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The best of 2008 in fiction, nonfiction

Lucky you.

This holiday, you got a bookstore gift certificate. That means two things: one, that somebody knows you well and knows you love books. And two, you have to get to a bookstore, pronto!

So many books, so little time, right? To make it easy, here are my Top Fifteen Picks, the books you can't miss, have to read, shouldn't pass up. Of the over-300 books I read in 2008, these are the cream of the crop...

Nonfiction Top 5

Assisted Loving by Bob Morris. When Morris' mother dies, his father goes on a dating rampage and drags his son along by pushing Morris to find True Love. This book made me laugh and there was a passage that still brings me to tears when I think about it. It's a great read for anyone who has a parent who's experimenting anew with the dating pool or anyone who's looking for love in all the wrong places.

Deconstructing Sammy by Matt Birkbeck. This bio is a fascinating look at singer Sammy Davis, Jr., his widow, and the man who took on the project of untangling the mess that was Davis' estate. I enjoyed this book because it's a peek at stardom gone wrong, a story of obsession and responsibility, and a nostalgic trip back in time for anyone who remembers the Rat Pack days.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. What makes success? This book will tell you how to spot it in typical Gladwell style. From Mozart concerto to Beatles concert, you'll see how genius and opportunity meet to make a phenom. This is one of those fascinating, quick-to-read books that will make you think long after you shut the cover.

La Clinica by David P. Sklar. This book surprised me because I wasn't looking to like it as much as I did. Sklar's multi-level book is his look back at time spent volunteering at a Mexican free clinic run by a man with several secrets. The back-and-forth to then and now moves this true story along and reading it is like exploring a cave: there's something unexpected and wonderful in every little cranny.

Breakfast at Sally's by Richard LeMieux. I was only going to browse this book when I first picked it up but by page 4, I couldn't leave it alone. When LeMieux, who is successful and wealthy, goes bankrupt and insolvent and loses his home, he hits the streets with his dog to live in a van. Breakfast is one of those books you have to read, particularly in this economy. It will make you thankful for every single thing -- and person -- in your life.

Fiction Top 5

After River by Donna Milner. When a young Canadian girl's mother hires an American draft dodger to work on their farm, it causes turmoil in the entire family that resonates for years. This debut novel is beautifully written; one of those curl-up-on-the-sofa books to savor.

Cake by D. Conversely. This book is NOT for everyone. It will curl Grandma's hair with the language and violence, but I raced through it in an hour. Cake is a page-turning story about a man who reluctantly gets involved in a drug deal gone bad, even though he's desperately trying to live straight. It's hip, urban, and with an ending that will make you scream. Again, it's not for everybody -- there are things in here that aren't "nice" - but I loved, loved, loved this book.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison. Vintage Morrison -- only better -- this book is about three slave women and the ailing mistress they're trying to save. Layer by layer, Morrison lets the women tell their tale of brutality, fear, and love. "A Mercy" is a skinny book that starts out a bit odd, but stick with it. You'll want to turn around and read it all over again when you're done.

The Right Mistake by Walter Mosley. This is another one of those "make you think" books. It's about a former convict who wants to turn his community around, and he employs friends, family, and thinkers to help him. Mosley's Socrates Fortlow (the main character) is the consummate philosopher, and this book is perfect for when you want a little more than a novel.

Tan Lines by JJ Salem. Okay. So you'll never see this book on any best-seller list, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. You'll get scandal, snarkiness, and a great murder mystery in a beach-house deadly romp of a novel here, which makes it pure fluff and pure fun, all wrapped up in one.

And there you are: 10 can't-miss, gotta-buy-it books for you to purchase with your gift certificate. If you've already read these, ask your bookseller for ideas; he or she has dozens of favorites to talk about.

So what are you waiting for? Get out of here. Go. That gift certificate isn't getting any newer, you know.

Happy reading!

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the Detroit Lakes Newspapers book review column, "The Bookworm Sez." Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.