my favourite books of 2016

Fifteen DogsFifteen Dogs by André Alexis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My original review said, “I don’t even know what to say about this book,” but actually I do know: I think this is a book a dog would like, if that dog had acquired the power of human consciousness and language. It is full of beauty, cruelty, absurdity, humour, love, and sadness. The prose is flawless. And yes, if you are a tender-hearted dog lover, some parts will rip out your tender heart. Andre Alexis is a gifted writer; I’m very glad I read it and enjoyed discussing it with my book club.

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me over a year to finish this; I picked it up and put it down several times. (As my friend Mark can attest.) I thought it was good, but I just wasn’t connecting with it. But something clicked for me about halfway through and I was utterly compelled at that point–I finished it in a couple of days. In fact, I finished it moved to tears.

The historical detail is illuminating; the writing is beautiful, though brutal at points; the characters are fascinating. Strangely, perhaps, my favourite stories were those of Natasha and Ramzan.

So I guess my advice is, if you’re put off by the disjointedness of the beginning, keep going, because it will all come together. It’s a book best read in long stretches, not short chunks of time. But it’s worth it. I ended up liking it much more than I thought I would.

Both Ways is the Only Way I Want ItBoth Ways is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this entire collection of short stories! There was not a single dud in the bunch, as far as I was concerned, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I thought that about a book of short stories…maybe when I was reading Alice Munro? High praise, I know, but genuine. I’m having a hard time articulating what I liked about them, but they feel so self assured and effortless. So many short stories seem the opposite–trying too hard, just so…effortful. These seem like they somehow sprang into existence, suddenly and gracefully. Normally I don’t like to read too many in a row by the same author, but I read these one after the other in quick succession.

The Tsar of Love and TechnoThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it just as much as his previous book (Constellation). I appreciated my friends Mark and Doug’s advice not to leave too much time between stories, because they’re all linked. I put it down for a while, so I went back and reviewed the first few stories before proceeding to finish it, and I think it was a good idea. Highly recommended.

Missing, PresumedMissing, Presumed by Susie Steiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a warm and humane story. I like reading mysteries, and so often they are rather dark and grim. But this one, though it is about disappearances and deaths, is not like that. The prose style is different, but the warmth and humanity with which Steiner infuses her characters reminds me of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie mysteries. The mystery aspect, while satisfying and certainly a page-turner, is really mostly a vehicle for peering into the inner lives of these very real and likeable characters. I especially loved DS Manon Bradshaw and am looking forward to reading the author’s next book about her.

The Last Policeman (Last Policeman, #1)The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: I read all three books in the trilogy, and overall I would give the trilogy five stars. I enjoyed the first, but they got even better as the series continued. This is just my review for the first book:

Dark little book, but not without flashes of levity. They become rarer as the book goes on, though.

I found myself quite immersed in the world of the protagonist, who plugs away diligently at his detective job even though he knows a giant asteroid will obliterate the earth in 6 months. Some people try to continue living as though nothing has changed. Others kill themselves, unable to cope with the anticipation and fearful of the quick or slow painful death to come. Still others draw closer to their loved ones, while some who can afford it plunge headfirst into hedonism while they have time.

Now if that’s not a metaphor for the myriad of ways people cope with knowledge of their own mortality, I don’t know what is.

You can see all my reviews here on Goodreads.

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