Best Books 2016

Bemis Reviews Books: Best Books 2016

I read many yearly “best book” lists. Sometimes, I even cast my vote among nominees listed. Nothing gives me more pleasure however than creating my own list based on my personal favorites. The list below encompasses those favorite books both fiction and non-fiction with a 2016 publication date. I also must point out that this list does not necessarily coincide with my Book of the Month for various reasons. A book of the month is my best choice for all books read within a specific month regardless of publication date but those books do not always reflect my absolute favorites.

This list will warm up a cold winter’s night by the fire, satisfy that for sanity’s sake break needed when visiting or hosting family for the holidays, or just plain fill those pesky can’t be helped gaps in time like waiting for your car to be serviced or sitting in a backed up doctor’s office waiting room.

Here they are in the order in which I have read them.

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!


T. R. Ragan

This is the first book in the new Furious series by T. R. Ragan. Faith is a character like no other. After witnessing the brutal murder of her husband and having both her young children kidnapped from their home, left for dead Faith mounts her own investigation into what could have happened to her children. She describes a red hot anger building inside after the attacks and decides on the spot that she will not play victim and sit aside while waiting for answers that may never come. After meeting two key players in an anger management class who offer her their unique resources and with the full support of her family, Faith mounts an attack of her own and she will not stop until her children are safely brought home.

Furious is an exciting cat and mouse chase that goes deep into the horrific underworld of child trafficking and incites your own furious outrage. Read it and then look forward to the next installment.

A Mind of Your Own

Kelly Brogan M.D.

A Mind of Your Own challenges not only the status quo belief that depression is due to a chemical imbalance and is usually determined by one neurotransmitter (think we can all guess which one that is). Known as the monoamine hypothesis, there has not been one single study in six decades of scientific research that has shown this hypothesis to be true. Not. One. Single. Study. This should cause outrage among those of us who have been fed a bill of goods by perhaps well-meaning/perhaps not doctors who have acted as nothing more than the legal drug pushers of our society. The science paints a chilling picture of what psychotropics can do to the brain and even scarier is that we don’t know that some of these changes aren’t permanent. In the words of Robert Whitaker, author of Anatomy of an Epidemic, by taking an SSRI you are literally changing your brain, possibly forever. It’s like paying a visit to the Hotel California, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Checking out is not so easy either, you will learn about discontinuation syndrome, what it is and how your agreement to start taking an SSRI may guarantee you’ll be on them for life.

I strongly recommend reading A Mind of Your Own with an open mind and if you can swing it, an open heart as well. Then, put her suggestions into practice. Do your own research. Commune with yourself and learn the truth.

Imagine Me Gone

Adam Haslett

We hardly ever get to see an up close look at depression romanticized in as beautifully naked a way as in Imagine Me Gone. This is the story of a family whose dynamic seems to be written in the stars before they even come together and how they navigate the encompassing depression of John and later on Michael, the eldest child. The family interplay was what attracted me to this book in the first place. I wanted a perspective on how an entire origin family copes with a sinking, progressive illness.

Margaret and John find each other at a party and just as they are about to be married, John’s debilitating mental state flares and claims the unprepared Margaret as its accomplice. They have three children, Michael, Celia, and Alec. Each chapter is told in the alternating voices of Margaret and her three children. Michael suffers from the same affliction as his father and it is long held within the family as each member defines his and her role and ways of coping. Michael himself pens the loudest chapters with a riot of color and confusion so expertly woven as to give a real sense of the insane cocktail of drugs he has taken for many years.

This was not an easy read but there were scenes of pure brilliance that I will remember long after reading this story. It is a profoundly sad one but not without its triumphs. It is worth the time.

Ink and Bone

Lisa Unger

A young girl has mysteriously disappeared while on a vacation hike with her father and brother. After nearly a year missing, her mother is the only one who cannot give up the search for her missing daughter. Hiring a private investigator who works with a well-known psychic from the area where the crime took place, the search which has long been considered a cold case, is kept alive by a mother who won’t quit.

This is a powerful suspense novel with tension building in all the right places and taken right to the bitter end as Finley learns a valuable lesson about paying attention to the needs of those no longer living. The aspect of divine feminine energy in the form of intuition is a fascinating theme as is the importance of letting go. This is hair standing suspense at its best.

The Last One

Alexandra Oliva

The Last One is a story about a televised realty completion mixed with a population thinning real-world plague.

Twelve contestants are chosen for a no holds barred, budget busting reality extravaganza that will test their physical and mental merits to the limit.

Cut off from the outside world and everyone in it, they have no way of knowing that real life is far more heinous than their contrived competition.


T. R. Ragan

T.R. Ragan dives right back into the murky world of child trafficking with her heroine Faith McMann taking center stage along with her posse of bounty hunters and extremely able bodied family members. The evil doers reveal themselves to be even more sinister this time around as the stakes grow higher for this vigilante mom to rescue her two children who were brutally taken from their home as Faith was forced to watch.

The story is fast paced and full of the kinds of twists and turns that will have you devouring this second book in the Faith McMann trilogy in no time. Adequate background is offered if you happened to miss the first book, Furious. If you haven’t yet read it, go back and grab a copy. It’s not common to see the victims rise up and fight back. I cannot wait for the third installment but I am also going to miss the hell out of this series when it is over.

The Next

Stephanie Gangi

Joanna DeAngelis spends her final days of life obsessed and cyber stalking her ex Ned, the much younger love of her life who suddenly left her with no explanation, moving on to a new life with another woman.

Not to worry because Joanna may be gone but she is definitely not forgotten. Nor will Ned get the chance to forget her. As Joanna’s two grown daughters are left to pick up the pieces after their mother’s death and while still mourning her loss, Joanna gets her revenge on Ned a la after life style.

Small Great Things

Jodi Picoult

Ruth is a successful labor and delivery nurse happily working in a small hospital and raising an upstanding son. Her work is not merely a job but a spiritual calling and Ruth transcends both competency and experience. Her calling is a gift. An unexpected encounter with first time parents who happen to be active white supremacists puts Ruth in a horrendous position because she is black. A tragic event jeopardizes not only Ruth’s job and license, but her very name as she prepares to go on trial for a crime she did not commit.

This is a story of race, division, and relationships. It is about our differences and what sets us apart alongside all of the ways in which we are the same. The poetic justice meted out at the end of the story offers the kind of twist that is meant to upend everything we believe about racial equality and the rights of others. Where do we go from here? In asking the right questions, there isn’t a single one of us who would fail to realize how firmly entrenched our belief systems are, even when we’re not consciously aware of them.

Cruising Through Caregiving

Jennifer FitzPatrick

FitzPatrick, a gerontologist with over twenty years’ experience, has a way of breaking down caregiving, defining its roles, and addressing all the parts that no one cares to discuss. Her impartiality regarding all the nuances of human emotion and the variety of ways they can play out in the pressure charged world of caregiving cannot be overstated.

Her list of resources is second to none and just knowing that this vast array is available is enough to want to own this book. All of these resources are available in one handy place and could be used to help another lost in the uncharted waters of elder caregiving. In a care giving scenario, this guide will be referred back to over and over again.

Lily and the Octopus

Author: Steven Rowley

Jumping the shark is the term I like to use when something has gone round the bend of believability. I usually attribute the term to TV series that lost their way in the writers’ room, probably due to rating stress.

This term seems to fit here as well, especially with the nod to all things nautical starting with the Octopus itself. But, it is the Fantasy Fight Scene to which I specifically refer. If you have read the book, you’ll know what I mean.

Lily is the lovable Dachshund belonging to Ted, a forty-two year old man who appears to have much of his life left yet to figure out. Ted is recovering from a recent breakup. His long time love, Jeffrey, was unfaithful and Ted being a rather slow to react kind of guy, hung in for several years past the point of it not being OK with him. This is Ted. He is a wishy-washy, privileged, whiny homosexual man who did nothing to dispel unfavorable stereotypes for much of the book.

Lily is Ted’s redemption in all ways. Lily is redemption for us all. The octopus that grows ever larger upon her head is a tumor, one that robs Lily of her capacities almost from the outset. Lily’s illness will break your heart.

Before what I refer to as the Fantasy Fight Scene aboard a boat, no less, I was growing bored of Ted and his lack of color. I was tired of his all-consuming obsession with his dog which masked his intense fear of living and also with his immaturity and denial. His luxury job as a freelance writer who worked from home did nothing to endear. I was growing evermore critical of Ted and found it unbelievable how he could even support himself since he did little more than whine and travel.

Then came this scene and I honestly didn’t know what to think. I did not believe that Ted had taken leave of his senses nor did I believe he was mentally unstable even though he ascribed monstrous, human-like qualities to the octopus so I was left with a big WTF?

Then the scene was over and things suddenly came into focus. I won’t talk about the next scenes and what they entailed but suffice it to say that they were as real and gritty as it gets and yes, the Ted I was waiting for finally emerged.

The rest of the book was magical. Put one foot in front of the other. Get through minute by minute. I now saw Ted as a man who has struggled and his struggles made him human. My judgment was gone.

There was so much more here than tears for me. I went through a rainbow of emotions, many in contrast to one another.

In the end, it was worth every page. Whether you are a dog lover or not, read it. Animal lovers are an easy draw but this book is for everyone.

Paradigm Falls

Brian Galloway

An honorable mention goes to Paradigm Falls. I was reluctant to put this book on the best of list because it is a strong philosophical niche read and does not have the wide appeal of the others. However, this book outlines how critical it is to stay open minded and avoid default assumptions in a world that relentlessly bombards us with its version of the truth. The title itself alludes to breaking strongly held beliefs via a deeper examining as to how they were created in the first place and why they hold true for us. The word “falls” itself can also be seen as a metaphor for falling water, something moving and fluid, a reminder to us all to avoid rigidity.

Published in That Odd Mom