Book Critic Ellen Heltzel stopped by with her picks for the best fiction out right now.
1. "The Plover," by Brian Doyle. Portland writer Doyle takes us to sea in an old fish trawler in this lovely story about a crusty loner bent on a solo voyage who ends up with a friend and his handicapped daughter on board. There's something elemental about the sea as a story backdrop -- think "The Life of Pi," "The Old Man and the Sea," etc. -- that puts life in focus. This sea yarn does the trick. John Donne had it right: No man is an island -- even in vast Pacific.
2. "Skookum Summer," by Jack Hart. Here's a mystery wrapped around the logging business and small-town life as they once existed all over the Pacific Northwest. A journalist has returned in tale-between-legs fashion to his hometown in Washington State. Working for the local paper, he tracks the murder of a logger, with environmental activists the prime suspects. The best part of this whodunit is the atmosphere and Hart's ability to write with precision about a vanishing lifestyle.
3. ""Problems with People," by David Guterson. The author of "Snow Falling on Cedars" never writes the same book twice. This new collection of short stories, very good ones by the way, offers a chance to advocate for his latest novel, which came out a few years ago: "Ed King," a.k.a. "Oedipus Rex." This version of the Greek classic is set in Portland and the land of Microsoft. Sharply observed, funny, it deserves a lot more attention than the East Coast literati gave it when it first came out.
4. "China Dolls," by Lisa See. See continues her novels about women of Chinese heritage with this look at San Francisco in the late 1930s and '40s. Three women meet while auditioning to become nightclub dancers. Their friendship transcends many barriers and is interwoven with the internment of the Japanese during World War II. In the meantime See's research gives us a good grasp of the customs and outlook of a tightly knit Chinese immigrant community.
5. "The Book of Unknown Americans," by Cristina Henriquez. Like "The Plover," this novel involves a girl mentally impaired following in a traffic accident In this story, Henriquez introduces us to a cast of fictional Latinos, in particular a teenage boy who falls in love with a girl who suffered permanent brain damage in her native Mexico, an event that precipitated her parents' decision to go to the U.S. This Romeo-and-Juliet story illustrates the hope and urgency that sends some people over the border, sometimes with tragic results.