Reviewing the best books of the past year

Ahhh, the new year. A time for fresh beginnings and resolutions made with the best intentions (then broken). Out with the old, in with the new. A time to use up that bookstore gift certificate that's burning a hole in your pocket.

Ahhh, the new year. A time for fresh beginnings and resolutions made with the best intentions (then broken). Out with the old, in with the new. A time to use up that bookstore gift certificate that's burning a hole in your pocket.

But what to buy?

Lucky for you, the New Year is also a time for the annual Best Of list. So without further ado (and because that gift certificate is tingling), here are my best picks for 2009:

Fiction: If you love mysteries with sass and a few cringe-worthy scenes, you'll love the Jacqueline Daniels series, the latest being Cherry Bomb by J.A. Konrath. This book starts out with a boom and ends with a cliff-hanger that leaves fans howling for the next installment. One caveat: you'll get more out of this novel if you read Fuzzy Navel (the book before this one) first.

I was pleasantly surprised by B as in Beauty by Alberto Ferreras. This little novel is about a self-conscious, homely wallflower who gets a series of fairy godmothers, transforming her into someone who blossoms. A Cinderella tale with a few twists, this is one really cute book.


I listened to Eve by Elissa Elliott on CD, and I was glad I did. This lush, beautiful story is about what happened to Adam and Eve after they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, as told from the viewpoint of Eve and her daughters. Performed by three readers and in several different voices, this is an audiobook not to miss.

Getting older and saying goodbye are two of the themes in Got til It's Gone by Larry Duplechan. When Johnnie Ray Rousseau loses his husband to AIDS, he believes he'll never love again, but he does -- and just as he enters a new relationship, he faces losing his beloved mother. Be aware that there is one graphic scene in this book, but get it for its casually presented dialogue and the realism within.

This one is probably cheating: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. First printed a few years ago and re-released in audio this fall (to coincide with the movie's release), this audiobook is positively stunning because of its narrator, Tom Stechschulte. Yes, the story is good -- it's got surprises all over the place -- but listening to such a stellar performance makes it an audiobook you'll want to listen to twice.

Non-Fiction: Like a fool, I read The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood while on an airplane. I read about how passengers have 90 seconds to exit a burning plane and how women over a Certain Age most certainly die in a plane crash. Gulp. And still, I can't recommend enough this book about fighting, surviving, overcoming adversity and turning life's rottenest lemons into sweet lemonade.

Particularly in this economy, it seems that speculation on How the Other Half Lives is an acceptable pastime. In Rich Like Them by Ryan D'Agostino you'll see that things are only slightly different. Part business, part motivational for wallet and soul, this book is a nice antidote to those irritating spoiled-star headlines.

Reading like a novel in nine parts, Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum is the 100% true story of nine people a few decades before Hurricane Katrina and the years afterward. I loved this book for the way the tales are told (in short-short chapters of mini-drama) and because Baum has a knack for wrapping you tight in the lives of such divergent people.

If you live in the city and have never so much as touched a live pig, don't discount Coop by Michael Perry. Much more than a farm memoir, this is a love story to a woman, daughters, the land, and yes, to pigs and chickens. Perry is a poet with a wicked sense of the absurd and this book is another can't-miss.

Since we all came into the world in the same basic way, Birth Day by Mark Sloan, M.D. is a particular delight. This is a book about what happens in the hours leading up to and the hours after birth, to both the mother and the baby. Not just for new moms, this book is a science-geek's dream as well as a gee-whiz read for anybody who is awed at the miracle of birth.


Children's Books: Okay, so let's just say it. When you read a book aloud to your child, having something for you is bonus. So make yourself happy with Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile, a cute story of two bored boys who try the impossible. The good-naturedly silly tale is great for kids ages 4 to 8. The illustrations -- very Bugs-Bunny-like -- will keep you laughing.

Your middle-school dog lover will adore Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed. This is the story of a fancy showdog who becomes the victim of jealousy and is separated from his beloved Human. Filled with Breathed illustrations and with a tale that brings tears (silly, I know), this is a good book for an adult, too.

I was very impressed by We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson in audio. Yes, this is a picture book about Negro League baseball and the struggle of the players to gain recognition and to bust through racial lines. It's a beautiful book, but you won't miss a thing by getting it in audio; in fact, you'll gain. Not only is it presented with various voices (which enhances the story), but there's a bonus DVD with the books' artwork included.

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