Thursday, December 25, 2008

Eat lots, get sleep and party like there's no recession!

Happy Holidays everyone! I celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah so I'm extremely full of holiday cheer for all of you- being the zero people that read this blog. Hope you have a great one, and you get all the books you wanted! (Or at least gift certificates to get them yourself.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Favorite Books of '08- Full List

Well it seems in-depth thoughts (at least mine) aren't interesting anybody, so I'll go with a stock short list. All books were released in America in 2008.

My Best of the Best
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery- Already a modern classic in its country of origin, France, "Hedgehog" was just translated this year over here in America. A deceptively simple plot (two women, one young and one old) pretend to be shallow and stupid when they are anything but. With that jumping off point we dive into philosophy, class wars, and how essential the simple pleasures in life are. Actually I'm doing a terrible job if describing this- I can't remember a book that has won over my heart so easily while drawing in my intellect just as much. Here's a quote pulled from the novel, it's from the concierge narrator talking about her only friend, the cleaning lady of the hotel they work in.

"... she is an aristocrat. An authentic one, of the kind whose entitlement you cannot contest: it is etched onto her very heart, it mocks titles and people with handles to their names. What is an asristocrat? A woman who is never sullied by vulgarity, although she may be surrounded by it."

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson- true darkness tempered by true love. Modern-day vices and historical theological tales intertwine in this truly original fictional debut.
Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner- historical fiction, character-driven. So wonderfully descriptive you can almost feel the Cuban humidity.
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti- Historical fiction- an orphan is adopted by his apparently long-lost brother, and classic misadventures abound. A great entry to the classic "orphans on adventures" genre.
Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America by Brian Francis Slattery- Yes, it's fiction- but just in time for our economic collapse, Slattery (who's currently batting 2-2) writes a grand, mind-bogglingly unique and dense tale that could be the next Great American Novel if anybody bothered reading it.

The Rest of the Best
The Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander- Religious/comedic memoir. Continues on the riff that began with the title of his collection of stories- Beware of God- Auslander worries about divine retribution being met out to his pregnant wife and unborn child due to his less-than-holy life. Vignettes that vary from sweet to embarrassing to shocking give this book an almost "The Wonder Years" feel- if Kevin was Jewish and extremely foul-mouthed.
My Custom Van ... And 50 Other Mind-Blowing Essays That Will Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face by Michael Ian Black- A collection of comedic essays that clock in around 3-4 pages each, Black's humor translates well to short comedic bites. Now, where the hell is The State on DVD we were promised?!? (NERD!!)
Heartsick by Chelsea Cain- From a brilliant satire of the Nancy Drew series ("Confessions of A Teen Sleuth") to a terrific psychological detective/suspense novel. Some have called the "star" of this series the "female Hannibal Lecter"- this book should NOT be over-hyped but it is a great, fast read. I've yet to read Sweetheart but I look forward to it.
The Night of the Gun by David Carr- A journalist (currently of The New York Times) does his memoir like a true journalistic piece- including recording his interviews and investigating all of his drug-foggy memories. He does not sugarcoat anything- including leaving his toddler daughters in a car almost overnight- while it's snowing- so he can go into a crack house to get high.

"Genre fiction" most of these lists are ignoring because they're snobs (their loss, eh?)
The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran- first novel published by a contest winner, it turns out to be one of the most original and well-written historical romances of the year. Actually short on romance, it's more a journey through India when the tide really starts turning against the British, and a hero and heroine with dark pasts and layers and layers of depth.
Evernight- Claudia Grey- A YA (young adult) paranormal that's the antidote to "Twilight"- though it has some great "The Twilight Zone" influences in it. Great young heroine, interesting set-up and great locations and descriptions made this a fun, fast and memorable read. No sex or graphic violence- PLUS it doesn't make the heroines journey dependent on her falling in love with the "hero" *coughcough* make this not only a great read, but an appropriate one for the 12 and up set.
The Art of French Kissing by Kristin Harmel- "Chick lit" that defies the term. A super light, fun tale of a woman (who is NOT shoe-obsessed, imagine that!) finding a new job as a publicist in Paris after losing her job, home and fiancé. Corralling a sweet-natured but almost insane exhibitionist pop star lends a funny and unique twist on the "finding yourself" story.
Just One Of The Guys by Kristan Higgins- Filed under "contemporary romance", though the romance part is just a small of this hilarious, charming book that was hard to put down. Smart, funny, and a big family with each sibling characterized perfectly (as an only child I'm a sucker for books about big families), this book just puts the reader in a great mood.
The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu- The start of a truly unique new urban fantasy series- hard to describe but easy to recommend.
The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long- A historical road romance that spends a lot more time on friendship building and fun sparring than the sex (though that's good too!)
The Lords of the Underworld series (no, it's not about Timmay and his band) The Darknest Kiss, The Darkest Night and The Darkest Pleasure. Paranormal romances that deal with the ancient warriors who actually opened Pandora's Box, and were then condemned to house the demons inside themselves (these books deal with the demons of Death, Violence and Pain respectively) when they failed to get them contained again. Great world-building, traveling, romance that doesn't come easy (the best kind to read about) The next one starting a new set is out April 1.
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz- Fiction about family drama is nothing new, but this thick book that reads as fast as a magazine deftly combines the darkness, absurdity and strange comfort having a... "free-spirited" family member. This is his first novel, and I can only imagine where he'll be going next.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's snowing in Vegas!

I hope everyone is out playing in it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Favorite New Books of 2008: Part One

I decided to be a unique trailblazer on this book blog and put my FAVORITE 2008 BOOK LIST! Please try to control your gasping, you'll need that oxygen for this fast-paced list! Please note this isn't "my favorite books read in 2008", it's specifically for books released this year (or translated works that were finally done in English this year) I haven't seen any lists that look too much like mine- though obviously there are some books that just rubbed almost everyone the right way- so hopefully this won't be too painful.

Note: I haven't read 2666 yet.

Neat Notes: A gigantic variety of my picks are from first-time novelists. Now that I think about it, a lot of my favorite books are the first books of their respective authors! I guess I'm naturally a sucker for books that were worked on over a period of time by someone who wasn't even sure they'd get published- they just had an immense story in their head that they just HAD to get out through their fingertips before they could move on. First-time published authors with only one book currently out there: I salute you. Every book that is the first for the author will eb marked with an *. Moving on...

* Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner
I seriously cannot stop gushing praise like blood out of an open wound about this book. Yes, it's practically bloody from my adoration for it! Pages barely turning they're so soaked in plasma- and I think I've taken this metaphor farther than it should have gone in the first place. I should mention this is *not* a vampire novel.

Set in 1950's Cuba when the revolution was about to explode, this book is all about characters- and those are my favorite types of stories. We have a fake French beauty with fishnets that are literally painted onto her legs. She crosses them towards a politico she's seducing, then she crosses them over to the other side towards the Castro brothers- she's a dancing Mata Hari. They plot while sugar cane fields burn and uppity American society women with no ambitions beyond being racist gossiping trophy wives melt into indignity in the unforgiving Cuban heat. Every single time I opened this book I was transported- I cannot believe how gorgeous Kushner's prose is.

"He sat in the back of the Pam-Pam Room and watched Rachel K's show, her golden sartouche whipping like a lasso as she swung around a pole, no less graceful than a ballerina, though ballet dancers were like porcelain figures, elegantly molded and coldly unsexed, while Rachel K was warm-looking, soft-contoured flesh. A gaudly spill of platinum hair and those barely bobbing firm-jelly breasts that are not only rare, a happy coincidence of genetics and luck, but utterly time-sensitive, existing only in a slim window of youth. Youth was no miracle, he knew. Or it was a banal miracle. And yet he loved the blunt perfection of young flesh. Unreflective, knowing only its moment-to-moment existence."

* A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
"The past is truly an inoperable tumor that spreads to the present."
I've seen a few reviews of this novel malign it for being 561 pages, I guess because it's the sort that usually clocks in around 360 pages (I hope that makes sense to you, because it just barely makes no sense at all to me.) Even though it IS hilarious, and is yet another fictional story about a messed up family, it's so much longer than its recent red-headed step-bretheren because Toltz makes every single character have a neat little history and his or her own unique voice. I mean EVERYBODY- he stuffs the pages full of hyper-descriptive details that flow by so easily and are so readable that he's mastered the practice in his first novel while Stephen King had to eventually ban his orgy of descriptions (for the most part) out of his recent nvoels.

This book reads like a very talented person labored over it for years while experiencing a lot of life at the same time, and thankfully funneled it all into the book. It has true laugh-out-loud humor (I usually just smile to myself when something is funny in a book, this one actually made me vocal), elegant cruelty, empathy and unexpected warmth. If you enjoy joyful complexity this will probably be a great one for you.

* The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
This seems like a love-it-or-hate-it book, and while I love it I still think a million smackers is way too much to give ANYONE- especially a first-timer- for a book. There's just too many great authors making little to no money, it's just stupid to blow the budget on a hyped few.

That's besides the point, anyway- this novel really surprised me. I was ready to hate it, and instead the gargoyle gripped me tightly on page one and dragged me happily through the rest of the pages. This stuff is VERY grotesque, and it's not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of a severely burned porn-star coke-addict whose injuries include castration via fire meeting gin meeting crotch. But Davidson someone finds a way to not only make reading that palatable, but downright fun. The confidence in every sentence just won me over and I bought into this book mind and soul. It's a lot "sweeter" than I would have expected, and the love story involves "lovers" so star-crossed they make Romeo and Juliet look like amateurs. Imagine a male version of Chuck Palahniuk's "Invisible Monsters" mashed with gothic religious fables and a doomed love story. It's weird in a sincere way, and I think that's great.

* The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
I received this book as an ARC, and while I read it I felt like I had somehow discovered a real quiet little treasure. But before I knew it it was winning awards left and right and winning over nearly everybody. I hope the hype doesn't ruin it for anyone- the book almost works because it's so unassuming and nowhere near showy. To quote my review (I apologize for my laziness, but I did like how that review came out): "From page one the story pulled me in with an almost old-fashioned kind of storytelling. Every character is deeply flawed but never wholly a villain, and the way Ren is almost immediately surrounded by a motley cast of characters feels natural." "There are twists to the story, twists that felt like the weird machinations in life rather than manipulated fictional climaxes."

If you're like me and enjoy big-hearted, old-fashioned dark adventures starring plucky orphans- this is a real treat.

More later!