The women in my favorite fiction books of 2016 are vigilantes, abused wives, detectives, and victims of all sorts of crimes. Some of them don’t even remember who they are or what happened to them, but all of them tell their stories in a way that made me stay up past my bedtime reading just to see what happened next.
I compiled this list of favorites by looking at which fiction books I gave perfect grades during 2016. I obviously read a lot of great books this year! Here are the results, listed in no particular order.
Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone is the story of Evelyn Tester, a suburban housewife who is married to a prestigious, wealthy psychiatrist and spends her days volunteering at her teenage son’s school. Evelyn gets a call one night to come help her husband who has been in an accident. But, when she arrives, her husband’s mistress is with him. The book is about Evelyn trying to come to terms with her husband’s affair, the accident that killed a young woman and the kind of man her husband really is.
2. Leave Me
Maribeth Klein is running around like a crazy person, taking care of everyone else. She’s so busy that she doesn’t even want to take time to be in the emergency room when she has a heart attack.
Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is about Charlie Davis, a 17-year-old girl who started cutting and other reckless behaviors after her father died. When Charlie is released from an institution, she is once again homeless and must figure out how to create a life for herself without falling back into the dark place where she was before.
4. Hour of Need and 5. Seconds to Live
Hour of Need and Seconds to Live are part of Melinda Leigh’s Scarlet Falls series. The series focuses on Barrett siblings—Grant, Mac and Hannah. Minutes to Kill, the second book in the series, is about Hannah. I, of course, read them all out of order because that’s what I do.
In Hour of Need (the first book in the series), Maj. Grant Barrett learns that his brother and sister-in-law have been murdered, so he returns home from the war to care for his orphaned niece and nephew. Grant soon realizes that whoever killed his family didn’t do so randomly and now the murderer is a threat to the children. Grant has to solve his brother and sister-in-law’s murder before the killer takes someone else from him.
In Seconds to Live, Mac Barrett returns to Scarlett Falls when he learns that his father is dying. The night his father dies, he crashes his Jeep to keep from hitting a naked woman lying in the road. But, when Mac comes to, the woman is gone. He gives the woman’s description to Det. Stella Dane only to discover that the woman he saw fits the description of a missing woman. Mac and Stella work together to solve the mystery and catch the woman’s kidnapper.
Jack and Grace seem to live a perfect life. They’re wealthy, charming, intelligent, and obviously adore each other. But you don’t know what goes on in people’s homes unless you live there.
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris has a creepy, unique plot line that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. You’ll also wonder who has a mind that create this stuff.
Sometimes you don’t choose love, it chooses you. That’s what happened to Emma Montague when she left her wealthy British life for an equally posh one in New York only to tire and flee to a waterfront town in Westport, Connecticut. It’s there that she falls in love with her landlord, Dominic, who is everything that Emma never thought would interest her.
Who on earth goes next door to a dinner party and leaves there infant baby asleep in the crib at home? Well, apparently Anne and Marco Conti do. And, of course, when they arrive back home, their baby is missing. Suspicion focuses on them, but then winds its way through their motley crew of family and friends. The most important thing is that someone find baby Cora before it’s too late.
Ove, the main character inA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, is a grumpy old man who sees the world in black and white and has no problem telling people exactly what he thinks when they don’t follow the rules. Neighbors are put out by Ove and his bad attitude, but they refuse to leave him alone. It is through these repeated disturbances from a host of colorful characters that we learn the truth behind Ove’s personality. It’s not anger, but sadness that shaped his personality.
10. I Let You Go
Jenna Gray walks away from her life and moves into a cottage as an unknown woman. But, even in her new life, Jenna can’t escape the memories of a young boy being hit by a car and the responsibility she feels for his death.
11. Missing Pieces
Sarah Quinlan’s husband, Jack, is haunted by the death of his mother when he was a teenager. Sarah and Jack return to Penny Gate, Iowa, when another accident happens at the family’s ranch. It isn’t long before Sarah begins to wonder if the murder and the “accident” have anything in common and why all of the women in Jack’s life seem targeted. Is her husband capable of murder? Does she really know him at all?
12. Don’t You Cry
Quinn Collins isn’t sure what to do when her roommate, Ester Vaughan, doesn’t come home. So she does what most women in her position probably would do… she searches Ester’s room for clues as to where she may have gone. In the process she discovers that Ester seems to have planned to live another life, even changing her name. In the end, it’s not at all what she expected.
Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica is a fun read, as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Quinn is just too stupid and selfish to think much of. Of course, she is a 20-something, so perhaps the character was supposed to represent a negative view of that age. I just wasn’t a fan of her.
13. In the Clearing and 14. Her Final Breath
I stumbled onto Dugoni’s first book in the series, My Sister’s Grave, on Amazon Kindle Unlimited. I could not put it down. I loved Tracy’s character and the unique plot, which is difficult to find these days. Here’s my full review of that book.
In Her Final Breath, Tracy has returned to the police force after her sister’s killer’s trial. And, of course, she immediately is put on the case of a serial killer. Not only is “the Cowboy” killing women, but he seems to have a special interest in Tracy, who needs to figure out who he is an arrest him before she becomes his next victim.
In the Clearing is about the suspicious death of a Native American high school girl 40 years ago. Tracy is asked by a friend whose detective father just died to solve the one case he was never able to let go. Of course, she does. We all knew she would, but the story of what really happened to the girl is creative and kept me up reading far past my bedtime. Dugoni redeemed himself big time with this book. I loved it as much as the first one.
15. Don’t Say a Word
The book’s main character is Allie Callahan, a single mother with a history of mental illness who lives with her son, Sammy, and her adoptive mother, who also happens to be a foster mother. The little family seems to be getting along just fine until late one night when social services agents arrive with Zoe and Carrie, 12-year-old twins whose parents were killed in a double murder.
Allie and her foster mother soon discover that whoever murdered the girls’ parents is still out there and seems to know where the girls are. They have to figure out how to keep themselves and the girls safe until the police catch the killer.
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison takes creepy to a whole new level. A man who known to his captives as “the Gardener” kidnaps women and tattoos their backs with the wings of the butterflies he names them after. When the “garden” is discovered by police, two FBI agents interview “Maya” to determine how the women got to the garden, what happened to them there and how they managed to get free.
The story is told through Maya’s interviews with the agents, going back and forth between the interview room and her time in the garden.
I’m not sure how someone makes this stuff up, but it is creepy and terrifying. I also kept thinking as I was reading that the story would make a really good movie. I see now that it actually may be adapted into one. It would be worth seeing, for sure.
There are people in our lives who we trust to guide us who have the ability to change everything we think we know and alter justice. That’s what I kept thinking as I read All is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker.
Jenny Kramer, a high school student, is brutally raped outside a local house party. While in the emergency room, her parents consent for Jenny to be given a new drug to medically erase her memory of the rape. The problem is that, while Jenny forgets the details of the attack, she is left with the emotions that result from it. Basically, Jenny feels anger and uncontrollable sorrow, but she doesn’t remember anything about why, which makes her rape even more emotionally traumatic for her.
Jenny’s father, Tom, is obsessed with finding out who attacked his daughter and didn’t really agree with giving her the drug to start with. Her mother, Charlotte, just wants everyone to forget all about the terrible night and move on.
When Jenny can’t regulate her emotions, her parents take her to a therapist who thinks the best way to help her recovery is for her to remember what happened that night. As he helps Jenny uncover her memories, he realizes he has a vested interest in keeping her memories hidden.
This book would be difficult for some to read because it begins with the description of Jenny’s rape. However, the repeated theme of abuse of trust in the storyline makes it worth considering. It will make you sad and angry as you fly through the pages to see how it ends.
Lo Blacklock is a writer for a travel magazine chosen for an assignment on a weeklong, exclusive luxury cruise. Lo, who appears to drink too much and is basically a flake, is having the best time an insecure writer can have when she sees a woman being thrown overboard. When she reports the crime, everyone onboard treats her like she was drunk and is crazy, so she sets out to solve the mystery on her own.
Here’s the thing… if you’re looking for a serious murder mystery like many listed above, this is not the book for you. If you’re interested in a Clue-like cross between chick lit and a mystery, you’ll love this book.
19. The Ex
The Ex by Alafair Burke is about Olivia Randall, a cut-throat criminal defense lawyer in New York City, called to defend her former fiance, Jack Harris. Jack has been arrested for a triple homicide, including a victim connected with his wife’s murder years before.
Olivia is convinced that Jack is innocent, but she can’t figure out who would frame him. Olivia feels like she owes Jack for her past actions against him, but, the deeper she digs, the less certain she is that Jack isn’t capable of the crime he’s been accused of.
20. Nowhere Girl
In Nowhere Girl by Susan Strecker, Cady Martino knows something isn’t right. Her 16-year-old sister, Savannah, didn’t meet her after school like they planned. Then Cady has a sort of vision and sees her twin dying. The girl’s body was found shortly after in an abandoned house. The police rule Savannah’s murder a random attack.
Years later, Cady still communicates with her deceased sister through dreams and is more determined than ever to find out who killed her. The problem is that there sometimes are things you don’t want to know about people you care about.
The First Time She Drowned is the story of Cassie O’Malley.
After spending more than two years in a mental institution, Cassie emancipates herself and leaves the home. Her mother, who put her in the institution against her will, paid for her to attend college, which is where she goes when she leaves. But Cassie doesn’t understand how to function in the “outside” world and struggles with friendships and her relationship with her mother. The book explores how Cassie came to be in the institution and her efforts to discover what really caused her problems.
22. What Was Mine
Have you ever wanted something so badly that you thought you might just take it? That’s exactly how Lucy Wakefield feels in What Was Mine. The problem is that Lucy acts on her desire to take the thing she really wants. The even bigger problem is that the “thing” is a baby.
Lucy, who tried unsuccessfully to have a baby of her own, takes a baby girl from a shopping cart. She raises the girl for more than two decades before the girl, Mia, discovers that she was stolen. Mia must then decide who her mother really is and what type of relationship, if any, she wants to have with the woman who gave birth to her and the woman who raised her.
23. Gone Again
Defense lawyer Jack Swyteck is defending a death-row client. It just so happens that his client was charged and convicted of Sashi’s murder. Jack is almost positive that Dylan Kyle raped Sashi, but he’s not convinced that his client murdered her or that she was murdered at all. Her mother certainly doesn’t believe so.
Jack has to figure out the truth about what happened to Sashi before his client is put to death.
It’s. Nice. Outside by Jim Kokoris had me from the minute I started reading. Ethan, 19, has a developmental disability that results in him acting like a toddler. His Dad, John Nichols, sets off with him to drive across multiple states to his older sister’s wedding. During the trip, John has to find ways to cope with all of the challenges that are Ethan. He also has to figure out how to reconnect with his two older daughters and his ex-wife.
There aren’t a lot of books that actually make me cry, but The Way I Used to Be moved me to tears more than once. It also upset my stomach.
Eden’s world changes after she wakes up in the middle of the night being held down in her own bed by her brother’s life-long best friend. After he rapes her, the teen (who used to be like another brother to Eden) convinces her that no one will believe her if she tells. And that becomes her truth.
Eden keeps the horrible secret for years as it undoes her and damages every relationship she has. But there comes a time when Eden has to decide if some painful truths have to be told to protect others, even if it tears her apart.
Amber Smith’s book starts with a terrible crime and betrayal that shapes the rest of Eden’s life as we see it. The story made me ache for all of the girls out there whose real-life stories mirror the book.
26. Find Her
It’s been seven years since her kidnapping, but Flora still hasn’t adjusted to “normal” life. Instead, she’s become a vigilante of sorts. She seems obsessed with finding other missing girls.
When Flora goes missing for the second time, Detective D.D. Warren knows she must find her quickly. The detective is almost certain that her obsession with finding kidnapped girls is what got Flora kidnapped again and will result in her murder if she isn’t found quickly.
27. The Widow
How much did she know? That is the question everyone is asking about Jean Taylor. Jean’s husband died last week, but not before being accused of a terrible crime. Now that he’s dead, will Jean feel able to tell the truth. Does she know what happened to a missing little girl?
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson is the story of Christine, a woman who suffered from head trauma and loses all of her memories each time she goes to sleep. Christine wakes up every morning knowing who she is, but not much else.
When Christine starts keeping a journal to remind herself of what she learned the day before, she starts to understand that the pieces of her life her husband, Ben, is providing for her don’t fit together.
The more contradictions she discovers, the more she wants to uncover what really happened to her and to understand why Ben isn’t telling her the truth.
29. Trust No One
Jerry becomes even more confused when he discovers evidence that some of his stories are real. Is he a murderer? He confesses to being one, but those around him are uncertain about what he’s done versus what he’s just imagining.
The book is about Flynn, a teenage boy whose girlfriend, January, is missing. As January’s boyfriend, Flynn is the prime suspect. But, as Flynn begins to learn more he didn’t know about his girlfriend, he realizes that there was a lot he didn’t know about January. In the process, he becomes more honest about himself too.
There they are! My 30 favorite fiction books of 2016. I hope you find something you enjoy on the list.
As always, happy reading!