Monday, January 2, 2017

Best of 2016 - Books

My top picks from the books I read last year. You may find old books here but if they're on this list, then they were new to me!

7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness 
by Eric Metaxas
Eric Metaxas wrote this book to ask two questions: (1) What is a man? (2)What makes a man great? He answers them by looking at the lives of seven men who are worthy of emulation.

This grabbed both my and Tom's attention. We still talk about the stories and people in this book. (Full review here.)

Also, don't miss his follow-up book about 7 Women. We both liked that one too. (Full review here.)

Slow Horses 
by Mick Herron
A different sort of spy book. Spies who have failed at their jobs get sent to Slough House where they do paperwork.

Funny, suspenseful, intelligent — I loved this and both the sequels. (Full review here.)

We also discussed this on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Reading Dante 
by Giuseppe Mazzotta
2016 unintentionally became my year of Dante as I wound up reading the Divine Comedy four times. Don't ask how I unintentionally read it four times. Sometimes these things just happen.

Anyway, seeking commentary I found this book by a professor who's been teaching Dante's Comedy for decades and was selected for Open Yale Courses video. Whoever translated those videos into these chapters also deserves praise. I can feel the force of personality as well as the depth of knowledge — all communicated in a very understandable way. This was simply wonderful in deepening my appreciation of the magnificent work Dante did upon The Divine Comedy.

Church of Spies: The Pope's Secret War Against Hitler 
by Mark Riebling
Another one that both Tom and I loved. I still think of it frequently.

Nonfiction, by a non-Catholic, defending Pope Pius XII against claims that he supported the Nazi regime. Reads like a spy thriller.

I bet the audiobook would be great. (Full review here.)

The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains 
by Owen Wister
A Western with all the expected trappings: cow-boys, guns, horses, beautiful school mistresses, villainous scoundrels, and the hauntingly beautiful isolation of the Wyoming range.

But, more than that, it is a wonderful character study told in surprisingly contemporary writing. (Full review here.)

Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History 
by Rodney Stark
A wonderful book using facts and statistics to combat lies about the Catholic faith which are still being spread by experts who should know better. In fact, those experts are why the author wrote the book.

As he says in the introduction: "Finally, I am not a Roman Catholic, and I did not write this book in defense of the Church. I wrote it in defense of history." What better reason could there be than that? Truth for truth's sake. (Full review here.)

Lydia Chin / Bill Smith 
mystery series by S.J. Rozan
Lydia Chin is a young American born Chinese woman who is also a Chinatown detective. Bill Smith is older than Lydia and white. His detective work tends to take him to construction sites and security jobs. They often act as partners which works well both for mystery solving and as a story telling device.

The twist in this series is that one book will be told by Lydia and the next told by Bill. The author has a rare talent for writing in completely different voices for both Lydia and Bill.

Enjoyable all round. (Full review of the first two books here.) We discussed Concourse on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

trilogy by M.C.A. Hogarth
This is a really fun space opera series which is continually flirting with becoming romance novels. (Full review here.)

The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ 
by Andrew Klavan
A great conversion story by a thriller author. Both inspirational and influential - my prayer life changed after reading it. I listened to the audiobook which was read by the author. (Full review here.)

My Lady Jane 
by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and , Jodi Meadows
What if history was just a little bit different when England's King Edward died and Lady Jane Grey was caught up in a political conspiracy to ascend to the throne? What if some people were shape changers who also had an animal form?

Of course, that would be an alternate history, probably written for young adults. For what it was — a humorous, inventive, light, romantic, alternative history — it was practically perfect in every way. It was sometimes silly but always charming and I was glued to it in every spare moment. I listened to the audiobook which I wholeheartedly recommend. (Full review here.)

The Help 
by Kathryn Stockett
After covering the movie when it was selected by a movie discussion group regular, I revisited the book to see if it was as good as I recalled. The movie was a by-the-numbers telling with broad strokes.

The book, as I rediscovered, was so much more than that. I decided to try it in audiobook form after seeing that Octavia Spencer was one of the narrators. And the audio really makes it soar. Worth reading and rereading, whether in print or audio.


  1. I'm going to have to pick up that Reading Dante. Sounds like it would be handy as i'm going to read Paradisio this year. Which translation of the Divine Comedy did you use?

    1. Let's see - first I did Anthony Esolen, I listened to Benedict Flynn from Audible (so whichever translation that was), and the last two times it was Mark Musa. Each had their charms. The notes for Esolen and Musa were both great, though I also supplemented them with John Ciardi's notes (his was the first translation I read many years ago).