Friday, December 8, 2023

5 Books Everyone Should Read, by Josh Stallings

Regardless of your holiday traditions - beliefs - or complete lack thereof, there is NEVER a bad time to gift someone with a book. Here are five books that moved me deeply over the last year. We each fall in love with books for particular and personal reasons. A book I love today, I may not in years to come. We all bring where we are at that very moment to our opinions of books. Any “best of” list is merely a snap-shot of where I’m at right this moment.



Margret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin (2000)

Over the last year or two I have fallen in love with Margret Atwood. My brother Larkin turned me on to the MaddAddam Trilogy, an amazing speculative apocalypse tale told from multiple points of view. The Blind Assassin is entirely different, but equally brilliant. Critical acclaim, it won both the Booker Prize and the Hammett Prize. Knowing Atwood's work, no one should be surprised that The Blind Assassin also deals with the high price women pay for living under the patriarchy. It is structurally a wonderfully odd multi-thread novel. One thread follows the lives of two aristocratic sisters from early 1900’s up until the 1980s. A second thread is the novel within the novel, a pulp sci-fi book called The Blind Assassin. In that novel is a love story between the people writing the pulp novel. It is a Matryoshka doll of meta storytelling. It is also about the craft of writing, not instructional but about the nature of the beast that is crafting words into ideas and emotions.


“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”


— The Blind Assassin: A Novel by Margaret Atwood 



Jonathan Lethem’s Brooklyn Crime Novel, (2023)

Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude are two of finest books I’ve read. Now with Brooklyn Crime Novel he delivers a masterpiece of a very modern novel. The main character is Brooklyn itself. Over fifty years we watch as it changes, and is assaulted by criminals, yuppies, gentrifiers, grifters. Wait, I’m making it sound cold, and it is anything but. Lethem’s voice sings through it all. It is a memoir but one where the writer continually points out it is both true and fictional. He steps out of the narrative to rant about “show don’t tell,” and explains what the blank spaces between sections mean to him. He is a writer’s writer and this is a writer’s book. It might not be every reader’s cup-a-joe, but it should be.



Lou Berney’s Dark Ride (2023)

This is an action filled thriller who’s hero isn’t a person of action. Children are in danger, lives will be ruined, our only hope lays in the hands of a stoner slacker, who's main accomplishment so far is working as a ghost cowboy in a small time amusement park. It reads like The Big Lebowski but with real stakes. Berney always delivers complicated fully realized characters, who are both flawed and worth rooting for. He continues to be one of my favorite crime writers. 



James McBride's Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, (2023)

Deacon King Kong made me a fan of James McBride, Heaven & Earth Grocery Store made me an acolyte. A book so damn good I wish I had the skill to write with this much passion and depth. I have gushed about it in earlier posts. So today I’ll just say - READ THE DAMN BOOK. 



Adrian McKinty’s The Detective Up Late, (2023) 

I was up too late last night reading this one. The latest Sean Duffy novel, set in Belfast 1990. It is hard and brilliant, if you haven't read the earlier six Sean Duffy books, you’re in for a real treat. McKinty has written a flawed protagonist, but one who knows he is and is working to be a better person. He nails the period and place without ever resorting to trite references.    



BONUS - Audio Production:

Brokedown Prophets by S. A. Cosby

Full cast includes Kevin Hart, Charlamagne Tha God and more.

I’ve always felt S.A. Cosby’s dialogue sings with authenticity and wit. This original audio play proves me correct about just how good he is. The entire story is told through dialogue, no narration, expositional newscaster or nothing. And it really works. What’s it about? A group of small time crooks rip off the wrong evil bastard. Mayhem ensues. Hearts and vows are broken.  



BONUS - Children's book:

Zilot & Other Important Rhymes by Bob Odenkirk, Erin Odenkirk 

Here is a child's book of poetry, written by Bob Odenkirk with art by his daughter. It is both fully original and reminiscent of Shel Silverstein’s poetry. Every night Bob Odenkirk made up poems to tell his kids. He wanted to be sure they understood anybody can create a book and a story. We gifted our grand niece, Georgia Jane with a copy. You are never too young to enjoy poetry. I don't think the holidays are the only time of year to give children books. Erika and I give them whenever they cross our minds. Our kids had a huge library of books before they could read. Books that they could pick up and drool on. A good book should always be in easy reach regardless of your age. 

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The best of the already pretty great, by Catriona

Don't know about you, but I love a listicle. Top five mistakes people make when roasting a turkey? I'm clicking. Five worst Oscars outfits of all time? Count me in. And I've recently compiled lists of my five favourite Christmas crime novels for CrimeReads and my five favourite Christmas rom-coms for Stiletto Gang. (Did I mention that I've got a Christmas-set book out this week?)

Details and buy links are here


But could I list my books of the year? Maybe, with a lot of time and lot of angst. But I'm cheating. I'm going to list all the books I've read in 2023 and then pick one from each month. 

First though: I stand behind each and every one of the books listed below - both picked and unpicked - because I don't keep reading books I'm not enjoying and I don't list the ones I give up on. So every one of these 107 (I think) books is, in my professional literary opinion, spiffy.

Also, I didn't use any method to choose the monthly picks. I simply looked back over the titles and went for whichever one filled me with greatest fondness all over again.

So here goes. December is easy, because I've only read BLACKOUT, Marco Carocari, and I'm not even finished it yet. It's hardly news that this is a belter of a debut, though. It came out in 2021 to huge acclaim. It's the story of Franco DiMaso, who witnessed his father's murder during the Manhattan backout of 1977, and has grown up understandably damaged. When he is spiked by a hook-up and witnesses a murder, Rear Window / 4.50 From Paddington style, just before his own personal blackout, he can't persuade the cops that it was real. Until the body turns up, along with Franco's fingerprints. The hook-up is long gone and Franco's nightmare is just beginning . . . Man, it's good!


Nov 2023

CASE STUDY, Graeme Macrae Burnet

FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER, Angeline Boulley - this is a YA novel about a girl caught between her mother's posh French-heritage fmaily and her Ojibwe father's people in a small town and adjacent reservation in the far north of Michigan. There's a lethal new street drug threatening the hockey-obsessed high school and Daunis finds herself mixed up in the investigation. It's another debut, which I found frankly unbelievable. Stirring stuff!

WE RIDE UPON STICKS, Quan Barry

O CALEDONIA, Elspeth Barker

CARRIE, Stephen King


Oct 2023

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN, James Baldwin

THEY COME AT KNIGHT, Yasmin Angoe

THE WHEEL OF DOLL, Jonathan Ames

THE ROYAL GAME, Linda Keir - coming early next year from the writing duo of Linda Joffe Hull and Keir Graf is this irresistible rom-com/mystery about a prince in the British Royal Family, who falls for an American celebrity and wants to marry her. Between the pomp and glamour, though, are unsettling questions about his late mother's untimely death. Could it be about to happen again? I wouldn't imagine Camilla P-B will buy this for all her friends but I loved it. Sheer chutzpah!

A MAN NAMED DOLL, Jonathan Ames

BIG FAT F@CK UP, LAwrence Allan

THE READING LIST, Sarah Nisha Adams

THE SERIAL KILLER GUIDE TO SAN FRANCISCO, M. M. Chouinard

Sept 2023

THE LIST, Yomi Adegoke

JACKAL, Erin E Adams

BOOKWORM, Robin Yeatman

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, Richard Yates

LANDLINES, Raynor Winn

SURVIVOR'S GUILT, Robyn Gigl

THE SUMMER WIVES, Beatriz Williams 

BY WAY OF SORROW, Robyn Gigl

SUNDIAL, Catriona Ward

REMAIN SILENT, Robyn Gigl - please excuse my threefer, but I inhaled Robyn Gigl's trilogy about Jersey lawyer, Erin McCabe, pretty much in a oney. Erin is trans and we meet her just post-transitioning, with her family relationships strained and her attitude to love cautious in the extreme. Through the three books, besides proplusive plots about corruption and skulduggery, we take a journey with Erin that had me punching the air. Also, I love a legal thriller that's written by a lawyer and - truly - I have never read a book set in NJ that I didn't love. 

A FATAL GLOW, Valerie Wilson Wesley

August 2023

JOAN IS OKAY, Weike Wang

NOTHING STAYS BURIED, PJ Tracy

SHOOT TO THRILL, PJ Tracy

HOWARDS' END IS ON THE LANDING, Susan Hill - Susan Hill decided to spend a year reading books she already owned. It doesn't sound like much of a premise, does it? But she's erudite without being snooty, serious without being stuffy, knows a lot of London and Oxford literary gossip and just really loves books. If there's someone in your life who also loves books - this would make a perfect present.

A GAME OF LIES, CLARE MACKINTOSH

ULTRA PROCESSED PEOPLE, Chris Van Tulleken

THE RACEHORSE WHO LEARNED TO DANCE, Clare Balding

REAL TIGERS, Mick Herron

THE FLATSHARE, Beth O'Leary


July 2023

THE FULL ENGLISH, Stuart Maconie

AGAIN, RACHEL, Marian Keyes

ZERO DAYS, Ruth Ware

A POCKETFUL OF HAPPINESS, Richard E Grant - if you ever cry at books, you will cry at this one. I sobbed. It's a memoir that goes along in two timelines: one thread is the story of actor Richard E Grant's meeting, falling for, marrying and spending a long, happy life with his wife, Joan; the other thread is their last year as he cares for her while she's dying of cancer during the COVID lockdowns. But it's not the sadness of his loss that makes you cry. It's the joy of this love story told by a man still basking in its glow.

THE BOY IN THE DRESS, David Walliams,

A BLIND EYE, Marion Todd

SOMEONE ELSE'S SHOES Jojo Moyes

THE RACEHORSE WHO DISAPPEARED, Clare Balding

HOUSE ARREST: PANDEMIC DIARIES, Alan Bennett

ADVENTURES ON THE HIGH TEAS, Stuart Maconie

June 2023

THE DEAD DON'T SPEAK, Claire Askew

HEAR NO EVIL, Sarah Smith

THE RACEHORSE WHO WOULDN'T GALLOP, Clare Balding

LOVE UNTOLD, Ruth Jones

TELLING TALES, Ann Cleeves

SNOW BLIND, PJ Tracy

DEAD RUN, PJ Tracy

SECRET IDENTITY, Alex Segura - I know nothing about comics and am not even particularly insterested in them, but I found myself rapt while reading this great big mad carnival of a crime novel about the NYC comic scene in the 70s. It's meta and tricksy and noirish, but with a heart of gold and a lot to say about life. Carmen Valdez is one of those characters you're sorry to leave behind as you turn the last page. 

LIVE BAIT, P J Tracy



May 2023

LAVENDER HOUSE, Lev A C Rosen

MONKEEWRENCH, P J Tracy - I re-read when I'm stressed and this was my third go round with the Minneapolis-set series about two bickering cops, a found family of tech-wizards, a rural sheriff with a lot to prove and a fizzer of a plot. I got though the lot over a few months in the middle of year. And not for the last time, probably. 

LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ, Kwei Quartey

MAD HONEY, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

THE RAVEN THIEF, Gigi Pandian

DEATH ON A DEADLINE, Joyce St Anthony

THE HOUSE GUEST, Hank Phillippi Ryan

NEVER NAME THE DEAD, D M Rowell

JUST US, Claudia Rankine

THE DISINVITED GUEST, Carol Goodman


April 2023

MILLER'S VALLEY, Anna Quindlen

THE SEVENTH SINNER, Elizabeth Peters

WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN, Mary Higgins Clark

NAKED IN DEATH, J D Robb

A SOCIALITE'S GUIDE TO MURDER, S K Golden

GLAMOUR GIRLS, Marty Wingate

FRONT PAGE MURDER, Joyce St Anthony

THE UNKEPT WOMAN, Allison Montclair

I WILL FIND YOU, Harlan Coben

DAVID TUNG CAN'T HAVE A GIRLFRIEND UNTIL HE GETS INTO AN IVY LEAGUE COLLEGE, Ed Lin - huh, look at that. Another YA. I'ma fan of Ed's Taipei Night Market series but this little coming of age gem about a over-parented Chinese American boy is as funny as any book I read all year.

Sylvia Plath, THE BELL JAR



Mar 2023

BLOODY JANUARY, Alan Parks

UNDER LOCK AND SKELETON KEY, Gigi Pandian

THE BULLET THAT MISSED, Richard Osman

THE MEMORY POLICE, Yoko Ogawa - this was an odd one. Is it a ghost story? Is it sci-fi? Is it an political allegory? Is it all three and more? The plot concerns an island where everyday objects can be disappeared, which causes the islanders to forget that they ever existed. When a young writer discovers that her editor remembers everything, she tries to hide him and thus save not only her own book but the collective memory of all literature. It's really creepy but incredibly compelling. 

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, Maggie O'Farrell

MAYFLIES, Andrew O'Hagan


Feb 2023

BROTHERLY LOVE, D.R. Ransdell

THE FRAGRANCE OF DEATH, Leslie Karst

OLD DETECTIVES HOME, Mike Befeler

OUR MISSING HEARTS, Celeste Ng

THE BEGGAR MAID, Alice Munro

MURDER UNCORKED, Maddy Day (Oct 2023)

KISS MYSELF GOODBYE, Ferdinand Mount

NIGHTCRAWLING, Leila Mottley - based on real case where Oakland PD officers sexually trafficked minors (for years!) but squarely focussed on a fictional victim - in her community, in the societal setting that drives her choices - Mottley is clear-eyed about the relentlessness of poverty but the story's not as grim as I've made it sound, mostly because Kiara is as exuberant as she's vulnerable and the book absolutely sizzles with life.

BLOOD GROVE, Walter Mosley

BEATNIKKI'S CAFE, Renee James (June 2023)

(Almost all books look fine against that tomato-red background)


Jan 2023

ANYWHERE YOU RUN, Wanda M. Morris

TRULY MADLY GUILTY, Liane Moriarty

A STREETCAR NAMED MURDER, Greg Herren

RACHEL TO THE RESCUE, Elinor Lipman

YOU MADE A FOOL OF DEATH WITH YOUR BEAUTY, Akwaekwe Emezi

YOU LET ME IN, Camilla Bruce

BIG BAD, Lily Anderson

AGATHA CHRISTIE, Lucy Worsley - I'll read, watch or listen to anything Lucy Worsley writes, films or records. A history of furniture? I'm in. Podcast about 19th century murderers who're women? I've never missed an episode (Lady Killers) so when she turned her attention to the Queen of Crime, it was like Christmas came early except I got the book for Christmas.

THE BOOK HATERS' BOOKCLUB, Gretchen Anthony


Xmas Hols 22-23

BLEEDING HEART YARD, Elly Griffiths

A DUTIFUL BOY, Mohsin Zaidi

THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT, Maggie O'Farrell

MARPLE (12 NEW STORIES), Agatha Christie kind of

FOSTER, Claire Keegan

RECITATIF, Toni Morrison

THE WORLD WE MAKE, N K Jemisin

THE RISING TIDE, Ann Cleeves

THE CHRISTMAS BOOKSHOP, Jenny Colgan - It's a Christmas book set in a bookshop in Edinburgh. What else do you need to know? Well, if Jenny Colgan is a new name, maybe you need to know that she's a writer of thought-provoking rom-coms (imagine if Marian Keyes was Scottish) who's prolific and life-affirming and genuinely funny. There's a sequel now - MIDNIGHT AT THE CHRISTMAS BOOKSHOP - and I have told Santa.

FAIRY TALE, Stephen King


So there's the cream of my reading year: all manner of crime, some memoir, some YA, bit of history, whatever The Memory Police is and a couple of rom-coms. Also, my TBR shelves are already promising more treats to come and Santa hasn't been yet. 

Have a cool Yule and a very Happy 2024 when it comes,

Cx 




 

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A final, farewell post, and some final shout outs... by Cathy Ace

Hello folks, I’ve been posting my bloggy thoughts here, every other Wednesday, for the better part of ten years, and it’s time for me to pass the ball to…well, you’ll find out soon.

It’s been an honour and a pleasure to share this particular part of the blogiverse with my fellow Minds – every single one of them over that period. It’s also been my delight to interact with those of you who have commented on my posts either here or on the Minds’ Facebook page.

It's been quite a decade: when I was welcomed with open arms by the Minds I had two books published and a third on the way; now I have twenty-two novels and two other collections in print, and am working on my next two novels as I type (one at a time!). I've been delighted to have had the chance to meet every Mind in person, and have learned a lot about all of them through their blog posts, and have also learned a great deal from them. Thanks to every single Mind for their support and enthusiasm over the years.

Thanks for having me, Minds…have fun moving forward! Cathy  😊

Now to turn my attention to this week’s question: 

Gift-giving ideas for book lovers.

First of all, if you're a book lover thinking of how you can thank your favourite authors at this time (or any time) of year, consider giving a star-rating at any and all online platforms, and telling your local librarians and booksellers about the books you enjoy...or you could always pop something onto your own social media feed, or just email the person whose work you've enjoyed!

All of that being said, I always find it difficult to suggest books for people, because I really do think that deciding what to read isn’t just about what type of book a person "usually" enjoys, but also what sort of mood they’re in at the time. I know this is the case for me, and I can find myself choosing something incredibly dark, or much lighter, depending on what I want to escape to. The same thing means I don’t like to make lists of what I’ve enjoyed reading the “most” across the year, because what appeals to me can change dramatically from day to day, let alone week to week.

That being said, I’m going to give some hints and tips with some explanations of what type of book might appeal to what type of person, and – as long as you know the person you’re buying for – I hope this helps.

For those who enjoy Golden Age mysteries:

Martin Edwards: The Rachel Savernake series (currently 4 books) Martin is not only a true afficionado of Golden Age detection fiction but a talented author, too, and this series is a delight. The fourth in the series, SEPULCHRE STREET, was one of my summer reads, and I loved it!

 


For those who enjoy a traditional, intelligent sleuth:

If you haven’t read the Ruth Galloway Mysteries by Elly Griffiths…I envy you, because you have so many books to enjoy! I have been hooked since book 1, THE CROSSING PLACES, and read the “final” book in the series, THE LAST REMAINS, during the summer. Elly is a talented author and she knows how to build and develop characters and relationships throughout a series, as well as delivering a satisfying closed-circle mystery within each book.



For those who like dark procedurals, or fast-paced thrillers:

I have fallen for the Washington Poe series by MW Craven. Each book in the series of five (so far) delivers an engrossing, dark case for the wonderfully hermit-like DS Poe to tackle, more than ably supported by the delightful Tilly Bradshaw. He now has a new series to read, and the first installment, FEARLESS, is brilliant! YAY! In the Reacher mould, his lead character is, literally, fearless. I highly recommend!


Finally, a shout out for my own work. If you know someone who enjoys cozy mysteries with a village setting and a cast of loveable female sleuths, try my WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (really best to start with the first in the series). For a more "Golden Age-shaped" traditional mystery, try the Cait Morgan Mysteries, where you can jump in anywhere. Or what about a bit of psychological suspense? For that, turn to The Wrong Boy.

All my books are detailed at my website: https://www.cathyace.com/


Thanks for reading all my mitherings over the past decade...I hope you'll consider my works for your TBR pile now, and in the future! 

You can still stalk me at my own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCathyAce/




Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Smile Like The Grinch by Gabriel Valjan

 

Gift ideas for book lovers.


 

It’s that special time of year, when we give gifts to friends and family. The holidays can be stressful, and finding a meaningful gift takes thought and time. I remember the yellow 9-volume boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Little House on the Prairie series I received one Christmas, and Roger Jean Segalat’s cool as chrome hardcover How Things Work, another Yule season.

 

We Minds have spent a calendar year talking about books, our own and those of others, so I thought I’d do something different. It’s not that I don’t have books to recommend, but I feel that both the Agatha Eligible Titles List for Malice Domestic  and soon-to-be-published Anthony Award Titles for Bouchercon Nasville lists will give readers ample opportunity to satisfy their bibliophilic lust for traditional mystery, suspense, and thrillers.

 

I’ll gamble and say that a large subset of our readers are Writers, Wannabee Writers, and recent veterans of last month’s NaNoWriMo. They have had the taste, and they’re hooked. You’ve read all the motivation books. Hello, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. You’re self-motivated, so this one is for you.

 

Now, this list may look as if it belongs to Craft at Criminal Minds, but it’s not. This post goes beyond anything under the broad umbrella of Crime Fiction. These books recommendations will make you a better writer, no matter what you write.

 

Period.

 

Friends won’t critique like they should, whereas the keyboard warrior at the Slush Pile will Stick, Stab and Slash you and leave you bleeding out on the floor. If you possess a wry sense of humor like I do, you’ll laugh when they spell your name wrong and their rejection letter contains multitudes…of grammar mistakes. Beta-readers are Hit or Miss, so EDIT THYSELF. There’s no better resource than Dave King’s Self-Editing. Dog-ear this little puppy because you’ll remember what you teach yourself, and you will never forget it.


 

 

Classical English Style.

Classical English Metaphor.

Classical English Rhetoric.

 

The Ward Farnsworth titles are a trifecta. In my experience, writers are first readers, and they often have a mental library of desired effects. ‘I remember so-and-so did something similar I want to do in [TITLE]’ and they’ll use that sample as a crutch to whatever they are trying to accomplish in their latest project. Other times, you know the effect, but don’t know the name for it. Presto, Farnsworth provides oodles of examples minus the academic analysis. You see the passage, read it, and understand it on your own terms.

 



 

A note about his Metaphors book. Mystery writers are wont to exhibit the dangerous influence of Raymond Chandler; they’ll write similes that don’t work, and many have a poor understanding of metaphors and other poetic devices. Sense of perspective, Chandler was educated in the old style, which meant Greek, Latin, and French. His was an education system that died in the United States by 1950. Ray couldn’t avoid rhetoric any more than a Latin student could avoid Caesar or Cicero. Hence, the Farnsworth trio; they go hand-in-hand like Jack and Jill up the hill.

 

This next suggestion, The Art of Styling Sentences, is a slim edition of rhetoric-light, but I see it as an antidote to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I have nothing against Strunk and White, but view their slim book in context (first published in 1918). Like a Smith and Wesson revolver, Elements of Style was aimed at the bloated prose of nineteenth century writers. It championed clarity and direct communication. Be Minimalist as Frederick Barthelme or Maximalist as Zadie Smith, your choice. Styling Sentences will provide you with a blueprint.

 

Last but not least, a reference book. Sort of.

 

20 Master Plots is what it sounds like, a summary of twenty universal plots, which you can mix and match, to your dark heart’s content. Check the checklist. The value of the book is that it serves as a memo to yourself, especially when you are stuck or have somehow derailed the creative train.

 

 


I suspect this isn’t what you expected, but perhaps you smiled like the Grinch.

 

 

 

Monday, December 4, 2023

We've Always Got Books

 Books for givers and readers 

-from Susan

 

Every year, we Minds offer our personally curated lists of books we especially recommend and this year’s no different. I want to start by pointing readers to the new books by my colleagues here. Hard-boiled, police procedurals, cozies, amateur sleuths of all kinds, international settings, humor…You could fill a lot of stockings just with these wonderful books! I’m going to choose a few outside of our group’s creative work, even out of 2023 new releases, and to an extent outside of crime fiction, although there are crimes in all of these. Why? Because at the end of the year, I close my eyes and conjure up the characters and stories that resonate most strongly with me and that I passionately want everyone to read. My passions may not align with yours but each of these has enriched my life, expanded my thinking, or made me laugh out loud. So, here goes.

 

THE NIGHT WATCHMAN, Louise Erdrich (2020) There are a growing number of fine Native American writers inviting readers to know more about their communities and culture, but I thank Erdrich, who has been awarded the National Book Critics Award (twice), and who won the Pulitzer Prize for this moving, inspirational novel. I breathed with the characters who live tough lives within a strong and nourishing culture. At every moment, I was rooting for their successes, sharing their joy and sorrow. This is not a depressing book, I hasten to add. The fictional members of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, Erdrich’s own, are not ever to be pitied and they do surmount the obstacles set in their path. Superb.

 

EVERGREEN, Naomi Hirahara (2023) Naomi herself is a perfect delight, and the first book in what looks like a series, Clark and Division (2021), stormed the crime fiction world. The new book continues the story of gentle but determined Aki Ito and her quest to re-integrate into a post WWII America that had incarcerated her family in an internment camp and that’s still hostile to Japanese Americans. It’s a viewpoint, like Erdich’s, that we don’t get to experience often enough.

 

A KILLING OF INNOCENTS, Deborah Crombie (2023) paired with her A Bitter Feast (2019). I added the previous novel in this long-running, masterful series because anyone who reads about Duncan and Gemma, his now wife, and their expanding, endearing family, must want to spend more time with them. Actually, if for some reason you haven’t read Deb’s books before (gasp), I encourage you to go right back to the first one! Deb lives in Texas and writes so convincingly about England that people who don’t know her invariably think she must be British.

 

LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY, Bonnie Garmus (2022) I’m talking about the book. I haven’t watched the series but you won’t really get to know Six Thirty, for one thing, unless you read this very funny, very serious book. There’s crime in it for sure, the kind of crime professional women will understand and empathize with from the get go. Love, tragedy, and insipid daytime TV somehow come together to produce a chemical reaction in which the whole is greater than the parts.

 

TOM LAKE, Ann Patchett (2023) We live in hard times, in a world of chaos and confusion, and worse. If you ever feel you need a break, need to spend time with people who find peace in the ordinary rhythms of life beyond the headlines, read this novel by the talented and graceful writer, Ann Patchett. It’s not escapist literature, it’s more an oasis within which we can be reminded that there are ways to live good lives, productive lives, kind lives. The protagonist has seen and edged up to drama and turmoil, but like the character of Emily in “Our Town” she has played, she remains grounded. 

 

So, that’s my list, among so many good books I read this year. I wish each of you fabulous reading experiences in 2024 and hope you’ll be buying books (ours included) for everyone on your holiday gift list! 

 

 

Friday, December 1, 2023

Top of the TBR Pile

It’s the time of year when family commitments begin to ramp up, AND a huge number of books are published, just in time for the gift-giving season. How will this affect your reading? What’s on your To Be Read pile at the moment?

 

 

Good morning!

 

Hard to believe we’re already into December. All my wonderful plans for 2023, all the great tasks I’d hoped to accomplish, all the books I’d hoped to write, pretty much all lie discarded at the side of the road, ditched, displaced by all the mundane things which needed to be done, just to pay the bills and look after the family. Still, I’m sure next year will be different. Next year I will accomplish all my goals, all of them, including the ones I’ve been putting off since 1997.

 

As we approach the Christmas holidays (I’m not a Christian, but I’ll be damned if I’m calling them the winter holidays. Everyone is free to call it what they like, but I grew up calling it Christmas, we put up a tree, give presents, have Christmas dinner – not turkey, because being of Indian origin, I have standards when it comes to cuisine and I’m not eating anything that dry or bland, even if it is in honour of your Lord and Saviour.) In short, I find nothing wrong in calling it Christmas and I will always call it Christmas.

 

But I digress. As we approach the winter holidays, I’m in mind to take stock of what’s been achieved during the year. I’ve finally finished my stand-alone thriller, HUNTED, which has taken the best part of three years to write. Initial reviews from the likes of Lee Child, Mick Herron and Ruth Ware have been wonderful, and I’m excited for you all to read it. 





I’ve made good progress on the next Wyndham and Banerjee novel (number six in the series). I’m currently 55 thousand words into the first draft and, with a fair wind (nothing to do with the Christmas sprouts), should have another 10 or 15 thousand by the time I stop for the holidays. For the first time in a long time, I feel I’m back on course with my writing. I’m still way behind though, but it’s the thought that counts.

 

As for reading, I’m hoping Christmas gives me a chance to read more. Last Christmas our house was basically a hotel. We had guests from all over the world staying with us through December and January, with a good fifteen people on Christmas Day. This year, quite rightly, my wife has threatened to divorce me if we do something similar, so we have pared it down to a small family Christmas - just the four of us on Christmas Day and no guests. And just as well, because my To Be Read pile is massive right now.

 

Loads and loads and loads of books.

 

Here are some of them, a mix of writers new to me and those whom I admire.




 

Already tipped as one of the books of next year, ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK by Chris Whittaker is being praised by so many people I know and trust. It’s described as “A missing persons mystery, a serial killer thriller, and an epic love story - with a unique twist on each...” 

I’m a bit in awe of Chris. What he does so well is mix tension and emotion, and this is being touted as his best work to date.

 

Anna Mazzola is the queen of Gothic historical fiction. Her last book, THE HOUSE OF WHISPERS, was one of my favourite books of 2023. I’m hoping THE BOOK OF SECRETS is just as good. “Months after the plague has ravaged Rome, men are still dying in unnatural numbers, and rumour has it that their corpses do not decay as they should. The Papal authorities commission prosecutor Stefano Bracchi to investigate, telling him he will need considerable mettle to reach the truth.” If you like gothic mysteries, you should be reading her work.

 

THE LAST MURDER AT THE END OF THE WORLD is the new mind-bending mystery from Stu Turton (author of THE SEVEN (and a half) DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE). Basically. You have to “solve the murder to save what’s left of the world”. I can’t decide if Stu is mad or an actual bona fide genius. It could be both.

 

If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s how a writer as brilliant and accomplished as Imran Mahmood is not better known or more widely read. FINDING SOPHIE is a domestic suspense thriller about the disappearance of Sophie King and its impact on her parents, Harry and Zara. . Early reviews have left people in tears at its eloquence and its insight. I think this one is going to make me cry.

 

And last but by no means least. A new author for me, Natalie Marlow and her new book, THE RED HOLLOW. Set in 1934, “Deep in a hamlet in the Warwickshire countryside, Red Hollow Hall is a male-only sanitorium run by the charismatic psychiatrist Dr Moon. However, all is not well, and Dr Moon's patients are leaving Red Hollow in droves.” I didn’t get a chance to read Natalie’s breakout debut, NEEDLESS ALLEY, but it got rave reviews from the press and from authors who are the best in the business. So I’m looking forward to this one. 

 

So that’s it. I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever had five books of such high calibre waiting to be read in such a short period of time. If 2024 has more such books in store, then it’s going to be a vintage year.

 

Happy reading.