Top titles of 2013

Philip Tew, Selection and Access Librarian, shares his top novels of 2013. View the catalogue booklist of this selection.

Best Reads of 2013

Explore the favourite reads of our staff and customers, and lists of the year’s best books.

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Three brothers Peter Ackroyd
Three brothers grow up in Camden, London, in the 1950s and they end up in different but connected worlds. Coincidence and chance operate heavily in a sharp portrait of a time of social change and corruption (there is a character modelled on slum landlord Peter Rachmann). Ackroyd’s deep knowledge of London comes over well and there’s a whole host of minor characters of a Dickensian vividness, making this an entertaining read.
Grace and Mary Melvyn Bragg
This is Bragg’s fictionalisation of his own family’s story and especially that of his mother. His mother died in a nursing home while he was still finishing the novel. The novel deals with the changing patterns of life in a Welsh village, captured superbly in a touching and truthful novel.
Idiopathy Sam Byers
This couldn’t be any more different than Bragg’s novel! The characters are not particularly likeable, in fact not likeable at all – a cynical relentlessly bitchy woman, her former partner, a wildly satirised politically correct couple – but the voices – mostly young except for someone’s mother, a writer of awful self help books – are pretty authentic. Bleak but brilliant.
A thousand pardons Jonathan Dee
The author of The privileges is an expert on how affluent Americans live. This one is about a couple whose marriage falls apart with the husband self destructing and ended up in jail and rehab. The wife turns out to be an expert in crisis management and gets a top career in public penance for business people. An original look at the American PR world.

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Norumbega Park Anthony Giardina
More well off Americans. A how people live tale that moves from the 1960s to the present day where a man pursues the American dream exemplified in a big house in an affluent commuter town.
Graveland Alan Glynn
Financial thrillers are big today but this one really stands out. A Wall Street banker is murdered and an investigative journalist goes on the case and uncovers business corruption as the rich and venal tramp over the rest of the population. The way the machinations of the super rich have effects on the lives of people nearer the bottom of the food chain is very skilfully described.
Telling the bees Peggy Hesketh
A fascinating novel that some critics likened to Kazuo Ishiguro’s wonderful novel The remains of the day. Instead of a butler we have a quiet bachelor who keeps bees in his California garden. His discovery of a murder of neighbouring sisters and shared memories of his earlier life are quietly and gradually revealed in a sad and beautifully written novel.
Joyland Stephen King
King changes direction from horror in this affectionate tribute to pulp crime fiction. It’s a lively mystery mixed with a coming of age story involving a teenage boy who works at a theme park in North Carolina over summer.

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The town that drowned Riel Nason
A memorable novel from a Canadian author that’s told from the perspective of a teenage girl in a small town that is going to be flooded for a hydroelectric dam. It’s based on a true event from the late 1960s. The effect on the girl, her family and the townspeople makes for a likeable and touching novel with an appeal for YA readers as well.
The virgin and the whale Carl Nixon 
His first novel since his superb and underrated Settlers Creek’ is about a man who has returned from the trenches of World War I with a serious brain injury that has wiped his memory of what happened before. His wife hires a nurse to help him and the nurse has her own story, her husband is missing presumed dead. The novel takes these two stories to make an impressive and moving story of war and loss.
Mr Lynch’s holiday Catherine¬†O’Flynn
A widowed retired bus driver goes to Spain to visit his son who turns out to be in a housing development that hasn’t been completed and a relationship that has hit the rocks. As well there is a sinister undertone to the development that is gradually revealed. An often funny and perceptive tale of Brits abroad, it’s her third novel and I’d really recommend her earlier two as well.
Visitation Street Ivy Pochoda
Comparisons have been made to Dennis Lehane for this first novel. It’s set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a depressed waterfront community. It’s a mystery (two girls venture out on a raft one night and only one returns) but it’s a subtle one and the portrait of a rundown community just managing to get by is convincing and memorable.

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The unknowns Gabriel Roth
A first novel about a youngish techie guy who has created a dot–com startup that makes him a millionaire when he sells it. He’s saddled with a father who has get rich quick schemes doomed to failure. He meets a young woman where his lack of social skills collide with her considerable hang ups. It’s often very funny and very likeable.
The demolition of the Century Duncan Sarkies
A droll mix of black comedy and social comment from the Kiwi author. It’s about an absentee father out to rescue his missing son and a demolition contractor who is pulling down the theatre of the title.
A song from dead lips William Shaw
There are so many mysteries being published these days (and a lot are pretty predictable) but this debut stands out from the pack. It’s set in 1960s Britain where the body of a young woman is found in an upmarket neighbourhood. There is a sharp portrait of the time devoid of nostalgia as the sexism and racism that were prevalent, showing that Swinging Britain wasn’t a time for fun and games for everyone.
Homecoming Susie Steiner
A promising first novel that charts one year in the life of a an English farming family coping with a downturn in their fortunes. The family falls apart and things get very difficult but this rural community has a real strength and things come right but their triumph is hard won. Excellent characterisation in this unpretentious novel that I liked so much I wrote to the author (whose father turns out to be a Kiwi).

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And just to round this off, it would be nice in 2014 if dystopian fiction tailed off: it’s interesting that in a world where a lot of people live in pretty dystopian societies, the affluent West licks its collective chops over ever more miserable societies. And as well it would be good to see erotic fiction (now getting its own little corner in dear old Library Journal where earnest American librarians worry that their customers need help in finding S & M on the shelves) deflate, so to speak.

Have a look at the likes of Sylvia Day and realise that all this steamy carrying on just needs a sense of humour. Have a look at the wonderful lyrics Victoria Wood penned for Let’s do it. By bringing in the most mundane domestic details (Bend me over backwards on the hostess trolley or Beat me on the bottom with the Women’s Weekly), she manages to do what Sylvia Day, E.L. James and their many imitators never do: have a laugh and get a sense of perspective.