My Favorite Books of 2016

Surprisingly enough, 2016 was my best reading year yet in terms of quantity (180 books total including some re-reads and NOT including picture books, which would have bumped me up significantly. =) Quality, however, was another story. I think 2015 definitely beat out this past year since I felt like 2016 held quite a few reading duds for me (appropriate, eh?). Even though I went through several dry spells (admittedly my fault since I should have abandoned far more books than I did), 2016 still produced some winners and here they are (in no particular order except chronologically how I read them throughout the year.) Honestly, not all of these were fun or thrilling- some were really thought-provoking and informative, though, which I find to be fun AND thrilling. Ha! (#nerd) 

If only we could all look so adorable while reading. =)

Oh, and one more note- honestly, these also represent the most memorable books to me. My brain is not quite as sharp as it was pre-baby (who's with me?) and really there were lots of books, reading through my quarterly lists, that made me stop and say, "What on earth was that one about?". These did not need any prompting to bring them back to mind so that must mean they were pretty good. =)

Fiction first:

1Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. One of my favorite (former) bloggers recommended this to me on Twitter and she was spot on- I absolutely loved it, and as my friend predicted, the little sister is my favorite character. =) It's one of those novels that's hard to describe but the prose is just beautiful. The author's way with words is as much a pleasure to enjoy as the story itself, which is also wonderful. Trying to explain the plot kind of takes away from the "first time" experience but it is about family, faith, and miracles, all told in the most compelling way possible. (Also this one totally deserves its spot on Anne's Books to Curl Up with This Winter list. I read it last January and it's the perfect winter story.)

2. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. This book switches chapter by chapter from Lavinia, an Irish indentured servant, to Belle, a slave; both girls are owned by the same plantation family. As they grow up and take different paths in life, the lines that were blurred in their "family" become painfully clear. This was hard to read in places and had more violence than I'm usually comfortable with (for my own HSP self, not the average person), but sometimes it's necessary to be reminded of just how despicable slavery was. (There's a sequel to this but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the original.)

3. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall- I included the entire series (there are four books) because I couldn't pick a favorite. If I had to choose my number one book(s) of the year, these might be it. They are just delightful. Sweet, old-fashioned, clever, hilarious- and about a family of four sisters which I can relate to just a little bit. =) One of my favorite things about these books is that they feel as if they could be set 50 years ago (or really at any time) but also feel fresh and current. So many modern novels (especially for children) seem like they have to throw in an iPad or social media reference every other paragraph and these aren't like that at all. Perfect for girls (and their moms!) but boys would enjoy them too.

4. 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. I bought this for Amy for her birthday because 101 Dalmatians has always been her favorite Disney movie (and we used to call her Rolly, so... =) I had never read it and never even knew it was based on this novel until recently. After she read it and gushed about how great it was, I knew I had to check it out. So sweet and funny, and actually quite different from the movie. I also read Dodie Smith's book I Capture the Castle, which would be on this favorites list if I hadn't been so annoyed by the ending. She's an amazing writer!

5. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. Oh, my- this one was so good! It might have resonated more with me than anything else I read all year. As a former teacher, it felt like I was reading a journal written by myself. Ha! I never worked in an environment as chaotic as this one, but every teacher I know can relate to the portrayal of an English teacher's experience in a public high school. The book's unique format (told entirely through letters, memos, notes, school forms, and student assignments) only adds to the experience. Hilarious and gripping and sweet and sad and smart and heartbreaking, all at the same time. And shockingly relevant and current over fifty years after its publication.

Honorable mention: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit (my first time! And so much better than the movie) and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (don't let the fact that it's told from the perspective of a gorilla put you off. It's so sweet and surprisingly heartbreaking and completely worthy of its Newberry.) 


1. The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax. I read this book in April and I feel like I haven't shut up about it since. It's just so appropriate for our current culture and terribly important information (especially, I think, for millennial who are now raising their own children.) I already explained it and gushed about it in this post so go read the full review there if you're interested. I really do wish I could force this into the hands of every single parent (and teacher, for that matter.) Just excellent, and I've read almost all his other books now and loved them too. 

2. A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet by Sophie Hudson. When a subtitle is "faith, family, and fifteen pounds of bacon" can you really go wrong? This book made me laugh out loud. Literally, not just the "lol" you send someone when they send you a meme that made you smirk a little. It is so sweet and funny but with actual substance to each story. Sophie's blog and podcast are definitely on my new favorites list and she is quickly becoming my all-thing-southern spirit animal (the fact that she's a Mississippi State fan notwithstanding. =)

3. I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam. I read this at the perfect time- two weeks before the start of a new year. The author specializes in time management (I read this book of hers two years ago and loved it) and she shares in-depth schedules of women who have careers and families and somehow still manage to exercise, go to book clubs, learn new skills, and overall find ways to thrive in their lives without (completely) going crazy or giving up sleep. The first section about work wasn't super applicable since I'm unemployed (unless Alice wants to start paying me, which would be a great Moses/Jochabed situation!) but the rest of the book is so practical and most importantly doable. I think the best piece of advice she gives is to stop looking at your schedule/to do list in terms of a 24-hour day and start breaking it down from the perspective of 168 hours (a week.) That sounds overwhelming but really it makes things seem much more attainable, and I think now that we're home from vacation and back to normal I'd like to track my hours for a week (like she recommends doing) and see what happens after that. 

4. French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. I am fascinated by French parenting in general (Bringing Up Bebe was a favorite in 2015) but this book specifically explores food and the way children eat better and healthier in France. I think about this all the time and probably need to reread it now that Alice is eating pretty much all "real" food since her teeth finally showed up. =) It really made me think about my own eating habits (which of course I am modeling for Alice) and was much more understanding and less judgmental than French Women Don't Get Fat which was interesting but extremely condescending (we get it- you think all Americans are fat and disgusting. Ha!) In a nutshell- healthy, flavorful food, one good snack a day, no using food as a bribe/punishment, and involving kids in the preparation and experience of their meals.

5. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Short and sweet- this book is just a little over 100 pages but manages to use them all effectively. Part memoir, part reflection, every chapter employs a metaphor of some kind that relates to the beach or ocean since the author is spending a week at a seaside cottage. By the way, she was married to the world-famous pilot Charles Lindbergh and I think it's kind of cool that she doesn't even mention her husband's fame- it's definitely her own story she's telling. Anyway, I described this at some point as "a little gem of a book" and it definitely is. Also, completely relevant and appropriate wisdom on parenting, work, and balance for the 21st century even though it was written in 1955.

6. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott. I've recommended this so many times since I read it in June. I just loved this book! It's the story of four different women who were involved in espionage during the Civil War and it is absolutely fascinating. Every bit of it is true but it definitely reads like a novel. One woman masqueraded as man in order to join the Union army, one carried messages through enemy lines, and all of them took enormous risks in their efforts to aid their individual sides. (Reading about Rose Greenhow, the most famous female spy of the time, was super interesting, especially since she somehow managed to continue her espionage from federal prison.) If you're interested in history at all you should check this one out. 

Honorable mention: This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick (so good and thought-provoking) and The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines (I just LOVE them.) 

Like I said, I read a lot this year, and not all of it was great. But I have lots of good reading memories- when you read something good, it's just SUCH pleasure. Reading a great book makes me feel rich in the best possible way, just like having a completed stack of good library books is the most luxurious feeling. And I really loved reading to Alice this year- besides tons of picture books, at night we (and by that I mean I, of course!) read through the Chronicles of Narnia series, all the Ramona books, some Harry Potter, and we're almost through the Little House books. So fun!

Here's to a year of reading great books, of abandoning lame ones, and of discovering new (and old) titles that fill us with joy. =) Happy reading!

No comments

I love reading and responding to your comments. Just make sure I am able to do that by linking your email address to your profile! Thank you for stopping by!