Each December, our reviewers choose their top books; today's list is by Valerie Ryan, from Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal (Little, Brown)
Judith Whitman is a 44-year-old successful film editor in Los Angeles, happily married--mostly--and the bearer of a huge secret: she can't get her first love out of her head. What follows from that fact is a great story: romantic, poignant and real.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
A love triangle carried on as a post-graduate experiment in life, love and marriage. The marriage plot found in Jane Austen and George Eliot novels is here made contemporary and irresistible.
We the Animals by Justin Torres (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
A touching, frightening story of three young boys who grow up in an atmosphere of neglect, poverty, violent beatings and occasional moments of pure, radiant love.
Turn of Mind by Alice La Plante (Atlantic Monthly Press)
A masterful family drama and a thrilling murder mystery. A retired orthopedic surgeon is suspected of murdering her friend and neighbor, because the woman's fingers have been surgically and neatly removed. The problem is that the surgeon has dementia and can't remember anything about it--or can she?
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (Norton)
The author is uncannily deft at portraying lust and passion as they morph into resignation and the realization that one marriage may be much like another. "I thought it would be a different life, but sometimes it is like the same life in a dream...." Addictive reading about an affair and its consequences.
There but for The by Ali Smith (Pantheon)
A dinner guest excuses himself from the table, goes upstairs and locks himself in a bedroom, where he remains for three months. We wonder why. Four people try to tell us.
Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga (Knopf)
Tenants in a building moving toward decrepitude are offered more money than they have ever seen to vacate so that a developer may realize his lifelong dream of building a truly beautiful structure. All agree except one. He wants nothing more than what he has. How to convince him? A perfect meditation on greed and what grief an inordinate love of money can cause.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Harper)
A journey to the jungle of Brazil to find what happened to a co-worker brings Dr. Marina Singh into contact with an anaconda, cannibals, creatures that bite and sting and, most frightening of all, her former teacher and mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson. Patchett makes the jungle jump off the page with all its smells, sounds, rot, green beauty, teeming life and a story that is a fascinating tale of two dedicated women.
The Paris Wife by Paula McLean (Ballantine Books)
A well-written novel that captures a remarkable period of time--Paris in the '20s --and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes (Knopf)
Richly deserving of the Man Booker prize, this slender novel contains volumes of insight as middle-aged Tony Webster, amicably divorced and comfortably retired, is forced to look back on a life he thought he had neatly compartmentalized and well understood. Not so. A strange and unexpected legacy causes him to re-evaluate everything.