Hello! It is I, Andria, your faithful editor here, delighted to share the books that military spouses and veterans are claiming as their best reads of 2016.
The rules? Any book was fair game as long as it was read this past year — books could have been published in previous years, and did not have to be on a military topic.I wanted to hear what the trends were, what people were turning to this year for entertainment, comfort, and information.
I love the answers that female veterans and military spouses are giving — ranging from the reverent and dazzled to, like veteran Mary Doyle’s recap, the truly scathing…. Women chose everything from gritty nonfiction like Tribe and Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison to new fiction such as Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Valerie Truebloods Criminals: Love Stories.
If there’s an avid reader on your Christmas list, I guarantee you’ll be able to find him or her a great read from this list (which starts today and will continue tomorrow as I post the responses that come in).
Let’s get started!!
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK READ IN 2016?:
Siobhan Fallon (Army spouse)
Criminals: Love Stories, by Valerie Trueblood:
“There’s always a kind of transformation at work in Trueblood’s tales — each story might start small and unassuming, but inevitably grows and stretches, becoming Shakespearean or Greek in passion and proportion and unexpected endings; they remind me of the myth of Daphne, pursued by Apollo, choosing to turn into a laurel tree rather than succumb to the god’s ardor.
You have ‘Skylab,’ about an American doctor and nurse who run away together to Malaysia — which this reader assumed would turn out to be an exotic love story, but then the dark repercussions of the couple having left their families behind is revealed. ‘Astride,’ set at the Pentagon (which is an exotic locale in its own right), seems to be about a harmless relationship between two glamorous office workers, until someone goes missing. ‘Kisses’ opens with a young woman getting kissed by one of her charges at a retirement home, and surprisingly returns the kiss, but the real heart of the story is the woman’s uncertainty on how to deal with her husband’s severe PTSD. These intense stories are about humans doing the things all humans do, illuminating how even the most ordinary moments, like a son wrestling with his father or a woman overseeing her granddaughter’s slumber party, can at any moment be fraught and distorted by sudden drama.
I think anyone who appreciates fiction will be blown away by these stories, but I especially think that Trueblood’s tales, with the themes of family and marriage, separation and distance, will resonate with fellow military spouses. So please, everyone, go get yourself a copy!”
Mary Doyle (Army veteran)
“As the year winds down and I look back on 2016, all I want to do is tell it to go f&*k itself and the horse it rode in on. If I search for the positives, about the only good thing I can lean on was the ability to find good things to read. I think I may have read close to a hundred books this year, so picking only a couple as favorites is near impossible. Then again, calling something impossible only makes me want to try harder.
It shouldn’t be surprising that throughout this crappy year, I allowed myself to indulge my zombie apocalypse fascination. I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead, but the graphic novels and the TV show aren’t enough to satisfy my fix. I got hooked on R.R. Haywood’s The Undead series, which is long — more than 20 books — and endlessly entertaining. I can’t recommend them more highly.
While I love The Undead, I’d have to say the best zompac I read this year was The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. If you roll your eyes when you hear “zombie,” this is the novel that will change your opinion of the genre. It takes place long after society has collapsed but there are still some who are fighting to regain their grip on civilization. The shear strength of the characters is enough to keep you engrossed. The writing is beautiful and the tale is one that will stick long after you finish.
My second pick is one that came along right when I needed a good uplifting tale. Granola, MN by Susanne Aspley was published in Nov. 2016 and is a quirky story that takes place in rural Minnesota – a place Aspley describes as, ‘a Wonder bread town.’ Pasty-white Granola gets just a bit more interesting when an Afghanistan war hero comes home to stitch his life back together. It’s funny and poignant and filled with fantastic writing. Aspley is a McKnight Award winning author and her style is unique and engaging.
There are still a couple of weeks left before the end of this nightmare of a year. I’m hoping, if I’ve got my nose buried in something good, I can finally put this year in the rearview mirror and leave it behind like the stinky, maggot infested roadkill it has turned out to be.”
Mary Doyle is the author of a well-received mystery series featuring “strong, well-crafted heroine” Master Sergeant Lauren Harper, “an Army public affairs specialist who travels the world on Army business only to find herself embroiled in one dangerous situation after another” (www.mldoyleauthor.com). The Peacekeeper’s Photograph is the first book in the series.
Tiffany Hawk (Air Force spouse)
“Grace by Natashia Deon:
I adore any book that is both beautifully written and suspenseful, an all-too-rare combination. Grace, the story of a runaway slave in 1840s Alabama, not only fits that bill but knocks you out with its emotionally powerful rumination on freedom, womanhood, and more than anything, a mother’s love.
and Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday by Debbie Graber:
Anyone who has ever worked, well, pretty much anywhere will love this interconnected story collection, which fits solidly with the best workplace satire. Fans of Office Space, The Office, or Then We Came to the End, will not be disappointed. Hilarious, wickedly smart, and chock full of odd, tormented souls, Kevin Kramer Starts on Monday riffs on the everyday contradictions, personality conflicts, and absurdities inherent in any large organization. Military life anyone?”
Tiffany Hawk is the author of the “darkly funny, compulsively readable” novel Love Me Anyway.
Learn more about her writing and writing-coaching at www.tiffanyhawk.com/.
Teresa Fazio (Marine Corps veteran)
“All The Ways We Kill And Die, by Brian Castner, is a lyrical, gutting account of the aftermath of an IED strike and its real and imagined lead-up. The book profiles war veterans the American public doesn’t always see after the ‘boom:’ injured members of explosives ordnance disposal teams, a State Department biometrics specialist, and a former soldier– okay, I’ll say it, a modern mercenary– who joins privately-contracted security details.
Ashley’s War, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, describes members of the Army’s Cultural Support Teams, female soldiers who joined special operations teams on night raids in order to gather intelligence from Afghan women and protect women and children. The narrative is centered around First Lieutenant Ashley White, who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. It’s a gripping account of the soldiers’ training and bonding, and exemplifies how women in combat scenarios can be particularly helpful when battling insurgencies. Lemmon’s book necessarily broadens the traditional hero narrative in an era when women are filtering into official combat roles.”
Teresa Fazio has been published in the New York Times “At War” column, and has an essay in the anthology Retire the Colors, as well as the forthcoming The Road Ahead (Jan. 2017) and It’s My Country Too (July 2017). Learn more about her work at teresafazio.com.
Kelly Killingbeck (Navy spouse)
Me Before You, Jojo Moyes – “This book reminded me that the path in front of you is not always straight and that being redirected can cause extraordinary changes. I also love a book that makes me cry.”
Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan — “This may seem like a strange read for a 40- something, but I actually enjoyed the book. Sometimes we have to find things that can help us connect to others. For me, this book opened up a world of conversation with my 11 year old son — which, for anyone who knows 11-year-old boys, is a huge undertaking. We had so much fun discussing the books, that we ended up reading the entire series together. It took me back to my younger days and getting lost in an adventure.”
Kelly Killingbeck is an avid reader, mother of two, and Navy wife currently stationed in Virginia.
Gail Buteau (Army veteran)
“Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr stand out as two of the best books I read in 2016. Both are serious and sobering novels that share a theme of main characters who live with great and life altering secrets. The secret of Ms. Ng’s novel comes in the way of a daughter’s unexpected private life which is slowly revealed to her distraught family after her sudden and unexplained death.
The magical secret of Mr. Doerr’s tale surrounds an object bravely hidden by a blind girl and her father in war torn France during the invasion of the Nazi’s. Both authors share exceptional story telling skills, and ability to build and create suspense that kept me as a reader excited and anxious for each new chapter.”
Gail Buteau is an Army veteran and artist living in the San Diego area.
Angela Ricketts (Army spouse)
Tribe by Sebastian Junger — “This quick and easy page turner should be required reading for anyone who leads a military lifestyle. The bonds that we make in the military are the bonds we consider the strongest, sometimes even stronger than family. Tribe explores the root of what binds us: a shared enemy.”
Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor — “Anger and alienation are two negative feelings that most military spouses can relate to—we know them well. As a military spouse, I didn’t expect to see so much common experience with an African American man serving a life sentence for murder. Trust me, you’ll walk away from this book with an understanding of yourself and the true meaning of forgiveness and acceptance. “
Angela Ricketts is the author of the dark and hilarious No Man’s War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife and is a frequent contributor to Esme.
Alison Buckholtz (Navy spouse)
A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
“What’s that you say about needing a distraction for the next four years? I have a remedy for what ails you: A Dance to the Music of Time, the 12-volume series of novels by Anthony Powell originally published between 1951 and 1975. Bound into four sets of three books each, the cycle tracks British upper-cruster Nick Jenkins’ experiences and reminisces – from the 1910s to the 1960s – in an England undergoing the kind of cultural upheaval only hinted at between courses in Downton Abbey. It’s wry, sly, and funny in unexpected ways. But here’s what moved me: the language explores gestures so nuanced, feelings so barely perceptible, that you don’t realize until reading about them that you, too, experienced the same thing – but dismissed the moment as being too minute to capture. It’s the very minuteness, writ large, that’s so revelatory.”
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
“In true military spouse fashion, I met and married my husband, moved to Japan with him, and experienced my first carrier deployment all within the course of one year: 2001. It’s no spoiler to confess that I was pregnant almost continually for the next few ‘00s. So there’s a decade of novels for me to catch up on, and I started with The Corrections, published just before the September 11 attacks. It’s eerily prophetic about the America that followed its publication, and although there’s not much to like about any of the characters, the bubble of time they float in is so delicate that I wanted to cup my hands and hold it close. That’s the beauty of reading a book about ‘the current moment’ long afterward: you’re part omniscient author, too, because you know what came next, and you have the impulse to protect and shield the creatures who populate that world — no matter how flawed they are.”
Alison Buckholtz is the author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War.
She is also a contributor to Stories Around the Table.