Each December, our reviewers choose their top books; today's list is by Shelf Awareness book review editor Marilyn Dahl.
A Dog's Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron (Forge Books)
Looking through the eyes of a dog in four incarnations--Toby, Bailey, Ellie and Buddy--Cameron takes on life's big questions: Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I here? He nimbly avoids sappiness; instead, he imbues this amazing book with gentle wit, dignity, sadness and love, and we feel the magic of the dog-human bond.
The Affair by Lee Child (Delacorte Press)
Often prequels to a series are disappointing; not so with the latest in Lee Child's Reacher series. We see Reacher in the army, find out why he left, and why he travels with only a folding toothbrush... and we'll never watch a train go by in the same way again.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
It took me months to read this book because I did not want it to end. The story of a baseball prodigy who begins to lose his gift when scouts start paying attention, and his friends at college is the story of big dreams, dreams dashed and lives rethought. It reminds me of Brothers K, high praise indeed.
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (Knopf)
Jacob Marlowe, the last werewolf, has a definite, imminent rendezvous with death. He welcomes death, having been in the world too long, too hunted, too bored. Duncan has broken the mold with this novel. It's a thriller, filled with steamy and seamy sex (Jake's an animal, after all), but the erudite Duncan has more than that to offer--sardonic wit, wordplay and literary allusions, to name just a few of the delights of this tour de force.
Sookie Stackhouse 8-volume boxed set by Charlaine Harris (Ace)
I admit with embarrassment that I had long ignored the Sookie books--when I tried reading the first one, I wasn't in the mood, and decided it wasn't worth the effort. But earlier this year I was laid up for a while and a friend sent me this set, saying it was just what I needed. Was he ever right! Romance! Sex! Vampires! Werewolves! Fae! Thrills and chills and humor!
Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton by Jeff Pearlman (Gotham)
A biography that transcends the genre, a thoughtful, profound, respectful story of a larger-than-life man. It's a story of segregation, integration and strong family, with a cast of memorable people. Even more, it's a cautionary tale of what football can do to a player, especially a player who would rather take a hit than run out of bounds. Payton's painkiller addiction? The more surprising story would be no need for drugs.
Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman (Ace)
Christopher Buehlman's masterful debut novel is a spellbinding tale of terror. With impeccable pacing, he traces an arc from the happiness of a new beginning for Frank and Dora, through hints of lurking strangeness in their new town, to full-blown horror as evil is unleashed when the town's careful balance is upset. The prose is moody and lush, the story creepy yet beautiful.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch (Harper)
When Nina Sankovitch's older sister died suddenly at age 46, Nina was bereft; three years later, she decided to read a book a day for a year in honor of her sister and their shared love of books. Her eclectic reading list and unalloyed delight in reading are catnip for booklovers. The books are interwoven with stories about her family as she pens a testament to the value and the joy of reading, and the fun of discovery.
What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly)
Late-adolescent males make ideal warriors, but what happens when the war is over? Marlantes, author of the magnificent Vietnam novel Matterhorn, describes the psychological, emotional and spiritual effects of combat and killing and what can and must be done for these warriors (including women) to bring meaning to the chaos and hell they experience. A deep and compassionate addendum to his novel.
Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet (Minotaur Books)
A wickedly witty mystery with all the right elements of a traditional British cozy: an idyllic English village, a dishy vicar (who has untraditionally fled his past as an MI5 agent) and a Women's Institute Harvest Fayre, run in a roughshod manner by a highly unpopular woman. What makes this book stand out is the humor--wry and clever.