My favorite reads from 2016

Hello, 2017. What a year that 2016 was, eh. Like, wow. Good riddance.

You may or may not recall at the beginning of 2016 I set out a goal to write a review for every book I read, with my reading goal being set at 60 books for the year. Not only did I fail in my attempt to write a review for every book, but last year marks the first time, since I started setting reading goals, that I missed that mark as well. All told, I wrote 28 reviews and read 52 book (really had to cram that final one in, staying up way too late New Year’s Eve Eve to finish it, making New Year’s Eve pretty much a non event for me. My final one was for a book I finished in July (though posted in September because I’m slow on things). Why stop there? Well, in August I read about nine books and I just couldn’t face that many write-ups. And for what, for a New Year’s Resolution, which I shouldn’t have set up for myself to begin with? Aiyayay.

I’d say the main difference between 2016 and the prior years is my commute. I took the bus for a number of years to Bellevue for work and in the fall of 2015 I moved offices over to Redmond and started taking the company shuttle. There is still time for reading on a commute, but thanks to wifi I found myself working on my laptop for some of the commute. I also had a knitting project I was cramming in for a few months. And then I discovered podcasts. So, yeah, there were other things to be done that wasn’t reading-related. I noticed in November I only read two books, which is far lower than my average. That was a bad month for me. I spent a lot of time fuming while reading Facebook. So, yeah. F-you 2016.

I’m not terribly sad about missing the goal. I accomplished a lot more. I knit a pretty badass Gryffindor scarf (and I’m in the midst of Ravenclaw one). I tried crocheting (still trying to get the hang of that). I opened my mind to podcasts and have had a blast listing to Anna Faris is Unqualified, The Nerdist Podcast and others.

Today I went through my list of books I did read (hey, 52 books means one book a week, more or less), and have compiled a list of 2016 favorites:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. (pub. 2007).

Read in Feb. 2016. I don’t need to do another review, right? I already did one. It’s right here. But I will say this. If a friend, whose book recommendations are often on the mark for you, recommends a book to you year after year, for the love of all things holy read the frikking book. By far the best book I read this year, and the only one I gave 5 stars to on Goodreads this year.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson (pub. 2016)

Read in July 2016. I couldn’t get over the young boy in the novel. As a mother striving to be the best mother I must say the mom in this book drove me nuts but the boy made me want to be a kid again. \

Here’s my review.

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld (pub. 2016)

Read in June 2016. I got kind of obsessed with this one. I just loved what Sittenfeld did with this modern version (all but the “Bachelor”-type setup near the end). I dare anyone to find me a more compelling tribute/fan-fiction etc to P&P.

Here’s my review.
The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller (Published 2012, Read in Feb 2016). My goodness do I love post-apocalyptic popcorn fiction like this. And guess what, I actually did not write a review for this one even though I read it early in the year. I did write a bit for another post-flu endemic type novel, Station Eleven, which also wowed me (and if I thought more about this post I’d pair them up together in my best-of list because they were both so enjoyable in this genre).

Set in Colorado, a man goes through life following a sickness hits the country that wipes out the majority of the population. His dog and a fellow survivor are his only companions and he longs to see if there’s something else out there.

A great story of survival that also helped layout a plan for when the flu pandemic finally hits. I also have a review for Station Eleven here.

Others that I loved … Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters, The Lake House by Kate Morton, The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher.

Most of my faves were read earlier in the year. The latter half of the year, I definitely hit a low season. Another possible reason I didn’t reach my goal was the number of books I started but didn’t finish (includes: The Avenue of Mysteries, A Discovery of Witches, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven).

And here’s one I did not love but really wanted to: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Really lame fan fiction, IMO. Hopefully it shows better on stage than it did on paper.

So, Happy new year! I’m setting my 2017 goal for reading to 52 books, which will hopefully give me some time to knit while I commute and do other fun stuff as well.


Great Night (or Review: Goodnight, Nebraska)

Goodnight, NebraskaTitle: Goodnight, Nebraska

Author: Tom McNeal

Read in: July 2016 (published in 1999)

One sentence summary: Shy boy who has seen tragedy in his life shoots step-father, which sends him to a small town in Nebraska where he seeks to redeem and forgive himself

There are a number of books in this year’s list that were recommended from my friend Kate, who is a middle school teacher. She does a lot of reading so she knows what to recommend when students ask her. This was on that list, and I didn’t get around to it until now, but I’m glad I did.

So much of my reading is genre specific. I love urban fantasy. I enjoy comedy romance. Young adult fiction. How often do a read a book that’s just a plain good novel with a compelling story. This one is that. Without supernatural heroes, epic bloody fights, sensational landscapes or laugh out loud dialogue.

This just told a very good story by a really great storyteller. Vivid characters in a small town remind you that everyone has secrets and scandals, and tragedy happens to those who least expect it.

(Not really a) Review: One More Thing Stories And Other Stories

One More ThingTitle: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

Author: B.J. Novak

Read in: July 2016

Disclaimer: I only took this out because of #BookBingoNW, which you will soon see, is why I picked up a lot of random books this summer.

I wish I could say I loved these stories and laughed at many of them, because I would like to think that B.J. Novak is that creative. And I think I liked some of the stories but I also feel like for most of the book I was cramming it down my throat to tick this off my list. I can vaguely remember some of the stories but nothing is really coming to me right now, nearly two months later. That’s my bad.

I could have been a better reader. Good thing someone isn’t reviewing my reviews.


Review: Be Frank With Me

Be Frank With MeTitle: Be Frank With Me

Author: Julia Claiborne Johnson

Read in: July 2016

Two-Sentence Summary: Editorial assistant lands a gig babysitting the son of a reclusive writer trying to pen a new book. The kid is peculiar, and chaos, lots of it, ensues.

File this one under, “Was on the waiting list for this one so long can’t remember who recommended it or why I wanted to read it in the first place.” I love when this happens, and I dive into a book I know nothing about, and end up loving it. That was this book.

BFWM is has a similar feel to Where’d You Go Bernadette, which I read a few years ago and enjoyed but didn’t love it like some of my friends did. In this one, though, that Frank, the child is such an adorable kid, along with the Harper Lee/Salinger-esque recluse writer of a mother who adores the son but can’t manage a social conversation to save her life.

The story is laid out from the perspective of a fish out of water, an editorial assistant of the publishing company who will be publishing the follow up to this Great American novelist, sent to LA from New York to ensure the writer is, well writing.

I can’t say enough about Frank. He dresses like he should have been in the talkies in teh 20s, and his intellect isn’t comparable. On one hand I think about what it would be like to have a child like Frank and how it would drive me crazy. On the other hand I know I’ll never meet a kid like this so I savor the crazy dressing, the insane imagination.

Recommended for: Bernadette fans

Review: The Rainbow Comes and Goes

TRCAGTitle: The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss

Authors: Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper

Read in: June 2016

One sentence summary: Successful broadcast journalist and his successful designer mother share reflect on their family past through letters written to each other.

Gloria Vanderbilt has had one heckuva roller coast ride of a life. From being the center of a custody battle at a young age, to dealing with unfathomable loss of a husband and a son, to losing a business and building a life back up, this woman has a lot to reflect on from her life.

Anderson Cooper has built an amazing career, purposefully not taking advantage of the glamorous name his mother no doubt would have brought for him. He has made a note to keep stories to themselves until here and here he is revealing about his brother’s suicide, his father’s death at a young age, and his coming out. On the other side, Vanderbilt had a carefree way of discussing the men in her life, the abuse she took in some cases, the feeling of losing your family, or those you always saw as family. What is most incredible to me is that woman is in her 90s! And is so eloquent with her words.

Just as the title alludes, this is a family that has experienced quite a bit of loss. But the two of them have managed to overcome those hurdles, and take that rainbow when it comes. Surely you appreciate it more once you’ve seen it go.

Knowing how hard it sometimes is to talk to family in person, I found the letter-writing format that the mother and son developed to be a very real, very “I could easily see doing something like this with my child one day”.

Recommended to: readers who like memoirs, hollywood starlets, or are a fan of Anderson Cooper.

Oh Baby Baby It’s a Wild World (or Review: Jessica Jones The Pulse)

Jessica Jones The PulseTitle: Jessica Jones The Pulse The Complete Collection

Author: Brian Michael Bendis

Read in: June 2016

One-sentence summary: The are the continued adventures of former superhero, private investigator Jessica Jones.

I had to wait a bit after reading the first collection of Jessica Jones comic books. BTW, are the terms comic book and graphic novel interchangeable? That I have to ask that probably shows the level of aptitude I have around GNs, and especially the Marvel Universe, and because of that perhaps I didn’t love this because I was confused much of the time due to not being familiar with all of the characters. Like, Spider-Man, sure. And Nick Fury, okay. But as Jessica Jones delves deeper into S.H.I.E.L.D. and all them, I was just trying to understand at that higher level.

It was interesting to read in GN format the tales of Jessica Jones’ pregnancy and her marriage. Just stuff I don’t expect in a comic book. Of a working joe, trying to support her family. I enjoyed her character a ton. Glad I was able to read through the full series. I would like to find other graphic novel series with a similar feel. Don’t even know where to start, though.

Recommended for: Fans of the TV series.

Singled Out! (Or Review: Eligible)

eligibleTitle: Eligible
Author: Curtis Sittenfeld
Read in: June 2016

Let’s start off by admitting that I am not a Jane Austen megafan. I didn’t pick up Pride & Prejudice until a few years ago and this shocked many of my English degree fans who first read it in high school. I read Emma and disliked it very much, though I did like the movie Clueless. After reading P&P I read P&P& Zombies, which I thought was fun. And I enjoyed both the P&P miniseries with Colin Firth as well as the Keira Knightly version of the film. I actually bought the DVD of the Keira Knightly version. That says a lot. In my mind, though, when I picture these characters in my head, I think of a young Colin Firth for Darcy and Keira Knightly and Rosamund Pike for Jane.
So, having given you my P&P background, I must say that I loved this reboot. Curtis Sittenfeld, whose past novels I have loved (American Wife) and not loved as much (Prep), turned this Jane Austen classic into something current for today’s generation as part of an ongoing project where several authors are retelling Austen classics in a contemporary setting. You’ve got magazine writer Lizzy, yoga instructor Jane, crossfit crazy Lydia, neurosurgeon Darcy and reality star Bingley. Oh yes she did.
While I don’t love the reboots I see of movies and tv shows,I totally fell for this retelling. knowing what I know about P&P I was intrigued to see how she would approach different scenes. Probably the most far fetched was the reality star bit, but the other surprises, a side trip to Silicon Valley, more insight into Mary (honestly, Mary from Austen era is really better understood in the Sittenfeld version) was refreshing. I also felt like she very much did her homework and captured the characters that Austen created very well. The author also, when necessary, made telltale changes to the Austen script as needed, and it didn’t affect me one bit. Example: Surprise, Wickham is split into two characters.
I read this book in a day and immediately recommended it to a few coworkers. One coworker said she already read it and hated it. One read it and walked into the office one day and said, “THEY HAD [SPOILER]??” Yes! One other gave her nod of approval, but for some reason it just really won me over more than others.
In short, I enjoyed it so much I asked the husband to use his kindle lawsuit refund to buy a copy for me (originally I borrowed it). That pretty much means “in a relationship.” Maybe I’m a bigger megafan that I thought.
Recommended for: Contemporary romance/chick flick fans; Jane Austen fans (maybe, they might be put off. I’m not a JA fan. I just love P&P)

One world is enough for all of us (or Review: Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism)

I am committed to writing at least a little bit about every book I’m reading in 2016 but I’m woefully behind. On top of that I managed to clock in several books this summer for my Book Bingo challenge, so am even more behind. But here’s a little catch up.
Rescuing JesusTitle: Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism

Authour: Deborah Jian Lee

Read in: June 2016

One-sentence summary: Writer/journalist talks to several Christians of diverse backgrounds (African-American, Gay/Lesbian, Asian-American, etc) about reconciling the religion they were brought up in (or came to love) with who they are or have become.
I learned about the author and book through church, obviously. But I suppose it might not be obvious if you aren’t aware that a) I am actually a very regular attendee of a church and b) said church is among the few evangelical churches that have welcomed the LGBTQ community.
I’m not going to get into my “faith journey” here. I’m still traveling it. But I can say this about the book: I was seeking more answers than this book gave. This more than anything recounted stories and experiences of people from different backgrounds struggling with their faith. Excellent reporting, and the author shares her own experiences as well. But I think I was hoping for something I could use to open discussion on topics with people who perhaps are more closed off, and I’m not entirely sure I found that here. It was disheartening to read about the lack of progress that we seem to be making in accepting all humans.

Recommended for: People who are to read personal stories about Christians battling age-old beliefs alongside the changes we see in the world today.

This is not a drill (or Review: American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales)

AGTitle: American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers

Author: Nancy Jo Sales

Published: Feb 2016

Read: June 2016

So, this one was an eye-opener. I mean, I think in the past I had heard about what kids were doing in school these days (I probably read her long-form article in Vanity Fair months or years earlier), but I didn’t give it much thought (which is why I’m pretty sure I read the article, but can only sort of remember it). I picked this book up because I’ve been trying to learn a little bit more about various social media accounts for work purposes, and this book was available through my work library.

Well, holy crap. Kids are doing some ridiculously crazy stuff at high school (and even younger) these days. Here are a few key takeaways:

  • Girls are being asked to send nude pics to boys over text. And they agree to it. Because if they don’t, the kids in class will shun or shame. Oh, and when they do, boys will share the pics without permission. Great.
  • Some girls do it and don’t bat an eye. I suspect it’s because they are unaware of the boundaries, of the right to privacy, of what is acceptable and what is illegal.
  • Boys like to send pics of their junk to girls, whether it’s solicited or not
  • Porn is readily available (thank you, technology!) and this has really messed with a young person’s reality of what sex actually is, and what intimacy is, and what a relationship is.

I was pretty much reading this entire book with my jaw on the floor. Coincidentally, the week I was finishing this up I got an invitation to be FB friends with my teenage niece. She’s been on Insta and probably Snapchat for some time but was finally getting around to Facebook. I thought it was the right time to email my sister and freak out about this book I was reading and all of the INSANE shit going on in high school these days. (though, i didn’t use the word “shit” because we don’t talk like that). Her response was, “yep, it happens. I know about it and it’s crazy but we’ve talked and this kid is pretty smart about it.” Which is true. My sister is an amazing mom and she and my brother-in-law are raising two amazing, empathetic, smart kids. Phew.

Then, a few days later I was talking with a fellow gym-mate who I know has a kid at Roosevelt. I’m reading this book, I said, and it’s ridiculous and I can’t believe what’s going on. Her response: “Yep, it happens. You need to know all of your kids passwords and be alert to what they’re doing and make sure they don’t block you ‘by accident.'”

Last night I was out with some friends, two of whom are teachers, one at the middle school level and one at the high school level. “Is this really happening in our high schools?” (they both teach at private Catholic schools). “Yep, it’s happening. And what’s worse is these kids have never been taught sex ed, they’re not having those awkward (but so very important) conversations with their parents, who are in denial around sex and relationships and therefore the kids don’t understand how to treat each other, let alone know about pregnancy and STDs.”

For them, this is what they think is normal.

So, my hope that this book was an alarmist over-exaggeration was unfortunately shot down by multiple people I know from multiple schools. And I’m glad I read it because it’s only better preparing me to somehow teach my little first-grader how to have self-respect, to stand up for herself, and to understand what is right and what is wrong (and a lot of what’s going on with these kids is that they have no idea that being asked to share pictures of themselves is beyond wrong. It’s sexual harassment and really needs to be dealt with).

And sharing these stories with other moms and teachers gives me hope that we’re all paying attention and helping each other out because holy crap there’s a lot of insanity going on. Seven years from now, what I’m learning today may not even be relevant. Maybe it will have gotten better. Maybe laws and enforcement will have finally caught up to the technology and access the kids have today. But I really don’t know what I’m up against.

While I was reading this book (and it took me quite a while to finish it because it was almost too painful to keep going, what some of some young girls have to endure) there was a full week or more of national news and discussion around the former Stanford student convicted of raping a unconscious woman. Yes, you know the story. As I read the stories Sales collected about the lack of respect boys showed girls at this age. About the expectations boys had about sex and relationships due to an abundance of porn readily available to young minds. I couldn’t help but think that some of the boys Sales reports about in this book are the ones who are later caught literally with their pants down, doing unfathomable, despicable, illegal acts. That no one thought to tell this young man, or his friends, that this is wrong. After all of these legal woes, think they’ve figured out? Have their parents figured it out? The parents around the nation who think, for some reason, that this is okay, that boys will be boys, or that the girl had it coming?


Read the book, or at least read an excerpt or listen to her interview on NPR. Whatever you do, do NOT think this couldn’t possibly be happening in your school, your town, or to your kid. It happens.

Recommended to: Parents and others who work or talk with kids or young adults on a regular basis.

I Can Feel it in the Aeronaut (or, Review of The Aeronaut’s Windlass)

TAWTitle: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1)

Author: Jim Butcher

Published: 2015

Read in: May 2016

How do I even review this? Jim Butcher books for me are like a roller coaster of ups and downs. But a week later you could ask me what it’s about and I’m like, um….

So it’s been a week since I finished this one, which I almost didn’t read based on the book synopsis. Wasn’t sure if I was a steampunk kind of person, but my work spouse gave it the thumbs up so I dived in.

Two sentence summary: Former military, now a captain of a merchant (air)ship finds himself on another mission to save a city from war. Oh, and cats are smarter than humans and it’s hilarious.

Why did I even doubt whether I should read this? I’ve read all of the Jim Butcher / Dresden Files series and while in that series Dresden has a crew of rag tag friends that will help him anywhere anytime, ultimately the story starts and ends with Dresden. So seeing Butcher create a different environment, where everyone in this crew, young guards, merchant captains, and, yes, a smartass cat, all have their pivotal roles is refreshing. The witty dialogue, well-crafted fight scenes, fast-paced action that I know and love in Dresden is quite present here. It’s a very fun world, once I understood it (and it took me a while to get into it). I’m planning to read this one again soon now that I know where I’m going, and I also plan to keep up with this series.

Recommended for: Dresden fans (of course); Steampunk fans, and dare I say, fans of the television series “Firefly.” The merchant captain sorta reminds me of Captain Reynolds.