2016 was the year that I stumbled on a few books that had never been on my radar (Mansfield Park and Virginia Woolf), finally read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, collected the rest of the books I needed to begin my Harry Potter Marathon, and picked up a few books that people have been raving about for years (Gaudy Night, The Lake House, and Secrets of a Charmed Life).
There were some doozies and there were some four and five stars doled out too. Here are the books that I'm setting aside as my top ten.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers - My Mom is responsible for my new-found love of Sayers. I read several of her books at the end of 2015 and into the beginning of 2016. She writes in such a way that I actually find myself craving more of her work (this only really happens with Fitzgerald and Mary Higgins Clark). Harriet Vane is the character responsible for drawing me in. She's a writer, has a love interest without totally losing her mind, and tells it like it is. Gaudy Night is mystery, literary, and holds the magic that the middle of the 20th Century is famous for.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - Everything I thought about this book was wrong. I read it because my friend Hannah told me I HAD to and I'm so glad that she did. If you've shied away from this book because you think it's a depressing story about a desperate orphan, put those thoughts right out of your mind. It's sooooo much more and it's sooooo good. It's the perfect book to read in January, just saying.
Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick - I picked this YA novel up because of the cover. It's the cheesiest book in this round up, but I absolutely truly enjoyed it. It takes place in New England during the dead of winter and is penned by a women who LOVES books.
The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell - This was a new release in 2016. It's probably the "darkest" book I read this year, but it's not TOO dark. It's set in New Orleans and does a wonderful job at showcasing what can happen when an author simply asks "What if?" with a pen in her hand. This book will not be for everyone, but it isn't because of how Cantrell dealt with the themes that she decided to address with this book. It's a book that we need to read. Fiction can help us think through issues in a way that is a little less threatening.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff - This may be my FAVORITE book (I'll tell you about my favorite novel later on) of 2016. I hauled it out to my garden spot in March where I sat in my camp chair with my back against the warm house. Joanna holds NOTHING back. This book is about working in publishing, writing dreams, Salinger, New York, and starting life on your own. It will make you laugh, it will make you nod your head, and it may make you want to move to New York. I loved it.
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks - This is one series that I never read when I was growing up and I have no idea why. I want EVERY child to read it. I passed it on to my sister and she enjoyed it just as much as I did. She brought it with her to SC and had our 20 something cousins digging their old copies out. It's well written. It's entertaining. And a British mother wrote it. I'm just sad I didn't get to it sooner.
The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker by Maeve Brennan - This is the perfect kind of book to keep on your end table so that you can dig into it when you're in the mood for a short essay. These kinds of books are a peek at what blogging would have been like in what I consider the "golden ages" of writing. Brennan is a hoot. It took me a while to come around to her style, but once I did, I couldn't get enough.
Rediscovering Holiness by J.I. Packer - Packer brings the grandfather persona to the table of theology. His writing style is so easy to approach and his words will give you just the kick in the pants you need. This book makes a great companion to his other book Keep In Step With The Spirit. Together, they will help you to get to the bottom of what you believe about being a Christian. Rediscovering Holiness set me straight on a few things and encouraged me to seek God's grace. I know that's generic, but let me put this out there: In a world obsessed with personality types and self awareness, Packer is a breath of fresh air. He acknowledges who we are and who we tend to be while pointing the way to discovering HOW to overcome the sin tendencies that are unique to you. Read it.
The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf - I had a difficult time deciding whether to include Austen's Mansfield Park or this book. I decided to go with Woolf's book simply because I think she needs more cheerleaders than Austen does. That said, this review is a two for one deal. Mansfield Park is currently tied with Persuasion as my favorite Austen, so you should definitely read it. Back to Woolf. The Voyage Out is the perfect summer read. Read it when the days are hotter than hot. It's the story of a group of people who all end up on vacation together. As vacation goes, nothing happens, but a ton does. This was my intro to Woolf and I'm glad because I enjoyed it so much that I'm sure to be back for more.
Lady Jane Grey by Faith Cook - If there is one thing I would like to change about my reading life, it's that I would read more non-fiction. I'm super interested in history, but finding credible authors is so difficult that I have all but given up. Paige put this book in my hands after asking if I would be willing to write a piece on Grey for Reformation Day. Cook is an excellent writer. Her book made the research phase of my project exciting and enjoyable. Now I'm interested in Tudor history. And that's really saying something.
Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner - Everyone has been talking about this book. I tend to avoid books like that, but then, eventually someone will convince me. Read this book and you'll know exactly why people are raving about it. It tells the story of two women who grew up in England during WWII. It's the story of England, those two women, their mother, life in the country side, and so much more. I'm excited to read more Meissner now.
The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser - This book is probably my favorite novel of 2016. It wasn't particularly literary, but the themes have STUCK with me. It takes place in 1960s Atlanta, GA. The pages of this book bridge the gap between rich and poor, black and white, and what it is to live in the face of tragedy. I still find myself thinking about the characters and picturing scenes from the book in my mind. I copied down some lessons from this book and I have no doubt that I'll be going over them for years to come.
Narrowing it down to 10 titles was tough. There are easily another 7 or 8 books that I could add to the list. Needless to say, if you're looking for a book to read, let me know. I'd LOVE to help you find just the thing!
Have you read or been meaning to read any of these books?
What were some of the best books you read in 2016?