Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch
It is my pleasure to present my favorite reads of 2014. Once again I didn’t constrain myself to any arbitrary number of good books – these are all terrific and are listed alphabetically by author within each category. That said, my top three for the year would have to be All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (literary fiction,) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (women’s fiction,) and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (crime fiction.) But believe me when I say every one of these books is terrific!
SAVE THE DATE by Mary Kay Andrews: My go to summer beach read; lots of angst, but lots of romance and Andrews’ trademark southern charm make this a terrific fast paced read with warm, fully realized characters, crisp writing, and a terrific storyline.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr: Universal themes of love, war, deception, loyalty, impairments and more offers great fodder for discussion. Most of the chapters are extremely short, and even though it is a highly descriptive novel, the story moves and is quite gripping, I couldn’t put it down. Shortlisted for the National Book Award.
THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET by Susan Jane Gilman: This is a family story about the immigrant experience in America, told with a lot of humor and pathos. The characters come alive on these pages and while you may not always like Lillian Dunkle, you can’t help but cheer her on.
THE SECRET OF MAGIC by Deborah Johnson: Racism is the theme of this fast paced read that tugs at the heart with reminders of how much things have changed, and how much maybe they haven’t. My love affair with Amy Einhorn books continues.
THE GLASS KITCHEN by Linda Francis Lee: Romance never runs smoothly, and Lee does a more than credible job here, even with the touches of magical realism sprinkled throughout the book. This is a charming, sweet and funny story with wonderful, warm characters you can’t help but care about. Foodies will love it.
RUTH’S JOURNEY by Donald McCaig: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I don’t know how this book stands on its own as I am so familiar with GWTW that I have no basis for that understanding. So all I can say is this book brings another dimension to that one, and I ripped through it in a night. I think it’s a great addition to the saga and not to be missed by GWTW fans.
BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty: The way she builds almost unbearable suspense is simply magical, especially as we don’t even know who dies until the end, never mind who did it. Moriarty has become one of my favorite authors and this is a page turner of the finest kind. Don’t miss it.
THE SISTERS WEISS by Naomi Ragen: Ragen goes back to her roots, Ultra Orthodox Jewish family stories, this time using Rose and Pearl Weiss as her vehicle.The characters are well developed, the culture interesting and I learned a lot. This is a fast read, albeit not an easy one. This is a family I won’t soon forget.
DELICIOUS! by Ruth Reichl: Ruth Reichl is well known for her memoirs, including my favorite, Garlic & Sapphires, about her stint as the New York Times restaurant critic. She is also well known for her stewardship at Gourmet magazine before its demise, and her occasional appearances on TV shows like Top Chef. This is her first novel, and it’s a really fun read. Another foodie favorite.
FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell: This is another charming story from this terrific storyteller. The characters are deftly brought to life and their stories are absorbing. I hated when it ended, and I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.
THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs: There are a lot of threads to this story, and Wiggs masterly weaves them all together seamlessly, creating an engaging page turner with historical significance – I learned a lot about about Denmark’s role during the Holocaust. Her characters are skillfully brought to life, and the California setting becomes another character here.
THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin: This is an utterly charming book that is sure to make my best books of the year list (and here it is!) It is simply 272 pages of bookseller bliss. All I can say is don’t miss it.
*BEST CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
THE SWEET SPOT by Stephanie Evanovich: This sequel (really a prequel) is another great romance from Evanovich, with a little humor and a lot of kinky sex. Fans of the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy should enjoy this – the writing is far superior.
ONE PLUS ONE by JoJo Moyes: Moyes writes great characters (Me Before You,) and I will not be forgetting these anytime soon. This was a really enjoyable, fast read that should please her legion of fans.
HEROES ARE MY WEAKNESS by Susan Elizabeth Phillips: This book is a bit of a departure for Phillips. Eventually the romance kicks in but the gothic atmosphere is pervasive throughout, an obvious nod to one of the original Gothic romances, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Bottom line? Phillips is a great storyteller and has penned another winner.
*BEST HISTORICAL ROMANCE
THE ESCAPE by Mary Balogh: Survivor’s Club Series, Book 3. This series focuses on a group of men who all sustained injuries during the Napoleonic Wars. This is another terrific story in what has turned into a favorite series.
VIXEN IN VELVET by Loretta Chase: The Dressmakers, #3. A book that starts out with the heroine entranced with a Botticelli painting grabs me from the get go. The love scenes are well done without resorting to cliché, and not too explicit.
THREE WEEKS WITH LADY X by Eloisa James: Desperate Duchesses series. Eloisa James has become my favorite romance writer. She does historicals, this one set in 1799 England. James excels at creating believably complex, well developed characters and richly imagined stories. People magazine said, “Romance writing does not get much better than this,” and I agree.
*BEST CRIME FICTION
NOTORIOUS by Allison Brennan: In this introduction to a new series, investigative reporter Maxine Revere takes on cold cases both in print and on her cable TV show, and works with ex-special forces turned detective Nick Santini. Fireworks erupt on more than one occasion, and it seems like the beginning of an interesting relationship and a terrific new series.
PERSONAL by Lee Child: It’s rather hard to believe that this is the 19th book in the Jack Reacher series, and somehow, this series doesn’t grow stale, doesn’t get tiresome, and the predictability is always enjoyable. It would be simple to say that this is just another chapter in the Reacher series. Personal is exciting as expected, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, but that is no easy feat to pull off. If you read any series, you know how difficult it is to create nineteen books that are really all terrific.
THE BURNING ROOM by Michael Connelly: This is the latest Harry Bosch novel, and it is another excellent addition to the series and frankly, I’m running out of superlatives to describe Connelly’s work. And for me, seeing Harry so close to the end of his career is bittersweet; I can’t imagine the series ending, so I’m hoping it takes a turn in some way.
THE GODS OF GUILT by Michael Connelly: This is the latest entry in the Lincoln Lawyer series, but fear not, Harry Bosch is lurking around the fringes. Mickey Haller is a great character, and I loved the tongue-in-cheek references to the Lincoln Lawyer movie. This was fast reading, one night, as I couldn’t put it down. Another excellent read from the master of crime fiction.
ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Kruger: This family deals with death, with God and faith, with community and the long term repercussions of war in this beautifully written, soul searing novel. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be – unforgettable. Don’t miss it.
A CIRCLE OF WIVES by Alice LaPlante: I loved LaPlante’s first novel, Turn of Mind, and it took two years to get the second – but it was worth the wait. The writing is crisp and the characters well developed. All the varied relationships are explored and themes of trust, love, passion, jealousy and more will give book groups lots to discuss. This is another excellent literary thriller from LaPlante.
AFTER I’M GONE by Laura Lippman: Lippman returns with a brilliant standalone novel that includes a nod to her series heroine, Tess Monahan, and is set in her hometown of Baltimore. This is a genre bending novel; mystery for sure, but women’s fiction readers will love it too, as will book groups. After I’m Gone is a truly wonderful read and I was very sorry to have to turn the last page.
RUIN FALLS by Jenny Milchman: Paul is a professor who is determined to live a green, postconsumer lifestyle. How far Paul will go to live his politics and how a determined mother can seemingly overcome almost any obstacle is at the heart of this tautly written page-turner. Milchman proves her chops with her sophomore effort and she carves out a new niche with this unusual environmental family thriller.
BETRAYED: A Rosato & Associates Novel by Lisa Scottoline: Scottoline writes terrific legal fiction with warm, smart characters and lots of humor and heart, adding additional depth to her stories. This is one of my favorite series and she never disappoints. Her legion of fans will be happy with Betrayed, and should find her new readers as well.
DEAD TO ME by Cath Staincliffe: This book is actually a prequel to a popular British TV series, “Scott and Bailey,” now in its fourth season in the UK and airing on some PBS stations in the U.S. Much more than just a murder mystery, these characters are well developed, idiosyncratic and likeable, and that extends to their families and co-workers as well. Most reminiscent of the Cagney and Lacy TV series, this should appeal to readers who enjoy female buddy books.
MOVING DAY by Jonathan Stone: Con men preying on the elderly is nothing new, but in Stone’s hands seems brand new, especially with a Holocaust survivor main protagonist. Well developed characters, interesting settings and tautly written suspense make this a true page turner.
*BEST CRIME FICTION DEBUTS
BONE DUST WHITE by Karin Salvalaggio: Rural Montana’s frozen tundra is the setting for this literary mystery debut. The icy winter itself becomes almost another character in this dark, brooding whodunit filled with sharp twists and idiosyncratic characters.
EAT WHAT YOU KILL by Ted Scofield: Main protagonist Stoess is a sympathetic character despite his murderous ways, making this financial thriller an emotional rollercoaster of a read. Fans of Christopher Reich and Joseph Finder will love this debut.
THE ANDY COHEN DIARIES by Andy Cohen: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year. Andy mentions another possible title, “Namedropping,” which certainly would have been appropriate as well. Andy kept a journal for 2013, and kept track of everyone he ran into, dined with (and where), topics discussed, guests on his show, shows where he was the guest, parties attended, events that he emceed, and so forth. This was seriously fun reading.
SOUS CHEF by Michael Gibney: 24 Hours on the Line. Everyone has eaten in a restaurant but do you have any idea of what’s involved in getting your food to the table? Kitchens can be very competitive, and indeed Gibney describes competitions he has with himself in putting together his mise en place. But it is serving the customer that is at the heart of this kitchen. The pacing is relentless, the writing superior, and all in all this is just a fascinating read.
HOW ABOUT NEVER–IS NEVER GOOD FOR YOU? by Bob Mankoff: My Life in Cartoons. This is a memoir of sorts, from the cartoon editor of the New Yorker. Often laugh out loud funny and always interesting, I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it to New Yorker fans and those who’ve even never picked up the magazine as well. When you need a break from heart pounding thrillers, thought provoking literary books or dystopian nightmares, this light, fast, funny read is the perfect respite.
CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY by George Saunders: George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University in 2013, the New York Times published it, someone posted it on YouTube, and the rest, as they say, is history. That speech has been turned into this adorable little book, only 7 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches, 64 pages, yet packs an enormous, powerful wallop. Right on the chin. It’s a knockout.
*BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL
STARLING by Sage Stossel: I don’t read many graphic novels, probably one a year on average, so if I do manage to read the whole thing, that already says a lot. I liked the premise of a young woman superhero who is essentially a flawed character. The illustrations are good and add to the story, but it’s the story that really pulled me in. This is a fun read and a good bet for fans of Sex and the City and any young women in need of a superhero like themselves.
Becky’s Top Ten of 2014
BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman – a violent epidemic leads to the end of everything. Four years after its onset, Malorie has decided it’s time to try and create a new life for her and her two children. But this new life means risking everything. This is an eerie and unsettling debut, one that builds slowly and is worth savoring!
ROBOT UPRISINGS ed by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams – a fabulous collection of shorts based on the premise that artificial intelligence and technology can and will go wrong.
ABROAD by Katie Crouch – this dark thriller is loosely inspired on the Amanda Knox case.Abroad is a powerful read but also an emotionally draining one.
SINFUL FOLK by Ned Hayes – set in the winter of 1377, this story is based on a real incident wherein a group of village boys was killed in a suspicious fire. A group of villagers sets off to plead justice from the king, but one of their party is hiding secrets that could be a detriment to them all. This is a really fantastic historical tale, one with a surprising and gripping premise.
BLISS HOUSE by Laura Benedict – after an accident claims the life of her husband and leaves her daughter severely injured, Rainey decides it’s time for a change. She moves back to the old family estate but soon finds that it isn’t the refuge she’d hoped it would be at all. Benedict’s latest is excellent and chilling! It’s also the first in a series of titles to be set around Bliss House.
THIRD RAIL by Rory Flynn – Eddy Harkness’s last big case ended in massive embarrassment and suspension. In spite of his current attempts to keep his nose clean, Eddy finds himself in the midst of another sensitive case and on the brink of further trouble. This pseudonymous debut is a top-notch thriller packed with unexpected twists and turns.
MIND OF WINTER by Laura Kasischke – Christmas morning begins on an ominous note for Holly and her daughter. As a snowstorm rages outside, Holly revisits the strange occurrences that have plagued her family since their trip to a Siberian orphanage thirteen years ago. Mind of Winter is so incredibly creepy and atmospheric!
THREE SOULS by Janie Chang – this debut begins with the main character witnessing her own funeral. Before her soul can move on to the afterlife, she has something that she must atone for – but first she has to figure out what that something is. Three Souls is a beautiful book steeped in history and folklore.
WHITE SPACE by Ilsa J. Bick – a holiday getaway quickly turns dangerous in this first of the Dark Passages series. This is a bizarre tale that’s often compared to Memento and Inception. It’s trippy as all get out and readers seem to either love it or hate it – I’m firmly in the love category!
EX-PURGATORY by Peter Clines – this fourth installment of Peter Clines’s Ex-Heroes series (featuring superheroes and zombies) turns the entire series on its head. It’s spoilerific if you haven’t read the preceding three books, but it is also super fun and super clever.
Paul Lane’s Top Ten 2014
1) Chain of Events by Fredrik T. Olsson
Author’s first novel. An ancient Sumeranian text outlines a plague that will strike in modern times killing more people than the Black Plague did. Two people are kidnapped by a mysterious group and made to work on translating the text in order to come up with it’s remedy. Fast moving and engrossing novel following the progress towards finding the answers.
2) Twilight’s Last Gleaming by John Michael Greer
A look into a possible near term scenario when the United States runs out of oil, and fracking does not work anymore. A war to conquer an African country that has just discovered a huge oil deposit on it’s shores. The poor shape of American weaponry due to corrupt politicians taking bribes to okay the choice of these arms, the intervention of China that has an alliance with that country and a leadership of the U.S. concerned only with their own gain. The results of the lose of that war leads Americans into a revolution to overthrow the government. Events depicted by Greer are possibilities based on current trends and the thoughts provoked by him will give the reader pause.
3) The Carnage Account by Ben Lieberman
Story told with three principal characters all well delineated. One is a multi millionaire who invests in a business selling death bonds. That is betting on the death of individuals buying a policy to pay an amount on their demise. The millionaire decides to help beneficiaries of high payments by hastening the death of the principal on the policy. This is done for a payment by the beneficiary to him. The second two people are a beautiful woman that does publicity for the millionaire’s pro basketball team who is a love interest for him and an ex navy seal that had a love affair with the woman some years ago. Very well set up plot and events of the novel.
4) Full Measure by T. Jefferson Parker
A stand alone novel by Parker. A young ex marine returns from Afghanistan with the intention of starting a sport fishing guide business. He finds instead that his parent’s Avocado tree ranch has been destroyed by a wild fire and his mother and father are facing ruin. His brother who is intellectually slow gets involved with a criminal element in order to prove that he is worthy of his family’s love. The book is a study of the thoughts and emotions of all of the characters and extremely well done by Parker who generally writes crime novels.
5) The Color of Justice by Ace Collins
Engrossing book by Collins told in two parts. Both parts take place in the Mississippi town of Justice. Part one takes place in the past during a period when Jim Crow was alive in the south. A lawyer born in Justice and returning there with his law degree takes the case of a young black man accused of murder. The attorney realizes that doing so will cause him to become persona non grata with the white element. Collins is superb in bringing the events of both periods together logically.
6) Assassin’s Game by Ward Larson
A retired assassin that had worked for the Mossad, married and living in the U.S. with his wife is forced to reenter service by his ex employers. A scientist in Iran has succeeded in bringing that country to the brink of perfecting a nuclear tipped ballistic missile and attempts to assassinate him have failed. David Slaton, the retired assassin is coerced into returning to action in order to kill the Iranian scientist since it is believed that there is a leak within the Mossad and David is not known. The novel is replete with fast moving action and a guaranteed all nighter.
7) Dead Line by Chris Ewan
Daniel Trent and his fiancee are partners in the unusual business of helping families of kidnapped individuals deal with the kidnappers in order to reach a speedy and successful conclusion. Daniel knows that his fiancee has been in contact with a wealthy family to sell the head a policy to negotiate his release should he be kidnapped. His fiancee has also just told him that she is pregnant when she suddenly disappears. Daniel decides to begin following the millionaire on whom his partner has been calling on to sell him one of their policies. He is a witness when that person is kidnapped right in front of him. Daniel has to enter the picture to negotiate the millionaire’s release while also trying to find his fiancee. Engrossing and different story to fascinate the reader.
8) I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
A fascinating story involving a battle between two men from different sides. One is a master terrorist born in Saudi Arabia and known as the Saracen and the other known as Pilgrim who was adopted by a very wealthy family. Pilgrim has become the top agent of a U.S. agency only known as above the CIA. Both men are destined to meet as the Saracen plots a massive attack against the United States. The threat is a brilliant conception that the reader will be able to identify with and the mental jousting between the two adversaries is equally as brilliant.
9) Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
After a long absence from the literary world due to a major auto accident Greg Iles returns with a vengeance. In the first of an announced trilogy Iles uses the Cage family familiar to readers from other books to tell the story of the old south from the early 70’s until about the Katrina hurricane. Penn Cage, an attorney has to take on the defense of his father accused of murdering a black woman who had left the area years ago in order to leave behind a love affair she was having with the father. She is raped before leaving by a group known as “The Double Eagles” who were members of the KKK. Leaving the south she settles in Chicago and has a baby there. It is not known if the child is by Penn’s father or as a result of the rape. The murder is solved with this book but leaves problems and situations in all probability to be solved in the second and third novels.
10) Influx by Daniel Suarez
Suarez postulates an agency of the U.S. Government known as the Bureau of Technology Control. They are charged with examining and possibly suppressing inventions and discoveries that could cause society to bypass orderly progress. They have gone rogue and kept inventions that could benefit society but deemed by them to be contrary to an orderly progression of events secret.Jon Grady and his team have come up with a device that will reflect gravity probably causing travel by any form using it to become faster, safer and less expensive. The Bureau of Technology Control offers Jon a job working on the device under their supervision, but he refuses and is thrown illegally into a high tech prison maintained by the Bureau. A very different science fiction story and an all night read following Jon’s escape and subsequent events.
Jack Quick’s Top Ten 2014
1. THE ACCIDENT by Chris Pavone: The Accident is a somewhat more conventional thriller than Pavone’s fine debut (The Expats, 2012), but he excels at developing characters’ back stories. Highly recommended.
2. COP TOWN by Karin Slaughter: This book is set in Atlanta in 1974. As a brutal murder and a furious manhunt rock the city’s police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first day on the job will also be her last. It’s also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.
3. THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith AKA J. K. Rowling: I may be the only remaining person on the planet who has never read a Harry Potter book or watched a Harry Potter Movie. However, after reading this one I may have to change my priorities. I thought it was great.
4. FULL MEASURE by T. Jefferson Parker: A tale of two brothers and overcoming the odds. May be Parker’s best.
5. THE HEIST by Daniel Silva: Gabriel Allon, art restorer and occasional spy, searches for a stolen masterpiece by Caravaggio in Silva’s latest action-packed tale of high stakes international intrigue. Another must read from one of today’s finest thriller writers.
6. RUN by Andrew Grant: Marc Bowman is a highly successful computer consultant and software designer who is fired on the spot, stonewalled by his boss, and ushered out of the building. But it’s only Monday, and before the week is over, he’ll be stalked, ambushed, wiretapped, arrested, duped, double-and triple-crossed—until he can’t tell enemies from allies. And the only thing left to do is keep running—or end up a dead man walking.
7. THE SACRIFICE by Peg Brantley: Another great read from Ms Brantley. Suspense builds until near the end when it all comes together, but wait, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet, so keep on reading. You won’t be disappointed.
8. SNIPER’S HONOR by Stephen Hunter: Bob Lee Swagger’s war was Vietnam and now the former sniper has been out of the game a long time, and, sadly, nothing has ever replaced what he’s appalled to call the killing fever. Perhaps most memorable of all, though, is Hunter’s vivid re-creation of the carnage on the Eastern Front, where, as Milli notes, the Russians’ only advantage over the Germans was numbers: If they kill us five to one, we bring six to one . . . we shall prevail because, all things being equal, we can outbleed them. May be Hunter’s best ever.
9. THE TARGET by David Baldacci: Unputdownable. The President knows it’s a perilous, high-risk assignment. If he gives the order, he has the opportunity to take down a global menace, once and for all. If the mission fails, he would face certain impeachment, and the threats against the nation would multiply.
10. THE TARGET by L J Sellers: With her latest Agent Dallas outing, Ms. Sellers has once again hit it out of the park. Focusing on the world of industrial espionage and cutting edge medical technology, Sellers shows that while greed is universal and seemingly boundless, you can’t keep a good agent down, and Agent Dallas is the best of the best.
Geoff Hamlin’s Ten Favorites for 2014
I thought that this was pretty good year for both great stories and intellectual challenges, so this was not an easy list to put together.
1. Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck: Much to my surprise, the book that moved me the most this year was this slender volume of poetry by Louise Gluck. Calm and reflective, Ms. Gluck’s language is an easy entrée into thoughts about both the deepest and the most transient aspects of life and family.
2. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan: The powerful WWII story of a doctor from Australia who is the commanding officer of a group of Australian prisoners of war. His men are being forced by the Japanese Army to try to build a railroad through the jungle in Burma. It pulls no punches and is not a pretty or romantic story. However, there are many examples of courage and weakness displayed. The doctor, Dorrigo Evans, finds himself forced to be a better man than he had ever dreamed of being in order to set an example for his men. The book looks in depth at why people do great things and why other people engage in acts of what seems to be unspeakable cruelty. It is a powerhouse and was well deserving of the Booker Prize. (By the way, the title comes from a book by Basho, the legendary Japanese poet.)
3. The Burning Room by Michael Connelly: Bosch is back, working on another cold case, a man who finally dies from a bullet fired ten years earlier. It is politically sensitive and becomes even more so when tied to another cold case involving children killed in a fire. Bosch is assigned a new protégé, Lt. Lucia Soto, who turns out to be a survivor of that fire. As the story progresses, Bosch tries to pass along not only what he knows about crime-solving and why murderers must be brought to justice, but also how to avoid the pitfalls of politics and the press. Lt. Soto is an apt student, although every bit as headstrong as Bosch himself. As the twin cases progress, they each gain increasing trust and respect for each other. Hopefully, they will continue to get to work together in the future.
4. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny: Those who know how strongly I feel about Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache stories will appreciate how powerful I thought the first three books were to place them ahead of her latest. The Long Way Home is interesting for a lot of different reasons.To start with, it is not, at least at first, a murder story. It is the story of the usual gang’s search for the husband of Clara Morrow, the artist extraordinaire. Secondly, it does not take place in the wonderfully familiar and comfortable setting of the Village of Three Pines, but rather travels to the no man’s land at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. But most of all, it is different because you can sense Ms. Penny feeling more confident and liberated as an author, willing to take chances and try new things. It will be fascinating to see where her next book goes. I can’t wait.
5. Redeployment by Phil Klay: Klay’s short stories about life as a soldier in Iraq and afterward are based on his personal experiences there. A review of some of the stories titles will let you know how deep and powerful they are going to be – Frago, After Action Report, Bodies, Money as a Weapons System, In Vietnam They Had Whores, Prayer in the Furnace, Psychological Operations, and Unless It’s a Sucking Chest Wound. The grim humor of men at war comes through in the story OIF, which pretty much consists of the acronyms that bureaucracies love. It starts “EOD handled the bombs. SSTP treated the wounds. PRP processed the bodies. The 08’s fired DPICM. The MAW provided the CAS. The 03’s patrolled the MSR’s. Me and PFC handled the money.”
6. In Paradise by Peter Mattheissen: Mattheissen’s last book is one of his best. It is the story of Clements Olin, a professor of twentieth century Slavic literature, with a special interest in survivor texts. Professor Olin, who is himself of Polish extraction joins a group of about a hundred people, from various countries, for a week-long “healing” at a German death camp. The use of these different peoples, including a spiritual leader, Ben Lama, and a cynic named Dr. Anders Stern, illustrates how hard to it is to understand the holocaust and assign responsibility for that. It is thought-provoking, as well as a good story.
7. Cold Storage by John Straley: Straley is one of our finest regional crime fiction writers. It is interesting to see that his cover blurbs come from the likes of James Sallis, Ken Bruen, Gary Snyder, and Sam Alden (graphic novelist). Cold Storage is the name of a small town in Alaska. Clive McCahon returns there after having served seven years in prison for drug offenses. He rebuilds an old town gathering place which he calls the Love Nest and serves beer and plays music on records during the week and delivers a sermon on Sunday. All of the town characters are in fact characters. When a Tlingit Indian named Lester is asked if everybody in town is a comedian, he responds, “No, actually most of the people in this town are drunks or depressives, but we have our funny moments.”
8. Soul of the Fire by Elliot Pattison: This is the seventh in a series of novels about a Chinese official, Shan Tao Yun, who was exiled to and imprisoned in Tibet for alleged political crimes. He was able to survive his imprisonment by embracing the instruction he received from other prisoners in the Tibetan religious practices and traditional way of life. Now he uses those beliefs and practices to ameliorate the evils being perpetrated by the Chinese rulers of Tibet. What these books are really about is the way in which the Chinese are seeking to extinguish everything that characterized the Tibetans. In addition to being an entertaining and different story, the serious message of these books is an important reminder that awful things are still being done in many parts of the world.
9. The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch: The latest in Finch’s Charles Lenox Victorian era mysteries has Lenox starting a private detective agency after resigning his seat in Parliament. At first, he is frustrated because bad press has prevented him from bringing in his share of the business. However, when the Scotland Yard detective who was allegedly the source of the bad press is killed, Scotland Yard again requests his help. I enjoy these books not only because they are good stories, but also because they always have some interesting tidbit of English history or etymology. For example, I now know where the name Charing Cross comes from.
10. The Elephant Man by Vicki Croke: The story of an Englishman who humanized the treatment of elephants in the lumber camps of Burma and so was able to put together a formidable and useful force of elephants to assist the British in their defense and retreats during WWII.
I should note that I have not had the time to read Marilynne Robinson’s new book, Lila, which I suspect would have made this list. I would also like to mention Solo, by Rana Dasgupta, the story of a 100 year old man in Sofia, Bulgaria, looking back on his life. It was the best book I read this year that was published before 2014.