Saturday, January 2, 2016

Favorite Reads of 2015

I read 90 books in 2015.  Of that total, 79 were novels, 8 were non-fiction books, and 3 were books of short stories. As usual, most of my reads were mystery novels, but I did read some fantasy and some science fiction. 

I don't keep good statistics so my numbers are rough, but I did check out how many books by male and female authors I read. 45 books by male authors, 34 books by female authors. I would like a better balance in that area. Of the 79 novels, 11 were re-reads. 

Of the 11 re-reads, there were several that were top reads this year. However, with such a long list of favorites, I elected not to include re-reads.

There is no order to this list, and I did not pick a top favorite of them all.

Lock In   by John Scalzi. 
This novel, published in 2014, is a thriller set in the near future. The story picks up about 20 years after the world-wide epidemic of a virus which causes Lock In syndrome. At this point, technological breakthroughs have been developed to the point where the victims of the disease who have been locked in can move around, talk, and function in society in a robotic device while their bodies are lying in a bed elsewhere. The ramifications of a life like this and the society which deals with it is explored via a murder mystery.

I have read two other books by John Scalzi, both in the Old Man's War series, Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades. That series is military science fiction, and it surprises me how much I like it. I do enjoy the way Scalzi tells a story.

The Maltese Falcon   by Dashiell Hammett. 
Most of you will be familiar with this novel, originally published in 1930. Briefly, the story is set in San Francisco, in the late 1920's. Sam Spade is a private detective hired by a beautiful and mysterious woman to help her find her sister. I avoided reading this book for a long time because I thought it would be too brutal and dark for me (even though the 1941 movie with Humphrey Bogart is one of my favorite movies).  I could not have been more wrong; I loved every word of this book. After reading the book, I watched the film again. Both the film and the book are very, very good.
Concrete Angel   by Patricia Abbott. 
This is Abbott's debut novel, published in 2015, and it is stunning. In the opening chapters of this book, Eve Moran kills a man and insists on treating it as an accident; and then proceeds to let her daughter Christine, at twelve years of age, take the blame. From that point on, Christine relates the background of Eve's problems, how her parents met and married, and how Eve's mental problems and behavior mold Christine's life. Thus this book has elements of crime fiction, but it is primarily a character study and the study of a very dysfunctional family. The events are set in and around Philadelphia in the 1960s and 1970s. My summary is inadequate to convey the depth of the story.

Life After Life   by Kate Atkinson.
This book, published in 2013, is not a mystery, and it has an unusual structure. Ursula, the heroine, lives her life over and over. Sort of like the plot of the film Groundhog Day, but not. At the beginning, it is a challenge for her to even get out of childhood. One mishap after another and the next time she comes back, that one is averted. Sometimes.

Because Ursula is born in 1910 and the book continues to some point in the 1960s, parts of both World Wars are covered. Through Ursula we experience the Blitz and Germany under Hitler. But what I liked most was the view of roles that women played and how the various lives illustrated the limited opportunities open to them.

Shotgun Saturday Night   by Bill Crider. 
Published in 1987, this was the second book I had read by Bill Crider, and I liked this entry in the Dan Rhodes series even more than the first one, Too Late to Die. Dan Rhodes is the Sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas. In this book he gets involved with motorcycle gangs and FBI investigations. Although the story borders on being a cosy-ish police procedural, the ruthless motorcycle gang members do move it a good ways away from cozy.I am hooked on the series, which has now extended to twenty two books. I love the details of life in Blacklin County, in the late 1980's, and the characters, including Sheriff Rhodes' small crew (one jailer, one dispatcher, one deputy).
Hopscotch   by Brian Garfield. 
Published in 1975, this is is an intelligent spy thriller, which won author Brian Garfield the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writer’s of America. Miles Kendig has been forcibly retired from the CIA. In retaliation, he decides to write his memoirs and publish them, revealing secrets harmful to the CIA. Soon the hunt begins to find Miles Kendig and terminate him. Although most of the agents involved in the hunt are depicted as ruthless, self-serving, and unimaginative, there are some great characters in this book. In 1980, it was adapted as a film starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. Both the book and film are very entertaining but the book is darker.

In Bitter Chill   by Sarah Ward. 
This is another excellent debut novel published in 2015. The story focuses on the abduction of two very young girls while walking to school. Rachel was returned to her family, but Sophie was never found. The crime occurred in the 1970s and was never solved. Over thirty years later, Sophie's mother is found dead in a hotel room on the anniversary of her daughter's disappearance, and all evidence points to suicide. The suicide motivates the police to consider reopening the investigation of Sophie's abduction, and this turns Rachel's life upside down

I always enjoy a police procedural; this one focuses not only on the investigation, but also the repercussions on the victim and the two families that were involved. There are sections of the book that alternate between the past and the present and this was particularly well done, maintaining tension throughout.

The Moving Finger   by Agatha Christie.
One of the things I like about Agatha Christie's books is that she often surprises me. The Moving Finger has a first person narrator, Jerry Burton, who has moved to the small village of Lymstock with his sister to recuperate from a serious injury. Shortly after he arrives, he receives a very nasty poison pen letter. He discovers that others in the village have also received such letters. All of a sudden the village becomes more menacing, and a couple of deaths follow.

I enjoyed this book, the story and the characters. It was billed as a Miss Marple mystery, but she barely shows up until the end, making her part in the solving the mystery a bit unrealistic. It also seems to me that this one has a little more romance than usual. The attraction builds slowly and one wonders where it is going, but it is a nice addition.

Funeral in Berlin   by Len Deighton.
Published in 1964, only three years after the Berlin Wall was constructed, this is the third novel in the Nameless Spy series by Len Deighton.  The protagonist is sent to East Berlin to facilitate the defection of an East German scientist. This story is told in first person for the most part, but there are chapters here and there that are in third person. Thus we see some events various character's points of view. I liked that change from the previous two books in the series, although the narration of the nameless spy is one of the best elements of the story.

Diamond Solitaire   by Peter Lovesey.
Published in 1992, Diamond Solitaire is the 2nd book in a police procedural series that is now 15 books long. Its protagonist, Peter Diamond, is ex-CID, due to difficulties in his last assignment. At the beginning of this book, Diamond is sacked from his job as a security guard at Harrods in London. He pursues a personal investigation into the identity of a young Japanese girl, traveling to New York City and Japan along the way. The story is somewhat unbelievable, but I did not have any problems stretching my disbelief and going along with the story. I enjoyed the book throughout, including the methodical way Diamond looks for clues and the patience he exhibits in getting to know Naomi.

The Old English Peep Show   by Peter Dickinson. 
This is the second book in the Superintendent James Pibble series, published in 1969. Pibble is an unusual protagonist, a middle-aged man with a wife who bullies him "into reading the Elsa books." (They figure into the story, of course. This book was also published as A Pride of Heroes.) He is sent off by Scotland Yard to handle the investigation of the loyal servant, Deakin, at Herryngs, a great English country house being run as a theme park, complete with lions, by two retired WWII heroes. Shortly after Pibble arrives he senses that the family is hiding something. This book and the first in the series each won the Gold Dagger award.

Dickinson calls his book "a baroque spoof." The thing that surprised me was that with all the elements of humor and caricature, the later part of the book still has definite thriller elements.


Kay said...

You've got some good ones here. I have In Bitter Chill and Life After Life on my shelves for 2016. And The Moving Finger is one of my favorite Christie books. Might be time for a reread of that one.

Mac n' Janet said...

I was surprised too how much I enjoyed The Maltese Falcon, I thought I'd find it too dated, but it was great. Also liked Life After Life which I liked very much--have just finished A God in Ruins by her and though it's not a sequel, it's a parallel story.

Anonymous said...

You have some excellent reads there, Tracy. I agree with you about both Patti Abbott's novel and Sarah Ward's. Both are very well done, I think. And you've reminded me of how great the Peter Diamond series is, for which thanks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thank you so much, Tracy. What a honor to be one of your favorite books and be among these others. LIFE AFTER LIFE was certainly one of my favorites.

col2910 said...

Great list Tracy. I loved Hopscotch when I read it a year or so ago. I'll get to the Deighton one day and I do like the sound of the Crider book also.

Unknown said...

This is an impressive list of books!! I am happy that I'm able to recommend a book that I discovered recently called "Uncontrolled Spin" by Jerry Summers ( --- there is a book excerpt on his website you can check out). This is a mystery book that really has it all *sex, politics, suspense, plot twists and turns, and really excellent characters!!* It's been compared to Moonlighting, Dexter, Remington Steele and Bones. I also like the fact that he goes in depth with character development so you actually get wrapped up in their lives and the main focus isn't on just the crime scene. I really hope you will check it out! It is the first book in the series and I am so excited for the next one to come out in February.

TracyK said...

I hope you like In Bitter Chill and Life After Life as much as I did, Kay. Reviewers were divided on Life After Life but I loved it.

TracyK said...

I had been reluctant to try A God in Ruins, felt it might not live up to my expectations, but lately I have read enough positive comments on it to put it on my list for later this year.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Margot. Fortunately there will be new books coming from both Patti and Sarah this year, and I am looking forward to that. And I have some more of the Peter Diamond series so I can continue that one.

TracyK said...

All the praise for CONCRETE ANGEL has been totally deserved, Patti. You created some wonderful characters in that book and a very memorable story.

TracyK said...

I loved Hopscotch, too, Col. Very different from the movie (but both are good in their own way). I need to read more of Brian Garfield's books but they don't pop up at the book sale much. Will have to seek them out.

TracyK said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Deborah.

Katrina said...

I've not read anything by Dashiell Hammett but like you I loved the film The Maltese Falcon so I'll look out for the book now. I have the Kate Atkinson book out from the library at the moment.

TracyK said...

I will be eager to see what you think of Life After Life, Katrina. I have seen so many different reactions to it. If you liked the Maltese Falcon film, I think you will like the book too.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, some of your top reads of 2015 are impressive. I will try and read Patti's debut novel this year. I like Brian Garfield narrative style a lot and though I have not read "Hopscotch," I have read some of his other novels including "The Romanov Succession."

TracyK said...

Prashant, I look forward to finding and reading more books by Garfield.

Anonymous said...

I liked The Maltese Falcon, book and movie. Then I read The Thin Man by Hammett, which I liked even more, and the movies are great.
In Bitter Chill is in my top reads of the year, too.

Hopscotch -- didn't read the book, love the movie, rewatched it a few years ago. Must do this annually.

Have a good year of health, good books and movies.

TracyK said...

I liked The Thin Man too, Kathy. I read it twice and could re-read it again. I am looking forward to Sarah's new book this year.

You have a good year of reading and viewing, also, Kathy. And good health, the most important thing.

Anonymous said...

Great list, Tracy! I enjoyed the Maltese Falcon but loved, loved, loved Red Harvest. I love Dashiel Hammett, period. I plan to finish up The Glass Key. It seems that he wrote a bunch of short stories and only a handful of novels. Still, I prefer him over Raymond Chandler.

Also, Lovesey and Garfield are both writers whose works I own, just a matter of time before I start reading both. Hoping 2016 will allow me to read a lot of the books you guys have recommended. Still debating on the Atkinson title.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Keishon. I plan to read more of both Hammett and Chandler, but it will take a while. I was surprised how much I liked the 2nd Lovesey novel, I will definitely be reading more of those. So many good authors to read and never enough time.

Bernadette said...

What a great list. I've had a copy of Life After Life for a while but something always prevents me from picking it up. Crazy really as I've loved other books of hers and love her writing. Maybe this year :)

And you've reminded me that I don't think I've ever read The Moving Finger - I know I've seen an adaptation of it but of course that's not nearly the same thing. Might have to hunt this one down

TracyK said...

Bernadette, I have only read mysteries by Kate Atkinson before I read Life After Life. I want to read some of her non-mystery fiction also. Although I suspect it will be different from Life After Life.

I have not watched many adaptations of books by Christie and when I read how much they change some of the plots and characters, I want to make sure I do try some that are pretty close to the original stories.

Clothes In Books said...

Do you know, if I was stuck somewhere for a few weeks, I think that would be the perfect collection of books to read. Wide range, different genres, some familiar and some not so much. Kudos Tracy for a great list.

RebeccaK said...

Just catching up and found your very varied list: thanks for the recommendations! I've only read In Bitter Chill so there's lots for me to choose from. I have Gannett and Abbott waiting on my TBR. Happy New year!

TracyK said...

Happy new year to you too, Rebecca. I look forward to more reviews from you in 2016. I have had a great reading year but my blogging slowed down ... oh well.

TracyK said...

I just saw this comment, don't know how I missed it. Well .... work has been extremely bad this week, coming back from the holidays.

Thanks, Moira, for your kind comments. I have had a great reading year, just less time and energy for blogging.