Reviews

“New York Times Best Fiction & Nonfiction of 2020”

The editors of The Times Book Review chose the best fiction and nonfiction titles of 2020, from among the titles they had reviewed. The titles are a mix of bestsellers and wannabes, from debut and/or international writers, but more importantly, the NYT Book Review editors fell in love with the story or the writing.

 

Listed in alphabetical order by author. Click on the titles to read the reviews and learn more about the books.

 

FICTION

Homeland Elegies”  by Ayad Akhtar 

The Vanishing Half”  by Brit Bennett

Deacon King Kong”  by James McBride

A Children’s Bible”  by Lydia Millet

Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell

 

NONFICTION

Hidden Valley Road” by Robert Kolker

War” by Margaret MacMillan

 

A Promised Land”  by Barack Obama

 

 

Shakespeare in a Divided America”  by James Shapiro

Uncanny Valley” by Anna Wiener

 

 

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Book List: Author Sherry Harris

 

Sherry Harris writes the Agatha nominated, wonderful Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries and the brand new Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon series.
 

Sarah Winston is a military spouse who must transition to being on her own. Her emotional struggles to make her own way as a newly single woman are realistic, and her scenes detailing military life ring true. Harris’ storylines peel back the layers of Winston’s battle with feelings about her ex in each book, while delivering great mysteries.

Have you read all the books in this marvelous series? Take a look at the book list below, listed in order, with links included.

 

 

“Tagged for Death”   read review here.

 

 

“The Longest Yard Sale”  read review here.  

 

All Murders Final

 

 

 

“A Good Day to Buy”   read review here.

 

I Know What You Bid Last Summer

 

 

The Gun Also Rises” read review here.

 

and…. “Let’s Fake A Deal”  read review here.
Sell Low, Sweet Harriet

Absence of Alice” is out now!

 

Good news for Mrs. Harris’ fans: the first book of her Chloe Jackson Sand Dollar Saloon mysteries, “From Beer to Eternity,” is out and it’s a hit. ‘Chloe Jackson’ was a Visiting Detective over at Kerrian’s Notebook recently and shared her experience about the murder with the Kerrians. Read ‘Murder at the Sea Glass Saloon’ here.

Sherry’s other writing includes:

A short story called “Country Song Gone Wrong” in the Deadly Southern Charm anthology from the Central VA chapter of Sisters in Crime. It’s a Sarah Winston story — She goes to Virginia.

 

The Sherry Harris Author Profile can be read here.

Please visit https://sherryharrisauthor.com to see what else Sherry is up to.  🙂
 

(Photos courtesy of Sherry Harris)

 

 

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Mari Barnes’ “Best of Books for Children Under 12”

Mari Barnes is our first guest author on Nightstand Book Reviews! I ‘met’ her on Facebook because of our mutual love of mystery shows, but realized as I followed her posts that she also has a shared avid interest in developing literacy for young people and their families. She is a member of our NBR community and the perfect person to ask for her ‘Best of’ book list for children under 12. Welcome, Mari.  🙂

I’m Mari Barnes and I’m a big fan of children’s books. I share them with my own family and the children who participate in the literacy programs I facilitate. The following books are only SOME of the many great books I’ve enjoyed with children under the age of twelve. They range from silly to sweet to serious. If I didn’t list a favorite of yours, I hope you’ll find time to sample one or two…or all ten!

 

  1. Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
    The perfect first chapter book for new readers. These two characters show us what friendship looks like in five adorable short stories.

 

  1. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willem
    This reader favorite is about a bus driver who has to leave so he asks the reader to not allow the pigeon to drive the bus. A great read-aloud book!

     

    8. The Composer Is Dead by Lemony Snicket
    This book/CD is a clever and silly whodunnit about an orchestra. It’s fun for adults and kids won’t care that they’re learning about orchestras and classical music.

     

    7. I Can’t Said the Ant by Polly Cameron A story told in rhyme that is about what happens to the denizens of a kitchen when an ant tries to help a fallen teapot. 

     


    6. Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar

    There are laughs a plenty in this new spin on fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood needs to find a partner to help her win a new pair of skates. But finding one isn’t easy.

  1. Sweet T and the North Wind by Cat Michaels
    Tara, or Sweet T as her grandmother calls her, finds out that there really is magic in the North Wind. This story is about the love of family told with charm and whimsy.

 

4. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
For older or more developed readers. Set in the Depression and told in Bud’s own unique voice, we follow his humorous, scary, sad and uplifting travels to find the man who just might be his father.

 

 

  1. I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty
    Frog would rather be ANYTHING else. Until he finds out that being a frog is the best thing he could ever be. A great lesson is hidden in lots of laughs. 

 

 

2. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Kid scientist Ada has to use all of her science skills to find out why her house is filled with a terrible smell. But her experiments lead to even more trouble in the winning tale of imagination and determination.

 

 

1. Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin
A charming little fable about friendship and problem-solving, this is one of my all-time favorites. And it’s got a surprise twist. A terrific bedtime story.

Mari Lumpkin Barnes writes for children under the pen name of Mari Lumpkin and for adults as ML Barnes. Mari owns Flying Turtle Publishing and has spent many years working with experts in child development, creating and implementing children’s literacy programs. The latest is Adventures in Reading, literacy programming for Chicagoland and northwest Indiana families.

https://aireading.org    

https://www.flyingturtlepublishing.com/

 

Many thanks to Mari Barnes for her photos and for sharing the wonderful list!  🙂

Enjoy!

 

 

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Book List: Julie Hennrikus

New England author, Julie Hennrikus, has been entertaining us with three quite different mystery series, written under three different names, for several years. In honor of her most recent book launch, “Digging Up the Remains,” a Halloween themed mystery, here’s a list of all her books. Enjoy!

 

Click on the book titles to learn more about the books.

 

The Clock Shop Mystery Series by Julianne Holmes, features expert clockmaker Ruth Clagan who inherits the clock shop, Cog & Sprocket, from her Grandfather. The bells toll for more than one body in this lovely town of Orchard, Massachusetts, and Ruth must get herself in gear to outsmart the killers. The first book in the trilogy received an Agatha nomination for Best First Mystery. If you like clocks and/or are fascinated by the history and how they work, you’ll love this series.

 

 

 

Read the review for Agatha nominated “Just Killing Timehere.

                 

Clock and Dagger

Chime and Punishment

 

The Theater Cop series by J.A. Hennrikus is actually the first series that Ms. Hennrikus worked on, but as happens with many writers, was not her first series published. She has been active in the arts field for a lot of her professional life and theater was a big part of that involvement. The drama of life in and around the stage are a focal point of this entertaining mystery series, featuring a diverse set of characters, and former cop, now theater manager, Edwina Sullivan.

 

 

Read my review of “A Christmas Perilhere.

 


With A Kiss I Die

 

The Garden Squad Mysteries, by Julia Henry, centers around a stealthy group of crime-solving, garden loving residents that fixes up neglected gardens and pathways. After dark. When nobody can see them or protest. Have digger, will weed. There are murders of course, but there are also great gardening tips, and (from the readers’ point of view) hilarious situations in which Henry places these midnight gardeners led by 65 year old Lilly Jayne. I wonder if I can hire them to take care of my neighbor’s scruffy looking sideyard….All kidding aside, the series is great.

Read my review of “Pruning the Deadhere.

Tilling the Truth

Her most recent book, “Digging up the Remains,” has a Halloween theme.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

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Writer Mark Stevens, and His Books

Mark Stevens at BoucherCon

Mark Stevens is an award-winning Colorado writer, former journalist, now PR and Communications Specialist, whose work caught my eye on Twitter a few years ago. He tweeted about the country’s environmental challenges, a subject near and dear to my heart, and I readily ‘followed’ him. He mentioned that his second book in the Allison Coil Mysteries, “Buried by the Roan,” had recently been published, so I picked it up. I was hooked by the topical storyline and the multi-faceted characters caught up in events tearing their beloved landscape apart.

 

The lead protagonist, Allison Coil, is a big game hunting guide in the Flat Top wilderness of Colorado. And lest you think that a woman might not really choose this as a career, Coil is based on a real-life guide that Stevens met while pondering the setting and the focus character for the series.

 

Each of his books could have been ripped from the headlines and in always absorbing writing, deal with hot-button topics, such as human trafficking, marijuana laws, undocumented workers, fracking, big game hunting, drought, and wilderness protection. But, in addition to these and other ‘big concept’ themes (and the murders) Stevens’ stories are grounded in real life, with his core characters facing the challenges of rebuilding a life in a new location, managing a small business, finding/trusting love after heartbreak.

 

Colorado’s majestic wilderness plays a major role and Stevens’ imageries put us right in the saddle as Allison rides through the Flat Tops. The big game hunts and plots unfold against a backdrop of rich country that everybody wants a piece of, but few acknowledge that through the very development they seek, the land as they know it will disappear.

 


“Antler Dust,” the book that started it all.

 

 

 

 

“Buried by the Roan”    Review here.

 

 

 

 

“Trapline”      Review here.

 

 

 

Book Cover "Lake of Fire"

 

“Lake of Fire”  Review here.

 

 

 

“The Melancholy Howl,” the fifth in the series, reveals more in the background of each of the central characters, some of it a bit edgier than before. There are glitches in the love lives of the two continuing couples and one major character has a whopper of a secret that tears at the core of his public persona. These are flesh and blood people, some with serious flaws and baggage, but all have each other’s backs in a crunch.

 

The ‘big concept’ in “The Melancholy Howl” deals with medical marijuana (legal in Colorado) and how its use and the industry has changed since the first stores opened. There is loads of money to be made, but as it turns out, there is a gap between the perceived need and the actual market, and not everyone is following the law. A plane crash, an ‘illegal’ grow, con- artists, tragedy, drought, and greed, all play a part in this gripping page-turner.

 

Mark Stevens also writes short stories, the most recent of which, “A Bitter Thing,” appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

 

Please visit https://www.writermarkstevens.com/  for the latest news about his books and the fascinating podcasts he produces.

 

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“Writers Crushing Covid-19: An Anthology for Coronavirus Relief”

On occasion, a special project is brought to my attention that moves right to the top of the review pile. I am delighted to help bring “Writers Crushing Covid-19” to a wider audience. It is an anthology of short stories, essays, and letters, many written by people experiencing this dreaded disease up close and personal. Although the concept of this anthology originated with the Piedmont Authors Network*, the thirty-seven selected submissions came in from authors all over the USA (as well as Australia), as varied in background as the stories themselves. It’s a multi-talented group of bestselling, award-winning, and debut authors.

 

The diverse mix of writing includes everything from laugh-out-loud humor, to the occult, to deeply serious looks at the pandemic, and everything in between.

 

More than one story follows the classic model of O. Henry, the famous short story writer, with entertaining surprise endings. Ross Cavins produces two big twists in “Test Drive,” a clever plot that would translate nicely to a teleplay for a potential TV show. Lynn Chandler Willis introduces us to hapless bank robbers in the hilarious “The Cough,” with the guys not asking for much, but, just once?  Jonas Saul brings us “Ghostwriter,” a more serious take on the surprises that life can deliver. J.D. Allen provides a noire piece with “Dead in the Water.” This dark short just might make you cheer at the ending. Or sleep with one eye open.

 

There are several heart-wrenching entries, but among that group, none wallow in the disaster that has befallen the world. Instead, they are uplifting and reassuring. The anthology begins as Dr. J.L. Delozier presents an inspirational letter to two of her medical students about to face the Covid-19 front lines. Karen McCullough shares her ordeal as a Covid victim in “Journey Through Covid-19.” She took many weeks to recover, and her story will bring a few eye-opening facts to the fore. Micki Bare takes a sobering fictional look at the effect a catastrophe has on displaced children, and the tremendous effort needed to save the most vulnerable in “For Philly.”

 

Feel-good stories, with great hope for the future and people making the best of a bad time, are sprinkled throughout the anthology. Diane Kelly’s “Nothing Could Be Finer” introduces two appealing masked characters that connect over coffee at the surviving local diner. Bruce Robert Coffin tells the tender tale of “Saint Nicholas” and the cop that helped the little old lady in the nursing home. Marvin Wolf relates the wonderful account of a newspaper boy in “The Bicycle.” Think Hallmark Channel smiles all around.

 

As for the occult? Jaden Terrell deals deliciously in the paranormal with “Faithful.” Who among us hasn’t heard a voice caution us to be careful at the right moment? But, then there are the potions. It’s not easy to find ‘eye of newt.’ Cheryl Bradshaw buys a haunted house against the realtor’s advice in “Hallowed Ground,” and all is definitely not what she expected. Karen Fritz creates an ingenious VooDoo curse that propels a journalist to his appointed destination, in “A Cursed Story.”  

 

Dark humor? Who can forget the toilet paper shortage when the USA started to take Covid-19 seriously? Vincent Zandri handles that topic with guns and suspicious foreign characters chasing after P.I. Dick Moonlight in “Moonlight Goes Viral.” Some of you might be able to relate. I’m not admitting to anything.

 

I’ve read this well edited anthology twice and will read it again, it’s that good. I’ve mentioned several of my favorites, but there truly is something rewarding/entertaining for everybody. Buy “Writers Crushing Covid-19” because you enjoy the short story genre, or buy it to support the cause, or both.

All proceeds will go to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

 

*Full disclosure: I am a member of the Piedmont Authors Network. Future in-person meetings will be held in Asheboro, North Carolina, but at the present, virtually.

 

 

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Jump into June with Four Books, Four Genres

 

 

The books couldn’t be more different, but each is a great read in its own genre. Each has the potential to be fodder for a TV or big screen movie, with thoroughly interesting characters and visually descriptive writing.

 

Cozy Mystery

“Kernel of Truth” by Kristi Abbott, is the first in her Popcorn Shop Mystery series set in Grand Lake, Ohio. It’s an engaging murder mystery, complete with a personable poodle and a gourmet popcorn shop.

Rebecca Anderson hesitates when she hears screams coming from outside, having to choose between taking her sauce off the stove and investigating the screaming. Her conscience and her dog’s interest prevail and she discovers that the screams are from her friend’s chocolate shop next door. Her beloved friend, Coco, is dead and Rebecca’s life is about to change in unexpected ways.

 

While coping with the shock, Rebecca’s ex works to get her back, and Coco’s niece publicly denounces Rebecca with having ulterior motives. Accused of theft, her popcorn business in peril, and her reputation besmirched, Rebecca must solve the murder of her friend in order to regain the trust of the customers and the town. The characters are well-drawn in this nicely plotted beginning to the series. Recipes included.

 

Thriller

Nick Heller is back in “House on Fire,” the fourth entry featuring the former Special Ops soldier, now Boston P.I. An Army pal dies from a drug overdose and Heller is drawn into an investigation about the death. Who’s responsible? The easy answer is to blame the buddy himself, but Heller agrees to dig deeper.

 

In typical Finder fashion, “House on Fire” combines current events with a page-turning thriller. Undercover work reveals a surprising ally and loads of twists to surprise the reader. Family politics, personal tragedy, greed, government contracts, and billions at stake drive the story. Who can be trusted? Will Heller get out of this alive? Not everyone does. Prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

 

Legal Suspense

Functioning within the limitations of sporadic donations, the overworked guardians find the evidence to exonerate the wrongly incarcerated. The ‘Guardians’ in the title refers to Centurion Ministries, an organization that Grisham learned about some years ago while conducting research for another project. The work the Centurions did and still do, stuck with Grisham and this story is based on an actual case written about in the New York Times in 2018.

 

Grisham’s writing is compelling as fictional Cullen Post, a pastor and lawyer, doggedly pursues every lead to help those with one last hope. Post is not in it for the money, only justice for those less fortunate. The process followed to uncover new evidence in the various cold cases, with some witnesses long dead, and evidence lost or buried, is grueling and sometimes dangerous. A well-written, fascinating read, one of Grisham’s best.

 

Non-Fiction

“The Lost City of the Monkey God” by Douglas Preston, is non-fiction, but the events described are so wildly dangerous that it reads like page-turning fiction. The search for the ancient White City begins deep in a Honduran rainforest, probably untouched for hundreds of years.

 

Preston presents a fascinating look at the tremendously complicated planning that a legitimate investigation of a major archeological site requires. Helicopters, sophisticated technology, local government with access to permits and soldiers to guard the expedition, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent even before the explorers put boots on the ground, the right people to pull it all together, all come into play.

 

The field of archeology appears to be highly competitive and the expedition itself was surprisingly controversial, but the group of which Preston was a part, was the first to document their expedition and findings and go through official channels. The book includes photos of the search, finding the astonishing cache of artifacts, and an insane snake story, but also discusses Preston’s serious brush with death. Preston and half of his (and subsequent) expedition people contracted a potentially lethal parasitic tropical disease, one that is hundreds of years old. The interviews and research in “The Lost City of the Monkey God” are thoroughly footnoted and documented, and also reference modern epidemics and pandemics. Excavation of this extraordinary site continues today.

 

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