Monday, June 30, 2014

First Half Favorites

It's hard to believe 2014 is half over. That means it's time to think about the top ten books for the first half of the year. When I went back over my log, it's an interesting list. There are only a couple mysteries on it. But, that may change with the second half since some of my favorite mystery authors have books coming out: Louise Penny, Linda Castillo, Kelli Stanley, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Jeffrey Siger. I'm sure some of the books on this first half list will be knocked off by forthcoming books. In fact, I'll be a little disappointed if they're not. That would mean the second half of the year didn't measure up to expectations.

Did you read any of these books? Did they become favorites of the first half of the year? The books are in the order I read them, not in a #1 through #10 format.

Playing with Fire by J.J. Cook is the second mystery featuring Fire Chief Stella Griffin who lives in the cabin in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee that was built by a former chief who died in a fire, Eric Gamlyn. Stella took the job temporarily to train the Sweet Pepper Volunteer Fire Department. But, she's dragging her feet about returning home to Chicago. She feels connected to the community, and she has one more mystery to solve involving the sexy former chief who haunts the cabin. Terrific characters, a little romance, the ongoing excitement of fire runs, and, of course, mystery.



Sarah Addison Allen brings a maturity and her magical realism to her latest novel, Lost Lake. Eby Pym and her beloved husband, George, escaped her family history by building a resort at Lost Lake, Georgia. Two generations later, Kate, desperate to escape after her husband's death, brings her daughter home to the place where she knew her greatest happiness, her great-aunt's resort, only to find it on its last legs, and up for sale. Allen's books blend exquisite phrasing, a touch of magic, and a glimpse into souls.





I would say that Teri Wilson's Unleashing Mr. Darcy is my guilty pleasure on the list. But, since I wholeheartedly agree that you should "Never apologize for your reading taste", I won't say that. Wilson's homage to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice puts the story in the middle of the world of dog shows, first in the U.S. where Elizabeth Scott and Donovan Darcy meet, and then in England. She's showing her beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and he's the judge. Unleashing Mr. Darcy is respectful, humorous, and sexy, a perfect addition to the tributes to Pride and Prejudice. (And, it includes wonderful dogs.)


If a reader is lucky, once or twice a year a book comes along that truly touches the heart. Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry might be one of those books. A bookstore, discussion of books, a changed life, a child, and romance. It's all wrapped up in a story that, despite tears, has a perfect ending. I won't even spoil the story by summarizing it much, but it's the story of an eccentric bookstore owner and the people who change his life. Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a love letter to bookstores, a story about possibilities, and a story about being open to life. It might be A.J. Fikry's life story, but it's so much more. If you love books and bookstores, this book just might be one of those treasures that touches you this year.

Natalie Lloyd's debut juvenile novel is the only juvenile book on my list, and it's there because it makes my heart sing. A Snicker of Magic is just "splendiferous". Once upon a time, Midnight Gulch, Tennessee was a place where magic lived. "The people who lived there had magic in their veins." But, by the time Felicity Pickle moved there with her mother and sister, the magic had drained, almost disappeared because of a duel between brothers. The sixth grader, though, was desperate to find a place to feel at home, and a boy with "know-how" who knew what people needed, became her friend. Felicity uses her gift of words, a love of the magic of words, to bring magic back to the town, so her family, and those of Midnight Gulch, can once again be content with their homes. This is a story in the best tradition of our magical storytellers. It's filled with magic and music, love and loss, loneliness and friendship, and stories. It's just perfect.

Barbara O'Neil introduces women I want to know in The All You Can Dream Buffet. Four bloggers find strength through the friendship they've developed online. At eighty-five, Lavender Wills is concerned about the farm she owns and grew, Lavender Honey Farms in Oregon. Who will take it over and care for it? So she asks her three online friends to join her, hoping she'll find the right heir. O'Neal captures women's spirits, and the strength women need to build successful lives, whether those lives are with family, with friends that become family, or by themselves. The All You Can Dream Buffet is a sensual novel of flowers, and honey, and food, longing, and memories, and lust. It's a story that celebrates the possibilities in a woman's life, and the courage and friendship needed to turn possibilities into reality. O'Neal mixes ghosts of the past with present needs in a beautiful book.

Any Other Name, Craig Johnson's latest Walt Longmire mystery, is a riveting story. The Wyoming sheriff should be in Philadelphia, awaiting the birth of his first grandchild. Instead, he's investigating a case in a neighboring county, asked by his former boss, Lucian Connally, who owes a dead man. Gerald Holman was investigating cold cases for the Campbell County sheriff's department when he committed suicide. But, the man's widow won't accept that, and Lucian drags Longmire into the search for answers. Why would a man who never broke rules kill himself? And, once Longmire is on a case, he won't give up. Johnson's books always have memorable characters, dry cop humor, and beautiful writing.  Any Other Name is a gripping story, with hints of future trouble. I have the feeling this mystery will still be on my favorites list at the end of the year.

Athough I read, and loved, Susan Wiggs' The Beekeeper's Ball, I urge others to first read the previous book in The Bella Vista Chronicles, The Apple Orchard. This second book combines family drama, romance, and a story of the Danish Resistance during World War II. It's so much more than the story of a woman opening a cooking school on the family property in Sonoma County, California. As her grandparents' accounts of their lives in the Danish Resistance against the Nazis alternate with Isabel Johansen's story, a family story unfolds, one that will undoubtedly continue in the next in the series. It's that family history, with its tragedy and drama that makes the romance all the more beautiful in Wiggs' successful novel, The Beekeeper's Ball.

It must be something about bookstores with me. Goodnight June by Sarah Jio is the second bookstore novel on my list. When June Andersen, a driven New York City banker, inherits Bluebird Books, a children's bookstore in Seattle, she knows she'll sell it. But, she didn't count on discovering the letters between her great-aunt, Ruby, and children's author Margaret Wise Brown. She also didn't count on her remembered love for that bookstore, and memories of her childhood. June's own life unfolds, and Margaret Wise Brown and Ruby reveal their lives in enchanting letters in this wonderful book. It's a novel filled with passion for books, for children's books. It's filled with secrets about love, friendship, sisters, and what is important in life.  Goodnight June, in the end, is as comforting for a book lover as Brown's own classic, Goodnight Moon.

The last novel on my list, Linda Francis Lee's The Glass Kitchen, lured me in with its gorgeous cover. But, it swept me up in Portia Cuthcart's world, a world defined by her gift, "the knowing", a gift she rejected following loss. Portia knew what food she should make for people, but her grandmother's death forced her to reject her gift. Even her two sisters knew Portia's world went haywire following that rejection. When the three sisters end up in New York City, Portia finds it's her gift that can help a young girl who lost her mother. And, in the end, it's that gift that will restore Portia life, and bring her love. It's a book with beautiful descriptions, a novel for all of us who love stories of magical realism, family, food, and love.

Let's face it. I read for entertainment. These books may not make a "Best of..." list, but I've read ninety books so far, and these are my favorites of 2014.








12 comments:

SandyG265 said...

I really enjoyed playing With Fire and am looking forward to the next book in the series. Most of the time I read fiction but I recently read two non-fiction books that I enjoyed. The first was Hot Dogs and Cocktails: When FDR met King George VI at Hdye Park. The Second was The World According To Bob. It's the sequel to A Street Cat Named Bob.

Lesa said...

I'm with you, Sandy, a fiction reader with an occasional nonfiction thrown in. I like the sound of Hot Dogs and Cocktails, and, of course, I'm a fan of Bob's.

Margie Bunting said...

I also read and enjoyed the Allen, Zevin, Lloyd, O'Neal and Jio books, some of them thanks to your reviews. The book I enjoyed most this year was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Other standouts included Rebecca Makkai's The Borrower, Bruce DeSilva's Providence Rag, David Handler's The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb, Elinor Lipman,s The View from Penthouse B, and Ruth Reichl's Delicious! (granted, some of them may be older than 2014). I just finished Michael Robotham's Watching You, which is a stunner.

Kaye Barley said...

Holy Cow, Lesa! For a second, I thought I was looking at my own list! I have "Goodnight, June," but have not yet read it. You've nudged me into putting it back on top of my TBR stack. Amazing how similar are tastes are!

Libby Dodd said...

What a marvelous collection.
Thanks

Lesa said...

Margie,You have some books on your list that I want to read, and just haven't gotten around to reading yet. Good to know they made your list!

Lesa said...

Oh, that's funny, Kaye. Why doesn't it surprise me, though?

Lesa said...

It was great fun, Libby!

Mark Baker said...

I haven't read any of those books....

I do have my first JJ Cook book coming up next - Death on Eat Street. And the copy of A Snicker of Magic I won from another blog finally showed up, so that is on my TBR pile as well. Not completely sure when I'll get to it, but hopefully soon.

Lesa said...

I'm sure you have your own top 10 list, Mark, and it probably includes a number of mysteries. I suspect mine will by the end of the year.

Melissa @ My Recent Favorite Books said...

Several of your books are on my to be read list, looking forward to reading them! =)

Lesa said...

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did, Melissa!