Beautiful Child

Everyone is making and publishing lists of their favorite books of 2016; I intend to do the same, of course, with the stipulation that I shall simply name my favorite reads of the year, regardless of publication date. I can do that because, you know, this is my blog.

So, in no particular order, my favorite reads of the year:

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

A haunting story of an ambitious state’s attorney whose current case forces her to confront her own past–as well as the way she remembers that past–with some sly social commentary about changing societal attitudes towards racism, classism, and sexism. It is also extremely well-constructed, alternating between the present day and the past with different tenses and distinct voices; the voice of a child and that same voice as an adult.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

We watch them on television every four years when the Olympics roll around, marveling at their skill and being moved by their prepackaged and manufactured personal stories without wondering what really goes into the day-to-day world of raising a prodigy athlete, the sacrifices that must be made–and just how far is a parent willing to go to not only protect their child but make their dreams come true? Megan Abbott, one of our strongest writers, asks those questions in this chilling tale, and the answers aren’t what you might think.

The third novel by Edgar and Macavity Award winning author Alex Marwood might be her best yet; a compelling study of narcissism and the damage it can do to one family, structured around the disappearance of one of a pair of twins during a holiday weekend where the adults basically abandoned all responsibility and how the past is still affecting the present, when everyone from that weekend gathers for the funeral of the lost child’s father.

What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin

This astonishing tale of two murders, twenty-five years apart, is also a study of fame, and notoriety. Twenty five years ago a teenaged girl went to prison for murdering a notorious Hollywood director. Now, after getting out and married, her father-in-law is murdered in a very similar fashion. Did she commit both murders, or neither of them? The secrets and motivations from the past, long buried, now come rushing to the surface as all the players from twenty-five years ago have to face inconvenient truths long-buried.

The Watcher in the Wall by Owen Laukkanen

My first Owen Laukkanen novel definitely won’t be my last. A teenager commits suicide, and the FBI becomes aware of ‘suicide groups’ on-line, where suicidal people go for solace while opening themselves up to the potential predatory conduct of a sick voyeur who enjoys watching teenagers commit suicide on live cam. By showing us how the predator was created, and the point of view of the current victim he is nursing along, Laukkanen takes this from just another thriller to a complex and complicated exploration of human nature, how damage begets more damage, and how far the law is behind our modern technology.

Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger

Also my first Lisa Unger, and it won’t be my last. Gorgeously written, Unger keeps the reader guessing what is really going on with her protagonist right up to the end–and even then, the reader still isn’t sure. Phenomenal.

Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

Published a couple of years ago, Elizabeth Little here tells the tale of a Paris Hilton like celebutante, convicted of murdering her mother when she’s seventeen and released on a technicality ten years later. Her main character is untrustworthy and untrusting as she embarks on an attempt to find out who really killed her mother ten years earlier–if she didn’t do it–and the trail leads her to a bizarre small town in the Dakotas where the secret of her true past is hidden.

The Ex by Alafair Burke

One of the best legal thrillers I’ve read, Burke’s main character is a tough, driven defense attorney whose personal life isn’t the best, takes the case of an ex she treated badly years before, which she has always felt guilty about. But does her belief in her client’s innocence justified, or is it based in her own guilt? As the evidence mounts against him, she begins to question her own motivations and values as she struggles to defend her client. Extraordinary.

Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

This story of an ice-locked freighter and its crew is almost unbearable in its tension and suspense. Told from the point of view of the ship’s scapegoat, who despite everything manages to rise to heroic behavior in the face of unspeakable terror and horrific conditions to save the ship, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

How Like an Angel by Margaret Millar

There was a reason Margaret Millar was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and this novel is an example of why. A car breakdown outside of a strange religious cult’s farm leads our unlikely hero into a long-dead murder mystery going back quite a few years, and it has a strange connection to the cult.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor

A must read for every Star Wars geek out there; it’s not only a history of the films and the merchandising but a history of the fandom. Most enjoyable.

So, there it is: my favorite reads of the past year off the top of my head. I didn’t read everything, of course, and I am sure I forgot books from this past year that I deeply enjoyed. But those are the ones I remember from the top of my head, without reviewing my blog for the last year.

I may add some before the end of the year.

And now back to the spice mines.

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