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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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Bringing Up Bebe

by Pamela Druckerman |



“There’s something about the way the French parent,” Pamela Druckerman writes, “that makes it less of a grind and more of a pleasure.” For the children as well as their elders, it seems: While bringing up their daughter and twin sons in Paris, the former Wall Street Journal reporter and her husband noticed that local kids slept through the night earlier, ate more adventurously and had far fewer tantrums than their American counterparts. (Figures, doesn’t it? The French never get fat, guzzle Bordeaux without consequence, and now this.) So qu’est-ce qui se passe? In her engaging memoir-cum-sociological study, Druckerman shares French parents’ secrets; they include establishing firm but gentle authority, favoring creative play over lots of lessons (take that, Tiger Mom) and never letting a child become the center of your existence. At the heart of it all lies the belief that kids aren’t “projects for their parents to perfect. They are separate and capable, with their own tastes [and] pleasures.” The land of foie gras and subsidized daycare just might be onto something.

Home Front

by Kristin Hannah |



Everyone knows that war is hell, but the deeper truth is that coming home can be worse. Hannah’s latest tells the story of 41-year-old Jolene Zarkades, a mother and helicopter pilot in the Reserves who is called up to serve. Upon her return she realizes that in order to save her already troubled marriage and reconnect with her two daughters, she must share her experiences in Iraq. Home Front’s heart-wrenching portrayal of one veteran’s trials points out how much training goes into preparing for war-and how little is done to teach returning soldiers how to be parents again.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

by Margot Livesey |



In this entertaining homage to Charlotte Brontë, Livesey (The House on Fortune Street) recasts Jane Eyre as a penniless orphan in 1950s and ’60s Scotland. The saga tracks Gemma’s flight from her cruel childhood with an awful aunt to a dreary girls’ school (where she’s an indentured working student) to a job serving as au pair for an older gentleman with “beautiful shoes” and beyond. Bronte is a dauntingly hard act to follow, but Livesey delivers a suspenseful, curl-up-by-the-fire romance with a willfully determined protagonist who’s worthy of her literary role model.

All There Is

by Dave Isay |



Focused on romantic love, this collection of oral histories gathered by StoryCorps founder Isay manages to avoid sentimentality. The three dozen couples’ memories read like the snapshots that accompany them: brief, to the point, without artsy filigree. Such storytellers as a highway-toll collector and a college professor, a long-married couple in their 80s and a gay man whose ex-wife is still his best friend eloquently prove that there’s no one path to enduring love.

Clover Adams

by Natalie Dykstra



Boston Brahmin Clover Adams and her historian husband, Henry, held court in the Gilded Age of D.C. society, but in 1885, just as she was finding success as a photographer at age 42, she killed herself by drinking developer fluid. Why would she end such a promising life? Dykstra combs through Clover’s letters and Henry’s writings to uncover clues, but it’s her investigation of Clover’s haunting photographs that reveals a complex woman grappling with betrayal, loss and her era’s discomfort with female ambition. A startling, original portrait of a woman in a shining cage discovering the terrible strength of its bars.

The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green |




As good at online promotion as he is at writing witty dialogue, Green promised viewers of his YouTube vlog that he’d autograph every pre-ordered copy of his latest book-and then spent more than two months scribbling his signature 150,000 times. But he delivers more than a collectible with this exquisitely sad novel about Hazel and Augustus, two teens struggling to keep their terminal-cancer diagnoses from defining who they are. A former student chaplain at a children’s hospital, Green writes with keen observation and empathy about some of the biggest questions there are-Why me? Why now? Why bother with love?-producing a story about two incandescent kids who will live a long time in the minds of the readers who come to know them.