Hillary Nelson, after attending the French Culinary Institute, was a pastry chef in New York City for many years. Before moving to a small farm in New Hampshire in 1994, she was certified in plant production at the New York Botanic Garden, where she became interested in growing heirloom fruits, flowers and vegetables and seed saving. The recipient of several awards for her writing, including the NH Writers Project Award for Outstanding Nonfiction, she also holds an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. Her writing and photography are featured in her Concord Monitor seasonal food and garden column, “Home Plate,” and can be found at her “Cold Garden Warm Kitchen” website, coldgardenwarmkitchen.org. Hillary is an omnivore when it comes to books, though she especially loves non-fiction about science, art and history and literary fiction. Some favorites: Nabokov's Lolita; Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and Alexander's A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction.
Hillary's February 2020 pick
Things in Jars is as peculiar as it is delightful. Its plot sounds hopelessly twee - a female Victorian detective with the assistance of the ghost of a boxer goes in search of a kidnapped child with strange powers. But trust me, if you are a fan of historical fiction, mysteries, humor, pathos, and good literary writing, then this book is for you. I liked it even better than Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent.
Hillary's January 2020 pick
This is one of the finest mysteries I’ve read in years. Liz Moore is a masterful writer, as good as Dennis Lehane, David Simon or Richard Price at capturing how the human spirit shines in a dark and broken world. Mickey is a Philadelphia cop, one who refuses promotion so she can keep an eye on her drug-addicted, sex-worker sister, Kacey. When Kacey disappears, Mickey is terrified she has been murdered by a serial killer. What Mickey discovers in pursuit of the truth, about her sister, herself, and her world, is as surprising to Mickey as it is to the reader. Long Bright River is mysterious, heartbreaking and uplifting all at once - a book you will long remember.
Hillary's August 2019 pick
If you, like me, spend a lot of time wondering how the heck a bunch of corrupt, greedy, unethical, mendacious thugs seem to have taken over the entire planet, then Oliver Bullough's MONEYLAND is the book for you.
Here you'll learn how financial institutions both offshore and in the heart of NYC and London make massive corruption possible, resulting in an unprecedented transfer of wealth.
Today the top 1% of the world's population own 1/2 the world's wealth, causing misery and political instability. A fascinating, important book in this election year.
Hillary's July 2019 pick
City of Girls is delightful - hilarious, hard to put down, sometimes raunchy and always big-hearted. And, hallelujah!, it's unapologetically feminist.
A memoir in a letter, written in 2010 by 89 year old Vivian Morris, the tale begins in 1940, when young Vivian has been kicked out of Vassar and sent to NYC to live with her Aunt Peg, the owner of a rundown Times Square theater called The Lily.
Vivian jumps into the wild world of her new theater friends with both feet, discovering not only a love of sex and glamorous nightclubs but also her talent as a costume designer.
But when Vivian makes a BIG mistake, the kind that Walter Winchell likes to run in his gossip column, it looks like her life will be ruined.
Instead, with a lot of help from her new friends, Vivian picks herself up, heads full steam into the rest of the 20th century, and a remarkable second act.
Hillary's February 2019 pick
One of the main characters in Jane Harper’s mysteries is invariably the harsh landscape of her native Australia. In her latest, The Lost Man, the brutal heat of the winter outback also serves as a murder weapon. When Cameron Bright, a well-liked cattle rancher, turns up dead of exposure in a remote spot on the family ranch, at first it seems like suicide. But when his estranged brother, Nathan, returns home to help run things, he begins to suspect that there’s more to Cam’s death than it appears. If you love Tana French, I suspect you will also love Jane Harper – they share a nuanced understanding of the human psyche and great empathy for even the murderers among us.
Hillary's February 2018 pick
Sometimes a writer has the prescience and talent to deliver just the right book at just the right moment. Naomi Alderman's The Power is one of those books.
Imagine a future, 5000 years form now, which seems to be just like ours, except the power dynamic between men and women has been reversed.
And then imagine an obsequious male writer sends a manuscript to an obnoxious, full-of-herself famous female writer, a manuscript that imagines how, all those millennia ago, women became more powerful than men.
Most of The Power is that book-within-a-book, the story of how women suddenly evolved the ability to project electricity as a weapon, and the ensuing struggle to recreate the world - from religion to government to family - using this new-found power. Brilliant and oh-so readable.
Hillary's December 2016 pick, 1 of 4
With only hours left before cancer kills her, Joanna DeAngelis is dying badly. Instead of focusing on saying goodbye to her daughters and her beloved dog, she spends her last day cyber-stalking her ex-boyfriend and his Internet-famous new girlfriend. When Joanna draws her last breath, mysterious heavenly powers decide that she needs to resolve a few things before moving on to the next world. What happens when ghost-Joanna returns to New York City bent on revenge is terrifying, funny, and, finally, break-out-the-tissues touching. A gorgeous book about love in all its forms: familial, canine, romantic, lost and found again.
Hillary's December 2016 pick, 2 of 4
Manon Bradshaw is a Cambridgeshire police detective, and she’s great at her job. What she’s not so great at is having a personal life.
So while she spends her days investigating the disappearance of a young, wealthy woman (the daughter of the personal surgeon to the royal family), she spends her evenings going on hilariously awful dates with men she has met at online.
If you love Tana French and Kate Atkinson, Missing, Presumed is the book for you. And my guess is that Steiner has many more cases planned for Manon. I can’t wait.
Hillary's December 2016 pick, 3 of 4
A follow-up to Holland’s equally terrific book Naturally Curious, this beautifully illustrated book is just what its title says – a kind of daybook for nature. I found myself wondering aloud again and again at the surprising information found on these pages. Dragonfly migrations! Algae-eating worms that live in snow! This is the kind of book that will make you want to get outside to see for yourself the wonders in our own backyards.
Hillary's December 2016 pick, 4 of 4
O’Leary and Spring are writers and artists who work with traditional printing techniques. In Dead Feminists, they team up to illustrate short biographies of 24 great women of history, both famous and obscure. A gorgeous book full of compelling women.
Hillary's October 2016 pick, 2 of 2
Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple
Maria Semple, author of the best-seller Where’d You Go, Bernadette, is back with a novel that had me laughing out loud.
Eleanor Flood should have a perfect life, but she can barely get out of bed in the morning. An artist and animator, once-famous for a 1990s cable series, Eleanor has ceased creating in the wake of marriage, motherhood and cute dog ownership.
One morning she wakes up and decides “today will be different.” And then gets her wish by stumbling into one misfortune after another. Sure to leave you smiling. Plus, cool illustrations!
Hillary's October 2016 pick, 1 of 2
The Way Things Work Now, by David Macaulay
The great David Macaulay is back with an updated version of his 1988 classic, The Way Things Work.
A lot has changed in the last thirty years, and The Way We Work Now dives deep into the complex technologies we take for granted in 2016.
From cell phones, to touch screens, ultrasound to digitized images, Macaulay’s excellent pen and ink drawings and clean prose (written with an assist from Neil Ardley) make complex technologies understandable.
This one is on my holiday list for both young and old!
Hillary's August 2016 pick
Adnan's Story, by Rabia Chaudry
The Serial podcast, hosted by Sarah Koenig, held millions of listeners rapt. Koenig’s examination of the murder of a teenage girl and the 2000 conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Sayed, was radio at its best. And Serial revealed the terrible flaws of a justice system that too often sends innocent people to prison.
Adnan’s Story picks up where Serial left off. Written by Rabia Chaudry, the family friend of the Sayeds who convinced Sarah Koenig to report on the case - it painstakingly recreates the investigation of three dogged and brilliant lawyers. An investigation that recently resulted in Adnan Sayed’s conviction being overturned!
Hillary's April 2016 pick
The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith is the kind of novel that is going to be a favorite with book groups. Smith has tapped into the sweet spot where literary and popular fiction meet - strong, complex female characters, lots of fascinating history, and enough non-fiction about painting and art-forgery that the reader comes away with some new knowledge.
The novel is a whirlwind of time and point of view, beginning in 1957 Manhattan, when the only known painting of the 17th Century Dutch artist, Sara De Vos, is stolen from a wealthy collector's apartment and replaced with a forgery. The reader next meets Sara herself, impoverished and struggling in 1635.
Finally, we travel to 2000, where we meet the art forger, Ellie, now a respected scholar, living in Australia and curating a show of female Dutch masters. What will she do when Sara's original, her own exquisite forgery, and the man who has owned both paintings all turn up at her museum for the gala opening?
Hillary's October 2015 pick
A Line of Blood, by Ben McPherson
Alex and Millicent seem like an ideal couple. Young, hip, artistically successful (he's a documentary filmmaker, she writes a series called Self-Help for Cynics), they're the parents of a precocious 11 year-old son, Max.
But then Alex and Max discover the body of their next-door neighbor, an apparent suicide. When the London police decide the death looks more like a homicide, and investigate Millicent as a suspect, Alex begins to understand that both his wife and his son have secrets.
Beautifully written and unsettling, A Line of Blood is a book you will be thinking about long after you read the last page.
Hillary's September 2015 picks
It's harvest season: why not try putting up some of the amazing produce from your garden or local farmers' market?
Here are two books that go beyond the usual jams and tomato sauces (though those are included, too). Both include recipes for things like homemade cheeses, vinegars, dried meats and fish, herb and spice mixes and sweet syrups, but while one is small and simple, the other is more complicated and cutting edge.
My Pantry by famed chef Alice Waters and her daughter Fanny Singer, is full of the deceptively simple recipes Waters is known for. When created from fresh, local ingredients, these pantry staples will provide the basis for amazing meals all year around.
Bar Tartine (by Nick Balla and Cortney Burns) is a bit more challenging (and hefty), but it ranks as one of my favorite cookbooks. The section on drying alone is worth the price of this tome. I promise if you make your own onion powder just once, you will never buy the grocery store version again.
Hillary's July 2015 pick
The Truth and Other Lies, by Sascha Arango
I dipped into the advance reader copy of The Truth and Other Lies while in the break room. Within a few minutes, I was making so much noise, laughing and gasping in surprise, that my coworkers needed to know what the heck I was reading.
"It's kind of like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, only funny," I said.
There seems to be no shortage of sociopaths on the bestseller lists these days, but Henry Hayden, the narrator of The Truth and Other Lies, is surely the most endearingly hapless of the lot.
He's stumbled into the best of lives: pretending he's the author of a series of brilliant, block-buster novels actually written by his reclusive wife. But when Henry's editor-mistress turns up pregnant, he begins stumbling right back out again.
My prediction: German screenwriter and first-time novelist Sascha Arango will soon be joining Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins on the best-seller lists.
Hillary's April 2015 pick
So You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson
I'd be lying if I said I've never savored a delicious sense of schadenfreude when reading about a celebrity caught up in scandal.
But the internet and social media make it possible to be internationally humiliated by millions of people in a matter of an hour or two, sometimes unjustifiably, sometimes with life-wrecking consequences.
Jon Ronson, the author of The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test, has now turned his wry sensibility on the modern phenomenon of public shaming.
Inspired by personal experience - his on-line identity was hijacked by academics conducting an unethical cyber-experiment - Ronson examines the world of trolls and Twitter, trying to understand the impulse to pile-on those we think have misbehaved.
Along the way he discovers that many of the shamed don't deserve the public scorn, never mind the death threats, of the cyber-world. A light read about serious issues, sure to make you think twice before you tweet.
Hillary's February 2015 pick
Wolf Winter, by Cecilia Ekbäck
The year is 1717; Maija and her family have migrated from Finland to the border between Sweden and Lapland in search of a better life. When one of Maija's daughters discovers a murdered priest near their remote homestead, both the church and the local aristocracy seem eager to cover-up the crime.
As one of the worst winters in memory descends, and Maija's husband leaves his wife and daughters to look for work in the city, Maija is left to confront not only hostility to her search for the truth, but forces of nature that threaten her family's existence.
Ekbäck is one of those writers who manages to hit the sweet spot between literary fiction and page-turner, adept at evocative scene-setting as well as snappy pacing. If you are a fan of historical fiction, Scandinavian mysteries, or both, Wolf Winter is sure to please.
Hillary's January 2015 pick
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Next time someone asks me for a book like Gone Girl, I'll be handing that customer a copy of Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train.
The Girl on the Train is the literary equivalent of a Hitchcock film, a dark, compulsive, character-driven read. Rachel's life has come undone. Alcoholic, unemployed, and dumped by her husband for his pregnant mistress, she spends her days pointlessly riding the train into London and back again.
Pointless, that is, except the journey takes Rachel past the row of Victorian townhouses where she used to live. Hungrily peering into the backyards and rear windows of her old neighborhood, Rachel has become obsessed with one apparently perfect couple.
Megan and Scott are beautiful, happy - living the life Rachel once dreamed of. But when Megan goes missing, the veneer of perfection peels away. Beneath lie adultery, drug addiction, spousal abuse, and murder - secrets that someone is willing to kill to protect. --Hillary
Hillary's September 2014 pick
The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
David Mitchell is one of my favorite writers, a man who blends elements of fantasy and nonfiction into his beautiful literary fiction. If you enjoyed any of his previous books (among them The Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet), or if you think you might like a writer who combines the best of Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood, then The Bone Clocks is for you.
Mitchell is a master mimic, able to give voice to all sorts of characters; The Bone Clocks includes a working class teenage girl, a hilariously outspoken and egotistical writer, and a psychiatrist whose soul is 800 years old.
Too, Mitchell is not afraid to use fiction to address existential issues, as here, when he takes on climate change and the political upheaval that is bound to follow in its wake.
Yes, this is a dystopian novel, but it will leave you believing in the power of one good person.
Hillary's May 2014 pick
The Cold Song, by Linn Ullmann
Linn Ullman is the daughter of the great actress-director couple Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman, and her sensibility seems very much a product of her parentage. The Cold Song is plotted around the murder of a nanny, 19 year-old Milla, but its unknowns are not who committed the crime or why. Rather, Ullman examines the mysteriousness of her characters to those who love them and, ultimately, to themselves. Told from many points of view – Simen, the young boy who discovers Milla’s body; Jon, Milla’s novelist employer who cheats on his wife to avoid his writer’s block; Siri, his successful chef wife, filled with fury at her husband; Jenny, the formidable matriarch who tries to drink away guilts both old and new; 12 year-old Alma, the ungainly child with a fierce need for truth; and doomed Milla herself. Even in translation, Ullman’s prose glows. --Hillary
Hillary's May 2015 pick
The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering, by Jeffrey Rotter
There was something familiar about the narrative voice of The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering. Its knowing-naiveté, its dry sense of humor, its underlying sadness and hope. And then it hit me - this sounds a lot like Huckleberry Finn.
Except that Rotter's narrator is speaking from the future, from a time when humanity has forgotten everything it once knew about the cosmos, and when class inequality and corporate control of government have metastasized.
When the narrator and his family are given a choice - pilot the last known rocket-ship into space or go to prison, they embark on a journey that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
Beautifully written, in the best traditions of speculative fiction (think Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker and Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz), The Only Words Worth Remembering is destined to be a classic.