So one of my New Year's resolutions was to review the best books I read last year. Here they are:
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Killing Vampires – Grady Hendrix
My book club chose this as our horror pick for 2020 and it did not disappoint. Vampires have gotten a little too sweet and approachable of late. Hendrix puts the vampire firmly back in the horror category as the sweet-talking stranger who preys on the children of a town while the menfolk welcome him, oblivious to the danger. It’s up to the suburban housewives of Charleston to fight him.
The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater
This was another one of my book club reads for 2020 and I was surprised to enjoy it as I’m not usually a big fan of YA books. The water horses come in to the land with the October storms, to mate, to hunt, and often to kill. The men of the island capture and train the water horses for The Scorpio Races. A race seldom ends without one of the riders being ripped apart by these bloodthirsty creatures. Despite the danger, Puck Connolly is going to be the first girl to compete in the races, but she’s going to be competing against Sean Kendrick, the first boy she’s ever cared about. The stakes are high, and there’ll be blood on the water before the races end. Stiefvater does a great job of creating interesting characters and bringing the rather grim island to life.
The Searcher – Tana French
Former detective Cal Hooper thought the Irish countryside would be a nice quiet place to retire. As he looks into the disappearance of a local teenager, discovers that there’s a great deal going on under the surface in his new home.
I’m happy to read anything Tana French writes, but for those who aren’t familiar with the author you’ll find The Searcher is an engrossing mystery.
I picked up the award-winning Bitter Wash Road at a book sale a couple of years back. Once I’d read the first book in Disher’s series about a city cop exiled to the countryside after he blows the whistle on corruption in the police force I liked it so much I went looking for the sequel. Peace does not disappoint. You’d think the criminals would take a break for Christmas, but Hirsch finds plenty of crime to keep him occupied. The books all follow the same format of Hirsch driving around chatting to all the odd characters in his district and gradually piecing together the answers to various mysteries.
Silver – Chris Hammer
The story of journalist Martin Scarsden continues from Scrublands. He returns to his hometown of Port Silver to live in the house his new girlfriend has inherited, only to find his old school friend has been murdered and Martin’s girlfriend is the chief suspect. Hammer is adept at weaving a fiendishly complicated mystery featuring layers upon layers that will keep you guessing until the end.
The Lost Man – Jane Harper
Two brothers discover a third, dead under the unforgiving Australian sun. Was it suicide, or did someone abandon him to die in the Outback? I’ll buy anything Jane Harper writes at this point, ever since The Dry. However I am coming to the conclusion from all the Australian murder mysteries I read that everyone who lives in the Australian countryside is just a teeny bit strange, or murderous, or both.
Tinfoil Butterfly – Rachel Eve Moulton
You know how sometimes you pick up a book in a store and read the first couple of pages and then put it back, but what you read stays with you over the next few days? That happened to me with Tinfoil Butterfly and eventually I had to go back and buy the book. It’s a hard novel to sum up. Emma’s run away and is hitchhiking across North Dakota when she gets into trouble and winds up at an abandoned diner in the middle of nowhere haunted by a strange little kid who wears a butterfly mask made of tinfoil. And if I tell you anymore, I’d spoil it. Go read the first page and see if you get hooked like I did.
A Song for a New Day – Sarah Pinsker
This oddly prescient novel portrays a future USA where terrorist attacks and viral outbreaks have driven everyone to work from home, forever. Mass gatherings are banned, but Luce Cannon is a part of the underground live concert movement. Rosemary Laws has a new job as a talent scout, finding underground bands and signing the acts for a mainstream production company. Together they may be able to tap the power of music to make changes in their shut-in society.
I found it a bit unlikely that the majority of Americans would meekly adjust to this new way of life, but otherwise this is a great book.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
June Elbus is grieving the loss of her beloved Uncle Finn, when she begins to investigate his life, and the lover she never knew about. A lovely coming of age story about all the different forms that love can take.
Stormsong – C.L. Polk
Stormsong is the sequel to Witchmark, so go read that first. The nation Aeland would be uninhabitable without the mages that protect the land from terrible storms, but others paid a terrible price to give them their power. Now the protections are failing and Grace Henley finds herself in a race against time to save Kingston.
The Absolute Book – Elizabeth Knox
I bought this super-chunky read to get me through the pandemic lockdown in New Zealand, and it certainly delivered. It’s hard to categorise, both an intricate mystery, and an action-packed fantasy. You’ve got lost memories, murder and vengeance, ancient gods, portals to other realms, and a recurring theme of knowledge lost, and preserved.
Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey
A jaded private eye is hired to investigate a murder at the school for magic users where her brilliant sister teaches. Honestly, you don’t need more than that to hit the buy button. This is no Hogwarts – the Osthorne Academy is far more gritty and realistic.
The Unspoken Name - A.K. Larkwood
Csorwe (I have no idea how to pronounce that) was raised to be a human sacrifice. She’s not thrilled about that, but is mostly resigned to her fate, until a charismatic sorcerer hunting a relic of ancient gods rescues her. An epic treasure hunt across multiple worlds follows. I must say, this book is a slow burner. Csorwe starts off as a rather one-dimensional character, but once she gets on the road she gains depth and I was hooked.
Hard Time – Jodi Taylor
Okay, first you have to go read all the dozen or so volumes that make up The Chronicles of St. Mary’s about a bunch of irresponsible time-travelling historians. Off you go, I’ll wait. Then you can start on the spin-off Time Police series, of which Hard Time is the second volume. Every one of these books is a wacky roller coast ride, and I don’t know why I didn’t discover them years ago.
The House in the Cerulean Sea – TJ Klune
If I was ever going to prescribe a book as an antidote to 2020, this would be the one I’d choose. A social worker is sent to determine if an orphanage for children with magical powers should close. This is a sweet slow-burning love story, all about the power of a found family.
A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martin
I read this when I was doing the Hugo award nominations for WorldCon, and it definitely deserved the prize. Interstellar empires, political intrigue, murder, and the difficulty of settling into a new culture.
The Last Human – Zack Jordan
Young Sarya believes she is the last human in the galaxy, since her kind were deemed too dangerous to live and exterminated. Raised by an extremely stabby adoptive mother, Sarya keeps a low profile on a space station inhabited by thousands of different species. But when she finds a hint that there might be more humans out there she unleashes a series of events with the potential to destroy the galaxy.
This is one of those books where I kept looking up and wanting to read some bit out loud to whoever was in the vicinity. So good.
Murderbot Diaries – Martha Wells
The good thing about discovering a series that is well advanced is you can binge read your way through it, rather than having to wait a year or more for each new book. Alas, I have come to the end of the Murderbot Diaries and now have to wait impatiently for the next instalment just like everybody else.
The Sugared Game – KJ Charles
The only thing wrong with The Sugared Game, and the previous book, Slippery Creatures, is that I read them too fast and don’t immediately have the next book in my hand. Bookseller Will Darling and the unreliable Kim continue their hunt for the members of a Hydra-like secret society, with plenty of breaks for sexy times, of course.
Bad Turn - Zoe Sharp
This is the 13th book in the Charlie Fox series, and Sharp still delivers. Now homeless and jobless, but somewhat older and wiser, Charlie is blackmailed into acting as a bodyguard for the wife of a dodgy arms dealer. I can’t understand why this series is not on the shelves of every bookstore right up there with all the Lee Child novels. Much as I like Jack Reacher, Charlie Fox is a lot more interesting and nuanced as a kick-ass main character.
The Luminous Dead – Caitlin Starling
Gyre Price is hired to explore a remote caving system on her backwater planet. This might be the job that pays enough to get her a ticket to somewhere better. But instead of a well-equipped expedition she finds herself alone deep underground at the mercy of an increasingly unbalanced controller on the surface, with no company but the corpses of the previous explorers. Thoroughly creepy and increasingly claustrophobic. I loved it.