Best Books Of The Year

Hi, I read about 60 to 80 books a year. These are the ones I liked the most, organized by the year I read them. This year’s selections will go online December 31, and I hope you’ll get a chance to read a few of them.
— JDM

Some notes about this Year’s Best Books:
I normally read sixty to eighty books per year, but only managed forty-five in 2012 because we published two of my books, plus a third one for an outstanding new author named Bert Entwistle; wrote forty-nine book reviews for the Tri-Valley Townsman; and twenty-one blogs for our new B.S. and Donkey Dust Blog . . .

The books, although fewer in number, must have been higher in quality, because the Best Books of the Year 2012 list is longer. I hope you get a chance to read a few of them yourself.

Thank you for all your support from June, me and all of our associates and friends at Rhyolite Press, LLC. Best wishes to each and every one of you for a safe and healthy, prosperous and productive year 2013 . . . which is a-borning right now.
–JDM

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2015:

It’s hard to imagine even harder to believe, but the month of December—with all the various holiday seasons and gift giving—is here. The year 2015 is almost over and it’s time . . . for our gift to readers out there . . . the best books of December 2015 list. Enjoy. And we wish you a Merry Christmas, as well as good health, peace and prosperity for you and yours in the coming New Year!

–JDM

There were so many great mysteries, thrillers and noir novels published in 2015 that it is difficult to choose which ones to review . . . and even harder to winnow the list down to this dozen . . . the choices are arbitrary. And my personal favorites based on the sixty-plus books I read last year and the fifty or so reviewed in the Mysterious Book Report. All of the complete Mysterious Book Reports are available on my website: johdwainemckenna.com and you can receive them every week by liking us on Facebook or following us on LinkedIn.

Best Books of the Year 2015

MBR # 191 Prayer, by Philip Kerr
Known for his outstanding WWII Bernie Gunther series, here, in a brilliant paranormal stand-alone thriller, Kerr posits the possible existence of a different kind of God, as seen through the eyes of an FBI agent who’s struggling to find faith while at the same time attempting to solve a string of grisly murders and reconcile with his estranged wife in Houston, Texas.

MBR # 192 The Painter, by Peter Heller
Selected as the winner of the prestigious 2015 Reading of the West award from the multi-state Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association, Heller’s second novel, a thrilling murder mystery, explores the struggles of a brilliant—and highly successful —modernist painter who’s seeking solitude and an escape from his violent criminal past and prison term in New Mexico by reestablishing himself in the remote, west-slope Colorado town of Paonia, where he can work in peace and find solace fly fishing the remote streams and rivers there. He soon discovers however, that the past isn’t so easy to forget, or leave behind and that trouble has a way of finding anyone anywhere and anytime. Beautifully rendered and brilliantly told, The Painter will rip your heart right out.

MBR # 196 The Empire of Night, by Robert Olen Butler
The third novel of the acclaimed series featuring the daring newspaper reporter and intrepid American spy, Christopher Marlowe “Kitt” Cobb, the Pulitzer Prize winning Butler examines in detail and depth, the effects of all-out war and new technologies on the ordinary citizens of England and France undergo German brutality during the Great War, as night-time bombing raids on London by the terrifying new Zeppelin dirigibles bring a new development to the war, and new heroics by Kitt to stop them. The Empire of the Night is packed full of intrigue adventure and treachery to keep any thriller enthusiast fully engrossed, entertained and glued to the page. Kitt Cobb is one of my all time favorite characters in literature.

MBR # Maus, by Art Spiegelman
April the nineteenth is Holcaust Remembrance Day. In observance of which I read one book on the subject during the month as a self-improvement exercise. For that reason, and because they’re not fiction, I don’t review them in the MBR. But MAUS is the exception to those rules. It’s a comic book. For adults. Now they’re called “graphic novels” to give them more cache, more legitimacy. But MAUS is in a class of its own. It’s the story of a man, an artist, re-connecting with his father—from whom he’s been estranged—as the older man tells the never before revealed narrative of his and his wife’s survival in the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz, and Buchenwald. The son, a cartoonist by trade, then puts his father’s tale into graphic form, illustrating the Jews as mice, and the Nazis as mean cats, the Poles as pigs and the Americans as friendly dogs. The book was first published in the ‘70s in installments and has since become a classic. It’s an unforgettable experience.

MBR # 200 The House of Wolfe, by James Carlos Blake
The Wolfe’s are a family of outlaws. Half of them live in America, near Brownsville, Texas while the other half live in Mexico City. They’ve been making their living smuggling guns, liquor and sometimes people, for more than 150 years. They’ve been so successful for so long that the family is not only ultra wealthy, but well situated in legitimate businesses and has plenty of well-placed allies. So when some members of the family are kidnapped at a wedding in Mexico, the family comes together and fights with elegant ferocity to save their loved ones. James Carlos Blake is the best and the most audacious writer crafting literary violence today

MBR # 202 Chain of Events, by Fredrik T Olsson
A kidnapped group of the worlds’ greatest scientific minds are ensconced in a hidden castle located high in the alps, trying to find the answer to an imminent doomsday prophecy found encoded in the human DNA sequence. As the world begins collapsing around them, the more important question becomes: who put it there . . . How . . . and Why?

MBR #206 The Organ Broker, by Stu Sturmwasser
A scary, scary novel about organ replacement and what’s known as transplant tourism. Transplant tourism is the term given to ill patients who need a life-saving organ donation and have the money to go out and buy one in a foreign country with no questions asked about where or how the donated kidney or other organ came from. That’s where the organ brokers come in. They go to poor countries and buy organs from living, healthy and desperately poor donors who need money. The Organ Broker is a real eye-opener about the rich and privileged are prolonging their lives at the expense of the desperately poor.

MBR # 208 The Swimmer, by Joakim Zander
Thirty years ago in the Middle East, the young father of a month old baby watches in horror as a car bomb meant for him, explodes and kills his wife—the baby’s mother. Heartsick, unable to cope with a newborn and fearing that his enemies will try again, the man who’s a spy, leaves the infant girl at the door of the Swedish Embassy in Beirut and flees the country. The baby is raised by her grandparents on a remote island in the Swedish archipelago. Back in the present, the woman—now grown—is the executive assistant to the Trade Minister of Sweden, with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. She comes into possession of a laptop computer containing sensitive—and highly secret—information that’s sought by several opposing countries . . .all willing to kill for it. Fighting for her life, she flees to the island of her childhood, and a last showdown.

MBR # 210 The Cartel, by Don Winslow
Although it is written as fiction, The Cartel will do more to open your eyes to the current events in Mexico and the so-called Drug War in the USA than anything short of enlisting in the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and going down to the border and fighting it yourself. Told from the point of view of a DEA agent’s lifetime fight to keep a Mexican drug lord in prison, The Cartel) drips with violence and blood, but it’s so frighteningly close to actual current events that readers will be transfixed, stunned and glued to the page. One of the most talked about books of the year.

MBR # 214 The Devil’s Detective, by Simon Kurt Unsworth
This unique debut novel was part of our month-long October Freak Fest of supernatural and other-worldly reads in observance of Halloween. It’s one of the most unique and creative novels I’ve ever read—and those very characteristics may make it become a cult classic. Thomas Fool is the Devil’s detective, one of only three so-called “information men” in all of Hell. He’s got a gun but only one bullet. He has many cases, but marks most of them with his no action taken rubber stamp and returns to the complainant. But when the case comes from Hells own hierarchy, he’d damn-well better investigate. Someone’s been killed in a most brutal way, fiendish, even by Hell’s standards. It happens at a most inconvenient time just as Fool is doing escort duty for a group of visiting angels who’ve come down to negotiate terms of elevation to Heaven for a few lucky souls. But then there’s another murder, and a mass-killing which puts Hells innumerable nasty skinless and bloodthirsty demons in a frenzy and Fool in more trouble than he can handle. The Devil’s Detective is a raucous delight for horror and mystery enthusiasts.

MBR # 217 The Crossing, by Michael Connelly
After thirty years as a homicide investigator with the LAPD, detective Harry Bosch has retired. He’s the lonely, jazz-loving, tough, sanguine, altruistic, world-weary and honorable cop we’ve come to revere in Connolly’s twenty plus novels featuring him. Bosch is taking it easy, puttering around the house and working on a 1950 Harley-Davidson motorcycle he’s inherited. When his half-brother Mickey Haller (the Lincoln Lawyer,) asks Bosch to look into the murder case he’s defending, Harry has to decide whether or not to cross over to the dark side . . . helping defend criminals he’s spent the last thirty years putting in jail . . . and going against all his principals. The Crossing is Connelly’s best yet and an enjoyable read for any and all.

MBR # 218 New Yorked, by Rob Hart
Another debut novel by a first-time author that’s included here because he’s managed to strike a near-perfect noir tone. Included is a mysterious phone call in the middle of the night, a murdered ex-girlfriend, a tough down and nearly out sometime private detective without a license who suffers from alcoholic blackouts and a broken heart—and lastly—a parade of the most unusual characters and alternative lifestyles since The Island of Dr. Moreau. New Yorked is an offbeat treat by a dynamic young writer whose got the chops to go a long way in the crime fiction genre.

MBR # 220 Palace of Treason, by Jason Matthews
This novel is the latest Mysterious Book Report and makes the Best of the Year 2015 list because it’s simply the most awesome spy novel I’ve read in a long, long time . . . maybe ever. Together with his first, Red Sparrow, the Palace of Treason is the beginning of what we hoped will be a long-running franchise.

That’s it! That’s our baker’s dozen of the best crime, mystery and thriller novels for the last year. They were dramatic, entertaining and some were even hair-raising, but guess what . . .stay tuned to the Mysterious Book Report because we’ve got many, many more new, exciting, thrilling, stimulating, provocative, moving, animated, rousing, exhilarating, galvanizing, and thought-provoking new reports coming in 2016! Keep reading because books are medicine for the soul.

–John Dwaine McKenna

Colorado Springs, Colorado

November 2015

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2014:

It was an awesome year for crime and mystery fiction, and as a result, it’s generated our longest annual list ever, with selections from around the world. With computers and modern printing methods, an astonishing number of books are being published . . . an estimated one-thousand five hundred per day in the English language, is one figure being given, but the technology is changing so fast that it’s impossible to compile accurate numbers. One thing is for sure: we are living in an unprecedented time of creativity and the availability of books of all kinds has never been greater. In making these selections, which are my personal choices, I’d like to acknowledge the help of Ian Kern and his boss Otto Penzler at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. Hands down, they’re the best in the business! Without further Hoo-Ha, BS or Donkey Dust, here’s the most fiendishly clever, well-written, most intelligent superbly plotted, high quality, interesting and unconventional novels we’ve seen this year. All have been read cover-to-cover by yours truly and rated FIVE STARS for excellence. They’re the best of the year and all are worthy of your attention. Read on and enjoy!
–JDM

Best Books of the Year 2014

MBR # 131 The Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews
Russia v. USA spy thriller, full of action, intrigue, treachery, tension and tight plotting that all take place in the 21st century.

MBR # 132 The Star of Instanbul, by Robert Olen Butler
Part-time US Secret Agent Christopher “Kitt” Cobb is up to his ears in WWI mayhem dealing with Imperial German and Ottoman Turks in a twisted spy yarn that sees his heart broken by a woman resembling the infamous Mata Hari

MBR # 141 The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly
The great Mississippi River flood of 1927 is the backstory for a rousing tale involving an orphaned infant, two of the toughest Prohibition Agents ever hired, a beautiful, abused and heartsick lady moonshiner, treachery, violence and survival in a doomed river town.

MBR # 143 GAME by Anders DeLaMotte
A bored, shiftless and broke young man finds an expensive new smartphone on the train seat beside him and takes it. The phone lights up and asks, Want to play a game? He clicks ‘YES’ . . . and shortly thereafter, totally out of control, he’s a fugitive running from the law, and in danger of losing his life to someone called the gamemaster.
MBR # 149 Alex, by Pierre LeMaitre
Shopping for a wig turns into unrelenting terror for a young Parisian woman who’s not what she appears to be in this top-notch crime fiction thriller where the twists and turns never cease until the devastating conclusion of this award-winning book.
MBR # 153 The Black-Eyed Blonde, by Benjamin Black
Phillip Marlowe is back! Thanks to the estate of Raymond Chandler, the tough-guy detective with a heart for the ladies is back and better than ever!
MBR # 154 The Kept, by James Scott
In 1875 in upstate New York, a midwife returning to her family after a six-month sojourn working in the city, trudges for miles through the snow to get home to their cabin with gifts for all and cash money for bills, finds her entire family murdered when she arrives. Thereafter the revelations never stop in this outstanding first novel by a shining new talent.
MBR # 155 Chance, by Kem Nunn
A California Psychiatrist who’s watching his life and medical profession spin out of control after just one itty-bitty little illegal act.

MBR # 158 The Ascendant, by Drew Chapman
Another great debut from an up and coming new talent: The U.S. government has been searching for years for someone capable of leading an inevitable 21st century cyber-war, which will be fought on an invisible battlefield with devastating consequences for America and the entire world. The code name is Ascendant. He’s been found, but may be uncontrollable.
MBR # 164 The Lie, by Hesh Kestin
An Israeli lawyer who defends Palestinians is appointed as the supreme arbiter in cases of enhanced interrogation. In a word, Torture. When her own son is captured and held hostage to prevent interrogation of a Palestinian terrorist, her Hobson’s choice is nearly unbearable.
MBR # 166 The Convictions of John Delahunt, by Andrew Hughes
A stunning inside look at the inner workings of the British system of justice in 1840s Dublin, Ireland.
MBR # 167 Natchez Burning, by Greg Isles
A woman comes home to die in 21st century Natchez, Mississippi. Her death triggers a trial that dredges up and revisits the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, which causes a merciless reaction from a merciless splinter group of the KKK who want the past to stay buried . . . in the literal as well as the figurative sense.
MBR # 169 The Wayfaring Stranger, by James Lee Burke
A chance encounter with the outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow when he was a teen-aged boy influence the remainder of a man’s life in this stand-alone literary crime thriller from the Grand Master.
MBR # 170 The Cairo Affair, by Olen Steinhauer
A spy-thriller that extends from North Africa to Budapest; where the treachery, double-crosses danger, suspense, deaths and action never quit; where nothing and no one are what they appear to be. It all begins when a married couple are having lunch in an upscale restaurant, and as she’s confessing to having had an affair, a man walks up and shoots her husband in the head.
MBR # 172 The Son, by Jo Nesbo
A stand alone by the Norwegian crime master and creator of Harry Hole. In this one, the heroin addicted son of a disgraced Oslo cop engineers a prison break after learning his father was framed, and takes revenge.

That’s our top fifteen for the year 2014. Here’s a few others that just missed but also merit your attention:
MBR # 138 The Accident, by Chris Pavone
MBR # 152 The Red Road, by Denise Mina
MBR # 161 Providence Rag, by Bruce DeSilva
It was a spectacular year of exciting crime fiction and thrillers, but 2015 is looking even better! I hope you get a chance to read some, or all, of these great novels. And hey . . . stay tuned. We’re going to explore a whole lot more great crime fiction, murder mysteries and thrillers in the new year.

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, as well as Best Wishes for all of the Holiday Season.

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2013:

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2012:
True-crime The story behind the brutal murder of a mother and child in Utah.
Crime fiction. Harry Bosch fights to remain relevant on the LAPD.

MBR # 52: The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton
Crime-fiction. Edgar Award winning story of a boy’s discovery of his unusual talent, his life of crime, his fall and his redemption.

MBR # 58: The Informationist, by Mark Allen Smith
Crime-fiction. About a man’s talent for extracting information from the unwilling.

Not reviewed: The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
Fiction. An unforgettable memoir of the Viet Nam War by one of its best chroniclers.

MBR # 66 The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Lafon
Mystery-translated from Spanish. A writer of unsurpassed beauty and talent. Third in a series about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

MBR # 74/75: Creole Belle, by James Lee Burke
Crime Fiction. Once again, the two-time Edgar winning author and Grand Master makes the cut. One of his very best, and longest, Dave Robicheux thrillers.

MBR #77: The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller
Science-fiction. A first novel about love, loss and hope in a post-apocalyptic world. A most impressive debut.

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2011:

The Four Stages of Cruelty, Keith Hollihan

In Search of Mercy, Michael Ayoob

The Informationist, Taylor Stevens

The Diviner’s Tale, Bradford Morrow

Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson

The Tiger’s Wife, Tea Obeh

Flower Net, Lisa See

Feast Day of Fools, James Lee Burke

The House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz
John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2010:

Once Were Cops, Ken Bruen
The chase for a serial killer.

The Glass Rainbow, James Lee Burke
Dave Robicheaux’s getting older, and better. One of Burke’s best.

The People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Traces an ancient torah from creation to present day.

The Given Day, Dennis Lehane
A Boston family saga interwoven with Boston Police Department 1919.

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2009:

The Diezmo, Rick Bass
Historical fiction about the ill-fated Mier Expedition of 1842-46.

The Last Pope, Luis Miguel Rocha
A fictional account of Pope John Paul I.

Freddy’s Book, John Gardner
A wonderful read by a wonderful writer, about a Swedish knight and the devil.

A Life Full of Holes, Dris Ben Hamid Charhodi
The author can neither read, nor write.

Crazy Ladies of Pearl Street, Trevanian
A fictional memoir of the author growing up in Albany, NY during the great depression.

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2008:

The Last Lecture, Randy Frusch
Advice for his children by a dying man.

Roscoe, William Kennedy
Historical fiction, last of the Albany series, which included Iron Weed, Roscoe is the story of the Democrat Party’s political machine in the 1920’s, told by a behind-the scenes political operator named Roscoe. Unforgettable and unforgettably good.

Ordinary Men, Christopher Bronning
Reserve police battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland
The title tells it all – a life-altering book I read for Holocaust remembrance month along with Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.

John Dwaine McKenna’s Best Books of the year 2007:

The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig
Life at a one-room school in Montana in early 20th century.

Honor and Duty, Gus Lee
Cadet life at West Point and one man’s personal conflict between honor and duty.

Fragrant Harbor, John Lancaster
Historical fiction, the story of Hong Kong.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Murder mystery in Spain.

The Long Gray Line, Rick Atkinson
The heartbreaking true story of the West Point class of 1966.