So in 2013 I made a point of reading some authors I'd always felt guilty about avoiding/neglecting. There were mixed results in that area (thumbs up for Harper Lee, thumbs way down for Cormac McCarthy), and none of them made the following list. For my full reviews just click on the titles.
The Dervish House (2011) by Ian McDonald
Here's some proper science fiction: no E.T.'s, no space travel, just a dense, highly literate analysis of what happens in the near future when new technologies and economic models impact a traditional society, in this case Turkey.
Spring Torrents (1871) by Ivan Turgenev
If you think 19th century literature tends towards the verbose and sentimental, try Turgenev. He's the most modern of that century's writers, and this novel is a witty and sad story about a Russian noble who lets his lust conquer his chance for true love.
7 Ways to Kill a Cat (2009) by Matias Nespolo
A lot of English language crime fiction is labelled "noir", but this is the real deal. Life doesn't get much more noir than what goes on in the barrios of Buenos Aires, Nespolo's book could represent a new wave in crime fiction: slum noir.
Dog Boy (2009) by Eva Hornung
An R-rated update of The Jungle Book set in contemporary Moscow that represents an amazing feat of imagination. Not a book for dog lovers.
Angelmaker (2012) by Nick Harkaway
Steampunk meets SF meets James Bond meets a Boys Own Paper ripping yarn. An unlikely literary chimera, but it works. It really works.
The Private Sector (1971) by Joseph Hone
Calling this a great spy novel is damning it with faint praise. This is a great novel, period. Hone's prose is masterful and his recreation of Egypt in the 1950s is wonderful.
Scrivener's Moon (2011) by Philip Reeve
This is the third prequel to the Mortal Engines quartet of steampunk novels, and it maintains the same high standard of imagination and wit. Somebody please get off their ass and film these.
The Baron in the Trees (1957) by Italo Calvino
A 12-year-old noble in 18th century Italy decides to live an entirely arboreal life after he's been served one too many indigestible meals. From a bizarre and thin premise comes a joyously eccentric and beautiful novel about the birth of the modern world.
Going to the Dogs (1931) by Erich Kastner
Set during the last days of the Weimar Republic in Germany, this novel captures the mood of a nation about to slip into madness and despair.
The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East (2005) by Robert Fisk
The most depressing book I read this year. The Middle East has been, is, and will be a cockpit of violence and tragedy in the future, and Fisk doesn't pull punches in describing the whys and wherefores of this mess.
Fly by Night (2005) by Frances Hardinge
This alternate reality Young Adult story doesn't break any new ground in terms of plot (plucky orphan becomes enmeshed in palace intrigue), but the quality of the writing is so far above the norm in this field that it should be read by readers who wouldn't normally be caught dead in the YA section of bookstores.