Best Books of 2016

Best Books of 2016: Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE MOST CHARMING READ OF THE YEAR: NINE WOMEN, ONE DRESS by Jane L. Rosen
I got to the airport a little earlier than I needed to, zipped right through TSA and got to spend all that time before my flight reading this fabulous book. Let me tell you I have never enjoyed waiting at an airport more! Nine Women, One Dress is a completely compelling, utterly charming very New York City book and I loved every page. If I could gift every one of you a copy of this book, I would. I was so sorry to turn the last page and spent the ride home from the airport telling my family all about it. I still can’t shut up about it.

BEST SERIES READ: THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE by Michael Connelly
A Harry Bosch Novel, Book 19
Harry Bosch is back and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Michael Connelly is the finest writer today in crime fiction.

BEST STANDALONE THRILLER: REDEMPTION ROAD by John Hart
Hart has written a compelling page turner, yet somehow manages to find the balance between rocketing suspense and creative imagery. This is a multi-layered novel, and all of the characters have difficult choices to make as they try and find their own redemption.  I stayed up late into the night to finish this truly excellent, profoundly moving book.

BEST LEGAL THRILLER: THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER by Anthony Franze
I haven’t read a legal thriller this good in a long time. There are a lot of variables in this story and the pacing is relentless, making this an all nighter for me. The characters are well developed and the family scenes especially rang true. And I loved all the details about the Supreme Court, a place most of us don’t know much about (and be sure to read the notes at the end, but only after you read the book!)  This book put me in mind of The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer, his first book and still one of my favorite legal thrillers ever. Franze is in excellent company here and I look forward to more from this author.

BEST  MYSTERY: WILDE LAKE by Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman, why do you make us wait so long for new books? Somewhat reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, (and I don’t say that lightly,) this is a deeply compelling story with themes of family, secrets, murder, mental illness, truth and justice. And easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.

BEST WOMEN’S FICTION: IT ENDS WITH US by Colleen Hoover
The amount of domestic abuse that goes on in this country is absolutely horrifying, and if this book is powerful enough to get even one person to leave, or to help one person to understand what may be going on in their family, or with friends, then that would be a wonderful thing. Either way, the level of compassion and empathy expressed for both the abuser and the victim is refreshing, educational and inspirational. It Ends with Us is an important and compelling read. Don’t miss it.

BEST FOODIE FICTION: THE CITY BAKER’S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING by Louise Miller
A pastry chef accidentally sets fire to a restaurant and runs away to a small town to start over. This is one of those charming novels that are so hard to come by. I just adored this book and it was a one night read for me. There’s even a recipe for apple pie at the end but I haven’t made it – yet.

BEST JEWISH LIT: THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE by Lynda Cohen Loigman
The story is about a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York and starts out in the late 1940’s. This story follows the lives of these women, their marriages and families, and how secrets can destroy lives. I laughed, I cried but most of all, I couldn’t put it down. I loved it. If you loved Joshua: A Brooklyn Taleby Andrew Kane, or you are a fan of Naomi Ragen, then this is the book for you.

BEST HISTORICAL ROMANCE: THE PERKS OF LOVING A SCOUNDREL by Jennifer McQuiston
Seduction Diaries, Book 3
This has become one of my favorite series. The heroines are all smart, nerdy girls who don’t particularly want to get married and have no use for society, and this one is no different. Our heroine Mary is extremely knowledgeable about so many different things, all from her reading. She is also a real romantic, basing all understanding of men and women and relationships on novels. She eventually finds out that life is not quite the same as it appears in books, but nonetheless gets her happy ending.

BEST  CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: THE TOTAL PACKAGE by Stephanie Evanovich

This is the latest contemporary romance from someone who has become one of my favorite authors… angst, the laughs and hot sex -and Evanovich really excels at all three. This is a terrific romance for fans of Jennifer Crusie or Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I loved it!

BEST COOKBOOK: DORIE’S COOKIES by Dorie Greenspan

Who doesn’t like cookies? Even people who won’t attempt to bake a cake or bread will make cookies. And this is a treasure trove! It’s worth the purchase price alone for this one life changing tip: roll out cookie dough between parchment paper, instead of chilling first and struggling later. I’ve seen reviews call it an “instant classic” and I agree. Do yourself a favor and buy this book, and if you don’t like baking, buy it for the stories that go along with the recipes. Then give it to someone who bakes.

BEST  NONFICTION: BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book has been one of the most talked about books of 2015, won the National Book Award and tops many of the best books of the year lists. I’ve put off reading it because I knew it was going to upset me, and it did. But it is, in my humble opinion, one of the most important books of my lifetime. That is a big statement – and it’s true. The language is lyrical and powerful, the subject matter moving and emotional and important, and the themes all encompassing and worthy of deep discussion.

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL: RELISH by Lucy Knisley

I haven’t read a graphic novel in quite a while, it’s not something I read regularly. They have to be pretty special to get me to pick one up and this one is. Written with great warmth and humor, this is a graphic novel to be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good memoir, and foodies everywhere.

BEST COFFEE TABLE BOOK: THE MAKING OF OUTLANDER: THE SERIES by Tara Bennett
Outlander! If, like me, you’ve read all the books (twice) and listened to the audio books (twice) and watched the Starz TV series and are suffering from a severe case of ‘Droughtlander’, then you, my friends, have been given a reprieve. This is an amazing, beautiful book that goes through the TV series episode by episode, and character by character. The photographs are simply breathtaking, and there are a lot of them.

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOK: FINDING WINNIE by Lindsay Mattick
The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Winner of the 2016 Caldecott Medal.
If, like me, you didn’t know that Winnie the Pooh was actually based on a real bear, you will find this a most fascinating read. The author, Lindsay Mattick, is the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, and as the back flap of the book tells us, she “grew up thinking of Winnie-the-Pooh as her own great-grandbear.” Harry gave the bear to the London Zoo, where a little boy befriended the bear. That boy’s name was Christopher Robin and the rest, as they say, is history.  The book’s last pages are like a scrapbook, with photos of Harry, Winnie, the page from his diary when he bought the cub, and more.  If you’re a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh, (and who isn’t,) you will enjoy this amazing, engaging book.

Best Books of 2016: Becky LeJeune

THE DIRT ON NINTH GRAVE by Darynda Jones – This series by Jones is hilariously fabulous and the ninth installment is no exception. They do have to be read in order, but this sometimes racy and always excellent grim reaper PI series is one of my favorites!

EX ISLE by Peter Clines – the superheroes are back in this fifth installment of Clines’s post apocalyptic series. As more time passes, resources at The Mount are becoming stretched thin. The discovery of another settlement could mean salvation, but it could also mean something worse. Another favorite series of mine that has to be read in order, but it’s so worth it!

I’M TRAVELING ALONE by Samuel Bjørk – this first in a new Scandinavian crime series features a disturbing crime, an elite investigative team, and a suicidal cop. The plot is twisted and the characters are fantastic – definitely a recommended read for any dark fiction fan.

DEAD BEFORE DYING by Kerry Schafer – a fifty-something FBI agent goes undercover in a retirement home that’s hiding a great big supernatural secret. I loved everything about this paranormal mystery and will be looking forward to more from Shafer!

THE PASSENGER by Lisa Lutz – Tanya has lied to everyone she knows for most of her life. Now her husband is dead and she’s on the run, but did she kill him? This dark thriller from Lutz is quite a change from her light and hilarious Spellman mysteries. It is equally excellent, however, and wonderfully intense.

DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch – a middling academic is attacked, kidnapped, and left unconscious in an abandoned warehouse. When he awakens, his life is vastly different, leaving him to question everything he thought he knew. Crouch’s latest is a sci-fi thriller that will blow your mind!

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi – this YA debut is based in Indian folklore blended with the Hades/Persephone myth and features a beautifully built world with vibrant and creepy imagery. It is definitely one of the most unique folk/mythology/fairy tale retellings I’ve had the pleasure of reading so far.

THE LAST ONE by Alexandra Oliva – a post apocalyptic tale based around a character who’s part of a survival TV show. This book is thought provoking and fabulous. And while it’s definitely not horror, it is dark enough to appeal to genre fans for sure.

THE DREAM-QUEST OF VELLITT BOE by Kij Johnson – this odd novella is an HP Lovecraft retelling that flips “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” on its head. Johnson’s modern and feminist twist coupled with the excellent world building and imagery make this a stand out of 2016.

CERTAIN DARK THINGS by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I thought I had had enough of vampires, but Sylvia Moreno-Garcia proved me wrong. Vamps, drug wars, and a near-future Mexico City make this a wholly unique and excellent read!

Best Books of 2016: Geoffrey R. Hamlin

1. The Wrong Side of Goodbye – Michael Connelly
Connelly once again demonstrates that he is one of the finest crime fiction writers of our time. In this book, Harry Bosch has been retired from the Los Angeles Police Department and is trying his hand at being a private investigator. He is retained by an 85 year-old, dying billionaire, Whitney Vance, to find out if Vance had a child as a result of his relationship with an Hispanic women over 60 years earlier. The story of Bosch’s investigation is full of twists and turns, as well as danger, and the end is thoroughly satisfying.

2. A Great Reckoning – Louise Penny
Just like Harry Bosch, Inspector Gamache cannot stop investigating after his retirement for the Surete de Quebec. In this story, he looks into the murder of a professor at the Surete Academy. And in the process, he learns why the village of Three Pines, where he has made his retirement home, does not appear on any maps.

3. Last Days of Night – Graham Moore
A gripping account of the struggles between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in the 1880’s, to determine exactly how the US will be electrified. The story is told by Westinghouse’s lawyer, a young Paul Cravath. Who subsequently founded the estimable Wall Street firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore. Everybody wanted to interview with them when I was in law school.

4. Razor Girl – Carl Hiassen
Typical Hiassen, which means very Florida and very funny. You will not be able to stop laughing when you discover what the title is all about. A must for anyone who lives in Florida and a should read for everyone else.

5. In Sunlight or In Shadows – Lawrence Block
Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper
A collection of short stories, each of which relates to a specific painting by Edward Hopper, probably the perfect artist for lovers of noir. Contributors include Michael Connelly, Stephen King, Jeffery Deaver and Lawrence Block himself.

6. Charcoal Joe – Walter Mosely
Set in late 1960’s Los Angeles, Easy Rawlins has now formed his own detective agency. In this case, Easy is attempting to prove that a Black physics PhD did not murder two white men even though he was found standing over them. The description of the times rings true and the story is first-rate.

7. Surrender, New York – Caleb Carr
Carr uses every page of this lengthy tale to bolster his argument that the use of profiling and scientific evidence, both on television and in real life, is misused to convict those already determined to be guilty rather than as a pure search for the truth. An interesting argument and persuasively made as his protagonists try to determine the cause of youths disappearing from their community only to be found dead some time later.

8. IQ – Joe Ide
Ide’s hero, Isaiah Quintabe, is a super-intelligent, undereducated Sherlock Holmes of the ghetto. In this first book (I hope many more will follow), he is trying to thwart an equally unconventional assassin (murder by dog?) who is attempting to kill a very successful rap star. But the larger question remains, who hired the assassin?

9. Willnot – James Sallis
Dr. Lamar Hale is a small-town physician and a keen observer of people and small town life. He is thrust into the mystery of strangely appearing bodies when his partner, Richard, is shot by a bullet meant for him.

10. Listen, Liberal – Thomas Frank
Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?
Frank argues that the Democratic party has ceased being the party of working people as its leaders have become enamored of successful businessmen, techies, and a well-educated professional class.  He appears prescient, given the results of this year’s presidential election.  For those political junkies like myself, I also recommend an older book, Rebels in White Gloves by Miriam Horn, the story of the class of 1969 at Wellesley (Hillary’s class).

Best Books of 2016: Paul Lane

1) The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt
What would a favorite list of books for a particular year be without one from David Rosenfelt the creator of Andy Carpenter and his gang. Always written in a pleasantly humorous style and generally alike. Andy, who is the recipient of a large legacy would rather stay away from practicing law and enjoy his good life. But something happens and we go to court and do good. In this one Mr Rosenfelt also brings in his real life love of dogs and ties it in with a case for Andy.

2) Goliath by Shawn Corridan & Gary Waid
If you’ve grown up with sea stories by the likes of Jack London you’ll love this story about men against the sea. A gigantic Russian supertanker runs aground and two groups based out of Alaska go to the scene in the hopes of salvaging the ship. The Goliath part is the name of the ship, which becomes Goliath in English. And the task of salvaging it is for one of the groups a David vs Goliath. Sonny Wade is owner of this group which is on the verge of going broke. The depiction of the efforts of both salvage crews is excellent and displays a vast knowledge of what it takes to do so.

3) The Killing Game by James Carol
A depiction of people caught dining in a famous Hollywood restaurant when a suicide bomber walks in. He indicates that he is wearing a bomb and will blow himself and the restaurant up. The novel provides a study of emotions, fear, bravery and disbelief while the narration continues to mesmerize the reader. Certainly one of Mr. Carol’s most fascinating books.

4) The One Man by Andrew Gross
I finished this book with the distinct impression that I had read probably the best novel written by Andrew Gross to date. From start to finish it grabs you, and doesn’t let go. A German Jewish scientist is imprisoned in a Concentration camp during WWII. His knowledge includes work that could literally start a war, or end one, and the Nazis have destroyed his notes. A Polish Jew that escaped to the United States volunteers for the impossible task of getting into the camp and getting the scientist out in order to provide information important to what is really building the first atomic bomb. A brilliant effort, and one that will stay with any reader for a long time.

5) The Commodore by Peter Deutermann
Another story of the sea and man triumphing against it’s force. This time by a retired Captain of the US Navy and involving naval battles during World War II. The backdrop is the US invasion of Guadalcanal and the sea battle surrounding that. Harmon Wolf is a new destroyer commander, born on an Indian reservation and not thought of as a worthy officer for the Navy. His thoughts and actions and his battle field promotion are the key elements in this story. The actual events described are the result of good research by a man whose first career was as a fleet officer.

6) Summit by Harry Farthing
Harry Farthing has succeeded in climbing Mount Everest and therefore qualifies as an expert in that en devour. Farthing describes two climbing attempt 80 years apart. The first was by a soldier in the German army during WWII. The soldier grew up in a section of Germany in which mountain climbing was common and was considered an expert. He committed an infraction of rules and expected to be executed for that. Heinrich Himmler just at this time conceives of the idea of scaling Everest and planting the Nazi flag at the top as a way of rubbing England’s face in the dirt. Seventy years later Neil Quinn, a leader of 8 successful climbs has a fatality occur to a young man climbing with him. He is disgraced and is stopped from leading further climbs. On the ascent in which the fatality occurred he found an axe with a Nazi swastika engraved and begins an attempt to find out the story was on that. Excellent, obviously factual descriptions of what occurs on these climbs make for great reading.

7) Hell’s Gate by Bill Schutt
A book that opens with the discovery of a Japanese submarine in the middle of the Brazilian jungle during World War II has got to get the reader’s interest. An American military expedition sent to investigate the sub goes missing. One scientist parachutes into the area to determine what is going on. He finds the makings of a Nazi plot to utilize a secret weapon against the allies in order to win the war. Yes, science fiction, and interesting on it’s own right, but the author writes an afterward that the said secret weapon is and was feasible based on scientific findings.

8) The Cairo Code by Glenn Meade
No list of books would be complete without a love story would it? Difference though is that this one occurs during the Second World War. Two men who were in love with the same girl prior to the war find themselves on opposing sides. A meeting between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill was scheduled to take place in Cairo in order to discuss plans for Operation Overlord; the invasion of Normandy. The man in the German army is assigned to assassinate Roosevelt and his friend, in the US army is tasked to stop it. Their mutual love, who is Jewish is told to help with the assassination or not only she will, but her family in a concentration camp will be killed. Riveting to say the least. We know Roosevelt was not killed, but the events on both sides of the plot could very well have happened.

9) Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
The master of challenging fiction presents another all nighter. Maya Stern was an officer with the US army when she met her future husband, was married and never returned to the military. The book opens with Maya in attendance at her husband’s funeral. He was killed by a robber while walking with her in Central Park. The police have arrested two men and charged them with the murder and the case seems closed.
But her husband Joe is seen on a Nanny Cam walking around her house two weeks after the robbery and Maya is sure that he is still alive. And to complicate the matter what is the connection between her husband’s death, the killing of Maya’s sister and the drowning of Joe’s brother 17 years ago while on a trip to the Caribbean?

10) After the Crash by Michael Bussi
A night flight from Istanbul to Paris crashes in the French Alps killing the 169 people aboard. But there is one survivor. An infant girl is thrown from the plane and reached by first responders while still alive. An enigma occurs when two families that had infants aboard the plane claim the child as their own. A judge awards the child to one of the families. These people have two other children; a boy and a girl. The other family hires a private detective with funding for his work to last 18 years to determine who the baby actually belongs belongs to. The science of DNA testing has not begun as the story unfolds, and a huge complication arises when the girl and what is her brother fall in love. You have to read this to find out what happens, but it is well worth while.

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