This is the 24th year running that I have assembled a year-end list of recommended reading. Title links will take you to my full review for each selection. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments or recommendations you’d like to add. I’m always looking for the next great read.
So, in no particular order, here are the books I read last year and recommend to you.
H is for Hawk (2014) Helen MacDonald
Following the sudden death of her father, the author takes on a falconer’s most difficult challenge, to train a goshawk. This transcendent memoir is an honest revelation of love and loss, delivered with rich, moving prose.
Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969) John Steinbeck
Of the books I read last year, East of Eden was my favorite. So, when I learned that author John Steinbeck had kept a writer’s journal in 1951, during the ten months he spent composing the novel, I knew I had to read it too.
In the Woods (2007) Tana French
The writing elevates story, dialog, and atmosphere to deliver a book that satisfies as a character drama wrapped in a mystery.
A Man Called Ove (2012) Fredrik Backman
This book, which I thought was going to be merely an entertaining, light read about a lovable curmudgeon, unexpectedly grabbed me by the heart and wouldn’t let go.
Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World (2014) Gillen D’Arcy Wood
This fascinating and immensely readable book explains how the eruption of Mount Tambora on a tiny Indonesian island in 1815 rippled out over the next three years to affect weather around the globe and alter human history in locations as far away as Europe and North America.
The Underground Railroad (2016) Colson Whitehead
An intense and richly rewarding book about a pair of antebellum slaves’ flight to freedom, with twists, turns, and terrible surprises, memorable characters, and masterful prose.
The War That Saved My Life (2015) Kimberly Brusker Bradley
Written with heart, sensitivity and an attention to period detail, this work of historical fiction for younger readers gives a genuine impression of life during wartime in an English coastal village at the start of WWII.
As someone who has logged many miles road tripping America, visiting the birth and resting places of many presidents, I particularly enjoyed hitching a ride with Carlson on his journey through the odd after-life of these dead heads of state.
The Sport of Kings (2016) C.E. Morgan
I’m adding this book to my pantheon of very challenging pleasure reads, alongside Middlemarch (which I didn’t much like) and Moby-Dick (which I loved.) The Sport of Kings will sit on the fence between them, at least for now, as I continue to mull over my reaction to this book.
Britt-Marie Was Here (2016) Fredrik Backman
Britt-Marie is a quirky, extremely well-defined, somewhat rigid, and not completely likable character—and I loved every minute spent with her.
The House of the Seven Gables (1851) Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne’s classic tale of a cursed house, tinged by witchcraft and mysterious sudden death
Pax (2016) Sara Pennypacker
Author Sara Pennypacker and illustrator Jon Klassen have created a Charlotte’s Web for a new generation, a rich experience that will resonate with readers of all ages.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2001) Nathaniel Philbrick
Philbrick’s informative and exciting book tells the story of the infamous sperm whale attack and the history of New England’s 19th-century whaling industry with lively and engaging prose.
Telegraph Avenue (2012) Michael Chabon
I’ll admit Telegraph Avenue was a bit of a struggle at first, but thanks to my commitment to book club and faith in Michael Chabon, I settled in to the book and found it a relevant and satisfying read, resulting in an interesting discussion.
Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble (2016) Dan Lyons
I really got a kick out of this book. Following Lyons on his cockeyed HubSpot roller coaster ride is edifying, surprisingly suspenseful, and thoroughly entertaining.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer (2016) Fredrik Backman
A deeply moving story that honors the slender ties that bind one’s memory with family.