Welcome to week two of Favorite Reads of 2019. Last week we had guests Angel Luis Colón, E.A. Aymar, and Eric Beetner, all who made my TBR pile even larger. Thanks folks.
This week we have authors J. Todd Scott, Steph Post, Nick Kolakowski, John Vercher and Canadian book reviewer Brandon Sears with a bounty of books.
This is a weekly series throughout the month of December, so be sure to come back next Wednesday.
J Todd Scott
Oftentimes the rich get richer this time of year, when the same (deserving) books are recommended and lauded again and again. I tried to pick a few “off the beaten path” that I read and enjoyed 2019, that might have flown beneath the radar.
I was supposed to pick two…I went with three.
BLOOD RELATIONS by Johnathan Moore.
This book treads into Michael Crichton territory, but it’s a taut mystery wrapped around compulsive, atmospheric writing. Actually, all of Moore’s books are great; high-concept noir thrillers of the “why didn’t I write that” variety that are imminently readable.
ALL THE WAY DOWN by Eric Beetner.
Eric’s written a ton of books and short stories, and honestly, I could have picked just about any of them. This one happens to feature a crooked cop, and I like books about crooked cops (or cops who at least bend). ALL THE WAY DOWN has great pacing, a cool set-up, and a dash of black humor. It’s all the way good.
THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN by Niklas Natt Och Dag.
A period mystery set in 18th century Stockholm, this has been compared to TRUE DETECTIVE (Season 1) and THE ALIENEST. I found it fascinating, dark, and also (paradoxically) illuminating about a place and time I knew next to nothing about. There is a lot going on in this book, but it’s worth the work.
WOUNDS: SIX STORIES FROM THE BOUNDARIES OF HELL by Nathan Ballingrud.
These are fantastic horror stories (one of which was recently made into a film) that are nearly impossible to pigeonhole. I struggle writing short stories, but there is so much imagination and craft exhibited in these, that I’ve spent time examining them just so I can learn how it’s done from a master of the style.
It’s refreshing to find a crime novel that is as much about the comic absurdity of life as it is the grit of the underworld. Most memorably, though, Boyle writes female characters who are strong, full of agency and wise cracks, and fallible. In short- they’re both real and entertaining. This read was a pure joy ride.
AFTER THE STORM by Marietta Miles
Speaking of well-written female characters, Miles nails it yet again with May Cosby and the continuation of her story after the events of 2018’s novel, May. After the Storm is dark, visceral and uncompromising- a deep dive into the underbelly of contemporary noir.
GOOD TALK by Mira Jacobs
I’ve been a fan of Jacobs for years and I was thrilled to see the visual vignettes she shared online develop into a full-fledged graphic memoir full of heart, humor and startling moments of poignancy as Jacobs explores her identity within the context of America and tries to convey such an exploration to her son and other family members.
YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha
A nuanced, searing, brutal—but ultimately uplifting novel about how we wrestle with old sins.
HELL CHOSE ME by Angel Luis Colón
I read a lot of crime fiction every year, but this one still sticks with me. It’s funny, like all of Angel’s work, but there’s a thread of real heartrending grief in here.
THE SECRET WORLD: A HISTORY OF INTELLIGENCE by Christopher Andrew
The history of spying, from the Old Testament through the modern day. It reminds you of how weird and vicious the human race can get when it wants something.
Book Reviewer at Every Read Thing
LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman
Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake is like stepping into a time machine back to the 1960s and into the social structures that shackle women from making drastic changes in their lives. Lippman’s Maddie proves to be a more than serviceable sleuth in the face of an apathetic police department. Can she solve the murder of Cleo Sherwood – and worse, will anyone care if she does?
DRY COUNTY by Jake Hinkson
Jake Hinkson is a criminally underread author. His books capture the seedy nature of small town life and how secrets can fester and ultimately destroy those who choose to keep them. Dry County is another stellar story from a master of noir.
RECURSION by Blake Crouch
Recursion is easily my favorite book of 2019. I finished this one in two sittings because I just could not get enough. We’ve all seen the movies and read books where the danger of messing with timelines has been thoroughly established. But I’ve never truly felt the frustration on the part of those trying more than the characters in Crouch’s new novel. There’s something about hopeless determination that kept me reading for hours.
Author of Three-Fifths
HEAVEN, MY HOME by Attica Locke
When it comes to heroes, perfect is boring and complicated is real. Darren Matthews wears his flaws on his sleeve while keeping an unflinching eye trained on justice, even if he has to break the rules to achieve it, while navigating the complexities of being a Black Texas Marshall. Attica Locke’s follow up to Bluebird, Bluebird had me turning the pages so quickly, I almost tore them.
WE CAST SHADOWS by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
It’s been called everything from horror to spec to literary—I just call it excellent. Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut was everywhere this year and rightfully so. Shadow offers a terrifying and all-too real glimpse into the struggles mixed-race people feel on a daily basis through the lens of a father obsessed with the color of his son’s skin. I continue to think about this book on the daily.
FAMOUS IN CEDARVILLE by Erica Wright
Damn, that Erica Wright can write. Another flawed character for me to root for, though she does a terrific job of keeping those flaws from us—at first. Her poetry roots are obvious in her first standalone. The sentences flow into one another with ease as she takes us into the grimier side of Tinseltown.
THE LINE THAT HELD US by David Joy
Technically a 2018 book, but my TBR pile is ridiculous. Reminiscent of McCarthy’s Lester Ballard in Child of God, Darl Moody is one scary son of a bitch, even more so because he’s calculated and motivated. The final scenes sent my heart rate soaring. Joy writes brutality with poetic prose. I can’t wait to read more of it in When These Mountains Burn in August.
Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.