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If 2015 was the Year of the Super Long Book, then 2016 was an extraordinary year for short little gems. Four of the books to make our 2016 list—Another Brooklyn, Eleven Hours, Margaret the First, and The Vegetarian—come in at under 200 pages, and News of the World is just a tiny bit longer. Of course it’s possible we were so exhausted from reading massive (but fabulous) tomes like 2015’s Fates & Furies, A God in Ruins, and A Little Life that we were simply more apt to enjoy the shorter books this past year. But honestly, I think several 2016 releases nailed the ability to pack a truly powerful story into a slim volume, and we loved it.
In addition to these short-but-awesome reads, we also discovered some truly memorable, more average-length works across a variety of genres, including historical fiction, contemporary drama, and even romance. We were especially drawn to thrillers in this year’s deliberations, and the committee had a tough time limiting the number to make the final list. But ultimately, we’ve created a list of titles we feel lives up to the designation “Best of the Year.”
I say: Patchett does a fantastic job of detailing the messiness of modern families.
Donna says: I enjoyed this story as seen through the eyes of two families of children that are fused together through the dissolution of their own families and then joined by marriage. These children go through much chaos growing up, actually raising themselves. The bonds they form are lasting, and the stories they have to share are very eye opening and entertaining.
I say: There were passages in The Fireman that were so visceral and beautifully put that they held me in thrall. I was listening to the audiobook, so I often scanned back on the CD just to hear them again. Easily one of my favorites of the year.
Beth says: Fans of Stephen King may already know that Joe Hill is his son, and you will see many nods to King’s works in this riveting book. Hill’s work is getting progressively better—from Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2, Hill seems to have found his niche and takes you on a ride you never want to end. The Fireman is a terrific read, with characters I cared about within the first 50 pages. Every time I put it down, I was burning to pick it up again to keep reading. The best book I’ve read all year!
Tobee says: This is an excellent contemporary romance with well-developed characters. The plot is fast moving with several surprises, and the interactions between characters and their unique points of views pull you in immediately.
I say: Luminous. This sweeping saga begins in 18th-century Ghana and first follows two half sisters who are strangers to one another and then their descendants. While one sister’s line remains on the Gold Coast, the other sister is transported to America. The story of each generation feels like an intimate, powerful tale all on its own, but together they all fit into one beautifully perfect book. It’s a stunning debut and probably my favorite book of the year.
Donna says: The book was a little slow for the first chapter or two, then it grabbed me with an iron fist! The plot is great, full of unexpected turns. I loved it. 5 stars!
Trish says: When one of the reviewers said that they audibly gasped at one point while reading it I actually snorted. However, while reading this book one afternoon I gasped so hard that I dropped the book onto the ground. I highly recommend this book and I can honestly say that I loved it! Not one but TWO great twists!
Stephanie says: To call Jane Steele a retelling of Jane Eyre is unfair. Although the heroines share more than just a first name, the books are very dissimilar. Where Jane Eyre sees no justice, Jane Steele revels in it. Where Jane Eyre seems a timid girl, Jane Steele is beyond bold. Even those who have never read Jane Eyre will enjoy Jane Steele, a thoroughly avant-garde anti-heroine.
Stephanie says: Dutton’s fictional work paints a beautiful picture of a not-so-pleasant past. This historical work reads more like a contemporary novel, or maybe it’s just that “Mad Madge” was sooo ahead of her time.
Donna says: This is a story about a high school love where choices become lifelong consequences. It’s a story of two sides of a family, with two sides of emotions. It gives readers a lot to think about, and with the different viewpoints, I think the book offers something for everyone.
Tobee says: Very well written and interesting! In a western setting, just after the Civil War, an elderly ex-military man is taxed with the mission of delivering a ten-year-old Indian captive to her relatives. Captain Kidd and Johanna surmount numerous challenges and defy swollen rivers, outlaws, and the less-than-understanding attitudes of other people. The somewhat reluctant Captain and the half wild child become grandfather and granddaughter in a family bond that lasts the rest of their lives.
Donna says: I highly recommend this one! It’s a story of a powerful love between a mother and daughter and how that love withstands the test of time, under extremely dysfunctional circumstances. It’s a very entertaining story illustrating how many children with single parents that are seeking “true love” eventually find themselves.
Tobee says: The characters are wonderfully portrayed in all their good and bad traits, and the plot is riveting. Sometimes I laughed and sometimes I wanted to cry, but I always wanted to know what was going to happen next!
I say: This creative reimagining of the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad did more to aid my understanding of the risks undertaken by fugitive slaves and the Railroad’s facilitators than anything I’ve read before. It’s a wonderfully written book, with some passages I will probably never forget.