Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Are You Reading? Margie Bunting's Favorites of 2017 (Revised)

I'm sorry! I don't know what happened to the previous post. Please check both of them because some readers made wonderful comments.

I do know I introduced Margie Bunting, saying we met at Left Coast Crime in Monterey. And, we enjoyed it when Catriona McPherson called "Photo Bomb" and popped into the picture when Margie and I were posing. We had another chance to meet up at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix.

Catriona McPherson, Margie Bunting, myself

Now, I'm hoping I can put together Margie's list of her Favorites of 2017. (I'm sorry, Margie, for whatever happened.)

Because I just finished book no. 200 for 2017, it’s impossible to select just 10 favorite reads for the year, so I’ll cheat a bit.
My biggest “discovery” of the year was The Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley—three books to date in a 7-book series. Each book focuses on one of the adopted daughters of a recently-deceased Swiss billionaire who leaves them cryptic clues to their birth origin, leading them to faraway places, long-lost relatives, and connections to historic events. I found them all fascinating and can’t wait for the next in the series (coming in Feb.). Oh, yes, each daughter is named after a star in the Pleiades constellation. An ongoing mystery:  why are there only 6 daughters (and 7 books)?

Two thrillers stood out for me this year. Catriona McPherson serves up the quirkiest, creepiest novels of psychological suspense, often with a Scottish accent and a bit of mordant humor, and House Tree Person, set mostly in a psychiatric hospital, is no exception. Joanna Schaffhausen’s The Vanishing Season is an award-winning debut novel about the only surviving victim of a serial killer. She’s changed her name and created a new life as a cop, but why have three more victims been killed on her last three birthdays (and she’s received mysterious birthday cards) with the serial killer on death row?

On the other end of the mystery spectrum, I enjoy cozies that are “a cut above,” with engaging characters, great writing, attention to detail, and a smattering of humor. My pick for best debut cozy is Murder in Mayfair by D.M. Quincy. Lesa has already described this book, so I’ll just say that adventurer Atlas Catesby (gotta love his name) makes a dashing hero, and an intriguing plot, strong sense of place and time, and interesting secondary characters made me long for the next installment (Feb.). Other cozy favorites were John Clement’s The Cat Sitter and the Canary (former cop turned pet sitter), Jane Cleland’s Glow of Death (antiques dealer/appraiser), and Julia Buckley’s Pudding Up with Murder (chef whose customers pass the off her goodies as their own). These series are must-reads for me.

One of my favorite traditional mystery writers, Terry Shames, published the sixth in her Samuel Craddock series, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, which is my favorite to date. Writing in first-person present tense, Terry filters everything that happens through lawman Samuel’s eyes and ears, affording us a glimpse into his soul. Rather than focusing on a retired cop called back to duty, this prequel features Samuel as the newly minted police chief of a small Texas town, and we see his flaws as he deals with a racially-charged situation and a new marriage.

For my money ( or my library card), I don’t think anyone writes feel-good novels about women putting a disappointment behind them to start life as the proprietor of a bakery (or other business) than Jenny Colgan. This year I read three of hers—The Little Beach Street Bakery, Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery, and The Café by the Sea. True comfort food!

Another delectable comfort read was To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon, 14th in her lovely series about Father Tim Kavanaugh, who is now trying to deal with his advancing age while handling three generations of family issues, not to mention some difficult parishioners. Also this year, I relished Lauren Graham’s (Lorelei Gilmore!) memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can, which led me to read her novel, Someday, Someday, Maybeloved it!  Other comfort reads I rated highly include The Bookshop at Water’s End by Patti Callahan Henry and Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson.

Books with characters on the autism spectrum are increasingly popular, and I’m hooked. E.J. Copperman’s The Question of the Absentee Father, latest in his Asperger’s Mystery series, features a young man who owns Questions Answered, not quite a private investigation firm. He is assisted by his mother and his employee, who help him navigate a world where he excels at solving mysteries but needs to hone his social skills. In Benjamin Ludwig’s Ginny Moon, 13-year-old Ginny should be happy with her new and nurturing foster parents, but she longs for her abusive birth mother and previous family life. Of equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, deeply affecting, and difficult to forget. A third favorite is The 7 Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard. Homebound 20-something Elvira must learn to make her way in the world when her mother has a stroke, so she sets strict rules for herself and does her best to execute them, with the help of a neighbor.

It feels good to read about lonely people who somehow come together and become a new family. The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg is one of these. Arthur meets teenaged Maddy at the cemetery where he visits his wife and Maddy hides from her schoolmates. Along with neighbor Lucille, the three forge a new life with new possibilities. I agree with Lesa that The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is one of the very best of the year. I’ll defer to her review of this beautiful, uplifting story. And in Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, two misfits with poor social skills and troubled pasts meet at work and happen to save an elderly man’s life. Three beautifully drawn characters bond and save each other from lives of isolation.

Most of the rest of my picks are difficult to categorize. Rich People Problems is third in Kevin Kwan’s hilarious series about self-absorbed, ultra-rich Asian families in Hong Kong and Singapore and their crazy spending habits. Read the first in the series, Crazy Rich Asians, before the movie is released in 2018. The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert shows us how the power of food can bring a chef and a restaurant critic together. Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel reveals the cutthroat world of private school admissions. Beartown is not my all-time favorite Fredrik Backman novel (that would be My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry), but in my opinion he can do no wrong. This one is an engrossing story of a tiny town where everything revolves around its junior ice hockey team.

I have to mention my final read of the year, Seth’s Broadway Diary, Vol. 3, by Seth Rudetsky. If you love all things musical theater, as I do, you might enjoy Seth’s 2011-2012 Playbill columns about behind-the-scenes Broadway. He is a Broadway insider, having played piano in the orchestra pit for multiple shows, and is also an actor, writer, composer, accompanist for Broadway greats, standup comedian, and much more, and he is currently a host on Sirius XM. Volumes 1 and 2 are great, too!

Lesa, thank you for affording me the opportunity to reminisce about my 2017 reads, and thanks to fellow readers of Lesa’s blog for your reading suggestions. Now I’m off and running in 2018. Happy reading to all!


Lesa said...

Margie, I made an editing mistake, and some of your comments are on the first short post. Please read them there as well! I apologize!

Sharon said...

Margie, I loved your list! Thank you for sharing.

I loved The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake so much I bought it as birthday books for my daughters. It was a little predictable but such a good story! I could not put it down. I can't say the same for any of her subsequent books especially Love Luck and Lemon Pies but I am looking forward to her new one coming out in the spring.

I've read some of the Jenny Colgan books you mentioned but gave up on the Eleanor Oliphant book. The D.M. Quincy book was my favorite cozy I read last year. A Man Called Ove (and the movie) was my favorite Backman book. And who does not enjoy a trip to Mitford? I just love spending time with Father Tim and company.

This week I finished The Secret Book and Scone Society. Lesa, thank you so much for recommending this. It is the first Ellery Adams book I've read. I absolutely got chills when I got to the part containing the solution to the murder. I cannot wait to revisit this characters in subsequent books. Now I am reading A Murder for the Books by Victoria Gilbert.

Happy reading and hopefully the big storm heading tomorrow bringing ice and snow won't be as bad as the weathercasters are predicting!

Lesa said...

I know exactly what you mean about the big storm. IF we get it, I hope it hits overnight & work is cancelled. I hate trying to drive on ice and snow.

I'm so glad you enjoyed the D.M. Quincy & the Ellery Adams book! Fabulous, Sharon!

Margie Bunting said...

Good morning from (not so) sunny Northern California. What a thrill to see my first "blogpost" published on Lesa's blog! I read the first comments earlier, but as I am a terrible typist on my iPad, I waited to respond till I could get on my computer (post-exercising/bathing/eating).

I was also thrilled to see your comments--at least, before Lesa so rudely deleted them. Just kidding, Lesa, it happens to all of us!

Grace, I wish I could go to LCC this year, but my husband has cancer so it's not a good idea for him to be around crowds, even though he just completed his six cycles of chemo. Also, I'm not sure I'm up to what could be a nasty, snowy drive. Maybe next year. I'd love to meet you in person.

I hope you enjoy the Terry Shames book on my list. I just bought her latest a couple of days ago, and my husband and I will fight over who gets to read it first. For the past two years, Terry has been the president of the Norcal chapter of Sisters in Crime, for which I am the newsletter editor, and she is such a lovely person as well as an outstanding writer. I have a complete set of her books--all signed!

Bel, Book and Scandal is on my list as well, and it's on hold at the library. I loved the first in the series,the second not as much, but I'm going to give it another try.

Kay, thank you for your kind words! It was fun to look at that photo again, although I look different now because I wear glasses all the time. I have read all of Louise Penny's books, and they are fabulous. Glass Houses wasn't one of my all-time favorites, but Louise sets such a high standard that I still really enjoyed it.

Sandy, I hope you have an end to cold weather soon. We are lucky in California, of course, but my kids in Southern California have been pretty close to the fires and mudslides--scary, but they've been spared. Thanks for the book suggestions. I enjoyed Eaves of Destruction (I'm one of "Kate's Raters" so I get her books for free if I review each of them for Amazon and Barnes & Noble), but I haven't read any of the others you mentioned.

Charlotte, I have had a mixed experience with Alafair Burke, but the books of hers I've read most recently (I won one of them from Lesa) have been enjoyable. As for reading 200 books again this year, it's not really a goal of mine. In fact, this year I've vowed to write down a short review of each of the books I really enjoy so that if Lesa is crazy enough to ask me for my list next year, I'll be more prepared. I do keep a list of the titles and my ratings, but because I read so fast, I don't retain as much as I would like.

Sharon, looks like you're in the snow zone as well. I feel for you, since I am originally from Pennsylvania. I agree with you about the author of The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake. I did not like Love, Luck and Lemon Pies either, but I'm willing to give her another try.

It's interesting how subjective reading is. What's a treasure to one person might not catch another reader's fancy soon enough to keep her or him reading. I don't feel compelled to keep reading a book if I'm not enjoying it.

I'm so enjoying reading everyone's comments, and I appreciate all of your reading suggestions. No matter how many books are on my TBR list (which goes on for pages), it's always fun to add another book.

Thank you, Lesa, for giving me this opportunity!

Margie Bunting said...

I forgot to mention that I just finished Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford, which will most likely be one of my favorite reads of 2018. Bookended by vivid and breathtaking descriptions of the 1909 and 1962 Seattle Worlds Fairs, it's a story about a half-Chinese boy who loses his family, is sent to America, and is ultimately "raffled off" at the 1909 fair to live in a brothel. We hear alternately about his life as a 12-year-old and as an elderly man who is trying to keep some family secrets from his grown daughters. Highly recommended.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Margie, nice list (though I haven't read any of them), and congratulations on 200 books. It's been over a decade since I was at that level.

Obviously, with four days on the road and then getting settled here in Florida, I didn't have a lot of reading time this week. I did read the somewhat disappointing collection by Sholes Aleichem, JEWISH CHILDREN. Too many nasty stories of kids being beaten by teachers. Now I'm reading the Martin Edwards-edited collection, CONTINENTAL CRIMES, another library download, as well as the dystopian TROPIC OF KANSAS by Christopher Brown. I've also borrowed the non-fiction THE CAPTAIN CLASS: THE HIDDEN FORCE THAT CREATES THE GREATEST SPORTS TEAMS by Sam Walker. And yes, I borrowed a fourth library ebook, A MATTER OF OATHS by Helen S. Wright. I hate when all the books I have on hold come in at once.

And lastly, I bought Samuel R. Delany's memoir, THE MOTION OF LIGHT IN WATER: SEX AND SCIENCE FICTION. I was a big fan of his memoir about living in a commune in the East Village during the Summer of Love, HEAVENLY BREAKFAST.

Terry said...

What a dazzling group of books.Thank you for including me in your list. I read Eleanor Oliphant and it was a wonderful book. I own House. Tree. Person and haven't gotten to it. I will! And the Seven Sisters series is very intriguing. I'd like to see more of your reviews!

Margie Bunting said...

Thanks, Jeff and Terry!

Glen Davis said...

I don't think I've read any of the books on this list, but now I may try them.

I read Typhoon fury the latest Clive Cussler novel, this on in the Oregon Files series.

The three books I didn't have in the Killer Party series by Penny Warner.

A World Ablaze by Craig Harline about Martin Luther.

Grace Koshida said...

Margie: Best wishes for your husband. And yes, I hope you can go to LCC 2019. It will be in Canada for the first time (I have gone to LCC most years since 2000). Vancouver is a beautiful city but we may get liquid sunshine instead of the warmth I normally crave there.