Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Top Discoveries: Books - Fiction

These may not have been new this year, in fact I can practically guarantee many of them were not, but they were new to me. Naturally I had to share them with you! Today we'll look at fiction in actual, hold-em-in-your-hand books (including Kindle ... but NOT audiobooks).

(All summaries are from my GoodReads list where you may see everything I read in 2010, which I may have shared here earlier in the year ...)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley
How did this author do it? A story about an 11-year-old detective that is a unique blend of Sherlock Holmes, eccentric English country house murder mystery, and Nancy Drew. And it works. Fascinating and wonderful. I say that even though I pegged the murderer the first time there was an appearance. The discovery of why and how and who was entirely enjoyable despite that.

High Spirits - Robertson Davies
Can't remember where I saw this recommended but these are extremely enjoyable humorous takes on the classic English "Christmas Eve" tellings of subsequent experiences by the first Master of Massey College. Every year he experiences either a ghostly visitation or some other supernatural adventure which luckily happens in time for him to tell it on Christmas Eve. Funny without being over the top. I will probably have to investigate this author's other works after this.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simenson
My review is here.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Honestly, if I’d really known what it was about I’d never have been interested but once I was engrossed in it I was glad to have read this excellent book. Told by two different servants and one young woman who doesn’t fit into the Jackson, Mississippi society because she didn’t immediately get married and begin a family, this is a story of their unexpected collaboration on a secret project that results in all of them crossing lines that are not acknowledged aloud but which must be crossed in order to truly know themselves. I raced through the last fourth of it. Highly recommended. HIGHLY!

Vampire$ - John Steakley
My review is here.

Through the Wall - Cleveland Moffett
A noted detective is getting ready to go to Brazil for an important job. He drops by Notre Dame where a young woman he never met says a few sentences to him that leave him pale and canceling his trip. A young woman, deeply in love, spurns her lover's marriage proposal because she loves him too much. A international celebrity is found mysteriously killed in a variation of the locked room mystery. All these events are connected and are set in 1909 Paris, where the atmosphere is romantic and mysterious and the art of detective investigation is very much to the fore in the story. This was on a list from Michael Grost's list for Mystery Scene magazine of classic mysteries that you should read but probably haven't. Here is a piece about this book which I believe was written in 1907. It is a locked room mystery, which I normally do not like, but the way the author slowly uncovers layers truth behind the mysterious situations is already very apparent. It has the effect of a book of one cliff-hanger after another and I am hooked. Final word: what a splendid plot and story telling. Truly this is the story of a master detective pitted against a master criminal, all wound around a tale of love and friendship. I got this from the library but I'd bet it is available free at Project Gutenberg. I plan on  reading this on Forgotten Classics.

Carnacki, The Ghost-Finder - William Hope Hodgson
Whenever Carnacki finishes a tough case of tracking down the supernatural he calls together his three friends to have dinner at their London club and tells them the story. Sometimes he discovers the supernatural, sometimes a hoax, and occasionally an intriguing mix of the two. Thus we get seven fine ghost tales from William Hope Hodgson who is better known for The House on the Border Land, which I have never read, but surely shall someday. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I picked up from Amazon for free and read on the Kindle. I would look at Project Gutenberg for it as a free public-domain book if you can't find it anywhere.

Trouble is My Business - Raymond Chandler
Having suffered through City of Dragons, I realized I'd never really read any of the prototypical genre she was attempting to emulate. My random selections of Raymond Chandler from the library yielded a book of short stories and a novel. Beginning with this book of short stories, I discovered that Chandler is an author I am enjoying. These pithy stories are exactly what you would expect from the creator of Philip Marlowe, except that they show the quintessential hard-boiled detective from a developmental stage through many different stories. The last four stories, so I'm told from the book blurb, have Philip Marlowe in them, though I am not sure how he differs from the 'tecs I've read about thus far (except in name). Great fun.

Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett
Yep. I couldn't just try Chandler without also sampling the other great master of hard-boiled mystery fiction, Dashiell Hammett. Again, my random library selections yielded a novel and this short story selection. It also has an interesting overview of Hammett's life in the introduction. These stories contain hard boiled detectives but also, surprisingly, twist ending stories from different points of view as well. Hammett is a more varied writer than Chandler and I am always amused whenever the main detective describes himself as short and stout (which seems to happen frequently).

Till We Have Faces - C. S. Lewis
This is an intriguing retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche written in a way that puts me in mind of Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. It was gripping in a way I didn't expect and which I find difficult to explain. This story works as plain storytelling, as myth, as truth underlying myth, as character study, as unbelievably delicately written prose, and as fantasy. In short, this book is not nearly as difficult to read as I'd heard, while on the other hand containing rich layers that lend to repeated readings. I definitely enjoyed seeing Lewis's echoes of what is familiar in myth but which also is a bit of truth about Christianity.


  1. I have 'The Help' on Mt TBR and am very much looking forward to it. Here's to happy reading in 2011 :)

  2. Wanted to give you a late thanks for the recommendation for "Major Pettigrew...". Not my usual choice in books but I was absolutely charmed by him and his lady friend!