My top picks:
(full reviews can be found in the Best of 2016 tag to the right)
by Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Fiction (Historical Fiction, Science Fiction)
A black woman named Dana lives in 1976 California until one day she is pulled from her world into the pre-Civil War Antebellum South and intervenes to save the life of a small white boy and son of a plantation owner, Rufus Weyland. In a period that is roughly two weeks in her contemporary time and more than a decade in the 19th century, Dana is repeatedly thrown between time and place to help save her familial lineage again and again. There are so many layers to this book: it comments on race relations, slavery, gender dynamics, the unbreakable spirit and human nature on a large scale. It's a powerhouse of a book that knocked the wind out of me a half dozen times.
Be Frank With Me
by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Up until I read Kindred, this was hands-down my favorite book of the year. I've told at least a dozen people they need to read it (outside of this blog) and it continues to be my go-to recommendation. A sneakily poignant story about understanding our own prejudices, hidden amongst an amusing tale of a nanny's adventures with an eccentric young boy named Frank. Ms. Johnson has done a beautiful job weaving together a handful of interesting and quirky characters in an incredibly charming story that shows how different is not wrong. Just different.
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
The Atomic Weight of Love is a gorgeous story of one woman trying to find the strength and courage to soar. It's at times heartbreaking, and there are moments which are exasperating. But there are so many more moments which are full of love, hope, aspirations for a better future, and a constant, consistent support between women. To top it all off, the writing is superb.
by M.R. Carey
Genre: Science Fiction
Fair warning: you will hit a point where you will not want to put this book down. So if you’re like me, prepare for a “stay up late to find out what happens” finish. Fellside is filled with intrigue, danger and horrifically fascinating characters with a dash of exciting court room drama, and a taste of the supernatural. I very much recommend this fantastically woven story about getting lost and then finding your way out of the fog.
Z: a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
by Therese Anne Fowler
Therese Anne Fowler does an incredible job of practically leaping Zelda Fitzgerald off the page. She beautifully and dynamically captures the excitement of the Roaring 20's, the passionate young love of the Fitzgeralds, the struggles of two young and independent artists trying to live symbiotically, and the tragedy of their fated demise. She also deftly crushes every rumor you have ever heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "crazy" wife.
The Sudden Appearance of Hope
by Claire North
Genre: Science Fiction
Hope Arden is an extraordinary character, and I mean this in the most literal sense. Because Hope is forgettable. And not in the-wallflower-at-the-dance kind of way. People literally forget having met Hope as soon as they can no longer see her, and this has affected her life in profound ways.The premise alone is incredible and while from a book jacket it just seems like a hackneyed plot device, as you explore the depths of what this means in Hope’s life, you realize that it might about the most innovative idea you’ve seen in literature in a while.
The Pecan Man
by Cassie Dandridge Selleck
Genre: [Historical] Fiction
Ora Lee Beckworth is a widow living in the south post-Civil Rights era when blacks have lawfully been given equal rights but racism still runs rampant (which is painfully applicable to our contemporary era). She, to the chagrin of her fellow white neighbors, hires Eldres Mims (whom the children have dubbed the Pee-can Man) to tend to her lawn and garden. About this same time, a young white boy is murdered and speculation abounds as to who is responsible for this crime. This story is equal parts beautiful and heart-breaking, with a good amount of suspense mixed in for good measure. I recommend it to literally everyone as I don’t think there is a single person who can’t learn something about themselves and their neighbors from reading this book.
by Sarah Vowell
Without reiterating the entire history of Hawaii and it's annexation (and thereby summarizing the entire book before you read it), I will hit on some highlights that I think make this an interesting read. The royal family of Hawaii included many prominent princesses and queens. In fact, the entire native society seems, while not definitively matriarchal, to place a high value and respect on the female gender. Elderly women, especially, seem particularly revered. Vowell spends quite a bit of time on Queen Liliʻuokalani's contributions to Hawaii - far more than her most famous song "Aloha 'Oe" - and Princess Kaiulani, a would-be Queen powerless to help her own country as it fell under foreign powers. This book also gives you an intimate look into the traditions of Native Hawaiians and the ways in which they are continued to be celebrated today. But what I love most about it is that it lets you see this part of history from an honest point-of-view.
by Jane Austen
The first time I read Emma, I was 22 and I very much did not enjoy it. I thought Emma was insufferable* and the story was too melodramatic. Fast forward: reread at the age of 30 and I freaking love this book!
by J.K. Rowling
Genre: Young Fiction
For the second year in a row...I reread the series this year and continue to recommend this series. I will always and forever love Hermione Granger. She's a role model for young girls everywhere. She's smart, independent, talented and just as often saves her friends as they save her. It's a glorious give and take relationship, and let's just be honest: if not for Hermione, Harry wouldn't have gotten half so far as he did. Primary lesson we learn from her: reading a book can save your life.