According to my Goodreads profile, I’ve read 15 books in 2016. I’m pretty sure it’s more than that but I’ve only been really keeping track of them for the past 6 months or so. Here are my top 5, in no particular order. I hope you find something good to add to your reading list for 2017!
Follow me on Goodreads for more suggestions throughout the year.
1. All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: 2014, Scribner
This book won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and with good reason. Unusually, it’s also been a massive bestselling hit, also with good reason. It’s the kind of book that leaves you feeling stunned at the end.
All the Light We Cannot See is set in France and Germany during World War II, but it’s not really about the war. The best way I can think to describe it is a story about science which sings to your heart.
The split narrative follows a young, blind girl in Paris whose father is a locksmith for the museum and a young orphan boy in Germany with a thirst for knowledge whose talent with radios lands him a place at a prestigious learning academy… which turns out to also be a training ground for Nazi officers.
After graduating from the academy and being forced to slay several enemies using a weapon of his own creation, he hears the words of his teacher, Dr. Hauptmann: A scientist’s work is determined by two things: his interests and those of his time.
Ultimately this is the story of what happens to science – and those who yearn to pursue it – during war time. Not an easy read, but so well worth it.
2. The Good People, by Hannah Kent
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: 2016, Pan MacMillan Australia
I was so blown away by Hannah Kent’s first book, Burial Rites, that I would have bought her next book even if it was all about watching paint dry.
The Good People is every bit as good as Burial Rites. It’s a richly detailed historical novel set in an Ireland ruled by superstition and fear. When folk can’t cure illnesses by earthly means, they turn to supernatural faery cures, with sometimes tragic consequences.
I found it an emotional read and though the events are horrifying it’s hard to lay blame on any one character or institution. The true culprits are ignorance, poverty and a lack of support for carers of the disabled. Sadly some things haven’t changed in the long intervening years.
The first 50 pages are a tiny bit slow to get into, but after that I just couldn’t put it down.
3. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published: 2015, Riverhead Books
Writerly friends have been recommending this one to me for a while and I’ve completely ignored them. I saw Eat, Pray, Love at the movies and I absolutely hated it. I don’t like ‘ra-ra’ self-help books and I couldn’t see how there was any point in reading this one when I disliked her other book so much (though, to be fair, I haven’t actually read the book – I’ve only seen the movie).
Out of sheer curiosity, and almost under duress, I bought a copy as a Christmas present to myself after a couple of friends described it as ‘very woo-woo’ but brilliant for all creative types.
They were right. If you are a creative – and I mean a writer, crafter, baker, musician – or you want to be, this is absolutely the book for you.
I don’t say this very often about books, especially self-help books, but I found it truly inspirational. For me, it validates what I have been feeling anyway – that I don’t want to rely on my ‘art’ (writing) to pay the bills. I’m happy to keep my day job for that. Also that creative living is something you do every day, it’s not about writing the next bestseller or winning literary prizes. It’s about creating. Simple.
4. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
Genre: Science fiction
Published: 1985, Tor
My science fiction reading buddy recommended this one to me as part of the sci-fi canon. It’s a total cultural relic – it completely dismisses women from the book altogether as being unsuitable for combat due to evolutionary disadvantages (??) – but if you can ignore the mysoginistic overtones, it’s a great read.
Set in the future, the premise is that earth was attacked by the ‘buggers’ (an alien race) twice in the past and must prepare for the next attack or risk annihilation. The governments of earth had the bright idea of breeding super-brilliant children and training them up for interstellar battle. When the story opens, the future of the human race rests on the shoulders of 6-year-old Ender. His training for the next four years or so consists of battle simulators in zero gravity, hence the title of the book.
I love reading old science fiction to see what technological predictions they make that we now take for granted. Ender and his contemporaries use ‘desks’ to study and play games. The ‘desks’ have touch screens and are connected to the internet and other networks… 30 years later and most school-aged kids have access to an iPad or other tablet. Creepy, huh?
5. A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, by Natasha Lester
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: 2016, Hachette Australia
Evie Lockhart comes from money. BIG money. As a 1920s east-coast American heiress she’s expected to marry well, have babies and spend her day discussing the finer points of dress shopping.
Evie has other ideas – she’d rather deliver babies. She wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor (at least, he was a doctor before he also got gentrified and wound up spending his days discussing the finer points of cigar smoking). But there’s a problem – studying medicine will catastrophically interfere with dress shopping, having babies and marrying well. Her family disapproves of her plans.
What follows is a wonderfully romantic saga enmeshed in a fabulously researched and rendered depiction of what life was like for trailblazing independent women of 1920s New York.
Technically this is an historical romance, but it’s not your traditional weepy heroine getting saved by a tall, handsome – and preferably wealthy – man. Evelyn Lockhart is perfectly capable of saving herself, with a little help from other strong women along the way. But romance fans, fear not – there are plenty of dashing blokes and dastardly fiends littered about the narrative as well.
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