Friday, December 17, 2021

Reading My Way Out of the Darkness, by Josh Stallings

 

View from my desk

Winter is classically a time to celebrate the belief that regardless of the long cold nights, spring will come again. I take it on faith that the hardest days will ultimately end and better ones are coming if I keep holding on. I don’t mean to fly in the face of “seasonal joy,” but for many of us, myself included, these holidays bring up a cocktail of joy and pain. It’s raining on my mountain, snow is coming in this afternoon. I haven’t spoken to my younger son in almost five years. Last time I saw him he had been homeless, and was in the hospital. I don’t know where he is now. I hope he is warm. I hope he is with people who bring him love and joy. I miss the hell out of him.


Simultaneously, my older son is in a good place. Last Saturday we went and saw Ghostbusters Afterlife. We laughed so loud that if there had been more than five patrons in the theater we might have been asked to leave. Next week my brother, his amazing wife and a couple of their offspring are joining us. As always, my life is a mixed bag. It’s been this way as far back as I have memories. I was a child of huge feelings. Raging and laughing in turn. Tears at heartbreak and joy at the simple love of a dog. 


In this uncertain world I can always count on a good book. Being inside someone else's written world, gives me the needed perspective to see my own life clearer. Sometimes it just gives me a much needed break. 


In that spirit I’d like to share some of the books that helped me get through, and even enjoy parts of this last year.  



 
We Begin at The End, by Chris Whitaker


This book gutted me. It broke my heart, and ultimately put it back together only better. It is a feel good book, if you’re willing to travel the rough road it takes to get there. 13 year old Duchess calls herself an outlaw, she’ll do anything to protect her little brother. She continually makes life hard on herself. But she’s brave, and unforgettable. Chris Whitaker has created a mythical yet real version of California’s coast and the wilds of Montana. He also created a book that must not be passed up.



Boy from County Hell, by Thomas Pluck


I read this in both draft and finished novel form, and loved it from the get. Pluck takes a hard look at American slave culture as it has mutated and shaped Louisiana’s prison system. He writes characters with humanity and morality, some at least; he’s also willing to write unrepentantly vile characters. This book is part social novel, part mystic bayou poetry, and full of non-stoppable action. If you loved James Lee Burke’s latest work, you’ll love Boy from County Hell.



The Southland, Johnny Shaw


This is the story of three unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in Los Angeles. Shaw paints these characters with strength and dignity and true humanity. They stumble and fall and keep going. In our sound-bite, blip-news world it is easy to lump these women into one monolithic group. Shaw make you see the individuals. People trying to get from one end of the day to the next, sometimes with grace, others stumbling but forever fighting to make things better. This is a hell of a book. 



  
Children of Chicago, by Cynthia Pelayo


Is it a grim fairy tale, or a gritty police procedural? A crime novel or a horror novel? It’s all of the above and more. She slips in current and historical facts about Chicago that make the city itself a vibrant character. Pelayo has written a multiple genre novel that delivers regardless of what expectations you bring to it. Confession, I don’t read horror. Full stop. Okay I didn’t. I did completely dig Gabino Iglesias’ Coyote Songs, but I figured it was crime, freaky, but still crime. Funny, I rail against genre constraints and prejudices. “Good writing is good writing.” But Children of Chicago uncovered my own prejudice against horror and made me give it up. I’ll read whatever Cynthia Pelayo writes next, regardless of where it shows up in the bookstore’s filing system. 

 

 


The Invisible Mountain, by Caroline De Robertis


A multi generational love letter to Uruguay. It follows a mother, a daughter, and a grand daughter through their lives. A country through growth, fascist repression, revolution. It is a huge sweeping canvas that always feels small and personal. Take a vacation to warmer days among these amazing women.




Suicide Souls, Penni Jones


A coming of death ghost story? Love story? It’s a feminist novel hidden inside an afterlife thriller that is also funny — like Tim Burton meets the Coen brothers to tell you a ghost story funny. And at the core of this wild tale are people I cared deeply about, and that is what kept me turning pages too late into the night, to discover how their afterlife would turn out.



Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem, Gary Phillips


Think, Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a Black cast, set in Harlem and starring Mathew Henson, a real life Black explorer. Pure fun. Enchanting and exciting as hell. Yes you’ll learn some history, but you won’t know you’re learning it. This is a page ripping gas of a book.



Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas, by Roberto Lovato


This is a late entry, I finished it a few nights ago. Non-fiction. I was reading it as research for a book I’m working on, and it took my breath away. Roberto Lovato connects the dots between El Salvador’s 1932 La Matanza ("The Massacre”) a mass murder of indigenous people, and the creation of MS13. Like David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, Unforgetting’s strength is in the human story telling. We bounce between three stories, Lovato’s father growing up in El Salvador, Lovato growing up in San Francisco, and Lovato as an adult reporter returning to El Salvador.


It is a brilliant humanizing novel that won’t let you ever hear, “MS13, the most dangerous gang in the world,” without understanding these gangster’s humanity and the US government’s complicity in its creation.



     

* HUGE ASTERISK

Three of these books were edited by Chantelle Aimée Osman and published by Agora/Polis, (Chantelle edited and published Tricky.) Most of the others were written by friends. I can’t help it if I’m surrounded by brilliant writers, just lucky I guess.

________


(Shameless self promotion)


Library Journal named TRICKY one of the ten best Crime Fiction books of 2021


  



Thursday, December 16, 2021

Pick of the Year, by Catriona

It's been another tremendous year in books. I've read 120, what with still living very quietly and also what with there being nothing I'd rather do. And finally what with spending so much less time browsing and grazing.

Let me explain:

Halfway through 2020, when I discovered I had bought the same book twice (again!), I put my TBR shelves into alphabetical order. Then, for reasons I can't really remember - to take away options paralysis? because some of the TBR had been waiting for years? because the first book looked enticing? - I decided to read them from A-Z too.

Actually, it ended up being from B-Y. I started with Alafair Burke and ended with Ovidia Yu. By the time 2021 came around, I was in the Ds. And last month I started again at A, with Stacey Abrams' WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS.

There are only three books on this list that I've closed and laid aside after 50 or 100 pages, because I was still counting the pages. (That's my reading rule.) I'm sure this is fewer than when I would sicken myself swithering instead of just reading what was next.  (Those three books weren't by anyone I know, who's likely to read this, by the way.)

And there's a book that so very much should be on this list and isn't, it looks like a typo from the Empress of Typos. Or maybe Rachel walked over the keyboard and paused on DEL. But here's the thing: I read Lori Rader-Day's totally brill DEATH AT GREENWAY, last December. Modest cough.

But back to this year. What about a book of the year? Ooft. Impossible. I'd still be here this time next year. Instead I did 13 quickfire BsOTM. I looked at each month's reading (+ the holidays) and picked the one that still made my heart leap. Some months were tough, with multiple books that could have ended up on a BOTY list compiled by another method. November was particualrly awful. I only cheated once. See if you can spot it.

By that method, I ended up with seven crime novels, three general fiction (one historical), two memoirs, a science fiction and a middle-grade mystery.as my favourite baker's dozen of 2021.



Dec 2021

 

THE VANISHING HALF, Brit Bennett

 

MAGGIE AND ME, Damian Barr - coming out and coming of age in 1980s Scotland. I didn't have to come out, and I had a less turbulant childhood by and large, but otherwise this is my world.

 

PAYBACK, Margaret Atwood

 

DJINN PATROL ON THE PURPLE LINE, Deepa Anaparra




Nov 2021

 

WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS, STACEY ABRAMS

 

THE PAPER BARK TREE, Ovidia Yu

 

STRAIGHT UP, Cathi Stoler

 

IN FOR A POUND, S.G.Wong

 

WE BEGIN AT THE END, Chris Whittaker - a heart-pounding, heart-breaking, heart-healing psychological thriller/police procedural. Rare case of a book being hyped to the heavens and still being better than I expected.

 

HARLEM SHUFFLE, Colson Whitehead

 

THE PROMISE BETWEEN US, Barbara Claypole White

 

THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE, Richard Osman

 

THE WIFE'S SHADOW, Cath Weeks

 

THE LAST HOUSE ON NEEDLESS STREET, Catriona Ward (couldn't have guessed this wouldn't be the choice, But then came Chris Whittaker)





Oct 2021

 

WHEN YOU FIND ME, PJ Vernon

 

THE CITY WE BECAME, N K Jemisin - an impulse birthday present from my husband, because I love New York. I'm in for the other two in this sci-fi trilogy (and that's not something I say every day.)

 

THE BANGALORE DETECTIVES CLUB, Harini Nagendra

 

BROTHER OF THE MORE FAMOUS JACK, Barbara Trapido

 

THE QUEEN AND I, Sue Townsend

 

CONCRETE ROSE, Angie Thomas




September 2021

 

WINTER WITNESS, Tina deBellegarde

 

A SPELL FOR TROUBLE, Esme Addison

 

THE PURIFIED, C.F. Peterson

 

JEOFFREY THE POET'S CAT, Oliver Soden

 

BLOOD WILL OUT, Lauren Stoker

 

THE QUIET SIDE OF PASSION, Alexander McCall Smith

 

THE FORTNIGHT IN SEPTEMBER, R.C. Sherriff

 

NESSIE QUEST, Melissa Savage

 

THE WATER'S LOVELY, Ruth Rendell

 

LILIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK, Kathleen Rooney

 

CITIZEN, Claudia Rankine

 

MY SALINGER YEAR,  Joanna Rakoff - NYC again, this time following an intern at JD Salinger's agent's office in the 90s. Gossipy and gorgeous.

 

EAST OF HOUNSLOW, Kurrum Rahman




August 2021

 

RISE AND SHINE, Anna Quindlen

 

I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, Alan Orloff

 

LAY YOUR SLEEPING HEAD, Michael Nava

 

HOLLY HERNANDEZ & THE DEATH OF DISCO, Richie Narvaez

 

THE HUSBAND'S SECRET, Liane Moriarty

 

HOW TO BE FAMOUS, Caitlin Moran - one of those books you can't believe you haven't read. A barnstorming and hilarious love letter to teenage girls. I wish I'd had this novel when I was one.

 

FOGGED OFF, Wendall Thomas

 

THE KEEPER, Jessica Moor

 

DEVIL'S CHEW TOY, Rob Olson.

 

THE SECRET LIFE OF BOOKS, Tom Mole

 

ARSENIC AND ADOBO, Mia Manansala

 

ONE OF US IS LYING, Karen M. McManus





July 2021

 

WHAT'S DONE IN DARKNESS, Laura McHugh

 

LITANI, Jess Lourey

 

LITTLE VOICES, Vanessa Lillie

 

RAZORBLADE TEARS, S.A. Cosby - as good as last year's Blacktop Wasteland, with added twists.

 

RUNNER, Tracy Clark - one of my drop everything and read it the day it comes out books. I love Cass Raines, PI.


 

PHANTOM LADY: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the forgotten woman behind Alfred Hitchcock, by Christina Lane

 

ME AND BANKSY, Tanya Lloyd Kyi,

 

QUEERING AGATHA CHRISTIE, JC Bernthal

 

UNSHELTERED, Barbara Kingsolver




 

 June 2021

 

FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT, Stephen King

 

CHASER, Dharma Kelleher

 

DERAILED, Mary Keliikoa

 

THE THREE MRS WRIGHTS, Linda Keir

 

SCABBY QUEEN , Kirsten Innes - back in Scotland again. This book is like How To Be Famous x Maggie and Me x Shuggie Bain (from last year). Incidentally one of the few jackets that doesn't look great on my tomato-red kitchen work-top.




(read as a print-out)


May 2021

 

FINDING MY VOICE, Nadiya Hussain

 

THREADS OF LIFE, Claire Hunter

 

THE LONG VIEW, Elizabeth Jane Howard

 

ELINOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE, Gail Honeyman

 

LIKE A SISTER,  Kellye Garrett (Mar 2022)

 

EASY MARK, Shannon Baker - I'm a sucker for Shannon's Kate Fox, Nebraska Sandhills sherrif, and this is one of the best. Good news: Books 8,9, and 10 are coming

 

CIRCLES OF CONFUSION, April Henry

 

SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, Naomi Hirahara

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED, Mick Herron

 

BITTER RAIN, Shannon Baker

 

PAPER GHOSTS, Julia Heaberlin




  

Apr 2021

 

CHASING JACK Parnell Hall

 

KEEPING LUCY, T. Greenwood

 

THAT AFFAIR NEXT DOOR, Anna Katherine Green - speaking of books I can't believe I haven't read yet. This is the first female sleuth in series fiction, published in 1897.  And it's really really good.

 

BINTI, Nnedi Okorafor

 

MAMBO, MANGO, AND MURDER, Raquel Reyes (Oct, 2021)

 

SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY, MAYBE by Lauren Graham

 

AFTER ALICE FELL, Kim Taylor Blakemore

 

LAST WOMAN STANDING, Amy Gentry

 

NEEDFUL THINGS, Stephen King




  

Mar 2021

 

COTTONMOUTHS, Kelly J. Ford

 

THE HOLLYWOOD SPY, Susan Elia MacNeal

 

WIN, Harlan Coben

 

THE NINJA DAUGHTER, Tori Eldridge

 

THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE, Carolyn Keene

 

THE TREASURE HUNTERS, Enid Blyton.

 

HAD I KNOWN, Barbara Ehrenreich

 

SQUEEZE ME, Carl Hiassen

 

BURNT SUGAR, Avni Doshi

 

I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN, Joanne Greenberg

 

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON, Janae Marks - another case of "If there had been books like this when I was a girl". This is a sweet and serious middle-grade mystery that I fell in love with.

 

HOLD ME DOWN, Clea Simon (Oct 2021)




 

Feb 2021

 

THE NIGHT HAWKS, Elly Griffiths

 

DEEP INTO THE DARK, PJ Tracey

 

WINTER COUNTS, David Heska Wanbli Weiden

 

THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS, Elly Griffiths

 

INHERIT THE SHOES, Jeff Cohen

 

TRICKY, by Josh Stallings - from one of Criminal Minds' own. Tricky is gritty and honest about disability, corruption and poverty. It tackles a tough subject with a clear eye and a heart the size of, well, Josh Stallings. 

 

SKIN DEEP, Sung J Woo

 

A GLIMMER OF DEATH, Valerie Wilson Wesley

 

WHEN WE WERE VIKINGS, by Andrew David MacDonald





Jan 2021

 

WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING, Alyssa Cole - starts with gentrification like Rosemary's Baby started with neighbours through the wall. Clever, funny, unsettling and irresisitible.

 

THE POT THIEF WHO STUDIED PYTHAGORAS, J Michael Orenduff

 

THE GREENLEAF MURDERS, RJ Koreto

 

ENGLISH PASTORAL, James Rebanks

 

BITTERROOT LAKE, Alicia Beckman

 

OLIVE AGAIN, Elizabeth Strout

 

WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST DO WHAT YOU WERE TOLD, Jenny Diski.




  

Xmas Hols

 

BLOODLINE, Jess Lourey

 

THE WILD SILENCE, Raynor Winn

 

SUCH A FUN AGE, Kiley Reid

 

THIS IS SHAKESPEARE, Emma Smith

 

HAMNET, Maggie O'Farrell - utter genius. The story of a family in Stratford in the late sixteenth century. Twins fall ill with plague. Judith survives and her brother Hamnet dies. Their mother's life will never be the same again. Oh and the dad's a playwright.

 

RANDOM COMMENTARY, Dorothy Whipple

 

AN ISLAND CHRISTMAS, Jenny Colgan

 

PIES AND PREJUDICE, Stuart Maconie,

 

PINE, Francine Toon

 

THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY, Mo Moulton

 

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY, Truman Capote

 

THE LANTERN MEN, Elly Griffiths

 

THE DARKEST EVENING, Ann Cleeves





This is my TBR shelf today. I'll pluck some out for Christmas couch time, but I'm a convert to the A-Z reading method overall, so it might be a while before I get to Mohsin Zaidi!


Happy reading if you choose to check out any of my top 13. Happy reading if you don't. Happy Christmas if that's your bag and a Happy New Year when it rolls round,


Cx