From the Booking Desk:
I read so many wonderful books in 2019 that crafting a Top Reads list was especially challenging. As I have always done, I took this task very seriously and really struggled to make sure the list commemorates my favorite books of the year. Simply put, sometimes this means splitting hairs and having to leave off books that I truly loved but which just didn’t quite have the lasting impact of others. This does not mean I didn’t enjoy those other books – I did! – but anytime you are making a list, some things make the cut and others do not. Rest assured, if I talked about your book here on BOLO Boos, I am proud to have read your work and will continue to suggest it to folks for years to come. These are just the books I feel had the most resonance with me this year.
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.
For the first time in the history of BOLO Books, the main Top Reads list features ONLY books by female writers. There is still diversity represented, but there is no way around that fact that women slayed in crime fiction in 2019. Two male authors did make my Top Debuts list.
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 each extract to re-visit the full review and to find purchase links.
I can already hear you saying, enough with the babble, let’s see this list!
Alafair Burke’s knowledge of the legal system is a result of years steeped within that world – first as a law student, then a lawyer, and currently as a law professor and occasional media pundit – so it should come as no surprise that her crime fiction work has managed to repeatedly weave together complex plots that merge crime fiction with elements of legal thrillers and domestic suspense. Her latest novel, The Better Sister, is no exception; but it is exceptional, another career high in a trajectory that has always been well above par. (FULL REVIEW)
If Alfred Hitchcock guest-edited Martha Stewart Living, the result might look something like Hallie Ephron’s latest novel, Careful What You Wish For. This domestic suspense novel focuses on a professional organizer who finds herself completely tangled up in the clutter – both physical and metaphorical – of her two most recent clients….Every one of Hallie Ephron’s novels have been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark award and Careful What You Wish For is likely to be recognized for that honor as well. In fact, it might just be the novel that allows that award to grace the shelves at the Ephron home. (FULL REVIEW)
Ann Cleeves has never been one to shy away from incorporating diversity into her novels, but at a time when the crime fiction community is standing together to demand more, it is a welcome move to put a gay male lead front and center. Even more so a happily married man with a career that counters any stereotypes that might still linger. As a cisgender, straight woman, some might think this was a risky choice for Ann Cleeves, but this talented author shows that when characters are presented authentically, the public – and especially members from those under-represented groups – will champion the effort and celebrate when it is done as successfully as we have in The Long Call. (FULL REVIEW)
Never one to take the easy path, Hank Phillippi Ryan allows The Murder List to morph and change style to reflect the needs of the narrative. At various points it reads like a novel of psychological warfare, or a legal thriller, or a whodunit, or a procedural, or even domestic suspense. But under the control of this skilled author, through all of these permutations, it always remains a singular work, hyper-focused on three characters, and is nothing short of spellbinding. (FULL REVIEW)
Never Look Back is not an easy book to summarize, largely because Alison Gaylin makes writing complex books look so effortless. In this novel, several storylines of equal importance weave and mingle – at times influencing each other and at times in direct contradiction, but always propelling the reader toward the truth. One of Alison Gaylin’s strongest stock-in-trade assets is that she never underestimates the intelligence of her audience; readers are often left to navigate connections and developments on their own without having to have their importance spotlighted or telegraphed as though the consumer is incapable of orienting their significance within the overall narrative. (FULL REVIEW)
[R]eaders should know this is a novel that will change how you view crime fiction, allowing us to see new angles into stories of this type. By the time readers reach the end, their thoughts and opinions will have shifted several times and even setting the book aside will not allow for respite from the self-reflection this novel demands. You should read this book because it is incredible, but you should also read this book because it should become a touchstone reference point for discussions of crime fiction moving forward. (FULL REVIEW)
What follows is a suspense tale that could only come from the mind of Catriona McPherson. Think of it as a blending of multiple styles: the period authenticity of Victoria Holt, several finely-honed settings à la Mary Stewart, and the idiosyncratic familial bloodlines of Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, and Susan Hill wrapped in an eminently-readable and highly-engaging style. (FULL REVIEW)
The Swallows, Lisa Lutz’s latest novel, is one of the most provocative, astute, and indelible books to come along in ages. While it is unlike anything she has written before, The Swallows continues Lutz’s tradition of crafting extremely complex characters, throwing them into a fascinating plot situation, and sprinkling it all with a bit of irreverent wit. (FULL REVIEW)
With They All Fall Down, Rachel Howzell Hall has written an excellent stand-alone thriller that is incredibly timely and modern, but that also manages to highlight the history and traditions of our beloved crime fiction genre. Fans of classic crime fiction will immediately recognize Howzell Hall’s tip of the hat to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but it is impossible to miss the equally fervent grasp intended to pull these tropes in new, more inclusive, directions. (FULL REVIEW)
Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay is an instant classic: a novel that sets fire to reader expectations thereby igniting a revolution hell-bent on change, using the embers to expose our flawed humanity and the ashes to fuel our souls. No words in this review can do justice to this novel. It should simply say read this book, read this book, read this book, because that is exactly what you must do sooner rather than later – READ THIS BOOK! (FULL REVIEW)
TOP DEBUTS of 2019
While it may be a cliché, if ever it were appropriate to label a novel as a roller-coaster ride from start to finish, Vanessa Lillie’s Little Voices would be a prime example. There is a quick and steady climb to a significant peak, followed by a swift race to the conclusion – highlighted by quick turns that change perspective constantly, stomach-dropping surprises that occasionally turn things completely upside-down, multiple level changes that totally make the past, present, and future equally discombobulating, and then just when you think you have reached the end, a few last minute bumps along the track designed to keep everyone on edge. (FULL REVIEW)
As the courtroom drama unfolds, readers should not expect earth-shattering twists, but rather a quiet exploration of how simple choices can have catastrophic consequences and how decisions made in the moment always come with lasting ramifications. Ultimately, it is the labyrinths of the heart one truly longs to follow, explore, and hopefully understand. Miracle Creek is a novel that is deeply felt, forever lodging itself within the soul and wringing every last ounce of emotion from the reader. (FULL REVIEW)
One Night Gone is the type of book that demands to be read in as few sittings as possible. Part of this is most certainly the propulsive plotting, but there is also something about these people that hook readers, like fish drawn to a sparkly lure. Tara Laskowski’s characters are so multifaceted that it is difficult not to think about them during those moments when the book is set aside. This is a sign of a born storyteller. Jump aboard now and follow this career to new heights. (FULL REVIEW)
The Silent Patient is one of those books that is difficult to classify, largely because it does not want to be pigeonholed into any artificial constraints imposed by our many sub-genres. The Silent Patient is a thriller that reads like a police procedural by way of the psychological suspense highway. Yet, because of consistent tone, precise writing, and compelling characters, Alex Michaelides navigates the challenges of genre-hopping and succeeds in writing an enthralling novel that keeps the reader glued to the pages straight through to the end. (FULL REVIEW)
Publication of John Vercher’s debut places a demarcation spot on the lineage of diverse crime fiction – now delineating pre Three-Fifths and post Three-Fifths. This may seem hyperbolic, but it is the only way to express the personal reaction to this important work. There is something in Vercher’s approach, which is deceptively simple, that allows the impact to reverberate in different ways for each reader depending on their own placement on the diversity continuum. What is remarkable is that every group will come away from the reading of this novel with new and greater insight into differing (and even opposing) opinions. (FULL REVIEW)
TOP CROSSOVER BOOK
The Warehouse joins a long tradition of Utopian novels – works like George Orwell’s 1984, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – in which the reader is warned against complacency when faced with the loss of individual identity and extreme control from centralized powers. Like those other novels, The Warehouse is destined for cult classic status. This is the type of book the term buzz-worthy was invented for. The Warehouse will be talked about for years to come…Don’t miss out on being part of the conversation. (FULL REVIEW)
TOP BOOK READ IN 2019 COMING OUT IN 2020
As with all of Alex Marwood’s previous novels, The Poison Garden is a book that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. In this novel, Marwood takes some standard genre tropes and twists them almost until they are unrecognizable, creating new avenues of exploration headed toward an ending that is as surprising as it is inevitable. This is not a tale that provides every answer nor ties everything into a nice little bow, but its hard to imagine that any reader would walk away dissatisfied with the journey this novel requires. (FULL REVIEW)
TOP COVER DESIGNS (and the books are damn good as well)