Best ‘New to Us’ Books of 2011: Lynn W.’s Picks

Not surprisingly, my Best New to Me list is a reflection of my Best of the New list.  My leanings toward mysteries, historical and literary fiction, and memoirs are represented here, too.

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas
Dallas is a Colorado writer who makes that state come alive in her historical novels.  Mattie Spenser is a young Iowa wife whose new husband, Luke, the town catch, has a passion to head west shortly after their wedding, leaving all they know behind.  After an eventful journey by wagon, Mattie and Luke construct a soddy and he begins breaking ground for planting.  However, Luke soon makes several lengthy trips away and Mattie begins to suspect he is involved with a girl from their Iowa hometown.  How she handles this information, makes friends in need while he is gone, and manages their baby’s birth in his absence make for a very human story, told simply and from the heart.

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I listened to the audio version of my favorite childhood book.  It was just as richly evocative of prairie life in the 1880s Dakotas as I remembered:  the year round impact of weather on life in town and on the claim, the closeness of family where there are few to rely on, our unchanging human nature with its love of friends and petty jealousies intertwined, no matter how small the society. You CAN go home again, at least in books; I’m glad I revisited These Happy Golden Years.

Traveler by Ron McLarty
A mysterious shooting incident in Jono Riley’s childhood comes back to intrigue him when his old friend Cubby informs him his sister Marie has died suddenly.  She and Jono were making snow angels in a field when she was shot in the arm when they were kids and the shooter was never found. Now, decades later, the bullet, not removed from Marie, has “traveled” and pinched an artery, causing her death.  Jono, an actor who supports himself bar-tending in New York City, returns home to Providence, Rhode Island determined to find the shooter and bring him to justice.  Just as in The Memory of Running, McLarty tells his tale in everyday conversational English, but delivers a punch with his plotting and character development.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
Jody Linder lives in the house her father was murdered in twenty three years ago, the same evening her mother disappeared.  Small town Kansas is pictured with superb descriptions of the surrounding ranch lands, the hierarchy of society, and Jody’s reactions as she contemplates the thought that perhaps the wrong man was convicted of her father’s murder. The convicted man is released from prison and returns to Rose, Kansas to find the real guilty party.  The twists and turns of the plot and the real guilty party’s reactions to the investigation will keep you on the edge of your seat and Pickard’s prose will simply amaze you, as most readers don’t expect such wonderful writing in a mystery.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Truth be told, this is the only book by Conroy I have read and I found it very engaging.  Conroy’s favorite books can be surprising, Gone with the Wind, for one, but he explains how or from whom the book came to him, what was happening in his life at the time, and the book’s meaning for him.  In his chapter about War and Peace, Conroy’s enthusiasm and appreciation for Tolstoy and his masterpiece are almost enough to entice one into attempting to read it. The final chapter, Why I Write, is full of savory sentences like this one:  “Here is what I want from a book, what I demand, what I pray for when I take up a novel and begin to read the first sentence:  I want everything and nothing less, the full measure of a writer’s heart.”  Enough said.


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