Monday, December 30, 2013

Tributes: Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, Barbara Park

This is the time of year I pay tribute to authors who have left us and left an indelible mark on my reading life. Elmore Leonard is one of my all time favorite authors. His quirky but realistic style of writing is like no other. Tom Clancy’s international thrillers were just that: thrilling. And Barbara Park influenced reading for children like no other author could.

About a decade ago I saw an interview by Larry King with Tom Clancy who said he couldn’t believe how lucky he had been because he got to lead a life of make belief in creating scenarios where the good guy always won, usually his hero Jack Ryan who has been portrayed on screen by three actors, Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck or his second hero Mr. Clark who has been portrayed by actors Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber.  The last novel by Clancy that I read was The Bear and the Dragon. He collaborated with other writers in continuing his war games. He died of an undisclosed illness at age 66 but one of his friends suggested that his heart wore out.

Barbara Park was the complete opposite of Clancy and Leonard but her influence in inspiring young girls to read goes without parallel. Sometime in the late 1990s, I was looking for books for my then youngest granddaughter Mallory. I had no problem finding books for her older sister Brittany. But Mallory was just learning to read and all I could find were simple books about animals. Then one day as I was standing in the book section of Wal-Mart and wondering if I would ever find something cute for Mallory, it happened. Out of nowhere Junie B. Jones appeared! Of course, it wasn’t like that exactly but Junie B., a mischievous kindergartner, stood out like no other fictional character. I bought one of the books and sent it to Mallory and she was off and reading! Barbara Park’s sense of humor and creativity have helped instill a love of lifetime reading as no other author could have done. She died at age 66 of ovarian cancer but Junie B. and other characters she created will live on forever.

Elmore Leonard's sense of humor and quirky style captivated me the moment I started reading his work.  The first of his novels that I read was Glitz where his “hero” goes to Puerto Rico (a place where I lived for four years) and in it he mentions the Carmen Apartments where a friend of mine lived with her young son. But it wasn’t just Puerto Rico that captured my attention, it was the characters and the plot. I have now read twenty-two of his books, the last one a compilation of nine short stories titled Fire in the Hole. And the last story in that series, Tenkiller, is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. First of all it takes place in Okmulgee, Oklahoma where I was born. Second, he gives a hilarious portrait of the town and its inhabitants. The ending literally left me laughing out loud. He died at age 88 still at the height of his popularity.

I could go on forever extolling the virtues of these three writers. Each was unique and each contributed literature without parallel. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

It’s time of my annual wrap-up of the best books I read in 2012. Although mysteries (all sub-genres) dominate, I did read several enticing novels from other genres that captivated me.

I fell short of my goal of reading at least 100 novels last year but did manage to read 78 novels, novellas and short stories.

I began the year with Janet Evanovich’s Fearless Fourteen and ended it with her Finger Lickin’ Fifteen . I also read two books by another favorite author Carl Hiaasen and both made my favorites list: Striptease and Star Island. It’s pure joy when I pick up one of their books. Sue Grafton’s V is for Vengeance was not only one of my favorites this year but my favorite from her alphabet series. The ending was perfect.

I have tried to divide the rest of my favorites into categories:

Thrillers and Detective Procedurals:

Secret Prey by John Sandford. The murderer was a surprise although the clues were there but I love being surprised.

First Family by David Baldacci. Not wanting to give anything away, I will say there was exceptional suspense and climax.

Trial Junkies by Robert Gregory Browne. Excellent twists and turns from an author new to me. I look forward to more of his books.

Two outstanding novels by Iain Edward Henn: Disappear and The Delta Chain. This is another author new to me this year. Disappear is one of the best page turners I’ve read in years. In The Delta Chain, an array of characters, good and evil, lead to one of the longest, most harrowing climactic scenes I’ve ever read. Both are fantastic reads.

Solo by Jack Higgins. This author is one of my all-time favorites but beautiful scenes from the Greek Isles make this novel a stand-out. It is a cat and mouse hunt from England to Greece and back again.

Thicker Than Water by G.M. Ford. This is the first novel I’ve read by this author and it is a great rollicking but brutal adventure.

The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell.  A psychological thriller in which I can only say, wow! It is part of a series but the first I’ve read by this author. Superior plotting and writing.

The Matarese Countdown by Robert Ludlum. This is the sequel to The Matarese Circle, which I read years and years ago. I love Ludlum’s books and this one didn’t disappoint with an exciting convoluted plot.

Secrets to Die For by LJ Sellers. A violent story of rape and murder with twists and turns and an unbelievable traumatic climax. A real page turner.

Fire and Ice by Dana Stabenow. This is the first Liam Campbell mystery. The action goes from spotting herring in a plane to stumbling over bodies in a small Alaskan settlement. An excellent, thrilling read.

Cozy Mysteries:

Where There’s a Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart. This was an old-fashioned, hilarious romp, very different from many of her mysteries.

Chile Death by SusanWittig Albert. There are lots of suspects, red herrings, an unexpected villain and a rip-roaring climax. Lots of chile folklore also.

Giving Up the Ghost by Marilyn Levinson. This is a ghost story with a rousing ending to a well-plotted mystery.

Bogey’s Ace in the Hole by Marja McGraw. A thoroughly engaging cozy mystery with a climax that left me laughing out loud.

Divine Inspiration by Jane Langton. A Homer Kelly mystery that had a slow start but when the pieces finally came together, it reached a clamorous climax.


A Stolen Chance by Linda LaRoque—romantic suspense. Outstanding storyline and one of my favorite settings: the American Southwest.

The Marriage List by Jean Joachim. I read many wonderful romances by Jean Joachim in 2012 but this one was my favorite. I truly loved it. It is a very sensual love story with plenty of yummy food to add to the spiciness of the romance.

Valentine’s Gift by Marie-Nicole Ryan. This is a sequel to See You in My Dreams, which takes place ten years later. It is a lovely follow-up of the main characters and how their lives changed but their love remained despite suspicions and unexpected illness.


The Cheetah Princess by Joan Conning Afman is a beautifully written novel of love and suspense in another world setting.


I reread My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart. I first read it when I was a senior in college and at that time I was blown away by it. It influenced me, not only in my reading habits but also to become a world traveler. Rereading it I realized how far romantic suspense has come since then because although there was suspense, the romance was very understated. But it still remains at the top of my list of all time favorite novels.