Best novels of 2008

The Monitor’s annual gift guide to the best fiction books of 2008.

For a slideshow of the Monitor's fiction book jackets from 2008, click here.

A Golden Age
By Tahmima Anam (HarperCollins, 288 pp., $24.95)
Bangladeshi author Tahmima Anam’s moving debut novel tells the story of a widowed mother’s fight to keep her son and daughter safe during Bangladesh’s war for independence. This beautiful work celebrates Anam’s love for her homeland. (1/10/08)

The Konkans
By Tony D’Souza (Harcourt, 320 pp., $25)
Blond, ponytailed Peace Corp worker Denise marries an Indian villager because she has fallen in love with his country. They eventually return to the US, creating identity problems for themselves and their children in this resonant series of interconnected stories set in India and Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s. (2/19/08)

Recommended: Books

The Blue Star
By Tony Earley (Little, Brown & Co, 304 pp., $23.99)
This sequel to “Jim the Boy” continues the story of Jim Glass, now a teenager, who is being lovingly raised by his widowed mother and a trio of uncles in Aliceville, N.C., on the eve of World War II. This novel is a rarity: a good story, simply told, without fuss or flourish. (3/11/08)

All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well
By Tod Wodicka (Pantheon, 266 pp., $21.95)
Bert Hecker is a 60-something medieval reenactor who wanders around in robe and sandals and refuses to consume coffee, French fries, or chocolate because they’re “OOP” – out of period. This darkly comic yet tender debut novel chronicles Bert’s struggles after losing his wife as he works to reconnect with his children. (3/18/08)

So Brave, Young, and Handsome
By Leif Enger (Atlantic Monthly Press, 285 pp., $24)
An aging outlaw and a stalled author hit the road together on an unlikely quest in this charming, deft tale set in the Western US in the early 1900s. (4/30/08)

The Plague of Doves
By Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 311 pp., $25.95)
Past and present, innocence and guilt, overlap in the latest novel from National Book Circle Critic Award-winner Louise Erdrich. Set in the fictional town of Pluto, N.D., this lyric and ultimately redemptive work examines the way a horrific act of violence shapes lives for at least three generations. (5/6/08)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
By David Wroblewski (Ecco, 566 pp., $25.95)
Echoes of Hamlet reverberate in this hauntingly impressive debut novel about a mute boy and his dog. Set in rural Wisconsin, this book reads like a tender coming-of-age story grafted onto a literary thriller. (6/12/08)

America, America
By Ethan Canin (Random House, 458 pp., $27)
Ethan Canin’s pitch-perfect novel recalls small-town America before Watergate. This story of a provincial boy dazzled by a big-time politician is both a coming-of-age saga and a melancholy look back at a more idealistic era. (7/4/08)

Netherland
By Joseph O’Neill (Pantheon, 256 pp., $23.95)
In this rueful but generous and occasionally comedic book, the unlikely sport of cricket creates a connection for characters in post-9/11 New York. The story examines the impact of tragedy and its aftermath on human life. (7/11/08)

Telex from Cuba
By Rachel Kushner (Scribner, 336 pp., $25)
Told from the perspectives of two young teens, assorted society matrons, and an exotic dancer and her arms-dealer lover, this debut novel chronicles the privilege-soaked lives of Americans in Cuba in the run-up to revolution. Rachel Kushner has an eye for detail and writes so engagingly readers may not even realize they’re getting a history lesson. (7/18/08)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
(Dial Press, 274 pp., $22)
“The Jane Austen Book Club” meets “84 Charing Cross Road” in this charmer about the activities of a small group of Britain’s Channel Islanders and how they lived during five years of Nazi occupation. (7/28/08)

The Likeness
By Tana French (Viking, 480 pp., $25.95)
A detective called to a murder scene receives the shock of her life: The victim, a grad student, looks just like her – and was using one of her old aliases. With no other leads, the police conceal the murder and the detective goes under cover to flush out the killer in this gripping novel by Edgar Award-winner French. (8/1/08)

The Black Tower
By Louis Bayard (William Morrow, 368 pp., $24.95)
In this thriller, which reads like Alexandre Dumas with a little Conan Doyle mixed in, Louis Bayard borrows from Edgar Allen Poe, appropriating the real-life inspiration for Poe’s very first detective story, protagonist Eugène François Vidocq, a criminal who became one of the first private detectives and the first director of France’s Sûreté Nationale. (8/23/08)

City of Refuge
By Tom Piazza (HarperCollins, 403 pp., $24.95)
Tom Piazza, a journalist and author who’s lived in New Orleans for well over a decade, follows the stories of two families post-Katrina in this impassioned, fictional take on life in the wake of the hurricane. (8/25/08)

When Will There Be Good News?
By Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown & Co., 400 pp., $24.99)
Scottish author Kate Atkinson earns kudos with this third and final installment of her mystery series focused on detective Jackson Brodie. Here, Brodie investigates the mysterious disappearance of an Edinburgh doctor and her baby. (9/6/08)

Home
By Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 325 pp., $25)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson returns to small-town Iowa and the story of the prodigal son she first wrote about in “Gilead.” This time, however, she examines Jack Boughton from the viewpoint of his own household. (9/9/08)

The Given Day
By Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, 720 pp., $27.95)
Dennis Lehane harks back to Boston at the end of World War I, weaving a police strike, segregation, baseball, union drives, and class resentments into an ambitious novel that evokes a dark chapter of US history. (9/29/08)

A Most Wanted Man
By John Le Carré (Scribner, 322 pp., $28)
Spies, the “war on terror,” and personal failings converge in John le Carré’s latest thriller set in Hamburg and starring a Chechen refugee smuggled into town in strikingly murky circumstances. (10/4/08)

Exit Music
By Ian Rankin (Little, Brown & Co., 432 pp., $24.99)
After 21 years, Edgar Award-winning author Ian Rankin wraps up his popular series featuring cranky Scottish inspector John Rebus in a story that finds Rebus with another dead body on his hands – a Russian dissident – and only 10 days to solve the case before mandatory retirement. Rankin offers his hero a jazz riff of a swan song, with his excellent character studies and ambling, knotted plots balanced by a certain wistfulness. (10/10/08)

Driftless
By David Rhodes (Milkweed, 429 pp., $24)
After three decades of silence, David Rhodes pulled off one of the biggest publishing surprises of the year by resurfacing with this rewarding, patient, surely written portrait of life in rural Wisconsin. “Driftless” follows the stories of about a half-dozen residents of the tiny town of Words, Wis., “a place so rural God left his shoes there.” (10/20/08)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
By Muriel Barbery (Europa, 325 pp., $15)
A young girl and a concierge find an unlikely kinship in this novel about the wealthy residents of a Parisian apartment building. Originally published in France last year, this book was a phenomenon in France, winning the 2007 French Booksellers Prize. (10/20/08)

Sea of Poppies
By Amitav Ghosh (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 515 pp., $26)
Bestselling author Amitav Ghosh delights with an absorbing tale, rich in detail, of the motley international crew assembled aboard a 19th-century British trading ship. (10/28/08)

A Mercy
By Toni Morrison
(Knopf, 176 pp., $23.95)
Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison’s new novel uses the stories of four early American women to examine the foundations of slavery and the legacy of abandonment. (11/4/08)

Serena
By Ron Rash (Ecco Press, 384 pp., $24.95)
Lady Macbeth has nothing on Serena, the ruthless protagonist of this Depression-
era story set in the Smoky Mountains. (11/12/08)

I See You Everywhere
By Julia Glass (Pantheon, 304 pp., $24.95)
National Book Award-winner Julia Glass’s elegant new novel examines the complex, competitive love between sisters. (11/18/08)

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