Like John and Charles, I had a bit of difficulty coming up with five books that fit our gift- recommending criteria. When I began to review my 2009 reading, I realized that most of the books I read and liked were older than 2008 or 2009, and many of those that weren’t were written by friends and close colleagues. Not that I didn’t read lots of new books, some of which were written by my favorite Very Famous Authors. It’s just that I didn’t like a lot of them.
It’s probably me. It seemed to me that there were a lot of really dark and downer books published over the past couple of years. I know good writing when I see it, and said downer novels were for the most part excellently crafted. I was simply not in the mood to appreciate them.
1. Having said that, I did choose Louise Ure’s Liars Anonymous as one of my recom
mendations. Louise always writes interesting, dark, complex, stand-alone myst
eries. Her characters are often pretty flawed themselves. What I like about all her novels is her really great ideas for both plot and protagonist. In her 2008 book, The Fault Tree, the protagonist is a blind female auto mechanic who witnesses a murder. In Liars Anonymous, roadside assistance operator Jessie Dancing thinks she hears someone being murdered while she’s on the phone with him. Oh, and there’s so much more to it than that...
2. During a discussion about great novel beginnings, my editor, Barbara Peters, told me that Stephen Hunter’s Night of Thunder has not only one of the most effective beginnings she ever read, but the last page knocked her socks off. When Barbara Peters’ socks get knocked off, that is some book, so of course I acquired this prodigy ASAP.
My dirty little secret is that I’m a sucker for manly man thrillers, and boy, is this one. The story is set at a week-long NASCAR event in Bristol, Tennessee. It’s filled with Deliverance-style gangsters, corrupt lawmen, burning rubber, and ex-Marine Special Forces top kick Bob Lee Swagger out to find whoever put his daughter in a coma. And wait till you read the last page. Kee-rap, y’all!
3. Rhys Bowen’s Royal Flush is the third installment in her ‘Royal Spyness’ series, set in the early 1930s and featuring Lady Georgiana Rannoch. Georgie is a penniless minor royal, who makes a little money by secretly cleaning houses, and does a bit of spying on the side for Queen Mary. Bowen writes three different series, all of which I enjoy very much, but the Spyness books are light, and have a humor and feeling for the time and place which remind me somewhat of Kerry Greenwood’s ‘Phrynne Fisher’ books. This series also has a little bit of that P.G. Wodehouse subversive disrespect for the British higher classes.
4. Historical novels are my first love, and big old honking historical tomes a la Edward Rutherford, Colleen McCollough, or James Michener are right up my alley. Steven Saylor’s Roma is an episodic novel which covers 1000 years, from the time of Rome’s first settlement on an island in the Tiber River, to the assassination of Caesar. Saylor is the author of the beautifully written ‘Gordianus the Finder’ mystery series set in Rome at the end of the Republic.
5. Louise Penny had two books out this year - A Rule Against Murder in January, and The
Brutal Telling last month. It was hard to decide between the two, so I won’t. I’m always immediately carried away by Louise’s almost mythical tales, and I love intuitive and compassionate Inspector Gamache and his family-like team of homicide detectives. The beautiful Quebecois setting is exotic, to this Southerner, at least,
and if you don’t come away from reading these books with an unreasonable longing to leave everything behind and go on a quest for your own Three Pines, then I just don’t know about you.
Bonus recommendation: Like to eat? Ever heard of the Pioneer Woman? I hadn’t either, until last summer, when my sister in Joplin, MO, told me about her. Ree Drummond is a young woman who left her birth state of Oklahoma in a frenzy to get away to the sophisticated civilization of California (I can relate), went back home to visit family, met “Marlboro Man", married him, and, in her own words, “went from spoiled city girl to domestic ranch wife in the blink of an eye.” She lives way out in the Oklahoma boonies, homeschools her kids, cooks up a storm, and writes the most fascinating blog you ever read. She just came out with a cookbook entitled Pioneer Woman Cooks, full of “recipes, cows, children, and butter.” What fun! I was talking to Gayle Shanks, owner of Tempe's fabulous local independent bookstore, Changing Hands, who told me that when Ree’s publisher called to arrange a signing last month, she almost demurred because she didn’t know about Pioneer Woman. She’s glad she didn’t, because the publisher sent her 400 copies of the cookbook, and they all sold out in a week, before Ree even got there. The publisher sent another 400, which arrived the day before Ree’s event. They’re sold out again. Ree’s website, www.thepioneerwoman.com, gets about 13 million page views a month. You heard right.
I’m so pleased to inform you, Dear Reader, that tomorrow’s guest blogger is Kris Neri, owner of The Well Red Coyote Bookstore in Sedona, Arizona, and successful mystery novelist in her own right. Do not miss her!