Happy New Year's Eve. Dizzy and I are back in Gardiner, and snowed in by a storm that's supposed to last until Sunday night. It's not ideal, but we have plenty of food, cable, lots of books, Internet access, three pounds of espresso beans and half a bottle of bourbon, so we're fine. More comfortable than anybody in Times Square, that's for sure.
And since I didn't post yesterday, here's the first of two entries I'll post this evening about the best books I read this year — mysteries and non-mysteries. Non-mysteries first, alphabetically by author:
1. John Connolly, THE GATES. The best book I read this year, a joyful romp the author describes as "an adult book for children." Samuel Johnson and his faithful dachshund, Boswell, must save the world from the powers of darkness after some nasty neighbors inadvertently open the gates to Hell.
2. Mindy Friddle, SECRET KEEPERS. An enchanting book, in the tradition of Alice Hoffman and Anne Tyler, about a South Carolina family that unearths its secrets to find themselves at last. Emma Hanley, widowed at 72, hires Jake Cary to clean up her lawn, and surprises bloom all over Palmetto, SC, as Emma, her unhappy daughter Dora, and Dora's teenaged son Kyle discover what they really need.
3. Tod Goldberg, OTHER RESORT CITIES. A collection of short stories about people who, in one way or another, are looking for a place to call home in cities that cater to transients. Some are funny ("Mitzvah," about a rabbi with a past, and "Rainmaker," about a professor with a dangerous second career) and some are sad ("Walls," which made me sob, and "Palm Springs" and "The Models," in which parents fail their children in very different ways), but all are sharply observed and deeply compassionate.
4. Lev Grossman, THE MAGICIANS. The friend who recommended this to me described it as "Harry Potter meets The Secret History," which sums it up pretty well, although the book owes just as much to the Narnia stories. Quentin Coldwater and his friends have magic powers, but must still deal with the basic pain of growing up. Late in the book, one character says to another: "Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever."
5. Luis Alberto Urrea, INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH. Nayeli, a teenaged girl in a small Sinaloan village, enlists her friends for a quest to the United States, to bring back seven strong men to defend the village from drug lords. One of these seven men, she hopes, will be her own father, who left the village years ago to find work in the north. A strong, simple story with a terrific protagonist, and I only wish the book had been about 30 pages longer.