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17 of the Most Popular Books of 2016 With Links to Book Club Questions

  1.  When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – added by 353,174 people on Goodreads.   This book is a memoir of a neurosurgeon who is faced with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer at the age of 39.   He has grappled with the meaning of life since high school and his search for life’s essence led him to a career in neurosurgery.  Having spent so much time reflecting on life’s meaning, makes his memoir especially poignant.  That combined with his medical background and longtime interest in writing creates the right conditions for a well versed and thoughtful memoir on death and dying.25614898
  2. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – added by 272,780 people on Goodreads. This is a novel about slavery and the underground railroad, which in this novel, becomes a virtual railroad.
  3. The Girls by Emma Cline – added by 238,987  people on Goodreads.  This novel is Emma Cline’s re-imagining of Charles Manson’s ranch.  It is much less focused on Charles Manson and more so on “the girls” who are drawn to it.   It imagines the allure of the ranch to these girls, their connections to each other and to the outside world.  It is told from the viewpoint of a woman who had been a young girl at the ranch, at a point in time when this grown adult encounters another “girl” who could have just as easily been pulled into the ranch’s enticements.26893819
  4. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris – added by 224,917 people on Goodreads.    Behind Closed Doors is a domestic abuse thriller.  Jack and Grace are the perfect couple to all outside appearances, however what lurks behind closed doors is exactly the opposite.  Grace must carefully calculate her moves if she wants to escape and save her sister from her husband’s brutality.
  5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – added by 201,571 people on goodreads.  This is a memoir from a young man who grew up living between Kentucky and Ohio in the hillbilly culture.  A few things steered his life away from the direction he was headed.  He ended up going on to Ohio State for college and to Yale Law School.  He writes about his experience growing up as a hillbilly as well as the hillbilly culture at large.  There is a political bent to the way he thinks and this book has been touted as one of the best books to read to understand Trump’s presidential success.
  6. All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood – added by 190,423 people.  This novel is about a young girl growing up neglected and surrounded by debauchery.  It is about an unlikely ally and friend in a dismal situation.  It is about a romance that develops despite a large age gap.
  7. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – added by 180,711 people on Goodreads.  This novel shows how a seemingly enchanted moment in time completely disrupts two families resulting in divorce and remarriage, leading to neglect, anger, and distance.  It is beautifully written, each chapter effectively it’s own short story.
  8. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – added by 146,727 people on Goodreads. This is an epic novel spanning hundreds of years, beginning in Africa and following two sides of a family as one side is sold into slavery and brought to America and the other side remains in Africa. It is a story of race, roots, and remembrance.
  9. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – added by 141,769 people on Goodreads.  This novel is a gorgeous rendering of a dysfunctional family told through conversations between a mother and daughter while the daughter is hospitalized for appendicitis.  What goes unsaid is just as important as what is said. It is also a study on writing and what makes good writing.
  10. A Gentleman In Moscow – added by 137,615 people on Goodreads.  An aristocrat  is found guilty of writing a poem inciting resistance to Bolshevism.  He is placed under house arrest in the Hotel Metrol in Moscow over a period of 30 years as the world outside undergoes tremendous change.
  11.  I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh – added by 132,549 people on Goodreads.  This was a murder mystery thriller told in alternating perspectives that keeps you on your toes and does not disappoint with its twists and turns.
  12. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld -added by 120,984 people on Goodreads.  This novel is a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” set in Cincinnati.  It is just as delicious and addictive as the original.25852870
  13. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – added by 109,012 people on Goodreads. An amazing collection of autobiographical essays about Trevor Noah, a boy born to a black mother and a Swiss/German father under apartheid in South Africa. The essays are incredible, shedding much light on life in South Africa during and after apartheid. There is so much heart, courage, strength, humor and tremendous good fortune contained within these essays.
  14. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson– added by 68,119 people.  This novel, set in the idyllic countryside of Sussex, is a comedy of manners.  It occurs in the summer before World War 1, exploring politics, manners, and gender roles of this era.
  15. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – added by 64,544 people people on Goodreads.   Sweetbitter is a fictional novel based on Stephanie Danler’s many years of experience waiting tables in New York City following graduation from Kenyon College.  It is meant to provide insight into the secret lives of those who work in restaurants, their hours, habits, and addictions.  26192646
  16. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave – added by 58,389 people.  This World War II historical fiction novel takes place primarily in London.  It follows the lives of 4 main characters, their love interests, and their roles in the war.  Everyone is affected by the war, their courage and bravery tested.25814512
  17. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – added by 55,164 people on Goodreads.  August is returning home to visit her ailing father, when she spots an old friend through the window.  Memories of her childhood growing up in Brooklyn come flooding back.  The memories have a dreamlike quality to them.  There is the remembrance of not realizing her mother had died for years afterwards, always expecting her to return.  There are descriptions of a tight group of girlfriends who had once felt powerful together that are now no longer in touch.  

These rankings were updated on 7/2/2017 and are based upon how many people have added these books to their goodreads collection of books.  They will change as time goes on and I will update accordingly.

5 Debut Novels of 2016 and the New Authors Behind Them

What is better than finding a new author to love?  It opens up a whole new perspective, vantage point, and reads differently from what we are used to.   Here are 5 debut books of 2016 and the authors behind these great new works.

  1.  “Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey – Published February 9, 2016

idra_photo25746685Residence:  She grew up in a small mining town in Pennsylvania.  She has lived in Chile and Brazil.  She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Work:  She has translated the work of several Brazilian writers; she’s taught at Princeton, Columbia, Fordham, NYU, The Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative

Something Interesting:  She met her husband on the subway and immediately knew she would marry him before even speaking to him.



2.  Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – Published May 24, 2016



th-4Lives:  Brooklyn, NY.  She moved to NYC after graduating from Kenyon College.

Work:  After waitressing, she obtained a MFA in creative writing from the New School and began work on her novel.

Something Interesting:  She is obsessed with poetry, there are pieces of poetry scattered throughout this novel.

3.  Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam – Published June 7, 2016


th-1Lives: in New York with his husband and 2 sons

Work: Has worked in magazine publish26890725-1ing and advertising.  Now, he writes.








4.  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi– Published June 7, 2016




Residence:  Born in Ghana, raised in Huntsville, Alabama.  She and her boyfriend now live in the Bay area.

Work: She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  She spent 7 years writing and researching this novel, which was published when she was only 26 years old.  The novel has been nominated for many awards.


5.  Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris – Published August 9, 2016



Residence:  She grew up in England but has spent much of her adult life in France.  She is the mother of 5 daughters.

Work:  She has wo29437949rked both in finance and as a teacher.

Something Interesting:  She had suspicions about a friend’s marriage and her imagination is what provided the inspiration for writing this novel.




9 of the Most Popular Book Club Books of 2016

Choosing a book for book club can often be a fun yet laborious process.  I love the choosing of new books, hearing recommendations from others, discussing the pros and cons of reading different books, and trying to look for a book from a different genre than previously read.  Here are some books that have been repeatedly tagged on goodreads as “book club 2016.”  For each, I have attached a link to my review which  contains discussion questions as well as links to excellent reviews published in highly regarded places.  These books will be listed in the order of popularity.  Following the title are 3 words to try to best describe each novel.




  1.  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah –                                  Historical, France, WW2

This book is about the experience of two sisters during World War II in France and the ways in which they aid in the French resistance. It is a moving, emotional book, one in which you are not sure who the narrator is looking back over that time period.

Published Feb 2015

Review & discussion questions for The Nightingale





2.  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – Literary, Marriage, Secrets

This novel is about a marriage. It is told in two parts, the first half from his perspective, the second half from hers. It is brilliantly written and a fascinating read. It was President Obama’s favorite book of 2015.

Published Sept 2015

Full review with discussion questions for Fates and Furies






3.  My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman – Fantasy, Humor, Family

This novel, written by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman, is about the relationship between an 8 year girl and her grandmother. The grandmother has created a magical fantastical world which serves as a framework for understanding the people in her life and apartment building after her grandmother dies.

Published June 2015

Full review with discussion questions for My Grandmother asked me to tell you she’s Sorry





4.  The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood –                                          Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

This novel is about a dystopian society in which a young couple is given the option to live inside this compound where they will live in an idealistic community one month and prison on alternating months. It is a hilarious spoof on society as well as a chilling warning.

Published September 2015

Full review and discussion questions for The Heart Goes Last





5.  Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – Romance, Chick-lit, Retelling

This is a hilarious and addictive read.  Even though it is 500 pages long, it flies by.  This novel is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati.  It is so fun and light and leaves the reader with all the warm fuzzy excitement that Pride and Prejudice did.

Published April 2016

Full review and discussion questions for Eligible





6. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi –                                       Memoir, Medicine, Death

This is the only non-fiction book on this list.  It is the memoir of a  young neurosurgeon facing a terminal cancer diagnosis.  It is deeply philosophical and offers beautiful insights on life and death.

Published January 2016

Full review and discussion questions for When Breath becomes Air






7.  The Girls by Emma Cline – Historical, Coming-of-Age, Thriller


A piece of historical fiction, reimagining the draw of Charles Manson’s ranch and the girls who lived there.  It is told from the perspective of adulthood and the contrast between girlhood and adulthood is shocking, amazing and informative.

Published June 2016

Full review and discussion questions for The Girls





8.  My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout –                        Literary, Family, Poverty

A beautiful piece of writing by Elizabeth Strout that begins with the relationship and conversations between a mother and daughter.  The daughter is in the hospital for complications of appendicitis.  What goes unsaid between them is just as important as what is said.

Published January 2016

Full review and discussion questions for My Name is Lucy Barton




9.   The Underground Railroad by Colson Whithead                       Historical, Slavery, Race

A brilliant insightful novel highlighting the horrors of slavery and some of its aftermath.  It features a virtual underground railroad.

Published in August 2016

Full Review and discussion questions for Underground Railroad