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Debbie Wiley | Fresh Fiction Reviewer Top Reads of 2019

December 13, 2019

Now through the end of the year, some of our reviewers will be sharing their top reads of 2019! First up, Debbie Wiley… 

2019 is winding down and it’s time to reflect back on the year’s reading. I read a wide range of genres, to include a mixture of cozy mysteries, urban fantasies, children’s books, nonfiction, historical fiction, comics/humor, and graphic novels. 2019 included releases from a lot of my favorite authors, like J.D. Robb, Nalini Singh, Jennifer Estep, Rachel Caine, Anne Bishop, Laura Griffin, Ilona Andrews, and Seanan McGuire, all of whom made my “Best of 2019” list. However, most of my favorite books fall into only a couple categories so I’ve decided to make up my own “Best Of” categories to highlight a few different reads than just my usual favorite authors.

Best Historical Fiction that also Taught Me a Piece of History I Didn’t Know: THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK by Kim Michele Richardson is hands down the winner in this category. Not only was I unfamiliar with the Blue People of Kentucky, I was also unaware of the Pack Horse Library Project. Kim Michele Richardson delves deep into both issues, as we follow Cussy “Bluet” Carter’s struggles with poverty, discrimination, and an abusive marriage. THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK takes a relatively unknown piece of history and brings it to vivid life!

Best Use of Epistolary and Multiple Narrators: BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND by Heather Gudenkauf blew me away! I’ve enjoyed other books by Heather Gudenkauf as her thrillers always take a different twist than what you’d expect and BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND is no exception. The news story (and subsequent HBO documentary) on the Slender Man-inspired BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND, but Heather Gudenkauf puts her own diabolically clever twist on the story and produces one heck of a thriller. Who is the victim and who is the guilty party when three girls tell conflicting stories? And is an urban legend the real culprit?

Best Fantasy Novel: Okay, I admit this category is fairly standard but Marshall Ryan Maresca earns special kudos for creating four very distinct series all set in the same fictional world of Maradaine. A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES features a diabolical killer called the Gearbox Killer and it’s up to Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling to outsmart him. Meanwhile glimpses of a darker conspiracy underlying everything in Maradaine are emerging as Marshall Ryan Maresca expertly weaves together four different series while still maintaining the integrity of each series.

Best Nonfiction Book of the Year (as well as Best Autobiography): Again, a fairly typical category but J. Michael Straczynski’s BECOMING SUPERMAN flies far above all over books in this category. J. Michael Straczynski’s childhood is sobering at best, horrifying at other times. The poverty, neglect, and abuse are almost beyond my comprehension despite the fact I’ve worked with this population for over 20 years. However, what sets BECOMING SUPERMAN above the rest is the inspirational and empowering message underlying each and every adversity he faces as Straczynski uses his beloved comics to help him cope. I love the tv show Babylon 5 even more so after reading BECOMING SUPERMAN!

Best Futuristic Thriller and Cautionary Tale about Technology: THE PASSENGERS by John Marrs still haunts me. Driverless cars are coming, in fact there already have been some tests done on their effectiveness. But what if someone hacked the driverless cars and then utilized the power of social media in a Survivor style showdown where each “loser” is killed? That’s exactly what John Marrs has created in THE PASSENGERS and the very concept gives me chills even now. More importantly and why it is one of my best books of the year, though, is the brilliant execution of this high adrenaline thriller.

Best Book Featuring a Therapist as the Heroine: As a social worker, I’m often horrified by how anyone in the social services/counseling is portrayed. Lindsey Harrel takes a refreshing approach in THE SECRETS OF PAPER AND INK as she features women’s therapist, Sophie Barrett, recovering from her own trauma and taking some time off to heal emotionally. Even more intriguing, the story line is centered around a bookstore. I couldn’t help but love this inspiring and beautifully written story of healing and redemption!

Book Featuring a Character I’d Like to Meet: Andy Carpenter is a lawyer and not the kind of character I’d expected to enjoy. However, DACHSHUND THROUGH THE SNOW by David Rosenfelt made me laugh out loud numerous times. I love Andy’s witty repartee as well as his awareness of his own weaknesses (ie, he needs back up muscle to deal with some of the unsavory characters he meets). I didn’t expect to enjoy DACHSHUND THROUGH THE SNOW nearly as much as I did and truly only picked it up to read as it featured a dachshund, but I have found a new favorite character in Andy Carpenter.

2019 has had many great reads for me, and I could keep going as Amanda Flower’s TOXIC TOFFEE deserves special recognition for the rabbit shenanigans and Chris Jameson’s SHARK BEACH makes me want to stay out of the Florida waters.

What are some of your favorite reads for the year?



The Book Woman Of Troublesome Creek

In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.

Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a powerful message about how the written word affects people–a story of hope and heartbreak, raw courage and strength splintered with poverty and oppression, and one woman’s chances beyond the darkly hollows. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Pack horse Librarians in literary novels — a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.

Women’s Fiction Historical | Romance Historical | Multicultural Historical [Sourcebooks Landmark, On Sale: May 7, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781492671527 / eISBN: 9781492671527]

My pick for novel of the year

Historical fiction that teaches even as it touches the reader

Historical fiction at its best.

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BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND by Heather Gudenkauf

Before She Was Found

A gripping thriller about three young girlfriends, a dark obsession and a chilling crime that shakes up a quiet Iowa town, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence.

For twelve-year-old Cora Landry and her friends Violet and Jordyn, it was supposed to be an ordinary sleepover—movies and Ouija and talking about boys. But when they decide to sneak out to go to the abandoned rail yard on the outskirts of town, little do they know that their innocent games will have dangerous consequences.

Later that night, Cora Landry is discovered on the tracks, bloody and clinging to life, her friends nowhere to be found. Soon their small rural town is thrust into a maelstrom. Who would want to hurt a young girl like Cora—and why? In an investigation that leaves no stone unturned, everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted—not even those closest to Cora.

Before She Was Found is a timely and gripping thriller about friendship and betrayal, about the power of social pressure and the price of needing to fit in. It is about the great lengths a parent will go to protect their child and keep them safe—even if that means burying the truth, no matter the cost.

Thriller Domestic | Thriller Psychological [Park Row, On Sale: April 16, 2019, Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9780778307730 / eISBN: 9781488095429]

What happened to Cora in the train yard?

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A PARLIAMENT OF BODIES by Marshall Ryan Maresca

Maradaine Constabulary #3

A Parliament of Bodies

Mixing high fantasy and mystery, the third book in the
Maradaine Constabulary series follows Inspectors Satrine
Rainey and Minox Welling as they track down a dangerous

The city of Maradaine is vexed by the Gearbox Murders: a
series of gruesome deaths orchestrated by a twisted
mechanical genius. With no motive and no pattern, Inspectors
Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling–the retired spy and
untrained mage–are at a loss to find a meaningful lead in
the case. At least, until the killer makes his most
audacious exhibit yet: over a dozen victims in a clockwork
deathtrap on the floor of the Druth Parliament.

The crime scene is a madhouse, and political forces conspire
to grind their investigation to a halt. The King’s Marshals
claim jurisdiction of the case, corruption in the
Constabulary thwarts their efforts, and a special Inquest
threatens to end Minox’s career completely. Their only ally
is Dayne Heldrin, a provisional member of the Tarian Order,
elite warriors trained in the art of protection. But Dayne’s
connection to the Gearbox Murders casts suspicion on his
motives, as he might be obsessed with a phantom figure he
believes is responsible.

While Satrine and Minox struggle to stop the Gearbox from
claiming even more victims, the grinding gears of injustice
might keep them from ever solving these murders, and
threaten to dismantle their partnership forever.

Fantasy [DAW, On Sale: March 26, 2019, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780756412661 / eISBN: 9780756412678]

Can the Gearbox Murderer be stopped?

BECOMING SUPERMAN by J. Michael Straczynski

Becoming Superman

With an introduction by Neil Gaiman!

In this dazzling memoir, the acclaimed writer behind Babylon 5Sense8, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and Marvel’s Thor reveals how the power of creativity and imagination enabled him to overcome the horrors of his youth and a dysfunctional family haunted by madness, murder and a terrible secret.

For four decades, J. Michael Straczynski has been one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, one of the few to forge multiple careers in movies, television and comics.  Yet there’s one story he’s never told before: his own.

Joe’s early life nearly defies belief. Raised by damaged adults—a con-man grandfather and a manipulative grandmother, a violent, drunken father and a mother who was repeatedly institutionalized—Joe grew up in abject poverty, living in slums and projects when not on the road, crisscrossing the country in his father’s desperate attempts to escape the consequences of his past.

To survive his abusive environment Joe found refuge in his beloved comics and his dreams, immersing himself in imaginary worlds populated by superheroes whose amazing powers allowed them to overcome any adversity. The deeper he read, the more he came to realize that he, too, had a superpower: the ability to tell stories and make everything come out the way he wanted it. But even as he found success, he could not escape a dark and shocking secret that hung over his family’s past, a violent truth that he uncovered over the course of decades involving mass murder.

Straczynski’s personal history has always been shrouded in mystery. Becoming Superman lays bare the facts of his life: a story of creation and darkness, hope and success, a larger-than-life villain and a little boy who became the hero of his own life.  It is also a compelling behind-the-scenes look at some of the most successful TV series and movies recognized around the world.

Non-Fiction Memoir [Harper Voyager, On Sale: July 23, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062857842 / eISBN: 9780062857859]

From poverty and abuse to BECOMING SUPERMAN


The Passengers

You?re riding in your self-driving car when suddenly the doors lock, the route changes and you have lost all control. Then, a mysterious voice tells you, ?You are going to die.?

Just as self-driving cars become the trusted, safer norm,
eight people find themselves in this terrifying
situation, including a faded TV star, a pregnant young
woman, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal
immigrant, a husband and wife, and a suicidal man.

From cameras hidden in their cars, their panic is
broadcast to millions of people around the world. But the
public will show their true colors when they are asked,
“Which of these people should we save?…And who should
we kill first?”

Thriller Psychological [Berkley, On Sale: August 27, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781984806970 / eISBN: 9781984806987]

It all starts with a car ride….


The Secrets of Paper and Ink

Lindsay Harrel presents a powerful story of healing,
forgiveness, and finding the courage to write your own

A year after the death of her abusive fiancé, domestic
violence counselor Sophia Barrett finds returning to work
too painful. She escapes to Cornwall, England—a place she’s
learned to love through the words of her favorite author—and
finds a place to stay with the requirement that she help out
in the bookstore underneath the room she’s renting. Given
her love of all things literary, it seems like the perfect
place to find peace.

Ginny Rose is an American living in Cornwall, sure that if
she saves the bookstore she co-owns with her husband then
she can save her marriage as well. Fighting to keep the
first place she feels like she belongs, she brainstorms with
her brother-in-law, William, and Sophia to try to keep the
charming bookstore afloat.

More than 150 years before, governess Emily Fairfax knew two
things for certain: she wanted to be a published author, and
she was in love with her childhood best friend. But he was a
wealthy heir and well out of her league. Sophia discovers
Emily’s journals, and she and William embark on a mission to
find out more about this mysterious and determined woman,
all the while getting closer to each other as they get
closer to the truth.

The lives of the three women intertwine as each learns the
power she has over the story of her life.

Inspirational Mystery | Women’s Fiction [Thomas Nelson, On Sale: February 26, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780718075729 / eISBN: 9780718075736]

Can a story from the past help two women find emotional healing?


Andy Carpenter #20

Dachshund Through the Snow

This Christmas, lawyer Andy Carpenter and his golden retriever, Tara, can’t say no to helping young Danny and his dachshund, Murphy.

Lawyer Andy Carpenter and his wife, Laurie, have started a new Christmas tradition. Their local pet store has a Christmas tree, where instead of ornaments there are wishes from those in need. One poignant wish leads Andy to a child named Danny, whose selfless plea strikes a chord. Danny asked Santa for a coat for his mother, a sweater for his dachshund, Murphy, and for the safe return of his missing father.

It turns out Danny’s father doesn’t want to be found, he’s on the run after just being arrested for a murder that took place fourteen years ago – a murder that Danny’s mother swears he didn’t commit.

With his trademark humor and larger-than-life characters – including a police officer and his K-9 partner, Simon – Rosenfelt never fails to deliver as Andy and his eccentric crew dash to reunite a family in time for Christmas.

Mystery Legal | Mystery Pet Lovers | Holiday [Minotaur Books, On Sale: October 1, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250237682 / eISBN: 9781250257383]

Perfect mystery to cuddle up with this holiday season!

TOXIC TOFFEE by Amanda Flower

Amish Candy Shop #4

Toxic Toffee

A sweet tooth for murder . . .

Bailey King’s in New York wrapping up a six-week shoot on
her first cable TV show, Bailey’s Amish Sweets, when
she gets a call from her Ohio town’s resident busybody. With
Easter around the corner, Bailey’s been recruited to create
a giant toffee bunny for the weeklong springtime festival
that will also feature live white rabbits. But back home in
Harvest, death becomes the main attraction when Stephen
Raber keels over from an apparent heart attack—with Bailey
and Raber’s pet bunny as witnesses.

Except it wasn’t Raber’s heart that suddenly gave out—a
lethal dose of lily of the valley was mixed into a tasty
piece of toffee. Who’d want to poison a jovial rabbit farmer
who reminded Bailey of an Amish Santa Claus? To solve the
murder, she and her sheriff deputy boyfriend Aiden must
uncover a twenty-year-old secret. She’ll need to pull a
rabbit out of a hat to keep a healthy distance from toxic
people, including one venomous killer . . .

Recipe Included!

Amish | Mystery Cozy [Kensington, On Sale: June 25, 2019, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781496722027 / eISBN: 9781496722058]

Who killed the rabbit farmer?

SHARK BEACH by Chris Jameson

Shark Beach

A dream getaway is about to turn into a living nightmare. . .

Rick and Corinne Scully and their kids have visited Florida’s Captiva Island many times. This year, they’ve brought along their best friends, who can’t wait to finally experience the place the Scullys call Paradise on Earth.

But this vacation is turning out to be a lot different than planned. The Scullys never expected the rowdy college spring-breakers renting the house next door, or a hurricane that would sweep through the Gulf Coast, or the century-old shipwreck that washed up on the shore. They never knew about the military research being done at a nearby marine institute—and the test subjects that escaped during the hurricane.

In the aftermath of the storm, the Scullys and their friends will try to salvage what’s left of their time at the beach. They believe it’s safe to go back in the water. . .but they’re dead wrong.

Thriller [St. Martin’s Paperbacks, On Sale: May 28, 2019, Mass Market Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250296160 / eISBN: 9781250296177]

Everyone goes in the water in Florida… but will they come out in one piece?

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