Jane Ciabattari

Jane Ciabattari is the author of the short-story collections Stealing The Fire and California Tales. Her reviews, interviews, and cultural reporting have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Daily Beast, the Paris Review, the Boston Globe, The Guardian, Bookforum, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and BBC.com among others. She is a current vice president/online and former president of the National Book Critics Circle.

Family secrets, life-changing betrayals and the paradox of wondering about the old country while belonging to the new are at the heart of Amy Tan's work. She enthralled readers of her phenomenally successful first novel, The Joy Luck Club (1989), with the interlocking stories of four Chinese-born mothers and their four California-born daughters. Tan followed up with equally enduring portraits of fierce immigrant mothers who withheld secrets of the past while pushing their daughters forward in The Kitchen God's Wife (1991), and The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001).

The legendary minimalist short story writer Raymond Carver distilled the last decade of his life in his poem "Gravy." "Gravy, these past ten years," he writes. "Alive, sober, working, loving, and being loved by a good woman."

Samantha Shannon is being touted as the new J. K. Rowling. She's 21, a fresh graduate of Oxford, where she was a student when she wrote The Bone Season, the first in a projected seven-novel urban fantasy series. She's got a film deal with the new London studio set up by Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame, and she's been courting booksellers, book reviewers, and fantasy fans for more than a year.

It's tricky when a book arrives with such preliminary brouhaha. I've learned to scrub my mind of hype and leave it to the text. The proof is in the reading.

Claire Messud's cosmopolitan sensibilities infuse her fiction with a refreshing cultural fluidity. Her first novel, When the World Was Steady (1995), followed two midlife sisters in search of new beginnings, one in Bali and the other on the Isle of Skye. In her second novel, The Last Life (1999), a teenager reacting to a family crisis pondered her father's origins in Algeria and southern France, and her mother's New England roots.

When Fiona Maazel published her first novel, Last Last Chance, in 2008, her frenetic imagination and sharply etched characters earned her a spot on the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 authors list. Her 29-year-old narrator, Lucy, was heading into her seventh stretch in rehab; Maazel filtered her addiction, grief, self-involvement and fear through a scrim of dark humor.

There's a comic overlay to her second, even more frenzied and inventive novel, Woke Up Lonely. But the tilt toward pathos is stronger.