The Best of My Bookshelf 2016: FICTION EDITION

Editor’s Note:  Books chosen to review or recommend are not based on endorsements.  I purchase my own books with cold, hard cash or find for FREE through my dear old local public library.  I write about books that I like and believe that others might also.  If you would like to purchase a book that I have recommended, please consider using the Amazon affiliate link provided.  Happy reading!

Readers!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  The most glorious!  The most exciting!  The most anticipated BY FAR!

Now, I know you are thinking. . . . Does she mean Christmas?  Or New Year’s?  No, no, no, gentle reader.  You would be wrong.

The most wonderful time of the year for bibliophiles like me is the week BETWEEN Christmas and New Year’s, because it is. . . .


I live for these lists.  I compare my reading life to these lists. (How many did I read?  How many did I like?  Which ones appeal to me and which ones would I throw across the room and deem a waste of my time?).  I build my new reading lists and dream about what I might read over the next year.  So, I’ve decided to add my teeny-tiny two cents to the litany of “best of” lists.  

Let me be clear.  I am no New York Times Book Review. I am no Modern Mrs. Darcy. I am just a girl, throwing book recommendations out into the big wide internet, and hoping that some people will love them. This list is by no means exhaustive, nor does it consist of books only published this year.  It’s simply and only the books that I feel are the best of what I read.  While I read extensively, my list includes what I like to read, which means mostly memoir, a smattering of fiction, a biography or two, or three, and a few fluffy, plucky heroine type easy-reads for those days when my brain needs some candy.     

So, without further ado, I humbly offer to you

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
I am remarkably bad at choosing my own fiction.  I guard my heart carefully, and intensely dislike books with antiheroes, unreliable narrators, or those that I deem emotionally manipulative (I’m looking at YOU, Gone Girl and Girl on the Train).  I like novels that point to a larger story, that help me see things from a different perspective, and invite me to root for compelling characters.   Bachman’s novel, translated from Swedish, hits all of these requirements, and is a page turner to boot.  If you want your heart to expand a few sizes, I recommend spending some time with this man called Ove.  (For a more extensive review, click here).  


Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld  
This was my go-to hostess gift for the readers in my life this summer.  Great for a warm day of beach sitting, this quirky, quick, funny, modern adaptation of Austin’s Pride and Prejudice does not disappoint.   Set in modern day Cincinnati, the reader is taken on a familiar journey with surprising twists and genuine laugh out loud moments.  If you want to spend time with an old friend who has been given a bit of a make-over, this is the book for you.  


Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

I must be honest.  This book can be swapped out for ANY book that fits the following prototype.  They are ALL THE SAME.  But when I am overwhelmed, under the weather, blue, or in serious procrastination mode, I settle myself in a comfortable chair, grab a cup of tea and a plateful of carbs, and dig into the PLUCKY HEROINE NOVEL.  

For the uninitiated, here is a look at the plot of EVERY SINGLE plucky heroine novel:

TITLE: (completely interchangeable, but must include something endearing, inclusive, and homespun,  like little, club, cafe, society, bakery)

SETTING:  Initially, our story begins in a bustling town or major city, but eventually, shifts to a tucked away, remote, lick your wounds, slightly forgotten by time kind of place, even if it happens to be in a city.  But it usually is rural, charming, and oh-so-quaint.

QUALITY OF WRITING:  Varies from the plodding and trite to the sublime.  I reach nirvana when I stumble upon a plucky heroine trope that is also stylistically beautiful.  But, I will admit, finding that is akin to a unicorn sighting.  Don’t hold your breath.  


The Heroine
        The reader meets a down on her luck girl, who is pretty but unconventionally so, who is overweight/too tall/too short/has some unfortunate prominent feature, and who suddenly has found herself at loose ends.  She loses the LOSER boyfriend, loses a job, a promotion, or a husband.  Most importantly, she realizes that she has lost HERSELF AND HER PURPOSE when she wrapped herself up in a man/the dreams of someone else.   So she ESCAPES to the secluded island/countryside/up and coming urban neighborhood to lick her wounds, often while eating too many candy bars/cakes and drinking too much wine/coffee/champagne.

The (False) Love Interest
        Flaky, flighty, unscrupulous, slothful, narcissistic, conceited, ne’er-do-well, this is an overgrown Peter Pan who our Heroine wrongly believes that she can SAVE.  (Spoiler alert:  She      CANNOT.)  He's a Captain of the Universe type, always a businessman, doctor, or a lawyer, when not a gadabout or an impractical dreamer.  Our Heroine gets temporarily blinded by his charms and his false promise to rescue her.  This flake REALLY gets the goat of the Heroine’s OTP, and lots of tension between these two men ensue.  The really good novels have SEVERAL of these men to content with throughout the course of the story.

The Heroine’s OTP
        This man, our girl’s OTP (one true pairing) is the butter to her bread.  They complete each other, but they don’t know if yet.  They have a rocky beginning, many misunderstandings, and at least one minor and one major separation, which results in a crescendo of kisses at their tearful, romantic reunion.  They are puzzle pieces that connect beautifully.  Her      quirkiness/loquaciousness/homemaking abilities perfectly match his steadiness/stoicism/unkempt appearance/messy house.  The OTP gets bonus points for working with his hands, working the land, being an artist/musician, or teaching small children.   Sigh.

The Best Friend
        Like our Heroine, she is unconventionally beautiful, usually described as “Botticelli” or Pre-Raphaelite.  All curves and wisecracks and bosom, the best friend has a droll sense of humor, sound advice, tough love when necessary, and can open a bottle of wine even faster than she can apply her fire engine red lipstick.  She is a wonder.  Every Heroine needs this broad as her wing woman.

The Guide
        The Guide is someone who is either already dead, or heading rapidly in that direction.  The Guide is a guru to our heroine, both professionally and personally.  The Heroine looks to the guide to solve the inevitable issues in relationships, romance, business, and ultimately, survival that will come her way.  The loss of the guide will likely throw her into the arms of either the OTP or the (False) Love Interest.

The Villain
        Often the (False) Love Interest doubles as our villain.  He double crosses, betrays, or exposes our heroine to further his own interests.  Or, the villain can be an unscrupulous landlord, mortgage lender, or city official that wants to destroy the dream and the livelihood of our Heroine.

Minor Characters
        Always quirky and typically one-dimensional, referred to by station in life (yummy mummy) or profession (John the Builder, Hal the Mailman).  They are always wise, have twinkle in their    eyes, and dispense nuggets of advice for our Heroine.  Sometimes, their comments and observations cause our Heroine to have her GREAT EPIPHANY (usually about who she really loves, the reliable OTP).

Look up Jenny Colgan, Jo-Jo Moyes, and Liane Moriarty, and you’ve got yourself hours and hours of plucky heroine fun ahead of you.  ENJOY!


Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

It starts innocently enough.  I am driving kiddos around, listening to a podcast, and hear a book recommendation.  Its unusual title piques my interest.  The host is convincing, earnest, and almost evangelical in his fervor about the book he is recommending.  I holler into the backseat and instruct the kid with the best memory to remember the title, because I am a responsible adult and am conscientiously driving with the hands at 10 and 2 and can't possibly write anything down. 

As I enter the garage and switch off the ignition, the kid blurts out the title, and before I am even out of the driver's seat I am downloading this book.
Meet Wolf Hall.
Now, this book is LONG.  I struggled through the first several hundred pages of this book.  Nothing but my own stubborn tendencies and rule-following nature propelled me forward.  I even texted with friends about the philosophy of abandoning books. . . .to finish or not to finish?  That is the question.  But finish, I did, and was rewarded with an uptick in the plot line that was unexpected and engaging.  And then, I learned that this was the FIRST BOOK IN A TRILOGY.  Glory, glory, hallelujah.  


I became a woman OBSESSED.  Every thought was about the courtly love and how it, strangely,  parallels the life of suburbia today. . . .all the machinations about children and the posturing and positioning that goes on my my little corner of the world is not that different than what happened at the court of Henry VIII.  Only, no one has the power to send people to the Tower.  Yet.

I needed to feed the beast.  I immediately had to get the second installment of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies.

I devoured it as quickly as Henry VIII did wives, and I popped to my computer to try to buy the third book.
What I found was sickening.  Disturbing.  Shocking, really.


From where you are, can you hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth?  What's a girl to do now that she has been sucked in to the Tudor court and now has nowhere to go?

She goes back to the beginning.
I reread an oldie but a goodie.

I devour it like Anne Boleyn did Katherine of Aragon.
I'm still not satisfied.  I'm like the gluttonous, fat, spoiled tyrant created and nurtured by the Boleyn and Howard families.
When will it end?  How?  When will my curiosity be satisfied?
Probably when I have watched Henry VIII finally die.

TO FIND OUT WHAT’S NEXT for this reading obsession of mine and to explore my nonfiction picks for 2016, check back for the

Best of My Bookshelf 2016:  NONFICTION EDITION