Archive for the ‘Adult Fiction’ Category

The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin

May 1, 2019


There’s something about meeting friends/siblings as kids and then following the paths their lives take. The Immortalists is an interesting iteration of this type of story.

The plot spirals outward from one experience in 4 siblings’ lives, something that on the surface doesn’t seem like it would have long-lasting effects even though it looms large in their impressionable thoughts. As we follow each sibling’s path – chronologically* – we have to think about whether things would have turned out the same way without that childhood experience. Can our directions be changed significantly by one encounter or would everything have turned out that way regardless? Intriguing premise, interesting characters and relationships, and the tension builds all the way to the end.
Click here to find The Immortalists in our catalog

*One character’s “story” is followed over a period of years and the next character’s story starts its own period at the last year of the one before. This creates a great story arc.

Others following a group of kids and where they end up:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (review)
The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney


The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

May 1, 2019


A meditation? A rhetorical exercise? A story of mentors, art, grief, aloneness, a city, and a dog? Yes, that last one. But also a meditation of sorts and a cerebral, rhetorical examination of grief, what it means to be alone or lonely, and art. There is deep emotion in the portrayals of loss (as expressed by our unnamed narrator and the great dane on the cover), but the writing is spare and non-emotional, somehow making the fragility of relationships (with others and with the world) that much more stark. Beautiful writing. This isn’t a book for everyone, but if you like Peter Heller’s novels or Open City by Teju Cole then I think you will like this book.

The Friend won the National Book Award in 2018.

The River, by Peter Heller

March 25, 2019


Peter Heller is a singular writer. His novels have a sparse quality that contains multitudes. The River is the story of two young men, best friends, and a wilderness river trip. They are skilled and comfortable with this sort of trip and their relationship is easy. As the story unfolds from the beginning, we learn about their background; how they became friends, where they are from, what their plans are for the trip. Observing their natural, experienced actions and knowledge is beautiful. They work together seamlessly – no need for talking – and Heller’s descriptions of their preparations and movements on the river establish a feeling of peace and trust. Even when they start to notice the faint of smell of smoke and Jack determines that there is a forest fire moving towards the river, Jack and Wynn aren’t panicked, they have it under control.

If you’ve read Heller’s The Dog Stars then you know how he can build suspense, anxiety, and threat over a short novel. When the intensity and danger of their situation begins to show cracks in their capable armor, the reader feels it – it has to be bad for these two to lose their equilibrium.

Some of Heller’s talent lies in telling basically simple stories where everything is at stake and telling that story in a slow reveal. My heart was in my throat for nearly the whole book; I was holding my breath in places and just when I thought things couldn’t get more threatening, they did. Unlike traditional thrillers though, the depth of these two characters and nature itself raises the stakes.

Find the books in our catalog:
The River
The Dog Stars
The Painter

Hazards of Time Travel, by Joyce Carol Oates

March 20, 2019

[Lesley] So strange! So good! I have read more time travel novels than I can count but never one like this. We can’t be sure (any more than the main character) if time travel is even happening, or if any part of any world is real. The characters are real (meaning they are real people – but not necessarily who they seem to be) – all the rest seems to be real (the character’s past, the society she is from, the reason and method she finds herself in “zone 9”) but the reality gets very fuzzy for us at the same pace that it is for her. I admire Joyce Carol Oates as a writer and have liked every book of hers that I have read. She is different from most prolific authors in that she manages to write in diverse voices and create wildly different stories (see The Falls compared with this book) in more than one genre. Never a dull moment – or story – from Joyce Carol Oates.

click here to check our catalog for other books by Joyce Carol Oates

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

February 16, 2019

[Lesley] It’s hard to describe how much I liked this book and what exactly I liked about it. It takes place in the ’80s – during the AIDS crisis – and in the present. Most of the characters from the ’80s part of the story (the book switches between the two time periods but not in a jarring or awkward way) aren’t still alive in the present day but the main character in the present keeps them alive through her experience and her own struggle. Honestly, some of the time I wanted to just stay in the world of 1980-ish; I found those characters, the climate, the emotional authenticity to be so evocative and intense. Every character in this book is a real person, not two-dimensional, and the conflicts are also bitingly real. This is a book of love stories, grief, anger, humor, selfishness, fear, and friendship – with a healthy dose of art and a pinch of politics. Loved it.

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Little Comfort, by Edwin Hill

January 31, 2019

[Lesley] As a first book by this author there was some unevenness in writing, but I really enjoyed it. Hester is a great character – a mix of warmth, chaos, curiosity (not always a good thing), and toughness. Of course I couldn’t help but like the setting – Boston and NH. I’m not usually a mystery reader, but liked the pacing here and some of the unconventional clues and the strangeness of those who-done-it. I will definitely read #2.

A few other books set in NH or NE to try:
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
The Fireman by Joe Hill
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
The Arsonist by Sue Miller
The Penny Poet of Portsmouth by Katie Towler
Red House by Sarah Messer
Dogtown by Elyssa East

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

January 22, 2019


This book looked like it would be right up my alley – a combination folk tale/historical fiction/warm fires on icy Victorian British nights- and it did not disappoint. Setterfield is a wonderful storyteller. She lets the characters tell their stories in their own time – and it this brings out their hidden depths in often unexpected ways. I’ve not read her first book – The Thirteenth Tale – but I’m definitely adding it to my list. This book is a good choice for fans of Kate Morton. And if you enjoy the folk tale aspect of this book, you might also enjoy Katherine Arden and Naomi Novik.

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

October 5, 2018

[Lesley] There are lots of quotes out there about how reading and books take us out of ourselves to new places and new perspectives. I love finishing a book and feeling like I have glimpsed into an unknown world — not science fiction (though I love sci fi too!), but part of the human experience that I know next to nothing about. The book There There by Tommy Orange did this (see staff review) with the culture of “urban indians.” Fascinating stuff.

The Sympathizer (Pulitzer Prize winner in 2016) turns some of the standard ideas about the Vietnam War and Vietnamese refugees on its head (at least for me!). Our narrator is Vietnamese, a close confidante of a general of the South Vietnamese army who is included with the general, his family, and others chosen by the general when they escape the country. They all start new lives in Los Angeles not realizing that one among them is working both sides.

While this book looks at America’s role in the Vietnam War (as part of the whole), the perspective is entirely a Vietnamese one. Admittedly – only one. This perspective is compelling and irresistable though.

What sets The Sympathizer apart is our narrator. He is sly, funny, strategic, and scheming. He makes sharp observations about people, governments, war, food, friends, furniture, jobs – pretty much everything. He is surprising and unpredictable. Nguyen’s voice makes this book extraordinary.

The structure of the book is also magnificent. We start in one place – writing to a “commandant” – then circle back through the story leading up to that beginning. Then, the story picks up from that original beginning and it was completely unexpected and gripping. I don’t often get to the end of a book and think: “genius,” but I did at the end of this one.

Can I make this required reading for anyone interested in exploring history from different points of view and/or those who love masterful writing? Probably not. But, I do recommend it most highly.

Check availability: The Sympathizer
Pulitzer Prize page for The Sympathizer

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

September 21, 2018

[Tricia]  This is the second of Naomi Novik’s books that I have read and loved (Uprooted was the first). She writes rich and lovely fantasy novels featuring, especially in the case of Spinning Silver, complex and strong women characters. This is a very loose re-imagining of Rumpelstiltskin, and I am a sucker for re-imaginings of fairy tales and legends and classics. It is set in a frozen, snowy Russian (?) village but there are other colder and foreboding worlds you encounter as well. It has a similar feel to the Winternight series by Katherine Arden, which I also love. If you’re a fan of snowy, atmospheric re-tellings of fairy tales, then you’re in for a treat.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

September 17, 2018


[Tricia]  This book took me by surprise. From what I’d read about it, it seemed to be something along the lines of The Rosie Project – a quirky, funny story about an adult, possibly on the autism spectrum. However, this book has more in common with A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. There are funny parts, but it has also deals very starkly with loneliness, loss, trauma and mental illness. The book takes place in Scotland and I listened to the audio version which has a wonderful narrator with a lovely accent. If you liked A Man Called Ove, you might give this one a try.