Best of 2013: Fiction

Updated: January 28, 2014

The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff.  Perfect for holiday gift-giving!

Book cover for Amy falls down : a novel
Amy falls down : a novel
Willett, Jincy.

Decades ago, Amy Gallup was considered a promising young writer to watch. Now, she’s a recluse and curmudgeon who hasn’t published a book in years. However, when she falls down, whacks her head on a birdbath, and gives a daffy, uninhibited interview to the San Diego Union-Tribune whilst concussed, her literary career gets an improbable shot in the arm. This funny, delightful send-up of the publishing world is a must-read for writers.

Book cover for Bobcat & other stories
Bobcat & other stories
Lee, Rebecca, 1967-

These short stories are insightful, funny, poigant tales of modern relationships.  Rebecca Lee's characters falter, stumble, are frequently blind sided, sometimes recover, but move on through life. 

Book cover for Claire of the sea light
Claire of the sea light
Danticat, Edwidge, 1969-

A poor Haitian fisherman makes the heartbreaking decision to give up his young daughter so that she will have a better life which he can no longer provide.  The enchanted child, Claire of the Sea Light, disappears the night before her seventh birthday.  When the community begins it search for her, long-kept secrets are revealed.  A beautiful, touching story from a skillful writer.

Book cover for Codex born
Codex born
Hines, Jim C.

In this second volume of the Magic Ex Libris series, there is another wish-fulfilling adventure with Isaac Vanio, a librarian who works as a cataloger/researcher for Die Zweif Portenære (the Porters) a group that can reach into almost any book and pull out any item small enough to fit through it's open pages for use in the "real" world.  A series of murders seem to indicate that someone (or something) wants dryad Lena Greenwood, and her powers, and they are willing to kill any and everyone in their way to secure her.  Isaac and Lena must figure out who is coordinating these attacks (and why), before she can be used, against her will, to destroy the Porters and unleash a unknown evil on the world.

Book cover for Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians
Kwan, Kevin.

Highly entertaining novel depicting the sumptuous lifestyles and soapy domestic dramas of a trio of super-rich Chinese families. Peppered with authentic regional slang with translations offered in footnotes (don’t say “Wah lan!” in polite company), this dishy saga of Singapore’s high life packs it all in—haute couture, private jets, unfaithful spouses, dissipated offspring, ambitious aunties, and lots of five-course meals! A fascinating glimpse into the modern-day mashup of ancient cultural traditions and the high-tech, high dollar, high-drama world of Asian billionaires.

Book cover for The dogs of Christmas
The dogs of Christmas
Cameron, W. Bruce.

Dog lovers, especially if you've ever had a pet who passed on, will thoroughly enjoy this book.  Cameron does not disappoint with The dogs of Christmas. This tale begins a whole new story line while remaining just as engaging as his past tales.

Book cover for Ghana must go
Ghana must go
Selasi, Taiye.
Selasi’s debut novel tells the story of the Sais, flung across continents by circumstance and the pressures of a family divided by secrets, then brought together again in Ghana after the death of the family’s patriarch. Its beautiful, poetic prose brings to mind Arundhati Roy.

Book cover for Help for the haunted
Help for the haunted
Searles, John,
Call Number: M

Sylvie Mason’s parents have an uncommon profession—they help haunted souls find peace. Late one cold, February night, they receive a call for help that leads them to an abandoned church where they are brutally murdered. A year after their death, and now in the care of her troubled older sister Rose, inquisitive, resilient 14-year-old Sylvie struggles to uncover what truly happened that dark winter night. Eerie, suspenseful, and with tenderly drawn characters, this is an unforgettable story of one family’s deep secrets.

Book cover for The house at Belle Fontaine : stories
The house at Belle Fontaine : stories
Tuck, Lily, 1938-

These short stories are minimalist in style, characterization and plot, and it is through the dialogue and action that Lily Tuck allows her characters to reveal the complexities of modern life.

Book cover for The last banquet
The last banquet
Grimwood, Jon Courtenay.

Set in France, during the Age of Enlightenment, J ean-Marie d'Aumont is a ragtag country orphan, a type of "wild child" who is obsessed with tasting all the flavors of the world. After being taken in by a nobleman, the young lad's life improves and over time he moves up the social ladder of French society interacting with well-known writers, politicians and artists.  In Jean-Marie, Jonathan Grimwood has created a voluptuary set in a picaresque tale.  In its earthiness this is not a novel for the faint of heart.

Book cover for The last summer of the Camperdowns
The last summer of the Camperdowns
Kelly, Elizabeth, 1952-

It’s the summer of 1972, and twelve-year-old Riddle James “Jimmy” Camperdown is expecting to spend her time off from school as usual: riding her horses and trying to keep the peace between her warring parents. But Jimmy’s ultra-liberal father has decided to run for Congress, a move that threatens to reveal a devastating secret the Camperdown clan has kept hidden for nearly 30 years. The book’s ominous title foreshadows the disastrous outcome--this really is the final sunny interlude the ill-fated family will ever know.

Book cover for Lexicon
Barry, Max, 1973-

This is a thriller that follows two different individuals who are at the center of a war, using words as weapons, with cataclysmic consequences for the world.  Exploring concerns of privacy, identity and data collection-mining with the almost mystical belief in the power of words as receptacles of powe, Lexicon is a compelling, frightening and disturbingly believable novel that is unsettling and exciting to the last page.

Book cover for Lies you wanted to hear : a novel
Lies you wanted to hear : a novel
Thomson, James Whitfield.

Still reeling from lost love, Lucy slips into Matt's steady and welcoming arms. But her hungry heart cannot be sated and, as Matt’s devotion slowly devolves into hate, the two are led to commit unthinkable acts of cruelty toward one another. An elegantly written and tensely plotted debut, this novel will leave you marveling at what lies inside the labyrinthine corridors of all of our hearts.

Book cover for Life after life : a novel
Life after life : a novel
Atkinson, Kate.

Ursula Todd has a habit of dying. She dies when she's born, in childhood accidents, in war, and yet, Ursula Todd seems to have an infinite number of lives, chances to correct her own missteps, and to intervene in the lives of others. As she follows many paths through the first half of the 20th century - as an English schoolgirl, an Air Raid Precautions worker during the Blitz, an expat in Munich, a miserable wife, and a mistress, among other things - the question presses: if Ursula can change the course of her own life, can she change history? Page-turning and wildly inventive, Life After Life is truly a book to get lost in. Atkinson explores the impact of circumstance on fortune and character by examining a reiterated life, an approach that leads to some deep philosophical, or maybe quantum mechanical, musing.

Book cover for London falling
London falling
Cornell, Paul.

In Paul Cornell's debut novel, readers are shown a side of London very few see or experience (and fewer still live to tell about).  Combining urban fantasy with a gritty police procedural, Cornell challenges some of London's finest, along with the reader, to collect, interpret and investigate the evidence from a series of crimes that are more involved, and dangerous, than they seem and lead to an ancient and unimaginably malevolent evil.  The compelling beginning to a new series!

Book cover for The mad scientist's guide to world domination : original short fiction for the modern evil genius
The mad scientist's guide to world domination : original short fiction for the modern evil genius
Call Number: SF

The mad scientist has been a science fiction standard since the genesis of the genre with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1818.  In this anthology, editor John Joseph Adams has gathered a wonderful collection of mostly new stories (only two have been previously published) by some of the genre's best and brightest authors exploring this sci-fi staple from the inside out, with fascinating, insightful and often hilarious results.  A must read for anyone contemplating their own plans to rule the planet!

Book cover for The ocean at the end of the lane
The ocean at the end of the lane
Gaiman, Neil.

Neil Gaiman tells a genuinely scary story full of friendship, the confusion of growing up and growing older, and sacrifice. In this story life is never so safe or secure as you imagine, even the monsters that hunt you can’t be sure that there’s nothing worse around the corner, waiting for them.

Book cover for The other typist
The other typist
Rindell, Suzanne.
It's The Great Gatsby meets The Talented Mr. Ripley in this psychological thriller by first-time author Rindell. Our narrator is the prim and proper Rose, a woman who clings to the morals of the bygone Victorian era, despite her often distasteful job recording criminal confessions for the NYPD. But when the Department hires a new typist, the intoxicating Odalie, straitlaced Rose is suddenly face to face with the emancipated new woman of the Roaring 20s. A dead ringer for screen star flapper Louise Brooks, Odalie shockingly sports bobbed hair, short skirts, and rolled stockings. She even carries her own cigarettes in a solid gold case. Rose is at once fascinated and repelled by her exotic colleague. As their relationship grows, the reader slowly discovers that one typist is the moth and the other is the flame. But which is which, and who will survive the combustion?

Book cover for The Pomegranate Lady and her sons : selected stories
The Pomegranate Lady and her sons : selected stories
Taraqqī, Gulī.

In this superb collection of short stories Iranian writer Goli Taraghi portrays what it is like for individuals to be deracinated within their own country, or exiled as the result of political change; for them to have an eternal longing to go home to a place that will never be the same, except in their memories and hearts. The various characters are portrayed in their full humanity which Taraghi does in a cheeky, humorous style.  The characters and perspective are Iranian, but the stories are universal in appeal.

November 5, 2013, the author was a guest at ALOUD.

Book cover for Queen Victoria's book of spells : an anthology of Gaslamp fantasy
Queen Victoria's book of spells : an anthology of Gaslamp fantasy
Call Number: SS

With this collection, editors extraordinaire Datlow and Windling collect a marvelous new batch of all-new Victorian aged/tinged fantasy stories by some of the genre's best writers.  In addition to the stories, Windling provides a wonderful introduction that gives the reader insight into the Victorian age and its fascination with the supernatural, as well as how that fascination seems to be manifesting itself in contemporary culture.  A marvelous collection!

Book cover for Quintessence
Walton, David, 1975-

This novel takes the premise that the world is flat and builds on it an entire alternate world where so many of the myths we now know as disproven are reality.  In this alternate reality there is a vital quest for scientific knowledge which results in the blending of a fantasy world strongly influenced by the scientific method and the pursuit of knowledge.   Quintessence is a compelling combination of fantasy and speculative fiction, exploring many contemporary issues:  gender equality, racisim, religious persecution, and imperialism/colonialism, and all of it is set up as a rollicking adventure.

Book cover for The Republic of Thieves
The Republic of Thieves
Lynch, Scott, 1978-

The Republic of Thieves is the third book in a series by Scott Lynch. It’s the story of two glib con men reluctantly trying to rig an election through a series of escalating pranks. The world they live in is rife with mystery and magic, but the heroes (who don’t have magic) get by on charm, quips, and ill-conceived and explosive plots.

Book cover for The returned
The returned
Mott, Jason,

What if the people you once loved, and lost, came back? All over the world, loved ones are returning from the grave. Some welcome them with open arms, while others turn them away as grotesque impostors. When eight-year-old Jacob arrives on the Mississippi doorstep of Lucille and Harold Hargrave, who grieved the death of their son over 50 years ago, the couple is faced with powerful questions of faith and doubt. Languidly paced and simply written, this is a stunning story about love, memory, and grief that sends a powerful message about what it means to be human.

Book cover for The Rosie project : a novel
The Rosie project : a novel
Simsion, Graeme C.

Don, a socially inept professor of genetics, sets out to find the perfect woman through an extensive questionnaire he calls The Wife Project. But when he meets Rosie, his perfect plan goes awry. Funny, fast-paced, and engaging, this book is a lighthearted romance that is suitable for both men and women, and is written with intelligence, humor, and poignancy as it deals with the subject of Asperger's.

Book cover for Saga
Vaughan, Brian K.
Call Number: 740.9999 S1295

This is the second part of a multi-volume graphic novel of war-crossed lovers trying to live and raise their daughter in a universe torn apart by a war between their people. The universe this story is set in is rich, strange and familiar. The characters are believable, charming and surprising. It’s a strange, wild ride.

Book cover for Schroder
Gaige, Amity, 1972-

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Behind bars, charged with the non-custodial kidnapping of his six-year-old daughter, Eric Kennedy records the story of his life in an attempt to determine where it all went so horribly wrong. Was it at age 14 when he concocted a mythical Cape Cod childhood--and a distant connection to “Those Kennedys”--to hide the fact that he was an East German refugee? Or was it when he neglected to tell his now ex-wife that his real name is Eric Schroder? Author Gaige creates in Eric an unreliable narrator of epic proportions. Can the reader trust anything contained in his jailhouse confession, or is the fatherly devotion he claims drove him to abduct his daughter the biggest lie of all?

Book cover for Sisterland : a novel
Sisterland : a novel
Sittenfeld, Curtis.

Kate and Vi are identical twins with ESP.  Kate is a stay-at-home mom who has sworn off her powers forever, while Vi is a newly minted lesbian who conducts séances in her living room.  After a strong earthquake hits close to Kate's home in St. Louis, her twin predicts an even worse one is on the way.  This brings unwanted attention to Kate's psychic powers. Through Sittenfield's leisurely unraveling of the twins' early life, the suspense builds as to whether the prediction will happen and if the sisters wil reconcile their past differences.

Book cover for Snow hunters : a novel
Snow hunters : a novel
Yoon, Paul.
A former prisoner of war leaves Korea for Brazil in an attempt to cobble together a different life from what he left behind. Lyrical and tender, this spare volume holds within its few pages a life both tragic and vibrant.

Book cover for Someone
McDermott, Alice,

Someone is a compressed reminiscence of an Irish American woman from her childhood in pre-Depression Brooklyn to her waning years at the end of World War II.  Marie Commeford is observant and reflective on the daily events of life which bring joy, heartache, disappointment, but she always has a reserve of hope. Alice McDermott's elegant writing renders the ordinariness of daily life into the momentous.


Book cover for Stay up with me : stories
Stay up with me : stories
Barbash, Tom.

Barbash’s past life as a journalist is evident in his fiction and it serves him well; his prose is expressive, but clear, and the stories seem to search for underlying truths. The majority of the stories share a meditative sense, there are tragedies and losses aplenty - from broken relationships to the sudden deaths of loved ones or the slow deaths of once booming upstate New York towns, but the tragedies are largely in the past, the characters are faced in the present with the fits and starts of coping, of moving on and living.

Book cover for Story of a new name
Story of a new name
Ferrante, Elena,

This is the second novel in a trilogy, and My Brilliant Friend  must be read first.  This is the continuation of the story of two childhood friends, Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco, who grew up in a poor section of Naples along with their extended families and neighbors.  These are bright young women who are fiercely loyal to each other yet, at times, in competition which tests their friendship. The marvel of Ferrnate's writing is that without being strident, her modern female characters express their thoughts and emotions with brutal honesty, exposing their vulnerability, flaws and brilliance.

Book cover for Tenth of December
Tenth of December
Saunders, George, 1958-

eBook | eAudiobook

With this collection Saunders stays more in the realm of the real than usual, but he finds plenty of oddity in the workings of his characters’ minds. And what a variety of minds he credibly inhabits. In “Victory Lap” he describes a harrowing event through the inner dialogues of the three characters involved: the young teen ballerina, the high-strung boy next door, cowed by his stiflingly strict home life, and the mentally unstable man, dogged by his abusive past, whose violent act sets the story in motion. These stories feel full, the characters complex and multi-faceted, despite the inherent brevity of the form.

Book cover for Vampires in the lemon grove : stories
Vampires in the lemon grove : stories
Russell, Karen, 1981-

Karen Russell’s whimsical, evocative story collection is pitch-perfect. The stories veer from the absurd--dead presidents reincarnated as stabled horses, to the macabre--a seemingly indestructible scarecrow that bears an uncanny resemblance to a badly bullied boy. Though they largely concern the unpleasant forces that motivate human actions: loneliness, guilt, cruelty, they are also full of hope and the possibility for change.

Book cover for Visitation street
Visitation street
Pochoda, Ivy.

Two teenage girls are passing a boring, hot summer evening in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. They decide to take a raft out on the water… but only one girl returns. What begins as a mystery novel evolves into a beautifully written study of the girls’ community, its class and racial struggles, neighborhood residents, and how the area is affected by the tragedy. Published under Dennis Lehane’s imprint, Dennis Lehane Books.

Book cover for We are water : a novel
We are water : a novel
Lamb, Wally,
Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True) is a master novelist, and We Are Water does not disappoint. Annie Oh is getting married - to another woman - and her children and husband are gathering together for the wedding, but long-held secrets have a way of revealing themselves when it’s most inconvenient and most necessary.

Book cover for The Yonahlossee riding camp for girls
The Yonahlossee riding camp for girls
DiSclafani, Anton.

Fifteen-year-old Thea Atwell is packed off to the titular boarding school for a misdeed that is only darkly hinted at throughout most of the book. Set in 1930s North Carolina, this coming-of-age novel with a mystery woven in is a surprisingly layered, sensual read populated with memorable characters. First-time author DiSclafani’s prose is as spirited as the Camp’s horses and her headstrong, flawed heroine is relatable and real.