Best of 2021

There are two authors whose work is so consistently excellent I don’t add them to my best of lists anymore, but I can tell you that William Kent Krueger’s prequel to his Cork O’Connor series, Lightning Strike, is beautifully written, felt and told; and Louise Penny’s The Madness of Crowds, a sly look at devotees of a flawed charismatic leader, is a beautiful read.  Both writers have a quality of heart and spirit that give their books an extra something, and their main characters, Cork O’Connor and Armand Gamache, are beloved by readers. Soon to join these two are Elly Griffiths and Ann Cleeves, both of whom turned in stellar reads this year (see below).  I invite readers to cast their reading nets a bit wider and consider some of these other fine titles.  These are all books that stayed with me and left me thinking after I finished them. read more

Carol Goodman: The Stranger Behind You

I loved Goodman’s novel last year, The Sea of Lost Girls, and I love this one even more.  It’s very of the moment, as it involves a powerful newspaper magnate who has been sexually harassing his female employees.  Like last year’s novel, Goodman’s concern is the shame the women feel for something that is not their fault.  She expands these horizons, making the book specific (an element in every successful novel, to my mind, is specificity) by tying the shame element to her two main characters as well. read more

Carol Goodman: The Sea of Lost Girls

Carol Goodman’s luscious prose doesn’t mask her storytelling drive, and it’s a haunting and unforgettable combination.  The Sea of Lost Girls is set at a girl’s boarding school in Maine, centering on the family of Tess, Harmon and Rudy.  Tess and Harmon both work at the school; Rudy is Tess’s son and Harmon’s stepson, as well as a student at the school. The book kicks off with him texting his mother in the middle of the night, and she rushes off to find out what’s wrong.

As a reader, I was instantly drawn into the dynamic between Tess and her son, who has had some troubles but whom she loves fiercely.  Her greatest goal is that of any mother’s: to protect him.  And, as it turns out, he needs it.  His girlfriend, Lila, whom he had been fighting with, turns up dead the next morning and suspicion falls on both Rudy and Harmon in turn. read more