The Best Books to Give in 2016

Nov 29, 2016

It's getting cold outside, and it's getting close to the time of year when we're thinking about giving gifts to family and friends. That makes at least two good reasons to research the best reads of 2016. During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Paul Ingram and Jan Weismiller of Prairie Lights Books, as well as Mary Rork-Watson of Plot Twist Bookstore in Ankeny, about their favorite books for adults that were new this year. 

Paul's List


Night of the Animals by Bill Broun “In this near-future redoing of Noah’s ark, a homeless man, who believes he has the ability to speak with animals, decides to free the animals kept in the London zoo. This is a wildly imaginative debut novel from Bill Broun that spans topics such as mental health, family, and biological conservation.”  

 The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead“The winner of the National Book Award, this is an enormously rich and engrossing book about slavery in America. Cora is a young woman taken from Africa to be a slave in the American south, who learns of a mysterious underground railroad that helps slaves escape. However, the railroad isn’t a metaphor in this novel, it’s an actual iron-horse train deep underground that takes Cora on a journey fraught with danger.”

News of the World by Paulette Jiles“It’s one of those great books for booksellers because it’s so easy to sell. It’s just so interesting. Set in 1870, Captain Kidd makes a living reading world news to frontier towns in the American west. His life is uprooted, when he accepts a job to take a young woman kidnapped by Kiowa raiders, and return her to her family. It’s a wonderful journey, sometimes it’s really scary, and frequently it’s funny. It’s 209 pages, and it’s absolutely packed with history.”

Nutshell by Ian McEwan“Ian writes two kinds of novels: the lofty novels such as Atonement, and novels like this. It’s told form the perspective of a fetus in her mother’s womb, while his mother has an affair with his father’s brother. It’s a load of laughs.”

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue“Set ten years after the Irish potato famine, this novel follows an English nurse who’s sent to watch over a young woman who claims she hasn’t eaten in four months. As the town petitions for the child to be granted Sainthood, the nurse and the miracle-girl begin to bond over their circumstances.”


Ten Restaurants that Changed America by Paul Freedman “My favorite nonfiction book of the year, it reminds us that restaurants haven’t always been a staple of America. Paul Freedman gives a detailed social history of each restaurant, ranging from haute cuisine landmarks like Henri Soulé’s Le Pavillon, to forgotten staples of Americana like Howard Johnson’s.”  

Jan's list:


Mercury by Margot Livesey - “A page turner. A psychological and domestic thriller set in Boston, Mercury explores how a dark obsession over a horse threatens to tear apart a once content nuclear family.”

Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan“It’s not for the faint of heart. Spanning decades, this novel details the collision of two lives, and their connections to horse breeding, horse racing, and race relations in America. If you enjoyed the boyhood to manhood journey and exploration of black identity in the movie Moonlight, you’ll find much to love here.”


Strangers in their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild“Removed from her liberal stronghold of Berkley, Arlie spent five years interviewing tea party members in western Louisiana, yet focuses her writing on the environment around her. Arlie writes like a novelist, and though this is non-fiction, some of the scenes involving Oil Company-related environmental problems seem like something out of a Stephen King novel.  Arlie is able to discuss and explore her drastic differences in policy with those she interviews, while also exploring the immensely strong ties that connect them as humans.”


Everything We Always Knew Was True by James Galvin - “James Galvin has been a member of the writer’s workshop faculty since the 1980s. This book is for both those who read poetry every day, and those who believe they don’t understand poetry.”

My Lost Poets:  A Life in Poetry by Philip Levine “Philip Levine was considered to be the spokesman of the working class in poetry, and now seems to be a great time to be reading his work. He speaks about teaching, the race riots he experienced in Detroit, and other amazing events in his life in this collection.”

World of Made and Unmade by Jane Mead -“A book length poem about the end of her mother’s life. Mead’s work is filled with beautiful and sparse language. It shows how poetry can speak to us about something as universal and frightening as death, without making it depressing.” 

Mary's List:


Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron - “I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and the fun thing about this series is that Jane is a detective in this series. When invited to a holiday party, one party goer is murdered, and Jane Austen is there to investigate. A refreshing and suspenseful take on Jane for any fan of her work.”

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin - “A historical novel about Queen Victoria, and how she begins to own her position in British royalty. It’s a story that just never gets old for me. I think people will enjoy this particular look at Victoria’s rise to power, exploring how a sheltered young woman fought off doubts and solidified her role as monarch.”

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict “A speculative fiction on Albert Einstein’s wife, Mitza Maric. This novel delves into her tumultuous relationship with Albert, how she contributed to his work, and how she navigated the male dominated science world.” 


Arnold Palmer: A Life Well Played, My Stories by Arnold Palmer “This is for people who like golf, and also people who are looking for insight into a man like Arnold who was a business man, a hard worker, and a human being.” 

In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett “It’s everything you’d expect from Carol Burnett. She goes behind the scenes of the sketches, experiences with audience members, and the talent her costars brought to her Emmy-award winning show.” 


Upstream, Selected Essays by Mary Oliver - “Mary Oliver is my favorite poet. She has this marvelous relationship with nature. She can open the door to the universe with the simplest things in front of her. This is a collection of poetry and essays that is a great gateway to those who aren’t familiar with poetry.”