BEST BOOKS OF 2021 – PART 2
My four favorite books from the past two months include a poignant middle-grade novel, a beautifully written adult fiction, a spiritual book about connecting with nature, and a wonderfully suspenseful, twisting thriller.
But there’s this other thing I did that I need to talk about … it makes me feel guilty perhaps because it was so indulgent. I binge-read 49 other books (all in the same series), one after another after another. It was lovely, but I have so much guilt, because I have a rather large stack of other books waiting to be read and reviewed. But this binge of books taught me a few things about series writing and myself, which I share further into this post. First, let’s celebrate four excellent books:
Wish by Barbara O’Connor
Wish was a delightful read from the first page when the main character’s voice leaps off the page and grabs you. Charlie (Charlemagne) lives in a world where the adults she’s supposed to count on continually let her down. She holds on to a thread of hopefulness that things just might be different if only she wishes hard enough. There’s humor and lightness in this story, but also serious themes of unreliable and neglectful parenting, parental incarceration, anger management, abandonment and more. Her friendship with her assigned ‘back-pack buddy' from school is sweetly written as Charlie learns to navigate friendship, even while making a few mistakes along the way. Overall, these are tough themes, but they are presented in a matter-of-fact way, perfect for the middle-grader reader. I think this would be a great book to read with younger readers in your life.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.
A Measured Thread by Mary Behan
This is a beautifully written story as the main character looks back on her life and the decisions she has made. Current-day events keep the plot humming along. That pace, combined with the emotional depth of the characters, make this a page turner. I didn't expect--but appreciated very much--the twists in this well-woven story. Lovely--just lovely!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Looking back on her life, Maggie O’Connor is rightfully pleased. Fifty years ago she left Ireland with a single suitcase and a dream. After a long and satisfying career, she is enjoying retirement on her farm in rural Wisconsin — until she falls. Determined to regain her independence, she hires Isobel, a young woman who is also an emigrant. Helping Maggie clean house, Isobel finds a cache of letters that Maggie wrote to her parents those many years ago and begins to read them aloud to Maggie. But the letters contain a secret, one that Maggie has kept for fifty years. A secret that threatens to destroy her life and that of the people around her. With little time left, she must make a choice — give up, or face her past.
A Measured Thread is a powerful story that explores questions of guilt, abandonment, redemption, and the consequences of the choices we make.
The Magic of Nature by Jessica Marie Baumgartner
I wholeheartedly believe that magic is all around us. Mostly, I feel this when I’m in nature, which is why I highly recommend Jessica Marie Baumgartner’s new book (release date May 8, 2021). She offers a meditative practice that includes nature-based rituals and spells (yes, spells) to help you connect with your true self and energy that is often silenced by our immersion in worldly busy-ness, digital intrusions, and that general lack of self-care that we often suffer from. If the terms spells or rituals put you off, I would encourage you to think of these as a way to re-set your self-talk with a focused mindfulness that allows you to rediscover your inner strength and energy. The author presents each practice in an accessible way that will allow you to focus on what speaks most to you.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Reconnect with Healthy, Natural Living & Wake Up Your Buried Instincts.
As technology has advanced, we've distanced ourselves from nature―but our connection still remains. Now is the time to reopen that line of communication. Featuring easy-to-use exercises, spells, rituals, and meditations, this enlightening book shows you how to embrace the power and wisdom of both the natural world and your own inner voice.
Award-winning author Jessica Marie Baumgartner invites you on an inspiring journey to strengthen your magical practice and live with purpose. She guides you in fully utilizing your body, mind, and spirit while you enjoy any number of outdoor activities, from hiking and hunting to gardening and swimming. You'll also find practices to use when you can't be directly in nature. This indispensable resource is perfect for enhancing your spirituality, tuning in to natural energies, and learning to trust in yourself.
Best Kept Secrets by Tracey Phillips
At its heart, Best Kept Secrets is a murder mystery, but it is so, so much more than that. This is a thrilling suspense novel that keeps you guessing in the best way possible with twists and turns you’ll never see coming. The well-developed characters have intricate backstories that are provided through different timelines in the novel, where present actions are intertwined with past events. A skillfully-written, psychological thriller that will keep you reading long past your bedtime!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Best friends tell each other everything. Even their deepest, darkest secrets--pinky promise. Right?
Morgan Jewell and Fay Ramsey are enjoying their last summer together before college. Fay is shy, with a controlling mother, and Morgan is the perfect, wild, loud-mouthed yang to Fay's yin. But when Fay is found dead, Morgan's entire world crumbles.
Years later, Morgan is still haunted by the abrupt end to her best friend's life. She knew Fay held a secret in those final days, but Morgan, now a homicide detective, has failed to make a picture out of the crooked puzzle pieces she left behind. Nothing makes sense. The leads have run dry. Until she's called to the scene of a murder: a woman whose body is left mangled, too similar to Fay's to ignore. Could it be? Morgan vowed to do right by Fay. This is the case she's been waiting for to set her back on the killer's trail. But the closer she gets, the harder it forces her to confront the memories of herself and her best friend. What was her secret? What got her killed? Maybe Morgan didn't know her at all.
So now it’s time to fess up about the other 49 books I read.
Here’s how this went down: I was reading the latest book in J.D. Robb’s In Death series (#52 to be precise), and I realized that I could barely remember how the main character, NYC homicide detective Eve Dallas, met her husband Roarke. And then I thought, I should go back and re-read the first book or two . . . well, a funny thing happened. I couldn’t stop reading. Before long, I was well past book #20 and unwilling to stop. (FYI: For those of you who don’t know, J.D. Robb is the pen name of Nora Roberts.)
ABOUT BOOK ONE, NAKED IN DEATH:
In the year 2058, technology completely rules the world. But for New York City Detective Eve Dallas, one irresistible impulse still rules the heart: passion…
Eve Dallas is a New York police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer. In over ten years on the force, she's seen it all—and knows her survival depends on her instincts. And she's going against every warning telling her not to get involved with Roarke, an Irish billionaire—and a suspect in Eve's murder investigation. But passion and seduction have rules of their own, and it's up to Eve to take a chance in the arms of a man she knows nothing about—except the addictive hunger of needing his touch.
With this series set in future NYC, there are a ton of intriguing futuristic (but not too far out there) technological advances. Each book is a contained murder mystery/detective procedural—some more gruesome than others, but all well-solved by the end of the book. But what makes this series work so well is the depth of the main and secondary characters. Their continuing storyline and backstories are compelling and dynamic. You await the next book not only because you want to see how Eve Dallas solves the next murder (because she surely will), but also because the author has made you care about these people and their lives. For anyone, that’s writing a series – particularly a mystery-type series – this is a great case study for how to craft long-term character arcs that will carry you through.
I think once you’re a writer that you read books differently. You note different things about how each author approaches plot or dialogue or character. So this multi-week immersive read of a single series, gave me some insight that I can use to craft better character arcs within my own series. (I also realized the reason these books are such satisfying reads is that we respond to consistent/effective pacing and plot structure—although the details can vary widely as to what’s happening on the page in each book.)
But let’s be honest here, that learning was secondary to my need for a mental break and a treat to look forward to at the end of the day. I’ve been going non-stop since the pandemic began, busier than ever with author clients who found themselves with the time to pursue their writing adventures with more focus than in their pre-pandemic world. And I love that part of my life – so much. It’s a delight to help other authors achieve their writing/publishing goals. But I was ignoring self-care a bit with many 10 hour days, often working through the weekend. So this series re-read incentivized the closing of my laptop at a reasonable time each evening, giving me the downtime I needed.
Now, it’s time to get back to the other excellent books waiting for a review! - Valerie