Kat’s 2024 Book List

Fiction

  1. The Movement of Stars, by Amy Brill. 2024 gets off to a slow reading start given that I’m writing this in early February, and this is the only book I’ve read so far this year. It’s historical fiction about a young woman in the mid-19th-century who strives to be an astronomer, discovering celestial objects at a time when women were thought incapable of such feats. I was drawn to this book via my Quaker roots, as the protagonist and her community are Quakers in Nantucket. A strong subplot about a fraught emotional entanglement with a young black man the white protagonist is tutoring is compelling. This book took me a while to get into, but I enjoyed it as I got further into it.
  2. The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, by James McBride. This isn’t a title I typically would choose; I did so because I saw it on several Best of 2023 lists. McBride is an excellent storyteller, and the book is full of lovely storied vignettes, but I lost significant interest after a major character was no longer part of the story.
  3. Life Class, by Pat Barker. I grabbed this piece of historical fiction on sale, having heard great things about author Barker. It’s very well written, but for me, lacked sufficient feminine energy. The protagonist is male, and the book had such a masculine feel it that I wondered if I’d been mistaken that Barker is a “girl” Pat and not a “boy” Pat (she’s a woman). Set on the eve of WWI, Life Class begins as a story about art students and their romances and sexual encounters. While I didn’t love this one, Barker has plenty of other books, and I liked her writing enough to consider trying another one.
  4. Caught, by Harlan Coben. My year having begun with 4 books that were perfectly fine, but that I didn’t love, I decided to turn to a reliable favorite author. I chose this 2010 release because it seems to be popular among fans and because it has a female protagonist; Coben does a nice job of writing about women. Coben does not disappoint with his engaging, twisty plot about a reporter’s investigation into campaigns to smear the reputations for 4 Princeton roommates. It is telling that I consumed this book in days (assisted by a road trip), while the preceding books of this year took me weeks. I was completely engaged and enjoyed, as usual, Coben’s references to my birth state of NJ and appearances by characters (Win Lockwood, Hester Krimstein) from his other novels.
  5. Family Reservations, by Liza Palmer. Twists and turns about women running a family restaurant business? Yes, please! I choose this novel when a Facebook ad about it intrigued me with the premise of female entrepreneurship. A luminary of the food world is reluctant to share the spotlight with her three daughters. The story unfolds over a short period in which tensions between mom and daughters have reached a crisis point. I enjoyed this small glimpse into the foodie world and the family dynamics. I’d like to see a TV series based on this premise.
  6. Close to Death, by Anthony Horowitz. I consider the prolific (80+ books) Horowitz an “almost annual” author in that I read at least one of his in most years. This is the fifth in his Hawthorne and Horowitz series, in which the author plays a character; I believe it’s the third I’ve read in that series. Horowitz is a clever and sometimes gimmicky writer (gimmicks like appearing as a character in his own books). Close to Death is a serviceable whodunnit enhanced by Horowitz’s clever and often humorous writing.
  7. Maternal Instincts, by Becky Masterman. This is the first Masterman novel that does not focus on retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn. I’ve read all 4 of the Quinn books and enjoyed them largely because it’s fun and empowering to think of a brilliant detective who’s around my age. The protagonist of Maternal Instincts is also a “woman of a certain age,” but she’s not a detective, and she’s mired in an uncomfortable domestic situation. The book takes a while to engage the reader, and when it does, the engagement focuses on whether this older woman is pure evil or not. This book is disappointing on a couple of levels. It has no likable characters, like Brigid Quinn. And it disappoints simply by not being a compelling detective story but rather a somewhat unpleasant domestic tale. A twist, though predictable adds some life to the story, but I wish it had come sooner.
  8. The Museum of Failures, by Thrity Umrigar. My seventh experience with Umrigar’s books is not exactly in my beloved genre of Indian and Indian-American women because the protagonist is a man, but it still addresses issues Indian women face in its storylines about the protagonist’s mother’s tribulations with her marriage and a secret disabled child, as well as the story of the young unwed pregnant woman from whom the protagonist seeks to adopt a baby. It occurred to me as I was consuming the book that “family dynamics” could be considered a significant theme of this year’s reading. I’m glad I kept reading Umrigar’s novels after I found the first of hers I read just OK. Like The Museum of Failures, they have all been satisfying reads. It occurs to me that Umrigar is sort of an Indian counterpart to Catherine Ryan Hyde.
  9. Mother-Daughter Murder Night, by Nina Simon. The intriguing title drew me to this book.

Nonfiction

  1. The Waltham Murders, by Susan Clare Zalkind. I always like to reflect on why I choose the books I choose. For this book, I don’t have an answer except that I like true crime and this one is very current (March 2024 publication). This account of a triple murder connected to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is written in a solid journalistic style, and the investigative research appears to be meticulous. Like many true-crime tales, The Waltham Murders uncovers botched work by law enforcement. The author was friends with one of the victims, and the story is also the subject of a Hulu documentary on the murders (which I watched) for which Zalkind was the writer. A significant premise of the book is that if the triple murder had been better investigated, the Marathon Bombing might not have happened.

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