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Top Pick

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns

    A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini No surprise here, I guess. Here are your reviews: "Follow-up to The Kite Runner. Challenging life of women in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule." … "I am enjoying it, though it's depressing! I preferred Kite Runner I think but am only half way through and it's picking up... it's a good read if you are interested in the plight of women in Afghanistan...not light summer reading!" … "I started reading this one, and it's a page- turner. It' got a historic backdrop of some 30 years of Afghanistan turmoil." … "Unbelievably sad yet uplifting, this story centers on two women in modern Afghanistan and the men who love or abuse them. Not for the faint of heart -- I cried like a baby."

  • Alexander Hamilton

    Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  Also Hamilton The Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda. "Listen to the Hamilton soundtrack 5-6 times.  Then read this book.  Then see the show.  Then find a 12-step program because you will get hooked." “I’m making my kids read the Chernow biography before we will take them to see Hamilton. This has two benefits: 1) help them appreciate the show more; 2) ticket prices will come down by the time they get through it.” And: "Given the craziness around Hamilton the musical, I decided to re-read Chernow's book on Alexander Hamilton. Hearing Manual Miranda's lyrics from Hamilton the musical practically every morning I drive my daughters to school, I was interested in the translation from book to musical. It is amazing how his lyrics tell the breadth and depth of Hamilton's story as well as the book. To some extent, Hamilton's life was both amazing and a soap opera, making a great story for a biography or a musical. My only complaint is with some of Chernow's writing. On numerous occasions he feels like he has to show off is SAT vocabulary when a more accessible word would do."

  • Art of Fielding

    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. “Very tender story of several students (two of whom are on the college baseball team), a college president, and his daughter. All have their own problems and concerns, and each is sympathetic in his/her own way. Intelligent and well-written.” And: “May this author write more! Prep school must-read.” From my friend’s Goodreads review: “The characters are not perfectly written, but they are very engaging. Harbach does a good job of giving us several different narrators who all have their own distinct voice, even if some are better fleshed out than others. The baseball is interwoven throughout the book but not hard to follow for those not well versed in the sport. There is a driving plot that keeps you turning the pages… There is a lot to enjoy here.”

  • Beautiful Ruins

    Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. "A lovely novel set alternately in the Italian coast in the 1960s and Hollywood today... transitions between a beautiful young cast member of the Cleopatra movie who was involved with Richard Burton, a young hotelier in Italy, an American writer who summers in Italy and an American film producer and his assistant."

  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers

    Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.  "Reads like fiction, amazing story and characters." And:  "Unbelievable book - kept thinking it had to be fiction.  It was so brutal."

  • Big Short

    The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. "Very good reportage on the financial meltdown from the viewpoint of several people who 'shorted' the housing market and made a killing while the banks imploded." "For those who want a quick read (except the middle) of what happened in the CDO market between 2007 and 2009." (NB: latter comment from contributor who is extremely well versed in financial services – she found a chunk of the book to be extremely technical, but said it not vital to understand everything to get the gist of/enjoy the book. I'm thinking it might be like the philosophical riffs in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, some of which I found pretentious, and great chunks of which I skimmed).

  • Big, Little Lies

    Big, Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.  This was on the list last year, but so many of you told me you loved it, I'm promoting it to a top pick this year. VERY beachy.  (NB: Moriarty has another book coming out in July called Truly Madly Guilty)  “Another hilarious novel from Moriarty whose familiar female characters share all of the petty conceits the rest of us do – but articulate them far more humorously. Voted top comedy on Goodreads last year, this story involves a murder at an elementary school parents’ party, but neither the killer nor the victim are revealed until the end.  Among the hysterically recognizable cast of characters: the members of a “support group for the parents of gifted children.” "Murder mystery among parents at a private school in Australia.  Twists and turns.  Characters you will love and hate and fight for." "I had an absolute blast reading this book about parents at a little school in Australia. It is clear from the start that someone was killed at a school fundraising event, though we don't know who or what the circumstances were. Moriarty takes us back through the months leading up to the event, tying the stories of various characters together in an artful fashion. She intersperses this with little snatches of dialogue that are evidently from police interviews with parents who attended the party. These are HYSTERICAL. So, yes, it's a satire. But it's not an over-the-top, cover-to-cover campy satire (those exhaust me). It's also a murder mystery, a romantic story, a friendship story. It's very clever but also very human with endearing characters and love-to-hate characters, and some in between. I just had the best time." "Why did I resist this book for so long? This book was a blast - - overall the story has a light tone and yet Morriarty covers some pretty heavy topics including spousal abuse and bullying. The characters were well drawn, sympathetic, the humor was actually quite funny and the observations about marriage, the parenting culture, and class differences among friends were all spot on. I originally dismissed this as chick lit and I guess it is but it makes me realize that not all chick lit is created equal."

  • Bittersweet

    Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.  Gothic suspense.  From Amazon:  Plain scholarship student Mabel Dagmar is surprised when her glamorous blue-blooded roommate at their prestigious east coast university befriends her, even more when Genevra "Ev" Winslow invites her to spend the summer at Bittersweet, her cottage on the sprawling Vermont estate owned for generations by her family.  Mabel falls in love with the place, finds a love interest and begins to feel like one of the Winslows.  But she soon discovers a dark side to this family - will she keep the secrets?  Lots of twists will keep you turning the pages.

  • Boys in the Boat

    The Boys on the Boat by Daniel James Brown. “Amazing book - my favorite. A true incredible story. Not at all just about crew -more about overcoming hurdles. During the depression these boys that lived in severe poverty were able to triumph through perseverance. Very humbling which is needed to keep us all grounded. Also very inspiring. And fascinating historical tidbits woven throughout - ie about Hitler. Hint: the beginning is very slow. The reader just has to stick it out through the beginning - it picks up and you become hooked."

  • Brooklyn

    Brooklyn Coim Toibin.  This was on the 2012 New Fiction list. It was bumped up this year on the strength of additional enthusiastic reviews.  Eilis Lacey grew up in a small town in Ireland after World War II.  When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor her in America, she decides she must go, leaving behind her fragile mother and vivacious sister.  “I loved the tone and the voice of the narrator, the way the story was sparsely told and yet so full of life.  Toibin shows us so much about the time and experience of Irish immigrants in the years after World War II without telling us explicitly."  (Great interview with author here: BBC)

  • Bullet

    The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelley. Mary Louise is a former NPR reporter and a friend of this book list and many of its contributors. And she definitely knows how to write a suspenseful thriller! Protagonist Caroline is 37 years old and having pain in her wrist. An MRI reveals a bullet lodged against her spine. WTF? She’s never been shot. Or so she thinks. Her parents reveal she was adopted and that her birth parents had been murdered. Caroline sets out to find out what happened. Needless to say, “events ensue.” “Light read but a page-turner, set in DC. Protagonist is a Georgetown Prof who grew up in Cleveland Park.”

  • Charm School

    The Charm School by Nelson Demille. Okay, I cheated and added this NOT NEW book after the list was published. Until this Russian spy story emerged, this book might have seemed a little dated. But hey! Cold War intrigue is BACK, baby, and suddenly this novel is not only timely, but seems weirdly prescient. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading this great old (v beachy) book, I highly recommend it. I remember when I got to the end of this book, I absolutely HAD to be somewhere, but I absolutely COULD NOT put it down. DeMille's best, I think. Maybe now that fear of Russian spies is once again in vogue, they'll finally make a movie of it.

  • Cleopatra

    Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff Biography. “Not one I would have picked up but given to me by a friend. I devoured it in a few days." … “Great read, great history as biography.” … “Read this on your Kindle or with dictionary at your side. A light rompy read, this is not... however, it is a very interesting and well researched story about the mesmerizing Cleopatra.”

  • Crazy U

    Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College by Andrew Ferguson. Non-fiction. “Ferguson's book about college admissions makes you scream, ‘WHAT are we DOING?’ The book’s narrative focus -- Ferguson’s son’s journey through college admissions – stands alone in depicting the utter madness that defines the process of trying to get a kid into college (and then, somehow, paying for it). But Ferguson reinforces the sense of lunacy with interesting history and analysis. And Ferguson is SO funny. To wit, Ferguson, having been told his son should ‘dig deep’ and talk about his ‘innermost thoughts’ when writing his essay, Ferguson observes ‘seventeen-year-old boys do not have innermost thoughts – and if they did, neither you nor I would want to know what they are.’)” As the Washington Post put it, ‘It may seem strange to say that a book so full of heartache is a pleasure to read, but Ferguson's storytelling is irresistible. ’ Ferguson only begins to touch on the question that is probably at the heart of the higher ed bubble - is a Bachelor's degree truly worth a quarter million dollars and an unspeakable hassle? - but he does get you thinking.”

  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

    Crooked Letter, Crooked Letterby Tom Franklin. Murder mystery/thriller. Black Silas Jones and white Larry Ott were childhood friends, though they kept their friendship quiet in 1970s Mississippi. A girl disappears after a date with Larry, who is universally suspected (though not convicted) of the crime. Flash forward to present times. Silas is now the constable and another girl disappears. Larry, an outcast all these years, is again a suspect. The story of their old friendship and mysteries – old and new – unfold. Contributor comments: “Compelling with great southern Mississippi atmospherics. Larry Ott is a truly pathetic character (in the real meaning of the word) -- heartbreakingly so. I read the book in a couple of days.” … “A reasonably simple story of murder and friendship set in Mississippi, beautifully told, with real character development even for the supporting roles, and a few twists - no huge surprises, but nicely woven together.”

  • Cutting for Stone

    Cutting for Stone (Vintage) by Abraham Verghese. I am not sure I know anyone who didn’t love this book. It’s about identical twins born to a beautiful Indian nun in Ethiopia. (Yes, really.) She dies in childbirth, leaving them to be raised by one of the most wonderful couples I’ve ever encountered in literature. I'm not going to say how long it is … read it on the Kindle, as I did, and find out AFTER you’ve finished it. Comments: "Gorgeous writing style and story." "The book opened so many windows -- allowing a rare glimpse into Ethiopia, into surgery (NEVER thought I'd want to read all of that!), then crossing the pond with our protagonist to his life at a hospital in the Bronx."  "My goodness, I loved this book. Sweeping, yet intimate family saga of twin brothers born to a doctor and a nun-nurse and how their lives unfold. Stranger in a strange land, what is home, what is family -- all themes in this beautifully written book."

  • Defending Jacob

    Defending Jacob by William Landay. “Very readable and fast paced.   A district attorney's son is accused of killing a classmate and his father is thrown into the case. The author's description of life and the people in the upper middle class town ring true and so do the feelings and conflicts of the accused's and victim's parents.” Another contributor writes, “This is a legal thriller in which a 14 year old boy is suspected of murdering a fellow student. As the case wears on the parents’ belief systems are sorely tested. The fictional father is an established assistant D.A. and supportive of his son. The book has been likened to Anna Quindlen’s ‘Every Last One’ in its connection with that tiny bit of uncertainty that parents may have about their children.  There are many twists in “Defending Jacob” which keep one reading right to the end.”

  • Eat, Pray, Love

    Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. Everyone seems to be talking about this book: "Fun quick read for travel and food lovers." … "Read it on vacation and thoroughly enjoyed it." … "A journalist recounts a whirlwind year of self-exploration in three countries. This woman experiences more in one year than most of us experience in a decade! Warning: the section on Italy caused me to crave pasta and wine--well, more than usual. This woman's life experiences are so different from mine. I had trouble identifying with the author, but I still enjoyed the book and found it very worthwhile."

  • Elegance of the Hedgehog

    The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury.  "Reading it now and while it took me a while to get into it, I am completely caught in its spell now. Set in Paris, it is about a combination of intriguing and surprising people who all live in a well-to-do apartment building in Paris. It’s a major life themes kind of book with lots of humor and kindness to offset some of the heavy stuff. " Same contributor, about a day later: "Okay I confess that I just read then end of the Hedgehog and it was really wonderful. One of the best books ever. Practically sobbing, but not in a miserably sad way. It was just beautiful and is one of those books that gathers steam." "A wonderful story about a child living in a crazy French apartment building and considering killing herself. I did love this book. Apparently child psychiatrists make it mandatory reading for their patients."

  • Eligible

    Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld. “Known for her novels, Prep and American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book Eligible puts a modern-day twist on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  This version tells the story of the Cincinnati Benet family and the parents’ quest to marry off their five daughters.  Two daughters living in New York come home when the father has a health scare. Two new-in-town doctors become perfect candidates for the Benet daughters.  The book is clever and funny -- even includes a dating reality show participant.  It is a quick read and easy to follow.”  “A perfect summer read (and a welcome break after finishing Infinite Jest)... humorous and insightful window into the Bennet family."  "The plot is a familiar one with modern twists.   Before moving to Cincinnati, Chip Bingley was the star bachelor of a reality tv show called Eligible in which 25 women compete for a marriage proposal. It is a good, comfortable read- perfect for the beach or a long plane ride.” “Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible tackles gender, class, courtship, and family as Curtis Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.” “She really knocked it out of the park.  If you liked Sittenfeld's Prep - her first novel - or Jane Austen, you will enjoy it.” [Ed: As an Austen lover, i have been wary because of some of the reviews online. I pressed one reviewer who added the following: "Like it or not, Eligible provides an accurate, albeit slightly conflated (e.g., her sister’s marriage to a transgender Cross Fit instructor) look at what is happening in the world today.  I decided to laugh and appreciate the author’s ability to hit on nearly every trend, norm and societal issue through the different characters and situations." She recommended P&P lovers just have fun and think, "I see what you did there Sittenfeld."  Those who haven't read P&P read this first as the accessible version then read the original.]