Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Year of Books

By Catriona.

I always start the year with good intentions: I'm going to write down everything I've read and make a note of what books are eligible for the various awards I get to nominate for - Leftys, Agathas and Anthonys. Usually, it all falls apart sometime in the summer. This year, for no reason I can find, I stuck with it. Here are the results.

Read: 68
crime fiction: 42
other fiction: 12
biography: 5
other non-fiction: 9

And I've managed to compose a top five. In no particular order:

Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue (1998) is a word-perfect heart-stopper about a woman escaping an abusive marriage to a policeman. It's full of love, compassion (for everyone), hope and horror and kept me up late into the night. The line that keeps coming back to me is Officer Benedetto saying to his bleeding wife: "What ya gonna do, Fran? Call the police?" This book might have taken a couple of weeks off my life, by making my blood boil, but it was worth it;

Another chuckle-fest - wait though, it might have its dark side but the warmth of these characters is irresistible - was Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan. (Eligible for debut nominations, by the way.) I didn't know Colorado had grungy bits (I've only been to Fort Collins) but that's where this biblio-mystery is set, in the welcoming disorder of the titular bookstore and in the tangled life of Lydia Smith, who works there. Clues in books, secrets in the past, peril in the present - this is a square, fair-play puzzle and absolutely compelling.

Late to the party? Moi? When you're reading the collector's edition with fan art and book-club notes, you know you've missed your chance to look cool. Eh. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (2017) deserves every bit of the hoopla it's getting. The plot is - tragically - ripped from the headlines, concerning as it does an unarmed black teen shot by a white cop during a (probably baseless) traffic stop.

The narrator is Starr Carter, a triumph of a character. She's believably insecure and conflicted, a refreshing change from the glib sassy feisty girl heroine that clogs up some YA. I loved her. I missed her when the book was finished. And, while I don't know how Starr would read to someone who's living a real version of her fictional life, she taught this heap of middle-aged white privilege a sharp lesson and did it with a lot of charm.

The fourth of my top five reads of the year is Kristen Lepionka's The Last Place You Look (2017). Ohhhhh, it's good. You think you've read enough PIs with sad lives, poor judgement and drinking problems? Wrong. You need to make the acquaintance of the splendidly-named Roxanne Weary, as she mourns her father, completely fails to stay away from bad influences and cracks open the coldest of cold cases in the shadow of death row. I can't remember the last time I finished a book and immediately drove to a bookshop to buy the sequel, but suffice to say What You Want To See is just as good (and eligible for all the 2019 awards).

My last choice is a stretch for a crimewriters' blog. Trevor Noah's memoir Born A Crime (2016) title-aside, isn't really in the genre. On the other hand, there's kidnap, petty theft, some of the most bumbling efforts at extortion you'll ever see, and the big crime itself, so I'm claiming it.

Noah's account of his early life in the near totalitarianism of that racist regime is . . . hilarious. Really. It's heartbreaking too, of course. And warm, and infuriating, and inspiring and, I'm ashamed to say, informative. I thought I knew about apartheid. I was a student, singing and marching and voting to change the name of the cafeteria, while it went through its death throes. And sitting all day in February 1990, watching that shot of that hot dusty road, waiting for the first glimpse of Nelson Mandela in my lifetime is something I'll never forget. Turns out, though, I had no clue. Or - maybe, and I prefer this explanation - it's just that Noah is a talented writer who brings the past to life in new ways. Yeah let's go with that, eh?!

So there you have it. There's something for everyone in my top five, I reckon. Happy holidays and happy reading.


Susan C Shea said...

And I haven't read even one. Making a list right now, thanks!

Zibbby said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Catriona.

Margie Bunting said...

I loved the Matthew Sullivan and both Kristen Lepionkas, too!

Margie Bunting said...

I loved the Matthew Sullivan and both Kristen Lepionkas, too!