I don’t have the time to read as much as I used to, but I still always have a book in my hand at some point in the day. There’s a lot of crap out there now – they’ll let anyone publish anything if there’s a dime to be made from it – but sometimes it’s fun to even read the crap. Escapist reading is a good thing. Here are the books that I consider the best I’ve read this year:
1. Last Night in Twisted River (John Irving): I’m still reading this one and am getting close to the end. In my opinion, none of his books have been nearly as good since The Cider House Rules. That book is just amazing. However, this one is running a close second so far. The characters are so well-defined and real that you feel like you’ve known them forever. And sometimes Irving will have one of those lines that you just have to read over & over because it’s so beautiful. There’s a lot in this book that seems to be taken from his life, and a lot of it rings true as something I can truly relate to.
The book concerns young Danny Baciagalupo and his father, Dominic. They live in a logging community in the 1950s, and one night, Danny mistakes his father’s lover for a bear, accidentally killing her with a blow from a cast-iron skillet to her head. At that point, the father and son go on the run to escape justice from the local constable, who just happened to be in a relationship with the woman that Danny has killed. Gruff but kindly family friend Ketchum keeps a watch over the family and is such a wonderful, multi-faceted character.
There is so much to this book that I wouldn’t know where to begin to describe all that it encompasses. Irving continues to surprise me with beautiful, little touches and unexpected events. There is sex, violence, infidelity, alcoholism, animal abuse – but there is also unconditional familial love, lasting friendship, religion, politics, family pride, and wonderful romantic undertones. Though I am eager to start something new, I’m not sure I want this book to end.
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2. The Likeness (Tana French): This book was published before 2009, but I only just read it this year. I love, love, love this book. It features murder squad detective Cassie Maddox, who first appeared in French’s earlier novel In the Woods. When Cassie gets a strange call from a former colleague to show up at a murder scene in a village outside Dublin, she gets the surprise of a lifetime. The murder victim is a woman who looks just like her – enough to be her twin. She’s faced with a number of concerns such as “Did my parents not tell me I had a twin?”, “Did someone kill her when they meant to actually kill me?” She decides to pose undercover as the girl, who the media and the public believes to have survived the attack, and moves into a house with a group of eccentric graduate students, hoping that she can pass for their (former, now dead) roommate.
The book is full of suspense, psychological insight, great character development, and Dublin history. I could not put this book down, and I was so sad to see it end. Luckily, French’s new novel comes out in a few months and maybe that will last me until the next one.
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3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire (Stieg Larsson): These first two titles in the author’s Millenium trilogy are just plain fabulous! I kept hearing everyone talk about how good Tattoo was, and I decided to see for myself what all of the fuss was about. The book did not disappoint. The characterization is wonderful, and the book is full of suspense, intrigue, good guys, bad guys, worse guys, and a little romance. The second book, Fire, is even better than the first and the amazing character of Lisbeth Salander is more fleshed out and endearing than in the first novel. I love these books so much that I put the third book (currently only available in the UK) on my Christmas list in hopes that someone will go to the trouble of ordering it for me. I think Santa is probably listening.
The only sad news here is that Larsson died in 2004, and except for one or two unfinished pieces that may be released at some point, we can’t expect any more books from this fine author.
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4. Evil at Heart (Chelsea Cain): The third book in a series by Cain, this one is not quite as good as Sweetheart, but it still lives up to expectations. Gretchen Lowell is a serial killer, and she’s as bad as it gets. She thinks nothing of cutting out someone’s spleen, feeding someone bleach, or carving up someone’s body with her bloody graffiti. Archie Sheridan is a detective who was once held captive by Lowell, and though he escaped from her grasp, she still continues to have a hold on him mentally (and sometimes physically). The cat and mouse game between these two has been very interesting in the past books, but it does wear a little thin in this one. Luckily, Archie and reporter Susan Ward seem to be developing a closer friendship in this book, so hopefully there is a future for their characters together in some capacity.
Cain’s books are gory, stomach-churning, and full of psychological perversions – making them fabulous page-turners. Now, if only someone will wise up and cast Mark Ruffalo as Archie when they make the movies, I’ll be a happy camper.
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Honorable Mention if you Like Chick Lit:
The Brightest Star in the Sky (Marian Keyes):
Will Be Published in January 2010
This book started out so incredibly cheesy, but it quickly picked up the pace, and was a great escapist book for me when I was bored or stressed out from work. If you can suspend your disbelief for the first chapter or two of the book, the payoff is a good one. Do not be put off by Keyes’ uncharacteristic use of a “spirit” as a main character in the book.
The apartment building on 66 Starr Street in Dublin is home to a group of mixed-up, not necessarily well-matched characters. Matt & Maeve are seemingly happily married, but one of them is hiding a secret from the world. Katie is a 40-ish workaholic with very poor taste in men. Lydia is a young taxi driver with a not-so-great boyfriend, and an unhealthy attraction to her male roommate. Fionn is a a future TV-gardening-show star and a real charmer with the ladies, and his Mom is possibly psychic – and her dog is just plain mean. Doesn’t sound like much, but when these characters lives intertwine, the result is funny, romantic, charming, and very relatable.
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