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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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House Rules

by Jodi Picoult |



When 18-year-old Jacob Hunt’s pretty blonde tutor meets a violent death, his mother and younger brother plunge into an orgy of doubt about the teen. Could Jacob, who has both Asperger’s syndrome and an obsession with forensic science, have murdered the altruistic Jess? Dubbed “freak” and “retard” by his schoolmates, Jacob flails in a culture he finds alien. After years of living on the edge with him, Emma, an advice columnist, and Theo, a cynical skateboarder, wonder whether they know him at all. But what they do know would fuel an episode of Criminal Minds: Jacob stages murder scenes as a hobby and monitors a police scanner so he can catch the action when real homicides crop up. Picoult (whose last book, My Sister’s Keeper, was the basis for the 2009 film) delivers a multilayered tale enriched by her protagonists’ imperfections. Theo sometimes wishes that geeky Jacob could be obliterated, and single-mom Emma—who’s exquisitely aware of her failings as a parent—is too caught up in the nightmare to ask the right questions. With this sharply rendered cast, Picoult weaves a provocative story in which she explores the pain of trying to comprehend the people we love—and reminds us that the truth often travels in disguise.

Union Atlantic

by Adam Haslett |



In Haslett’s timely first novel, financier Doug Fanning is building a mansion in the posh Boston suburb where his alcoholic mother used to clean homes. The construction riles neighbor Charlotte Graves, a retired teacher whose family once owned the land Doug now occupies. Charlotte is unraveling—her dogs speak to her in philosophical rants—but so is Union Atlantic, Doug’s bank. Haslett, whose skill at explaining financial regulation is as stylish as his prose, adds to the mix a sexually confused teen, Nate, who emotionally touches both Doug and Charlotte in this satisfying read.

Saving Gracie

by Carol Bradley |



Journalist Bradley unleashes a scorching investigation of puppy mills, where dogs in filthy cages are forced to breed until they die and are sold riddled with diseases. Her narrative follows Gracie, a sickly Cavalier King Charles spaniel who has never felt grass under her feet but whose lot improves after she’s adopted. Bradley boldly names villains (breeders who failed to register to escape inspections) and heroes (a Wisconsin humane society that saves 1,600 dogs). Not for the fainthearted, the book is an impassioned call to action: Adopt from pet shelters and rescue organizations.

Keeping the Feast

by Paula Butturini |



American foreign correspondents Paula Butturini and John Tagliabue met and fell in love in Rome. But just 29 days after their 1989 wedding, Tagliabue, a New York Times reporter, was wounded by sniper fire while on assignment in Romania. In this moving account of the couple’s battle with his subsequent depression, Butturini describes how she turned to the familiar comforts of preparing meals to maintain control as her husband spiraled into darkness. While he seeks a cure, she discovers that the daily act of placing simple Italian dishes—pastina in chicken broth, or tomatoes stuffed with herbs and rice—on the table is “an emblem for us, of good times … of healing in that stretch of trouble, of promise that we would once again have a future to enjoy, if only we could hang on till the fever of depression passed.” Feast is a reminder that food sustains not only bodies but souls as well.