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
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
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
NEW YORK TIMES bestseller and Goodreads Choice Award Nominee! A page-turning thriller for readers of Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, and Stieg Larsson, Night Film tells the haunting story of a journalist who becomes obsessed with the mysterious death of a troubled prodigy—the daughter of an iconic, reclusive filmmaker.On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.
By: Jennifer Haigh
In a stunning follow-up to her best-selling debut, Mrs. Kimble, Jennifer Haigh′s second novel, BAKER TOWERS, is a compelling story of love and loss in a western Pennsylvania mining town in the years after World War II.Bakerton is a company town, built on coal; a town of church festivals and ethnic neighborhoods, hunters′ breakfasts and firemen′s parades. Its children are raised in company houses - three rooms upstairs, three rooms down. Its ball club leads the coal company league. The twelve Baker mines offer good union jobs, and the looming black piles of mine dirt don′t bother anyone. Called Baker Towers, they are local landmarks, clear evidence that the mines are booming. Baker Towers mean good wages and meat on the table, two weeks′ paid vacation and presents under the Christmas tree.The mines were not named for Bakerton; Bakerton was named for the mines. This is an important distinction. It explains the order of things.Born and raised on Bakerton′s Polish Hill, the five Novak children come of age in wartime, a thrilling moment when the world seems on the verge of changing forever. The oldest, Georgie, serves on a mine sweeper in the South Pacific and glimpses life beyond Bakerton, a promising future he is determined to secure at all costs. His sister Dorothy, a fragile beauty, takes a wartime job in Washington D.C. and finds herself unprepared for city life. Brilliant Joyce longs to devote herself to something of consequence but instead becomes the family′s keystone, bitterly aware of the opportunities she might have had elsewhere. Her brother Sandy sails through life on looks and charm, and Lucy, the volatile baby, devours the family′s attention and develops a bottomless appetite for love.BAKER TOWERS is a family saga and a love story, a hymn to a time and place long gone, to America′s industrial past and the men and women we now call the Greatest Generation. This is a feat of imagination from an extraordinary new voice in American fiction, a writer of enormous power and skill.
The Maid's Version
By: Daniel Woodrell
Alma DeGeer Dunahew, the mother of three young boys, works as the maid for a prominent citizen and his family in West Table, Missouri. Her husband is mostly absent, and, in 1929, her scandalous, beloved younger sister is one of the 42 killed in an explosion at the local dance hall. Who is to blame? Mobsters from St. Louis? The embittered local gypsies? The preacher who railed against the loose morals of the waltzing couples? Or could it have been a colossal accident? Alma thinks she knows the answer-and that its roots lie in a dangerous love affair. Her dogged pursuit of justice makes her an outcast and causes a long-standing rift with her own son. By telling her story to her grandson, she finally gains some solace-and peace for her sister. He is advised to "Tell it. Go on and tell it"-tell the story of his family's struggles, suspicions, secrets, and triumphs.
By: Meg Wolitzer
From bestselling author Meg Wolitzer a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships. The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge. The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken. Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.
By: Kent Haruf
When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife must work together, along with their daughter, to make his final days as comfortable as possible, despite the bitter absence of their estranged son. Next door, a young girl moves in with her grandmother and contends with the memories that Dad’s condition stirs up of her own mother’s death. A newly arrived preacher attempts to mend his strained relationships with his wife and son, and soon faces the disdain of his congregation when he offers more than they are used to getting on Sunday mornings. And throughout, an elderly widow and her middle-aged daughter do all they can to ease the pain of their friends and neighbors.
Heading Out to Wonderful
By: Robert Goolrick
An attractive an engimatic stranger -- Charlie Beale, a longer recently home from the war in Europe -- wanders into the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village of only a few hundred people nestled in the Valley of Virginia. He brings with him two suitcases: one contains all his worldly possessions, including a set of butcher knives; the other is full of money.Charlie quickly finds a job at the local butcher shop and through his work there meets all the townspeople, most notably Sam Haislett, the five-year-old son of the shop's owner, and Sylvan Glass, the beautiful, eccentric teenage bridge of the town's richest man. What no one anticipates is how the interaction of these three people will alter the town forever, and how the passion that flares between Charlie and Sylvan will mark young Sam for life.Told through the eyes of Sam, now an older man looking back on that time, this much-anticipated second novel from Robert Goolrick is an exciting, erotically charged, and althogether unforgettable story of love gone terrible wrong in a place where once upon a time such things could happen.
We Live in Water
By: Jess Walter
The first collection of short fiction from New York Times bestselling author Jess Walter-a suite of diverse and searching stories about personal struggle and diminished dreams, all of them marked by the wry wit, keen eye, and generosity of spirit that has made him one of America's most talked-about writersWe Live in Water is a darkly comic, moving collection of stories, published over the last five years in Harper's, McSweeney's, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Non-Required Reading, Byliner, Playboy, and elsewhere. The stories veer from comic tales of love to social satire to suspenseful crime fiction, from hip Portland to once-hip Seattle to never-hip Spokane, from a condemned casino in Las Vegas to a bottomless lake in the dark woods of Idaho. This is a world of lost fathers and redemptive conmen, of meth tweakers on desperate odysseys and men committing suicide by fishing.In "Thief," an aluminum worker turns unlikely detective to solve the mystery of which of his kids is stealing from the family vacation fund. In "We Live in Water," a lawyer returns to a corrupt North Idaho town to find the father who disappeared thirty years earlier. In "Anything Helps," a homeless man has to "go to cardboard" to raise enough money to buy his son the new Harry Potter book. In "Virgo," a local newspaper editor tries to get back at his superstitious ex-girlfriend by screwing with her horoscope. Also included are the stories "Don't Eat Cat" and "Statistical Abstract of My Hometown, Spokane, Washington," both of which achieved a cult following after publication online.
The Round House
By: Louise Erdrich
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
By: Jennifer Haigh
A chameleon, an enigma, all things to all women -- a lifeline to which powerful needs and nameless longings may be attached -- Ken Kimble is revealed through the eyes of the women he seduces: Birdie, his first wife, struggling to hold herself together after his desertion; second wife, Joan, a lonely, tragic heiress who sees her unknowable husband as her last chance for happiness; and Dinah, a beautiful but damaged woman half his age.
The Death of Bees
By: Lisa O'Donnell
A riveting, brilliantly written debut novel-a coming-of-age story with the strong voice and powerful resonance of Swamplandia! and The Secret Life of Bees—in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents.Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst housing estate isn’t grand, they do have each other. Besides, it’s only one year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.As the new year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? But he’s not the only one who suspects something isn’t right. Soon, the sisters’ friends, their other neighbors, the authorities, and even Gene’s nosy drug dealer begin to ask questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other.