Contemporary Fiction: Thao Thai, Matthew Norman, and Linda Holmes

Will you look at this! I enjoyed three contemporary fiction novels, and none of them were set in New York City! One is set in Florida, one is Baltimore, and one is Maine. How did lightning strike three times in a row?

The novel set in Florida is Banyan Moon, by Thao Thai. This is a beautifully-written, descriptive, drama-laden book about family love and secrets. Yes, it’s another three generations of women book, but this one, focused on a Vietnamese-American family who immigrated to the U.S. after the Vietnam War, really stands out. It opens with Ann, an illustrator in her twenties who is living in Michigan and hasn’t been home to Florida to see her mother and grandmother in years. When Ann’s mother calls her to tell her her grandmother has died, Ann immediately drops out of her glamorous new life to go to Florida and live in her grandmother’s falling-apart mansion with her mother while they wind up the estate. The first chapter is told in third person and includes all three of them, but after that the chapters alternate in first-person points of view between the three women. This is about the search for self and how much of the past should be left behind. Banyan Moon is an atmospheric and thoughtful read.

Set in Baltimore, Matthew Norman’s novel Charm City Rocks taught me that Baltimore, Maryland is also known as Charm City. The more you know! Billy Perkins is a music teacher who lives above a record shop, and his son, a senior in high school, gets the idea to set him up with his decades-old crush, drummer Margot Hammer who played for an all-girl band called Burnt Flowers. Margot now lives in New York and has been drifting since her band broke up over a decade ago. When she arrives in Baltimore and she and Billy meet, they both find ways to move forward with their lives. I really enjoyed the two main characters, who kept telling themselves they were fine but never realized how much happier they could be. The minor characters also stood out, and added a lot of texture to the story. This is about love, relationships, recognizing when you’re stuck, and moving on. The setting was terrific, and all the details about music enhanced this feel-good novel.

Flying Solo is Linda Holmes’ second novel set in Maine. If you’ve ever wanted to read a book with duck decoys in it, this one’s for you! This story is about Laurie, who grew up in a small town in Maine but moved out to the West coast as soon as she possibly could. Laurie always sought quiet and self-sufficiency. As a child, she would escape her loud, chaotic household (four brothers with big personalities!) by going to her Aunt Dot’s house where she had her very own room for visits and sleepovers. After Dot’s death, Laurie’s family gathers together and it’s clear that Laurie’s going to be the one who will spend time in Maine going through Dot’s house. An unexpected find leads to discoveries about Dot’s inner life that Laurie never suspected. In response, Laurie begins to consider and evaluate her life choices. This is a book about friendship, family, and how to be a person in the world.

Other contemporary fiction books include:

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson

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