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A recent newsletter by one of our favorite booksellers, Emma Nichols of the Norwich Bookstore, discussed romance novels and their ability to entertain even when our attention span is miniscule.
We initially ignored her train of thought as we don't consider ourselves romance readers and yet...
And yet ... we recently found ourselves listening to two novels that we would best describe as "rom-coms" (think of Notting Hill, or Sweet Home Alabama, or any of Nora Ephron's movies - think When Henry Met Sally). And, Emma's note reminded us to share these two novels with you.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry (2022). This is the most Nora Ephron-like of the two books we highlight today. In this novel, Nora (Ephron tribute or coincidence?) knows she is not the typical romance heroine. She is not the one the guy falls for. She is the one the guy is initially coupled with - the brittle, career-driven, bottle blond who is left behind for a wholesome, brunette or darker blond woman by the end of the movie (think of the women in The Parent Trap). But she adores her sister Libby and she has vacation days. Thus, she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for a sisters’ trip. Libby envisions this as a small town transformation for Nora. She even makes a multi-point list of things they must do while away to appeal to Nora's uber efficient personality. However, instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a rugged doctor from the list, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie, a brooding editor, from back in New York City, who she abhors. You can sort of guess what comes next; but Emily Henry packs in enough twists to keep things interesting and writes with a festive flair that keeps pages turning. We recommend that you just enjoy this and spend a bit of time casting it in your head for the inevitable movie (eg Reese Witherspoon or Cameron Diaz would have been Libby in their 20 something years, not sure who'd be Libby now).
Forward March by Skye Quinlan (2022). This YA novel is a bit different from the rom-coms we grew up watching in the 80s and 90s, and we loved it for that fact alone. The novel swims with important representation of sexual identity, something that seems perfect to explore in YA as readers figure out sex, gender, love, and life. Forward March even throws in contemporary politics because the plot circles around the facts that Harper's (the main character) dad is running for President as a Republican, her mom is the headmaster of her prep school, and both of their conservative bents are, to understate the situation a bit, challenging for Harper and her friends of many sexual identities. Add an online dating app fiasco, and you have this great YA novel. If you don't trust us yet, School Library Journal had this to say about Skye Quinlan's debut, "Quinlan skillfully weaves everything together brilliantly into one very natural-feeling, heartwarming, and compelling story [...] A wonderful ace rom-com bursting at the seams with representation [...]"
As stated in our last post - Mysteries That Saved My Sanity - 2022 life has taken on a challenging bent for me, challenges which are briefly outlined in that post, so I won't repeat them here. And, when due to these items, I can't quite summon the energy for the great books we review, Netflix comedy specials (hello Taylor Tomlinson, Michael Che, John Mulaney and others) have come into play.
How does this train of thought help book lovers? Please stay with me here ... these shows made me very, very open to Kari Meutcchof's (of the Yankee Bookshop) recommendation to read anything by Jenny Lawson during Episode Five of Shelf Help. Shelf Help being our new podcast developed with and starring the fabulous owners of three indie bookstores - Yankee Bookshop, Still North Books & Bar, and the Norwich Bookstore - where we answer questions from listeners about what books they need to read next.
So today, the Book Jam reviews one of Kari's Episode Five recommendations and one other book we somehow found along the way. Both brilliantly manage to be laugh-out-loud funny and deal frankly with important topics (e.g., BLM, depression). We hope they help you laugh and think too. ~ Lisa Christie
Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson (2021). In honor of May's National Mental Health Month, Shelf Help's Episode Five featured books highlighting mental health issues. In Episode Five, Yankee's Kari Meutcchof mentioned Broken (in the best possible way) and described it so well it stuck with me. Thus, weeks later, on a recent road trip to help my parents move into assisted living, I listened, laughed, cried, and then laughed until I cried as Lawson narrated her thoughts about life in general, and then very specifically spoke honestly and descriptively about her mental illness (i.e., anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts) in a way only my good friend Kate manages in my real life through her work with Wafflenugget. Lawson's chapter on the difficulties navigating health insurance is so astute we passed it along to professors from the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science because laughter is the best medicine, or at least gets your attention in new ways, and it might help these doctors help us. Normally, I would recommend starting with Lawson's first memoir so you know her life from the beginning; however, I believe Broken stands alone and can help us all deal with how the world feels right now. Thus, new fans can start with Broken, and existing fans discovering Broken will be thrilled to find Lawson navigating in blunt detail what her depression feels like and how her life has been upended over and over again as she survives, thrives, and embraces being broken. Both existing and new fans will be thrilled with Victor's continued support and humorous asides as Lawson navigates her difficulties head on (may we all be blessed enough to find our Victors). Broken offers laughter, hope, honesty, and very realistic relationship advice when we may all need it most. Please pick this up to read, or better yet, listen as she narrates her own thoughts so you can feel what it must be like to be in her very complicated head. (And thank you Lisa Cadow for in your day job; serving as a therapist to so many people in need of help is inspiring.) ~ Lisa Christie
Please Don't Sit On My Bed in Your Outside Clothes by Phoebe Robinson (2022). In her latest memoir, Robinson, of 2 Dope Queens, shares humorous stories and heartrending tales, some of which may inspire rage and possibly action. She tackles white guilt, white activists, allyship, and what it’s like to be a woman who doesn’t want kids when all straight, cis women are supposed to. She, in a very different way than Jenny Lawson (as described above), discusses how taking care of one’s mental health, which she clearly labels as currently being marketed as “self-care", requires a LOT of disposable money. I hope someone with an ability to affect change is listening to these astute women. Great to read it or listen to as Robinson narrates it herself. ~ Lisa Christie
Admittedly "Mysteries That Saved My Sanity" is a rather lofty title; and I am certain many, including my teenaged sons, feel strongly that my sanity has not been saved. And, 2022 has been an extremely challenging year for me thus far. As Queen Elizabeth might say, it has been an "annus horribilis" (hers was 1992 - maybe there is something to beware of in years ending in two); I'm weary and wary and we haven't even gotten half way through it. There have been personal and family health scares, adjusting to kids growing up and out of the house, moving parents into memory care facilities (huge thank you to my sister Kathleen), as well as an unexpected (but definitely not conscious) uncoupling. And then there's what is happening in the Ukraine, with our national politics, with gas prices, the global economy, our climate, in our neighborhoods plagued by gun violence, in our mental health challenged post covid lockdowns existence, and with families who have lost loved ones to covid/cancer/insert tragedy here. I completely recognize those much larger tragedies out there and truly mourn for all that is happening to everyone of late; I also remain truly grateful for all I still have. And yet, as my friend, the author KJ Dell'Antonia - look for her latest book, In Her Boots on July 5th - has commented, I appear to be living under very, very, messy and misaligned stars.
As I navigate my new normal in terms of health, kids, and personal relationships, my attention span has contracted. My ability to dive into intricate novels is nonexistent (big sigh). Luckily, mysteries have saved me. Perhaps it is their ability to have a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps it is because my lovely friends who are trying to help me cope with the above list of 2022 challenges keep giving me great mysteries to devour. Perhaps it is that they are just plain fun. Whatever the reason, I'd like to share the mysteries that have saved my sanity these past six months (again my kids probably would dispute this assessment), in the hopes they may help others who are struggling with their own demons as we pull out of pandemic lockdowns and masking mandates; and with the knowledge they may entertain the rest of you who are thankfully finding 2022 just delightful. ~ Lisa Christie
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (2020). I avoided this book for years because too many people raved about it. I just assumed there was no way it could be as good as people stated. Luckily a good friend (thank you Deb) dropped it off for me when my long awaited trip to London was aborted due to the inconvenient fact I contracted covid just two days before departure. I couldn't read it then as my disappointment and symptoms made concentrating difficult, However another severe personal set back recently had me reeling and this book saved my sanity for the moment (as stated above it has been a very challenging 2022). Anyway, this book and its foursome of retired folks, living in what must be the best retirement village ever, charmed the socks right off me. The Thursday Murder Club of the title started as a group working old murder cases culled from the files of club founder and former police officer Penny, who's currently comatose. The four remaining members include Elizabeth holder of an unspecified job (MI6?); Joyce, a former nurse; retired psychiatrist Ibrahim, and former politician Ron. When the cold cases are replaced by a double murder right outside their village, the club springs into action, charming two local police officers into assisting them - or at least into appreciating their meddlesome ways. Mr. Osman is an English television personality and comedian and knows how to craft a tale that pulls you in and keeps you there for the duration. Enjoy this from any lounge chair you happen to find yourself in this summer. You will not regret it. In a fun coincidence, Lisa Cadow also read and enjoyed this during a very dreary late March/early April in New England.
The Drowning Sea: a Maggie D'Arcy Mystery by Sarah Stewart Taylor (out June 21, 2022 - preorder now). Luckily for mystery fans, Maggie D'Arcy is back - this time, unemployed and in Ireland to figure out whether her renewed romance with a beau from decades earlier can withstand close contact, trying to help her daughter Lilly deal with the trauma of Lilly's father's recent death, and trying to figure out what is next for her own career. Happily for readers, she's in West Cork as she ponders all these items. It's gorgeous, and a vacation, and life is good until a body or two washes ashore. The development of an old manor home, migrant laborers from the European mainland, and old versus new money clashes seem to be at the center of the deaths and some other things Maggie can't resist investigating. Think of this novel as a chance to spend quality time in an amazing Irish village with characters you'd love to have as neighbors (or who at least would make your life more interesting). This is a perfect book for a comfy chair and some tea, or a porch, or a beach, or a plane, or to keep you company while waiting for an appointment, or when needing some travel inspiration or ... Thank you Sarah for being an amazingly steadfast friend, as well as a talented author.
The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray (2022). KJ (see above) reviewed this in one of her newsletters and graciously agreed to pass it along to me when I asked her to share. If KJ's review hadn't enticed me, the back cover's description of Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie would have. This was just perfect (although I still have about 100 pages to complete, I'm assuming they will hold up). This novel features a house party, many of Jane Austen's characters, a murdered Mr. Wickham (relax, it's in the title so I didn't spoil anything), and plenty of suspects. Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of YA author Amy Vincent; based on this I may have to pick up her other works.
The Missing Piece: Dismas Hardy #19 by John Lescroart (2022). The 19th book in this series does not disappoint. I read these as much for the opportunity to live in San Francisco again as I do for the time spent with the fabulous characters Mr. Lescroart has created -- Dismas Hardy, lawyer with a heart of gold and a complicated past, former SF head of homicide Abe Glitsky, Hardy's law partner Wes Farrell, and their respective romantic partners. In this one, the aging protagonists are a bit more cynical and questioning of their career choices as they face a case from their past lives and as questions of guilt, innocence, and appropriate punishment abound. Recommended for anyone who has ever loved San Francisco; you can buy it just for the tour. I must thank the aforementioned estranged husband for putting this on our "for the moment still joint" ebook account.
Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton & James Patterson (2022). Yes I normally avoid books by celebrities; no idea why. I just do. But, this was Dolly. So, I read this during my bout with covid. It was perfect; it entertained and had a lot of Dolly thrown in. And it got me out of my doldrums. The plot is simple - Rose is running towards a future as a country music star. With the help from a glittery established star with fake lashes nails and hair (sound familiar?) she just might make it before her complicated past catches up to her. The book reads like the movie it will inevitably become. Until it hits a big screen, read as an escape - nothing more and nothing less. In doing so, learn a bit about how music is made in Nashville, especially the important role studio musicians play - the ones who will never be big stars but whose skills are essential to the success of every star in town. Huge thank you Jane who dropped this off for me as I was indulging in a wallop of self-pity to not be London bound.
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley (2022). Jess is broke and broken and needs a new chance at life. She turns to her half brother Ben who didn't really say yes to her suggestion she crash with him for a bit, but he didn't say no. She arrives at his stellar Paris apartment from England only to find him missing. His neighbors are by turn helpful and suspects. Each day brings less clarity about what happened to Ben and what Jess needs to do with her life. Enjoy the eccentric characters in this building, the time in Paris, and the unexpected aspects of the plot. As The Library Journal said in their review, "Another well-paced, suspenseful locked-room mystery with shifting points of view.” Thank you Jen for having a trip to Paris so I had an excuse to read this and then pass it along to you to enjoy while strolling France with your son.
The Maid: A Novel by Nita Prose (2022). I just downloaded this from our beloved Norwich Public Library's Libby site as an audiobook. I can not wait to immerse myself in it as I walk the dog, clean the house, and purge a ton of unwanted baggage. While I can not yet recommend this as I have not yet read it; I trust the booksellers who do love it. I can also recommend you explore your local library's free audiobook resources if you have not yet already; I think you will be pleased with what you find. Thank you Lucinda and Lisa and ... for running such a great resource for those of us here in Norwich.
It's almost summer, and it is definitely wedding season. We know a few twenty- to thirty-something couples who are headed to at least a dozen nuptials in the next few weeks. Their itineraries have us thinking about marriage, weddings, and of course books about marriage and weddings. Or, perhaps we are thinking about all this as we know many relationships need some TLC coming out of the pandemic; and, we hope we can provide some space for kindness and care. Perhaps we are just thinking about this New York Times article about the healing aspects of parallel play for adult relationships. Perhaps we are just romantics at heart and want you all to read about weddings and marriage. No matter the reason, today we review three options (two humorous fiction books and a memoir/self help book) to help you navigate your own wedding season, or relationship issues, or need for an entertaining tale, or...
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipman (2012). Over a decade later, I still remember how much I enjoyed this tale of New England wedding plans gone awry. The marriage involves a seven months pregnant bride, two "old school" families, a family home on the island where generations of family members have "summered", resentments, jealousy, lust, ancient rivalries, and inappropriate crushes. It is told with Shipman's deft prose and superb humor. As The New Yorker said, “Shipstead seems at home in the Waspy milieu of private schools and their preening, privileged attendees. . . . A keen-eyed rendering of America’s self-invented caste.” Add some gin and tonics and lobster and enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie (seconded by Lisa Cadow)
This is How Your Marriage Ends by Matthew Fray (2022). Mr. Fray gained notoriety for a 2016 article - She Divorced Me Because I left the Dishes by the Sink - that he wrote placing his inability to put dishes away as the root cause of his divorce. Of course, that wasn't what really caused the demise of his marriage - dishes by a sink are trivial on so many levels. However, Mr. Fray argues that it was the disrespect represented by his inability to meet his wife's simple request that was the issue; ultimately it repeatedly illustrated that what was important to her did not matter to him. Not having dishes in the sink was important to her; his inability to pick up his dishes dismissed her needs. That repeated dismissal made her feel unloved and unimportant; she chose divorce to no longer feel that way. Mr. Fray turned his need to figure out what happened to his marriage into a blog, which became that famous column, which became a career as a marriage counselor. He has now turned that career into this book, using a combination of his own marriage experience and stories from his clients. I am not sure the solution to divorce is to cast blame on men for their inadequate emotional skills, and you could read this book as doing exactly that. I also know that some - hello Harvard Crimson - have criticised the author for turning women into purely emotional, irrational humans (I am not sure I agree with this critique, and I see where that critique is coming from). And yet, there was something about the deeply personal aspects of this book that touched me; especially when I chose to read his complaint that we aren't taught how to be married as applying to all humans, not just cis-gendered men. This is a weird review, as I am not sure who I would recommend this to or that I can wholeheartedly recommend it; and yet I can't stop thinking about the stories he shares and the hope he provides that humans can learn how to be better partners. Maybe I just appreciate what appears to be an honest assessment of how his behavior caused his beloved wife (and son) to leave. And somehow with the world being what it is right now, that hope and appreciation seem like reasons enough to read it. Maybe buy it to read with your partner and figure out what your "dishes by the sink" item is so you can avoid at least that one pitfall. ~ Lisa Christie
State of the Union by Nick Hornby (2019). The author of High Fidelity and other funny books, turns his humor on marriage in this pithy book about matrimony. Specifically, he explores a marriage that is falling apart and the lengths a couple will explore to fix it. As the indie reviewers wrote "Unfolding in the minutes before their weekly therapy sessions, the ten-chapter conversation that ensues is witty and moving, forcing them to look at their marriage--and, for the first time in a long time, at each other." Note: Its shorter length might make a great book club book. ~ Lisa Christie (seconded by Lisa Cadow)
We realize we should not limit our reviews of poetry to April and National Poetry Month; and yet, we don't want this opportunity to go by without reviewing some poetry. So, here we go... some poetry for National Poetry Month.
The Woman I Kept to Myself by Julia Alvarez (2010). There was a time when I gave this to every woman I knew on their 40th birthday. Why? Because these autobiographical poems explore so many of the emotions - wonder, anger, grief, and joy - associated with living a life, in clear, loving, and need we say it, poetic language. It is just a gorgeous thought-provoking collection to help gain understanding into one's own life and the lives of others. I am so grateful it is still in print. I hope you will be too. ~ Lisa Christie
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (2017). In this collection, Poet Nikki Grimes responds to poems from the Harlem Renaissance by using one line from selected Renaissance poems to craft her own words. She then places the two poems side by side for comparison and response. The older poems include some from Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. The newer ones are all from Grimes. The book also includes superb artwork accompanying each pairing. Would be a great addition to English classrooms as well. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
We add another collection of books by women authors to finish Women's History Month. We hope the diversity of topics and genres mean you all find something you wish to read, and that we are all reminded great women authors can be found everywhere.
No Filter and Other Lies by Crystal Maldonado (2022). I'll begin with the ending. I love the fact that this book does not leave you with a stereotypical happy ever after. I love that bad actions in this book have awful consequences, and at the same time not everything is bleak as a result of those bad actions. Bittersweet is a perfect ending for Maldonado's second YA novel. (Her first - Fat Chance, Charlie Vega was very positively reviewed by the Book Jam here.) I love the fact Maldonado allows her protagonist Kat, an aspiring photographer navigating high school, to be complex and even unlikeable at times. I like her; I like her friends/fellow photography bugs. I enjoyed watching Kat figure out how to keep a friend a friend when he wants something more, and then her reactions as she discovers, well, maybe, she might, be bisexual. Who knew? She certainly did not up until a specific moment in time. I love Maldonaldo full-on tackles today's social media landscape and it's effects - positive and negative and indifferent - on teens. I love the fact the book also shows kids raised by people other than their biological parents - in Kat's case her grandparents. In short, I loved this sophomore book by a superb author I am quickly becoming a fan of. For those who need more than that, here is a quick plot synopsis -- Kat is frustrated by her lack of social media presence for her art, especially as all her friends have no trouble finding followers. Her solution - create Max, a college student with beauty, friends, and a life filled with adventure. The problem -- well too many to name here; but they all feel realistic, and let's just say Kat's true life comes crashing down all around her. Enjoy, and relax, I promised a superbly bittersweet ending! Note: I also think it would make a great parent-kid book club pick if for no other reason it opens dialogue about social media choices.. ~ Lisa Christie
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleka Jaouad (2021). I found this to be one of the most affecting memoirs of 2021. Jaouad is a brilliant woman and a compelling writer. In the opening pages, we meet her as she is wrapping up her senior year at Princeton (though feeling fatigued and experiencing inexplicable itching), follow her to the boulevards of Paris post-graduation where she becomes involved in a whirlwind love affair and then continue on her surprising journey as she is abruptly rushed back to New York where she is diagnosed with cancer. Jaouad's insights on the emotional experience of illness were noticed by The New York Times and she contributed regularly as a columnist for several years. This book is a meditation on life, death, family, survival, the space in between two kingdoms - and all of the love, pain, and resilience in between. Vermont even makes a cameo appearance as a spot that facilitates Jaouad's healing. Unflinchingly honest and surprising. Highly recommended. ~ Lisa Cadow
The Chosen One: A first-generation Ivy League Odyssey by Echo Brown (2022). In novel combining her personal experiences as a first generation college student, and elements of fantasy and magical realism, Brown frankly explores a myriad of issues including grief, poverty, mental illness, racism, friendship, sex, ambition, self-worth, and ultimately a universal need for belonging. this sounds like a lot, and it is. And, in no way is this novel preachy -- perhaps the fantasy elements ensure that. Despite high academic achievement in her Cleveland high school, Echo Brown is struggling at Dartmouth College. (I noted the frequent shout outs to the warm bread loaves and honey butter at a local restaurant Molly's.) Her Dartmouth experience is not the Dartmouth of the recruiting brochures. She can't gain traction in her classes or relationships, and she is sliding into depression. Then in a series of magical reveals, she discovers she is one of the Chosen Ones and if she can accept this calling, things just might slide into place. I honestly don't know how to describe this novel; I can say it has left me thinking about many things for weeks after finishing it, making it an excellent book club selection. This novel feels honest and left me feeling hopeful because Brown is an excellent guide for navigating difficult issues well and (I hope) creating change. Note: it took a while for me to settle in to this narrative - have patience. ~ Lisa Christie
Atlas of the Heart: Mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience by Brene Brown (2022). For me, this latest book by Brown reads more like a text book than her previous outings. And after struggling to dive deeply all at once, I am finding treating it like a textbook and reading a bit at a time has helped me think differently about all the feels I've been feeling lately (and there have been a lot). As we come out of covid pandemic restrictions and continue to deal with loss and fear and uncertainty, not to mention war, having language to describe all we are feeling can't help but assist us all. ~ Lisa Christie
The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (2021). Disclaimer -- I have not yet finished this award winning novel. And, I am enjoying following Ailey Pearl Garfield as she unravels her experience of DuBois's discussion of the problem of race in America, untangles the truth about her ancestry, and comes to new terms with her identity. I look forward to continuing this journey. ~ Lisa Christie
Over the years, we've heard that Mae West or Eleanor Roosevelt or anonymous once said "well behaved women seldom make history". Because Lisa Cadow is who she is, she investigated and discovered Harvard History Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich coined this phrase in 1976, while a phd student at the University of New Hampshire. We'll leave it to you to agree or disagree with Professor Ulrich. But we believe it is an apt quote to mention as we review two books for women's history month, on the eve of International Women's Day. Both books show tales of women and girls overcoming obstacles - those of their own making and those made by others. We hope you find both selections inspiring.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle (2021). I avoided reading this for many months. So many people recommended it; I could not believe it could be as life changing as purported. I also tend to avoid books like this. I was not looking to divorce my husband. I was not looking for a new lens on my life. I was definitely not looking to read anything that would make me feel inadequate for not completely changing everything in my life. And yet, for an unknown reason, it stayed in my pile of "to be read books" month after month. It just patiently sat there with its cheerful brightly swirly cover. Finally I picked it up and started perusing page one. Before I knew it I was underlining passages and thinking about all the choices we all make in life. And, I was simultaneously struggling with the often overly neat stories and the problematic "Lean In" aspects (I could not finish Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In because it short-shifted the issues and hardships of women of color and women in poverty); many of the things (e.g., finding and cultivating inner power) discussed in Untamed work much more easily for certain subsets of the population - white, college educated, well-off women. Nonetheless, Doyle seems genuine and definitely not at all judgemental. Basically, her use of apt metaphors (e.g., the memoir starts with a story of a cheetah that unleashes the rest of the book) kept me turning the pages as she untangles the many layers of how she has been tamed by societal expectations and coped in unhelpful ways - eating disorders, alcoholism, perfectionism, to name a few. I have not yet finished this, so can not attest to the ending. However complicated one's relationship to this book, it seems like an excellent one to review during women's history month as it bluntly tackles how expectations placed on women can hinder their lives. Note - this was previously reviewed during Pages in the Pub in Woodstock. ~ Lisa Christie
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 real-life tales of Black girl magic by Lilly Workneh (2021). This latest installment of the best selling Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series amplifies stories of Black women and girls from around the world, including tennis player Naomi Osaka, astronaut Jeanette Epps, author Toni Morrison, filmmaker Ava DuVernay; aviator Bessie Coleman, and others. We highly recommend this volume and the previous ones from this Rebel Girls series for any reader. It's never too early to show young people of all gender identities how brave women and girls change the world. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Once again it is time for our annual diversity audit.
Why? Because we believe that we are what we read; and also because we believe that a great way to expand our horizons is to read books written by or about people who have lived radically different lives from ours. So each year, we use Black History Month to explore how diversely we ourselves have read during the previous 12 months.
So one quick number from this year's audit -- overall in 2021, we reviewed 78 books in total. And, a second stat, just over half, (51%) of the authors we reviewed were written by authors of color (up from 47% in 2020, 28% in 2019, and 36% in 2018).
The other thing we use Black History Month to do is feature amazing books by superb Black authors. So now, some thoughts about great books, followed by numbers from this latest audit for those of you who like data and accountability.
Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman (2021). The youngest presidential inaugural poet in US history has penned a collection of poems that delve into the collective trauma of Covid-19 and the perils of erasure. Combining primary source materials such as letters by survivors of the Spanish Flu and her own original work, Ms. Gorman offers a path forward. A path that includes looking both at the lessons of our past as well as our own stories. We found this a perfect volume to pick up and read for a bit, then put aside for awhile, and then return to it, and continue the journey these poems offer - one that is playful, pithy, memorable, humorous, calm, and heartbreaking. Gorman somehow packs all into this one volume. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith (2021). This history was named a Best Book of 2021 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Smithsonian, Esquire, Entropy, The Christian Science Monitor, WBEZ's Nerdette Podcast, TeenVogue, GoodReads, SheReads, BookPage, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Fathom Magazine, the New York Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library. It was also longlisted for the National Book Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In it, Smith, a staff writer at The Atlantic, examines how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history and ourselves. In doing so, he travels, among other places, from New Orleans, a port for much of the slave trade, to Monticello where park rangers talk about how the narrative they present to visitors has changed over the decades, to Manhattan where the slave trade built wealth. Ultimately this book offers hope by creating a new understanding of the role that personal stories and history can play in making sense of our country and the people who live here and lead it. ~ Lisa Christie
A Strange Loop: A musical by Michael R Jackson (2020). We don't often review plays and yet I found myself reading A Strange Loop - Mr. Jackson's professional debut, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2020. The main character - Usher - is a Black, queer writer, working a day job as an usher on Broadway while writing his own story and an original musical about a Black, queer writer, working a day job on Broadway while writing his original musical. I think you see the loop now. This contemporary musical follows an artist trying to overcome a host of obstacles - not the least of which are the punishing thoughts in his own head. Read it for the challenge reading drama provides. Read it for insight into the lives of queer Black men in the world. Read it because it will have you thinking about what all the voices in your own head would be saying to you on stage in your brain's play. ~ Lisa Christie
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky (2020). This book exists because sometimes you need a board book to start difficult conversations. With this picture book, Mr. Kendi gives excellent tips for all of us to use as we try to be antiracist humans in the world. We are so glad they created something for infants and children and the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
And now the audit numbers. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus, we do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on identified gender and race/ethnicity.
We read and reviewed fewer books this past year than in any other year - 78 compared to 153 books in 2020, 94 books in 2019, 202 books in 2018, and 164 in 2017. We may need to fix that. (Note: For these audits, we do not include posts by guest reviewers or events such as Pages in the Pub because these books are selected by others.)
Over half (62%) of the books we reviewed were written by women (65% in 2020; 57% in 2019). Staying with stats regarding women authors we reviewed, almost a quarter (23%) of all authors we featured were white women from the USA (up from 21% in 2020 and 2019, down from 32% in 2018), and 8% of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA (down from 14% in 2020 and 20% in 2019 and same as in 2018). Latina authors were 5% of our authors in 2021; down from 11% in 2020 and up from 2% in 2019 and 4% in 2018. Like last year, only 1% of featured authors were Asian women (down from 4% in 2019 and 6% in 2018). We featured more Black women in 2021 - 18% (up from 2020's 14%, 10% in 2019, and 12% in 2018). We also featured more Arab American women (4%) and Native American women (3%), both up from zero in previous years.
As for the authors identifying as men, white men from the USA were 14% (down from 17% in 2020 and 23% in 2019) of the authors we featured. Fewer (4%) of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA (down from 13% in 2020 and 8% in 2019). We featured more Black male authors (13%) this past year, compared to 5% in 2020 and 7% in 2019. Very few authors we featured were Asian men (1%) or Latinos (3% which was up from 1% in 2020). None of the authors we featured identified as of Middle Eastern descent (down from 2% in 2019). We increased the number of Native American male authors we featured (4% compared to 2% in 2020 an 0% in 2019).
Adding men and women together, 51% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color (up from 47% in 2020, 28% in 2019, and 36% in 2018). Within the white authors there was a decrease in geographic diversity, 18% (down from 21% in 2020 and 33% in 2019, and up from 16% in 2018) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA. The largest group of authors of color were Black (31%), up from 24% in 2020, 15% in 2019 and 13% in 2018.
To sum, we improved the percentage of authors of color we reviewed: 51% of all authors reviewed in 2021 were authors of color (47% in 2020, 28% in 2019, 36% in 2018, 32% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015). And, once again, we vow to continue to review a diverse range of authors year after year.
Two recent radio stories - NPR's "Banned Books are Back in the Spotlight but They've Always Been for this Book Club" and On The Media's "Read the Room" and a new New York Times op-ed about book banning efforts in Tennessee - have us thinking a lot about banned books.
These two broadcasts piqued our interest to the point that we decided to dig deeper into the long lists of banned books. Reviewing them, our stances become even more strident; because, as we scanned them, we realized just how much we had loved and learned from SO SO MANY books on these lists. SO MANY.
It probably comes as no surprise that these two Book Jammers don't shy away from banned books. Most often a book that has been censored holds a powerful idea between its pages. And powerful ideas make for powerful reading (and discussions). So today, we choose to review just a handful of the many banned books that have made a difference in our lives. The list of books we couldn't include in today's reviews is much longer - but we hope that the ones we are sharing help you learn, grow, be entertained in unexpected ways, and to find power between their pages.
[Full disclosure: One of the Lisas of the Book Jam is serving our our local school board (which in our town this means serving on three boards -- long story but it has a lot to do with the fact our schools are in a bi-state district created while JFK was President). This means she is doing a lot of thinking about banned books in the specific context of education and schools. Mostly she's remembering that had these lists been enforced in her childhood schools, she would have missed the transformative experiences of Mrs. McPherson's 8th grade English class.]
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958). In this lucky reader’s life there have been a few books that find their way into my hands that upon turning the last page cause me to reverently and gently place them down, to blink and slowly exhale, and then to turn my gaze back out upon the world feeling that my view has changed. This is one such book. Things Fall Apart is a novel set in precolonial Africa towards the end of the 1800’s and chronicles the effect of the the arrival of British missionaries and government on village life. It is the story of Okonkwo, a brave and powerful but flawed warrior of the Igbo clan in Nigeria. The tale is told from the deep “inside” of his clan. The “Obi” (main house), the religion, the lore, the language, family structure and the traditions are shown through his eyes and those of his family and friends. The reader is transported to another world and way of life where pythons are considered sacred and yams represent riches. It is also one where social order and connection is maintained by full moon ceremonies, wrestling, foo-foo feasts, the power of ancestral gods, and the reality of banishment. All of which is threatened by the arrival of white people. This novel explores the reality of an ever changing world while forcing us to consider what we lose along with that change. It also pushes us to consider the complexity of leadership, community, justice, and what it means to respect our fellow humans. It is not hard to understand why it is considered by many as one of the most important 100 books of all time. ~ Lisa Cadow (Previously reviewed in books-honoring-black-history-month-and-our-annual-diversity-audit)
Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2017). A superb YA novel about being profiled by the police, and how current events, BLM, and politics affect Black youth today. In this excellent debut novel, a Black student – Justyce McAllister, top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year – is handcuffed by a police officer and released without physical harm. The psychological toll of being profiled is explored as this novel delves into his life at his mostly white prep school and in his mostly Black neighborhood. To help cope, Justyce researches the writings of MLK and writes him letters asking for guidance about how to live today. While Martin obviously never answers, the letters provide a great premise for thinking about how MLK would have handled life as a black man today. The letters also provide grounding once the novel’s action turns extremely ugly. Read it and discuss. I also highly recommend the sequel Dear Justyce - which we do not think has been banned yet. (Both novels could be considered the boy’s perspective on the situations in The Hate U Give reviewed below.) ~ Lisa Christie (Previously reviewed in some-ya-titles-that-lead-to-great-discussions)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017). Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”. Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one! We also recommend Ms. Thomas's On the Come Up, which makes many banned books lists and was recently reviewed by us here. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (Previously reviewed in some-ya-titles-that-lead-to-great-discussions)
There There by Tommy Orange (2018). The writing in Tommy Orange's debut novel is forceful and builds a percussive momentum as the story progresses, perhaps not unlike the beat of a drum at a Native American Powwow. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the author himself majored in sound engineering as an undergraduate before working in a bookstore and falling in love with reading and writing. There There explores identity and sense of place, telling the story of twelve characters, mostly urban Native Americans, all living in Oakland, California. Their lives are braided together though it is not until the end, at the Oakland Powwow, that the reader understands just how. From the outset, it is clear that things won't end well. However, the beauty of the prose, the poignant stories of the individuals it tells, and the insights and honesty it offers into the Native American experience compel one to read to the painful, shocking finish. Orange's work has received a great deal of publicity since it was published in 2018. Margaret Atwood and Pam Houston have both sung its praises. The New York Times named it one if the "10 Best books of the Year" in 2018. It was even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. These kinds of reviews can be off-putting to the casual reader, the hype overwhelming, the literariness of it all stopping one before the first page can even be turned. Don't let this get in the way of reading such an important and accessible book. For me it was one of those "shape shifters," a work that helped me to understand our culture and history in a different, richer (though not easier or more comfortable) way. ~ Lisa Cadow (Previously reviewed in the-book-jam-returns-with-two-great-titles-just-for-you)
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – When the book ends you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and from family situations that are less than ideal. Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits — both from the wrong side of the tracks. They are also both smart enough to know that one’s first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to try anyway. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were. And yes, you will remember your own first love. ~ Lisa Christie (Previously reviewed in some-ya-titles-that-lead-to-great-discussions)
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970). I first read this as part of a college course on multiculturalism, and wow — what insight into so many things is held in this slim volume. In this concise novel, an 11-year-old girl yearns to have blue eyes, with tragic consequences. ~ Lisa Christie (Also reviewed in my list of books that shaped me here.)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2007). This graphic memoir by Vermont’s own Ms. Bechdel bravely tackles how sexual identity is formed, the costs of suppression, and well, “coming of age” for lack of a better phrase. We also highly recommend the Tony Award winning Broadway play. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (Previously reviewed in substantive-reads-for-great-discussions)
One of the Lisas (Christie) recently doubled down on using Libby - a superb app from our local Norwich Public Library that allows access to ebooks and audiobooks (and probably much more she has not yet discovered). As a result, her drives around New England for her son's hockey games and other events are currently narrated by a wide variety of voices. Her only complaint about this service -- the wait times for materials -- a problem she has subverted by filtering for only currently available titles. As a result of this filter, she found herself listening to Matthew McConaughey and his recent memoir/self-help book Greenlights. Is this a book she would normally read? Probably not (although she did pick up People in the doctors office in pre-Covid times, and spending time in her car with Matthew McConaughey's fabulous Texas drawl on all speakers was very fun and diverting). Her moments with Mr. McConaughey reminded her of time spent two decades ago with Michael J. Fox and his first autobiography, Lucky Man while driving Vermont starting Everybody Wins! That thought about Lucky Man reminded her of time spent with Andre Agassi's memoir Open, which led to memories of Caitlin Moran and Amber Ruffin. So here you go -- a post inspired by 'car dates' with famous men and women. We hope it inspires you to listen to them and others. Enjoy!
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (2021). Listening to this memoir or advice book - it's honestly a bit of both - means you can sort of pretend you are on a date with the actor; and it feels as if very few people would have a problem with that. His Texas drawl is reassuring, familiar, and warm as he tells you about his childhood, his early career, his erotic dreams, and his married life. Thus, for the duration of this audiobook you can pretend you have a wealthy friend and maybe pick up a few creative ideas or adopt one of this many, many mantras Greenlights offers along the way. Is this the best book of today's selection? Perhaps not, and it still has me thinking about what he said and the time spent with his Texas accent in my ear. ~ Lisa Christie
Lucky Man by Michael J Fox (2002). This is the first celebrity memoir I ever listened to. I still remember how fun it was to drive across Vermont decades ago (yikes!) establishing Everybody Wins! in many schools with Micheal J Fox's familiar lilt in my ears. Lucky Man, his first of four memoirs, covers his boyhood in Canada, his fame from TV's Family Ties and the Back to the Future movies, a few career flops (who knew?), his marriage to Family Ties co-star Tracy Pollan, and a frank look at his alcoholism. Throughout, his struggle with Parkinson's disease, provides context and clarity. Honestly one of the best audiobooks I have ever listened to - or at least the most memorable. ~ Lisa Christie
How to be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (2016). We were introduced to this memoir years ago by our favorite comic - Cindy Pierce, and we thank her to this day. In How to be A Woman, Ms. Moran offers pointed observations on life with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own trials and tribulations. Some specific topics she tackles include workplace drama, strip clubs, love, fat, abortion, and children. Her British accent is a bonus. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin & Lacey Lamar (2021). We have reviewed this before so will just repeat that previous review now, with the recommendation you listen to this book as Ms. Ruffin's comic timing is more apparent when she narrates than on a written page. Ms. Ruffin is a comedian and writer (the first Black woman writer) on Late Night With Seth Meyers. She is funny. She also is blessed with a sister who still lives in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska and has CRAZY things happen to her with regularity as a result of being a petite Black woman in there. Luckily, Lacey calls Amber to talk about each incident. Luckily for us, they decided writing down these conversations was a great idea. This book was also reviewed on the Book Jam by best-selling author KJ Dell-Antonia. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Open by Andre Agassi (2009). I knew little about Andre Agassi before I listened to this memoir and what I knew I did not especially like. He seemed petulant, a bad sport, and well rude. And by the end, I wanted to befriend him. Unlike most books about sports - this memoir is not about the love of the game conquering all. It is about how the game shaped the man, for good and for bad and frankly is often about how much he hated tennis. He and his ghost writer spend a lot of time, as the New Yorker reminded me, deconstructing "the mythic image that the media created during Agassi’s many peaks and downfalls. At various points in his career, he was written off as a jerk, a fame whore, or a brat. But the reality, as explained in “Open,” was different: his signature mullet was not a statement of rebellion but rather an attempt to conceal the fact that he was going bald at a very young age." All of this paints an engaging portrait of an intriguing man. Note - I misremembered it as being read by Agassi -- he wasn't. The narrator is Erik Davies; and despite that I still thought we should include it here. ~ Lisa Christie
Every year, we start January with a few picks of great books to really dig into after the relatives have left. While Covid again changed the hustle and bustle of the holidays for many, we still hope January offers some quiet time to sit and really enjoy a very good book. To help you do this, we once again offer a selection of three books (fiction, memoir/cooking, and kids) to read after the relatives have left. Enjoy and Happy New Year!
SIDE NOTE from Lisa Christie: I am thrilled by the book Lisa Cadow chose to review today. It totally made my day to read how much she enjoyed this gift Christmas gift from me. I share this merely to remind you that January can be bleak; we've heard calls to divorce lawyers and therapist have increased dramatically of late. So, maybe we can all remember that giving the gift of a good book can elevate your mood just as much as the recipient's; and you can support a local indie bookstore at the same time -- further spreading the joy of just one gifted book.
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci (2021). If you've been missing gathering around the table with family and friends during the pandemic as much as I have, here is an antidote: sit down with actor, writer, and director Stanley Tucci's new memoir Taste to evoke those special feelings of camaraderie. Tucci's new book takes the reader back to a childhood spent in 1960's in Westchester surrounded by Italian relatives who bottled their own wine from oak casks in the basement and roasted goats in their backyard, through a lifetime of cooking with friends (often famous) and visiting restaurants across the globe, then all the way back to present-day London where much of his time, when he's not filming on location, is spent shopping and cooking classics like Spaghetti Carbonara for his children and wife. Tucci is an energetic, hilarious, and creative writer who tells a great story and shares wit as well as wisdom. Parts of his book are written like pages torn from a movie script full of dialogue and direction, which makes sense, given that he's spent his entire adult life acting from and even composing scripts. (Some may not realize that Tucci was not only one of the actors in the cult classic 1996 film "Big Night" about two brothers struggling to save an Italian restaurant on the Jersey Shore, but he was also a coauthor.) An unexpectedly poignant part of the memoir chronicles his recent treatment for and recovery from oral cancer, which only served to deepen his already very serious relationship with food. As he explains, "I must say that years ago I never thought that my passion and interest in food would come close to eclipsing how I felt about my chosen profession. Acting, directing, cinema, and the theater had always defined me. But after my diagnosis I discovered that eating, drinking, the kitchen, and the table now play those roles. Food not only feeds me, it enriches me. All of me. Mind, body, and soul. It is nothing more than everything. Cook Smell. Taste Eat Drink Share. Repeat as necessary." Turning the last page of Taste I yearned for just one more bite, one more laugh, one more chapter, and a little more time in Tucci's brilliant company. I'll have to make due with the smattering of simple recipes from the book that I plan to try and the slab of Kerrygold butter that now sits on our kitchen counter after learning that it's what the Tucci family enjoys with their bread. This is the perfect read to fill yourself up with after the relatives have left. ~Lisa Cadow
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (2021). I still remember how I felt while reading Ms. Shipstead's Seating Arrangements years ago - completely entertained by what most would consider a 'beach read" and also caring about the fates of the characters inhabiting her imagined New England Island as a high society wedding unfolded. This time, with the impressively sweeping novel Great Circle, I cared about the the fates of her two major characters -- Marian, a girl determined to be an aviator in prohibition-era Montana, and Hadley, a "Twilight-like" movie star in the process of self destructing over her romantic and social media choices. The link between the two? Hadley's selection to play Marian in a biopic picture years after Marian's plane disappears into the ocean. I also cared about the secondary characters: Jamie - Marian's twin a talented painter, Caleb, Jamie's and Marian's wild childhood friend, Hadley's eminent neighbor Sir Hugo, and Wallace, their drunken well intentioned, talented artist uncle who took Marian and Jamie in after their father was jailed for abandoning his duty as captain of a sinking ship in order to rescue them. (Their mother's death from suicide, seen in retrospect, induced by post-partum depression, plays a role throughout this tale.)
That is a lot to tackle and it is all laid out for readers in the first 100 pages, allowing the next 400 pages to pull readers along while revealing the unique fates of each character. Even so, it's still a lot to take in, so don't worry if you are not always on task, keep going and let her re-engage you with compelling characters, plot twists, and oodles of research. When completed, readers are left with with a sweeping saga of life in the USA during the 20th century, and/or a great distraction from the quiet after the relatives have left.
NOTE: Throughout Great Circle, I felt a longing to re-read Beryl Markham's terrific memoir West with the Night, and hope I make time to do so. If you have not yet read West with the Night -- please do so; you will not regret it. You might also wish to try Seating Arrangements for a shorter and completely different take of Ms. Shipstead's gifted writing. ~ Lisa Christie
Black Boy Joy by assorted authors and edited by Kwame Mbalia (2021). This collection of 17 short stories about black boys in the USA provides the perfect book to pick up if your attention span just can't handle a saga. I truly loved my time with the boys in these pieces as they imagined traveling outer space, participated in cooking contests, and debated the best super hero ever. Because 17 authors weigh in during this collection, there is lovely variety in tone and style: some are funny, some are happy-sad, all are compelling. The shorter length of the stories makes them ideal for discussion - teachers everywhere take note. For everyone -- the boys' joy is contagious. As Booklist said in their review -- "Pick up Black Boy Joy for a heavy dose of happiness." NOTE: I listened to this via audiobooks, and it was a superb way to spend time commuting to high school hockey games. ~ Lisa Christie
Once again, Norwich, Vermont ushered Pages in the Pub into our holiday plans, and for a second time due to the pandemic we met via Zoom. And once again, the presenters - this time presenting as pairs - Vermont librarians Lucinda Walker and Peter Money; booksellers Emma Nichols and Sam Kass; and cartoonists Emma Husinger and Tillie Walden, did an incredible job of raising a lot of money for our beloved Norwich Public Library (thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore), confining their Zoom reviews to 90 seconds and their written reviews to six words (harder than it sounds), helping many finish (or at least start) their holiday shopping, and giving all of us a GREAT list of books to give and get (and maybe start reading today).
Presenter bios are listed below the presenters' recommendations so that you can know a little bit more about the amazing and accomplished people who gave us all such great recommendations and six-word reviews. We thank them all! For ease of shopping from an indie bookstore, just use the Norwich Bookstore's online ordering page for this event.
Baking with Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple by Dorie Greenspan (2021). Deliciously easy & always yummy bakes! ~ Selected by Lucinda
Well Fed Weeknights by Melissa Joulwan (2016). Paleo-ish, easy dinners, under 30 minutes! ~ Selected by Tillie & Emma H.
Gastro Obscura by Cecily Wong (2021). Fun facts, Delicious dishes, tantalizing travels.
~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
PICTURE BOOKS FOR KIDS (UNDER 8) – FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING THE FIRST SNOW STORM
Professional Crocodile by Giovanni Zoboli (2017). Dreamy with few words, ode to routine. ~ Selected by Tillie & Emma H.
The Creature of Habit by Jennifer E. Smith (2021). Careful creature takes chance on chaos. ~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
EARLY CHAPTER BOOKS (3-8) BECAUSE SOMETIMES YOU WANT TO BE A BIG KID, EVEN IF YOU AREN’T
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon (2015): Pirates! chickens! fairy queens! walkie-talkies! friends! nemeses!). ~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
POETRY FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT BEAUTY AND TRUTH
Summer Snow by Robert Hass (2020). Sage, smart, tender, vital timely observations. ~ Selected by Peter
BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS (AGES 8-12) – THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS AND TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS
The List of Things that Will Not Change by Becca Stead (2020). Heart-warming story + authentic voice = excellent read!. ~ Selected by Lucinda
Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu (2021): Daring 'delinquents' undaunted by the patriarchy. ~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani (2021). Colorful musical adventure through time. ~ Selected by Tillie & Emma H.
BOOKS FOR YOUR FAVORITE HIGH SCHOOLER
A-Okay by Jarad Greene (2021). Acne and asexuality in middle school! ~ Selected by Tillie & Emma H.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado (2021). Smart. Wry. Ambitious. Loved. Fat. Charlie. ~ Selected by Lisa
NON-FICTION OR REFERENCE BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK AND CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOODSTOVE
New England's Roadside Ecology by Tom Wessels (2021). Indispensable reference for our region's hikers. ~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
A Little Devil In America by Hanif Abdurraqib (2021). Black art shapes our whole culture. ~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman (1987). In which the medieval feels ... modern. ~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
GRAPHIC BOOKS BECAUSE PICTURES ADD 1,000 WORDS
Here by Richard McGuire (2014). A brilliant time-traveling graphic novel. ~ Selected by Tillie & Emma H.
MEMOIRS/BIOGRAPHIES FOR PEOPLE WHO ENJOY LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH OTHERS
Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (2015): Author famous for gothic horror also makes a mean pudding. ~ Selected by Sam & Emma N.
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (2021). Racism. Education with Humor. Engaging sisters. ~ Selected by Lisa
FICTION FOR ANYONE WHO NEEDS AN ENGROSSING NOVEL TO RECOVER FROM THE NEWS
When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble (2021). Beautiful story of a Cherokee horse-diver. ~ Selected by Lucinda
I Was Never The First Lady by Wendy Guerra (2021). Daughter/mother coping in dream[e]scape Cuba. ~ Selected by Peter
The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (2020). Three women, three histories, daring prose. ~ Selected by Tillie & Emma H.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS BECAUSE SOMETIMES YOU NEED A QUICK FIX
Sarahland by Sam Cohen (2021). Hilarious, queer, short stories; very 2021. ~ Selected by Tillie & Emma H.
MYSTERIES / THRILLERS FOR ANYONE WHO LOVES TO GUESS THE ENDING
Falling by T. J. Newman (2021). “Speed” on a plane - heart pounding! ~ Selected by Lucinda
Northern Spy by Flynn Berry (2021). Sisters' relationship tested by IRA resurgence ~ Selected by Lucinda
Lucinda Walker is the Director of the Norwich Public Library. In the words of Eloise, she “loves, loves, loves” her job, her colleagues and the Norwich community. She is addicted to podcasts (Brave Little State, Ear Hustle & Mortified are current favorites), a daily walk or run and dark-roasted coffee. Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her writer/librarian husband Peter Money (see below) and two kids, Hartley & Lily.
Tillie Walden is a cartoonist and illustrator from Austin, TX. She is a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies, where she now teaches. As of 2022, she has published three graphic novellas with the London based Avery Hill Publishing and three with First Second Books, including her Eisner Award-winning books Spinning and Are You Listening?. She currently lives in Norwich, Vermont with her wife Emma Hunsinger (see below) and two cats Stan and Tatiana.
Emma Nichols wanted to grow up to become either a librarian or a witch, but she's delighted to be co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore instead (close enough, right?). Her first, and only, tattoo is a quote from a story by Kelly Link, and she wishes more people would ask her for short story recommendations. If she's not at the bookstore, you'll most likely find her reading, baking bread, or tinkering with spreadsheets.
Peter Money is currently the Mary L. Blood Memorial Library librarian in Brownsville (West Windsor), Vermont, where Civil War artifacts and taxidermy --named Olivia, Newton, and John--keep him company. Married to "big city" librarian Lucinda Walker (see above), Peter is firstly a poet, novelist, and teacher who performs with the poetry band Los Lorcas. In 2019, his novel Oh When the Saints--set in Dublin--was launched in Ireland by Nuala O'Connor (the author of 2021 Best Seller Nora) and praised by Peter Orner. Peter's other books include American Drone: New & Select Poems, Che: A Novella In Three Parts, and translations of Saadi Youssef with Sinan Antoon, Nostalgia, My Enemy. In addition to Last Night In America with Los Lorcas, Peter's spoken word album Blue Square is available on Apple Music. RTE aired his streamable radio essay, "Loves: Silence and the music of JS Bach." When not "booking," Peter may be found painting, mowing, or wide-eyed at something his grown son and daughter have done. Some version of himself is found at petermoney.com, @poetpetermoney (I), @petermoneyhere (T).
Sam Kaas has been a bookseller for most of his adult life, and still thinks it's just about the best gig a person could have. He is the co-owner, with his partner Emma Nichols (see above), of the Norwich Bookstore. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, he has a fondness for strong coffee and dark, rainy days. He knows more than you might expect about classic cars, off-brand guitars, and the Drive-By Truckers discography.
Emma Hunsinger is a cartoonist from Connecticut. She started her career making New Yorker gags before getting her MFA at the Center for Cartoon Studies. Her short comic "How To Draw a Horse" appeared in pages of the New Yorker and was nominated for an Eisner. She currently lives in the Upper Valley where she spends most of her time trying to stay warm.
The Book Jam Lisas
Lisa Christie, co-founder of the Book Jam, was, in previous times, the Founder/Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA, literacy programs that help children love books. She currently works as a part-time non-profit consultant, school board member (who is ever grateful to our teachers, administrators, staff, students, and parents/guardians), and all-the-time believer in the power of books. She lives in Norwich with her musician/podcasting husband, two superb teenage sons (well only when the oldest is home from college), and a very large dog. She often dreams of travel.
Lisa Cadow is the co-founder of the Book Jam. When not reading or experimenting in her kitchen, she is a full time student of counseling at the University of Vermont. She fervently believes that health outcomes would improve if doctors could prescribe books to patients as well as medicine. Lisa lives in Norwich with her husband, three cats, and a fun border collie and loves it when her three adult children visit.
As the United States enters Thanksgiving week, we feel grateful for so much: health care workers, school personnel - teachers, administrators, and staff, grocers, restaurant staff, vaccines, boosters, friends, families, our town, good food, walks in woods ... The list could go on and on.
And we recognize that things can be complicated when it comes to gratitude, including with the Thanksgiving holiday and how the story surrounding pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal for the good of all isn't a simple one. As part of re-examining stories, we are highlighting Native American Heritage Month and review in this post two recently published books by Native American authors. So, happy reading and happy Thanksgiving - in the best sense of that phrase.
Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (2021). This, the first children's book I've read that directly addresses the Covid-19 pandemic, is spectacular. When the story begins, Malian's visit with her grandparents at their home on a Wabanaki reservation, is interrupted by the Covid-19 lockdowns. The adults in her life decide it is better for her to stay with her grandparents than back in the city with her parents. And so she stays -- protecting her grandparents, just as they protect her. She won't go outside to play with friends. She tutors her grandparents about video chats. She cares for a stray dog; and, she attempts to keep up with her school online. Perhaps most importantly, she listens and learns from her grandparents' stories. Told in verse (fewer words per page for reluctant readers), with stories from the Wabanaki people woven throughout, this novel is a lovely read about what we do to help family, friends, our community, and the world when we can. It also specifically highlights how Malian's community has cared for one another throughout troubles of the past, and how they keep helping today. ~ Lisa Christie
The Sea In Winter by Christine Day (2021). In this tale of loss and growth, Maisie is supposed to be auditioning for amazing ballet programs across the USA. She's dreamed of being a prima ballerina since she wore her first toe shoes. She's also supposed to be able to talk to her father about anything and everything. Instead, a torn ACL has derailed, perhaps permanently, her ballet career, and a war took her father years before - so long ago she worries she can't really remember him. Eventually, her anxiety and dark moods hurt as much as the pain in her knee. Told with love, spirit, and hope, as well as excellent reminders about the power of good therapy - both physical and mental, this tale is an excellent one for any young reader - perhaps especially those for whom life right now is not very dreamlike or who are struggling to find their joy. I also appreciated the glimpses into Native American tribes on both coasts of the United States, as well as descriptions of nature in the Pacific Northwest. ~ Lisa Christie
NOTE FROM ONE WEEK AFTER THIS POST WAS FIRST PUBLISHED --- We are always delighted when people enjoy our reviews. And, recently through a series of connections (i.e., our good friend Katie Kitchel was cast in a demo reel/proof of concept by one of our town's indie filmmakers - Nora Jacobson - that stars members of a Native American tribe), one of the above reviews was seen by one of the reviewed authors - Joseph Bruchac. We are beyond thrilled he was delighted to be highlighted. We love the fact our small Vermont town connected us in one step (Hi Katie) to Mr. Bruchac. And, we were extremely moved by the poem he shared with us through Katie. With Mr. Bruchac's permission, and with our gratitude, we share his poem here.
by Joseph Bruchac
I know the names
on this land
have been changed,
printed on maps
made by those
who claim their ownership.
Some say nothing survives.
But the wind
the same song
of our breath.
The hilltop trees
still bend like dancers
that never ended.
And the little pines,
lift up, protected
from the weight of snow
by the held-out arms
of their elders.
There's something novel in this day and age of myriad food bloggers and online recipe juggernauts about sitting down with and cooking from a good old fashioned cookbook. When this happens and If they're lucky, the reader is transported into another chef's kitchen and offered an intimate and curated food experience. I had just this sensation over the weekend when conducting research for this post. From suggested pantry ingredients to novel techniques to tested recipes, I felt inspired by the different kitchen worldviews I glimpsed in between the pages of the new releases Grist and À Table. The experience was almost akin to walking through the back of the wardrobe and falling into two refreshing and very different culinary Narnias. Since spending time with these two books, I've already served lovely dishes from both and plan to keep working my way through them this winter. I also have the sense of being slightly transformed by the new ideas I encountered, as if my own culinary journey has been slightly altered (for the better). May you also experience a similar feeling of gustatory pleasure and growth, no matter what cookbook you find to keep you company through the winter solstice and beyond. ~ Lisa Cadow
Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds and Legumes by Abra Berens (2021). This elegant guide will have you cooking creatively throughout the winter (and then right into spring and summer, too) with the jars of sustainable and long-lasting grains that line your pantry shelves. I think I heard my farro and polenta calling out to me immediately to get cooking as soon as I turned the first pages of the table of contents. On the menu tonight in our house is "Risotto with Leeks and Bacon," one of Beren's "variations on the theme" that she provides home chefs in each section of the book (side note: they are more often than not veggie-based). Reading Beren's recipes has me missing the copious amounts of eggplant and tomatoes that burst forth (sometimes too exuberantly) from the farmshare because I'm now armed with new ideas for how to make them shine brighter next summer. "Seared Eggplant and Cherry Tomatoes with Fried Lentils and Tahini Dressing", next August anyone? She also highlights exceptional farms in her book - it's dedicated to "everyone who turns the soil to put food in our mouths - and offers helpful ways to turn a pot of beans or a pan of grains into five different interesting meals to last the week (e.g. "How to Build A Myriad of Fresh Bean Salads" and "A Week's Worth of Lentils without Any Boredom"). Fun new go-to sauces, spice blends, and herb relishes are also part of her generous offering to readers. After spending time with this book, it comes as no surprise that Berens was a recent James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Chef: Great Lakes. I'd write even more, but I need to head to my kitchen to make a batch of "Barley Thumbprint Cookies" (with raspberry jam, of course). ~ Lisa Cadow
À Table: Recipes for Cooking and Eating the French Way by Rebekah Peppler (2021). I'm impressed. As one who considers herself a Francophile, it's hard to convince me that I might need yet another French cookbook. Well, Ms. Peppler had me from the begining with her ideas for "apéro" (the custom of drinks and light hors d'oeuvres before a meal), house wines, and snacks such as roasted lemons and green olives as well as "Eggs Mayo with Persillade" (a parsley sauce I plan to make as often as possible from this point forward). I couldn't stop turning the pages of this cookbook, so entranced was I with her take on modern-day French cooking and entertaining from a decidedly young and hip perspective. As an American expat currently living in the 18th arrondissement, this food writer's got her finger on the pulse of Paris and includes wonderful recipes for dishes like "Parsnips with Fennel and Honeycomb" (whole gorgeous chunks of honeycomb!) and a "Sucrine Wedge" salad of lardons, radishes, and blue cheese that knocked our socks off - or perhaps I should say “chaussettes”?- when we enjoyed it with a hunk of warm crusty bread for dinner the other evening. I can't wait to make the “Carrot Tarte Tatin.” Four stars and a big Ooh La La. ~ Lisa Cadow
We had another post planned for today; then over the weekend one of the beloved dogs in our lives died. And for that Lisa (Cadow), her husband, and her family of grown children, things just sort of stopped. For those of you who have experienced the death of a pet you may understand how different your life is when they are gone. For those who have not, you may not understand the grief someone can feel over an animal. For both of those categories, there is Love That Dog, a book that has become our go-to gift to give to people grieving pets (and for other reasons such as is a very good book). Because it is an older title (first published in 2001), it occurred to us that maybe some of our readers missed it, or forgot about it. So today, we review Love That Dog in honor and memory of Pompy (and his amazing humans).
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (2001). First, do not let the fact this is a book written for children fool you; this book is for everyone. The plot begins with the "fact" that Jack hates poetry, and another "fact" that his teacher Mrs. Stretchberry keeps insisting he and his fellow classmates write poetry in many, many assignments. Despite his best efforts to avoid these assignments, there does not seem to be a way out of this "poetry thing" for Jack. Eventually, he gives in, starts writing, and discovers things such as:
"I guess it does
look like a poem
when you see it
He also discovers he has some important things to share and say. He then learns, to his dismay and then his delight, that poetry just might be the perfect way for him to process some things he's been denying.
Love That Dog is written in poetry form, meaning fewer words per page than in a typical chapter book. This makes it both more accessible for some reluctant readers, and inspirational for budding poets.
Readers also get a poetry lesson or two because Ms. Creech allows us to see Jack's class assignments calling for responses to eight well known poems from various poets (e.g., William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Walter Dean Myers). The full poems are included in an appendix. We promise that is not as boring as it sounds.
We want to emphasize this is just a very good story - no matter its form, topic, or intentions. We think you will fall in love with Jack, Mrs. Stretchberry for insisting children can be poets, any pets in your life, and Newberry Medal Award winning author Sharon Creech. As The New York Times said in their review of this book 20-something years ago, “Sharon Creech has achieved more than one impressive feat here.” We think this book is a great reminder at any time, and perhaps especially in times of grief, that pain and joy often exist side by side. ~ Lisa Christie
Recently, our indispensable and beloved Norwich Bookstore changed hands. We are so grateful for the hard work and vision that Liza Bernard and Penny McConnel brought to building such a vital part of our community; and, we are excited to welcome Emma Nichols (also a podcaster) and Sam Kaas with their fresh energy and creativity to Vermont. We look forward to seeing what the store becomes under their stewardship. For now, we have asked them to introduce themselves to Book Jam readers with a few recommendations of what to read right now. We hope you enjoy their picks and are able to visit them in person soon. ~ Lisa and Lisa
We are the new owners of the Norwich Bookstore, and so, naturally, we wanted to introduce ourselves by recommending a couple of books. It is, of course, impossible to introduce a reader in only two books, but we’ve made the attempt, choosing titles that we think paint a somewhat accurate picture of our own personal reading tastes. We hope you enjoy these picks! ~ Emma and Sam
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (2019). How to Do Nothing is not exactly instructional, as the title suggests, but I guarantee it will teach you something. It is a takedown of our society’s prioritization of productivity, efficiency, and capital. It is a love letter to bird-watching, long walks, and careful attention. It is a plea for maintenance and sustainability. Ms. Odell reframed the way I saw the world and my place in it, which is why I return to these pages again and again. ~ Emma Nichols
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks (2002). Fire Logic is the first in a fantasy quartet, and it is my favorite book—not in the series, but of all the books I’ve read. There is too much to the plot to summarize it in a satisfying way, so I won’t attempt to. But I will say it hurdles relentlessly forward, enthralling and entertaining, with villains that are drawn with as much detail as the heroes, until they become indistinguishable. It is one of those books that is both dark—concerning war, revenge, a land under siege, a society demolished—and full of hope—showing a community reimagined and rebuilt. It insists its characters question their beliefs, their driving forces, and do what’s right no matter how difficult. With themes of forgiveness, friendship, community and generosity, I believe this series is trying to teach its readers how to be. ~ Emma Nichols
The Sunset Route: Freight Trains, Freedom, and Forgiveness on the Rails in the American West by Carrot Quinn (2021). This astounding memoir was, appropriately enough, one of the books that I carried across the country with me as we traveled from Seattle to Vermont. A meditation on the sometimes-contradictory urges we all feel for freedom and for connection, The Sunset Route lingered with me for months. Carrot Quinn grew up in a harrowing environment of neglect, with a mother whose mental illness was severe and sometimes violent, before leaving home in her teens. She spent the next several years traveling the country - hiking, exploring, and riding freight trains with a tight-knit community of travellers, all of whom were seeking their own solace. Ms. Quinn’s vivid descriptions of her travels across a seldom-seen landscape will make you want to hop a freight yourself (don’t, though; it’s very dangerous), and her explorations of what it takes to find a family, wherever you may be, might just leave you feeling hopeful. The Sunset Route will appeal to readers of Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger just as easily as it will to fans of Tara Westover and Cheryl Strayed. ~ Sam Kaas
Someone Should Pay For Your Pain by Franz Nicolay (2021). I first came to Franz Nicolay as a fan of his music. Mr. Nicolay, who plays keys in The Hold Steady, and was previously part of dozens of bands (notably World Inferno/Friendship Society) that could probably best be described as cabaret punk, is a beguiling songwriter in his own right. This doesn’t always translate well into prose - in fact, it rarely does - but Someone Should Pay For Your Pain, Mr. Nicolay’s debut novel, is remarkable - tender, authentic, and sincere without being didactic. Rudy Pauver has seen better days - he had a promising album fifteen years ago, but since then, he’s been stuck: alone on the road, playing to increasingly indifferent crowds, and deeply hidden in the shadow of his former protege. Most of his personal relationships can best be described as “conflicted.” His current tour is already on its way from bad to worse - a gas station robbery, a cancelled show - when his niece shows up with troubles of her own, forcing Rudy to confront both his past and his future. Mr. Nicolay is one of the rare writers who accurately captures the way working musicians speak and interact, and his intricate dissections of a creative life - of the sometimes surprising conflicts between ethics and morality, love and responsibility, success and fulfillment - make this slim novel a standout. ~ Sam Kaas
The Book Jam is back from our annual "gone reading" break. And as has become our tradition, we are starting up again with reviews of two books we read over our break - one pick for each Lisa. As much as we have in common -- and we do - we are Lisas, moms, working women, book lovers, Vermonters, 50-somethings, married to Navy vets - and as much as we often love the same books - we are often struck by completely different books - as we were today. One of us picked a novel set in the American West in the early 1900s by best-selling novelist Jess Walter. The other Lisa chose a Graphic YA novel written and illustrated by many (John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury & Nate Powell). Both though are about dreams, change, and bravery. And, thus - we are the Book Jam; and, we are back. Happy autumn and happy reading!
The Cold Millions by Jess Walter (2020). Meet two very different brothers Gig and Rye Dolan, both living in Spokane, Washington in 1909. This book takes us on a journey with them throughout a tumultuous year of hard work, falling in love, participating in protests, serving jail sentences, and finding themselves unexpectedly involved in fighting unfair labor practices. Along the way, the reader vicariously experiences a rapidly changing city and a growing Pacific Northwest while also meeting private detectives, double agents, an opera singer, corrupt timber magnates, inspirational labor rights activists, and the people who love all of these characters. This book helped me to learn about an important era of history that made a fundamental difference in the labor law that exists today. It also reinforced my admiration for Mr. Walter as a versatile and talented writer (readers may remember him as the author of the very popular Beautiful Ruins which was published in 2009). Cold Millions is a rollicking, funny, deadly serious, smart, and important read and probably - no definitely!- one of my favorite books of 2020/2021. Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow
Run: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, L. Fury & Nate Powell (2021). This sequel to the National Book Award winning March trilogy takes up after the March on Selma. Through centering Congressmen Lewis's personal set backs as he tries to lead SNCC after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, this graphic book reminds us that progress is definitely not linear, identity groups are complicated, and that change is typically resisted by people in power. The illustrations by L. Fury with award winning Nate Powell from the March trilogy, capture both on their own and then with accompanying words, the anger, confusion, hope, and dreams of the major players and the country at large during this period portrayed in Run. As the New York Times Review reminded me, "Black Americans have never been a monolith, despite frequent efforts to portray us as such. Lewis offers a fair-minded account of how his turn-the-other-cheek philosophy clashed with the frustrations of the movement back then. At age 26, he found himself broke, jobless and no longer its chosen one." I highly recommend picking this up, contemplating it from your favorite reading spot, and then sharing it with everyone (adults and young adults both) you know. This is a superb sequel to an amazing trilogy about the brave men and women whose actions and words forced us to be our best selves. ~ Lisa Christie
As we head into the last full month of summer 2021, we offer below a robust list of beach, mountain, camp, cabin, trailside, riverbank, front porch, and lakeshore reads (please let us know if we’re forgetting any important relaxing reading locations!) for adults to dive into before autumn takes hold. We hope there’s something to tempt every type of literary palette. You might want to read a recent NYTimes article about summer reading to get in the mood for this list.
And with this post, we, too, have officially gone readin' - our own precious, eagerly-awaited for time out to read all the books we hope to recommend to you, dear readers, this coming fall and winter. We look forward to being back in late September to help “put the right book in the right hands at the right time.”
Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch (2021). I laughed. I cringed. I really missed my time as an expat in Madrid. And, I was filled with wanderlust for anywhere in Africa, but specifically Namibia. Perhaps because winter covid safety precautions were in place (and travel was verboten) when I read this novel, it was especially nice to live in Africa for a bit while reading. I also greatly appreciated that this story cleverly hid targeted critiques of race, privilege, and power in the world as the author explores the mingling of various expats and the citizens of their hosting nations. Embassy Wife is truly a great book for those who like novels to have a bit of bite/satire, as well as those who like novels that cause you to think while being entertained. Or, as the Washington Post review of this novel says "... here’s the disclaimer the novel should have come with: Don’t take this book too seriously, and it will entertain you, seriously." ~ Lisa Christie
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reed (2021). This is certainly one of the hot books of summer 2021 and is popping up on nearly every reviewer’s “best of” list. Not only does it seduce readers into the winning setting of sunny, beachy coastal California (what more cold you ask for in a summer read??) — but Jenkins Reed really knows how to keep the pages turning. Prepare yourself for some enjoyable time-travel back to the year 1983 when on one day, four “twenty-something” year-old siblings are preparing for the family’s annual blow-out summer party. This year it goes up in smoke (you learn this early on in chapter one) but not before we come to understand the complicated, painful, and often fraught history of this larger-than-life, famous, fictional Malibu family. It’s a treat to follow Malibu as a character, too, from its sleepy beach town beginnings in the 1950’s through to its more glitzy persona of the 1980’s. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam by KJ Dell'Antonia.) ~ Lisa Cadow
Good Company by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney (2021). Imagine that as you prepare to launch your daughter on the afternoon of her high school graduation, you find the wedding ring your husband supposedly “lost“ over ten years ago hidden in the back of a filing cabinet. What you thought you understood about your life, your marriage, and your own next chapter is upended. Thus begins “Good Company,” a thoughtful new book about marriage, friendship, and motherhood by the author of the novel “The Nest.” I was eager to pick up this up given how much I loved her first novel and it didn’t disappoint. It takes readers back and forth in time between characters’ present-day acting careers and lives rooted in Los Angeles, the beginnings of their careers and nascent relationships in New York City, and an annual summer theater camp for adults (“Good Company”) in the Adirondacks. Sweeney has a gift for creating interesting and realistic characters and for compassionately exploring with them and through them the choices and challenges we face in life. ~ Lisa Cadow
Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann (2021). Consider this novel as Dallas of 1970's television meets Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I thought this story (a first novel) of a dysfunctional Texas ranching family might collapse under the weight of its conceit - linking family members to Greek gods and their distinctive traits. The novel's matriarch is named June and keeps cows. Her husband Peter has many children with June and many other women. Two of these children are twins - Artie, a hunting guide, and Arlo, a musician. The wayward son- March - is a man with a volatile temper. The most beloved son is a kind unattractive body shop owner married to the most beautiful girl in Texas. And yet, this novel did not collapse -- even if sometimes things were stretched. The cleverness of Ms. Swann's conceit was a superb diversion from the early days of post-pandemic life (although lately it appears those days were a false start). Enjoy no matter where in the pandemic we are currently living. ~ Lisa Christie
These Women by Ivy Pochoda (2020). I loved this novel describing life in Los Angeles as prostitutes are being attacked and murdered. That is a weird sentence to write as obviously (hopefully obviously) I am not fond of killing. What I appreciated was a frank look into the lives of the marginalized, the well crafted prose, and the story line. A local reading series paired Ms. Pochoda with Mr. Jeff Sharlet and his latest collection of essays and photos This Brilliant Darkness; you would not go wrong doing the same. ~ Lisa Christie
Northern Spy by Flynn Berry (2021). This modern-day thriller pulled me in right on page one in when we meet Tessa, a single mother of a new baby and a respected reporter for the BBC, as she is hard at work comping a story in her office in Belfast. She suddenly notices footage on one of the teleprompters of a person who looks surprisingly like her sister pulling on a black ski mask in preparation for an IRA bombing. How could this be? Her sister Marian is her best friend and she knows she has never dealt with the IRA in her life. If you’re in the mood for an excellent mystery that weaves in the fascinating volatile history and complicated politics of Northern Ireland, look no further. Northern Spy is fast-paced, full of checkpoints, spies, secret meetings, explosions and motherhood (!) so buckle your seat belts. Talk about work-life balance. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! ~ Lisa Cadow
Orchestrated Death by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (1991). Somehow for me, there is nothing as comforting as a well crafted British murder mystery. Being surrounded by kind DCIs is just bizarrely comforting. Which is a weird thing to say as each book of this genre begins ends and sustains a grisly act - murder. But alas knowing that the bad guys will get caught and there are good detectives in the world is reassuring and may be just what you need as summer ends and autumn begins. I enjoyed the first book in this series - an introduction to Bill Slider, a middle-aged, straight-arrow London cop who is investigating a dead body that changes his life (e.g., new lover, promotion, some music appreciation) - and look forward to reading the rest soon. THANK YOU Sarah Taylor of Maggie D'arcy series fame (we also recommend reading her latest mysteries - The Mountains Wild and A Distant Grave) for pointing us to this book and many others. ~ Lisa Christie
We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (2021). Though I haven’t yet turned the final page of this suspenseful novel (I’m about 3/4 of the way through), I feel confident in saying that this is one of the best books of the summer. The characters are strong. And so memorable. There’s twelve year-old Duchess who flies off the page and into the readers’ hearts despite her anger and recalcitrance with the fierce love and protective care she offers her younger brother Robin. And there’s “Walk”, the weathered, older police inspector who’s lived in the same coastal California town his whole life and carries the friends, stories, and tragedies of his community into his work and also into his off-duty hours. This is a literary thriller that transports readers back and forth from the Pacific coast to the remote wilds of a Montanan ranch. It keeps readers guessing throughout - though not shielded from domestic dramas, violence, and estrangement - and rooting for justice, love, family, and the ties that bind to triumph in the end. ~ Lisa Cadow
We Came We Saw We Left: A family gap year by Charles Wheelan (2021). Mr. Wheelan's ability to observe himself and his family with love and humor is evident in his writing and his adventures with his family as they leave life in small town New Hampshire (our neighbor to the east - Hanover) for Colombia, Bhutan, New Zealand, and Georgia and .... For those of us who missed / are missing travel during the pandemic, this tale will inspire you and encourage you to dust off your passport as soon as safely possible. Paraphrasing a NYTimes review, you really root for and want to meet Team Wheelan. Since we can't all know them in person, this book is the next best thing. Buy it to travel vicariously through their adventures, to inspire your own next great trip, or to have a road map as you plan your own family interactions at home. ~ Lisa Christie
You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe (2020). Somehow this biography of George Washington is both simultaneously respectful and irreverent. Honestly, I don't know how Ms. Coe pulls it off; but she does. As a result, she had me turning pages very quickly as her tale of our first President's life unfolded. For example, from the start, she calls the "typical" Washington biographers "thigh men" for their fascination with Washington's strong thighs, physique, and size (of the large biographies they write). She highlights his accomplishments, his ability to overcome many obstacles, his love of freedom and the new USA, and does not shy away at all from his ownership of slaves for his personal benefit (well-known) or his various wars on Native American Tribes (I hadn't thought a lot about this). A great book for anyone looking to learn a bit more about the founding of the USA, diseases of the historical era, any of the Washington family members (i.e., wife, mom, step children, nieces, nephews), or General Washington himself. My husband heard me discussing this and recommended I try Forget the Alamo next. You might want to as well. ~ Lisa Christie
You'll Never Believe what happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar (2021). Ms. Ruffin is a comedian writer (the first Black woman writer) on Late Night With Seth Meyers. She is funny. She also is blessed with a sister who still lives in their hometown of Omaha Nebraska and has CRAZY things happen to her with regularity as a result of being a petite Black woman in Omaha. Luckily Lacey calls Amber to talk about each incident. Luckily for us they decided writing down these conversations would be a great idea. Also reviewed on the Book Jam by KJ Dell-Antonia. For those who prefer a Q&A format, try Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho (2020). The former NFL player - Acho - based this book on his podcast of the same name. ~ Lisa Christie
As we continue to settle into the "new normal," one pre-pandemic, during-pandemic and (ideally) post-pandemic tradition continues: the Book Jam's annual review of perfect summer reads. Today’s is the first of two such lists for “summer campers“ and features books for the younger literary set, specifically elementary school through young adults. We sincerely hope these recommendations help you to find the right fit for your favorite children and teens to curl up with in their tents, on the beach, by the lake, or under the branches of their favorite tree. After all, the temperatures are still warm, the days are still long and we can still camp (and read)!
Please don’t forget to look to us in two weeks for our annual adult version of Books for Summer Campers.
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson (2013 and assorted years). A great graphic novel series for kids. Beautifully drawn, this graphic novel (and the subsequent books in the series) follows a friendship and adventures between a somewhat awkward girl and a magic unicorn. Both learn how special they really are; something I hope they pass along to every reader to feel as well. ~ Lisa Christie
The Sea In Winter by Christine Day (2021). At this point in her life, Maisie is supposed to be auditioning for amazing ballet programs across the USA. It's been her dream, since her very first toe shoes, to be a prima ballerina. She's also supposed to be able to talk to her father. Instead a torn ACL has derailed, perhaps permanently, her ballet career, and a war took her father years before - so long ago she worries she can't really remember him anymore. Told with love and spirit and hope, and superb shout outs to the power of good therapy (both physical and mental), this tale is an excellent one for any young reader - perhaps especially those for whom "right now" is not looking very dreamlike or who is struggling to find their joy. I also greatly appreciated the glimpses of lives for some members of Native tribes on the west and east coasts, as well as descriptions of the gorgeous natural life of the Pacific Northwest. ~ Lisa Christie
The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga (2021). I picked this novel up because I LOVED Ms. Warga's Other Words for Home (previously reviewed here). I did not read the description; I just bought it while browsing one of my new favorite Indie stores - Still North Books & Bar in Hanover, NH. So when I settled in to read, I was slightly surprised I had purchased a novel based on a school shooting - not typical summer reading fare. The chapters alternate perspectives between Cora and Quinn, lifelong best friends who haven't spoken to each other since Quinn's brother killed Cora's sister, another student, a teacher, and himself in a school shooting nine months prior to the start of this novel. The plot involves time travel and overwhelming desires to make things right. It also emphasizes that everyone involved in tragedies needs help - in the form of time and people to speak with. While difficult, this novel highlights that love is possible even in the most horrific circumstances. Note: Ms. Warga finishes the novel with a list of resources to prevent gun violence and a call for adults to do better regarding guns. ~ Lisa Christie
Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (2021). This, the first children's book I've read that directly addresses the Covid-19 pandemic, is spectacular. Told in poetic verse, this story follows Malian, a young Wabanaki girl, throughout her quarantine on her grandparents' reservation while her parents remain behind in the city to work. And, she knows how to take care of things -- she stays inside to protect her grandparents rather than play with friends, she tries, despite not so great internet connections, to ZOOM with her schoolwork, and she listens carefully as her grandparents share tales of the Wabanaki past and present. When a stray dog decides he is Mailian's for her stay, it's a perfect bonus. ~ Lisa Christie
A Few Classics for Adults Who Missed Them & for ALL the New 6-12 year olds
The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993). When Emily’s and Jess’s family inherits a Scottish castle, they travel to explore. Unbeknownst to them they also inherit a Boggart — an invisible, mischievous spirit who’s been playing tricks on residents of their castle for generations. When they accidentally trap the boggart in their belongings and take him back to Toronto, nothing will ever be the same. (we also recommend her Dark Is Rising Series and King of Shadows.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Frindle or Trouble-Maker or other titles by Andrew Clements (assorted years). Mr. Clements is a former school principal and his love of kids – especially the ones who end up in the principal’s office – comes through in each of his books. He treats his kid protagonists with humor and compassion and presents many real world dilemmas in each of his books for young readers. Pick one up and enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015). My family discovered this book on a 2015 trip to DC during a visit to Busboys and Poets on 14th Street, showing that exploring an indie bookstore can lead to amazing things. (The audiobook version was our soundtrack for the car trip back home to Vermont.) We have since recommended it to every kid we know. Stella lives in segregated North Carolina. There are stores she can enter and stores she can not; people are kind or they are not. But the Klan hasn't been around for awhile. Then late one night she and her brother see something they are not supposed to see and her world is forever changed. I also recommend Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming for a look at being a kid with brown skin in the 1960s and 1970s. The New York Times also curated a great list of other books to help you speak with kids about race. ~ Lisa Christie
Pay Attention Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (2019). Mr. Schmidt's novel is a superb look at what happens when tough things occur in life. In this case, the tough things include the unexpected death of a younger brother and a father who has found another family to love and has decided to never come back. But as Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, a butler who shows up on the family doorstep one day, continually reminds Carter, the young narrator of this gem of a book, life is difficult and one has two choices -- to be a gentleman or a bore. Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick is hanging around to ensure Carter chooses to be a gentleman. Told with humor (e.g., fabulous scenes of learning how to drink a proper tea and play cricket) and love, this tale eloquently describes how the lives of Carter, his three sisters, and his mom are forever changed when a butler arrives on their doorstep. Think of Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick as a portly male Mary Poppins who makes you walk the dog and clean the dishes and ultimately reminds all readers of the importance of how we all choose to embrace our life. I also recommend Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now and many other tales by Gary Schmidt (assorted years) ~ Lisa Christie
Look Both Ways: A tale told in ten blocks by Jason Reynolds (2020). One of my now high school son's favorite authors from elementary school was/is Jason Reynolds. This book - Look Both Ways - explores ordinary walks home, their humor, and how if you pay attention, they can be pretty spectacular - even the inevitable unsuccessful and often painful detours. (We have reviewed books by Mr. Reynolds on multiple posts; you will find him in our 2019 post of YA titles and in our diversity audits.) Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Anything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg (assorted years) – Ms. Konigsburg was truly a superb gift to young readers everywhere. Her books are fun, well-written, humorous, and help kids work through the issues they face every day. Our favorites – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. But please have fun discovering your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (2021). I loved Ms. McQuiston's Red, White and Royal Blue (reviewed by the Book Jam here and here). So when I heard she had a second YA novel, I went searching for it at Still North while running errands in Hanover, NH. I had to ask for help as it was not in YA - it was placed in Romance. I say this so that you know the book gets the required happy ending of Romance novels, because at times during the tale, you can't quite see how. Let me start with words from a NPR review of this novel, "queer relationships of every form are normalized and healthy, and the characters are fully-realized people who are beautifully diverse, but also much more than their identities"; I LOVED that aspect of this complicated page turner. So, quick plot summary -- August, mere moments after arriving in Brooklyn, meets Jane on the Q line, sparks fly and the characters - August and her incredible housemates (Niko - a physic bartender, Myla, Niko's girlfriend and engineer turned sculptor, Isiah, a trust-fund kid disinherited for loving what his parents see as the "wrong" people. Note - these descriptions do a disservice to the complicated fully realized characters they are in Ms. McQuiston's hands). This book is more than a "meet-cute" on a smelly NYC subway car; it turns out that leather jacket-wearing, kissable Jane is actually a punk rocker from the 1970s who's stuck on the Q train for all of eternity. It takes all of August's formidable perseverance and her friend's skills to figure this one out. Again it's a romance - she does. Final note - this book was better than "Friends" at showing how the families you create from your friends in your 20s are incredible. ~ Lisa Christie
Frankly In Love by David Yoon (2019). This novel is one of the best YA books I have read. And, it has been gratefully received by at least four high school boys I know. I was surprised how this apparently simple (and honestly familiar) story of first love that does not meet with parental approval (hello Romeo and Juliet), as well as of navigating the final year of high school made me smile and tear-up a bit. Some plot points: Frank Li and Joy Song have been friends since childhood, attending regularly scheduled dinners with a larger group of Korean-American families in Los Angeles for as long as they have a memory of any event. As they navigate senior year, they are both in love with the wrong ("not-Korean") person. They decide to fake that they are dating each other to keep their parents happy, while still seeing their true loves. Their elaborate scheming provides the plot for this novel's terrific cast of characters. (I truly loved Frank's superb best friend.) And while Buzzfeed aptly stated, “Yoon's stellar debut expertly and authentically tackles racism, privilege, and characters who are trying to navigate their Korean-American identity”, I would argue you should read it for the fun. Give it to your favorite teen or your favorite adult in need of a smile or two (and distraction from the news). ~ Lisa Christie
Here to Stay by Sara Farizhan (2018). A great book about high school life. The main character, Bijan Miajidi, is pulled from the obscurity of JV basketball to the varsity limelight, which he hopes will help make it easier to talk to his crush Elle. Instead, he is targeted by an internet photo doctored to make him appear as a terrorist. As he tells the story of what happens next, his narrator voice is joined by his internal narrators - ESPN commentators Reggie Miller and Kevin Harlan - providing color commentary and comic relief to the often difficult events of the novel. (I really loved these ESPN flavored internal monologues.) In short, Ms. Farizhan compassionately and effectively covers coming out stories, cyberbullying, pressure to get into the right colleges, sports, and racism, without preaching, in a true page-turner. ~ Lisa Christie
Red, White, and Whole by Rajani Larocca (2021). Reha is caught between the India of her parents youth and the Americaness of her own life. Further complicating her life decisions, she wants to be a doctor and faints at the sight of blood. Then she's faced with a very sick mother who is the moon to her stars. Luckily middle school brings new friends and strength she didn't know she had. ~ Lisa Christie
We Can't Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon (2021). Quinn Berkowitz's future is planned out for her She will attend the University of Washington (her only acceptance), She will take business courses. These courses will prepare her to join her family wedding planning firm full-time. The problem, she's pretty much certain (as much as one can be as they leave high school), that she does not want to be part of the family firm. A long standing relationship with Tarek of the Mansour family catering business further complicates her attempts to decide what she wants and when as she navigates the summer between high school and college. The novel frankly addresses sexuality in teens and what the transition to college does and does not do to high school friendships. Would be a great pre-teen/teen - parent book club pick. Also great for anyone looking for a Rom-Com in a book (this one has plenty of references to Sleepless in Seattle). ~ Lisa Christie
Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson (2021). Ms. Watson wrote one of my favorite books for kids in 2019 (Some Places More Than Others, reviewed here), so I was excited to see she had penned a YA novel. Nala Robertson is facing the summer between her junior and senior year of high school with a cousin/sister/friend who is motivated, popular, pretty, in love and her bestest friend Imani. Nala knows she needs to do more than visit her grandmother in her assisted living center to have activities worthy of her looming college applications. Part of the deal when she moved in with her Aunt Uncle and Imani was she would get good grades and go to college - unlike her own estranged mother. And yet, she is not sure about college. And then Tye walks into her life. He is part of Imani's activist activities. He wants the world to be a better place and acts accordingly with every aspect of his life. Nala knows she shouldn't let Tye think she is Imani-like, but she does, because Tye is fine and Tye loves the Nala who is like Imani. The problem is this Nala is a lie and the real Nala doesn't like her too much. A superb novel about becoming you, the pressures high schoolers feel as they face college, and the enhanced pressures on brown and Black teens. ~ Lisa Christie
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (2018). This novel was longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for its look at post 9/11 America through the eyes of an American High School Student, who also happens to be a Muslim. The novel begins a year after 9/11, as Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped has switched schools yet again. She's used to stares and rude comments and stereotypes. She figured out long ago how to combat them -- she's built a huge wall of defenses that no one can see behind. Then random lab partner assignments lead to Ocean James - the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know her. ~ Lisa Christie
Fat Chance Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado (2021). A lovely coming of age story for all the readers out there who feel outside the norm due to body size and for all their friends who love them. Charlie is a self described fat, brown girl whose dad passed away not so long ago, whose best friend is gorgeous thin and beloved by all, whose mother was fat like her until she discovered weight loss shakes and keeps sharing the love of these shakes to an uncooperative Charlie. Complicating matters even further, Charlie is in love with the star football player, Cal - who has firmly planted her in friend land, and even that probably only for an in with Charlie's gorgeous best friend. Charlie is self-aware and completely recognizes this cliche of the fat friend in love with the star athlete who uses her for her class notes and access to beautiful friends; and, she knows things with Cal will be different when he finally sees her. Luckily Charlie has her notebook and her stories and her desire to be the best writer possible. Even more luckily Charlie has an after school job in a workspace shared by a very nice boy from her art class. Enjoy this ride through junior year of high school and enjoy Charlie and her true friends; they will give you hope for humanity. ~ Lisa Christie
The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph (2020). To begin -- this YA book is also great for adults and we think would be excellent for Book Clubs and classroom discussions for anyone interested in racial justice and becoming better anti-racists/up-standers. Written by Mr. Joseph as if he is a new friend of the reader, he walks his new friends through how comments such as "I don't see color" and other micro-aggressions and more outright racism of many, are wrong and need to end. The book is divided into chapters by themes, with a conversation between Mr. Joseph and other experts on that theme ending each chapter. Full of practical advice and lists of "people and things to know" bith throughout the chapters and helpfully compiled at the end, this book is a great place to start one's own work on being a better person and actively anti-racist. It also feels important to highlight Mr. Joseph's reminder that "that this book is a gift not an obligation" (p. 195), because "while this book is meant to be a guide for white people to understand and be better, it's important that white people also understand that it isn't the duty of Black people or people of color to explain things" (p. 194). ~ Lisa Christie
The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch (2021). This novel surprised me -- not necessarily for how it tells a tale, but for how much it packs in to a YA novel, without being too preachy. There is SO much in here -- lived experiences of Black boys, trans teens, Arab teens, gay teens, cis-gendered teens, as well as the issues of the senior year of high school, difficult parents, and great teachers. It all unfolds as you follow the story of Sky, a gay boy in upstate Michigan who is trying to survive senior year - a feat made more difficult by the fact his homophobic mother threw him out of the house when he came out to her on Christmas Day. Luckily a superb teacher, the lovely parents of his best friend Bree, and the overbearing dad of his other best friend Marshall help. And help is needed as cyber bullying stunt ensnares Sky through his unrequited his crush on a very very popular kid. As an adult, I hope you leave this novel waning to be an adult that helps LHBTQ+ kids more. As a teen reader, I hope you leave wanting to become better friends to all your friends from marginalized groups -- the teens in this novel certainly provide a road map for what that might look like. And it is all done without feeling preachy. Please read and enjoy this tale of Sky and his life in rural Michigan. ~ Lisa Christie
The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (2020). Ashley Bennett and her friends are enjoying their senior year spring in Los Angeles in 1992. They are worried about which college will accept them (Stanford? UC Berkeley?) and how often they can successfully cut classes to lay on the beach or swim in the pool of a neighboring mansion. As you may guess from the year and the location, everything changes one night when four LAPD officers are acquitted after beating Rodney King to death. Suddenly even though Ashley has been questioning her choices of friends for awhile and hasn't been able to cut them loose because they've been friends since kindergarten, the fact that Ashley is Black and her friends are not means Ashley is also one of "the Black kids". Her world suddenly and methodically starts to crumble: her estranged older sister is involved in the riots, her family's success as a "model Black family" is no longer enough, her so called friends spread a rumor that endangers the future of one of the other "Black kids" at her prep school, and Los Angeles is literally burning around her. The historical setting unearths questions and highlights racism with us today, perhaps providing a better way. ~ Lisa Christie
Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (2020). A powerful look at life from the eyes of an incarcerated Black teen. Amal, whose name translates to hope (an important aspect for his survival), remains in jail after a fight with some white teens landed one white boy in a coma and him in jail for a crime he didn't commit. Did he throw the first punch? Yes. Did he beat a white boy into a coma - NO. And yet he sits in jail because even his character witnesses - in particular a teacher from his school - saw him as an angry Black boy. What feeds his hope? Some sage advice from some of the boys preceding him into incarceration, a poet teaching classes to any boy who "earns" the privilege, and a guest whose exploration of mistakes, misgivings, and systems reminds Amal that speaking his truth is the most important thing he can do -- and the one thing no one can take away. Told in poetry and based on the actual experiences of Dr. Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five, this book will hopefully change how we view our prison system and move us to action. ~ Lisa Christie
So Summer 2021 is off to a great start -- people are getting vaccinated, festive in-person gatherings are back, and for two Book Jam posts, great authors have shared their recommendations for great summer reading. Last month we heard about some great thrillers and mysteries from Sarah Stewart Taylor, author of the Maggie D'arcy series. Today, KJ Dell-Antonia, best-selling author of The Chicken Sisters shares her wisdom, perfect books to read, and adds to our to-be-read pile. THANK YOU KJ. With no further ado ... KJ's reviews.
If there’s one thing I like ALMOST as much as reading books myself, it’s suggesting them to others. I like to think one of my superpowers is finding just the right book for any reading situation. Today I’m focused on the summer book bag, which to me requires a blend of depth and fun that can be a bit of a challenge to get just right. I like some of my summer reading fluffy and some of it to engross me a little more deeply. Here are my picks for a variety of summer reading needs. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2021). Prefer a family saga to a romance, but want to revel in the kind of fun-and-games that a romance provides? I loved, loved, loved Malibu Rising, a complicated, mulit-POV story that takes place in one day in '80s Hollywood but moves around in time to show how everyone got there. So much happens, and yet in a sense the whole thing could easily be summed up in two words, one of which is a spoiler--but that's the best kind of book. Sprawling narrative, tight core. I admit it—I haven't read Daisy Jones yet. (#TBR)—so I can’t offer a comparison. But I can tell you this one’s flat out good stuff. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez (2021). Love a good romance, but demand some serious plot to move that story along? Get frustated when the only thing in the hero or heroine's way is so very clearly the hero or heroine herself? That's always true, but let's have it be about something real, right? Abby Jiminez's Life’s Too Short is long, long, long on story, so much so that the romance ends up being the most suspense-free part of the book. Facing mortality isn’t usually a summer read topic of choice, but here it’s handled with such deft humor and humanity that you can't help but be there for it. Hard recommend. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch (2021). Need one big book for a long weekend and a small bag? Embassy Wife is many things all rolled into one: a satire of diplomacy, in which an Auntie Mame-like genius that is the experienced wife takes the newbie under her wing, a but-what-is-he-up to marriage thriller and a hefty fun dose of the lunacy that results when a kind of Upper East Side parenting style transplants to Namibia and co-opts more than a few Namibians... This one (by Dartmouth professor Katie Crouch) satisfies a lot of itches. The cover art is--well, it suggests to me that they didn't know what to do with it, and I can see that, but don't judge it. This is no Just-So Stories. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia (also recommended by Book Jam)
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin & Lacey Lamar (2021). Wait, what? A lighthearted, summer-worthy read about what? Here’s the deal: You: Digesting much reading about racism and your inescapable part in it OR Finally reading your own history and watching the white people around you finally get a small clue. This Book: a funny intermission that doesn't for one minute let anyone off the hook and might even go further that its more apparently serious counterparts in waking people up OR making people feel heard and seen. My opinion: it's a match made in heaven for just about any reader. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia (Seconded by Lisa Christie in our recent work with the Norman Williams Public Library)
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo (2021). Stay With Me is the unexpected story of a marriage invaded--by family, by expectations, by culture--and a second wife, intended to provide the offspring wife number one has failed to produce. But no one has the full story (do they ever?), and even the people who claim to be playing by the rules aren't. This book surprised me in many ways--the plot kept me guessing, and the characters were uniquely themselves. Set in an Africa that’s not filtered through Western eyes, this is a consideration of what it means when fertility comes first in a society and an inside look at marriage expectations beyond the Western bubble—and it’s also compulsively readable, unpredictable and hard to put down. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021). True Confessions: I have never read Remains of the Day. Or Never Let Me Go. When you say "major literary prize winner" to me I say "oh way over my head then" with some internal struggles with the chip on my shoulder over all the books that were mandatory reading in high school that I should probably be grateful led to my not majoring in English in college. Those were not books for me. This, however, is very much a book for me--and not only that, but a (deceptively?) easy and inviting read that almost made me wonder if the real secret of popular literary fiction is that it expresses a very simple truth that we almost didn't realize we needed to hear in a way we have never thought about. Or maybe that's not a secret? To sum up: Yes do read this, even if you're not into the AI futuristic heading-for-dystopia narrative, because it's hopeful and thoughtful and also a very entertaining exercise in seeing an unfamiliar world through even more unfamiliar eyes. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
First Comes Like by Alisha Rai (2021). The reason the east Asian re-takes on Jane Austen's stories work so well is that these are cultures in which marriage may be discussed before two individuals have even met, let alone kissed. First Comes Like is NOT an Austen re-telling, but it still has that vibe of characters who need to take their interaction very seriously and, as a result, can't easily run away or imagine they should be taking things lightly. This is a wonderful romance between people who are genuinely trying their hardest to be mature and smart about a situation they've been thrown into--and it's also fun, funny and everything you want in a romcom. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
Where the Grass is Green and the Girls Are Pretty by Lauren Weisberger (2021). Lauren Weisberger's take on the college admissions scandal? Yes please. Three POVs--the kid whose too-helpful parents pulled the scam, the wildly successful morning show anchor mother and the mother's very judgmental not-so-successful sister are part of what makes this fun--we see the antics from all sides. There's a touch of white savior that's mildly problematic, so be warned (it's not super germane to the plot but it's there) but the book is overall extremely fun and the ending satisfying. Another great beach pick. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (2021). Once this thriller gets going, it scoops you up like a waterslide and won’t let you go. If you want to be hooked into a page-turner for a long flight or train ride, or prefer to be fully engrossed on the beach, this one’s for you: in the wake of a corporate scandal, her husband has disappeared, leaving behind the daughter that he adores but who’s never fully connected with her stepmother. Now, the two of them have to figure out who the missing man really is and what he wants them to do next—and how to do it together. It took me a few chapters to get into this one (largely, I think, because the “husband who isn’t who he says he is” genre isn’t usually for me)—but I was glad I stuck with it, because once I was in in was ALL IN. ~ KJ Dell'Antonia
THANK YOU KJ! ~ The Book Jam