Thursday, June 7, 2012


 "Top picks" are books recommended by a critical mass of our contributors.  This year's are divided by fiction and non-fiction.  We also include hundreds of additional selections in our fiction, non-fiction and old favorites lists below.

Fiction Top Picks:

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.”

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.”

The Expats by Chris Pavone. “Great spy drama.  Exciting – it unfolds like a flower.  TOTAL page turner.”  And:  “I really liked the flashback structure.  Pavone has a unique way of using flashback that keeps you guessing about the characters and whether you can or cannot trust them.”  And: “Very gripping and hard to put down.  A spy story starring a wife and mother who in between intrigues goes shopping at European Costco and takes clandestine meetings while the kids are at school.  Loved it!”

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  "A wonderfully creative premise - using flowers and what they stood for during victorian times as a means to express feelings for an orphan who grew up mostly in abusive foster homes - and a nicely woven together story, with some extreme moments. Overall an entertaining and at times heart wrenching read.”

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  This book actually appeared on last year’s list. It was suggested by publishing industry friend and was published mid-summer.  Everyone who read it seems to have loved it:  “The writing was just beautiful. The plot reasonably straightforward, with some interesting twists, yet what made this book was the writing. A treat!”  And: “I was so surprised when I realized the author was a man.”  Another contributor:  “chronicle of the life of a young woman in New York in the 1930's.  The author writes the way we wish we all could - fabulous metaphors combined with graceful prose that tells the truth, even when it hurts.  You won't see the plot twist coming toward the end of the book, either.”

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  Every sentence builds the story…The book becomes a mystery although for the first half it feels like a very straightforward narrative of Tony Weber remembering his school days, his boyhood friend, his first lover and then his marriage and fatherhood. There is much here about memory and the way we create and shape our own life story into something we can live with ourselves and present to others. In the second half of the book we are shown another side to this narrative and Tony and the reader has to reconsider what we thought of his version of the past.  I would recommend reading this book without knowing a lot about the plot so that you can try to piece the story together along with Tony (which is why I'm writing very little about the plot here). There is a lot to think about with this book and I'm still lingering on the after effects.” And:  “You will read this short compelling book twice in order to make ‘sense’ of it. A middle aged man looks back on what he thinks are his memories of a college romance, and sees things completely differently the second time around. Short, sweet, and thoughtful.”  And: “an interesting reflection on the character's life and some mistakes he made along the way.” 

Non-Fiction Top Picks:

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."

The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik.  “After her father dies, the author discovers a photo of her Mom at age 13 in a wedding dress - with a man who is not her father.  The book is the story of her mother's forced marriage in Iran and her efforts to build a life - it certainly made me glad that my daughters are growing up in America.” Another contributor called it “Fascinating and well-written.” 

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