Thursday, December 23, 2010

Best Books of 2010: Fiction

Editor’s note: This is the final segment of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2010 feature. The feature includes Books for Children and Young Adults, Cookbooks, Crime Fiction, Part I and Crime Fiction, Part II, Art & Culture and Non-Fiction. The anchor piece is here.

The Bradbury Report by Steven Polansky (Weinstein Books) 336 pages
In what I feel certain will come to be known as the year of fictional dystopia, Steven Polansky’s debut was one of several bright spots. Some critics have said that the science of The Bradbury Report is thin. I didn’t experience that myself but, if I did, it wouldn’t matter: that’s not Polansky’s point. This is a story of terrible possibilities and outcomes -- both expected and unexpected -- due entirely from human machinations. It is 2071 and the government has put in place a large scale cloning program that impacts directly on the population’s insurance of health. Every American citizen has a cloned copy that lives in a different part of the country. The clones are kept absolutely separate from the general populations and the people that they duplicate. Until one of them escapes. The Bradbury Report chills with a close-yet-distant look at all of the things that make us human and all of the things that set us apart. I’m confident that this startling debut will be one of my personal picks for best of the year. -- Lincoln Cho

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell (Crown) 336 pages
Stephanie Cowell is building a reputation writing beautiful, cinematic books that bring to life artists from various eras. Nicholas Cooke, the story of a young actor in 1593 London, won the American Book Award in 1996. More recently, Marrying Mozart was translated into seven languages and optioned for film. Cowell seems poised on the cusp of very great things. This feeling is backed by her most recent work, the rich and satisfying Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet. The book breaths life into the story of the young Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, and Camille Doncieux, the well-born Parisian with whom he fell in love. -- Sienna Powers

Delta Girls by Gayle Brandeis (Ballantine) 336 pages
There’s something spirited and satisfying in Gayle Brandeis’ prose. She pushes at language with a poet’s heart and skill, leaving us breathless and always wishing for more. All of that was certainly the case with her astonishing The Book of Dead Birds, which won the Bellwether Prize. And it’s true again in Delta Girls, a rich and gorgeous ride with two very different women: a single mom making a living as a migrant fruit picker and a figure skater, intent on the heights. A series of unlikely events cause their two worlds to collide, with unexpected results. This is not a plot that does well with over-explanation. Brandeis’ books are all about the journey. And this? It’s a glorious one: well worth the effort. -- Sienna Powers

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus, Giroux/HarperCollins Canada) 562 pages
Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom begins with a deceptively narrow focus. The life of a single family -- the Berglunds of St. Paul, Minnsesota -- viewed from a distance. The neighborhood they choose. The house they buy and love. The children they grow in the house and how all four Berglunds fit into the neighborhood. When the topic -- the vision -- seems nearly exhausted, the field narrows still further. Now we see things from Patty Berglund’s view. And here, perhaps one third into Freedom, it seems as though it will all either drone on endlessly or all begin again. At this point, Freedom seems to be teetering towards tedious. As much as the precious details are what made Jonathan Franzen’s previous book, The Corrections, soar, early in Freedom, everything seems even more tightly wound: as though we’ll never get out of Patty Berglund’s neurotic grasp. And it’s a big book. When two-thirds of it loom ahead of you and you see no sign of anything but more of the same, it’s easy to gasp a bit, like a fish that can imagine nothing but an endless sea. Then, so subtly you don’t even feel the shift, the world of Freedom widens until you realize that not only is the scope of the book much broader than you could ever have imagined, it’s an important book, full of big thoughts and things worth thinking about. In that way, the National Book Award-winning The Corrections, as gorgeous as it could occasionally be, feels like a warm-up to Freedom, a book that begins with the tight focus of The Corrections -- a single Midwestern family, their foibles, their triumphs and their disconnects -- and ends up being an embarrassingly accurate portrait of the modern age, our concerns and our challenges. We watch as the various arms of the Berglund family struggle against the backdrop of all of the challenges that have plagued America over the last decade: political confusion and in-fighting, war, even the mortgage crisis. Freedom seems, if anything, even more than the sum of its parts. An important, view-changing novel that forces consideration of opinion and focuses thought. An epic and a triumph. Freedom is at once deeply human and astonishingly thought-provoking. In the end, it provides a Tom Wolfeishly good illustration of our times. -- Linda L. Richards

Horse, Flower, Bird by Kate Bernheimer (Coffee House Press)
208 pages

In 2008, I was captivated by a children’s book with a real but ephemeral edge. When the end of the year rolled around, I pegged The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum as one of my favorite books of the year. I wasn’t alone; everyone loved that book, many of them for the same reasons I did: it was smart; it was beautiful; it was easy to look at, yet it didn't give it’s real meaning away easily. The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum was a picture book, but it was an intriguing enough one that when I heard that author Kate Bernheimer had written another, yet very different book, I made sure a copy found its way into my hands and I wasn’t, in the end, disappointed. Bernheimer once again takes the feeling and rhythm of the fairy tale and turns it on its side. The eight fairy tale-like stories tell haunting and poetic tales. A girl makes friends with a tulip bulb. An exotic dancer builds her own cage. A woman keeps a secret petting zoo inside her house. One way and another, these are feminine stories with strong narratives and high consequences. Bernheimer’s tales are brief and surprisingly haunting. Or maybe one shouldn’t be that surprised: this is turf well known to Bernheimer, founder and editor of The Fairy Tale Review as well as the editor of three fairy tale anthologies, including this year’s My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. -- Monica Stark

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose (MIRA Books) 416 pages
The Hypnotist, the most recent book in M.J. Rose’s bestselling Reincarnationist series that was also the inspiration for Past Life, the Fox television series that aired this spring is the third of this series, after The Reincarnationist and The Memoirist. Of the three, The Hypnotist is far and away my personal favorite. This is due in one part to the fact that Rose is a writer who seems committed to sharpening her voice and her skills: every book really is better than the last. The other part is thematic. In The Hypnotist Rose returns to some of the themes I really enjoyed in her earlier works -- notably 2002’s breathtaking Flesh Tones -- a book that was never given the attention it deserved. These are themes that Rose does as well as anyone currently writing, notably art and love and how those things can impact one upon the other. In The Hypnotist we again meet Dr. Malachai Samuels, director of The Phoenix Foundation, dedicated to the examination and evaluation of past lives. FBI agent Lucian Glass can’t forget the murder of the young painter who was his lover. When a crazed art collector begins destroying masterworks, Lucian goes undercover at the Phoenix Foundation where he is taken on an incredible journey that vaults him to ancient Greece, 19th century Persia and more modern destinations. In the process, Lucian discovers a plot to steal Hypnos, the 1500-year-old sculpture of the Greek God of sleep: a work of art that is rumored to hold an incredible secret. Along the way, Rose fans a controversial flame: is art owned by a museum or the country in which the piece originated? The Hypnotist is a stunningly satisfying read. Thoughtful, fast-paced and subtly sensual, this is one of the best books thus far from a really terrific writer. -- Linda L. Richards

Katja From the Punk Band by Simon Logan (CZP) 280 pages

So I’m calling this novel SF/F. I’m not sure that’s correct. It seems possible to me that you might choose to call it something else. But I wanted to stick a label on it that would A/ enable those who want to read it to find it and B/ connect it with other books that might be sort of -- though not exactly -- like this one. And that’s the rub, in a way. The thing that makes this whole labeling thing difficult and sometimes even questionable. There’s nothing quite like this. As a result, the publisher created its own label for Katja From the Punk Band, calling it “Jackie Brown meets the Sex Pistols -- a face-paced industrial crime-thriller,” but -- of course and as you know -- there actually is no such thing. In the end, though, this labeling goes where all such things must because, call it what you will, Katja From the Punk Band is a terrific, fast-paced read and author Simon Logan is a writer who is coming up fast. You’re never quite sure when (and even sometimes where) you are. It is a work island somewhere probably near Eastern Europe but what’s more important than that is the fact that no one actually wants to be there. Like just about everyone, Katja is willing to do what it takes to get off the island, so she shoots her boyfriend and steals a drug-like substance that she feels having will help get away in one piece. Of course, none of this goes as Katja had planned and she ends up with a whole platoon of whacky post-punk characters out for her ass with blood in their eyes. It’s exciting stuff. Though the story is compelling enough to make you want to keep reading, Logan’s storytelling decisions here are what really elevates the whole experience. Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, a device that sounds awkward and, truthfully, sometimes is. But the ambition to even attempt it speaks volumes for this author and there are times where -- despite the grit and the tawdry surroundings -- Logan comes very close to creating something like art. There are times that Katja From the Punk Band is so good its almost scary. William Gibson fans might like this one as well as those who appreciate the colorful half images that China Mieville creates. But don’t be doing too much comparing as you read Logan’s book. I suspect that, before long, reviewers will be using this one as a basis for compare. -- Lincoln Cho

The Last Jewish Virgin: A Novel of Fate by Janice Eidus (Red Hen Press) 148 pages
Janice Eidus is just about the last author you’d expect to dish up a vampire novel. And yet. Eidus has won the O. Henry Prize for her short stories. Twice. She has won the Redbook Prize, a Pushcart Prize and several others. So it goes without saying that Eidus is a Serious Novelist. (Note the uppercase.) Lilith Zeremba is a New York fashionista with a hunger for a man she figures may well be a vampire. But, clearly, The Last Jewish Virgin is no Twilight and though the novel is slender, it’s hardly (forgive me) bloodless. Eidus uses the contemporary idea of “vampire” as a way to explore issues of sexuality, mythology and family. Or maybe the author is just having some fun. Either way, The Last Jewish Virgin is quite beyond the sum of its parts. -- India Wilson

Learning to Lose by David Trueba (Other Books) 592 pages
Screenwriter and novelist Trueba’s Learning to Lose is the author's third work of book-length fiction, but the first to be published in English. North American fans of arthouse films are more likely to be aware of Trueba’s work in that medium, including his widely acclaimed directorial debut for La Buena Vida. In Spain, however, even three novels in, Trueba’s voice is becoming well known. And it truly is a voice worth knowing. His language is simple; straightforward, but seemingly no detail is left untended. Despite both that and the length, Learning to Lose is never ponderous or hesitant and it is clear from the first that this is an author who has something to say. The trajectory of sixteen year old Sylvia's life is altered forever when she breaks her leg in a car accident. The driver of the car is a 20-year-old Argentinean soccer player. While the broken duo find themselves at the center of a blooming romance, Sylvia’s father and grandfather discover their own drama; one that includes murder and intrigue. These are the bare facts of plot, yet Learning to Lose is about so much more, including the challenges and morals of modern life; the connections of family. In fact, in many ways the book tackles all of the big questions of life while the pace never lessens, despite the weight of the book and the detail Trueba manages to include. It’s a very good book, one that resonates long after the last page is turned. -- Sienna Powers

Noise by Darin Bradley (Spectra) 240 pages
In every niche and genre and corner of fiction, critics and fans always have their ears open for the voice that will lead them into the future or, at very least, will define the fictional moment in terms of the art and the craft of wielding those words. Considering the nature of his dystopic fiction and the fullness of his vision, I can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that, in his debut, Darin Bradley may be The One. Noise is relentless and so succinct, it’s almost not there at all. Bradley has the sharp and pummeling vision of a noirist, but, in the end, this isn’t noir. Rather, it is the end: a view of a world gone so bad, the only thing left to do is destroy it. Noise is not a thick book, so the dense layering and compelling characterizations will surprise you all the more. It’s unexpected. And given Bradley’s dark view and haunting prose, it’s even possible you won’t like Noise. But it is not possible that you will forget it. -- Lincoln Cho

Of Love and Evil (Songs of the Seraphim, Book 2) by Anne Rice (Knopf) 192 pages
I am a longtime fan of Anne Rice. Like many others, I fell for her vampire novels first, and these many years later they still resonate with me. Her style has always been designed to help you feel, sometimes excrutiatingly, what her characters are enduring, their conflicts, their passions, their disappointments. She has also perfected the art of creating worlds for her characters, with all their art and magic and sensory stimulation. Rice’s talents are on full display in her newest novel, Of Love and Evil, the second in her Songs of the Seraphim series. Here her hero, Toby, is wrestling with seeing his love again, as well as his son. Just as he meets them though, he is called to adventure in 15th-century Rome, where there a dybbuk seems to causing some problems in one particular house. Toby comes to the aid of the family, revealing a murderous plot and changing the nature of the family forever. In this novel, Rice casts Toby’s own family against the one he is called upon to help, and the contrast could not be more pronounced. His own is bound by love, and there is considerable jealousy and even hatred in the other. By positioning one against the other, Rice manages to dial up the emotions in both, until Toby is caught unbearably in the middle. Of Love and Evil is simple and direct, but no less powerful than her earlier work. In the end, as she has always done, Rice uses her characters’ flaws to bring out their humanity in all its many facets. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine) 784 pages
The best book of the year, in my view? Justin Cronin’s The Passage. This post-apocalyptic thriller, the first of a trilogy, is an electrifying drama that follows a group of survivors after a virus turns much of the nation’s population into ultra-violent bloodsuckers. They’re vampires, yes, but don’t let that make you think this is something in the Anne Rice/Stephenie Meyer vein. These vampires are true monsters -- not thirsty, angst-ridden versions of the people they use to be. These babies mean business, and they’ll rip you to shreds. But the book isn’t about the monsters; it’s about a group of people who are trying to find a way to survive day-to-day. Cronin makes them likable -- and better, compelling. These are people you quickly grow to love and want to see again. It’s also about the world they inhabit, a world that’s based on ours but is vastly different. It’s a world built into the shell of ours, and part of what makes The Passage so amazing is how fully Cronin realizes this world. He’s done it so well, in fact, that it seems as if he’s been there somehow (and not just in his imagination). Written in a crisp style that’s highly detailed and delightfully insightful, the book is positively magnetic: you won’t be able to pry your eyes off its pages. That, to me, is what makes this book the best of the year -- and more, the best read of the year. It will leave you as hungry for more as Cronin’s vampires are. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis (Knopf Canada) 370 pages
After the universal disappointment that 2003’s Yellow Dog proved to be, I was frankly a little frightened to pick up The Pregnant Widow, even though I’ve loved so much of the work of this author in the past. (Notably for me, The Rachel Papers, Night Train, the memoir Experience and the essay collection The War Against Cliche). I needn’t have worried. One time literary bad boy Martin Amis is in fine shape for The Pregnant Widow and though the novel seems, at times, startlingly autobiographical, it is also lyrical and creates completely the time and place so important to this book: it’s the summer of 1970 and we enter a castle in Italy filled with 20-year-olds ripe with the magic of their growing self-awareness. Those who, like me, had feared Amis’ skills as a fictionist were fading found their faith reassured by The Pregnant Widow which numbers among the very best books by an exceedingly celebrated author. The Guardian suggested the book may be a contender for the Man Booker Award, but I especially loved the reviewer’s comments. “There’s a full-throated energy to this book that makes perhaps more respectable contemporary novels look like turgid waffles.” I would actually not have dreamed up “turgid waffles,” but the sentiment is what I feel, precisely. -- Linda L. Richards

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart (McClelland & Stewart/MacAdam/Cage) 288 pages
Jane Urquhart is a winner of the Governor General’s Award (for The Underpainter), an officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of France’s Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. There are many other awards and accolades. Stacks of them, in fact. No one ever argues that Urquhart has a deep and generous talent and that her books have been universally wonderful. But Sanctuary Line? It’s even better. And why? This voice is smooth and rich and polished. Urquhart seems to have figured out where all the words go... and then put them in that order. That’s not meant to trivialize what is truly a significant gift. Rather, seven novels, one work of non-fiction, four collections of poetry and an editorship of a short story collection later, Urquhart has learned a thing or two about conveying her message; sharing her gift. There is no girlish awkwardness in Sanctuary Line. No missteps or false notes. To sit down with the book is to be engaged by it. More: Urquhart has something to say and she says it very, very well. Though historical elements show up in Sanctuary Line -- from 19th century Ontario and Ireland -- they are woven into a contemporary story that concerns a single family. And while a single narrative voice gives the book an intimate feel, there are times the story sweeps along like a multi-generational saga. This, too, is part of Urquhart’s gift: the ability to make us feel connected and intimate and, at the same time, part of something much, much larger than ourselves. That single voice belongs to entomologist Liz Crane, come to stay in her family’s abandoned farmhouse where she spent most of the summers of her life. She’s there to study the migratory patterns of the Monarch butterfly, but she ends up deep in recollections and discoveries about her family and their forgotten secrets and it is all so much more than she bargained for. Sanctuary Line is a beautiful, unforgettable book. How does Jane Urquhart just keep getting better and better? -- Linda L. Richards

Secrets of the Sands by Leona Wisoker (Mercury Retrograde Press) 422 pages
Ten years ago Leona Wisoker’s debut novel -- the first book in a series -- would have been published to much fanfare by a large house. Secrets of the Sands has the kind of clarity of voice and vision and extreme depth of scope that one associates with large publishing companies and media fanfare. It’s a very, very good first book. But this is the new millennium and -- in the publishing industry -- times are shaky. While it saddens me that a work of this calibre is unlikely to get the attention it deserves, I’m heartened to see small presses picking up some of the slack from their less confident big brothers. Their loss, as one might say. And cream tends to rise. And then you read Secrets of the Sands. And here we are. Like all very good works of fantasy, Secrets of the Sands is a complete re-imagining of the world and society. Unlike science fiction, that can offer distinction with a slight shift of the light, fantasy -- properly put down -- carries us away completely. It’s what enchants us so about The Hobbit an what continues to rivet us about the works of George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb. They tell stories, sure: but also they recreate every aspect of what we hold dear and familiar and it is with these incredible sleights of hand that we come to see ourselves better and more clearly. Desert Lord Cafad Scratha is dedicated to catching the people who murdered his family when he was but a child. But the king has other ideas and he tries to tame the southern lord. As a result, Scratha goes underground under a false identity. This throws the southern lands into chaos and turns the lives of Scratha and the tightest portion of his cadre into confusion. And it’s an opening move. Secrets of the Sands is but Book One of Wisoker’s “Children of the Desert” series. I’m not sure where this series will take us, but I know it’s a bus I’ll be on. -- Lincoln Cho

The Sky is Falling by Caroline Adderson (Thomas Allen) 310 pages
Whether or not you dig the political points being made in Caroline Adderson’s third novel (After The History of Forgetting and Sitting Practice), the writing here is fantastic. Arguably, The Sky is Falling is this talented author’s best book so far. In the politically charged 1980s, two women make choices that will reverberate through their lives. One ends up married to a doctor, with a beautiful life, kids and a big house. The other ends up in jail. And, in both cases, it could so easily have gone the other way. The novel’s two timelines take place in 1984 -- with two idealistic women keen to save the world from what they see as potential nuclear disaster -- and 2004 -- with both women settled firmly into midlife and living with her own choices: no matter how uncomfortably. There were times when, quite frankly, the politics of The Sky is Falling bored me. This was never true for Adderson’s writing which, as always, is self-possessed and beautiful in its clarity. -- India Wilson

Songs of Love and Death edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois (Gallery Books) 468 pages
The idea of books that move beyond the confines of genre gets talked about a lot. And a lot of it is just that: talk. For all of the things that genre isn’t, one of the things that it is is a handy way for readers to get to the books that they most like. As a result, books that bend their way out of those confines don’t tend to be terribly popular. Of all the books I’ve ever heard of moving beyond its genre, Songs of Love and Death may well come the closest. This short story collection, co-edited by fantasy master George RR Martin, brings together stories themed on star-crossed love. As Martin points out in an introduction, this is a theme that has intrigued authors for years. For ever. What distinguished these stories are the voices sharing them: 17 very recognizable names from fantasy, science fiction and romance. As a result we move from high fantasy to zombie-infested woods and from dystopia to paradise. The list of authors contributing star-crossed tales is impressive and inviting: Jo Beverly, Robin Hobb, Jacquiline Carey, Neil Gaiman, Mary Jo Putney, Tanith Lee, Yasmine Galenorn, Diana Gabaldon and nine others. If the collection that results is slightly uneven, is it possible to be surprised? It’s an interesting theme, well-blended. This was my favorite short fiction collection of the year. -- Lincoln Cho

Sweetness from Ashes by Marlyn Horsdal (Brindle & Glass)
264 pages

It surprised me to learn that Sweetness from Ashes was Marlyn Horsdal’s debut novel. Those deeply entrenched in Canadian writing -- especially from the Western part of the country -- know her name well. From 1984 until 2002, she was co-publisher of the small but esteemed Horsdal & Schubart Publishing imprint. She has edited many very good Canadian authors and I’ve always known her own voice held clarity and sense, though it turns out I must have known this through her non-fiction and essay work. It was, however, unsurprising to discover that Sweetness from Ashes is a confident and accomplished debut. An exploration of family feuds and secrets, Horsdal leads her readers across Canada and to parts of Africa on a journey of familial discovery. As those of us who read a great deal of CanLit know, such journeys often end in shame and heartbreak. Refreshingly, though, Horsdal’s vision is a more mature one. She leads us across her vistas with a sort of vibrant abandon. I loved Sweetness from Ashes. It’s a book for which I feel I’ve waited a long time. -- Monica Stark

What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 256 pages
When a bizarre love tangle causes 17-year-old Wyatt Hillyer’s parents to jump off different bridges within a few hours of each other, the tone of Wyatt’s life seems set. He must pick up sticks and go to live in a small town with his uncle and aunt and their gorgeous daughter. Despite what could certainly sound like a farcical set up, What Is Left the Daughter is a searing look into the hearts of the characters author Howard Norman builds for us so skillfully. What Is Left the Daughter is a slender book that, nonetheless, packs a surprising punch. Norman’s novel seems oddly weighty at times. Important. As though there are thoughts and lessons being imparted that the reader should pay close attention to. Two of Norman's novels -- 1994’s The Bird Artist and 1987’s The Northern Lights -- have been shortlisted for a National Book Award. What Is Left the Daughter is a book of that calibre. I would not be surprised to see it exceed the accolades accorded Norman’s earlier works. -- Aaron Blanton

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Picador) 640 pages
Wolf Hall debuted in hardcover late last year, but was released in paperback in 2010. The story portrays a man who has been described by historians as scheming, unscrupulous and utterly ruthless. In a word, the subject is potentially fascinating. Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) was born of humble parents, and rose to unequalled heights for services rendered to King Henry VIII (the suppression of the monasteries, eviction of the monks, the break with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope, Henry’s unheard-of “divorce” from Catherine of Aragon, the king’s remarriage to Anne Boleyn and so on). Cromwell became Lord Chancellor and Lord Great Chamberlain, the most powerful man in England, only to be beheaded by his royal patron when he had outlived his usefulness. What draws a writer to such a seemingly negative character? Well, what attracted Milton to Lucifer, or Mario Puzo to the Corleone family? Hilary Mantel was obviously captivated by the complexity of the man behind the public mask. A faithful husband and proud father, a lawyer of exceptional ability, a gifted courtier who’s adroit in outmaneuvering the lords who surround the all-powerful King of England, Thomas Cromwell seems too large for life. He would be too large for fiction in lesser hands, yet Mantel’s Cromwell is wholly believable. She paints a picture of rare intensity, which probes deep beneath the square-faced bulk of the well-known Hans Holbein portrait, revealing Cromwell as a charmer, a gifted linguist, a skilled negotiator, a diplomat, a sardonic wit and an “intelligencer” who is always in the right place at the right time, always ready to offer shrewd advice. Most of all, the author portrays him as a man who coolly accepts the danger of the world in which he moves, knowing that he is bound to be pitched from the saddle, sooner or later. Mantel’s command of the time period and its characters -- Anne Boleyn is a masterpiece of coy practicality; Jane Seymour appears fleetingly as the shy girl from Wolf Hall (the title refers to the name of her family home) who will one day rule the royal roost -- and the effortless interweaving of historical details into a vibrant narrative are a mighty step beyond the norm for historical fiction. Add to this a whirling kaleidoscope of events, plots and counter-plots, which make the novel a powerful page-turner, and you have still barely scraped the surface of its delights. -- Michael Gregorio

You Comma Idiot by Doug Harris (Goose Lane) 326 pages
I have long been a sucker for the sort of fiction that might be known as lad lit, unless there was a better name for it, which there is not. To be honest, though, Doug Harris’ You Comma Idiot did not necessarily hit me as such when I first picked it up. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure just what it was. I knew only one thing: I couldn’t put it down. Small-time Montreal drug pusher Lee Goodstone is the idiot that title refers to. Lee is coasting along slacker-drug-pusher style when a series of events pushes his life into a higher gear than he’s entirely comfortable with. Debut author Doug Harris is a filmmaker and maybe some of that cinematic mojo shows up in You Comma Idiot, a book which seems long on both visuals and dialogue. But Harris’ approach to novel writing, while novel is also very tight. You don’t always know where you’re going, but the ride is a whole lot of fun. -- David Middleton

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Blogger Sarah Skilton said...

I appreciate that this list brought attention to titles I'd not heard of -- and I'm excited to add them to my 2011 reading list. Thank you!

Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 1:39:00 PM PST  
Blogger Stephanie Cowell said...

I am thrilled to be included. Thank you so much, January Magazine and Sienna Powers! A quote from your review is in the paperback version of CLAUDE & CAMILLE, coming out this April!

Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 8:20:00 PM PST  
Blogger Paul D Brazill said...

Some good sounding stuff. Mostly new to me. Katja Fron the Punk band sounds great!

Friday, December 24, 2010 at 7:33:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have checked Freedom against Amazon's readers review ratings (589) readers dont seem to agree with this list. This book just scored three stars

Saturday, December 25, 2010 at 4:04:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Jack said...

Thanks for issuing a gentle reminder regarding Martin Amis' Yellow Dog. But before I read Pregnant Widow, I guess I better read London Fields first. Loved Night Train even though female narrator/protagonist was too masculine and the ending left everyone hanging.

Monday, December 27, 2010 at 12:55:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendations...there are a few going on the TBR list. I really enjoyed "The Passage" as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010 at 12:48:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Michael B. said...

"Deep Creek" by Dana Hand (named a Best Novel of 2010 by the Washington Post) is a fine novel of American race relations, and based, horrifyingly, on a real event. And by a female/male writing team, too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 5:15:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved "Wolf Hall." I recommend it to everyone who loves history, particularly the history of the Tudors.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 9:09:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Elizabeth Buchan said...

Excellent and interesting selection. Elizabeth Buchan

Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 2:01:00 AM PST  

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