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Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart.

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Replay gallery. Pinterest Facebook. Up Next Cancel. By Sarah Weldon. A usually cooperative, agreeable bunch, we gave ourselves a reason to fight. We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration. We expect you'll be surprised: there's a graphic novel, an adventure story, possibly the next Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance , a delicious biography that could bring Cheever back into the literary firmament.

We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male. There was kicking and screaming for a science fiction title. A literary ghost story came so close, it squeaked. There was almost a cookbook. Our fabulous long list smoothed ruffled feathers, but still we can't resist one honorable mention: Kevin Wilson's debut collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth Harper Perennial. Times , in a nail-biting thriller that charts the demise of print journalism and shows why Connelly is one of today's top crime authors. Cook Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Edgar-winner Cook eloquently explores the often cathartic act of storytelling as George Gates, a former travel writer who after seven years still broods over his eight-year-old son's murder, looks into the unsolved disappearance of reclusive poet Katherine Carr 20 years earlier.

Spooner Pete Dexter Grand Central Dexter's crowd-pleasing wiles are razor sharp in this long-awaited novel, the madcap and touching, assured and ahem dexterous story of a very Dexter-like Warren Spooner.

It builds to a truth so twisted even the most astute readers won't see it coming. The Man in the Wooden Hat Jane Gardam Europa Octogenarian Gardam bookends her much-lauded Old Filth with this witty and very British love story, taking on with aplomb loyalty, lust, ambition and longing as she excavates the holes in all of our hearts.

Tinkers Paul Harding Bellevue Literary Press George Crosby's deathbed reveries wander through memories of his own life as a boy and the lives of his father and grandfather, in this sumptuously written first novel that has been the darling of indie bookstores. Hilarious, readable and atmospheric. The Vagrants Yiyun Li Random Wrenching and bleak are understatements for Li's magnificent gothic account of life in provincial China, centering on the execution of a counterrevolutionary. For all the morbid happenings—and there are many of them—the novel's immediately involving and impossible to walk away from.

Truth is always elusive; here, it's a dire liability, too. Her reluctance, suspicions and flashbacks of their time spent in Afghanistan create a dark background for the brilliance of her descriptions and observations. Harry Hole discovers that a bank robbery is linked to the apparent suicide of a woman friend he hasn't seen in years in this lush crime saga from the Norwegian author.

Lark and Termite Jayne Anne Phillips Pantheon This elegant unraveling of parallel narratives—a grunt's Korean War tour of duty and the story of a family struggling through hard times nine years later—is at once intensely personal and loaded with themes of identity, duty and renewal, all the while maintaining a tight coil of suspense. The Cry of the Sloth Sam Savage Coffee House The increasingly desperate letters dispatched by the editor of a middling literary magazine provide a glimpse into the soul of a minor writer ravaged by existential dread.

As Savage slowly deflates the narrator's self-importance, he provides a caustic and supremely funny portrait of a man in decline. Drood Dan Simmons Little, Brown Narrated by Wilkie Collins, this unsettling and complex thriller imagines a frightening sequence of events that prompts Collins's friend and fellow author, Charles Dickens, to write The Mystery of Edwin Drood , Dickens's last, uncompleted novel. Cutting for Stone Abraham Verghese Knopf Verghese's move to fiction is sweeping and fabulous, starting in India, settling in Ethiopia and moving on to the U.

The Little Stranger Sarah Waters Riverhead A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, this subtle, creepy haunted house story chronicles the decline of an aristocratic county family after WWII as seen through the less than reliable eyes of a bachelor doctor, whose mother once served as a maid at the family's manor.

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Sag Harbor Colson Whitehead Doubleday Whitehead's intellect, gorgeous prose, measured nostalgia and sheer storytelling prowess raises the bar for coming-of-age novels. It's as sublime as you're likely to read. Once the Shore Paul Yoon Sarabande The eight stories in Yoon's remarkable collection revolve around the inhabitants of a small South Korean island rocked by Japanese occupation and later by the Korean War and are no less powerful for their quiet introspection.

Yoon's delicate exploration of heartache places him high in the firmament of old souls. Simmons didn't make a single press appearance, so how do you explain the success of a page Dickens-inspired novel in a market where easy reading rules the charts? According to Reagan Arthur, Drood 's editor at Little, Brown, the book's sheer heft might have actually been an attraction. And though you might not recognize Simmons' name, plenty do. His cult fan-base has been building since his days as a sci-fi and horror writer and reached fever pitch in with The Terror. Count director Guillermo del Toro as one of those followers: He's already bought the film rights to Drood.

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Kleffel is a careful reader and his questions are always excellent. Unlike so many radio-host interviewers, even at the top levels of NPR, Kleffel actually listens to his guests' responses and forms sharp and sometimes penetrating follow-up questions that do tend to reveal things. These energetic conversations between Rick and Dan -- the recorded talks are almost too long to be called "interviews" -- are some of the finest near-term examinations of Dan's books available. Click here: Agony Column Podcast. Click here: Agony Column Podcast-Part 2.

Dan's note: for purposes of NYTimes "bestsellerdom," only the top 15 titles on the list count. Luckily, two years in a row, Dan has visited Seattle on tour and held signing events at the fantastic University Bookstore where this time he spoke about his new book, Drood. On June 9, , author Charles Dickens was traveling by rail when, by human error, the train jumped the tracks.

Many cars tumbled off, killing those within. Interestingly enough, the only first class car to not derail contained Dickens, who helped the wounded and dying as best he could until help arrived. For the next five years until his death on June 9, —exactly five years after the accident—Dickens would be plagued by darkness and failing health, interested in death, the occult and hypnotism, only able to write half a novel in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and never staying in one place for very long. In the forthcoming seven videos, Dan gives a far more in depth look at the life of Charles Dickens and Drood.

He then reads from the book and answers questions from the audience. Read the novel as soon as you can get it. His next one is awaited now with almost a wonder of anticipation. Simmons does so with aplomb. Author Dan Simmons is known for his thorough research, literate writing style and celebration of major authors.

Video: Dan Simmons (02/18/09)

A Colorado author, Dan Simmons refuses to stick to a single genre; in fact, it's hard to find a type of fiction at which he has not excelled. He may be best known for his Hugo Award winning far-future science fiction tetralogy, which includes Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion and Rise of Endymion. Regardless of plot or theme, the three elements that best define Simmons' works are his thorough research, literate writing style and celebration of major authors and works of literature. It's no coincidence that the Hyperion novels make use of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Keats, nor that Ernest Hemingway is a central character in his suspense novel, The Crook Factory.

Now the erudite Simmons uses one of the greatest novelists of all time as a character and another important Victorian author as narrator in his latest "magnum opus," Drood , as he recounts the last five years of Charles Dickens' life and the mysterious circumstances around the writing of The Mystery of Edwin Drood , Dickens' unfinished last novel. Chapter One opens as the narrator, now estranged from his friendship with the "Inimitable," as he calls Dickens, introduces himself and his book: "My name is Wilkie Collins and my guess, since I plan to delay the publication of this document for at least a century and a quarter beyond the date of my demise , is that you do not recognize my name.

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Even so, I would wager my current fortune, such as it is, and all future royalties from my plays and novels, such as they may be, on the fact that you do remember the name and books and plays and invented characters of my friend and former collaborator, a certain Charles Dickens. While it is certainly true that Dickens will never be forgotten, Collins might have been surprised that his most famous book, The Moonstone , is considered by many the first true detective novel and that it is still in print today, or that his The Woman in White would be adapted as a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, though the play closed after a short run on Broadway last year.

In just a few pages, the actual story begins with a seminal event in Dickens' life. In the author, who had separated from his wife, Catherine, the mother of his 10 children, was traveling by rail with the beautiful and much younger actress, Ellen Ternan, when the train jumped the track, and most of the passenger cars plunged into a ravine. Though their first-class carriage was tilting over the edge of a precipice, Dickens and Ternan were relatively uninjured, but the majority of the other travelers died or were seriously maimed in the wreckage.

As he later told Collins, when Dickens worked his way down the hill to help the victims, he met the man, "if he was a man," who would change his life, a cadaverously thin person who appeared to have no eyelids and introduced himself only as "Drood. As Dickens tries to minister to the horribly mangled passengers trapped in their splintered cars, it appears that Drood, like a vampire, is sucking out their last breaths. After he has somewhat recovered from the experience though the author retains a phobia of trains and fast-moving conveyances until his death , Dickens becomes obsessed with finding Drood, and he enlists Collins, his friend, sometime collaborator and the brother of his son-in- law, to accompany him into the slums and London's "Undertown," a secret society, hidden along the subterranean sewers and rivers of the city.

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Clues divulged by Dickens' acquaintances from Scotland Yard and private detective agencies lead him to believe that Drood lives as a type of potentate in these vast catacombs. Gradually we learn that both Collins and Dickens suffer from gout, a common upper- class affliction of the times, and that the narrator is hopelessly addicted to laudanum, a combination of opium and alcohol used to treat a multitude of painful conditions.

Collins ingests the drug in such copious quantities that we must wonder just how much of what he relates is truth and how much is hallucination. It is possible that Drood is merely a figment of Dickens' imagination - or Collins'; or he may be part of a story Dickens is creating for his own amusement. He may actually be a serial killer responsible for at least grisly murders.

He may be the leader of a possible insurrection by London's miserable lower classes, who will eventually rise up and take over the city. Dickens himself may be a murderer who descends into these pits of depravity as part of a nefarious scheme. And Collins admits that he not only has committed murder, but that he plans to kill his former friend and dump his body in a lime pit. As Collins continues his "memoir," he frequently strays from the narrative to discuss his own and Dickens' current works, their intimate lives, Dickens' Christmas parties, the "Inimitable's" reading tours, and the life and times of Victorian England and America.

For the most part these departures do not detract from the story. However, if there's a criticism, it's that the tale tends to drag a bit. Fans of Simmons' early work will find the underbelly of London described much as the poor sections of India were in his first novel, The Song of Kali. And early in Drood , there is much discussion of The Frozen Deep, a play on which Collins and Dickens collaborated, that tells the story of the expedition Simmons wrote about in his most recent novel, The Terror.


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For those who wish to pigeonhole Drood into a genre, it's safe to say that it is a historical novel, a biographical novel, a horror novel, a mystery, a romance, a Gothic novel, a science fiction novel since we are supposed to be reading it five years from now , a work of mainstream fiction and a book of literary criticism. Put it on any shelf in the bookstore and it fits. Mark Graham is a retired high school English teacher.

He reviews Unreal Worlds titles regularly for the Rocky. Meantime, while DROOD the novel was absorbing all the slings and arrows of reviewers' hits and misses, Dan was having a grand old time on the actual book tour, as these photos suggest Multiply these interactions by several thousand and there were many more photos taken , and you get an idea of why authors go on book tours even when their new book isn't quite finished. Leaving an almost-finished book behind to go on tour is like going away for ten days and leaving your newborn baby alone in a crib with nothing but a bottle of milk dangling from a string to assure its survival.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, quite a few people turned out for the reading and signing at least in part due to this perceptive review in the Stranger Amid the chaos of the Staplehurst train crash of June 9, , something mysterious, and ultimately deadly, happened to the most popular novelist in the world. Seven railcars leaped the track and fell from a bridge to a small creek below. Ten people were killed, 40 more were wounded, and by all accounts Charles Dickens was a hero of the day. He helped free people trapped in their cars, and he administered aid to dozens of injured and dying passengers before assistance finally arrived.

Dickens was hailed as a hero, but he had something to hide: He was traveling with Ellen Ternan, his secret companion and most likely his mistress. And something that day changed Dickens for good. His wit and good nature had been celebrated far and wide, but after Staplehurst, Dickens demonstrated the classic signs of depression, punctuated erratically with outbursts of rage and cruelty. Some doctors theorize that Dickens suffered a brain injury in the crash that altered his personality; some biographers suggest he was emotionally overwhelmed after bearing witness to so much death and suffering.

Whatever the cause of his change in behavior, this much is true: Five years to the day of the accident, Dickens died, a portentous fate that would not be out of place in one of his novels. The two authors journey below London, to opium dens and weird pseudo-Egyptian temples beneath the streets. Their adventures are drug-addled and dark:.

I fumbled out the pistol. Dickens stepped between me and the surging, feinting forms. Collins is an unreliable narrator, to say the least: He drinks two cups of laudanum a day allegedly to battle his painful gout , and he is often racked with jealousy that Dickens, whom he regards as an inferior talent, is exponentially more popular than he. Collins becomes convinced that Drood has implanted a scarab beetle in his skull, and stress and jealousy cause the beetle to crawl around his brain impatiently. Before long, he's planning to murder Dickens and assume his role as the most beloved novelist in England.

Simmons leaves the fantasy elements up to the reader's judgment. You may find a synopsis of each of his novels and brief biography of Mark Travis on his website: www. Are you an author? Help us improve our Author Pages by updating your bibliography and submitting a new or current image and biography. Learn more at Author Central. Previous page. Kindle Edition. Next page. There's a problem loading this menu right now.

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