Thursday, December 5, 2019

Some Really Good Books I Read in 2019

Question: Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

From Jim

I made a list like this one last year, so I suppose this will become an annual post from me. I don’t like to make a “best of” list because, for one thing, who the hell am I? And, for another, I haven’t read enough (all) books to make any such pronouncements. I have, however, enjoyed quite a few books this year.

In August, I posted here a list of books I’d read in the first half of 2019.
Now here’s a complete list for the entire year.

I’ve divided the books into the following (arbitrary) categories: MY FELLOW NOMINEES; HISTORICALS; HYSTERICALS; COPS AND BOBBIES; THRILLERS, CHILLERS, REPORTERS, AND JURIES; and I WISH I’D DISCOVERED A LONG TIME AGO. Nota bene, I have repeated some titles in different categories in order to give an idea of what kind of books they are.

My sixth Ellie Stone mystery, A Stone’s Throw, was a finalist for the 2019 Lefty for Best Mystery. These excellent books were nominated alongside mine, and I can’t recommend them strongly enough.

November Road, Lou Berney (Winner)
Wrong Light, Matt Coyle
Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny
Under a Dark Sky, Lori Rader-Day
A Reckoning in the Back Country, Terry Shames

A Stone’s Throw was also up for the Anthony Best Paperback Original Award in 2019. These were the other nominees. I really loved all these books. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Under a Dark Sky, Lori Rader-Day (Winner)
Hollywood Ending, Kellye Garrett
If I Die Tonight, Alison Gaylin
Hiroshima Boy, Naomi Hirahara 


The Prisoner in the Castle, Susan Elia MacNeil
The King’s Justice, Susan Elia MacNeil
When Hell Struck Twelve, James R. Benn
The Enemy We Don’t Know, Mary Sutton
The Widows of Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey
Murder at the Mena House, Erica Ruth Neubauer
The Pearl Dagger, L. A. Chandlar
Judge Thee Not, Edith Maxwell


Finding Zelda, Sue Ann Jaffarian
Hollywood Ending, Kellye Garrett
Murder at the Mena House, Erica Ruth Neubauer
The Pearl Dagger, L. A. Chandlar


Charlie-316, Colin Conway & Frank Zafiro
Valley of Shadows, Steven Cooper 
A Voice in the Night, Andrea Camilleri
A Bitter Feast, Deborah Crombie
Kingdom of the Blind, Louise Penny
A Reckoning in the Back Country, Terry Shames


Careful What You Wish For, Hallie Ephron
Dread of Winter, Susan Bickford
Below the Fold, R. G. Belsky
We, the Jury, Robert Rotstein
If I Die Tonight, Alison Gaylin


Blanche on the Lam, Barbara Neely

This is by no means a “best of” list. Many of these books weren’t even released in 2019. But it’s a list of really good books you should consider buying or borrowing. Don’t steal them.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The twelve books of Christmas

by Dietrich

I had plenty of reading time this past year, and I’ve already recommended some of my favorites from earlier this year, so I won’t repeat any of them. Here are a dozen more from the books I read since then that deserve a place on the holiday list – perfect picks for the fiction fan.

Blood and Lemonade by by Joe R. Lansdale is number eleven in the Hap and Leonard series. Published in 2017, it’s a mosaic of stories from the early days of Hap and Leonard. Often funny, sometimes touching, and always addictive storytelling, it’s a great book.

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard. It’s one of his early westerns, first published as a Dell paperback in 1959. In spite of being written sixty years ago, it holds up well and delivers a tale filled with interesting characters and unexpected turns in that early Leonard style.

Comeback by Richard Stark is number seventeen in the Parker series. It was first printed in 1997, and when it came out it was the first Parker novel in over twenty years. And if you love Parker, this one’s a classic.

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke is number twenty-one in that series, and even if you haven’t followed Dave Robicheaux, this one can be read on its own. In it, Burke shows readers why he’s one of the greatest story-telling talents of our time.

The Convict and Other Stories also by James Lee Burke. This one’s from 2009, and it’s a powerful collection of nine short stories that show’s more of Burke’s masterful touch. 

What it Was by George Pelecanos was published in 2012. The story’s set in Washington, DC in 1972. In it, he brings back private detective Derek Strange, along with his old partner Frank Vaughn.The story’s filled with mobsters, hookers, cops, killers and plenty of soul music. Told in typical Pelecanos style and pace, it’s guaranteed to keep you entertained.

The Gentlemen’s Hour by Don Winslow is the 2009 sequel to The Dawn Patrol. Winslow brings back Boone Daniels who is possibly the most laid back private investigator ever. It’s packed with a lot of dark humor, tension and some of the best dialogue on the printed page.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy. It was his third novel, published back in 1973. Set in the mountains of Tennessee, it’s a dark, often disturbing, yet brilliantly told story of a man falsely accused who attempts to live outside the social order.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowlings, 2012. It’s a beautiful, well-told tale of class, social order and small town political strife, set in Rowlings’ imaginary town of Pagford.

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, published in 2012. It’s the tale of a group of black musicians who escaped pre-war Germany, only to return to Berlin for the opening of a documentary about their lives fifty years later. It’s told in an easy style that evokes the jazz music from that era. Pick it up and you’ll see why Esi’s twice won the Giller Prize.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the long awaited sequel to the modern classic The Handmaid’s Tale. The joint winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize, the story picks up fifteen years after the events told in the original story. It’s a terrific book.

City of Ice by John Farrow is set in mid-winter Montreal and follows Sergeant-Detective Emilé Cinq Mars as he deals with biker gangs, mafia and crooked cops while trying to solve a murder.

Well, there you have it, a few detective series, a western, some dark comedy, some short story collections, and some dystopian fiction. I hope I’ve given you some ideas for the fiction fan on your list. And I’d also like to wish one and all the very best for the Holidays, and I look forward to joining the other minds here in the new year. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Book Gifts

Terry Shames here:

I remember when I was in the second grade I got books for Christmas, and it made my day. Still does. I especially love to get unexpected books—books I wouldn’t normally pick out for myself. In our traditional mode here at 7CriminalMinds, here are books I recommend this year:

For your mystery fans, if they haven’t read Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowlings), they should start with The Cuckoo’s Calling. For my money, the first page is the best opening of a mystery novel that I read this year. Love the characters and the story. I whizzed through all four in the series, and now am impatiently awaiting the next.

Matt Coyle’s new book, Lost Tomorrows is coming out today, December 3. I’ve read every one of Matt’s books, which says it all. I read them as soon as they come out and can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

If you like brilliant writing that isn’t necessarily in the mystery genre, I highly recommend Warlight, Michael Ondaatje’s latest. It doesn’t get much better than this tale of war and yearning.

For your thriller reader, anything by Thomas Perry will do, but I especially enjoyed The Bomb Maker. Perfect pacing and well-drawn characters.

And speaking of the Perry’s, Jo Perry writes a wonderful series about a dead duo that solves crimes—the duo is a man and a dog that he didn’t know in life. You can’t go wrong with any of them, the latest of which is Dead is Beautiful…a beautiful book. The books are deceptively light. You can’t stop thinking about them afterwards.

For your English mystery lovers, you must gift them with Deborah Crombie’s latest, A Bitter Feast. I’ve loved all her books, but this one is special.

The Widows of Malabar Hill, Sujata Massey. Okay, this is last year’s book, and I feel like an idiot for not having read it sooner. But this is a book with legs. You don’t have to be a mystery reader to love it. It’s full of interesting historical and cultural tidbits.

The same is true of A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. I was late coming to it, and was richly rewarded. It’s a special book. Not easy settling into, but sometimes really good books are that way.

The Guest Book, Sarah Blake, might be the best book I read this year. Absorbing. Fascinating. It takes a little work to get into it, but it’s worth the trouble. Not a mystery….except it is in some ways.

If you have giftees who like science The Power, by Naomi Alderman is A Times Notable Book of the Year, it packs a wallop, growing larger the more you read. It’s about the nature of power, how it can be wielded for good or ill, how it corrupts…how it surprises. It’s also about history. And it’s an unabashed feminist remake of history. Or maybe a look forward?
fiction/fantasy/apocalyptic novels, this is the best I’ve read in a while.

So many books, so little time. I can’t wait for James Ziskin’s next Ellie Stone novel. Turn to Stone comes out January 21. You can use your Christmas money to buy it.

I haven’t gotten my hands on Catriona McPherson’s latest, Strangers at the Gate, so I’ll probably ask for that in my stocking.

If you love historical mysteries, this has been a strong category the last few years. Here are a few writers to consider:

Rhys Bowen (both her series, one set in pre-World War II England and one in the US, and her standalones, wonderful World War II thrillers)
Susan Spann—her books are set in 16th century Japan. Gorgeous writing.
Ann Parker—her series is set in the Silver Rush era in Colorado. Wonderful historical detail and her plotting is impeccable.

And last, you could also try my series, The Samuel Craddock series, set in small-town Texas. The latest, A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary, came out in April.

I’ve left off too many good writers, but these are few. (As I read back over this list, I keep adding, so I have to stop now!) Happy Holidays, everyone. And happy reading!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Books Make the Best Presents. By Brenda

Question: Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?

I love giving books for Christmas and receiving them. I always tucked a novel in my girls' stockings so they'd have something to read over the holidays. Some afternoons after the gift-giving, all you'd hear in the living room was the sound of turning pages.

I must confess that I joined a book club this year that reads mainly literary fiction so these books are top of mind; however, I've squeezed in a couple of mystery/thrillers that I can recommend as well as a few titles I'm hoping are under the tree for me. I must also confess that I haven't done a ton of reading this year since I've been working on a couple of manuscripts of my own, but hope to change this in 2020!

My two top picks in the 'literary' category go to:

1.  Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: There is a mystery in this novel, but it's mainly the story of survival of a young girl who raises herself in the backwoods marshes in North Carolina and becomes an expert on the flora and fauna. Also a love story although it's the beautiful writing that makes this a must read.

2. Educated by Tara Westover. Another kind of survival story but a true one this time. The author grew up in a reclusive, poor family with an abusive brother and a reckless father who believed Armaggenden was imminent. A fascinating, disturbing and ultimately uplifting read told in an objective style that makes the events even more impactful.

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama: I enjoy reading biographies and this one is written by a woman I admire. Her childhood and relationship with Barack are interesting as are her experiences as First Lady.

In the mystery/thriller genre:

3.  The Long Call by Ann Cleeves: The first in a new series set in North Devon featuring Detective Matthew Venn. A body on the beach near his home anchors the mystery. Will be good to see where the series goes in the next editions.

4.  Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly: (currently reading): Detective Renee Ballard teams up with Harry Bosch to work on the cold case murder of a runaway fifteen year old girl named Daisy Clayton. If you enjoy the Bosch series, this is a good one. I believe he has a few more recent books out so this leads to ....

Books I would like to receive: 

1.  Novels written by any of my fellow 7 Criminal Mind bloggers because this is a talented group with some intriguing books on offer.

2. Conviction by Denise Mina: I'm a huge fan of Denise's writing and highly recommend her Paddy Meehan series - I hear her latest Conviction is a terrific read too.

3.  The Testaments: A Novel by Margaret Atwood: Co-winner of the Booker and follow up to The Handmaid's Tale. I'd also recommend Atwood's Alias Grace and Cat's Eye - some fabulous writing and storytelling.

I'll be checking out recommendations by my fellow bloggers over the next two weeks and hope we help you with your shopping list. Happy Holidays, everyone and wishing you all the best in 2020.


Twitter: brendaAchapman

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Writing is a Harsh Mistress

Does your writing ever interfere with your family life? Do the demands of your fiction ever create friction with those closest to you?

by Paul D. Marks

The title of this piece, Writing is a Harsh Mistress, pretty much answers the question. Yes, writing interferes with family life. It interferes with daily life. The demands of my fiction definitely create friction with the reality of my life and sometimes those close to me.

Jack Kerouac and his scroll.
Most people don’t understand both the demands of the writing and the need and desire to write, which is akin to a heroin habit. You must have your fix. And one fix leads to another. And one high demands another. If you have some success, you want more. You want to taste it again.

And there’s always something more to write, something else to write. A great idea for a new story or a terrific bit for that scene you’ve been stuck on.

To be honest, writing is like a black hole. It sucks you in and it’s sometimes hard to see the light outside that hole. And if I could be fed intravenously and not have to sleep I might never get up from my writing chair. I do, however, get up several times in a session to take the dogs out, walk them, play with them, etc. It’s good for them and makes them happy and it’s good for me, too, to get out of the chair. And if I was glued to the chair and the screen, Pepper, when she was younger, would come up and nudge my elbow: time for a walk, daddy. And I would always oblige. She doesn’t do that much anymore, but Buster has kind of taken over those duties. He doesn’t nudge my elbow like she did, but he’ll come and stand and glare at me with those “puppy dog” eyes, telling me it’s time to get moving. (On a side note, it always amazes me that even though dogs can’t talk they sure can communicate to us.)

The result of Pepper getting me up to go for a walk.

When I was working on a typewriter (remember those?) I would often wish that there could be an endless supply of paper (like Jack Kerouac writing on the “endless” scroll for On the Road) so that I wouldn’t have to change paper at the end of every page, because I’d often lose my train of thought in doing that. So when computers came out with their “endless pages” it was a miracle to me. But the downside of that is that I truly can sit here for hours and never get up, never take a break.

Often, friends and family don’t understand the driving need to write, to express ourselves, and that can cause friction. Also in the past, particularly before I had any kind of success and was hungry and desperate, I would sometimes turn down friends who wanted to get together for a movie or dinner since I wanted to write. I wanted to be successful, so I sacrificed other things to that desire. I know that in at least a couple of cases I lost those friendships because of that.

The guitar I don't have time to play.

Other things suffer as well, sometimes doing the dishes or dusting. Well, let them suffer. But what else suffers is that I don’t have much, and often no, time to play guitar. Hobbies suffer: I collect things, toys, Beatles stuff, movie stuff, other things, and I have little to no time to “play” with any of that. A lot is sacrificed to The Writing.

One of my Beatles collectibles.

But I am very lucky to have Amy, my wife, who both understands my need to write and also helps me with it. She’s a damn good editor. And she’s pretty tolerant of my writing mistress. Which is not to say there aren’t times when she wants me to quit for the day or do something else on a particular day. But in the big picture she’s very understanding.


And Happy Belated Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope you had a good one!


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