BEST BOOKS OF 2009 from Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett: 1960’s Mississippi is explored through the lives of the black maids who were good enough to raise the white children of their employers, but not good enough to use their bathrooms. A word-of-mouth, bestselling debut and my pick for the best book of the year. Once or twice a year a book like this comes out, if we are lucky. In the same class as Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, and well, you get the idea.
HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Audrey Niffenegger: Niffenegger is just a great storyteller, and she keeps turning my preconceived notions upside down. I don’t generally care for ghost stories, at least not since I was a kid, but this book – a ghost story in its simplest incantation – kept me mesmerized.
VERY VALENTINE by Adriana Trigiani: A new series opener with all the winning elements Trigiani is known for; a warm, loving yet rambunctious Italian family, a strong woman finding out just how strong she is, and a touch of romance and laughter.
THE STEPMOTHER by Carrie Adams: Memorable story about family relationships, second marriages, stepchildren, and friendship with humor and pathos.
THE FIXER UPPER by Mary Kay Andrews: A fun read about unemployment and a broken heart…if such a thing is possible, Mary Kay Andrews is the one to pull it off, and she does.
THE LAST CHILD by John Hart: An unforgettable story about a 14 year old boy’s search for his missing twin sister. Southern fiction hasn’t been this good for me in years.
BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell: A medical thriller that is simply shocking, with black humor and footnotes. And it works beautifully in this first novel, which will hit theaters, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, sometime in 2010.
THE SCARECROW by Michael Connelly: Connelly brings back Jack McEvoy (The Poet) in this pageturner about the demise of newspapers, Internet security run amok and a serial killer.
LOOK AGAIN by Lisa Scottoline: Scottoline stepped out of the legal genre and moved to an intriguing tale of a journalist whose adopted child may not be legally hers…but does she really want to find out?
DIE FOR YOU by Lisa Unger: When her husband goes missing, Isabel is determined to find him, even though he isn’t who she thought he was in this complex and fast moving novel of suspense.
THE RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick: A mail order bride takes center stage in this gothic, twisted, and riveting debut.
THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE by David Cristofano: A remarkable first novel based on a clever premise; a young woman who grew up in the Witness Protection Program wants out, which proves to be not the best decision.
VANISHED by Joseph Finder: First book of a new series featuring ex-Special Forces private investigator Nick Heller, a dynamic, interesting character in a tightly woven tale of suspense.
ALEX CROSS’S TRIAL by James Patterson & Richard DiLallo: This historical thriller set at the turn of the last century while the Klu Klux Klan ruled small town Mississippi and lynchings abounded is not typical Patterson fare, but much, much richer.
THE LINEUP: The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler: A must read for all mystery fans who have the least bit of curiosity about how their favorite characters were created.
KNIVES AT DAWN: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d’Or Competition by Andrew Friedman: Who knew a cooking competition could be so enthralling? In Friedman’s hands, it is fascinating, fast reading.
A16: FOOD & WINE by Nate Appleman & Shelley Lindgren: A16 is Appleman’s restaurant in San Francisco, and after reading through this book I’m convinced it would be worth the trip to eat there.
GEOFF’S FAVORITES IN 2009 from Geoffrey R. Hamlin
1. Shannon – Frank Delaney. The story of an American priest, who after suffering “shell shock” in World War I, tries to regain his bearings by tracing the course of the River Shannon in his uneasy ancestral homeland. And a wonderful story it is.
2. The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery. A very special book with two very special characters. The “Hedgehog” is the middle-aged female concierge of a luxury apartment building in Paris who goes to great pains to disguise her intelligence from the tenants who scarcely notice her. But she does notice and get noticed by a precocious teenager who is also ignored by everyone else. Their alternating comments on life, philosophy, education, and the residents of the building make for delightful reading.
3. Inherent Vice – Thomas Pynchon. Thomas Pynchon tries his hand at crime fiction. Be still, my heart.
4. Labor Day – Joyce Maynard. The warm and thoughtful coming of age tale of a young boy who is changed forever when an escaped murderer enters his family life.
5. The Lord of Death – Eliot Pattison. More than a mystery. The story of the destruction of Tibet and the Tibetan way of life by sheer numbers of Chinese Han immigrants, cruelty and greed.
6. 9 Dragons – Michael Connelly. A new Michael Connelly book is simply not to be missed.
7. Pops – Terry Teachout. Touchout’s biography of Louis Armstrong is both thorough and readable. Hard work and music were entwined from Armstrong’s childhood outside the Funky Butt Hall and inside the Colored Waifs Home for Boys to his success internationally and in this country. “Satchmo” was an American original who really believed that he had a “wonderful life.”
8. Glover’s Mistake – Nick Laird. Witty and clever. This story fully illustrates the concept of a “frenemy.”
9. This Wicked World – Richard Lange. Hard-nosed first book. Can’t wait for more.
10. A Vintage Caper – Peter Mayle. Another romp through Provence, using a wine theft as an excuse. Nobody does this stuff better than Mayle.
The New York Review of Books Classics press deserves real thanks for resurrecting the work of John Edward Williams. Stoner, his novel about the development and life of a college professor, is truly fine writing and easily one of the best books I read this year. For those of us who crave poetry, the release of the Mendelsohn translation of C.P. Cavafy: The Collected Poems was a major event. Finally, Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood will be a treat for readers with a taste for literary science fiction, although I have trouble taking her too seriously.
TOP TEN 2009
BLUE NOWHERE by Jeffery Deaver: Set a thief to catch a thief. This one will keep you occupied to the very last page, and completely different from the Lincoln Rhyme series.
DAEMON by Daniel Suarez: Ever heard of a self-published book being picked up by a major publisher and re-released in hardcover. When it ends and you come back down to earth, don’t worry, a sequel has been promised.
FLESH HOUSE by Stuart MacBride: Just when you thought it was safe to go out and play, along comes Detective Sergeant Logan McRae in MacBride’s fourth and latest novel. MacBride’s writing skill makes this one less a stomach turner and more of a page turner. McRae is becoming a classic alongside Rebus, Dalziel and Pascoe.
FLIPPING OUT by Marshall Karp: The latest case for ace LAPD homicide detectives Michael Lomax and Terry Biggs is way too close for comfort. This third outing has the humor Karp included in RABBIT FACTORY and BLOODTHIRSTY but notches up the suspense very nicely.
THE LAST EMBER by Daniel Levin: You might call this one the Jewish Da Vinci Code, but that would be an unfair comparison. THE LAST EMBER is much better than that. You don’t have to be a scholar of Roman and Judaic history and archaeology to be able to follow along easily in this well written religious thriller, which is also a first rate piece of European crime fiction.
LAY DOWN MY SWORD & SHIELD by James Lee Burke: The exquisite writing is there, the description of place and time that makes you feel the summer heat. Kick back, relax, and enjoy first rate writing as well as a good story.
OLD CITY HALL by Robert Rotenberg: Panned by Publishers Weekly and praised by Booklist, I found this to be a pretty good debut thriller. I ended up agreeing with Booklist that the good far outweighs the bad and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good legal thriller, with all sorts of nuances and international overtones.
RAIN GODS by James Lee Burke: With apologies to all my author friends, but if there is a better book published this year, I doubt I will be able to stand it.
THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU by Michael Stanley: With lesser talent, what would be stereotype figures come to life in this second outing for Kubu. Another excellent police procedural, with extra mustard and some first rate deviled eggs.
SOUTH OF BROAD by Pat Conroy: I became a Pat Conroy fan while living in South Carolina many years ago. Imagine my surprise to learn this week that he met his wife in my (Hoover, Alabama) library. What a small world. In a way, that also describes his latest effort.
1. NEVER TELL A LIE by Hallie Ephron — my first one-sitting read of the year! Never Tell a Lie was packed with suspense and kept me guessing until the end.
2. THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan — an apocalyptic zombie read for teens, but you’d never know by reading it. A stand-out horror debut that’s appealing to both adults and the intended teen audience. And I’m on the edge of my seat with anticipation for what comes next in Dead-Tossed Waves.
3. THE TRICKING OF FREYA by Christina Sunley — Sunley’s debut is beautifully written and completely absorbing. A wonderful story all-around.
4. DARLING JIM by Christain Moerk — a suspenseful and gothic tale that was truly chilling. Moerk’s U.S. debut, and I sincerely hope that we see much more from him in the future.
5. STRANGE ANGELS by Lili St. Crow — Lilith Saintcrow is just one of many urban fantasy authors making the jump into teen reads this year. Strange Angels is one of my favorites because Saintcrow successfully delivers a dark “teen” read that has mass appeal for old fans and new, adults and teens.
6. THE UNSEEN by Alexandra Sokoloff — Sokoloff is a fabulous storyteller and her incorporation of the fascinating history of Duke’s famed parapsychology department makes this story that much more of an absorbing and scary read.
7. BLOODY GOOD by Georgia Evans — I love the setting for this paranormal series. It’s WWII and the tiny town of Brytewood finds themselves set upon by spies from Germany—vampire spies! The villagers themselves have some unique gifts and will band together to protect each other against the enemy. Truly original and super fun!
8. THE BRUTAL TELLING by Louise Penny — I’d not read Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series prior to The Brutal Telling. It’s a great place for new readers to jump in and it’s a fabulously spun mystery.
9. SOULLESS by Gail Carriger — of all the paranormal and urban fantasy debuts this year, it was really hard to narrow the list of favorites down. Carriger’s combination of Steampunk elements with her re-imagined vampire and werewolf-filled Victorian London makes this new series stick out for me. Smart and entertaining.
10. UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King — a doorstopper just in time to make the list! Typical King elements and a tightly woven tale of horror and tragedy in a small town; highly anticipated on my part and definitely worth the wait.
Until next year…