HPL Recommends

cover of becomingPicked by Emily O.

Listen to it as an audiobook, with Michelle as the perfect reader. She certainly nails the right tone for every chapter and every moment, from humorous to poignant to outraged. It's a personal memoir; it's also an urgent message to save this country from the divisiveness and shame of a president who now wants to undo all the progress of his predecessor.

She deals with the unfortunate attacks both she and Barack suffered when they were in the political fray. But mostly it's a fascinating look at the signal moments of her coming of age, how Obama came to his position, and how she grew into her position as the first African-American First Lady.

I enjoyed hearing about the issues and causes she took on in her role and that she continues to care about, women and girls' issues and opportunities for education, and lobbying for a healthier lifestyle and food choices for kids and the American population as a whole. I think it's an inspiring journey, from the Southside of Chicago to the White House, that I could only guess at before listening to this book. Life within the White House is certainly an odd thing for any of us to contemplate and I have never read anything so honest and revealing about the specific constraints and privileges of being a Presidential family. 

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cover of goodnight gorillaPicked by Emily O.

Suggested age range: Toddler, Preschooler

Gorilla is a mischievous creature... he lets the animals out when the zookeeper's back is turned. Turns out they just want to go home with the kindly zookeeper.

Children reading along get to say 'good night' to all the zoo’s inhabitants, one by one. Children who don't like to sleep in their own beds will relate to this one!

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Disponible en español tambien


The Women by T.C. BoylePicked by Emily O.

I am a fan of T.C. Boyle's writing. I am also fascinated by the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, and it is original and illuminating to view or structure the narration of his life through the lenses of the four main women and/or relationships in his life. A great flawed genius, unconventional relationships, and great triumphs and great tragedies—such is the stuff of this hugely entertaining and affecting novel. I listened to the audio version and greatly appreciated the incredibly beautiful imagery of the writing.

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Picked by Michelle N.

This book sat on my to-read pile for a really long time—close to a year, I think—because while initially it appealed to me, I started to have reservations about it and it got lower and lower on my list. Finally, though, I was in the mood for something a little nostalgic, even if it was British working-class crumbling-industrial-town nostalgia; so I went for it.

And actually it was really great. I’d say that the protagonist, Dolly, totally reminded me of myself at that age, if it weren’t too embarrassing—oops, did I say that out loud? Of course, Dolly’s humiliations and triumphs are exaggerated in order to make them better reading. But it is, indeed, wonderfully amusing reading, especially her gleefully lusty enjoyment of life in general and of lust in particular. And her cultural touchstones—Blackadder, Blade Runner, and her blundering entry into the local Goth and indie music scenes—made my heart go pitter-pat.

The basic idea: a young working-class (and just barely that) girl manages to completely humiliate herself on television—and she wasn't exactly Miss Popularity to begin with. She has absolutely no desire to be herself anymore, but decides, very sensibly, that suicide isn't an option. That's the last sensible decision she makes for some time, though. What she decides to do instead is to completely reinvent herself, name and all, and become a music critic for a major rock magazine, in spite of having no experience and no knowledge of the current music scene. Oh, and a dad who is convinced he will be the next major working-class rock star, if only he can get someone in the industry to listen to his demo tape.

I am so glad I decided to read this book after all. I haven’t had so much fun cheering a character on in a long time; she just can't catch a break, and her humiliations pile up on each other, but she never quits. Oh, and the narrator for the audibook version was spot-on perfect. I can’t imagine this in anybody else’s voice.

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cover of aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universePicked by Michelle N.

It’s 1987 and 15-year-old Aristotle Mendoza has a whole summer ahead of him, with all the freedom and potential for adventure and boredom that that implies. He needs to get away from the house one fateful, stifling day, so he heads for the public swimming pool. He doesn’t know how to swim, but he can still splash around and cool off. As it turns out, there’s another bored 15-year-old there—his name is Dante, and he offers to teach Ari to swim. Ari’s not sure why he takes Dante up on this odd offer, but he does.

Aside from bonding over their similarly odd names, the two couldn’t be more different. Ari is a working-class kid, the youngest of four, though his oldest brother went to prison when Ari was only 4 years old and both of his sisters grew up and left the house years ago. His Vietnam-veteran dad is withdrawn and uncommunicative, and his mom pushes him to succeed. In response to all this, Ari has developed an uncaring, tough-guy exterior and is completely out of touch with his own tremendous store of pent-up anger and sadness.

Dante, on the other hand, wears his enthusiasms and admittedly odd thoughts and points of view on his sleeve. The only child of affectionate, well-to-do parents, he’s somewhere between happy-go-lucky and neurotic. He’s also as close to openly gay as a teenager can be in El Paso, Texas in 1987.

The two accept and even enjoy each other’s differences, and they make each other laugh. Soon they develop a friendship that can survive anything… even Ari saving Dante’s life. But sooner or later Ari is going to have to figure out who he is and who he wants to be, and what that means for him and Dante.

If you can possibly get your hands on a copy of the audiobook version of this, do (pro tip: you can download it from us for free). Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lively and nuanced reading makes an already-fantastic story spring to life.


Picked by Michelle N.

This graphic novel, based on the life of the author/illustrator, is very personal and vividly-told story about first love. I could really feel it… also, the zap that such an intensely religious upbringing put on those kids’ heads. It's so beautifully drawn: spare and dreamy, like a gently-rolling snowbound landscape.

It feels strange to me that I don’t have more to say about this book than I do. It’s very absorbing. But it’s also a quiet book. I felt quiet when reading it, and I feel quiet now, thinking about it. Snow. Blankets. Thoughts.

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