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I always love to find new authors, and Lisa's voice really resonated with me. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is not her debut -- that was SIMPLE WISHES, which is at the top of my TBR pile. This is a contemporary romance, bordering on women's fiction. Lisa's hero, Eli, is definitely on my Top Heroes of the Year list.
Considering the massive quantities of books I read every year, when one stands out I really pay attention. I would have an extremely hard time putting together any kind of top ten list, but this is an author I'm going to watch for from now on.
I’ve been waiting for another collection of stories from Mary Gaitskill since her powerful volume Because They Wanted To published in 1997. (She published an excellent novel, Veronica, in the mean time, but I’m especially hooked on her short stories.)
Gaitskill’s stories in Don’t Cry are unflinching. They reveal the truth of human nature and the mess we make of relationships, which can make for a startling or unsettling reading experience. This honesty—in all its complexity—is deeply satisfying. It’s difficult to achieve in fiction, and even more so in a short story. Her writing is exquisite.
This is a lovely story about Burt and Verona, a thirty something couple, who are about to have their first baby. Verona’s only living relative is her sister and Burt’s parents are moving out of the country. Burt and Verona go on a cross-country trip visiting various friends and family to figure out where they want to settle and raise their child.
This is one of the most refreshingly human stories I’ve seen on screen this year. It’s filled with the kind of questions, indecision, and unexpectedness that wash over many of us in real life. Burt and Verona are looking for a home and, at the same time, seeking to define what home means to them, all while the enormous responsibility of raising a child looms near. I appreciate that this movie addresses the realities of the human experience—loss, pain, responsibility—while keeping at its core a tender relationship and humble joy.
In a word, hilarious. Felix Funicello (a distant cousin of Annette) is in 5th grade at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School. After his teacher, Sister Dymphna, has a nervous breakdown (courtesy of Felix) the fun really starts. His friend Lonnie has been left back twice, and knows a lot about the birds and the bees that Felix's father won't tell him. Lamb's way with words will keep you laughing from start to finish.
Sure to become a traditional holiday season favorite. You can listen to Wally Lamb read the audio version of Wishin' and Hopin' himself.
Conroy's new novel is the first he's written in fourteen years. Epic in scope, South of Broad fulfilled all my expectations. Conroy does not disappoint with his characters - they are alternately lovable, maddening, laughable, and often bizarre in the extreme.
Finally, a good father in a Pat Conroy novel. And this one must be the one everyone dreams to have - his kindness is like a blanket. I feel the same about Atticus Finch; I aspire to be this kind of parent.
Leopold "Leo" Bloom King is, like Conroy's other heroes, a boy and then a man to whom we can all relate. His self-described unattractiveness touches a place deep within all of us, no matter whether we were ugly or not.
Of course, there is football. Sports cannot be ignored - they help Conroy's young men develop into characters we cheer for and suffer alongside.
Suicide, a serial killer, a hurricane, a movie star, a psychotic wife - Conroy leaves no empty spaces. Take your time reading this one - it might be a few years before we get another.
When I heard this book
The Confessions of Edward Day described as "Highsmithy" I ran to check it out. Indeed it is suspenseful and revolves around a very Highsmithy plot in which two young man experience a psychological repulsion for each other that almost reads as attraction. And a strange accident links them together for life, till death does them part. The added delish element of the book is that the two young men are theater actors and so the novel is set in 1970s New York City. I cannot believe this was my introduction to Valerie Martin, a true writer's writer. After reading this page-turner (with depth) in a few days I went on to check out the rest of her canon: "Mary Reilly" (nothing like the movie, thankfully), "The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories", and am now up to "Love." Though I have been thrilled as well by her other books, it is Edward Day that haunts and excites me every time I think about it ...which is quite often.
There are all kinds of garden-related books, and I'm sure I could come up with a top 25 for every category. But one book is a stand-out this year: Amy Stewart's WICKED PLANTS. It was featured at B&N's Garden Book Club and I interviewed Amy Stewart about it at Garden Variety. You'd think I'd be tired of it by now, but no -- it continues to fascinate me. Even my husband, the antithesis of a gardener, is intrigued by it.
I've recommended to mystery-loving friends and friends who like books that are a little quirky. WICKED PLANTS is informative -- if you're looking for ways to kill someone or make them suffer. The anecdotes are fascinating, as well as historically accurate.
If you're looking for a gift for someone who has everything else already, consider WICKED PLANTS. But don't give it to your enemies, and you may want to think carefully before giving it to your spouse. It's sort of a primer on poisons -- so handle it with care.
I don't watch a lot of TV, but occasionally a show will hook me. I tend to discover these series late in the game, so while these were my favorites of 2009, some of them may have come out earlier. And, new or old, I have to include Foyle's War on any favorites list.
I'd add the Anthony Horowitz British series "Collision," but I don't think it's available yet.
I saw two movies at the cinema this year that I loved so much I'm getting copies as gifts. You don't have to be young to love "Up," just young at heart. And even a kitchen-klutz like me can get a thrill watching "Julie and Julia."
A complex, beautiful, and very sad album. Not only because of the passing of one of the members means Immolate Yourself is the last album by Telafon Tel Aviv (at least in the form that we knew them) but the music itself is a wistful look back, in many ways, at the not-so-distant past of electronic dance music.
Not to say that the album doesn't belong in 2009. It's certainly a very "late 00's" album and fits in well with other currently popular electronic acts, its especially comparable to several French acts like m83, Air, or even a much mellower Minitel Rose.
Like the best of this decades' electronic music, the album is very much about the history of what led up to the current sound, with warm, detuned pads and simplistic sequencer lines strongly reminiscent of the synth pop and new wave of the 80's and the post-punk and art rock sounds that fed into those. The vocals are recorded in such a way that they sound like unintentionally overheard pop songs belonging to someone else's private memories, like you are hearing someone singing from around a corner and it blends in with your own memories and the ambient sounds of the current world.
A deep and ultimately tragic album. Strongest tracks are "Mostly Translucent" and the title track, "Immolate Yourself".
This is a superb collection of contemporary classical pieces by a world-class orchestra, led by a conductor who has already made a name for herself as an interpreter of modern music. The album opens with Scottish composer James MacMillan's powerful Confession of Isobel Gowdie: composed in 1990, this work focuses on the martyrdom in 1662 of a Scottish woman accused of witchcraft, amid the long period of hysterical persecutions following the Scottish Reformation. Mournful string passages predominate at first, gradually yielding to fierce attacks by the brasses, winds, and percussion as the music addresses the barbaric execution of the condemned woman -- ultimately, expressions of grief and anger alternate until the piece ends on a long, anguished cry of foreboding from the entire orchestra. Following this emotionally searing experience, Alsop shifts the mood with a genial interpretation of Thomas Adès's Chamber Symphony (written when the London-born composer was still an undergraduate), emphasizing the sinuous, jazzy inflections of the work in a way that her mentor, Leonard Bernstein, would certainly have enjoyed. Concluding the disc is Jennifer Higdon's Percussion Concerto (2005), another example of this young American composer's ability to create innovative, distinctive music that is also highly accessible. Featuring a bravura performance by soloist Colin Currie, the concerto plumbs the full range of the percussionist's art, offering everything from thunderous drumming to the most delicate tintinnabulations. All in all, this is a don't-miss disc for fans of contemporary classical music -- it could even appeal to those whose tastes run to more traditional fare.
The premise of The Good Rat is Breslin's vivid reportorial account of the high-profile trial of a pair of decorated NYPD detectives accused of committing murders for the Mob. But in vintage Breslin fashion, he branches off into a number of fascinating byways, offering juicy tidbits of Mob history and vivid recollections of the days when journalists and criminals rubbed shoulders in now-defunct saloons like Pep McGuire's in Queens. Breslin's affection for the disreputable characters and milieus he once new, as well as his fascination with the once-dedicated cops turned hit men and the complicated character -- businessman/Mob fixer Burt Kaplan -- who agreed to testify against them, makes this book irresistible. "I'll just read this next little bit," I kept saying, as the hours went by and the rest of my life remained on hold. If you're a longtime Breslin fan or just hunger for a window into the "real" New York that rarely gets any play in the media, don't miss this one.
While originally recorded in 1969, the five "complete, unxpurgated" volumes that make up The Woodstock Experience have been re-mastered, mixed, and released this year to coincide with the 40th Anniversary of the concert that rocked the world.
Not only do you get the full live sets -- much of which have never been issued -- from Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter, Santana, Janis Joplin, and Sly and the Family Stone; you also get the band's studio album from that same era.
Here's how it breaks down (the individual volumes are available too!):
To paraphrase Grace Slick, this 10-CD collection, highlights "The heavy groups" as well as the "morning maniac music." We believe you, Gracie, it really was a "a new dawn!"
Spooner is my favorite book of 2009. Period. A thinly veiled autobiography, the story follows the follies and foibles of Warren Spooner and his superhero of a step-father, Calmer Ottosson.
Dexter, who won the National Book Award for his novel Paris Trout, is one of our greatest writers and he's got the scars to prove it. Literally. While working as a reporter he was jumped by a bevy of thugs who didn't like a piece he wrote. They left him with no teeth and a broken back. This brutal episode is in the book pretty much exactly as it happened. Coupled with this epic low are scenes that will make you belly laugh. In fact, I had to stop reading the book on my commuter train as people began to stare at the giggling simpleton in aisle three.
Imagine John Irving's best work, sans the bear and the incest, and you'll get an idea on just how good Spooner really is.