Literary Fiction
The Bean Trees: A Novel

The Bean Trees: A Novel

$7.99$2.99Audiobook: 8.49 (Whispersync)

I've loved Kingsolver's novels from the past ten years; I've been meaning to revisit her older work for ages and this month I finally did it. This is her 1987 debut, and it was striking to see so many of the same themes she spent the next 30 years (and counting) exploring: her Kentucky roots, immigration, unlikely families, the American southwest, and young girls with lots of growing up to do. The title of this one never appealed to me, and I was surprised to discover the reference at the same time my own backyard wisteria was coming into bloom. (Not a spoiler, I promise.)

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City on Fire

City on Fire

$14.99

I had heard good things about this one from a few readers I trust (which surprised me, given the book's solid 3-star rating on Amazon) but was hesitant to invest 944 pages of my reading life in it. But then I interviewed Seth Haines for What Should I Read Next? and he convinced me to give it a try. The novel revolves around a punk-rock band, a wealthy, dysfunctional NYC family, a pyrotechnics expert and his daughter, and the invisible threads that bind them all together in 1976 Manhattan. If you're deciding if this one's for you, you should know that it's being compared to Wallace, Wolfe, Franzen, and DeLillo, and is full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

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Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

Amazon's review calls this "a gripping study of the problem of European colonialism in Africa. The story relates the cultural collision that occurs when Christian English missionaries arrive among the Ibos of Nigeria, bringing along their European ways of life and religion. In the novel, the Nigerian Okonkwo recognizes the cultural imperialism of the white men and tries to show his own people how their own society will fall apart if they exchange their own cultural core for that of the English."

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The One-in-a-Million Boy

The One-in-a-Million Boy

I NEVER would have read this if a trusted bookseller hadn't pressed it into my hands and said READ IT: the plot summary would have made me put it right down. But it's one of my favorites of the year. I went into this novel knowing nothing and I liked it that way, so I'll just say Wood explores themes of love, loss, and identity through a quirky 11-year-old boy who loves making lists, a wily 104-year-old woman, an absentee father, a Boy Scout project, and the Guiness Book of World Records. Perfect for fans of The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove.

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Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman

As a standalone book, this was far from amazing, but serious students of writing or literature will be enthralled by the ties between Watchman and Lee's beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. The comparisons are rich, and many. I had complicated feelings about reading this one but I'm so glad I did. (Here's how I approached this controversial work.)

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​The Madwoman Upstairs

​The Madwoman Upstairs

$11.99$0.99

Part campus novel, part literary treasure hunt. A mysterious development sets an Oxford student on the chase to unraveling the mysteries of the Brontë family, as well as the heroine's own. If you like your heroines quick-witted and cantankerous, and if you're fascinated by the story behind the story, this is for you. Reminiscent of A. S. Byatt's Possession. Required reading for fans of Charlie Lovett's 2014 literary escapadeThe Bookman's Tale. It also has echoes of A. S. Byatt's Possession. Pair with Jane Steele, of course, and if your book club wants to revisit Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights while you're at it, so much the better. Publication date March 1 2016.

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Breath, Eyes, Memory

Breath, Eyes, Memory

$10.99$1.99

An Oprah Book Club selection. Publishers Weekly says: "A distinctive new voice with a sensitive insight into Haitian culture distinguishes this graceful debut novel about a young girl's coming of age under difficult circumstances." From the author of Claire of the Sea Light.

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Keep Me Posted

Keep Me Posted

This epistolary novel centers around two sister who have fallen out of touch, somewhat predictably, as their lives have sharply diverged. Sid is a Luddite living in Singapore because of her husband's high-powered job; Cassie's made a life with her own family in New York City and is addicted to watching her friends' lives unfold on facebook. When Sid issues a challenge that they'll start communicating with real, old-fashioned letters, Cassie reluctantly agrees ... and they're both surprised at the world-rocking revelations they read on the page. This was a sweet and entertaining debut (although not G-rated for sure). If you enjoyed Janice Lee's recent release The Expatriates, definitely add this one to your list.

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

The titular hotel is a real place: it's Seattle's Panama Hotel. In the story, an old man looks back to his 1940s childhood and remembers with fondness his friendship—and maybe something more—with his young Japanese friend Keiko. They lose touch when Keiko and her family are evacuated during the Japanese internment. (I learned so little about this in my U.S. history classes that when I first read the book I kept googling Ford's historical references to see if they really happened. They did.)

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The Nest

The Nest

This is that rare bird: a literary page-turner. In this wonderfully written, multi-layered, fast-moving novel, Sweeney tells the story of the dysfunctional Plumb family. When the eldest blows their collective inheritance (by crashing someone else's Porsche, while drunk and high, direly injuring the 19-year-old waitress who was not his wife), the four Plumb siblings are forced to actually communicate for the first time in ages. They're also forced to grow up, and watching that painful process unfold on the page is highly entertaining (and a little cringe-worthy). I loved this for its depth, complexity, and supremely satisfying ending, but if you need characters you can root for, this isn't the book for you. Strongly reminiscent of Rules of Civility. For what it's worth, Amy Poehler and Ellie Kemper loved it. Heads up for language and racy content: I'd like to give this novel an 8-line edit. Published March 22 2016.

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The Secret History

The Secret History

$11.99$2.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

The story begins with a murder, and the lonely, introspective narrator devotes the rest of the novel to telling the reader about his role in it, and how he seemingly got away with it. The setting is a small Vermont college, the characters members of an isolated, eccentric circle of classics majors, who murder one of their own. Strongly reminiscent of The Likeness in setting, Crime and Punishment in plot, and Brideshead Revisited in tone. I finally read this recently, and now I understand why opinions differ widely on Tartt's debut novel: it's a compelling—and chilling—tale, but there's not a single likable character.

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Before We Visit the Goddess

Before We Visit the Goddess

I loved this book, which was nothing at all what I expected. The novel tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. This is a wonderful, beautiful, and sad book, and I've been recommending it like crazy. Published April 19 2016.

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State of Wonder

State of Wonder

$27.994.95 (audiobook only)Audiobook: $4.95

This is one of my favorite Patchett novels, and it's been on my mind because of the terrific story about it in Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Add Audible narration for $9.95.

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The After Party

The After Party

The second novel from the author of the critically acclaimed debut The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. Kirkus calls it a "sophomore slump," but Kirkus is notoriously cranky. I read this and while I didn't love it, I did blitz through it in two days because I wanted to find out what happens next . If you DO want to read it talk a friend into joining in, because you're going to want to talk about it. Publication date May 17 2016.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

I read this as my "book you can finish in a day" for the 2016 Reading Challenge. As expected, it's not exactly scary, but Jackson is sure good at infusing a story with a creepy atmosphere. In this work, her last completed novel before her death, she tells the story of the Blackwood family. Not so long ago there were seven Blackwoods, but four of them dropped dead from arsenic poisoning several years ago and how that happened remains a mystery. Read this during daylight hours: its themes of family secrets, hateful neighbors, and mysterious deaths aren't the stuff of bedtime reading.

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The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch

$8.99$4.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

This Pulitzer winner begins with a terrorist attack: an explosion at The Met that kills 13-year-old Theo Decker’s mother and forever changes his life. The novel takes on an epic feel as it winds and twists through New York City, then Vegas, then Amsterdam. I would have given it up during the dark and depressing Vegas sojourn if I hadn’t read that The Goldfinch was Donna Tartt’s artistic response to 9/11. I’m not certain that’s even true, yet framing it that way fundamentally changed the way I read the book, and kept me from abandoning it during the unrelentingly gritty middle.

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry: A Novel
Commonwealth

Commonwealth

$13.99

Finally, a new Patchett novel! And one the author says is largely inspired by her own family history. In the early pages, two families fall apart. We spend the rest of the story examining how each of the family members put themselves back together after the break—or, in some cases, didn't. I would have read this just for Franny's storyline, and I would love to hear Patchett talk more about the inspiration for this particular character. A sad story, but a good one—and one you'll NEED to talk with other readers about.

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I’ll See You in Paris

I’ll See You in Paris

From the publisher: "From the author of the National Bestseller A Paris Apartment comes the story of three women born generations apart and the mysterious book that brings them together. I'll See You in Paris winds together the lives of three women born generations apart, but who face similar struggles of love and heartbreak. After losing her fiancé in the Vietnam War, nineteen-year-old Laurel Haley takes a job in England, hoping the distance will mend her shattered heart. Thirty years later, Laurel's daughter Annie is newly engaged and an old question resurfaces: who is Annie's father and what happened to him? The key to unlocking Laurel's secrets starts with a mysterious book about an infamous woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough. Annie's quest to understand the Duchess, and therefore her own history, takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last."

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Miller’s Valley: A Novel

Miller’s Valley: A Novel

This story of a young girl growing up in a rural community during a time when the community itself is facing a tremendous change. This was wise, reflective, and easy to read, and strongly reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior.

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Among the Ten Thousand Things

Among the Ten Thousand Things

Fun fact: this has been a "love" AND a "hate" on What Should I Read Next. This wrenching debut novel tells the story of a family that falls apart after infidelity comes to light.

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Homegoing

Homegoing

$13.99$3.99Audiobook: 12.99 (Whispersync)

I keep hearing this new debut novel mentioned in the same breath as "best of the year" and now I understand why. For the first hundred pages I didn't quite grasp what the author was up to, but when it hit me it was powerful. By exploring the stories of two sisters, who met different fates in Ghana more than 200 years ago, Gyasi traces subtle lines of cause and effect through the centuries, illuminating how the deeds of ages past still haunt all of us today. A brilliant concept, beautifully executed. Read it.

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