Re-reading your childhood diaries is usually cause for embarrassment (after all, the Mortified series wouldn't exist without them). But for Heidi Julavits, they served as the inspiration to keep a new diary, which chronicles her fortysomething life as a writer, mother, and wife. The result is The Folded Clock, an unusual take on a memoir that veers between past and present, encompassing everything from her love of The Bachelorette to the end of her first marriage. Equal parts funny, searching, and sad, it's the kind of book that prompts you to reexamine the simplest daily routines in your own life.
Appearances: Make-Out Room, 4/23
You don't have to be an expert on the Vietnam War to appreciate the moral dilemma at the heart of Viet Thanh Nguyen's critically lauded The Sympathizer. It's the gripping story of a North Vietnamese spy who's spent the war posing as a South Vietnamese captain, sending coded communications back to his Communist brethren. But when Saigon falls, he follows his "compatriots" to a new life in the U.S., where he's torn between the two sides. Equal parts scathing satire and engaging spy thriller, it probes fascinatingly into a war that's had its cultural history written by the country that lost it.
Northern California's own Christian Kiefer is getting big-time notice for his second novel, The Animals, which focuses on Bill, a former criminal who's reformed his life by running a remote Idaho animal sanctuary and beginning a relationship with the town veterinarian. But when his cohort is released from jail and hunts him down, seeking revenge, he must desperately try to conceal his past from everyone around him. The book is told in alternating chapters between Bill's past and present, building to the revelation of his betrayal—one which could cost him the entire new existence he's built.