Best Reads of 2016

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I barely hit my reading goal for 2016. For the last few years, being a full-time seamstress gave me a ton of time to listen to audiobooks all day long, and I frequently finished 2-3 books a week. Now that I work from home I’ve slowed down considerably.

Like I said in my post last week, Steve & I are hoping to work together to read 52 books in 2017. I’ll post again soon to explain more about that, but for now, here are my favorite reads of 2016. I tried to think of a wide selection of books that I think could be enjoyed by just about anyone – with, perhaps, the exception of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Children’s Books

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

One of the great things about well-written children’s literature is its ability to deal with hard truths in simple but meaningful ways. This book is a prime example of that. It’s a beautifully told story about a boy and his pet fox who are separated. As they journey to find each other, they both learn about loss, pain, family, and the harsh realities of the world.

I’ve recommended this book to several people this year, and everyone who has read it has enjoyed it, even people who wouldn’t normally pick a book about a boy and his pet, or that is half told from the perspective of a fox. If you don’t read anything else on this list, read Pax.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett 

Terry Pratchett, who died of Alzheimer’s in 2015, is best known for his series of 41 books set in the Discworld. I’ve read many of the Discworld books, which don’t really require reading in any particular order. If you like fantasy & a good laugh, they’re definitely worth a read.

Within the Discworld series is a sub-series of children’s books about a young witch named Tiffany Aching. The Shepherd’s Crown is the fifth and final Tiffany Aching book. It’s also the last book that Pratchett wrote as he struggled with Alzheimer’s, making some of the themes of the book – and quotes like this one – carry more meaning:

“Tiffany found her mind filling up with an invisible gray mist, and in that thought there was nothing but grief. She could feel herself trying to push back time, but even the best witchcraft could not do that.”

One of the best parts of the Tiffany Aching series is how witchcraft works in their world. Witches do fly on brooms and wield magic, but the bulk of their responsibilities lie in helping ordinary people with ordinary but not-so-fun problems that no one else wants to do, without using any of what we might call witchcraft. In the course of learning witchcraft, Tiffany becomes a midwife, a nurse, a vet, sits with the dying, and cares for bodies before burial. As a Christian, it’s interesting to see the power that Pratchett places in quietly and matter-of-factly serving those around you.

Nonfiction:

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Erik Larson is a master of narrative history. I’ve enjoyed several of his other books, and this one didn’t disappoint. The story centers around the sinking of a luxury ocean liner, the Lusitania, by a German U-Boat. This legendary disaster is told in great detail, with stories from the passengers, the Germans on the U-Boat, and the British government. Larson does a great job of making the passengers and the fateful voyage come alive.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

I’m not sure how I hadn’t heard of this book before. It’s the true story of a Dutch woman, Corrie, and her family, as they cling to their faith in God to survive the invading Nazis, shelter & provide for Jews, and are eventually caught and sent to prison, and then a concentration camp. The ten Boom’s faith is an inspiring & miraculous tale, and the gospel went out from them wherever they went. Through the deepest suffering, Corrie clung to the one Truth that she knew to be unshakeable, and God used her and her family to save lives and souls.

Fiction:

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

In this novel, two different stories collide. One story is that of Little Bee, a Nigerian girl who is seeking asylum in Great Britain; the other is of Sarah, a British woman, and her family. The two first meet when Sarah is on vacation in Nigeria, and their paths later cross when Little Bee comes to England as a refugee. The characters struggle with loss, personal accountability, the failures of the refugee detention centers, and a little boy who refuses to take off his Batsuit. The author gives these struggles unforgettable faces.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This post-apocalyptic novel is another story with several parallel storylines. The world is hit by the Georgian Flu, which wipes out most of the Earth’s population. The author follows several characters in the years leading up to the flu and 20 years after the flu struck. St. John Mandel does a great job of creating vivid imagery throughout the book, and the world 20 years after the flu has very interesting social dynamics.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and I’m struggling with the words to sum it up. It’s just over 1,000 pages of alternate history meets fantasy meets Austen or Dickens. If you enjoy the writings of Austen and her contemporaries, you will find a familiar voice narrating this tome, and familiar surroundings in England.

Clarke explores the struggles of Mr. Norrell as he brings back British magic and tries to make it a respectable profession. He gains a pupil, Jonathan Strange, and the two eventually go head-to-head as they have different ideas of what a gentleman magician should be.

If that sounds interesting to you, and you have 30 hours to read such a book, good luck!

If you have read or decide to read any of these, let me know what you think of them in the comments. Happy Reading!

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Explorer & adventurer - mostly through scratches of ink on a page - I enjoy my husband, our twin boys, our boisterous German shepherd, and strive to live for the glory of God.
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