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Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 2

This year I’m in the unusual position of having already written posts about almost every book in my top 5. Sometimes it’s harder to write about books that I really love because I just want to say, “It’s sooooo good,” but I’m happy to have longer musings to offer. Here are my favorite books of 2016!

5. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

Dead Wake Cover

I feel like I’ve read a great deal about World War II and very little about World War I. Thankfully Erik Larson, the wizard of history writing, turned his attention to that era. Dead Wake follows the events leading up to the sinking of the Lusitania, one of the catalysts for the U.S. entering the war in Europe. This being Eric Larson, he gives the full scope of the event, from the ship’s passengers to military intelligence to the soldiers aboard the German submarine. I consider it one of his most fascinating works. (You can read my full review here.)

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins


As Gillian Flynn did in Gone Girl, Paula Hawkins plays with timelines and perspectives. The Girl on the Train follows Rachel, an alcoholic woman who becomes interested in a couple she sees from the train every day. Although this thriller is mainly focused on plot, I keenly felt Rachel’s loneliness and desperation. Other perspectives come from Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex, and Megan, the girl she watches from the train. I relished looking into these flawed women’s psyches. (You can read my book-to-film comparison here.)

3. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey


Eowyn Ivey made us wait four years for her second novel, but this was worth the wait. To the Bright Edge of the World is another piece of exquisite historical fiction set in Alaska. While her first novel focused on quiet moments, this one has plenty of action as Colonel Allen Forrester leads an expedition up the Wolverine River. Yet their journey also contains simple moments of human connection. Back at the military barracks, his wife Sophie pursues an interest in photography that raises eyebrows with the other wives. A beautifully written, beautifully human novel with a hint of the uncanny. (You can read my full review here.)

2. Room by Emma Donoghue


Room is a triumph of character voice. The story of a woman held captive in a single room is narrated by her five-year-old son Jack, who has never known the outside world. Even though I committed the cardinal sin of watching the movie first, I could appreciate what Emma Donoghue achieved with this novel. Jack has a distinctive way of speaking that reflects his age and bizarre upbringing. I wanted to jump through the page and hug him, but that’s not to say that the story is saccharine. As was mirrored in the film, Ma and Jack are perfectly imperfect.

1. Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell


Suzanne Rindell is my favorite new author on the literary fiction scene. Three-Martini Lunch deals with three characters searching for literary success in 1958 New York City. As in her first novel The Other Typist, Rindell explores the ways that we present ourselves to others and how small decisions shape our lives. The narrators range from Cliff, a deluded Greenwich Village hipster, to Miles, a black man coming to terms with his identity. Even as they made mistakes, I cared so much for these characters and hated to leave their world. I suspect this isn’t the last time Suzanne Rindell makes my list. (You can read my full review here.)

Thanks for joining me on this year-end review!


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Conversations on the Alaskan Frontier


It’s been four years since The Snow Child was published, and I’ve been waiting impatiently for the next book by Eowyn Ivey. Now that I’ve read To the Bright Edge of the World, I can see why it took several years to write. She stays within her niche of magical realism on the Alaskan frontier, but the story is much more complex and probably required extensive research.

To the Bright Edge of the World contains three narrative threads. We have the diary of Colonel Allen Forrester as he leads an expedition up the uncharted Wolverine River and the diary of his wife back at the military barracks. Then there’s the frame narrative of Walt Forrester, the Colonel’s great-nephew, sending the documents to a young museum curator. Ivey creates an excellent juxtaposition between the modern world and the wilderness encountered by the expedition. There’s a sense of what has been lost, but the novel doesn’t take a despairing tone. In fact, Sophie Forrester’s interest in photography shows how technology can sometimes provide new ways to appreciate the natural world.

I enjoyed the novel because it covers a wide range of emotional experiences. The Colonel’s diary has adventure and drama, but also had smaller character moments between members of the expedition. Sophie’s story deals with the conflicting desires and expectations in the life of a female intellectual. As one would expect from Ivey, there are endlessly gorgeous descriptions of nature and musings on the human experience. I wouldn’t necessarily expect to be interested in glaciers or hummingbirds’ nests, but I am when she writes about them.

This post reminded me of my internship at Coffee House Press when I was privileged to interview Eowyn Ivey for their blog. I would encourage you to check it out because she gives such lovely, thoughtful answers, and in hindsight I’m pleased with my questions as well. After reading To the Bright Edge of the World, one of her answers jumped out at me. In response to a question about common advice for aspiring writers, she said, “Write because you love to read, because you want to make a contribution to this wonderful conversation that has been going on for thousands of years.” Her latest novel is a conversation in itself—between frontiersmen and Native culture, between past and present.

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