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, Maybe—loved 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!