Erica’s Best Books of 2016

thousandBest Nonfiction: A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard

What it’s about: A former paramedic in Atlanta tells you how he got into the gig and what it was like patrolling some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

What made me pick it up: It has a good font on the cover. It’s about a paramedic. It was nonfiction. Sold!

My favorite things: This book is a trip! The author drops you right into the action and keeps it going the whole time. As someone who works with a sometimes outrageous public I could both relate and still be surprised by his narratives. You feel like you’re riding along on his emergency calls. Also, it’s hilarious.

Who it’s great for: Teens or adults. Anyone interested in nonfiction, especially about medicine. Those looking to be shocked and awed and made to laugh out loud.

Erica’s rating: five-shells

a-man-called-ove-9781476738024_hrBest Fiction: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

What it’s about: A man who loses his wife of 40 years and his job all at once and how he picks up the pieces, or doesn’t.

What made me pick it up: It came highly recommended from a coworker. I’m obviously into books about older men adjusting to some massive change in their later lives, so I placed it on hold. Also, I liked the font on the cover.

My favorite things: This book is perfect. I am still in awe of the mastery of character and emotion (and audio narration, as I listened to it) in what is Backman’s debut novel. It’s the best combination of happysad I’ve read all year, hence why it’s on this list. More than that though, this shows the complexity of grief and community and how much we can misunderstand an individual just because of the front they put up. You will love Ove. You will ache for him and laugh at his antics and root for him. You will recognize him in your grandfather or your neighbor and you will not forget.

Who it’s great for: Adults looking for an outstanding novel. Anyone who wants to laugh while they are crying or vice versa. Fans of the movie UP.

Erica’s rating: five-shells

What were your favorite books in 2016?


Get a copy of either book on Amazon (affiliate links): A Thousand Naked Strangers; A Man Called Ove or from your local library.


 

Girls Like Me by Lola StVil

girls-like-me

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Shay Summers is struggling through being fifteen. She’s trying to cope with her father’s death, her best friend’s terminal illness, a school bully, being overweight, and the ache of an unrequited crush. But then she finds love in a chat room.

What made me pick it up: This one was recommended to me by a colleague.

My favorite things: StVil tells this story in verse and in instant/text message – and she does it very effectively and intentionally. The characters make a lot of use of the medium, reveling in the anonymity and using fonts to flirt and fight. The teen angst and heartache is too real and perfectly captured, and the excitement over blossoming romance is palpable and infectious. I love that StVil wrote an overweight character without hinting at weight-loss, it’s definitely something I’d like to see more often.

Who it’s great for: Teens who feel like they’ll never fit in and never find love. Those dealing with the death or terminal illness of a loved one. Reluctant readers. Fan’s of Isabel Quintero’s 2014 young adult debut, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers

bridge

Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: How the Golden Gate Bridge came to be painted orange.

What made me pick it up: I saw it on another library’s Instagram. It was by Dave Eggers. It was short.

My favorite things: The bits of humor Eggers weaves through this story. And the unique illustrations.

Who it’s great for: Parents who want to read a longer picture book to a slightly older child. Older children who can read a more in-depth picture book themselves. Anyone interested in bridges, this bridge specifically, or civil discourse. Those looking for a quick, factual, entertaining nonfiction book.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Let Me Out by Peter Himmelman

letmeout

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Professional musician and innovation consultant Peter Himmelman explains his methods for unleashing creativity and breaking free of “stuck thinking.”

What made me pick it up: I figured that if I was going to read about creative thinking, it couldn’t hurt to see what a professional musician and composer had to say on the subject.

My favorite things: Himmelman argues that there aren’t really creative and non-creative types. He explains the ways in which we can all learn to be more creative and improve communication – as long as we’re willing to commit. I love that he includes specific activities to encourage creative thinking at the end of each chapter. He provides concrete examples of when to use them and illustrates their benefit in the given situation. He also offers plenty of illustrations from his own experiences of the kinds of “stuck thinking” that can sabotage creative efforts and ideas. There are a lot of great ideas here that can easily be applied no matter where you are in your life.

Who it’s great for: Those who don’t view themselves as creative people and those that feel as though they’re stuck in a rut. People having trouble finding inspiration. Anyone interested in boosting their own creativity and productivity. Readers curious about what a professionally creative person has to say on the subject.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

invisible

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Librarian Irene must travel to an alternate universe and retrieve a priceless book before someone else does. Oh, and she has to do it while supervising her possibly not-quite-human librarian trainee.

What made me pick it up: It was about a librarian, duh. Also, it was steampunk and that’s one of my favorite fantasy fiction variants.

My favorite things: This book is so much fun! I’ve already read the second in the series and am eagerly awaiting the third. Why is it fun? The main character is a total badass female superhero librarian. And it involves all manner of supernatural – dragons, magic, fairies, alternate worlds. Oh, it’s so good. And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out something else will happen. Plus it’s a super quick read. You’ll turn the pages right to the end.

Who it’s great for: Teens. Adults. Anyone who enjoys a good fantasy novel. Those who like a strong female heroine. People interested in fun. If you read any of the Soulless books (and if you haven’t, you should) and want something equally entertaining. Fans of steampunk looking for more.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

Armada by Ernest Cline

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Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: As it turns out, Zack Lightman’s love of video games isn’t a waste of time. It’s going to help him save the world from an alien invasion.

What made me pick it up: I loved the audiobook for Cline’s 2011 Ready Player One and was excited to see that Wil Wheaton would be the reader for this one as well.

My favorite things: Cline strikes a great balance between poking fun at sci-fi tropes and embracing them. He gives equal importance to the everyday angst-producing experiences of teenage life and the terrifying thrills of trying to save the world. Wil Wheaton is an incredible reader and brings a lot to the audiobook – he’s a perfect fit for the story and I hope he comes back for Cline’s next book!

Who it’s great for: Anyone looking for a funny, adventurous, high-stakes coming of age story. People looking for a lighthearted answer to Ender’s Game. Fans of sci-fi, video games, and teenage drama.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

when

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: As a medical resident Kalanithi discovers he’s got terminal cancer, and details the decisions he makes as a result and all the thoughts that come with that diagnosis.

What made me pick it up: It was short. And I’d heard it was powerful.

My favorite things: This book is stunning. It will make your heart break into pieces. Every time I thought it was done I’d turn the page and get hit with another scene so heart-wrenching I could hardly bear it. But you do because the story is so gripping. Kalanithi writes as he’s dying – writes about medicine, which is his life’s passion; writes about his wife, who is his great love; writes about meaning. His writing was hard enough but the end was the even more difficult. The final third of the book isn’t written by him. It’s written by his wife, after he’s gone. The bittersweetness of it all will stay with you. This book will haunt you in the best way.

Who it’s great for: Teens. Adults. Anyone who has witnessed a family member slowly fade from terminal illness. Those who like happy/sad books.

Erica’s rating: five-shells

The Hoarder in You by Robin Zasio

hoarder

Originally published in: 2011

What it’s about: Dr. Robin Zasio, a consulting psychologist on A&E’s Hoarders, talks about the reasons behind hoarding and cluttering and how to overcome those tendencies and compulsions.

What made me pick it up: I felt like I needed this after I finished reading Messy by Tim Harford. I chose to the audiobook so that I could listen to it while I rounded up clutter to remove from my home.

My favorite things: Dr. Zasio introduces the idea of a hoarding continuum, ranging from keeping a tidy home to the dangerous conditions that can accompany compulsive hoarding. She explains how to identify where you fall on that continuum and offers great suggestions for improving your hoarding or cluttering tendencies. Zasio does a great job of explaining these kinds of compulsions without judgement and offering solutions that feel very attainable.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to work on their clutter and organization but doesn’t know where to begin. People worried about their own need to acquire or that of a loved one.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

lab

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Jahren’s journey to be a scientist who has her own lab, which is also her journey to become herself.

What made me pick it up: It had a lot of holds. I’d heard about it a little. It was about trees or plants or something I was interested in reading about at the time. Little reasons.

My favorite things: Like her blog says, Hope Jahren sure can write. This is beautiful. Jahren writes so well about things that are so hard and complicated. I was floored with how realistically she was able to portray her mental illness, especially her episodes. It brought tears to my eyes. I also appreciated the story of the enduring friendship she built with her longtime assistant Bill. That story of how friends become family always warms my heart. Mostly, I liked how forthright she is. How she makes you want to keep going even though it’s tough because of how frequently she did the same. It will inspire you.

Who it’s great for: Teens. Adults. Anyone who is pursuing something but isn’t sure it will work out. Those who struggle with mental illness. Lovers of trees. You, if you want to read a great story of finding your place and your people.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find a copy of Lab Girl at Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Messy by Tim Harford

messy

Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Tim Harford explores what happens to our creativity and productivity when we stop obsessing over tidiness and detailed planning and give into confusion and our natural instincts.

What made me pick it up: It’s almost resolution season and I’m looking for excuses to leave “get more organized” off my list.

My favorite things: I’m a fan of anything that tells me not to bother with straightening my desk, especially when it suggests that will boost my creativity and make me more productive. Harford looks at disorder in a variety of contexts and finds common threads in each- from academia to the battlefield, recording studios to planned forests. Messy is meticulously researched and well planned despite its message. It’s a good reminder to be flexible and consider that just because a plan is detailed and logical doesn’t mean it’s the best option.

Who it’s great for: People who read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and couldn’t make it work. People who tried to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but forgot where they put it.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells