Fiction A to Z
Ordinary People by Diana EvansSet in: South London and its suburbs, and featuring two couples during a year of relationship crises.
Why you might like it: Pop culture and historical moments (John Legend's music, the election of Barack Obama) populate this tale of modern life.
For fans of: Zadie Smith's multicultural NW, or Richard Yates' mid-life crisis novel Revolutionary Road.
The Golden State by Lydia KieslingStarring: anxious mother Daphne, who struggles to raise her young daughter alone when her husband is barred from returning to the U.S.
What happens: Seeking solace, Daphne leaves San Francisco for the rural mobile home she inherited from her grandparents. But what she finds in Paiute County is just more loneliness and strife.
Why you might like it: From the new-mother blues to immigration issues, this insightful debut provides a sensitive -- and occasionally humorous -- glimpse of modern community.
She Would Be King by Wayétu MooreWhat it is: a dramatic reimagining of the founding of Liberia, with touches of magic and memorable characters.
Starring: West African Gbessa, shunned as a witch; preternaturally strong former slave June; and mixed race Jamaican Norman, who can disappear. In the fight for freedom, their unique traits become powerful strengths.
Why you might like it: Eloquent and perceptive, this genre-defying debut is both a brisk adventure and a thoughtful examination of colonialism and resistance.
The Dinner List by Rebecca SerleWhat it's about: In this wish-fulfillment tale, Sabrina Nielsen arrives at her 30th birthday party to see that the guests are her answers to the ice-breaking question, "Who in all of history would you like to share a meal with?"
The guests: sentimental best friend Jessica; the father who abandoned Sabrina as a child (and who has since died); her on-again, off-again lover, Tobias; a college philosophy professor...and Audrey Hepburn, who adds some class and magic to the proceedings.
Home After Dark by David SmallWhat it is: a dark coming of age story, in which isolated young Russell Pruitt tries to make sense of the world in a poor, racially divided town in 1950s California.
Art alert: stark black and white (and grey) images relate the often-bleak events.
Is it for you? With a fair amount of violence, cruelty, bullying, profanity, and explicit sex, this angst-filled graphic novel isn't for everyone, but moments of beauty make this difficult story worth following.
I Liked My Life by Abby FabiaschiStarring: recently deceased wife and mother Maddy, who begins meddling from beyond the grave when she sees how her suicide shattered her family's lives.
Why you might like it: Sprinkled with humor, this sympathetic take on coping with death offers the perspectives of several complex characters and a moving view on marriage and parenthood.
Want a taste? "I found the perfect wife for my husband."
The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie FlaggWhat it's about: Founded in 1889, Elmwood Springs, Missouri has flourished over the last 150 years. As has the town cemetery -- everyone buried there quickly "wakes up" to catch up with long-departed friends and family members!
Don't miss: quirky characters, warm humor, and a close-knit community.
Why you might like it: This epic family saga combines historical detail with an intriguing premise and a teasing murder mystery.
Secondhand Souls by Christopher MooreThe set-up: In A Dirty Job, secondhand-shop owner Charlie Asher learned he worked for Death, collecting souls in San Francisco. In Secondhand Souls, those souls are being stolen, and Charlie himself is trapped without a body.
Is it for you? As with anything by Christopher Moore, an appreciation of the absurd, for jokes both clever and rude, and of outsize characters are all necessary to enjoy this irreverent take on life after death.
The Afterlives by Thomas PierceStarring: small-town loan officer Jim Byrd, who was technically dead for five minutes before reviving. He's rather disappointed that nothing profound accompanied the experience.
Why that matters: Seeking answers, Jim turns to investigating ghost sightings, psychic readings, and other potentially supernatural activities that now appear commonplace.
Why you might like it: Numerous plots, a breezy tone, and an accessible tinge of science fiction bring light to that common question -- what happens to us after we die?
The Lovely Bones by Alice SeboldThe premise: For nearly ten years after her violent murder, 14-year-old Susie Salmon watches over her family and friends from a kind of interim heaven, observing as they try to come to terms with her death.
Did you know? First published in 2002, this delicate debut novel, which received high praise for its treatment of a difficult subject was a long-running bestseller (and an Oscar-nominated film).
What to read next: The Good Sister by Jamie Kain. Though written for teens, it's another emotionally powerful tale of an untimely death.