We’re always on the lookout for books that strike a chord with our readers. In our New & Notable series you’ll find picks that appeal to our editors and that we can’t help but share. This week we’re captivated by place-based fiction—novels that speak to our impact as individuals on the small towns, and even the large cities, where we live. And, in turn,  these novels show us how these places influence our own lives.  Amy Hill Hearth takes us to Naples, Florida; T.C. Boyle transports us to Southern California; and Zadie Smith transplants us to northwest London.  


Fiction | Women – Naples, Florida

Amy Hill Hearth’s Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society takes place in 1962, when Jackie Hart and her family move from Boston to Naples, Florida. There, Jackie is eager to do more than merely keep house, so she starts a book club with some locals, including a divorcée, a convicted murderer, a gay man, and a black woman. Then a mysterious personality by the name of Miss Dreamsville hits the radio waves and captures the people’s hearts. This new doyenne of the airwaves is, of course, Jackie, but she keeps her identity secret. Everything moves along swimmingly until local Klansmen decide to take action against the diverse and tolerant literary club. Despite dealing with some heavy subjects—race, sexuality, and the fickleness of appearances, among them—Hearth deftly manages a funny and charming fiction debut. (Excerpted from Publisher’s Weekly, August 27, 2012)


“Segregation, feminism, gays coming out, interracial dating, it’s all in there, written as it happened in small towns everywhere. And wisdom; you could learn a lot about life from reading this book. Most of all, be daring, be friends, be true to yourself. By the end, I cried and I must say, I wouldn’t mind hearing more about each of the richly painted characters.” —Patricia Harman, author of  The Midwife of Hope River; Arms Wide Open; A Midwife’s Journey; and The Blue Cotton Gown.


Fiction | Women – Southern California

On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories are the subject of T. C. Boyle’s haunting new novel, San Miguel. Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year’s Day 1888 to restore her failing health.  Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran, Marantha strives  to persevere in the face of the hardships of living in such brutal isolation. Two years later their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity to escape the captivity her father has imposed on her.  And then in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy.  As the years go on they find a measure of fulfillment and serenity. But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression? (Excerpted from Viking Adult, Publisher.)


“In his latest novel, this prolific man of letters focuses on one of his most engaging subjects: the inner lives of women . . . Boyle devotes meticulous attention to the unforgiving weather and the challenges of sheer survival, to the mute compromises of marriage and to the unspoken experience of all women who rage, endure, and prevail.” –More magazine


Fiction | Women – London, UK

NW, by Zadie Smith, is the story of the northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between. Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds. Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners—Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan—as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Depicting the modern urban zone—familiar to town-dwellers everywhere—Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself. (Excerpted from Penguin Press, Publisher.)


Endlessly fascinating . . . remarkable . . . . The impression of Smith’s casual brilliance is what constantly surprises, the way she tosses off insights about parenting and work that you’ve felt in some nebulous way but never been able to articulate.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

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  • Sarah September 22, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Love these book suggestions – thank you

    I recommend ‘Beautiful Ruins’ and anything written Jonathan Tropper 😉

    Think I’ll stay in bed today and read 😉