surprisingly, 4 out of 5 of the siblings ended up as remarkably healthy adults; the one really dysfunctional child lived mostly with Christian neighbors who took her in. It supports the consistent research that being raised by two biological parents results in the best outcomes for kids. Again, this should be encouraging to those who've managed to stay married, if we've done nothing else for our kids. It's easy to underestimate what a gift that is to our children!

A Tale of Two Castles (Gail Carson Levine)
Another enjoyable tale by this excellent children's author.

Claim to Fame (Margaret Peterson Haddix)
Interesting premise to this YA novel about a former child star who develops the ability to hear what people think about her, any time she leaves the walls of the home her father found for her before he died.

Rumpole Misbehaves (John Mortimer)
British husband humor at its best. Rumpole is a wig-wearing barrister who refers to his wife as She Who Must Be Obeyed. In this episode, he pursues the position of QC (Queen's Council) while his wife decides to study for the bar exam and become a barrister herself.

The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)
Like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, this story was also creatively told from a variety of perspectives. I enjoyed the audiobook, which had a different reader for each of the characters. It was a mystery, ultimately, that unfolded indirectly and surprisingly.

Joyland (Stephen King)
I had never read a Stephen King novel, but years ago my Professor Brother had recommended him. This one had more language than I like in an audiobook with kids around, but it was a well-crafted, suspenseful tale set in a creepy carnival. It screams "screenplay" to me; I'm surprised there hasn't been a movie?

The Colorado Kid (Stephen King)
No language in this one, except for the thick Maine dialect this engaging short story required. Not a satisfying ending; it's basically the tale of an unsolved mystery that remains one.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)
I haven't seen the movie, but the book was so good, I understand its popularity. Really touching.

Velocity (Dean Koontz)
A suspense thriller more typical of the author than The City. A bit too psycho and disturbing for my taste, but well-done.

The Girl is Murder
The Girl is Trouble
(Kathryn Miller Haines)
I wasn't far into the first one before I knew I'd found a winner! Chicklet14 quickly got hooked as well. See summary (above) of the Rosie Winter series, which isn't available on audio, unfortunately. This fine reader really brought them to life.

If I Ever Get Out of Here (Eric L. Gansworth)
This YA novel would be good for a study of contemporary Native American life and issues; although it's set in the 70's, I would bet that prejudice near reservations hasn't changed much. It was a pretty good story, but took a little too long to get there. Lovers of 70's rock music might also enjoy; each chapter title (like the book title) is a Beatles' song.

Taken at the Flood
Endless Night
Evil Under the Sun
(Agatha Christie)
Ah, Agatha. So reliably enjoyable and well-written! Chicklet14 is still a fan as well, especially of Poirot novels read by Hugh Fraser, which we're running out of, sadly. The above titles are all Poirot, but only the first one is by our favorite reader.

For more year-end book lists and reviews, visit Semicolon's annual round-up!


Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

Have you read the other Henry books? My favorite is Henry & Beezus, which is all about Henry's attempts to earn money to buy a bike. There are several others as well. My son loved reading Henry Huggins, but we did get into some interesting discussions about things like standing on tiptoe to reach the mouthpiece on the payphone in the drugstore.

Sheila said...

I enjoyed your list. We have similar taste in books. Check out my reading summary.

GretchenJoanna said...

I loved The Glass Castle, too, and your review was very good. Now that I see how many of your posts feature thought-provoking quotes, I'll have to come back and browse a while!

(I found you on Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.)