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ABC (Arroyo Book Club) Fiction Updated 01-25-20

Updated: January 25, 2020

This eclectic collection includes novels, poetry and plays, that have been read and discussed by members of the Arroyo Book Club.  Once a month they meet at the  Arroyo Seco Branch Library, and faithfully submit an annotation about the most recently read book.

Orwell, George, 1903-1950,
Call Number: Ed.m

Explore a grim, dystopian future with a government so in control of its people that it seeks to dictate how they think.  Written 70 years ago about an imagined 1984, the novel still provides warnings about social control and engineering techniques we have not yet avoided.

Doerr, Anthony, 1973-

Beautifully written, this story of a young blind French girl and a young German soldier, whose lives collide in France toward the end of the Nazi occupation. Watch their lives intersect in surprising ways as their fortunes are shaped by the people and world around them.

Chabon, Michael.
This book manages to explore the world of comic books, Jewish flight from World War II-era Europe, and the magic of escapism (think Houdini), among other things.

Gaiman, Neil.
This fantasy book explores the evolution of mythical archetypes as they are brought to America and transformed by the land and people that they find here. (Oh yeah, there is also a battle of the old vs. the new and much, much more.)

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Call Number: 822.33 A6Cr

Who’s really the villain in this overwrought tale of power and love? You decide.

Stein, Garth
See the trials and tribulations of a family through the eyes of their wise, in his own way, dog.  It is a tale filled with wry, surprisingly true observations.

Bloom, Amy, 1953-
This novel follows Lillian, an immigrant who comes to New York from Russia in the 1920s, but when she learns that her daughter is still alive, she travels overland to Alaska to find a ship, and hopefully, her daughter.

Miller, Frank, 1957-
Call Number: 740.914 M647-2 1996

The graphic novel credited with revolutionizing not only Batman, but all superhero comics. Miller takes a look at a Batman of the future, an old man who finds his world has passed him by, but fights on regardless. A biting, violent, disjointed take on Batman which demonstrates how a graphic novel can be as entertaining as any straight-up novel. Not a story for everyone, but an important work of comic history.

Conroy, Pat.

This seductively wordy novel touches on the tragedy of both WWII and the Vietnam War, while bringing to life a wonderful set of characters.

Mengestu, Dinaw, 1978-

This novel about an African immigrant and small business owner explores issues like gentrification, escaping the weight of the past, otherness in community, new and old relationships and more, all in clear, pellucid language.  

Anaya, Rudolfo A.
Call Number: Ed.f

Young Anthony Márez tells the tale of his boyhood, his friends, his religious stirrings, the events of his small community, and the wisdom of Ultima, a curandera who became his teacher, in this lyrical novel.

Saramago, Jose.

 Explore human nature in the face of adversity, in this disturbing, dystopian analysis of a society laid to waste by an epidemic.

Gregory, Philippa.
This historical novel takes you into the court of King Henry VIII through the viewpoints of Anne of Cleves, Katharine Howard, and Jane Boleyn.

Zusak, Markus.
The story of a girl in World War II as she is separated from her family, helps her foster family shield a Jew from the Nazis, and becomes a book thief.

Di?az, Junot, 1968-

Dominican Republic

Details the experiences of Oscar and his family and friends in New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, exposing you to a rich mix of the cultures in both locations.


Otsuka, Julie, 1962-

Explore the collective lives of a group of Japanese “picture brides” brought to the US in the early part of the 20th century.  Otsuka gives us a compelling yet wrenching tale of the immigrant experience in this novel.

Nahai, Gina Barkhordar.

Though both of Yaas' Iranian parents are Jewish, her father's upper class family is contemptuous of her mother, who comes from an impoverished community of South Tehran.  But the real challenge to her parents' marriage is her father's love for his beautiful Muslim mistress.  Hoping to spare her daughter the misery she endures, Yaas' mother expects her daughter to excel academically, but something prevents Yaas from grasping the basics of learning.

Rankine, Claudia
Call Number: 811 R2115-3

A personal work that uses a lyrical voice to describe the visceral impact of daily acts of racism. This is a difficult book, both thematically and stylistically, so be prepared to think.

Mitchell, David (David Stephen).
This is an ambitious novel that tells a dark tale of human nature spanning thousands of years and leaves the reader looking for small ways to make sure they try to either change or rise above that nature.

Toole, John Kennedy, 1937-1969.
This comic novel follows the adventures of the lazy Ignatius and his very put-upon mother as they stumble around the city of New Orleans.

Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865.
Call Number: Ed.o

Explore the lives of a group of small town, Victorian, English women as they, sometimes humorously, grapple with daily challenges in this episodic novel.  

The novel is available on e-Media.

Haddon, Mark.
A dog is murdered and someone has to find out what happened. Christopher, who is autistic, undertakes this task and in the process learns much more.

Allende, Isabel.

Pregnant and abandoned in Chile by her lover who is lured by the California gold rush, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Sommers heads to San Francisco herself.  Disguised as a boy, she spends four years searching for the man she thought she loved, all the while being guided and cared for by Tao Chi-en, a Chinese healer.This is a sweeping historical novel that follows the adventures of its heroine from her childhood in Chile to the gold fields of California as she searches for her first love.


Cather, Willa, 1873-1947.
Call Number: Ed.c

A spare narrative that spans the life of the missionary bishop to the territory of New Mexico.  It provides snapshot moments of a deeply contemplative life while inducing a yearning to explore the geography and see the sights of the southwest desert.

Coetzee, J. M., 1940-

This grim book explores the lives of a man and his daughter and the myriad meanings of disgrace in South Africa. It is a challenging book that lovers of literature will find rewarding.

Fallada, Hans, 1893-1947.

Can an ordinary citizen successfully fight against a repressive regime?  In this grim but rewarding book we follow a pair of such citizens in WWII Germany.

Ng, Celeste.

This slender debut novel is deceptively quiet and elegantly restrained on the surface, but packs a knock-out punch. The story of how and why teenager Lydia Lee, the beautiful, brilliant, best-loved child of a 1970's mixed-race Ohio family, meets her shocking death is much more than just a Midwestern mystery. Within her very specific rendering of one family's tragedy, author Celeste Ng illuminates America's poisonous history of racism, sexism, and homophobia, but never at the expense of a suspenseful plot and a compellingly original cast of characters.

Fforde, Jasper.
An adventure which alters the fate of the book Jane Eyre takes place in two worlds, one real and one (in some sense) meta.

Bradbury, Ray, 1920-2012,
Call Number: SF Ed.k
Bradbury’s classic tale of a dystopian society that has forgone reading to the point that a fireman’s job is to start fires (of books, and any buildings where books are found) still has much to say more than 60 years after it was published.

Ferraris, Zoe?.
The Saudi Arabian setting is what makes this mystery about the disappearance of a teenager stand out. Immerse yourself in the experience of day-to-day life in that country while enjoying a decently depicted mystery.

Larsson, Stieg, 1954-2004.

Perhaps the most famous of the current crop of Scandinavian psychological thrillers, this is the first of three novels pairing misunderstood genius Lisbeth Salander and determined journalist Mikael Blomkvist as they encounter violence and corruption to get to the bottom of a long-ago disappearance.

Roy, Arundhati.
This novel is a stylistically challenging Booker Prize Winner that depicts a series of events in a family in India. It is reminiscent of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

Stockett, Kathryn.

In 1962, three Mississippi women—two black maids and a young white woman from a privileged family with dreams of becoming a writer—fight back against the established racism of the South by publishing a tell-all book about the lives of black maids in their town. A firestorm erupts.

Allende, Isabel.
Call Number: Ed.d

If you are looking for a book with a complex, detail rich plot; with characters that show all the worst sides of humanity as well as characters who show moments of the goodness humanity can be capable of; and that still has room to share a larger lesson, then look no further than this engrossing tale.

Robinson, Marilynne.

Two young sisters have a succession of guardians growing up in the house their grandfather built in a remote western, mountain town in this powerfully poetic novel.

Urrea, Luis Alberto

All the men have left Tres Camarones for the United States, leaving its residents vulnerable to abuse from local bandidos. But after 19-year-old Nayeli watches The Magnificent Seven, she and her friends hatch a plan to take back their village.

Kidd, Sue Monk.

This book tells the tale of two women of the 19th century, Handful born a slave and Sarah born to a slave-owning family. The story follows their trials and tribulations across the early 1800s as Sarah grows into both an abolitionist and a feminist and Handful, horribly constrained by her circumstances, eventually makes the perilous quest for freedom.Handful and Sarah are two young women living in the same household, both desiring to find a place in the world. But these independent spirits have quite different obstacles: they are women in 19th-century South Carolina, and Handful is Sarah's slave.

Tan, Amy.
This book follows four immigrant Chinese mothers and their American born daughters in a series of vignettes that explore the impact of their life experiences on their familial relations.

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Call Number: 822.33 J9Du

Intrigue. Betrayal. Politics. Honor. Death. Find it all in this stirring tale of the last days of Julius Caesar as dramatized by William Shakespeare.

Kingsolver, Barbara.
This book follows William Shepherd, a man with a Mexican mother and an American father, as he experiences key events of the early 20th century in Mexico and in the United States. The roster of secondary characters includes Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, to name a few, and you learn a lot you didn't know about that period in history.

Perrotta, Tom, 1961-
A somewhat different version of the “post-apocalyptic” tale (seeing as it’s not clear that an apocalypse has actually occurred), this book follows a number of people recovering from a “left behind”-type event. It is an easy read.

Atkinson, Kate.

Ursula Todd has a habit of dying. She dies when she's born, in childhood accidents, in war, and yet, Ursula Todd seems to have an infinite number of lives, chances to correct her own missteps, and to intervene in the lives of others. As she follows many paths through the first half of the 20th century - as an English schoolgirl, an Air Raid Precautions worker during the Blitz, an expat in Munich, a miserable wife, and a mistress, among other things - the question presses: if Ursula can change the course of her own life, can she change history? Page-turning and wildly inventive, Life After Life is truly a book to get lost in. Atkinson explores the impact of circumstance on fortune and character by examining a reiterated life, an approach that leads to some deep philosophical, or maybe quantum mechanical, musing.

Martel, Yann.

Pi Patel, the teenage son of a zookeeper, emigrates with his family from India to America aboard a cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks and Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Pi’s fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with the tiger for 227 days lost at sea. 

Saunders, George, 1958-

A tale of Willie Lincoln’s first night after interment, his father’s grief, and their combined impact on a number of souls fighting against death. Hard to describe but fascinating to read.

Backman, Fredrik, 1981-
If you’re looking for an amusing but not light-hearted book, one that doesn’t shy away from what makes life grim and depressing, without leaving you feeling grim and depressed when you’ve finished the book, then this is the book for you. It tells the tale of a grumpy old man named Ove and what happens when new, kind of pushy, neighbors move in, a cat adopts him, and his old nemesis’ family needs help, just when he wants to end it all.

O'Brian, Patrick, 1914-2000.
Call Number: Ed.a

This richly detailed historical novel explores British naval life in the Napoleonic Era. The first of a 20-volume series, this book introduces the principal characters and paints a fascinating picture.

Moyes, Jojo, 1969-

Lou, a small-town British girl desperate to find a job, accepts a position assisting a wheelchair-bound young man. Will was recently paralyzed following an accident and he is angry and moody, but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves. Soon, she finds herself developing strong feelings for him, yet it turns out that Will has shocking plans of his own. Take out a tissue.

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Call Number: 822.33 M5Cr

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice asks you to choose between justice and mercy. Read it and decide which camp you fall in.

Morrison, Toni

This story follows Florens, who is sold away from her mother, Jacob, the man who buys Florens, and the women in his life, and provides a look at all the forces impinging on the lives of women in the late 1600s in America.

Melville, Herman, 1819-1891.
Call Number: Ed.x

Try the classic tale of obsession and all things whale. It is both interesting and informative and, of course, a requirement if you wish to seem well-read.

Lahiri, Jhumpa.

Born in Boston soon after his parents arrive from Calcutta, Gogul Ganguli grows up embracing American ways that are an affront to his family’s Bengali heritage. He even legally changes his given name, which his father had chosen to honor a Russian writer he credits with saving his life.The book is beautifully descriptive, capturing 30 years in brief, relevant snippets.

Flanagan, Richard, 1961-
Here is an expressively written book that tells the horrific story of Australian POWs working on the Thai-Burma Railway line for the Japanese during WWII. The nonlinear story drops in on its many characters at very different points in their lives before, during, and after the war. 

McCall Smith, Alexander, 1948-
Call Number: M
This linked set of stories follows Mma Precious Ramotswe as she sets up a detective agency in her native country of Botswana and begins solving cases.

Call Number: 883 H72Fa
Enjoy the classic tale of a man trying desperately to get home after war, a woman trying to keep her home intact, and a boy learning to be a man in the absence of his father.

Strout, Elizabeth.

This excellent series of what are essentially short stories, from a number of viewpoints, combine to give us a picture of a very human woman.

Shute, Nevil, 1899-1960.
Call Number: Ed.a
Looking for a book almost certain to make you cry? You’ve found it.

Gabaldon, Diana.
Call Number: Ed.d

A WWII nurse unexpectedly finds herself in Scotland at the time of the Jacobite uprising.  Trapped in the past she has one adventure after another and falls in love. Perfect for fans of historical fiction who like action and can get behind a bit of a romance

Clark, Walter Van Tilburg, 1909-1971.
Call Number: Ed.e

Explore questions of justice, violence, and the mob in this dissection of a lynching set in 19th century Nevada.

Butler, Octavia E.
Call Number: SF Ed.b

In a decaying America society, set in the not-too-distant future, 18-year-old empath Lauren Olamina leads a band of refugees from Southern to Northern California, sustained by belief in their new philosophy, Earthseed.

Follett, Ken.
Don't be put off by the size of this book. It is a compelling character-driven historical novel about a group of cathedral builders in England in the 1100s that will keep you turning pages until the end.

Sin, Ky?ng-suk.
An aging woman goes missing, spurring stories of love and guilt from her family in this South Korean novel.  An interesting choice of voice and a rich level of detail help bring depth to this universal human story. A mother's disappearance in a Seoul subway station elicits reflection on the part of her children, husband and the mother herself. The children and father suddenly realize how they have taken her for granted, and reminisce about the sacrifices made by the mother.

Irving, John, 1942-
Call Number: Ed.a
A man reflects on the miraculous life of his friend, and explores questions of faith, fate, and politics in this complex novel.

Ishiguro, Kazuo, 1954-
Call Number: Ed.c
 A man formerly lacking a certain amount of self-awareness, reflects on events from his past during a road trip in this evocative, thought-provoking novel.

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Call Number: 822.33 R3Cro
An ambitious man plots, schemes, and murders to reach his goal, only to face a haunted and inglorious end.

See, Lisa.
Follow the lives of a pair of women in 19th century China, and experience vicariously everything from the agony of foot binding to the atrocity of war.

Vásquez, Juan Gabriel, 1973-

A man investigates the death of an acquaintance, and in the process explores the experiences of a generation of Colombians impacted by Escobar and the drug trade.

Wroblewski, David.
Reviewers of this book commonly resort to describing it as Hamlet-esque - which may give you some hints as to plot elements. It is set in Wisconsin and follows the story of the mute Edgar as he grows up on a farm that breeds very special dogs.

McEwan, Ian.
 In this work a young woman takes on the task of encouraging a novelist to write in a secret service driven plan, to foment anti-communist cultural works… or so it seems.  

Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870.
Call Number: Ed.oo

 “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” We read Dickens' classic tale of a family and their friends caught up in the mill of vast societal changes.

Hurston, Zora Neale.
Call Number: Ed.g
This lyrically written novel follows the life of an African-American woman in Florida through the early part of the 20th century.

Maḥfūẓ, Najīb, 1911-2006.
Call Number: Ed.b

A recently released prisoner winds up on an ill-fated revenge quest in this stream of consciousness novel by Egyptian Nobel Winner Mahfouz.

Achebe, Chinua.
Call Number: Ed.c
This book, by an African, is about the life of the Igbo people around the time the British were busy colonizing the region. It provides a interesting, informative look at a people and a place.

Harding, Paul, 1967-
This book has a non-linear, vaguely magical-realist/transcendentalist plot and some incredibly beautiful descriptive language. An interesting book to try to puzzle out.

Azuela, Mariano, 1873-1952.
Call Number: Ed.a
This book takes a realistic and gritty look at a band of fighters during the Mexican Revolution.

Wister, Owen, 1860-1938.
Call Number: W Ed.r

This book is the prototype of the western genre. It paints a picture of Wyoming in the age of the cattle rancher and establishes a particularly American mythos.

Jin, Ha, 1956-
This is an intimate look at the relationship between a Chinese army doctor, his wife, and the woman he is in love with.

Le Guin, Ursula K., 1929-2018.
Call Number: x Ed.d
First in a renowned trilogy, this inventive volume traces the life of a young boy through his apprenticeship as a wizard and as he struggles to deal with a monster spawned by his own pride.

Fowler, Therese.

A biographical novel that explores the life of that ‘20s it couple, the Fitzgeralds.  Told from Zelda’s point of view, you’re left with a vivid picture of the damage that was done by the attitudes and beliefs from that time period.