The Best Books I Read in 2016


THE FINALISTS

Dark Places  by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is a seriously talented writer, if only for the fact she can write totally unlikable protagonists and still compel you to finish the book. I applaud her decision to feature atypical female protagonists who aren’t pure, good-hearted, and virtuous. They certainly make the read more interesting.

Her prose is razor sharp, evocative, and full of detail that isn’t mundane. Her use of alternating POVs is masterful in that it extends the suspense throughout the book. However, in the last 25% of the book, the alternating POVs came too frequently and were mildly frustrating. Three or four fewer “head hops” would have been my preference.

Through the last half of the book, I kept comparing Dark Places with the movie Saving Private Ryan. The movie was by most of my standards, the greatest movie I’ve ever watched. BUT, because it was so emotionally traumatic and draining, I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Dark Places isn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read. Nevertheless, it is an excellent piece of fiction. BUT, I’ll probably never read it again.

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Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry

Michael Perry is a gifted writer. His stories are deeply personal yet universal in their truths. He writes with an understated eloquence that belies his rural settings and topics. One of the rare authors who can make me laugh out loud on one page and bring a tear to my eye on the next page.

Highly recommended and definitely a candidate for my favorite book of 2016.

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Determined to Matter: A Family Facing Inoperable Brain Cancer by Jen O’Hara, Dan  O’Hara
Incredibly honest and heartfelt, this memoir can serve as a roadmap for any family facing a crisis such as a terminal illness. Shannon was captured with all her nuances, as well as showing her anger, frustration, love, and caring for her family and friends more than she sometimes worried about her own health and imminent death.

Even though the reader knows the outcome in advance, the book reads like a page-turning mystery or thriller. I was engrossed by the ups and downs of Jen and Dan as they dealt with not only the impending death of their child, but the everyday needs of life, and especially how to communicate and support their other daughter, who went through a crisis of her own, losing her big sister while at the same time dealing with being “less important” on so many occasions when Shannon was the complete center of attention during treatments, home care, decision-making, etc.

Such a powerful book. Simply but elegantly written. Highest recommendation.

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The Guilty (Will Robie, #4) by David Baldacci

Will Robie is one of Baldacci’s best protagonists. His conscience always seems to be in conflict with his profession, that of a US government assassin. His dry humor and synergy with Jessica Reel, who possesses an equally sharp, ironic wit, makes then fun to read about as they nonchalantly (seemingly) go about dispatching bad guys with near perfect execution of orders (with the occasional FUBAR that tests every skill they possess).

Baldacci’s plots are some of the most ingenious I encounter in my thriller reading. The plot for The Guilty was slightly predictable (my wife and I thought we figured out who the real ” bad guy” was well before the end, but Baldacci put a unique twist on that fact that kept us guessing as to the killer’s motives until nearly the last page.

Another must read for Baldacci fans.

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It’s OK to Go Up the Slide: Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids by Heather Shumaker
Another outstanding book, both from a content standpoint and a technical standpoint. Chapter after chapter of brilliant but common-sense ideas on how parents (and teachers too) can reclaim some sanity in their lives by changing the way they think about raising (teaching) their children.

The format is logical and proceeds incrementally, with many chapters building on previous chapters. Especially important are the chapters on cell phones, homework, recess, and free play for children as opposed to adult-organized and attended play time. Well organized, easy to read, and told in a concise style that won’t waste a reader’s time.

Highest recommendation.

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Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp, #3) by Vince Flynn

As good a political thriller as I’ve ever read. Flynn absolutely nailed the story structure (a la Larry Brooks’ 4-part story form and key plot points at the 25%, 50%, and 75% points in the story.)

Mitch Rapp is a protagonist we can all root for. He’s an unassuming hero who is perfectly trained for his job, an independent CIA operative. But he has a strong human side of compassion, morals, integrity, and a sense of justice.

Flynn did a masterful job of managing his extremely complicated plot and the cast of characters. The pacing was steady and tension built with each chapter. POVs changed in a steady, chronological sequence so there was little doubt of what was happening in relation to other events occurring nearly simultaneously. All the subplots proceeded at similar paces and came to a head near the climax.

Highest recommendation for fans of political thrillers.

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AND THE WINNER IS …

Determined to Matter by Jen and Dan O’Hara

Something of a sentimental favorite since I know Dan O’Hara and really feel for what happened to him and his family with the loss of his young daughter to cancer.

With that said, the raw honesty and emotion that drip from every page make this a great read and give it the edge over the other excellent finalists. After all, isn’t that why we read? To feel something? To experience what others think, feel, worry about, rejoice in?
I read 81 books in 2016, and most of them were above average. I achieved my goal of finishing all of David Baldacci’s books (one of my favorite authors), and also made a serious dent in my to-be-read list. Many books were written by authors I have met, which makes them more special to read because of the personal connection.
My reading goals include reading at least 73 books for my Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge, getting caught up on William Kent Krueger (another favorite),  reading the rest of the books I bought in 2016, and making a serious dent in the bibliographies of Vince Flynn, Lee Child, John Sandford, and Nelson DeMille. Another mini-project will seek out award-winning thriller/suspense novels by debut authors that have been published in the past few years. It’s good to know with whom one is competing in the world of commercial fiction. Most importantly, I’ll try to support new, unknown, local, and independent authors as much as I can.
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And yes, I did read my own book, Castle Danger, in 2016. (For proofreading purposes before publishing). Had it been eligible for my best book of 2016 contest, it wouldn’t have been a finalist. My bar of quality is high, but many books I’ve read easily exceeded that bar height. Castle  Danger cleared the bar, but I’ll never select my own book as a “best of” for fairness reasons.
What’s the best book you read in 2016? What are your reading goals in 2017?
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