It’s that time of year again – time to announce the Best Books of the 2005. This year there are several lists – mine, and some of the reviewers from this site. I found it interesting that some of the books overlapped from list to list, yet no book received selection from more than two reviewers, and the overlaps were not always from the same two reviewers. Of the duplicate selections, five are debuts, six are crime fiction, three are legal fiction, two are literary fiction, and one is a memoir.
Perhaps, then, these are the ‘best of the best’, (alphabetical by title) —
FORCING AMARYLLIS by Louis Ure
LITTLE CHAPEL ON THE RIVER by Gwendolyn Bounds
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by Cormac McCarthy
SOLOMON VS. LORD by Paul Levine
THE BABY GAME by Randall Hicks
THE HA-HA by Dave King
THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly
THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS by Ken Bruen
TILT-A-WHIRL by Chris Grabenstein
BEST BOOKS OF 2005
-from the BookBitch™, Stacy Alesi
A great year of reading that couldn’t be contained in a top ten format; I’ve got twenty. Alphabetical by author within each category:
PANIC by Jeff Abbott – This fast paced thriller is based on a simple yet terrifying premise – what if everything you thought to be true about yourself and your family, your reality, turned out to be totally fabricated?
THE THIRD SECRET by Steve Berry – Fascinating history, meticulously researched (as always by this author) and spellbinding to boot.
THE LINCOLN LAWYER by Michael Connelly – This is how a legal thriller should be written. Mickey Haller is a worthy successor to Harry Bosch.
COMPANY MAN by Joseph Finder – Who knew corporate America could be so enthralling? It may or may not be, but Finder makes us believe it is. The good guy/killer dichotomy is a fascinating study in this intense story about the good and evil in all of us, and Finder twists a couple of storylines and keeps those pages turning.
VANISH by Tess Gerritsen – Sexual slavery, terrorism and a pregnant cop held hostage are the ingredients in this non-stop thriller featuring favorite Gerritsen hero, Jane Rizzoli.
TILT-A-WHIRL by Chris Grabenstein – Fast moving and funny, and featuring an unlikely duo of police officers – one, intense and Boy Scout honest; the other, young, naive and only working part time. This debut novel has the potential of becoming a terrific series.
THE BABY GAME by Randall Hicks – Debut from a well known adoption attorney who takes what he knows and turns it into a smart, funny mystery with great characters and storyline, and lots of surprises.
DARK HARBOR by David Hosp – Hosp pens a scarily believable tale of intrigue that will kept me riveted until the last page – a Boston Irish gang, a serial killer, and a terrific protagonist in lawyer Scott Finn all add up to a fabulous first novel.
THE HA-HA by Dave King – King has imagined the most damaged, endearing and memorable character to haunt me in a very long time, and with his eloquent, sparse prose has created a legacy.
HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss – This is the love of literature, of books, of family, and of laughter despite the pain of life. Unforgettable characters, a book within a book within a book that all comes together in the end, a joy to read.
SOLOMON VS. LORD by Paul Levine – Levine brings lots of humor to this fast paced twisty tale but it’s the characters and the writing that make this story sing. First of a wonderful new series.
FADE by Kyle Mills – The lone hero, a government conspiracy, a friendship that is severely tested, and a touch of terrorism bond together in this superbly written thriller.
CREEPERS by David Morrell – This is a genre-defining thriller written by a master wordsmith, alternately scary, creepy, violent, and emotional – and always excellent. I loved it and stayed up half the night to finish it!
SUDDEN DEATH by David Rosenfelt – My favorite smart ass lawyer, Andy Carpenter, is back in this suspenseful page turner about the rival New York Jets & Giants football teams, a murder and an emotional roller coaster ride of a story.
ORDINARY HEROES by Scott Turow – Turow has penned a searing story of World War II interwoven with a personal family drama. The book’s emotional wallop more than justifies the literary license taken and should secure its place in the canon of World War II literature. An extraordinary, unforgettable novel, which Turow notes was inspired by his own father’s military experiences.
LITTLE CHAPEL ON THE RIVER: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most by Gwendolyn Bounds – I loved this memoir about the big city girl moving to the country in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s poignant but fun, and an altogether wonderful read.
JULIE & JULIA: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell – Julie Powell was feeling a tad depressed, so to cheer herself up, she decided to tackle Julia Child’s masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She takes us along as she prepares every recipe in the book while blogging about it. That blog was expanded on and turned into this very funny, very brave and heartwarming book.
GARLIC & SAPPHIRES: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl – A quintessential New York book that is so delicious I devoured it in one sitting, if you’ll pardon the food metaphors. Reichl was the NY Times restaurant critic for many years, and this is the inside scoop on how that worked.
BEHIND THE MYSTERY: TOP MYSTERY WRITERS INTERVIEWED by Stuart M. Kaminsky, photographs by Laurie Roberts – A must have for any mystery lover, this is a fascinating picture book of interviews with many of today’s most popular authors.
BILLY COLLINS LIVE: A Performance at the Peter Norton Symphony Space by Billy Collins – This book on CD is almost as good as attending a reading by former U.S. Poet Laureate Collins, with an introduction by Bill Murray. Collins reads some new and some old favorites, then takes some questions from the audience.
Geoff’s Favorite Books – 2005
-from Geoffrey R. Hamlin
1. Ireland – Frank Delaney. I was as entralled by this book as the main character, young Ronan, is by the storyteller in it. In a series of tales, this book travels the length and breadth of Ireland, from the time it rose from the sea through the Easter Rising up to the present. Each step rewards the reader with a wonderful insight into the country, its people and the human heart. The story that links it all together is satisfying as well. I have already given more copies of this book to my friends than any other book I have ever read.
2. The Magdelan Martyrs – Ken Bruen. Another hard-nosed story by the master of Irish noir, with a historical tragedy at the heart of it. Bruen is now a force to be reckoned with in crime fiction.
3. The Lincoln Lawyer – Michael Connelly. Mr. Connally, as fine a crime novelist as this country has to offer, tries looking at the justice system from the perspective of a career criminal defense lawyer and gets it just right. This is the side that isn’t told often enough.
4. Birds Without Wings – Louis de Bernieres (2004, but the paperback is 2005). Dueling national and religious backgrounds in Asia Minor at the dawn of the 20th Century provide the background for a sweeping story addressing the question of whether people can live together or not. In the process, de Bernieres offers some trenchant insights about the effect of war and how it gets started. I liked this so much that I went back and read his first book, The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. (Now one of my favorite book titles – along with Yellowback Radio Broke-down and The Last Good Kiss.)
5. Dearly Devoted Dexter – Jeff Lindsey. My favorite serial killer comes back, proving humor as powerful a weapon as a blade or a gun.
6. Slow Man – J.M. Coetzee. A fine novel by a Nobel Prize winning novelist about a man forced to change against his will.
7. Lost Stories of Dashiell Hammett – Vince Emery (ed.). A useful addition to the library of anyone who contends, as I do, that crime fiction can be literature. The editor’s writings about Hammett’s life and his observations about “Hammettisms” make this book a gold mine. All of that, and a forward by Joe Gores.
8. Her Last Call to Louis MacNeice – Ken Bruen. Ken Bruen channeling Jim Thompson. Never, ever trust a woman. While this was written some time ago and published in the U.K., 2005 was the year that publishers in this country finally caught on that Ken Bruen was going to be a hot property.
9. Crossworld – Marc Romano. A committed cruciverbalist myself, I thoroughly enjoyed Romano’s experiences at the world crossword puzzle championship and what he had to say about constructing and constructors. Not for everyone.
10. No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy. On the surface, a tough story about tough people in the deserts of the Southwest U.S. That makes it one of the most accessible of McCarthy’s books. But it is much more too, and can be read on many levels. It is equally rewarding on all of them.
Note – This was an exceptionally fine year and I had to omit lots of other books that deserve some kind of recognition also.
Jack’s Best Books of 2004
-from Jack Quick
APPALOOSA by Robert B. Parker – It is too bad the Spenser series is so good, otherwise we could petition Robert B. Parker to just write westerns. In a regular western the hero gets the horse, in an adult western, the hero gets the girl. Appaloosa is definitely an adult western, and a darn good one.
THE BABY GAME by Randall Hicks –The Baby Game is one of those rare books where the improbable works seamlessly. The serious parts make the hairs on the back of your neck tingle and the funny parts are laugh out loud hilarious. The best way to describe it, The Baby Game is similar to Lawrence Sanders’ McNally series, only a whole lot better.
THE CRUSADER’S CROSS by James Lee Burke – Don’t need no stinkin’ Harry Potter when you’ve got Dave Robicheaux. He can work all kinds of miracles. In this new adventure Dave gets involved chasing after an incident that occurred when he and his brother were teens. Lets all hoist a Dr. Pepper and read on.
DEAD AT DAYBREAK by Deon Meyer – In South Africa ex-cop Zed van Heerden is hired to find the missing will of a man brutally murdered nine months before. The catch – the will must be found in seven days or it will be declared null and void. Almost immediately, Zed determines the real crime happened years earlier as the current victim has no history before 1983. Very well written second effort from a Cape Town crime writer and journalist.
FAITHLESS By Karin Slaughter – The publicity blurb says Faithless will be (Slaughter’s) breakthrough hardcover bestseller. It’s the same cast as Slaughter’s previous Grant County, Georgia novels with Lena, Sara, Jeffrey, Carlos and the rest. With sentences like this one -“(Lena) wasn’t used to being around religious people unless they were down at the police station.” – I agree with the publicity blurb. This is a great one.
THE MAGDALEN MARTYRS by Ken Bruen – “So I drink. I’m way past my sell-by date and am on precious borrowed time. I should have gone down a long time ago. Lots of days, I wish I had.” Meet Jack Taylor who brings new meaning to the term hard-boiled. Powerful writing from the man called the Celtic Dashiell Hammett.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by Cormac McCarthy – Llewelyn Moss would have been better off if he had missed the antelope completely. Then he wouldn’t have tried to track down the wounded animal and he would not have found the remains of the drug deal gone bad or the two plus million dollars. The body count grows as Moss’s options narrow down. Sparsely written ala Robert B. Parker. A London Times critic said McCarthy’s prose is so melodious it demands to be read out loud.
ONE SHOT by Lee Child – Nine books now, and each one is better than before. This time Reacher is called in to help solve an Indiana sniper case. The accused, James Barr, claims they have arrested the wrong man and tells them to get Jack Reacher. Is Barr guilty? Can Reacher help? Delightfully twisty.
SCHOOL DAYS by Robert B. Parker – Two boys wearing ski masks shoot up a school killing seven. Then they barricade themselves in an office. When the SWAT team negotiates a surrender, only one boy is in the office. Two days later he names Jared Clark as his partner. Spenser is hired to prove Clark innocent. Another Robert B. Parker masterpiece.
THE STRANGER HOUSE by Reginald Hill – A stand-alone from an experienced writer with awesome writing – “The rich Catholic families of Hampshire provided the Church with money, congregation, and voluntary workers, but saw no reason to provide priests, not when the poor Catholic families of Ireland needed the work.” The plot is devious, the characters are portrayed in great detail, and the story is believable.
SYMPATHY BETWEEN HUMANS by Jodi Compton – Excellent follow-up to the 37th Hour. Minnesota Detective Sarah Pribek is balancing several delicate cases while playing a cat and mouse game with the inspector who wants to prove her guilty of the murder that occurred in the 37th Hour.
TWO TRAINS RUNNING by Andrew Vachss – Written by Vachss but reads like a Swagger adventure by Stephen Hunter. First rate, either way. Its 1959 and the mob is trying to muscle in on the good old boys who have been running vice in Locke City for years, turning it into a tourist destination. Fasten your seat belts for this one boys, it’s quite a ride.
VIXEN by Ken Bruen – In this follow-up to The White Trilogy, Inspector Brant must match wits with Angie James, “the Vixen”, a female psychopath who gets her jollies from setting off bombs and ruthlessly manipulating men and women. Brant is on a tear and it is a race to determine which implodes first – Brant, the Squad, or Ms. James. With each outing, Bruen just gets better and better and if his prose becomes any more spare and stark, he will be producing single page novellas.
WHEN THE LAST MAGNOLIA WEEPS by Mary Saums – Willi Taft has multiple challenges this Christmas – a series of warehouse thefts, a murdered priest, and a defaced statue of a civil war general. The priest isn’t who he said he was, and neither are some of the others. All the mysteries eventually are solved, except the warehouse thefts, and Willi’s life is forever changed.
BEST OF 2005
– from Andi Shechter
LOCKED ROOMS, Laurie R. King – Before I ever read BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE, If you’d told me that I’d be a big fan of a series featuring the wife of Sherlock Holmes, well… the series continues to be one of the best.
CITIZEN VINCE, Jess Walter – Why doesn’t this guy have more books out?
TO THE POWER OF THREE, Laura Lippman – Lippman’s EVERY SECRET THING was a tour de force. This stand-alone continues to showcase this author’s talent and her ability to make you think.
DRIVE, Jim Sallis – Sallis is simply one of our most under-rated authors. His skill with language is unmatched and while DRIVE is a “merely” a novella, it belongs on a “must read” list. it is a beautifully written work by a supremely gifted writer.
DATING IS MURDER, Harley Jane Kozak – I don’t like chick-lit. I don’t like funny. I like Kozak’s books. Go figure.
THE POET’S FUNERAL John Daniel – How to describe this wonderful novel? It’s goofy, sarcastic and fun.
FLESHMARKET ALLEY, Ian Rankin – While Rebus tends to be a little dark and hard to take at times, there’s no denying Rankin’s skill as an author.
MISSING PERSONS, Stephen White – White continues to provide incredibly well-crafted, thought-provoking books.
THIRTY-THREE TEETH, Colin Cotterill – The best find of 2005; a wonderfully talented writer offering us a glimpse into a place we don’t know (Laos) with skillfully realized characters and a touch of weird.
FORCING AMARYLLIS, Louise Ure – A really strong debut featuring a jury consultant in Tucson. Strong setting, interesting story, characters I want to continue to get to know.
EIGHT OF SWORDS, David Skibbins – Set a book on the streets of Berkeley, and you’ve got my attention. But it takes more than that and Skibbins’ Warren Ritter is fascinating. Already looking forward to his next one.
THE HA-HA, Dave King – Awfully well-told story from a unique perspective. King avoids pathos and gets into the heart and soul of an intriguing character and tells his story well.
A THREAD OF GRACE, Mary Doria Russell – Beautifully realized story of Jews in Italy in the late days of World War II. Read this book.
SOMEONE COMES TO TOWN, SOMEONE LEAVES TOWN, Cory Doctorow – Wonderful, weird wildly creative story about a guy whose father is a mountain and whose mother is a washing machine. It’s just terrific.