While I still hold the solemn belief (Delusional Alert - Duck!) that I'll have full length reviews of each of these written and posted by year end - in order to give some props to the books I've enjoyed this year, with at least a little holiday advance, here are some mini-reviews:
With Frank Cruz, Felicia Luna Lemus has written a wonderfully complex protagonist. She’s also given Frank a great counterpart in Nathalie, the women he falls in love with after moving from California to New York. Their relationship and everything they go through is documented in unique fashion by FLL.
17. Dave Sim’s Collected Letters by Dave Sim (Aardvark Vanaheim)
Dave Sim is the creator and writer/artist of Cerberus, a comic book that was self-published on a near monthly basis for 300 issues – simply put, a monumental feat. When it was most popular, somewhere in the low 100’s, it was selling over 33,000 copies each issue. It dwindled to under 10,000 by the end, as many found Sim’s views misogynistic and his delving into religion to be far, far from what they were looking for in a comic. This book collects Dave’s letters, most of which are replies to letters he received. It’s an interesting concept, and if nothing else, trying to follow Sim’s logic throughout is an interesting time.
19. Compulsions of Silkworms & Bees by Julianna Baggott (Pleiades Press)
Two new poetry collections by Baggott, both of which are excellent. Being a little lazy with my poetry reading (and comprehension), I liked the SIU book a little more as it had a specific theme – Julianna writing in what she developed as the voices of famous women like, as titled, Lizzie Borden, and others.
4.5 and 4.0 stars, respectively
A great, jam-packed novel about, well, here’s where it gets tough, which to me is always a good sign. A family travels to Italy, mome wants to leave dad, the middle son is seen as a Christ figure by the locals, and much, much more is going on. All handled skillfully, both in terms of character development, and plot.
Initially Wilson’s novel appears to be about a husband trying, albeit in an odd manner, to help out his wife and her family. What it turns into is a fantastic look at a person’s complete mental collapse. This is also one of those books where there are many funny lines just when you’re not expecting them, but end up being much enjoyed.
22. Rules for Saying Goodbye by Katherine Taylor (FSG Books)
If you couldn’t tell from the interview above, I really enjoyed this novel. Another one with great lines, both sarcastic and humorous. An interesting protagonist and well written.
23. Lost Men by Brian Leung (Shaye Areheart)
A fantastic novel about a father and son relationship, a return to the father’s native China, and really is plotted nicely and just a great look at family.
24. The Water Cure by Percival Everett (Graywolf Press)
This latest novel is another step into the investigation into the usage of language by Everett. He begins with the story of a man whose daughter was raped, and killed, and his search for justice after the legal system wasn’t as successful as he would have liked. He kidnaps the man, and tortures him in his basement – though there is precious little in terms of narrative that covers this torturing. Instead, Everett uses stories from Ancient Greece, pictures, language theory, military information, and a bucketful of other methods to write this provocative novel.
25. Radiant Days by Michael A. Fitzgerald (Shoemaker and Hoard)
Another excellent debut novel, Fitzgerald writes of Anthony Sinclair, a young American from San Francisco, who takes off (after a woman, no surprise) to Budapest, and believes he’s found what’s been missing in his life while in Eastern Europe. Things aren’t always as they seem, however, and Fitzgerald is able to surprise the reader a few times from the points Sinclair hit Europe through the end of the novel. Once you get into this one a ways, you won’t put it down until turning that last page.
26. Dead Boys by Richard Lange (Little, Brown)
A great short story collection – gritty, funny (again, not always when you believe it should be) – a write who truly seems to understand men.
27. Dark Paradise
An odd collection of short stories, many of them very short. The most impressive thing about these stories is how much Liksom gets the reader to care about her characters in so little time. As for odd? Here are some topics: 1) a woman refuses to leave prison until she’s finished serving her sentence, 2) a man cleans and cleans his apartment while his life continues on around his interior work, and 3) a woman kills her husband over his neediness.
28. Mercy by Lara Santoro (Other Press)
A debut novel – a journalist working in Africa has an alcohol problem, isn’t turning in work on time, and has a messed up love life. Through all of this, she develops a relationship with her cleaning women, Mercy, and Santoro allows this relationship and its true importance to sneak up on the reader in great fashion, almost as Anna (the journalist) realizes it.
29. Keep it Real by Bill Bryan (Bleak House Press)
A bit of a mystery, a huge satire on reality television and tv/Hollywood in general, this is a laugh-out-loud funny book. Bryan, a film and television writer himself, may not write in quite as literary a manner as many of those authors listed above, but he’s not off by much, and he’s certainly learned how to tell a page-turning story by writing screenplays all these years. Really entertaining.
30. The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars by Joshua Kornreich (Marick Press)
Truly close to a unique writing style. The only one I can think to compare him to is Peter Markus, and not really in all of Peter’s work, in fact, not the work most of you have (or certainly should have) seen to date, but more like his own forthcoming novel, Bob, or Man on Boat next year. Kornreich’s novel is about a young boy whose parents are divorcing, his father is referred to as Frosty the Snowman, and he (the son) goes through a pretty traumatic afternoon. And Kornreich is able to solidly get in the head of a young boy and force the reader to see EVERYthing through his eyes. It’s a fascinating work.
31. The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom (Coffee House Press)
32. The Meat and Spirt Plan by Selah Saterstrom (Coffee House Press)
Saterstom’s first, and then second, novels – these are compelling reading. Saterstrom is another author developing her own style, or styles. These two novels have some similarities, yet are strikingly different from each other – both well worth reading, and at 135, and 215 pages apiece, won’t take up too much of that precious time. Saterstrom becomes an author who I will keep an eye out for in the future after these two.
4.0 and 4.5 stars, respectively
33. Zeroville by Steve Erickson (Europa Editions)
My first, and certainly not last, Erickson novel. This has received many rave reviews and well worthy of them. Erickson’s ode to films, not necessarily Hollywood, is nearly poetic as he ramps up to section 227 and then back down to 0, in mostly short sections. You don’t need to be a film buff, who understands each of the slyly placed real-life actor cameos throughout this work, to enjoy it immensely.
34. Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy (Little, Brown)
A truly beautiful book. Murphy’s writing is lyrical. Another novel written in many small sections, Murphy has given Mata Hari her own voice. She’s come up with some mystery as to her status as a spy. She’s given her a backstory and a story to run concurrent with those from the time of her charges. It’s a stunning piece of work.
35. Grub by Elise Blackwell (Toby Press)
A contemporary version of
36. Spring Tides by Jacques Poulin, translated from the French by Sheila Fischman (Archipelago Press)
A philosophical fable – Poulin begins with Teddy Bear, a translator of a comic strip, residing on an uninhabited island, just the way he likes it. His boss, not believing he’s happy, tries to force his happiness through additions to the eco-structure of the island, beginning with, of course, a young woman (and her cat). It’s both funny and thought provoking, and just a plain ol’ good read.
37. The Understory by Pamela Erens (Ironweed Press)
Erens is a writer whose stories I’d enjoyed in the past and this short novel proves she is more than capable of writing in the longer form as well. Just a great meditation on aloneness and the dealing with that scenario.
38. Three Fallen Women by Amy Guth (So New Media)
A self-described anti-love story – very accurate – this novel is filled with jagged language, phrases that jut out from the page towards the reader, causing one to duck and hesitate before going forward, trying to grasp exactly what Guth is putting her characters through and why. The best news? She’s nearly done with her next novel, also to be published by So New Media)!
39. The Long Haul by Amanda Stern (Soft Skull Press)
Sort of the ultimate look at a destructive relationship and just how hard it is both to realize the destructive level, and then even harder to do something about it once you’ve realized it.
40. Giraffes by Steven Gillis (Atomic Quill Press)
I’ve blogged about nearly all of the stories in this collection – over the past two years Gillis has become one of my favorite story writers. No two are ever alike – the ideas he presents are interesting and he’s more than subtle about expressing specific ideas. He gets the reader into the story within the first paragraph and doesn’t let their attention go until the final page. A great collection, and easy to read straight through as there is no set style or theme from story to story.
41. Matrimony by Joshua Henkin (Pantheon)
A truly well-written look at love and relationships and how things affect this – things like friendship, money, goals, or lack thereof, not to mention faith. Henkin creates interesting characters, and the novel’s pace hums right along.
42. The Musical Illusionist by Alex Rose (
Possibly my favorite non-Dzanc Books effort this year, certainly the most surprising, as I’d not heard of Rose prior to picking this one up. The Musical Illusionist is about the Library of Tangents, an underground subway-like grouping of places. Describing it won’t do it justice – I probably overuse the word unique, but I think it really applies with Rose’s collection. The writing is excellent and the ideas and thought process from Rose is just incredible. I know there are a few five star titles on the list - I believe, in retrospect, that this has been my favorite book this year.