I confess. I am a die-hard fiction reader. I love a good story – who doesn't? My favorite books tend to be character driven versus for example, mystery or thrillers that tend to plot focused. I love beautifully written prose, characters that I care deeply about and a well crafted story that keeps me turning the pages long after I should be in bed asleep. View all of Chris' Picks on Goodreads
The Singer's Gun
By: Emily St. John Mandel
Everyone Anton Waker grew up with is corrupt. His parents deal in stolen goods and his first career is a partnership venture with his cousin Aria selling forged passports and social security cards to illegal aliens. Anton longs for a less questionable way of living in the world and by his late twenties has reinvented himself as a successful middle manager. Then a routine security check suggests that things are not quite what they appear. And Aria begins blackmailing him to do one last job for her. But the seemingly simple job proves to have profound and unexpected repercussions.As Anton’s carefully constructed life begins to disintegrate around him, he’s forced to choose between loyalty to his family and his desires for a different kind of life. When everyone is willing to use someone else to escape the past, it is up to Anton, on the island of Ischia, to face the ghosts that travel close behind him.Emily St. John Mandel follows up her electric debut with a spellbinding novel of international crime, false identities, the depths and limits of family ties, and the often confusing bonds of love. Taut with suspense, beautifully imagined, full of unexpected corners, desperate choices, betrayals and halftruths with deadly consequences, The Singer’s Gun explores the dangerous territory between one’s moral compass and the heart’s desire.
By: Amy Bloom
"My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us."Brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny, Lucky Us introduces us to Eva and Iris. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey across 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris's ambitions take them from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine through a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life. From Brooklyn's beauty parlors to London's West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat, and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.
By: Colm Tóibín
From one of contemporary literature’s bestselling, critically acclaimed and beloved authors, a magnificent new novel set in Ireland, about a fiercely compelling young widow and mother of four, navigating grief and fear, struggling for hope.Set in Wexford, Ireland, Colm Tóibín’s superb seventh novel introduces the formidable, memorable and deeply moving Nora Webster. Widowed at forty, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world to which she was born. And now she fears she may be drawn back into it. Wounded, strong-willed, clinging to secrecy in a tiny community where everyone knows your business, Nora is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her young sons, who have lost their father. Yet she has moments of stunning empathy and kindness, and when she begins to sing again, after decades, she finds solace, engagement, a haven—herself.Nora Webster is a masterpiece in character study by a writer at the zenith of his career, “beautiful and daring” (The New York Times Book Review) and able to “sneak up on readers and capture their imaginations” (USA TODAY). In Nora Webster, Tóibín has created a character as iconic, engaging and memorable as Madame Bovary or Hedda Gabler.
By: Emily St. John Mandel
An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame, and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, from the author of three highly acclaimed previous novels.One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains-this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.
By: Lily King
National best-selling and award-winning author Lily King’s new novel is the story of three young, gifted anthropologists in the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.English anthropologist Andrew Bankson has been alone in the field for several years, studying a tribe on the Sepik River in the Territory of New Guinea with little success. Increasingly frustrated and isolated by his research, Bankson is on the verge of suicide when he encounters the famous and controversial Nell Stone and her wry, mercurial Australian husband Fen. Bankson is enthralled by the magnetic couple whose eager attentions pull him back from the brink of despair. Nell and Fen have their own reasons for befriending Bankson. Emotionally and physically raw from studying the bloodthirsty Mumbanyo tribe, the couple is hungry for a new discovery. But when Bankson leads them to the artistic, female-dominated Tam, he ignites an intellectual and emotional firestorm between the three of them that burns out of anyone’s control. Ultimately, their groundbreaking work will make history, but not without sacrifice. Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is a captivating story of desire, possession and discovery from one of our finest contemporary novelists.
Stars Go Blue: A Novel
By: Laura Pritchett
Laura Pritchett is an award-winning author who has quickly become one of the west’s defining literary voices. We first met hardscrabble ranchers Renny and Ben Cross in Laura’s debut collection, and now in Stars Go Blue, they are estranged, elderly spouses living on opposite ends of their sprawling ranch, faced with the particular decline of a fading farm and Ben’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He is just on the cusp of dementia, able to recognize he is sick but unable to do anything about it —the notes he leaves in his pockets and around the house to remind him of himself, his family, and his responsibilities are no longer as helpful as they used to be. Watching his estranged wife forced into care-taking and brought to her breaking point, Ben decides to leave his life with whatever dignity and grace remains.As Ben makes his decision, a new horrible truth comes to light: Ray, the abusive husband of their late daughter is being released from prison early. This opens old wounds in Ben, his wife, his surviving daughter, and four grandchildren. Branded with a need for justice, Ben must act before his mind leaves him, and sets off during a brutal snowstorm to confront the man who murdered his daughter. Renny, realizing he is missing, sets off to either stop or witness her husband’s act of vengeance.Stars Go Blue is a triumphant novel of the American family, buffered by the workings of a ranch and the music offered by the landscape and animal life upon it.
By: Nell Freudenberger
A powerful, funny, richly observed tour de force by one of America’s most acclaimed young writers: a story of love and marriage, secrets and betrayals, that takes us from the backyards of America to the back alleys and villages of Bangladesh.In The Newlyweds, we follow the story of Amina Mazid, who at age twenty-four moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, New York, for love. A hundred years ago, Amina would have been called a mail-order bride. But this is an arranged marriage for the twenty-first century: Amina is wooed by—and woos—George Stillman online. For Amina, George offers a chance for a new life and a different kind of happiness than she might find back home. For George, Amina is a woman who doesn’t play games. But each of them is hiding something: someone from the past they thought they could leave behind. It is only when they put an ocean between them—and Amina returns to Bangladesh—that she and George find out if their secrets will tear them apart, or if they can build a future together. The Newlyweds is a surprising, suspenseful story about the exhilarations—and real-life complications—of getting, and staying, married. It stretches across continents, generations, and plains of emotion. What has always set Nell Freudenberger apart is the sly, gimlet eye she turns on collisions of all kinds—sexual, cultural, familial. With The Newlyweds, she has found her perfect subject for that vision, and characters to match. She reveals Amina’s heart and mind, capturing both her new American reality and the home she cannot forget, with seamless authenticity, empathy, and grace. At once revelatory and affecting, The Newlyweds is a stunning achievement.
By: Peter Heller
Peter Heller, the celebrated author of the breakout best seller The Dog Stars, returns with an achingly beautiful, wildly suspenseful second novel about an artist trying to outrun his past. Jim Stegner has seen his share of violence and loss. Years ago he shot a man in a bar. His marriage disintegrated. He grieved the one thing he loved. In the wake of tragedy, Jim, a well-known expressionist painter, abandoned the art scene of Santa Fe to start fresh in the valleys of rural Colorado. Now he spends his days painting and fly-fishing, trying to find a way to live with the dark impulses that sometimes overtake him. He works with a lovely model. His paintings fetch excellent prices. But one afternoon, on a dirt road, Jim comes across a man beating a small horse, and a brutal encounter rips his quiet life wide open. Fleeing Colorado, chased by men set on retribution, Jim returns to New Mexico, tormented by his own relentless conscience. A stunning, savage novel of art and violence, love and grief, The Painter is the story of a man who longs to transcend the shadows in his heart, a man intent on using the losses he has suffered to create a meaningful life.
All the Light We Cannot See
By: Anthony Doerr
Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.
A Tale for the Time Being
By: Ruth Ozeki
Ruth Ozeki's third novel, shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2013. In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.
By: Karen Russell
The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline — think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades — and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the World of Darkness. Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve year old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Her mother, Swamplandia!’s legendary headliner, has just died; her sister is having an affair with a ghost called the Dredgeman; her brother has secretly defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their sinking family afloat; and her father, Chief Bigtree, is AWOL. To save her family, Ava must journey on her own to a perilous part of the swamp called the Underworld, a harrowing odyssey from which she emerges a true heroine.
The Wind Is Not a River
By: Brian Payton
A gripping tale of survival and an epic love story in which a husband and wife–separated by the only battle of World War II to take place on American soil–fight to reunite in Alaska's starkly beautiful Aleutian IslandsFollowing the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss, to document some part of the growing war that claimed his own flesh and blood. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, after an argument they both regret, he heads north from Seattle to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government.While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as "the Birthplace of Winds." There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.Alone in their home three thousand miles to the south, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband's disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is–and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.A powerful, richly atmospheric story of life and death, commitment and sacrifice, The Wind Is Not a River illuminates the fragility of life and the fierce power of love.
The Rosie Project (Don Tillman #1)
By: Graeme Simsion
An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.
The Woman Upstairs
By: Claire Messud
Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the "woman upstairs," a reliable friend and tidy neighbour always on the fringe of others' achievements. Then into her classroom walks a new pupil, Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents--dashing Skandar, a half-Muslim Professor of Ethical History born in Beirut, and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist--have come to America for Skandar to teach at Harvard.But one afternoon, Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who punch, push and call him a "terrorist," and Nora is quickly drawn deep into the complex world of the Shahid family. Soon she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora's happiness explodes her boundaries--until Sirena's own ambition leads to a shattering betrayal.Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, this urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill--and the devastating cost--of giving in to one's passions. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.
The Humanity Project
By: Jean Thompson
After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?Thompson proves herself at the height of her powers in The Humanity Project, crafting emotionally suspenseful and thoroughly entertaining characters, in which we inevitably see ourselves. Set against the backdrop of current events and cultural calamity, it is at once a multifaceted ensemble drama and a deftly observant story of our twenty-first-century society.
By: Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld, New York Times bestselling author of American Wife and Prep, returns with a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief. From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them. Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny. Funny, haunting, and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a beautifully written novel of the obligation we have toward others, and the responsibility we take for ourselves. With her deep empathy, keen wisdom, and unerring talent for finding the extraordinary moments in our everyday lives, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of the most exceptional voices in literary fiction today.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
By: Karen Joy Fowler
Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.
The Signature of All Things
By: Elizabeth Gilbert
A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry's brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father's money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma's research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction — into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist — but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who — born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution — bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert's wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.
By: Andre Dubus III
In this heartbreakingly beautiful book of disillusioned intimacy and persistent yearning, beloved and celebrated author Andre Dubus III explores the bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses of people seeking gratification in food and sex, work and love.In these linked novellas in which characters walk out the back door of one story and into the next, love is "dirty"—tangled up with need, power, boredom, ego, fear, and fantasy. On the Massachusetts coast north of Boston, a controlling manager, Mark, discovers his wife's infidelity after twenty-five years of marriage. An overweight young woman, Marla, gains a romantic partner but loses her innocence. A philandering bartender/aspiring poet, Robert, betrays his pregnant wife. And in the stunning title novella, a teenage girl named Devon, fleeing a dirty image of her posted online, seeks respect in the eyes of her widowed great-uncle Francis and of an Iraq vet she’s met surfing the Web.Slivered by happiness and discontent, aging and death, but also persistent hope and forgiveness, these beautifully wrought narratives express extraordinary tenderness toward human beings, our vulnerable hearts and bodies, our fulfilling and unfulfilling lives alone and with others.
By: Marisha Pessl
Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn't been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an engima. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality.ONCE WE FACE OUR DEEPEST FEARS, WHAT LIES ON THE OTHER SIDE?