This is the time of year everyone puts out lists of the “most anticipated books of 2017.” I thought I’d try something a bit different. I want to look back at what I’d read in 2016 and share my top reads from 2016. I gotta be honest; I have been nervous about reviewing my ratings. I don’t know why. Maybe I don’t trust my own ability to rate what I’ve read. (…and after reviewing my list, I am already second-guessing myself.)
What is the criteria for giving a book 5 stars? or 4 stars? (or heaven forbid, 1 star?) I have no set rules. I can tell you after 7+ years using Goodreads to rate and review my books, I am subconsciously rating as I am reading so that when I turn the last page, I already know the number of stars I will give it. I try to go out and record it immediately because I don’t want my rating to be swayed by others’ reactions or opinions. If I were to guess (without looking) I would have said my top read of 2016 was You by Caroline Kepnes, simply because it has stuck with me and I still think about it 6 months after reading it. However, when I looked back at my rating right after reading it, I only gave it 4 stars. I am sure I based the rating on the fact that it wasn’t considered “top literature” or some other nonsense. Now, I feel like I didn’t rate it fairly and, quite frankly, question my whole rating strategy!
So, let’s take a look at my rankings…shall we?
The books I read in 2016:
5 stars (making them my top ranked):
- The Lake House by Kate Morton
- Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
- The Widow by Fiona Barton
- All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage
- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
- The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
- What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
- The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
- The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
- The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
- A Curtain Falls by Stefanie Pintoff
- The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King
- The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
- You by Caroline Kepnes
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
- Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
- Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
- I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
- Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks
- The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
- Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck
- Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
- Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes *
- A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan *
- Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica
- Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell
- Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
- Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel
- Innocent Blood by P.D. James
- The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison **
- The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff *
- The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo
- Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
- Falling by Jane Green
- The Writer by D.W. Ulsterman
- The Minotaur by Barbara Vine
- The Constant Gardener by John le Carre’ -didn’t finish
- Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont -didn’t finish
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon -didn’t finish
I look at this and I am pretty comfortable with it. I confess I did change my rating on a couple. (With asterisks) I think I didn’t give those a fair shake at the time. Fates and Furies was the biggest surprise (disappointment?) I was so prepared to love it but I absolutely hated it. I originally gave it one star but I went back today and upped it to 2 stars. It’s not that I think it was poorly-written; I just think it was overwritten. She tried too hard.
The other book I changed the rating on was A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan. Originally, I gave it 4 stars (!) but when I tried to remember the story I couldn’t. It was forgettable. After reading my review, I realized it was a story that has been done a million times – stay at home mom goes back to work and struggles to keep it all together. Sorry. You get 3 stars now. (Part of my propensity to like a book is the originality of the storyline.)
Let’s talk about the 3 star reads. I think it’s fair to say these didn’t have any major impact on me. Some of them (Pretty Baby, Three-Martini Lunch) were ones I had been excited about but fell flat. (Like, I want to like Mary Kubica’s work but I don’t think she has the chops to stand up against Caroline Kepnes, y’know?) On the other hand, I was shocked to see I had given The Butterfly Garden 3 stars. It was an impulse read I knew nothing about going into it. It was about creepy, horrifying, terrible things done to children and I read it with one eye closed, but in the end, I had to go with 3 stars because it was well-written. I described it in my review as, “Edgy,” and “Girl with a Dragon Tatoo with a twist.” I still think that works.
You might see titles like The Murder of Mary Russell and House of Silk as out of place but I really enjoyed them. My obsession with Sherlock Holmes over the past few years (yes- Benedict Cumberbach is THE best Sherlock) has driven me toward revisiting these characters from Anthony Horowitz and Laurie R. King. I can’t get enough. They are so retro cool that I think even Arthur Conan Doyle would approve!
I reread (and got a kick out of) my reviews on the 5 star reads. I mean, I know I love Kate Morton’s novels, but my review on Lake House said, “she is one of the best authors out there right now…” WOW. I kind of forgot I felt that way. (I wouldn’t change it; I just needed the reminder I guess.) The rest of my 5 stars were all pretty much based on the fact that they were thrilling, exciting, and shocking page-turners (which is pretty much my favorite type of reading!) If they can do all that without being cheesy, well then, I consider it just about perfect!
Most of my top reads of 2016 were authors that I’d never read before. I branched out from my usual favorites and I was not disappointed. It seems the theme of my year was psychological thrillers – and I didn’t consciously choose that; it just kinda happened. Is there a lesson to be learned here? I guess it is don’t be afraid to pick books from those “best of” lists you see on social media. It could be the beginning of a good thing.