The Mare

Mary Gaitskill, 2015

Don’t miss this poignant, coming-of-age novel that illuminates the complex issues of parenting and transformative love.  The Fresh Air program brings 11-year-old Velveteen Vargas from hardscrabble Brooklyn to the horse country of upstate New York.  Her “summer parents” are Paul and Ginger, a childless couple with some unresolved marital issues. Told from the perspective of Ginger, Paul, Velvet and her mother, Mrs. Vargas, the novel traces the relationship between the surrogate parents and the teenager over several years.  Finding a true passion for horses and riding, Velvet discovers some truths about herself as she confronts her mother’s abusive behavior. Gaitskill manages to convey the complications of parental and marital love without becoming mawkish and sentimental.

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The Rent Collector

Camron Steve Wright, 2012

This novel, set in Cambodia, follows the life of Sang Ly and her family, as she struggles to survive by picking through garbage in the town’s municipal dump.  Under threat of eviction by an embittered drunk who collects rent from the poor, she embarks on a desperate journey to save her ailing young son from a life of ignorance and poverty.  It is a  story of perseverance and the power of  literacy.

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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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