Jamie's Staff Picks

The Ensemble: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735214767
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Published: Riverhead Books - May 15th, 2018

There is nothing quite as magical as the story of a found family, and this debut novel absolutely sparkles with the story of the four musicians in a string quartet who bump against one another across the decades of their career together. I have never read such beautiful writing about music and musicians, and about the ambition and pride required and the sacrifices made in the name of art. Prickly Jana, prodigy Henry, quiet Brit, and moody Daniel are characters who push against one another in dissonance even when they come together in absolute harmony as they fight and love in equal measure.. While the book is about an ensemble, the story is symphonic in its beauty. 

The Hating Game: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062439598
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Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - August 9th, 2016

This book made me happy in a way that no book has made me happy since perhaps ALLY HUGHES HAS SEX SOMETIMES. I read it with a smile on my face. A giant grin. And then the next day I reread it because I wanted to see what I missed about Josh's long term game with Lucy. And then I went on vacation and left it behind and when I got back home I read the whole damn thing again because it is just SO DELIGHTFUL. 

Educated: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399590504
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Published: Random House - February 20th, 2018

A good memoir takes you into a place that you don't know and shows you around; an exceptional one grabs you and doesn't let go until you feel like the author's singular story is universal. Tara Westover's childhood growing up on a mountain in Idaho with dangerously devout Mormon parents and brothers is not one I recognize. That she never stepped foot in a classroom until she incredibly enrolled in college and ultimately found herself earning a PhD from Harvard is confounding. The abuse leveled at her from her family - from neglect, from physically dangerous workplaces when she wasn't yet a teenager, from misguided religious fervor, from emotional torment - is terrifying. This book grapples with the equal parts love and fear she has for her siblings and parents, and with the questions of what one has to be willing to sacrifice to become a fully realized person. It's a memoir that you would never believe if it were fiction.

Emergency Contact Cover Image
ISBN: 9781534408968
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Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - March 27th, 2018

You know that thing where a book comes out of nowhere and grabs you and says, "Hey, I'm your book. I'm going to WRECK you and make you laugh and giggle and cry and you won't know what hit you"? That's this book for me. And if you haven't had that happen, I wish it for you because I want everyone to be made as happy by a book as this one made me.

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card Cover Image
ISBN: 9781524717797
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Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers - February 6th, 2018

AMERICANIZED is somehow both of-the-moment timely and full of 90s-flashback nostalgia as Sara Saedi explores what it's like to be an undocumented immigrant but still undeniably American. Saedi exposes the painfully slow wheels of change regarding immigration and the American dream in a memoir that hooked me with its personality and humor. 

The Incendiaries: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735213890
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Published: Riverhead Books - July 31st, 2018

A slim, unsparing book about obsession in all its forms, THE INCENDIARIES might be the book I will spend all of 2018 trying to get my mind around. R. O. Kwon puts you into the head of Will, who attempts to come to terms with the truths of his heady relationship with Phoebe, a fellow student whose guilt over her mother's death puts her in the path of a religious cult. I was enthralled by this book; I was infuriated by this book; I will not soon forget this book.

The Great Believers Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735223523
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Published: Viking - June 19th, 2018

This is an unforgettable book, full of exquisite characters who you will fall in love with as you watch the ravages of AIDS overtake many of them. There is so much humanity to be found in the small moments of devastation and connection between truly unforgettable characters Yale and Fiona. Rebecca Makkai has written a gorgeous book about family: the family you create, the family you lose, and the family ties that bind across generations.

The Wildlands Cover Image
ISBN: 9781619022348
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Published: Counterpoint LLC - September 4th, 2018

Young Cora loses her house and her father all in one moment to a devastating tornado, but it is her brother Tucker’s disappearance not long after that causes the biggest absence in her life. Tucker returns and takes Cora with him on a road trip full of radicalized acts of violence, his power over her both seductive and toxic as he grooms her in his image in the guise of making her into a budding activist. Abby Geni is the absolute master of storytelling about the destructive beauty of nature and wildlife and in THE WILDLANDS she had my heart in my throat as she explores the battle between human and mother nature.

The Immortalists Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735213180
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Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - January 9th, 2018

In late 1960s Greenwich Village, the four Gold siblings visit a fortune teller who tells each of them the day they will die. Chloe Benjamin follows the quartet over the next forty years as they live, love, fight and, yes, die. From reckless Simon to serious Daniel, wild Klara to precise Varya, these are characters that will haunt and astonish. The book carries you across decades with an ambitious sweep but a precise specificity while asking questions of faith and fate, chance and determination. In the end, though only one of the siblings is a magician, all four of their stories are magical.

The Glass Eye: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9781941040775
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Published: Tin House Books - October 3rd, 2017

An absolutely beautiful exploration of family, grief, memory, and madness, this book is outstanding. Jeannie Vanasco promised her father before his death that she would write a book for him, never knowing the psychological and mental toll the process would ultimately take on her. Vanasco explores her family’s history: the entirely separate family her father had before she was born; the late-in-life marriage that led to Jeannie’s birth; her own destructive behavior as she falls in and out of a mental illness that informs the truly fascinating structure of the book. The layers found in this memoir are as plentiful as the layers found in the human eye; ultimately, it is as deeply layered as the human experience itself.

The End We Start from Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802126894
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Published: Grove Press - November 7th, 2017

An apocalyptic flood ravages London at the near-moment our unnamed narrator gives birth to her son and leads to the loss of normalcy for the survivors forever. In language that is spare but never simple, Megan Hunter writes of the protagonist’s journey as she and her family try to survive and retain their humanity under the most devastating of circumstances. The way that civilization devolves into terror and brutality is all-too-believable, while glimmers of kindness and grace remain between the people ravaged by the flood. The finely chosen details and perfectly evocative phrases that fill this book made me ache.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter Cover Image
ISBN: 9781524700485
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Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers - October 17th, 2017

After the death of her sister Olga, Julia is left to hold up the mantle of perfection that Olga had erected in their Mexican parents's minds. But what her family doesn't realize is that Julia has more in mind for herself than anyone could have imagined. This book doesn't preach and it doesn't set out to teach, but an education it provides nonetheless as Erika L. Sanchez explores what it means to be poor, to be a child of undocumented immigrants, and what it means to want more and not be able to clear the low bar that your parents have set for you because they aren't able to see the more you're striving for. Julia is a singular character who will stick with me for a long time.

A Kind of Freedom Cover Image
ISBN: 9781619029224
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Published: Counterpoint LLC - August 15th, 2017

This is a remarkable book, covering three generations of an Creole family in New Orleans. In the 40s of World War II, Evelyn falls in love with a poor but striving boy and has to manage her family's expectations to become her own person. In the 80s, her daughter Jackie navigates how to trust her husband, a recovering crack addict who returns to her life when their son is still an infant. And in the post-Katrina New Orleans of 2010, Jackie's son T.C. emerges from prison to try to make something of himself in the eyes of his family and his pregnant girlfriend, only to find the system and old friends from the neighborhood make it hard to pull himself up. Despite the systemic oppression the characters face, they have hope; even though I was infuriated at the cycles of poverty, drug abuse, and imprisonment, I couldn’t help but root for the characters in Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s glorious debut.

Little Fires Everywhere Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735224292
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Published: Penguin Press - September 12th, 2017

Celeste Ng is a master at creating a mood, and she does not disappoint in her sophomore effort. Her exploration of suburban ennui and the microagressions found in questions of class, race, and status are effortless. Each of her characters has both grace and volatility within them and the only complaint a reader can have is that we have to leave them.

The Mothers: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399184529
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Published: Riverhead Books - October 10th, 2017

The mothers of this book ostensibly refers to the gaggle of elderly churchgoing women who comment on the congregation around them, especially the trio of Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey. But of course it's about more than that - it refers to motherhood itself, whether it's real, lost, aborted, adoptive, or conflicted. The three young people at the heart of the story are all flawed but realistic and easy to root for. It's a book about salvation - not the spiritual salvation the gossiping but well-intentioned mothers seek, but the kind that comes with self-acceptance and growth. "The Mothers" is an honest, modern, and triumphant book. 

Cruel Beautiful World: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781616207373
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Published: Algonquin Books - August 8th, 2017

When I finished this book I let out a deep breath I didn't realize I was holding.  In 1969, Lucy runs away with her high school English teacher, leaving her sister Charlotte behind to deal with the fallout.  This is a brutal but warm story that is full of surprises.  It makes me ache.

The Nix Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101970348
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Published: Vintage - May 2nd, 2017

Kids of Appetite Cover Image
ISBN: 9780147513663
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Published: Speak - September 5th, 2017

"Kids of Appetite" is not a sideways hug of a book. It is a bear hug that sneaks up on you with the effortlessly diverse cast of characters and the beautifully plotted bits of information that David Arnold sprinkles throughout until you are smiling (both inside and out). Vic and Mad are unique and wonderful and like Mim before them I just want to be their best friend. With "Kids of Appetite," Arnold has created a second book as accomplished as "Mosquitoland" and proven that he's the real super racehorse.

You Will Know Me: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316231060
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Published: Back Bay Books - April 25th, 2017

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don't Learn Them from Movies Anymore) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501130458
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Published: Simon & Schuster - June 14th, 2016

A shot of nostalgia right in the arm, this book made me laugh and nod while explaining all the life lessons we didn't realize 80s movie's held.  "Baby Boom" is totally feminist.  "Ferris Bueller" is all about class.  "Steel Magnolias" is one of the last films with women actresses who aren't 20 and taut.  "Ghost Busters" is among the last movies with actual grown men as characters as opposed to the Apatow manboy.  This is really fun!

Homegoing Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101971062
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Published: Vintage - May 2nd, 2017

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Sweetbitter (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101911860
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Published: Vintage - April 4th, 2017

Watch Tess navigate the world of high end dining.  Watch her play as hard as she works - if not harder.  Watch as she gets pulled in by the bad boy bartender, knowing as well as she does that he's a disaster.  Watch as Stephanie Danler creates something purer & more interesting than you were expecting.  This book has me in its thrall.  This familiar tale is anything but ordinary.

Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs Cover Image
ISBN: 9780804187992
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Published: Three Rivers Press - June 6th, 2017

Dave Holmes was an MTV VJ in the nineties - which you probably know if you were born between 1970 and 1985.  This memoir is a burst of musical nostalgia; it's the story of coming out when he was never quite "in" the closet; it's funny & poignant & a delight.

Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101984246
Availability: Special Order
Published: Dutton - June 14th, 2016

I'll be honest:  this cover is TERRIBLE.  But, this book is awesome and I read the whole thing in one sitting with a grin on my face.  Ally Hughes - single mom, professor of feminist economics at Brown, generally staid and predictable - has a magical, ridiculously sexy and romantic weekend with a former student named Jake.  Flash forward 10 years later and see how Jake's return to her life takes twists you don't expect.  Seriously.  I was all grins and goofy giggling.

Sunday's on the Phone to Monday Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501116889
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Published: Touchstone Books - April 18th, 2017

In her debut, Christine Reilly has written a novel that is clever and yet full of capital-H Heart.  The tale of the Simone family shows how illness - both physical and mental - ripples across generations.  Fans of "Fates & Furies" will love this!

Among the Ten Thousand Things: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812985344
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Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - June 14th, 2016

Though I read this book a year ago, I still vividly remember the sentences and turns of phrase that Julia Pierpont created that made me gasp.  The Shanley family is on the verge of collapse as the book starts, and Pierpont's skill and daring makes the "what will happen" not as important as the "why and how it will."  Truly beautiful and strikingly assured for such a young, emerging author, this book makes a perfect lazy summer read.

The Serpent King Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553524055
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Published: Ember - June 6th, 2017

THIS BOOK.  Oh, man.  I could not love it more if I tried.  Dill, Lydia, and Travis are outsiders in their small Tennessee town but at least they have one another.  A debut novel that explores place, friendship, faith, family, poverty, and belonging, "The Serpent King" had me sobbing and laughing and laugh-sobbing.  I wish I could read it again for the first time.  This is a young adult book that belongs in the hands of every human, young or old.

The Ramblers: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062413321
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Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - October 4th, 2016

Fans of Meg Wolitzer's "The Interestings" will devour this book, the story of three thirty somethings who met years ago at Yale and are just now becoming the people they thought they would be.  Smith, Tate, and Clio are flawed but real, engaging and infuriating all at the same time, and when this book was over I wanted to spend more time with them.

The Prom Goer's Interstellar Excursion Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780375847400
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Ember - April 12th, 2016

A seriously silly and hysterical romp through space, "Prom Goer's..." makes me think of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "Almost Famous" with a nice helping of 21st century snark served on the side.  This book made me laugh until I snorted with its description of interspecies band politics and a cast of characters who are both ridiculous and lovable all at once.

Edie Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802134103
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Published: Grove Press - October 14th, 1994

It's back in print!  While ostensibly an oral history of Andy Warhol's It Girl Edie Sedgwick, this book is so much more: a seminal exploration of 1960's New York, glam, drugs, pop art, the Velvet Underground, etc.  VITAL!!

Liars and Saints Cover Image
ISBN: 9780743261982
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Published: Scribner Book Company - July 13th, 2004

Meloy's debut novel took my breath away on first read and continues to astonish me on each subsequent visit. Her background as a short story writer makes every sentence crisp and clean; she is the rare writer who can encapsulate a character in a few choice words so that I know them intimately in the span of one sentence. Read this, then immediately run out and buy "A Family Daughter," the not-quite-a-sequel companion novel.

A Family Daughter: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780743277679
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Published: Scribner - February 20th, 2007

A companion - though not a sequel - to "Liars & Saints," "A Family Daughter" took my breath away.  What if the details of your life were just slightly changed?  Meloy makes small but not insignificant alterations to the Santerre's family story and in doing so creates a tale that is just as poignant and affecting as its predecessor.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374527228
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - November 25th, 2000

Fadiman's small collection of essays about reading and readers is both personal and universal at the same time. These essays make me nod in agreement and recognition.

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316199988
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Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - April 8th, 2014

This is among the most beautifully, richly illustrated picture books I've ever seen. The story, of a creature who stops waiting on his friend to find him and instead goes out into the world to search for her, is adorable and satisfying and a favorite of the whole family.

We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) Cover Image
By Mo Willems, Mo Willems (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781423133087
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Published: Hyperion Books for Children - September 14th, 2010

All Elephant and PIggie titles are a hit in our house, but none makes us giggle as much as when Gerald makes us say banana. It's a children's book that is self aware - dare I say, a postmodern children's book. What else could you want when you're on your sixth bedtime story of the night?