Best books of 2016

It’s time for #libfaves16 on Twitter, my friends, and that means making some hard choices.
The idea is to list your top 10 favorite books that were published in 2016.
And then rank them.
This is difficult.
So I basically went with my gut.
A Gentleman in Moscow was this year’s clear winner, but the other rankings could shuffle around if you asked me on a different day. But the top 5 would remain the top 5.
Here goes…
Gracious, engaging, triumphant

 

Personal, informative, domestic

 

Introspective, unflinching, surprising
Lyrical, brutal, magical realism

 

Exuberant, collaborative, insider info
Unflinching, personal, troubling

 

7. The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy
Sharp, conversational, unexpected

 

Rollicking, informative, conversational

 

Lyrical, poignant, personal

 

10. The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King
Layered, innovative, historical

Her hard-working honor

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

3 words: smart, introspective, revealing

I’m in serious audiobook withdrawal these days. I just finished listening to Sonia Sotomayor’s marvelous memoir, and I completely fell into it.

Way back in my pre-blogging days, I read Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest by Sandra Day O’Connor and H. Alan Day, and it had a similar effect. Though, as I recall that book, it focused primarily on Sandra Day O’Connor’s youth.

Sotomayor’s book covers her childhood, but it also brings her story into her middle adult years, concluding shortly after she became a judge. And, as in Jill Ker Conway’s first two books (The Road from Coorain and True North), I loved reading about the arc of her life and education. I’m a total sucker for that kind of story.

But the thing I loved most about Sotomayor’s memoir was her honesty. And also her humanity.

Here she is, having risen from a childhood in the projects to a seat on the high court, and she’s comfortable enough with herself to reveal the self-doubt she feels whenever she tackles something new. It makes her so relatable, even though her extraordinary work ethic makes her seem super-human.

And she describes how those two things go hand in hand: her insecurity about her ability to perform well drives her to work even harder to make sure she’s prepared.

It’s a heck of an effective formula.

When I read reviews of this book earlier, I focused on the hard parts: her alcoholic father’s death when she was young, her childhood diagnosis of diabetes, and her family’s financial hardship. And I thought: sad.

And she’s candid about all of these things, but people, she turns them into a triumph.

And she’s so darn likeable while she’s doing so. Oh my gosh.

Thank you — very much! — to JoAnn of Lakeside Musing for recommending this book in her Nonfiction November Supreme Court reading list. Your suggestion spurred me to read this book, and I am seriously hugely grateful.

So my friends… What’s the most inspiring true story you’ve read this year?

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

3 words: poignant, romantic, painfully humorous

You know how we all want to forget those painfully awkward teenage years? (At least I sure do.)
Well, this book puts you right back into that frame of mind, but in the best way possible.
Rainbow Rowell is seriously skilled at making a reader care about her characters, and she’s also really good at remembering and evoking the feelings of being a teenager. And she’s smart and funny, and so are her characters.

The only thing that almost made me want to stop reading this book is that Eleanor’s home life is so freakin’ horrible, I almost couldn’t stand it. But I wanted so much to stay with her through her story that I stuck it out, and later I couldn’t believe I almost had to quit reading.

(But truly: her home life is horrible.

And I was reading this book at the same time as Hillbilly Elegy. And there were times when I had to remind myself which person’s horrible home life–with a mom making terrible life choices that had severe consequences for her children–was which.)

Eleanor and Park is a love story, but a quirky one. Both Eleanor and Park feel like misfits, and when they’re thrown together as seatmates on the school bus, they don’t like each other at first. But then they bond over graphic novels and music, and they gradually become friends and then they realize they love each other.

So yes, this is a book a about teen romance, but it’s smarter and sharper and savvier than you’d expect.

I found myself recommending this book to lots of friends — to anyone who even might consider reading a YA book, and to some who aren’t usually so inclined.

What’s the best YA book you’ve read lately?

Bonfire of the Vanities

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
3 words: cynical, absorbing, storytelling
I gotta tell you: I wasn’t all that jazzed about reading this book. 
But my book club selected it, so there we were.
My thoughts before reading it went something like this…
  • Darn long book
  • 1980s touchstone, so do we really need to care anymore?
Yes. I was exactly that cynical, even though Tom Wolfe and I have long dwelt happily together in the Magical Land of Re-Reading. (The Right Stuff makes me happy just thinking about it.)

Suffice it to say, once again, your girl Unruly got it wrong. 
This book is magnificent.
Even though I didn’t like a single character within its pages.
(That’s some seriously high praise, because I’m one of those readers who absolutely must like at least someone.)
And the thing that really knocked my socks off is how timely this book is today.
It deals with race and privilege and wealth and the media and the justice system. And nobody comes out of it looking good.
While this book has a big cast, there are a few of the central figures:
  • a wealthy bond trader who hits a young African-American man with his car (while The Other Woman is with him)
  • the struggling district attorney who argues the case against him
  • the free-loading, alcoholic journalist who breaks the story
There’s enough egotism in this book to sink a ship.  
And yet I kept reading… and wanted to.
Wolfe is such a fine writer, he carried me through these pages despite my intense dislike of the characters.
And now that I’ve read this book, I keep finding ways it connects to other novels I’ve recently read. It seriously is one of those touchstone books that’s bigger than itself.
I’m so glad I read it.
So, now I’m wondering… What book surprised you by its current relevance?

Book Bingo 2017

 

 

OK, good people. Here it is.
Book Bingo 2017… revealed!
Again this year, my good friend and I compiled ideas, then narrowed the list down to these 25 categories.
The planning session is tremendous. (It’s one of my favorite annual events.)
Then the Dear Man made our categories look terrific by creating this fabulous bingo card. (We said, “Wild West theme, please!” and he did it up right.)
Here’s more…
How to Play
  • Read a book that fits the category. Each book can qualify for only one category.
  • Complete just one row or column, or go for blackout by reading a book in every category.
  • All books must be finished in 2017. Books started in 2016 but finished in 2017 count.
  • We’ve provided some definitions, but you can free-style it if you like—as long as you can make a case that the book fits the category.
  • All categories can be fiction or nonfiction (your choice), unless otherwise specified.
About the Categories
Pop Psychology
Nonfiction books about why we do the things we do
Outlaw
A book about person who lives by his/her own code
Doom and Gloom
When things go terribly wrong
Guilty Pleasure
Something you shouldn’t like, but you like it anyway
Water
Water is a key element of the story, whether it be setting, activity, or natural phenomenon
Indigenous Peoples
A book about Native Americans, First Nations, the Inuit, or Aborigines
The Journey
­­A transformative experience or a literal journey
A Book I Own
Read something from your own shelf
Highbrow
Literary, scholarly, or classic
Boomer Lit
Written by Baby Boomers, for Baby Boomers
Where I Grew Up
A book set in a place where you spent your childhood
Escape
A book about someone breaking free—either literally or metaphorically—or a book that is a true escape for you as a reader
Assigned Reading
A book you need to read
Creativity
Exploring the creative process
Asia
A book with an Asian author, character, or setting
Library of Congress Fiction Prize
A book written by an author who won this honor
Bookstore Discovery
A book you found at a bookstore
Bad Title
The title doesn’t fit the book. Or the book sounds good, but you hate the title.
Occupational Hazards
A book about a job or workplace. Or a book that helps you become better at your work
Midcentury Modern
Pick your century, then find a book written in the midst of that century, that has a progressive or modern outlook
Author’s Name Begins With M
The author’s first or last name begins with the letter “M”
Best in Class
One of the best examples of its genre
The Outdoors
A book about, or set in, the natural world
Hot
A trending book or author, a steamy romance, or a book set in a hot climate
Up in the Air
Planes, planets, astronauts, birds, pollution, clouds, uncertainty, uprootedness — anything that’s up in the air
Join the fun!

Nonfiction November: New to my TBR

It’s an embarrassment of riches, the Nonfiction November experience.  
My TBR just grew by a substantial percentage.  
This is not a complaint. 
So, as we finish out this month of nonfiction splendor, here’s this week’s topic, brought to us to Lory of The Emerald City Book Review:
New to My TBR:
It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have
made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who
posted about that book!
Here are some of my new TBR highlights, with thanks to each blogger who made thoughtful personal recommendations and who wrote such compelling reviews that I’m gonna have to read these books.
Medical
Recommended because I like police memoirs…
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sherri Fink
A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard
Aviation
Recommended because I adore airplane books…
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying by Wolfgang Langewiesche
Suggested to me by Citizen Reader
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Suggested to me by Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves

Supreme Court
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
Reviewed by JoAnn of Lakeside Musing, who created a great Supreme Court book list
Amazing Women
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot LEe Shetterly
Reviewed by Katie of Doing Dewey, who made this seriously beautiful display of books about remarkable women 
So, in the wake of Thanksgiving, I’m giving thanks for all of these book bloggers and this wonderful community. 
Special thanks to our hosts:

What exciting books are new additions to your TBR?

Skyr and fear

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
3 words: melancholy, unfolding, muted
Oh, Katie darlin’, you got me to read an execution book.
You might be magical.
Here’s how it happened…
 
During our blogger reunion, we were talking about my recent trip to Iceland and resulting skyr-craving affliction, and Katie (she of Words for Worms) was all, “Oh my gosh, you’ve got to read Burial Rites! There’s skyr in it!”
I asked her what the book was about, and she said words that informed me that it was about the last months of a woman convicted of murder, who was awaiting execution. 
And we all know I can’t bear books about prison or execution. Heck, I can barely even read true crime, people.
So I was all, “Ohhhhh…” and doing the shaking of the head and backing away slowly, and Katie assured me it would be OK. (And her excellent review does the same.)
So I went in.
And I survived it.
But guys, this book, it is sad. And it is haunting and it will make you look off into the distance, all melancholy-like.
 
But it held me, it did. Agnes’s story unfolds slowly, and the author puts you right there in the plain, chilly, little hovels where she lived as a servant and where she awaited her end. So you’re very present in the there and then.  
Since reading Icelandic words is seriously hard work, I listened to the audiobook, and that was a good idea. (At then end, during the credits, they thank the person who advised them on Icelandic pronunciation. It’s the kind of thing that requires an expert.)
The craziest part of all is that Agnes was a real historical figure — the last person to be executed in Iceland. And during the months leading up to her death, she lived with a family on a farm, and each family member responded differently to the weirdness of having a murderess under their roof. Pretty fascinating character studies.
So: I’m super glad I read this book. Thanks, Katie, for giving me the gentle, necessary nudge.
So, readers… What’s the book that took you the farthest outside your comfort zone?

Nonfiction November: Books about airplanes

Nonfiction November is my new favorite holiday.
This week, we’re hosted by Julie of JulzReads, who gives us this
topic:
Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert
Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more
books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert),
you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have
been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books
on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).
I seriously love this “Be the Expert” assignment, because it lets
us fly our freak flags. And heaven knows we’ve got ’em. 
I had to decide among my obsessions: Presidents? Space? True
tragedy? The modern West?
It was a dilemma, guys.
But in the end, I went with: Aviation.  [happy sigh]
I’ve been reading about airplanes for years, and I love
airplane books
.
Here are two of my shelves.

And here’s me flying one of those puppies. 

Today we’re gonna look at the aviation books I’ve read in the past
several years and blogged about. 
We’ll start with…
The memoirs
I love a good aviation memoir, especially when the pilot/author
keeps it real. Here we’ve got two fine examples, one from a fighter pilot and
one from an airline pilot.

And here are two bonus memoirs, because I can’t resist. These
books don’t have blog posts about them, but they’re a couple of my favorites
from years past.
The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles Lindbergh
(3 words: lyrical, modest, triumphant)
The Fun of It by Amelia Earhart
(3 words: sprightly, forthright, conversational)
Next up: a wonderful book by a great nonfiction author, about one
of those days when things went wrong… 

Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson by William Langewiesche


If you’re more into history, check out these books about two guys with the Wright Stuff.
My favorite Wright brothers biography is this one:
For a different approach (ha! pilot pun!) give this one a whirl…


All of these books just make me happy. 
What
topic do you keep reading about, over and over again?

Fixer Upper

 

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines and Joanna Gaines

3 words: warm, revealing, personal

I’ve never met them, but man, I love hanging out with Joanna and Chip Gaines.

Yes, this is an HGTV thing.

And it’s probably psychologically unhealthy to say, “Hey, I think I’ll go hang out with the Fixer Upper people!” and then get all excited cuz I just made my Pilates session more palatable.

Or maybe it’s brilliant.

I’m really too close to it to say.

(Gretchen Rubin Better Than Before readers: I’m using the strategy of pairing!)

One of the things I love about hanging out with those two is that they’re such a great team.

This book describes how the team came into existence. There’s a whole backstory there that I had no idea about… Joanna meeting Chip while working at her dad’s Firestone, her early efforts at design, the financial struggles as they were getting their real estate business going… it’s all the real life stuff.

And the way they were really awkward when filming a demo, until they got into a huge fight because Chip had bought a horrible houseboat.

And then the TV people saw some potential.

It’s pretty good stuff.

Reading this book was a bit of a risk, because when you like somebody the way they appear on TV, sometimes learning more about their true story can be a real disappointment.

This book made me like them more.

And I’m totally serious, Joanna and Chip, about that invitation to stop by and re-make my house.

 

Nonfiction November: Book Pairing

Nonfiction November rages on! 
This week, we’re hosted by Sarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, who gives us this assignment: 
Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.
And today, we’re going with cop books. Man, I love cop books. Give me a good police procedural, and I’m one happy reader. 
 
Today the theme is not only cop books, but NYPD. 
 
These are books written by New York police officers who tell the true tale, even if one of the books is fiction.


The she’s cheating and giving a bonus nonfiction title: Blue Blood by Edward Conlon

Anyone else love pairing fiction with nonfiction?