Last year I set a reading goal of twenty books for myself through Goodreads.
I didn't meet my goal but I did chalk up fourteen titles.
As I was setting my goal for this year I looked over some of last years books.
I struggled with some of the titles to even remember a story line.
If a book isn't memorable even six months later then it probably wasn't that good.
They can't all be great but there were a few that really stood out so I thought
I would share those with you here.
One of my favorites from last year was
As Close To Us As Breathing
This story takes place out east during the summer of 1948 with all the events in the
story centered around the tragic death of a child.
The book encompasses the
correlation between family expectations, guilt, religion, and self-denial.
It slowly unwinds to reveal how this catalytic event occurred and how it
ultimately alters every character. It is a thought-provoking
read with people that are a real life mix of their faults and redeeming qualities.
This one is a definite recommendation.
If you loved and are missing Downton Abbey, then this is a book for you.
Even though this story takes place in a small berg in England just prior to World War I,
it echoes so many of the issues that we still face today.
It contains multiple themes of sexism, bigotry, and classism and makes the
reader realize that maybe we haven't evolved very much in the past 100 years.
Simonson's characters are multi-faceted, human, and relatable. She also sprinkles the
book with fascinating historical facts and details that enhance the story with
a subtle educational element.
This is a book that I might have
missed if it hadn't been a book selection for book club.
Such a wonderfully pleasant surprise, I'm definitely a new fan of this author.
The Widow was an entirely different type of read. It hauntingly recounts how
a woman slowly allows herself to accept the fact that her husband is not the man she
believed him to be. It is the story of the lies a person dismisses or denies in an
attempt to avoid a horrible truth.
Jean, the widow, was an unassuming hairdresser who thought she married up
when she married her banker husband.
In the early years, she told herself he is guiding her, teaching her, and it takes a long time
before she is able to see it for the control and domination that it really is.
Now, years later and still childless,
she is shadowed and questioned by the media after her husband is accused
of abducting and murdering a small child. How she processes and deals with this
turn of events is troubling.
If you are looking for suspense with depth then this is a must read.
This title is a definite attention grabber, but I hope it doesn't put you off because
this is one of the best books I picked up last year.
The chapter on cell phone etiquette alone makes this a worthy read. It is obviously
not your run-of-the-mill manners book. This one is laced with laugh out loud humor but
it still drives home some issues that made me squirm as I recognized myself as the
offending party in a number of social situations. This one should be assigned reading.
Then there were the Elizabeth Strout books.
One of my top ten all time reads might be Olive Kitteridge, another book by this same author.
Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite writers so I was eager to read My Name is Lucy Barton, when
it was released this year to rave reviews.
Unfortunately, this book left me a little disappointed.
I'm not panning it. I think that maybe I need to reread it because it definitely
is being well received everywhere else.
Yes, it had engaging female
characters but in my mind, Lucy, the protagonist, seemed simplistic. I found
her relationship with her own husband and children confusing and
the mother, instead of inducing sympathy, just annoyed me.
I'm sure it was just me, but to restore my faith in Strout, I decided to read one of her other
books, The Burgess Boys.
I can't say I liked it as well as Olive, but the contrast between, and the
evolution of these two brothers created seemingly tangible characters that were magnetic
and memorable. One of the best ancillary story lines of the book is
the marriage of Jim, a glossy and highly successful attorney, and his
now still attractive middle-aged and unfulfilled wife who is mourning her empty nest.
It is a story that is probably repeated in countless homes and in countless
cities across the country but when told by Strout it seems fresh and real.
The family dynamics in this story of the one successful sibling when contrasted with his
initially weaker and acquiescing brother and simpering sister is totally
captivating. Strout's books are less about the plot and more about rich
character development which, for me, is one of the reasons her books
are so outstanding.
It seems that most of the books that I read in 2016 had a common thread, and it was how a
single event can change the course of so many lives. Commonwealth is another one
of these stories. It began with a kiss at a baptism party in the 1960's between the
baby's mother and a co-worker of the woman's husband. This kiss ultimately led to both of
their divorces, their subsequent marriage, and a blended family.
I'm sure a lot of readers would be able to identify with the children's feelings of loyalty
toward the parents that suffered from the infidelity, a disrespect for the unfaithful parent
and a disdain for their new siblings. It was compelling to follow along
as these half brothers and sisters began to form new alliances and loyalties. From two
disjointed pasts, they became a family unit separate from the parents.
This was a read with some real psychological depth and plenty of material for a
With less depth, but more humor, The Nest is a fun and sparkling read. The story, again
about four vastly different siblings that have been counting on an inheritance that their
father has set aside as a midlife economic infusion when the youngest child turns forty.
Each of the siblings has watched the inheritance grow with the stock market and has visions
of the positive impact this cash will have on each of their lives. Then they realize that
the money has dissipated as hush money for a scandal that their older brother, Leo, has
created. This is a story of a poster worthy dysfunctional family, which always
makes it more interesting, and how money changes them and their relationships. It is a
story full of irony and rich people problems.
This is a debut novel by this author and I look forward to anything she writes in the future.
But not all of the books I read were winners. Here are a few that got rave reviews elsewhere
but left me feeling a bit less enthused.
A psychological thriller, Behind Closed Doors, is based on the premise that the beautiful
couple that seems to have it all may be living a much different life behind closed doors.
This time, the couple consists of a beautiful woman who has a burgeoning career as a
buyer at Harrods but gives it up when she marries what she thought was the man of her
dreams. He, of course, turns out to be a psychopath. This book frustrated me after the
first chapter. It seemed so improbable and ridiculous. In all fairness, the last third of
the book did seem to get better but the ending was so contrived and the characters so one
dimensional that, for me, the book never recovered.
I usually really like Liane Moriarty's books but this one left me flat. The suspenseful build-up
seemed overrated for the climax and I felt like it could have been edited down to a short
story instead of a novel. There just wasn't enough of a tale here. That said, there is
an interesting study of the long-term relationship and vacillating feelings of
annoyance, loyalty, competitiveness, and jealousy between the two main female friends.
Despite this relationship, it felt like the main characters were rather forgettable, but
the outgoing neighbor, that hosts the barbecue in the story, is a very charismatic
and indelible persona. He seemed so real, like someone I would love to meet.
But for me, this book just didn't measure up. This falls short of Big Little Lies.
So what's on my list for 2017?
Currently, I am reading Rich and Pretty, an intriguing study of the ebb and flow of the
life-long friendship between two women and the debate of whether it can survive
differing paths of career, marriage, and economic standards.
Do these women even have anything in common other than their past?
I think we all have those friends that have
fallen away and we aren't exactly sure why. This book seems to address this issue.
What makes this read especially fascinating is that it notes the subtle nuances of women
with such amazingly acute perception, but it is written by a man.
So now I'm looking ahead to 2017 and wondering what to add to my to-read list.
These are a few that are already in the queue but I am always eager for suggestions