My favourite books of 2016

Every year I do a post sharing my favourite books that I read in the previous year. Here you can find my favourite books from 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Normally I share all of the books I rated 5 stars (*****) in this post. However, since starting to listen to the What Should I Read Next podcast (one of my favourite podcasts I started listening to in 2016) I decided that just because I gave 13 books 5 stars in 2016 doesn’t mean that 13 books were my very favourites.

So I will share my very favourite books of the year (6 of them!) and at the bottom the name and author of the other 7 books I also liked enough to give 5 stars to with a link to my review on Goodreads.

Books below are listed in the order I read them not in the order of preference!

#1 Where’d You Go, Bernadette 

bernadette

From Goodreads: Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

This book was like nothing else I’ve ever read before as it’s told mostly through email messages, documents and letters. It was a delightfully funny and enjoyable book and one of those books where I had a smile plastered to my face the entire time. The author also did a great job giving the characters depth and i had a few a-ha moments myself while reading the book.

#2 Come Away With Me 

come-away-with-me

From Goodreads: One minute, Tegan Lawson has everything she could hope for: an adoring husband, Gabe, and a baby on the way. The next, a patch of black ice causes a devastating accident that will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Tegan is consumed by grief, not to mention her anger toward Gabe, who was driving on the night of the crash. But just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, Gabe reminds her of their Jar of Spontaneity, a collection of their dream destinations and experiences, and so begins an adventure of a lifetime.

From the bustling markets of Thailand to the flavors of Italy to the ocean waves in Hawaii, Tegan and Gabe embark on a journey to escape the tragedy and search for forgiveness. But they soon learn that grief follows you no matter how far away you run, and that acceptance comes when you least expect it.

Heartbreaking, hopeful and utterly transporting, Come Away with Me is an unforgettable debut and a luminous celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

I loved this book. I really empathized and related to some of the things the main character was going through and the author does such an amazing job describing despair and grief in this book. It can be hard to put those kinds of emotions into words and the author did an amazing job doing so. Though the main subject of this book is very tough, it still manages to be an uplifting and hopeful book. Also this book takes place in three different countries around the world and the descriptions were so well-written and vivid that it felt like I was there.

I’m so impressed that this was a debut novel and will definitely read more by this author in the future!

#3 A Little Life

a-little-life

From Goodreads: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Oh man. This book. THIS BOOK. If you know anything about this book you know it has been described as “emotionally devastating” and it was, but it was also so much more than that. I’ve discovered that I really love long books because it gives me time to really get to know and get attached to the characters and that was definitely the case with this book. I was SO invested in the characters by the end and the writing was so vivid you felt like you were living their lives right along with them.

There are a lot of trigger warnings for this book related to abuse for a reason, and it’s something to take seriously, but if that’s not a trigger for you or you think you can handle it I highly recommend reading this book. I missed the characters within minutes after finishing it. And it came very close to being the top book of the year for me, but was edged out at the last minute… Keep reading to find out by what book! Definitely the second best book I read in 2016 though.

#4 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle 

animal-vegetable-miracle

From Goodreads: Bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver returns with her first nonfiction narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.

“As the U.S. population made an unprecedented mad dash for the Sun Belt, one carload of us paddled against the tide, heading for the Promised Land where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around. We were about to begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain.

“Naturally, our first stop was to buy junk food and fossil fuel. . . .”

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that’s better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet.

“This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air.”

So not only was this one of my favourite books of 2016, it was the best audiobook I have ever listened to! I highly recommend listening to this book on audio if that is a way you enjoy consuming content. Kingsolver is an excellent narrator and the book also has sounds from around her farm in the background. It’s very cool.

This book definitely changed the way I think about food and one of my goals of 2017 is to have my own small garden and also to source as much of my food as possible locally, even if it means spending more money on food.

#5 Bird Box

bird-box

From Goodreads: Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.

Never in a million years would I have guessed a book categorized as “Horror” would be the best book I read in 2016. But there you go. I had heard about Bird Box lots on the Book Riot podcast and was very intrigued by it but am not a fan of ‘scary’ books. When it was on sale through Kindle a few weeks ago I bought it and ended up reading it in two sittings over the holidays (both times on plane rides).

Holy moly, this book. It was SO well written. I actually would consider this book more ‘suspense’ than ‘horror’. Every time I was reading it I was 100% immersed in the world of the book and paid no attention to anything happening around me. I was absolutely riveted and could not tear myself away. This book definitely has some gory descriptions and is ‘scary’ but I still highly recommend it. Especially if you enjoyed The Road or you are a fan of The Walking Dead.

#6 Eligible 

eligible

From Goodreads: This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . .

And yet, first impressions can be deceiving.

I read American Wife a few years ago and loved it. I don’t know why it took me so long to read another book by this author but again, when I saw this one pop up as a kindle daily deal I had to grab it. I bought it months ago and saved reading it until we were on our Hawaiian vacation at the end of the year and it was the perfect vacation read!

This book was delightful. The quirky and messed up Bennet family was hilarious and there were many laugh-out-loud parts. Even though the book is very satirical – and in some ways silly – the author also does a great job ensuring each character has some depth to them. Extra points to Sittenfeld for bringing in issues of race and gender in what I thought was a tactful, yet light, way.

Other 5 star books for me in 2016 (links to my Goodreads reviews) 

1. The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
2. Did you ever have a family by Bill Clegg
3. Ru by Kim Thuy
4. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
5. Harry Potter & the Cursed Child – screenplay
6. All the bright places by Jennifer Niven
7. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

And a few honourary mentions…

And here are a few books I gave 4 (****) stars to but still really enjoyed and would recommend you check out. Links also to my Goodreads reviews:

  1. Hillbilly Elegy
  2. Notes from a Blue Bike: The art of living intentionally in a chaotic world
    *recommend the audiobook version for this one
  3.  I Let You Go

Oh and I should mention I had a goal of reading 52 books in 2016 and I managed to surpass it and read 55 books total. Yay!

What was the best book YOU read in 2016?? 

11 Responses

  1. Lauren says:

    These are always helpful posts. I’m bookmarking it. I just finished the light between oceans and really enjoyed it! I’m in a Facebook book club and it’s helpful to just get ideas of what to read. I don’t read much (maybe read 5-7 books this year), so it’s nice to have reviews from other to help me in my book search. I’m also reading the happiness project, which I really like because I also listen to the podcast and gain a lot of value from both.

  2. Travel Spot says:

    It’s always interesting to see what other people pick as their yearly favorites! I really enjoyed I Let You Go and All the Bright Places and have had books like Hillbilly Elegy and Eligible on my hold shelf at the library for months, so am glad that you give them your blessing. The one I was not into that a lot of people liked was A Little Life. I found it hard to get into (I put it down twice before finally bucking up and finishing it) and it was so depressing. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time for me to read it (busy at work etc) or maybe I just went in with very high expectations due to other Goodreads reviews, but I just couldn’t get into it!

    A couple of my favorites were Lilac Girls and A Darker Shade of Magic. Some I am looking forward to reading this year are Grit and Underground.

  3. Colleen Chow says:

    I want to read a Little Life but when I saw it in the library I was overwhelmed by it. It just seems so thick and doesn’t look like an easy read. It is still intriguing, though.

  4. Lisa says:

    Thanks for the recommendations!

    I LOVED Bird Box. It was so unique and creepy and well-written. I’ve given it to a few people as gifts since I’ve read it. I wish more people knew about that book!

  5. April says:

    If you liked Where’d You Go Bernadette… you may or may not like Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple’s newest. I recently read it because I also liked Bernadette but this one was much more winding and “uh where is this going..?” than the other one. But still, it came together in the end to make it worth having read. Semple has a very distinct style that’s for sure.

  6. Stephany says:

    The only book I have read from this list is Where’d You Go, Bernadette? but I LOVED that novel, too. Such a fun, quirky read.

    This year, my favorite book was The Hating Game, followed closely by The Queen of the Tearling.

  7. NIcole says:

    I’ll be adding these to my reading list for 2017!! Thanks!

  8. Sam says:

    Have Bird Box and Did You Ever Have a Family on my nightstand now! Thanks for being such a bookworm Amber. I really appreciate your reviews and motivating me to get back into reading so much. My goal is a paltry 12 new books this year (one a month) but it’s something! I managed 8 last year…

  9. Laura says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these! I love your book recaps all year long and get a lot of my “want to reads” from you. I wrote up my favorite books of the year here if you’re looking for more recs: http://www.50by25.com/2016/12/my-top-books-of-the-second-half-of-2016.html

  10. Lisa of Lisa's Yarns says:

    My best book in 2016 was also animal vegetable miracle! It definitely changed the way I think about sourcing my food. One change I made was signing up for a meat share at my farmers market. I shared my 10 favorite books in my post but had a hard time coming up with 10 honestly. So next year I might drop the number of books in my favorites list. I loved doing the reading challenge but I think I loved fewer books than I would have if I had just read what I felt like reading.

  11. Shoshanah says:

    If you like Curtis Sittenfeld you have to read Prep. It’s her fist book, I believe, and my favorite of everything she’s written.

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