Jennifer Stevenson -- Best of 2009

Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti. Devoti’s new series, about where the Amazons went (right here, in hiding) and what they’re up to (battling evil, of course). I especially like the female dynamics of her Amazon subculture. This stuff rings true for anybody who has associated with modern day Amazons, such as roller derby girls. The characters stuck in my head for weeks afterward.

Blue Mountain Trouble, by Martin Mordecai. I read this chapter book for kids in manuscript and loved it. Blue Mountain Trouble is a charming story about a kid growing up in rural Jamaica of the late 1980s, encountering family mysteries and magic. It is designated one of the 2010 USBBY (U.S. Board on Books for Young People) Outstanding International Books for Grades 6-8, and selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best of 2009 books for children published in the US.

Dogs & Goddesses, by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich. Another three-way collaboration by Crusie and Stuart, adding Rich (a Rita Award winner) this time. Three women meet up in a small college town and disorganize the return of an ancient goddess. It’s so damned packed with memorable characters and satisfying adventure that I had to read it and then turn back to page one and read it a second time right away. Truly three for the price of one.

An Evil Guest, by Gene Wolfe. One weird book, even by Wolfeish standards. This reads like a radio play with stage directions; the emotions of the characters are left to the reader to infer. Melodrama, volcanoes, conspiracies within conspiracies, Pacific paradise and undersea menace. I couldn’t put it down.

Funny People, movie. This took me by surprise, as do a lot of Sandler’s movies. I guess I expect more peeing against walls and instead get his odd brand of sweetness. Then, when the two smart-mouth little girls came in, I realized it was also a Judd Apatow movie. Double the fun! Almost all the characters are professional comedians, so there are still plenty of penis jokes. Funny People the most of Apatow’s gift for wedding extreme vulgarity to arrow-in-the-eye truth and, well, sweetness.

Half World, by Hiromi Goto. I read this in manuscript, too. This young adult fantasy is so dark and gritty that even gray at the end of the tunnel looks like blazing sunshine. The job of fantasy is to illustrate truth with all the precision and graphic melodrama of nightmare. Goto’s half world lives up to Barry Hughart’s assertion that “fable has strong shoulders that carry far more truth than fact can.” Half World’s magic has the internal consistency of a ripping Hindu mythos.

He’s just not that into you, movie. I heard complaints about this movie, but I felt it succeeded as romantic comedy. Maybe it’s better for the male viewer. Very dry for the genre, but very solidly constructed. It was head-twisting to see Justin Long, whose Joe Camel face strikes me as indecently suggestive even in repose, cast as a straight hero. The first time I saw him, in Zack and Miri Make a Porno (also wonderful), he was cast as a gay male porn star. Boy was that memorable.

Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, edited by Michael D. Bailey and Brian P. Copenhaver. This is the journal of the Societas Magica, an academic group devoted to the scholarly study of the history of magic. Reviews, articles, and “new books” lists for the field. If you’re looking for comely wiccan maidens dancing sky-clad on mountains, look elsewhere. Highly interesting if you’re bent in the academic direction.

My Lucky Star, by Joe Keenan. O my god, a new Joe Keenan novel I missed! This is a 2006 title which apparently took him nine years to finish because he’s been busy writing screenplays for Frazier and other TV shows. Keenan flagrantly and lovingly updates the Wodehouseian comic novel. The style and structure owe a lot to Wodehouse, but the Extreme Swish voice is Keenan’s own, the voice of Phillip, (narrating, gay and sweet and gullible). As always, we also get Gilbert (his first love, charming and unprincipled and oh-God-dumb), and Claire, Phillip’s collaborator in writing musical comedies, a chubby straight woman who plays Keenan’s Jeeves, dragged into mess after mess by the wack boys, and who pulls out crazy solutions in the final reel to rescue all from disaster.