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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in July 2017

What We Lose
by Zinzi Clemmons
Thandi, the daughter of a Black South African mother and a white American father, is a college student struggling to find her place in the world. When she loses her mother to cancer, her grief is compounded by the loss of the closest link to her African family. “Written in compact episodes that collage autofiction with '90 s rap lyrics, hand-drawn graphs, blog entries, and photographs, the novel pushes restlessly against its own boundaries—like Thandi herself. Clemmons manages to write with economy without ever making her book feel small, and with humor and frankness, so the novel is not overly steeped in grief. This is a big, brainy drama told by a fearless, funny young woman—part philosophy, part sociology, and part ghost story.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Goodbye Vitamin
by Rachel Khong
San Franciscan Ruth Young is still hurting from a bad breakup when she decides to move home to be with her father Howard, a history professor falling under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. “A heartfelt family dramedy in a debut novel that ruminates on love, loss, and memory… Ruth and Howard are a hilarious father-daughter duo, at turns destructive and endearing… Khong's pithy observations and cynical humor round out a moving story that sparks empathy where you'd least expect it.” (Kirkus) Khong is the former executive editor of Lucky Peach

by Andrew Sean Greer
Author Arthur Less is in crisis: he’s turning 50, his publisher has rejected his latest book, and his former boyfriend is getting married. He’s no literary big shot, but he does get invitations to speak here and there, so he organizes himself a global speaking tour that will help him avoid his ex’s wedding. “Of course, anything that can go wrong does—from falling out a window to having his favorite suit eaten by a stray dog, and as far as Less runs, he will not escape the fact that he really did lose the love of his life... Seasoned novelist Greer (The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, 2013, etc.) clearly knows whereof he speaks and has lived to joke about it. Nonstop puns on the character's surname aside, this is a very funny and occasionally wise book.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Made for Love
by Alissa Nutting
“Hazel is on the run from the one person she might not be able to escape: her tech-mogul husband, Byron, whose company, Gogol, is far-reaching and powerful. Hazel flees the pristine Gogol complex for her 76-year-old father's trailer, where she is shocked to find that her father is shacking up with a sex doll he has christened Diane… Just as she did in her first novel, Tampa (2013), Nutting pushes boundaries--this time via a subplot with a charming con man who finds himself attracted to dolphins--and though it's not as grounded as her debut, Nutting's second outing offers up a sly satire of our tech- and prosperity-obsessed society.” (Booklist)

A Life of Adventure and Delight
by Akhil Sharma
Sharma, author of New York Times Best Book and International Dublin Literary Award-winning Family Life, is also known for his short stories, which have been included in the Best American and O. Henry Award anthologies. He presents eight stories here, all examining the lives of Indian people in their home country and around the world. “Neither adventure nor delight await the characters of this ironically titled collection... Filled with a strong sense of the odds against any kind of happiness, these stories have a psychological acuity that redeems their dark worldview.” (Kirkus Reviews) You can read or listen to the title story at The New Yorker website here

The Tower of the Antilles
by Achy Obejas
“By turns searing and subtly magical, the stories in Obejas’ vividly imagined collection are propelled by her characters’ contradictory feelings about and unnerving experiences in Cuba... Obejas’ plots are ambushing, her characters startling, her metaphors fresh, her humor caustic, and her compassion potent in these intricate and haunting stories of displacement, loss, stoicism, and realization.” (Booklist) Obejas is the author of multiple acclaimed works including Ruins and Days of Awe and is the Director of the MFA in Translation program at Mills College.

by Dina Nayeri
Niloo Hamadi left Iran as an eight-year-old, grew up in Oklahoma, and now is building a career as an anthropologist in Amsterdam. Her Father stayed behind in Iran, and Niloo has only seen him four times since, harboring feelings of disapproval toward him while she longs for connection. “Nayari uses gentle humor and evocative prose to illuminate the power of familial bonds and to bestow individuality on those anonymous people caught between love of country and need for refuge. A beautiful addition to the burgeoning literature of exile.” (Library Journal)

Live from Cairo
by Ian Bassingthwaighte
“When Iraqi American Hana lands in 2011 Cairo, Egypt, to work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she is pointedly told that the desperate Arabs and Africans flooding its offices mostly don't get approved and remain trapped in the teeming city. That looks to be true for Dalia, whose husband disappeared in Baghdad after being attacked for his work with the U.S. Army; though he managed to make it to America, her visa is not forthcoming. Hana is clearly unsettled, as are readers, as Brassingthwaighte draws on his own legal aid work in Cairo to give us an intimate look at the refugee experience in language that's urgent, informed, and richly detailed... Absorbing and important reading.” (Library Journal)

Moving Kings
by Joshua Cohen
David King is the owner of New York-based Moving Kings, a successful moving business that specializes in evictions. His Israeli cousin Yoav and Yoav’s friend Uri, fresh from completing their compulsory military service, come to visit him in New York and find their military experience has prepared them well for the eviction moving business. “Their job storming the homes of New York’s dispossessed is uncomfortably reminiscent of their wartime experiences in Gaza, drawing parallels between race and class struggles in the Middle East and urban America. While Cohen’s comparison risks being heavy-handed, he pulls it off with lovingly personal character studies, an outrageous sense of humor, and a voice both stylish and astute.” (Booklist)

Pages for Her
by Sylvia Brownrigg
Flannery and Anne had an affair as students at Yale but went their separate ways. Twenty years later they cross paths at a writer’s conference and rekindle their relationship. Brownrigg continues the story that began in her 2001 novel Pages for You although you needn’t have read it to enjoy this one. “Brownrigg (The Delivery Room, 2008, etc.) approaches her characters with clarity and sensitivity, capturing the nuances in the women's relationships to the people they love—as mother, daughter, sister, friend, wife, or lover—and the power they give those people to define and inspire them... Brownrigg considers motherhood, romance, identity, and the changes brought by time in this tender, insightful novel.” (Kirkus Reviews)


10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in June 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
by Arundhati Roy
“Twenty years after the publication of her beloved Booker Prize-winning first novel, The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is infused with so much passion — political, social, emotional — that it vibrates. It may leave you shaking, too.” (San Francisco Chronicle

Black Moses 
by Alain Mabanckou, translated by Helen Stevenson
Mabanckou was the winner of the 2012 Académie Française’s grand prix for lifetime achievement and his latest novel has been longlisted for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. “It’s the dark but entertaining story of a boy in the Congo Republic who escapes a harrowing orphanage and ends up coming of age among a group of thieves in Pointe-Noire in the 1970s and ’80s.” (New York Times“This ribald, acerbic, and poignant coming-of-age story throws open a window to an African nation’s struggle for maturity.” (Kirkus Reviews

The Answers 
by Catherine Lacey
“While searching for a second job to pay for the treatment (“neuro-physio-chi bodywork” is pricey), Mary stumbles upon a mysterious ad for a high-paying, low-time-commitment “income-generating experience.” After several increasingly bizarre interviews, she finds herself embroiled in narcissistic actor Kurt Sky’s “Girlfriend Experiment”—a supposedly scientific inquiry designed to uncover and perfect the mechanisms of romantic love… With otherworldly precision and subtle wit, Lacey creates a gently surreal dreamscape that’s both intoxicating and profound.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Since I Laid My Burden Down 
by Brontez Purnell
“When DeShawn takes leave of his fast life in San Francisco and returns to his rural Alabama hometown, he finds time to slow down and contemplate his past and the many men—fathers, lovers, and friends—who have made him who he is… A complex, sometimes overly frenetic, look at one man’s experience of being black, queer, smart, soft, tough, artistic, and constantly in motion between rural and urban cultures.” (Kirkus Reviews) Oakland’s own Purnell is a celebrated filmmaker, musician, dancer, and writer.

Kingdom Cons
by Yuri Herrera
“The relationship between art and violence is at the core of Herrera’s (The Transmigration of Bodies) slim yet powerful novel about the various members of a drug-trafficking ring in an unnamed territory allegorically aligned with northern Mexico. A young man named Lobo, having become a street performer after being abandoned by his parents, impresses a local narco boss—a man known to him only as the King—while singing at a cantina, and he subsequently stumbles into a life of danger and excess that he never before could have imagined for himself.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Windfall
by Diksha Basu
“Culture and capital clash in Basu's charming, funny debut, which finds middle-aged Anil and Bindu Jha flush with new money after Anil sells his phone directory website for a small fortune… the novel addresses a rapidly changing India from a plethora of perspectives, and the result leaves readers laughing and engrossed.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Clothesline Swing
by Ahmad Danny Ramadan
“Nearly four decades after they fled Syria in 2012, an old man feeds his dying lover nightly stories in their creaking house in Vancouver’s West End… By turns sombre, fantastical, violent and tender, Ahmad Danny Ramadan’s English-language debut is a gay son’s conflicted love letter to Syria – a look on the present from a possible future.” (The Globe and Mail

Do Not Become Alarmed
by Maile Meloy
“Three families on a cruise are separated from their children during a shore excursion in Central America… a tautly plotted and culturally savvy emotional thriller. Do not start this book after dinner or you will almost certainly be up all night.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Lonesome Lies Before Us 
by Don Lee
“Yadin Park, a former alt-country singer/songwriter cobbles together a meagre existence in a down-on-its-heels Northern Californian beach town... a tale of heartbreak, love, and failure that will keep sounding in your head long after final page.” (Interview Magazine)

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
by Balli Kaur Jaswal 
“Nikki has pretty much disgraced herself and her family—British, Punjabi, Sikh—several times over… Nikki begins teaching a group of Punjabi widows, who quickly hijack her lesson plans… By turns erotic, romantic, and mysterious, this tale of women defying patriarchal strictures enchants.” (Kirkus Reviews)


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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in May 2017

The Leavers
by Lisa Ko
Ko won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for her debut novel about Peilan Guo, an undocumented immigrant and young mother from China, and her American-born son, Deming. Deming is a fifth grader when his mom fails to return from her job at a Bronx nail shop. Foster care puts him in the care of a couple of white professors in upstate New York. After years of wondering, a struggling 21 year old Deming seeks answers about his mother. “Ko’s stunning tale of love and loyalty—to family, to country—is a fresh and moving look at the immigrant experience in America, and is as timely as ever.” (Publishers Weekly)

No One Can Pronounce My Name
by Rakesh Satyal
The Lambda Award-winning author of Blue Boy (2009) takes a look at Indian American lives in suburban Cleveland. Harit is an alcoholic, closeted gay man grieving the loss of his sister. At night, he dresses in saris in an effort to cheer his mother up with the pretense that her daughter is still alive. Ranjana’s only son has left home to attend Princeton, she suspects that her husband is having an affair and she secretly writes paranormal romances. When Harit and Ranjana cross paths, they strike up an unusual friendship. “A funny, uplifting novel that delivers emotionally complex characters.” (Kirkus Reviews)

A Good Country
by Laleh Khadivi
Rez is the son of successful Iranian immigrants, a Southern California teenager with good grades whose interests include girls, surfing and drugs. After a falling out with his surfing buddies, he joins a new circle of immigrant friends, begins embracing his heritage, and becomes more sensitive to the hostile treatment of Muslims in the United States. Is he on a path to radicalization? “Important, smart, timely.” (Library Journal) “Khadivi’s carefully crafted, masterful novel illustrates how the perfect storm of teenage cruelty, racism, and tragedy can create an extremist.” (Booklist) Award-winning novelist Khadivi is also the author of The Walking (2013) and The Age of Orphans (2009).

Miss Burma
by Charmaine Craig
In 1920s Rangoon, Benny, a second-generation Burmese citizen of Indian and Jewish descent, falls for Khin, a member of the Karen, an oppressed minority ethnic group. The complex and tumultuous history of Burma from World War II to foreign occupation followed by civil war and dictatorship is viewed through the eyes of Benny, Khin, and their eldest daughter Louisa, who attains fame when she becomes Burma’s first beauty queen. “A captivating second novel… Mesmerizing and haunting.” (Kirkus Reviews) Craig is also the author of The Good Men (2002).

by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
In 1750 in East Africa, Kintu Kidda unintentionally kills his adopted son, leading to a curse that reverberates throughout the lives of the Kintu clan up through the early 21st century. “Makumbi's debut novel is a sprawling family chronicle that explores Uganda's national identity through a brilliant interlacing of history, politics, and myth… A masterpiece of cultural memory.” (Publishers Weekly)

Salt Houses 
by Hala Alyan
An award-winning poet offers a saga that traces four generations of an upper-middle class Palestinian family as they are forced into exile. First fleeing Israeli occupation in Jaffa, and later uprooted by the Six-Day War of 1967, the Yacoub family is scattered to Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, France and North America. “Alyan blends joy with pain, frustration with elation, longing with boredom in this beautiful debut novel… excellent storytelling and deft handling of the complex relationships ensures that readers will not soon forget the Yacoub family.” (Publishers Weekly)

The End of Eddy
by Edouard Louis, translated by Michael Lucey
In a working-class town in France, Eddy is effeminate, intellectual, and gay, and he’s tormented for it by both his classmates and his parents. In an effort to keep his oppressors at bay—and to resist his own desires—he assumes the role of a “tough guy” and tries to date girls. This autobiographical novel has been an international hit. “Arresting… courageous, necessary and deeply touching.” (The Guardian)

by Kei Miller
In 1982 Jamaica, Kaia’s teacher punishes him by cutting off his dreadlocks. When he returns home to his great aunt Ma Taffy, she comforts him with the story of local prophet Alexander Bedward who captivated his followers in the 1920s. Told in patois with a large community of characters, award winning author and poet Miller weaves connections between Jamaica’s past and present. “Augustown is a gorgeously plotted, sharply convincing, achingly urgent novel deserving widespread attention.” (Publishers Weekly)

by Weike Wang
The unnamed heroine of this story is a Chinese immigrant earning her Ph.D. in Chemistry at Boston University. She’s always been an achiever, the child of a demanding father and a mother who never quite adjusted to living in America. When her boyfriend proposes, she feels anything but excitement. Meanwhile, her research project is taking a turn for the worse. “Moving and amusing, never predictable. Wry, unique, touching tale of the limits of parental and partnership pressure.” (Kirkus)

by Courtney Maum
Sloane Jacobsen is a powerful trend forecaster in the fashion and tech world. When she predicts a return to human connection and face-to-face contact, she finds herself at odds with her current client, a tech giant, and her lover, a French intellectual with a social media following who proclaims the end of in-person sex. “Incisive, charming, and funny.” (Booklist) “[A] trenchant satirical novel… a perceptive, thought-provoking read.” (Publishers Weekly) Maum is the author of I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You (2014).

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in April 2017

American War
by Omar El Akkad
In 2074, the United States is rocked by all manner of disasters in this bleak and all-too-plausible dystopian novel: rising sea levels, plague, drought, severe storms, military occupation and civil war. Sarat is a six- year-old refugee from mostly-underwater Louisiana whose family is forced into a camp. She grows up to become a radicalized warrior who will help lead a rebellion against the north. Author El Akkad is an Egyptian-born, Qatar-raised Canadian war reporter who has covered the war in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and the Arab Spring. “His familiarity with the United States’ war on terror informs this novel on every level, from his shattering descriptions of the torture endured by one of his main characters to his bone-deep understanding of the costs of war on civilians, who suddenly find themselves living in combat zones or forced into refugee camps with no other future on the horizon... a novel that not only maps the harrowing effects of violence on one woman and her family, but also becomes a disturbing parable about the ruinous consequences of war on ordinary civilians.” (New York Times)

No One Is Coming to Save Us
by Stephanie Powell Watts
In an economically depressed North Carolina town, Sylvia and her adult daughter Ava are gainfully employed but frustrated by their relationships and the elusiveness of the American dream. In walks JJ Ferguson, an old family friend who has returned with a newfound fortune after a long absence. Billed as an African American retelling of The Great Gatsby, “Watts has written a sonorous, complex novel that’s entirely her own.” (Washington Post) “Watts' lyrical writing and seamless floating between characters' viewpoints make for a harmonious narrative chorus. This feels like an important, largely missing part of our ongoing American story.” (Booklist) Watts is the winner of a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Award and an Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, and the author of the short-story collection We Are Taking Only What We Need (2011).

Oakland Noir
Edited by Jerry Thompson and Eddie Muller
Our beloved town grabs the spotlight in this long running crime anthology series from Akashic books, featuring noir stories by local authors including Nayomi Munaweera, Judy Juanita, Keenan Norris, Kim Addonizio, and our own Oakland History Room Librarian and author Dorothy Lazard. “Thompson and Muller have taken such pains to choose stories highlighting Oakland's diversity and history that the result is a volume rich in local culture as well as crime.” (Kirkus Reviews)

What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky
by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Three of the stories from Arimah’s debut collection have won acclaim so far: the African Commonwealth Prize, the Caine Prize for African Writing and a spot as a National Magazine Award finalist (you can read that one on the New Yorker website here). “In her powerful and incisive debut collection, Arimah shuttles between continents and realities to deliver 12 stories of loss, hope, violence, and family relationships.” (Publishers Weekly) “Stingingly fresh and complexly affecting.” (Booklist)

My Cat Yugoslavia
by Pajtim Statovci, translation by David Hackston
Bekim is a lonely, young, Muslim, gay, Albanian refugee who lives in Finland. Bekim buys a pet boa constrictor to defy his fear of snakes and meets a talking cat in a gay bar. Alternating chapters tell the stories of the destruction of Islamic Albania and the unhappy marriage of his parents. “Winner of Finland's highest literary honor for best debut novel, an elegant, allegorical portrait of lives lived at the margin, minorities within minorities in a new land… a fine debut, layered with meaning and shades of sorrow.” (Kirkus)  Statovci “knows how to disorient—and disarm… This dark debut has a daring, irrepressible spirit.” (The Atlantic)

by Julie Buntin
Fifteen-year-old Cat’s newly divorced mom has moved their family from a Detroit suburb to rural northern Michigan. There Cat meets Marlena and starts a new phase of rebellion and daring. Marlena is magnetic, troubled, wild, and easy to anger, and their intense friendship will change Cat forever. “Sensitive and smart and arrestingly beautiful, debut novelist Buntin's tale of the friendship between two girls in the woods of Northern Michigan makes coming-of-age stories feel both urgent and new… Buntin creates a world so subtle and nuanced and alive that it imprints like a memory. Devastating; as unforgettable as it is gorgeous.” (Kirkus)

The Golden Legend
by Nadeem Aslam
In a community in northern Pakistan dominated by religious conflict, Nargis and Massud are idealistic architects, husband and wife and professional collaborators. On the eve of the opening of a library they designed, Massud is tragically killed by gunfire involving an American. When a threatening military officer insists that Nargis publicly forgive the killer, her refusal may expose her darkest secret while jeopardizing the safety of her Christian friends next door.  “Man Booker Prize long-listed and Dublin short-listed Aslam uses lush, sensuous prose to create beauty from ugliness, calm from chaos, and love from hatred, offering hope to believers and nonbelievers alike. This thoughtful, thought-provoking read will enthrall lovers of international fiction.” (Library Journal) Aslam’s novels include The Wasted Vigil (2008) and The Blind Man’s Garden (2013).

Music of the Ghosts
by Vaddey Ratner
Teera is thirty-seven when she returns to Cambodia for the first time since fleeing as a child with her aunt, the only members of their family to survive the Khmer Rouge. She confronts the past as she seeks answers about her father from an old musician who knew him when they were imprisoned together, and begins an unexpected affair with a former monk. “Picking up many themes from her 2012 In the Shadow of the Banyan, Ratner's captivating novel is a tragic odyssey of love, loss, and forgiveness in the wake of unspeakable horrors… a moving tale of hope and heartbreak that will accompany readers long after they finish the last page.” (Publishers Weekly)

Long Black Veil
by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Thirty years ago, Quentin, Casey, Wailer and three other college friends decided to explore an abandoned prison, a thrilling idea until Wailer disappeared. Now her remains have been found and Casey has become a murder suspect. Quentin now lives as Judith—and she knows something that could prove Casey’s innocence. But sharing it would expose her own secrets and force her to come out to everyone, including her husband and her child. “Boylan uses the murder mystery as a frame for interrogating our ideas about identity in ways that are both thoughtful and darkly comic.” (Kirkus) “Boylan's twisty and entertaining thriller takes a hard look at questions of identity, love, and trust.” (Library Journal) Boylan is an activist and author of fifteen books, including the bestselling memoir She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders (2003).

The Last Days of Cafe Leila
by Donia Bijan
It’s been three decades since Noor visited her native Iran. When she visits with her very American teenage daughter, she finds that much has changed. Thankfully she can count on Café Leila, the restaurant her family has run for three generations. “This lyrical debut novel, an immigrant saga and coming-of-age story, provides a tantalizing look at Iran pre- and post-revolution… Poignant and absorbing.” (Kirkus Reviews) Debut novelist Donia Bijan is a Bay Area chef and author of the memoir Maman's Homesick Pie (2011).

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in March 2017

Exit West
by Mohsin Hamid
In an unnamed country in the Middle East, Saeed and Nadia fall in love amidst the chaos of a burgeoning civil war. As the repression, terror and hardship mounts, they seek their escape. They ultimately find a new life in San Francisco, but will they find happiness? “One of the most bittersweet love stories in modern memory and a book to savor even while despairing of its truths.” (Kirkus Reviews) “A breathtaking novel by one of the world's most fascinating young writers” (NPR) Multi-award winner Hamid is also the author of Booker Prize finalist The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013).

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
by Hannah Tinti
Twelve-year-old Loo’s mom died when she was little, and she lives an itinerant life with her criminal dad, a fence and enforcer with a violent past. When they move back to the fishing town that was Loo’s birthplace and her mother’s hometown, Loo is lured to explore her family secrets, try out some of her own outlaw moves and meet the grandmother she’s forbidden to see. “Marrying taut suspense with dreamy lyricism, Tinti’s beautifully intricate second novel is well worth the wait since 2008’s The Good Thief.” (Publishers Weekly) “Another atmospheric, complexly suspenseful saga… Tinti has forged a breathtaking novel of violence and tenderness.” (Booklist)

Taduno's Song
by Odafe Atogun
Once popular Nigerian musician Taduno wrote lyrics that were too critical of the military dictator. He was forced into exile from his homeland, but is drawn back by a letter from his girlfriend. Upon his return he discovers she’s been imprisoned, putting him in an impossible position: challenge the government, or save his love. “Atogun’s ominous and cautionary fable on the themes of home, exile, identity, and the power of music is infused with anger, loss, and resignation as well as hope. A very impressive debut.” (Booklist)

The Lucky Ones
by Julianne Pachico
Eleven linked short stories offer glimpses of wealth, struggle and violence in Colombia during the peak of the civil war. The tales revolve around a group of wealthy schoolgirls and the adults in their orbit as their lives intersect with sociopolitical conflict, guerilla warfare and the drug trade. “Taken alone—and some have been published as such—the chapters work as complete short stories, full worlds as vibrant and jarring as fever dreams. But together, they form something much larger, revealing a complicated and morally ambiguous web of interconnecting lives. Unsettling and pulsing with life; a brilliantly surreal portrait of life amid destabilizing violence.” (Kirkus)

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
by Patty Yumi Cottrell
When 32-year-old Manhattanite Helen gets the news that her brother has committed suicide, she buys a one-way ticket home to Milwaukee—even though she hasn’t seen her adoptive parents in five years. Helen’s attempt to investigate her brother’s death becomes an examination of her own life. “Helen’s foggy view of reality is a dark, dark comedic well, and debut novelist Cottrell tells her story with gutsy style, glowing sentences, and true feeling.” (Booklist)

Temporary People
by Deepak Unnikrishnan
Thirty linked stories shed light on the lives of guest workers in the Arabian Gulf, alternating between fantastical and realistic satire. “The author's crisp, imaginative prose packs a punch, and his whimsical depiction of characters who oscillate between two lands on either side of the Arabian Sea unspools the kind of immigrant narratives that are rarely told. An enchanting, unparalleled anthem of displacement and repatriation.” (Kirkus) Winner of the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

The Idiot
by Elif Batuman
It’s the early 1990s, and Selin, the New Jersey-raised daughter of Turkish immigrants, experiences life, love and email as a freshman at Harvard University. The wry narrator of this semiautobiographical debut novel “ponders profound questions about how culture and language shape feelings and experiences, how differently men and women are treated, and how baffling love is. Selin is entrancing—so smart, so clueless, so funny—and Batuman’s exceptional discernment, comedic brilliance, and soulful inquisitiveness generate a charmingly incisive and resonant tale of the messy forging of a self.” (Booklist) Batuman has written for The New Yorker and the Paris Review and her book The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (2010) was a National Book Critics Circle finalist.

by Leonardo Padura, translated by Anna Kushner
In 1939, nine-year-old Daniel Kaminsky and his family flee Nazi Germany for Havana, where they bargain for their freedom with their prized possession, a small portrait of Christ painted by Rembrandt. In 2007, the Rembrandt resurfaces in a London auction house, prompting Daniel’s American-born son Elias to travel to Cuba in search of the history of the painting and his family. Library Journal calls it a “splendid saga,” saying “The intensive, richly detailed narrative is at once a portrait of Daniel's Cuban upbringing, a meditation on anti-Semitism, and an intriguing account of the painting.” Padura is an internationally award-wining Cuban author whose books include The Man Who Loved Dogs (2013) and the mystery series featuring Lieutenant Mario Conde.

The Night Ocean
by Paul La Farge
Did H.P. Lovecraft have an affair with his teenage fan Robert Barlow? Writer Charlie Willett has become obsessed with answering this question. Supposedly, Barlow committed suicide in 1951, but Charlie thinks he is still alive and living in Canada. The ensuing investigation results in Charlie’s disappearance, forcing his wife Marina to start an investigation of her own. “Only a virtuoso could pull off a story so intricately plotted and so full of big ideas about morality and truth… La Farge's gift is such that we feel we understand these characters as well as we understand the people we see every day. An effortlessly memorable novel.” (Kirkus) La Farge is the author of Luminous Airplanes (2011).

The Wide Circumference of Love
by Marita Golden
Judge Diane Tate and her architect husband Gregory are at the top of their careers and share a strong marriage and family. But Gregory, 68, starts experiencing memory loss, which escalates to a point where Diane must move him to an assisted living facility and every family member must recalibrate their lives and their relationships to one another. “Golden's redemptive novel is a tale of family survival in which love softens the brutal edges of an insidious disease.” (Kirkus) Golden is an award-winning writer and co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation.

10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in February 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders
Beloved master of the short story, Saunders offers his first full-length: a mix of supernatural and historical fiction in which President Lincoln grieves the death of his eleven-year-old son while the Civil War rages. Lincoln’s despair compels him to cross over to a purgatory state where he can visit his son in the company of a kaleidoscopic multitude of ghostly characters who contribute to a panoramic, multi-voiced narrative. “Saunders creates a provocative dissonance between his exceptionally compassionate insights into the human condition and Lincoln’s personal and presidential crises and this macabre carnival of the dead, a wild and wily improvisation on the bardo that mirrors, by turns, the ambience of Hieronymus Bosch and Tim Burton. A boldly imagined, exquisitely sensitive, sharply funny, and utterly unnerving historical and metaphysical drama.” (Booklist)

Audiobook fans take note: The exceptional recording of this novel features a vast and star-studded cast of 166 separate readers, including David Sedaris, Nick Offerman, Carrie Brownstein, Don Cheadle, Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Susan Sarandon and Lena Dunham.

The Refugees
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Nguyen follows his Pulitzer-Prizewinning novel The Sympathizer with a stunning collection of short stories that draws from two decades of writing. Many of the stories revolve around Vietnamese exiles in California and touch on themes of family, home, identity, memory and the liminal lives of immigrant people. “Nguyen's slice-of-life approach is precise without being clinical, archly humorous without being condescending, and full of understanding.” (Kirkus Reviews) “This is an important and incisive book written by a major writer with firsthand knowledge of the human rights drama exploding on the international stage — and the talent to give us inroads toward understanding it… In topic and in execution, The Refugees is an exquisite book.” (Washington Post)

by Min Jin Lee
In Japan-occupied Korea in the early years of the 20th century, young, unmarried and pregnant Sunja receives a merciful offer of marriage from a pastor who offers to help her start a new life in Japan. This sparks the beginning of an epic that traces the fortunes of four generations of one family as they try to forge a home for themselves. “As the destinies of Sunja’s children and grandchildren unfold, love, luck, and talent combine with cruelty and random misfortune in a deeply compelling story, with the troubles of ethnic Koreans living in Japan never far from view. An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth.” (Kirkus) Lee’s debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was selected as one of the best books of 2007 by multiple reviewers including NPR’s Fresh Air.

Everything Belongs to Us
by Yoojin Grace Wuertz
Wuertz depicts a tumultuous era in South Korea history in this story about four students at Seoul National University in 1978. Jisun is dedicated to revolutionary action in opposition to her wealthy roots; Namin strives to use her smarts and talents to lift her family out of poverty; Sunam is caught between his desire for both young women; Juno is an ambitious, self-absorbed social climber. “Wuertz crafts a story with delicious scenes and plot threads, perceptively showing the push and pull of relationships in a strictly mannered society.” (Publishers Weekly) “An ambitious debut about power and family in South Korea with rich character portraits and a strong political heartbeat.” (Kirkus)

No Other World
by Rahul Mehta
In this coming-of-age story set in the mid-1980s, twelve-year-old Kiran Shah struggles with being Indian American in a rural New York community and coming to terms with being gay. He’s also torn by the troubles and longings of his family, his mother’s infidelity and the sexual abuse suffered by his sister. Years later, Kiran’s life is changed on a trip to India when he meets a young hijra, a member of India’s deep-rooted transgender community. “Mehta uses vivid, memorable imagery to present likable, complex characters whose conflicts are mostly internal” with “shimmering descriptions of emotionally resonant moments.” (BooklistMehta received a Lambda Literary award for Quarantine, his 2011 collection of short stories.

Amiable with Big Teeth
by Claude McKay
Claude McKay, one of the leading writers of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote Amiable with Big Teeth in 1941. It was never published, hidden away in a university archive until just a few years ago when it was rediscovered and authenticated in a major literary event. Set in 1936, the satirical novel depicts Black cultural and political life in Harlem, in a moment when nationalists are energized by efforts to support the anti-fascist liberation of Ethiopia while white Communists try to co-opt the movement. “Smart, daring, and brimming with arresting insights.” (Booklist)

The Woman Next Door
by Yewande Omotoso
Marion and Hortensia have been next-door neighbors—and enemies—for years in Katterijn, a wealthy suburb of Cape Town. They are both accomplished, strong women in their eighties, but they’ve been trading insults for two decades. At least part of their feud is based on racism: one woman is white and the other woman is a Black immigrant from Barbados. So why exactly would they end up living together? “A pleasing tale of reconciliation laced with acid humor and a cheery avoidance of sentimentality.” (Kirkus) “Omotoso's warm and witty story is more complex than a simple tale of black and white, with Katterijn a microcosm of a city and a country still grappling with the repercussions of apartheid's end.” (Library Journal)

by Cara Hoffman
In Athens’ red light district in the 1980s, young American Bridey meets Milo and Jasper, a queer couple from England. They’re runners: they round up tourists to stay in seedy hotels in exchange for room and board and a little bit of money. Milo and Jasper show her the ropes, give her a place to stay, and they all become lovers until a money-making scheme gone horribly awry splits them apart. Years later, Milo still finds himself haunted by these memories. “This fascinating mix of youth, violence, and romantic and familial relations, loaded with socioeconomic issues, makes for a beautiful read.” (Library Journal)

The Lonely Hearts Hotel
by Heather O'Neill
Rose and Pierrot were abandoned as infants at the same bleak Montreal orphanage in 1914. Their bond is as strong as their talents, and their ability to perform becomes a money maker for the orphanage while they dream of creating the world’s most fantastic circus. As they grow into teenagers, the nuns, determined to squelch their romance, send them to separate new homes as servants. Divided, they struggle, finding survival in a sinister underworld of sex, drugs and thievery, always searching for one another until they can reunite and pursue their dream. “O'Neill's prose is crisp and strange, arresting in its frankness; much like the novel itself, her writing is both gleefully playful and devastatingly sad. Big and lush and extremely satisfying; a rare treat.” (Kirkus)

Ghachar Ghochar
by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur
This slim novel follows the sudden rise of a family and the havoc brought by newfound wealth in a rapidly changing 21st century India. When the unnamed narrator’s uncle starts a spice company, it brings unexpected and sudden affluence to a family that once struggled to get by, along with conflict, idleness and corruption. “Absorbing, insightful, and altogether a wonderful read.” (Publishers Weekly) “Exudes such a sly, ironic charm that it’s easy to forget you’re reading a translation. Ghachar Ghochar introduces us to a master.” (Paris Review)

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in January 2017

Lucky Boy
by Shanthi Sekaran
Soli is an undocumented woman from Oaxaca who finds a new home for herself and her baby son Ignacio in Berkeley. Kavya, an Indian-American chef married to a techie, is desperate to adopt a child after a long struggle with infertility. When Soli is arrested, Kavya and her husband become foster parents to Ignacio, launching a struggle for his custody. “Sekaran is a master of drawing detailed, richly layered characters and relationships; here are the subtly nuanced lines of love and expectation between parents and children; here, too are moments of great depth and insight. A superbly crafted and engrossing novel.” (Kirkus Reviews)  You can meet local author Shanthi Sekaran (The Prayer Room, 2008) at an author event at the Main Library on February 26

Difficult Women
by Roxane Gay
If powerhouse author, essayist and famously Bad Feminist Roxane Gay was to offer a collection of stories, you’d want it to be all about difficult women, right?  “Whether focusing on assault survivors, single mothers, or women who drown their guilt in wine and bad boyfriends, Gay's fantastic collection is challenging, quirky, and memorable.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Animators
by Kayla Rae Whitaker
Sharon is lovelorn, introverted and straight; Mel is a fearless, lively and out lesbian. As artists and misfits at their East Coast liberal college, they find a deep connection which forms the basis for a longtime friendship and artistic collaboration as cartoonists and animators. Their work attracts a small but devoted audience until a project based on Mel’s childhood thrusts them into the limelight and everything starts to fall apart. “In this fine first novel, Whitaker captures the human frailties that beset everyone—jealousy, anger, insecurity, trauma, the search for love—and weaves them into a compelling story of friendship, self-destruction, and salvation.” (Library Journal) “Unexpected and nuanced and pulsing with life.” (Kirkus)

Human Acts
by Han Kang
Han Kang made her U.S. debut last year with The Vegetarian, which won the Man Booker International Prize and was chosen as one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and Publishers Weekly. Her latest novel to be translated into English takes a moving and brutally horrific look at the South Korea's 1980 Gwangju Uprising, in which hundreds of people were killed. 15-year-old Dong-ho searches for the corpse of his friend, but soon joins the victims of the violence. His story reverberates through linked narratives as other characters recount their experiences of the chaos. “Han explores the sprawling trauma of political brutality with impressive nuance and the piercing emotional truth that comes with masterful fiction… A fiercely written, deeply upsetting, and beautifully human novel.” (Kirkus)

Selection Day
by Aravind Adiga
In a present-day Mumbai slum, teenage Manju and his brother Radha are talented cricket players. Their father is obsessed with their futures in cricket, seeing it as their ticket out of poverty and driving the boys crazy with his overbearing rules. As Manju comes of age, he wonders if he can veer away from his domineering father and if he’ll ever transcend his society’s rigid caste system. “Mr. Adiga’s third novel, supplies further proof that his Booker Prize, won for The White Tiger in 2008, was no fluke. He is not merely a confident storyteller but also a thinker, a skeptic, a wily entertainer, a thorn in the side of orthodoxy and cant.” (New York Times)

Foreign Soil: And Other Stories
by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Clarke is an Australian writer and slam poetry champion of Afro-Caribbean descent who won a handful of awards in her home country for this debut story collection. Her stories crisscross the globe, from Australia to Africa to Europe to the West Indies to the U.S., and touch on issues of class, race, gender and privilege. “Clarke fully inhabits the voices of her characters—a masterful feat given their wide range of age, gender, race, country of origin, and country of residence… A tremendous new voice; a writer of immense talent and depth.” (Kirkus)

This Is How It Always Is
by Laurie Frankel
Penn, a novelist, and Laurie, a doctor, are the parents of five boys in Madison, Wisconsin. At age 3, their youngest, Claude, announces that when he grows up, he wants to be a girl. So begins their journey into new gender territory, including therapy, a move to Seattle, and lots of challenging decisions. “…Sharp and surprising. This is a wonderfully contradictory story—heartwarming and generous, yet written with a wry sensibility.” (Publishers Weekly) Frankel’s newest novel (after Goodbye For Now, 2012) was inspired by her own experience as a mom to a transgender child.

Perfect Little World
by Kevin Wilson
Izzy Poole is a pregnant teen and future single mother experiencing unusually dire circumstances when she decides to join nine other couples for the Infinite Family Project. This ten-year experiment, led by unconventional child therapist Dr. Preston Grind, proposes that the parents will raise their children in a shared community in the Tennessee woods, to see what happens when children are reared collectively without even knowing who their biological parents are. “It takes a village, or in this case a well-meaning, utopian parenting study, to create the ingredients for this almost farcical yet moving novel about love, parenting, and the families we create for ourselves.” (Library Journal) Wilson also explored unconventional family life in his terrific debut novel, The Family Fang (2011).

Enigma Variations
by André Aciman
As a teen vacationing on a small island off the coast of Italy, Paul harbored a secret, life-altering crush on the local cabinetmaker. The novel chronicles his life, relationships and passionate encounters with men and women in an exploration of love, desire, and regret. “Aciman's sensuous, subtle language supports not only his marvelous descriptive power but also how deeply and resonantly he constructs his fondly and fully conceived characters.” (Booklist) Aciman is also the author of Call Me By Your Name (2007) and Harvard Square (2013).

by Emily Ruskovich
Eighteen years ago, Ann was the music teacher for two young girls. The younger girl was killed, the elder disappeared, and their mother ended up serving a life sentence for murder. Improbably, Ann married their grieving father, Wade. As Wade slips into early-onset Alzheimer’s, Ann cares for him and tries to piece together exactly what happened to those girls, all the while hoping that the oldest daughter, Jenny, is still out there. “Ruskovich's debut opens to the strains of a literary thriller but transforms into a lyrical meditation on memory, loss, and grief in the American West… filled to the brim with dazzling language, mystery, and a profound belief in the human capacity to love and seek forgiveness.” (Kirkus)

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in December 2016

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? 
by Kathleen Collins
Three decades ago, accomplished filmmaker, playwright and activist Kathleen Collins died too young at age 46. She was one of the first African American women to direct a feature film, and she left behind an undiscovered collection of writing which is now being published for the first time. Her stories span the 60s, 70s and 80s and touch on issues of racism, intellectual life, sex and romance. “Collins’ prose is so precise and hypnotic that no amount of rereading it feels like enough. Astonishing and essential. A gem.” (Kirkus Reviews)

The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma
by Ratika Kapur
Renuka Sharma’s life straddles tradition and modern independence. She lives in Delhi, where she takes care of her son and her in-laws while her husband works in Dubai. She also has a part-time job in a doctor’s office, and begins an affair with a dashing man she meets at a metro station. Mrs. Sharma narrates with intimacy and humor as she tries to reconcile a self-image as a proper middle-class woman with her increasingly complex life. “A beautiful, tragic, and highly recommended work.” (Booklist)

by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Asa Yoneda
Yocchan is trying to regroup after the notorious murder-suicide of her father and his lover. To cope with her grief, she moves to Tokyo’s hip Shimokitazawa neighborhood and finds a new job and new relationships. Her mother, haunted by her father’s ghost, insists on moving in with her. “As this ghost story becomes a love story, best-selling Japanese author Yoshimoto’s buoyant tone and pleasurable descriptions, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda, usher in Yoshie’s return to life.” (BBC“Refreshingly realistic; a lovely work for most fiction readers.” (Library Journal) Prolific author Yoshimoto’s works in English include Kitchen (1993) and The Lake (2011).

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
by J. M. Lee, translated by Chi-Young Kim
The murdered body of Steve Yoon, a North Korean defector and nuclear informant, has been found in Queens, NY. Gil-mo, a fellow North Korean defector and prison camp fugitive, is the prime suspect. But is Gil-mo really a ruthless gangster, or an autistic mathematical genius? “Lee creates a dignified and moving portrait of North Koreans’ struggle for freedom at home and abroad, and intertwines it with a rogue-genius adventure... Another outstanding thriller from Lee.” (Booklist)

Blood of the Dawn
by Claudia Salazar Jiménez, translated by Elizabeth Bryer
Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) a Peruvian communist militant group born in the early eighties, is famous for its brutality. Their notorious 1983 massacre is the starting point for this novel that converges the lives of three women: a young photojournalist, a mother and farmer from a small village, and a teacher who abandons her life to join the guerillas. NPR calls Blood of the Dawn a “beautiful, horrifying work of art.”

Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days
by Jeanette Winterson
If you’re in a festive mood, reach for this seasonal collection by the acclaimed author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). The winner of multiple honors including the Whitbread and Stonewall awards has been writing a Christmas story every winter for years, and she’s chosen a dozen of her favorites here and paired them with recipes.  “Spooky, clever, funny, and poignant, Winterson’s supernatural tales refresh our appreciation of what it truly means to give, to love, and to share joy.” (Booklist)

The Ornatrix
by Howard, Kate
In 16th-century Italy, young Flavia suffers years of rejection from her family due to the bird-shaped birthmark on her face. Ultimately banished to a convent, she crosses paths with widowed courtesan Ghostanza, who hires her to be her hairdresser and makeup artist and draws her into a new, glamorous world. “Debut novelist Kate Howard demonstrates that unattainable beauty standards are hardly new. But Howard’s true genius lies in her skillful interweaving of themes of beauty, self-acceptance and artifice versus authenticity into an immersive story.” (Bookpage) This debut novel is already a bestseller in the UK.

The Moravian Night
by Peter Handke, translated by Krishna Winston
An award-winning Austrian author’s musings on 20th century Europe, memory and self-examination. A writer past the prime of his career gathers friends and colleagues to a party on a houseboat where he entertains until dawn with stories of his travels in the Balkans, Spain, Germany and Austria. “A searching exploration of how travel and storytelling can help us find our truest selves.” (Booklist) “Evoking the Thousand and One Nights, Cervantes, Machado, Borges… A sad story—perhaps, but one in which fantasy and history dance nimbly.” (Kirkus)

Chronicle of the Murdered House
by Lúcio Cardoso, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, introduction by Benjamin Moser
Lúcio Cardoso (1912 - 1968) was a Brazilian novelist, playwright, and poet. His most famous book, Chronicle of the Murdered House, a classic of Brazilian and Gay literature, is being published in English for the first time. It tells the scandalous story of the Meneses family, a once powerful family on the decline. As their formerly grand estate crumbles, three brothers and a sister-in-law jostle for control. Jealousy, mistrust and deceit abound while the family’s secrets are exposed through conflicting accounts, local gossip, a servant’s diary, and reports from the town physician, pharmacist and priest. “It’s a sensuous, bewitching tale, suspenseful to the last page.” (BBC)

Bad Boy
by Elliot Wake
Renard “Ren” Grant is a popular vlogger who has shared his deeply emotional gender transition with millions of followers on You Tube. He’s also a rape survivor and a member of Black Iris, a vigilante justice group that targets sexual predators. When Ren is wrongly been accused of rape, he doesn’t know where to turn. “This erotic and suspenseful tale offers illuminating—and often heartbreaking—insight into the psychology of its transgender protagonist and compels readers to question their conceptions about gender and desire.” (Publishers Weekly) Wake is the author of three previous novels and has documented his gender transition on social media.


10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in November 2016

Swing Time
by Zadie Smith
In 1980s London, two girls form a friendship grounded in mutual experience: they live in the same public housing development, they’re both biracial, and they’re both obsessed with dance. As young adults, only one girl has what it takes to make it as a professional dancer, while the other finds herself crisscrossing the globe as the personal assistant to an international pop star. “With homage to dance as a unifying force, arresting observations…, exceptionally diverse and magnetizing characters, and lashing satire, Swing Time is an acidly funny, fluently global, and head-spinning novel about the quest for meaning, exaltation, and love.” (Booklist) Smith is the acclaimed and multi-award winning author of White Teeth (2000) and On Beauty (2005).

by Michael Chabon
Beloved Pulitzer-winning Berkeley author Chabon returns with a fictional memoir inspired by the life of his grandfather. Under the influence of painkillers, a previously tight-lipped man makes a series of deathbed confessions to his grandson, “Michael Chabon,” exposing their buried family history. “By deftly infusing each spellbinding page with historical facts entertaining and tragic, effervescent imagination, exceptional emotional intricacies, striking social insights, brilliantly modulated drama, canny wit, and profound and uplifting empathy and compassion, Chabon has created a masterful and resounding novel of the dark and blazing forces that forged our tumultuous, confounding, and precious world.” (Booklist) Chabon is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007), and Telegraph Avenue (2012).

Thus Bad Begins
by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa
In 1980 Madrid, 23-year-old Juan de Vere lands a job as an assistant to famous film director Eduardo Muriel. When Muriel enlists him to spy on a friend, he uncovers unanticipated secrets and deceptions. “Another challenging, boundary-stretching work from Marías, complete with a jaw-dropping last-chapter revelation.” (Kirkus) Marías is a celebrated Spanish novelist and journalist whose most recent English-language release, The Infatuations, was shortlisted for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear
by Yoko Tawada, translation by Susan Bernofsky
Three generations of a polar bear family recount their history, from the Russian circus performer who becomes a literary sensation, to the East German ballet dancer, to the star attraction at the Berlin Zoo. Booklist calls it a “fantastical and entertaining novel that combines a broken family saga, socio-political-environmental enlightenment, a treatise on writing, and bitingly well-placed satire.” The New York Times says that while it “reads like a goofy comedy, it also reads as a profound meditation on alterity, labor conditions, language and love.” Tawada is a Tokyo-born Berliner who has been awarded the top literary prizes in Germany and Japan, including the Goethe Medal and the Kleist and Akutagawa Prizes.

The Gardens of Consolation
by Parisa Reza, translation by Adriana Hunter
In a small village in 1920s Iran, the marriage of teenage Sardar and 9-year-old Talla is arranged and the couple starts a new life on the outskirts of Tehran. They share love, face heartbreak, and raise a son who goes on to college, in the midst of swift and drastic social and political changes. This first effort by Reza (born in Tehran and immigrated to France as a teen in the 1980s) won 2015’s Prix Senghor for a debut novel by a Francophone writer. “This compelling book raises important questions about indulgence, gender, community, and the impact of politics on everyday life.” (Kirkus) “Talla is a formidable, hard-to-forget heroine.” (Publishers Weekly)

by Alice Hoffman
A car accident devastates the lives of two Long Island teens. Helene is left comatose and becomes a subject of devotion by a group of followers who believe they can be healed by touching her hand. Shelby, gripped by remorse and survivors guilt, faces a rocky path to a healthy adulthood. “In a tale at once heartbreaking and uplifting, Hoffman explores a young woman’s recovery from tragedy with sympathy and grace.” (Booklist)

Fish in Exile
by Vi Khi Nao
A couple grieves the death of their two children in this unusual take on grief that is poetic, abstract and laced with mythology. The father, named Ethos, and the mother, named Catholic, cope by having affairs, walking through their New England town, and making aquariums and clothes for fish. “The result is a novel that forges a new vocabulary for the routine of grief, as well as the process of healing.” (Publishers Weekly)

Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
Edited and translated by Ken Liu
Liu, winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, continues his efforts to offer the best of Chinese science fiction to English language readers. “Although greatly varied in theme and approach, all of these stories impress with their visionary sweep and scope.” (Publishers Weekly) “A phenomenal anthology of short speculative fiction.” (Kirkus)

Virgin and Other Stories
by April Ayers Lawson
This debut collection of stories, including one which won the 2011 George Plimpton Award for Fiction, features young Southerners and touches on themes of relationships, sex, and, in some cases, childhood sexual abuse. “Faltering marriages, uneasy connections to fundamentalist religious backgrounds, and the gray areas where powerful teenage sexuality meets adult desire in relationships that may or may not constitute abuse—these are among the recurrent subjects handled frankly yet with a delicate touch.” (Kirkus) “These are stories that dare to tread where they shouldn’t, on uncertain ground that feels, in the hands of this talented young writer, remarkably concrete.” (Publishers Weekly)

To Capture What We Cannot Keep
by Beatrice Colin
In 1887 Paris, 31-year-old Glaswegian widow Caitriona Wallace is employed as the chaperone to two wealthy young Scottish siblings. When she meets Émile Nouguier, a French engineer employed in the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the mutual interest is immediate. But will nationality, class and wealth stand in the way? “This exquisitely written, shadowy historical novel will appeal to a wide variety of readers, including fans of the Belle Époque.” (Library Journal)

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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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