28 Books I Read in 2016

A list of all the 28 books I read in 2016 | The Good Living Blog #bookrecommendations #booksread #fortheloveofbooks #ilovereading

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Sometime around September of last year, I sort of fell off the reading bandwagon. Things just got really busy at work and all those incredible TV shows (The Crown, Black Mirror) and also some not-so-incredible ones (here’s looking at you, Gilmore Girls) kept me occupied enough.

For the last 2 years, I set myself a target for the number of books I would read in the year (52 books, both years), but in 2015 I read about 35 books, and in 2016, well, as you can see, 28 books. This year, I’m quite adamant about not creating a “project” around reading. I want to read more, for sure, and as I observe from the list below, I can see a lot of American authors and mostly all fiction. This year, I am keen to continue to expand my horizons a bit more and read from a diverse range of authors and also more non-fiction (including business-oriented) books.

Here’s the full list of books I read last year.

Serious Men // Manu Joseph (fiction)

This one came highly recommended and I had high expectations. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. At times mocking, at times serious, Serious Men by Manu Joseph is a wonderful take on the caste-ism, and to an extent, the sexism that continues to be prevalent even in modern-day India. I found it a bit difficult to get into because it was just too claustrophobic to read… The descriptions of Bombay, the chawls, the maddening crowds, were all so true and realistic that I felt like I was drowning in a sea of people and the daily, constant battle for a better life even as I was reading the book. But once I got past that, I couldn’t stop marveling at the brilliant writing of Manu Joseph. He makes you get under the skin of the characters. All of whom are wonderfully written, you understand their compulsions, and while they may appear comical in their own ways, you know that they are so very real. Highly recommended.

The Japanese Lover // Isabel Allende (fiction)

Nope. Didn’t do anything for me. I found the writing rather amateurish, and while I am usually a big fan of stories that span decades, something about the whole story seemed rather contrived and forced. Sure, it’s a story about long-lasting love, friendship, living, aging, and all that, but it just didn’t evoke any strong feelings in me.

After You // Jojo Moyes (fiction)

I loved reading “Me Before You” when it came out about 3/4 years ago. Maybe my tastes have changed, but “After You” by Jojo Moyes just didn’t give me any of the feels. Sure, I raced through to the finish, but that was more just me wanted to get done with the book than anything else. It’s a light, easy read, for sure, but the book doesn’t really stand out, not on its own, and certainly not as the sequel to a vastly popular book.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry // Fredrick Backman (fiction)

Oh, what a gem of a book. Written originally in Swedish by Fredrik Backman, it is wonderfully translated into English by Henning Koch. It follows the journey of a precocious almost eight-year-old-going-on-seventeen Elsa as she goes about delivering letters left by her dead Granny to various residents of the building that they live in. I love how the story finds room for fairy tales, a rockstar Granny, adorable wurses, soldiers, wars, references to Harry Potter and X-Men, a car named Renault, meaningful backstories for nearly all characters, and most of all, redemption. Having read this one, I can’t wait to read Backman’s first novel – A Man Called Ove.

When Breath Becomes Air // Paul Kalanithi (non-fiction)

Where do I even begin with this one! It’s one of those memoirs where you know that there is a rather sad ending, and I hesitated before picking this one up. But I am so glad that I did! Sure, Paul Kalanithi has been diagnosed with terminal cancer right when he is just about a year away from finishing his residency (cruel, cruel, fate!), but his writing is not so much about dealing with his imminent death as it is about living and living a full life at that.

The diagnosis is the trigger for this book, but this is not a book about despair or self-pity. It’s about Paul’s explorations about the meaning of life and death as he faces his own inevitable death. And he weaves so much meaning into his words, so much depth and insight. I wept for a man, and a family that I did not know (but then again, I have wept for way too many fictional characters to keep count), and in knowing that Paul is no more, I know that we’ve been bereft of a wonderful author in the making (and a fine human being at that!).

The Power of Habit // Charles Duhigg (non-fiction)

This book was all the rage a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t get into it earlier. Now that I am consciously trying to create better habits for myself, I wanted to understand some of the science behind habit formation and explore if there were some techniques that could help me. The book is rife with examples of how habits can change the course of companies and individuals, and also how habits were used to create marketing strategies for various products (hello, Pepsodent!). He quotes multiple studies and research papers, but the book does not feel academic at all. I think he establishes the central premise that you need to create a cycle of cue-routine-reward to form/transform habits fairly well, but what I found lacking was some clear-cut directive on how to use it as a proponent of change in the day-to-day. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book, and I think I am going to do some more reading on habit formation to help my personal growth.

The Widow // Fiona Barton (fiction)

A bit of a slow burn, the story takes some time to develop. It’s about an unsolved abduction of a two-year-old girl, the dogged pursuit of a detective to solve the case, and the widow of a man who was suspected to be the kidnapper of that baby girl. It’s less a psychological thriller and more about the routineness and minutiae of police investigations. The story made me wonder a bunch of times that how well can you really know a person even if you live in the same house, how many secrets do we all hold within us, and whether our secrets have the power to wreck the lives of others. On the whole, a pretty absorbing read.

Behind Closed Doors // B.A. Paris (fiction)

Uh-oh. Another tale of a creepy marriage with an abusive husband and a likable but suffering wife. I raced through the book to see if and when the wife is able to get her revenge, but didn’t feel a real connection with the characters. The abuse is described in detail and made me wince more than once. I just thought that the ending seemed highly improbable and that somewhat robbed the charm from an otherwise captivating read.

In A Dark, Dark Wood // Ruth Ware (fiction)

The review blurbs at the end of the book had me expecting a somewhat scarier read, but while it was gripping enough, I found the setting and the characters a little too obvious and conventional. A remote house, no cell phone reception, creepy matching best friends, an unloaded shotgun, alcohol & drugs – all the elements for a disaster waiting to happen. I had expected the whole incident/mystery would be a lot darker/creepier than what it turned out to be. My feelings about this book were more about misplaced expectations than probably the story and writing itself.

Annihilation // Jeff VanderMeer (fiction)

Dense, dense, dense. The writing, the story, the Station X, the character of the biologist. I’m somewhat of a newbie when it comes to the science fiction genre. I’ve read probably 3 books total in this genre, so how this book stacks up against the rest of them, I don’t know, but I did quite enjoy the book. An expedition of four makes its way to Station X and the members are required to spend time studying the habitat and record their findings. Needless to say, they find some absurd going-ons, and not everything is as it seems. While it is a part of a trilogy, I thought the ending was good enough to make the first book complete in itself, but others may not find that so satisfactory. Now, I can’t wait to get to Books 2 and 3.

Moving // Jenny Eclair (fiction)

Slow, slow start to the book, but I am glad I stuck with it. We’re given front row seats to the unraveling of memories as Edwina prepares to sell her house that she’s lived in for decades. Over the course of the book, more points of view are brought in, and that helps to build the larger picture, I think. At the heart of it, it’s a story about family dynamics, secrets, and betrayals, but above all, it’s about love, and how love can be a source of great destruction and upliftment too.

A Thousand Nights // E.K. Johnston (fiction)

A beautiful Middle Eastern fantasy story, this one. Okay, well, the story is not new, but the treatment is so beautifully detailed and gorgeously written. The desert landscape is painted so vividly, you literally feel like you’re transported to that place. I did not like the repetitive descriptions of the domestic affairs performed by the women (both in the narrator’s father’s house as well as her husband’s house), but really enjoyed the quiet strength of the narrator. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read but could have done with editing it down by another 30-40 pages or so.

What Alice Forgot // Liane Moriarty (fiction)

I’ve heard a great deal about Liane Moriarty, but this is the first book of hers that I’ve read. I liked that the characters were complex and layered. I think it must come as a rude shock to think of yourself to be 29 years old, only to be told that well, you’re a decade older, and not such a pleasant person to begin with. I do think the book could have been edited down a bit and the “world’s greatest pie” event seemed a bit too stretched, but these quibbles aside, I did find myself looking back over my last 10 years to think how I’ve turned out. My inherent personality hasn’t changed, but I know I have changed. And that’s not a bad thing, but kinda drives home the point that life is both short and long, and that we have the power (and the responsibility) to make ourselves and our lives the best we/it can be.

Before We Were Strangers // Renee Carlino (fiction)

This one was a light-hearted, sweet romance, steeped in nostalgia and all about missed connections. Maybe I am just becoming jaded (or old) but stories like this don’t rock my boat anymore. I mean, sure it was more than just a love story. There’s enough depth in the writing to make you think about how we often end up spending our lives thinking of either the past or the imagined future at the expense of missing the beauty (and perhaps, significance) of the present. On the whole, I felt kinda meh about this book.

Maybe in Another Life // Taylor Jenkins Reid (fiction)

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I loved the concept of parallel universes and liked how the story played with the ‘What If…’ question and built out the two distinct stories. This book is the perfect vacation read, but with enough soul and some meaningful insights.

Year of Yes // Shonda Rhimes (non-fiction)

Quite simply, this was my favorite book of the whole lot! I’ll admit, I found Shonda Rhimes’ (written) voice quite grating at first, and that’s despite being a fan of her TV shows. But once I kind of learned to ignore that, I really started enjoying the book, and the life lessons that she was attempting to share. We all need to be shaken up once in a while from our comfort zone and take up the opportunities that life presents to us. From the outside, it would seem that the life of a super successful TV show-runner would be perfect, but then Shonda shows us in more ways than one how her life, despite being rather great, to begin with, blossomed even more from saying “yes” to all the things that scared her – public speaking, eating healthy, her children, motherhood and accepting her own worth. Many highlighted passages later, I am glad I did not abandon the book even when I was almost tempted to.

The Lake House // Kate Morton (fiction)

This was my first Kate Morton book and I picked it up purely on the basis of Meg’s recommendation. I really enjoyed this book – the suspense was intriguing and did not feel forced. The story links two women from two different time periods over a house and the mystery of a baby’s disappearance. I kinda like these interconnected stories, this going back and forth between the past and the present. Sometimes, the result is disappointing – almost as if the author is trying too hard – but that’s not the case with this book. The story flows, the characters are multi-layered (+ the women are strong!) and the ending was interesting.

The Vacationers // Emma Straub (fiction)

I never did read this book when it was all the rage a couple of years ago, but with Emma Straub’s new book that released this summer, I decided to give this one a read. And I found it, well, ho-hum. You’ve got a dysfunctional family getting together for a holiday in Mallorca, Spain, along with another married couple. Of course, there are secrets to be kept and facades to be maintained. In some ways, I felt that the location was only incidental to the story, and the ending was largely predictable. I guess, if you’re in the mood for a quick beach/pool read, this would suffice. Just don’t go looking for too much depth in the story, or the characters.

Modern Lovers // Emma Straub (fiction)

I wasn’t going to, but then I gave in. I was looking for a light read during a flight, and this novel seemed to fit the bill. And my thoughts on this second book by Emma Straub? Pretty much the same as the first one. Ho-hum. The plotline seemed rather vague. The characters seemed rather fuzzy. I mean, there’s a couple that is thinking of getting a divorce, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why they were thinking of getting a divorce. Almost all the characters have decent backstories, but in their present and now, I just didn’t get them. And mostly, the story was only halfway interesting. #notetoself – do not pick up any more Emma Straub books. She writes well, but her style of stories is really not up my alley these days.

The Gustav Sonata // Rose Tremain (fiction)

The setup for the story is beautiful. Gustav, an only child being brought up by his mother with very modest means meets Anton, a gifted pianist, born of rich parents at the age of 5 in the early 1950s. Told in three parts, the story documents their childhood friendship, the relationship of Gustav’s parents before his birth, and eventually, the relationship between Gustav and Anton in their fifties. The story is richly detailed, and Gustav’s character is beautifully etched out. However, I didn’t get much of a feel for Anton. At his best, he was much like a petulant child, even at the age of 50. At his worst, he was a selfish and arrogant brat. So at one level, I felt bad for Gustav, but never really felt too connected with his pain and personal suffering.

This Must Be the Place // Maggie O’Farrell (fiction)

I loved this story. Divorced father (Daniel) meets an extremely popular actress (Claudette) who’s done a disappearing act in the back of beyond in Ireland. They fall in love. They get married. The story could have been conventional, but it’s not. Maggie O’Farrell does not necessarily want you to get too comfortable. She jumps across time. She introduces new characters so late in the book that you can’t even imagine. There is no set pattern that you can expect from the story, but I loved that aspect. I loved the sense of loss that plagues the characters, and the fact that they seem real, with flaws et al. The story underscores how at the end of the day, through all our messes, through all our meanderings, what most of us long for is to just go home, wherever and whoever that may be with. Highly recommend this one!

Bright Side // Kim Holden (fiction)

Very YA, and at times moderately cloying and largely predictable. The book’s title is derived from the main character – Kate Sedgwick’s – sunshine-y disposition. How someone can remain that bright and cheerful ALL THE TIME is a little beyond me, and how a single person can be dealt with ALL the bad cards is again, difficult to fathom, but if you’re into overtly sweet and sappy love stories, this would be perfect for you!

In the Unlikely Event // Judy Blume (fiction)

I’ve said it a bunch of times that I love stories with multiple character point of views and told over time. In this story though, I had one too many moments when I went – “wait, who’s that again?”, but barring that little niggle, I breezed through the book. Set against the backdrop of real-life events in the 1950s – three planes crashing in the course of three months in the same town – the story explores the relationships between the various people and families in the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey. The central character is Miri Ammerman, a then 15-year-old girl who returns back to her hometown after several decades to commemorate an event in remembrance of the fateful plane crashes. The storytelling is vivid, but I did find the language a little too simplistic for an adult novel (which is not so much of a distraction to enjoy the story, but just something that I did notice).

People Who Eat Darkness // Richard Parry (non-fiction)

One of my favorite books this year. The story is a true account of the disappearance and murder of Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000 in Tokyo, where she was working as a hostess in one of the many hostess bars that dot Roppongi, a neighborhood in Tokyo. The author – Richard Parry – tracks the case for almost 10 years, from the time that the story broke out till the very end of the legal case.

The book was fascinating on so many counts. It provided a rather thorough insight into the seemingly shady business of these Japanese hostess bars, and also the criminal justice system in Japan. I loved that the author told the story without being judgemental about the people involved and their actions. Also, the book particularly struck a chord with me because only a few weeks before I came upon this book, I’d been in Tokyo and had spent an evening after work in the Roppongi area and at that time, I had zero clue about this whole culture of hostess bars. So much that I didn’t know!

Everything We Keep // Kerry Lonsdale (fiction)

The Trespasser // Tana French (fiction)

Eileen // Ottessa Moshfegh (fiction)

The Natural Way of Things // Charlotte Wood (fiction)

If I had to pick a favorite, I would probably choose People Who Eat Darkness. The premise was gripping, and I loved that the author maintained an unbiased tone throughout, despite the unsavory details.

Have you read any of these books? What were your best reads from last year?

PS – This post is totally inspired by Meg Biram’s similar summary of books read during the year.

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