Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Few Good Titles


I admit that I don’t like writing end-of-year recommendations. Why? Because I read so many good books during the year, and it’s hard to list only the best of the best when there are some second-tier ones that had some special moments,. And it’s so subjective. More than once I’ve been excited to read a book that “everyone” is gaga over, only to find that it just doesn’t work for me. And also the opposite—books I’ve read that I never heard of, that seem should be at the top of best-seller lists. 

 Since we moved this year, I have to say I dropped the ball not so much in reading but in making notes. I can scarcely remember what I read. For example, I know I read and enjoyed an Ann Cleaves, but can’t begin to tell you which one. 

So, with that in mind, here are some of the best books I read that I either took notes on, or remember: 

 Non-mystery: (if there is such a thing. It seems to me that there is “life mystery” at the heart of every good novel) 

 Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. Is there anyone who hasn’t seen this at the top of most fiction lists? It’s captivating: beautifully written, funny, poignant, uplifting, and thought-provoking. It’s also whimsical. A story woven out of love, tragedy, intersecting with embryonic feminism. The feminism doesn’t come off as strident, but as a natural consequence of events. I can’t recommend this highly enough! 

 Ohio, by Stephen Markley. I haven’t read a book this full of incredible images in a long while. It isn’t an easy book to read. It’s about people who have lost their way in small-town America. The only people who have done well escaped for the wider world, while those who stayed fell victim to drugs, alcohol, and petty grievance. It’s made even more poignant because the author shows you the early promise that could have enriched their lives. Here’s how much I loved it. I read not just the book, but reviews, the book notes at the end, and the author interview. And when I was done, I went back to the beginning to read the first few chapters again. 

 The Cold Millions, Jess Walter. A historical novel set in the Northwest during union-bashing days. It’s violent and heartbreaking, and very informative, with fictional characters standing in for actual people who were active in the early union days. This author wrote Beautiful Ruins, which everyone raved about, and which I liked okay. I thought this one was much better. Much deeper. 


 What’s Done in Darkness, Laura McHugh Proving that being on conference panels can publicize your books, I read this because I was on a panel with Laura McHugh. I was captivated by her writing, her characters, and her plot. 

I enjoyed it so much that I immediately bought and read: 

 The Wolf Wants In, and found it every bit as good. Must be why it was named one of the top books of the year in 2019 by Library Journal. 

 Clark and Division, Naomi Hirahara. Excellent novel. Crisp writing, and the characters leap off the page. Immerses the reader in the sense of being Japanese in America during World War II. Hirahara is an Edgar Award winning author. 

 Jewish Noir II, edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimee Osman. Published August 2022, this book has “legs.” It keeps getting rave reviews, including a rare review in the Wall Street Journal and a terrific Publishers Weekly review. Wishnia and Osman did a fabulous job of selecting and editing the stories, some of which are dazzling. Note: I have a story in the collection, but would have named it anyway. It’s an important book, especially in the current political atmosphere. 

 All Her Little Secrets, Wanda Morris. Morris burst onto the scene with this debut novel about a Black woman with secrets trying to navigate the corporate world. The book won numerous awards. So deftly written that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut. I heard her talk about how she wrote it and love the image of her sneaking off to write, while no one suspected. 

 Slow Horses, Mick Herron. Oh boy, how did I miss this series? Herron is all the rage these days because of the TV series based on Slough House. It‘s a fantastic TV series, but no better than the books. The writing is exquisite. A spy novel at its finest, with aggravating and fascinating characters, and a convoluted plot right out of LeCarre. Highly recommended. 

 The last one is not so much mystery. It's more horror/humor:

  The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix. Okay, I admit this isn’t a book I would have bought. I got it as a gift, but when I started reading I couldn’t stop. It is horrifying and hilarious. There’s actually a bit of gothic mystery to it as well, but that hardly matters. It’s grisly and disgusting…and did I mention hilarious? If you’re looking for something quirky, this is for you.

And if you want to give someone a good mystery that got great reviews, including a starred review from Library Journal, I'll put in a plug for my own Murder at the Jubilee Rally. 


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good list Terry. I love the show Slow Horses, and I've got the book as well as the next in the series, Dead Lions, on my reading stack.

Laura McHugh said...

Thank you, Terry! What a wonderful list of books. I'm so grateful I got to meet you at Bouchercon this year. :)

Catriona McPherson said...

I love this list! it's a mix of stuff I've read and enjoyed, a coupe on my TBR list I'm looking forward to and, therefore, a coupe I'm definitely adding to my wish list. Cx

Terry said...

Glad you saw the post, Laura. I do love your books.

Thank you Catriona. I hope you enjoy the ones I posted .