Librarians rely on a lot of resources when deciding which books to purchase for their libraries. At the top of the list is Library Journal’s Book Review, which provides prepublication reviews for hundreds of books each month. When you read books for a living, so many will blur together, but every year there are standouts. Here are LJ’s picks for the best books of 2013:
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat (fiction). Claire Limyè Lanmè (“Claire of the Sea Light”) goes missing on her seventh birthday, soon after her destitute fisherman father makes the wrenching decision to give her away so that she can have a better life. As townsfolk search for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community.
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (fiction). Anais Hendricks, 15, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais’s school uniform is covered in blood. Raised in foster care from birth, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counter-culture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (non-fiction). Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina — and her suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (fiction). Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing–and terrifying–playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.” Now Vic McQueen, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never forgot. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (fiction). In a rural village in December 2004 Chechnya, a failed doctor Akhmed harbors the traumatized 8-year-old daughter of a father abducted by Russian forces and treats a series of wounded rebels and refugees while exploring the shared past that binds him to the child.
How To Create the Perfect Wife by Wendy Moore (non-fiction). Go back before the Regency and the romances it still inspires. Enter the Enlightenment, but don’t assume its adherents were all enlightened as we’d understand the term. Meet Thomas Day, an 18th-century aristocrat free to study and practice Enlightenment philosophies. Watch him go to an orphanage and adopt a girl for long-term training to be his wife. Twice.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (non-fiction). Pollan’s latest details his adventures exploring the four elements of food preparation: fire, water, air, and earth. In the course of his journey, he discovers that the cook occupies a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture.
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (fiction). New York City, 2001. Fraud investigator Maxine Tarnow starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm and its billionaire geek CEO and discovers there’s no shortage of swindlers looking to grab a piece of what’s left of the tech bubble.
The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis (fiction). When the humanitarian lawyer Tom Harrington travels to Haiti to investigate the murder of a beautiful, seductive photojournalist, he is confronted with a dangerous landscape of poverty, corruption, and voodoo.