My Reads: Best Books of 2016

Happy New Year! 2016 has come and gone, leaving trail marks, some more scorching than others. But in my own rearview mirror, I have some books that I truly enjoyed — not all of which were published in 2016 — and will relish the thoughts they left behind and the opportunity to re-read them in the future.

shakespeareA special delight of this past reading year for me was the Hogarth Press Shakespeare rewrite project. I enjoyed Anne Tyler‘s Vinegar Girl, a revision of Taming of the Shrew , and Jeannette Winterson‘s take on The Winter’s Tale entitled The Gap of Time. I haven’t reviewed Vinegar Girl yet, but here’s more on The Gap of Timehttps://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/07/27/the-gap-of-time-jeanette-winterson/

austenI enjoyed even more the Harper-Collins “Austen Project” series re-exploring the novels of Jane Austen, particularly Eligible! by Curtis Sittenfield, which is one of my favorite books of the year.  So far, all I have read are Emma by Alexander McCall Smith. I have not yet read Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid or Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope. Here are my more in=depth reviews: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/08/13/emma-a-modern-retelling-by-alexander-mccall-smith/, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/eligible-by-curtis-sittenfeld/.

book-drawing-lessons-0005.jpgIn addition to my top five list, which I’m getting to . . ., I also had some very fun book experiences this year. I traveled to New Orleans and sat in the lobby bar of the Pontchartrain Hotel jotting some notes for my own novel and hoping I was channelling the soul of Tennessee Williams, reputed to have written Streetcar Named Desire in the same location. I attended the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning’s Kentucky Literary Hall-of-Fame ceremony and enjoyed seeing Bobbie Ann Mason accept her position as only the second living member of the Hall of Fame. My fellow writing group members and I traveled together to New York for a Pitch Conference with our respective works and met fellow writers from across the country, New York editors and agents. I achieved publication with two short stories! The first in Nowhere Magazine, http://nowheremag.com/2016/10/clearing-out/, and the second in the second edition of AvantAppalachia, avantappalachia.com. 

Back to my top reads of 2016:

metropol-postcardA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Dear Mr. Towles: I love your words. Your elegant view of life. The grace and beauty with which you depict humans and the events surrounding them. I will read anything you write. (You should too.) Full review: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/a-gentleman-in-moscow-by-amor-towles-✎✎✎✎✎/

Commonwealth by Anne Patchett. There are those writers who can haunt you with an idea. Some who can impress you with a particular sentence or a descriptive image. Anne Patchett launches all the weapons in her impressive arsenal at the reader with every book she writes and leaves the reader with her words, thoughts, ideas, and novels imprinted on their memory. Full review: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/commonwealth-by-ann-patchett-✎✎✎✎/

sittenfeld_eligible3Eligible! by Curtis Sittenfield. Any writer who can take Jane Austen, Mr. Darcy, Skyline Chili, the Bachelor, and a day trip through Lexington, Kentucky, and combine them into a funny, sexy, skewering romp through American pop culture should be a best-seller. And Ms. Sittenfield deservedly is. I loved Eligible! https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/eligible-by-curtis-sittenfeld/

brooklyn.jpgThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney and Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. I’m cheating a little to include two books as one, but there was something quite similar to me in these two tales of Gen X’ers aging into parenthood, amid family crisis and the havoc of the past. I liked and frequently recommended both. Full reviews for both novels: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/modern-lovers-emma-straub/ and https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/the-nest-by-cynthia-daprix-sweeney/

Finally, I struggled over this but am going to include The Sport of Kings by Kentucky horse-racing-neck-and-neckauthor C.E. Morgan. I feel like I spent the most time with this doorstop of a book this year, as I reviewed it for my mother’s book club and wanted to do as well as possible in approaching the themes and history as possible. I hazarded some guesses as to the notably reticent Morgan’s literary goals, but long and short: it’s quite a masterpiece of Kentucky history and I feel it must be included here.https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/the-sport-of-kings-c-e-morgan-✎✎✎/

So, there’s my 2016 roundup. I have a few more reviews to add from the end of the year: The Mothers by Brit Bennet, The Nix by Nathan Hill, Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. And then it’s to my to-be-read stack for 2017: The Underground Railroad, The Guineveres, Tana French’s The Trespasser, Hillbilly Elegy. And then there’s that novel I’m supposed to be writing!

Happy Happy New Year and all the best reading — I hope I can help guide your choices.

toast

Summer Reading List 2016

victorian vacay

No books, but I bet they are out of camera view. These chicks look like readers don’t they?

Hi friends! Are you ready to take that beach trip/plane ride/long drive? I know you want to be ready with a book … or five. It’s about that time of year when I try to provide some reading suggestions for you.

My definition of a great vacation read is a book I can fall into. Sitting at the pool or on the beach, the sun on my toes and wind blowing my hair but in my mind’s eye I’m standing on a London street, or in the kitchen of a New York restaurant. A book I can absorb and be absorbed into for a day or two, lingering my thoughts around its characters for a few hours each night, pondering their actions, motivations, why he or she said that.


sweetbitterSweetBitter 
by Stephanie Danler fits the bill. This book is all buzzy and for good reason. Ms. Danler writes with authority the tale of Tess’ first year in New York City, finding work in the “best restaurant” in Manhattan, finding love and lust with the hottest guy, doing the worst kinds of things to her body. I fell into the story hungrily, wanting the life, the tastes, the experiences, the knowledge, the flavors, even the bitter, Tess had.

modern loversModern Lovers by Emma Straub. The adults in Modern Lovers used to be cool –  real cool –  rock band cool. But now that they are approaching 50, and their children are dating, or hooking up, or are just hanging out together having sex in public places, the adults find they aren’t quite so cool anymore. Most of all, not in the eyes of their kids. Read my full review here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/modern-lovers-emma-straub/

These next two books center around a grand old house and the secrets it holds. Both travel between two times period and in each, a modern mystery is resolved by an examination of the past. I was quite absorbed by each.

lake house bookJune The Lake House by Kate Morton. A British estate, a missing child, WWI and a modern detective suspended by the force for caring too much about her work. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/family-secrets-the-lake-house-by-kate-morton/ 

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. An Ohio mansion, a mysterious child, movie stars and a modern photographer in hiding from the world and grieving for her grandmother.

the nestThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. The Plumb siblings, (Leo, Jack, Bea and Melody) have been waiting. Waiting for years. Counting their egg well before it hatched on Melody’s fortieth birthday. Ignoring the concerns, counseling, and skepticism of friends, family, and lovers in a mutual, bull-headed reliance on the largesse that is to come. Frankly, none of them deserve their father’s well-planned beneficence. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/the-nest-by-cynthia-daprix-sweeney/

And I haven’t read these yet, but they are going on my vacation with me:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. “On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.” from Amazon

Night Garden by Carrie Mullins. “Alienated from her affluent parents in a small Kentucky college town, Marie is drawn into an exotic, ultimately life-threatening world. The dramatic story unfolds in a sequence of vivid scenes, each of which is its own immediate story, carried by the author’s taut, measured prose. When tragedy strikes her family, Marie runs away and settles in with a wild, entrepreneurial and criminal family in a neighboring county, a world away from her safe and privileged upbringing. She substitutes the Owens family for her own, until their criminal ventures threaten her own life.” From Amazon

Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan. “Hellsmouth, an indomitable Thoroughbred with the blood of Triple Crown winners in her veins, runs for the glory of the Forge family, one of Kentucky’s oldest and most powerful dynasties. Henry Forge has partnered with his daughter, Henrietta, in an endeavor of raw obsession: to breed the next superhorse, the next Secretariat. But when Allmon Shaughnessy, an ambitious young black man, comes to work on their farm, the violence of the Forges’ history and the exigencies of appetite are brought starkly into view. Entangled in fear, prejudice, and lust, the three tether their personal dreams of glory to the speed and grace of Hellsmouth.” from Amazon

sport of kings            night garden  before the fall

I’d love to hear what you are reading! Sent me a note, a review, a recipe that you’d like to share. And Happy Reading!

vacay read