Beth Reynolds has been a bookseller for 20-plus years, 15 of them at the Norwich Bookstore. She spends her weekdays in the children's section of the Norwich Public Library, but on Saturdays you can find her here, helping a child find the perfect birthday present or recommending books to adults looking to get lost in a good read.
Ozeki’s latest shifts from multiple points of view, we even get to hear from the book itself. And in these pages there is beauty and sorrow, coincidence and happenstance. It left me wanting my own constellation tattoo and my own personal snow globe. So much of her writing pierced right through me, and passages I identified with made me feel as if it were written just for me. But don’t the best books know just how to do this, to make you feel special, as if you might be the only reader in the world? A mother/son story about grief and loss and finding your own place in the world by learning to quiet the noise that can often threaten to take away our own voices. A love letter to libraries, books, and the story each of us has within us. - Beth
The collaboration between two of my favorite authors was more than I could have wished for. This story-in-emails has you on the edge of your seat, following twists and turns, hoping for the best for this brother and sister pair. You can feel all the heart and compassion that went into the writing of this story. Young adult novels often offer me a chance to connect deeply with the characters. This one left me with a whole slew of emotions, yet feeling hopeful for the future and families that reinvent themselves, supporting each other when life proves difficult. This is one to read and pass on to your favorite teen. Let's hope we have more to look forward to from this talented pair. - Beth
I have come to the realization that we need more suspenseful cozies like this one. Glad to report the sequel is just as good as the first and going back to spend time with this foursome is an utter delight. I love the twists, the back and forth of the banter, and, of course, Elizabeth always gets her person. Uncovering more details about everyone’s lives and their connections to others is a real treat, but my favorite part is Joyce’s instagram account. It just goes to show that some writers pay attention to details and spending time in the worlds they create is the best way to spend an afternoon. You can’t help but be charmed by this witty whodunit. - Beth
As someone who still cannot resist picking up things on a walk in the woods or a trip to the beach, this new book felt like the story I have been waiting for, for such a long time. Covering the lives of several naturalists we see what their activities were like as children and how that came to inform their passions and careers as adults. Inspiring and informative, this beautiful book could be the entryway to a number of deeper dives to learn more about these individuals. Or it could be a way to entice someone outside to look for treasures of their own. Don’t be surprised if more rocks and feathers make their way into your home, sometimes it’s hard to pass up that exquisite offering. Natural beauty has a pull and lure all its own---I love that this book celebrates that joy! - Beth
Like a friend who sends you verses she wrote on napkins while busy with life, but needing to honor the words when they come, Maggie always has just what you need to inspire or to commiserate. She knows there is beauty all around and sometimes you have to dig a bit through the muck to uncover it. I saw some goldenrod at the beach and this book instantly sprang to mind. The poems inside it are like the items you carry in your first aid kit---always have them nearby just in case you need some words to get you through. Pick it up and read a few, guaranteed to start your heavy heart beating again. - Beth
While Tieghan’s blog is a delight, and her instagram pictures make me swoon every single time, having her cookbook on the shelf has proven itself somewhat essential. A perfect housewarming present or a little encouragement for a friend who finds themselves in the never ending chicken-for-dinner loop, again. Maybe you’ve sworn off cookbook buying, but there’s always room for one more. Especially one as beautiful and inspiring as this one. - Beth
An ambitious and sweeping novel that will pick you up and transport you to another time and place. So much research and work went into the making of it, and it shows in the breadth and depth of the storylines and the characters. As with any enormous undertaking, there are the doubts of a writer, but also the doubts of a publisher that a big book can find an audience in this day and age. Still it is a truth universally acknowledged that a big book written with dedication and commitment will always have my heart. I promise that it will take you "away away away" as surely as if Marian Graves flew you there herself.
A memoir that gives us the intersection of past and present, in a "make a goal and do crazy, goofy, flip-your-life-upside-down things to meet it." When Trent goes home to see his dying father, he inherits his toolbox and so starts his boat-building journey. We see how complicated life can be with parents who aren't as accepting as you'd hoped they'd be, but we also get a glimpse of what it was like to grow up on a ranch in South Dakota.There were moments that touched me deeply: visiting the tree he planted as a child, finding a supply place that lets him honor the memory of his sister, and discovering a new relationship with his mother. Throughout it all, the old life and new one in New York weave together to forge the way to the future. I learned so much about dedication to craft, the power of hands, the desire for creation. and that where you lived helped to form you, but we can always reprioritize what matters most. Inspirational for sure, but more than that, it pulled me out of my own sludgy quicksand.
It always amazes me when the tiniest glimpse into a person's life starts to feel like a door opening up to show all that lies beyond. To step through shows us a life, a family, a country, a culture-- different than ours but similar in the ways that matter most. One of those universalities is dealing with loss and how we handle a parent's absence. Reading this beautifully written memoir also begs the questions: Walking into the land of grief, what will we take with us, what will we be carrying when we return?
Having spent so much time outdoors this past year, this book was a welcome surprise. These little essay-ettes can be read several at a time, but skipping around when the mood strikes is what I'd recommend. Each of them are
delicate and strong in the way of spider webs and silk. The way she weaves nature facts in and amongst personal stories is a wonder and a delight. (Bonus: you'll learn some facts along the way.)The delicately colored sketches add another depth and dimension to an already gorgeous book. Perfectly gift-worthy for anyone, anywhere, for occasions both big and small.
So much color and emotion on the page. It's what drew me to it in the first place, which then gave me a start to processing what this past year has truly been like for me. Simply spending some time with this book reminded me how much I love works that connect me to other people and other experiences. (A particular favorite is her list of favorite moments in NYC---truly magical!) There's a full range of emotions explored here and listening to Mari read her own work for the audiobook was the voice that I needed to keep me company as the world sometimes felt too much. In the end I felt inspired to pull out my own paints, to brush some color on a paper and write some thoughts. May this book be a spark for your own creativity.
How would I sum up this book? Would I say: it’s about motherhood in Maine, raising teenage boys, and the struggle between self and parent. Or that it’s about a woman trying to balance her husband’s boating accident and her son’s needs, knowing that the future will soon change as they graduate and leave. I would certainly tell you that it’s deeply personal and personable, as if you’re having a conversation with a friend. It’s also deceptively simple. It takes real talent to produce such a book, one that bear’s witness to the dailiness of life, both affirming our existence and giving us an intimate glimpse into someone else’s life so that we do not feel so alone. It seems almost easy to create a fictional, fantastical world, but writing about dailiness in a way that compels us to keep turning the pages is a real gift.
It takes courage to write from such an honest place, especially one so close to death. But Suleika’s memoir captures that feeling in walking the tightrope across that liminal place. Her disease introduced her to a new world and a new way of being; a fierceness for life, but also a deep desire for connection and community. Last March Suleika started The Isolation Journals, which now offers weekly prompts for writing and reflection. It’s one of the ways I’ve stayed sane this past year, and I appreciated the chance to read her book and discover more about this woman who has offered me some hope in such uncertain times. Now more than ever, we need those books that help guide us through and blaze a brave path forward into the future.
How lucky for us these two talented creators came together for another amazing collaboration. Like Market Street, this story takes us on another journey, surrounded by interesting people. As Milo imagines the lives being led by the other passengers, we get a glimpse into the stories he creates. While there is a traumatic issue at the center of the book, the real focus is on the assumptions we sometimes make about others. True confession-- I will jump over a string of cars to get my hands on a Christian Robinson book. And while this is a deeply personal book for him, his playfulness and joy shine through in his artwork. (and Milo’s!)
You only think this is a book. What it really is, is the author’s heart wrapped up and given to us. Whatever you think this story is about, I promise you it’s so much more. Yes, it captures the essence of a certain time and place, but it’s also about a woman, a culture, the restrictions of a society and how they impress upon and shape us. It’s about a family, but ultimately about life. And a boy. One you root for and hope not just for survival but for the chance to flourish and grow into himself.
Two time Caldecott award winner, Sophie Blackall, has created an almost perfect picturebook. Between the stunning imagery and the intentionality of her words, it resonates deeply. It features the inclusivity that our children need, illustrating many of the different ways of being and moving through the world. I found it almost impossible to pick a favorite page, though I loved the tubes of paint, the animals and the one that included RBG. A wonderful gift for any one, any age, any where.
I could not love this book more if it got down on one knee and proposed. This story of a group of seniors at an assisted living center solving a mystery is that interesting combination of delightful and insightful. This is the book your bedside table has been longing for. If you’ve been on the lookout for something that is charming, witty and a distraction from the world as we know it--- the hunt is over!
Reading YA is a chance to connect with characters at a point in their lives before the world is broken open. When meeting someone new is the opportunity to unexpectedly learn more about ourselves on the cusp of adulthood. Jennifer Niven’s new book incorporates personal details from her own life, which helps to create this beautiful new offering that is raw and honest and more insightful than I have read in a long time. The ending is heartfelt and true, it crystallizes the story in a way that lets the reader treasure the time spent in these pages. The audio is fabulous and a wonderful companion to any activity.
Joining some of our other favorite duos, like Frog and Toad, Wallace and Grommit, this pair is perched to take their place as your new favorite. Perfect as a read aloud, this early chapterbook somehow manages to be equally entertaining for both the reader and the listener. Timberlake has created such personable characters, and the images from beloved illustrator, Jon Klassen, just add to the charm. This book is the whole package, hearkening back to a previous time when physical books were created with exquisite little details. I can only hope we get to see more books like this one as we eagerly await another adventure. Quite simply---I adored it!
I’ll admit, I was smitten with the latest Little Women movie remake. I swooned over the clothes, and found Jo’s words about writing and independence ringing in my ears for weeks after. Reading this reimagining I feel as if I’ve been reunited with long lost friends. Jo’s dilemma in writing the sequel and the sacrifices she makes for her art has given me more to muse upon. But more importantly, it’s given me a chance to leave my own head for awhile. The narrator for the audiobook does a fabulous job!
I don’t know if “quietly menacing” is what we’re looking for right now, but it just might surprise you. Imagine combining the movie, Parasite, with Emma Straub’s Vacationers. A strange sort of pairing, yet something like this could only have come from such a talented writer. Alam draws you in, uneasy and uncertain, feeling your way to the end. His latest book is vastly different from his first two, yet his deft brushstrokes create such an intriguing set-up, it’s hard to resist. The audiobook is a great choice for this time of year.
Luster took off the top of my head, blew the cobwebs out of my brain and said “See this is what a novel could be.” Not so much experimental in form, rather the depth of character, humanity and longing. There were uncomfortable, cringeworthy moments---especially regarding race and sex---still I trusted Leilani to take me somewhere new. It was Edie’s connection to and desire for her art that gave me true insight to her character. There were moments in this story when I wondered, “How exactly did we get here?” showing that novels still have the power to astonish and amaze.
There is no greater feeling than that of being in the middle of a good book, especially one over 500 pages. In VE Schwab’s latest novel we meet Addie, a young woman who made a deal and is now faced with living an eternity. We see that wishes have consequences, but also the impact one has on the world around them. There are so many things to love in this story: visiting different periods of history, a bookstore with a cat named Book, and an art festival that made me want to step into those very pages so I could see it for myself. The ending gave me that satisfying feeling that lingered on and stayed with me for days.
I am a fan of “this book saved my life”, and a fan of Austen’s, but more importantly, Rachel Cohen demonstrates the way a book is a comfort and a touchstone and that a reread always yields new clues as to the person we were and who we are in the process of becoming. If ever we needed a primer on the importance of rereading--- it’s now. And it might also be the kickstart I need to finally launch my own Jane Austen bookclub. No matter what is going on in the world, Cohen reminds us that there are always pages and worlds to get lost in.
If you were to ask me to name an author who consistently shifts my perception of reality and tilts my world on its axis-- Aimee Bender would be near the top of the list. I have reread a few of her works so many times my brain supplies the words before I get to them, much like the songs that you sing along to, though you haven’t heard them in a decade. In her latest, a young woman reexamines the week that follows her mother being placed in a mental facility. She mines the past for clues to the woman she has become, under the care of her aunt and uncle. There is a quiet iridescence to the story, as soft as the butterflies that pass you by in the garden. But when you stop and notice them soaring through the air, it feels like a tiny, unexpected miracle.
How can one word encapsulate a feeling, evoke such emotion and memory? There are so many types of "wants": wanting to be wherever your children are in that moment, wanting to say the words a friend needs to hear instead of the empty phrases that come to mind, wanting enough money to pay rent and buy food, wanting to build a bridge--- word by word by word---back to yourself. Reading Strong's second novel, there is the feeling of a confidente telling her deeply personal story, as if someone is sharing their secrets as they bubble up into memory. Stories about past sacrifices, but also how the systems we navigate are broken and yet we get by, survive. Looking at everyday life through a prismatic lens, the scenes break apart and come together in a multitude of combinations, exposing the overlooked, unvarnished beauty of our daily routines.We may want a different life, but this is the one we have. Novels are the windows and mirrors we need to see and reflect all that and more.
"The story’s message, that people should choose joy even (and especially) in difficult and painful times, seems tailor-made for this moment. A timely, uplifting read about finding joy in the midst of tragedy, filled with quirky characters and comforting warmth."—Kirkus (starred review)
Already a huge fan of Bennett’s The Mothers, I found that in reading her second novel, she upped the game. She tackles heavy topics: nature vs nurture, passing as white, gender identity, and family (both chosen and blood.) Spinning a storyline that intrigues and compels, these characters take us through several generations of their secrets, their struggles, and their joys. Vanishing Half is its own magic trick: focus one way and out of the blue comes an unexpected perspective. It was such an immersive, satisfying read, one guaranteed to provoke discussion and a chance to reexamine the world in which we live. Also the way in which one person can lead many lives and bend from the weight, or rise to the challenge of daughter, sister, mother, wife.
A three-pronged story expertly braided together by Anna Solomon, taking three different generations of women and giving us their stories. Traveling across time we see how each woman lives and survives in the day-to-day with interesting similarities, differences and unexpected intersections. Lily, Vee and Esther, their commonality is their conviction even if the lives they are living are not what they had imagined. The stories orbit around the center premise that the people we think we know had lives before we met them; too, the moments we experience create and shape the person we become, and give rise to what we pass on. The comparisons to The Hours and The Red Tent are spot on, and if either is a book you’d want to revisit, here is the perfect opportunity to spend some time in the company of women.
It’s summer and things look a bit different than we imagined. If you find yourself contemplating a staycation and simultaneously wondering how to introduce your kids to more of the world---Family Field Trip is the answer! It’s thoughtfully curated with ideas for getting immersed in other cultures and experiencing more of the natural world. There’s a whole section on “Wonder” which is endlessly inspiring. The photographs and illustrations throughout just add to the charm. This book is your go-to reference these next few months. Grab some post-it flags, a highlighter and be prepared to dogear. A marked-up, well-loved book is the first step in planning fun adventures and making great memories.
Small is what I need right now. Bite-sized bits that I can pick up and put down when my distracted brain can be corralled. Each of these compact essays centers around a larger theme, together forming a sky full of stars. That beautiful night sky, it’s awe-inspiring when you stop and really look at it, otherwise it’s perfectly ordinary. Those are the things we start to overlook: as in our body, our hair, our health and relationships with others. That’s what Gleeson has done with her exquisite writing, she’s showing us the dailiness of life, examined and deconstructed with tenderness almost akin to reverence. Mary Oliver said that attention is our work, the first step to devotion. These essays are the perfect end to your day. A quiet moment of contemplation and reflection.
Emily Gould’s novel is like a playlist to motherhood. Each track shows different parts of Laura’s life: her passions, as well as the needs and desires of a young woman in NYC at the beginning of the millenium. We see the sacrifices she makes, her tenacity, ingenuity and struggle with single parenthood--but the music and the creativity sustain her. This is like spending the afternoon listening to a favorite album; marveling at the talent and skill it takes to perform, but also recognizing the artistry it takes to make the proper arrangement. All the while taking the time to notice your own memories and how they make you feel. Reading reminds us that for a time your child, your passion, or your desire are your whole world, then everything changes. The secret is to just keep going. Perfect Tunes is a very, very welcome distraction from the present day.
Telling this generational story through the decades and comparing them to the rings on a tree is the perfect device for this family saga. We start in 2038 and head back to 1974, 1908 and back out again. Each new section explores more backstory, motivation and secrets from the time before. Christie’s novel is the perfect blend of characters you care about, secrets unearthed and a compelling cat-and-mouse chase. Throughout there is a reverence for trees, what they give us, how we can learn from them, and the ways we take advantage of them. If The Overstory is like Harris’s mansion, then Greenwood is akin to Everett’s cabin in the woods. It’s a special experience and a satisfying read. It will keep you up until the wee hours, and it might break your heart a little.
Nothing stops me in my tracks faster than a new book from Emma Straub. She writes family stories peopled with characters that are engaging with a secret charm all their own. Here the definition of family expands as her characters are pursuing love, careers and friendship. We get to see sibling squabbles and relationships transform. As readers we love them despite their flaws, for their humanity is on full display. It was a pleasure to read from beginning to end with a joy and joie de vivre that has been sorely missing from my fiction.
I went from skeptical to intrigued to total author fangirl in about the span of an hour. I read one story, then another and got so curious I looked up Leesa and read her bio. Her list of likes, actual passions and interests, was enormous and gave me many points of connection. (Jane Austen, Neko Case, ballet & cardigans) That’s why I read, to connect-- to the characters, to experience, to other readers. These stories hum with the energy of a charged current. Some slap like an electric fence, others dazzle with the brilliance of a holiday light display.
Reasons you need to read this book:
A. You’ve seen the movie and want to inhabit the same world as the March sisters for just a wee bit longer.
B. You were in awe of Jenny Zhang’s book of short stories and are curious to hear her thoughts about Jo.
C. You’re a Carmen Maria Machado completist, so you need to own everything she’s written.
D. You find essay books around a theme intriguing and hard to pass up.
E. All of the above.
This slim, little gem of a book was just what I needed this month.
You’ll see lots of action words to describe this book-- compelling, propulsive and the often used: unputdownable. The truth is that these are all true, this book is all that and more. But it’s the characters that matter most, you can’t help but want the best for them. You follow along on this journey as you root for them, hold your breath, cross your fingers and begin to make cosmic bargains that Lydia and Luka will reach their destination. There’s so much here to think about and to talk about, both in small groups and as a community. I hope more bookclubs will choose to read American Dirt and continue the conversation. Fiction can be so powerful, especially when the story reaches out and grabs you like this one does. This is a book you won’t-- and shouldn’t-- forget.
One of my New Year’s Intentions for 2020 is to read more books that smash some of my assumptions.
Creatures gave me a character so unlike myself that it spun my head around. Having finished the book calm, but enthralled, I revisited my theory that only big books offer you space for transformation. Instead, I discovered that thin books can be even more succinct in their impact on you. Evangeline’s story, her life growing up on an island in the wake of her abandonment, was like a surgical strike--- a kick-boxer power move I didn’t see coming. When a book throws you to the ground, it doesn’t matter if it’s big or little, only that it leaves you breathless.
Hartley is dealing with the fact that his brother has run away from home and his family is figuring out how to heal from the loss. While he’s trying to lead a somewhat normal life, he starts to discover letters hidden around town. His curiosity leads him to discover Gretchen, a young artist who’s putting something out into the world with no idea where it will land or whose life it might alter. She’s choosing to add something to her life rather than subtract, and I find that so inspiring these days. Something to aspire to. Her letters are included, make sure you leave some time to look them over and appreciate their beauty. Not to be missed. For teens and teens-at-heart.
I think every Attenberg book comes with a tiny little periscope and each chapter we move it to peer into someone else’s life, which enables us to zoom in on the intricate details that are not often seen. That’s not to say we like these characters, in fact often the opposite is true. But Attenberg’s talent lies in stripping away the artifice and allowing us to empathize and engage. She often writes from the perspective of dysfunction, but what struck me was how often the word "love" slipped itself into her prose, like a weird uncle photobombing the family Christmas portrait. Spending time with these families makes you appreciate our humanness and the ways we try (and often fail) to connect. In that struggle is where we find ourselves.
Has the back-to-school bug bit you too? I fall hard this time of year, wishing for new pencils, journals and a chance to cram some learning into my brain. This book delivers. If you wrote down all the authors who are cited, you would have the beginning of a fabulous syllabus. Alison is extremely knowledgeable and her tone conversational- this is just how you’d hoped college would be. You may want to grab a package of post-it flags because each section contains a hidden gem you’ll want to refer back to. Let’s thank indie presses for putting out books that make word nerds like me deliriously happy.
Reading a book that you were hesitant to pick up, and finding that it speaks to you in ways unimaginable is the greatest gift. Opening yourself to unchartered possibility, and empathy happens easier when you are immersed in the pages. Origin stories fascinate me and Wall gives us the backstory of these couples and they way they intertwine and break apart. It felt to me like Anne Tyler meets Aja Gabel, but to reduce it down to comparisons strips away the magic of her prose. My copy is underlined and dog-earred and that always speaks more loudly to me than words of praise.
McQuade’s connected stories, centering around the lives of girls who once attended boarding school together, kept me intrigued and curious. As each story started, I made a game of guessing which girl was the focus and who the narrator might be. We see them as women, girls, teens, elderly, mothers, daughters, friends, lovers, and wives. The incident with their teacher is a point of connection and here are the spokes spinning out from the hub. Nothing in nature is permanent, neither are books. These images are ethereal, try and wrap your arms around them and they billow like smoke. The glimpses are haunting and gauzy, and some are based in myths and fairytales. In these pages you will stumble across crows, trees, taxidermy, secrets, lies, and the freedom of summer. Reading one is like letting the peach juice run down your chin.
If I could only choose one type of book to read forever, it might be the quiet kind where seemingly nothing happens. And yet it is in the small, ordinary details where everything happens, for life is a series of moments strung together. To see Ella caring for Jill, or her relationship with Brynn is to get a glimpse into the daily struggles of a caregiver. Or it might be simply a look at what it means to be a human being interacting with others; one who loves thrift store finds, flowers on her table and a cup of tea in the afternoon. I adored this slim gem of a book and the characters are still with me. I wish Ella and I could meet, I think we’d have so much to talk about.
Arnett’s sentences are like a knife cutting us open from stem to stern, then putting us back together again but different than the reader who first opened the book. Why read something about a family’s dealing with suicide and abandonment? So that we see that there is hope in trying to make our own way through trauma. Jessa is smart, sharp and in danger of isolating herself from the world. She wields the knife but also creates the beauty from her own two hands. She lost two of the people she loved most in the world-- her father and her brother’s wife- and she’s unsure how to move forward. She would hate me saying that this is a Journey of Discovery, but we love her all the more for her disdain and the irascible heart that beats in her chest.
I wasn’t expecting to fall so solidly in love with this book that Julia Phillips created. It takes place on a cold peninsula, in a harsh, brutal landscape that doesn’t permit easy exit. What I enjoyed most was the aerial view, that through her stories we get to see a subject from every angle imaginable. Each narrator tells us something more and we learn from little bits and pieces, characters, description, imagery, motivation and action. The whole book is like a top that’s spinning, very slowly at first. The faster it goes, all we can see are the bright colors shining forth. In the end we come back around to the beginning, as if it was always meant to be just this way. In the midst of this hot summer, immerse yourself in this sharp, raw debut.
Summer reads, they whisk us off to places we only dream of. Gilbert takes us back to the ‘40s and shows us New York City through the eyes of nineteen year old Vivian. Here we are immersed in the world of theater, a vibrant place that allows Vivian to create a family. She learns that deep bonds can be formed by showing up for each other time and again. In this way we form a life worth living, even if it wasn’t the life you were expecting. As she often does, Gilbert gives us several points to ponder as we finish the story and go on our way back out into the world. Deftly researched and written in a distinct, engaging voice, reading it will take you out of your life for awhile and deposit you back home slightly changed.
‘That’s what writing is, after all the nonsense, getting down so low the world offers a new merciful angle, a larger version made of smaller things...’ Ocean is a poet/novelist playing with words and language in a way that opens your mind to the possibility of more beauty, more pain and a larger world than the narrow path we are traveling. Both the arresting title and the stunning cover drew me in instantly. What I discovered in these pages left a mark on me. These deep connections with family, friends, neighbors and lovers aid in turning your newly observant eye to the relationships around you that go unnoticed or are taken for granted. When examined closely they offer up the infinitesimal beauty of a drop of water studied under a microscope.
There are people who pick up dog books because of that magnetic attraction, and then there are those who shy away from books that might cause them to cry. I wish I could resist the pull of the animal book, it might save me some heartache. Often times the kids books featuring animals have the right tone, but are a quick read; the books for adults are either clunky or saccharine, neither of which is appealing. But The Wonder of Lost Causes gets it just right. The characters are well-drawn: Jasper’s struggle with CF feels authentic, his mom’s struggles with single parenting are pushing her to the breaking point. This isn’t a “dog arrives and saves everyone” book, rather it’s part road trip, part mystery with some magical realism at the edges, written by someone with animal experience. It was exactly what I’d hoped for, a well-written story about someone who needs to have an animal in their life. If this doesn’t convince you to read it, perhaps the picture on the cover will.
The literary trend is to focus stories around divorce, affairs or other trauma that splinters a family, but Lombardo gives us an aging couple still in love after all these years who find importance in commitment and family. It’s the almost overlooked events that speak volumes here. The extraordinary, ordinary moments of a life fully lived. Throughout this debut there were tiny moments that just stopped me in my tracks, that made me realize that these characters were fully formed with hopes and longings. When was the last time you read about a couple considered to be too in love? This was what I’ve been longing for as a reader. Honest sisterly interactions. Grandfathers who want to save precious items like sheets and trees. Teens who act like unexpected superheroes to little kids. Love and kindness is the cornerstone of this family’s struggle. Nothing I say will ever do it justice, you need to read it for yourself to declare it the best book of the year. It’s worthy of that title for so many reasons. Lombardo joins my list of favorite family writers: Shipstead, Sittenfeld, Straub, Sullivan and Ng
I loved Rowley's first book, Lily and the Octopus, with an intense passion, so I was skeptical of feeling as connected to his second book. But I opened it and started reading and laughing along with his character. A few chapters in and I was beyond smitten. His take on the publishing industry is full of these little nods to the reader that invite us along for a front row seat to the authorly escapades. James's search for his ending drives us to the inevitable end of Rowley's novel and we are left happier for having the adventure, but still sad that it's over. Maybe you could use a little more Jackie in your life too? This book is the read you didn't know you needed. Centering around a mother/son relationship and perfect for Mother’s Day.
Filled with my favorite sort of writing: those pieces that you read over coffee or your morning commute that you dogear so that you can photocopy it later and hang it on the fridge or bulletin board. It yellows with age, but still has the power to remind you of the time you felt a deep connection. The best part, all those great pieces are here in one collection. You can give the book to your friends and save yourself from all that silly photocopying and printing. I bet they’ll hug you and then read aloud the lines that resonated most.
I had forgotten how to laugh. Opening this book and starting to read, I couldn’t help myself. It just came bubbling up. What a wonderful thing it is to hold in your hands something that has the power to make one erupt with hoots and howls. Helen Ellis is a treasure and a gift from the gods, she says it like it is in Southern Lady speak and we love her all the more for the joy she has given us.
This book is unlike any other I have ever discovered. Take a moment and read the Table of Contents-- pure poetry. Then turn it over and read the back cover. If, like me, you find yourself entranced, falling under the spell of Maria’s words, then you need to read these essays, slowly savoring the experience. For those of us who subscribe to her email newsletter, Brain Pickings, this culmination of her work is a joy to behold. For those of you who are new to her work, this may have you scurrying back to read every last archive. The way these lives she illuminates intersect, the love that people have for each other, this is what is giving me hope and encouragement these days. I feel like this writing has seeped into my DNA and made some everlasting changes in the way I see the world.
‘It was a square meal and a good night’s sleep and a long blood spattered howl at the moon rolled into one.’ This line stayed with me, for the power it has to convey a deep and fully encompassing experience. Such is the mastery of Helen Oyeyemi’s writing. This is my fourth book and each one has blown my mind, but each in a different way. I thought I knew what this latest novel was about and then I got further and further in and discovered that the forest of words I entered was vast and deep, and thrilling in ways I didn’t expect. The path through the layers of story contains twists and turns that deposit you blinking back in the real world at the end. But like a fun house ride that spits you out into the bright sunlight, you want to instantly run back to the entrance just for the sheer thrill of it. Utterly delectable and delicious.
Grief hits us all in a variety of ways and dealing with the pain is unique to each individual. It should come as no surprise that my way through the devastation is to read. Smyth’s debut illuminates the parallels between losing her father and reading her beloved Woolf. For her, reading is an act of response, writing as an act of mercy and clarity. There is much to parse through here as she tries to reach back into the past to make sense of her father’s untimely death. In the vein of H is for Hawk, we see how an absence becomes a presence and how our lives can still be guided by it. Reading her words allows us to empathize, sympathize and take notes for the journey ahead.
I love books that make you feel deeply, that offer you a chance to empathize and connect with a character. But even more so the books that knock me flat are the ones that throw me a curve ball; I didn’t see coming. Despite it’s trim size, there is so much to admire here. Spare and simple, but overflowing with creativity and deep emotion, it left me with these visuals that will still pop into my head from time to time. By the last scene, I knew that Nunez had left her writerly mark on me again. Apollo joins the ranks of dogs (Old Dan, Little Ann, Beautiful Joe and Winn Dixie) who have taken up permanent residence with me.
I was surprised to see that an author I admire (her Still Writing is a permanent bedside fixture) had written a non-fiction book that was straight out of the fiction she had been creating all these years. As I was reading, I kept thinking how lucky she was that she could turn to her words for help. The very act of writing allowed her to make sense of something that could have been devastating. She did what she’s always advised us to do—she wrote her way out. This slim work touches on many universal themes: The meaning of family, both biological and chosen. What we are given by our parents and what we honor enough to pass along to our children. The examination of the loss of identity and the questioning of self. Heartbreaking and utterly hopeful, this book help me revisit all that I hold dear.
I must confess, I have fallen a little bit in love with you. Let me count the ways: All those beautiful book covers featured on your pages so lovingly rendered. The portraits of special bookshops, the quizzes, the writing rooms. So much interesting information, each page a joyful, delightful surprise. I promise never to get tired of you or let your pages get dusty. Think of the countless hour we'll spend together, if only you'll be mine.
In the tradition of The Iron Giant and The Wild Robot comes Paragon, a robot built by scientists who comes to gain the trust and love of a boy. Auden Dare can't see colors and believing his uncle has found a cure, he sets out to discover the truth. With mysterious clues, secret codes, a lovely friendship with Vivi and a focus on the dire consequences of environmental issues, this is a perfect book. It left me unexpectedly in tears and would be a fabulous read aloud.
My favorite trend this year? Heavy topics told in such a way that they become bearable, as opposed to heavy tomes I wouldn't have the physical or emotional strength to pick up. Novey’s second novel joins my favorite slim works such as Exit West, We the Animals, Speak No Evil and Zinzi Clemmon’s book, What We Lose. Interspersed with plays, bookseller reports and told from multiple points of view, the formatting gives an air of playfulness while the narcissism and evil runs like a river underneath it all. Reading this enforced for me the call to action and the reasons to not stay silent.
Chung’s incredibly honest and eloquent search for identity captivated me. As an Asian girl in a white family, her need to belong was a powerful desire. Her parents, wanting her to be happy, shut the door to any inquiry. As she got older she sought clues of her past, ferreted out from boxes hidden away in closets and yellowed envelopes tucked in drawers. Still, the black hole her of not-knowing threatened to swallow her up. Chung’s journey to find her heritage brings to light our misguided tendencies to sweep everything under the rug. This is the book we need to start more conversations about race, family, adoptions and the way to move incrementally forward. This is your next book club pick.
I love projects that strip us down to our very essence: one word, one image, and in this case, one thing we cherish above all others. Each pairing here is inspiring, each essay simple and thought-provoking, bringing to light our shared humanity. For the most part these are everyday items that might be tossed aside or skipped over, but because of their history they have become imbued with a patina of meaning. It takes courage to pick just one thing to represent your life, what do you think you might choose? Put this beauty in a place where you can reach for it often, it deserves to be savored and reread many times.
I’ve stumbled on several quotes recently that juxtapose light and dark, their relationship to each other as a way of making sense of the darkness in the world around us. For me inspiration always comes from books, they are what I turn to in times of need; this one provided the lifeboat I’ve been searching for. These authors, (sidenote read more of their books), create another list of the books that inspired them. Maybe if you’re feeling stuck or depressed something here will be an antidote. Reading the Lev Grossman piece, I remembered how much I loved the Narnia books and are eager to revisit them. Each of the writers reveals a bit about their process, shedding light on the how-to of it all. Perfect for readers, writers or your favorite writer/reader person. If the broken places let the light in, I hope you find that it’s just enough to read by.
The book just feels nice in your hand and when I picked it up I was reminded of how much I like to sit with a story. Initially I was intrigued because some authors were familiar and others were new to me. Alexander Chee, Jason Reynolds, Brandon Taylor, Yiyun Li, all writers I greatly admire, and here they all are in one fabulous collection. My best advice: once you are done allow the characters to linger in your life for a bit. Too often we overlook the possibility of a short story; the breadth and depth that is covered, underestimating the far-reaching abilities of a complete world created in the span of a few pages. The best ones have the power to change us, even imperceptibly, but forever.
I often associate Brian Lies with his bat stories, which are fun, but I picked this up because I can’t pass up a fox story. This book broke my humpty-dumpty heart when I wasn’t expecting it, but then it knitted it back together again. I have found that the best stories often come at you sideways, and this one deals with grief in such a universal way that most everyone who reads it will be changed by the last page turn. Beautiful illustrations and an engaging story, proving once again, that picturebooks really are for everybody. Maybe you know someone who needs a little help over their own rough patch...
In the tradition of The Mothers, Exit West, Speak No Evil and What We Lose, Kwon’s novel packs dazzling prose and centers around a heavy topic, yet all marvelously contained in a small amount of pages. The Incendiaries asks essential life questions: What happens if you put all your faith into something and then discover that the bottom falls out from under you leaving you no solid base? What do you replace it with, do you rebuild or start over? In her debut, Kwon gives us three different points of view, twentysomethings who hold onto each other so they don’t hit rock bottom. In an interview I read, one of several insightful pieces, she talked about writing on the syllable level. This granular, elemental level speaks to me, the atoms from which all creations come. I would read anything that flows from her pen.
Beth's Tips for Summer Reading~
1. Pick up High Season and turn to page 76.
2. Start reading at the bottom, "Summer is my favorite season..."
3 Imagine yourself continuing in the sunshine, with a cool drink close at hand.
4 Buy book and read it while you ignore the rest of the world.
5 Finish by having your breath taken away by the last line.
6 Come in and tell us some of your favorite lines.
We love talking books with you, and *bonus* we can recommend another so you can start the whole process all over again. Summer should be about losing yourself in a book. This is a great place to start.
I've paged through dozens of books on handlettering (You may have noticed that they are in abundance, lettering is having a moment.) What sets this one apart is Nicole. She has you start out simply by making patterns and then guides you along to writing on different materials. She encourages you to keep that first sheet so you can eventually see how far you've come. I love the projects and found the photos to be clear and helpful. Most of all, Nicole's enthusiasm is infectious. Bring in your projects and we can compare notes. Don't forget to grab some pens while you're here, that's part of the fun!
In 1985 Chicago Yale Tishman is struggling in his life, personally and professionally. In 2015 Fiona, sister to his friend Nico, has made her way to Paris to find her estranged daughter. The connections between these two span the decades, their hopes and desires form a lens through which we see their lives in the past and present. Reading the last few chapters became a singular moment. I fell into a puddle on the floor as the wave of everything that has been lost washed over me. Makkai has done it again, giving us a glimpse into the world she has masterfully created in order to make some sense of our own.
Some books/ just come to you/ when you need them most. The lines of verse/ break you wide open /and seep into your bloodstream. Then the conflict occurs: clutch it to your chest/ or share it with the world? This is for the writers/ and readers/ poets/ and dreamers. And for every girl/ needing to be seen. Words are power.
Nat is searching for something.To know more about her mom, to have a friend, to find a place where she belongs instead of always moving around with her father the celebrity. The title seduced me , but it was the friendship that kept me reading. Nat is doing her best to try and figure out how to navigate in a world that’s constantly changing. Her relationship with Harry, and her phone calls to a woman she’s never met become her touchstone. There were some sweet surprises and of course, the possibility of whales. That alone is reason enough to pick up this book.
Wolitzer’s latest novel explores the lives of women in different generations. The way we forge ahead and the way certain interactions or trauma can put us on another path. The way we break apart and come back together. The way our lives weave in and out of each other’s. What we as women take from the previous generation and what we teach the next. Greer and Zee and Cory and Faith. You see their genesis, which is not something we are always aware of in our own lives, but to examine it in a story is a beautiful thing. We see the effects of ambition, desire or how a tragedy can shape the person you become. The Female Persuasion is multi-layered, rich and complex, yet as simple as hearing your friend tell you the story of her life over coffee.
It’s been too long since I picked up a book and just fell in love with the characters. You know that feeling, the one where the book seems to vibrate or maybe sparkle a little. The kind of book that makes you smile and ignore the rest of your life. From the very beginning, you fall under Sunny’s spell. She’s an albino girl who is now back in Nigeria after spending most of her life in the States. She’s as confused as we are about this mysterious place called Leopard Knocks and all the juju that’s happening there. Is it possible that she and her three friends can defeat the evil that’s arrived? Dubbed as “the Nigerian Harry Potter”, that enormous praise makes one stand up and take notice. But it’s the way the events are steeped in heritage and ancestry that makes Okorafor’s book resonate as a timeless classic. That and the bird that will fly you to the tree- house and the wasp that builds small structures. Reading this helped fill the Black Panther sized hole in my heart. Ages 12 and up
Reading these email exchanges between a brother and a sister is addictive. You think you can stop, but then you decide to read just one more. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has been about race and resistance. And while I’ve learned so much from these incredible authors, sometimes a funny book can provide a much-needed break from reality. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this writer and his sister, the photographer. Their distinctive voices are witty and sharp; stumbling onto this book was a delightful surprise.
Honest and enlightening, Jerkin’s debut essay collection is just what I wanted it to be-- short bits that allow me to sit with a topic for awhile before plunging straight back in for more. There are surprising points of connection, but more importantly I’ve learned about black culture and her experience with men, hair products, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It takes courage to write about one’s life at such a young age. The shortest passages “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” pack a gut punch. They may be small, but they are fierce. That last line is everything. It gives me the inspiration to keep writing, keep pushing, keep reaching. The best essays teach and inspire in equal measure, Jerkins is one to watch.
There is something so freeing about opening up a book and realizing that you could start anywhere, no need to be limited by the typically demanding page one; instead each category offers a new place to begin. Zadie’s astounding talent is apparent in ways big and small, the breath and depth of her topics is far reaching. I was delighted to find that two of my favorite essays “Joy” and “Find your Beach” have been included here. I’ve just recently discovered her commentary on the movie “Get Out” and her piece on Key and Peele, both tilted the axis of my world a little. I will always, always love Zadie’s introduction to "Through the Looking Glass" (illustrated by Mervyn Peake), but now I have several more essays to return too when I am overtaken by the need to reread something that speaks to me.
I keep thinking about this sharp incisive book by Zumas. At first it was a bit frenetic, each chapter is told from a different point. They are short and concise, which had the advantage of keeping the storyline moving. But when you start to sink in, to harness that energy, you notice that it’s a puzzle to figure out the relationships between the cast of characters. There’s Ro and her students, with her desire for a child and the way she brings to life the subject of her biography. Susan who doesn’t know if she wants to leave her marriage, but who everyone thinks should be happy with the life she has created. Mattie, the teenager who has a relationship to both women, but can’t turn to them in her time of need. And lastly, the Mender, a woman who sees the world differently and who has ties to all of the characters. Zumas set her tale in a future world, that now seems utterly devastating and timely. Read this book and be part of the larger conversation, for it will still be sounding in your head after you manage to finally put it down.
Machado’s collection is explosive, jagged, and delightfully unexpected. She makes me want to be a better writer, maybe toss up all the words and see how they land. The ideas presented here are reconstructed in surprising combinations that shift the paradigm of writer and then of reader. I was thoroughly engaged and quietly astonished at her mastery, wit and love of folklore and fairytales. This National Book Award finalist is familiar and revelatory all at the same time--it deserves a spot on your bedside reading table.
To briefly describe this novel, one could say it is a portrait of a writer as a mother. The story begins before she is married, insisting she doesn't want children. We trace her trajectory from wife to mother back to writer. Wolas sprinkles snippets of Joan's stories throughout. I would get lost in one, and when I came back up for air, it was only then that I would grasp the true level of the author's mastery. This is clearly my hands down favorite novel of the year, which takes on art, betrayal, self discovery, travel and the sacred art of writing. For anyone who believes in the power of words and the lure of a story well told.
This is the sequel that you didn’t know you absolutely needed. Ada has had surgery to fix her clubfoot, and while there is freedom to be found in her new life, there is also the loss and heartbreak of war. I loved spending more time with these characters and seeing their day to day interactions, with honest, raw emotions. Together they face adversity, prejudice and learn how to live with each other as a family. Ada’s secret ride is a thrilling moment that had me cheering out loud. I swear I could feel the wind rushing by my own face.
I was fascinated to learn that this book started out originally as a book about a president's lies and then morphed into this book about lying. It's a pitch perfect look into the lives of teenage girls; the raw, unburnished edge of those years. That age in our lives when we are on the cusp of what comes next and discovering that what we thought we wanted wasn't really what we desired after all. The narration for the audiobook is A+++ and I think this is a book I would return to when I want to feel immersed in California or to remind me of the push and pull of those early years. When life was laid out in front of us but we were a little too blind to see it.