general fiction

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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 a 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.

Hild by Nicola Griffith

Set in 7th century Britain, this coming of age story narrates the early life and young adulthood of the girl who will become abbess St. Hild of Whitby, whose advice was sought by religious and political leaders. Griffith’s telling evokes a richly detailed world that is so different from our own that it’s virtually alien. Born into a pagan world where power is often brokered by marriage alliances between kingdoms,  Christianity is on the rise. Hild’s preternatural observations of human nature and keen political acumen secure her place as her uncle, the king’s, seer and “peaceweaver”.

Waiting for Teddy Williams by Howard Mosher

E.A., short for Ethan Allen, comes of age in Northern Vermont and lives for baseball. So does the whole town of Kingdom Common.  They are all rabid Red Sox fans and have a replica of Fenway Park's Green Monster on top of the local baseball bat factory.  To say the least, E.A's upbringing is unconventional, yet in its own way grounded and loving. As he grows so does his love for baseball, especially when a talented drifter comes to town and becomes coach and mentor. The book was written pre-Red Sox World Series Championship wins.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

If Taylor Greer can manage to graduate high school without getting pregnant, she can manage anything. Ready for an adventure and a life better than what is offered in her small town in Kentucky, Taylor heads West in an old VW Bug. But before her car dies in Tucson, Arizona, and she begins her new life working at Jesus is Lord Auto Repair, Taylor becomes the one thing she worked so hard to avoid--a mother--after a stranger gives her a 3 year old. This is an awesome story with great characters, funny moments (and some heartbreaking ones), and a satisfying ending.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Did you ever wonder who scraped the mud off Elizabeth Bennet’s shoes, and boiled the mud stains out of her petticoats, after her tromp through the fields to visit her ailing sister Jane over at the Bingley’s house? No, probably not (I didn’t either, even though I’ve read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice many times). Turns out it was Sarah, the Bennets’ young housemaid who toils away washing the young ladies’ linens and hauling water while dreaming of a life of her own beyond the visible horizon, perhaps even in London.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

Jodi, a psychoanalyst, is in denial that her companion of 20 years is unfaithful until he decides to leave her. Their comfortable relationship is now in peril. Has she enabled him long enough? Is revenge the answer? How far will that desire for revenge take her? Todd is comfortable with their relationship, too. His meals are cooked, his house is well kept, and they enjoy their high-end lifestyle. But he wants more and takes up with yet another woman, this time younger.

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