Fiction

Promising New Fall Fiction

TelegraphAvenueWorking in a library, I try to read a wide variety of books -- romance books, graphic novels, memoirs, young adult fiction, fantasy and popular non-fiction titles.  But my one true love is contemporary literary fiction.  A coworker once remarked to me that I didn't like reading novels by authors who weren't alive.  Yep.  Give me Jhumpa Lahiri over Jane Austen any day. 

But I assume like a lot of readers I get stuck in a rut and go long periods of time without being excited about the fiction I am reading.  This fall might be the answer to all my book desires.  Four of my top ten favorite authors have new books coming out!

Michael Chabon wrote one of my all-time favorites and former One Book One Bloomington title, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  His newest, Telegraph Avenue is out this week.  It tells the tale of a used record shop and the two friends who are co-owners.  Spouses and children complicate the story as well as a mega-store moving in down the street.  Set in Northern California in 2004, Chabon explores parenthood, family, music, and the American Dream.  

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Carry the One

ISBN: 
9781451636888

Violence changes everything that happens after. This interesting novel covers family and friends in Chicago after a tragic event occurred at the end of a Wisconsin wedding. In 1983, a carload of friends and siblings leaves a wedding party in the middle of the night. Their car crashes into a ten-year old girl, killing her.  Most of the 20-somethings were high that night from either drugs or alcohol. The driver, Olivia, gets a jail term; the rest suffer through a lifetime of guilt.

In Carry the One Anshaw presented herself with a hard task: introducing five or six characters and following them over the course of 25 plus years: their relationships, their passions, their fears, their daily occupations. Luckily, she has mastered creating authentic and interesting characters. First there are the three siblings: Carmen, Alice and Nick. It's Carmen's wedding that they are celebrating that fateful day. Carmen is the political one: she runs a Read more »

Helen Keller in Love

ISBN: 
9780670023493

Just after college I worked as a social worker at an agency for the blind in New Orleans. I remember one client particularly well. He was totally blind and deaf--an older fellow who spoke in a modified sign language and by spelling letters lightning-fast into your palm. Pat, who had worked there for years, was his favorite person to communicate with, but when she was gone, he'd come to me. Occasionally, while biking home from work, I'd see him from a distance crossing four lanes of traffic on St. Charles Ave.--usually against the light--his white cane held like a sword before him. He was always too far away for me to help, but my stomach would clench, and I'd hope that he'd make it across safely another time.

Reading Helen Keller in Love gave me a fresh awareness of what blind people endure especially the deaf and blind. When I was young, The Miracle Worker played in movie theaters (with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft) and this movie painted Helen in saint-like tones. How refreshing and humanizing is this biographical novel. In her first novel, Rose Read more »

The Sisters Brothers: A Most (Un)usual Western?

SistersBrothersI've worked in libraries for years including a few in Texas, so it is a wonder that I've never read a western.  Part of the problem then with reading your first book in a genre is that you lack the language to properly describe it or make comparisons.  Now I wonder if I shall ever read another for the fear that the next one won't hold up to The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.

It is the gold rush years and the infamous Charlie and Eli Sisters are riding from Oregon City to San Francisco on orders from the Commodore to kill Hermann Kermit Warm.  There is trouble with horses, whores, a red bear pelt, excessive brandy drinking, a man named Mayfield, a witch and a mysterious magical formula. Large sums of money come and go. The characters are unique, but without a lot of overall development.  Is this usual for a western? Is the level of violence similar to other westerns?  Is this a parody of the genre, a homage or both?

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Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

flygirlIda Mae Jones is a young African-American woman living with her family in Louisiana.  Her father who taught her to fly a small crop duster has passed away, and her brother has signed up to serve in World War II.  It is not surprising that Ida Mae feels caught between her family obligations and her love of flying.  She learns about the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- a civilian organization that served to fly airplanes under the military with the goal of freeing up qualified men to serve in combat.  The WASP pilots transferred planes and equipment from assembly plants to military bases and often trailed targets in the air for anti-aircraft artillery practice. 

Not only was the WASP a highly selective group that underwent rigorous training, but Ida Mae faces even more difficulty because she knows she can't sign up as a black woman.  Her fair skin allows her to pass for white, but the stress of this combined with the training proves difficult.  On the positive side, the friends Ida Mae makes in WASP training are fantastic and provide support for Ida Mae even if they don't know her secret for sure.  Read more »

The Red House by Mark Haddon

redhouseLike many readers, I loved loved loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  And I had high hopes for Mark Haddon's follow up, A Spot of Bother but was generally let down. That was years ago, and Haddon had sort of fallen off my radar when I recently came across his newest, The Red House

The premise is simple. Wealthy doctor, Richard invites his estranged sister, Angela, her unemployed husband and their three children to share a vacation house in the Welsh countryside knowing she cannot pay for a trip on their own.  Joining Richard is his new wife and her willful teenage daughter.  Their trip initially brims with the hope of forgiveness and family bonding, all nicely tucked away in a cozy modern pastoral setting.  But secrets, resentments, pain and confusion -- both old and new -- follow everyone. The complicated dynamics of this family and their often awkward attempts to set things right are at the crux of this novel.  Can't we all relate?  Being in a family is hard. 

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August Books Plus

SnobsWhether you're inside enjoying the cool air or outside braving the weather at pool-side, consider that small country across the pond. Yes, England, and we're not talking about the Olympics but a Downton-Abbey type novel set in contemporary times. Are the rich really different from you and me? Screenwriter, novelist, and actor, Julian Fellowes tackles this subject in Snobs, a novel about a middle-class woman named Edith who would love the wealth and title of the Earl, Charles Broughton, whom she'd love to marry. 

Fellowes knows about castles and big estates. He's the son of a diplomat, and he visited many of the estates he writes about. He's also known struggling actors who aren't sure how they will pay next month's rent. As New York Times reviewer, Jonathan Ames said, Snobs is a "field guide to the behavior of the English aristocracy."  Ames also wrote, "When you read a book, you're lost in time. All the more reason to read Snobs.  It will distract you pleasantly. It's like a visit to an English country estate: breezy, beautiful and charming."

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Train Dreams

ISBN: 
9780374281144

I don't read many novellas but this one, Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson made several "best new book" lists recently.  And it got rave reviews from quite a few other writers.

Grainier's first memory of trains is of being sent on one as a young child, with a fare receipt pinned to his shirt.  His destination was Fry, Idaho, but he never knew his parents or even the origin point of this trip. One older cousin said that he came from Canada and that the French language had to be whipped out of him. Another cousin said that family had sent him from Utah where he had spent his first years as a Mormon. But all his life, he had only trains and their tracks for the history of his early childhood. Read more »

How It All Began

ISBN: 
9780670023448

I only brought one novel on my vacation to New Mexico, and How It All Began was the perfect one. Not that it's about New Mexico, no--it's almost wholly set in London with a few side trips to Cambridge and a "cathedral town."

The novel begins with an interesting premise, similar to the butterfly affect in New Zealand. What happens in the rest of the world when a butterfly starts a slight breeze wafting Down Under? In this case, it's nothing as natural or beautiful as a butterfly fluttering.  Instead, an older retired teacher and passionate book person, Charlotte, has been mugged on a city street. This ignites a chain of events that alters many lives.

First, her daughter Rose must come to the hospital and care for her. This leaves Rose's grumpy, egotistical employer, Henry, a former professor of history, at a loss. Rose had promised to accompany him to Cambridge where he was presenting a lecture on his field, 18th century England. Read more »

Miss Fuller

ISBN: 
9781586421953

"I am absurdly fearful and various omens have combined to give me a dark feeling ... It seems to me that my future upon earth will soon close ... I have a vague expectation of some crisis--I know not what." Shortly before returning to America from Europe, the famous 19th century feminist Margaret Fuller wrote these words.

This small elegantly designed historical novel is a pleasure to read.  Besides the famous activist Fuller, it presents portraits of other famous 19th century literary heroes including Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne. But these are basically side characters; it's really about Margaret Fuller, the activist, writer, and revolutionary who changed the world's thinking about women.

It's divided into two sections. The first tells the story of Fuller's shipwreck off Fire Island, New York. This section is told primarily through the viewpoint of Annie Thoreau, the famous naturalist's younger sister and helpmate. What makes Annie's viewpoint interesting is that at the beginning she does not like Margaret.  Like many in the politically active town of Concord, Annie felt that by concentrating on the problems of women, Fuller was stealing fire from the anti-slave movement. Read more »

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