The Last Best Reads—My Favorite Books of 2016

IMGP1761“The Last Best Book” is my occasional post on a favorite recent read — playing on one of Montana’s many nicknames, The Last Best Place.  A handful were published in 2016; others go back a few years. I’ve included audio books—yes, listening to a book is reading it, albeit a different experience. And I love audios—the narrators create their own worlds for me, and I get to read books, especially nonfiction, that I might not otherwise pick up.

Of 57 titles, including 46 novels or story collections, 18 were published in 2016 and 13 in 2015. (One will come out in 2017.) Yay—I’m catching up! No doubt I’ll still have read like a demon this spring to be ready to vote for the Agatha Awards, especially since only one of those 2016 titles was a first book. But books from earlier years rose to the top as well, so I’m listing my faves, in no particular order, regardless of when they were published.

FAVORITE NOVELS: 
The Last Bus to Wisdom, Ivan Doig (2015) Alas, the last novel by the great Montana writer, but a fitting end to a storied career. IMO, Doig was at his best when writing in the voice of a young boy—here, Donal Cameron, age 11, sent by “dog bus” (the Greyhound) from north-central Montana to a great-aunt he’s never met in Wisconsin, in 1951. Part road trip, part buddy story, part coming–of-age novel, with Doig’s keen eye and ear—pure delight.

The Orphan Train, Cristina Baker Kline (2013) An intriguing snippet of history, with a surprising modern parallel. 

Whistling Past the Graveyard, Susan Crandall (2014) Hmm. The third historical coming-of-age novel on the list. A different time and place—Mississippi, 1963—but just as powerful.

Little Pretty Things (2015) and The Day I Died (2017), Lori Rader-Day. The winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award for 2015 is a major new talent.

Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman (2016) Not sure whether I’m more impressed by the story or its structure. Masterful.

The Ex, Alafair Burke (2016) Smart and wicked—a great combo.

Down River, John Hart (2007, audio) and A Killing at Cotton Hill, Terry Shames (2013) Two authors who deserve to be better known. Set in North Carolina (Hart) and Texas (Shames), both books convey their authors’ love of the land as well as their deep understanding of crime and family.

Two fun historical mysteries: Murder in Morningside Heights, Victoria Thompson (2016), the 15th or 16th Gaslight Mystery, and Delivering the Truth, Edith Maxwell (2016), the first Quaker Midwife Mystery.

And I’m finally catching up with Deborah Crombie and Jacqueline Winspear, reading several books by each this year, every one a true joy.

A special mention for a short story collection, All the Wrong Places, by Molly Giles (2015). Giles’ stories are smart, funny, with an amazing range and dialogue that makes my writerly heart churn with envy. I met Molly this past summer on a perfect evening on a friend’s deck overlooking the Swan River, and am so happy that I liked the stories as much as I like the woman herself!

What were your favorite reads of the past year? 

What’s on Pepper’s bookshelf in Killing Thyme?

IMGP3441In ASSAULT AND PEPPER, the first Spice Shop mystery, Pepper discovers the joys of the Brother Cadfael mysteries by the late, great Ellis Peters. In later books, she dives into the Dame Frevisse mysteries by Margaret Frazer—one of my very favorites—and the Sister Fidelma mysteries by Peter Tremaine.

In KILLING THYME, just released on October 4, 2016, Pepper’s mother, Lena, visits and introduces her to several newer historical mysteries series. As Lena says, “Now you know why I love historicals. Life could be harsh, and people haven’t changed a whole lot. But reality is easier to take when it’s dressed in period clothing.”

KillingThyme_FC.inddOf course, Pepper’s Seattle Spice Shop carries a wide range of cookbooks and food fiction. Readers have asked me for a list of the books Pepper mentions. Here’s Part One. 

And here’s what’s on Pepper’s bookshelf in KILLING THYME:

Rhys Bowen, the Molly Murphy Mysteries, including Murphy’s Law and Death of Riley

Victoria Thompson, the Gaslight Mysteries, including Murder on Amsterdam Avenue and Murder in Morningside Heights

Daryl Wood Gerber aka Avery Aames, the Cheese Shop Mysteries and the Cookbook Nook Mysteries

World Spice at Home: New Flavors for 75 Favorite Dishes by World Spice Merchants owner Amanda Bevill and Julie Kramis Hearne

Essays by the late novelist and food writer Laurie Colwin and the late food writer MFK Fisher

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War, by Annia Ciezadlo, a tour of Middle Eastern food during the wars in Iraq and Lebanon

Laura Childs, the Teashop Mysteries, Gunpowder Green

Krista Davis, the Domestic Diva Mysteries, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme

Happy reading and eating!

 

What book is that again? Pepper’s bookshelf

IMGP1761Like me, Pepper, the main character in my Seattle Spice Shop series, is a mystery reader. She often mentions books she’s reading. One of her updates to the Spice Shop has been to expand the book section, adding more cookbooks, memoirs and chef lit, and even foodie fiction. When Pepper drops into the Seattle Mystery Bookshop (a real place), to consult with Jen, a former paralegal who now sells books, Jen gives her several recommendations.

By reader request, here’s Pepper’s reading list:

assault and pepperPepper’s bookshelf, in ASSAULT & PEPPER:
Salt, Mark Kurlansky
Salted, Mark Bitterman
Skippyjon Jones: Lost in SpiceJudith Schachner

Pepper learns a lot about herbs and investigating from Brother Cadfael, created by Ellis Peters, reading A Morbid Taste for Bones, One Corpse Too Many, and Monk’s Hood, as well as the Cadfael Companion, Ellis Peters and Robin Whiteman, and Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden, Rob Talbot and Robin Whiteman.

The Spice Shop also carries the Teashop Mysteries by Laura Child, the Domestic Diva Mysteries by Krista Davis, the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle, and Key West Food Critic Mysteries by Lucy Burdette. Jen recommends a reader traveling to Erin consider Sheila Connolly’s County Cork series, Erin Hart’s archaeological mysteries, and when Pepper nears the end of the Cadfael series, Jen suggests the Sister Frevisse mysteries by Margaret Frazer and Sister Fidelma mysteries by Peter Tremayne.

Guilty as CinnamonPepper’s faves in GUILTY AS CINNAMON:
In her second outing, Pepper is celebrating cinnamon, and displays several mysteries in the shop: Cinnamon Skin, John D. MacDonald, Cinnamon Kiss, Walter Mosley, and The Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke.

She draws inspiration from The Servant’s Tale and The Outlaw’s Tale by Margaret Frazer. Her friend Callie, a law librarian and avid baker, drools over a cookbook called Sugar Rush.

And after she’s solved the crimes, Pepper’s staff gives her a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, by Steven Kerry Brown. What, they couldn’t have given it her before she found—nevermind. No spoilers here!

In GUILTY AS CINNAMON, Pepper also discovers music by the Portland Cello Project.

The Last Best Reads — my favorite books of 2015, or whatever year it just was

IMGP1761“The Last Best Book” is my occasional post on a favorite recent read — playing on one of Montana’s many nicknames, The Last Best Place — but I’ve been a bad girl and haven’t kept it up this year. So here I am looking at my list of books read the year, including audio books, with some embarrassment. It’s surprisingly short on books published in 2015 and surprisingly long on books published in 2013 and 2014 — meaning I’m waaay behind! (And that I’ll have to read like a demon this spring to be ready to vote for the Agatha Awards!) So I’m listing my faves, in no particular order, regardless of when they were published.

FAVORITE NOVELS: 
The Child Garden, Catriona McPherson (2015) A stunning exploration of evil triggered by a childhood mistake, and a mother’s fierce love. I predict many awards for this tale of psychological suspense set in Scotland.
The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty (2013) Many novels that wouldn’t be classified as mystery or crime fiction nonetheless have a mystery or crime at their heart, and this is one. I knew where Moriarty was taking us, and I couldn’t take my eyes of the page.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (2005) Even better than the movie.
I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman (2010) Guaranteed to make you squirm.
Death is Like a Box of Chocolates, Kathy Aarons (2014) A delicious cozy.
Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear (2003) I know, I know, but I’ll catch up, I promise.
Just One Evil Act, Elizabeth George (2013) Still the master of psychological suspense.
To Dwell in DarknessDeborah Crombie (2014) An exploration of the crowd mentality, urban protest, and more.
Long Upon the Land, Margaret Maron (2015) The last Deborah Knott mystery, and an excellent wrap-up.
St. Nick: A Christmas Cop Novel, Allan Russell (2013) A surprise find in my Left Coast Crime gift bag, and the perfect read for the day after Christmas!

BEST FIRST MYSTERY:
Really sad I didn’t read more in this category, but my two favorites were Bun For Your Lifeby Karoline Barrett, a sweet cozy, and The Alchemist’s Daughter, by Mary Lawrence, set in Elizabethan London and environs.

What were your favorite reads of the past year? 

Wrapping up the CINNAMON fun

IMGP2110Thanks to all of you for celebrating with me the release of GUILTY AS CINNAMON, and for making it so much fun!

This week, I’ll be at the Fresh Fiction blog, revealing my 10 Favorite Things About Seattle — or at least, my 10 top faves on the day I wrote the post! I think the publisher is offering a giveaway, so check it out!

And speaking of giveaways, the Book Bitch’s December giveaway runs through Dec 31. Enter for a chance to win 4 signed books — GUILTY AS CINNAMON, TRICKY TWENTY-TWO by Janet Evanovitch, and the latest from Lawrence Block and the trio who write the winemaking detective mysteries, set in France!

Untitled-5A couple of guest blogs are still waiting in the wings, including one on what I’ve been reading recently — I’ll let you know when it’s up. And I’ll post a list of some favorite reads from the past year shortly.

Many of you have sent me kind notes, by email or on Facebook, saying how much you enjoyed GUILTY AS CINNAMON. I’m so happy! Would you please take a few minutes and post a short review on Amazon, Goodreads, or B&N.com? Your help can make a difference in how the recommendation algorithms work, and in helping other readers find my books. THANK YOU!

IMGP2188And now, life returns to normal. I’m working on the fourth Food Lovers’ Village mystery, still unnamed, and expecting edits on the third Seattle Spice Shop Mystery, KILLING THYME (October 2016), and the cover any day now. I’m working on a couple of other projects as well, along with this blog, and my regular gigs at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen (1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays) and Killer Characters (the 27th of the month.) We’re working on several new projects at Sisters in Crime. And I hope to get out and enjoy that snow — or maybe stay inside and curl up with a good book.

Thanks for joining me! Keep it spicy!

Oh, what fun it is to celebrate a new book!

ChampagneThanks to all of you for making GUILTY AS CINNAMON another national bestseller! I’m considering that an early Christmas present—but that doesn’t let Mr. Right off the hook!

And I’m delighted to report that the large print edition will be available in July 2016.

Readers and bloggers continue to be very good to me. Jennifer at Moonlight Rendezvous calls it an “exciting mystery that has the perfect recipe of charm to entice cozy readers.” And Kings River Life gives a spot-on recap.

cabinMy favorite bad boy, Alex Howard, and I are Dru Ann’s guests at Dru’s Book Musings on Friday, December 25, giving the chef’s-eye view of GUILTY AS CINNAMON—and thanks to my publisher, there will be a giveaway!

Stacy the BookBitch is including a signed copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON in her December giveaway—along with the latest by Janet Evanovitch (TRICKY TWENTY-TWO), Lawrence Block, and the authors of the French winemaker’s mysteries. One lucky winner gets all four books!

My thanks again to all of you for sharing the CINNAMON spirit!

(Photo: Our new cabin in the woods!)

The CINNAMON Celebration Continues!

IMGP2086Cold and wet and downright yucky outside these days, but your comments and notes have me feeling all warm and fuzzy. My favorite note this past week has to be the Facebook post from the reader who said she bought GUILTY AS CINNAMON on Tuesday, release day, only to have her sister snatch it up. “Please write books my sister doesn’t like so much,” she pleaded.

Well. I love my readers, but I’m not going to promise THAT!

 

Untitled-5The reviews are delicious! I hope you’ll let me share a few quotes from reviews. Suspense Magazine will review CINNAMON in an upcoming issue. The reviewer calls it “s a zesty mix of a mystery with all the right ingredients to keep readers turning pages as quickly as possible. Delicious!”

The Open Book Society’s reviewer calls CINNAMON “[w]itty and at times intense,” saying “[t]he author’s love for the Seattle Marketplace, cozy mysteries, cooking, and spices comes through every page.” “The plot is rich with as many twists and turns as the alleys in the Marketplace, one that kept this reader revising her suspect list with each new twist. … The author has flawlessly executed a plot that had many twists and interrelationships I could not have anticipated. The main characters have a depth this reader also would not have anticipated in a relatively young series; I can’t wait for the next one to see how much better it will get!  I highly recommend ‘Guilty as Cinnamon’ to foodies who enjoy exploring new tastes and ideas (with many recipes included), cozy mystery lovers who appreciate an exceptionally well-plotted and written novel, and those who enjoy the Pacific Northwest area.”

And at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto, CINNAMON is one of bookseller Marian’s picks for December. She loves mysteries that cook up murder, and picked up ASSAULT AND PEPPER because she loves spices and knows and loves Pike Place Market.I was delighted to hear that she quickly snatched up CINNAMON, and says of the pair, “A well written series with all sorts of info on spices.”

King’s River Life gives a fun recap of the story, and courtesy of the publisher, a giveaway!

Next week in the blogosphere: On Monday, December 14, I visit Auntie M Writes to talk about how movies set in Seattle influence my writing. Tues, December 15, is my day on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen—we’re sharing ideas for Christmas celebrations. I’m pouring Pepper’s new favorite cocktail, the Negroni, and serving up Sandra’s Spiced Nuts. I’m also a guest that day on the Gotta Write Network, with a post titled No Chance of a Ghost. And on Friday, December 18, Moonlight Rendezvous will offer a review and a book giveaway.

deskcat on deskThe supervisor—aka Ruff the Cat—and I are staying home this week. No events to report. I’m planning to write. He’s planning to nap, and dream of mice. And then, I’m summonsed for jury duty in state court. Will I finally be picked for a jury—I would love to serve, but maybe not during Christmas week—or will the combination of a lawyer and a mystery writer in one woman have the lawyers scratching me off the list and taking their chances with the next pick? Stay tuned …

See you on the page —

Leslie

 

My favorite writing books

IMGP3065

A reader spotted this photograph I’d posted of dictionaries and other references on my desk, and asked what books I think every writer should have. Besides Books, Crooks and Counselors, of course.

Language and style references:

A good dictionary and thesaurus, of course. In addition:

GarnerGarner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner (Oxford; 3d Ed, 2009) Many of us remember the old Fowler’s Modern English Usage. This is better—smart, American, and up-to-date, by a lexicographer who shies not away from opining.

Chicago Manual of Style, a recent edition. Most publishers rely on the CSM, and if you use it, you can’t be accused of serious stylistic errors, even if some publishers or individuals have other preferences.

The Elements of Style, Strunk and White (various editions). The classic. Dated, maybe, but still a useful guide to many nuances of good writing.

The Emotion Thesaurus, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (2012) Readers read for emotion, but writers often use cliches and limited descriptions to show emotion in action. The lists of physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and more will help you deepen your writing and show the internal and external signs of emotion in stronger, fresher ways.

I also love the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, in part for its essays on language and word meanings, but it isn’t an essential.

You should have a decent guide to grammar, as well. Contrary to your grade school recollections, they need not be dull. What’s most fun is to read not a prescriptive guide, but a volume or two by writers who clearly love the language and have strong opinions about it. I loved Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose; any of her books will be a fun read.

I was recently reminded of the late William Zinsser’s On Writing Well; it’s a classic, geared towards nonfiction, but helpful to all serious writers. I hear tell that there’s an audio version, read by Zinsser, perhaps abridged, that a friend enjoyed tremendously.

Writers should love words and cultivate an interest in them. My favorite sources won’t necessarily be yours, but I do think any serious writer needs to spend time simply playing with words and reading writers who play with them. Read poetry. Listen closely to song lyrics. Heck, do the crossword puzzle and play along with Will Shortz, NPR’s Puzzle Master. It’s all words.

Writing Craft:

Lately, I’ve been diving into James Scott Bell’s craft books for writers, and highly recommend them. Plot & Structure (Writers Digest, 2004) is a detailed guide to structure, with excellent sections on plot problems, how to generate ideas, and more. It’s a book to use over and over. Write Your Novel from the Middle (Compendium, 2014) explores Bell’s observation that the best stories have a “mirror moment” or midpoint shift in context; he shows how both plotters and pansters can find that moment, and write to and from it. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue (Compendium, 2014) is another winner, and I’m eager to dive into his new book on voice.

The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel, both by Donald Maass (Writers Digest, 2009 and 2001), are classics every writer should reread regularly. I’ve just started his Writing the 21st Century Novel (2012), and love, love, love his exercises and suggestions for diving deeper into character and emotion. If you like his columns on Writer Unboxed, you’ll recognize the approach—much of that material is here.

For something totally different: Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (2007) is a slim volume I love for its lessons on meter and rhythm, on finding the right word and the exact meaning, and on learning to love working a line. I also enjoyed The Art of Description by poet Mark Doty.

Other faves:

elizabethandleslie-300x199

 

Write Away, by Elizabeth George. I took a week-long intensive writing workshop with her eons ago, and it changed my writing life.

Self-Editing for Writers, Renni Brown and Dave King

Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose

IMGP3435For Mystery Writers: 

Lee Lofland’s Police Procedure and Investigation  (Writers Digest, 2007)

DP Lyle, Murder & Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forenscis Questions for Mystery Writers The book that inspired me to write Books, Crooks & Counselors.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know (Linden/Quill Driver Books)

Inspiration:

tnWritesOfPassageYou know the usual suspects: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. And Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and other titles. A wonderful new entry is Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, ed. by Hank Phillippi Ryan, with essays by 60 members of Sisters in Crime, including me.

I find inspiration in reading a good writer. I hope you do, too.

More suggestions? Tell me in the comments.

Thanks for sprinkling a little CINNAMON!

IMGP2188THANKS SO MUCH to all of you who bought GUILTY AS CINNAMON in its first week out, spread the word, and visited with me on my blog tour. CINNAMON reached #2 in Cozy Mystery on B&N.com, and garnered some great reviews. It was a real treat to meet so many of you Friday night in Kalispell at Think Local on the Holiday Art Walk, and Saturday afternoon at Fact & Fiction in Missoula during the Author Extravaganza. Signed books will be available both places, as well as the usual haunts in the Flathead and Missoula valleys.

Untitled-5Reviews are coming in—and they are sweet! CINNAMON garnered some lovely reviews in its first week in the world. Booklist said “This engaging cozy makes the most of its Seattle location, effectively weaves facts about spices and their uses throughout the narrative, and boasts the feisty Pepper at its center. Sure to appeal to fans of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles herbal mysteries.”

Fresh Fiction said: “Charming second installment in this cozy mystery series. . Leslie Budewitz is quickly becoming one of my favorite cozy mystery writers! I love how she blends together world building and character development to create just the perfect atmosphere for her stories.”

Reader reviews matter a great deal, so I hope you’ll take a moment to post your thoughts on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N.com, or whereever you read and share reviews. THANK YOU!

Next week in the blog-O-sphere:  Thursday, I’ll be at Club Henhouse, the Henery Press blog, talking about writing with my inner Interior Designer—putting my childhood as a furniture salesman’s daughter to work for my characters!

On my own blog—right here, on Tuesday—I’ll be sharing a list of my favorite writing books.

Meanwhile, I’m working on the next Food Lovers’ Village mystery, currently titled FLV #4. We’ll brainstorm later!

deer heart

 

See you on the page —

Leslie