From the Booking Desk:
Now that it has been announced that I will be awarded the MWA Raven Award in 2018, one might think compiling a list of Top Reads would come with even more pressure, but in all honestly, I have always taken this task very seriously – debating my list for far longer than one really should struggle over such things. Now that this year’s list has been compiled, I am happy to see the variety that is represented. In the Top 12, we have an almost even split between male and female authors; the genres covered are as diverse as possible (thriller, cozy, suspense, mystery, noir); solid representation from both established authors and newer writers (including three debuts); both stand-alone and series titles, and books from throughout the calendar year. In addition to the Top 12, I have listed my two favorite Young Adult novels of the year and one title that will be out in 2018 (and which I continue to sing the praises of just to whet your appetite further.)
I will remind readers that this is my Top Reads list – not necessarily a Best Of list. Certainly these books are worthy of any Best Of list, but since I did not read everything published this year, I always hesitate to call it that. These are just the Top Reads of those that I experienced.
My final list is presented in alphabetical order based on the novel’s title. Along with the title, author, and cover image for each selected book, I have included a short extract from the original review. Please follow the link below the book cover to access the full review and purchase links.
Enough with the babble, let’s get to the list!
Not only is Jeff Abbott’s Blame the most additive thriller of the summer, it also happens to be an astute study of the corrosive nature of blame and the destructive power of its sibling emotion, guilt….This book belongs on that short list of novels that demand to be read in one sitting….Blame has a plot focused on memory and forgetting, but this is a novel that will live on in reader’s minds for a very long time to come.
Occasionally one stumbles upon a book with a concept – a conceit – so creatively original that you know it is going to be a wild ride regardless of whether the author succeeds in pulling it off. The Blinds, the new novel from Adam Sternbergh, is just such a novel and fortunately for readers he not only successfully brings it to fruition, he excels in doing so.
Like the legacy bestowed by the Texas Blues music forming its backbone, the tragedy at the core of Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird is worthy of no less than Shakespeare himself. Told in lyrical prose at an unremitting yet leisurely pace, this novel marks the beginning of the Highway 59 series and readers are bound to take notice.
More of a deep character study posing as a plot-driven narrative, this novel manages to elicit compulsive reading via tension-filled moments juxtaposed beside scenes of intense introspection….As Lori Rader-Day details the cases of these two missing boys, readers come to understand that the emotional lives of people are more complex than can be imagined: everyday, humans deal with heavy topics like fear, regret, guilt, and shame while also struggling to find happiness, hope, trust, and love. Life is a precarious balancing act and even the most minor shift can have a seismic effect.
Dichotomously, Glass Houses is a book that both begs to be read in one sitting and yet also seduces readers into savoring every single word as slowly as possible. Taken as a whole, Louise Penny’s oeuvre could be published under the sub-title “On How to be a Better Person.” Louise Penny has an innate gift for understanding the most complex human emotions and the ability to demonstrate those traits via compelling, believable plotlines.
What is unique here is that Peter Swanson employs a Rasomon-style storytelling technique whereby readers are given multiple viewpoints on the same events. Often these points-of-view contradict with each other throwing the validity of each into question. Where these stories intersect and diverge is a fascinating reader experience, destined to keep fans turning pages long into the night. As crime fiction readers would expect, the doling out of this information is calculated and successfully manipulates the reader to such an extent that when the truth is ultimately revealed it does constitute quite a shock. What is really going on is just as twisted as the journey necessary to uncover it.
Taking into account the quality of her writing, her flair for the dramatic, and that killer sense of humor, Kellye Garrett could easily be the secret lovechild of Shonda Rhimes and Tyler Perry, but rest assured that Hollywood Homicide is no mere imitation. This fresh and fun novel is perfect for readers who enjoy original characters surrounded by topical pop culture references. Garrett may be writing about streets like Melrose Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, but her tone places her square at the intersection of “verisimilitude” and “satire” – a precarious location, but she carries it off with aplomb.
Immediately from the first page, the reader knows they are in the hands of a consummate storyteller. Kristen Lepionka’s writing is impeccable and her plotting is traditional without becoming derivative. Much of the success of The Last Place You Look can be attributed to the character of Roxane Weary. She is a true original.
When a writer sets out to tell a very timely story with direct correlation to current events, it can be a tricky endeavor. For most, reading is viewed as a pastime, an entertainment if you will, and being bombarded with depressing current affairs can sometimes alter that enjoyment. However, when done well – as it is in Brian Freeman’s Marathon – a topical novel can still be enjoyable while also being educational without becoming heavy-handed and didactic.
With pitch perfect pacing and emotional heft, The Marsh King’s Daughter will satisfy readers of both domestic suspense and traditional thrillers. Karen Dionne’s authentic depiction of marsh living is both fascinating and enlightening, but it is the examination of the difficult relationships between children and parents that will resonate the longest in reader’s minds.
When starting a debut novel there is always the sense of the unknown, so when a reader discovers something truly excellent by a new-ish author it can feel like the discovery of a secret treasure trove that will enrich life for years to come. This is the experience that comes with reading She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper.
Reading Wonder Valley is like wandering into an unexpected miasma only to emerge a changed person on the other side. The storyline weaves in and out of various character’s minds, travels through past and present with ease, and seems at points to be aimlessly scattered – and yet the hold the book casts over the reader remains strong until slowly the various elements begin to converge and a masterpiece emerges.
TOP YOUNG ADULT READS
Los Angeles, California. The self-proclaimed City of Angels, land of facades and facelifts where money and movies dominate, but masks and manipulation are de rigueur. This is the setting for Kristi Belcamino’s new novel, her young adult debut. Appropriately titled City of Angels, Belcamino places the action of the novel smack dab in the middle of the tumultuous time between the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots that would eventually bring the city to its knees. Within this moment of cultural zeitgeist Kristi Belcamino dares to tell an extremely personal tale – the maturation of one young lady from damaged girl to self-assured woman.
Long Way Down is a coming-of-age novel. It says volumes that unlike the Victorian Bildungsroman, this contemporary version distills events down to a crucial, yet brief, time-frame. This is no life-to-death narrative – or more accurately, if it is a life-to-death narrative, it is one that spans the course of less than two minutes. Such is the tough destiny for young men of color in our modern age.
COMING IN 2018
On the widest possible level, John Copenhaver’s Dodging and Burning is crime fiction featuring LGBTQ+ themes, however to pigeonhole it as simply that is to vastly under-appreciate this fine novel. Dodging and Burning is a historical novel depicting the coming-of-age of several different characters during a time when their moments of self-discovery clash with the ideologies of the larger community. By juxtaposing the harsh realities of life in 1945 (as World War II comes to an end) with the innocence of the two main female characters, Copenhaver is able to elucidate the emotions involved when childhood fantasy collides with unvarnished reality.