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Nerdies for Favorite Things of 2009

Hope you all are enjoying the holidays. Me, I’m having so much fun with family, I need more gigabytes in my brain to store all the memories being made.

I get grateful this time of year for 1) making it this far and 2) all the wonderful experiences I had in the last 12 months. So, between all the eating and social gatherings, I present to you my Nerdy Awards for favorite things this year.

Most Valuable Preposition: Up. Apparently, the best way to make sure a movie is good is by putting this two-letter word in the title. Up and Up in the Air tie for best movie I saw this year. Both are perfect blends of comedy and poignancy, light and dark, entertainment and explorations of what makes us human.

Best Reasons for Staying Home Wednesday Nights: Glee, Modern Family and Cougar Town. Wednesday nights are always a party in my house, as I sing along to Glee then laugh my face off with Family and Cougar. You’ve probably heard plenty about the first two but may not know that Cougar‘s cast, led by the game Courteney Cox, has really gelled into one hilarious ensemble.

Most Unique New Voices in Crime Fiction: Chet the Jet from Spencer Quinn’s Dog on It, Pietro Brwna from Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper, and Stella Hardesty in Sophie Littlefield‘s A Bad Day for Sorry. The field is crowded with cops and detectives but this year, I met fresh new characters starting with Chet, a dog who narrates the adventures he has while solving crimes with his human partner, Bernie. Brwna is a hit man turned jaded medical intern who uses a deadly weapon I’ve never seen used before. And Littlefield introduced us to a 50-year-old, slightly overweight woman who helps abused women keep their partners in line partly by using S&M restraints. These books are all first in a series so discover them now before the next installments come out (Chet’s new case, Thereby Hangs a Tail, arrives January 5).

Best Noir Debut: Richard Lange‘s This Wicked World. This is Lange’s first novel but it reads like he’s been writing them forever. Worthy of a place on my shelf among the genre’s greats.

Best Avoidance of Sophomore Slump: Gillian Flynn with Dark Places. Her debut, Sharp Objects, was so stunning, I wondered if her second novel would measure up. I was thrilled, then, to find Flynn delving even more deeply into the female psyche’s dark, twisted side in Places. Few writers can write about damaged, prickly women and make them so mesmerizing.

Fattest Books I Finished in Shortest Time: I got lost in Kate Morton’s gothic, 560-page The Forbidden Garden for 3 days, while my eyeballs were glued to the 512 pages in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire for 34 hours, finishing it in almost one sitting, minus a few hours of sleep.

Most Soul-Shaking Book: Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. This non-fiction tale of a star football-player-turned-soldier gunned down by friendly fire in Afghanistan ripped me apart and made me re-evaluate how I live my life. A searing read I won’t forget anytime soon.

Funniest Person I Least Expected to Be: Brian Williams on 30 Rock. The veteran NBC Nightly News anchor made me laugh hard when he unexpectedly showed up on Rock, telling Tina Fey he wanted to audition for her show within the show by doing a stand-up act. The punchline wasn’t funny at all but Williams’s hammy, goombah delivery was very much so.

Favorite Movie Trend: Women 45 and over kicking ass at the box office. Sandra Bullock had two big hits (The Proposal, The Blind Side), Meryl Streep had three movies (Julie & Julia, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, It’s Complicated), one of which may win her a third Oscar. And Sigourney Weaver returns as sci-fi queen in Avatar. I hope this trend continues so I can stop watching actors get older while their female co-stars get closer to infancy every year.

Best Performance by Any Actor, Male or Female: Mo’Nique in Precious. Not so much a performance as a terrifying inhabitation of a nightmarish character.

Most Memorable Movie Quote: I just met you and I love you.” —Dug the talking dog in Up.

What were some of your favorite things this year?

THE REAPER Kicks Butt!

beat_reaperMan, oh man, I just finished this book by Josh Bazell called Beat the Reaper and it was so good, I started writing this review before the book’s back cover had slapped shut. That’s how fast I wanted to spread the word. Bazell is a first-time novelist but you wouldn’t know it from his assured control of pace, plot and dialogue in this hilarious and outrageous mafia comedy thriller. 

The novel starts out with our protagonist, Dr. Peter Brown, getting mugged while watching a rat fight a pigeon in the snow on his way to work at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. Turns out Dr. Brown’s a lot like the rat and knows a thing or two about fighting himself.

Brown is really Pietro Brnwa aka Bearclaw, a former mob assassin who turned state’s evidence then went into witness protection and medicine to atone for his killings. Not that he’s suddenly turned into a Boy Scout. He calls a patient with rectal pain “Assman” and agrees to lick a pretty patient’s leg before she’s wheeled to surgery to get it amputated. He also eats Moxfane like potato chips (“Moxfane is the drug they give to bomber pilots who need to take off from Michigan, bomb Iraq, then fly back to Michigan without stopping. You can swallow it or use it to run the engine.”). 

Of course, like the pigeon fighting the rat, people from his past just won’t stay down and keep coming back for more, no matter how bloody the result (very, in case you’re wondering). Bazell, who’s a real doctor in San Francisco, switches back and forth between the present and the past to fill us in—even exposition unfolds at heart-thumping speed—on how Brnwa got sucked into the mob in the first place and how it all went wrong. The action leads to a climactic confrontation in which Brnwa uses an insane, improvised lethal weapon that I’m pretty sure has never been used in crime fiction.

Bazell’s voice is fresh and scalpel-sharp, his prose vivid and cinematic. As Brnwa enters a pitch-black room, the author writes: “I recognized the sound of her instantly. The adrenaline jacked my pupil size…An impulse hit me. Kill. All around the room, knees, eyes, and throats lit up like targets in a shooting gallery.” Bazell definitely hit the bull’s eye with his debut so it’s no surprise to hear Leonardo DiCaprio has already snapped up movie rights. Other good news? Bazell promises Brnwa will be back in a sequel.

Nerd Verdict: Hard to beat this brilliant combination of thrills, humor and action