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Indoor delights 

When the weather outside is frightful, and since we’ve got no place to go: find a comfy couch and grab one of our best books, comics and video games of the year.

Top 10 Books by Sue Carter Flinn

28: Stories of AIDS in Africaby Stephanie Nolen (Knopf)If that John Lennon/Yoko Ono Christmas song—"...And what have you done?"—speaks to you, read Stephen Nolen's book, and buy one for everybody on your list. Comprised of 28 stories—one for every million Africans living with the virus—of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa, or just trying to stay alive or keep their family together, this is necessary, urgent reading. For the politically conscious, there's also Lana Slezic's Forsaken, a coffee-table-style book that photographically documents the women of post-Taliban Afghanistan. Slezic spent two years capturing both the happiness and violence endured by these mostly ignored women. Unlike Nolen, Slezic doesn't offer any solutions, but both books are powerful, and are meaningful alternatives to gifts of crappy ties and jewellery.

All Our Wonder Unavengedby Don Domanski (Brick)There's something reassuring about the fact that poets walk among us: at the grocery store, in the park, at the movie theatre. You might just see the new Governor General Award-winning poet Don Domanski on the streets, so be sure to congratulate him. Or you can buy his eighth collection of poems, All Our Wonder Unavenged, a beautiful meditation on humanity, the environment, plants, animals, stars and the cosmos. Just as contemplative photographers bring spiritual awareness into their art, Domanski does so with language.

The Architects are Hereby Michael Winter (Viking Canada) Here's a perfect illustration of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Granted, it's hard to one-up a reproduction of a Rockwell Kent woodcut (the cover on Michael Winter's last novel, The Big Why), but I'm not even sure what the heck this new cover means. Still, heinous photo aside, the Newfoundland-Toronto author has done it again. In The Architects are Here, Gabe English, a character and alter-ego from previous short-story collections, returns. Both Winter and Gabe are fiction writers who take inspiration from people around them (in a classic Winter move, the author incorporates a line delivered from his real-life brother Paul, who he said if that he was written about again, he would "deliver a punch to my head from which I may not recover"). Gabe deals with adult relationships, obsessive revenge and its consequences. Athough Winter's disdain for punctuation isn't for all readers, he's one of our finest. Wonderfully minimal.

Bottle Rocket Heartsby Zoe Whittall (Cormorant)Last year we fell in love with Heather O'Neill's urban-poetics and tough heroine Baby in Lullabies for Little Criminals. In keeping with online suggestive book-selling techniques: a certain customer who bought this item also bought Zoe Whittall's Bottle Rocket Hearts. Mark my words: young Whittall is one to watch. The poet's first novel takes place in 1995 Montreal, a city preoccupied with the upcoming Quebec separation referendum, but 19-year-old Eve is dealing with bigger issues. She's in love with an older woman but still living at home with her parents, who don't know she's gay. Like a fist in your face, this politico-punk coming-of-age story is Le Tigre, not Hilary Duff.

Divisaderoby Michael Ondaatje (HarperCollins)Disclaimer: I haven't read Giller-winner Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air (hint, hint), but if it beat out Michael Ondaatje, well, it must be one fine novel. Divisadero requires a passport and a time machine, leaping from 1970s northern California to San Francisco to Nevada to France, where Anna, the daughter of a farmer, becomes immersed in the life of a mysterious pre-World War I writer, Lucien Segura. Their lives gracefully loop around each other, and there are so many connections and layers and parallels, you might want to take the week off after the holiday to savour them all. This book is about the writing: If Ondaatje was a murderer he could slice you finely with his words, and you wouldn't notice the trickle of blood until you got home.

Ecoholicby Adria Vasil (RandomHouse)Is it possible to avoid a trip to Debbie Downersville in any book about the environment? Sure, you're still going to feel miserable and helpless after reading Adria Vasil's in-depth Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada, but at least you'll have all the facts in one easy-to-read, digestible and attractive package. The environment columnist for Toronto's Now alt-weekly divides sections into green products, services and issues, such as ethical gift-giving, sustainable food and sex (yes, even bumping uglies can leave a carbon footprint). Plus, there's a city-by-city resource guide in the back, which includes Halifax.

Helplessby Barbara Gowdy (HarperCollins)There aren't too many authors that can create beautiful prose about necrophilia or write convincingly in the voice of an elephant. Gowdy's latest, Helpless, tackles one of our biggest taboos: pedophilia. Celia is a single mom working two jobs. During a blackout (not since Tim Findley's Headhunter has a Toronto power-out been so frightening), her beautiful daughter Rachel is snatched away. It's big news. I won't say much more, other than that some critics unjustly accused Gowdy of showing sympathy to Ron, Rachel's capturer, by not making him out to be a monster. It's a similar accusation that was thrown at Alice Sebold's The Almost Moon when her lead character kills her mom in the opening chapter. But that's what makes these women great writers (although maybe not Christmas-night reads): they're brave enough to go places most of us are scared to visit.

I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert (Grand Central Publishing)Every top-10 list should include one gimmicky, fun book that you can give to hard-to-buy-for Uncle Willy Boozewhiskers or Professor Crankybrow. And according to Stephen Colbert, who claims this "is the best-written book I have ever written," everyone should join Colbert Nation. Yes, yes, it's probably CanCon-correct (see The Top 100 Canadian Albums) to wrap up Rick Mercer: The Book instead, but I like to hear Mercer's rants, not read them. Colbert's satirical memoirs might not have the post-seasonal lasting power of boozer and user pal Amy Sedaris's: I like you (I've actually consulted her L'il Smokey Cheeseball recipe), but with the writers' strike still upon us, this is a hard-copy reminder of the way we were, on TV.

No one belongs here more than you/Learning to Love You Moreby Miranda July (Simon & Schuster/Prestel) Miranda July is often misinterpreted as a detached hipster. Not so. Long before making her indie, Ebert-endorsed hit film Me and You and Everyone We Know, July, a practicing artist, ran the website learntoloveyoumore.com, where she posted daily art/life assignments and encouraged responses from "ordinary people." One day you might be encouraged to take a photo of strangers holding hands, on another, to write a press release about an every-day event or to reread your favourite fifth-grade book. Together with Harrell Fletcher, July offers a curated collection of the best work from the 5,000 people who contributed. And if you're already jealous of July's talents, maybe you should avoid No one belongs here more than you, 16 short stories wrapped in either a bright Pantone-inspired yellow or limited-edition pink cover. The collection's less about plots than moments, fantasies, dark thoughts and light moments. July creates an off-kilter, romantic universe that's all her own.

The Top 100 Canadian Albumsby Bob Mersereau (Gooselane)Every Christmas at our house someone receives a copy of Rolling Stone's year-end issue: fun but as empty as a candy-floss dinner. Dylan, Springsteen, Kanye, yadda. Bob Mersereau's big, glossy compendium, The Top 100 Canadian Albums, should take its place under the tree. It tickles the ol' patriotic music strings and it's bound to result in lively disagreements about the country's best bands. My problem with The Top 100 Canadian Albums is not with Mersereau: it's an incredible feat of love to collect and tabulate top-10 lists from over 500 music journalists and industry names, and then write about all those albums. And I love that the book's lap-sized, glossy and filled with all sorts of fun photos. But seriously, music folks, is every Neil Young album that good? And where are the Inbreds? Dream Warriors? The New Pornographers? Forgotten Rebels? Jane Siberry? Odds? The Diodes?

Top 10 Graphic Novels by Carsten Knox

Absolute Sandman 2 by Neil Gaiman with Dave McKean, Coleen Doran, P. Craig Russell, Shawn MacManus and Kelly Jones (DC)A big part of what got comics taken more seriously as adult literature in North America in the 1990s, Neil Gaiman's wonderful fantasy series is being repackaged in four oversized, slipcased volumes, with all sorts of added goodies. This second edition, recently released, collects two of the best chapters of the original 72-issue comic: A Season of Mists, which chronicles Lucifer's resignation from the top job in hell, and A Game of You, where the fantasy world of a woman's childhood invades her adult, inner city life.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 by Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty and Brian K. Vaughan (Dark Horse)The much-adored TV series ended with Season Seven, but writer-creator Joss Whedon, no stranger to comics (he pens The Astonishing X-Men and Runaways for Marvel) has continued the Slayer story on the illustrated page. Though the comic's not perfect—the art is taking some liberties and the absence of the Sunnydale base is hard to get used to—it's great to visit with these characters again. Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend of TV's creative masters crossing over with their creations into comics. And vice versa: just look at Batman comic scribe Jeph Loeb's success with the captivating Heroes. Though not originally a comic property, it may as well have been.

Captain America by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (Marvel)It was one of those events that made waves outside the comic world: the death of the Marvel Comics Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America. Gritty genre master Brubaker denied there was any political reason for killing off the flag-draped hero, but what's really amazing is how he's managed to keep the comic just as interesting without its lead by developing its supporting cast: brainwashed lover/murderer Sharon Carter, The Falcon, and especially James "Bucky" Barnes, resurrected as The Winter Soldier. I hope Cap stays dead, if this is what we can expect from the title in his absence.

Doctor Thirteen: Architecture & Morality by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang (DC)It's rare to find an outrageous superhero and magic adventure comic, in which the lead character is a curmudgeonly denier or all things magical or superheroic. Set in the bowels of the DC universe, amongst some of its silliest, forgotten characters—including Anthro the Cave Boy, Infectious Lass and war comic legends JEB Stuart and the Haunted Tank—is this lovely-to-look-at romp into absurdity, which has the academic Doctor finding scientific reasons for everything he's seeing, as he and his daughter Traci are swept away by ghosts, vampires, Neanderthals and Nazi gorillas. Tongue-in-cheek references to Grant Morrison and the gods of DC continuity are in-jokey, but hardly essential for enjoying the slabs of whimsy on display.

The Killer by Matz and Luc Jacamon (Archaia Studios Press)Originally published in French in five issues, The Killer's coming out in English in 10. As with most translations, the dialogue loses something in its conversational idioms, but the lush, angular quality of Jacamon's art is unlike anything we're seeing over here. Plus, this portrait of a journeyman assassin, lonely, paranoid and unlikable, makes for rich, adult reading. Simply a businessman who does a lot of travelling but can't enjoy the work much anymore, Matz's leading man hasn't the glamour of a lot of hit-men in genre fiction; it's replaced instead with a gravelly slice of realism.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (America's Best)A glossy hardcover graphic novel continuing Moore and O'Neill's witty and bloody mash-up of Victorian literary heroes and villains. This time they move forward into the 1950s, with Mina Murray and Allan Quartermain revivified by a visit to a Ugandan fountain of youth, being hunted for having snatched the titular Black Dossier, a history of the British Secret Service organization that brought them together in the first place. Charming, funny, and a joy for anyone who knows their 19th and 20th century fantasy lit, it's a great companion piece to the first two LOEG volumes. Extra sexy this time out, —a stylistic hold-over from Moore's literary smut, Lost Girls?

Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni)Even though we won't see O'Malley kicking around town anymore—he and his wife, fellow cartoonist Hope Larson (Grey Horses) recently moved from the HRM to her home state of North Carolina—we can still be thrilled by his work. The fourth volume of his young Torontonian-in-love tale is the best yet, with Scott's relationship with the manipulative yet adorable Ramona getting a little more serious and our hero to battling another of her extraordinarily vindictive, evil exes. Also, notably, he gets a new apartment, a job, and hangs at Toronto Tex-Mex stalwart Sneaky Dee's. Mmm, fajitas.

The Spirit by Darwyn Cooke (DC)Ten issues into the relaunch of Will Eisner's The Spirit for DC, the comic is one of the most fun reads on the stands—the adventures of a rumpled, fedora-sporting crimefighter more ordinary and fallible than most, living in the noirish Central City.

This makes sense, as Nova Scotia-resident Darwyn Cooke's art is heavily Eisner-influenced, his retro-style cut with a modern, informed way around characters and plot, with a little ironic humour folded in. The first six issues are now available in a handsome and reasonably-priced hardcover, which also includes the recent Spirit/Batman team-up special.

The Umbrella Academyby Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba (Dark Horse)A charming and peculiar story of seven numbered kids with special powers, raised by an alien with all the warmth of a sea urchin to fight some great global threat. The influence of Tim Burton, Edward Gorey and Grant Morrison's run on DC comics' Doom Patrol on the story—and Mike Mignola on the art—is clear, but the book has a playfulness and surreal quality that is all its own. And yes, rock fans, Way is the front man of painted arena-haunters My Chemical Romance; he clearly has ambitions and talent outside his band's rock operas. In this case, we urge him to give up his day job.

White Rapidsby Pascal Blanchet (Drawn & Quarterly)The true story of the rise and fall of a community carved out of the Quebec wilderness: Blanchet lets the art deco, tourist poster artwork tell most of the story. A very text-light historical telling, the graphic novel depicts the creation of Rapide Blanc in 1928 on the St. Maurice River—built by the Shawinigan Water and Power Company in order to lure workers to move there and work at the hydroelectric station they'd built. Though some may find that a story where the town itself is the main character a bit impersonal, the creative visuals are so eloquent, the reader can't help but be transported, along with those power company employees.

I'm a "serious" gamer. I think my Xbox 360 achievement points matter. Kotaku and Demonoid are second homes, and it's not odd to find me staying in Friday night to abuse my thumbs. What does this all mean, other than the fact that I need to get out more? Well, this top 10 isn't for the person who bought a Wii because it looked fun. It's for the guys and girls who want—nay, need—HD graphics, 32 players online and awe-inspiring artificial-intelligence-filled games that make them question their desire to live in the outside world. So, read on! Here are my top 10 video games of 2007. And yes, I know, you could do better...just not in Tekken.

Top 10 Video Games by Sean F. Hamilton

10. Every Extra Extend Extreme (Xbox 360)E4 is gaming proof that big things come in small packages. It's a reverse action-shooter: the goal is to self-destruct, cause large chain reactions of explosions and extend the life of the game by collecting items left in the wake of your own destruction. Trippy graphics, awesomely original game play and the option of adding your own tracks and playing to your favorite music make this game more addictive than Tetris.

9. Motorstorm (Sony PlayStation 3)Somewhere in between Mario Kart and Gran Turismo, there's Motorstorm. With a slew of vehicles—everything from dirt bikes to big rigs—you'll race and struggle through some of the muddiest, pothole-filled tracks to ever grace a console. The beauty of this arcade-y racer lies in the huge multi-pathed levels, which let you find your way to the finish line any way you choose. Still not convinced? How about the fact that Sony purchased Evolution Studios, those behind the creation of this game, to make sure it stays a PS3 exclusive?

8. Warhawk (PS3)I loves me some online combat and Warhawk certainly delivers. Downloadable from the PS Network or available in stores with a Bluetooth headset, it's one of the most well balanced online games around. A clever mix of aerial-, vehicular- and infantry-based combat, this third-person shooter shows off the Sixaxis controls of the PS3. While it doesn't have a single-player mode, the 32-player online battles are enough to keep you coming back for more.

7. Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection Online (PS3)Exclusive to the PlayStation since its first iteration, Tekken is and always will be the king of fighting games. With 36 characters to choose from and 15-plus levels, Dark Resurrection is downloadable from the PS Network and paves the way for the digital distribution of games. Sporting HD graphics, online play, and a medley of moves that will make any gamer drool, this is a must-have for fans of the series or those who want a deep, immersive fighting-game experience.

6. BioShock (360/PC)Picture this: It's 1960 and your plane just crashed into the middle of the Atlantic. Luckily, you find yourself in an underwater city named Rapture. Populated by scientists and artists who've freed themselves from the political and religious confines of society Rapture sure sounds like an eden, right? Wrong...its residents have all gone insane, spliced their genes and have amazing artificial intelligence which makes them just as smart as you. A game that makes you ponder the consequences of your actions, BioShock also introduces the creepiest foe in years, the Big Daddy (*shiver*).

5. Halo 3 (360)The Master Chief is back for the third and final act of Microsoft's flagship series. With its first week of sales grossing more money than a major motion picture, Halo 3 lived up to the massive hype that has made it a household name. Its combination of fragtastic weapons, epic levels, and ultra-tight online play means pure heaven for fans of the series and those looking for a game with plenty of pedigree.

4. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii)It's a-him, Mario! If you're a fan of platform games, then this is a must-have for the Wii. While I find the controls for most Wii games pretty weak, Galaxies proves that the little-console-that-could stands with the big boys, even though it lacks HD capabilities. Jump, stomp and explore a variety of levels that'll make you feel like it's 1990 all over again.

3.Elder Scrolls: Oblivion,Game of the year edition (360/PS3/PC)Offering the most immersive role-playing in years, Oblivion presents a spellbinding main campaign, with more side quests than you can swing a long sword at. You'll traverse a world filled with peril and explore a sandbox environment, where the non-player characters learn and grow with you. The game of the year edition has all the downloadable expansions included and isn't for the faint of heart: Your game playtime can easily clock in at 200-plus hours.

2. Guitar Hero 3 (360/PS3/PS2/Wii)Simply put: this game rocks! While the majority scoff at the idea of rocking out with a small plastic guitar, those of us who wake up at the crack of noon know that there is no better way to live the dream. With new game types, a huge track list and online play, Guitar Hero 3 cranks it to 11 and throws beer bottles at your neighbours.

1. The Orange Box (360/PC/Coming soon to PS3)Five games for the price of one, The Orange Box takes the proverbial cake. While I think it's the best game of 2007, it may not be for everyone: If you don't like first-person shooters, stay away. This game blows the lid off its genre with a little game called Portal. With amazing writing, original game-play and one of the best endings I've ever seen, Portal breathes new life into one of the most popular game types.

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