What We’re Reading


What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

By the Buried Life (Jonnie Penn, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Ben Mentin) When my middle-aged friend gave middle-aged me a copy of What Do You Want To Do Before You Die? I thought, “this is a bunch of boys running around on road trips. It sounds like fun, but I don’t have time for [...]

The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling

This extremely likable debut detective novel by JK Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) features an up-to-the-minute rant on celebrity, a standard-issue schlubby-but-brilliant detective-with-a-past with a twist, his winsome gal Friday, and a cast of well-drawn, semi-unsavory people as suspects/bad actors. The sympathetic characters get even better treatment, and everyone’s lives are satisfyingly messy, detailed, and [...]

Swamplandia!

Swamplandia!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell explores family, peer pressure, hell and the occult. But what struck me most is how the story speaks of ignorance and innocence. Throughout Swamplandia!, author Karen Russell leads the reader along the fine line between fantasy and reality. The Bigtree family has created their own history (they’re not Native Americans, but their [...]

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

This novel is a linked set of stories about the life and children of Hattie, a black woman brought up in the South who moves to Philadelphia as a young girl, marries young and pregnant, and has 11 kids. The book starts in 1925 and ends in 1980, and is a vivid saga of damage, [...]

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I picked up a copy of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout several months ago, read about twenty pages, and put it down. I didn’t like it. It seemed cold and sad. But it won a Pulitzer, for god’s sake, so I put it on the shelf, thinking there must be something worthwhile in it and maybe [...]

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Written as a glossed self-help book, this hilarious and hard-hearted book by Moshin Hamid is both cynical and hopeful; it’s a love story and a cautionary tale, told by a master writer/observer. We follow the ascent of a smart, hard-working boy, who rises from his origins in a dusty village of an unnamed Asian country [...]

Black Water Rising

Black Water Rising

There’s a place somewhere between the overdone, show-off prose of some “literary” fiction, and the merely serviceable, pulp genre stuff. In either case, the language can kick you out of the story. “That’s a beautiful sentence!” you think. Or “This is godawful stuff.” It doesn’t matter which, because the same thing happens. For a moment, [...]

Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut

Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut

Salma Abdelnour spends a year in Beirut, the city she fled with her parents at age nine, contemplating the meaning of “home” as she ponders whether to resettle there. The book begins tilted much towards an Eat Pray Love style personal confessional but gradually gives way to a broader picture of Beirut, the Middle East [...]

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon

Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon

A taut thriller set in Istanbul just after WWII, Istanbul Passage features a compelling compact narrative, an intriguing multinational and fully drawn cast of characters, and moody musings on morality and patriotism. The clipped dialogue, à la Robert MItchum, may be a deal breaker for some, but it’s worth sticking with as the action becomes [...]

Americashire

Americashire

Lately I’ve been reading memoirs. It surprises me that I like them so much because I tend to read novels, and because I write fiction. I can’t imagine writing my own memoir. Too many people are still around to find out about it and hate me for it. I suppose I could sugarcoat it but [...]

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Maude Woods - Opening October 22nd in Pasadena

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Camelot and Vine

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