general fiction

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Bad Teeth by Dustin Long

Who is Jigme Drolma? Perhaps the Tibetan David Foster Wallace? Perhaps a fraud? Follow young literary artists across Brooklyn, Bloomington, Berkeley, and Bakersfield as they trip through life, art, love, and SOFA. What is SOFA? Think Occupy, but not as well defined. This novel is often quite funny, definitely proud of its geek edges, and a fun way to spend a few hours. Don’t read it for plot - there’s not a ton. Its never even entirely clear who the main characters are, but its a fun ride for sure.

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

It’s 1920 and Rosanna and Walter Langdon are just starting their lives as a young farm family in Iowa, Walter just returned from the European battlefield and Rosanna determined to be the perfect farm wife. The years pass one by one while babies are born, crops are harvested, tractors replace workhorses and the family lives within the arc of history (drought, Depression, another World War, the Red Scare). This is a satisfying family saga that is billed as the first of a trilogy, and you will want to keep reading about this extended clan of characters you’ve come to know and care about.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

We first meet Marie-Laure and Werner as youngsters in pre-war France and Germany. Marie Laure lives with her father, master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, and loses her sight at age six. Werner and his sister are growing up with limited prospects in a poor orphanage in the coal mining town where their parents died.

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly

In the summer of her 13th year, during the Watergate hearings of 1972, Riddle Camperdown stumbles upon the aftermath of a crime.  A discovery she chooses to keep from her politician father "Camp" and her caustic, retired movie star mother Greer.  In due time Riddle becomes involved with the family of a teenager who has seemingly disappeared and discovers several more familial secrets.

The Lost Diaries of Iris Weed by Janice Law

“Lars” Larson is a middle-aged college English professor with a wife and daughter—and a wandering eye for pretty coeds. Iris Weed is one of those coeds, whose apparent romantic disinterest in Lars inspires him to obsess about her to the point of stalking and spying on her to find out who her boyfriend is. Things come to a head one night during an argument in Lars’ car, leading Iris to storm off and leave one of her diaries behind. The next morning, she turns up brutally murdered in a parking lot.

The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner

Reno is an artist living in NYC in the 70’s. She loves speed, especially fast motorcycles and downhill skiing. Always an outsider, she flirts on the fringes of several fascinating scenes, develops a long-term relationship with an older, more established artist/son of an Italian Motorcompany magnate, and finds herself mixed up with the Red Brigades, the radical movement that threw Italy into chaos in the late 1970s. Kushner has crafted a very tangible protagonist - I felt like I really knew her and can empathize with the challenges she faces. There are no tidy answers at the end.

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

It is very clear why so many awards have been bestowed upon this writer. This beautiful, heartbreaking novel is two love stories starring the same character, continents apart. Alternating between war-torn Uganda during the revolutions in the 1970s and the American Midwest which was undergoing its own cultural revolutions at the same time, “Isaac” is a lover, a student, and a truly remarkable man. This haunting work evokes a strong sense of place in both worlds. There is bound to be something familiar and something new for every reader of this work.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

A group of vaguely unpleasant rich people on a vacation to Mallorca: adulterer Jim, food writer Franny, teen daughter Sylvia and adult son Bobby are joined by Bobby's 10 years older girlfriend Carmen, Franny's best friend Charles, and his husband Lawrence on a two-week vacation where secrets are exposed and relationships are changed forever. A quick, enjoyable read; I wanted to know how things would turn out, even though the characters are relentlessly spoiled and unlikable. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts are all part of the book's appeal.

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara

Desdemona Hart, an aspiring artist, is torn between her loyalty to her father's Shakespeare Theater legacy and her steady but unexciting husband, and the romantic lure of a fellow artist and a successful career in the big city.  These themes are set in the fictional town of Cascade in the 1930s as war clouds gather and the state of Massachusetts decides whether to displace the residents and flood the town to create a reservoir.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Widowed and retired Major Pettigrew leads a quiet life in the small English village of Edgecombe St. Mary. That is, until he strikes up an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. While their neighbors, friends, and family members look on mostly with shock and disapproval, these two lonely people from different worlds tentatively explore the possibility of a future together.

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