Monday, December 9, 2019

A Few Good Books

-from Susan

By now, you’ve read a zillion “best books of 2019” lists, so I am going to spare you and give you just five diverse fiction and two non-fiction books that I particularly appreciated, one of which was published in 2018 but which deserved special attention. I make no claims that my choices are “best.” These are books I responded to strongly and that have stayed with me. Their settings, characters, stories, and prose styles held me in their grasp. I would happily give any one of them to a dear friend (and, in fact, will). So, without further ado:

THEY ALL FALL DOWN, Rachel Howzell Hall’s new standalone mystery is a new take on the classic Agatha Christie trope of strangers stuck on an island together, each with a secret. Crime fiction doyenne Sara Paretsky called it “an intense, feverish novel with riveting plot twists.” 

A STEP SO GRAVE, the latest in Catriona McPherson’s delightful series about a restless, inquisitive woman who performs her detective work in some of Scotland’s most distinctive  - mostly cold – environments. This one has her training her sights on her oldest son’s potential in-laws, each of whom seems to suspect another member of the clan in the murder of the lady of the house. Dandy (short for Dandelion) Gilver is as much fun to know as any of classical fiction’s sleuths.

BOXING THE OCTOPUS, Tim Maleeny. Like so many of his fans, I rejoiced at the news that Tim had published a new crime novel. He writes quirky characters I believe in and drops them into odd criminal situations that I wouldn’t believe in anyone else’s writing. And, yes, there is an octopus in the book: “Cut off its arms,” said the Doctor. “It’ll be a lot easier.” Trust me, this is not quite what you think and it’s not over yet.

A BITTER FEAST, the new book in Deborah Crombie’s long running, much loved series about two London police officers and their growing – and growing up – family, and close friends. I relish all of her novels but this one is one of the best. Gemma and Duncan and family are invited to the elegant Cotswold home of one of their police colleagues for a little time off. Hah. You know murder will follow them, and the author’s ability to fold together various plots and character arcs into a perfectly satisfying omelet is one reason she’s ranked amoug the best in the business.

HIROSHIMA BOY, Naomi Hirahara’s final novel in this series can be read as a standalone, although if you’re like me you’ll be glad there are others to go back and read. A finalist for the 2019 Edgar award, this story is a window into the culture of the generation of Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived through the agony of the 1945 atomic bombing of their cities and still live with the ghosts. But it’s a gentle story because Mas Arai, Hirahari’s protagonist, is an old man now, whose temper is muted by age and wisdom and the ability to forgive, or at least to live and let live. I thoroughly enjoyed his last, almost casual investigation into the death of a lonely teenage boy. 

WE ARE INDIVISIBLE, written by the two young co-founders of Indivisible, Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin, is not a dry political screed but a lively, often humorous, and always engaging story of how their experiences as staffers to two Democratic Congressmen during the rage days of the Tea Party led to a light bulb moment after the 2016 election. Published online modestly as “Indivisible Guide” for a few friends, their insights as to how to really make change (hint: every member of Congress wakes up every morning thinking about how to get re-elected) instantly took off like a rocket. 

ONE LONG RIVER OF SONG just came out December 3. I haven’t got my copy yet, but I have been an admirer of his writing for a long time – he’s been called a writer’s writer- and I know I’ll relish it. I knew him somewhat. Brian, who died way too young at 60 of a virulent brain tumor, was admired, liked, and even loved by people who had the pleasure of knowing him or reading his novels and poetry and the University of Portland Magazine he edited and enriched for decades. He was a lovely person, a practicing Catholic whose spiritual life was embedded un-dogmatically into a view of the world that embraced so much. One reviewer defined his work as “a feeling eerily like a warm hand brushed against your cheek, and you sit there, near tears, smiling, and then you stand up. Changed.” Trust me, his prose will reach far beyond religion to a level of loving kindness we can all use some of these days.

 Here's hoping you have a lovely, book-rich holiday and good reading into the new year!

 My holiday-themed novel from last year: 

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