Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Best Fiction of 2016


What if you could order novels off a menu just as you order an entrée or salad in your favorite restaurant? What kind of novels would you select? Most of us peruse menus looking for fresh ingredients, unique combinations, cooking techniques we might not try at home, and tasty morsels that will satisfy our hunger. Our search for a great novel is similar so consider today’s offering of the best fiction of 2016 as a menu leading you to fresh characters, unique situations, narratives and experiences you wouldn’t encounter on your own, and above all to tasty stories that should satisfy your hunger for a good book.

The Top Ten Novels of 2016:
·         Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
·         Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
·         A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
·         Heirlooms by Rachel Hall
·         News of the World by Paulette Jiles
·         The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
·         Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser
·         Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
·         The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
·         Wintering by Peter Geye

The Most Important Novel of 2016: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Read the complete review here.)
Gulliver’s Travels meets The Odyssey in a literary fantasy complete with a literal underground railroad with stations, stops, and spurs where tile walls and station agents exist and where an escaped slave named Cora heads north just before the Civil War. This winner of the National Book Award shows the effects of slavery’s sins and forces the reader to see beyond simplistic explanations. G/PP/SN, BC

My Favorite Novels of 2016 (It’s a tie.):
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Read the complete review here.) A Gentleman in Moscow will transport you to 1922 Moscow where Count Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Hotel Metropol where he remains through 1954. Magnificent characters, a whimsical acceptance of circumstances, and a narrative voice that grips the reader from start to finish make this a remarkable read. GPR/PP/SN, BC

News of the World by Paulette Jiles (Read the complete review here.) News of the World features the two best characters since Atticus and Scout. The old Captain and Johanna, his young charge, will charm readers as they accompany them on their 1870s journey through Texas Indian country. Jiles’ poetic evocation of the landscape makes this National Book Award finalist sing. Watch the trailer. G/GPR/PP/SN, BC

The Best Debut Novel, the Best Novel in Stories, and the Best Small Press Book of 2016:
Heirlooms by Rachel Hall (Read the complete review here.)
Heirlooms is a remarkable homage to families and those displaced by war. It crystallizes the story of an extended family of Jews during World War II and after, yet it could tell the story of Syrians today. Each interwoven story brilliantly highlights survival, loss, and resilience. Choose this paperback original for your next book club selection. It deservedly won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. Because it’s a small press book, no one knows about it and it’s not on any of the “big” lists. Please read and talk about it. G/GPR/PP/SN/T, BC

The Best World War II Novel of 2016 (My Father Would Have Approved):
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (Read the complete review here.)
Mary, an 18-year-old Londoner in the 1939 Blitz, teaches the children no one in the countryside wants to help. Meanwhile, Mary corresponds with Alistair, who’s serving in Malta, and both learn that everyone brave is supposed to be forgiven, yet in wartime “courage is cheap and clemency out of season.” My father, who served in World War II much of it isolated in Iceland, would have loved this novel. My mother would have as well. GPR/G/PP/SN, BC

The Best Quotidian Novel of 2016:
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Commonwealth celebrates the everyday manifestations of marriage and family. It resembles Anne Tyler’s writing with a winning take on what it’s like to grow up in a blended family. Patchett illuminates family difficulties in her somewhat autobiographical riff on life that pulls you in and won’t let you go. GPR/G, BC

The Best Snarky Yet Affirming Novel of 2016:
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
The author of the superb Where’d You Go Bernadette? returns with a snarky, yet poignant tale about Eleanor, a woman who seems to have it all but is a complete wreck. She vows that today will be different. Today she’ll be present, she’ll play a board game with her son, initiate sex with her husband, get dressed in proper clothing, and radiate calm. Today she’ll be the person she’s capable of being -- then life intervenes. Her son says he’s sick and needs to come home, her husband isn’t at work where he should be, and an encounter with a former colleague exposes a buried family secret. This book is wickedly funny, honest, and uniquely affirmative. GPR/SN, BC

The Best “Jane Austen-like” World War I Novel of 2016 that also Evokes Today:
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (Read the complete review here.)
Downton Abbey fans will thrill to this Jane Austin-like treatment of 1914 England as war looms. Heroine Beatrice Nash is Elizabeth Bennet on a bicycle carrying her teaching credentials and a determination to earn her own way. Read this thoughtful ode to enter the bright, promising summer before the war where you’ll emerge both entertained and contemplating the similarity to 2016. The link to Henry James is especially intriguing. GPR/PP/SN, BC

The Best “Fargo” Meets “Breaking Bad” Novel with Humor, Heart, and an Inimitable Voice of 2016
Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser (Read the complete review here.)
Sweetgirl is told in the vibrant, authentic voice of sixteen-year-old Percy James, a high-school dropout living in a fictional town resembling Petoskey, the northern Michigan town Hemingway made famous. Fast forward 100 years and the storied hills shelter meth labs and burnouts alongside fancy resorts and multimillionaires, Fargo meets Breaking Bad with a plucky teen heroine in a gritty winter setting. Only someone like Mulhauser who grew up in the area could capture the unforgiving weather and lack of opportunities that can result in criminal activity. GPR/S, BC

The Best Stand-Alone Sequel and Evocation of Place (as if Jack London Had Written It) Novel of 2016:
Wintering by Peter Geye (Read the complete review here.)
Wintering evokes a journey in the fall of 1963 when Harry Eide (of The Lighthouse Road) persuades his 18-year-old son Gus to postpone college and canoe into the Canadian borderlands where they’ll winter over just like the early voyageurs had done. Wintering embeds the reader into the events of the past that lead to Harry and Gus’s journey then returns to today to meet Berit Lovig, Harry’s longtime companion. Most of the novel takes place in the northern wilderness during Gus and Harry’s harrowing 1963 journey. Wintering is a humdinger of an adventure. Fans of Jim Harrison, Jack London, or Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild will love it. G/PP/SN, BC

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