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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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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in November 2015

The Japanese Lover  
by Isabel Allende
In 1939, 8-year-old Alma Belasco is sent from Poland to live with relatives in California, where she meets Ichimei Fukuda. The two are inseparable playmates until Ichimei is forced into internment after Pearl Harbor. Despite many obstacles, their friendship grows into a passionate love that perseveres over seven decades. Library Journal calls it “a beautiful tribute to devotion” and praises “Allende's literary artistry.”

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise
by Oscar Hijuelos
Before his death in 2013, Hijuelos worked for more than a decade on this vivid portrait of Welsh-born explorer Henry Morton Stanley, his friendship with Mark Twain and his marriage to wealthy artist Dorothy Tennant. Hijuelos enlivens the story with fabricated diary entries, letters and autobiography, in what Booklist calls “an extraordinary feat of imaginative historical re-creation.” The late author is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989).

The Mare
by Mary Gaitskill
Disadvantaged Dominican American teenager Velveteen "Velvet" Vargas spends summers away from her home and family in Brooklyn through the Fresh Air Fund, staying at Paul and Ginger’s place in upstate New York. While Velvet discovers new skills and a new understanding of self through a connection with a neglected horse, Paul, a professor, harbors huge misgivings about this social experiment and Ginger, a troubled artist, becomes increasingly obsessive about Velvet’s home life. Kirkus calls The Mare “candid and emotionally complex, spare, real, and deeply affecting.” Gaitskill is the author of short stories, essays and novels including the National Book Award nominee Veronica (2005).

The Big Green Tent
by Ludmila Ulitskaya
In Cold War-era Soviet Union, a love of literature takes three brilliant and creative childhood friends down an inevitable path of dissident activity, in an examination of the power of books, art and music under the forces of anti-Semitism, censorship and oppression. Publishers Weekly calls it “enthralling,” promising “readers will come away wholly satisfied.” Kirkus laments, “The greatest tragedy of Ulitskaya's story is that it comes to an end.”

Numero Zero
by Umberto Eco, translated by Richard Dixon
Colonna, a struggling writer, is hired by a shady hotel magnate to ghostwrite a book about the newspaper he’s founding, which will focus on gossip, conspiracies and scandals. It also might be the perfect tool for blackmail. Now Colonna’s falling for a celebrity columnist and fearing for his life. “Eco's caustically clever, darkly hilarious, dagger-quick tale of lies, crimes, and collusions condemns the shameless corruption and greed undermining journalism and governments everywhere” (Booklist). Philosopher Eco’s best known novel is The Name of the Rose (1994).

The Improbability of Love
by Hannah Rothschild
When young, broke chef Annie McDee impulsively purchases a painting from a junk shop, she unwittingly upends the art world. The lost work by master painter Watteau has touched many lives, and their connected histories unfurl, highlighted with sumptuous depictions of art and food. Kirkus calls it “smart, well-written, and thoroughly gripping” and Library Journal touts it as “the next irresistible blend of art, mystery, and intrigue along the lines of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.”

One Out of Two
by Daniel Sada
A comic novella about identical twins Constitución and Gloria Gamal, who are practically the same person and have been since they were orphaned at age 13. Now in their forties, they dress alike, they wear the same hairstyle, and sometimes they switch identities. When Constitución meets Oscar Segura, she wonders: why not share the romance with her sister? The late Mexican author Sada was “known for his playfully extravagant style, a mix of earthy colloquialisms and fancy syntax” (Kirkus). “For fans of succinct, clever fiction” (Booklist).

The Boys
by Toni Sala, translated by Mara Faye Lethem
A mysterious car accident leaves two teenage boys dead, an event that reverberates in a small Catalonian town near the Pyrenees in Spain. At the heart of this haunting and contemplative novel are four people who are deeply struck by this event whether they knew the boys or not. Kirkus calls it “a compelling existential mystery” and “altogether brilliant.” The Boys received Catalonia’s highest literary honor.

Lifelines: New Writing from Bangladesh
edited by Farah Ghuznavi
This groundbreaking anthology features women writers from Bangladesh, examining many facets of their lives and cultural identity. Author Elif Shafak calls the collection “engaging and rich,” saying “Rarely, an anthology manages to capture our hearts and challenge our minds at the same time and with equal fervor. This book does precisely that.”

The Lost Garden  
by Ang Li, translated by Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt
Yinghong, a Taiwanese woman, looks back on her tender relationship with her father, a wealthy, genteel man who was imprisoned for his political beliefs. Meanwhile, she is caught up in an intensely passionate relationship with a materialistic and stylish young businessman who loves the nightlife of Taipei. “An exploration of contemporary Taiwan through the lens of the past, this novel hits many poignant notes as it threads its way” (Kirkus). Li is the author of The Butcher's Wife (1983).

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10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in October 2015

A Strangeness in My Mind
by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap
The latest novel from Nobel laureate Pamuk (My Name is Red,2001; Snow, 2004) offers the tale of Mevlut, a young man who leaves his small village for Istanbul, where he spends many years walking the streets of the city as a door-to-door vendor. He is tricked into marrying the sister of the girl he pines for, an act of treachery that reverberates throughout the novel. He nonetheless embraces his fate and happily pursues a living for his family as the decades unfold and the city drastically changes around them. Kirkus calls it “Rich, complex, and pulsing with urban life: one of this gifted writer's best.”

Death by Water
by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm
Another Nobel Prize winner, Oe returns to his recurring autobiographical character Kogito Choko (The Changeling, 2010). Choko struggles with a failure to understand and novelize his father’s death which happened decades earlier during World War II. His frustrations lead to an intense dispute with his mentally-ill adult son. Things turn around for Choko when he pursues a partnership with an experimental theater troupe. Kirkus calls it a “pensive novel, at once autobiographical and philosophical… provocative, doubtful without being cynical, elegant without being precious” and Booklist calls it “enchanting.”

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories
by Anthony Marra
Award winning Oakland author Marra follows his debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) with a story collection set in the Soviet Union and Russia spanning a century. In one story, a Soviet censor tasked with erasing shunned and executed individuals from photos and paintings inserts images of his disappeared brother—just one example of storytelling that Kirkus calls “powerful and melancholy” and Publishers Weekly calls “uniquely funny, tragic, bizarre, and memorable”. You can read an excerpt here.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories
by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Cambell, a National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for her 2009 story collection American Salvage, once again focuses her keen and compassionate eye on the lives of working-class women. Booklist calls these stories “commanding, piquant, and reverberating,” saying “In each subsequent, visceral, surprising, pitch-perfect tale, Campbell strides further into the swamp of sexual conflicts and trauma, from routine contempt to rape, telling tales not of good and evil, but rather of soul-wringing emotional complexity and epic grit.” Campbell is also the author of novel Once Upon a River (2011).

City on Fire
by Garth Risk Hallberg
Gritty New York City in the days leading up to the July 13, 1977 blackout is the setting for this debut novel in which the disparate lives of musicians, journalists, punks and the rich and powerful intersect in stunning and surprising ways. Publishers Weekly calls it “maniacally detailed, exhaustingly clever… packed with urban angst, intellectual energy, and sinister pitfalls.” Booklist raves, “This magnificent first novel is full to bursting with plot, character, and emotion” and calls it a “completely engrossing novel.”

Grant Park
by Leonard Pitts, Jr.
On the brink of the 2008 presidential election, syndicated African-American columnist Malcolm Toussaint writes an explosive piece in response to a recent police killing of an unarmed black man, but his white editor Bob Carson refuses to print it. Toussaint uses Carson’s computer password to publish it anyway, and both journalists lose their jobs. Then Toussaint is kidnapped by white supremacists intent on terrorizing the Obama victory celebration. Publishers Weekly calls Grant Park a “high-stakes, hard-charging political thriller” with “sharply etched characters, careful attention to detail, and rich newspaper lore” and Library Journal calls it “darkly humorous and deeply engaging.” Pitts is a Pulitzer-Prizewinning journalist and the author of Before I Forget (2009) and Freeman (2012).

The Secret Chord
by Geraldine Brooks
Brooks is a Pulitzer Prizewinning novelist (for March, 2005) with a devoted readership. Her newest novel takes a look at the life of the biblical King David—a complex and often bloody story that takes David from shepherd to king during the second Iron Age in Israel. Booklist says “the novel feels simultaneously ancient, accessible, and timeless” and Publishers Weekly calls it an “ambitious and psychologically astute novel” in which Brooks “evokes time and place with keenly drawn detail… with the verve of an adroit storyteller.” Brooks is also the author of novels Year of Wonders (2001), People of the Book (2008), and Caleb's Crossing (2011).

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories
Edited by Audrey Niffenegger
If the longer nights of the looming season have you craving darker fare, this collection of stories may suit you. Stories of ghosts and hauntings by both classic and contemporary authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link and A.S. Byatt “do an excellent job of evoking that crucial frisson of dread” (Publishers Weekly).

by Lalo Eduardo, translated by David Frye
In San Juan, Puerto Rico, an unhappy professor falls in love with a mysterious stalker who leaves him a trail of notes signed Simone. His admirer turns out to be a lesbian immigrant from China named Li with a tragic past—and he pursues a doomed love affair. Kirkus says, “It's a bleak but emotionally resonant work that finds weighty things to say about writing, culture, Puerto Rican identity, and the dangers of projecting one's desire upon another.” Simone won the prestigious 2013 Rómulo Gallegos prize and is the first of Eduardo’s works to be translated into English.

Cleopatra's Shadows
by Emily Holleman
This intriguing and intricately detailed novel sheds light on a lesser-known chapter in ancient Hellenistic Egypt by telling the stories of Cleopatra’s sisters, Berenice and Arsinoe. At 21, eldest sister Berenice seizes the throne in a coup against her father, the pharaoh Ptolemy. Ptolemy, Cleopatra and others flee to Rome to rally support for their side, leaving eight-year-old Arsinoe behind. First time novelist Holleman effectively brings this dramatic and often bloody story to life by alternating the viewpoints of Berenice and Arsinoe. “Holleman's imaginative, textured portraits of the lives and ambitions of these little-known heroines will appeal to readers of historical and literary fiction alike” (Publishers Weekly).

Looking for more reading recommendations? Try our service for readers,Book Me! Fill out the online form and a librarian will send you a personalized list of reading suggestions.

10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in September 2015


by Jonathan Franzen
Pip is a young woman living in a squat in Oakland and struggling with student debt, a dead-end job, a complicated relationship with her mother. She’s never known who her father is, and her mother’s not telling. Pip gets a big break when she gets recruited by a Wikileaks-type organization headquartered in the Bolivian jungle led by a charismatic leader with a shady past. This is just one strand of a multilayered story with a grand ensemble of characters .Tough-to-please New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani praises its “gripping, foot-on-the-gas plot” and Booklist says Franzen’s “signature qualities converge in a new, commanding fluidity, from his inquiry into damaged families to his awed respect for nature, brainy drollery, and precise, resonant detail.” Franzen’s books (The Corrections, Freedom) are always popular with Oakland readers, so place your hold now! But don’t get discouraged if the hold list is long—as always, we buy more copies as the list grows to minimize the wait.

The Girl in the Spider's Web
by David Lagercrantz
The incredibly popular Swedish crime series featuring idealistic journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the punked-out, computer-hacking, ass-kicking antihero Lisbeth Salander is back, in a twisty tale that incorporates national security, government surveillance, corporate misdeeds and personal vengeance. The estate of the late author Stieg Larsson chose Lagercrantz to continue the series (though not without controversy) and The New York Times’ Kakutani says “Salander and Blomkvist have survived the authorship transition intact and are just as compelling as ever.” This book will have a big wait list too, so put your name in now!

Under the Udala Trees
by Chinelo Okparanta
11-year-old Ijeoma, life shattered by the Nigerian Civil War, is sent to live with family friends where she meets Amina, another refugee. The two girls fall in love, but when their relationship is discovered, Ijeoma is sent back to her mother. As Ijeoma becomes a woman, she must face her feelings and sexuality in a repressive and homophobic society. Publishers Weekly says “Okparanta's characters are just as compelling as teenagers as they are as adults and readers will be swept up in this tale of the power of love.” Okparanta is the author of the story collection Happiness, Like Water (2013) and was a New York Public Library Young Lions finalist and one of Granta's six New Voices for 2012.

The Story of the Lost Child
by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
Elena returns to her childhood town to live in an apartment above her longtime friend and rival Lila as the two face motherhood and ageing together against the backdrop of corrupt and impoverished Naples. Booklist raves, “A friendship so reflective and yet so repellent, so truthfully plumbed, is a rare thing written.” This is the fourth installment in a saga that takes a deep look at women’s lives, friendships and motherhood, written by a celebrated and famously mysterious Italian author whose true identity has never been revealed. Readers unfamiliar with this series should begin with My Brilliant Friend (2012).

Gold, Fame, Citrus
by Claire Vaye Watkins
In the near future, Southern California is out of water, and most residents have been evacuated but for a few resisters, including Luz, the former poster child for the California Bureau of Conservation, and Ray, a U.S. solider who’s gone AWOL. They’re squatting the abandoned Hollywood mansion of a starlet when they find an abandoned toddler, and decide to head east in the direction of a fabled desert commune. Kirkus calls it “magnificently original” and Publishers Weekly says that it’s “packed with persuasive detail, luminous writing, and a grasp of the history (popular, political, natural, and imagined) needed to tell a story that is original yet familiar, strange yet all too believable.” Watkins won the Story Prize plus a fistful of other awards for her 2012 collection Battleborn.

(And if drought-inspired ecodystopias are up your alley and you’re looking for more, check out a recent blogpost here.)

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
by Salman Rushdie
In the 12th century, the jinn Lightening Princess fell in love with a mortal, a Spanish-Arab philosopher who endorsed reason and rationality in the face of religious intolerance. In present day New York, their descendants are tangled in a supernatural struggle between good and evil that lasts for 1001 days. Booklist calls it a “rambunctious, satirical, and bewitching metaphysical fable” that delivers “swiftly flowing, incisive, piercingly funny commentary on everything from religious extremists to reality TV, anti-Semitism and racism, and economic injustice.” Kirkus calls it “beguiling and astonishing, wonderful and wondrous. Rushdie at his best.”

Love Love 
by Sung J. Woo
Kevin and Judy Lee are siblings in their late 30s struggling with divorce, go-nowhere careers, and a father who is dying of kidney failure. Kevin was planning to donate a kidney until medical tests revealed that he’s not a match—and he was adopted. Judy won’t even consider donating due to the grudge she holds against her father. “Woo's observations about aging, loss, and disillusionment are so smart, so sharp and astute that they'll haunt readers long after the final page has been turned. That he manages to find the beauty, humor, and even optimism in the struggle makes this glorious, at times painful, but always rewarding novel a stunning achievement” (Booklist). Woo is the author of Everything Asian (2009).

After the Parade
by Lori Ostlund
40-year-old Aaron is no longer in love with Walter, his partner for the past two decades. He leaves Walter and their home in Albuquerque, and starts a new life in San Francisco—prompting him to look back on his lonely and melancholy life. “Everything here aches, from the lucid prose to the sensitively treated characters to their beautiful and heartbreaking stories” (Kirkus). Ostlund’s 2009 short story collection The Bigness of the World was the winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award, the Edmund White Award and the California Book Award.

by Nikesh Shukla
Brothers Kitab and Aziz live in London but spend too much of their time in the online world, on every social media site you can think of. Kitab encounters his online doppelgänger on Facebook—but is he a friend, a stalker or an identity thief? Aziz also finds an online doppelgänger and heads off to New York City to find him, blogging all the way. “Shukla's novel is a charming, sometimes-satirical take on the narratives we create about ourselves and those around us,” says Kirkus, and Booklist calls it “amusing and engaging.”

The Story of My Teeth
by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney
Gustavo "Highway" Sánchez is the world’s best auctioneer, and the proud owner of Marilyn Monroe’s teeth, which he installed in his mouth after purchasing them at an "auction of contraband memorabilia in a karaoke bar in Little Havana." This is the jumping off point for an unusual and clever novel written by a Mexican-born author recognized as a "5 Under 35" by the National Book Foundation. Kirkus calls it “a lively, loopy experimental novel, rich with musings on language, art, and, yes, teeth” and “a kind of extended commentary on how possessions acquire value largely through the stories we tell about them.”

Looking for more reading recommendations? Try our service for readers, Book Me! Fill out the online form and a librarian will send you a personalized list of reading suggestions.

10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in August 2015


A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories
by Lucia Berlin, edited by Stephen Emerson with a forward by Lydia Davis
Berlin, a onetime Oakland & Berkeley resident who passed away in 2004, wrote stories about the difficulties of addiction and working class life in a conversational tone. Despite her often dark subject matter, “the prevailing sensibility of this book…is cleareyed and even comic in the face of life hitting the skids” (Kirkus Reviews). In her forward, Lydia Davis compares Berlin to Alice Munro, Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen. Reviewers predict that this collection will bring her some long-deserved acclaim, since Berlin “may just be the best writer you've never heard of” (Publishers Weekly).

Make Your Home Among Strangers
by Jennine Capo Crucet
Lizet is not like her sister Leidy, who aspires to marriage and motherhood. She has different, secret dreams, so she applies to a posh New England college and gets a scholarship—without telling anyone in her Cuban American family. When she reveals her plans to become the first in her family to attend college, her parents are furious. Later, when Lizet returns to Miami for Thanksgiving after her first months away, her visit coincides with the arrival of a 5-year-old Cuban refugee who has washed ashore on a raft, working the Cuban ex-pat community into a frenzy. Debut novelist and winner of a PEN/O. Henry and Iowa Short Fiction award, “Crucet depicts with insight and subtlety the culture shock, confusion, guilt, and humiliations of the first-generation college student surrounded by privilege” (Library Journal).

by Vu Tran
Robert, an Oakland cop, finds himself embroiled in a search for his ex-wife in the grittiest and sleaziest parts of Las Vegas. His ex, Hong (known to Robert as Suzy) is missing after being badly beaten by her current husband Sonny. Hong’s tragic past, as a victim of war in Vietnam and as a refugee in Malaysia, unfolds as Robert hunts for her and plans to even the score on her behalf. “This haunting and mesmerizing debut is filled with all the noir elements—a dark and seedy underworld, damsels in distress, tarnished heroes, and a blurring of moral boundaries” while “it examines such themes as culture, desperation, memory, mental illness, love, loss, and redemption” (Booklist).

Flood of Fire
by Amitav Ghosh
An accomplished Bengali author concludes his historical fiction trilogy that began with Sea of Poppies (2008, shortlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize) and continued with River of Smoke (2011, shortlisted for the Asian Literary Prize). Flood of Fire revolves around India’s involvement in the First Opium War of 1839 to '41 between China and England. It follows a large cast of characters with shifting relationships to the drug trade and each other, and the military actions that amounted to a “nineteenth-century war on drugs.” “This feverishly detailed, vividly panoramic, tumultuous, funny, and heartbreaking tale offers a vigorous conclusion to Ghosh's astutely complex and profoundly resonant geopolitical saga” (Booklist).

Bright Lines
by Tanwi Nandini Islam
The Saleems are a Bangladeshi family raising their daughter in post-9/11 Brooklyn, along with orphaned niece Ella, who harbors a secret romantic love for her beautiful cousin. The Saleems later take in Maya, the runaway daughter of a Muslim cleric. In this coming-of-age story, the three girls confront their roots, forbidden loves and difficult family secrets. “The novel is a sensitive and subtle exploration of the experience of gender nonconformity across cultures” and “a transcontinental, transgenerational tale of a family and its secrets” (Kirkus Reviews).

by Ottessa Moshfegh
It’s Christmastime in the 1960s, but things are bleak in this creepy tale from an Oakland author. Eileen is lonely and miserable, living with her alcoholic, abusive father in a filthy and run-down house in New England, where she is a secretary at a boys’ prison. When the beautiful and mysterious Rebecca joins the prison staff, Eileen is smitten and determined to be her friend at all costs—which leads to a shocking crime. Booklist calls it “literary psychological suspense at its best” and Kirkus calls it “a shadowy and superbly told story of how inner turmoil morphs into outer chaos.”

Best Boy
by Eli Gottlieb
Todd Aaron is a middle aged man with Autism who has been thriving at the Payton Living Center for four decades. His routines are suddenly disrupted by the arrivals of a disturbing new roommate, an untrustworthy staff aide, and an intriguing new female resident. Suddenly Todd’s usual longing for home become unbearable and he attempts an escape. Kirkus calls it an “eloquent, sensitive rendering of a marginalized life” and Publishers Weekly says that Todd’s “voice is spectacular” and the story is “never less than captivating.”

Infinite Home
by Kathleen Alcott
Edith is an aging widow with fading memory and a rambling Brooklyn Brownstone. Her ragtag group of tenants keeps an eye out for her, but Edith’s son Owen only has eyes for the building’s potential profit. When Owen serves everyone with eviction papers, the tenants join forces to protect both Edith and their homes. “Ensemble novels often strain to stay true to all their voices, especially when those voices range across genders, ages, ethnicities, and mental capacities” but “Alcott (The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, 2012) displays a deft hand with every one of her odd and startlingly real characters… A luminous second novel from a first-class storyteller” (Kirkus Reviews).

In the Language of Miracles
by Rajia Hassib
The lives of an affluent family of Egyptian Americans are shattered when the eldest son commits a murder-suicide. Hosaam, having long struggled with depression, kills himself and his ex-girlfriend Natalie, the daughter of the family next door in their affluent New Jersey suburb. What follows is an account of the myriad ways family members cope with their personal grief, as well as the public suspicion, prejudice and judgment leveled at them. Kirkus calls it a “sensitive, finely wrought debut” and Library Journal says “this rich novel offers complex characters, beautiful writing, and astute observations.”

The Girl from the Garden
by Parnaz Foroutan
An elderly woman looks back on her family’s tragic history in a Jewish community in Iran in the early 20th century. At the story’s center is Rakhel, who has failed to produce an heir for her wealthy husband, leaving her desperate and bitter, and prompting her husband to make decisions that will cause great sorrow among their household. The Girl from the Garden is “an immersive tale of the inner strength of women living in a time and within a culture when their personal thoughts and opinions were unwelcomed by men” (Library Journal). “Suspenseful and haunting, this riveting story of jealousy, sacrifice, and betrayal and the intimately drawn characters within will not be easily forgotten” (Booklist).

Looking for more reading recommendations? Try our new service, Book Me! Fill out the online form and a librarian will send you a personalized list of reading suggestions.  

10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in July 2015


Go Set A Watchman
by Harper Lee
The sequel to Harper Lee’s iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been met with excitement, skepticism, controversy and more controversy. The publisher HarperCollins is anticipating a huge demand by printing two million copies, and it is their most preordered book in their history (and the most preordered print book on Amazon this year). No advance copies are being made available before the July 14 release date, so the question remains: will it live up to its predecessor? We’ll have to find out!

Circling the Sun
by Paula McLain
Following the enormous success of The Paris Wife, her debut fictionalizing the relationship between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, McLain delivers another juicy historical and biographical novel. Circling the Sun depicts the escapades of Beryl Markham, the daring and fearless woman who was a famed aviator and racehorse trainer. “McLain sustains a momentum as swift and heart-pounding as one of Beryl's prize horses at a gallop as she focuses on the romance, glamour, and drama of Beryl's blazing life, creating a seductive work of popular historical fiction” (Booklist).

by Fran Ross
Oreo is a biracial girl who has been raised by her African American grandparents in Philadelphia. A mysterious note from her long gone Jewish father triggers her quest to find him in New York City. On NPR author Mat Johnson called Oreo “one of the funniest books I've ever read” and promises “every turn takes the reader deeper into the satire and into the heart of the absurdities of American identity.” This new edition of the 1974 novel has a forward by novelist Danzy Senna (Caucasia) and an afterward by poet Harryette Mullen.

The Gods of Tango
by Carolina De Robertis
In 1913, Leda Mazzoni, a young Italian woman, plans to join her husband in Argentina to start a new life. But as soon as she arrives in Buenos Aires she learns that her husband has been killed. Seduced by the illicit sounds of tango, she masters the violin and assumes the identity of a man so she can make a living as a musician. Oakland author De Robertis is the author of Perla and The Invisible Mountain, a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2009 and an international bestseller. In The Gods of Tango, she “draws upon her family's Uruguayan heritage and expatriate experiences to paint a rich vision of Leda's world, the layers of Argentine society as encountered by an immigrant, and her inner struggles with gender identity and sexuality” (Library Journal).

by Nnedi Okorafor
What happens when aliens visit Lagos, Nigeria, one of the world’s most populous and chaotic cities, teeming with energy, music, corruption, inequality and superstition? Just ask Okorafor, winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for her 2010 novel Who Fears Death. The publisher describes Lagoon as a blend of "magical realism with high-stakes action" in which "it's up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity's first contact with an alien ambassador--and prevent mass extinction." Book Page calls it “a cracking and often surprising story, terrific social commentary and great fun to read” and Locus Magazine says “Okorafor’s impressive inventiveness never flags.”

The Way Things Were
by Aatish Taseer
Four decades of modern Indian history are illuminated by the stories of a father and son, both scholars of the ancient language of Sanskrit. The story begins when Skanda leaves his home in Manhattan to visit his ailing father in Geneva, then after his death accompanies the body home to India to perform the funeral rites. Language plays an essential role in a novel that Publishers Weekly says “will leave readers intoxicated,” adding that “this is a difficult book to put down, and readers will enjoy every minute of it, as well as learning about contemporary Indian culture.”

Mirages of the Mind
by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, translated by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad
Basharat Ali Farooqi can’t catch a break. He’s an Indian Muslim who immigrated to Pakistan after the Partition, and his constant misadventures have him scraping by in a chaotic world. Comedy is the standout feature here: “Yousufi writes of the most serious events with balloon-puncturing good humor” in a novel that is “a pleasure to read and a welcome window on a world we know too little about” (Kirkus). Nonagenarian author Yousufi is well known in his native Pakistan but much less so in the west; only now has this 1990 novel written Urdu been published in the U.S.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest
by J. Ryan Stradal
Abandoned at a tender age by a mother who runs off with a sommelier and a chef father who can’t bear the stress of single fatherhood, Eva Thorvald grows up to be a renowned chef whose pop up dinners cost $5000 per person with a year-long waiting list. Publishers Weekly calls Chef Eva a “compelling, deliciously flawed character” and Booklist calls this debut “the ultimate homage to the merits of the culinary experience, with just a soupçon of überfoodie-culture satire thrown in for a bit of zest.”

Among the Ten Thousand Things
by Julia Pierpont
A New York mother of two and a former ballerina discovers that her sculptor husband is having an affair. Simon, 15, and Kay,11, discover the evidence themselves and must come to grips with their family’s demise while they navigate their own adolescent challenges. “Pierpont's concentrated domestic drama is piquantly distinctive, from its balance of humor and sorrow to its provocatively off-kilter syntax, original and resonant descriptions, bristling dialogue, snaky psychological insights, and escalating tension” (Booklist). “For all the book's sadness, much of its lingering force comes from Pierpont's sharp-witted detailing of human absurdity. A quietly wrenching family portrait” (Kirkus).

Confession of the Lioness
by Mia Couto, translated by David Brookshaw
From an award-winning Mozambican author comes a story set in Kulumani, a remote village where lions have been slaughtering young women. The government hires Archangel Bullseye, a celebrated hunter, to take care of the problem. Mariamar’s sister is the latest victim of the lions, and while she grieves her sister’s death, she wonders if Archangel Bullseye is the same man she fell in love with as a young girl. Couto “crafts a rich tale in which the spirit world is made real, animals are controlled by people, and dead ancestors are feared for their power to destroy cities” and “also manages to explore the clash of disparate belief systems—tribal, Islam, Christian—in postcolonial Africa and deftly weaves in a critique of the embedded patriarchy” (Kirkus).

Are you looking forward to an upcoming new release? Tell us about it!

10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in June 2015


In the Country
by Mia Alvar
This stunning debut story collection is getting raves. Alvar’s stories “reflect her own peripatetic background (Manila born, Bahrain/New York raised, Harvard/Columbia educated), featuring a cast of immigrants, expats, travelers, runaways, and returnees caught in constant motion—geographically, socioeconomically, politically, emotionally—as  they search for respite and long for an elusive ‘home’” (Library Journal). Kirkus Reviews calls it “a triumphant, singular collection deserving of every accolade it will likely receive.”

The Star Side of Bird Hill
by Naomi Jackson
Brooklyn-born Dionne Braithwaite, 16, and her 10-year-old sister Phaedra have been sent to live with their grandmother in a small village in Barbados while their single mother gets her life together. As their stay becomes unexpectedly longer, generational and cultural conflicts arise, Dionne meets boys and Phaedra embraces her new Caribbean home. “The themes she touches on—mental illness, immigration, motherhood, sexual awakening—are potent and deftly juggled, anchored in the vivid locale of Bird Hill yet universally relatable. Readers will be turning the pages to follow Phaedra and Dionne's memorable journey” (Publisher’s Weekly). Debut novelist Jackson is a Fulbright scholar and winner of the Maytag Fellowship for Excellence in Fiction at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

In the Unlikely Event                                              
by Judy Blume
Beloved author Blume bases her newest novel on three real-life plane crashes that occurred near Newark Airport during the winter of 1951-52. The three crashes have a profound impact on 15-year-old Miri, her family and friends. Publishers Weekly calls it “characteristically accessible, frequently charming, and always deeply human.” This novel will appeal to both teens and adults.

The Meursault Investigation
by Kamel Daoud, translated by John Cullen
Harun mourns the loss of his brother Musa, an Algerian Arab who was killed by Meursault, the protagonist of The Stranger, in this vivid retelling of the novel by Camus. The New York Times calls it “an intricately layered tale that not only makes us reassess Camus’s novel but also nudges us into a contemplation of Algeria’s history and current religious politics; colonialism and postcolonialism; and the ways in which language and perspective can radically alter a seemingly simple story and the social and philosophical shadows it casts backward and forward.” Library Journal calls it “an eye-opening, humbling read, splendid whether or not you know and love the original.” This debut novel earned a Prix Goncourt nomination for the author, an Algerian journalist.

Ghost Summer: Stories
by Tananarive Due
Ghost Summer is the first short story collection from Tannarive Due, an award winning author of speculative fiction and horror. “Due crafts perceptive and realistic accounts of the experiences of African-American families, including racism, familial dysfunction, and traditional religion, but she adds chilling supernatural elements that simultaneously infuse her plots with visceral dread and add immediacy to the social commentary underlying her stories” (Novelist).

The Sunlit Night
by Rebecca Dinerstein
21-year-old Frances flees a broken heart and her splintering family in Manhattan for a tiny village in Norway where she apprentices with an artist who silently paints murals with only the color yellow. Grieving 17-year-old Yasha, a Russian immigrant to the U.S., has come to the same village to bury his father, who wanted to be laid to rest "at the top of the world". An unlikely romance brews between the two in this unique setting accompanied by a “cast of sitcom-ready Norwegian misfits” who are “engaging and sad and quirky” (Kirkus). Publishers Weekly raves, “Dinerstein's novel is a rich reading experience” and “her prose is lyrical and silky, but it's also specific, with acute observations and precise detail, and she evokes the sun-stroked, barren Norwegian landscape with a striking sense of place.”           

The Truth and Other Lies
by Sascha Arango
Rich, bestselling author Henry Hayden has some secrets. For one, his wife is actually the author of the books bearing his name. Also, his agent is also his mistress, and now she’s pregnant. Then, there’s the matter of a series of mysterious deaths. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a cross between James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith, with a wide streak of sardonic humor” and “German screenwriter Arango's first novel is superior pulp, with schemers all around and plenty to say about fame, identity, and mortality.”

A History of Money
by Alan Pauls, Translated by Ellie Robbins
This is the first US release from an author that Roberto Bolaño called "one of the best living Latin American writers." Set during the financially troubled decades of the 70s and 80s in Argentina, this novel examines a family’s prickly relationship with money and showcases the author’s experimental style. “Pauls dazzles the reader with run-on sentences and page-long paragraphs that generate a linguistically rich, money-hungry momentum” (Booklist).

The Pinch: A History
by Steve Stern
Set in The Pinch, a Jewish neighborhood in Memphis, in the late 60s, Lenny Sklarew works in a bookstore and sells drugs on the side. He discovers a book by Muni Pinsker called The Pinch: A History in which he is a character, arriving in Memphis from Siberia in 1911. “With a motley cast, including blues musicians, a folklorist, an ogre, levitating Hasidim, and a limping tightrope walker, Stern, an ebullient maestro of words and mayhem, wonder and conscience, orchestrates a cacophonous, whirling, gritty, tender, time-warping saga that encompasses a cavalcade of horror, stubborn love, cosmic slapstick, burlesque humor, and a scattering of miracles” (Booklist). Stern’s last book, a story collection called The Book of Mischief, was named a best book of the year by Kirkus Reviews and The New York Times. You can read an excerpt of The Pinch here

I Saw a Man
by Owen Sheers
Michael’s wife Caroline was a TV journalist, accidentally killed by a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan. The grieving widower moves to London, where he is warmly embraced by his next door neighbors, Josh and Samantha Nelson. Tragedy strikes again when Michael is involved in a fatal accident involving one of the Nelson’s daughters. Kirkus calls it a “highly original, engrossing literary thriller” and Booklist praises the way Sheers “indicts not only his characters but also the wider culture for the ways in which we shirk culpability.” Owen Sheers is an award winning Welsh poet, novelist and playwright, and the author of Resistance (2007).

Are you looking forward to an upcoming new release? Tell us about it!