We read a lot. And we wish we read more. Besides reviewing books, we also participate in book games, book clubs, and reading challenges. We’ll spare you all the nerdy (but really juicy) details, but it makes—we’d like to think—our reading diverse and sometimes unpredictable. Here’s our year in books!



Best Book Published in 2016—And the One You Should Drop Everything and Read Right Now

 Jennifer: Well, of course, it was Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad! My runner-up would be Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.

Lara: I am going to whole-heartedly disagree. It’s got to be Homegoing by Yaa Gayasi. They both cover slavery, but Homegoing was written with so much more heart and feeling. It should be required reading and it should have won the National Book Award for Fiction.

Best Book(s) Read This Year Regardless of Publication Date

 Lara: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This may be the most devastating book I have ever read—and one of the longest at over 700 pages. It’s also amazingly written. I experienced so many complex emotions: awe, endearment, anger, revulsion, angst, frustration, profound sadness, and ultimately peace. If you want to experience all the feels, this is your book.

Jennifer: I read all of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) this year, and they blew me away. I loved, also, Emma Cline’s sentences in The Girls, and the depth and scope of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Most Disappointing Books

Jennifer: Well, it’s a heartbreaker. I’m not loving my admission. My most disappointing read was probably Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. She’s awesome, but this one just didn’t meet my expectations, which were undoubtedly too high. “Disappointing” is different from “the worst.” I read worse.

Lara: This is a tie between Commonwealth by Ann Patchett and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. These books were underwhelming for me—a big disappointment—but they were exquisitely narrated audiobooks, and it was the talent of their narrators that kept me advancing through the chapters. I am now actually going to seek out other books Hope Davis and Bahni Turpin narrate.

Best Non-Fiction

Lara: I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I probably should. So, out of the two I read, I will go with How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb. Webb is a former McKinsey Leadership Consultant who has put together a great amount of research about how our brains work, and the ways we can best leverage our abilities to have more productive and meaningful days at work. The book has tangible tips and tricks that I have been able to actually incorporate. So, total win!

Jennifer: I read more nonfiction this year than usual. I did read Ta-Nehisi Coates, and it was provocative. But, having made my way through a chunk of cancer books, I really loved A Series of Catastrophes And Miracles by Mary Elizabeth Williams. A cancer book, a memoir, and this amazing scientific narrative.

Best Audiobook

Jennifer: This was a brand new thing for me, and I mostly listen to nonfiction. I do think I need a little preface for this. I am a huge fan of audiobooks; I mean, I love it (and I especially love when the author narrates his or her own book). That said, I think listening requires a different kind of cognitive skill than reading. I still read most of my must-read fiction. I did listen to some incredible audiobooks, however. My three favorites were Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl (awesome narration by the author, much attention to language) Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem (wondrous Diane Keaton doing the sixties, Didion-style), and Patti Smith’s Just Kids (she narrates, and I had to rush to buy her follow-up.) Before the close of this year, I will likely listen to Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, which he also narrates, and I’d bet it’s a winner.

Lara: This year marks my full immersion into consuming books via audio format. I still read paper books and on my kindle, but the audiobook has revolutionized my commute. And the first book that I was compelled to keep listening to just one more chapter once I hit my destination was The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins. It’s a definite “page turner” with three separate narrators and a super-compelling plot that alternates between the three main characters. I couldn’t stop listening.

Best Collection of Short Stories

Lara: American Housewife by Helen Ellis. Okay, so I only read one story collection this year, so this kind of wins by default. Fortunately, it was good, and delightfully snarky. Like most collections, it should not be read like you would a novel. Read one or two and go do something else. Read something else. Then come back and read another. Trust me.

Jennifer: Landfall by Julie Hensley! A small press book! Julie is a friend of mine—I gotta admit it. And, man, can she write. I think we’re just about polar opposites in some things. The most obvious is her rural settings, her small town America poetics, her farm landscape against which she paints human dramas. I’m all about the concrete jungle. So I’m hungry for the exoticness of an America I don’t know.  

The Books We Couldn’t Stop Talking About

Jennifer: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I’m trying not to flip out about all your bad vibes. I loved it. I thought the prose was beautiful and profound.

 Lara: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I read this book with the Book Babes, my Indie Bookstore Book Club and we reviewed it for Snotty Literati. The book covers the marriage and is told in two parts. “Fates” is written very romantically and covers hubby Lancelot. The language is eloquent. Reading it is like watching a Barbara Walter’s special where a soft lens is used to project glowing images of celebrities, smoothing out their rough edges. “Furies” is about wifey Matilde and reads like a reality TV show where “Shit just got real, yo.” It’s an episode of Cops, where the officer is tapping on the glass and the two meth-heads are scrambling to put their clothes on. Trudging through Fates makes Furies all the better. It was rather exhilarating.

Best Book We Wouldn’t Normally Even Pick Up

Jennifer: The truth is that the ones I picked up which I normally wouldn’t weren’t so good. But there really were some amazing audiobooks I listened to which I normally wouldn’t. Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl was pretty science-y, but I loved her ability to tell a story. And Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends might really not be an example of literary excellence, but it hit the Gen X spot exquisitely—and I loved it. Actually, our next movie we’re watching at home is the extended version of The Outsiders. Rob-inspired.

Lara:  The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. This mix of horror, sci-fi, and zombie had me so not even interested. But then all the good buzz from friends that usually don’t read this kind of stuff either and I downloaded it through Audible. The narrator was fab. I liked the book way more than I thought I would. If horror/sci-fi/zombies are your thing, I’m pretty sure you will love it.

Best Classic

Lara: I only read one classic this year, and it was John William’s Stoner. Spare, bleak, and surprisingly compelling.

Jennifer: I taught The Catcher in the Rye this year. And it’s still The. Best. Book. Ever.

Best Book Cover Art

Jennifer: I read a couple books based on the cover: The Girls by Emma Cline and Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss. The Girls was very good, and I think that would be my pick. Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad had great covers, too!

Lara: I would agree with your picks of The Girls and Imagine Me Gone. One of the sweetest covers on a book I read this year was Soppy: A Love Story. It’s just completely adorable. I also loved the cover of Gavin McCrea’s Mrs. Engels. Unfortunately, the cover was the best thing about it.

Lara’s Best Book Club Reads

With the Book Babes: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This book has been on my radar for some time thanks to one friend who couldn’t stop gushing about it. It has been on my bookshelf for at least one year; and, thankfully, my book club selected it for our final book of the year so that I could finally read it! This delightful book is the tale of curmudgeonly old soul (but actually young) widowed bookshop owner A.J. Fikry and his untraditional road to happiness. Each chapter opens with a book inscription and really serves as a love letter to a life lived with books. The Book Babes thoroughly enjoyed it (myself included).

With the First Draft Book Club (FDBC) at Changing Hands Bookstore: Well, I really shouldn’t pick Homegoing, since it already achieved the top spot, so I am going with my other top pick:

Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott is the story of misfits and castaways connected by their physical home—a New York brownstone managed by Edith, a widow, who is estranged from her adult children. The writing is lovely, their connections and stories both heartwarming and wrenching. I don’t re-read books and I want to pick this one up again.

Lara’s Worst Book Club Reads

With the Book Babes: The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships. Rock-n-roll reporter grows up with secretive and distant father and super-inappropriate and over-sharing mother. He’s a commitment-phobe. He goes to sex rehab. He tries to create a healthy, non-monogamous, polyamorous relationship. It reads more like he’s giving himself a ticket to live selfishly and he comes off as a major douche-canoe. Oh, and it’s super explicit—heads up.

With the FDBC: Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta. It says something if after reading this book in April the only thing I can remember is… meh…

A Little Something More – TV and Movies . . .

TV Favorites

Lara’s TV Report: TV? Who has time for TV?

Jennifer’s TV Report: Breaking Bad Breaking Bad Breaking Bad

Movie Favorites

Lara: I have seen so many movies in the theater this year, thirty-six at the time of this publication. The best so far (and mind you, we haven’t even started watching the best of the best that come out in December) include: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Zootopia, The Nice Guys, The Jungle Book, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Accountant, The Edge of Seventeen.

Jennifer: I see nothing, but children’s movies. Lara gives you the real deal. I did like 13th, Bridge of Spies, Spotlight, Brooklyn, Zootopia, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and The Jungle Book

What were your bests and worsts? Our inquiring minds wants to know!