Year in Review: Books I Read

I read 28 books in 2018, a hearty feat considering I was only aiming for 20 books.  (Anyone who knows me knows that I am not an overachiever.)  2018’s reads were a range of genres from memoir to young adult, with many forays into my chosen niche of mystery.  Here’s a look at the books of 2018! (Note that in the photos, they show the books I read newest to oldest – I’ve ordered my list from oldest to newest … good luck with my logic!)

  1. Esther by Rebecca Kanner. One of the coolest things about looking through this list is seeing how many books were written by friends.  My friends are RIDICULOUSLY TALENTED!  Kanner’s no exception.  I read Esther and Sinners and the Sea (#9) to prepare for an author event that I hosted with the Edina Art Center.  Both are incredibly well written novels of historical fiction.
  2. Lies She Told by Cate Holahan. I met Ms. Holahan at the 2017 Killer Nashville and DEVOURED this book.  It’s a good read, fast paced, and skillfully written.
  3. Her Again: Becoming Meryl Street by Michael Schulman. I love Meryl Streep – this was a fun read.
  4. Down Dog Diary by Sherry Roberts. Read in preparation for an author’s panel hosted by the Twin Cities Sister in Crime.  Cozy mysteries aren’t usually my jam, but I’ll make an exception for Ms. Roberts.  I really liked this entry into the Maya Skye series.
  5. City of Endless Night by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston. 2018’s offering for the Agent Pendergast series.  I’m already on my library’s waitlist for 2019’s entry.
  6. The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard. Read in preparation for an author’s panel hosted by the Twin Cities Sister in Crime. This is Mr. Gaspard’s first in his Eli Marks series.  A very enjoyable Minnesota mystery series.  (And Gaspard’s a hoot!)
  7. Garden of Shadows by V.C. Andrews. Oh, how I loved V.C. Andrews when I was in junior high.  What a guilty pleasure when you’re reading this in your late 30s and you fancy yourself a “serious” writer.
  8. Her Dark Inheritance by Meg Hafdahl. I met Ms. Hafdahl by chance on Facebook, found out she lived in the same town, and struck up a friendship. And man – I’m glad that I did. First and foremost, striking up a friendship with her was effortless and enjoyable.  Secondly, her debut novel was an incredible read that I could NOT put down.  It’s one of my favorite books of 2018 and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for this writer.
  9. Esther … Not sure why this showed up twice. So this whole list might be a lie!  Only 27 books consumed in 2018!
  10. Sinners and the Sea. See #1 above.
  11. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. Good Lord, there is a reason this should be required reading for thriller writers and I’m embarrassed to say that it came to me pretty late in life.  (Although, I think I tried to read this when I was in high school and maybe it’s OK that I failed.)  This book is a master class in pacing and tension, not to mention character development.
  12. Of Beasts and Beauties. This was a compilation effort by a number of writers, but I was in it for Emily Allen West’s story Eye of the Beholder. Emily’s a dear friend and it was a joy to see her words come to life in this re-telling of “Beauty and the Beast.”
  13. One Man’s Castle by J. Michael Major. I don’t think that I said anything about this book when I was reading it, which is a huge oversight on my part for a couple reasons. In the literary sense, Mr. Major’s debut novel is fantastic and contains a pair of protagonists working at opposing ends of the justice system—characters who are both nuanced and just well written.  Personally, I worked with Mr. Major this year through Mystery Writers of America-Midwest Chapter and I was blessed with an unexpected friendship.

  1. A Study of Scarlet Women and A Conspiracy in Belgravia (#17) by Sherry Thomas. These books were a surprise to me, mostly because I met Ms. Thomas at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference in July and picked up Scarlet Women on a whim. (This is her retelling of the Sherlock Holmes canon with Holmes portrayed as a woman.)  I read Scarlet Women on the plane and immediately checked out Belgravia when I got home.  Another surprise of 2018 is that I have a huge soft spot in my heart for Regency-era romance novels.
  2. Murder Book by Frank Weber. Read in preparation for an author’s panel hosted by the Twin Cities Sister in Crime. Weber is a delight and has an interesting background—he’s a forensic psychologist and his debut novel shines with those sorts of details.
  3. The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman. This is the second book in her “Dark Days Club” trilogy.  What’s incredible about this book is that it’s a YA, but the relationship between her protagonist and anti-hero love interest fairly crackles with electricity.
  4. See #14 above.
  5. Angry Nurse by Karl Bort and Thekla Madsen. Read in preparation for an author’s panel hosted by the Twin Cities Sister in Crime. Featured some interesting characters and is one of a series.
  6. Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs. I’m a huge fan of Ms. Briggs’ “Mercy Thompson” series and this is a spin-off on one of the characters in the MT universe.
  7. The Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart. I was fairly obsessed with the Hayley Mills movie that Disney put out in 1964. (Why yes, that was significantly before my time, but I grew up in the middle of nowhere with a UFO-sized satellite dish parked in my backyard.  Grateful to have watched a ton of “classic” Disney shows and movies when I was a kid.)  The book was a fun read.  I’d be curious to know what kind of impact it had when it was originally released.  Her protagonist Nikky Ferris seems enchantingly modern.
  8. Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison. Ellison could write a phone book and I’d read it, she’s that engaging of a writer.  Ms. Ellison is probably best known to her earlier readers for a pair of series that featured Lt. Taylor Jackson and Samantha Owens.  But over the past handful of years (when she hasn’t been co-authoring with the amazing Catherine Coulter), Ms. Ellison has been making her mark in the “domestic noir” genre.  This book was a delight.  Fast-paced and delicious.  (My mother-in-law and my bonus mother-in-law [yes, I have one of those] loved it too.)
  9. The Weight of Being by Kara Richardson Whitely. This is Whitely’s third memoir and she writes about her lifelong struggle with weight and body image. As a passenger on that particular struggle bus, I am a fan of hers and enjoyed her latest.
  10. Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins. Another memoir!  I had to read this one after going to see Mr. Collins in Minneapolis this fall.  Collins’ concert is up there in my top 5 and it was a hoot to read the inspiration behind some of his biggest hits.
  11. Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy. I was prepared for this to travel into heresy territory, but Ms. McCoy did a beautiful job giving Marilla Cuthbert her voice in the Anne of Green Gables
  12. The Other Girl by Erica Spindler. One of my friends recommended this book to me and I read it in a day.  And that was even with my children cavorting around me.  That’s how good it was.
  13. What A Lady Needs for Christmas by Grace Burrowes. Heaving bosoms … on a book cover. That should tell you all you need to know about this book, but it was a fast read and basically candy for my brain.
  14. The Six Month Novel Writing Plan by Caitlin Jans. Title is fairly self-explanatory. This was a quick read and I think it was useful for the future.
  15. Ghostbuster’s Daughter by Violet Ramis Stiel. Another memoir, this one about growing up with the incomparable Harold Ramis (known as Egon from “The Ghostbusters.”) I really enjoyed this book.  I think she structured it well and as a creative who is also a parent, I got some interesting insight on how Harold Ramis juggled his artistic life with his life as a dad.

Honorable Mention

I read this as it was being written (and probably read it in early 2018?), but it’s not every day that someone gets a book dedicated to them.  The Executioner’s Face by Jerry Johnson was released this year and is a gritty, dystopian novel that envisions Chicago in 2045.  It’s taut and features some fairly awesome characters.  I’m glad I hounded Jerry to get this one done.

Still reading

Not sure I’ll finish before 2018, but I’m still reading Ava Black’s The Bell Jar and Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects.  Both are good, but both are rather intense, so I’ve been reading them in sips versus gulps.

On Tap

I’m hoping to read 30 books in 2019.  I have a few non-fiction that I picked up at the library and there are a couple authors that I’m going to focus on in the new year (J.D. Horn and Louis L’Amour … yeah, they don’t have much in common, but I have personal reasons for reading both of them.)

Looking forward to more books in 2019! Happy reading!




Monday Mayhem: 12/24/18

Watery eyes, wild hair – this was my first morning in Florida last week:

It was a great trip, replete with way too much food, a little too much bourbon (<– uff da), and a lot of great conversations with an amazing crew of co-workers.  One of the best things about coming back from a trip like this (for me) is that I’ve come home with a wealth of ideas.  (And now I have a week coming up between Christmas and the New Year, so I can likely forget some of these plans – but truly, I’m looking forward to some time to write down goals and figure out an action plan.)

Incidentally, I’m hoping to take the next week to also sketch out some plans for my creative life too.

Despite my travels, there were a couple items that were worth a read this week:

The ultimate break-up letter / wedding cancellation notice from Baroness Elsa Schraeder.

So thrilled to see that one of my friends and favorite indie bookstore managers got a holiday “bonus” from author James Patterson.  (And also thrilled to see that Once Upon A Crime’s GoFundMe is almost at its goal!)

I love coffee.  I love Ina Garten.  And I ADORE her husband, who happens to apparently make the “best” cup of coffee.


Reading: While on the plane, finished Caitlin Jans’s “The Six Month Novel Writing Plan.” About halfway into Gillian Flynn’s “Sharp Objects.”  Will finish Ava Black’s “The Bug Jar” over holiday break and am reading Violet Ramis Stiel’s “Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life With My Dad, Harold Ramis.”  I’m a huge Harold Ramis fan and this is a beautifully written insider’s look at his life, as well as the personal bond between father and daughter.  I’m not usually a memoir person, but I’m glad to be reading Ms. Stiel’s book.

Watched: “Mamma Mia 2” was on the flight from ATL to MSP. Two words: Andy Garcia.  OK, wait – one more word: Cher.  It was a ridiculously fun watch.

Writing Life:  Life in Florida didn’t mean a total break from all things creative.  I tried to finish a short story on my flight to Florida and hope to have it done in January.

Happy Monday, dear friends!

– Shelley


Monday Mayhem is what happens when I neglect to write a Friday Fare. Or it can be any kind of article that happens to be published on a Monday.  I hope that it provides a great start to your week!


Monday Mayhem: 12/17/18

By the time you read this … oh wait.  That intro’s a little overly dramatic.  However, by the time you read this – I will likely be on an airplane heading to Florida.  Why no, this isn’t some holiday excursion … I’m going for work and I’m looking forward to spending a few days with my co-workers.  (And the fact that it gets me out of snowy Minnesota?  SCORE.)

That’s part of the reason I didn’t write a Friday Fare.  As is always the case with travel, whether it be personal or professional, the days leading up to the excursion are filled with the random and mundane things we need to do to prepare.  For me, that includes scores of laundry, some stress baking (pumpkin bread and chocolate chip cookies slightly alleviates the mom/wife guilt), and random ideas of “this is the perfect time to clean out the deep freeze / arrange the spice cupboard.” <– Seriously, this is how I prepare for travel.

Anyway – if I’m quiet over the next few days / week, it’s due to travel / holiday preparation.  But, if you miss my snark and overt charm – I’m sure that I’m going to be posting the requisite “beach at sunset / sunrise” photos and pictures from my random coffee orders on Instagram.  Come find me and follow me there!

This last-minute trip has derailed a few of my blog plans … I really do enjoy writing a “year in review” and want to list out my favorite things of 2018, but that might have to wait and appear sometime in the New Year.


Reading: There are a few books that I am at various places at now.  I’m reading Gillian Flynn’s “Sharp Objects.”  (That will probably be my plane book this week.)  I’m also reading Ava Black’s “The Bug Jar.”  (Ava is actually a good friend of mine and I am loving her debut novel.  She has an incredible voice.)  The other book that I’m halfway through right now is Caitlin Jans’s “The Six Month Novel Writing Plan.”  I’ll probably write more about that one soon – I really like Jans’ work at the site Authors Publish and bought her book out of appreciation for her work there.  Her “Six Month” book is slim, but helpful.  Finally, last weekend I took a total detour in the usual stuff that I read and I INHALED Grace Burroughs’ “What A Lady Needs For Christmas.”  Yes, this is one of those books that features a cover with a heaving bosom.  It was a fast and delightful read.

Watching: The week was busy, but I made time to watch the midseason finale of “Riverdale.”  Man … that show is just the best guilty pleasure.

Writing Life:  This week was a bit of a wash due to my travel prep / work deadlines.  I have a couple things that are percolating in the background though and am ever in the practice of just trying to write and improve.

Happy Monday, dear friends!

– Shelley


Monday Mayhem is what happens when I neglect to write a Friday Fare. Or it can be any kind of article that happens to be published on a Monday.  I hope that it provides a great start to your week!


Friday Fare: 12/7/18

Hello from snowy Minnesota!  My Friday Fare picture was taken on Sunday after my town got it’s first major snow.  Mister Owl is now currently in the garage, having been thawed and denuded of it’s snow cover.  He’ll go back out again in warmer weather.  It’s not unheard of for the upper Midwest to get snow as early as October, but if we get snow that early, it usually thaws or is washed away by fall rains.  A snowfall like the one we got this weekend is different – at that point, winter is not meddling around.  It is here in all of its cold and snowy glory.  So yeah … winter is here.

Once Upon A Crime is one of my favorite indie bookstores.  It’s a gem for a mystery aficionado and it cannot be understated what they do for mystery / thriller writers.  They’re struggling financially right now and could use an assist. 

This year marks a century since the conclusion of World War I.  My first exposure to World War I was through L.M. Montgomery and “Rilla of Ingleside,” the conclusion of her “Anne” series.  The Los Angeles Review of Books analyzed “Rilla” and other works from the time.  Reading this article makes me appreciate how progressive Montgomery’s works were.  (Incidentally, if you want to read a great WWI book, my dear friend P.S. Duffy wrote a stunner called “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land” – it is an incredible book.)

Tilda Swinton’s Christmas list.

Finally, one of the coolest things about being a writer is celebrating the news and successes of your fellow writers and friends.  I am so excited to see the cover reveal for “Murder-A-Go-Gos” a mystery anthology that’s inspired by the music of The Go-Gos.  Some of the authors included in this include my dear friend Jessica Laine, Lori Rader-Day, Bryon Quertemous, and Diane Vallere.  This anthology was organized and edited by Holly West.


Listening: I told my mentor the other day that I think this is the world’s most perfect song.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am:

Watching: I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’ve made an exception for “Riverdale” which is a take on the classic Archie Comics as told through a Twin Peaks-esque filter.  It is seriously one of my guilty pleasures.  I also have watched a couple more episodes of Netflix’s “The Crown.”  Because I love Queen Elizabeth.  Oh yes, I do:

Writing Life:  I hit my December 3rd deadline.  Now it’s time to reassess my writing goals and how I can kick some ass heading into 2019!  Woo.

That’s it for this week – I hope that this finds you well and warm!

– Shelley


What is Friday Fare? As a recap, on Fridays I post link love to the various bits of arcane shiz I discover on the Interwebs.  I liken it to a glimpse into my mind, but without the 80s song lyrics or mental cobwebs.