2016 ended on a high note for me, literarily speaking. I read some extraordinary books in November and December. As this is one of my favorite blogs of the year, I can’t wait to share them with you.
America’s First Daughter, a historical novel by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie is simply an extraordinary read. Based on the life of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph, the book opens as Jefferson and his family flee the British, who want to hang him for his role in the American Revolution. We travel to Paris, where Patsy and her younger sister attend school at a convent. Widowed when Patsy was a small child, Thomas Jefferson placed heavy reliance on his first daughter for many things, even after she married and had children of her own. From the mad, midnight dash all the way to the Jefferson presidency and beyond, this story sizzles with action, sex, violence, slavery, the works. Most of the story comes from Thomas Jefferson’s library of letters meticulously researched by the authors. It is a long, dense, read that hooked me from the first few pages. Wild times, my friends.
Beloved Poison by (E.S.) Elaine Thomson, is a debut novel set in Victorian London. Jem, a young apothecary working in her father’s lab, hides her gender because he needs her help and women of the day were not allowed to be apothecaries. She and a young engineer undertake to solve the murder of a physician friend, who is not without his character defects. In a dark world of chemistry and poisons, horrible hospital conditions, and gore, the two navigate London’s alleys and brothels to solve a very tricky crime. Author Thomson is a Edinburgh-based medical historian. One cannot doubt the veracity of her grim settings and chemical know-how. A super read.
Jamaica Inn has a special place in my heart. It is one of those books I re-read upon occasion to savor Daphne DuMaurier’s writing style and her great abilities as a storyteller. Written in the 1930s, this novel along with Rebecca caused book critics to take a second look at the mystery and consider it, on occasion, as literary fiction. Set on the moors of Cornwall, the story centers on Mary Yellan who, after the death of her mother travels to Jamaica Inn to live with her aunt and her aunt’s husband, a violent drunk. The inn is shunned by the locals, and Mary soon learns why. It is a timeless reading experience.
The Trespasser by Tana French is her sixth in the Dublin Murder Squad series. While it may be her best, I was frustrated by the whining of the narrator, Antoinette Conway, a woman of mixed race, and the only female on the elite squad. As she and her partner Stephan Moran work their way through what turns out to be a very complex murder investigation, Conway experiences prejudice at every juncture, mostly from her co-workers. The whining is justified. Conway is plenty tough, but she is ready to quit. And then…the magic happens. The last 100 pages of this novel are a thing of beauty, apprehension, tension, and perfectly timed revelation.
While I am running out of space, do not miss The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix-Sweeny and Liane Moriarty’s latest, Truly Madly Guilty. And for a truly wild ride, read Jo Nesbo’s Cockroaches, Norwegian Noir set in Bangkok.
I enjoyed new books from Louise Penny (A Great Reckoning), Alan Bradley (Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed), Craig Johnson (An Obvious Fact)–with characters that are old, familiar friends. At times, the familiarity starts to wear. That is not to say I will stop reading them; perhaps, just that the newness, the excitement has worn somewhat.
My guilty pleasure this year was the novels of Julia Spencer-Fleming, whose series starring the Rev. Clare Fergusson, while it at times forces one to suspend disbelief, is wonderfully, ridiculously romantic. One must be patient with the romance, however; the buildup is interminable. Start with the first book, In The Bleak Midwinter. I’ve read five to date. For more information on my 2016 please visit my earlier blog posts, “The inner self, the outer world” and “A half-year in books”.
Another year of books is wrapped up. Yours truly did not reach her goal of 100 books. Actually, I finished 37 and set several aside. How did you all do? I hope you weigh in with recommendations and goals met or missed in the comment section below.
Happy reading in 2017!
I love reading about the books you read — I guess that makes me a true book geek. I just finished the latest Julia Spencer-Fleming. Having read them all now, I feel like you do about Louis Penny (I’ve only read the first three of hers). Clare & Russ feel like old friends – for good and bad. The story was super exciting though.
Even though I was super busy at work, I got though 106 in 2016, including The Man Who Wasn’t There, which was terrific. I think it was all the audiobooks. I haven’t done my list yet. My favorite was Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. It came out a few years back. Not one of his most popular but I loved it.
Thanks for your input, Gilion. I always love reading about your books too. I’m sure you must be a faster reader than I am. And I’m always too busy listening to NPR when I’m in the car, trying to get some real news instead of the network stuff.
It must be very difficult for a writer to not fall into the same routine with a series. If the formula worked once, it will work again. Right? I LOVE Three Pines. I love the Wyoming setting of Craig Johnson’s books. And I will keep reading them–at least for now. Gave up on Janet Evanovich years ago. It was the same story, different characters. And yet, she does have a great touch with humor.
Right now I’m hooked on Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series. Read one of them 3-4 years ago and wasn’t impressed, but for some reason Cockroaches really rattled my tree. The guy is a brilliant writer.
All the best in books (and lawsuits)in 2017!
I can’t find Beautiful Poison in the library or on Amazon. Where did you get it? I always enjoy your book and theatre reviews, thank you.
Oh crap! It’s BELOVED POISON. I wrote the title down wrong in my log. That should help. Sorry, and good luck.
Ahhh, much better. I found it and have downloaded from my library. I have read all the Inspector Gamache novels. At first Penny’s style seemed awkward but as I read a few I became engrossed more in the characters’ stories than in the mystery especially the later books as his enemies closed in. Whew, that was dramatic! Every book has so many unpredictable layers as little bits of backstory are revealed.
I’m babysitting for my 3 year old grandson who is supposed to be taking a nap so I can read but he’s not cooperating.
Good luck on the nap. LOL