Okay, I know it’s late for a “Best of…” list, but it’s never too late to tell your friends about the books you loved!
Less a crime novel than a coming-of-age story exploring the effects of death—both accidental and criminal—on a family and on a community, Ordinary Grace is simply stunning. Thirteen year old Frank Drum tells the story of the five deaths in the summer of 1961 in a small Minnesota town, each different, each leaving a permanent mark that makes Frank a different man than he might otherwise have become. He’s the son of a minister, whose experience in the war diverted him from his plans to be a lawyer, and a musician who is not as keen on God as her husband is. Frank’s older sister Ariel is a brilliant musician; his younger brother Jake is both his best friend and a bit of a mystery.
The language is beautiful, but because Krueger is also a mystery writer, it never overwhelms the story, but always serves character and plot.
I read the audio version. (And yes, I read audio books. It is a different experience, but it’s still reading, even though it uses the ears and not the eyes.) The narrator did a terrific job, infusing Frank’s narration with just the right mixture of knowing and innocence. He also slipped in a bit of the Minnesota accent—but not too much—and captured beautifully the way a Sioux man of Warren Redstone’s age would speak.
A few more faves, not in order:
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press, 2014) Sixth in the adventures of Flavia de Luce, a precocious eleven year old in post-war England. Like Frank Drum, she thinks she understands more than she does, making these adult novels, not YA, though certainly a mature kid can read and enjoy them. Delightful, and poignant, and not necessarily in that order.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2013) Ninth in the Inspector Armand Gamache series. This was the year I caught up on the series, which continued with The Long Way Home (2014). The ninth is one of the best in a series that illustrates wonderfully the ways a writer can grow and deepen her work, and ask her readers to dive in more deeply with her.
Boiled Over by Barbara Ross (Kensington, 2014) Cozy mystery is a subgenre that covers a lot of ground, ranging from the very light bathtub reads to those that dig a little deeper into the core conflicts that drive their characters. I try to reach that level, and am inspired when I read a cozy that succeeds. Second in the Maine Clam Bake series.
Most nonfiction I read this year was book research, much of it kitchen lit. The best was Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant by Scott Haas (Berkley, 2013) A food writer and clinical psychologist spends a year working in the kitchen at a high-end Boston restaurant.