Fiction Reviews

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

As you're looking for gifts, don't forget Betty Smith's groundbreaking novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It chronicles the life of the Nolans, a desperately poor family in the tenements of turn-of-the-20th-century Brooklyn. Though only a child when the narrative begins, the novel's protagonist Francie does her best to make sense of the joys and hardships of her family, becoming a writer before the readers' eyes. Published in 1942, the novel is part coming-of-age story and part historical chronicle. Though occasionally sentimental, the novel's cumulative power is astonishing.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060736262
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Published: Harper Perennial Modern Classics - February 1st, 2005

A PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick

The American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century.

Here by Richard McGuire

Here by Richard McGuire is a pretty stunning graphic novel that possesses a quiet power and poignancy. It follows the human dramas of a single corner of a single house over the course of millennia, from prehistory to the 1800s to the present day to the distant future. Whatever plot there is is associative and non-linear, but that doesn’t mean the reading experience is difficult. The book is poetic in its meaning-making and lovely in its illustrations; few comics are ever so thought-provoking. Recommended by Danny

Here (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375406508
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Published: Pantheon Books - December 9th, 2014

From one of the great comic innovators, the long-awaited fulfillment of a pioneering comic vision. Richard McGuire's Here is the story of a corner of a room and of the events that have occurred in that space over the course of hundreds of thousands of years.

(With full-color illustrations throughout.)

Gold Fame Citrus

Gold Fame Citrus is a frontrunner for my top books of 2015. A love story set amidst a catastrophic California drought, Claire Vaye Watkins’s debut novel is by turns wrenching, thrilling, gorgeously lyrical, and hilarious. It follows protagonists Luz and Ray as they navigate an American West overrun by sand and completely bereft of freshwater. The characters are meticulously drawn and the settings are vivid. Gold Fame Citrus has some of the sharpest and most compelling world-building this side of Swamplandia.

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Gold Fame Citrus Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594634239
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Published: Riverhead Books - September 29th, 2015

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, Vanity Fair, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Refinery 29, Men's Journal, Ploughshares, Lit Hub, Book Riot, Los Angeles Magazine, Powells, BookPage and Kirkus Reviews

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

STAFF REVIEW: Kate Atkinson's novel, Life After Life, tells many stories all revolving around the lives of a upper-middle-class English family of seven who live in an idyllic rural home named Fox Corner. The reader follows the family from 1911 to the 1950s, tumultuous years in England. But wait–some characters, especially Ursula the middle daughter, have many different narratives, some contradictory to what has been told before.

Life After Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316176491
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Published: Back Bay Books - January 7th, 2014

"One of the best novels I've read this century. Kate Atkinson is a marvel. There aren't enough breathless adjectives to describe LIFE AFTER LIFE: Dazzling, witty, moving, joyful, mournful, profound."--Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

Secondhand Souls

STAFF RECOMMENDATION: Christopher Moore, author of amongst other books, Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, has entered into another world, this time of dead souls.

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ISBN: 9780061779787
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: William Morrow & Company - August 25th, 2015

In San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing--and you know that can't be good--in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore's delightfully funny sequel to A Dirty Job.

Fourth of July Creek

A man with two last names better be a tough writer, and Smith Henderson doesn’t disappoint. In fact, his debut novel Fourth of July Creek resembles some of American Lit’s toughest writers, namely Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner. A large part of the toughness comes from Fourth of July Creek’s rural Montana setting, equal parts menacing and lovely.

Fourth of July Creek: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062286444
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Published: Ecco - May 27th, 2014

In this shattering and iconic American novel, PEN prize-winning writer, Smith Henderson explores the complexities of freedom, community, grace, suspicion and anarchy, brilliantly depicting our nation's disquieting and violent contradictions.

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

A crackling, marvelous voice in young adult fiction appears in Katherine
Rundell's book CARTWHEELING IN THUNDERSTORMS. The wilds of Africa seem
made for young Wilhelmina who roams her widowed father's ranch with her
friend Simon. When the powers that be decide she should live in an
English boarding school, she must muster all her confidence and

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms Cover Image
ISBN: 9781442490611
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Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - August 26th, 2014

Even a life on the untamed plains of Africa can't prepare Wilhelmina for the wilds of an English boarding school in this lovely and lyrical novel from the author of Rooftoppers, which Booklist called "a glorious adventure."

Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards

Otherwise known as Julie Andrews the singer, Julie Andrews Edwards is also a terrific writer. When I was a pre-teen, I read this book about Mandy, a plucky ten-year-old who discovers a "home" of her own in the woods near the orphanage where she lives. I reread it recently, and it still holds up.

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ISBN: 9780061207075
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Published: HarperCollins - August 15th, 2006

Mandy, the first children’s novel ever written by the beloved star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews, is a modern classic.

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

STAFF REVIEW: Susan Cooper, Newbery Award-winning author of the Dark is Rising trilogy, has ventured into Native American folklore. When Little Hawk goes into the woods for 3 months to survive on his own, he becomes a man in his tribe.

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ISBN: 9781442481428
Availability: Backordered
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - August 26th, 2014

A friendship between a young Native American and a colonial New England settler endangers them both in this "simply unforgettable" (Booklist, starred review) adventure story from Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper.

Between Friends by Amos Oz

Compelling stories about the intersecting lives of men and women living on a kibbutz. In some ways its a short novel with the narrative changing from one protagonist to another, but with most of the characters somewhere in each chapter or story. Oz writes in clear, simple, subtle prose, pungent and thoughtful.

Between Friends Cover Image
By Amos Oz, Sondra Silverston (Translator)
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ISBN: 9780547985589
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Houghton Mifflin - September 24th, 2013

"Oz lifts the veil on kibbutz existence without palaver. His pinpoint descriptions are pared to perfection . . . His people twitch with life." -- Scotsman