1. Going Bovine, by Libba Bray -- My first book finished for the year. A very interesting read. It's been compared to a mondern-day Don Quixote, and that's as good a parallel as any. The main character, Cameron, has coasted through his life, not carrying about much of anything. His life changes when a. he's diagnosed with a fatal disease (I'm not much for spoilers, but a hint is in the title), and b. he runs into an angel, Dulcie (your first Don Quixote link). Dulcie sends him on a quest to find the missing Dr. X, who's invention has endangered the world. Dr. X could also hold the key to a cure for Cameron. Cameron is joined by a Mexican-American dwarf, who is a bit of a hypochondriac and a talking yard gnome who might actually be a Norse god. There's drug use, sex and more than a bit of profanity -- but there's also a lot of depth. There are a few satisfying (almost obligatory) jabs at common culture (the SPEW tests, and the Happy Cult), but I do like how you aren't sure what is real, and what is part of Cameron's imagination. That's up for the reader to decide.
2. Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture, by Mark Feldstein. A great read for history buffs (although you might want a comic chaser afterward). It's an interesting and well-written account of the backgrounds and relationship between former president Richard Nixon and muckracker columnist Jack Anderson. To say it was antagonistic would be an understatement. The two men hated each other with a passion; there is a whole chapter devoted to how Nixon asked some of his Plumbers about murdering him. The writing can be funny (the whole bit about the CIA trying to spy on Anderson, and what Anderson and his family did when they found out, made me crack up laughing out loud.) There are other parts that made me shake my head in disgust at both parties. Of course, the conclusion winds up being the Watergate Scandal, which, in its way, wound up ruining the careers of both men. It's interesting and chilling how Nixon's policies on press handling have impacted White House policy even today.
3. Next, by Michael Crichton. The setting could be now, in a world where genes are patented, there is a possible genetic cure for drug addiction, and genetic tests can be ordered during a divorce settlement to determine parental responsibility. Crichton's work is fictional, but a lot of the science is real. Next is a series of short, loosely connected stories involving several different characters and several different issues. Perhaps all of these things haven't happened -- yet (although it's hard to tell where the fiction ends and real life begins), but they could. Most of the book is pretty grim, although there are some lighter scenes (love Gerard, the parrot). The wrap-up is well handled; not too loose, but not tidy, either. There aren't a lot of authors who could juggle so many stories and so many characters convincingly, but Crichton made it work.
4. Flash Burnout, by L.K. Madigan. Blake is 15, with a good homelife, a girlfriend and good circle of friends. Life becomes complicated when one of his friends and fellow photography student, Marissa, needs his help due to her less than stellar home life. Her mother is addicted to Meth and wanders in and out of her daughter's life. Marissa wants to help, and Blake wants to help her. But he finds that juggling a girlfriend and a friend more challenging than he could ever anticipate. This is a very enjoyable, fairly clean book. I really like how Blake actually looks up to his parents. Yes, they have their flaws, but Blake acknowledges them as good people. Blake is not a "loser" or outcast or anything like that. He's fairly ordinary, with his own circle of friends and a girl he loves. What makes this coming-of-age story are the characters, which are all endearing. Even the older brother, who can be a jerk, also can be a decent guy. The ending is bittersweet, but realistic. The little notes and observations on photography before each chapter are a nice touch.