Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
THE HUSBAND’S SECRET by Liane Moriarity: Three women are the focus of this tale, and how their stories are woven together is at the crux of things. Morality is not neatly defined here, and this novel is quite thought provoking while still being completely unputdownable. Another hit from the author of the terrific What Alice Forgot.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple: Bernadette Fox is a world renown, award winning architect who disappears into the Seattle suburbs with her equally brilliant husband, a Microsoft guru. Their daughter Bee chronicles most of this epistolary novel with first person narrative interspersed with emails, legal documents, and such. Bee’s voice is charming and compelling, and this is ultimately the story of a mother daughter relationship in a world gone mad. I loved it.
MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan: Every once in a while I stumble onto a book so creative, so inspiring that it is just impossible to put down and impossible to forget. This is a conundrum of a novel; part mystery, part fantasy, very charming and just plain smart. If I may borrow from Winston Churchill, this book is truly a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, and I loved every page.
ME BEFORE YOU by JoJo Moyes: What could have been a maudlin story, or an overly sweet one, is instead a cataclysmic love story that just resonates; this is a remarkable book.
LADIES’ NIGHT by Mary Kay Andrews: Every June I kick off my summer reading with Mary Kay, and she never disappoints. This is Mary Kay Andrews at her best, with lots of angst, laughter, food and love.
BEST FICTION DEBUTS
BIG GIRL PANTIES by Stephanie Evanovich: When I first saw this author’s name, I thought this must be someone’s brilliant pseudonym, combining the character name with her famous author’s name. Turns out not be be a pseudonym but rather Janet Evanovich’s niece, who apparently inherited her aunt’s writing talent and sense of humor. This is a very funny, very sweet contemporary romance and is the best new romance I have read in a long time; Evanovich comes out of the gate like a pro.
THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion: Don Tillman is a brilliant professor of genetics at an Australian university, whose personality and quirks seem to place him somewhere on the autism spectrum. He devises a test to find a wife, but it doesn’t work out exactly as planned. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy this fast paced, laugh-out-loud, slightly skewed look at love and life.
BEST CRIME FICTION
VISITATION STREET by Ivy Pochoda: This is ostensibly a mystery, but the story revolves around the characters, and they are wondrous. All of these characters are fully brought to life, and the Red Hook section of Brooklyn itself becomes yet another character in this tightly written and moving story. This is a memorable read, beautifully written and imaginatively conceived. Don’t miss it.
NEVER GO BACK by Lee Child: The Jack Reacher series is my version of literary comfort food. The books are consistent in their excellence, character development and action. Never Go Back adds another layer to the seemingly simple yet truly complex character that Jack Reacher has evolved into, and it is done flawlessly.
THE BLACK BOX by Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch is back working open, unsolved homicides. Connelly once again lures the reader in and doesn’t let go until the very last page and I couldn’t put it down despite the lateness of the night. Another great read from the master of crime fiction.
SUSPECT by Robert Crais: Maggie is a German Shepherd war hero suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after her stint in Afghanistan. Scott James is a Los Angeles cop who is severely injured when his partner is killed. This is a fascinating look at the training process these heroic dogs go through interwoven with terrific suspense and an occasional look at the world through Maggie’s eyes. I loved this book and dog lovers for sure shouldn’t miss it.
SIX YEARS by Harlan Coben: Who knew Coben had such a romantic soul? He may pick up some new readers; his regular readers will love this, and fans of Sandra Brown and Linda Howard should definitely give this a read. Very well plotted and executed, this is Coben at his best.
THE LAND OF DREAMS by Vidar Sundstol: While written in Norwegian, this Scandinavian thriller is set in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior and is the first book of a trilogy. The landscape is a big part of the story, as is the history of the area, making this a fascinating look at Minnesota as well as a suspenseful read. Scandinavian crime fiction has exploded in popularity, and this is a superior addition to the genre.
AIRTIGHT by David Rosenfelt: The tension is palpable and the pages fly by in this riveting standalone thriller from the author of the Andy Carpenter mystery series. The voice here is just as engaging, with enough humor to lighten the story without diminishing the suspense, and the ending is a real shocker.
ACCUSED: A Rosato & Associates Novel by Lisa Scottoline: Scottoline is back in the legal minefield of the Philadelphia all female law firm of Rosato & Associates. Scottoline writes Nancy Drew inspired mysteries for adults; Mary’s naiveté and belief in justice are heartwarming and believable, and all the characters are recognizable without being cliché. This is a long-awaited solid entry into this terrific series
THE HEIST by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg: This is a new series centered around ex-Navy Seal turned FBI agent Kate O’Hare. The girl’s got skills and so do Evanovich and Goldberg.
BEST CRIME FICTION DEBUTS
RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA by Kimberly McCreight: This is a heartbreaking story but it is told well, with lots of curveballs thrown in. McCreight’s first novel is as polished as a pro’s – this is an author to watch.
COVER OF SNOW by Jenny Milchman: This superlative dark, wintry debut is set in a small town in upstate New York. These well-defined characters take us on an emotional roller-coaster ride through the darkest night, with blinding twists and occasionally fatal turns. This is a richly woven story that not only looks at the devastating effects of suicide but also examines life in a small town and explores the complexity of marriage.
RAGE AGAINST THE DYING by Becky Masterman: Brigid Quinn is a retired FBI agent who gave her all to the bureau until she was forced out over shooting an unarmed man. Brigid is a marvelous, well-developed character and her skills are fearsome for an old broad. Although she sometimes takes things too far, stretching the bounds of credulity, it is worth the suspension of disbelief to hang with her. Fans of Lisa Gardner and Tess Gerritsen will love this book.
BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton: Hamilton is not only a chef, she is a gifted writer with an M.F.A. in fiction writing to prove it. This book is her story, of growing up with a French mother and a father who took to roasting whole lambs at their back yard barbecues. When they split up, Gabrielle got into drugs, embezzlement and a host of other decidedly un-chef-life behaviors that make for a fabulous, fascinating story.
CONSIDER THE FORK by Bee Wilson: I loved this book about how we eat and how we cook. Her writing style is conversational rather than instructional, making this an incredibly interesting and easy read. This is fascinating reading for anyone who cooks, or eats. I loved this book.
OLD-SCHOOL COMFORT FOOD: The Way I Learned to Cook by Alex Guarnaschelli: This is not an intimidating, gourmet “chef-fy” type cookbook; instead it is full of great recipes for food most people can easily make. And it is true to her voice; reading it, I could hear her talking to me. If you are not familiar with this talented, down to earth woman, you will be after reading her book. The introduction is a glimpse into her life, and many of the recipes have little stories or tips to go along with them. This terrific cookbook is also a fun read.
BAREFOOT CONTESSA FOOLPROOF: Recipes You Can Trust by Ina Garten: I am a big Barefoot Contessa fan, and this latest cookbook just adds to the awe. Some of the recipes are classics and appear in several of her cookbooks, but most are new and all look terrific.
Top 10 of 2013
THE UNINVITED by Liz Jensen – a creepy read with an apocalyptic twist and some really creepy kids, Liz Jensen is a must for thriller fans.
THE DIFFERENT GIRL by Gordon Dahlquist – Dahlquist’s teen debut was just as unforgettable as his previous novels. A charming narrator and a sci-fi, dystopian twist made this a true stand out for me.
LONDON FALLING by Paul Cornell – a London based urban fantasy that kicks off what I think will be an excellent series. I can’t wait for more!
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – Joe Hill is brilliant, just brilliant! I look forward to each new release with great anticipation.
THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER by Jessica Anya Blau – this was my intro to Blau’s work and it put her instantly on my must read list. The Wonder Bread Summer is a twisted and hilarious summertime read.
CARNIEPUNK by Rachel Caine et al – some of the best in urban fantasy and paranormal romance contributed to this weird carnival themed collection. I loved each installment and discovered some new-to-me authors.
PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL by Kara Taylor – this teen mystery is Taylor’s debut release. The plotting is tight and clever and I am definitely looking forward to reading the next in the series.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED by Michael Marshall Smith – I’ve long been a fan of Michael Marshall Smith and his latest collection was truly wonderful.
DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King – King never lets me down. This sequel to The Shining lived up to its predecessor on all counts!
THE LOST GIRLS OF ROME by Donato Carrisi – Carrisi is one of my favorite new authors. His books are full of suspense and unpredictable twists. I want every thriller reader out there to discover how fabulous his work is.
Top 10 of 2013
Innocence by Dean Koontz – Haunting update of the Beauty and the Beast theme. Beautifully written. Two principal characters are emotionally rendered and the first person narrative used allows readers to completely related to them and what they experience.
The Absence of Mercy by John Burley – A first novel by Burley exploring the psychology and abnormal psychology involved in murder and attempted murder in a small town. The ending is a complete surprise and one of the most thought provoking finales in recent plots.
The October List by Jeffrey Deaver – An experiment by Deaver in starting the book with the last chapter and progressing to chapter one. Totally logical sequence. Will not be enjoyed by everyone but worth reading because of the expertise in presenting the events and causing them to be completely understood and correct.
The Lincoln Deception by David O Stewart – Very readable questioning of whether John Wilkes Booth was alone in planning and carrying out the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or was it in reality a much wider plot. Stewart puts together the facts as known about the murder in 1865 and comes up with a different idea than written about in our history books.
Ghosts of Bungo Suido by Peter Deutermann – Deutermann is a retired navy Captain, serving only on surface ships but delivers a tribute and a great novel about the World War II submarine war in the Pacific. Research on his part is obvious in descriptions of the fighting and extraordinary dangers in manning of the U boats. The book brings us a description of the end of the war with the bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the point of view of the Japanese present for these events. Very well worth the read regardless of your taste for war stories or not.
Brilliance by Marcus Sakey – A “different” book by the very versatile Sakey projected to be the first of a trilogy. Setting is the U.S. in a near future where the presence of an extremely intelligent segment of human beings complicates life for normal people. Extremely well thought out and outlining possibilities for civilization that cannot be comprehended by people living in today’s society. The book is already in development for filming.
The Curiosity by Stephen P Kiernan – Beyond doubt the book I liked the most for 2013. A great love story combined with a scientific achievement that makes that love possible. Emotionally wrought and will make the reader feel with the characters created. A scientific expedition to the north pole comes up with an event that is beyond the norm and creates conflict for people witnessing the results of that event. They question whether the consequences of something beyond the normal progression of events should be accepted or fought as not real.
No Way Back by Andrew Gross – Gross takes us into the world of the Mexican Drug Cartels. Two women from different walks of life living in the United States find themselves at odds with Drug Cartel members Events in the book and in the background of one of the women bring the two together in order to fight to survive. Gross is a wordsmith and employs a logical sequence bringing the two together in order to fight for their lives.
Six Years by Harlan Coben – Coben at his best setting up a “different” plot to keep his readers mesmerized by the book. A love lost to Jake Fisher the principal male character and completely beyond his understanding after going through a torrid love affair with the supposition that it terminate in marriage with the girl. Why was the affair abruptly ended without explanation and is resolution possible is the crux of the situation and well answered by Coben.
The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter – Hunter has made a literary career writing about snipers and gun duels. He is an expert on the science of ballistics and has obviously built up to this novel which is based on his vast knowledge of guns and bullets. He sets up a scenario in which Bob Lee Swagger, Hunters favorite character begins investigation of the Kennedy Assassination in 1963. Facts are brought out based on Hunter’s knowledge of ballistics that postulates a different set of events than the lone gunman sequence generally accepted and the result of the Warren commission investigation at the time of the murder. Hunter’s descriptions of the probable real sequence of events is not dry, but presents the reader with a good case to see the Kennedy murder in a new light with a possibly wider frame than just Lee Harvey Oswald as the long killer.
Geoffrey R. Hamlin
Top 10 of 2013
1. Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter. The story of Sara, a single mother, after she is advised that her son has been reported missing on a Special Operations mission. The story of his childhood is told through her memories and the story of his military training and experiences is told through the letters she has received from him. A moving story told in language that cuts to the bone. Should be required reading for anyone serving in the United States Congress.
2. The Gods of Guilt – Michael Connelly. One of his finest and that is saying a great deal. The Lincoln Lawyer has suffered setbacks in his personal and professional life. Not only is he feeling guilty, but others that are close to him are laying a lot at his doorstep too. On the surface, this is the story of the preparation for and trial of a murder case. Underneath, it is the story of how good defense lawyers do what they do and what it costs them. There are humorous references to the Lincoln Lawyer movie, suggesting that it has spawned a fleet of imitators which causes a careless Mickey Haller to get into the wrong car. And there is a character called “Starry-Eyed Stacey” which I like to think is in honor of my friend, the one and only Bookbitch.
3. Transatlantic – Colum McCann. The first part of this book is the story of three historical figures travelling from North America to Ireland – two war veterans making the first non-stop transatlantic flight in a refurbished W.W. I bomber, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass in the mid-nineteenth century and George Mitchell attempting to negotiate an end to the “troubles” in the late twentieth century. The second part of the book is the story of women that were involved or participated in these events and how their lives spun out. Simply story-telling at its very finest.
4. Bleeding Edge – Thomas Pynchon. In my humble opinion, Gravity’s Rainbow was the finest American novel of the 20th century. Pynchon approaches that level again in Bleeding Edge. It is the story of Maxine Turnow, a fraud investigator doing business as the firm of Tail ‘Em and Nail ‘Em in New York City around the time of the events of 9/11. As Maxine investigates the tech billionaire Gabriel Ice and his hashslingerz.com in the corners of New York and the deep web, she runs across a wonderful supply of Pyncheon characters who are ridiculous but so reflective of the extremes of our society that you suspend your disbelief willingly.
5. How the Light Gets In – Louise Penny. Not my favorite Penny story, but still far ahead of the rest of crime fiction. Several of the story lines in the saga of Inspector Gamache are resolved in this tale of corruption at the highest level of the police force and the provincial government.
6. Three Can Keep a Secret – Archer Mayor. One of my very favorite regional crime fiction writers, Mayor is up to the mark again in this story involving the murder of a retired state politician and a female escapee from a mental institution, all in the aftermath of the flooding resulting from Hurricane Irene. The estimable Joe Gunther must deal with the crime, the crisis and some personal issues and does so in his satisfyingly straight-ahead good cop way.
7. Dissident Gardens – Jonathan Lethem. A sweeping view of left-wing “movements” in American history and an examination of the people that might have been involved in them. From communism to communes to the Occupy Movement, with appropriate accompanying music. Lethem understands how close ridiculous and heart-breaking can be.
8. W is for Wasted – Sue Grafton. At this stage of the alphabet, each Sue Grafton effort simply has to be recognized and read. Not as smooth and as neat as some of her earlier efforts, just as Kinsey Milhone’s involvement with her past is not smooth and neat. A must read just because.
9. Night Detectives – Jon Talton. Talton has a wonderful understanding of the corruption in the history of Phoenix and Arizona and the silliness in its current events. Night Detectives reflects both of those as former policeman/history professor David Mapstone and the former Sheriff Mike Peralta try their hands at the private detective business. These volumes reflect great credit on one of the fine independent bookstores in America, the Poisoned Pen of Scottsdale and the Poisoned Pen Press.
10. Seashells, Gator Bones, and the Church of Everlasting Liability – Susan Adger. A fine look at small town Florida life in the 1930’s through the eyes of the residents of Toad Springs, Florida.
Top 10 of 2013
15 SECONDS by Andrew Gross: It starts out with two seemingly unrelated events. First, 19 year old Amanda Hofer, stoned on prescription drugs, is involved in a traffic accident that kills a mother and her young son, a child never seen by his father who is serving in Afghanistan. Then a Doctor is stopped in Jacksonville, Florida, in a seemingly meaningless traffic stop. Things get ugly when backup cops arrive but eventually everything settles down. Doctor Henry Steadman thinks he is going to get off with a warning. But then a blue sedan drives by and shots ring out. The policeman who stopped Dr. Steadman is dead, and Steadman knows there are a bunch of policemen who think he is the killer, so he runs to the only friend he has in Jacksonville. When he gets there he finds his friend shot to death. From there on, things only get progessively worse for Henry Steadman. On the run and cut off from the help he needs, Steadman’s only hope is a Jacksonville Community Relations officer who seems to be the only one willing to not pass judgment on Steadman’s guilt or innocence. Will that be enough? Andrew Gross cut his teeth co-authoring with James Patterson but has certainly come into his own. This one puts the thrill in thriller as a diabolical plot unfolds trapping the guilty and the innocent in a maze from which there appears to be no exit. Yes there are parts that are “over the top” but isn’t that true of most thrillers? That is part of what makes them so exciting. This one was unputdownable.
AIR TIGHT by David Rosenfelt: An eye for an eye, quickly becomes a brother for a brother. When Judge Daniel Brennan is gunned down New Jersey policeman Luke Somers is assigned the case. An anonymous tip leads him to Steven Gallagher, a drug addict about to be sentenced by Judge Brennan. When they go into Gallagher’s apartment he has a gun in hand. Somers reacts instinctively and shoots him dead. Now, Steven’s brother Chris Gallagher, who raised his brother, Steven, almost single-handedly, is certain that Steven is innocent. Chris, a Marine Recon Force member is one to be reckoned with. He kidnaps Luke’s own brother who will die if Luke refuses to help clear Steven’s name. Failure by Luke may lead to his brother’s death; success may lead to his own death. A good one.
THE BROKEN PLACES by Ace Atkins: Third in the Quinn Colson series, the town of Jericho is besieged by a band of escaped criminals from the infamous Parchman Farm prison as well as a violent tornado that reeks havoc just as sheriff Colson is getting to the bottom of why Jericho has become so popular with hardened criminals. In his second year after becoming Sheriff the challenges facing Colson and his chief deputy, Lillie, are as big as they get. Although I wasn’t that impressed with much of Atkins previous work, in my opinion he has hit a homerun with this character and this series. Looking forward to outing number four.
THE FAME THIEF by Tim Hallinan: Through his previous work, LA burglar Junior has acquired a protector and mentor. The problem is the person who has involved himself in Junior’s life is one Irwin Dressler, Hollywood’s scariest mob boss-turned-movie king. Having Dressler for a mentor is not unlike walking a greased high wire over a pit of piranhas during a windstorm. Even though Dressler is ninety-three years old, Junior is thinks hif life is over when Dressler’s henchman haul him in for a meeting. It turns out that Dressler wants Junior to solve a “crime” he believes was committed more than seventy years ago, when an old friend of his, once-famous starlet Dolores La Marr, had her career destroyed after compromising photos were taken of her at a Las Vegas party. Dressler wants justice for Dolores and the shining career she never had. After all, it’s been seventy years. Even if someone did set Dolores up for a fall from grace back then, they’re probably long dead now. But Junior can’t say no to Irwin Dressler (no one can, really). So he starts digging. As additional motivation Dressler knows Junior’s deepest secret hideaway which means the alternative would be to flee California and his daughter forever and that is not going to happen. Another outstanding offering from Tim Hallinan.
LIGHT OF THE WORLD by James Lee Burke: This may be Burke’s most complex work since In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. Dave Robicheaux and his longtime friend and partner Clete Purcell are vacationing in Montana’s spectacular Big Sky country with Dave’s wife Molly, daughter Alafair and Clete’s daughter, Gretchen Horowitz. It should be nothing but fly-fishing, relaxing, and having a good time. But it turns out there are some strange locals, including some corrupt lawmen, an oil billionaire, and a mysterious rodeo cowboy to contend with. To top it off there are indications that a sadistic serial killer, whom Alfair interviewed in prison and who supposedly died in a collision between a tanker truck and a police transport vehicle, may, in fact, be alive and is stalking Alafair. There are also attempts on Gretchen’s life. It’s up to the Boogie-woogie boys from down home in New Orleans to protect their respective daughters and get everyone out alive. As always, outstanding.
LITTLE ELVISES by Tim Hallinan: Cops and robbers, mobsters and gun molls – what has LA burglar Junior Bender gotten himself into this time. Crooked LA cop Paul DiGaudio is going to frame Junior for a particularly nasty burglary unless Junior can prove aging music industry mogul Vinnie DiGaudio (Paul’s uncle) is innocent of the murder of a nasty tabloid journalist he’d threatened to kill a couple times. It doesn’t help that the dead journalist’s widow is one pretty lady, and she’s trying to get Junior to mix pleasure with business. In addition, Junior’s hard-drinking landlady begs him to solve the disappearance of her daughter, who got involved with a very questionable character and both Junior’s ex-wife and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Rina, seem to have new boyfriends. After being run into with a Humvee, been threatened with death a few times, Junior must also cope with having the kingpin of LA crime involved with his little task. It’s almost enough to make a thief go honest. Serious but funny action in a story superbly told by a master of the genre, Mr. Timothy Hallinan.
RULES OF CRIME by LJ Sellers: Another outstanding police procedural from Ms.Sellers featuring Detective Wade Jackson and his cohorts of the Eugene, Oregon Police Department. This time its personal as Jackson’s ex-wife, Renee, is missing, Jackson suspects alcoholic Renee has climbed back inside the bottle that destroyed their marriage. But the truth is far worse: kidnappers have snatched Renee and are demanding ransom from her wealthy fiancé. In the meantime, Jackson’s protégé, Detective Lara Evans, is working a seemingly unrelated case involving a battered coed and a whispered rumor of a secret sorority. Add in Eugene’s new FBI liaison, Agent Carla River, (formerly Carl) and you have all the main characters hard at work to save lives and bring the perps to justice. I still miss Ed McBain, but Ms. Sellers has become my go-to for solid police procedurals.
SKIN DEEP by Timothy Hallinan: Way back in 1991, there were them that could write like: “In all, it seemed to me that the people who understood carburetors could get along much better without the people who understood Dickens and Thackery than the people who understood Dickens and Thackery could get along without those who understood carburetors.” LA private eye Simeon Grist is hired to watchdog Toby Vane, the golden boy of prime-time TV, whose gee-whiz smile and chiseled features are worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the lucrative syndication market. The problem is that Toby every now and then beats up a woman, and almost any woman will do. When some of the women around Toby begin to turn up dead, Simeon has to figure out whether he’s protecting a murderer – or whether one of Toby’s multitude of enemies wants to put him away forever. When Simeon meets the beautiful Nana, the whole situation becomes very personal, very fast. The true test of a writer is how well his work holds up and Mr. Hallinan fully fills the bill. Simeon Grist, Poke Rafferty and now Junior Bender – just a few of my favorite guys.
SUSPECT by Robert Crais: LAPD cop Scott James and his new partner Maggie share a common bond. Each was shot and nearly died in actions in which their respective partners were killed. Scott lost his partner Stephanie in a shocking nighttime assault by unidentified men killed. Maggie is a German shepherd who survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler to an IED. They are each other’s last chance. Shunned and shunted to the side, they set out to investigate the one case that no one wants them to touch: the identity of the men who murdered Stephanie. It is an incredible journey of discovery as each tries to make their other whole. Crais doesn’t need Elvis Cole or Joe Pike to turn out a first rate thriller.
THE THIRD BULLET by Stephen Hunter: Former Marine sniper Bob Lee “The Nailer” Swagger is back in a thriller fifty years in the making. Swagger is interested in the events of November 22, 1963, and the third bullet that ended the life of John F. Kennedy and set the stage for one of the most enduring controversies of our time. Swagger begins his slow stalk through a much-traveled landscape, but soon he is right in the middle of the decades old controversy. As Bob investigates, another voice enters the narrative: knowing, ironic, almost familiar, that of a gifted, Yale-educated veteran of the CIA Plans Division. Hugh Meachum has secrets and the means and the will to keep them buried. When weighed against his own legacy, Swagger’s life is an insignificant expense—but to blunt the threat, he’ll first have to ambush the sniper. May be Hunter’s best ever.