2. Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor, and Really Bad Weather By Jincy Willett (St. Martin's Press) David Sedaris' pleas led to the rerelease of Willett's Jenny and the Jaws of Life, and indirectly this, her first novel. The dark and comical story about two oddball sisters reveals a twisted and talented writer at work.
3. The Gospel According to Gracey By Suzanne Kingsbury (Scribner) A nightmarish view of Atlanta's drug-ravaged underground written with the diligence of a reporter. Kingsbury pulled double duty researching the novel, swapping stories with Vine City dealers and unexpected Buckhead addicts.
4. The Girl Who Played Go By Shan Sa (Knopf) A 16-year-old girl in 1930s Manchuria triumphs at an ancient -- and male-dominated -- strategy game, until a Japanese soldier takes her down a notch.
5. Songbook By Nick Hornby (Riverhead) Personal essays from the High Fidelity author on the power of pop music. Self-absorbed, yes, but also often delightful.