When you can go to the beach year-round, it can be tough to get into the “beach reading” mindset, but the truth is that you can do summer reading anywhere: beach, poolside, backyard, airplane, even stuck in traffic on the 405 (as long as you’re not the driver, of course). These suggestions will keep you hitting the books through this summer and all the way into September, since we’re including a couple of titles that won’t be out till the kids are back in school.
We’ve selected current and recent fiction by authors who have lived in Southern California at one time or another; in some cases–but not all–their characters and stories live here too. For your convenience, we’ve listed the available formats for each title, and provided the publication dates for those you’ll find in the “new releases” section of your favorite bookstore or local library.
A finalist for the 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, Eric Puchner’s Model Home follows the rise and fall of the Ziller family, whose California dream dies at the hands of a bad real-estate investment. Their forced move from their ocean-view home in Rancho Palos Verdes to the abandoned Antelope Valley housing development that wiped them out sounds a bit like the premise of the TV show Arrested Development, but Puchner’s depiction of the Zillers has been called “funny, heartbreaking, and thoroughly original.”
The Barbarian Nurseries
A timely novel propelled by the economic and multicultural stresses of life in and around Los Angeles, The Barbarian Nurseries depicts the misadventures of a Mexican maid and her employers. Financial setbacks have escalated tensions in the Torres-Thompson household, and one morning after an argument, Araceli discovers that she’s alone in the house with the family’s two young sons. Unsure of what to do, she takes them into central L.A., searching for the boys’ grandfather. Author Hector Tobar is a native Angeleno and a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and this is his widely-praised second novel, winner of the 2012 California Book Award for Fiction.
When The Killing’s Done
Santa Barbara resident T.C. Boyle has set his most recent novel in the Channel Islands. Tracing the escalating conflict between a National Park Service biologist and a local animal-rights activist over the management of native species, When The Killing’s Done blends elements of environmental adventure and legal thriller, and is this year’s selection for Thousand Oaks’ “One City, One Book” reading program.
The First Husband
Laura Dave’s third novel, The First Husband, reflects the attempts of her narrator, travel columnist Annie Adams, to explain how she ended up married to a chef she met in a Santa Monica bar just days after her live-in boyfriend of over five years told her, on the advice of his “futures consultant,” that he needed “a break” from their relationship. Annie has surprised herself, and the surprises continue throughout this smart, amusing, well-observed novel.
How to Be an American Housewife
San Diego resident Margaret Dilloway’s debut novel is drawn from a true story–her own mother’s. Suiko O’Brien brought a book with her from Japan to San Diego, a gift from her new American-soldier husband–he didn’t realize that The American Way of Housekeeping, written in both English and Japanese by the “Women of the Occupation” in Japan, was meant to help eliminate the communication barrier between American housewives and their Japanese maids and not for housewives themselves. Fictionalizing and reshaping the book according to her father’s misunderstanding–turning it into an instruction manual called How to Be an American Housewife–Dilloway uses it as a framing device for the novel.
Coming later this summer, also by this author
The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns
Hardcover (publication date: August 2, 2012)
Dilloway’s second novel, The Care and Handling of Roses With Thorns, will be out next month, and it explores some new territory. Her protagonist, Gal Garner, is already challenged by life with a chronic illness, a full-time job, and an ambitious rose-breeding project when her teenaged niece arrives unexpectedly and shakes up both of their lives.
So LA is the first novel by Northern California native/Southern California transplant Bridget Hoida, and reflects her exploration of the “L.A. Woman” and the city’s particular beauty culture as an academic and literary subject. Hoida executes this ambition with flair and humor through her story of fellow SoCal transplant Magdalena de la Cruz and her attempts to transform herself into a “geographically appropriate bombshell” as she seeks an escape from her unraveling marriage and the traumatic death of her younger brother.
by Maggie Shipstead
Hardcover, e-book, audiobook
Orange County native Maggie Shipstead’s debut novel, Seating Arrangements, is emphatically not an “L.A. story”–the action takes place three thousand miles away, during a wedding weekend in New England. In this social satire/comedy of manners, she brings an observant outsider’s perspective to her portrayal of the culture and mating habits of America’s WASP-iest WASPs.
The Age of Miracles
San Diego native Karen Thompson Walker now lives in Brooklyn, and wrote part of her first novel, The Age of Miracles, during her morning subway commute to her day job, but she placed the story in her hometown. A work of speculative fiction that explores the physical and psychic effects of a sudden, unexplained slowing of the earth’s rotation through the eyes of teenaged Julia, the novel has strong crossover potential between adult and young-adult readers.
The Next Best Thing
Philadelphia native Jennifer Weiner’s tenth book was inspired by the year she spent living and working in Los Angeles as co-creator and executive producer of the short-lived ABC Family series State of Georgia, and her insider experience informs the story of Ruthie Saunders. After six years in Hollywood writers’ rooms, Ruthie finally gets a sitcom picked up and is tapped as showrunner, but she may find that having her dreams come true is not exactly a dream come true.
The Forgetting Tree
Southern California native Tatjana Soli set her first novel, The Lotus Eaters, in Vietnam, but comes closer to home for her second. The Forgetting Tree is a family saga that follows the tribulations of the Baumsarg clan, California citrus ranchers devoted to the land but struggling with one another, and with the caretaker who joins them when matriarch Claire is forced into a fight for her very life.
Antoine Wilson’s Panorama City traces 28-year-old Oppen Porter’s forty-day odyssey of self-determination across the San Fernando Valley as he records the story for the benefit of his unborn son. The novel was presented as an “Editors’ Buzz” book for Fall at Book Expo America 2012, and is described by its publisher–oddly but intriguingly–as “heir to Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Steve Martin’s The Jerk.”
Florinda Pendley Vasquez blogs primarily but not exclusively about books at The 3 R’s Blog: Reading, ‘Riting, and Randomness, and has several of the books mentioned here in her out-of-control TBR (To Be Read) collection already.