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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in October 2016

The Mothers
by Brit Bennett
In a seaside African American community in Southern California, 17-year-old Nadia is reeling from her mother’s recent suicide. Then she discovers she’s pregnant—not long before she’s supposed to leave for college. Her decision to have a secret abortion will reverberate years later when she returns home to care for her ailing father. The elderly members of a prayer group from the local Upper Room Chapel serve as the “mothers” who share the narration, Greek Chorus-style. Publishers Weekly calls it a “brilliant, tumultuous debut novel” and an “exquisitely developed story.” Bennett was recently recognized by the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 award.

The Angel of History
by Rabih Alameddine
Jacob, a gay Arab poet living in San Francisco, is being tormented by grief, Satan and Death. As he waits to check himself into a psychiatric clinic, he reflects on his life, from his childhood in a Cairo brothel to the loss of his lover to AIDS. Meanwhile, the voices of Satan, Death, and fourteen saints wrestle in Jacob’s head for his sanity and his life. Library Journal calls it “darkly funny” and the San Francisco Chronicle says “Alameddine’s excellent, lissome novel concerns itself with the borders between literature and life.” San Francisco author Alameddine’s last novel, An Unnecessary Woman (2014) was a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.

The Mortifications
by Derek Palacio
In 1980, Soledad Encarnacion flees Cuba with her twins Ulises and Isabel, settling in Hartford Connecticut while revolutionary husband Uxbal stays behind. Soledad, Ulises and Isabel each build their own distinct lives, but their homeland and their patriarch inevitably will summon their return. “Palacio's writing is deceptively simple and startlingly original, and his characters, raw, almost mythic in scope, hang on long after the last page. Searching, heartbreaking, and achingly beautiful, the novel is as intimate as it is sweeping.” (Kirkus Reviews)

by Nell Zink
On the heels of her acclaimed novels The Wallcreeper (2014) and Mislaid (2015), Zink is back with “a rich, rewarding tale of love, rebirth, and chewing tobacco.” (Kirkus) Twenty-something Penny Baker loses her father, a hippie shaman with a psychedelic healing center and a cult following. Unmoored by his death, out of work and homeless, she seeks out her inheritance, her father’s childhood home in New Jersey. The home, however, has been squatted by anarchic tobacco-rights activists, and Penny finds herself totally enchanted with its inhabitants. “The resulting disaster is spellbinding, but even the quiet moments here are delightful because Zink does such an incredible job of depicting weirdos as real, smart, vulnerable, complicated people. Social satire with a sharp wit and a big heart.” (Kirkus)

The Wangs Vs. the World
by Jade Chang
Charles Wang left China for the United States, where he built a cosmetics empire. When his company tanks during the economic crash of 2008, he loses his Bel Air house, pulls his younger kids out of college and private school and the family hits the road with the intent to move in with the eldest daughter, a conceptual artist who lives in the Catskills. “Chang’s charming and quirky characters and comic observations make the novel a jaunty joy ride to remember.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Loved Ones
by Sonya Chung
The Lees are a biracial couple raising two young children in Washington D.C.  They will share a surprising and tragic connection with their babysitter Hannah, the 13-year-old daughter of Korean immigrants. “Every last one of Chung’s characters is wholly alive and breathtakingly human… Elegant and empathetic, a book impossible to put down.” (Kirkus) You can read an excerpt here

No Knives in the Kitchens of This City
by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price
Celebrated Syrian novelist Khalifa follows an extended family in Aleppo from the 1960s to the 2000s. A single mother, her gay brother, and her daughter who swings between political and religious extremes—they all experience chaos and tragedy in the long lead up to the current day conflict. No Knives in the Kitchens of This City was the winner of the 2013 Naguib Mahfouz Medal and shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. “Intricately plotted, chronologically complicated and a pleasure to read. The writing is superb – a dense, luxurious realism pricked with surprising metaphors… A sad but beautiful book, providing important human context to the escalating Syrian tragedy.” (The Guardian)

The following three October releases are contenders for the prestigious Booker Prize, awarded to the best work of fiction written in the English language and published in the UK. Their US editions arrive this month, and the winner will be announced on October 25. The other finalists are Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk and Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.

All That Man Is
by David Szalay
Nine stories take place in settings across Europe, depicting men from age 17 to 73 united in their quest to find meaning in their lives. Publishers Weekly calls this book “subtle, seductive, poignant, humorous” and gushes “Szalay’s riveting prose and his consummate command of structure illuminate the individual while exploring society’s unsettling complexity.” Szalay was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing
by Madeleine Thien
When mathematics professor Marie Jiang was 10, her father committed suicide and her cousin Ai Ming came to join her family in Vancouver, fleeing China in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests. Ai Ming helps Marie to discover her father’s secret past as a classical pianist and their shared family’s history. “Thien takes this history and weaves it into a vivid, magisterial novel that reaches back to China’s civil war and up to the present day.” (The Guardian) You can read the first chapter of the book here

His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae 
by Graeme Macrae Burnet
A dark piece of historical fiction masquerades as true crime through a collection of fictional “documents” that shed light on three brutal murders committed by a young man in 1869 rural Scotland, including first and second hand accounts, newspaper articles and courtroom transcripts of the case. “Sly, poignant, gritty, thought-provoking, and sprinkled with wit.” (Publishers Weekly) “A fiendishly readable tale that richly deserves the wider attention the Booker has brought it.” (The Guardian)

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in September 2016


The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
What happens Oprah selects your new novel for her book club? Your publisher secretly releases your book a month early! So even though technically this book has been out since early August, we can’t miss the opportunity to mention the latest release from a major American talent and MacArthur Foundation “genius”. Cora is a young slave who flees the violence and terror of her Georgia plantation via a system of literal, not metaphorical, subterranean steam trains.  The Underground Railroad is a “fully realized masterpiece, a weird blend of history and fantasy that will have critics rightfully making comparisons to Toni Morrison and Gabriel García-Márquez.” (Boston Globe) It “resonates with deep emotional timbre” and “disrupts our settled sense of the past and stretches the ligaments of history right into our own era.” (Washington Post) And it’s on Obama’s summer reading list.

Please don’t be discouraged by the long hold list for this book. As usual, the more holds we have, the more copies we’ll buy, so please get in line!

by Ann Patchett
An illicit kiss breaks apart two families and reconfigures them into a blended mashup with six stepsiblings. Years later, their secrets are agonizingly exposed when one of the sisters shares the family history with her lover, a famous writer who bases a blockbuster novel on their story. “This is Patchett's most autobiographical novel, a sharply funny, chilling, entrancing, and profoundly affecting look into one family's 'commonwealth,' its shared affinities, conflicts, loss, and love.” (Booklist) “Irresistible.” (Library Journal) Patchett is the recipient of multiple awards including the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize; her novels include Bel Canto (2001) and State of Wonder (2011). 

The Wonder
by Emma Donoghue
In rural 1850s Ireland, 11-year-old Anna O'Donnell hasn’t eaten in four month as a miraculous testament to her devotion to God. English nurse Lib Wright has been sent to find out if the O’Donnells are perpetrating a hoax but instead soon fears that they’re slowly committing their child’s murder. “Heart-hammering suspense builds as Lib monitors Anna's quickening pulse, making this book's bracing conclusion one of the most satisfying in recent fiction.” (Library Journal) Donoghue is best known for her acclaimed and bestselling novel Room (2010).

by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, translated by Anne McLean
Javier Mallorino is a celebrated and influential Columbian cartoonist. Just as the government is honoring his career by issuing a commemorative postage stamp, an unexpected visit from a young woman forces him to look back on a cartoon that had devastating ramifications, calling his life’s work into question. “A brisk and sophisticated study of a conscience in crisis” with “plenty of philosophical bite.” (Kirkus Reviews) Vasquez’s novel The Sound of Things Falling (2014) won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

by Nisi Shawl
Tiptree Award-winner Shawl imagines an alternative history in which a utopian nation called Everfair is established in the midst of a brutally colonized Congo during the late 18th century. In Everfair, Congolese people can live freely alongside members of a returning African Diaspora and others who have fled their oppressors from around the globe. “Elegant, rendered with masterful craft in simple, compelling language—a tour de force of Shawl's tremendous ability to create deeply nuanced characters.” (Booklist) “This highly original story blends steampunk and political intrigue in a compelling new view of a dark piece of human history.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Fortunes
by Peter Ho Davies
Davies explores the Chinese immigrant experience in America through four novellas, four settings and four protagonists. There’s the life of Ling, an orphan and railroad organizer in the 19th century west, Hollywood starlet Anna May Wong in the 1930s, Vincent Chin, a victim of violence near Detroit in the early 1980s, and a present day couple who head to China in hopes of adopting a child. Publishers Weekly gushes: “The book's scope is impressive,” praising the novel’s “utter intimacy and honesty of each character's introspection” and “the depth and the texture created by the juxtaposition of different eras,” and concluding that it’s “a brilliant, absorbing masterpiece.” Davies has been hailed as one of the Best Young British Novelists by Granta and his first novel, The Welsh Girl (2007), was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist.

by Laia Jufresa, translated by Sophie Hughes
Agatha Christie mysteries help 12-year-old Ana pass the time and forget her grief over the death of her younger sister. When Ana decides to plant a garden in the Mexico City courtyard her family shares with four other homes, the secrets and sorrows of her neighbors begin to unfold. “Panoramic, affecting, and funny, these narratives entwine to weave a unique portrait of present-day Mexico” from “an extremely talented young writer.” (The Millions)

Black Wave
by Michelle Tea
Beloved San Francisco author Michelle Tea’s autobiographical novel touches on many of her usual themes such as addiction, queer love and creativity, but with a dystopian twist. The protagonist, an author named Michelle, flees alcohol, drugs and a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco in a quest for art and love in Los Angeles while the end of the world looms. Black Wave “is a genre- and reality-bending story of quiet triumph for the perennial screw-up and unabashed outsider. A biting, sagacious, and delightfully dark metaliterary novel about finding your way in a world on fire.” (Kirkus)

After Disasters
by Viet Dinh
Disaster workers descend on Gujarat, India following a devastating earthquake in 2001. Among them are Dev, a Delhi-based doctor, his ex, Ted, a New York based newbie to USAID who has arrived with veteran aid worker Piotr, and British firefighter Andy. Their lives intertwine as they grapple with the logistical and cultural ramifications of the disaster and their own motivations and shortcomings. “Short-story author Dinh's impressive storytelling abilities are on display in this mesmerizing debut novel.” (Library Journal) “Shocking, engaging, and moving, this novel embraces humanity in all its messy, thrilling complexity.” (Kirkus)

Deceit and Other Possibilities
by Vanessa Hua
Local author Hua debuts with a collection of stories that spring from a variety of immigrant experiences. “Hua's ability to imagine the detailed lives of her disparate characters, including a sex-scandal runaway, missionary saviors, and a lock-picking immigrant, gives her stories impact, despite a few jarring endings… Winner of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award and other honors, Hua is a writer to watch.” (Booklist) “This collection is funny and sad, quick-witted and thought provoking.” (Bustle)

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in August 2016

Another Brooklyn
by Jacqueline Woodson
Known as a best-selling and multi-award winning author of books for young readers, Woodson’s latest is a coming-of-age tale written for an adult audience. Following her father’s funeral, August reflects on her youth and the friendships that sustained her. Interconnected stories depict the joys that were intertwined with the stress of poverty, a broken family, and the everyday challenges of growing up. “A stunning achievement from one of the quietly great masters of our time.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Behold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
Jende and Neni Jonga are young immigrants from Cameroon who consider themselves lucky to find work with the household of Clark Edwards, an executive at Lehman Brothers. As their lives become entwined with the Edwards family, their futures threaten to unravel as the economy collapses. “Realistic, tragic, and still remarkably kind to all its characters, this is a special book.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Glorious Heresies
by Lisa McInerney
Irish author McInerney debuts with a hilarious, profane and gritty mix of crime and literary fiction that won the 2016 Women’s Prize for Fiction. In her home in Cork, Maureen accidentally kills an intruder with a holy relic. Good thing she’s the mother of the local crime boss, who will set everything straight. “McInerney displays a clear knack for dramatic flourish and witty turns of phrase.” (Publishers Weekly) “There is no question that McInerney has talent to burn.” (The Guardian)

The Golden Age
by Joan London
Frank Gold is a thirteen-year-old Hungarian World War II refugee who is new to Australia when he contracts polio. Frank is sent to live at the Golden Age Children's Polio Convalescent Home, where he falls in love with fellow patient Elsa Briggs. While his parents struggle with their sorrow over their son’s health, they also long for their former home and former lives. “London sees past people's exteriors to their complex and desirous interiors, and she generously offers those people to us in all their fullness. The novel was a recipient of multiple awards in London's native Australia, and deservedly so: it is pretty much perfect.” (Publishers Weekly)

In the Not Quite Dark
by Dana Johnson
Dana Johnson is the author of the story collection Break Any Woman Down and the novel Elsewhere, California, and is the winner of a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and two time nominee for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. So no doubt there’s high anticipation for her newest collection of stories, set mostly in Los Angeles, which touch on themes of race, family, gentrification and how history echoes in the present. “This is essential reading for Angelenos, Californians, and anyone interested in masterly, morally engaged storytelling.” (Publishers Weekly)

How I Became a North Korean
by Krys Lee
Yongju comes from an elite and powerful North Korean family, but suddenly he is running for his life. Jangmi is fleeing North Korea to protect her unborn, illegitimate baby. Danny is a Chinese-born Korean-American teenager from Fresno. Their worlds collide in an unlikely fashion in China near the North Korea border. “Their haunting stories reveal the darkness of life in North Korea as well as the enormous risk of escape, resulting in a vivid and harrowing read.” (Publishers Weekly) Lee’s 2012 story collection Drifting House won the Story Prize Spotlight Award and was named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle.

I'll Sell You a Dog
by Juan Pablo Villalobos, translation by Rosalind Harvey
Teo is a denizen of a run-down building in Mexico City, a former artist and taco seller, and he may or may not be writing a novel. He spends his days drinking, pontificating and aggravating various friends and acquaintances. Villalobos “takes on Mexican history, literary theory, and the just-scraping-by lives of the 99 percent, all while telling a damn good story. He has a novelist's eye for detail, a painter's for image, and a poet's for turn of phrase,” praises Kirkus, calling this novel a “wry, sardonic romp made even more vibrant by its various satires and absurdities.”

Vow of Celibacy
by Erin Judge
Natalie has a successful career in fashion but hasn’t been so lucky in love. Freshly heartbroken, she decides to take a break from dating and take a long look at her past romances with men and women. Meanwhile, a mix-up lands Natalie on the runway as a plus-size model. “It's easy to root for Natalie as a funny, quick-witted, and completely human heroine… A smart, funny, and fast-paced book about sex, love, body image, and friendship.” (Kirkus)

by Tim Murphy
Murphy, a journalist who has written about LGBT issues for two decades, offers a debut novel about the inhabitants of a distinguished building in Manhattan’s East Village and the shadow that AIDS casts over their lives. Stretching from the 1980s through the 2020s, the story follows privileged creatives Milly and Jared and their adopted son Mateo, who lost his mom to AIDS, and their neighbor Hector, an AIDS activist still mourning the death of his lover. Both Mateo and Hector find relief in addiction, sending them down a dangerous path. Christodora “achieves a powerful evocation of the plague years” (Publishers Weekly) and “never wavers in its warmth toward its characters, or its insistence upon the possibility of healing.” (Booklist)

Cobalt Blue
by Sachin Kundalkar, translation by Jerry Pinto
In western India, a brother and sister fall for the same man when their family rents a room to a mysterious and alluring artist. The stranger eventually vanishes, leaving both siblings heartbroken as each of their perspectives uncovers something different about the past. “Kundalkar combines two distinct and complementary voices to deliver a complex and intricate story about love, family, and making one's own path.” (Publishers Weekly)

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in July 2016


Here Comes the Sun
by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn
In Montego Bay, Jamaica, thirty-year-old Margot has put all of her hopes on her teenage sister Thandi. Margot saves all of her money for Thandi’s education, working for a hotel and participating in the island’s sex tourism trade on the side. But Thandi is not interested in becoming a doctor; she dreams about art school and dating, and aspires to a higher social status by using skin-bleaching creams. Meanwhile Margo pines for another woman while the threat of anti-gay violence looms. “This debut novel from Dennis-Benn is an astute social commentary on the intricacies of race, gender, wealth inequality, colorism, and tourism,” raves Kirkus Reviews, praising the “visceral, profound writing and invigorating characters,” and concluding: “Haunting and superbly crafted, this is a magical book from a writer of immense talent and intelligence.”

Multiple Choice
by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell
Chilean author Zambra plays with form in this experimental story collection, in which test questions provide an unexpected framework for his short fiction. Booklist calls it “An ambitious, hilarious, provocative work” and Publishers Weekly calls it “repeatedly engaging, smart, funny, and sad.” Zambra is one of Granta's Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists and the author of Ways of Going Home (2013) and My Documents (2015).

Everything I Don't Remember
by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
In Stockholm, a young man of North African descent named Samuel is dead after crashing his car into a tree. Was it an accident or suicide? An unnamed novelist tries to piece together the details of Samuel’s life to solve this mystery. Winner of Sweden's prestigious August Prize, Everything I Don't Remember is an experimental thriller that pieces together fragments of the story through flashbacks and flash-forwards, while highlighting issues facing immigrants in Sweden. Kirkus calls it “moving and grimly funny.” Khemiri is an acclaimed Tunisian-Swedish novelist and playwright whose works include Montecore (2011).

by Jade Sharma
Maya has serious problems. Her husband is an alcoholic, her mother is dying, she doesn’t care about her job, she’s having an affair with a professor, she can’t get pregnant, and she has an eating disorder. Also, she uses heroin on a regular basis. When her husband and her lover both leave her, she plunges into a full time, full blown heroin addiction. “The novel is written so well that the relentless and destructive rhythm of heroin abuse seems calming, metaphysical, and occasionally even funny.” (Kirkus Reviews) “Some readers may find the subject matter too difficult, but in Maya's voice, Sharma has crafted a momentous force that never flags and feels painfully honest.” (Publishers Weekly)

Sarong Party Girls
by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Jazzy’s 27th birthday is coming up, so it’s time to stop partying and find her dream husband—an ang moh, a rich white Western expat. Cheeky, clever and determined, not to mention brand-obsessed, Jazzy pursues her marital goal in the often shocking after-hours clubs of Singapore. Her story is punctuated with Singlish—a patois derived from a mix of English, Malay, Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, Indian and Cantonese. “A rowdy tale, memorable language, and a very distinctive protagonist.” (Kirkus Reviews) Tan is also the author of the memoir A Tiger in the Kitchen (2011).

Unseen World
by Liz Moore
Ada Sibelius has an unusual childhood. Homeschooled by her father David, a single parent and genius computer scientist, she spends much of her time helping in his lab. When David sinks into Alzheimers, Ada’s life is torn apart. As the matter of her custody arises, so do questions about David’s true identity, leaving Ada to puzzle out who he really is when he can no longer give her answers. Publishers Weekly calls it a “a striking examination of family, memory, and technology” and “a smart, emotionally powerful literary page-turner.” Moore is the author of Heft (2012).

An Innocent Fashion
by R. J. Hernandez
A full scholarship to Yale is Elián San Jamar’s ticket out of working-class Corpus Christi, Texas. He changes his name to Ethan St. James, pairs up with rich friend Madelyn who has money to spare and falls in love with her boyfriend. Post-graduate reality hits with a smack as his internship at fashion magazine Régine doesn’t live up to his dreams. “Hernández is a diamond-sharp satirist and a bracingly fresh chronicler of the heartbreak of trying to grow up. Honest and absurd, funny and tragic, wild and lovely, this novel describes modern coming-of-age with poetic precision.” (Kirkus Reviews)

The House at the Edge of Night
by Catherine Banner
On a small island off the coast of Sicily, four generations of an Italian family operate a popular neighborhood café. Peppered with local lore and legend, the lives of the Esposito family unfold against the span of the 20th century, in partnership with a vast and colorful community of characters. “Guaranteed to draw comparisons to Beautiful Ruins, Cutting for Stone, and The House of the Spirits.” (Kirkus Reviews) “Banner's superbly written drama is rich in engaging characters and the mystical island stories passed on from one generation to the next.” (Booklist)

Night of the Animals
by Bill Broun
It’s 2052: life in the UK is marked by extreme poverty, scarcity and pervasive surveillance. King Harry9, controls the news through WikiNous, the internet consumed through body implants. To top it off, a resurgence of the suicidal, comet-loving Heaven’s Gate cult is wiping out most life forms on the planet. The only animals left live in the London Zoo and drug-addicted 90-year-old Cuthbert Handley has the ability to communicate with the them and decides to set them free. “Imaginative, fast-paced, thoughtful, and awash in laser-like imagery, debut novelist Broun's phantasmagorical fable vibrantly blends myth and satire to paint both a cautionary warning about present behavior and a futuristic vision of what the unbridled abuse of nature might unveil.” (Booklist)

The Inseparables
by Stuart Nadler
The Inseparables is a book within a book—a famously trashy one that Henrietta Olyphant wrote in her 20s. Now in her 70s and freshly widowed, she agrees to publish a new edition because she needs the money. While she struggles financially and emotionally, her daughter is going through a divorce and her granddaughter is in trouble for a nude selfie that made the rounds at her school. “Throughout each scene, Nadler captures the awkwardness of growing older during all phases of life… This novel contains plenty of romance, tension, and tenderness to make for a rich and compelling read.” (Publishers Weekly) Nadler is the author of Wise Men (2013).

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in June 2016

by Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi are half-sisters raised in different villages in Africa’s Gold Coast in the 18th century. One sister is married off to an English colonizer; the other is sold into slavery. The beautiful and gut wrenching stories of their descendants illuminate three centuries of history on both sides of the Atlantic. “Gyasi writes each narrative with remarkable freshness and subtlety,” raves Publishers Weekly, calling it “a marvelous novel.” This debut is already getting a lot of hype, and it deserves every bit!

The Girls
by Emma Cline
The Girls is another debut getting tons of praise. During the summer of 1969 in Northern California, neglected and bored 14-year-old Evie Boyd longs for attention and acceptance, and becomes fascinated with a cult reminiscent of the Mansons. “Cline's impressive debut is more a harrowing coming-of-age exploration of how far a young girl will go (and how much she will give up of herself) in her desperate quest to belong. Beautifully written and unforgettable.” (Library Journal)

Modern Lovers
by Emma Straub
Elizabeth, Andrew, Zoe and Lydia were in a band together in college. Lydia made it big and died young, but the rest of the band are still close—Andrew and Elizabeth are married, and live just down the street from Zoe and her wife in Brooklyn. When a Hollywood filmmaker wants to make a biopic about Lydia, the news rattles the aging hipsters who are already grappling with mid-life crises and hormone-crazed teenagers. Publishers Weekly says “Readers will devour this witty and warmly satisfying novel.” Straub’s 2014 novel The Vacationers was a New York Times bestseller and a big hit with Oakland readers.

by Natashia Deón
In 1840’s Alabama, teenaged Naomi is shot and killed for a murder she didn’t commit, just moments after giving birth to her light-haired daughter Josie. Naomi’s ghost looks back on her tragic life under slavery as she tries to protect her daughter in the violent times before, during and after Emancipation. “Deón's vivid imagery, deft characterization, and spellbinding language carry the reader through this suspenseful tale. A haunting, visceral novel that heralds the birth of a powerful new voice in American fiction.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Grief Is the Thing With Feathers
by Max Porter
Porter’s protagonist is a man who must carry on in the face of the sudden death of his wife. He has two young sons to care for and a manuscript due on the poetry of Ted Hughes. Now a talking crow has come to live with him, a surreal and living embodiment of his grief. “As resonant, elliptical and distilled as a poem, Grief Is the Thing With Feathers is one of the most moving, wildly inventive first novels you're likely to encounter this year. It's funny — in a jet-black way — yet also fiercely emotional, capturing the painful sucker-punch of loss with a fresh immediacy that rivals Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.” (NPR)

The Bones of Grace
by Tahmima Anam
Anam, a Granta Best Young British Novelist, completes her trilogy begun with A Golden Age (2007, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book) and The Good Muslim (2011, a New Yorker Best Book of the Year). Zubaida (Zee) Haque is a Harvard-educated Bangladeshi-born paleontologist who is torn between tradition and her own desires, with an American lover, an arranged marriage to a childhood friend in Dhaka, and a longing to know more about her birth parents. “Anam captures two very different cultures in an introspective character study that will mesmerize readers from the very first page.” (Publishers Weekly)

by Gina Wohlsdorf
This blood-spattered nail-biter plays inventively with form. On the eve of the glitzy opening of the opulent Manderley Resort, hotel manager Tessa is trying to keep things running smoothly but a murderer is on the loose. Meanwhile, someone at a bank of security cameras is peering into every room, and on some pages the action is split into columns as the scenes in front of multiple lenses unfold simultaneously. Booklist calls it “scary, gory, kinky, and experimental enough to push readers' envelopes without going so far as to lose mainstream appeal.” “This horror story with a humorous edge casts video surveillance as both hero and villain and raises plentiful goose bumps as a result.” (Kirkus)

The Mexican Flyboy
by Alfredo Véa
Simon Vegas is an English professor and Vietnam Vet who managed to steal an ancient time machine from the U.S. Army. Calling himself the Mexican Flyboy, he travels through time to commit acts of social justice, spiriting historical figures such as Emmett Till and Joan of Arc away to safety in Boca Raton, Florida. Kirkus calls it a “hallucinatory fantasy that reads like a blend of John Steinbeck and Robert A. Heinlein” and “a dizzying novel that combines Véa's solid prose style with a vivid imagination and an authentic cultural brio.”

The Queue
by Basma Abdel Aziz
In an unnamed Middle Eastern city, a failed uprising has made way for a new authority called the Gate. Everyone now needs permission from the Gate to do just about anything, and the line for requesting permission is growing longer and longer. Among the people waiting is Yehya, who needs a permit allowing him to have surgery to remove the bullet that struck him in the belly during the failed uprising. The Queue “represents a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring.” (New York Times)

A House for Happy Mothers
by Amulya Malladi
Priya has a satisfying life in Silicon Valley with a happy marriage and a great job, but she keeps having miscarriages. On the other side of the globe, Asha is her surrogate, reluctant but hopeful that she can help her family with the proceeds. These two women are brought together by their deepest longings. “Malladi (The Mango Season, 2003) examines India's surrogacy industry with honesty and grace” (Booklist). Also out this month is The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal (Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee, 2000), about a 48-year-old British Indian divorcée struggling to have a second child with her younger boyfriend. They also turn to a surrogate in India. “The many themes of this novel, including generational conflicts, cultural myopia, economic privilege, and gender politics, give readers plenty to think about…  a well-paced, enjoyable read.” (Kirkus)

OK, so, technically that’s 11 reasons to read fiction in June. Happy reading!

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in May 2016


by Louise Erdrich
In a terrible hunting accident, Landreaux Iron kills young Dusty, the son of his best friend and his wife’s half-sister. In an act of retribution, Landreaux and his wife offer the grieving couple their own son, LaRose. “LaRose is the fifteenth novel in Erdrich's magnificent North Dakota cycle about the painful and proud legacy and intricately entangled relationships among Native Americans, whites, and people of mixed heritage, a brilliantly imagined and constructed saga of empathy, elegy, spirituality, resilience, wit, wonder, and hope that will stand as a defining master work of American literature for generations to come” (Booklist). Erdrich is the recipient of multiple awards including the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction for The Round House.


The Sky Over Lima  
by Juan Gómez Bárcena, translation by Andrea Rosenberg
Two privileged young Peruvians, José Gálvez and Carlos Rodriguez, are obsessed with Spanish Nobel laureate Juan Ramón Jiménez but they can’t find his latest volume of poetry anywhere in Lima. They invent a young fan named Georgiana and compose a letter from her requesting a copy from the author, commencing a correspondence that takes a romantic turn. This historical novel, based on a real-life literary hoax, “is both a love letter to the creative process and a contemplation on the sometimes-blurred line between life and art” (Kirkus Reviews). Library Journal promises, “Readers will be unable to put down this gem.”


Book of Harlan
by Bernice McFadden
Born in Macon, Georgia, Harlan is a young musician coming of age in Jazz Age Harlem who receives an invitation to perform in Paris with his friend Lizard. His fortune turns to tragedy as Paris falls under Nazi occupation and the two men are sent to a concentration camp. “McFadden has constructed a vivid, compelling narrative that makes historical fiction an accessible, literary window into the African-American past and some of the contemporary dilemmas of the present” (Kirkus). McFadden is the author of nine novels including Gathering of Waters, a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of their 100 Notable Books of 2012.


Zero K
by Don DeLillo
Jeffrey Lockhart has been summoned by his billionaire father Ross to a remote compound in a former Soviet republic where a cult-like scientific organization provides cryogenic preservation. Jeffrey believes that the purpose of his visit is to say farewell to his dying stepmother Artis until his father informs him that he plans to join her. “In this magnificently edgy and profoundly inquisitive tale, DeLillo reflects on what we remember and forget, what we treasure and destroy, and what we fail to do for each other and for life itself” (Booklist). Acclaimed author DeLillo is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction and the National Book Awards Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In the New York Times, author Joshua Ferris called it “one of the most mysterious, emotionally moving and formally rewarding books of DeLillo’s long career.”


Desert Boys
by Chris McCormick
A collection of linked stories revolve around a young man growing up in a small desert town in California’s Antelope Valley. Multiple perspectives and voices illuminate Daley Kushner’s life as he  comes of age, comes out of the closet, and moves on to San Francisco to become a writer as an adult. Kirkus loves this “stunningly good debut,” calling it “achingly good” and “beautifully conceived.”


The Mother
Yvvette Edwards
Marcia’s sixteen-year-old son, Ryan, has been violently murdered. Still gripped with sorrow, she must attend the trial of his killer, another teenage boy. Booklist praises the book’s “delicate, lyrical prose” and calls it “a serious examination of how the social contract is failing a large portion of Britain’s urban population without moralizing in what is, ultimately, the story of one family’s road to acceptance and healing in the wake of a tragic loss.” Edwards’ debut novel, A Cupboard Full of Coats (2011), was nominated for the Booker Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the NAACP Image Award and won the Kirkus Best Book of the Year Award.


Imagine Me Gone
by Adam Haslett
Critics are loving this intimate look at depression and anxiety and its repercussions in a close-knit family. Matriarch Margaret, husband John and children Michael, Celia, and Alec take turns narrating as they love and care for each other in the face of mental health challenges and ensuing tragic consequences. Publishers Weekly calls this book “hypnotic and haunting,” saying it “tenderly and luminously deals with mental illness and with the life of the mind.” Haslett’s story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here (2002) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and his novel Union Atlantic (2010) won the Lambda Literary Award.


Born on a Tuesday
by Elnathan John
A teenage boy named Dantala is homeless until he is taken in by a mosque, where the imam becomes his mentor. Escalating conflicts within the Muslim community culminate in the murder of the imam, leaving Dantala’s life shattered. Dantala is a clever, curious and thoughtful narrator who offers a glimpse of contemporary Muslim life in Nigeria. Kirkus calls it “An action-packed, heartbreaking, and eye-opening debut from a great new talent” and Publishers Weekly calls it “poignant and compelling” and “a stunning, important coming-of-age story.”


by Kalisha Buckhanon
One night in a trailer park in rural Mississippi, young Solemn Redvine sees a man throw a baby in a well but doesn’t tell anyone. She thinks her dad may have been the baby’s father, but she keeps that a secret, too. Then the baby’s mother vanishes, Solemn starts seeing ghosts, and her father makes a terrible choice that sends her to a group home. Library Journal says, “Buckhanon's outstanding writing fills this work with wonderfully evocative phrasing that will linger with readers,” and Publishers Weekly calls it “a heartbreaking story of broken promises.” Buckhanon is also the author of Upstate (2005) and Conception (2008).


The Assistants
by Camille Perri
Tina’s job as an executive assistant for a multibillionaire corporate CEO leaves her underpaid, overworked and uninspired. Due to a clerical error, she receives a huge check—enough to pay off her school loans but peanuts as far as the company is concerned. She decides to cash it, but it doesn’t take long for her colleague to catch her and blackmail her into paying her loans as well. Publishers Weekly calls it “smart and fresh” and Library Journal calls it “a fun, modern twist on a Robin Hood story.”


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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in April 2016

Before We Visit the Goddess  
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Sabitri once dreamt of a college education. Her daughter, Bela, who left India years ago, contacts her desperate for help: Sabitri’s U.S. born grandchild, Tara, wants to drop out of college. Sabitri must write the grandchild she’s never met and convince her to pursue her education. Sabitri’s letter launches a reflection on her life as the stories of the three generations across the world unfold. “Divakaruni's gracefully insightful, dazzlingly descriptive, and covertly stinging tale illuminates the opposition women must confront, generation by generation, as they seek both independence and connection” (Booklist). Divakaruni is probably best known to local readers for her Oakland-set novel The Mistress of Spices (1997), winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
McKinney-Whetstone returns with a intricately woven tale of African American lives in post-Civil War Philadelphia. Midwife Sylvia delivers Meda’s baby, but the father (her white employer) insists she be told that the child has died. Orphans Linc and Bram are raised as brothers and led to believe they are white boys. Their paths all fatefully converge at Lazaretto, a quarantine hospital where immigrants make their first stop in the new world. “Language sings throughout,” says Kirkus Reviews, which calls this book “A sophisticated and compelling novel that comes alive through a rich cavalcade of vibrant characters and a suspenseful plot.” McKinney-Whetstone is a two time winner of the American Library Association Black Caucus Literary Award for Fiction and is best known for her novel Tumbling (1996).

by Marie Ndiaye
Clarisse Rivière left her impoverished youth behind by reinventing herself and keeping some major secrets. Her husband and daughter have no idea that her real name is Malinka. Nor do they know about her mother, Ladivine, a poor African cleaning woman she furtively visits once a month. Furthermore, she has not told Ladivine about her husband or daughter, also named Ladivine. With a dash of magical realism, this novel captures the secrets and yearnings of three lonely women. “Sadness, regret, and insidious dread permeate every page of this beautifully crafted, relentless novel” (Publishers Weekly). Ndiaye is the author of numerous novels and plays in her native French, including Three Strong Women (Trois femmes puissantes) which won the 2009 Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award.

The Translation of Love  
by Lynne Kutsukake
Intertwining stories set the stage for this historical debut set in post-World War II U.S. occupied Tokyo. After their internment in a Canadian camp, twelve-year-old Aya and her dad were forced to move to Japan. Aya’s a misfit who barely speaks Japanese, but is befriended by Fumi, who needs help writing a letter to General MacArthur asking for help finding her missing sister. Their teacher, Sensei Kondo, moonlights as a translator of letters for women desperately trying to contact their American GI sweethearts, while U.S. born Cpl. "Matt" Matsumoto is assigned to the job of translating the letters sent to the occupying forces.  Kirkus calls it “A vivid delight,” and “Emotionally rich without turning saccharine, twisting without losing its grounding in reality, Kutsukake's novel is classic historical fiction at its best.”

Tuesday Nights in 1980
by Molly Prentiss
This debut captures a swiftly shifting SoHo art scene through the prism of a love triangle. Raul, a painter and an exile of Argentina’s Dirty War, is on the cusp of success; James is an art critic on the rise whose synesthesia gives him an extraordinary point of view; Lucy is an ingénue from Idaho looking for a New York adventure. “An agile, imaginative, knowledgeable, and seductive writer, Prentiss combines exquisite sensitivity with unabashed melodrama to create an operatic tale of ambition and delusion, success and loss, mystery and crassness” (Booklist).

Even in Paradise
by Elizabeth Nunez
In this Caribbean take on Shakespeare, our King Lear is Peter Ducksworth, a wealthy Trinidadian landowner of English ancestry. He decides to give his three daughters their inheritance in advance of his death, a plan which leads to family discord and deceit. The narrator, Émile, is a college student of partial African descent who has a romantic eye on Corinne, the youngest Ducksworth daughter and whose best friend Albert is engaged to the eldest Ducksworth. Kirkus calls it “an epic tale of family betrayal and manipulation couched in superbly engaging prose and peopled with deftly drawn characters,” “a subtle, organic exploration of politics, class, race, and privilege,” and “a dazzling, epic triumph.” Elizabeth Nunez is a Trinidadian-American novelist who has won many awards including the American Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the NAACP Image Award and the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award.

Our Young Man
by Edmund White
Award winning author White introduces us to Guy, a young man from rural France. On a visit to Paris, he is discovered by a modeling agent, launching a career that takes him to New York City. We get a glimpse of gay life through the eyes of a naïve and magnetic man in the era of AIDS and disco, as he pursues sex, money and love. Kirkus calls it “a playful yet searching novel” “with wit and gently arch humor” and “a closely written, multidimensional coming-of-age novel that captures a time of whispers, elaborate codes, and not inconsiderable danger.”

by David Means
Hystopia is an off-the-rails alternate imagining of the 1960s in which the theme of memory looms large. JFK has survived multiple assassination attempts and 3 terms of office, meanwhile suicidal Vietnam vet Eugene Allen pens a novel-within-the-novel in which a governmental organization called the Psych Corps scrubs the minds of vets clean with mandatory therapy and drug use. Crooked Psych Corps agents are on the trail of a murderous vet who is evading the treatment and leaving a bloody trail. “By turns disturbing, hilarious, and absurd, Means' novel is also sharply penetrating in its depiction of an America all too willing to bury its past” (Booklist). The author’s last story collection, The Spot (2010) was the recipient of multiple honors, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Mount Pleasant  
by Patrice Nganang, translation by Amy Reid
Cameroonian author Nganang offers a genre-bending critique of colonialism that blends history with magical realism. 9-year-old Sara is given to the exiled Sultan Njoya for his harem. Bertha, teacher and caretaker for the wives, believes Sara is the reincarnation of her late son and transforms her into the tragically lost boy. “Readers will slowly uncover a history of Cameroon that parallels, mirrors, and subverts history in service of Nganang's brilliant mythmaking” (Publishers Weekly).

Arab Jazz
by Karim Miské, translation by Sam Gordon
Ahmed Taroundat lives in Paris’s bustling and diverse 19th Arrondissement. After his neighbor Laura is brutally killed, he becomes a suspect. Once cleared, Ahmed begins his own investigation into her killing, discovering the dark side of his neighborhood and a dangerous new drug. Miské, an Arab-French documentary film maker and writer, won an English PEN Award for this novel that Library Journal calls an “amazing page-turner” that “redefines noir at its darkest.”

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in March 2016


The Year of the Runaways 
by Sunjeev Sahota 
Oakland readers have been clamoring for this book ever since it was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize six months ago, and it will finally be released in the United States this month. The Year of the Runaways follows four Indian immigrants to England, their individual stories and their shared difficulties and setbacks. “Sahota's characters are drawn, and imbued with depth and feeling. Their struggles to survive will remain vividly imprinted on the reader's mind” (Publishers Weekly). Besides the Booker recognition, Sahota was named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists in 2013.

An Unrestored Woman  
by Shobha Rao
India-born, San Francisco-based author Rao debuts with a collection of stories set during the chaotic time of the partition between India and Pakistan and the ensuing mass migration of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. Six pairs of linked stories examine the resilience of women and the toll their choices make on them while they also struggle under circumstances totally beyond their control. Kirkus Reviews calls it “Stunning and relentless,” and Booklist says, “Exquisite turns of phrase and editing with a fine-edged scalpel only add to an outstanding and memorable debut.”

A Life Apart
by Neel Mukherjee
In a short span of time, Ritwik Ghosh, 22, loses his parents and leaves Calcutta for England on a two-year student visa. Although England is an inhospitable place, he stays on after his visa runs out, joining the underground illegal economy. He finds brief moments of release though risky trysts with strange men and by writing a historical novel about an Englishwoman living in early 20th century India. “Mukherjee's tale is deeply layered, offering a rich exploration into the ambiguity of belonging” (Booklist). Mukherjee’s novel The Lives of Others was shortlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize and the Costa Award.

Innocents and Others
by Dana Spiotta
Childhood friends Meadow and Carrie both grew up to be filmmakers. Avant-garde loner Meadow makes arthouse documentaries and Carrie directs covertly feminist commercial comedy films with and is also a wife and mother. Their paths converge with Jelly, a woman who has managed to become the confidante of many Hollywood power players though they know her only by phone conversations.  Booklist says Spiotta “brings to new levels of feverish intensity her signature dissection of obsession, the trends and ironies of the zeitgeist, how we document our lives, and the consequences of resistance to social imperatives in this ensnaring, sly, and fiercely intelligent novel.” Spiotta was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for Stone Arabia (2011) and a National Book Award finalist for Eat the Document (2006).

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
by Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi’s first collection of short stories is set in present day Europe with a surreal, fairy tale edge. Publishers Weekly promises, “Readers will be drawn to Oyeyemi's contagious enthusiasm for her characters and deep sympathy for their unrequited or thwarted loves.” Oyeyemi is one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists and was a 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist for Boy, Snow, Bird.

We Love You, Charlie Freeman
by Kaitlyn Greenidge
The Freemans leave their home in Boston's South Side when hired by a private research institute to “adopt” a chimpanzee and teach him sign language. As they find themselves isolated as the only African American family in the community, they uncover the brutal history of the Toneybee Institute, and its legacy of racist and misogynist research. Kirkus calls Greenridge “a master of dialogue, which helps her craft engaging, well-drawn characters,” and Publishers Weekly calls her debut “deftly constructed, encompassing weighty issues such as race, language, sexuality, and the intersections of religion and science, arriving finally at a heartbreaking confrontation. The end result is a sobering look at how we communicate with one another and what inevitably gets lost in translation.”

by Jung Yun
South Korea-born and North Dakota-bred professor Kyung Cho is struggling under the pressure of job and family strain, financial difficulties and the consequences of the domestic abuse he experienced as a child. When his parents become victims of a shocking crime, Kyung must face the violent conflicts of his past and present. Booklist calls this intense debut “A work of relentless psychological sleuthing and sensitive insight.” Kirkus calls it “fluidly written… layered, sometimes surprising… a sophisticated story that maintains its narrative momentum right to the end.”

The Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
Summertime, 1914: as World War I looms, spinsterish Beatrice Nash has just lost her father and moves to a small village in East Sussex to teach Latin at the local school. What starts as a comedy of manners with romance, snobbery and sexism veers into wartime tragedy. Booklist promises, “this novel is just the ticket for fans of Simonson's debut, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (2010), and for any reader who enjoys leisurely fiction steeped in the British past.”

by Saleem Haddad
Rasa is a young gay translator with an American education living in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. In the last 24 hours his grandmother has walked in on him in bed with his lover, and his best friend was arrested in a gay movie theater. At least there’s Guapa, the underground bar where he can be himself. “Haddad presents a striking look at gay life, the psychological cost of conformity, and what it means to be true to yourself from a Middle Eastern perspective” (Booklist).

The Nest
by Cynthia D'aprix Sweeney
The Plumb siblings, four middle aged middle-class New Yorkers, have been financially irresponsible while waiting to receive their trust fund. On the cusp of receiving their inheritance, they find that it’s largely been spent—bailing out brother Leo who caused a cocaine-fueled car accident while trying to romance a nineteen year old. Now Leo’s promising to fix everything. “Sweeney spins a fast-moving, often-humorous narrative, and her portrait of each sibling is compassionate even as she reveals their foibles with emotional clarity… Her writing is assured, energetic, and adroitly plotted, sweeping the reader along through an engrossing narrative that endears readers to the Plumb family for their essential humanity” (Publishers Weekly).

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February


The Queen of the Night
by Alexander Chee
In 19th Century Paris, renowned soprano Lilliet Berne is offered the role of her life. But as she learns the opera’s story, she realizes that it reveals the details of her own life, sparing no secrets or scandals. Her story is entwined with historical events and people, fashion, and of course, music. NPR says, “The Queen of the Night is sprawling, soaring, bawdy and plotted like a fine embroidery.” Library Journal calls it, “A completely engrossing work that should appeal to the widest range of readers, especially those with a taste for historical fiction.” Chee received multiple honors for his debut novel Edinburgh (2000). You can read an excerpt here.

What Lies Between Us  
by Nayomi Munaweera
Sri Lanka-born Oakland author Munaweera follows her award-winning debut Island of a Thousand Mirrors with another immigration tale steeped in tragedy. A terrible event causes a young girl and her mother to flee their Sri Lankan home for the United States. As the girl matures and becomes more settled in her new surroundings, nostalgia for her homeland mingles with anxiety and despair, and she commits an unforgivable crime. Munaweera “masterfully and compassionately delves into the murky depths of survival and its particular impact after the trauma of loss and immigration” and her “prose is visceral and indelible, devastatingly beautiful” (Huffington Post). Munaweera will be at the Main Library for an author event later this year, so stay tuned.

The Vegetarian
by Han Kang
A disturbing dream prompts Yeong-hye to stop eating meat. No one in her multigenerational Seoul household can accept this decision as she gradually loses her grip on reality. “An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing” (Kirkus); “This is an ingenious, upsetting, and unforgettable novel” (Publishers Weekly). This is the first novel to be translated into English from this award-winning Korean poet and novelist.

And After Many Days  
by Jowhor Ile
In 1990’s Port Harcourt, Nigeria, the beloved and dependable eldest son of the Utu family suddenly and mysteriously vanishes. As the parents and siblings grapple with their loss, their histories unfold. Meanwhile, in their ancestral village, a dispute ripens between the community and an encroaching oil company. Kirkus calls it, “A deeply rewarding novel that heralds the birth of a major new literary talent,” and Library Journal promises, “Equal parts family mystery, government critique, and meditation on love and loss, Ile's telling words will appeal to anyone who enjoys a story well told.”

Ways to Disappear
by Idra Novey
Famous Brazilian author Beatriz Yagoda has disappeared, last seen climbing into a tree with a suitcase and a cigar. Her American translator Emma leaves her fiancé in Pittsburgh behind and embarks on a quest to find her, along with Yagoda’s resentful daughter and her alluring son. Turns out Yagoda has an online poker problem and owes quite a bit of money. Publishers Weekly says, “Underlying these comic noir elements is an eloquent meditation on the art and anxiety of translation, as well as a story about literature as a means of revelation and concealment.” Kirkus calls it, “Stylish, absurd, sometimes romantic, and often very funny” and “Delightful and original.”

Private Citizens  
by Tony Tulathimutte
Four millennials pursue post-Stanford life in the Bay Area, to various degrees of success. Linda is a struggling writer and apartment crasher, Cory finds herself running a failing non-profit, Henrik has been kicked out of grad school, and Will is a techie struggling with his cultural identity while he tries to help his girlfriend land a reality TV show. From Kirkus: “Witty, unsparing, and unsettlingly precise, Tulathimutte empathizes with his subjects even as he (brilliantly) skewers them. A satirical portrait of privilege and disappointment with striking emotional depth.”

by Matthew Griffin
Wendell, a taxidermist, met veteran Frank just after World War II. They live a long life together, but their relationship remains a closely guarded secret in their small North Carolina town until ultimately they must pretend to be brothers so that Wendell can visit Frank in the hospital. Booklist calls it “a touching tale” and “a bittersweet portrait of love in the shadows.”

Green Island  
by Shawna Yang Ryan
During the political upheaval of World War II-era Taiwan, a family welcomes their newest daughter. Within weeks, her father is imprisoned along with thousands of others; he returns 10 years later, life shattered. As an adult, she starts a new life for herself in Berkeley, but she cannot shake the grip of the past as her political actions reverberate throughout her family. “Absorbing and affecting, this powerful tale explores the bond between a father and daughter, the compromises they are forced to make, and the prices they pay in their quest for freedom” (Booklist).

Black Deutschland
by Darryl Pinckney
Jed is a young, gay, African American Chicagoan who is in love with West Berlin in the last days of the wall. After spending a few summers there, he scores a job with a prominent architect while he tries to enjoy a permanent vacation in search of sex and love, recovery from substance abuse and personal reinvention. The New Yorker says, “The book’s tone is comic, pleasingly spry, and the prose breaks naturally into witty one-liners,” and Publishers Weekly says, “Pinckney's novel is a lively, inviting, and beautifully written story of survival by intellect.” Award-winner Pinckney is also the author of High Cotton (1992).

Piece of Mind
by Michelle Adelman
Twenty-seven-year-old Lucy lacks independence due to a childhood brain injury. She lives with her dad and is baffled by daily routines, but finds refuge in her sketchbook and a deep connection with animals. When her father suddenly dies, her younger brother invites her to live with him in his New York City apartment, opening up new worlds and challenges. Publishers Weekly calls this debut novel “a moving story of grief, resilience, and self-actualization” and “as realistic as it is uplifting.” From Library Journal: “Lucy's narrative is sensitive, witty, and illuminating.” Piece of Mind is this Bay Area author’s first novel.

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in January 2016

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
by Sunil Yapa
Debut novelist Yapa tells the gripping story of the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle through the eyes of a varied cast of characters: organizers, activists and cops, a police chief and his estranged stepson, and a WTO delegate from Sri Lanka. This novel has been hyped by reviewers since the summer—will it live up to expectations? Publishers Weekly calls it “a memorable, pulse-pounding literary experience” and Booklist says, “Yapa ties together seemingly disparate characters and narratives through a charged moment in history, showing how it still affects us all in different ways” (Booklist).

My Name Is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy has an extended stay in the hospital after an appendectomy gets complicated. During her convalescence, her husband manages the family and work while Lucy receives a visit from her estranged mother, opening the door to their brutally painful past. Publishers Weekly calls this short novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge “tender and moving” and “masterly.” “Brimming with insight and emotion, Strout relays with great tenderness and sadness the way family relationships can both make and break us” (Booklist).

The Kindness of Enemies   
by Leila Aboulela
Natasha is a history professor in Scotland with Russian and Sudanese roots researching Imam Shamil, a 19th century Muslim leader who defended the Caucasus against the Russians. She is stunned when she discovers a direct link between the Imam and her favorite student. The Kindness of Enemies    “challenges readers with thought-provoking ideas about the meaning of jihad, then and now, and demonstrates how ignorance of another's beliefs prohibits us from embracing our common humanity” (Library Journal). “Aboulela is a great storyteller, and she writes with clarity and elegance. A pleasurable and engaging read for fans of both contemporary and historical fiction” (Kirkus). Aboulela is the Sudanese-born, Scotland-based author of Lyrics Alley (2011) and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing.

The Illegal
by Lawrence Hill
Hill’s newest novel is a socially conscious thriller that examines the issues of illegal immigration and refugees. Following the politically motivated murder of his father, gifted runner Keita Ali flees his homeland of Zantoroland for the wealthy island nation of Freedom State, where he faces fear of deportation, exploitation, and alienation. Things get even more complicated when his Harvard-educated sister is kidnapped. Hill is the Commonwealth Award-winning author of Someone Knows My Name (2007; also published as The Book of Negroes). Booklist calls it “a deeply satisfying story shot through with humor and humanity.”

What Belongs to You
by Garth Greenwell
In present day Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, a gay American professor finds an intense connection with a male prostitute. Their failed relationship prompts him to look deeply into his past. “This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed. A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past.” (Kirkus)

Mr. Splitfoot
by Samantha Hunt
Raised in a cult-like orphanage in rural New York, Nat and Ruth are scam artists with a talent for communicating with the dead (or perhaps they pretend to). Years later, Ruth wordlessly leads her pregnant niece Cora across the state in an unexplained quest. The two tales converge in a tale that is both dark and humorous, part mystery, part ghost tale and part coming-of-age story. “This spellbinder is storytelling at its best” (Publishers Weekly).  “A truly fantastic novel in which the blurring of natural and supernatural creates a stirring, visceral conclusion” (Kirkus). Hunt is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 author and her novel The Invention of Everything Else (2008) was a finalist for the Orange Prize (now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction).

The Portable Veblen
by Elizabeth McKenzie
A whirlwind romance leads to an unlikely engagement between Veblen Amundsen-Hovda, a free spirited and cheerful translator of Norwegian literature with a deep connection with a squirrel, and Paul Vreeland, a more conventional but charming and brilliant neuroscientist and inventor. Their romance is challenged by clashes over their dysfunctional families, conspicuous consumption , and interpretations of squirrel behavior. Publishers Weekly calls Veblen “one of the best characters of the year,” and raves, “McKenzie's funny, lively, addictive novel is sure to be a standout.”

The Expatriates
by Janice Y. K. Lee
Three American women in Hong Kong find commonality in grief. Mercy, a young Columbia grad with Korean roots, and Margaret, a wealthy stay-at-home mother of three, are connected by a tragic incident. Meanwhile Hillary struggles with her inability to have a child. Publishers Weekly calls it “captivating,” saying “Lee's women are complex and often flawed, which makes the stories of their strength all the more compelling in this tale of family, motherhood, and attempts at moving on.” Lee is also the bestselling author of The Piano Teacher (2008).

Good People
by Robert Lopez
Readers who like it dark will want to check out this short story collection. There are few “good people” to be found here among the neurotic, the abusive, the suicidal, and a cast of other misanthropes. Publishers Weekly praises Lopez’s   “uncommon skill at evoking both laughs and shudders, sometimes in the same story,” and Kirkus calls it “depressing, inventive, and marvelous—a thought-provoking path to feeling awful.”

The Lightkeepers
by Abby Geni
Nature photographer Miranda has been granted a year-long stay at the Farallon Islands, joining a small crew of scientists at this isolated outpost that teems with wildlife. One night Miranda is violently assaulted and soon after her assailant is found dead. Miranda recounts her story through letters to her long-dead mother as she becomes increasingly unreliable as a narrator. The SF Chronicle calls it “dazzlingly unsettling” and “an intoxicating blend of unimaginable beauty and devastating horror” with “a breathtakingly shocking climax” and language “as startlingly rich as the terrain.”

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