I like to read literary fiction and short stories that are dark, but not sad--preferably on a beach!
In Pottstown PA, in the 1930s, in the neighborhood called Chicken Hill, where Blacks and Jews and new immigrants (mostly) peacefully coexist, you will meet the most fabulous cast of characters. So many stories to tell that James McBride masterfully weaves together into the most magnificent novel. My fave book of the year!
Juno meets Sean--renamed Legs by her--at a strict Catholic school outside of Dublin in the early '80s. Both kids were from unloving homes and marginalized--Juno for her poverty, Legs for his sexual orientation. They become each other’s saviors. This is a beautifully written, heartbreaking story that you won’t soon forget.
No one writes about Boston like Dennis Lehane! “A black kid died on the dividing line between Southie and Dorchester on the eve of busing in 1974.” This incident causes a spiral of events that highlight the hatred and racism that existed between these two towns. Mary Pat Fennesey is a tough Southie mom. When her daughter doesn’t return one hot, humid night she becomes a force to be reckoned with. This story is told with grit and compassion. His best yet!
This beautiful and heartfelt novel tells the stories of four generations of strong, independent women living together on a patch of family land in rural Ireland. Told in short, two-page chapters, Donal Ryan’s glorious writing reveals the happiest of times as well as the heartaches and betrayals of this tightly bonded family. A real gem of a read!
This novella, originally published as a short story in the New Yorker in 2010, is the story of a young Irish girl who is sent to live with another family on their farm while her mother reluctantly deals with the birth of a new baby. While on the farm, she receives kindnesses and attention that were previously unknown to her. Each sentence is more beautiful than the next, and the climactic ending will stay in your heart. I wished it were 300 pages longer.
In the too-familiar dystopian future depicted in Our Missing Hearts, there is an economic crisis--no jobs, food banks, protests--all blamed on the Chinese and, ultimately, any Asian-American. A vigilante group called PACT (Preserving American Culture and Traditions) targets Asian families, re-placing their children to more "patriotic" homes. Bird’s mom left three years ago when he was 9. He leaves his dad in Cambridge and travels to NYC to find her. Celeste Ng has written a book that powerfully resonates, both emotionally and politically.
We revisit Lucy Barton, who now is riding out the pandemic in Maine with her ex-husband William. Elizabeth Strout’s observations of this hallucinogenic time are pitch perfect and somehow comforting, despite the bleakness of the situation. The feelings of isolation, the inability to sit down and read, the endless walking, and also the finding of joy in nature. Spending this time with the two of them is both uplifting and heartbreaking. What a writer she is!
With a 17-year-old’s poetic voice, we learn the story of Kiara, living in a rundown Oakland apartment, trying to make ends meet with her mom in prison and her dad gone. She turns to sex work to make some money, and becomes involved in a police department scandal. Her gritty story is told with grace and dignity. A brilliant debut from this 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate
This beautifully detailed and mesmerizing novel backtracks between Sicily and Hollywood, splicing together the past, the present, and the future. Written in gorgeous prose which is both witty and heartbreaking, it highlights Hollywood studios--Mercury Pictures--during the war years with the racial injustices and propaganda of the era. The cast of characters will all find a place in your heart.
After the world’s first Category 6 hurricane destroys Miami, Daphne and her family leave their affluent neighborhood and white privilege behind to become IDPs (internal displaced persons) living in a FEMA shelter in Oklahoma. This camp becomes a community of desperation, including drug dealing and interracial conflict. Twists and turns make this story a thrilling, yet thought provoking ride. And above all is the fear of what climate change is doing to the world and how people may be forced to adapt.
“True biz” translates in sign language to “real talk." And this novel does just that. It’s the story of students and teachers at a residential school for the Deaf. Charlie has had cochlear implants to please her parents, but now as a young teen is language-deprived and learning ASL for the first time. Austin is the star student at the school who comes from a family with a long history of deafness. This is a moving coming-of-age story as well as an informative look inside Deaf culture.
Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart (Shuggie Bain) revisits the working class confines of Glasgow, Scotland. Fifteen-year-old Mungo lives with a drunken, often absent mother, a hooligan brother and a sister trying to hold their family tragedy together. When he meets James who is Catholic opposite his Protestantism, he finds another soft soul to bring love into his life. This is a beautiful depiction of this love which unfortunately brings with it danger and violence against those that don’t fit in.
In short, austere paragraphs Ruthie describes her growing up in a suburb west of Boston where she feels she and her family never belonged. Her mother was cold and loveless. Ruthie was bullied and then turned to destructive behaviors starting with pulling out her eyebrows and eyelashes. She felt that shame was her birthright. This is a piercing and chilling account of a clearly damaged family and what it is like to grow up unloved.
Eleven years ago in January 2010, yet another strong earthquake shook the nation of Haiti. This beautifully written novel tells the intertwined stories of those affected by this disaster--both those who survived and those who perished. From market women, to executives, hotel owners and drug dealers, these stories of faith, family, friendship, and resilience put a face to this unimaginable tragedy. To see it happening again makes their experiences even more heartbreakingly real.
A young woman moves from NYC to The Hague for the complicated and fascinating job of interpreter for the International Court. Told in the first person, we view her relationships with a friend, a lover, a client, an enigmatic bookstore owner. There is an underlying dread to the unfolding events and it soon becomes a puzzle where no one is really as they seem. Katie Kitamura weaves a great tale in her second novel.
An unnamed 40-year-old woman professor meanders around an unnamed Italian city. She encounters people she knows - her ex, friends, and those she doesn’t - a couple arguing in the street, a cafe worker. She muses about her mother, her therapist, her beautician. And in the gorgeous prose of Jhumpa Lahiri these short scenes come to life. This is a small gem, a beautiful miniaturist painting. And it was written in Italian and translated into English to boot!
A small African village is being destroyed by Pexton - an American oil company that has been poisoning its inhabitants. The villagers employ a journalist to convey interest in this plight to America. The story is told through various voices, the children of the village and a generation of their families. Thula, a young girl from the village, moves to New York to study and becomes militant in her views while there, hoping to start a revolution which will free her village and reclaim their land. This is a beautifully written novel by the author of Behold the Dreamers.
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After the brutal election of 2016 everyone’s lives were changed. Two years later Ethan Frome (nod to Edith Wharton) is living in a small New England town with his humorless activist wife, a challenging, hyperactive 11-year-old daughter, and a flirtatious babysitter in a time of Brett Kavanaugh hearings and the #MeToo movement. And the smash up - was it political, or marital, or something else altogether? Ali Benjamin’s writing is witty and smart, and unexpectedly poignant. This is a novel for our times.
This is a story of secrets. It is both a family saga and a mystery. In 1972 the Preston family is living in Bangkok while the father works on a clandestine government project. It was a world of parties and servants, until eight-year-old Philip disappears after his judo class. And now in the present, back in their hometown of Washington, DC, Laura and Bea, the two older sisters, are still hoping to find him. Atmospheric and with great writing, this is a beautiful and compelling novel.
A couple and their four children leave Brooklyn for a vacation in the Hamptons. Renting a lovely house in a very secluded, wooded area where cellphone service and GPS are out of reac,h they begin to relax and unwind, happy to be out of the city for a bit. On their second night, there is an ominous knock on the door. The rest of this unsettling story, told by an all-knowing narrator, reveals some catastrophic emergency which has started in NewYork City and appears to be affecting much of the world. Issues of race and class along with impending danger make this a roller coaster of a read.
The narrator, unnamed until the final pages, is a thirty-something frazzled mother of two young girls, high school teacher, adjunct professor, often depressed, daughter of wealthy parents whose love always came with contingencies, wife of unemployed husband, friend and ex-friend of Sasha who she loved and lost, a runner, extremely bookish, who has just filed for bankruptcy. The details of her life may be mundane, but they are never unimportant. I devoured this in one sitting.
Jivan is a poor young Muslim woman from the slums of India, who is accused and jailed after a terrorist attack she is falsely connected to because of careless comments she made on Facebook. PT Sir is her gym teacher who initially supports her cause, before he becomes involved in corrupt politics. Lovely is a Hijra--a trans woman--who yearns for a career in Bollywood films. These three characters' lives intertwine, even when politics, fame and greed replace human compassion. This is a disturbing and powerful story and an excellent first novel.
Esther is the queen and the beautiful second wife of King Ahasueras in biblical Babylon. Vee is the wife of a senator in Washington DC during the time of Nixon. Lily is the second wife of Adam in contemporary Brooklyn. These times bump into each other in this fascinating story of womanhood, feminism, mothers, and daughters. It is structured like Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours, following these three women in three different time periods. This unusual novel is thought-provoking, beautifully written and filled with both humor and humanity.
Michael and Juliet and their two small children decide to leave suburbia and live at sea for a year. But that's not the whole story. It's a story of a marriage and motherhood and politics and misunderstandings and heartache. And a mystery too. All beautifully written--as both a boat's logbook and a confessional.
This is a dream-like kaleidoscope of a novel. Vincent is a young woman who first appears as a bartender and then morphs into a trophy wife. There is a Ponzi scheme at its center which involves a myriad of characters. And of course, the Glass Hotel itself, which is a beautiful looming edifice on the Vancouver shores. Once all--and more--of these elements and characters come into play, they mesh into a dazzling and original story.
Fifteen year old Vanessa has an inappropriate relationship with her English teacher at a prestigious private school. Seven years later as the Me Too movement begins, there is chatter about this teacher’s past behavior. Should she speak up or stay silent? Compulsive, complicated, and timely, Russell’s excellent debut explores issues of memory, trauma, abuse, and complicity.
You may not know that an apeirogon is a shape with an infinite number of sides. This novel is like nothing you've read before. At its heart are Bassam and Rami - one Palestinian and one Israeli. Based on actual events, both fathers have lost daughters due to violence in the region. But there are also facts about migratory birds, and the story of Philip Petit's highwire walk in Jerusalem, and Steven Spielberg, the Dead Sea, and mostly the struggle for peace. Colum McCann, the most elegant of storytellers, weaves these together to tell a tale of 2 men who have worked to humanize the opposing sides in the Palestinian - Israeli conflict. Just brilliant!
After twelve of her family members are slaughtered by a drug cartel in Acapulco, Lydia and her eight-year-old son Luca desperately escape and make their way out of their country where they are still being hunted. The plight of the migrants who all share their suffering, and hope for a better life aboard freight trains to "el Norte" is heartbreaking and timely. Jeanine Cummins puts a face to those in the news we should not look away from. I felt as though I barely breathed as I read their stories. My pick for best of the new year!
Kacey and Mickey are sisters, living in Philadelphia, on opposite sides of the law. Thirty-something Mickey is a police officer and younger sister Kacey is a drug user living on the streets. This is a story of sisterhood, secrets, and belonging, as well as a taut police procedural that will keep you guessing until the end.
The story of Toby Fleishman--short, Jewish, doctor--and his marital troubles with his wife Rachel is witty, raunchy, endearing, and thought-provoking. It's the perfect combo of Roth, Franzen and Updike in the telling of a marriage from both sides. And it's also perfectly fabulous!
Olive is back. In more beautiful sentences than you can count, Elizabeth Strout writes of loneliness, aging, grief, divorce, acceptance, nature, politics and most of all love, with Olive's typical feistiness and honesty.
In the Jim Crow South of the '60s Elwood listens to the words of Martin Luther King, wishing to be part of the civil rights movement. Instead he winds up at a reform school called the Nickel Academy where he shows his "capacity to suffer." With exquisite writing, as we saw in The Underground Railroad, the author reveals this brutal story of courage and of hope, which is based on true events.
In the first chapter of this excellent debut novel, two sisters are kidnapped in the frigid easternmost province of Russia. The subsequent chapters beautifully tell the stories of the people adjacent to this mystery--ending with a chilling conclusion.
This masterful collection of connected stories focuses on the life and family dynamics of a young, biracial and gay man living in Houston, Texas. Living with his single mother and homophobic brother, he also paints a vivid picture of his neighborhood including glimpses of poverty, fatherhood, and his own coming of age. It is an impressive debut.
In the words of a poet we read a letter from Little Dog to his mother Lan, who cannot read. The story of their lives in Vietnam and Connecticut evolve with questions of war, race, politics, immigration, sexuality and addiction. It is raw and brutal, yet filled with so much beauty.
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This beautifully written debut story collection explores motherhood and reproduction, ranging from miscarriage to unplanned pregnancies, as well as abortion and adoption. Whether you've been there or are going to be there, these stories will resonate deeply.
This endearing and thoughtful coming of age novel follows the relationship of Marianne and Connell. It starts with an awkward high school friendship, going through the next four years of their together/not together status--deceptively simple, and often heartbreaking. Sally Rooney is a gem of a writer!
Ilya and Vladimir are brothers in Russia who each take their separate paths. Ilya teaches himself English and goes to America as an exchange student, while Vladimir is riddled with drugs and violence. Their unshakable bond and a murder mystery are at the heart of this beautifully written novel.
Daisy Jones is a beautiful and wild singer who becomes involved with Billy, the lead singer of the band The Six. It is the ultimate story of sex, drugs and rock and roll, told through a series of interviews with members of the band. Whether you think you love 70's rock music or not, you will love Daisy Jones!
When Dani Shapiro got the results of a genetic test, she discovered that her family was not as she had always believed. She had always felt that she didn't quite "fit", though she didn't know why. This memoir of families and secrets is honest, and raw, and touching.
Maurice Swift wants to be a famous writer. But to what lengths will this charlatan go to achieve this role? With an appearance by Gore Vidal as well as references to other bookish figures and publishers, this is a clever and engaging literary thriller from the author of The Heart's Invisible Furies.
To be photographed by Bill Cunningham was one of the greatest of fashion compliments. This entertaining and endearing memoir was found after his death in 2016. Punished by his Puritanical Boston parents for dressing in his sister's dresses, he found true joy in fashion -- from early days at Jordan Marsh to the opening of the magnificent Bonwit Teller and then on to NYC to start designing hats under the name of William J. This book is perfect for all you fashionistas!
In this terrific novel, fifteen-year-old Jo tells her story of sexual abuse at the hands of an older, charismatic teacher at an elite boarding school. The shame, the powerlessness, and the isolation are brilliantly depicted. With pinpoint observations, the great Kate Walbert makes this story all too real and sadly relevant. I read it in one big gulp.
No one does a short story better than Lauren Groff. These tales are set in hot, humid, dank, swampy towns, and they are full of fairytale dangers. Viewed through the eyes of the women and children that occupy them, they are also full of compassion and beauty.
In postwar London, Nathaniel and Rachel's parents have gone abroad, leaving them in the care of a possible criminal -- a man known as The Moth. This exquisitely written novel by the author of The English Patient, is atmospheric, mysterious, witty, and just wonderful!
Romy Hall is serving two life terms for murdering her stalker. Her story and those of her fellow inmates, including a teacher in the prison who teaches a GED class and offers literature to the inmates, describe the inequalities of our prison system and the powerlessness of those inside. Written with grace, and wit, and humility, this is a beautiful and fascinating novel.
Alice and Lucy were roommates at Bennington College. Their relationship, intense and mysterious, changed when a tragic accident occurred. Now they are reunited in Tangier, where Alice has moved with her husband. Shades of The Talented Mr. Ripley are evident in this very good psychological thriller with the heat and beauty of Morocco in the background.
Alice is a young editor living in NYC and having an affair with an older Nobel awarded author. Amat is an economist being held at Heathrow airport on his way to visit his brother in Iraq. What is their connection? This unique, gorgeously written and thought provoking debut novel will leave you with so much to discuss!
When the Gold children leave their Lower East Side apartment to visit a fortune teller, they believe it will be a summer adventure, but once they have each been told the date of their death, their experience takes on a much deeper meeting. As a dancer in San Francisco, a magician in Las Vegas, a scientist, and a military physician, they separately experience the blessings and curses of the knowledge they acquired.
In her own inimitable way, Roz Chast has written and, of course, illustrated a humorous, entertaining, and (most surprisingly) extremely informative book on New York City. For both newcomers and lovers of the city, this is a great read.
Julia and Cassie have been the closest of friends since they were young children. Once adolescence begins, however, this friendship starts to fade. Cassie, the wilder one, and Julia, the rule keeper, are no longer in the same social circles. The angst of high school and the importance of friendship against a looming crisis make this the perfect coming-of-age story.
This epic novel details the story of Cyril Avery from the time of his illegitimate birth in Ireland through seventy years of his life. Reminiscent of early John Irving, it tells of his grappling with life, love, acceptance, and his sexuality. It is warm and funny and heartbreaking and quite wonderful!
Aviva Grossman of Boca Raton, Florida had an affair with a married congressman while working as his intern, but she will not let this indiscretion ruin her life. She reinvents herself and shows the world that there can be a second act. Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry) has written a warm and witty story through the eyes of the five women affected by this scandal, while addressing feminist and human issues.
Yejide and Akin are a modern Nigerian couple who are desperate to have a child, and they resort to desperate means to make that happen. The story of their lives together against the backdrop of their beloved Nigeria's political upheavals make this a fascinating, heartbreaking, and beautiful book.
These poignant and beautifully written stories come from the Pulitzer prize winning author of The Sympathizer. They tell the experiences of refugees, new to this country, most having left Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in the mid seventies. They are often broken down by war, alienated, and dealing with the quiet and not so quiet ghosts of memory. A timely book, indeed.
Named for the original Christodora Settlement House in NYC's East Village, this novel addresses the social reforms and AIDS activism of the near-past 1980s through to the near-future (!) of the 2020s. It is the compelling, intersecting story of four families living in this apartment building over four decades. From the Tompkins Park Riots, where protesters try to grapple with the AIDS crisis, to the effect this activism had on future generations, Tim Murphy, who has reported extensively on HIV/AIDS, paints a vibrant picture of this city during tumultuous times.
The feel of the 1960's is perfectly evoked in this novel, complete with all of its exhilarating newness -- from music to fashion, from the philosophy of sex to the proliferation of drugs. Focusing on the singular neediness of a girl waiting to be loved, all paths in this book lead to a volatile relationship and a subsequent act of violence.
This beautifully written, multigenerational novel follows the descendants of two brave sisters from the beginnings of the slave trade on the Gold Coast of Africa in the eighteenth century to the American South and, finally, to Harlem in the 60's. Throughout, the author brilliantly shows the spirit of their ancestors, telling a story filled with the yearning for freedom and the search for humanity.
A family inheritance - referred to as "the nest" - is at the crux of this endearing story of four adult siblings grappling with myriad circumstances, issues, and conflicts. With a great cast of characters as well as smart and witty dialogue, this is an impressive first novel and a great read.
I read this in one big gulp. A coming of age story. A scientific experiment gone awry. A heartwarming and heartbreaking and provocative look at the relationship we have with animals. Just read it!
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Three sets of real life stories are intertwined in this beautiful novel. Pilots on an transatlantic flight to Ireland just after World War 1, the antislavery activist Frederick Douglas, and George Mitchell negotiating the 1998 Good Friday peace accord in Ireland all bump into each other. Colum McCann's amazing use of language is what makes this so transcendent.
Manhattan, 1938, is the setting for this wonderfully satisfying tale of the rich -- and the not so rich! Amidst the glitter of New York are some unforgettable characters and a story that dazzles and lingers. We couldn't put it down.
Beautiful, brutal, lyrical, disturbing, powerful, heartbreaking - and more. This is the story of three brothers growing up in a mixed-up, crazy household that you will never forget.
(This book cannot be returned.)
This is the beautiful and riveting story of Helen Adams, an American photojournalist covering the Vietnam War. Starting in Saigon in 1975 where "only the losers of history" remain and looking back over the 12 years she has spent immersing herself in country and establishing love relationships with first, her photographer mentor and finally with his assistant, Helen's is a fascinating story of how a woman views the war.