Mary-Catherine Recommends

Vanishing Girls Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062224101
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: HarperCollins - March 10th, 2015

If you're looking for a fast-paced read this summer, but don't want to sacrifice great characterizations and emotional depth, check out Lauren Oliver's newest novel VANISHING GIRLS. Told in the dual perspectives of sisters Nick and Dara, the book takes place in the months leading up to and immediately following a car accident that left one of them heavily scarred and the other wracked with guilt for being the driver. Exploring family, lifelong friendships, physical rehabilitation, summer jobs, love, sisterhood, and crime, this novel hits a ton of high points and kept me up way past bedtime.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute Cover Image
ISBN: 9781591846024
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Portfolio - March 3rd, 2015

I received my first Beanie Baby on December 1, 1997. It was my 8th birthday and I was home sick from school, so my dad had flowers delivered to our house. Nestled in the bouquet? Quackers the Duck. If the speculative hype of the following year were correct, I would now be independently wealthy due to the great fortune I amassed chasing beanie plush investment glory. Considering that I work in a bookstore and Quackers now lives in a box in my mom’s attic, the Beanie bubble, like the concurrent Internet bubble, burst in the most spectacular way possible.

Thankfully, my parents didn’t put all their send-me-to-college eggs in the same Beanie basket, but that’s not the case for many crazed collectors. Stories of total financial ruin are certainly one of the most voyeristically intriguing parts of THE GREAT BEANIE BABY BUBBLE, but perhaps even more compelling is the biographical portrait of the obsessive creator of the toys, Ty Warner. An egomaniacal, abusive control freak with a plastic surgery addiction and traumatic childhood isn’t perhaps what you’d expect from a stuffed animal tycoon…then again, nothing about Beanie Babies was what anyone expected. How did sales of $5 stuffed animals total $1.4 billion in a single year? How were thousands of people convinced that items produced in quantities of millions were rare? Why did women keep dating Ty Warner? You may have these questions and more when you travel back to that mysterious time when Y2K was looming, the World Wide Web was the new frontier, and understuffed royal blue elephant bean bags were bought and sold for $10,000.

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062278968
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: HarperTeen - November 4th, 2014

When I opened this book, my simple hope was that it lived up to its beautiful cover. I’m happy to report that this book is not just a pretty face! The first in an exciting new trilogy, A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU explores family, love, and what makes us us in ways that you’ve never seen before. Plus, with a plot that revolves around inter-dimensional travel, the potential for creative world building and unexpected twists is literally infinite. In many ways, it shares common themes with A WRINKLE IN TIME, one of my all-time favorites, so you know I’m not messing around with this recommendation. Make this the dimension in which you pick up A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU. Otherwise, it is surely your darkest timeline.

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Conversion Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399167775
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers - July 1st, 2014

NEW OBSESSION ALERT: Katherine Howe has crafted a YA masterpiece! Set mostly in 2012 Massachusettes with interludes in 1706 Salem Village, this book is breathtaking, heartstopping, and juicy, in the best possible way. Girls at St. Joan's Academy are falling ill with a "Mystery Illness" which includes a series of odd symptoms and behaviors. No one can explain it, there's a media frenzy, and you never know who it will strike next. This is a perfect example of YA with major adult crossover appeal. Read it. Have your kids read it. Have your grandparents read it.

The Book of Strange New Things Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553418842
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Hogarth - October 28th, 2014

I didn’t expect to put THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS on my list of favorites for the year, but oh man, I adored it. I took it on vacation and read all 500 pages in a matter of days. In this book, Peter is chosen as a Christian missionary to the distant planet Oasis, but must leave behind his wife, Bea. As he gets to know the alien community on Oasis, his limited communication with Bea reflects his increasing distance from the world he left. In turn, she is his--and our--only link to what’s happening on Earth. Faber crafts the text to expertly convey Peter’s alienation (pun intended) from Bea, his fellow settlers on Oasis, and humanity itself. I read this book and went on the journey with him. This book might have had the most raw and emotional writing I encountered this year. 

Station Eleven: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385353304
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Knopf - September 9th, 2014

I closed this book after reading the final page, sighed, and said to my boyfriend, “This book is what books are supposed to be.” I was reading passages out loud, evaluating how I look at the world, and always desperate for one more page, one more chapter before I go to sleep. 


Every summary you read of this book will be woefully incomplete, including mine, because the plot here is a subtle and complex staging area for this character and prose-driven story. This book is about Arthur Leander, a famous actor with a small town past and a string of ex-wives, who dies onstage during a performance of King Lear in Toronto. True. This book is about Jeevan, a former paparazzo/journalist and one of the first to be warned of the global pandemic Georgian Flu on the night Leander dies. Also true. This book is about the Traveling Symphony, a Shakespeare troupe that travels around the former Lake Michigan twenty years after the Georgia Flu wipes out 99.9% of humanity and sends the world into rural, lawless chaos. True again. Jumping through time and from character to character, Mandel shows the connections--some three-strand, others tenuous--between each of these stories and experiences. Just when you think she’s expanded the novel’s world, you realize that she has, in fact, doubled back and returned to center. This novel is a spirograph drawing, in which a number of arcs intersect in a central point, forming a tight, dynamic whole.


So what’s at the center of this novel that makes it so special? STATION ELEVEN celebrates the humanity of the technological age and finds wonder in the minutiae of everyday, First World experiences; the accessibility of news, a phone’s ability to connect people across continents, the light inside a refrigerator. It leads you to marvel at the complexity of the world around us and all the moving parts that keep it running (relatively) smoothly. What’s more, Mandel grounds these explorations in realistic depictions of human crisis reactions, and avoids stereotypes of the most extreme heroes-and-villains identities that are so common to post-apocalyptic narratives. Everyone is traumatized. Everyone. That trauma takes on different shapes, and expresses itself in memories, movements, violence, and friendship. Lyrical reverie rubs against fear, intersects with families, travels alongside loss, to inspire feelings you won’t soon shake.


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How to Build a Girl: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062335975
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Harper - September 23rd, 2014

Moran’s first foray into fiction is everything you’d expect; unapologetic, honest, and really, really funny. It’s 1990 in Wolverhampton, England, and Johanna Morgan’s family barely survives on government assistance which, according to her wannabe-rocker dad, is all Margaret Thatcher’s fault. Johanna is fourteen and so thoroughly disgruntled with her boring life, poverty-stricken family, and fully-intact virginity that she decides the only answer is to reinvent herself as a music journalist named Dolly Wilde. By sixteen, she has found success as a music writer and perhaps more success as the cigarette-smoking, sex-having, Doc Marten-wearing, Gothic life of the London party scene. As you might imagine, this plan has its flaws, but is really fun--and at times really painful--to watch along the way. HOW TO BUILD A GIRL has a lot of interesting things to say about girlhood, the development of identity, the characters and fantasies we create for ourselves, and the difficult realities of working-class poverty. What really sets it apart is Johanna’s voice; she’s confident and so recognizably teen in all of her insecure, horny, big-plan-making, consequence-oblivious glory. There’s a lot of humor here, but also so much depth and feminism and youthful passion and longing and--I just loved it!

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Dear Committee Members Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385538138
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Doubleday Books - August 19th, 2014

Told brilliantly through a beleaguered creative writing professor's letters of recommendations for students over the course of one school year, Dear Committee Members is a hilarious and surprisingly poignant pleasure to read.  From postscripts directed to his ex-wife, to rants about the lauded Economics department, to sincere interest in an advisee's success, Jay Fitger's letters are blisteringly honest, if not always flattering. As an aspiring academic, I was especially drawn to Schumacher's portrayal of Jay's battle-worn, curmudgeonly devotion to his field. This book not only critiques the state of the humanities in American universities, but it delightfully infuses erudite allusion with dry wit, so it had me from page 3. One of those that I couldn't wait to finish because I couldn't wait to share my copy with a friend!

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Landline: A Novel Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9781250049377
Availability: OUT OF PRINT - Not Available for Order
Published: St. Martin's Press - July 8th, 2014

There are few things better than cuddling up with the newest from Rainbow Rowell, and LANDLINE does not disappoint! Georgie's job as a sitcom writer is a huge part of her life, and until now, her husband Neal has been willing to sacrifice a lot to support these dreams. But when the opportunity of a lifetime comes along, at the expense of Christmas with Neal and her children, Georgie takes the job...and Neal takes the kids home to Nebraska anyway. Faced with a monster deadline and the consequences of her choice, Georgie camps out at her (bedazzled velvet track suit-wearing) mom's house and tries to call Neal from her old yellow landline phone. However, the Neal who answers the phone isn't the one she expects: it's Neal in 1998, home for Christmas after he and Georgie--then his girlfriend--had a big fight.


What follows, in conversations and flashbacks, is a story of rediscovered love and the power of being reminded why you fell in love in the first place. It's about family and priorities and nostalgia, but it also has plenty of wit. I especially loved the vintage sitcom references and snappy dialogue. LANDLINE isn't high literary fiction, but it isn't trying to be. What makes Rowell's writing so special is the authenticity of her characters' interactions and, of course, her (pop) cultural savvy. A perfect summer, beach, porch, rocking chair, easy chair, airplane, road trip read!

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The Appetites of Girls Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399158421
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Amy Einhorn Books - June 26th, 2014

This debut novel tells stories about four college suitemates--Ruth, Fran, Opal, and Setsu--through the subtle lens of their relationships with food. This is not a light romp about girlhood and finding yourself. Instead, I found myself feeling hurt and bruised alongside these women. I was frustrated by their choices, helpless watching their trauma, and sometimes desperate to give them a much-needed hug. Ruth, the daughter of Jewish immigrants, cannot escape her controlling mother, illustrated most regularly in evening meals. I wanted to slap this mother so many times. Francesca is weighed down by Upper East Side expectations, and finds freedom in binging. Opal--oh, Opal--tries to emulate her resort-hopping mom's glamour and easy charm with men, with disastrous consequences. And then there's Setsu, whose adopted brother manipulates and controls the entire household, including Setsu's food portions. I wanted to slap him a few times, too.


Moses manages to cover a wide breadth of experiences in the lives of these four women--by turns relatable, heartbreaking, confused, and thwarted. A few times while reading, I had to put the book down and focus on something lighter, something easier, but I always felt compelled to return to these women and their stories. Maybe that's the best testament to the power of Moses' insight into some of the truly devastating and often subtle pressures placed on women at all stages of life.

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The Queen of the Tearling: A Novel (Queen of the Tearling, The #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062290366
Availability: UNAVAILABLE
Published: Harper - July 8th, 2014

After a childhood in obscurity, Kelsea celebrates her 19th birthday by leaving her home and caretakers to become queen of the Tearling kingdom. Along the way, she must avoid assassination, undo the mistakes of her mother's reign, establish herself in court, and try to understand her relationship to members of her guard--and to the mysterious loner dedicated to protecting her.

Sounds like your average princess story, until you start to realize that it takes place in the future, there definitely might be magic happening, and the evil Red Queen is not messing around. You feel the depth of Tearling's collective suffering and the gravity of the threat posed by enemies. Tearling is majorly broken, and there's a lot that Kelsea--and you--don't know. I loved this twist on a well-explored genre, and not only because debut author Johansen makes smart and compelling choices when it comes to plot and character development. This book is full of dynamic female characters who move far beyond their expected tropes: they’re unapologetically ruthless, naive, cunning, powerful, and ambitious. An excellent choice if you're looking for a literary summer page-turner.

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The Crane Wife Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594205477
Availability: Unlikely to Be Available
Published: Penguin Press - January 23rd, 2014

This novel, inspired by a Japanese folk tale of the same name, absolutely captivated me.  George, a middle-aged owner of a copy shop in Britain, has a normal life and unremarkable relationships with his ex-wife, daughter, and grandson. One night, a crane lands in his backyard, an arrow through its wing, and George removes it, allowing the bird to fly away. His simple action changes everything. The next day, Kumiko, an artist wrapped in a fog of alluring unanswered questions, comes to George's shop. Instantly, both recognize the other as a muse, seeing in each other the completion of their artistic process.

The narrative interweaves the main plot with the story of Kumiko's lifelong work and building of her artistic collection, giving the story a wider scope than I expected. I closed this book and felt like it had wrapped me in the intoxicating embrace of a crane's wing, where all I wanted to do was make art and know the world on a deeper level. I can't seem to talk about this book without labored metaphors and attempts at poetry...maybe that's a good sign!