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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home

by Carol Rifka Brunt |



Remember how it felt to be 14? In this lovely debut novel set in the 1980s, Carol Rifka Brunt takes us under the skin and inside the tumultuous heart of June Elbus. Lonely at school and tormented by her older sister, June habitually vanishes into the woods near her suburban New York home to pretend she’s living in the Middle Ages. “I look at everything-rocks, fallen leaves, dead trees-like I have the power to read those things. Like my life depends on understanding exactly what the forest has to say.” Like most 14-year-olds, June is full of secret emotions too powerful to reveal-in particular, her “wrong” love for Finn, her uncle and godfather. An artist who has introduced his goddaughter to a world of beauty, Finn is gay, and dying of AIDS. Once he’s gone, the grief-shattered June recklessly embarks on a new relationship that’s just as obsessive, just as secret, and ends up shaking her family to its core. Distracted parents, tussling adolescents, the awful ghost-world of the AIDS-afflicted before AZT-all of it springs to life in Brunt’s touching and ultimately hopeful book.

Beautiful Ruins

by Jess Walter |



The characters in this energetic, entrancing novel-living everywhere from an isolated Italian village to the backstabbing back lots of Hollywood-grapple with major life crises. A dying movie star seeks seclusion. An Italian innkeeper yearns for his long-lost love. A World War II veteran hopes the movie version of his memoir will change his life. Walter’s turns of phrase are as brilliant as his plot twists, making for a compelling, fun read.


by Lisa Unger |



An idyllic island retreat, a family rife with secrets, creepy bad guys and lousy cell phone reception: Heartbroken has all the makings of a high-wire thriller. But it’s the twisted psyches of its main characters that really unsettle. Birdie Burke, the spectacularly passive-aggressive matriarch, lords over Heart Island, where her good-girl daughter stirs up old scandals, and they fatefully cross paths with a waitress drawn to the dark side. Unger expertly shows how quiet betrayals can rupture a life as deeply as an act of violence.