2018 – A Look Back; 2019 – The Year Ahead

Well, I didn’t read as much as I wanted to this year, especially the last couple of months of 2018. However, I did read more than I thought I did when I looked back over the list. Plus, I read some really good stuff! Quality over quantity, right?

I was trying to make a decision on what was my top, top read of the year. It was really tough, and I ended up with a Top 5. The list includes a variety of genres as you’ll see, and I think they are a good smattering of tastes and styles, old and new. You can go back and read the individual reviews at your leisure; I’m just listing why they made me happy!

First, I want to give a shout out to So Not A Superhero by S.J. Delos. It’s a self-published book and it’s a great example of the quality of writing in self-published material. I know non-traditionally published books often get a bad rap, but that’s changed a lot in the last few years. If you’ve given your blood, sweat and tears to a manuscript, why have your work sit in someone’s slush pile indefinitely when you can post it up on Amazon and reach millions of people instantly? So Not A Superhero is so worth the investment and so are many others you’ll find. Don’t be a publishing snob – you’ll miss out on some great stuff and I’m glad I took a chance on this book.

Second, I would be remiss to not mention Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston. If Kossola’s story doesn’t touch your heart, you don’t have one. This dialogue between Hurston and him is so poignant and so eye-opening and so, so heartbreaking. I’m betting that most of you only ever thought about the blight of slavery as happening to a group of people and not considered their individual horrors because that’s how it’s generally handled in history class. If so, then then you need to take the time to read this. Scratch that. You need to take the time to read this no matter what.

Third, I want to talk about Callahan Garrity and Heart Trouble. This is the last book in this series which was written in the 1990s. I devoured them in a short amount of time, not realizing how short the series is. Mary Kay Andrews has written a great deal, and this particular series was written earlier in her career and under the name Kathy Hogan Trochek. If you like mysteries where the characters and relationships are at the forefront and the mystery is secondary, you’ll love this series about a former cop turned private investigator who also owns a cleaning company. There is humor, drama, romance, and some really great storytelling. I haven’t gotten past the fact that there are no more Callahan Garrity books to be able to try Andrews’ other books but I will. I’ll get there. I’ve been assured they are just as good. Maybe 2019.

Fourth, I really, really enjoyed Erotic Stories of Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. It was perhaps the most surprisingly delightful book out of everything I read. I didn’t know quite what to expect when I started it, but I found it funny, heartwarming, heart wrenching, and, yes, erotic. I said in my review that it is very reminiscent of Maeve Binchy’s work and I stand by that. I don’t always like books that celebrities go on about, but this one holds up well to the hype. Give it a try – I think you’ll enjoy it! (P.S. – I read it before Reese picked it!)

Last but not least is the book that I think I enjoyed the most because it was such a sweet surprise. – The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This book was recommended by a coworker and I kind of got it on a whim. I listened to the audiobook, which was sublime. Mythology was always a favorite subject of mine, so I liked that aspect. Plus, it’s rare that you get new information on characters you think you know and this book brought a different take to the table about the Achilles story. Additionally, it’s quite simply a beautiful love story and a book that I thought about long after I finished it. Read it and see for yourself. Miller’s new book, Circe, will be on my 2019 list for sure!

Speaking of 2019, here’s the reading list I’ll be using for the next year with the option to make up my own categories as the need arises! Happy reading and happy 2019!

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Book In a Series

Heart Trouble by Mary Kay Andrews is fifth in this mystery series, which starts with Every Crooked Nanny. It continues the story of Callahan Garrity and her merry band of housekeepers who solve crimes. Callahan is a former police officer who quit to become a private detective. Detective work didn’t pay the bills, though, and Callahan bought a house cleaning business and gave up detecting work – or so she thought. Every Crooked Nanny is Callahan’s foray back into the detecting business when she runs into a former sorority sister who needs a house cleaned and a thieving nanny found. Jump several books forward, and Heart Trouble has Callahan dealing with her irascible mother’s heart condition and doing divorce work for a disgraced Atlanta socialite who is divorcing her heart surgeon husband. Callahan is working through her own emotional heart troubles as well.

This book could fit several categories for my reading list, not the least of which is reading a book set in your home town or state. Atlanta was a home to me for many years and this series gives shout outs to many of my favorites – kudzu, the Varsity, the Braves and Dale Murphy, and the University of Georgia. This is a new series to me, but was written and set in the 90s, shortly after I left. Everything mentioned as far as landmarks are familiar and part of the reason I like it so much. The other reason is, of course, Callahan Garrity . She’s a great female protagonist – sarcastic and tough and funny and vulnerable. Her business, House Mouse, is run by her and her mom and has side characters who provide comic relief, but Andrews does not shy away from grim and divisive storylines surrounding the actual mysteries and Callahan’s daily life. Throughout the series there are major health concerns, complexities of relationships, racial tensions, and other heavy topics that weave in and out of the plots.

The ability for Callahan to use the cleaning business as a ruse for her detective work is believable especially when you think about the time period these books take place – ubiquitous cell phones and social media were years away. It also helps provide some lighter aspects to the story. I would categorize this beyond a cozy mystery but not as violent or graphic as the grittier mysteries out there. It’s a pleasant, entertaining read and great for anyone who thinks they don’t like mysteries. So much of the story is about relationships, the reader can sometimes forget the mystery altogether to focus on the Garrity clan and their quirky entourage! Mary Kay Andrews originally wrote these under the name Kathy Hogan Trocheck, so you might find them in a used bookstore under that name, but most are rebranded under the Andrews name if you are looking in the bookstores or libraries for this series.

(A note on the audio versions: I’ve listened to all of these on audio so far. They are really good productions and I like the narrator, Hillary Huber. My only complaint is that some of the local place names or words are mispronounced, but it’s probably not noticeable to anyone but a local. It’s a little “nails on a chalkboard” to me, though. I did notice that in this book, Huber focuses more on a version of a Southern accent, too. Haven’t decided if I like it or not, but, again, that’s a local quirk. Fair warning to any of my Southern brethren who may take a listen!)