The following is my sister’s second annual book review – revel in it’s beauty my friends!
I didn’t read many books this year. I had a number of things going on, including my father passing away and running for office. I was short on time and distracted most of the year. This also resulted in a very long list of half-read books that I keep meaning to go back to (A Gentleman In Moscow, Educated, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, We were the Kennedys, River Talk, Outposts . . . the list goes on) as well as books I may have read but forgot to make a note of. What I finished, and can remember, is below.
The Top Five
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
This was a love letter to libraries woven around the story of the 1986 fire at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles public library. Non-fiction that read like fiction. If you love books and libraries, this book is for you.
Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali
A Turkish classic from the late 1940s that was only translated into English last year. I am a sucker for tragic love stories and this one hit all the right notes. Favorite passage: “It should not have mattered so much where we were born, whose child we were. All that mattered was that two people had found each other and achieved a rare happiness. The rest was incidental.”
Butterflies in November by Ardur Ava Olafsdottir
One of my reading resolutions for last year was to read less provincially and to read more books in translation. This is a contemporary novel translated from Icelandic. This book had many elements that I enjoyed: an intelligent, resourceful, female protagonist with relationship issues, a journey, and lots of quirky characters and events.
The Biggest Elvis by P.F. Kluge
This was primarily set in a nightclub in the Philippines before the closing of Subic Bay Naval Base. It is part love story, part mystery, and part social commentary on bar-girls and entrapment caused by poverty. This one stuck with me long after I was finished. Kluge also wrote Eddie and The Cruisers – made into a movie that I watched multiple times in the 1980s.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Yes, I know that he is on the “me too” blacklist, but this is a great coming of age book told from the point of view of a Native American living in poverty. It is funny and the self-deprecation is masterful. I am thankful to the guys in the used bookstore who recommended this and I would recommend it to others, despite the sins of the author.
The Year of Reading Dangerously, How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller
I spent an entire afternoon laughing out loud while reading this book. However, I appreciate that not everyone is going to find it so fantastically funny. Your mindset has to be part book snob, part adolescent, with an appreciation of dry British humor. Miller’s comparison of Moby Dick and the Da Vinci Code (“Whale vs Grail”) will forever be one of the funniest things I have ever read.
The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby
I love good travel/adventure books. The very best ones make me want to pack a bag and run away from home to traipse around the world. This was one of those. Newby chucks his job in advertising and signs aboard the Moshulu as an apprentice seaman (in 1938) in an around the world voyage transporting grain from Australia to the UK. Also exciting is that the Moshulu is now a floating restaurant in Philadelphia that I have been to.
The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker
I first saw the Tina Fey movie Whiskey, Tango Foxtrot and was determined to read the book behind the movie. This one also made me want to run off – this time to be a foreign correspondent. It goes without saying, but there is so much more to the book than there was to the movie.
North Country by Howard Frank Mosher
Mosher was a Vermont author that I had heard of but never read. This book chronicles his 1990s drive along the US/Canada border. Part travelogue, part memoir I enjoyed it but it wasn’t super exciting. I did like Moser’s writing enough to read more though (see below).
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
If you have a child that is really into nature then you may have read some of Sy Montgomery’s other titles (“Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition into the Cloud Forest of New Guinea” or “Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot”). Soul of an Octopus is another nature work that chronicles the life of the resident giant pacific octopuses at the New England Aquarium. This is an enjoyable piece of immersion journalism that will make you care about octopuses in a way you never thought possible.
Book Lust by Nancy Pearl
Last year I had picked up “Book Lust to Go.” I decided to check out Pearl’s other titles in this series and I enjoy having them as references for when I am stuck on what to read next. Nice to have on hand if you want to discover some titles you might not have otherwise read and add to your TBR pile.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson
I am reasonably sure that I bemoaned the crowded field of WWII women in espionage novels last year. This is yet another entry. It is well done but I am so tired of reading books in this setting. Let’s find another era to write about.
Points North: Stories by Howard Frank Mosher
Moser passed away and this short story collection, set in Vermont’s Northern Kingdom, was published posthumously. It had some editing issues (maybe the first story could have been left out), but overall I enjoyed it. Will continue to read Mosher.
Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
Historical fiction, set in the late 1800s, which tells the story of the battle between Edison and Westinghouse over who will dominate the field of electric light. As an attorney, I appreciated that Paul Cravath was the central character. Other historical notables, such as Nikola Tesla and J.P. Morgan also play significant roles. There is a bit of a love story. While I liked the general history/narrative of this book, the writing was atrociously bad. It was one overdone metaphor/simile after another: “He spun his fingers again, the gin in his glass swaying like the waves in a summer storm.” Ugh.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This book has gotten a lot of hype which is too bad because it is a good but not a great book so it will end up being overrated. I enjoyed it – part mystery, part love story, part coming of age with a strong appreciation of nature. Some helpful pointers to manage your expectations: should you read this book, yes; will you enjoy it, probably, yes; will it change your life, no; is it one of the best books ever, no.
Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson
This is a sweet little book about two eccentric brothers who run a literary bed and breakfast. The characters are quirky and it is a fun read. Good but not great.
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
Completely overrated – this was drippy and predictable and, of course, set during WWII because this is, apparently, the only backdrop available to fiction writers these days. I am not sure what I was thinking, but I decided to double down and watch the movie. The movie was also drippy and changed the book in completely unnecessary ways. Double ugh.
Wrecked by Joe Ide
My favorite novel I read in this genre. I raved about Joe Ide as a new voice in crime fiction last year. This third installment was the best so far. It’s like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets Carl Hiaasen – Sherlockian logic coupled with secondary characters that chew the scenery. Fantastic.
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz’s Magpie Murders was my favorite book of last year. I was very happy to have a new book of his to read this year. Completely different conceit but I liked this almost as much as Magpie Murders. Horowitz is one of the cleverest writers in this genre.
Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke
Vividly evoked setting with a strong, yet flawed, protagonist (African-American Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews). I hope this becomes a series. I want to read more.
Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly
I only “discovered” Michael Connelly last year. He is one of the very best. This latest installment in the Harry Bosch series was excellent.
Stay Hidden by Paul Doiron
One of my big thrills this year was meeting Paul Doiron in person. I have been a fan of this series about Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch since the beginning. Doiron captures Maine so well and, this latest installment – set on an island off the coast, was no exception.
Holy Ghost by John Sanford
Okay, so you all know what a tremendous crush I have on Virgil Flowers. I love Virgil and look forward to Sanford’s yearly installment in this series like I am going on a date. Sadly, Sanford has been developing the relationship between Virgil and his girlfriend, Frankie, to the point where I may have to find another literary crush.
To Die But Once Jacqueline Winspear
Historical fiction. This is book 14 in the Maisie Dobbs series and Winspear has stayed strong and consistent throughout. Maisie is a favorite heroine.
The Bat by Jo Nesbo
I had to read a Nordic Noir for book bingo. I don’t usually read this genre because I don’t like the graphic violence/sexual violence (loathed Girl With a Dragon Tattoo for this reason). Did not like that aspect of this book either but Jo Nesbo can write. If you can stomach the violence and haven’t read him, don’t wait. He is a master.
The Final Bet by Abdelilah Hamdouchi
This is a translated work from Morocco and part of my “reading less provincially” program. This is not the most intricate of plots and you will have the murderer figured out well before the end. However, learning that Moroccan crime fiction did not exist until recently, because police corruption made is obsolete, adds a level of appreciation to this novel.
Ash and Bone by John Harvey
I consider Marilyn Stasio (the NY Times crime fiction reviewer) to be an Oracle. If Marilyn says she likes something, I will check it out. She gave a thumbs up to Frank Harvey so I decided to read him. This was the second book (not sure how I missed the first – I like to start a series at the beginning) in his Frank Elder series. I liked it. It was gritty without being over the top. Elder reminds me of John Rebus – one of my favorite characters. There was enough of a twist in the plot that I was interested to the end. I will probably read more.
Salt Lane by William Shaw
This one was on a list of best overlooked mystery novels of 2018 – or something along those lines. I would generally agree with that. I give him high marks for the setting and the main character of Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi (who struggles with being a working single mom). Unfortunately I figured out who did it long before the end. Will give him another go, though, if this becomes a series.
Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon
Read John Verdon’s first two novels because Marilyn Stasio likes him. These are complex plots with a lot of psychological elements. High marks for the beautiful farm in upstate New York where main character Dave Gurney has retired, the realness of Gurney and overall cleverness. Don’t love all the drawn out psychobabble – there are pacing issues.
Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton
I had never read Sue Grafton but felt that I should after her death. I plucked this one randomly off the shelf. I see why people like this series, but it is too slow paced for me. Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it.
Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander
This is the first book in the Sir John Fielding series of historical crime fiction. Falsely charged of theft in 1768 London, thirteen-year-old orphaned printer’s apprentice Jeremy Proctor finds his only hope in the legendary Sir John Fielding. Fielding, (blinded at an early age) is the founder of the Bow Street Runners police force, then recruits young Jeremy in his mission to fight London’s most wicked crimes. My favorite line from the book was: “A man can be known by his library better than by his house or dress.” I liked this book but the rest of the series hasn’t made it to the top of the TBR pile yet.
Audiobooks I listened to with my son
I don’t have a lot to say except that I enjoyed revisiting these classics, sharing them with my son, and getting his take on them. Here is what we listed to while on trips this year:
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Time Machine by HG Wells
Harry Potter books 3-7 by JK Rowling