2016 was a rough year for me as far as reading is concerned. The lariam made it hard for me to really focus on words. I tried with audio books, but I’ve always had a hard time getting into those. I found myself just falling asleep when I would normally be anxiously turning the pages if actually reading. Add in the fact that not much really impressed me this year. I found few books that I loved. I did however in fact accomplish my goal and here are a few of the books that stood out to me over the year.

Fiction

2016A Brief History of Seven Killings Marlon James

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.

My roommate at the time of me reading this was from Jamaica. Her and I were living together in Colombia and she asked me to read this one because she loved it and there was so much insight on Jamaica in there. I love it when people read books I ask them to read especially when the book is special to me, I could tell this one was special to her, and I had been wanting to read it since it’s debut I just hadn’t made my way to it. The style took a minute for me to get into, but it was fun and I had a Jamaican right at my fingertips to practice my Jamaican accent with. The syntax, the alternating view points, the gritty descriptions; I understand why this received so many accolades when it was released.

20161The Spy Paulo Coelho

When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless. Within months she was the most celebrated woman in the city.

As a dancer, she shocked and delighted audiences; as a courtesan, she bewitched the era’s richest and most powerful men.

But as paranoia consumed a country at war, Mata Hari’s lifestyle brought her under suspicion. In 1917, she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs Elysees, and accused of espionage.

Told in Mata Hari’s voice through her final letter, The Spy is the unforgettable story of a woman who dared to defy convention and who paid the ultimate price.

This isn’t the normal Coelho I am used to, but I fell in love with Mata Hari. If any of my rational friends are reading this do me a favor and remind me that I can’t go back in time and be Mata Hari. This is a quick read with simple prose and dialogue. I read it in the hospital waiting room while waiting for my Dad right when I got back to the states, it took me all of 3 hours. But I was lost in a world of extravagant European nightlife where I was going to the ballet and to the opera and wearing amazing gowns and dancing on stages for foreign dignitaries and then taking buses across Europe.I watched a documentary on her once, I’ll probably go digging for more on her now.

20164Baba Yaga Toby Barlow

Will is a young American ad executive in Paris. Except his agency is a front for the CIA. It’s 1959 and the cold war is going strong. But Will doesn’t think he’s a warrior—he’s just a good-hearted Detroit ad guy who can’t seem to figure out Parisian girls.

Zoya is a beautiful young woman wandering les boulevards, sad-eyed, coming off a bad breakup. In fact, she impaled her ex on a spike. Zoya, it turns out, has been a beautiful young woman for hundreds of years; she and her far more traditionally witchy-looking companion, Elga, have been thriving unnoticed in the bloody froth of Europe’s wars.

Inspector Vidot is a hardworking Paris police detective who cherishes quiet nights at home. But when he follows a lead from a grisly murder to the abode of an ugly old woman, he finds himself turned into a flea.

Oliver is a patrician, fun-loving American who has come to Paris to start a literary journal with the help of friends in D.C. who ask a few favors in return. He’s in well over his head, but it’s nothing that a cocktail can’t fix. Right?

Add a few chance encounters, a chorus of some more angry witches, a strung-out jazzman or two, a weaponized LSD program, and a cache of rifles buried in the Bois de Bologne—and that’s a novel! But while Toby Barlow’s Babayaga may start as just a joyful romp through the City of Light, it quickly grows into a daring, moving exploration of love, mortality, and responsibility.

This was just plain fun. I read this on the place between Bogota and Detroit. There is so much going on here, it remains exciting all the way through. I mean really; Paris, DC, Detroit, the CIA, Witchy Women, Weaponized LSD…what else could you ask for in a story? And this is a story.

20163The Year that Trembled by Scott Lax

Both a love story and a wartime chronicle, this powerful novel reveals the effects of the Vietnam War on a group of friends living in a small town in Ohio. As the 1970 draft lottery nears, the young men must examine their views of war and consider the fate that awaits them; the young women face the possibility of losing their husbands, boyfriends, and friends. Each member of the group embarks on a personal search that will bring very real and very adult conflict and pain and strip away their youthful naivete. The enormity of this war contrasted with the microcosm of one small town exposes the ambivalence of characters who are at war with themselves.

I read this on a bus going through Colombia. It’s a quick read, but packed with nostalgia for a time I wasn’t even alive for. I think I liked it because it is so Americana and it is home to me. The prose wasn’t anything special, the plot wasn’t anything mind blowing, the characters weren’t especially amazing, but it still just kinda warmed me a bit.

 

And since my focus was to add more nonfiction

Nonfiction

20166The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Killers who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry

Chicago, 1924.

There was nothing surprising about men turning up dead in the Second City. Life was cheaper than a quart of illicit gin in the gangland capital of the world. But two murders that spring were special – worthy of celebration. So believed Maurine Watkins, a wanna-be playwright and a “girl reporter” for the Chicago Tribune, the city’s “hanging paper.” Newspaperwomen were supposed to write about clubs, cooking and clothes, but the intrepid Miss Watkins, a minister’s daughter from a small town, zeroed in on murderers instead. Looking for subjects to turn into a play, she would make “Stylish Belva” Gaertner and “Beautiful Beulah” Annan – both of whom had brazenly shot down their lovers – the talk of the town. Love-struck men sent flowers to the jail and newly emancipated women sent impassioned letters to the newspapers. Soon more than a dozen women preened and strutted on “Murderesses’ Row” as they awaited trial, desperate for the same attention that was being lavished on Maurine Watkins’s favorites.

In the tradition of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and Karen Abbott’s Sin in the Second City, Douglas Perry vividly captures Jazz Age Chicago and the sensationalized circus atmosphere that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity criminal. Fueled by rich period detail and enlivened by a cast of characters who seemed destined for the stage, The Girls of Murder City is crackling social history that simultaneously presents the freewheeling spirit of the age and its sober repercussions.

20165Travels With Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn was so fearless in a male way, and yet utterly capable of making men melt, writes New Yorker literary editor Bill Buford. As a journalist, Gellhorn covered every military conflict from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam and Nicaragua. She also bewitched Eleanor Roosevelt’s secret love and enraptured Ernest Hemingway with her courage as they dodged shell fire together. Hemingway is, of course, the unnamed “other” in the title of this tart memoir, first published in 1979, in which Gellhorn describes her globe-spanning adventures, both accompanied and alone. With razor-sharp humor and exceptional insight into place and character, she tells of a tense week spent among dissidents in Moscow; long days whiled away in a disused water tank with hippies clustered at Eilat on the Red Sea; and her journeys by sampan and horse to the interior of China during the Sino-Japanese War. Now including a foreward by Bill Buford and photographs of Gellhorn with Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Gary Cooper, and others, this new edition rediscovers the voice of an extraordinary woman and brings back into print an irresistibly entertaining classic.

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