This is it! The last Best Of list this year! Of the 64 books I read this year, 26 were in this final category - adult fiction. Here are my favorite five in alphabetical order by author:
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
This is the first book I finished this year! Here's the story: The first in her family to graduate from high school, Lizet leaves Little Havana in Miami to attend an elite college in New York. This creates a permanent and heartbreaking rift with her family, especially with her mother who fixates on the immigration of a young boy, a fictionalized Elián González, whose own mother drowned en route from Cuba to Florida. A compelling and heartfelt about family, loyalty, and upward mobility.
The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty's 2016 release, Truly, Madly, Guilty, wasn't her best, but I read two other novels by this fave author this year that I couldn't put down, including this one. In Hypnotist, Moriarity establishes the humanity of both leads, Ellen and Saskia, from the start. This is notable because Saskia is a stalker - she can't let go of Patrick, her ex-boyfriend, who is now dating Ellen. Saskia feels compelled to follow Patrick - around town, into restaurants, and on vacation. It would be easy to dismiss Saskia as just crazy, but Moriarty doesn't let you. As a bonus, the motif of hypnosis interested me intensely.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
This is my favorite read of 2016. The story begins at Franny Keating’s christening party. In a weird and inevitable moment, a guest at that party, Bert Cousins, kisses Franny’s mother when the two are alone in the baby’s room. So begins the entanglement of four parents and two sets of siblings that lasts more than 50 years. These relationships invite an interrogation of the meaning of family and power. Who has “full citizenship,” as Franny puts it? Who decides? It's genius, and I loved it.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I really sink into Sittenfeld's writing, and this Pride and Prejudice re-boot felt like it was written especially for me. Liz Bennet is a 38 year-old, white feminist writer. She's picking up the pieces for her family, a broke-yet-upper/middle-class bunch, while simultaneously sparring with Fitzwilliam Darcy, a brain surgeon in a Cleveland hospital. Of course, I love Liz so, so much. I am, after all, the ideal demographic - a 38 year-old, white feminist wannabe writer who majored in English lit. I couldn't put this down - it was super fun and really well done.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead's extraordinary work is on everybody's best list. Mine too! This is the story of Cora, a slave on the Randall Plantation in Georgia, who steals off toward freedom, as her mother did before her. She relies on the Underground Railroad, in this case an actual subway car and series of tunnels, to inch her way toward liberty. Whitehead is imaginative, skilled, and unrelentingly specific. Cora’s horror is our horror. Whitehead develops minor characters, too, assigning them both distinct and emblematic qualities that alternately bind readers in affinity and repel them. An important book about whiteness, blackness, and the enduring trauma of American slavery, I'll be thinking about this for years.
And here are the rest of this year's titles! Links go to full reviews (by me!) at Literary Quicksand.
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - Everyone likes this a lot except me.
- The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot - Fun, fast, and all tied up in a bow at the end.
- The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly - Good writing, good plotting, fun characters.
- Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey - Space opera. Not a genre for me, in general.
- Outline by Rachel Cusk - Filmy, dreamy, too smart.
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler - A perfectly-paced, cringey coming-of-age restaurant drama
- Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois - Engrossing, page-turning, self-important
- Siracusa by Delia Ephron - A page-turning portrait of a marriage with a twisted, but not super surprising twist
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante - Expansive and appealing. Also confusing.
- Before the Fall by Noah Hawley - A plane crash and about appearances, reflections, decisions, and finality.
- A Sudden Crush by Camilla Isley - A super silly fairy tale.
- Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson - A far-fetched, yet endearing story about a reclusive author and her genius child.
- Great House by Nicole Krauss - Serious, layered, accomplished
- Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty - Not my favorite Moriarty, but she's still my favorite.
- What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - Both poignant and a perfect escape
- After You by Jojo Moyes - A satisfying sequel
- A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny - Parenting, friendship, empathy, and appearances - the second in her series
- Still Life by Louise Penny - Sweet, engaging, satisfying - the first in her series
- Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen - At once sprawling and hyper-local. This will stick with me.
- The Martian by Andy Weir - The audiobook made my Best list.
- The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood - This is also on my list of Best Audiobooks
Looking for an audio, middle grade/YA, or nonfiction pick from this year or either of the last two? All the lists are compiled HERE.
Want more book blurbs to your inbox all year long? It's easy. Just sign up for the newsletter right here. That would really thrill me.