BEST BOOKS OF 2007
from Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
This year I put my selections in preferential order. It forced me to evaluate and re-evaluate each title, although the longer I look at this list, the more tempted I am to start rearranging again. At any rate, it helped me winnow it down to a reasonable number. The problem with being as passionate as I am about books is that I tend to fall in love a lot…and I need to learn to be more discerning. Choosing this list helped me do just that.
BEST FICTION OF 2007
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS by Khaled Hosseini: I loved The Kite Runner so much that while I wanted more from this author, I also had some serious trepidation. Would I like anything else? Could he deliver another story as powerful? The short answer is yes. In fact, this new book may even be better than The Kite Runner, and I never thought that was even an option.
The story is once again set in Afghanistan, but this time it stays there. The main characters are two women, and it spans thirty years of their lives against the backdrop of all the political upheaval and war that Afghanistan experienced since the 1970’s. Mariam is the bastard child of a wealthy businessman and a very bitter mother. When she turns fifteen, circumstances change and Mariam is forced to marry forty-year-old Rasheed, a struggling businessman in another city. He is very old fashioned and forces Mariam to wear the burqua. All he wants is a son, and when Mariam fails to produce, he becomes quite brutal with her. Many years later, he takes another child bride, Laila, when her parents are killed in a bombing. The fourteen-year-old really has no options in that world – starvation, prostitution, or marriage, and Rasheed capitalizes on that. These two women live lives in constant peril, both from the world around them, and from the man they married.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is a brutal story that is beautifully told, and is simply captivating reading. This is my pick for Book of the Year. Don’t miss it. 05/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
ON CHESIL BEACH by Ian McEwan: This novella centers around the wedding night of a young couple in the early 1960’s. Unlike their freewheeling, sexually permissive counterparts that were the hallmark of that decade, these two are both shy and sexually inexperienced. However, this is not a book about sex, but rather how one incident, one night, can cataclysmically change lives. McEwan gives us just enough background on each of them to see how and why they reach this point, but nonetheless it is still a heartbreaker. Beautifully written, this compelling yet simple story has the hallmark of a classic. 06/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THOSE WHO SAVE US by Jenna Blum: This is a first novel that came out in 2004 and is growing legs – word of mouth is putting this at the forefront for reading groups. Trudy is a German history professor in Minnesota who has a fascinating family history herself – only she doesn’t know it. Her mother, Anna, was from a small town in Germany and emigrated to the US after WWII when she married an American soldier who was willing to take on a beautiful German wife and her small daughter. Trudy grows up on a farm and ends up teaching a course about women’s roles during the Holocaust, but she doesn’t know about her own mother’s role. The book unfolds in alternating sections so the reader learns Anna’s history while watching Trudy’s frustration with her uncommunicative mother. The author worked for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, and survivor interviews play a strong part in this story as well. It’s a very thought provoking, heartbreaking story that easily lends itself to discussion; in fact, it begs for it so read it, then give it to a friend to read. 08/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
PLAY DEAD by David Rosenfelt: This is the latest in one of my favorite series, and it’s fabulous. All you need to know of the plot is that our hero, Andy Carpenter, millionaire lawyer who picks and chooses his cases based solely on whether or not he cares enough to do the work, takes on a new client who faces execution. This death row inmate, however, is a golden retriever accused of biting, and the law says biters get put down. The last minute stay of execution opens another can of worms, as Andy realizes that this golden is also the only witness to a five year old murder. As implausible a plot as this may sound, due to Rosenfelt’s writing skill it works on every level. You don’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy this romp, but I bet you will be one by the time you’re done. Don’t miss this laugh out loud funny, twisty mystery. 06/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BABY CRIMES by Randall Hicks: It’s been much too long since The Baby Game debut; I hope the wait isn’t as long for the next book in this wonderful series. Toby is back, teaching tennis and lawyering on the side. He’s seeing his childhood sweetheart, Rita, and life is good – until he’s hired to unravel a 16 year old adoption mess. But there’s more to the mess than just a legal imbroglio; blackmail, organized crime and murder take this to a darker place. Fully realized characters, intricate plotting, a bit of romance and good writing combine to make this a wondrous book; fun and compelling, yet comforting. Hicks has a unique voice – don’t miss it. 09/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
SATURDAY WIFE by Naomi Ragen: If you can imagine Emma Bovary as a contemporary, Orthodox Jew, you have the gist of this latest Jewish family saga from Ragen. Delilah Goldgrab, whose name is completely symbolic of her personality: Delilah is a “bad girl,” an Orthodox Yeshiva student who falls for & has sex with the son of a famous rabbi, who promptly dumps her. Goldgrab is interested in only one thing: grabbing the gold, as in making a successful marriage to a man who can keep her in the style to which she would like to become accustomed. Delilah is a beauty, which definitely helps ensnare rabbinical student Chaim Levi. But no matter what he does for her, no matter what she has, it’s never enough and never what she feels she deserves. It’s a fascinating story and a mesmerizing one, rather like watching a train wreck; you know it can’t possibly end well, but you can’t stop reading. 08/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
HEARTSICK by Chelsea Cain: Set in damp Portland, Oregon, this thriller rises above the pack and draws comparisons to Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs. Cain has penned a fascinating and macabre study of the relationship between a serial killer and the cop that chased her – yes, her – for ten years. Detective Archie Sheridan headed the task force until Dr. Gretchen Lowell offered to help. Turns out her idea of help was to kidnap and torture Archie for ten long days. But instead of making him her 200th victim, she turns herself in. Archie is put on medical leave and develops a serious pain killer addiction, but two years later is asked back to work when a few teenage girls are murdered and the task force is resurrected. Hoping to spin news coverage their way, a newcomer is added to the task force; Susan Ward, a crime reporter with pink hair that hides a very sharp mind. The story swings back and forth between those ten days of torture and the current case, creating a very interesting juxtaposition and a book that is impossible to put down. First in a series. 09/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
SLIP AND FALL by Nick Santora: Robert Principe is the first lawyer in his working class Italian family. He is an idealist, a man of ethics and principles, and is slowly starving to death. He’s three months behind on his mortgage, pays his secretary sporadically, and his wife is pregnant. Desperate, he turns to his cousin Jackie, a Brooklyn mobster. Robert proposes an insurance scam, and Jackie is in – and so’s his boss; there’s nothing the mob likes more than easy money. Robert gets in way over his head and the pages fly by as the Robert’s life starts spinning out of control. But who better to write a terrific Mafia tale than Santora; this former lawyer got his writing chops writing for Prison Break, Law & Order, & The Sopranos. 08/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE STREET OF A THOUSAND BLOSSOMS by Gail Tsukiyama: This is a warm family saga interwoven with twenty years of Japanese history, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Two little boys are orphaned and go to live with their grandparents. Hiroshi dreams of becoming a sumo wrestler, and Kenji dreams of creating the masks worn in the theater. But both their dreams are put on hold when the bombs of WWII start falling on their lives. The boys grow up with the horror and famine of war, and but then their lives begin again as a new Japan literally emerges from the ashes. Tsukiyama has penned another poignant story that is never cloy, is always interesting, and should be read. 09/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BEST NONFICTION OF 2007
EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger: People like to ask me about books – I’ve been asked to name my favorite books, the books I would take to a desert island, and the books that have changed my life. My favorites change from year to year, I would need an entire cruise ship to fill with enough books to sustain me on a desert island, and while books in general have changed my life, I’ve never had any sort of epiphany while reading, at least not that I can recall. Until now. Reading Everything is Miscellaneous gave me my moment. It was a “EUREKA” moment, rather like that lovely story about Archimedes in the bathtub. Lest you think I’ve completely taken leave of my senses, let me get down to it.
This is a book about many things, but what I am focusing on here is organization. Specifically, the organization of books, in a library. 95% of all public libraries use the Dewey Decimal System, which has worked reasonably well for quite a long while. Other libraries use a different classification system culled from the Library of Congress, while bookstores tend to use something called BISAC, the Book Industry Standards and Communications. But what Mr. Weinberger wonders is this: if we have computers and are using them, why are we limiting ourselves to such specifics? And it made me wonder too. Yes, books need a specific place on the shelf, but we can look for books, search for books, in other ways that have nothing to do with the physical location of the book, but rather with the need of the reader.
But that’s only a small part of this fascinating book. Weinberger examines how Google has changed our lives, the wonder of Wikipedia, looks at the business model of the digital music industry and what it portends for the future of all businesses, and even why Staples is so successful. I read this book several months ago, and have just reread it, and I may have to read it yet again. 12/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, and Steven L. Hopp: Kingsolver has been an advocate of eating locally grown food for some time, and was able to put her beliefs into practice when she moved to a farm in Virginia. She spent a year eating only the foods they grew on her farm or that were grown in a hundred mile radius as much as possible, and wrote this fascinating book about that experience. Her husband, Steven Hopp, and daughter Camille also contributed. When people ask if she didn’t get tired of eating the same things all the time, Kingsolver gently points out that every month grows a new menu. They weren’t sure if their pantry would get them through the winter, but it did, although March was a tough month. My favorite part of the book was about the turkeys they raised. Apparently turkeys have been artificially inseminated for decades, but these turkeys were being raised by hand and Kingsolver wanted them to reproduce the old fashioned way. She finally found some information on turkey breeding au natural in an antique farming book, and her female turkeys soon gave up coming on to Steven and instead set their sights on the Tom turkey. What I liked about this book was Kingsolver’s tone; on rare occasion almost preachy, but for the most part just passionate, informative and often funny. Anyone with an interest in how and why we eat what we do should take a look at this book, which was most reminiscent of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. There’s also a website with lots of pictures and recipes: http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/ 06/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
TOO SOON TO SAY GOODBYE by Art Buchwald: Art Buchwald’s kidneys were failing. He needed dialysis to get his leg amputated, but then decided no more dialysis. He was in complete renal failure, checked himself into hospice and began the process of spending his last few weeks dying. Except he didn’t. At least not for several months. He became the “Man Who Would Not Die” and got to say goodbye to everybody who meant anything to him – some of them more than once. He plans his funeral, his eulogy, the food being served; discusses heaven, living wills, and all the other things no one discusses about death. This is pure Buchwald, dying on his own terms and determined to make us laugh as he does it – a truly fitting goodbye from an American icon. 02/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
OUR DUMB WORLD: Atlas of the Planet Earth, 73rd Edition by the Onion: If you are not familiar with the Onion, “America’s Finest News Source” and the originator (I think) of pseudo news, get thee over there immediately. Today’s headlines, as I write this: “Mel Brooks Starts Nonprofit Foundation To Save Word ‘Schmuck'”, “Christian Charity Raising Money To Feed Non-Gay Famine Victims” and most appropriately for this site, “Third-Person Limited Omniscient Narrator Blown Away By Surprise Ending.” But Our Dumb World isn’t about news, per se, it’s an atlas, and if you weren’t sure about this, the cover helpfully steers you towards the Onion’s skew by proclaiming “Now With 30% More Asia” and such highlights as “Fewer Clouds on Maps” and “Long-Standing Border Disputes Resolved.” A sampling from the page on the South, “Where the Mistakes of the Past Come Alive” include this gem on my home, Florida: “The Silent Holocaust: Though on the surface Florida appears to be a tropical paradise, inside this state lurks a dark, gruesome secret: Each year, thousands of Jews are sent here to die.” The Onion doesn’t leave a stereotype unturned, from Malaysia, “An Allah-Inclusive Terrorist Resort” to India, “Please Hold While We Die of Malaria” to French Guiana, “The Colony That France Totally Forgot It Still Had” to Germany, “Genocide-Free Since April 11, 1946.” All the map lovers in your life, and even those who can’t fold a map, will find something to laugh at here. 11/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BEST THRILLERS OF 2007
WRITTEN BY MEMBERS OF THE
INTERNATIONAL THRILLER WRITERS ORGANIZATION
In order of preference, although it was quite a struggle and there were several ties …
THE ABDUCTION by Mark Gimenez: Caution: don’t start this book unless you have time to finish it – I could not put it down. After his excellent debut, The Color of Law, Gimenez just knocks it out of the park with his sophomore effort. The Brice family are a little more well-to-do than most; Elizabeth is a successful Dallas attorney, and her husband John is a computer nerd with a company that is about to go public and make him a billionaire. Their ten-year-old daughter Gracie is a budding soccer star and it is at her game that things go awry – Gracie is kidnapped while Dad is on the phone about his IPO and Mom is late coming from court. People may fear for their lives, but they really fear for their children’s lives, and these characters are so well drawn that it becomes incredibly easy to suspend your disbelief and get completely caught up in the story. I loved the tough-as-a-tiger mom, and the special bond between Gracie and her retired Green Beret grandfather was especially touching, all of which helped ratchet up the suspense even more. The Abduction is one of the best thrillers of the year. 09/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DOWN RIVER by John Hart: Hart’s sophomore effort surpasses his debut, the multi-award nominated King of Lies. A small North Carolina town is torn apart when a power company wants to buy up all the farmland on the river; some cling to their bucolic way of life, while others only see dollar signs. Adam Chase’s family has owned the largest parcel in the area for centuries, and his father has no desire to sell. But tempers are flaring and soon a young woman is severely beaten, a body is found on the Chase farm, and Adam is the chief suspect. Newly arrived after five years away, Adam is the town pariah. His stepmother accused him of murdering a family friend, and while the court acquitted him, his family and friends did not. But time has softened some of them it seems, while others have just been storing up their anger and are ready to unleash it. Down River is reminiscent of Raymond Chandler, hard boiled and rich with evocative metaphors. Complex relationships blur the lines between friend and foe, heightening the suspense in this intricate, haunting story of a family in crisis, and the writing is simply superb. 10/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch Copyright © 2006 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.
BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS by Giles Blunt: Detective John Cardinal (Blackfly Season) is back, and this time it’s personal. His wife, Catherine, who has been hospitalized on and off for depression for years, has seemingly leapt off of a roof to her death. She left a note and the coroner and police department rule it a suicide, and her psychiatrist, Dr. Frederick Bell, concurs. Cardinal starts having some doubts when disturbing notes arrive at his home, but he quickly realizes that he is the only one with doubts. Fellow police officer Lise Delorme feels bad for her friend, but she is tied up trying to track down a local pedophile who has plastered pictures of a young girl all over the Internet. More suicides among Dr. Bell’s patients in this small Ontario town further convince Cardinal that something is amiss, and contrary to departmental policy, he continues to investigate on his own while assisting Delorme with her investigation. Ostensibly a police procedural, this beautifully written and unusual story is really more of a suspenseful, psychological study into evil. 02/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch Copyright © 2007 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.
THE BLADE ITSELF by Marcus Sakey: Danny and Evan grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a working class neighborhood. They became partners in crime, stealing cars and doing small time burglaries, until Evan escalated the stakes with a pawn shop robbery gone bad. Danny managed to get away but Evan does hard time; while Evan’s in prison, Danny’s been scared straight. He’s a project manager for a small construction company, has a nice apartment and a great girlfriend – as long as he stays straight. So when Evan gets paroled seven years later and wants to renew their partnership, Danny isn’t interested. But Evan feels like Danny owes him, and prison certainly hasn’t softened him any. In fact, it’s turned him into Danny’s worst nightmare. The tension escalates as Evan starts putting the screws to Danny, and somehow Sakey keeps ratcheting it on up until the last page. This is an old story, but it is told so well that it feels new. This debut has garnered starred reviews and raves galore, drawing comparisons to Dennis Lehane’s masterpiece, Mystic River, as well as the writing styles of George Pelecanos and Joseph Finder, leaving me wondering: how can any book live up to all that hype? Read it and find out – because it did. 01/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
ANATOMY OF FEAR: A Novel of Visual Suspense by Jonathan Santlofer: This has to be one of the most exciting new books to come out in a long time. Santlofer brings considerable skills to his latest endeavor, as both an emerging talent over the past few years as a thriller writer, as well as a life long career as a significant artist, with work represented in various museums. Graphic novels have gained significant popularity in the past few years, along with a healthy new respect – these are not your childhood comic books anymore. Now that respect for the illustration is transcending into other genres.
In his latest novel, Santlofer combines his story with his art in the character of Nate Rodriguez, a police sketch artist of some renown. But this is no graphic novel; it is a thriller that happens to have an occasional illustration born out of Nate’s work that tends to help the reader visualize the story as well as propel the story forward.
Nate is an interesting character; half Puerto Rican and half Jewish, and he uses both his heritages to his advantage. A serial killer is on the loose in New York City, leaving drawings of each murder victim at the scene of the crime. NYPD Homicide Detective Terri Russo thinks highly of Nate’s skills, and convinces her bosses to let him help out with the case.
Meanwhile, Nate’s abuela, his Puerto Rican grandmother who dabbles in Santeria, is having vivid dreams that are somehow tied to the murders. Between his grandmother’s visions and his own visions, and the clues the police are able to obtain, Nate’s drawings are honing in on the murderer. This is a page turner of the finest kind, and the illustrations just ratchet the tension up a notch. I loved this book and ripped through it in one night, sadly turning the last page – I didn’t want it to end, and I hope we will see more of this character. 04/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
COVER-UP by Michele Martinez: Melanie Vargas, federal prosecutor in NYC, returns in this latest thriller from the oh-so-talented Martinez. While dining out with her boyfriend, hunky FBI agent Dan O’Reilly, she is dragged along to the scene of a murder when he is paged to respond. Vargas had been laying low, taking low profile cases in order to recover from some rough cases and spend more time with her daughter. But being that she is in the right place at the right time – the murder scene of a celebrity, tabloid TV reporter Suzanne Shephard, Vargas realizes that this is an assignment she can’t walk away from. Shephard had plenty of enemies, and law enforcement has their work cut out for them to try and find the murderer. Terrific pacing in this legal thriller along with some hot romance makes this another fast, fun read from this author, who has turned into one of my favorites. 04/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE by Lee Child: Jack Reacher is back, and this time it’s personal – and really, really good. If you are new to the series, this book will work because each book works quite well on its own, and if you’ve read them all, you will love this book because you finally get some of Reacher’s back story. Reacher hooks up with some of the select military group that’s been hinted at in previous novels. This time we get the real deal, meet all the characters and really learn what makes Jack tick. A mysterious deposit into his bank account tips him off that something’s up and Reacher is off to California, where he hooks up with some of his former military team and finds out at least one of their members has been tortured and killed. There’s lots of catching up to do, but more importantly, a murder needs to be solved, and avenged. Park your disbelief by the door and enjoy – the action is non-stop, the body count high, and the pages just fly. Child really has mastered the art of the series; every book betters the one that preceded it, and considering he started with a home run, that really says a lot. 05/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
THE CONCRETE MAZE by Steven Torres: This is dark, terrific story about a Puerto Rican family in crisis in New York City. Often called the “concrete jungle,” the maze is more than just the concrete streets of NY, but rather the circuitous route that needs to be followed when a 13 year old girl goes missing. Her father and cousin drop everything and will do anything to find her and get her back unharmed, while the police aren’t too concerned about another teenage runaway. Their search takes them into the world of runaways, drug addicts, sexual slavery, dirty cops and murder, making this a riveting ride through a complex, haunting tale. 08/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
POWER PLAY by Joseph Finder: Finder, the CEO of the corporate thriller and the winner of the Best Thriller Novel from the International Thriller Writers for Killer Instinct, pens another winner in this tale that takes us out of the workplace and on to a corporate retreat for the top management of an airplane manufacturing company. One of the head honchos has a conflict, so he sends his assistant, Jake Landry, in his place. The retreat is at a very swanky lodge in British Columbia, but while the food and wine may be amazing, there are no televisions, computers, or even cell phone towers. They are virtually in an electronics-free zone, ready to go hunting or fishing and whatever other bonding exercises the new president of the company comes up with – except she’s a woman, and these men aren’t too sure they like her, or respect her. On the other hand, she smells a rat or two among her top staff, and is planning on using the weekend to ferret out the traitors. But all those plans are laid to rest when some men come in and take everyone hostage. They appear to be local mountain men, but Landry is suspicious because they seem to know quite a bit about these executives and the company they work for. The tension is almost unbearable as the hostage takers make their demands known and show no qualms about killing people to get what they want. Don’t plan on putting this one down until you turn the last page. 08/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
DEAD CONNECTION by Alafair Burke: Burke takes a break from her terrific Samantha Kincaid legal thriller series (Judgment Calls; Missing Justice; Close Case) with this novel of Internet dating, murder and high tech mayhem. Young New York City police detective Ellie Hatcher is temporarily re-assigned from the robbery division to maverick homicide detective Flann McIlroy. McIlroy is trying to tie together the murder of two young single women and wants some input from someone who can relate. An email is found on the body of the second victim and traced to an online dating service called FirstDate.com. After determining both women were members, the online dating service is approached about the men who had contacted the victims, but FirstDate is not too forthcoming – and anonymous men make difficult suspects. Hatcher and McIlroy dig deeper but more bodies start piling up, forcing the detectives to chase all over – including New Iberia, Louisiana, in a lovely homage to the author’s father, James Lee Burke. This stunning thriller ends with a tantalizing glimpse into what is sure to be a highly anticipated sequel. 07/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch Copyright © 2007 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.
THIRD DEGREE by Greg Iles: Transpiring over the course of a day, Iles has written a disturbing thriller about a family in crisis. Laurel Shields is living the American dream; her husband Warren is a doctor, they have a beautiful home and two healthy children. Yet that isn’t enough, and Laurel finds herself falling in love with David, the father of one of her autistic students. Duplicitous as she is beautiful, Laurel juggles her affair for about a year before David ends it just weeks before Laurel discovers she’s pregnant. Meanwhile Warren’s partner at work is defrauding Medicare to make extra money, and soon Warren’s Boy Scout code of ethics crumbles and he wants in. As things start unraveling at work, an anonymous email leads Warren to find a letter from Laurel’s lover, and everything just flips into surreal as he takes his wife and children hostage, demanding to know who her paramour is. Despite the soap opera-ish sounding plot, Iles manages to create a page turner out of the angst; relentless and impossible to put down. 11/07 Stacy Alesi, AKA The BookBitch
TOP TEN from Jack Quick
BABY CRIMES by Randall Hicks: Arrange an adoption. That’s what Toby Dillon, Esquire does – when he is not serving as Assistant Tennis Pro at Coral Canyon. The prospective parents are County Supervisor Nevin Handley and his wife; the child is healthy and apparently adoptable. The only hitch? Lynn, the sixteen-year-old tennis prodigy, has been living as the daughter of the Handley’s since birth. It seems that they “adopted” her without benefit of the law sixteen years ago, and now are being threatened with blackmail, they think by Lynn’s birth mother. Just the kind of mess Toby is best suited to stumble through and, hopefully, come out the other end relatively unscathed. The follow-on to 2005’s The Baby Game is just as good. Don’t wait for the library. Go order a copy today. The new kissing scene with Rita is worth the price of admission alone. Think of the rest of the book as a bonus.
BABY SHARK’S BEAUMONT BLUES by Robert Fate: A tough talking private investigator who shoots a mean game of pool as an income supplement. No big deal, except she is the 5’ 7”, 130 pound Baby Shark. Kristin Van Dijk and partner Otis Millett are on the trail of a missing Texas oil heiress and have to contend with Beaumont gangsters, Dallas cops, and the overwhelming scent of Evening in Paris. This is definitely a Friday night book, because no matter how fast you read you are going to be up late, late, late, and suffer from an adrenalin deficit the next day. Baby Shark just keeps getting better. I’ve lost count of the number of guys she has put down and even though she has been shot, stabbed, and slugged, no one has gotten the best of her yet. Hey Robert, where and when for Baby Shark Number Three?
BANGKOK LAWS by Jim Hansen: Thirty four year old Bryson Coventry, head of Denver’s homicide unit and serial womanizer, has survived four previous outings but this one may be his undoing, as he becomes involved in the collateral damage of a global killer. Newly licensed attorney Paige Alexander is employed on her very first case. It involves a deadly high-stakes international conspiracy that first manifested itself in Bangkok and will end who knows where. The connection between Alexander and Coventry is San Francisco private investigator Ja’Von Deveraux who combines a lifeguard’s body with movie star features. Deveraux has survived a terrible experience and is now looking for revenge. She enlists Alexander to help her and then Coventry. Not for the weak hearted but full of action and coffee drinking, crime solving Coventry and his cast of cohorts continue to evolve with each outing. Rough as the Rockies, but also refreshing. Can’t wait for the next in the series.
BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD by Sean Chercover: Real-life Chicago PI Chercover, in his hard-boiled debut, writes Chicago like Ed Dee writes New York and Loren D. Estleman writes Detroit – gritty, dirty, scary, bold, and beloved by its citizens. Ray Dudgeon is a former Chicago reporter who has turned private detective. Bob Loniski is just trying to lock up some locations for movie making when he gets entangled in a ”Rent What You Don’t Own” scam. As a potential witness at the trial of the scammer, his life is threatened so he hires Dudgeon to look after him. Suddenly Dudgeon finds himself in the middle of an organized crime war complete with crooked politicians and assorted violence. Dudgeon turns out to be a classic private eye of the old school who can take a licking and keep on ticking – and quit is a word he never heard. Hopefully the first of many adventures for a guy that even has a nurse for a dame – and he needs one.
BLOODTHIRSTY by Marshall Karp: If you haven’t read THE RABBIT FACTORY by Marshall Karp, its time to grab it. In THE RABBIT FACTORY two LAPD cops, Mike Lomax and his partner Terry Biggs, are investigating the murder of Rambunctious Rabbit, or at least the pedophile employee who wears the bunny suit at the Sherman Oaks, CA “Familyland,” a Disneyland clone. In BLOODTHIRSTY, due out in May, the dynamic duo have been approached about making a movie about the Familyland case. Before they can even decide which current Hollywood hunks will play the daring pair, their would be producer, Barry Gerber, one of the most hated men in Hollywood, is a no-show for a red carpet event. The next morning he turns up dead, killed in such a bizarre way that neither Detectives Mike Lomax nor Terry Biggs nor anyone in Forensics has ever seen anything like it before. Two days later, the prime suspect – another despised show-business bad boy – is found murdered in the same sadistic manner. The list of suspects then becomes as long as the credits in a summer blockbuster. Sure its serious, I mean, as disliked as these folks are, Lomax and Biggs will never get their movie made until the killing is stopped. As their boss advises, “If you don’t solve this thing fast, I’m the guy who is gonna rip you a new asshole. You wouldn’t want that to happen would you, Biggs” “No, sir,” Terry said, “The last thing this department needs is another asshole.” Terry to Lomax, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, blah, blah, blah.” “I believe that’s for postal workers,” Lomax replies. “Post office, police department.” Terry said. “What’s the difference” We’re all just guys in uniforms toting guns.” You gotta love ‘em.
CUT TO THE BONE by Shane Gericke: Prepare for an adrenalin deficit after reading this one. After all, when you find out at the end of the first chapter that the execution by electric chair you’ve just read about from the POV of the condemned is really only a practice for the real thing, then you know its tighten up the seat belts time. Naperville Illinois, detective commander Martin Benedetti and detective Emily Thompson have brought down a serial killer, Corey Trent, who is scheduled to die in the electric chair. No clemency is expected from Governor Wayne Covington whose younger brother was killed along with others back in the 1960’s. Benedetti and Thompson are now investigating a Napierville homicide and find at least nine others with the same modus operandi. Also the victims were the grandchildren of Naperville residents. As the killer makes his way back to Naperville and the scheduled execution, Martin and Emily are racing the clock to prevent other murders and to determine whether, in fact justice is to be done. A combination police procedural and thriller, CUT TO THE BONE will leave you exhausted, but satisfied. Give me a week of rest and I’ll be ready for another one, Mr. Gericke.
DEADMAN’S SWITCH by Barbara Seranella: Charlotte Lyon, victim of obsessive compulsive disorder, has turned her illness into a career, as a crisis management specialist. No matter how bad the situation, Charlotte can think up even more dire scenarios. This case involves a train wreck, a Hollywood star who is fatally injured, possible sabotage, and even a new love interest for the widowed Lyon. Throw in Charlotte’s dysfunctional mother and voluntarily absent sister, and you have quite a cast. Unfortunately it ends all far too quickly. From The Big Chill Richard is having a late-night snack while talking to Sam and Nick “There’s some asshole at work you have to kowtow to, and you find yourself doing things you thought you’d never do. But you try and minimize that stuff; be the best person you can be. But you set your priorities. And that’s the way life is. I wonder if your friend Alex knew that. One thing’s for sure, he couldn’t live with it. I know I shouldn’t talk; you guys knew him. But the thing is… no one ever said it would be fun. At least… no one ever said it to me.” Barbara, no one ever said it would be fun, and no one ever said it would be fair, but you were a winner and went out at the top. God Bless. She saved her best for last.
ON EDGE by Barbara Fister: Konstantin Slovo is a vacationing Chicago cop who gets caught up in the events of the coastal town of Brimsport,. Maine. Initially rousted as a potential suspect in a recent child abduction, Slovo is freed when the local police chief discovers he is a cop. Slove ends up staying in town and makes friends with the chief’s daughter Ruth, who along with Slovo’s Doctor Chakravarty, fill him in on the town’s history of child molestation and abuse. Not the most pleasant subject matter, but well written and while you probably won’t want to invite Slovo to your next dinner party, he is the one you want on your side when things get tough. Well done and recommended.
THE RABBIT FACTORY by Marshall Karp: In National Lampoon’s Vacation, the Griswolds drove across the country to visit Wally World. Had they read this book, they would have stayed home. Two LAPD cops, Mike Lomax and his partner Terry Biggs, are investigating the murder of Rambunctious Rabbit, or at least the pedophile employee who wears the bunny suit at the Sherman Oaks, CA “Familyland,” a Disneyland clone, conceived of by the late Dean Lamaar, who, like Disney, started out as an animator. The theme park has recently been sold to a Japanese conglomerate that is interested in opening a Las Vegas theme park. Another murder takes place, and another, and it quickly becomes obvious that someone has it in for Lamaar’s enterprises. Mike and Terry are under tremendous pressure from Ike Rose, CEO of Lamaar, to keep the whole mess under wraps, and an equal amount of pressure from their Chief to “get it solved.” They work smart and long and hard to uncover a conspiracy, finding a big surprise at the end of the search. Don’t be put off by the heft of this book. Although it’s 632 pages, it reads “fast”.
THE TINROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke: The two seminal events of the new Millennium for those of us in the United States are 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Lawrence Block, S. J. Rozan, and others have written very poignantly about 9/11. Now James Lee Burke weighs in on the impact of Katrina on his beloved south Louisiana and New Orleans in the 16th Dave Robicheaux novel. It starts with Detective Robicheaux’s department investigating the shooting of two looters in a wealthy neighborhood. The house they had ransacked is the home of New Orleans’s most powerful mobster. Now he must locate the surviving looter before others do. As the story unfolds, we see both sides of the people affected by this national disaster as well as the good and the bad that resulted. Thank goodness there is a basis for optimism from all this, as the experience is a draining one.
TEN FAVORITES FOR 2007 from Geoffrey R. Hamlin
1. FLIGHT by Sherman Alexie. A vivid and touching story of teenage angst in a Native American runaway. As always, Alexie is both poignant and instructive.
2. FALLING MAN by Don DeLilo. The 9/11 book. It not only describes the incident exactly as I have heard it from a survivor who ran across the Brooklyn Bridge, but also examines in thoughtful fashion how far apart people are in our society and how necessary it is that we communicate our feelings to others. A profound lesson in the human condition.
3. THE TIN ROOF BLOWDOWN by James Lee Burke. It is my belief that if Mr. Burke had been around at the time the Bible was drafted, he would have been chosen to write the Book of Revelation. Katrina was apocalyptic for those it touched and Burke’s descriptions seemed more real to me than the footage that I remember on the nightly news.
4. TREE OF SMOKE and JESUS’ SON by Denis Johnson. Because I had some trouble locating Tree of Smoke, I read Johnson’s older book, Jesus’ Son first. The detachment experienced by the addicts, alcoholics and users in Jesus’ Son is accurate and haunting. That same detachment didn’t work as effectively in the context of the Viet Nam war in Tree of Smoke. War is a total experience requiring total involvement. Nonetheless, it is a fine book and I recommend it.
5. BANGKOK HAUNTS by John Burdett. Mr. Burdett is a unique asset to the field of crime fiction. He describes a far away place so effectively that we taste it and smell it. And he explains the perspective of both Buddhists and the Thai people so well that we feel one with them as well. Although some may shy away from the intermingling of unusual sexual activities with the story, they contribute more to the sense of the exotic in Mr. Burdett’s hands than they do the erotic.
6. WHAT IS THE WHAT by Dave Eggers. The story of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. There is nothing fair in a world where boys must bury other boys. The fact that that place is far away is no excuse.
7. THE SHOTGUN RULE by Charlie Huston. Teenage violence is a topic not often-enough explored. You can commit terror and be terrorized when you are still riding a bicycle.
8. WASH THIS BLOOD CLEAN FROM MY HAND by Fred Vargas. What a delight! Mr. Vargas’ tale of Commissaire Adamsberg struggling against his archrival in France and Canada is extremely well plotted and kept my interest from start to finish. Even better than Simenon and that is really saying something.
9. CRIPPLE CREEK by James Sallis. This follow up novel to Cypress Grove is every bit as good and only confirmed my position on Mr. Sallis’ abilities. He is the real thing and his work will survive.
10. TIPPERARY by Frank Delany. I had to get one Irish book in my list. As in his earlier book Ireland, a story is used as a device to review the history and geography of Ireland. In this case, however, the span of history examined is much shorter, consisting only of about 100 years. But what a hundred years they were. We meet Charles Stewart Parnell, James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde. My favorite poet, William Butler Yeats, plays a special role in the main character’s life. Unfortunately, Tipperary is at bottom just a drawn out and mostly sad romance – think Love in the Time of the Potato Famine. However, I can forgive the narrowness and sorrow of the story because of sentences like these- “At my conception some wonderful spiritual exchange must have happened between my father and my mother, because my chief asset is, I believe, a notable zest, an exuberant, rich energy for all the excellent things that life can bring. I love wines, I play a smooth hand at cards, and such horses as I have wagered upon have almost won a number of races…” Writing this sweetly and humorously is the real Irish heritage.
Although they did not make my list, a few other books that I would offer for consideration would be Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases, Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan, and Paul Levine’s Trial and Error.
TOP TEN of 2007 from Becky Lejeune
1. SILENT IN THE GRAVE by Deanna Raybourn – A great debut! This is an amusing Victorian mystery with a fantastic heroine and a great plot.
2. THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL by James Herbert – An atmospheric ghost story by one of horror’s best. Somewhat reminiscent of del Toro’s film, The Devil’s Backbone.
3. THE TERROR by Dan Simmons – A gripping horror story based around the tragic John Franklin expedition that set out in search of the Northwest Passage. A fine example of Dan Simmons’s expansive talent as an author of all genres.
4. YOU SUCK by Christopher Moore – My first introduction the wonderfully twisted talent that is Christopher Moore. Dark humor at it’s best!
5. HEART SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill – The debut horror novel by Stephen King’s son. An aging rock star buys a ghost on e-bay the consequences of which are quite frightful. Hill is sure to be one of the great ones.
6. SCENT OF SHADOWS by Vicki Pettersson – The debut title in one of the most original and exciting urban fantasy series of the year. A superhero unit based in Las Vegas and set on protecting humans from their evil counterparts.
7. THE SPELLMAN FILES by Lisa Lutz – A hilarious mystery in the vein of Janet Evanovich.
8. BLIND SPOT by Terri Persons – A psychic detective story that stands out among the many released recently. Persons’ heroine is one I hope to see more of in the future.
9. SEASON OF THE WITCH by Natasha Mostert – A very original and creepy gothic horror/suspense story with some quite sophisticated theories behind it.
10. A GOOD AND HAPPY CHILD by Justin Evans – This twisted debut is both scary and thought provoking. The best psychological thriller of the year in my opinion.
Favorite Books of 2007 from Jenne Bergstrom
Best First Novel: Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
It’s the literary novel with killer robots that I’ve been looking for all my life.
Best New Book in a Series: Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
Novik takes her dragons-in-the-Napoleonic-Wars series to Africa.
Best New Book by a Famous Author: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
Part classic detective story and part alternate history, Chabon’s writing is lavish and amusing as always.
Best Older Book You’ve Probably Never Heard Of: Becoming Alien by Rebecca Ore
One of the best books about what it means to be human that I’ve ever read.
Best New Discovery of a Book Everyone Else Has Probably Read Already: The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Epic romance, exotic locations, exciting adventure—it’s the perfect vacation read.
Best Gay Nordic Animal-Telepathy Novel: A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
Actually pretty unusual and thought-provoking.
Favorite Fiction of 2007 from Dan Cawley
Gum Thief (Coupland, Douglas)-Once again, Mr. Coupland revisits his familiar terrain of grief, sadness, alienation, pathos, and, thankfully, humor. In this most recent installment, he places a novel within the novel. In lesser hands, such a device is rendered cloying. Coupland, however, makes it sing.
Terminal (Vachss, Andrew)-Burke is back and he’s badder than ever! Unfortunately, knowledge of the seventeen previous novels in this series is essential to fully grip the storyline. Read them all. Then read Terminal. Nobody does noir like Vachss. Nobody.
You Don’t Love Me Yet (Lethem, Jonathan)-Young Los Angeles slackers form a mediocre rock band and languish in obscurity until a mysterious lyricist arrives on the scene. The band becomes almost famous and everything implodes. Accurate in its description of the “indie-lifestyle.” Frighteningly real in its portrayal of the vacuous X-generation.
Pinball Theory of the Apocalypse (Selwood, Jonathan)-Tasteless, politically-incorrect, off-color, profane, depraved. My favorite book of the year!
Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty (Sandlin, Tim)-What will become of all the aging hippies? In 2023, many wind up in the Mission Pescadero Assisted Living Facility just outside of San Francisco. Little has changed since 1969; these geezers still love to smoke pot and get laid. Between all the acid trips and free love, Sandlin explores serious themes like old age, infirmity, and death.