Staff Recommendations

Jane Dystel recommends:

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green.  I had been hearing about this young adult author for some time but had never read one of his books.  Michael Bourret suggested that this was the one to choose, and I am so pleased I did.  The YA books I have represented to date are mostly romances and so this is quite different.  Here is a writer who clearly isn’t afraid to take on big issues.  He does so with such subtle skill that rather than being wrapped up in the fact that the main characters are suffering from cancer, the reader is totally involved in the story as it unfolds.  The voice is clear as a bell, and the writing is splendid. I am eager to go out and read other of this author’s books now that I know how talented he is.

 


Miriam Goderich recommends:

I’ve always been a fan of family dysfunction.   Not in my personal life, maybe, but in fiction.  You can’t deny that everyone from Sophocles to Albee has been mining that particular literary vein for centuries with often brilliant results.  The voyeuristic pleasure of participating in other people’s family dramas is tough to beat as reading experiences go, in my opinion, especially when an author has pitch perfect ability to capture the contradictions—love and hate, anger and tenderness—that underlie the sheer weight of shared experience at the complex core of family dynamics.  Jonathan Tropper displays that perfect pitch in THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, in which the extremely f’ed up members of the Foxman clan come together to sit shiva for their father, bringing their problems, neuroses, guilt, and regrets with them but also their caustic humor and unexpected affection for each other.  Tropper could be the literary love child of two of my favorite authors, Tom Perotta and Jonathan Franzen, and his novel is a sparkling gem of a book.  

 


Michael Bourret recommends:

Though I’m not quite finished yet, I feel very confident in recommending Tom Rob Smith’s latest novel THE FARM. I was a big fan of Smith’s impressive debut novel CHILD 44, and when I heard about THE FARM several months ago, I preordered it on my iPad. The premise is that Daniel, our protagonist, believes that his parents live a quiet, happy retirement in rural Sweden. So he’s shocked when his father calls one day, telling him that his mother is having a psychotic breakdown and has been imagining horrible things. But before he can even take it all in, his mother calls and tells him she’s fine, that his father is a liar, and that that what she needs is for Daniel to meet her at Heathrow. Daniel is trapped between his parents, and must decide if the incredible tale his mother tells him about his father is indeed true. This is a fantastic psychological thriller that will keep you guessing—I’m still in the middle of guessing—while also dealing with idea of losing one’s parents. It’s a great read.

 


Stacey Glick recommends:

For our recent book club, I read BRAIN ON FIRE by Susannah Cahalan and was completely blown away by it (which, I might note, does not happen very often). It’s 100% the kind of book I’d love to have on my list. I represent a good amount of memoir, and brain science is also an area of interest. Cahalan describes a brief but harrowing episode in her life where she seemed to completely lose her mind. As it turns out, she was suffering from a then rarelydiagnosed autoimmune condition, whichthankfully responded well to meds once discovered. Well enough for her to be able to write a piece for her employer, the New York Post, which became the basis for this remarkable book. The book reads like an episode of House, countless doctors trying to determine the cause of her illness. The combination of an incredibly dramatic story, a fascinating scientific discovery, and a reporter’s eye putting the pieces together of this period in her life makes for a compelling, page-turning book that reads like a medical thriller.

 


Jim McCarthy recommends:

If you pick up a copy of Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s novel ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE, you may notice that the cover is littered with stickers. The book won something like a zillion prizes—it’s so covered that I feel a little bad for the cover designer whose beautiful work is covered up. If you’re at all like me, when you see that many prize stickers on a young adult novel, you might start to worry that you’re about to embark on one of those novels that is more “good for you” than, say, enjoyable. Push through that feeling, though, and you’ll discover a book that is equal parts funny and heartbreaking that also happens to deal with questioning sexuality without being about that. It’s really about friendship and family and confusion and the anger of young men. The best teen novels in my mind breathe with an authenticity of life at that moment between childhood and adulthood. Sáenz’s greatest achievement is capturing exactly what that feels like in a way that is perfectly specific to his characters while remaining expansive in its identifiable nature.

 


Jessica Papin recommends:

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR by Joel Dicker is a sly, page turner of a whodunit, a story within a story that is both a clever satire of writing and publishing and a well-framed mystery. Translated from the French but set in New England, it is international crime only in that it comes from abroad. It will not do for New Hampshire what Stieg Larson and Jo Nesbo have done for Scandinavia, namely convince the reader that these liberal social democracies are teeming with neo-nazis, sadists and sociopaths. Instead, it’s a brainy sort of beach read featuring a wunderkind of an author, his Norman Mailer-ish mentor, a missing manuscript and a vanished Lolita.

 


Lauren Abramo recommends:

David Stuart MacLean came to on a train platform in India with no idea how long he’d been standing there, who he was, or where he was going.  With the help of some concerned souls who took him for a drug addict, he made his way to the hospital where he discovered he was a Fulbright scholar who’d had a psychotic break as a result of known but unadvertised complications of the anti-malarial drug he’d been taking.  With his memory in disarray—he remembered his parents, but not his girlfriend, and other memories, like the redheaded drug addict with whom he shared a rundown flat seemed to be a fabrication of his psychotic mind rather than an actual memory—he was forced to reconstruct his own notion of his identity and try to figure out both who he is and who he was.  THE ANSWER TO THE RIDDLE IS ME is the extraordinary story that begins the moment he regains lucidity on that train platform, as he investigates himself, his feelings, and his role in his own life.  There’s so much at stake and so much irreparably lost, but it’s not a misery memoir.  MacLean never paints himself as someone to feel sorry for so much as he paints his condition as one to be interested in.  It’s an effort that makes the book the perfect intersection of memoir and popular science.

 


John Rudolph recommends:

Every summer, the Rudolph family heads up to Maine to spend a week with my in-laws followed by a week at the beach. It’s hard to think of a better place to spend the summer (though a recent weekend in Nantucket offered some stiff competition), but this year I thought I should know a little bit more about the area that I’ve been visiting for nearly 10 years now. So, I’ve been reading THE LOBSTER COAST by Colin Woodard, which is a fascinating history and cultural study of Maine since the beginning. Woodard is a Mainer himself, so his account is both personal and biased, particularly against Massachusetts—and I have to say, after reading how terribly Boston treated Maine for two centuries, it’s hard to understand why so many Mainers root for the Red Sox. But on the other hand, Woodard does a great job of exploding a number of Maine myths, particularly the idea that there’s some kind of authenticity to a Maine summer vacation, since “rusticators” have been escaping to Maine since the early 1800s. All-in-all, a highly readable and educational survey of a place whose story goes far beyond L.L. Bean and lobsters.



Michael Hoogland recommends:

THE YELLOW BIRDS is a powerful and beautifully written debut novel by Kevin Powers. It is the harrowing story of two soldiers fighting to stay alive in the first years of the Iraq War. Private Bartle promises to bring 18-year-old Private Murphy safely home, but we quickly learn that Bartle fails to keep that promise. The chapters alternate between settings, ranging from Iraq in 2004, at the height of battle, to Virginia one year later, when Bartle is home, feeling hollowed and grappling with Murphy’s mysterious and violent death. There is a cinematic quality to the storytelling: the colors are bright and Powers uses unusual descriptors that lend a subtle surreal element to the battle scenes. Bartle is an observant narrator, noting minor, poetic details that make this novel captivating and devastatingly truthful. As a veteran of the Iraq War, Powers seems to precisely capture the disorienting and illogical nature of combat. This is a brilliant, deeply profound first novel and I highly recommend it.

 


Rachel Stout recommends:

One of my very favorite writers of all time is Julian Barnes—he can write essays and responds to interviews really well.  His fiction is amazing in its sparseness, and whether short story or full length novel, I have devoured everything of his I have ever read. So this makes it kind of hard to pick one, but to stay contemporary, I’m here to recommend his most recent (though not recent enough) THE SENSE OF AN ENDING. Really, this Booker prizewinner isn’t about too much, just middle-aged Tony Webster’s musings on his life and past, but it’s the memories, emotions and realizations that wash over Tony as he recounts minutiae and seemingly insignificant details from his past that are so powerful that it’s nearly impossible not to be completely sucked in. I had to try and conceal grins and moments of “aha” realizations as I read this very short book in public, so please be mindful of this when you dive in. It’s a great introduction to a wholly wonderful author.

 


Sharon Pelletier recommends:

Roxane Gay is a writer I have long admired via her essays and her tweets (yes, really), and her first novel is a work of unmatched compassion, bravery, insight, and life. AN UNTAMED STATE is violent, brutal, and thus not an easy book to read; but neither is it an easy book to put down. The narrator is kidnapped in Haiti during a trip to visit her family there, suffers unspeakable things during her captivity, and upon her release flees to her mother-in-law’s Nebraska farm. Mirielle’s ferocious love of her husband, her child, and even herself pulls you through each page. Most of the reviews of this incredible book discuss its importance as a political novel about socioeconomic tensions, but I disagree—this is a novel about womanhood, about the ways women take care of each other, and about knowing who you are relative to your family.

 

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