Only a week into November, Amazon has already called its picks for best books of 2013. Some of the choices are bold, some are expected, but decide for yourself whether Amazon’s faves will make your holiday list. EW’s list is coming shortly, so stay tuned!
1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: A decade after her last novel, Tartt has written a wide-ranging, emotionally trenchant masterpiece that follows the life of Theo, a 14-year-old Manhattanite, who loses his mother, steals a painting and sets off on a journey worthy of Dickens. [EW grade: B–. Clark Collis differed on this one, calling Tartt’s latest “long on well-drawn incident but short on engaging plot.”]
2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: A father gives away his daughter to a wealthy man in Kabul, setting into motion a novel that moves through war, separation, birth, death, deceit and love. On the heels of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini has proven that lightning can strike thrice. [EW grade: A. I wrote, “With his third and most ambitious novel yet, Hosseini makes it clear that he’s not ready to rest on his Big Name.”]
3. Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel: From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Good Soldiers comes a mesmerizing nonfiction account of the day-to-day hope and pain that soldiers carry upon returning home. As Finkel writes: “while the truth of war is that it’s always about loving the guy next to you, the truth of the after-war is that you’re on your own.”
4. Life After Life: A Novel by Kate Atkinson: What if you could be born again and again? This brilliant, multi-layered novel answers that question as Atkinson’s protagonist moves through multiple lives, each one an iteration on the last, flirting with the balance between choice and fate. [EW grade: A. Leah Greenblatt said of Life After Life, “It’s all so richly imagined and ingeniously executed that the mystery feels right. Her domestic vignettes and wide-screen portraits of wartime resonate with startling physical and emotional clarity.”]
5. Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia: When the “Pilgrim” family rolled into the old mining outpost of McCarthy, Alaska, they were a sight to behold: Robert “Papa Pilgrim” Hale, his wife Country Rose, and their 15 children. But dark secrets lurked behind their congenial faces, ones that shocked a frontier community.
6. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson: During World War I, the course of the modern day Middle East was set by a handful of young, low-ranking actors who exerted oversized influence on the region. Anderson focuses our attention on four men: a minor German diplomat and spy, an American oilman descended from the Yale family, a Romanian-born agronomist, and T.E. Lawrence himself.
7. Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders: Saunders’ first collection of short stories in six years introduces his ironic, absurd, profound and funny style to an army of new readers. [EW grade: A. Rob Brunner wrote, “George Saunders — the beloved cult author known for surreal short stories about American nuttiness — is the master of joy bombs: little explosions of grin-stimulating genius that he buries throughout his deeply thoughtful, endlessly entertaining flights of imagination.”]
8. The Son by Philipp Meyer: A multigenerational Western spanning the 1800s Comanche raids in Texas to the 20th century oil boom, The Sonis a towering achievement. [EW grade: A. Keith Staskiewicz wrote, “It may not be the Great American Novel, but it certainly is a damn good one.”]
9. A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout: Written with uncommon sensitivity, Lindhout’s account of the 460 days she spent as a captive in Somalia is a moving testament to human resilience in the midst of profound darkness.
10. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: This young adult novel about two kids who fall in love on a bus is sweet without being saccharine. And it’s a story adults can love, too. [Read Breia Brissey’s interview with Rowell.]