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.