Best fiction 2006

General fiction

Leaving Home, by Anita Brookner (Random House, $23.95)

Anita Brookner's psychological acuity and elegant prose style are fully on display in her 23rd novel, the story of a repressed young woman uneasy in her own life. (Reviewed 1/10/06)

The Accidental, by Ali Smith (Pantheon, $22.95)

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

A mysterious houseguest wreaks havoc on the lives of an unsuspecting family with problems of its own. (1/10/06)

Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes (Knopf, $24.95)

British master Julian Barnes bases his novel on the facts surrounding the life of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and Doyle's real-life involvement with a criminal case. (1/17/06)

The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24)

Questions of identity weave throughout this rich, tragicomic novel (winner of the 2006 Man Booker prize) set in both India and New York. (1/24/06)

Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury (Archipelago Books, $26)

One Palestinian recites a string of interlocking tales to another in this tragic, yet deeply humane examination of the plight of the Palestinians. (2/21/06)

The Last of Her Kind, by Sigrid Nunez (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25)

A pair of 1960s college roommates is reunited decades later when one goes to jail and the other is determined to find out why. (2/21/06)

Black Swan, Green Swan, by David Mitchell (Random House, $23.95)

This brilliant coming-of-age tale follows a year (1982) of adolescent turmoil in the life of a poetic British teen struggling with a speech impediment. (4/21/06)

Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky (Knopf, $25)

Two recently discovered novellas deliver a sharp, ironic view of the Nazi occupation of France, written as it was taking place. (4/25/06)

Digging to America, by Anne Tyler (Knopf, $24.95)

Anne Tyler cleverly critiques American culture by contrasting the lives of two US families both adopting Korean children. (5/9/06)

Theft,by Peter Carey (Knopf, $24)

Two brothers spin a tale of art, intrigue, and uneasy love in the latest novel by Man Booker-prize winner Peter Carey. (5/23/06)

Talk Talk, by T.C. Boyle (Viking, $25.95)

When a con artist lifts an identity in this novel by PEN Faulkner award- winner T. C. Boyle, the thief gets more than he bargained for as his deaf victim gives him chase. (7/11/06)

Cellophane, by Marie Arana (Dial Press, $24)

In this fanciful debut novel, the family of a Peruvian cellophanemaker learns the hard way that saying whatever pops into your head isn't necessarily the same thing as truth. (7/18/06)

The Lambs of London, by Peter Ackroyd (Nan Talese, $23)

The real lives of Charles and Mary Lamb are the inspiration for this story of a literary family undone by the supposed unearthing of a new work by Shakespeare. (8/1/06)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl (Viking, $25.95)

In this lively tale organized as a course on great books, a professor's daughter aces a murder investigation along with her high school classes. (8/8/06)

The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud (Knopf, $25)

This clever novel examines the undeservedly entitled of New York as they worry about their personal lives and hover unwittingly on the brink of Sept. 11. (8/29/06)

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf, $24)

A father and son push an old grocery cart through civilization's ruins and debate ethics along the way in this dark but bracing work by National Book Award winner Cormac McCarthy. (10/03/06)

Imperium, by Robert Harris (Simon & Schuster, $26)

Projected to be part one of a trilogy, this vivid novel recreates the exploits of Cicero, the great Roman orator, lawyer, and politico. (10/6/06)

Abundance, by Sena Jeter Naslund (William Morrow, $26.95)

This finely detailed fictional version of the life of Marie Antoinette offers a portrait of the French queen as a spoiled and self-absorbed woman – and yet her tale is somehow surprisingly sympathetic. (10/17/06)

The Lay of the Land, by Richard Ford (Knopf, $26.95)

Realtor-cum-social-critic Frank Bascombe makes his third appearance in Richard Ford's acute critique of 20th-century America. (11/14/06)

Mysteries/thrillers

Manhunt, by James Swanson (William Morrow, $26.95)

This engrossing blend of history and thriller tells the riveting tale of the search for John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's assassin. (Reviewed 2/17/06)

The Summer Snow, by Rebecca Pawel (SoHo Crime, $23)

Rebecca Pawel adds to her marvelous series of mysteries set in Fascist Spain the story of a detective charged with finding his aunt's killers and saving his aristocratic family from scandal. (2/24/06)

The Rainaldi Quartet, by Paul Adam (St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95)

An Italian violinmaker turns gumshoe and travels from Venice to London to avenge his lifelong friend in this well-crafted, expertly paced 10th novel by British writer Paul Adam. (2/24/06)

The Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard (HarperCollins, $24.95)

The author of "Mr. Timothy" serves up a mystery and murder investigation fictionally tied to Edgar Allan Poe's aborted career as a West Point cadet. (6/16/06)

The Mission Song, by John le Carré (Little Brown, $26.99)

Venerable thrillmeister John le Carré spins a topnotch tale of Western duplicity set in eastern Congo. (9/22/06)

Short stories

Twilight of the Superheroes, by Deborah Eisenberg (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23)

Deborah Eisenberg, sometimes called America's Alice Munro, offers a collection of stories marked by intelligence, memorable characters, and an absence of clichés. (Reviewed 1/31/06)

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, $24.95)

In his first collection of short stories in more than a decade, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami explores the mystery at the core of human existence. (8/29/06)

All Aunt Hagar's Children, by Edward P. Jones (Amistad, $25.95)

In these richly textured stories, Pulitzer Prize-winning Edward P. Jones writes about the descendants of slaves and the community they created in Washington, D.C. (10/10/06)

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, $23.95)

The author of "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" serves up a delightful collection of fairy tales aimed at adults. (10/31/06)

Poetry

Selected Poems 1931-2004, by Czeslaw Milosz (Ecco, $24.95)

This collection of the work of Nobel Prize-winner Czeslaw Milosz features razor-sharp verse, poetry shaped by turbulent decades of European history. (Reviewed 4/18/06)

Monologue of a Dog, by Wislawa Szymborska (Harcourt, $22)

The verse in this slim volume combines logic with great powers of imagination to take the reader on a fascinating intellectual journey. (4/18/06)

Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser (Copper Canyon Press, $15)

This 10th collection of Kooser's work (winner of last year's Pulitzer Prize) relies on simple images and gentle language to probe hidden complexity. (4/18/06)

Children's

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, $18.99)

A china rabbit grows a real heart in this touching, beautifully illustrated story recommended for intermediate readers ages 9-12. (Reviewed 7/25/06)

Marjorie's bookmark

I wish I could read 'em all but time won't permit. I'm not complaining, however. As the Monitor's book editor, I generally read several really good books each month – and that is an awesome job benefit.

But of course some books – like some months – are more wonderful than others. From among the books on our best-of-2006 list, below are my top 10 personal favorites.

1. Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes. Finely drawn characters in a subtly shaped story based on true events

2. The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. First- and third-world themes beautifully fused by a recognition of the universality of human experience

3. The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright. Important material in the hands of a gifted writer – how better to absorb current events?

4. There Is No Me Without You, by Melissa Fay Greene. See No. 3

5. Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York, by Adam Gopnik. You don't have to be a New Yorker to appreciate the charm of these essays.

6. The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen. He may provoke the occasional cringe, but Jonathan Franzen is very funny and very talented.

7. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. I don't often get to curl up with a lovely children's book. This one was a particular treat.

8. The Lambs of London, by Peter Ackroyd. Carefully drawn characters, a literary mystery, a 19th-century London setting – what's not to like?

9. The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan. Sometimes real life serves up a perfect story. This haunting tale from the Middle East is one.

10. The Good Good Pig, by Sy Montgomery. There are few things better than a good animal story.

– Marjorie Kehe

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