Best Nonfiction Read of the Year: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015) (audio read by talented Scott Brick). I was mesmerized listening to the audio of the Lusitania’s last and tragic voyage in 1915. Larson weaves together stories about the passengers and crew, bringing them all to life. I was especially interested in Charles Lauriat, a prominent member of the Boston bookselling family, who traveled often to London and survived (although his books did not) to write his own memoir. My review.
Best Fiction Read of the Year: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (2022) (audio read by Jennifer Kim, Julian Cihi). This is a mesmerizing story of friendship and collaboration spanning three decades, starting when the two protagonists meet in a hospital as teenagers, then reconnect when attending college in Cambridge and starting a venture together. Thank you to Nancy Pearl for this recommendation; I don’t think I would have picked this up otherwise.
Best Historical Fiction: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (2021). In 1940, men and women were recruited to work in secret to break the German military codes. Three women – Olsa, Mab, and Beth – become unlikely but close friends until one believes she has been betrayed. I knew I would enjoy this but saved it to read in preparation for my long-awaited visit to Bletchley Park in June.
Best Sports Book: It’s Better to be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness by Seth Wickersham (2021). Wickersham, a writer for ESPN, chronicles the story of the Patriots football team from 2001 when Tom Brady became its quarterback through 2020 when he left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our team has been mediocre since. My review.
Best/Most Beautiful Book: The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen (2022). This is a comprehensive and stunning collection of the work of this extremely talented husband-and-wife illustration team. Together, they illustrated or illustrated and wrote more than 40 beloved and well-reviewed children's books from 1947 to 2005. Even if you do not recognize their names, you would probably recognize some of their art, possibly from Golden Books. My review.
Best Thriller: The Dark by Sharon Bolton (2022). Police officer Lacey Flint, trying to keep a low profile, is drawn into the counter-intelligence effort led by her erstwhile boyfriend Mark Joesbury against a conspiracy targeting women. As has happened before, the perpetrator seems to have singled out Lacey, which places her in terrible danger. My review.
Best Way to Keep a Series Going by Adding a Younger Detective: The Dark Hours (2021). This is the fourth book that has added Detective Renee Ballard to the Harry Bosch series, a smart move by Connelly as Bosch is now in his 70s. "I introduced Ballard in her own book, The Late Show, knowing full well that she was the one Bosch would eventually pass the baton to," Connelly says. In this book, which takes place during the pandemic, Renee and Harry collaborate on solving a recent murder as well as a cold case.
Best Suspense Series Discovered: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz (2016). Evan Smoak, also known as Orphan X, is a trained assassin who has rejected the government that trained him and now helps those in trouble. Then he realizes he is being set up by a foe who wants him dead, just as he is being distracted by overtures of friendship in his apartment building. Warning: this is very violent but entertaining.
Best Suspense Audio: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz (2017). Like Magpie Murders, recently shown on PBS in the US, this is a story within a story. The author himself is writing a book about the murder of Diana Cowper, as it is being investigated by Daniel Hawthorne, a formerly disgraced police detective who is undeniably brilliant, and this story is about their collaboration. My review.
Best Suspense Set in Boston: The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill (2022). Writer Hannah Tigone is sitting at a table with three other people in the Boston Public Library’s ornate Reading Room when a woman screams. Soon the police find a dead body. Could one of her table-mates be responsible? This is another story within a story. It has a few errors but overall is very well done. My review.
Best Fiction Reprints: Kate Hardy by D.E. Stevenson (1947). Kate moves to the country to escape greedy relatives and to have uninterrupted time to write. Instead, her impulsive purchase catapults her into village life and her egalitarian way of making friends upsets some of her new acquaintances. This is another delightful Furrowed Middlebrow reprint and one of Stevenson’s more unusual stories. My review.
Susan Settles Down by Molly Clavering (1936). When Susan Parsons moves to Scotland to housekeep for her brother, she expects to miss London. Instead, she makes friends and enjoys her neighbors and even finds a beau or two, although she wasn't looking for them. And now I hear there's a sequel! Clavering is not as good as Stevenson but still very enjoyable. My review.
Best YA: The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (2021). Teenage Nora is taken hostage during a bank robbery with her ex-boyfriend and her new girlfriend. If she uses her powers of persuasion, using information as currency to get herself and her friends out of this dangerous situation, she will be in danger from people in her past. There is news of a Netflix movie but nothing recent.
Best School Story: Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder (1929). Evelyn and Elizabeth, best friends since forever, grow apart when a new girl comes between them, and Evelyn realizes the other two do not share her values. She has to regroup, focus on schoolwork, find companionship elsewhere, and ultimately triumphs. Hard to find but satisfying for anyone who has unexpectedly lost a friend. My usual school story includes more fudge and fun but I enjoyed this. My review.
Best Group Reread: The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper (1965-77). When Will Stanton turns 11, he discovers he is the lastborn of the Old Ones, and is swept up in an age-old struggle between the powers of Light and Dark that lasts for five books. Although I own all the books, I think this was the first time I reread the whole series together. My reviews.
Best Romance: The Reunion by Kayla Olson (2023). When two former teen stars reconnect at the reunion for a hit TV show reminiscent of Gilmore Girls, they discover their feelings for one another all those years ago were not merely scripted. Liv and Ransom fall into their old, easy comradeship with additional, intense chemistry but there are forces that want to keep them apart.
Best Rereads: The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (1987). Penelope Keeling looks back on a full and varied life: a Bohemian childhood in London and Cornwall as the daughter of a well-known artist, an unhappy wartime marriage, the one man she truly loved, and three unsatisfactory children. After visiting Cornwall, this was exactly the book I yearned for. My review.
Flambards by K.M. Peyton (1967). Orphaned Christina is forced to go live with her Uncle Russell, and his sons, Mark and Will, at their home, Flambards, 40 miles outside London. Mark and his father are obsessed with horses while Will is obsessed with machinery and aviation. Christina becomes a horsewoman as well as Will’s only ally. I led a discussion of this book for the NY Betsy-Tacy group. My review.
Best Literary Pilgrimages: Green Knowe and Wells
Biggest Disappointment: If Love Comes by Gladys Malvern (1932). Those who love Behold Your Queen and Jonica’s Island will be equally appalled by this adult historical novel set in 1800s Spanish California in which the innocent heroine is considered a spawn of the Devil. My review.