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A critic's picks of fiction for under the tree

I don't need to ask Santa to tuck any books under my Christmas tree — as the book editor for a major newspaper, I receive a couple of hundred books every week, all year long, from publishers. But if there are bibliophiles on your "nice" list, or if you're anticipating how to use a book store gift card yourself, here are a few suggestions.

This has been an exceptional year for literary fiction. I've read an above-average number of standout novels and short story collections. Of course, I don't read everything (no one could), but among the 2013 works of literary fiction I have read, here are those I would most recommend.

The Goldfinch: For a review of Donna Tartt's marvelous novel, see Page 5L.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is a tour de force of a novel about a British woman in the first half of the 20th century who keeps dying and then reliving her life, each time with subtle (or not so subtle) differences.

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat is a poignant, lyrical story, set in a small community in Haiti, about love, loss and family bonds.

Pacific by Tom Drury is a compact, offbeat, dryly funny novel about a teenage boy from Iowa's wanderings in Los Angeles, and the odd adventures of the folks back home.

Brown Dog: Novellas by Jim Harrison gathers six rowdy novellas by one of my favorite authors about the title ne'er-do-well, one of my favorites among his characters.

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon is, the author says, "historical fiction" about the birth of the Internet age, which, in its tendency toward endless digression and conspiracy theory, is a perfect habitat for Pynchon, making this darkly hilarious book perhaps his most accessible.

Tenth of December by George Saunders is a spectacular short story collection that combines satire and fantasy with a profound heart, by a writer at the top of his game.

Crime fiction: Anyone who reads these pages regularly knows I'm also a fan of crime fiction. In 2013 many Florida-based crime writers turned in their usual sterling performances, and I would recommend their books: The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly; The Riptide Ultra-Glide by Tim Dorsey; No Regrets, Coyote by John Dufresne; Going Dark by James W. Hall; Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen; Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy; and Night Moves and Deceived by Randy Wayne White.

Ranging beyond the Sunshine State, here are more standouts among the crime fiction I read in 2013: The Broken Places by Ace Atkins; Holy Orders by Benjamin Black; Light of the World by James Lee Burke; Suspect by Robert Crais; Little Green by Walter Mosley; Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky; Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin; and The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling, writing under the short-lived pen name Robert Galbraith.

Horror: Among the horror novels I read in 2013, the King family has a lock on my best list: Stephen King's Dr. Sleep and his son Joe Hill's NOS4A2. The latter actually has a sort of Christmas theme — but do not read it to the kids.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435.

A critic's picks of fiction for under the tree 12/10/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 5:07pm]

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