For the past few years I have compiled a list of my favorite books read. It was a surprisingly difficult task, the caliber of new authors is so high that to chose one over another is next to impossible.

2011 was no exception, time and time again wonderful books crossed my desk. It makes me happy that so many great authors are writing, in the same breath it makes me sad that so few will get the attention of the main stream media that they so richly deserve.

I have been a reviewer for a number of years which has given me the unique opportunity to watch how authors grow over time. 2011 was year of reading new books written by old friends. Many released their third, fourth, or even fifth book. In every case you could see how their writing style had grown in confidence and sophistication.

2011 also signaled a change in my role, it became the year of getting involved. Reading galleys and manuscripts, actively working with authors. It is sheer magic to watch a book being born.

My very good friends Mannie Barling and Ashley F. Brooks published their fifth book, The Food Revolution Papers. The contents of which were largely article published here on Blogger News and subjects that we had discussed on our year long radio series Surviving The 21st Century. They even gave me the great honor of writing the Forward. To watch this project from conception to store shelf was wonderful.

2011 was also the year that I met the Mob! I have known author and crime writer Denny Griffin for some time. He is one of the most likable people on the planet. This year I got to meet some of his ex-gangster friends. I made a big discovery, ex-mobsters are actually really nice people. A  case in point being ex-Gambino associate Andrew DiDonato.

Andrew and Denny collaborated on the Surviving The Mob project. A DVD based documentary of Andrews life, and also an autobiographical book.

He kindly sent a copy of the unedited ‘rush’, and it was stunning, stark, and very disturbing. Life in the Mob is not at all how Hollywood portray it. His book is equally haunting.

I have spent a good deal of time both ‘on air’ and off air talking with Andrew DiDonato, he is a far different man today than he was in the Gambino family. Of course he still sounds like a mobster 🙂 And he he has some of the most humorous bank robbery stories known to man!

Another author that deserves mention is James Ross. His fifth book Pabby’s Score hopefully will be published next week. I have watched James grow in leaps and bounds, and there is no doubt that Pabby’s Score is his finest yet. In someways James is the perfect author to study, he keeps the same back drop and core characters, but weaves them into new situations, often situations reflecting our modern social conciseness and injustice.

James and I have a running joke “one day you will write a book with a happy ending” I tell him, “I’ve been thinking about it” is his stock reply.

What sets him apart however is his ability to play ‘in the dark side’ with a light and humorous touch.

Although the book world is where I spend a good deal of time, it is but one of several places that I inhabit. It was a great year in the music world. There are two rising stars that deserve to be recognized. One is an Americana genre singer/songwriter. Tokyo Rosenthall saw the release of his new CD Who Was That Man, which made the top hit list on several Americana charts, he also toured not just the East and West coast of the US, but England and Scotland. Toke is always fun to talk with, and in may latest interview with him he explains the story behind the track The Librarian. It is nothing short of priceless!

The other musician was someone that I had not heard of prior to 2011, Jamie Michaels. In fact I can not even recall how our paths crossed. His CD The Man With The Time Machine is nothing short of outstanding. If you have not taken Jamie out for a spin, I strongly urge you to do so.

The video world was also exciting in 2011. There are two companies that deserve great recognition, Acorn Media and Janson. Both released some outstanding titles this year. Acorn specializes in bringing Brit TV programs to the US market. If you are a fan of Masterpiece Theater, you are a fan of Acorn! They have a huge catalog, and I have yet to be disappointed.

The second one is Janson Media, they release some of the finest documentaries ever produced. If it is on the Janson label, you are in for a treat!

What makes these two companies outstanding is not just the high quality DVD’s but the ‘customer service’. They are a sheer pleasure to work with. High quality, great service, and great people, you just can not go wrong!

2011 is in its waning days, I hope that 2012 is as much fun.

Simon Barrett

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