Reading Rainbow: New Works From Local Authors
Immerse yourself in history and romance, friendship and self-discovery, and even allergy-friendly cooking in a range of recent books from area authors.
While many of us have spent the colder months tucked under a blanket with a good book, our local writers have been busily preparing their next best sellers. Get your reading stack ready for summer vacation by picking up these recent releases.
After reading just five brief lines of Allie Larkin’s new book, Swimming for Sunlight (April, Atria), we were hooked. The acclaimed author of Stay and Why Can’t I Be You treats her characters with such attention to emotion that readers can’t help but care deeply about them from page one. Plus, as Larkin fans might guess, an adorable pup plays a key role in her newest story. Returning to her grandmother’s home newly divorced, Katie needs to deal with anxieties she’s battled since childhood. Barkimedes, her rescue dog, has his own internal turmoil that cripples him with terror—though, of course, he just wants to be a good boy. They’ll have to work together to overcome their fears, with the help of Grandma’s friends, who once performed as mermaids. Pooch people, call your book clubs: There’s a new must-love dog in the neighborhood, thanks to Contra Costa County resident Larkin’s heartening and humorous tale.
Palo Alto writer Yangsze Choo has had an awfully good year. In the winter, shooting began for Netflix’s TV adaptation of her much-loved 2013 debut novel, The Ghost Bride, and Flatiron Books published her new novel, The Night Tiger.Then, Amazon named The Night Tiger a “spotlight pick” and Reese Witherspoon selected it for her book club. Set in 1930s Malaysia, the tale follows apprentice dressmaker Ji Lin as she moonlights as a dance hall girl to help free her mother of debt. Her story turns when she finds a peculiar item left behind by a dance partner—the very object that a young houseboy is seeking to save his master’s soul. This mysterious, transporting book promises some wild twists along with Choo’s beautiful writing.
Mitali Perkins’s 2017 young-adult (YA) novel, You Bring the Distant Near, was nominated for the National Book Award (among other honors). The Orinda-based author’s newest, Forward Me Back to You (April; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), delivers another thoughtful read. Teens Katina, a jujitsu champion from Northern California, and Robin, an orphan adopted from Kolkata, meet on a service trip to India. With her openhearted, entertaining style of writing, Perkins tenderly explores the healing powers of friendship in this moving novel that spans borders and generations.
Characters reckon with culture and tradition to find their identities in Oakland author Aida Salazar’s first novel, which is aimed at middle schoolers. The Moon Within (February, Scholastic) is an engaging coming-of-age story that’s written, ambitiously, in verse. Celi, an 11-year-old living in East Oakland, is expecting her first period and worried about the moon ceremony—an ancestral Mexican tradition—that her mother wants to throw for her. Meanwhile, young Magda/Marco struggles with gender identity in this tale of friendship and trust. Salazar’s way with story and language sets her up as a major force in youth literature.
This year brings an opportunity to catch up on two of Nina LaCour’s novels: Her latest, We Are Okay, and her debut, Hold Still, were recently reissued by Penguin—the first in paperback with a new foreword, and the second with an added author’s note reflecting on the story’s origins. LaCour, who lives in Martinez, exhibits a mastery of language and mood that will impress readers of any age as she tackles complicated issues with her stunning prose. We Are Okay won the 2018 Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in YA literature. In it, first-year college student Marin must confront her pre-college life—and grief from a tragedy—when she finds herself alone over winter break with an estranged friend/flame. Let the novel reel you in with its honesty, taut dialogue, and poetic writing. Then, take a look back at LaCour’s breakout novel from 10 years ago, Hold Still, which tackles a young woman’s pain and search for meaning following her friend’s suicide. This tightly written novel (again YA, and again, don’t let that stop you) addresses loss and grief with a powerful first-person perspective and realistic, punchy dialogue—and a great understanding of what it means to be young and left behind. LaCour’s lyrical work makes for two engrossing page-turners.
All this reading making you hungry? Eat What You Love (December 2018, Ten Speed Press), by the New York Times best-selling author Danielle Walker, delivers gluten-free, paleo, and dairy-free comfort-food recipes, helping those on restricted diets (not to mention everyone else) whip up creative, colorful, easy dishes. Learn to re-create classics like lasagna, sloppy Joes, and gooey chicken potpie without triggering anyone’s allergies. We recommend starting the day with Walker’s scrumptious and safe ricotta-filled pancakes. Rotate them with banana-chocolate-hazelnut French toast for a happy brunch (or book club) crowd.
Most (if not all) of these works can be found at local independent shops such as Orinda Books, Flashlight Books in Walnut Creek, Pleasanton’s Towne Center Books, Danville’s Rakestraw Books, and A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland.