TOP 25 OF 2010
Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper: Tropper writes very funny novels about dysfunctional Jewish families and he does it very, very well. This one starts off with the Foxman family patriarch’s death and his final request for his family to sit shiva for him. Put these grown children & their families in an old house with everyone they’ve every known walking through the door to pay their respects and you get a laugh out loud, totally engrossing novel.
STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova: Alice Howland is 50 years old, a happily married mom of three grown children and a world renowned professor of psychology at Harvard when she receives a devastating diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Readers will not soon forget Alice – I know I won’t, and book groups will find a lot to discuss here.
THE POSTMISTRESS by Sarah Blake: On the eve of WWII, we meet a radio reporter, a postmistress and a doctor’s wife. Blake skillfully weaves their stories and their characters together into a mesmerizing tale of the tragedies of war and how people deal with it. The Postmistress is intelligent, deeply perceptive and utterly absorbing, and undoubtedly one of the best books of the year. Book groups will devour it.
ROSES by Leila Meacham: This sprawling novel by a relatively unknown septuagenarian novelist is set in Texas and spans three generations, two families, and the cotton and lumber businesses. Reading this is an emotional rollercoaster ride; fast and furious with lots of ups and downs, hairpin turns and most of all, fun. Don’t miss it.
INNOCENT by Scott Turow: It took Turow more than 20 years to bring us the sequel to his bestselling first novel, Presumed Innocent, and it was worth the wait. This is a beautifully written book with finely drawn characters and an intricate plot, seamlessly weaving a troubled family story with a murder. This is a most worthy successor and perhaps the author’s finest work to date. Copyright © 2010 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.
THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE by Heather Gudenkauf: One Iowa morning, two families wake up to find their seven year old daughters, best friends, are missing. A search ensues, but it is the families’ stories that are so captivating and engrossing. A compulsively readable first novel.
DOG TAGS by David Rosenfelt: This is Andy Carpenter doing what he loves best; protecting the innocent, in this case a German shepherd named Milo. If you’re a fan of the series run out and buy this latest entry; if you’re not familiar, Dog Tags is a terrific place to start.
I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman: Eliza Benedict was kidnapped her when she was 15 years old and her captor was prosecuted. Many years later, he contacts her, setting off a very powerful, psychologically compelling story and one of Lippman’s best – which is saying a lot. Don’t miss it.
SKATING AROUND THE LAW by Joelle Charbonneau: A murder in the roller skating rink she inherited from her mom forces Rebecca Robbins home from Chicago. I loved the small town setting, the humor, the bit of romance and the well developed characters. This is one terrific read.
BRAVA, VALENTINE by Adriana Trigiani: This is the fabulous sequel to last year’s wonderful Very Valentine. Curl up with this captivating, fun and funny Italian family story and enjoy every page. It’s truly a delight.
THE REVERSAL by Michael Connelly: This is a combined series book featuring Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, and the first one that really seemed like it worked the way it should. These characters are already so well defined that there was no stumbling here; the book really flowed, moving back and forth between the cop and the lawyer. Combining a police procedural and a legal thriller works just brilliantly in Connelly’s gifted hands.
WORTH DYING FOR by Lee Child: Child continues to prove that a series can keep getting better with this 14th entry in the Jack Reacher series. Lots of action, some interesting characters, and a small town with that sense of desolation that Child does so well made this a book that I couldn’t put it down.
STAR ISLAND by Carl Hiaasen: It’s been a long wait for a new book but apparently Hiaasen has spent the time reading the tabloids and keeping his pen rapier sharp. He takes on Hollywood, the music business, the paparazzi and South Beach in this fresh, funny tale of a teenage superstar who is used and abused. This is Hiaasen in all his incredible, ridiculously excessive glory. I loved it.
MONEY TO BURN by James Grippando: This new Wall Street thriller features a hedge fund wunderkind with someone out to get him. He doesn’t figure out who or why until the very end of this riveting, adrenalin charged read.
NEVER LOOK AWAY by Linwood Barclay: The wife of a newspaper reporter in a small town disappears, leaving the husband as the prime suspect who has to prove his innocence. The pages fly in this gripping, twisty tale of betrayal and heartbreak. Barclay takes ordinary people and puts them in extraordinary circumstances, creating a tense, fast paced thriller without stretching the limits of credulity.
DOWN TO THE WIRE by David Rosenfelt: Chris Turley is a reporter for a New Jersey newspaper who gets way in over his head with a mysterious source. The story flies at a breakneck pace, and the tension and the bodies keep piling up, counting down to a New Year’s Eve climax in Times Square with plenty of surprises along the way. This second standalone thriller by the author of the fabulous Andy Carpenter series is breathtaking in intensity and just plain entertaining.
IN THE NAME OF HONOR by Richard North Patterson: Patterson returns to what he does best; creating a taut legal thriller based on a strong political point of view. This time the subject is post traumatic stress disorder and the war in Iraq. Patterson writes legal thrillers better than just about anyone else, and this is a terrific read.
FACES OF THE GONE by Brad Parks: An investigative reporter for a Newark, NJ newspaper is assigned to look into the execution of four drug dealers that the cops are blaming on a bar robbery, but turns out he’s really just supposed to spout the party line. New Jersey seems to produce some of the funniest mystery writers, and Parks joins the ranks of Janet Evanovich and David Rosenfelt with his gritty yet humorous debut.
GALVESTON by Nic Pizzolatto: Roy Cady is middle-aged gangster who has a really bad day; he finds out he has terminal cancer and that his boss is trying to kill him. This dark and gritty novel with well defined characters is completely engrossing.
INSIDE OUT by Barry Eisler: Black ops spy Ben Treven is back in this eye opening thriller about government leaks (written way before Wikileaks!) The scariest thing in the book is the bibliography at the end – this story is based on more truth than I care to think about. Eisler has been a strong, vocal opponent of the American stance on torture and he lays it on the line in this terrific thriller.
A VERY SIMPLE CRIME by Grant Jerkins: No one in this novel is as they appear to be, and the twists and turns never let up until the very last page. This dark, chilling debut, which has been optioned for film by screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune) is a real page-turner in the best sense of the term, and should especially appeal to legal thriller fans. Copyright © 2010 Library Journal, a division of Media Source Inc. Reprinted with permission.
FOOD RULES: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan: This book is a tiny paperback and at its simplest, is a collection of rules on how to eat for health and well being. It is an easy read and often amusing; a couple of my favorites: “Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce,” and “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” These are life changing words of wisdom.
BEST GIFT BOOK FOR THE CHILD IN YOUR LIFE
HEROES FOR MY SON by Brad Meltzer: This is a lovely book, a series of photographs and very short essays, no more than a few paragraphs, about the men and women Meltzer finds the most inspiring, and why he wants his son to know about them. There’s even a page at the back of the book with room for the picture and story of your hero. It’s just a beautiful book to share with those you love. Meltzer has created a legacy.
MOLTO GUSTO: Easy Italian Cooking by Mario Batali & Mark Ladner: The beauty of this book is in the simplicity of the recipes; while there isn’t much in the meat department, there are incredible, easy recipes for antipasti, pizza, pasta, vegetables, and gelato. The pictures are gorgeous and inspiring, and this is a cookbook I will be going back to repeatedly.
BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL
THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE by Audrey Niffenegger: This is the first graphic novel that I’ve read in years that really spoke to me. I loved this very dark book that may appeal to librarians, booksellers and avid readers everywhere.
GEOFF’S TOP 10 FOR 2010 from Geoffrey R. Hamlin
1. MATTERHORN by Karl Marlantes: A spare no details look at what the war in Vietnam was really like from the viewpoint of a young second lieutenant. A famous general once said “it is a good thing that war is so terrible, otherwise we would grow to love it too much.” There are too many people in this country who do not understand what it means to fight a war. This book is not pretty. It is a harsh, unrelenting read and should be a must for every person when they reach age seventeen and again before they presume to run for public office.
2. DRIVING ON THE RIM by Thomas McGuane: This is the story of a country doctor set in Montana which is funny, thought-provoking and entertaining. Dr. Berl Pickett, the protagonist seems to both have no common sense and an uncommon practical wisdom. I have read everyone I know the passage about treating a tapeworm.
3. THE REVERSAL by Michael Connelly: Who would have thought that the “Lincoln Lawyer” could change hats and become a prosecutor? In The Reversal, he does on the condition that he can use his half-brother Harry Bosch as his lead investigator. Do I need to say more? The pretrial conference in the judge’s chambers is so authentic as to absolutely cement Connelly’s reputation as a crime fiction writer who gets the details right.
4. THE PROMISE by Jonathan Alter: An in-depth look at the first year of the Obama administration.
5. SOLAR by Ian McEwan: Through the vehicle of the most unlikeable Nobel prize-winning physicist one can imagine, McEwan examines the business of science. Somehow, he seems to put the physicist, Dr. Michael Beard, in the funniest situations that can be imagined. Even better than Amsterdam.
6. HOLLYWOOD HILLS by Joseph Wambaugh: Another tour of duty with the characters of the Hollywood Station. Flotsam and Jetsam are back. The memory of the Oracle lives on. Wambaugh has still got it.
7. OPERATION MINCEMEAT by Ben Macintyre: A behind the scenes look at British intelligence during World War II. The characters are worthy of Wambaugh or Hiaasen in their delightful wackiness, but they are real and really did make a difference.
8. STAR ISLAND by Carl Hiaasen: Hiaasen sends up the whole concept of celebrity in his latest romp, in which the “hero” is a despicable paparazzo.
9. THE FINKLER QUESTION by Howard Jacobson: Jacobson won this year’s Man Booker prize for this novel, the story of a Gentile nebbish’s exploration of what it might mean to be Jewish. Fans of Philip Roth will enjoy this.
10. MOONLIGHT MILE by Dennis Lehane: Dennis Lehane tries to set aside the “big book” writing of his recent work, and go back to his crime fiction roots. But alas, it is only to put an end to his young detective team of Kenzie and Gennaro. On the other hand, if this book makes people go back and see what they missed in Gone Baby, Gone, or even see the movie version, it is probably worth it.
I should note that there were two books that were well-received this year that I haven’t got to yet – The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumn’s of Jacob de Zoet.
TOP 15 FOR 2010
(with lots of zombies!)
BEYOND THE NIGHT by Joss Ware: Post-apocalyptic, paranormal romance with zombies. Need I say more? I love the premise for this series and thought it kicked off with a big bang!
SLEEPLESS by Charlie Huston: Viral insomnia and the possible end of the world all mixed in with Huston’s trademark noir style. A winning read in every way.
NO MERCY by Lori Armstrong: First in a new series from Armstrong featuring a tough-as-nails heroine trained as a ranger and sniper in the Army. Her toughest job may just be the one facing her back home, though.
THE DEAD-TOSSED WAVES by Carrie Ryan: Second in Carrie Ryan’s apocalyptic/dystopian teen series (with zombies) was just as amazing as the first. One of the things I love is that they read like adult books with teen protagonists. Ryan’s world-building is amazing.
THE POISON THRONE by Celine Kiernan: First in a fantasy trilogy originally released in the UK. A one-sitting read that blends magic and politics.
31 BOND STREET by Ellen Horan: Horan’s use of an actual case from 1857 New York made for an intense mystery. Terrifically researched.
FEED by Mira Grant: What can I say? It’s been a big year for the apocalypse and zombies. Mira Grant, aka Seanan McGuire, captures the very realistic sense of terror and bloody politics one would hope to be worse case scenario in the event of a massive viral outbreak, but…
BLOOD OATH by Christopher Farnsworth: This debut featuring a vampire as a secret government employee – an investigator of the strange and mysterious, no less – was great fun. Farnsworth takes advantage of weird but true historical facts as part of the plot, with a twist. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin: One of the most talked about books all year and I have to say that it completely lived up to the hype: vampires in a post-outbreak apocalyptic America. And this whopper of a read is just the first in a projected trilogy.
SO COLD THE RIVER by Michael Koryta: A mystery/thriller with historical and paranormal leanings. I loved it. It was intense and fascinating. My introduction to Koryta comes with a word of warning, though: Don’t drink the water!
MARRIED WITH ZOMBIES by Jesse Petersen: More zombies, this time in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. Petersen’s humor is dead on and the zombie hunting couple comes back for more in book two in January.
STRETCH by Neal Pollack: I don’t think I’ve read a funnier book in ages. Pollack, a comic writer who became obsessed with yoga, shares the ins and outs of the yoga craze, the history of the practice, and his hilarious journey from beginning student to trained teacher.
SIXTY-ONE NAILS by Mike Shevdon: A debut urban fantasy that imagines two Londons: the mortal, regular, London and the London that belongs to creatures of fairy tale.
PETTY MAGIC: BEING THE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF MISS EVELYN HARBINGER, TEMPTRESS AND TROUBLEMAKER by Camille DeAngelis: Not only a great read, but one of my favorite characters of the year. In Evelyn Harbinger, DeAngelis brings to life a wickedly funny and appealing heroine that will capture readers’ hearts.
THE DEAD PATH by Stephen M. Irwin: A horror debut from Down Under! Irwin’s first marks him as a strong voice in the horror genre. This creepy read will surprise readers in so many ways. Irwin is certainly one to watch. I imagine great things will come from him in the future.
2010 TOP TEN + ONE
CUT, PASTE & KILL by Marshall Karp: Great police procedural with first rate dialogue and laugh out loud funny lines, but would you expect any less from the author who cast a pedophile as Rambunctious Rabbit in Wally World back in the first Lomax and Biggs caper.
THE END OF MARKING TIME by C.J. West: The secret to being a successful sneak thief is to maintain a low profile. Obviously, stealing the credit cards, cash, and car of the Suffolk County District Attorney is not the thing to do, particularly if you are only twenty years old with a lot of life ahead of you.
IN THE WIND by Barbara Fister: Chicago has bred another PI and she is a good one. In her debut Anni Koskinen is involved with a “cold case” dating from 1972. Don’t look now V.I. but you have some serious competition.
LULLABY FOR THE NAMELESS by Sandra Ruttan: Ruttan uses a not unfamiliar theme to create an in-depth study of the law enforcement psyche. Her three Canadian Constables – Nolan, Hart and Tain are dealing with a nightmare. Their first case working together involved tracking down a serial murderer known as the Missing Killer. That case was solved and the perp put to death. Now, Hart and Tain find themselves handling the case of the murder of the only victim who survived from that original case several months earlier.
THE POWER OF THE DOG by Don Winslow: If you have not yet discovered Don Winslow, get thee to the nearest library now. It’s really simple: 1. Art Keller is a brilliant DEA agent who sometimes breaks the rules to serve justice. 2. Adan Barrera is an urbane drug dealer whose charm masks his brutality. 3. Nora Hayden is a high-class call girl whose heart is in the right place, and 4. Sean Callan is a taciturn mob hit man, a stone-cold killer who just wants out of the life. Winslow follows these four characters as they cross paths over three decades in the international drug trade.
PRESUMED DEAD by Shirley Wells: “Dylan (Scott) wondered if life could get any worse. He was thirty eight years old, he had no job and little hope of getting one, his wife had thrown him out, his mother had moved in, and he’d had to hunt through a pile of laundry currently lying in front of his as-yet-unused washing machine for the shirt he was wearing.” So begins the saga of an ex-cop thrown off the police force for assaulting a suspect and all his resulting troubles.
THE QUEEN OF PATPONG by Tim Hallinan: Hallinan paints a grim but non-judgmental picture of the life of Bangkok’s sex workers who often have to choose the least bad of all the unappealing options available to them. You sense that in some ways this may have been a painful book for Hallinan to write as it seems in some places to provide a catharsis for his hero Poke who is caught in the middle of violent emotions with potentially dire consequences and perhaps, even an end to the life he has made with Rose and adopted street daughter Mia.
SHADOW OF THE DAHLIA by Jack Bludis: The June 12, 1994 murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, wife of football star O.J. Simpson, in Los Angeles attracted world-wide attention. Officially, her murder was never solved. On January 15, 1947 the mutilated severed body of Elizabeth Short was found in Leimert Park in Los Angeles. Officially, the murder of the woman who came to be known as “The Black Dahlia” was never solved either. Private eye Rick Page is trying to locate a millionaire’s missing wife when he becomes involved in what was then the case of the century.
STRIP by Thomas Perry: The opening scene features Joe Carver hiding out in the control cab of a building crane two hundred fifty feet up admiring the nude photos that Mitch, the crane operator has posted on the dash. With a wife like that, Carver understands why Mitch wants to hurry home at the end of each day’s work. Then aging strip-club owner Manco Kapak learns the hard way that shooting a gun through a closed window that you are standing in front of, sans clothing, can be detrimental to your near term sex life. An exquisite thriller/police procedural romp though crime and law enforcement.
THINK OF A NUMBER by John Verdon: “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.” This is one of those works that are bigger than the “genre’”, reminiscent in some ways of the best of James Lee Burke, although totally different in style.
THRILLED TO DEATH by L J Sellers: Ms. Sellers has a delightfully twisted mind and the talent to take her unsuspecting readers down trails that fork and bend back and curve and twist until at the end, you have a sense of satisfaction coupled with a pleasant mental exhaustion as your mind wonders back to how you got there. You are gonna love this one.
Until next year…