The Fortunes: A Novel by Peter Ho DaviesThis absorbing journey through over 100 years of American history and culture is told by four Chinese Americans (three of whom are inspired by real people). From the building of the transcontinental railroad in the mid-19th century to a modern-day, biracial Chinese American visiting China to adopt a baby girl with his Caucasian wife, their thought-provoking perspectives tie fact and fiction together, illuminating the Asian American experience. Themes of identity and belonging are threaded throughout this contemplative, insightful novel, which is composed of four distinct sections.
Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen DonohoeFrom Ireland's Great Famine to Brooklyn in the decade after 9/11, this debut novel follows six generations of women in a family of firefighters. Flowing seamlessly from one generation to the next, their stories highlight what it is to live and love under the threat of sudden loss -- the novel opens with the suddenly widowed Norah O'Reilly, whose husband has just died fighting a fire. From there, this largely non-chronologically told tale moves back and forth through time, providing a sense of the Irish American community in the U.S., details of Brooklyn history, and a moving account of 9/11's devastation.
Loner: A Novel by Teddy WayneIt's clear from the get-go that David Federman is pretty smart but not particularly memorable. Overlooked in high school, he hopes to make a name for himself at Harvard, but (unsurprisingly) things don't get off to a great start. Overlooking friendly overtures from another girl, he becomes enamored of fellow freshman Veronica, and does everything and anything he can to ingratiate himself with her. Soon, his self-absorbed attempts move from pathetic to disconcerting to downright creepy, and we're left wondering exactly what is going on. Readers who appreciate psychological discomfort (think Sebastian Faulks' Engleby) will enjoy the increasingly unsettling nature of David's actions.
The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson WhiteheadSome authors stick to similar formulas, but Colson Whitehead never writes the same book twice. From a coming-of-age story (Sag Harbor) to a post-apocalyptic tale of zombies (Zone One), the only thing you can expect is evocative writing and sharp social commentary, plus some pop culture references and biting humor. Most of that is in play here, in an unconventional, literal take on the underground railroad. Brutally abused on the Georgia plantation where she is enslaved, Cora escapes -- only to find that the Railroad doesn't guarantee freedom. Traveling ever northward, threatened by a slave-catcher behind her and new challenges around her, Cora's journey is "hard-driving, laser-sharp, artistically superlative, and deeply compassionate" (Booklist).
Focus on: Unusual Settings
The Enchanted: A Novel by Rene DenfeldThe nameless narrator of this haunting, lyrical novel, an inmate on death row, describes prison as an "enchanted place" where the hoofbeats of galloping golden horses mark time and where miniature hammer-wielding men live inside dungeon walls that "sigh with sadness." Into this world comes the Lady, an investigator tasked with finding evidence that might exonerate a condemned man named York -- who has already resigned himself to his fate. As the Lady and her companion, a fallen priest, embark on a quest to save York, the narrator gradually reveals his own dark past. This debut, by a journalist and advocate for the incarcerated, employs mystery and magical realism to explore prison culture and humanize those behind bars.
The Eyre Affair: A Novel by Jasper FfordeIn an alternate England where the Crimean War never ended and dodos are kept as pets, Special Operative Thursday Next is a literary detective. And since fictional characters are as real as "real" people, that means they can be crime victims (or perpetrators). When criminal mastermind Acheron Hades steals a Prose Portal and kidnaps Jane Eyre from her book, it's up to Thursday to save the day. Can she thwart the diabolical Hades and reunite Jane and Mr. Rochester? Find out in this charming mix of cozy mystery, police procedural, and fantasy -- and then continue her adventures in six more Thursday Next stories!
A Long Way Down by Nick HornbyOn New Year's Eve, the roof of London's Topper's House is a popular destination -- for four people looking to end their lives. Put off by having an audience, the four get distracted by attempts to solve each others' problems, and spend the night commiserating (and getting on each others' nerves). Over the next few months, the four completely different individuals (a heartbroken teen, a single mother of a comatose adult son, a former TV personality/ex-con, and a bereft musician) slowly take steps to heal each other and themselves. Each character takes a narrative turn, while their disparate personalities (and the way they irritate each other) offer plenty of humor within an otherwise moving tale.
Life of Pi: A Novel by Yann MartelPi Patel is 16 when his father decides to leave his zoo in Pondicherry, India, and move the entire family to Canada. But only a few days into the trip, the boat carrying the Patels capsizes and Pi is tossed into a life raft. The raft, which also holds an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra, and eventually Richard Parker -- a 450 pound Bengal tiger -- will be his home for the next 227 days. Pi, nurtured by an encyclopedic knowledge of animals and equal love for Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity, must sustain himself as he and the hungry tiger struggle to survive.
Last Night at the Lobster: A Novel by Stewart O'Nan
Conscientious Manny DeLeon has been managing a failing Red Lobster near a run-down Connecticut mall; now it's December 20th, and he's opening it for the last time before closing it for good. Predictably, most of the kitchen and wait staff don't bother to show up. As Manny deals with customers and resentful minimum-wage workers, he also catalogs the things he'll miss: the tacky wall-mounted marlin and the waitress with whom he had an intense affair. As a portrait of a hardworking blue-collar man and the difficulties he faces, Last Night at the Lobster is "very low-key, but haunting and quietly provocative" (Kirkus Reviews).
Boo by Neil SmithNicknamed for his ghostly white skin and pale hair, 13-year-old Boo does not fit in at school. After he becomes the victim of a school shooting, Boo lands in Town, an afterlife filled exclusively with other 13-year-olds where he finds the kinds of friendships that eluded him in life, including with another boy from his hometown. Boo has a unique, memorable voice, and Town itself is extremely detailed. With themes of bullying and forgiveness leavened by a bit of humor, this smart and unusual coming-of-age story has appeal for both adults and teens; it's been frequently compared to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
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