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Laird Hunt has been on my radar for years, as his books have been well-reviewed and are often admired by authors I love, but I hadn’t picked up a book of his until Zorrie. What a lovely surprise. This elegant, subtle novel is a character study of a person, a place, a lifestyle. We follow the title character Zorrie and over the course of the 20thcentury in the rural Midwest, mostly in Indiana, where she dreams, learns, loses, loves, and persists. Akin to novels from Elizabeth Strout and Marilynne Robinson or even Willa Cather, Zorrie may seem simple, but it confronts big questions that get at the heart of life. How do you to find happiness or muster hope despite the setbacks and heartaches of life? We witness resilience, fortitude, and empathy through Hunt’s gracefully distilled writing. This slim novel holds many treasures and despite its length you feel as though you’ve encountered a grand chronicle of a life. - Hilary
An immensely lovely picture book about how we create a feeling of home when home doesn't necessarily physically exist. A family is leaving (fleeing?) and their sense of "here" is always changing. So instead of a place, "here" becomes a familiar tea cup, the steady comfort of the stars, a song that everyone can sing. There have been a number of books about the refugee experience, but this is the best I've seen - one that captures the idea that while there is lots of waiting and sometimes hardship, there is also kinship and strength. It uses simple concepts that children can relate to when thinking about how we create a sense of home and belonging. And how our personal stories are created as we move through life and that there can be hope even in difficult situations. - Hilary
This book is so good. It has everything going for it. Engaging, topical plot. Smart, stylish prose. Page-turning pacing. Unforgettable characters. The novel is the story of twin sisters and the diverging paths their lives take when one decides to pass as white. It is important look at there performance of race (and also gender) and it’s psychological cost over the generations in a family. I couldn’t put it down and I can’t stop thinking about it. And I want to talk about it to everyone I know. I bet you’ll be itching to unravel this multifaceted, sophisticated novel, too. Read it and then, let’s talk.
I’ve been an Ann Patchett fan since college. I regularly recommend her writing, enjoying both her non-fiction and her novels over the years, but this is definitely her best work yet. I love this fairytale-like novel of two siblings Danny and Maeve, told through the eyes of the younger brother Danny, and spanning from their childhood to middle age. It is the story of how our personal history is created partially by imagining the inner lives of those within our family orbit. Ultimately, it is the characters’ confrontation and grappling with their childhood perceptions of familial roles and situations that propel the novel. A thoughtful meditation on the shifting sands of personal histories and how the stories we tell ourselves, often clouded by misconceptions, can be radically altered with a little empathy.
I love Jillian Tamaki and this is one of my favorites from the past year. It is the story of a soup kitchen that Tamaki based on her own experience volunteering at a community kitchen. It's all about coming together for your neighbors, delighting in your imagination when using a variety of donated, grown, and leftover food items, and the sights and sounds of people coming together in a small space to create a meal. My daughter loves this book and her curiousity about what all the characters are doing and why which makes for a great interactive conversation. - Hilary
Authors and Illustrators Jerome and Jarret Pumphrey were inspired by the strong, resourceful women in their family tree, including their mom, grandmothers, and even their great-grandmother (who bought her own farm with money earned picking cotton). They imagine a little girl growing up on a farm along side an old truck, which gets neglected with time, but eventually gets fixed up when the girl becomes a new farmer herself. As a truck-loving toddler, my daughter especially loves seeing a little girl in the truck, as so many truck books feature boys as the protagonist. Simple text exploring ideas of imagination and determination combined with beautiful images in a gentle color palate (made with over 250 custom-made stamps) make this picture books a standout. - Hilary
My (almost) two-year-old daughter Greta and I love this book! Snappy, delightful text from Margaret Wise Brown (author of classics Goodnight, Moon and Runaway Bunny, among others) updated with bright, bold illustrations by Greg Pizzoli (best known for his book The Watermelon Seed). Charming and energetic, this story of Two Little Trains, and all they see on their way heading west, is a perfect read aloud for preschoolers.
This book is so simple yet so perfect. A friend (who happens to be a picture book author and illustrator) said to me recently when he recommended the book, “Lucy Cousins is a toddler whisperer.” I agree!! Cousins, known primarily for her Maisy books, requests our reader/listener to pretend like a bird “just for one day” going through different kinds of bird sounds and motions that a toddler can’t resist imitating. It’s got a great simple rhythm that keeps it moving paired with spunky illustrations of all kinds of birds. Great for the earliest of book lovers. - Hilary
This is a great book for helping preschoolers understand basic emotions and feelings. It classifies them as colors, which is easy to grasp for little minds (e.g. red is angry, blue is sad, yellow is happy). As my two year old processes her feelings, it’s nice to have a book that we can use to guide a conversation about all those BIG emotions. I don’t know about you, but I could use some help figuring out my emotions these days, too. - Hilary
This 2019 Caldecott honor book is a winner. The story of a bear, and a group of forest friends that come along on a river ride, is playful with colorful, lively illustrations. The cadence of the text guides you along the river run with all the different animals and their particular personalities, all while gently conveying the importance of teamwork. Coronoavirus note: For Grandparents, or others, looking to read a book to kids over video this would be a good pick!
Layla and Rafiq come to America, a land that holds no past for them, but one in which they must make a future in. Both are immigrants from India looking to create a fruitful life together. We witness them try their best to raise their children Hadia, Huda, and Amar, and instill a deep reverence for their Muslim faith. This proves a challenge in a defiantly indifferent America. The novel blooms as it follows each child's struggle in their path to adulthood. These alternating perspectives provide a nuanced portrait of the ways we reconcile the lives we wish to pursue and the ones our parents envision for us. Heartbreaking, timely, and genuinely moving.
Meet Auntie Poldi, a sassy 60-something widow who retires to Sicily to live out her days imbibing on vino, savoring good food, and admiring a view of the sea. That is until the handsome handyman who is helping her renovate her villa goes missing and is found murdered. Poldi immerges as Sicily’s new amateur sleuth – but her snooping into the lives of the townsfolk proves irksome to the sexy police inspector in charge of the investigation. Giordano, a writer of both books and screenplays, has a knack for cinematic writing with snappy dialogue and page-turning plot twists. For fans of international mysteries set amid beautiful landscapes and filled with quirky, lovable characters.
My favorite book of 2017. Ward is master storyteller and so graceful in showing us the depths of grief, the pain of emotional suffering, the grip of sadness. We see generation after generation of a family endure loss. Smell the blood of those gone and see it spill from those still here. Witness not just with eyes, but with heart, the hardship of those that came before and those that come after. But the novel is equally adept at showing us love, not matter how subtle. We see how love can be carried, not matter how small, and can become a tiny gem that allow the characters to bear what life brings. Even with the heavy weight of sorrow running through the novel, the book is somehow lightened through Ward’s generously beautiful prose. She shows us what it is to live, to love, to die. What an extraordinary book. One I will take with me the rest of my life.
For thirty-five years, Hanta has been compacting wastepaper and books, and it's his love story. Set in Prague under Communist rule, Hanta sees thousands of books destroyed under his watch. But he "saves" as many as he can and collects them in his home. He may be simple, and at times just plain foolish, but he loves his books as ardently as any intellectual. My favorite book of all time, I reread this book over and over again, and its beautiful, rambling sentences become my own kind of devotional. I absolutely love this book for its silly, misguided narrator and his compulsive love for the written word.
A quiet green notebook with "Provence, 1970" scribbled on the cover was found by M.F.K. Fisher's nephew buried in a storage unit afer her death. From the notebook, letters, and her diaries, he pieces together the story of one winter spent in Provence cooking, musin, and collaborating with Paul and Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney, and a number of mid-century chefs. You'll delight in the peculiarities of the personalities, the elaborate menus, and the remembrances of a life well liked.
One of the best debut novels I've ever read. Period.
I devoured this book as a sleep-deprived mother, precariously turning pages while holding a sleeping newborn child. Despite my better judgement, I couldn't put it down to get must needed rest. It is the best book I've read on the immigrant experience. The most nuanced and complex historical novel. One of the truest portraits of the trials of motherhood. And the most epic family story I've encountered. Definitely a top 10 novel of all time in my reading life.