Best fiction 2005

General fiction

THE HA-HA, by Dave King (Little, Brown, $23.95)

With this story of a mute Vietnam vet suddenly asked to care for a 9-year-old boy, King creates a strangely lovable hero. (1/4/05)

MY JIM, by Nancy Rawles (Crown, $19.95)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Nancy Rawles takes the brief mention of the wife of Jim, the runaway slave in "Huck Finn" and from that richly invents the life and love of a remarkable woman. (1/18/05)

PEARL, by Mary Gordon (Pantheon, $24.95)

In this provocative novel, political extremism becomes a stark reality to a mother when her daughter - who has been studying in Ireland - begins a hunger strike. (1/25/05)

A LONG LONG WAY, by Sebastian Barry (Viking, $24.95)

This Booker prize nominee employs beautiful language to tell the horrifying tale of life in the trenches of World War I. (2/1/05)

TILTING AT WINDMILLS, by Julian Branston (Shaye Areheart Books, $23)

A witty, modern novel created as a companion to Cervantes's grand classic "Don Quixote." (2/22/05)

MARCH, by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, $24.95)

The father from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" comes to life in this story of a man struggling to reconcile his principles with the demands of everyday life. (3/1/05)

IRELAND, by Frank Delaney (HarperCollins, $26.95)

Delaney, a former BBC reporter, packs as many folk tales as possible into this story of an Irish teen in search of a storyteller he encountered as a child. (3/15/05)

SATURDAY, by Ian McEwan (Doubleday/Nan A. Talese, $26)

Britain's award-winning novelist Ian McEwan offers us one long Saturday in the life of Henry Perowne, a prosperous middle-aged London surgeon who encounters a street tough who rocks his well-ordered world. (3/22/05)

THE HISTORY OF LOVE, by Nicole Krauss (W.W. Norton, $23.95)

A Holocaust survivor who has never gotten over his first love and a young girl who was named for a character in a book he wrote are brought together in this unusual but graceful tale. (6/21/05)

OH PURE AND RADIANT HEART, by Lydia Millet (Soft Skull Press, $25)

In this humorous but compassionate satire, a Santa Fe librarian, in 2003 - thanks to a neat trick of time travel - meets the three physicists responsible for the creation of the atom bomb. (7/26/05)

SHALIMAR THE CLOWN, by Salman Rushdie (Random House, $25.95)

Doomed love, a doomed region, and terrorism all collide in Salman Rushdie's tale of a Muslim extremist from Kashmir who assassinates an ambassador to avenge a lost love. (9/6/05)

THE PAINTED DRUM, by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, $25.95)

Longtime fans of Louise Erdrich and first-time readers alike will find much to enjoy in this story of a traditional native American drum and the lives it affects. (9/6/05)

THE KING OF KINGS COUNTY, by Whitney Terrell (Viking, $24.95)

In this rueful but loving coming-of-age tale set in Kansas farm country in the 1950s, a boy wrestles with his feelings about his dad, a real estate con man. (9/9/05)

ON BEAUTY, by Zadie Smith (Penguin, $25.95)

This Booker prize nominee is Zadie Smith's love letter to E.M. Forster. In this modern take on "Howard's End," a British academic and his African-American wife grapple with questions of race, nationality, and marital expectations. (9/13/05)

MARCH, by E.L. Doctorow (Random House, $25.95)

This fictionalized version of Sherman's march through Georgia is gritty, heartrending, and memorable. (9/20/05)

ANANSI BOYS, by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, $26.95)

Charlie Nancy, an easily embarrassed London accountant, attends his father's funeral only to discover that his dad was an African trickster god and he has a brother named Spider who inherited his father's gifts. From there, events in this funny, creative novel spin out of control. (9/23/05)

FRIENDS, LOVERS, CHOCOLATE, by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon, $21.95)

In this enjoyable follow-up to "The Sunday Philosophy Club," Scottish philosopher Isabel Dalhousie helps a client who is troubled by visions even as she edits a journal on applied ethics and moonlights as a shopkeeper. (9/23/05)

THE SEA, by John Banville (Knopf, $23)

Irish writer John Banville shines as a stylist in this Booker prizewinner about a widower drawn to the Irish Sea and memories of his childhood as he processes his grief. (11/8/05)

Mysteries

THE LINCOLN LAWYER, by Michael Connelly (Little Brown, $26.95)

No, he's not as honest as Abe - he just happens to drive a big Lincoln Town Car. But Mickey Haller, defense attorney and latest creation of bestselling thriller writer Michael Connelly seems destined for success. This book is a smooth read, with some especially good courtroom scenes. (10/14/05)

IN THE SHADOW OF THE LAW, by Kermit Roosevelt (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $24)

This intricate, intelligent legal thriller is a debut novel for Kermit Roosevelt who's also a law professor and a former Supreme Court clerk. (And yes, he's one of those Roosevelts.) It tells the tale of three young law firm associates working to defend a chemical plant against a class action suit. (8/26/05)

A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND, by Mitch Cullin (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $23.95)

This portrait of Sherlock Holmes after World War II is perhaps more of a character sketch than a mystery. But fans of Holmes will enjoy getting one more glimpse of the master, now 90, living with his housekeeper and her son. (5/10/05)

THE FINAL SOLUTION, by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, $16.95)

More of a real mystery is "The Final Solution" by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon. Chabon also visits Sherlock Holmes as an elderly man, but in this story Holmes comes out of retirement to reunite a mute refugee boy with his beloved parrot. (5/10/05)

TILT-A-WHIRL, by Chris Grabenstein (Carroll & Graf, $23.95 )

When a billionaire tycoon is shot dead on an amusement park ride, straight-arrow police officer John Ceepak is the first to arrive at the scene. The investigation that follows tests Ceepak's code of honor even as it provides the reader with a story that is funny, smart, and smoothly written. (10/7/05)

Poetry

DELIGHTS & SHADOWS, by Ted Kooser (Copper Canyon Press, $15)

A sense of wonder and compassion runs through this Pulitzer-Prize-winning volume of verse by America's poet laureate. Kooser's poetry is understated yet manages to skillfully illuminate the small moments of life. (4/26/05)

SEARCH PARTY: COLLECTED POEMS, by William Matthews (Mariner Books, $15)

This posthumous collection of Matthews's best work is occasionally coarse, with some poems intended to shock, but it is also filled with subtlety and depth. (4/26/05)

THE ORCHARD, by Brigit Pegeen Kelly (BOA Editions Ltd., $14.95)

Brigit Pegeen Kelly uses her keen eye for detail to weave verse that resembles elaborate tapestries. It's a work that offers many pleasures but is also dense and demanding. (4/26/05)

Short stories

A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS, by Yiyun Li (Random House, $21.95)

This collection of 10 short, fictional stories offers insights into both traditional and modern Chinese culture and the ways in which they both interact with the West today. (10/11/05)

Children's

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, Inc., $29.95)

No list of the top books of the year would be complete without mentioning Book 6 in the Harry Potter series. This story is perhaps the darkest of the tales about the child wizard, but the series maintains all of its original enchantment even as Harry continues to inch his way toward manhood. (7/18/05)

GIRLS IN PANTS: THE THIRD SUMMER OF THE SISTERHOOD, by Ann Brashares (Delacorte Press, $16.95)

The third book of this series finds the four young heroines getting ready to leave home for college. The magic here comes not from the special jeans these girls share but from the characters and the author. (6/14/05)

THE PENDERWICKS: A SUMMER TALE OF FOUR SISTERS, TWO RABBITS, AND A VERY INTERESTING BOY, by Jeanne Birdsall (Knopf, $15.95)

This National Book Award Winner tells the madcap yet tender story of a professor and his family as they vacation in a cottage in New England. (11/15/05)

Marjorie's bookmark

Since I became the Monitor's book editor last June, I've heard the same question over and over:

Is it the best job ever?

My answer: Just about. Contrary to what some imagine, I don't spend all day reading, but I do read at least two or three books a week, and I enjoy most of them. Of course, among these I do have my favorites so to answer the other most frequently asked question ("What have you read that you really liked?"), of all the books listed here, the following were my top 10 favorite on-the-job reading experiences this year:

1. Two Lives, by Vikram Seth The characters were so incredibly ordinary and yet so extraordinary at the same time.

2. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard . What's not to like when history, adventure, and good writing all come together?

3. Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley . I couldn't get enough of that reading list.

4. The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich . Erdrich is a truly skilful novelist.

5. The Accidental Masterpiece, by Michael Kimmelman . It's easy to love a book that finds art everywhere.

6. Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday . A chilling but very compelling read.

7.The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion . Once again, a writer who really knows her craft.

8. Mark Twain: A Life, by Mark Powers . It was as if Twain were in the room with me.

9. Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev, by Robert Dessaix . I had no chance to amble through Europe this summer - except when I read this book.

10.Marley & Me, by John Grogan . What can I say? I have a dog.

- Marjorie Kehe

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