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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Very Best Novels from 2009, from A to Y

One of the luxuries of being a librarian is that we get to rave about books. So today I am sharing all my favorite novels of 2009, in alphabetical order.

Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A follow-up to the Spanish novelist's best-selling "Shadow of the Wind," this is set in 1920's Barcelona and centers on an impoverished pulp fiction writer who unwittingly sells his soul to the devil.

Believers by Zoe Heller. The British American author of "What Was She Thinking; Notes of a Scandal?" uses her incisive wit on the fate of 1960s radicalism in 21st century Manhattan.

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago. What would happen if death just stopped, but terminal illnesses and accidents didn't? Portuguese Nobel-Laureate Saramago spins a short fable of the political and economic consequences.

Far North by Marcel Theroux. A group of Americans set up an enclave in Siberia when the world starts heating up alarmingly. Makepeace Hatfield is the marvelous protagonist in this exciting survivalist tale by the son of revered travel writer Paul Theroux.

Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson. Another fearless heroine is computer hacker and kick-boxer Lisbeth Salander, centerpiece of a trilogy by the Swedish thriller writer. The concluding novel, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is scheduled for American hardback release in May.

A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias. The acclaimed American novelist touchingly chronicles the lingering death of his wife from cancer, interspersed with memories of their thirty-year marriage.

Homer and Langley by E. L. Doctorow. This is a fictional account of the world's penultimate hoarders, the Collyer Brothers of Harlem. Taking place over a period of about 75 years, it is, like "Ragtime," filled with interesting historical tidbits.

Lacuna by Barb Kingsolver. I ended the year absorbed in this marvelous tale of Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky and the entirely fictional young Mexican-American who shared and chronicled their lives and times.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave. It is easy, but harrowing, to get under the skin of 16-year-old Nigerian orphan Little Bee who tries mightily to find her way in the world. Cleave is a British journalist and "The Guardian" columnist.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Compared with the likes of Shirley Jackson and Henry James, Waters plumbs the depths of dysfunctional post-WWII English country society in a creepy old-fashioned ghost story. This is the literary equivalent of the runaway little film, "Paranormal Activity."

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith. Smith's second well-crafted mystery set in post-Stalinist Russia again provides glimpses into the horrors of Soviet repression of basic liberties.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. Set in 1907 Wisconsin, this mesmerizing debut novel is about a near-fatal encounter between a disconsolate businessman and the "simple honest woman" that he takes as his mail order bride.

Vagrants by Yiyun Li. Here is a shattering tale of the consequences of heroism and individuality during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, penned by a Beijing-born writer who now lives in Oakland, California.

The Women by T C Boyle. I adored "Loving Frank," Nancy Horan's novel about Frank Lloyd Wright's ill-fated mistress (and love of his life), Mamah Cheney. Here we get the goods on all four of Wright's women. Illuminating.

Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. Canadian feminist and poet Atwood has tackled the future before - in "A Handmaid's Tale" and "Oryx and Crake." This intricate and rollicking dystopian adventure wittily chronicles the possible consequences of environmental degradation, greed, and over-population.