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Favorite Books: Beartown

Favorites of 2017 – The Rest of the Story!

It is the last day of 2017. I sort of feel like “where did it go?” and then I sort of feel like, “dear God, please get us out of this year already.” It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride, for sure. So here’s hoping we all have a much better 2018. To try to get myself in a positive frame of mind, I’m finishing my favorite books lists from 2017. At least these were a shining spot of the year.

First, my favorite non-fiction. I’ve really started to enjoy reading non-fiction again. I find so many great books on topics I’m fascinated with and want to learn more about. I had a good crop this year and here are the best of the best for me:

Favorite Books: Garden of the Lost and AbandonedGarden of the Lost and Abandoned – I was so inspired by the story of this beautifully selfless woman who finds the best in those who are “lost and abandoned.” If you need a faith-in-humanity story, this is a perfect choice. And it’s stunningly written by filmmaker Jessica Yu. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness and also interviewed Yu. 

Ghost of an Innocent Man – This is a heart-breaking story of the cancer that continues to plague our “justice” system. It is also an incredible story of determination. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

A Stone of Hope – Another book that deals with the criminal justice system, but in this case a lucky twist of fate kept Jim St. Germaine out of the adult prison system and in a program that rehabilitated him. He’s now an incredible young man making a difference in the lives of others like him and advocating for programs similar to the one that changed his life. Inspiring! I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Favorite Books: A Stone of HopeClimate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet – Environmental issues are a high priority to me. I’m always interested in ways I can live a life that’s kinder to the Earth and will help ensure it’s around for future generations. This book presents both the liberal and conservative viewpoints as it’s written by former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg and former head of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope. Together they show how doing what’s best for the planet is actually best for everyone, even financially. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Born a Crime – This one was also on my favorite audiobook list. And as I mentioned over there, it actually came out in 2016, but I didn’t stumble on it until this year. I can’t say enough about it. It’s funny, it’s serious, it’s insightful, it’s smart. It’s just plain wonderful. I disliked my next three books after this one because they didn’t make me feel all the emotions this one did. I’ll have to revisit those books at some point, I think. But Born a Crime will definitely stay with me for a very long time. This was a rare title I managed to squeeze in outside my reviewing. 

Hope was a dominant theme in my favorite non-fiction this year. Go figure.


Next my favorite crime fiction. Since this wasn’t as large a percentage of my total reading this year, I’m keeping this list to five as well. Here are my faves:

Favorite Books: The Western StarThe Shimmering Road – Hester Young mesmerized me with her debut, The Gates of Evangeline, so I was excited for this new title. It’s very different and still amazing. It touches on some immigration themes but never gets preachy. First and foremost it’s a great mystery. Love this one. I reviewed it for Shelf Awareness and did a mini-interview with Hester Young. 

Righteous – Another sophomore title. This one is the follow up to Joe Ide’s IQ. I’m hooked on this series. It’s fun and fresh, a hero I can cheer for, smart humor, sharp dialogue. I can’t wait for the next one! I reviewed Righteous for Shelf Awareness.

The Western Star – I show absolutely no signs of tiring of this series. Each book is distinctive in plot, but rich in all the strengths of Craig Johnson’s talents: brilliant humor, crackling dialogue, empathetic characters–and colorful characters–atmosphere that carries you away, rich themes. It’s acutely evident that Johnson loves storytelling. And for me, I love listening. I reviewed this one for both Shelf Awareness and AudioFile Magazine.

Favorite Books: The WantedBluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke ranks among my favorite contemporary writers. Her works have all captivated me and Bluebird, Bluebird was no different. The internal conflict within her characters is as fascinating, if not more, than the conflict defining the plot. She allows us into their psyches and we’re able to understand them at an intimate level. Locke’s writing style has subtle flair and she makes the amazing complexity seem simple. Timely, rich themes wrapped in a gripping suspense novel. First-rate! I reviewed Bluebird, Bluebird for AudioFile Magazine.

The Wanted – This one slipped in under the wire. Elvis and Joe’s return is a most welcome one. I missed Scott, Maggie and Starkey in this one, but Robert Crais made it up for it with a superb crop of supporting guests and a fascinating plot. While I had nitpicks with the audiobook recording, I was still glued to it with excitement. I’m so thankful that the series that hooked me on the crime genre still makes my heart race. I reviewed The Wanted for AudioFile Magazine


And finally, I have my list of favorite general fiction. This is the largest percentage of my reading these days but not by much. It’s almost an even split between these three categories once the kids and YA are removed, but since this is a slightly larger percentage, I’ve chosen six titles instead of five. And you’ll see that some of the titles in this list could fit into other identified genres (fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, etc), but I don’t read enough collectively in any of those genres to pull out a complete list of favorites. So from the remainder of my reading, here are my favorites:

Favorite Books: BeartownThe Refugees – I don’t read a lot of short stories, but it seems like when I do, they’re amazing. I should really read more. And Viet Thanh Nguyen’s collection is a great motivator to do so. The Refugees is timely, and it’s an incredibly moving look at the individuals, not collective groups we can dismiss but individual people, human beings. And Nguyen’s writing is something to luxuriate in. He does in a short story what some writers aren’t able to accomplish in a novel. I reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness.

Ginny Moon – I fell in love with Ginny Moon and you will too. This little girl with a mammoth personality and a bothersome disability is exquisitely drawn in the novel that bears her name. She makes you laugh and cry and worry and celebrate all as if she was .your own precious loved one. Ginny Moon is special and so is this book. I reviewed it and interviewed Benjamin Ludwig for Shelf Awareness

Beartown – Fredrik Backman continues to amaze me with his work. His ability to depict the most intimate elements of character, whether it’s a cantankerous old geezer or a troubled, teenage girl or a young, gay man, is astounding. He understands human nature and that’s universal. He’s funny as hell and despite his deprecating remarks to the contrary, he’s a smart cookie. You can’t go wrong with any of his books, but Beartown’s darker theme will especially appeal to my fellow crime fiction lovers. If you haven’t given Backman a try yet, what are you waiting for? I reviewed Beartown for Shelf Awareness.

Favorite Books: The Color of Our SkyBeasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – This fantasy novel entranced me with the magical beauty of the story and the enchanting writing. The book’s charm made its fantastical elements believable. Instead of saying, “that would never happen,” we WANT it to be able to happen, so somewhere it must be happening. And that somewhere is in Ruth Emmie Lang’s world of Weylyn Grey. I reviewed this gem of a debut for Shelf Awareness.

The Color of Our Sky – Another amazing and powerful debut novel. Amita Trasi created such a compelling tale of female friendship amid extraordinary devastation. Whereas Beasts is fantasy, The Color of Our Sky is realism at its finest. It’s weighty but so very worth it.   I reviewed this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.

This Is How It Always Is – I listened to Laurie Frankel’s book on audio and while I wasn’t over the top about the narration, I adored the story itself. The struggles of a family to protect their own, do the right things and make the right choices are potent. But having the best intentions doesn’t always create optimal results. This Is How It Always Is portrays that in all its splendor. And I reviewed it for AudioFile Magazine


So that’s it for 2017. I lapsed on my recording keeping this year so I don’t have exact totals on what I read, but I’m planning to get back on track for 2018. I’ve already set up my spreadsheet. I miss not knowing those details. I do know I reviewed 73 books for Shelf Awareness and 28 books for AudioFile Magazine. I also participated in 7 book tours. So at the bottom end of what my total could be this year I read 108 books. 

Here’s to at least as many in 2018! I don’t have much in the way of reading resolutions for 2018 except to continue trying to better myself. Non-fiction provides me with education and fiction feeds my capacity for empathy. So I can’t lose unless I don’t read!

I hope your 2017 was a good year for reading. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments for everyone to see. And have a very happy (and safe) New Year!

Book review :: Rise the Dark

Don’t fall over because I’m posting a review today. I don’t mean to cause any cardiac problems for anyone. 😉 Today’s review for Michael Koryta’s Rise the Dark first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Of course it also appeared there in a more timely fashion, but for those who missed it, I’m posting it here today with their permission.

First line: The snow had been falling for three days above six thousand feet, but it had been gentle and the lines stayed up.

book review - rise the dark

Markus Novak, no longer investigating for the Florida-based Death Row defense firm Innocence Incorporated, is taking on the intimately personal case that has plagued him since his introduction in Michael Koryta’s Last Words–the murder of his wife, Lauren. Garland Webb, the man accused of killing Lauren, is out of prison, and Novak is determined to exact justice for both Lauren and himself. He just has to find the monster first.

Webb’s trail leads Novak back to the scene of Lauren’s death. Then it takes a sharp turn, introducing him to an honest-to-goodness Pinkerton PI and sending them both to a place Novak swore he would never return, Red Lodge, Montana. Here Novak’s past collides with his present, and he uncovers the truth behind Webb–who is just the tip of a terrifying iceberg–as well as the meaning of words left on Lauren’s notebook before she was murdered, “Rise the dark.” As Koryta raises the dark on his determined protagonist with a brilliantly sadistic villain, Novak races time to prevent a global crisis.

Koryta’s second installment in the Mark Novak series is easily appreciated on its own, but readers of Last Words and Koryta’s standalone Those Who Wish Me Dead will delight in small references to his earlier works. While some of the explanations for electrical processes deter from the thrilling action, Koryta constructs an enveloping atmosphere that artfully merges the landscape’s beauty with the plot’s terror and the darkness of his characters. This dichotomy ramps up the suspense, making Rise the Dark heart-poundingly swift and chock full of explosive excitement.

book review - Dr. Knox

Book review :: Dr. Knox

My reviews are sadly backed up, and it’s overdue to get another one posted on the new site. My review of Peter Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox first appeared as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I’m posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy.

book review - Dr. KnoxFirst line: “Mia should’ve been it for the day.”

Dr. Adam Knox means well, but as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The good doctor is laying down his stepping-stones at a rapid rate. Knox runs a medical clinic in Los Angeles near Skid Row and lives in an apartment above the clinic. Since his typical clientele isn’t exactly leaving him flush, he moonlights–with the help of his friend former Special Forces agent Ben Sutter–taking hush-hush house calls from people who can’t or won’t publically seek medical help. But these jobs are cake compared to the young boy who shows up at his clinic.

When Alex arrives at Knox’s office, he’s suffering from a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Knox and his capable staff stabilize the young patient only to discover the boy doesn’t speak English and his mother has vanished. Knowing all too well how Children’s Services works, the doctor wants to attempt to find the boy’s mother before calling them. His good intention, however, goes beyond paving a road; it is the key to unlocking the gates of Hell. And not just for himself, but also for everyone he cares about.

Dr. Knox is feverishly suspenseful. Peter Spiegelman ramps up the stakes for Knox with catch-22s and tests of his integrity. He spreads a layer of grime over Los Angeles with manipulation, corruption and filth, successfully blocking out the rays of hope and leaving his well-meaning doctor no options if he won’t play dirty himself. Dark, evocative and riveting, perdition’s never been so inviting.

Book Review :: The Innocents

Since I’m a little behind on sharing my reviews from Shelf Awareness, let’s try to catch up, shall we? The Innocents by Ace Atkins first appeared as a starred review in Shelf for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission.

innocentsFirst line: “Lillie Virgil stood high on a north Mississippi hill at daybreak listening to old Ruthie Holder talk about the man who’d run off with her grandson’s Kawasaki four-wheeler and her brand-new twelve-gauge Browning.”

Quinn Colson returns to Jericho, Mississippi after training an Afghani police force in the Middle East. Lillie Virgil is acting sheriff; Quinn’s father, Jason, has grand plans to turn Quinn’s farm into a dude ranch, while his girlfriend Anna Lee is moving to Memphis, and a teenager consumed by raging fire walks down the middle of the road in a desperate final effort for help. The sixth book in Ace Atkins’ series may be his darkest one yet.

Quinn thought he was finished policing in his hometown when the community voted him out as sheriff. But the gruesome homicide of former high school cheerleader Milly Jones has all of Mississippi watching the investigation, and Lillie needs as much help as she can recruit. The suspect list is long—Milly’s strip club boss she short-changed on tips, the drug dealer she refused to sleep with, her drunkard father who feels disgraced by her employment—and the flames devoured any significant forensic evidence that could identify the killer. As Quinn and Lilly dig through the ashes for answers, they find far more than they bargained for.

The marriage of Quinn’s law enforcement and complex interpersonal relationships make this series an addictive read. The Innocents shines a glaring spotlight down the darkest alleys of small-town Mississippi, but does so with the compassion of one who loves the region and wants to reveal the diamonds along with the dregs. Seasoned readers will likely predict the outcome early, but the journey there is the true joy in this gem of a crime novel.