Jane Dystel recommends:
Last summer I learned that my son, Zach, one of our clients Catherine Whitney, and my partner Miriam had all read and loved THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir, and though I am not a lover of science fiction (which I assumed this was), I decided I had to read it.
The novel tells the story of Mark Watney who finds himself stranded on Mars’s surface with no way to signal the Earth that he is alive after his crew members evacuate the planet because of a massive dust storm. Even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
That’s the premise of this gripping and (given its subject matter) startlingly plausible novel. The story is told mostly through the log entries of astronaut Mark Watney, chronicling his efforts to survive: making the prefab habitat livable and finding a way to grow food, make water, and get himself off the planet. Interspersed among the log entries are sections told from the point of view of the NASA specialists back on Earth who discover that Watney is not dead (as everyone assumed) and scramble together a rescue plan.
The novel, which can be categorized as a futuristic thriller, I think, is a tightly constructed and completely believable story of a man’s ingenuity and strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It is an incredible page turner right up until the end.
Miriam Goderich recommends:
In the middle of a fairly forgettable piece I was reading online the other day (so forgettable, in fact, that I forget what it was about), the author mentioned Graham Greene, and I felt a flash of delight and sadness—delight in seeing the name of a writer I revered in my youth, and sadness at the thought that he has been somewhat relegated to the occasional syllabus of a college survey course. I think it’s time for a new generation to rediscover the pleasures of Graham Greene’s novels, which are bracing, like a shot of brandy on a cold, damp day, intellectually rigorous, like a cranky professor’s classroom interrogation, and full of boundless compassion for humanity and its foibles.
Some of my favorites are THE END OF THE AFFAIR, THE QUIET AMERICAN, THE HUMAN FACTOR, and A BURNT-OUT CASE, although I can honestly say that I never read a Graham Greene novel I didn’t like…even when I didn’t love it. Obsessed with issues of faith and the vagaries and betrayals of politics, his novels are page-turners rendered in lean, incisive prose that is always sublimely specific. Whether it’s a complicated love affair or the troubling ambiguities of geopolitics in the 20th century, you come away from one of his novels enriched by a point of view that is both generous and judgmental. For my money, Greene is one of the great writers in the English language, and I think it’s time for his work to have a renaissance.
Michael Bourret recommends:
The story behind THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU by A.J. Rich is nearly as interesting as the book itself. “A.J. Rich” is actually a pseudonym for authors Amy Hempel and Jill Cement. They wrote this book together based on an idea that their friend Katherine Russell Rich had before she died, which is such a touching back story for a book that is equal parts heart-wrenching and gruesome. The story begins with Morgan, a graduate student at John Jay studying victim psychology, comes home to find her visiting long-distance boyfriend dead, mauled and mutilated by her two rescue dogs. She is traumatized by the scene, and further aggrieved when her dogs—constant companions—are taken away for possible euthanizing. Distraught, Morgan reaches out to Bennett’s family, only to find out she can’t. And when she tries to go find where he lived in Quebec, she can’t find an apartment. Bennett, it seems, isn’t exactly who he said he was. Morgan embarks on a quest to figure out who this man really was while also trying to save the lives of her dogs, meeting an array of characters from very different worlds. How all the pieces of these puzzles come together is so surprising but also so well-planned that it left me breathless and racing through the final chapters. If you like a good psychological thriller and have a strong stomach, this is a must-read.
Stacey Glick recommends:
Like many people, I’ve been intrigued, saddened and inspired by Paul Kalanithi’s gripping memoir WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR. Based on a piece he wrote for the NYT after being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at 36 shortly before he was about to finish his training in neurosurgery and nueroscience, Kalanithi’s book is incredibly compelling and effective. Not only he is a brilliant scientific mind, but a sensitive writer with a love of words and commitment to them, having studies literature before deciding to pursue a career in medicine. It’s 100% my kind of book, and I only wish I’d been the one to sell it, and not just because it moved me to tears and has been #1 on the NYT bestseller list since its release. I think it’s a life altering and life affirming book, and one that will carry on his legacy for many years to come.
Jim McCarthy recommends:
I deeply believe that the best novels aren’t necessarily ones that find new stories to tell but that find new ways to tell them. Recently, I read two novels that from the outside appeared quite familiar: Angela Fluornoy’s THE TURNER HOUSE and Anne Tyler’s A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD are both essentially family dramas, but they use that familiar genre to stunning ends. Fluornoy’s novel not only manages to do a deep dive into a family of 13 siblings in a relatively scant 352 pages, it also uses the Turner family as a conduit to explore contemporary Detroit—not only the hardship that the city has gone through, but the vital lives of the residents who stayed (through choice or lack thereof), and the vibrancy of a family and its home that even blight could not diminish. This novel is a sympathetic, moving, and entertaining love letter to family, to home, and to Detroit, and I adored it—that it’s a debut is astonishing. Then we have Anne Tyler who has been publishing for years, won a Pulitzer, had bestsellers, and somehow never made it into my reading pile. I finally picked up her newest book, and it was immediately apparent why she has been such a force for so long. Moving between past and present, interrogating the ways memories shift within a family, and overflowing with goodwill and forgiveness, A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD is incredibly funny, which doesn’t at all diminish its startling depths. The writing is so precise and so carefully layered that it feels effortless. Only in the end, having taken it all in and realizing how deeply moved I was, did it truly become apparent how brilliantly constructed and carefully wrought it truly is. In the end, these are the works of a writer at the dawn of what promises to be a stunning career and one who has already achieved great heights—both demonstrating that even working within a familiar realm, the extraordinary can be achieved. I love these novels, and I would be thrilled to find books in any category that don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but rather perfect it.
Jessica Papin recommends:
At Miriam’s long-ago recommendation, I finally read Maria Semple’s WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE, which was brilliant, funny, incisive and genuinely moving. A comedy of manners, a social satire and an epistolary novel rolled into one, it was thoroughgoing delight. Even though my taste runs toward the serious, some (my husband) might say humorless, I’m looking for fiction in this vein—where the laughs are more subtle than slapstick, and the humor is incisive but still humane. On the nonfiction side, but also in the category of better late than never, I read DAVE EGGERS ZEITOUN, which is a narrative account of a man and his family in the midst of Hurricane Katrina and the storm’s terrible aftermath. Despite the destruction wrought by the storm, it was the Department of Homeland Security that proved most devastating—it’s a book that has become, if anything, more timely.
Lauren Abramo recommends:
Eimear McBride’s A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING is a deep plunge into the mind of a young woman as she comes of age under the pressure of an abusively devout mother, absent father, predatory uncle, and an ever-so-slowly dying brother who was once her sole ally. Her rapid-fire, shattered narration as she tries to come to terms with her home and family, to explore her agency and sexuality, to escape pain and to punish herself with more of it, and to make peace with her splintering psychology to become a girl her mother and brother could love, all the while explaining her deepest self and internal collapse to the brother she’s lost, is both brutal and beautiful. A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING is one of the most successfully ambitious books I’ve read in a very long time. The narration is so disjointed at the best of times that you wouldn’t think there’d be room to go further and still retain sense, but in the harshest moments the narrative structure further deteriorates. In these passages that you can see what an incredibly fine line McBride’s been walking between impressionistic sense and nonsense. A girl may be a half-formed thing, but this novel is fully and impeccably crafted. It’s harrowing, haunting, clever, mesmerizing, heartbreaking, and truly, truly exceptional. I would be thrilled to represent fiction of this caliber and anything that’s this successfully brave in form and content.
John Rudolph recommends:
Right now, I’m tearing through THE WRIGHT BROTHERS by David McCullough. It’s utterly fascinating, especially for someone who used to harbor a serious fear of flying, and McCullough earns his reputation as one of the great storytellers of history. But perhaps what impresses me even more is that McCullough took a story that most people more-or-less know and propelled it to the top of the Times bestseller list. Granted, he’s David McCullough, but I think it’s a great example for nonfiction writers that even the most well-worn subjects can be given new life through access to unseen material and an exquisite prose style. I also appreciate how positively he shines the light on the brothers, showing just how remarkable and radical their achievement was for the time, while at the same time not passing judgment on their decidedly weird home life beyond letting the facts speak for themselves. So many nonfiction proposals I see focus on negative achievements or attempt to take down well-known figures or stories—it’s a real pleasure to see a book salute one of mankind’s towering triumphs as McCullough does here.
Michael Hoogland recommends:
This will be my first middle-grade recommendation, and I can’t think of a better first than ECHO. A harmonica and the silken thread of destiny intertwine three children who struggle to overcome great challenges over the course of World War II in this new novel from the much-acclaimed author of Esperanza Rising and The Dreamer, Pam Munoz Ryan. In Germany during Hitler’s rise to power, Friedrich Schmidt contends with a Nazi-sympathizing older sister and Jewish-sympathizing father. During the Great Depression, Mike Flannery is an orphaned piano prodigy who will do anything to stay with his little brother when he discovers the orphanage is planning to separate them. Ivy Maria Lopez experiences discrimination firsthand when she is whisked away to a new “school” so she can be “Americanized” while World War II rages on one continent away. As the mysterious harmonica finds its way to each child in turn, its sound fills them with an ethereal beauty and the confidence to confront the obstacles in their lives. ECHO is a seamless blend of historical fiction and magical realism, a masterwork filled with rich, complex characters and powerful writing that manages to infuse each line of prose with undertones equal parts profound sadness and boundless hope.
Erin Young recommends:
I recently picked up a copy of THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell, admittedly only attracted to the cover, which is gorgeous. Yet, I found the book to be equally as stunning. The middle grade story follows a young girl, Feo, who was raised by her mother to reintroduce wolves into the wild of snowy Russia. When her mother is taken captive, Feo must use the wolves to help her survive the harsh woods and save her mother. I was instantly captivated by the cold winter scenery of this novel. Every single page seems to glitter like a fairytale while maintaining its strikingly reality. I was obsessed with White Fang by Jack London when I was younger, and this novel has reawakened my love for the wiles of a wolf pack. Whether you’re looking for elegant prose, beautiful scenery, or a story about connecting with nature, this novel doesn’t disappoint.
Sharon Pelletier recommends:
Belinda McKeown’s brilliant second novel TENDER is the story of two Dublin college students in the late 90s. Catherine has been sheltered all her life and is exhilarated by the new experiences college is bringing her; her best friend James is an outgoing and experimental artist who cannot be open about an important part of his identity. Catherine and James are both working their way through that very familiar college time of life when we’re becoming something and don’t know how to do it. And as their bond develops into something toxic for them both, TENDER gives a heartrending, thought-provoking picture of how a society starts to moving towards acceptance, can along the way continue hurting the very people who have lost the most to bigotry. And Catherine is a fascinating character—a girl-woman who is terrible in a rather small and normal way, who we care about and cheer for despite her selfish, foolish, hurtful choices. An engaging and beautiful book that will linger in your mind long after you’ve read.
Eric Meyers recommends:
Ali Benjamin’s Middle Grade debut novel THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH was one of 2015’s most highly praised novels. Justly so: it is a moving, heartbreaking tale about how kids come to terms with loss and grief—and how much harder that can be when you already feel isolated, ostracized, and misunderstood. Benjamin’s heroine Suzy Swanson is a brainy misfit in her middle school, but at least she has one true friend. When that friend shuns her, betrays her, and falls in with the reigning Mean Girls, it is devastating to Suzy. And then when Suzy’s friend dies suddenly in a swimming accident, Suzy is devastated, and imposes a vow of silence on herself.
Amy Bishop recommends:
I tore through Nova Ren Suma’s devastatingly gorgeous novel THE WALLS AROUND US in two days flat, becoming grumpy when my commute ended or I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and had to put down the book. After a double murder outside a theatre, ballerina Violet Dumont walks free, while her best friend and rising star, Orianna Speerling is convicted and put away in the Aurora Hills Juvenile Detention center, where she meets Amber, a long term inmate. During two strange nights, all three girls become connected, as they hunt for answers, truth, and justice. In this spellbinding and supernatural story, Nova Ren Suma kept me guessing at every turn and thinking about what truly makes a person guilty or innocent. The suspense in this novel is beautifully done and the characters practically pop off the page. THE WALLS AROUND US is lyrical and dark, immersive and otherworldly—an incredible YA read that I’d be eager to revisit again and again.
Kemi Faderin recommends:
I was looking for something light and simple, when I stumbled upon Lora Nowlin’s poignant novel, IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME.
Phineas (Finny) Smith and Autumn Davis are destined to be together—their mothers are best friends and they’ve been inseparable since childhood. They think it will be like this forever. Yet, during their middle and high school years, they drift apart, finding new friends, love interests, and identities, despite still having to spend time together during birthdays and holidays. The summer before college, they rekindle their friendship and it becomes clear that they’re destined to be more than friends, until life plays a cruel hand and takes Finny away from Autumn. All Autumn can think is that if he had been with her, maybe Finny would still be alive.
It’s been a while since I’ve read contemporary YA romance and boy, was I sucked into this little gem. It’s a fast read, but not an easy one to digest. Nowlin has the power to draw you into the mind of a teenager and she gets everything right! The characters were complex and real, the issues they face are relatable, and their story is beautifully told. This book is perfect for contemporary YA lovers who are seeking a simple read that will have them grabbing for tissues at times.