Wednesday, December 03, 2008
The LRG Personal Picks for the Best Books of '08
Another year is about to end and with it,comes the "best of" lists for books,movies and TV. I don't know if I'll be tackling the other two just yet,but books are a absolute must around here.
2008 has been quite a time,with a history making election,a Hollywood Writer's strike and love of vampire lit being revved up several notches and across a few generational lines. This round up will reflect some of that,but is mostly indicative of my taste and should be thought of as either suggestions for good holiday gifts or what to look for in paperback by next spring.
A couple of witchy wonders made their first bows this season,one of whom was based on a true story.
The Heretic's Daughter took the Salem Witch Trials to a new level via Kathleen Kent's fictionalized account of one of her ancestors,Martha Carrier,who was executed unjustly by telling this sorrowful tale thru the eyes of her daughter Sarah. A beautifully moving portrait of a mother and daughter whose only hope to keep their family alive is through honor and love.
Brunonia Barry set her first novel,The Lace Reader,in modern day Salem but her characters are just as tormented by more than one past.
When Towner Whitney returns to her home town to deal with the mysterious disappearance of her Great Aunt Eva,many of the ghosts from her childhood and troubled teen years rise up to haunt her with their memories.
Even with the help of old friends and a new love interest,Towner must decide for herself whether those alleged psychic abilities of the women in her family are ultimately a help or a hindrance. A real page turner,in the best sense of the term.
Chelsea Cain gave us another glimpse into the dark realm where her seductive serial killer Gretchen Lowell and besotted victim Archie Sheridan play their gruesome game of cat and mouse with Sweetheart,the sequel to her debut mystery novel,Heartsick.
The stakes become deadlier after Gretchen breaks out of prison and starts leaving her grisly version of love tokens for friends and foes alike. If Cain keeps bringing her A game like this,these brilliantly bloody books will be future classics of crime:
It took a long time for Jennifer Weiner to write more about the heroine of her first and best loved novel,Good in Bed,but it was well worth the wait.
Certain Girls not only tells us what Cannie Shapiro's been up to lately but introduces Joy,her about to be a teenager daughter who is just as witty and confused about her place in the world as her mother was(and still is,to a degree). A treat for Weiner's devoted readers and a great way for others to connect with her delightfully funny but bittersweet books.
ODES TO READING
One of the great things about reading is sharing the books you've enjoyed with others. The Pulpwood Queens are about the most lively reading group around and their leopard print clad leader Kathy L. Patrick charmingly chronicles their highs and low in The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing,Book Sharing Guide To Life.
Patrick details the beginnings of her beauty parlor/independent book store,Beauty And The Book,in Jefferson,Texas and the growth of her book club,which has over seventy chapters,with a few opened up overseas. Her warmhearted approach to life and literature is a shining example of the positive things that a determined woman can do for the good of all.
The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society was a labor of love between two women,Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece Annie Barrows,that paid off with a riveting and lovely novel of letters about a small island community who formed an impromptu book club to cope with the Nazi occupation of their home during WWII.
Sadly,Mary Ann Shaffer did not live to see this book receive the accolades it richly deserved from critics and readers alike. Fortunately,Annie Barrows was able to bring this amazing tribute to the power of reading to shelves,making it quite the fitting legacy for her aunt's life work:
THE MOST UNDERRATED BOOK OF THE YEAR
When the fourth volume of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga,Breaking Dawn,was released this summer,it was greeted with vicious mockery by detractors and brutal backlash from many of the fans who wanted their own ideal of an ending to be fulfilled.
After reading the book for myself,I found it neither to be a howl fest or a disappointment. Instead,Breaking Dawn turned out to be the most mature and emotionally deep novels of the series,with interesting nuances given to several of the characters and quite a few surprise twists. Hopefully,those who thought the book to be lacking the first time around give it a through reread and appreciate it for it's merits .
Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed takes many of the turbulent events of the past decade such as the Columbine shootings and Hurricane Katrina as developmental elements for his characters.
As Caelum Quirk goes back to his family farm to help his wife recover from the violent massacre she witnessed,many of the secrets that his relatives kept over the years explode all around him. While he reconstructs his family's past,the present starts to make some kind of sense that may bring him some future peace. Another book that took awhile to get here but makes up for lost time with extra quality to spare.
Dennis Lehane took a real chance in tackling a lengthy historical novel like The Given Day instead of sticking to the crime genre he's done well in. That gamble was a smart one,showcasing his skills as a writer who can breathe life into his beloved Boston regardless of what decade it's in.
The Given Day focuses on two men,rebellious cop Danny Coughlin and on the run Luther Lawrence,as their fates collide during the infamous Policeman's Strike of 1918. Other historical figures come out to play here,including an iconic baseball player who makes for the pitch perfect Everyman:
A very tasty look at the impact that Chinese culture has had on American society was served up this year by Jennifer 8. Lee,whose Fortune Cookie Chronicles revealed the true origins of the take out sweet treat.
That's not the only intriguing item on the menu;Lee also covers the invention of chop suey,how the practice of leaving Chinese restaurant menus under doors got started,the connections between Jewish Americans and Chinese cuisine and how the ingredients of soy sauce became an international trade dispute. Plenty of food for thought on display here.
Dewey:The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched The World is more of an emotional comfort food read,giving us the true story of an abandoned kitten that gave the local library and town of Spencer,Iowa the much needed hope and encouragement they used to get thru some tough economic times(almost similar to what we're going thru right now).
Vicki Myron also talks about her life as a single mom who battled breast cancer and a dwindling budget for her library's resources. The book is more than her story,it's the tale of a whole community of folks who look toward each other to make things work despite the hardships within and without their control.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was doing very well with readers and critics before Oprah chose to tap the book with her Book Club stick.
Yet,it is a sign of good taste that she did select this wonderfully old fashioned novel about a mute young man who has to determine if he is to be or not to be affected by the sudden death of his father that may have been brought about by his uncle,who has now taken up with his dead brother's wife.
David Wroblewski's novel took a great deal of time and research to fully bring his regally real story to life and with any luck,perhaps a few literary awards will come his way. If not,his readership will certainly thank him in abundance.
ONE TO WATCH
Brendan Short combines the comic strip world presented by Big Little Books and the gritty reality of the times in which they were created in Dream City,his debut novel of promise.
Michael Halligan latches onto these books during his troubled childhood,where his mother dies at a young age due to a hard decision she has to make and leaves him with his ambitious but second rate gangster of a father. Michael spends most of his life pursuing his dream of the ultimate Big Little collection,seeking the one lost volume of his youth that becomes his own personal Rosebud.
It's a sad but touching depiction of a life of quiet desperation that make you want to see another book from Short sooner rather than later:
Thank you to all of the great writers who gave us a good year's worth of reading and
looking forward to more of the same. If there's any titles that I may have left,feel free to comment and let me know. After all,a good book is one worth spreading the good word on.
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