Saturday, July 07, 2018

Halfway Through

Technically, we're a little more than halfway through the year, but I didn't remember to do this until now. For the last couple years, thanks to my friend, Jen Forbus, I've been writing a post about my favorite books from the first half of the year. It's always a difficult task to narrow the books down to ten. And, this post doesn't mean these books will be on my Favorites of 2018. I haven't finished Hank Phillippi Ryan's Trust Me or started Linda Castillo's A Gathering of Secrets. Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson isn't out yet. Louise Penny's Kingdom of the Blind isn't due out until November. All of those are possibilities for my favorites column. Then, there are the surprise books. I love to discover a new author or a title I didn't expect to make the list. Possibilities! There are all kinds of possibilities for the last half of 2018.

I did struggle with this list. I had to take three titles off so I only had ten. It's an arbitrary number, I know. But, here are my favorite books of the first half of 2018, in the order in which I read them.

Here's what I said about Jeffrey Siger's An Aegean April when I read it in January. I learned more about the refugee and political crisis in Europe from Siger's latest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery than I did from all the news I read or watch. At the same time, it was a compelling story with a wonderful twist at the end. It still has all the black humor and wonderful relationships that make this series so appealing. Come for the wonderful characters in Siger's books. Stay for the beautifully constructed stories that explain our world.




Deanna Raybourn's third Veronica Speedwell mystery, A Treacherous Curse, is an exciting adventure with marvelous characters. Veronica, with her independence, and her ability to match wits with Stoker, has become a favorite character. She's an intelligent, adventurous woman who actually is derived from stories of women of the Victorian age who did travel throughout the world. She's shrewd and knowledgeable as to how to deal with men, Stoker in particular. The two are irreverent about everything, and they make a perfect duo. Their developing relationship is fascinating to observe. Then, there's the Jane Eyre connection in this particular book. Wonderful!



Amy Willoughby-Burle's The Lemonade Year is the only book on this list that is not a mystery. The novel introduces Nina Griffin, a narrator with a philosopher's voice, a poet's voice, the voice of a woman struggling to find her place in the world. It's just perfect for this story of a messed up family. There's so much love under the surface.There's humor and wisdom in the book as Nina tells of moving through grief and loss and pain to find hope.






A.J. Devlin's debut, Cobra Clutch, isn't the type of book that would usually appeal to me. But, I enjoyed the character of "Hammerhead" Jed Ounstead, pro wrestler turned amateur sleuth. I'm a sucker for debut novels with unusual sleuths. Cobra Clutch is a fast-paced, action-packed, debut. The violence is graphic. There are traces of humor. It's the angry, flawed sleuth, though, who jumped out at me. He's bold and competitive in this gritty original story. I still think people who like Glen Erik Hamilton's Van Shaw novels should give this one a try.




Larry D. Sweazy's mysteries are gloomy and dark. He's a master at creating atmosphere. And, this time, in the latest Marjorie Trumaine mystery, See Also Proof, he has a North Dakota winter as background. It's perfect for a feeling of isolation and loneliness. It's Marjorie's story, with her feelings of isolation after the death of her husband. It's the story of a woman with grit and determination.The words and atmosphere and truth in this masterfully written mystery seep into your soul.






Cora Harrison's first Reverend Mother mystery, A Shameful Murder, hooked me with the time period and setting. The books in this series are historical mysteries set in the 1920s in Cork, Ireland. Some of the bit characters were actual people. Ireland's Civil War is over, but the Republican Party is not happy with the state of politics, and there's still gunshots and murder in the streets. But, it's Reverend Mother, caught up in the problems of Cork, that is the most intriguing character. After Reverend Mother finds the body of a young girl, two of her former students become involved. One is now an officer with the civic guards while the other is a journalist and a member of the Republican Party. The compelling story combines history and mystery.


Broken Places, Tracy Clark's debut mystery, features a tough African-American cop turned private investigator. She reminds me of one of the legendary detectives in modern mysteries, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone.  Cass Raines appears to be a loner, but she's a loyal, trustworthy friend.  Broken Places is successful in launching the detective career of this tough, gutsy woman. She's admirable as a character because she's also vulnerable, although she would never admit it. She has empathy for the vulnerable - a four-year-old, a homeless man, gangbangers. And, her shock and suspicion when her actual father turns up is natural for a woman who pretends to need no one. On the other hand, she's loyal to her childhood friends, whether they're ex-cons or a former troublemaker turned nun. The mystery field is all the better for the addition of Cass Raines.

Under the pseudonym Cornelia Kidd, Lea Wait launched a series set in Maine, beginning with Death and a Pot of Chowder. She manages to avoid so many of the tropes common to cozy mysteries in this well-developed, character-driven story. The author introduces sympathetic,unpretentious characters in a homespun story. Quarry Island and the small Maine community come to life in a mystery about the death of a lobsterman, and the unexpected secrets that are revealed during the course of a murder investigation. And, two sisters who didn't know each other, the amateur sleuths, are likable, complementary characters.



V.M. Burns brings a community and characters to life in her first RJ Franklin mystery, Travellin' Shoes. Franklin, a police detective on leave from the St. Joseph, Indiana, police department, agrees to help with the investigation when the choir director of the First Baptist Church dies in a house fire. RJ's beloved godmother, Mama B is a force in that church and the African-American community. Travellin' Shoes combines the best of a cozy mystery with a police procedural. It has a wonderful cast of spirited characters, with RJ and Mama B as the standouts.




Sheila Connolly rounds out the list with her first Victorian Village mystery, Murder at the Mansion. Katherine Hamilton returns to her hometown of Asheboro, Maryland, to help the town recover. They don't have the money to restore businesses after a storm or to repair their asset, the historic Barton house. She and a history professor team up in an attempt to save the town while they investigate the murder of Kate's old nemesis, a member of the town council who was disliked by many residents. There's a strong sense of place in Murder at the Mansion, and I can already tell it will only grow more atmospheric as the series goes on. The historical elements are fascinating. And, Connolly avoids the irritating tropes that are common in the first books in so many series.

If you missed my earlier reviews, or just need a reminder of some of the outstanding books that have been published in 2018, this list may work. I hope you find a book or two that you enjoy. I enjoyed all ten of these.




14 comments:

Kaye Barley said...

Excellent choices with several I wasn't aware of - Thank you, Lesa!

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Not home, so can't check back. I would definitely pick ALL THE PIECES MATTER: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE WIRE. The Siger would probably make my list. Also, SCYTHE, the YA by Neal Shusterman. (The sequel is ar the library waiting to be picked up.) Also David Sedaris, CALYPSO.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kaye! Hard to choose, but fun to look back.

Lesa said...

Enjoy your family, Jeff. Isn't it great to have some books that stand out?

TFJ said...

Broken Places with Cass Raines gets my vote, too, Lesa. I just finished reading it based on your recommendation. Looking forward to more of Cass.

~Tricia

Abby Miller said...

I haven't heard of many of these titles, but they all sound amazing.

Glen Davis said...

Still haven't got around to Cobra Clutch, unfortunately.

Lesa said...

Oh, good, Tricia. I'm glad it didn't disappoint you.

Lesa said...

Discoveries! Possibilities! Look at them that way, Abby. Maybe it's good you're not familiar with most of them.

Lesa said...

That's okay, Glen. There's no reason to hurry.

Gram said...

Seven out of the ten are on my list. I don't think I will be adding the others.

Grandma Cootie said...

Thanks for giving me some more possibles on my to-read list, some that I might have passed by because I already thought I knew what they were about and now find there's more to them, and some I've been meaning to get to and have pushed up the list.

caryn said...

Some of these I have read but Traveling Shoes and maybe a couple of others are going on my list.

Lesa said...

I hope you all enjoy your selections!