Best Books of 2017 Reading Extravaganza!

Good morning, 2018! Time to scour my reading list and shine the spotlight on books that rocked my 2017. This past year has been all about Victorian mysteries, gothic ghost stories, mystical cozies and even a dash of Texas noir!

So here you have it, the best of the best books (in no particular order) that I’ve read in 2017! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get cracking on my new pile of literary adventures that arrived under the Christmas tree. Apparently I’ve been a very good girl. 😉

Best YA Dystopian Thriller

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

I bought this book on a whim at the Texas Book Festival and had no idea it was a dystopian thriller. Had I have known this was a survival story set in a post-global warming ravaged world, I probably would’ve chucked it back on the shelf. Yet despite my distaste for post-apocalyptic books, I was mesmerized by the lyrical prose, the star-crossed love story, the brutal desert landscape. This new author clearly has a knack for world-building and character development. My heart poured out to Sarah Jac, who lost just about everything—and then some—in a series of traumatic events. In order to survive, she and James (her scheming soul mate) must resort to lies, betrayal and theft. Once you start peeling back the many layers to these onions, it’s not going to be pretty.  Part coming-of-age, part romance, part survival story, this is one heck of a journey I won’t ever forget! Needless to say, this new author is one to watch!

Best YA Gothic Thriller

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (a real-life decedent of Cotton Mather!)

If you’re looking for a good ol’ fashioned YA ghost story, this is it.  I was in the mood for a Lois Duncan-esque teen thriller and this book delivered! Similar to Duncan’s “Gallows Hill,” the story follows a hapless teenage girl with an otherworldly connection to the fallen witches of Salem. A descendant of Cotton Mather, the tables are turned and she’s the odd-girl-out at a school filled with superstitious mean girls. A love triangle ensues as she develops a love-hate relationship with a 300-year-old ghost and the boy next door. I know, I know, love triangles are so cliched. But yet, I still enjoy the bad boy vs. good boy dramarama. Is that so wrong? Either way, this is a super fun and campy teen thriller set amidst the spooky backdrop of the bewitched Salem woods. Hocus Pocus fans, eat your hearts out!

Best Indie Author Discovery

With This Curse by Amanda DeWees

Every once in a while I’ll give an unknown indie author a whirl. They have one chapter to win me over, and I’m a tough customer! If the pages are blemished with grammatical flaws or stilted dialogue, I’m done. Thankfully, Miss DeWees didn’t let me down. She’s a masterful wordsmith and –my god—how did she develop such an impressive vocabulary? I’m a little ashamed to say that I had to look up some of those words in my trusty Nook dictionary. I expected to find some anachronisms in this Victorian-era mystery, but alas, it was historically correct. Mechanics aside, I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere of the cursed manor and watching the romance unfold between Clare and her golden goose of a husband, Atticus. There’s multiple mysteries to solve—and when they all come to a head she finally gets to see Atticus for who he truly is. All in all, this author has a flare for drama and atmosphere. The only major flaw is Clara. Sadly, I did not like the main character at all. She was always mad at her subservient husband, who plucked her off of skid row and catered to her every whim. Her imperious demeanor was incongruous with her humble roots, which is something I hope the author will work on in the next book. That said, this series has a lot of potential. Bring on the next installment!

Best New Cozy Series

A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley

This fun little cozy is proof that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover! This was a Barnes & Noble impulse buy that shaped out to be the most perfect book for Halloween. How could I go wrong with a murder mystery set amid the spooky backdrop of an cliff-side haunted mansion with hidden rooms? The main character—a fledgling writer—gets to live out two of my fantasies: co-writing a book with a best-selling author while living out a Nancy Drew mystery in a haunted mansion. Be still, my heart! Throw in two eligible bachelors, four-legged sidekicks and a slew of suspicious townsfolk, and you’ve got all the ingredients for the most perfect cozy mystery evers! Another new series to add to my list! Read the full review here!

Best Gone Girl-esque Thriller

Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I just finished reading Miss Ware’s other title, “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” and it was almost a tossup over which book would make the list. But alas, this cruise ship murder mystery is hands-down the most suspenseful book I’ve read this year. In the vein of Gone Girl, we’ve got a VERY flawed and complex narrator on our hands. There are a multitude of variables that draw question marks about her credibility. This is one of those books that requires hours of binge-reading because the suspense is through the roof! Trust me on this, the final chapters are insane! What I love most about this author is her ability to distort objects of beauty into omens of impending doom. She can turn an opulent room into a sinister funhouse of mirrors, creating a sense of dread and claustrophobia. I really felt like I was on that luxurious—yet off-kilter—cruise ship amid shady rich folk with hidden agendas. Come to think of it, I think I’ll just stick to planes, trains and automobiles from now on. Read the full review here!

Best Texas Noir Thriller

The Dime by Kathleen Kent

I met this author at a BookPeople event starring my favorite hard-boiled Texas crime writer, Joe Lansdale. He raved about this new series, so I decided to give it a whirl. As I expected, Mister Lansdale didn’t steer me wrong. This book is far and away the best Texas thriller I’ve read in a while. Sorry, Hap and Leonard. The lead character—a six-foot-tall red-headed lesbian—is the quintessential Strong Texas Woman with a tough exterior and a soft heart. I enjoyed the drug-cartel thrillride, but what I love most about this book is the cast of characters and the witty dialogue. Just when I made my mind up about someone (like Betty’s womanizing partner, Seth) something cracks within their cliched exterior and you get to see that not everything is black and white. Read my full review here!


The Dime by Kathleen Kent

I discovered this book at a BookPeople event starring none other than the legendary East Texas noir author Joe Lansdale. He was joined by Kathleen Kent, a historical fiction author who is new to the shoot-em-up Texas thriller crime scene. I don’t typically gravitate toward hard-boiled mysteries. I’m more into magical cats and ghost-whispering amateur sleuths. But Joe’s rants and raves about the prose, the plot twists, and the larger-than-life characters had me lured in–hook line and sinker!

Turned out, Mister Lansdale’s gold-plated endorsement was not all hyperbole. The book lived up to his rave reviews–and then some. It was a rip-roaring ride from the first chapter all the way through the cliff-diving finale! The suspense was great–but I was most enthralled by the characters.

I’m telling you, character development can make or break a story. If they fall flat, or the protagonist is a tool, I’m out. Betty Rhyzk is anything but a tool. She is a total bad ass!  I have absolutely nothing in common with her, but we could totally hang out! In a way, she reminded me of Debra Morgan–my favorite character from the Dexter series. Working in a man’s world, she’s got a tough-as-nails exterior and has a knack for shutting down masagonistic “jokes” with witty comebacks. A six-foot-tall lesbian, she’s a walking target for sexist remarks from the good ol’ boys club. But she takes no prisoners and shows them who’s boss! Seriously, she will kick a man through a wall in a wrestling match. This is girl power to the extreme and I absolutely love it!

You know what else I love? The way this author is bringing lesbian characters into mainstream fiction. It’s about time we see more of these characters outside the “LGBTQ Fiction” section of the bookstore. Outside the cop shop, Betty shows her other side when she’s with her partner. When her guard is down, you get to know her vulnerabilities and the scars left behind from her traumatic childhood. As a Texan, I know this is a risky move for a Lone Star noir author. Judging by the very few one-star reviews, it’s clear that some people just can’t be open to something that challenges their narrow-minded religious beliefs. Oops, did I just get a little controversial just now? Sorry not sorry, bible beaters.

Anyhoo, I really loved Betty and Jackie and hope they keep going strong throughout the series. Despite their contrasting day jobs (Betty’s a narcotics detective and Jackie’s a doctor), they share one common bond: saving lives. At a gruesome crime scene, Betty described it beautifully when she noted,  “I have to pick up the pieces and Jackie has to put them together again.”

Another multi-faceted character in this book is The Big D. When non-Texans think of Dallas, they probably envision Longhorns and sprawling ranches owned by oil tycoons. I get so annoyed when books and TV shows portray Texas as this cowboy-infused land of bluebonnets and rodeo queens. And don’t even get me started on the Southern drawl versus the Texas twang. Seems like nobody these days can get the Texas vernacular right.

But I digress…the scenery in this book is on point. Just like the characters, the locale has many dimensions–from the pristine upper-class suburbs to the crime-infested city streets. There’s even a side-trip to the piney woods of East Texas, where the plot takes a serious cliff dive! It was fun joining Betty and her womanizing partner Seth as they tracked down perps in search of a demented drug lord. It was a wild ride, and I’m excited to get back on the crazy train when the next book drops!