2016 hasn’t been a fantastic reading year for me. I don’t know why. Lots of books I read were just *fine*… not bad, but not remarkably good either. However, I did find a handful of books that stood out amid the ones that didn’t really register, so here we go. None of them were perfect in the same way that I found Gilead, Lonesome Dove, and Gaudy Night perfect last year, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t still great. I didn’t actually review any of these books here, so it’s nice to have an opportunity to bring them up.
- Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan
Part of the reason this post is going up at the last possible minute is that I was trying to finish this so it could be included. I picked up Midnight Never Come, honestly, because it had a beautiful cover and I was raiding the library for books to take with me over Christmas. It turned out to be outstanding. This high fantasy novel tells the story of a sixteenth-century London in which Elizabeth’s political affairs are tangled up with those of a faerie court below the city, ruled over by a cruel queen, Invidiana. The story is thoroughly compelling and fascinating, and the worldbuilding is incredible. Even though I don’t have a very visual imagination, I could see both the Tudor court and the Onyx court below very clearly in my mind’s eye. The story does take a turn for the dark and weird towards the end, but I think it was still one of my favourite books of the year.
- The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
I talked about this a bit in my Reading Bingo post, but I wanted to mention it again here. If you like tense thrillers along the lines of Brighton Rock, I recommend this enthusiastically. It’s difficult to even introduce the plot without including spoilers, but really it’s an incredible book that I can’t praise highly enough.
- The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor
This is such a beautifully written novel. It includes many things that I love reading about, like non-romantic friendships between men and women, meditations on God’s love, and general decrying of rogue landlords. It explores the nature of loneliness, the frailty of humans, and the grace associated with redemption. As with Gilead, I don’t think you have to be a Christian to enjoy this, but it definitely encouraged me in my faith. It’s probably the best book I read all year.
- The Ballroom by Anna Hope
Every now and then, I see lists of things people were deemed insane for a hundred years ago making the rounds on Twitter. It tends to be presented in an “isn’t this sad but also ridiculous and even funny with hindsight” sort of context. The Ballroom explores the truth beneath that list, showing what life was like for people who were in any different to the norm back then, as well as exploring the way in. It is incredibly haunting and sad, and, again, beautifully written. I wasn’t a huge fan of the final pages of the novel, but I see the purpose behind the ending.
- Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse
Despite the fact that I absolutely love Wodehouse, I’d never investigated the Blandings books until this year. I was put off by the BBC mini-series starring Timothy Spall, which made the whole thing look far less intelligently written than the Jeeves books. I only picked it up because I’d read so many mediocre books in succession, and I knew PG Wodehouse would cheer me up. As it turns out, this was every bit as good as the Jeeves books, and made me laugh a lot on public transport. I always love Wodehouse, but this also had a lot of excellent women refusing to be patronised by men and frankly besting them at every turn. Frankly, PG Wodehouse was a lot better at writing women in 1915 than many men writing 100 years later. This was as joyful as anyone could wish for.
(I’m not going to do a “did I meet my goals?” post, because my primary stated goal was to finish my PhD, and I didn’t do that, and it’s too depressing).
Here’s hoping for a better reading year next year (and maybe I’ll even finish my PhD).