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My Favorite Books (So Far) for 2024

Cindy Burnett
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Cindy Burnett's favorite reads this year include a fiction about two brothers attempting to summit Mt. Everest, a historical fiction about the first woman in the U.S. cabinet, a murder mystery on a train, a family drama, a memoir, and a thriller about a con woman.

A number of years ago I started creating my best books of the year list from the beginning of the year forward. It is a loose list, but I find that if I work on it as the year progresses, I don’t accidentally leave off any of the books I read early in the year. I have not been as good about this year as I sometimes am, but some books definitely stand out.

2024 has been such an amazing year for books already, and there are no signs that it will be slowing down any time soon. Each quarter, one of my favorite bookstagrammers Kelly Hooker of @kellyhook.readsbooks joins me on my podcast for a discussion about our top reads for that quarter. We have not recorded our episode yet but will be doing so very soon. You can find interviews for many of these books on my website.

Here are six of my favorites for the first quarter of 2024:

Becoming Madam Secretary by Stephanie Dray (historical fiction) –  Stephanie Dray brings to life Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve as a U.S. cabinet member. Appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as Secretary of Labor, she is the mother of Social Security and helped create and launch FDR’s New Deal. Becoming Madam Secretary is an enthralling story about a woman who would not be cowed by the men around her and who paved the way for future women to serve in high-powered government positions. I loved learning so much about her and her role as Secretary of Labor, her professional relationship with FDR, and the time period following the Depression. Dray includes a Author’s Note detailing what small things changed for narrative flow purposes. I highly recommend this one.

Dixon, Descending by Karen Outen (fiction) –  Dixon Bryant was deemed the “good” brother from an early age, and his parents relied on him to be a role model for his charismatic older brother Nate. But when Nate suggests they jointly attempt to become the first Black Americans to summit Mt. Everest, Dixon cannot refuse his brother, even though their family and friends disapprove. During the climb, the weight of their decision to tackle Everest weighs Dixon down as Nate develops increasingly serious health complications. After things go horribly awry, Dixon returns home a changed man, constantly replaying his decision to climb the mountain. As he attempts to return to his job (from which he took a semester off to climb Everest), tragedy strikes, and Dixon begins to understand that to deal with the present he must confront his past. Outen’s detailed accounts of climbing Everest are so engrossing, and her depiction of grief and the many different forms it takes and the burdens it creates are compelling and insightful. This is a story I will not soon forget.

Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson (mystery/thriller) – This delightful and hilarious book stars Ernest Cunningham who breaks the fourth wall by narrating the story to the reader, constantly inserting his own thoughts and comments into the tale. Looking for material for his second book, Ernest participates as an author in the 50th Australian Mystery Writers Society festival which takes place on the Ghan, a train traveling through the Australian desert. Soon after the trip begins, one of the six authors at the conference is murdered, and the other five begin trying to solve the crime while Ernest sees the perfect opportunity for some inspiration for his novel. One of the best parts of the book is the way Ernest engages the reader, offering up “clues” to help solve the murder such as revealing how many times the murderer’s name will be mentioned and periodically stopping to provide a tally for each character as the story progresses. Stevenson incorporates some phenomenal twists and turns as well as so much humor into the story while also bringing the reader along on the journey of trying to put all the clues together along with Ernest. The mystery itself is outstanding, and I highly recommend this one. While this is technically the second in a series, it reads as a standalone, and there is more than enough detail to get readers caught up with the previous story.

Family Family by Laurie Frankel (fiction) – Laurie Frankel’s latest family drama, Family Family, centers around adoption in its many forms. India Allwood is a larger-than-life TV star seeking to transition to movies, but finds herself embroiled in all sorts of drama when she speaks out against her latest project. The movie is based on the standard adoption stereotypes, and India knows from her own experiences that adoption is not one size fits all – people choose to give up children for adoption and people choose to adopt for many reasons. As an adoptive mom, India wants everyone to understand that family doesn’t have to mean that you are blood related and that no matter what… family is complicated. After speaking out, India finds herself in the middle of a massive crisis, fielding criticism from all sides and fighting those calling for her to be “canceled.” When her twin ten-year-olds decide to call in reinforcements, India’s past decisions come to light adding fuel to the already blazing fire. Frankel’s short chapters and hilarious dialogue create such a propulsive and engaging tale, and her message that family takes many forms is an important and timely one.

First Lie Wins by Ashley Elsten (thriller) – This addictive, unique, and twisty thriller is a standout in the genre. Evie Porter is a con woman (and Evie is an alias) who works for Mr. Smith, her mysterious boss who communicates with her via postal boxes. He sends her the latest target with little initial knowledge about the ultimate goal, and she insinuates herself into the target’s life and then waits for her next instructions. The story is flawlessly plotted, and the twists and turns come at just the right points in the story. Every time I thought I had it figured out, the plot went in a different direction. I recommend going in blind to not have anything spoiled. First Lie Wins will be a huge hit for those who enjoy well-executed thrillers that keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Whiskey Tender by Deborah Jackson Taffa (memoir) –  This starkly honest and poignant memoir chronicles Taffa’s experiences growing up in the 1970s and 1980s while navigating the sharp disconnect between mainstream culture and her own native identity as a mixed tribe native girl—born on the California Yuma reservation and reared in Navajo territory in New Mexico. With grandparents who as citizens of the Quechan Nation and Laguna Pueblo tribe were sent to Indian boarding schools run by white missionaries and parents who participated in governmental job training off the reservation, she grew up with the message that assimilation was the path to pursue. But when she reached adulthood, she began to question whether assimilating really accomplished the goals her family thought it did. The strength of the book is how Taffa blends her own personal narrative and family history with general Native American history and Native American history pertaining to the American southwest as well as Native movements in the U.S. to reclaim Native lands, culture and history. I read this book in less than a day and learned so much; her story is one I will not soon forget.

I would love to hear your favorites so far of 2024. Feel free to drop them in the comments below.

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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