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Top Five Reads:

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Imay have ruffled a few feathers with my piece on worst novels I read in 2010. Though it was only my opinion, it struck a chord with one particular encore reader. At 11 p.m. one night last week, she sent a letter to my inbox:

“Call me a neighborhood cynic, but I found you off the mark and too harsh with ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’” the reader wrote. “You gave us your worst, but I don’t think that’s what’s important. Anyone can bash a book. What’s more important is who are your top five, and why do you think they are worth reading? I think people will agree with my curiosity to find out.”

Thus, consider the following titles my version of an all-you-can-read buffet, as they range across a broad spectrum of genres. Those who find them nothing shy of rotten reads, well, let me know, and I will attempt to read the third edition of “Eat, Pray, Love” should Gilbert ever write it.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Girl Who Played with Fire” top my list. Published in Sweden in 2005 (originally titled “Men Who Hate Women”), the late author, Stieg Larsson, delivers a stunning series that many say is his legacy. However, this isn’t any ol’ murder mystery. It’s loaded with bite and every form of debauchery imaginable.

The plot follows main character Henrik Vanger, who hires journalist Mikael Blomkvist for $372,000 to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece, Harriet. Enter Kisbeth Salander—a twentysomething computer hacker with a crazy photographic memory and serious anger issues. She’s the perfect modern-day heroin who makes Trinity of “The Matrix” appear weak and vulnerable. After a few twists and turns, readers eventually get the meat and bones of Blomkvist and Salander’s relationship, as the two jointly try to solve the mystery of Harriet’s vanishing.

Despite Vanger’s claim—“I detest most of the members of my family. They are for the most part thieves, misers, bullies and incompetents!”—readers will feel an obligation to not only become a part of his family but to prove not everyone is corrupt or out for themselves. It’s haunting, jarring and leads perfectly into its sequel, “The Girl Who Played With Fire.”

Though it was released over 20 years ago, “Raney” by Wilmington’s own Clyde Edgerton, tops my 2010 poll. I love controversy. When authors Shawna Kenney and Cara Bruce described to me the juicy tid-bits surrounding the past of “Raney” (while writing the novel, Edgerton was suspended without pay at Campbell University in Buie’s Creek due to the book’s controversial religious nature), I didn’t expect it to become my all-time favorite romance novel (and, thankfully, Fabio is nowhere to be seen).

In short, “Raney” is the story of a contemporary Southern woman who belongs to the Free Will Baptist Church. Married to Charles, an extremely knowledgeable Episcopalian, together they live in Listre, North Carolina. However, it’s not only the comedy or the voice of this book that’s entertaining. It’s the true-to-life point about love that Edgerton touches upon without jamming it into our faces.

Marriage, Edgerton gently demonstrates, is not solely about two individuals. Instead, it encompasses two families, their different lifestyles, opinions and upbringings. “Raney” is about the impact a clash of cultures can birth and the lasting effect true love can have on everyone, including the hardest of hearts.

Speaking of love, “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Money and Sex” is graphic in nature, but full of raw, unfiltered and enlightening tales regarding a side of life not many want to know about; the sex trade. What’s so fascinating and downright addicting is that many of the entries are from individuals one would wrongfully assume to be illiterate, stupid or unworthy to hear from. While proving the stereotype wrong, each contributor delivers his or her side of a lifestyle with poise, passion, nuance and heart.

Real and undeniably shocking, “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys…” made its debut to encore readers last winter, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. So, it’s one of the most impacting reads yet to strike my world. It widened my eyes, opened my heart and oddly made me want to listen to Madonna’s “Human Nature”—and that’s a good thing.

Last, but certainly not least is “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World,” by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter. Those who know me well know my passion for animal rights runs deeper than a bride-to-be’s hunger at a Filene’s Basement gown sale. So, when Dewey’s unbelievably heartwarming story pawed its way into a conversation I was having with my agent and ghost writer one afternoon, I had to find out more.

Dewey’s unbelievable journey begins when he was just a tiny tabby cat in Spencer, Iowa. On a freezing cold winter night, he was stuffed in a library drop box and left for dead. When Vicki Myron discovered him, she did more than name him Dewey (his full name being “Dewey Read More Books”), she gave him a second chance at life and a home within the library. What follows are amusing, wonderfully told and heartfelt accounts as Myron describes the effect Dewey had on the people he met in the library. My particular favorite is Dewey’s tear-jerking impact on a young disabled girl who frequented the library. It’s no wonder it landed on the New York Times Bestseller List. It’s sure to crack a smile on even the toughest critic—or neighborhood cynic.

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