Jane Dystel recommends:
Story telling is one of the most important aspects of any good novel – for me at least, the writing can be supremely excellent, but inevitably I will abandon the effort to finish in the absence of a good tale.
THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert is an incredibly well told story. The novel follows the life of brilliant botanist Alma Whittaker, daughter of self-made botanist, Henry Whittaker. Alma is deep into the study of moss and what it tells her about evolution while the man she falls in love with and marries is pulling her into the world of spirituality, and ultimately the magical. The two are drawn to each other by their shared wish to understand the workings of the world. The novel spans most of the 19th century and unwinds quickly taking the reader all over the world. The research is spectacular, the characters are beautifully drawn and the story is well – just incredibly interesting and entertaining. I highly recommend THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS.
Miriam Goderich recommends:
During those few moments each day when I’m in bed and still conscious after a very long day that starts with a 6:30 AM commute into New York City and ends with a reading from my 8-year-old’s latest baseball book, I tend to gravitate to fiction that is, a bit quirky, a skosh more literary than is perhaps good business (in our business, that is), more character than plot driven, more domestic and relationship-centric. Young Adult fiction doesn’t often make the cut here but when Jim and Lauren began to loudly tout the virtues of Rainbow Rowell’s ELEANOR & PARK, I decided to see what all the noise was about. And, boy, am I glad I did. The book is an achingly disarming tale about a couple as mismatched as Harold and Maude but just as true in their devotion to one another. Eleanor is “big,” redheaded, and white trash poor with an abusive stepfather and no self-esteem. She’s also the new kid in school. Park is half-Korean with a loving family (nevermind his thug of a younger brother), and has spent his life barely skirting abuse by his loud peers because of his punk style and different-than-Midwestern look. Neither is prepared for the headlong dive each is about to take into the other’s soul when Eleanor finds a seat next to Park on the school bus one day or the heartbreaking obstacles in their path. Rowell captures the gut churning thrill of first love with devastating accuracy and she places her characters in an ‘80s landscape that, for those of us who were around then, feels as familiar as a Cure song. This is a book for young people of any age.
Michael Bourret recommends:
This is the easiest book recommendation I’ve made (since telling everyone to read THE SECRET HISTORY): THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt. Yes, I’m a Tartt devotee. But if this helps my credibility, I wasn’t a fan of THE LITTLE FRIEND. Though I thought the atmosphere and mood in that book were near perfect, the plot and pacing left me cold. This new book, however—I have nothing bad to say. I was swept up in the story from the first pages, and found the section of the book right after the inciting disaster to be some of the best writing I’ve ever read. The mystery of the book twists and turns, with characters dropping in here and there, each like a gun in the first act, and I tore through the pages to see how they’d reappear with a bang. Theo, the protagonist, is a difficult person to love, but oh did I love him. Filled with guilt, shame, longing, and secrets, I couldn’t help but root for him even when he wasn’t exactly doing the right thing. And Boris, his friend—I’m not sure there’s ever been a more likable thug. When this is adapted for the screen (limited series, please, HBO!), every young male actor inHollywood will be fighting for that role. Yes, the book is long. Yes, it’s wordy. But when each of those words is perfectly chosen, and all of the words add up to a masterpiece, I can promise you it’s worth the time. If you only have time for one book, it should be this one!
Stacey Glick recommends:
I’m reading Jennifer Senior’s new book ALL JOY AND NO FUN, based on an article she wrote for New York magazine that received a lot of attention, “I Love My Children, I Hate My Life.” I contacted her back then about doing the book and knew it was going to be a big hit when it released. I just learned it’s on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s a parenting book, but not a practical one. It’s a book that speaks to our generation of parents and how parenting has changed over the last 70 years and the ensuing unprecedented challenges. It’s a big think book and one I’d like to see more of, in the parenting category or elsewhere.
Jim McCarthy recommends:
Editors always want to see fiction that is “high-concept” and has a hook. Writing novels that fit that definition is tricky, though. It’s a fine, fine line between a hook and a gimmick. I confess that I put off reading Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE for a while because I heard it was a book about a woman who keeps dying and being reborn. It sounded like the kind of thing that would be almost painfully clever. Then I picked it up. And I barely put it down until I turned the final page. The structure of the book is, yes, insanely clever, but it works on a much deeper level, allowing author and reader to explore questions of chance, fate, and choice; and to consider how life is lived, whether there is a definitive right answer to any of the larger questions of the world. Along the way, she tells an incredible story (or really, many incredible stories) filled with comedy, horror, love, death, and everything else entailed in lives after lives. It’s a brilliant novel, and it’s the perfect example of a high concept book done breathtakingly well.
Jessica Papin recommends:
Vali Nasr’s THE DISPENSABLE NATION is a fascinating and sobering insider’s account of foreign policy in the Obama Administration. Nasr, who was an advisor to Richard Holbrooke, writes clearly and compellingly of the infighting and interdepartmental rivalries, the tensions between the White House and the State Department, and the impact these have on the broader world. NOT a dull policy tome, but not exactly pleasure reading. For that I turned to Hanya Yanaghigara’s THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES, a gorgeously written, utterly bizarre and totally engrossing adventure of a young doctor who signs on to an anthropological expedition to a remote Micronesian Island whose people are rumored to live preternaturally long lives. What he discovers among this “lost tribe” is revolutionary, and the consequences of his work are profound and unpredictable. I didn’t know quite what I was in for until I realized that the beautifully embossed floral designs on the book’s spine were, in fact, maggots.
Lauren Abramo recommends:
One of my biggest life goals is to turn my two young nephews into life-long readers. Sure it’s costly now, but someday those boys will use their own money to buy my clients’ books and help pay my rent! Fortunately, all evidence indicates it’s working, so I’m very pleased to recommend some picture books that really get their attention. My older nephew happily finishes the sentence “It was a….” with little prompting, since Judith Viorst’s ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (illustrated by Ray Cruz) is one of his favorites. His little brother is a slightly tougher sell, but they’re both obsessed with Bill Cotter’s DON’T PUSH THE BUTTON. They recently built a snowman and named him Larry, after the main character of that book—and if you’ve read it you may be delighted to know they next tried to make a snow button so they could easily make more snow Larrys. And you kind of can’t go wrong with Mo Willems: my older nephew dies for anything featuring Mo’s Pigeon (especially DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS and THE PIGEON HAS FEELINGS, TOO, since he loves practicing his angry face). And his little brother is very into THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!, which works best with silly voices. Their newest favorite is Peter Brown’s MR. TIGER GOES WILD, which has roaring for the little one and opportunity to spot the differences between the town and the wilderness for his brother. If you have any new recommendations for me, don’t hesitate to send ‘em my way on twitter (@laurenabramo)!
John Rudolph recommends:
In the Rudolph house, we don’t get a lot of new picture books, since our shelves are overflowing with titles from my days as a children’s book editor. But recently, we’ve added some new stuff, and two in particular have been in heavy rotation: ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, and THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen. What I love about both titles is that, like the best children’s literature, they defy the so-called “rules.” With ROSIE, you’ve got a rhyming text, which most publishers will tell you is passe, while with HAT, there’s an ambiguous ending–another “no-no” for a lot of editors. And I’ll even admit that the rhyme in ROSIE could be smoother in places, but the story is a great one, especially in how it celebrates efforts over results, and by pairing the story with Roberts’ highly contemporary art style, ROSIE comes out feeling fresh and lively and makes for a great read-aloud. On the other hand, my boys and I have spent plenty of time discussing whether the little fish in HAT gets eaten by the big fish or gets away. Boys being boys, they usually come down on the side of eaten, but the fact that they’re talking about a book at all is gratification enough. And of course, the art is spectacular, well within the Carle tradition of cut paper yet totally fresh and new, especially in its use of black–another picture book “no-no!”
Michael Hoogland recommends:
Alan Weisman’s THE WORLD WITHOUT US is a fascinating book. It’s thoroughly researched and compellingly written, and perhaps most importantly, it’s an eye-opening narrative with revelatory insight into mankind’s impact on the environment. Weisman begins with a simple concept: what would happen if all human beings suddenly vanished from the face of the earth? Buildings, bridges, and transportation systems would steadily fall to the natural world around it. Megafauna would once again cover the land; cities would fall into disrepair as water floods through underground subway tunnels, destroying man’s underground infrastructure as well. Without people around, power plants and dams would fail. Species on the brink of annihilation would experience a resurgence. And what, if anything, would we leave behind. What is our most lasting legacy? THE WORLD WITHOUT US is narrative nonfiction at its finest. It does what books are supposed to do: makes you think.
Rachel Stout recommends:
Much more than a picture of New Yorkin both its heyday and downfall, Amor Towles’ debut RULES OF CIVILITY is written in such a light, lively manner, evoking perfectly the tone and voice of a young woman in the late 1930s. Katey Kontent is living in a boarding house inManhattan, 1937, with her farm-raised, fresh-faced roommate Eve Ross. The two have spent the past several months perfecting the art of living lavishly and wildly on spare pennies when their lives are wonderfully, horribly, amazingly altered by Tinker Grey, an old money young man with a twinkle in his eye who takes a shine to the two girls. What happens over the next year sees the girls in extremes and the ultimate conclusion is both heart wrenching and beautiful. Towles’ prose flows across the page and it’s easy to fall in love with Katey and feel deeply for her immediately and fervently from the start.
Sharon Pelletier recommends:
Full disclosure: I am a Fitzophile. Attach F. Scott or Zelda Fitzgerald to a book in some way and there’s a 92% chance I’m going to read it. But I don’t love every book that drops that golden name. I don’t always scribble exclamation points and mini-essays in every margin. I don’t often admire a biography as much as I admire its subject. When I do, though, you can bet a diamond as big as the Ritz that I’ll be telling everyone about it. And CARELESS PEOPLE: MURDER, MAYHEM, AND THE INVENTION OF THE GREAT GATSBY is one of those rare jewels. Sarah Churchwell has written a smart and thoughtful mosaic of the Fitzgeralds and the world they inhabited in the fall of 1922—the time in which Gatsby was set. Part literary criticism, part author bio, part cultural history, part aesthetic philosophy, CARELESS PEOPLE is told in singing sentences that Fitzgerald himself would surely admire.