19. The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, read by Lily Rabe - Aryn Kyle has set herself a very high bar with this book, her first novel. It is a story of a family going through some tough times, nothing too extraordinary, told by the twelve year old youngest daughter. Of course our narrator sees herself at the center of this family, that's how twelve year olds think. But the reader will see how all the lives are falling apart, coming back together, and sometimes stagnating, while staying true to a young girl's voice. The sense of place (a small horse ranch in the desert) is so strong you can just about smell the leather saddles, the characters are fully fleshed out, even those that only appear on a few pages, and the plot takes some surprising, but very believable turns. The only negative was Kyle's female chauvinism. The women of this story act while the men react. The women are the instigators, the men are manipulated. There are a few exceptions to this, but it was noticeable enough I found myself wondering how the father could be so weak and oblivious and have raised daughters who think so well for themselves.
20. Speaking With The Angel, Edited by Nick Hornby - A collection of short stories written by friends of Nick Hornby at his request to raise money for an autism education program in England (and in the US if you buy the published in America version). The only requirement Honby gave his friends was that the stories be told in first person. With that broad of a brief, you're bound to get a variety of tone, plot, and of as in any anthology, quality. Colin Firth, for one, should never quit his day job. And Dave Eggars reminded me that writing as an animal will cause an immediate disconnect with the reader that is very difficult to overcome. On the positive side, a few of the stories are just down right good short fiction: Roddy Doly writes "The Slave", a sneaky little story that examines the difference between maturity and age; Giles Smith brings us "Last Requests", about person with a very unique job - preparing the last meals for death row inmates; and Irvine Welsh writes in the voice of a homophobe who finds the afterlife exactly what he wants it to be. It wasn't a surprise to learn Walsh was the author of "Trainspotting". Of all the pieces, my favorite was "NippleJesus", by Hornby himself, a "what is art?" story that shows that the question is more important than the answer.
21. Twilight by William Gay - This is a Southern Gothic horror story with the emphasis on people and place over action. That's more than enough to make this story a page turner of the highest calibre. A young man who probably thought his childhood was the worst thing that could happen to him finds himself mixed up with some truly evil men as a result of a question about his father's internment. In an attempt to find justice, he crosses paths with a county full of those sort of characters that make Southern Gothic stand apart from any other genre. The story cuts back and forth, not always smoothly, but when you get to the part that meets up with the beginning of the book, it's all too clear - and perfectly gruesome. Gay goes all out with the dialect and social customs of the region he's writing about, and they add to the "other worldy" aspect of this dark and violent tale. I can't wait to read more of what he's written!