Friday, December 30, 2016

FFB: Favorite Books of the Year

N.C. Wyeth (1882 - 1945)

A list of books not necessarily published in 2016 (in fact all but two weren't) read by yours truly for the first time in this past year. AND not necessarily ALL forgotten or overlooked (though several of them qualify). But it's Friday, and this seemed the appropriate time, date and moment.

I don't include any re-reading of past favorites in this current year-end list since those titles were already listed and accounted for in years past.

I wish I could link you to my previous 'Favorites' lists, but my blog linking apparatus still isn't working the way it should. However you may be able to do it from your end if you are so inclined. I've given up trying to figure out what's what with Google. Life's too short.

So without any further muss or fuss, here is my list of favorites for 2016:

1) EVERYBODY'S FOOL (2016) by Richard Russo

I am a huge fan of Russo's work - he is one of the few contemporary 'literature' writers I read probably because of his natural ability to tell a story, his often laugh-out-loud humor and his slightly jaundiced view of a world he knows very well. But don't get me wrong, Russo loves these characters - it's just that he sees right through them. And somehow he makes us love them too even as we see how very far from perfect they are.

Though this is a sequel, it isn't necessary to have read NOBODY'S FOOL (1993), the book which first introduced us to Donald Sullivan aka Sully, the middle-aged n'er do well 'hero' and his misanthropic circle of friends and acquaintances. I had read it years ago but to tell the truth, I'd forgotten most of it - still I had no trouble jumping right into events which take place ten years after those in the first book. Sully is now 70 and suffering the aches and pains of decrepitude. We're back in upstate New York, in the small depressed town of Bath where nothing much ever happens and even when it does, it's never to the benefit of the town's sad-sack citizenry.

T.C. Boyle's review of EVERYBODY'S FOOL from the NY Times.

THE HOUSE OF FOUR WINDS (1935) by John Buchan

A 'Ruritania' style romance and the final book in the Dickson McCunn trilogy of adventure stories set in an Europe that is gone forever, if it ever existed. Next to HUNTINGTOWER (the brilliant first novel in the series) this is one of my all time favorite books. (The second installment in the series, CASTLE GAY, is good, but doesn't really hold a candle to the first or last.)

Dickson McCunn, the retired but wealthy Scottish grocer with a romantic heart, is back again and ready, despite 'old age' aches and pains, for another adventure. The street boys from Glasgow are also back all grown up: Jaikie on a walking tour and Dougal on assignment for his newspaper. McCunn is headed to a German spa for his health but that won't stop him getting side-lined. Several other characters left over from CASTLE GAY will also show up and eventually all will get involved in a plot to restore the monarchy of Evallonia, a mythical middle-European country. Impossibly far-fetched I know, but oh so wonderful.

3) SUMMERLAND (2002) by Michael Chabon

A friend handed me this book and said read it. So I did. Meant for young readers (10 and up), but not so you'd notice. This is a wonderfully sharp-eyed fantasy about baseball, the meaning of life and the possible end of the world as we know it. (Seems highly appropriate and prescient.) Eleven year old Ethan Feld is the worst baseball player in the history of the game, but he is the 'chosen one' as far as saving the world from the evil machinations of the dreadful baseball loving Coyote and his wicked minions. The author draws from American mythology and legends in his first book for young readers which, of course, can be read and enjoyed by everyone and anyone of any age whatsoever.

Kirkus Review of SUMMERLAND

4) THE LAST POLICEMAN (2012) by Ben H. Winters

A dystopian science fiction/mystery tour de force for those of us who do not ordinarily like dystopian fare (as, for that matter, is SUMMERLAND, sort of - see above). The world is on an inevitable collision course with a giant asteroid and most humans are handling it as one would expect. Social and economic disorder reigns, corporations have closed up shop, most workers see no point in continuing in their jobs, and food grows scarcer and scarcer. As the days tick-tock away, looting and suicides become common, 'survivalists' head for the hills, all hope is gone and only the military and police have fuel supplies as frightened families hunker down and wait for the end. Hank Palace is a young detective in New Hampshire struggling to do his job even on the brink of annihilation. When murder occurs, he is determined to catch a killer while also dealing with family problems: a sister who has become involved with a cult which believes that they have the science to save the world.

The second and third installments of the trilogy, COUNTDOWN CITY and WORLD OF TROUBLE are also excellent and highly recommended by yours truly. I would read all three at a clip. Terrific stuff with very little, if any. letdown as the trilogy comes to its predestined end.

5) ANNA, WHERE ARE YOU? (1951) by Patricia Wentworth

A moody, engrossing Miss Silver mystery and one I cannot ever remember reading before. When Patricia Wentworth was at the top of her form, she was really quite good even if what she was writing was cozy and derivative and highly improbable - not that any of that matters if the plotting, setting and characterizations work and the sense of menace is high. As it is is this sinister installment.

When Thomasina Elliott's old school friend Anna Ball stops writing to her, Thomasina suspects that something is wrong. She knows that she is Anna's only real friend, someone to whom Anna would regularly take the time to write her latest news simply because there was no one else. It had been that way for the many years the two girls had known each other. So when Thomasina stops hearing from Anna after learning she had recently quit one job and been offered a new one, Thomasina worries. Though her friend Peter scoffs at her apprehension, Thomasina insists on doing something.

Enter Miss Silver, elderly spinster and private detective.

6) THE FOLD (2015) by Peter Clines

Terrific science fiction which I found almost impossible to put down. Though it kind of/almost loses its way near the end, it still packs a wallop most especially because of its thrilling mystery-like 'what happens next' aspect and the appeal of an engaging main character with a very rare eidetic memory. Mike Erikson has the ability to remember everything he sees, reads or hears. Hard to deal with as you may imagine, which is why he prefers to remain a low-key high school teacher in an out of the way New England town.

But when Mike's friend (the head of a hush-hush government program) cajoles him into traveling to California for a looksee at a project involving a working teleportation device, little does Mike know that his talents will be soon called upon to save the world from an onslaught of alternate universes. Hard to explain, but it all makes a sort of sense once you get into the spirit of the thing. Hey, I'm no scientist, but I still enjoyed the idea of leaping about from one reality to another - side by side travel through a 'fold' in time. (Even if I couldn't make heads or tails of the actuality of the thing.) It's time travel but not. As I said, hard to explain. Just read the book.

It's a fun read and not meant, I think, to be taken too seriously.

7) THE PROMISE (2015) by Robert Crais

Those of you familiar with my reading likes will know that I am an unabashed Robert Crais fan-girl. I love his Elvis Cole and Joe Pike thrillers and consider him to be one of the best (if not the best) American thriller writer working today. Certainly no one else can match Crais for macabre sense of humor amidst carnage, something which shouldn't work, but does. Mostly because of Crais' confident sense of who his main characters are and how their psyches work. Elvis and Joe are heroic in the truest sense of the word and their stories are, at heart, about the workings of a close friendship.

Here in the 16th book in the long-running series, Elvis and Joe are joined by L.A. canine officer Scott James and his partner, Maggie, a German Shepherd (fresh from their own previous book, SUSPECT).

Approaching the hunt for a heartless and very dangerous killer from two different directions and hindered by a string of lies not the least of which is from Elvis' secretive client, all four protagonists eventually join forces on the trail of a vengeful murderer fanatically eager to eliminate the only witness to a recent crime: Officer Scott James.

8) GREY MASK (1928) by Patricia Wentworth

The first Miss Silver mystery and one of the author's best - an incredible tale of a sinister masked miscreant and a nasty kidnapping plot upon which our hero stumbles late one night while skulking about a supposedly empty house. Don't you love when that happens?

Miss Silver doesn't enter into the story until about half way through which is just right for this particular introductory story. Full of anachronisms (hey, it's 1928) and twisted logic, GREY MASK still works a treat and is the perfect antidote for a chilly winter night. These stories are either your cup of tea or they are not, if they are then this one is a prime example of its kind - meant to entertain and intrigue for a few hours and nothing more. I loved it.

9) SLEEPING GIANTS (2016) by Sylvain Neuvel

Lately I am beginning to read more and more science fiction and really liking it. But the stories I seem to gravitate towards are not, necessarily, the flying saucer or outer space type things, but stories about unusual happenings - magical reality on steroids, I suppose. Personified by author China Mieville and others, i.e. Sylvain Neuvel whom I discovered recently.

In South Dakota, a young girl named Rose rides her new bicycle, falls through a crack in the earth and lands in the palm of a giant golden hand. Eventually the hand will join other parts found buried around the world until, put together, they make a full grown warrior woman. But what are these wondrous artifacts? Long lost art? Remnants of an ancient civilization? Weapons of mass destruction? Who hid them? When? Why? And more importantly why are they suddenly coming to light now?

Seventeen years after stumbling into the mystery, Rose Franklin is now a top physicist working with a small secret team to try and find the meaning of this bizarre puzzle. The story is intriguingly told through a series of diary entries, notes and other first person writings.

I am eagerly awaiting the second book in the series,

10) THE FAMILY MAN(2009) by Elinor Lipman

Henry Archer is a divorced gay man of a certain age, a quiet, courtly gentleman living a quiet courtly life in his elegant Manhattan townhouse. Like most of Elinor Lipman's characters inhabiting one of her gentle social satires, he is someone we would all like to know.

In the middle of mourning for his recently deceased best friend Celeste, the lonely Henry discovers that his stepdaughter Thalia has been working right under his nose (at his barber's) all the while unnoticed by him. The story then centers on Henry's attempts to re-connect with his long-lost daughter, not only a hat-check girl at the barber's but also an actress looking for her first break. Once upon a time 24 years previously, Henry had foolishly allowed his ex-wife's mogul husband (now also deceased) to adopt Thalia and because of one thing or another, had lost touch with the girl. Regrets - he has many.

Soon, the mercenary money-hungry ex-wife now penniless (due to a clever pre-nup) attempts to storm-troop her way back into Henry and Thalia's good graces. While Thalia gets mixed up in a public relations gig posing as the girl friend of a weird horror film actor who is, in turn, in love with an underage girl of 17. Not to worry, Elinor Lipman is an expert at untangling convolutions, it all works out nicely.

Like most of the author's work, this is an engaging and charming (if occasionally sharp-edged) tale in which everyone gets what he or she deserves. I like that.

11) HUNTING EICHMANN (2009) - How A Band of Survivors and A Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb 

In 1944 when the war was all but lost, many Nazi higher ups began planning their escape, knowing full well that they would be held accountable by the Allies for Germany's atrocities. Among these many cowards was Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's bureaucratic mastermind in charge of 'the Jewish question'. Eichmann was a precise, unfeeling man who sent millions to their deaths and would later use the excuse that he was 'only following orders'. With the help of Nazi sympathizers, he eventually made his way to Argentina after the war, there to join a growing community of ex-Nazis given refuge in the South American country. Eichmann would dodge pursuers for fifteen more years, his trail having gone cold until he was all but forgotten.

How a small band of agents recruited from Mossad and Shin Bet, the Israeli secret services, tracked and finally cornered Eichmann on a dark road outside his Buenos Aires home, makes for a stirring tale of true adventure and daring. Meticulous planning and good fortune combined to help these dedicated agents get their man and smuggle him out of the country aboard the first Israeli plane ever to land in the Argentine capital. Thanks to these men, Eichmann would eventually stand trial in Israel in full view of the world.

This is non-fiction that reads like fast-paced fiction. It is hard to believe all this actually happened. But it did.

Kirkus Review of HUNTING EICHMANN.

And now, since this Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.


  1. Wow, quite a variety of books! Nice mix of fiction and non-fiction, too! Looks like you had a great reading year in 2016.

    1. I did, George. I really did. Though I've slowed down some from last year.

  2. What a wonderful assortment of books. Love Russo, Chabon, Winters and Lipman too

    1. I'm nothing if not eclectic, Patti. :) I've heard that the Ben Winters books are going to be adapted for either film or television series.

  3. interesting set of novels; Buchan is one of my favorites and the Huntingtower trilogy is one of his best... the Greenmantle series is also good...

    1. I've read them all, Mudpuddle. Wonderful stuff.

  4. Excellent list, Yvette, a broad range of things. As you saw, my list is more focused on mystery and a few favorite authors, but then we do "favorite" lists, not "hey look what I read" lists, don't we?

    1. Absolutely, Richard. 'Favorites' is the key word here.

  5. All of these books sound good, Yvette. You have talked me into getting back into the Patricia Wentworth books; both of the books that you listed here sound good. And the one Richard Russo book that I have read I really liked. Also enjoyed hearing about the Dickson McCunn trilogy; I don't know much about John Buchan's books. I have read the Last Policeman books and loved them.

    1. The Patricia Wentworth books are a very mixed bag, Tracy. But when she was good she was very very good. If you check out this link, you'll find all of Wentworth's books available to read online. The Canadian copyright having expired.

      As for Buchan, I can't be sensible. I love his stuff!

      And I'm a HUGE Richard Russo fan-girl. :)

  6. Dear Yvette - I shall come back and peruse this list again, many wonderful recommendations and reviews here.
    We have just seen a fantastic BBC production called 'To Walk Invisible' about the Brontë sisters and their brother Branwell. Should you get the chance to see it do check it out.
    2016 was an important year for you with your big move to be nearer your family - hope that 2017 is a very happy year for you too.

    1. Thanks so much for the good wishes, Rosemary. Yes, last year was especially good for me (how nice of you to remember) moving down here was the best thing I could have done - I love being nearer my family and I love my apartment.
      I will definitely keep a look out for the Bronte special. Thanks for the tip.

      Happy New Year to you and yours as well.

  7. Haven't read Russo yet but loved the movie and now intend to read the sequel novel. Thanks for the reminder, Yvette. I've not read any of the books you've listed here but now I want to. Most of them, in fact, so I'll mention only those I think I'll pass for the time being: (sorry) Buchan & Wentworth. I almost included Winters but was saved by your enthusiasm.

    1. Oh Ben Winters' books are top notch, Mathew. Don't miss them. And Richard Russo is brilliant. I love his books. Don't miss EMPIRE FALLS, his Pulitzer Prize winner.

      It would be a very boring world if we all liked the exact same things. Right?

  8. I haven't read even one! There's a good interview with Richard Russo here -

    1. Well, time to get started then. :) I think you would like Richard Russo's work very much, Nan. Also Elinor Lipmann AND the Miss Silver books.

  9. Such a great lineup of books, Yvette! I have got a bunch of Wentworth sitting in my inbox and waiting to be read. Good luck with reading in 2017.


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