Jenna's Picks

My taste in books has gone through many phases over the years, but it's narrowed to two kinds of specifiic and very different categories. My favorite type of fiction is character-driven. I'm drawn to books that are pretty solidly based in reality, but have tiny hints of surrealism that seem to capture the beauty and poetry of life in ways that straight realism seems incapable of doing completely on its own. I love authors who play with the laws of physics and language in ways that are unique and meaningful (and make me feel extremely unworthy and incompetent as a writer) --Jonathan Safran Foer, David Foster Wallace, Nicole Krauss, Kurt Vonnegut. The other type of books I'm drawn to are the autobiographies of people I find inspiring and look up to.

Rabbits for Food Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781641290531
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Published: Soho Press - May 7th, 2019

The Mars Room: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781476756585
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Published: Scribner - May 7th, 2019

The Book of Essie Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780525436072
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Published: Vintage - May 7th, 2019

The Water Cure: A Novel Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9780385543873
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Published: Doubleday - January 8th, 2019

Future Home of the Living God: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062694065
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Published: Harper Perennial - November 13th, 2018

Women Talking Cover Image
$24.00
ISBN: 9781635572582
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Published: Bloomsbury Publishing - April 2nd, 2019

I read this book in one day, I was so drawn into the world of this fictionalized Menonite Colony and this circle of women. It takes place in 2009 Bolivia, but the year is quickly forgotten, the place is quickly forgotten, it could be any circle of women anywhere. There is so much  power in the simple act of women talking, sharing stories, encouraging and engaging with eachother, fighting for eachother, and becoming braver together, for eachother, than anyone would be on their own. An important book in an important time. 


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Turbulence: A Novel Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9781982122737
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Published: Scribner - July 16th, 2019

I was immediately swept into Turbulence by David Szalay,  a short novel which is really a collection of interconnected vignettes.  From one secondary character to the next, our perception is constantly shifting and constantly challenged. Every character is satisfyingly complex and interesting. That, in combination with the brevity of each chapter, really makes it difficult to put the book down. As the characters fly all across the world, bumping into each other in various ways, we are taken out of our own self-centeredness and reminded over and over again that an airplane full of strangers is really an airplane full of stories.


The Dreamers: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780812994162
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Published: Random House - January 15th, 2019

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Little: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780525534327
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Published: Riverhead Books - October 23rd, 2018

"This is one of my favorite books I've read in a very long time. Historical fiction based on the life of Madame Tussaud, who I knew next to nothing about beforehand and now am an obsessed fan of. Whimsy, revolution, wax body parts, a cast of memorable characters, beautiful sketches throughout-- told from the perspective of one tough and talented short statured orphan whose love of art saved her own life and created a long-lasting legacy. I fell in love with Little and will miss living in her brain."


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The Immortalists Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780735213180
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Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - January 9th, 2018

1969 New York City, four siblings conspire to sneak out with their savings and meetthe “Woman on Hester Street.” --a fortune teller they’ve heard rumors about who can accurately predict the date a person will die. Although they eventually grow apart and move away, the family is bound together forever by this one life-defining event. The Immortalists follows the Gold siblings (Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon) as they navigate their diverging lives with the unsettling knowledge of how long they have to live them. Does knowing determine their choices, how quickly, fully, impulsively they live, or was it always going to be this way? This book was transcendent-- beautiful, fragile, funny, and heartbreaking in all of the wonderful and terrible ways that life can be.  Like the woman on Hester Street, Chloe Benjamin will lure you in, work her magic, and forever alter how you see the world. 


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Little Nothing Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780399185809
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Published: Blue Rider Press - August 22nd, 2017

I'm not sure if I can put into words exactly how much I loved this book. Pavla, a girl in an unnamed european country in the early 1900's, is born a dwarf after her parents had sought fertility help from a local witch. They love her just the same and Pavla, whose nickname in school is "little nothing" comes to terms with her identity and learns to love herself. She is beautfiul, and people travel their village just to meet her. It isn't until her parents start worrying about who will marry her and take care of her when they are gone that they consult the witch again, as well as a series of doctors, in hopes of "curing" her dwarfism. Pavla goes through a series of transformations throughout the book--from dwarf, to a wolf-girl who ends up in a "freak show" at the carnival, to wolf, back to human--and we follow along with her story as well as the story of Danilo, the boy who loves her at every stage. The characters are quirky and beautfiul, the writing is flawless--I really can't recommend this book highly enough. One of my all-time favorites. 


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Red Clocks: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780316434782
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Published: Back Bay Books - October 2nd, 2018

In this compelling, beautifully woven novel by Leni Zumas the United States government has recently passed “The Personhood Amendment,” which gives full citizenry (the rights to life, liberty, and property ownership) to every fertilized egg. This outlaws abortion as well as in vitro fertilization, and a soon to be enforced law entitled “Every Child needs Two”  will prohibit single parents from adopting children. This puts the four women whose stories we follow in Red Clocks--A single teacher who wants a baby, a promising young student who finds herself pregnant, a mother of two who wants out of her marriage, and an outcasted  town “mender” (known as the witch) who helps women seeking abortions despite the law-- in varying predicaments as they come to terms with how they define womanhood in this new world, and where they place themselves in it. Zumas masterfully explores national politics on a local level, exploring what such laws would mean in the lives of real women living in a small town in Oregon.


Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780451495112
Availability: Backordered
Published: Hogarth - February 21st, 2017

Human Acts: A Novel Cover Image
$22.00
ISBN: 9781101906729
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Published: Hogarth - January 17th, 2017

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780735211025
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Published: Riverhead Books - April 4th, 2017

This was the best book of short stories I've read in a long time. Every single chapter was interesting and unique and beautiful and I didn't want to stop reading from one to the next. From a woman who weaves a baby out of hair, to a grief counselor in a futuristic society where we've figured out the "human equation"--meaning we can alter it to do things like fly and erase pain--every story was insightful and breathtaking.


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The Littlest Bigfoot Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781481470742
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Published: Aladdin - September 13th, 2016

Ages 9-12

The Littlest Bigfoot (Jennifer Weiner's first Middle-reader) is whimsical, empowering story about celebrating and finding strength in the things that makes us different.  Alice Mayfair has never quite fit in. She's been transferred from school to school her entire life and has never found her 'tribe' of friends. She's bigger than most girls her age, has wild, frizzy hair, and feels clumsy and loud wherever she goes. She has a hard time making friends until one year, at her newest experimental school, she wanders off and meets Millie. Millie is the 'littlest bigfoot.' She's an actual bigfoot, but she's the smallest of her tribe. Her hair is the the silkiest, her voice the highest pitch, and all she wants is to be fur-less and human. What follows is an adventurous, inspiring journey of self discovery and friendship that teaches us that everyone is unique (even the people pretending to be 'normal') and that it is that uniqueness and diversity that makes the world so beautiful. 


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Between the World and Me Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780812993547
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Published: Spiegel & Grau - July 14th, 2015

This book is a beautiful, moving, heavy, and incredibly eye-opening letter from a father to his 15 year old son about what it means to navigate the world as a black man living in America. He discusses the invention of race, the illusion of "the dream," police brutality, and what it means to grow up and find yourself while living in an "expendable body." Poetic and heartbreaking, It's the frank discussion on race that America is in desperate need of. Read this book, and then make other people read it, too!


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Salt to the Sea Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780399160301
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Published: Philomel Books - February 2nd, 2016

If the words "historical fiction" or "young adult" usually deter you from picking up a book, let Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys be the exception. This gripping, beautiful story is masterfully woven together two pages at a time, from the perspectives of four very different characters who are trying to escape East Prussia at the end of World War II. The characters (three heroic and extraordinarily likable and one who is fun to read even as you detest him) all come together aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.  If you haven't heard of what happens next, you aren't alone. In fact, even though it remains the largest maritime disaster in history (significantly dwarfing the Titanic and Lusitania combined), almost no one knows it happened. It's an incredible story that swept me in, surprised me, and left me running to my room so I could read the last fifty or so pages in complete, uninterrupted silence.


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The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9780770436438
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Published: Hogarth - October 6th, 2015

An absolutely gorgeous book that's almost a hybrid between a novel and a collection of short stories. This was the first time I've ever read Anthony Marra and it definitely won't be the last. Marra's border-line lyrical writing weaves a captivating story that travels through an oppressed, war-torn russia, through several decades of time, and ends all the way out at the edge of the galaxy--  following the heartbreaking story of a government censor who when assigned the task of erasing "traitors" from famous works of art, would paint the face of his late brother in their place. It is a story about family, loyalty, betrayal, love, war, and how beautifully complicated and flawed we all are.  I could not put this book down, and was genuinely sad when it was over.


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The Decent Proposal: A Novel Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9780062391629
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - April 5th, 2016

An extraordinarily fun, page-turning romantic comedy about two strangers who are offered a million dollars to spend two hours together every week for a whole year. I devoured this book! It's laugh out loud funny at times, and the characters have so much heart and depth you find yourself rooting for them from the start and thinking about them long after the book is over. 


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The Memory of Light Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780545474320
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Arthur A. Levine Books - January 26th, 2016

When I finish a book there's almost always a period of about or two or three hours where I don't want talk about it at all. I take the book into my room, put it on my bookshelf, and then hoard it there forever. I'll recommend it to other people, but the copy of the book that I read is mine and it becomes part of my bookshelf the way it became part of me, permanently. I get clingy and posessive about my books, and that's just the way it's always been.

But the exact opposite thing happened with The Memory of Light. As soon as I turned the last page I wanted to throw it at every preteen and teenager I know, and anyone else who suffers from mental illness or has ever dealt with depression or suicidal thoughts or self harm or the shame that is offten attached to those things.I actually turned the last page and handed my copy directly to the person who was physcially closest to me at the moment. The book is THAT important. 

This incredibly tender, candid, and eye-opening young adult book (recommended for ages 12-14) follows Vicky Cruz from the moment she wakes up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt. The book follows her road to recovery, the friends she makes there, and the lessons she learns from them along the way. Mental health, especially concerning depression and suicide, is not a topic often explored in books aimed at young people and Francisco Stork (Marcelo in the Real World) handles it here with the necessary care and understanding of a man who has struggled with those things his whole life. Though the book is incredibly honest and at times raw, it is also full of uplifting and funny moments. It's a book I wish existed when I was twelve, one that I would have benefited from immensely at that age, and one that I benefit from even today. 


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Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781594634710
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - September 22nd, 2015

My very cheesy but also truthful review for the latest by Elizabeth Gilbert, is that the book itself is magic. I've honestly never felt so connected to a non-fiction book before. In Big Magic, Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) discusses the struggles and triumphs of trying to pursue a creative lifestyle. She talks about the difficulties, anxieties, and failures she's experienced while trying to write, and offers the methods she uses to overcome them. It's extraordinarily comforting and inspirational to know that someone who is so wildly successful feels the same fears as the rest of us, and works just as hard at it. She also discusses her philosophy on creativity, which is a universe full of ideas that are waiting and determined to be brought to fruition by a creatively receptive and committed person. This is the titular "big magic," the feeling you get when you are doing something creative and experience a sort of divine inspiration, create something that feels guided in part by something outside of yourself. Her writing is personal and funny, lighthearted and motivational. If you've ever been interested in doing anything creative and felt held back for whatever reason, you should definitely read this book, it might be just the pat on the back/kick in the pants you need.


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My Life on the Road Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780679456209
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Published: Random House - October 27th, 2015

I've always thought it would be really amazing to go back in time and be part of the feminist movement of the 1970's, if it was possible to do so without experiencing the overt sexism, double standards, and societal ignorance it was born out of. Even though we've come really far since then, the cool thing about that wave of feminism (besides all of the rights we take for granted today) is that the movement was tangible. It was people in the streets with posters, famous activists having debates on television, marches, town halls, and the first ever National Women's Conference. It was women coming together face-to-face and calling out everyday instances of sexism, discussing what it was they were going to fight for and how it was they were going to do it. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem brought all of that to life for me. It's a love letter to her 30 years on the road as a feminist organizer, and all of the important lessons she learned along the way. Full disclosure, Gloria Steinem is one of my favorite people on the planet so that might make me biased, but I loved this book! 


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Why Not Me? Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780804138147
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Crown Archetype - September 15th, 2015

For fans of Mindy Kaling (Writer/Producer/Star of The Office and The Mindy Project) and her first book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), the follow up is nothing short of wish fulfillment. It's a fast, hilarious read you'll speed through, and then immediately be sad you did when it's over. From behind the scenes stories, to insightful and funny observations on life, to my personal favorite chapter which is a romantic comedy built out of fictional emails from an alternate universe in which Mindy goes into teaching instead of television--every single chapter is uniquely enjoyable. I'm already excited for her next book!


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One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780804169783
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - February 3rd, 2015

I'm such a fan of BJ Novak from his writing and work on The Office, and because of that I think I came at this book expecting something similar. I was totally and pleasantly taken off guard by what a fantastic literary writer he is. This wonderful, creative, thought-provoking book of short stories is very aptly named. I'd be reading for hours and kept telling myself I would read just one more story, and then I'd read another, and another. His writing reminded me very much of Kurt Vonnegut's (and that isn't something I throw around lightly!). A very fun, satisfying read that I highly recommend. Also it's in paperback!


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The Wrath & the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780399171611
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Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers - May 12th, 2015

This book evokes such a satisfying love for the ancient art of storytelling that I almost can't believe it was written today and wasn't found on a buried manuscript somewhere. Inspired by Arabian Nights, The Wrath & The Dawn is the magnificently written first book in the Saga of Shahrzad and Khalid. Set in ancient parts of what is today's Iran, the pages are overflowing with all of the brilliant colors and flowers and foods and fabrics of middle eastern culture. It has all of the elements of a classic fairy tale complete with flowing, lyrical prose, a courageous heroine, thrilling adventure, magical curses, epic love, shadowy villains, and high stakes. It's dark and beautiful, and I didn't want it to end where it did. I'm actually furious the next book isn't out yet!


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Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780812997576
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Random House - June 16th, 2015

As someone who considers herself a book/comedy nerd, this was like hitting the jackpot. Judd Apatow has been interviewing famous comedians since he was in high school, and Sick in the Head is a compilation of some of his best. Every chapter feels like an awesome, casual conversation between (ridiculously talented) friends. From Jerry Seinfeld to Stephen Colbert, Amy Schumer, Louis C.K., Steve Martin, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Fallon, and Lena Dunham (and even an oral history of Freaks and Geeks) every single chapter is pure joy. A behind the scenes look at the world of comedy AND all of the author's proceeds go to 826 National, an organization that provides free tutoring and literacy programs. How can you beat that?


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Mosquitoland Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780451470775
Availability: Backordered
Published: Viking Books for Young Readers - March 3rd, 2015

I don't read many YA novels, but after Mosquitoland by David Arnold, I feel like I've been missing out. The cross-country journey of Mim Malone (a spunky, independent, hilarious narrator who refers to herself as "our heroine" and in the movie of her life casts herself as a young Ellen Page) reads like a fun indie movie about growing up, found families, and coming to terms with some of the harsher realities of life. It's a road trip overflowing with heart and life lessons and characters you will miss tangibly as soon as you turn the last page.

I do think this is a story that appeals to people of all ages, and even if YA is not usually your thing you should pick it up and give it a try because I am so extremely happy that I did. It's a book that reminded my why I fell in love with reading. I will say that because of the use of some language and also reference to darker themes like mental illness, depression, suicide, and sexual assault (which are all handled with care and I believe are extremely important issues to talk about) I would maybe be careful giving this book to someone too young or reading it yourself first if that's something you are concerned about.


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Above Us Only Sky: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781451657678
Availability: Special Order
Published: Simon & Schuster - March 3rd, 2015

My favorite type of fiction is the kind that takes real life and makes it just a little bit more beautiful than it could possibly be. That's exactly what Michele Young- Stone does in Above Us Only Sky, the compelling, unforgettable story of Prudence Vilkas--a girl who was born with wings. Thought to be a birth defect, the wings are removed by the doctors but Prudence is left with tiny scars and the haunting feeling that she is part of something much bigger than she understands.

When she's 16 Prudence meets her grandfather for the first time, and through her relationship with him, the stories of her Lithuanian heritage, and the narratives of the women with wings who came before her, Prudence finds herself. It's a coming of age story about how the struggles and triumphs of the generations before us shape the people that we become, and connect us to the past in some great and inevitable way.

This was truly one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's elements of magical realism, the connection beteween generations, and the beautiful way Young- Stone writes about love, humanity, and survival against the backdrop of the unspeakable horrors of Lithuania's struggle for independence during WWII reminds me very much of my favorite book ever, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Above Us Only Sky is one of those special books that will stay with you long after you put it down, becomes part of you, and I'm so happy I get to make it my first staff recommendation at BookTowne!