Compulsively Readable Literary Fiction

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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Opening line: "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist." In her third novel, Jones writes about the link between two African-American half sisters, one legitimate and one secret, only one of whom knows the other exists. That is, until the secret of their father's second marriage starts to force its way into the open. Rather than writing back-and-forth between two perspectives, the reader encounters almost all of one sister's point of view in the first half, followed by the other's. The result is an absorbing coming-of-age narrative wrapped in a complicated family novel. I already loved this book, but when we discussed it with author Tayari Jones in the MMD Book Club, my appreciation and enjoyment skyrocketed, as so often happens. I love to peel back all the layers of a good book.
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From the publisher: "The lives of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian orphan and a well-off British woman collide in this page-turning #1 New York Times bestseller and book club favorite from Chris Cleave."
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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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By Karen Joy Fowler, author of the New York Times bestselling The Jane Austen Book Club, shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, and winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award. From the publisher: "Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons....." But then her sister becomes estranged, or at least that's what we'll call it—don't read the description! Just start reading."
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I loved this book, an MMD Book Club flight pick and a book recommended on today's episode of WSIRN. Not an easy read, but so good, and one that I still think about even though I read it many moons ago. In this coming-of-age story, debut author Bennett shows us how grief predictably consumes a 17-year old girl growing up in a tight-knit community in Southern California, and how two friends get pulled into the tangled aftermath. Bennett tells the story through the eyes of the community's mothers—the community pillars who show up with casseroles when somebody's sick—but in this story, the mothers' vicious gossip causes nothing but trouble.
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In Hamid's latest novel, a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, two young people meet and find love during a time of great political unrest in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. As violence simmers and then explodes into war, they survey their options and make the difficult decision to flee the city, perhaps taking advantage of the rumored doors that open almost magically into other lands, like Syria or San Francisco. An evocative story improved by the restrained element of magical realism, and strongly reminiscent of The Underground Railroad. I recommend this book to Laura Tremaine in episode 68 of What Should I Read Next.
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This gorgeous novel can almost be categorized as literary fiction, which too many readers dismiss as inaccessible. Don't make that mistake. This Gatsby-esque novel pulls several shocking plot twists, and I definitely didn’t see that ending coming.
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From the publisher: "In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they've ever known. From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition."
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Adebayo's debut is a powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. What follows is an unforgettable novel about sacrifice that sticks with me to this day.
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This is Nigerian novelist Adichie’s third novel, but the first I've read. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. Terrific on audio.
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The New York Times says Home Fire "builds to one of the most memorable final scenes I've read in a novel this century." From the publisher: "The suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences. Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she's accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma's worst fears are confirmed. Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined."
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From the publisher: "National Book Award Winner. Colum McCann's beloved novel inspired by Philippe Petit's daring high-wire stunt. In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. McCann's powerful allegory comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city's people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the 'artistic crime of the century.'"
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Ng's second novel opens with a house on fire, literally. It belongs to a suburban family, and it wasn't an accident: as one character reports, “The firemen said there were little fires everywhere." But who did it, and why? That's the setup for this literary thriller, which explores what happens when an itinerant artist and her daughter move into a seemingly perfect Ohio community, and thoroughly disrupt the lives of its residents.
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