Traditionally I put together some sort of list of the best books I have read each year. These are highly subjective and often have more to do with what sticks with me at the end of the year, although I do go back and skim through all the reviews that are 4 or 5 star books. Tomorrow I will post a list of the best General Non-fiction books I read this year and the next day I will post about the best Biographies or Memoirs.
Inspector Armand Gamache series – In between January and September I read 11 Inspector Gamache books. Not all of them were great, but the series as a whole is excellent. Gamache and his team of Canadian homicide detectives are smart, real people, with real failings and diverse interests. What draws them together is Gamache and his love of the truth and love of people (even the criminals). There are some storylines that get a bit unbelievable as the story grows, but the best of the books are simply about how the human person works, whether that be Gamache or one of his team, the victim or murderer. I am going to link to the first and the last and from there you can get to the rest of the books in the series.
Starbridge (or Church of England Series) by Susan Howatch
I am cheating on this one because these were on the list two years ago. This series was influential for me hearing about and then getting a spiritual director. They are also influential to understand the Christian life as a continual process of growth. I also appreciate them as what I think Christian fiction should be, stories about the reality of life, messiness and all and stories that help work through the big ideas in life. Each of these stories has a theological book as a theme and the book and the ideas from the book keep coming up. This is in part ‘idea fiction’. The stories are not always super fast, and they can tend toward melodrama a bit. Even so, this is a series that I will be reading again. And in every case, I enjoyed the books more the second reading than I did the first. My favorite of the series is the last, Absolute Truths. From there you can get to the reviews of the rest of the series.
The Wonder Worker/High Flier by Susan Howatch
I am cheating a bit again by including a spin off series in my list. I did not review the Wonder Worker. I read it while I was a bit overwhelmed with new parenthood. But I liked it just as much as High Flier. Both books are broadly about Nick Darrow from the Starbridge series. High Flier has a single narrator that is not Nick Darrow and The Wonder Worker alternates between three narrators, one of whom is Nick Darrow. These are set in the late 80s/early 90s in the financial district of London. Darrow leads a ‘healing center’ out of a nonresidential parish. (The Parish is open during the week, but because it primarily serves offices, it is closed on the weekends.) Again, these books are examples of what I think Christian fiction should be. But if I were in charge of publishing Christian Fiction, the houses would be broke.
Fiction can not be all serious work, it also needs to be fun. I am a big fan of the Percy Jackson series. The first five books of that series were very good. But the spin off series was a mixed bag and the Kane Chronicles I did not get past the first book.
I picked up Magnus Chase in a Black Friday sale and flew through it. It was back to the fun of the original books. The second book in the series does not come out until Oct 2016, so you might want to wait on this one until more books are out in the series, but it was a good example of why young adult books are so popular and why Riordan is such a popular writer.
I am cheating again. This was my favorite book of the year last year. I read it again this year and it is still on my list of best books I read this year.
Marilynne Robinson has not published many novels, but what she has published has been very well received. I have only read Lila and Gilead (and I re-read both this year). The third book in the rough trilogy, Home, is on my list to read soon. I reread both other books to prepare for reading Home. The only other novel by Robinson is Housekeeping, which I also plan on reading next year.
I am less excited about Robinson the essayist. I read her most recent book The Givenness of Things and while there are portions of brilliance, I also think there are huge holes as well. That lack of love as her as an essayist, does not diminish my love of her as a novelist. These are slow books, but full of power and meaning.