Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan: A bookstore patron commits suicide in the store, leaving his favorite clerk to unravel the mysteries of both his life and her own buried past. It’s not a typical mystery, as the author tends to reveal his hand with little fanfare (on purpose? Hard to say). So perhaps it’s not exactly a mystery, but a book about families and secrets. VGR
The Book of Dust, Volume 1, by Philip Pullman: This is the start of a new trilogy that serves as a prequel to His Dark Materials. The story features Malcolm Polstead, a bright, inquisitive 11-year-old boy whose father runs the Trout Inn near Oxford. When infant Lyra is brought to the priory across from the inn, Malcolm gets tangled up in a dark world of secrets, danger, and spies. VGR
Artemis, by Andy Weir: As much as I loved The Martian, I was braced for disappointment with Artemis after reading early reviews. This is basically a heist novel set on the moon, with the main character a Mark Watney-clone stuck in the body of a twenty-something, Arab, non-practicing Muslim, woman. It doesn’t work. The main character, Jazz Bashara, is so unlikeable. There is way too much extraneous science. In The Martian, the science was a natural part of the storyline. In this novel, not so much. Still, it has its fun moments and isn’t a total waste of time. Sophomore efforts can be so hard for writers; hopefully Weir’s next book will be better.
The Deal of a Lifetime, by Fredrik Backman: This is a short novella that has more in common with Backman’s novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer than with any of his novels to date. It’s a rumination on life, death, and sacrifice. A man is looking back on his life and accomplishments and failures as he faces death.
Warcross, by Marie Lu: I’m going to have to give Lu’s other novels a second try, because this was a fantastic YA SF. Warcross is a virtual reality game, and teen bounty hunter Emika manages to hack into the opening game of the annual Warcross Championships. Instead of being arrested, the founder of Warcross hires her to be his spy inside the game to find another hacker. I stayed up late to finish because I couldn’t put it down. One of the twists was easily guessed, and the other one caught me totally off guard. VGR
Brilliant, by Marne Davis Kellogg: This was a reread for me, and I can’t wait to revisit the entire series. Kick is an elegant, private American living in London who has worked at a sophisticated auction house for over thirty years. She also happens to be a successful jewel thief. Kick ends up falling into a relationship with the brash new American owner of her auction house, Owen Brace, and gets tangled up in all sorts of schemes. She’s a delightful character and I wish this series got more attention and love. VGR
This Mortal Coil, by Emily Suvada: A pretty good (3.5 stars) YA dystopian. Catarina is a brilliant hacker in a world where everyone has apps to recode their DNA. She’s hiding from the megacorp Cartaxus, which took her scientist father two years earlier, forcing him to help them develop a vaccine for a plague that is destroying the world’s population. When a mysterious Cartaxus soldier, Cole, comes to get her help with the vaccine, they’re plunged into a dangerous world filled with secrets. Suvada manages a few genuine surprises (often rare in this genre), and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes with the storylines.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng: Now this is how you manage a sophomore effort. I liked Ng’s first book but wasn’t crazy about it. Little Fires Everywhere was excellent and compelling. When enigmatic artist and single mother Mia Warren arrives in the perfect Shaker Heights community with her teenage daughter Pearl, she and Pearl become entangled with the Richardson family, including their four teenage children. Long-buried secrets come to light and everyone’s life gets upended in the process. VGR
Year One, by Nora Roberts: There are a lot of mixed reviews about this book, but I quite enjoyed it despite its flaws. Roberts steps away from her romance and mystery genres and produces a solid post-apocalyptic story about a sickness that strikes down so many, the world as we know it is completely upended. The book follows groups of survivors who eventually band together and get on with the business of living. Some fantasy elements are involved as well.
A Lot Like Christmas, by Connie Willis: The book gathers 12 of Willis’s holiday-themed short stories, only 5 of which are new. So I had already read 7 of them (and enjoyed them). I reread them all, as well as the 5 new ones, but I wish more than half the book hadn’t been retreads. Still, who doesn’t love a little SF in their holiday stories? Lots of fun here.
The Accusation, by Bandi: The story behind these short stories is a little more interesting than the stories themselves (to me, at least), but this is still really worth a read. Bandi is the pseudonym of a North Korean writer who found a way to smuggle out these seven short stories detailing different lives and situations in North Korea. I still prefer actual memoirs to these stories, but they were compelling and as horrific as the memoirs.
Dare Mighty Things, by Heather Kaczynski: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about a group of young adults (18-25) who are competing to fill a spot on a secret mission to outer space. Despite recognizing that something was off in the story, I still managed to be surprised at the twist that comes at the end. Cassandra Gupta, the main character, is well written and interesting. Can’t wait for the next book! VGR
Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor & Heather Webb: Excellent WWI epistolary novel. Evie is left behind to keep the home fires burning when her older brother Will and his best friend Tom enlist to fight in WWI in 1914. There’s a lovely slow-burning romance between Evie and Tom, but the real star of this novel is the descriptions of both life at home in England and abroad in the trenches of war. VGR
The Story of Arthur Truluv, by Elizabeth Berg: This was a perfect read to finish up the year! A lovely, warm novel about three lonely people who come together to form an unusual family. Arthur is a grieving widower, his neighbor Lucille rediscovers her first love after she thinks love has passed her by, and Maddy is a friendless teenager in a bad situation. VGR