Great Books I Read in 2016 + What Should I Read in 2017??

2016-readsLast year, I asked — on a whim — for your suggestions for some novels to read in 2016.

After reading almost only non-fiction (and not very much of it at that) for the last decade, I decided that I was going to start really reading again. And that I was going to focus on fiction.

You all had amazing suggestions and I put together a list of 12 books that I was planning to read — at least one each month. (I know for some of you, that seems like nothing — you are probably reading a book or more each week!)

Well, it proved to be a very successful plan! I ended up reading 17 books this year – which is about 15 more than the year before. (Don’t judge!)

Now as with most things in life (at least my life!), things didn’t go exactly according to plan. I had planned to read the following 12 books, but didn’t quite get thru all of them. I did end up reading a few others, though, which I note below:

Inside the O’Briens: A Novel by Lisa Genova – I definitely enjoyed this, but it fell a little flat for me. I felt that it was too predictable — like watching a (formulaic) one-hour drama. But the writing craft itself was strong and I will definitely try another novel by her.

Me Before You: A Novel by Jojo Moyes – Again, I really enjoyed this book but didn’t love it. I know, blasphemy. I did bawl like a baby at the end.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance  – I only got through half of this book before I had to return it to the library. It was interesting, but kind of dense. And Elon Musk isn’t a very warm and fuzzy character — to say the least.

This Is Not a Love Story: A Memoir by Judy Brown – I read this on a long airplane ride. I loved it! It’s about an ultraorthodox girl and, without giving away too much, I will say that her parents’ story is fascinating. In particular, she writes with wit and warmth about how her profoundly disabled brother impacts her family and her faith.

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr – I was going to read this over the summer, but I was preoccupied with my son’s bar mitzvah and didn’t start it until October. With most novels, I can get through them in a Shabbat or two. This one, however, has taken me almost two months – and I’m still not done. It’s very heavy and, at times, painful. Honestly, I was reading it before the election and had to put it away for a long time. I just started reading it again this Shabbat. It’s exquisite, but also – as I said – raw and painful.

The Rosie Project: A Novel (Don Tillman Book 1) by Graeme Simsion – Oops, I did not get to this one.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – This is a quick and fun read and I got through it in a Shabbat. Perfect vacation read!

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell – <Hangs head in shame> I never even cracked this one open.

The Language of Flowers: A Novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – I haven’t started this yet, but I do have it checked out from the library and will start it as soon as I finish All the Light.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman – I read this over the chagim and completely LOVED it. I was riveted by the story and just relished how it brought truly ancient Jewish history to life.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – This is also a quick Shabbat read. I actually gave it to my 13 year-old to read as well. It’s interesting and well-written, but didn’t change my life. I do think it was good for me to read a book with a man as the main character.

In addition to those planned books, I also read this year:

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll – This (as it turns out memoir-esque) novel is gripping and difficult. It’s a very compelling read – but I know some will be uncomfortable with the explicit nature of the writing.

Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins — My 8th grade son had to read Hunger Games for his summer reading. I was a bit trepidatious about the very gruesome dystopian themes, so offered to read it along with him, so we could discuss it afterward. Well, as soon as I finished the first book in the trilogy, I was off to the library to get the next two. These were quick reads with a seemingly crazy, yet eerily relevant, theme.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – This was my 5th grade son’s summer reading and we read it together as well. What a poignant book. It’s meant to be for older children, but it was so deep and profound and sad that I — even as a middle aged woman! — loved it. There is much to appreciate in this tender novel about love, loss and humanity. If you haven’t ever read it, I recommend doing so. P.S. After reading the novel, we saw the movie adaptation – which both of us panned.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – Ditto the above. What a stunningly beautiful book. I can’t wait to see the movie.

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes – After liking, but not loving, Me Before You, I picked this one up from the library to see if Moyes could be redeemed for me. It was a quick Shabbat read – enjoyable, but not life-changing. I was definitely rooting for the main characters in this rom-com, perfect-for-vacation novel.

5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman (Audio Book) – I listened to this as one of my three free audio books from Audible. Good tips and insights into my children (and myself… and my husband…) Do note that Chapman writes from a Christian perspective – and all of his Love Languages books have some undertones, which may (or may not) stand out to you.

Love Warrior: A Memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton (Audio Book) – This is a powerfully dark and insightful memoir. If you follow Momastery, you know that Glennon has been on a roller coaster ride this year (always???), to say the least. But even without knowing that background, this book feels like a group therapy session – empowering and disrupting at the same time. Although I think this one should come with a slight warning, as some of you may find it uncomfortable.

Pumpkin Flowers by Matti Friedman – Of all the books I read in 2016, this is by far my favorite one. It’s a powerful, painful book of reckoning about the experience of IDF soldiers in Southern Lebanon. An award-winning journalist, Friedman combines reporting with memoir-writing to capture the gut-wrenching contradictions of war — the mania and the mundanity. My husband was one of the Israeli soldiers who served in Lebanon, and while his story was not one told in this book, it easily could have been. Lebanon shaped his life, even as it took so many others. For me, this book was chillingly personal; but even if you didn’t know and love any of the chayalim, it is still a must-read.

So, those were my 2016 reads. It felt great to be reading regularly again — which is why I’m already working on my 2017 reading list.

And that’s where you come in! I want your input as you really helped me last year! Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for me in 2017?

I’m leaning toward continuing to read mostly fiction, but if you’re read some non-fiction that really touched you, I’d love to know about it, too! I will put together my final list and share it with you by the end of the year.

Thank you — and happy reading!


  1. Barbara Nitsun says

    Thanks for your review Mara! 17 books a year are a lot to me, so I am impressed! By the way, my husband loved the Outliers book.

  2. If you are on the fence about JoJo Moyes, I suggest The Girl You Left Behind. IMO the strongest of her works that I’ve read, and a very interesting perspective on art reparations.

    • Have you read JoJo Moyes The Last Letter From Your Lover?

    • I was also going to suggest The Girl you left behind! My favorite of all of her books and Ive read all of them! Also my I suggest Escape by Carolyn Jessop. A fascinating look into the LDS division of the Mormon church (otherwise known as the one that allows multiple wives)

  3. Fidelity by Wendell Berry. Five short stories. Some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve ever read in the English language.

    Sophie and the Rising Sun by Augusta Trobaugh. A gem of a love story against the backdrop of WWII anti-Japanese prejudice.

  4. I recommend The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. All her books are wonderful, but this is stunningly written and unbelievably gripping and powerful. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book for a long time…

  5. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
    The Royal We by Heather Cox
    Cinder by Marissa Meyer

  6. Carol Katzman says

    Good for you! Ive got three books going right now, but these two are my favorites for this year.

    An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny
    by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski

    Heart wrenching…and non-fiction if you feel like getting back into that.

    And for fiction: Any Alan First novel. He writes WWII spy thrillers, set mostly in France. It starts with The Polish Officer (published in 2001) and he had a new one out this year (A Hero of France). His characters occasionally reappear, which is always a thrill! They’re intriguing, sexy, scary books. I love his writing!!

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