By Margaret Lucke
My favorite book of 2016? Hmm . . . which should I choose?
If I read a book all the way to end (and what a liberating moment it was when I realized I didn't have to), then chances are I've liked it. The plot kept me intrigued, or the characters were fun to hang out with, or the author immersed me in an experience that I found in some way compelling. Sometimes I was impressed with the language used to tell the story, the power or the precision or the beauty of it, but that was always a bonus, a cherry on the sundae. Language alone isn't enough to keep me reading if it's not being used to tell a solid story.
In 2016 I read 47 books (yes, I keep a list, and very handy it is, too). That's not as many as I would have liked but more than my usual number. These five stand out for me, for various reasons. Some gave me fresh insights, or opened up a new world, or helped me understand a complex topic in a new way. Or they hit all four of my reading pleasure points -- plot, characters, experience, and language. In some cases they simply happened to fall into my hands at just the right moment.
I'm listing them in the order in which I read them:
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. A newly hired clerk discovers that the strange San Francisco bookstore he's working in is a branch of a mysterious cult that is seeking the secret of immortality. He enlists his techie friends to help him crack the code that will lead to this special knowledge. A love letter to bookstores, and fascinating glimpse of the intersection of technologies old and new.
The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson. A young spinster schoolteacher and the surgeon nephew of an upper-crust family gradually come together in a seaside English village in the summer of 1914 as World War I is looming. The place and the characters are vividly drawn and the writing style is charming.
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. A historical novel based on the life of early abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimké, her sister Angelina, and Hetty Handful, a slave in the privileged Charleston household in which the sisters grew up. Told from the points of view of both Sarah and Hetty, it is both chilling picture of the cruelty slaves endured and an inspiring account of how determined individuals can make a difference. I had not heard of the Grimké sisters before reading this novel, but I now count them among my heroines.
Cop Town, by Karin Slaughter. In Atlanta in 1974, two young policewomen fight sexism, racism, and homophobia in the police department as they search for a serial killer who is targeting cops. The characters and their struggles came alive for me, and I was struck by how timely this book seemed, given that it was set more than 40 years in the past.
Razor Girl, by Carl Hiaasen. Restaurant inspector and demoted cop Andrew Yancy teams up with sexy con artist to find the star of a reality TV show who's been kidnapped by a crazy fan. When you're in the mood for a book that is funny and easy to read, yet skewers those in our society who need skewering -- politicians, developers, polluters, and anyone hungry for money and power -- Hiaasen never disappoints. This was the perfect book to get me through the gray, cold November days following the election.
By the way, the fact that all of these covers are tones of yellow or orange is strictly a coincidence. While I love those hues, I don't pick books based on their colors.
Wishing you lots of great reads and favorite books in 2017!