What a wonderful year it’s been!
…for escaping the cold, unrelenting realities of life and delving into the edifying pages of a good book!
As the curtain closes on 2016, we chatted-it-up with our friendly-neighborhood booksellers about their Top 5 favorite reads. We assembled some great recommendations here, but this isn’t your ordinary end-of-the-year list. These are the best books we read in the past 12 months, regardless of when it was published.
So come on down to the store, check out some of these new (or old!) titles, and chat with a bookseller for a recommendation! We kind of love talking about books.
Uriel – Bookseller
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Probably the smartest, funniest, most unflinchingly brilliant debut novel I’ve read in a while! Follow Samuel Andresen-Anderson through a decades-long journey to discover all the secrets his mother’s kept hidden her whole life; it’s a ride worth every page
Paper Girls Vol. 1 & 2 by Brian K. Vaughn
The creator of the comic-epic, Saga, brings us the story of four girls who get thrust into an intergalactic time-traveling war. What’s not to like about this destined-to-be-great series full of quick wit and 80s pop culture references?
Joe Gould’s Teeth by Jill Lepore
Jill Lepore is a Harvard-educated soccer mom that churns out books and articles faster than we can read ‘em. In this compact volume, Lepore searches far and wide for “The Oral History of Our Time”, the longest book ever written. Basing her research off archival work, scraps of letters and diary entries, Lepore strings us on a maddening tale as insane as the Oral History’s author itself, Joe Gould.
How I Became a Nun by César Aira
César Aira is nothing new to the Argentinian reader, but he is something of a cult literary figure around the States. I happened to stumble upon this marvelous little book and it absolutely blew me away – it is a surreal journey where the lines between reality and fantasy grow thinner by the page.
Upright Beasts by Lincoln Michel
Who says literary fiction can’t have a little element of the fantastic? And who says genre fiction can’t be a little literary? Lincoln Michel certainly doesn’t give two hoots! Enter these bizarre tales expecting zombies, rogue androids and schools devoid of all adult supervision, each one a little wackier than the last.
Hillary – Bookseller
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
This book was described to me as being perfect for fans of Mass Effect, Firefly, and Guardians of the Galaxy, so of course I picked it up without hesitation. It did not disappoint. It’s a thoughtful, character-driven sci-fi adventure that focuses on the experiences and relationships of a mixed human and alien crew as they make a long journey through space.
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
I will never forget this book. Arguably one of the best and most (emotionally) challenging books I’ve ever read, A Little Life’s characters will stay with me forever and its prose is both unflinchingly realistic and beautiful. Don’t forget to have a box of tissues on hand for this one.
A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J. Maas
When it comes to series, I’ve never liked a book better than the first that started it all – not until I read A Court of Mist and Fury. In this sequel to Maas’s A Court of Thorns in Roses, the stakes are higher, the worldbuilding is incredible, and the protagonist becomes a hundred times more kick ass, self sufficient, and independent. I’ve also always had a weakness for stories about faeries.
Wake of Vultures – Lila Bowen
This fantasy is set in the Wild West where the Texas Rangers are actually monster hunters, tasked with ridding the world of dangerous vampires, werewolves, chupacabras, and others. Need I say more?
The Blood Mirror – Brent Weeks
Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer series is no doubt my favorite epic fantasy series. I love Weeks’ books for their wit, dark humor, unexpected twists, and expansive worlds, and I love this one especially for its color-based magic system. This fourth installment was just as great as the first.
Ellen – School Outreach
The Airport Book by Lisa Brown
This book portrays a family’s journey start to finish – from packing at home to waiting in endless lines at a chaotic and noisy airport, to the actual fight, to baggage claim, and finally riding away in the grandparents’s car. Each illustrated spread is detailed, but not overwhelming, with bright, yet soft, colors, bold lines, to create a kid-friendly presentation. Along the bottom of the pages is a mini-story of little sister’s suitcase and what happens to it during the trip. Recommended for: Kids who like Richard Scarry, airplanes, or kids going on their first big trip.
Moo by Sharon Creech
A funny and heartwarming novel in verse form about a siblings who move to rural Maine where they meet an eccentric and mysterious woman with a quirky house and a really stubborn cow. I really enjoyed the voice of the main character and her run-ins with that cow. Creech’s stories seem to flow without effort and are always a joy to read. Recommended for: Fans of Love that Dog, Hate that Cat, and author Kate DiCamillo.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Castle is a boy who has a potentially dangerous and stressful home life, but finds peace, purpose, support, and his own identity on the track. I liked that this book avoided some of the cliche pitfalls a story like this can have. Castle’s inner voice and his thought process are anguished and raw. He has to make many decisions, and with each one, his struggle to make the right choice feels believable and true. Gritty and compelling at the same time humorous and warm. Recommended for: Fans of realistic fiction with heart or readers who liked The Crossover.
Lockwood & Co. 04: The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud
If you haven’t treated yourself to this series, you are missing out. I love these adventurous, eerie, and at times, surprisingly funny, books set in an alternate London where dangerous ghosts & specters roam the night. Lockwood & Co is a ghost catching agency. Think Ghostbusters meets The Three Musketeers but steampunk-y. The fourth book, The Creeping Shadow, takes a slightly different turn than the first three, and I do recommend reading the series in order. Tip: I highly enjoy the audio book versions; the narrator is fantastic. Recommended for: Readers who liked Harry Potter but wanted it to be a little more scary, or for anyone who tried the Monstrumologist series, but thought it was a little too scary.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
This is an exquisitely written mystery that really creeped me out, but in a good way. Faith is the main character – a girl in 1868 who isn’t allowed to like science or aspire to anything. Her father is a renowned scientist who dies under suspicious circumstances. Determined to uncover the truth of her father’s death and his scientific legacy, Faith discovers a tree that thrives on lies and reveals truth when its fruit is eaten. Magical, harrowing, multi-layered, and downright frightening, Faith’s story is one I couldn’t put down. Includes timely topics of gender, religion & science, and truth & lies. Recommended for: Teen readers who like authors Elizabeth Wein, David Almond, Margo Lanagan, and A.S. King.
Gregory – Floor Manager
The Lover by Marguerite Duras
This book really hit me hard from the first to the last word. Duras, with such a low page count, is candid, erotic, and incendiary in every word. Exploring an erotic interracial relationship in the autumn of French Vietnam, the Southeast Asian humidity is just as thick as the passion. Duras has no illusions here, France’s hold on the country is just as doomed as the relationship at hand. This is one of the most honest novels I’ve ever read and I immediately started buying up everything with Duras’s name on it.
Half a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang
Finally published in English nearly 60 years, and what an epic romance this is. No one does ill-fated romance and unrequited love like Chang and she matches these deep feelings brilliantly with the deftest attention to detail. In Chang’s hands, Shanghai is the sexy, dangerous, and restrictive all at once.
Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin
This epistolary novel is the single most devastating break-up story I’ve ever experienced not only because Maiojin keenly illustrates the narrator’s anguish of being a world apart from her ex-girlfriend but the novel is also Maiojin’s own suicide letter.
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
Nothing could have prepared me for how much this novel would be on my mind post-election when I read it in the early part of the year. Oedipa Mass’s journey through the absurdities of late 1960s Southern California mirrors so many aspects of now – conspiracy theories, millionaire real estate moguls, and the overall resistance to authority feels all too familiar these days.
All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward
Reading this book early in the year, a Nixon-style presidency felt so far in the past. But not anymore. The failing of our press, the invalidity of facts, and a president who thinks the commander-in-chief can not do anything illegal are things happening now as well as in the pages of this book. Bernstein and Woodward are national treasures for not compromising their journalistic values. Also, read this is you have no idea why the word “gate” is tacked onto every scandal or controversy.
Melissa – Master Bookseller
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
I’m a sucker for a shocking fantasy story, and this one delivers. You don’t have to be a fan of YA to enjoy this one. It revolves around five people who have had difficult backgrounds who have to band together to take down one of the richest men in the land in a new type of world that you’ll find amazingly intriguing. Using flashbacks alongside the occurring Bardugo really lets us know the characters while keeping the story incredible and fresh. And there’s a second one that’s just as amazing! READ IT.
Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell
The 1950’s! New York! Martinis! Lunch! Those things alone should rope you in. But I will say more to further convince you. Here is the story of three young people all trying their hardest to get themselves involved in the world of published writing. The chapters switch points of views from character to character, and they all have distinct voice with surprises along the way. This was my favorite book of the year. It’s the story you didn’t realize you needed, and will never forget.
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
This is the ending of a trilogy so I won’t give anything away. But I promise you it’s worth picking up. Darrow has been through a whole lot since his journey began, and it continues to be fascinating to the very end. The war is nearing it’s end, and Darrow and friends (and enemies) are trying to accomplish what’s best for their people. There’s outer space, big fancy mansions, and planets other than Earth. Now it’s time to pick up the series, if you haven’t! Trust me, half the staff will tell you I’m not wrong.
A Life In Parts by Bryan Cranston
I will always have a place in my hearts for memoirs, especially when I’m already a fan of the person. Bryan Cranston has been fascinating to me since his days as the goofy dad Hal on Malcolm in the Middle. Obviously he continued to be as Walter White on Breaking Bad. And he keeps it up now through his life writings. And I will tell you right now that he seems to be the lovely person I hoped he was. This book is a perfect weekend read, because the writing is simple yet fun, and there’s nothing quite like learning new things about a person you admire.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult always seems to top herself on public issues and she’s done it once again with racism. She did serious research to make sure she did it right, and it shows. It starts when Ruth, an African-American delivery and labor nurse is asked not to assist with White Supremacy couples’ child. The child dies while she is in the room, and that’s just the beginning of the novel. You’re in for a whirlwind. And as Jodi Picoult does best, there’s a twist at the end you won’t expect.
Chris H. – Bookseller
Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
In anxious dread of starting, let alone finishing, this book whenever I was committed I would pivot to another Pynchon novel. I repeated this for a whole year before bucking up and going for it. Of course, it was wonderful.
Dark Money by Jane Mayer
This is not a happy tale. The diligence of Meyer’s research is one of the few rational boons to cling to in the face of gargantuan corruption crafted over sixty and more years to paralyze our legislature especially, but our government overall no question.
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
Chandler is one of the most beautiful composers of sentences in the English language. He manages to break your heart routinely, say ever four chapters or so.
All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
The style of the Washington Post’s most famous investigative journalists knocks me out, the kind of newspaper writing that has already long faded away. A critical document sure, but an amazing read top to bottom.
The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism by Kristin Dombek
Read this over Thanksgiving with no initiation other than the title. Dombek has sworn me off the moniker narcissist forever.
Meghan – Events
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is such a powerful story! I could be slightly biased because I went to the same high school as Yaa. The plot follows two sisters’ descendants over the course of a century. A wonderful example of a “thought experiment.” What if….then….
Havana Nocturne by TJ English
Fascinating read! The mob, prohibition, gambling, and live sex shows! Everyone escaped to Cuba for a wild time from the 1920s to 1950s. The mob had high hopes to make Havana the pearl of the Caribbean in terms of gambling and vacationing. (Las Vegas was still a sleepy little dust town.) However, these plans were thwarted once Fidel took over.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This is the BEST book I’ve read in 2016. Stevenson is a beacon of hope and advocate for those who have either been ignored or forgotten by our criminal justice system. His TED Talk has over 3 million views. He is on the same level as Paul Farmer. (Yes, this is a sneaky plug for Mountains Beyond Mountains.)
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
A fun read about four adult siblings and the dysfunction rooted deep in the family ties, especially once a sizable inheritance becomes accessible. It’s an adult beach read- lots of 10 cent vocabulary words but gossip-y enough to keep you entertained.
Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
The title says it all. It’s the story of a promising young man who made it out of a rough neighborhood in Newark, NJ and graduated from Yale. It’s a story about ambition and never truly fitting. This intimate portrait is well written and told by Peace’s college roommate.
Christine – Bookseller
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
another Erdrich tale of Native American families looking for redemption
The Apostle Killer by Richard Beard
theological noir tale, very artfully written
Wool by Hugh Howey
excellent post-apocalyptic, dystopian page-turner.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
a new fantasy series with an Asian/South Pacific mythos blended with traditional Western epics
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Maya – Bookseller
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Secret History by Donna Tartt
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Dani – Events
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Claire – Buyer
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Pit Bull by Bronwen Dickey
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett
Matt! – Events
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Solid instructional guide on how to find your best friend while working in a juvenile prison. Do not read if you already have a bunch of friends or have never been lonely.
Stoner by John Williams
This book is too good to even comment on.
Man & Wife by Katie Chase
Beautiful collection of short stories. The title story is the most unsettling thing I’ve read all year. Terrific.
Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce
Our Top Shelf pick for November. Warning: this book will make you want to leave your family and hike around Japan, and you’ll probably be a better person for it.
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
This book is so freakin’ good that I immediately bought and read everything Helen Oyeyemi has ever published.