The Road Home: A Contemporoary Exploration of the Buddhist Path

Ethan Nichtern, 2015

This book is based on Buddhist thought and theory yet a follower of any religion will gain from reading The Road Home. You will receive a deeper understanding of the interrelation of all people, how our limited space on this earth is shared and how we need to value other people and the earth to gain a future that is better with less conflict. If you’re curious about Buddhism and meditation, but find the language of spiritual books too woo woo or impenetrable, this book is for you. It's smart, funny and a very accessible guide to contemporary Buddhism.

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Children's Crusade

Ann Packer, 2015

Ann Packer’s beautifully-written novel tells the story of a doctor, his wife and their four children.  Set in Northern California, it describes a time and place of tranquility, long before the area became Silicon Valley.  Dr. Blair, the pediatrician father, is a role model and the chief caretaker of his children.  His wife, Penny, is a bohemian artist, bored with domesticity and indifferent to the interior lives of her children.  What develops is a complex portrait of a family where adult identify is formed in childhood and birth order does matter.  

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M Train

Patti Smith, 2015

Musician, poet and photographer, Ms. Smith, is remarkably attuned to the sound and sorcery of words, and her prose here is both lyrical and radiantly pictorial. Braiding despair with hope and consolation, illustrated with her signature Polaroids, M Train is a meditation on travel, detective shows, literature, and coffee. It is a powerful, deeply moving book by one of the most remarkable multi-platform artists at work today.

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Perfume Collector

Kathleen Tessaro, 2013

Tessaro has written a compelling novel, full of long-buried secrets, revisited memories, and new opportunities.  Englishwoman Grace Monroe travels to Paris in search of answers as well as escape from her unhappy marriage after receiving a bequest from Eva Dorsey, a woman she has never heard of. The chapters alternate between Grace's Paris sojourn in 1955 and Eva's story, which begins with a job in a New York City hotel in 1927, at the age of 14.

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The Marriage of Opposites

Alice Hoffman, 2015

Hoffman’s lush, romantic, historical novel follows the story of Rachel Petit, the rebellious daughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman and his conventional and judgmental wife. Her parents arrange a marriage for Rachel with an older widower and his three children.  When her husband dies six years later, Rachel falls in love with Frederic Pissarro. She marries Frederic, and has many more children, including Camille, who will become the famous Impressionist artist.  The tension between the unconventional Rachel and the dreamy Camille make this a stunning read.

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The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

Lewis Thomas, 1974

This is excellent reading for anyone interested in ideas about life and living. It inspires thought about how life functions. If there is one common theme, several chapters has to do with communication -- oral, chemical, behavioral, and genetic. Other possible themes include the fact that humans are part of the global system, not running it. Thomas poses the idea that everything can be an analogy of the way that a cell works -- organelles, membranes, cellular processes, products, and so forth.  Each chapter is a separate essay, elegantly written and way ahead of his time.

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A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara, 2015

Yanagihara’s beautiful prose turns the ugliest, stomach-turning tales of childhood trauma into a saga of hopefulness about the saving grace of friendship.  The four main characters met as roommates at a prestigious Northeastern college.  After moving to New York to pursue their careers, they remain friends as they move through their twenties and thirties and beyond.  The main character, Jude St. Francis, has many deep, unsolved problems that slowly come out as the novel progresses.  Yanagihara draws a character study of each of the four with empathy and understanding.  This book has no happy ending but it delves into the questions of personal responsibility and true friendship. 

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Luckiest Girl Alive

Jessica Knoll, 2015

Tifani (Ani) seems to be the luckiest girl in the world with a glamorous job at a fashion magazine in New York, a handsome rich fiancĂ©, yet she is moody, restless and easily annoyed. In the well-crafted novel, Ani is drawn back to her days as a newcomer to an elite boarding school where she is willing to do anything to fit in.  This leads to a gang rape that she hides from everyone except Arthur, a loner who befriends her.  Just before her wedding, she is asked to be part of a documentary about a terrible event at the school and the past catches up with Ani.  The plot twists and turns with spot-on writing and Knoll really knows how to do a surprise ending.

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