Monday, January 6, 2020


I read 63 books in 2019, as always a mix of fiction and non-fiction.
Not all were published in the past year. When they came out isn't a criterion for selection. Like wine, some books improve with age. Here's my assessment of the 10 best in no particular order.
BEAR NO MALICE by Clarissa Harwood. Sometimes genre is a matter of interpretation. Some readers might view this first novel as a romance. It can just as easily be seen as a mystery or a historical novel.  What really matters is story. The reader is treated with insight into the politics of the Anglican church, the art world of the period and the stifling conformity of the Edwardian era--an intriguing mix of historical fiction, romance and mystery. Highly recommended.
NEW IBERIA BLUES by James Lee Burke. We've had a long wait for another Dave Robicheaux novel. Burke never disappoints. The violence in the novel may put off a more squeamish reader. But, trust me, the reward for overlooking that is some of the most lyrical prose and meditations on virtue you'll find in contemporary fiction. Intimations of the mortality of Dave and Clete signal this may be the final episode in the series. I sincerely hope not.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. This is a novel about survival and Kya, the protagonist, is adept at survival in the face of enormous odds. Abandoned by her mother, her siblings and, finally, her father, she is left alone to adapt and survive on North Carolina's Outer Banks in the period between the 1950s and 1970s. This is a debut novel by a scientist known for her nature writing. Her prose is poetic and beautiful and the insights into the workings of nature are informative and moving. The plot had me hooked from the start.
THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper. This is a page-turner with lots of surprises and a conclusion to shock even the most hardened crime reader. Jane Harper has crafted an enthralling tale of suspense, relationships, vivid characters and a landscape so real you can taste the dust and sense the lonely emptiness.
GERONIMO'S BONES by Darrell Bryant. The story may not be true, but it's truthful. Chaco, a young Apache man born in the wrong century, struggles against harsh odds to adapt to the life fate has given him. This is a novel with engaging and colorful characters, adventure, humor and tragedy. It isn't often a first novel resonates so well. I look forward to reading more of Darrel Bryant's work.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann. This non-fiction book targets a series of murders in the 1920s in which oil-rich Osage Indians were victimized and robbed--another chapter in the genocide of the native peoples. I've long been a fan of Grann and here he excels as a storyteller and reveals a little known chapter in history.
UNSHELTERED by Barbara Kingsolver. Two families in two different time periods inhabit a house in a unique New Jersey community. Their lives are changed in dramatic ways. Kingsolver introduces a real life pioneer woman naturalist who deserves to be better known. The contemporary characters were interesting, but I was more drawn to those in the earlier historic period.
THE FURIOUS HOURS by Casey Cep. The book Harper Lee couldn't write and possible reasons why--in addition to fascination insights on a murder for profit scheme, an ambitious lawyer, the South and Southerners and sundry other topics of interest.
THE FEATHER THIEF by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This unusual but true story has all the elements of a thriller and takes the reader into a bizarre world of obsession and greed pitted against science and beauty.
LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman. This stunning standalone novel set in 1960s Baltimore, portrays Maddie, a bored housewife who decides on the spur of the moment to leave her husband and become a crime reporter. Lippman's inspiration was the story was too real life disappearances in that time period in the city. The result is a compelling story.