Love and Olive Oil

Beyond the Kitchen: Best Books of 2016

Another year, another book post. It appears we have ourselves a January tradition. For the past 3 years (read the 2016, 2015, and 2014 editions here), I’ve shared a few of my favorite books read over the course of the year. Somehow, no matter if I read 30 books or 75 books over the course of the year, I end up with about 6 truly remarkable, thrilling, and thought-provoking novels that I feel bound to share with you. Maybe I’ll rate enough 5-star books in 2017 to warrant two posts, but for now, the once a year thing seems to be working.

You might be shocked to know that I really did read 75 books this year. No exaggeration, they’re all rated and reviewed on my Goodreads account. I credit this reading obsession with my Kindle, which I got for Christmas last year, and possibly also the fact that I’ve pretty much given up on TV. Sure, I’ll stream some shows here and there (The Crown being my current obsession… please say there’ll be a second season!) but during the renovation I got so far behind on all my regular shows that I gave up trying to catch up entirely. And you know what? The world didn’t end just because I stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy. I’m definitely not going to be one of those people who cancels their cable entirely, but let’s just say this year has been immensely more enjoyable when I don’t feel bound to a weekly show schedule.

As I put this list together I realize that a lot of what I read is, to put it bluntly, forgettable. How many troubled-young-women-finally-find-love kind of books can you read? A lot, as it turns out… and they all start to blend together. And while I enjoyed them in the moment, madly turning pages to get to the dramatic conclusion, as soon as I move on to the next book they disappear from my mind. Maybe my 2017 reading resolution should be to read more memorable books. Because the forgettable ones are hard to write about 8 or 10 months later.

Here’s a fun fact (or, er, not so fun?): while I finished 75 books, there was only one I didn’t. Even bad books are usually just entertaining enough for me to finish (I’m no quitter), but in the case of Updike’s Couples, I barely made it 2 chapters before giving up entirely. What did it in for me (aside from the terribly pretentious writing, that is?) was the fact that there’d be 2, maybe 3 sentences PER PAGE. Not paragraphs… sentences. Long, sprawling things that encompassed multiple thoughts without pause or punctuation. By the time I reached the period I’d forgotten what the sentence was about to begin with. I just simply couldn’t follow. So, add that one to my (thankfully very short) DNF (did-not-finish) list.

Moving on… let’s talk about the best books I DID finish, shall we?

(And as always, know that there are affiliate links in this post. Click if you want, or don’t. Just know that by doing so, you’re only supporting my ravenous reading habit and helping to fill my future library.)

Love an Olive Oil's Best Books of 2016

Dark Matter

Have you ever wondered what if you’d made different choices in your life? Would you be happier? More successful? What if each and every choice you made splintered off a new alternate universe, resulting in a seemingly infinite number of universes. And, more frightening, what if you suddenly found yourself in the wrong universe? Dark Matter was a total mind bender of a book, in absolutely the best way possible, positively thrilling and and full of geeky goodness from start to finish.

The Queen of the Night

I know absolutely nothing about opera, but if all operas are as dramatic and dark and twisty as The Queen of the Night (seriously, who needs Grey’s Anatomy when you have books like this), I’m seriously missing out. The story, set mainly in 19th century France, follows a young woman as she sings herself into dramatic and convoluted situations, all the while seeking fame and fortune and immortality as an opera singer. I did feel a little lost at times with all the opera terms and technicalities, but the plot… let’s just say it was not what I expected, and, while it definitely wasn’t a quick read, kept me enthralled the entire time. And now I want to go play dress up.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls is a clever and captivating mystery about four generations of women who are seemingly predestined to psychotic breakdowns on their 30th birthday. Is it fate, genetics, or something else entirely? That’s what nearly-30-year-old Althea sets out to uncover before it’s too late. I don’t want to give too much away (trust me, you’ll enjoy it more that way), but I’d wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good female-focused mystery.


Yes, I’m a sucker for YA fiction. I’m also particularly fond of time travel, especially when the explanations for the clear plot holes and impossibilities regarding time travel are handled in such a clever way. And the Timebound series does just that. Don’t go into this one expecting to read the next Pulitzer-prize winning novel. Rather, expect to be entertained and engaged from start to finish. Also, expect to read the whole Chronos Files series without stopping (3 main books and then 2 “parallel universe” novellas written from the perspective of the “other-Kate” from an alternate timeline). A good read when you need a break from more serious and heavy-on-the-deep-thinking sort of books.


I really need to stop reading all these angsty teenage love stories… because it seriously hampers my productivity because all I want to do is read. Ok, so technically only the first half of Hopeless was an angsty teenage love story (so much angst), but the rest was SO MUCH MORE. Seriously, this book gave me all the feels. Not an easy read as it deals with tough subjects like suicide and rape, but I found it a worthwhile read all the same.

Faking Normal

I can’t even imagine what these kids have gone through (and it does not make me miss high school one bit). I enjoyed Faking Normal immensely, but didn’t anticipate giving it a resounding 5 stars until the last few chapters went straight to my heart. A lot like Hopeless in that it tackles some pretty tough topics, but if you’re up for a bit of drama and more than a few tears, well, this would be a good place to start.

A few more notable reads…

Maybe not 5 stars, but a solid 4 or 4.5 star means they are definitely worth reading.

Everything We Keep – Don’t start this when you have anything important to do… because it won’t get done until the book is finished. A story about a woman who has just lost her fiancee, and her journey to find answers and move on with her life (which, apparently, isn’t as easy as it sounds). Some might say its a bit gimicky, but I found it incredibly engaging and heartfelt.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – The title of this book couldn’t be more perfect. Bitter and sweet, together, somehow become a truly touching story about a Chinese man trying to uncover what happened to his childhood sweetheart (who just so happened to be Japanese during a time when it was not so great to be Japanese in America).

The Magician’s Assistant – a beautifully written and truly magical book. I think the plot floundered a bit during the middle, it seemed like it wasn’t really going anywhere and I was worried it’d be an entire book about a woman getting over the loss of her magician husband. But it ended strong, so strong that I didn’t quite realize how much I enjoyed it until the last handful of pages when I didn’t want it to end. Also? I want a giant rabbit.

A Man Called Ove – This book was absolutely charming, I couldn’t help but smile through my tears reading about a charming old widower plotting to kill himself (trust me, it’s not as morbid as it seems and is actually a very uplifting book). Now if I could just convince my curmudgeon of a husband to read it (because I know he’d love it too).

The Bookseller – I’ll admit to often having quite realistic dreams, so this book grabbed me from the beginning. I know how it feels to wake up within a dream, acknowledging your dream state but at the same time still questioning it. But what looks initially like a perfect dream proves that nothing is as perfect as it seems. Although, I have to say the title of the book doesn’t really have anything to do with the book itself. I was expecting a novel for book nerds and instead got a book about life and love and grief and a woman who just happens to/used to own a bookstore. More of a side note not worthy of the title billing, in my opinion, and that respect I was a little disappointed.

More bookish babble…

Now that we have the space, I’ve been scouring the used book store for copies of my favorite books I’ve read over the years. I used to get most of my books from the library, and these days it’s 75% ebooks, but there’s something about owning a physical book that just feels… satisfying. I’m currently scheming how we can make our guest room serve double duty as a library too, I just need to track down the perfect bookshelves and reading chair (you know, a mid-century style reading chair/recliner that’s cool and comfy, and not frumpy? You’d think such a thing would be easier to find…)

Ok, so who’s heard about Book of the Month club? So, apparently this has been around since 1926… how is it that I’m just now hearing about it? Well, regardless, I joined, and my 2nd book should be here any day now. I’m not in love with the fact that the books are branded with the BOTM logo (No idea why that bugs me but I’d prefer if they were the same editions you buy in a bookstore), but it’s a nice way to build up a nice little library and have some expert guidance as far as what to read next.

I’ve told you my favorites, now tell me what were some of the best books you’ve read lately? Even though my to-read list is already four miles long, I am always looking for recommendations for good (and memorable) books to read!

Happy reading!

Love an Olive Oil's Best Books of 2016

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  1. love reading too, my kindle count is ridiculous, starting from “never” hard copy only to now only kindle book! Love to read book recommendations, thank you for these

  2. Thanks for the book reviews. Im a voracious reader and usually like mystery series. I’m currently re-reading Nevada Barr’s series about ranger Anna Pigeon and I just finished re-reading JD Robb’s In Death series which takes place in the 2059. I will be reading at least two of the books you reviewed – Queen of the Night ( I was a theatrical costume designer for 35 years) and Burying the Honeysuckle Girls.

  3. Thank you for these recommendations, Lindsay! They sound great!
    I recommend “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helen Wecker and any of Kate Morton’s books.

  4. Thanks for the recommendations, it looks like we have similar tastes in books.

  5. I LOVED the Man Called Ove and finally got to watch the movie on tv. If your hubby won’t read it, watch the movie together as it follows the book nicely.

  6. Loved adding a few of these my Goodreads account – thanks for the reviews, Lindsay!

  7. Great list! Dark Matter is on my list to read in the next few weeks – another friend raved about it as well. I’m going to add Queen of the Night to my list too.

    Next time you are in Seattle, you know, for more Rachel’s ginger beer, you’ll have to look into taking the Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tour put on by the Wing Luke Museum. I live in Seattle but still found it fascinating to be in the places where the story took place.

  8. Oh I will have to give some of these books a try!

    Rachael xx.

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