The Book Jam Blog
Read our latest reviews
YES! It is time to once again have our favorite booksellers from The Norwich Bookstore review the one book that they are each excited to tell people to read right now. As always, these Norwich Bookstore Booksellers' selections have added to the stack of books weighing down our bedside tables. We hope their reviews help you find your next great book (or three) to read. And now, the latest The Norwich Bookstore list:
I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (2019) - Filled with my favorite sort of writing: those pieces that you read over coffee or your morning commute that you dogear so that you can photocopy it later and hang it on the fridge or bulletin board. It yellows with age, but still has the power to remind you of the time you felt a deep connection. The best part, all those great pieces are here in one collection. You can give the book to your friends and save yourself from all that silly photocopying and printing. I bet they’ll hug you and then read aloud the lines that resonated most. ~ Recommended by Beth
The Missing Of Clairdelune, Volume 2 of The Mirror Visitor Quartet by Christelle Dabos (2019) - I fell into the first book in this series, A Winter’s Promise, so deeply I didn’t want to claw my way out. In a world both entirely foreign and somehow naggingly familiar, Ophelia, our reticent heroine, is mostly just trying to survive: everyone around her has hidden motives and dark agendas. This second volume just ups the ante. People are vanishing and signs indicate that Ophelia may well be next. Danger lurks around every corner, and even the friends that appear to help aren’t really to be trusted. The wait for the third instalment probably won’t actually kill me, so long as I don’t think about it too much. These are really, really good stories. ~ Recommended by Brenna
Madame Fourcade's Secret War by Lynne Olson (2019) - Lynne Olson (Citizens of London; Last Hope Island) is a master of historical narration. Madam Fourcade's Secret War is a tension-filled account of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a French woman of privilege who ran one of the largest spy networks for the Resistance. Almost always in danger, she and her agents a half-step ahead of Gestapo goons, it's more than remarkable that she was able to successfully deliver to the British the impressive intelligence her network gathered. While she survived the war, many of her agents died, in custody or in the camps. What astounding bravery… ~ Recommended by Carin
Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Brian Castner (2018) New in paperback! A book filled with historical content and present day adventure. In 1789, Scottish explorer and fur trader, Alexander MacKenzie set out to find the Northwest Passage, a shorter route to China. In 2016, Brian Castner began a 1,124 mile journey in a canoe to retrace MacKenzie’s earlier trek in search of that missing waterway. Great read for that cathartic wilderness experience of suffering from your armchair. ~ Recommended by Kathryn
The Rationing by Charles Wheelan (2019) - I did not get any of my chores done last weekend because I had to finish the The Rationing! Set in a not-too-distant future looking back to the current time and what could be just around the corner makes the story both fascinating and terrifying... It is a smart, page-turner with attitude! (Wheelan will be speaking at the bookstore 5/22, the day after the book is released.) ~ Recommended by Liza B.
The Guest Book by Sarah Blake ( 2019) - I loved this book about a large house on an island in Maine and the family who bought and loved it for several generations. Fortunately, we can never imagine the curves that our lives will throw us or where they will lead; nor what we will remember and what we will forget. As time forges ahead the younger generation begins to look at life differently from their parents and grandparents, and nothing is the same. This is a powerfully engaging story about change, friendship and loyalty. ~ Recommended by Penny
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (2019) - This is a masterful work that sticks with you for days after finishing it. There are so many layers! A Latino family traveling from NYC to the very unfamiliar southwest for an opportunity for both parents to pursue their respective artistic and journalistic projects. He is a documentarist, creating archives with sounds, ‘echoes of the landscape’, eager to explore the legacy of Geronimo. She is a documentarian, intrigued with a book, Elegy of Lost Children, relating the stories she reads to finding a friend’s daughters who are lost in the immigration process. Each parent shares history (ie, the U.S. Indian Removal Policy) and speculation (deportations at the southern border) with their 10 year old boy and five year old daughter. Luselli is genius at capturing all the nuances of familial relationships during a long road trip. Her storytelling is measured, deep and smart. The mother asks the children, “What would you do if you were lost?” And, oh boy, be prepared. ~ Recommended by Sara
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (2019) - A quest tale worthy of Scheherazade, complete with djinns and a leviathan is set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. Fatima, a sultan’s concubine aching for her freedom and Hassan, a mapmaker whose magical fingers construct invisible spaces rather then rendering visible ones have lived in the Muslim palace of Granada since childhood. They entertain one another by telling stories and as they grow, comfort one another with vestiges of their favorite tale--The King of the Birds. As the Spanish inquisitors blockade the palace, Fatima and Hassan embark on a desperate escape to the isle of the Bird King. Sensual, touching, and even comic at times, this heroic adventure will enchant both adult and young adult fantasy readers. ~ Recommended by Susan
Two more shopping days until Mother's Day. Do NOT panic, the Book Jam is coming to your rescue. We have some great books to give as gifts; and we suggest that the second part of the gift is some uninterrupted time for the recipients to read them. (If you are truly last, last minute, all links to the books we recommend include an e-reader edition.)
Motherhood by Shelia Heti (2019 paperback)-
Canadian author Sheila Heti is all at once a philosopher, a poet, a radical self-inquisitor, and a cultural explorer. Her introspective writing style pulls readers into her active mind, taking them on an intellectual and emotional journey to deeply examine every facet of an issue alongside her, which in this case is the loaded subject of motherhood. To be or not to be? The nameless narrator in this, her second autobiographical novel, is a woman in her late 30's. She has found a supportive mate named Miles and we meet her as she is struggling to decide whether being a mother is right for her. Reading this book is like being on a reproductive roller coaster ride strapped into the unsteady seat next to Heti: her momentary leanings, ambivalence, and vertigo induced by the idea of parenting shifting from one page to the next. Reading this, I felt torn and simultaneously exposed, pushed to re-examine with a fresh lens my own (good for me) choice to have children (twenty plus years ago), my own ongoing confusion about this role and society's expectations, my complacency being on the other side of this decision making, and my assumptions about the younger women around me. To say that Heti is a talented writer would be like saying like Georgia O'Keeffe was a talented artist. There is a quality to her genius that allows her, like O'Keeffe, to gracefully explore internal as well as external landscapes, raw femininity, gender, power, and the many colors of emotion. The question Heti poses in this work is not new, and is, in fact, more important than her ultimate answer to it, which consistently eludes her. As she reflects, "Whether I want kids is a secret I keep from myself - it is the greatest secret I keep from myself." This book is recommended for all of us surrounded by people making reproductive decisions, for those pondering the magnitude of motherhood, or simply for those with mothers and sisters on Mother's Day- and on every day of the year. A New York Times Notable Book of 2018. ~Lisa Cadow
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis (2019) - As a woman raised in the South (Tennessee) who has now lived in New England for almost 24 years, this memoir of an Alabama belle placed/misplaced? in New York City for many years, leapt out at me from The Norwich Bookstore's shelves. The need to read it was enhanced by a glowing review from our favorite children's librarian, Ms. Beth. (Ms. Minshall - your title is coordinator so we feel OK calling Ms. Beth our favorite children's librarian.) Anyway, back to our review. Ms. Ellis insights into life as a New Yorker, wife, writer, and well, person will have you smiling throughout each of the compact essays contained in this book. You will gain insight into how to say something not-so-nice in a nice way when you can't think of anything nice to say. You will learn the art of a proper thank you note. You will receive festive hosting tips. While I did not bend over laughing as some other reviews of this book promised, my theory is that my status as a misplaced southerner myself means many of Ms. Ellis's predicaments lacked the element of surprise laughing-out-loud sometimes requires. Besides, my more subdued reaction to these essays in no way diminishes the fun readers will have with this book. It feels as if very few things of late are truly meant to just be enjoyed; I claim this book is one of them. As an NPR review stated "Ellis is fun - like the Nutter Butter snowmen she serves at her retro holiday parties". So, gift this collection to your favorite moms and then "sit a spell" with it yourself. ~ Lisa Christie
Two of our favorite things are travel and reading great books. Visiting bookstores in foreign lands allows us to combine the two into one great activity. Not only is this a great way to learn about the place you are visiting, but you often find memorable books you just would not have come across back home. So, in our inaugural post with our new web design, we decided to share some of the best books we have picked up on our travels while browsing local bookstores. We hope you like these books and our new look, and that you remember to visit a bookstore or two (or three) the next time you come across a new place.
We would like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to Danielle Allen of Root5Farm for designing this new Book Jam site. We are very excited about this new endeavor. It will eventually allow us to add some new services (e.g., eventually curating gift baskets full of books for your favorite gift giving occasions, better live events). And honestly, we just think this new site is so much better merely because it is much easier to navigate the book reviews, allowing you to better find your next perfect read. Plus, well, the design is just better. So THANK YOU Danielle.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – I discovered this haunting tale of Iceland in Rhode Island at Island Books; and, I am glad I did. Ms. Kent does a superb job of taking the true stories of 1) Agnes, a woman convicted of murdering two men, 2) the family who must house Agnes while she awaits her execution, and 3) Toti, the Reverend charged with saving Agnes’s soul, and combining them into a fabulous first novel. ~ Lisa Christie
Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun fun festivities from the four corners of the globe by Lucy Letherland (2014) – Ms. Letherland’s book encourages the reader, through fun illustrations and some well selected prose, to travel the world, while suggesting adventures specific to each unique location. When we were lucky enough to live in Spain one autumn, Pasajes, a fabulous Madrid bookstore, was our neighborhood store. Lucky because it meant weekly visits to its shelves were very convenient. On one of those visits, we discovered Ms. Letherland. Her work has been a holiday gift staple every since. ~ Lisa Christie
Hunting and Gathering by Ana Gavalda (2007) - One of my favorite books to give is Hunting and Gathering. Why? Well, it was a gift to me from Lisa Cadow when I desperately needed a well-written book that just left me feeling happy. Lisa, in turn, discovered Hunting and Gathering at WHSmith Bookstore on Rue de Rivoli (one of her most cherished places to visit when abroad) in Paris during her time abroad there. As I wrote in an October 20, 2015 Book Jam post, "Time spent with this group of Parisians is well spent. When I read this in 2008, it was the first book in a long time that left me feeling happy about the world when I finished it. And since it was recommended to me by Lisa Cadow, we recommend it again here". I can't really review it much better today. But I will add that I hope you pick it up and enjoy it soon.~ Lisa Christie (with a strong original recommendation from Lisa Cadow)
The next book in this post was not discovered in a bookstore we visited while visiting another country or city or town. Instead, Lisa Cadow discovered it visiting our hometown destination - the fabulous Norwich Bookstore. We include it here as a bonus review because it fits the spirit of this post -- that great books take you to amazing places. Enjoy!
The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti (2016) - I was immediately drawn to this Italian coming-of-age story when I saw that the New York Times described it as "a good old fashioned novel." Who doesn't seek this, especially if said book is just over 200 pages and takes place in remote alpine pastures? Set in the late in the 20th and early 21st centuries, readers journey with young Pietro and Bruno through their boyhoods and high up into the Aosta Mountains. City boy Pietro's parents rent a small house in a hamlet summers for their family of three with the hope of sharing some part of their own rural childhoods with him. It is here that he meets Bruno and spends days on end with him exploring the village ruins, cool streams, and hillsides while also learning how to be a cowherd and climbing mountain peaks with his distant father. The boys lives take very different paths into adulthood but always re-converge in the village. This novel is deeply atmospheric and quietly explores male friendship and father-son relationships. It conveys a love of mountains, nature, farming, and respect for making a living from the land with one's hands. I found this book to be an important one. It offers insight into the changing nature of post-war European economies, culture, and the challenges presented to traditional livelihoods. "The Eight Mountains" remained on the bestseller list in Italy for years, and has won both the Italian "Premio Strega" prize and the French Prix Médicis Étranger. ~Lisa Cadow
March came in like a lion in Vermont, and we hope it goes out like a lamb. In the meantime, we can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with great books from Irish authors (and Irish Canadians). Thank you to our superb friend and great author Sarah Stewart Taylor for your recommendations; we are so looking forward to reading your next book, which we know is partially set in Ireland.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (2017). As a woman of a certain age facing a life with teenaged sons and trying to figure out what marriage after 20 years looks like, I realize I have forgotten how fraught, exciting, and lonely life as a college student/recent college grad can be. This intense novel by Ireland’s Sally Rooney reminded me of that life phase in a delightful way. In it, Frances, an aspiring poet, and her performance artist partner / lover Bobbi are befriended by an older couple. Complications ensue, including the perhaps predictable affairs and strivings for more by everyone. I read it in one long sitting, as could have perhaps been predicted for a novel by the Winner of the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Enjoy! (We have heard her next novel Normal People is even better and won the 2019 Costa Novel Prize; you’ll have to ask your friends in Europe to send it to you though or preorder it from your favorite local bookstore as it is not available in the USA until April 16.)
Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns(2018). We highly recommend listening to the audio version of this Man Booker award-winning book. Not only does the narrator’s irresistible Irish accent transport the listener to Belfast in the 1970’s but her conversational delivery invites the listener into this difficult story of an18-year-old being sexually harassed by a much older man (the eponymous “milkman”). The author’s intentionally long, run-on sentences are delivered in a way that the listener is able to sink in her teeth and truly feel the Terror in Ireland – though the decade is never directly named – a time when partisan politics came to a head (think America modern day), infusing daily life with bombings and fear. This book makes one wonder if the shaming of accused women will ever change or if perhaps continuing to spotlight an awareness of this timeless storyline will ultimately lead us to an age of equality.
The Dubliners by James Joyce (1914) – If you’ve ever wished to get to know Joyce in a more casual “meet and greet” kind of way before committing to a multi week journey with him through his denser works such as Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, this is the book for you. It is a stunning collection of short stories that concludes with his most famous (nearly) novella “The Dead.” There are echoes of the voices of Tolstoy and Chekov in these cautionary tales, many of which deal with themes of memories, regret, missed opportunities, and times gone by. It is fascinating to consider that Joyce wrote this work in exile while living in Trieste, a city where he spent most of his adult life, given how effectively he captures poignant scenes of middle class Irish life in the late twentieth century.
Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper (2018) – The fish have left Newfoundland and so has pretty much every person in this lovely hopeful novel about how things change. As the New York Times said “Lyrical…the town is filled with magic, and so is Hooper’s writing…Our Homesick Songs is a eulogy not just to a town but a lifestyle – one built on waves, and winds, and fish, and folklore.” We include it here as the novel is peopled by Irish Canadians, and because sometimes you just need to read a book that leaves you hopeful about the human spirit. Thank you Susan Voake, retired elementary school librarian extraordinaire and current superb indie bookseller for this recommendation.
To finish, we highlight some Irish recipes from our local gem of a bakery King Arthur Flour – Irish Soda Bread and Irish Brown Bread. Long may we all bake and read.
The first Tuesday of March means Town Meeting Day all over Vermont. (Yes, some towns move it to other days to make it more convenient; but in theory, we meet and vote on Tuesday.) To us, it really is democracy live – everyone in every town is invited to attend, and many many people show up and discuss what is important for that town in the upcoming year. Town and school budgets are discussed and passed (or not), referendums are offered and passed (or not). You see people you normally do not pass during the course of your regular day. In some towns, eating together before or after all the town politics is essential. It truly is a reminder of an adage closely associated with former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill – “all politics are local“.
So, in honor of this important Vermont tradition, we are reviewing a book about politics, a book about Vermont, and a Vermont-oriented cookbook. We hope they all inspire you to have a discussion with your neighbor about needs in your town, to visit Vermont soon, and/or to cook a great meal.
Finally, if you are a Vermonter, VOTE! And by the way, Happy Birthday Vermont (March 4); you look good for something born in 1791.
Sabra Field: In Sight by Sabra Field (2004). The art of Sabra Field captures what we like best about Vermont — the varied landscapes and its people — in colorful and simply complicated prints. We love her work and we think you will love this look at many of her pieces, enhanced with her explanations of how they came about. A perfect read for artists interested in someone’s process, for art lovers, and for people who love Vermont.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1974). If you somehow missed this until you, you can read this classic and be grateful your town is not run like mid twentieth century Louisiana. There are many reasons for this classic novel’s longevity and its Pulitzer Prize – great writing, intriguing and unique characters, and superb descriptions of the deep south. This tale of ambition and power set in the Depression is widely considered the finest novel ever written about American politics.
Maple: 100 Sweet and Savory Recipes Featuring Pure Maple Syrup by Katie Webster (2015). One of the many perks of living in Vermont is being lucky enough to stash away a gallon or two of maple syrup after the annual February/March sugaring season. And mind you, we don’t just drizzle this sweet stuff over pancakes – we find ways to add it to everything including morning coffee, a cold glass of milk, spicy chili, savory soups, crisps, cobblers, and even salad dressings. This lovely book will add to the myriad of ways cooks know to use the nectar of the woods. Webster includes delicious, original recipes for delicacies such as Kale Skillet Salad with Walnuts and Maple, Sugar Season Hot Cocoa, Sap Baked Beans, Layered Beet and Carrot Salad, and Dutch Baby Pancakes with Maple and Rhubarb Compote. The only downside of adding this cookbook to a collection is that readers may run out of their syrup supply before being able to resupply in the spring.
Every year, we use Black History Month as an excuse to audit the diversity of the authors we review. Why? Well, because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps during our next year of reviews. Our latest audit results are discussed below today’s new reviews of four – oops five – great books (one each of adult fiction, adult nonfiction, YA, children’s, memoir).
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
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) – Ms. Thomas’s second novel for Young Adults proves she is not a one hit wonder. Once again, she handles tough topics such as teens figuring out who they are, race, stereotypes, violence, and addiction with compassion and fearless honesty. In this outing, 16-year-old Bri wants to rap and be a rap star more than anything – including doing well on the ACT to ensure she enters an amazing college. But, any progress at all is hard when your dad is long dead from gang violence, your mom just lost her job and is working to remain eight years sober, there is no heat in your house or food in the fridge, and the only job your brother, the brilliant college grad, can get is delivering pizzas for money your family desperately needs. Due to an incident at school, and other conspiring events, Bri finds herself going viral and being unfairly viewed as a hoodlum. The question for her becomes – what if a being a hoodlum helps you make it? ENJOY!
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (2019) – A great book for younger readers (perhaps 4th-8th grade?) that helps them understand Black Lives Matter, while also providing insights into navigating middle school, friendships, teachers, and the ever-evolving process of figuring out exactly who you are. Ms. Ramee’s main character, a 7th grade African American girl named Shay, hates to get in trouble, doesn’t understand her older sister’s insistence being black is embedded in certain traits, and honestly really just wants to get out of Middle School with her friendships intact, her grades their usual A+ level, and ideally with a cute boyfriend. The world is conspiring against all her wishes, and her hand is forced when a local white police woman is acquitted for shooting a black man. Shay will make you assess what is important for you to stand up for, how your unique traits will manifest your stand, and ideally to actually stand up for something. I hate to compare it to The Hate U Give, but Ms. Ramee’s debut novel is reminiscent of Ms. Thomas’s unflinching look at what it is like to be a Black adolescent in the USA today, and that is high praise. ~ Lisa Christie
Well That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey (2018) – Our nonfiction review highlights Ms. Ramsey, of MTV fame, who uses her book to explore the lessons of her life as a social media star and activist. She discusses how her life changed dramatically once her YouTube video “What White Girls Say . . . to Black Girls” went viral — twelve million views viral. She is simultaneously funny and serious about the importance of social justice, and what we can all do better in our efforts to help others. A great book for anyone in your life who would like to see their passions and messages spread. A great reminder we can all do a better job communicating. And just a lovely look at someone who would probably be very fun and enlightening to have as a friend, and who inspires us all to do more.
~ Lisa Christie
And now the Audit Results...
During the twelve months since our February 2018 audit, we reviewed 202 (up from 164 reviewed last year) authors.
The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. 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 do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.
Some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 55% of the authors we featured. 32% of all authors we featured were white women from the USA, and 8% of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. 4% of our featured authors were Latinas and 6% were Asian women; and, 12% of the authors were Black women from around the world.
There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a quarter (23%) of the authors we featured were white men from the USA. 8% of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. 7% of the authors were black men (from anywhere in the world). Very few authors we featured were Asian men (fewer than .5%) or Latinos (2%) or Middle Eastern men (2%).
Adding men and women together, 36% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was some geographic diversity — a quarter (26%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (mostly Canada, the UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (13% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were Black.
To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 36% of authors in 2018, 32% in 2017, 26% in 2016, 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that over half (64%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were white authors. And while we are curious if our percentages are greater than the percentages of authors of color who are actually published in the USA each year (as this affects the pool from which we can select books), once again, we vow to review a greater diversity of authors.
Happy Black History Month.
As we face the reality technology often separates us as much as it unites us, we found some books that inspired us to have a few more dinner gatherings and a lot more interesting, meaningful, and ideally fun conversations. We hope they inspire you to put down the phone (after reading our reviews first – and yes, we recognize the irony) and talk to people who are sitting next to you or across from you or who live next door or…
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker (2018). Have you ever wondered what’s in that special sauce, the one that makes one get-together meaningful or even transformative while another can fall flat and lack energy, even if the guests are A-List? If so, this is the book for you. Author Priya Parker is a professional facilitator who writes from a vantage point of over thirty years of experience of bringing people together for wide-ranging events, from meetings, to conferences, to dinner parties, and even funerals. Not only does she understand how to create this special “sauce” but her prose is elegant and lucid, her insights about group dynamics illuminating while also fascinating. Each chapter is important, and not to be skipped over. Parker’s writing encourage us would-be gatherers to consider the purpose of our parties, the goal of our gatherings, the size of our meetings, the role of the host (don’t slack on this one), and the architecture of our space. This is the kind of work that compels readers to underline its energy-filled sentences with offerings like the following: “We gather to solve problems we can’t solve on our own. We gather to celebrate, to mourn, and to mark transitions. We gather to make decisions. We gather because we need one another. We gather to show strength. “ If you are looking to elevate your gatherings to an art in 2019 – something that I think we all need and even crave very much right now – look no further than this extremely important work. ~Lisa Cadow
We Need to Talk by Celeste Headlee (2017) – Honestly, I can’t review this book more accurately than indie bookstore reviewers did, so I am totally copying their review here. I will say, I think this book – once I actually incorporate some of its advice – may change my life. So from the indie bookstores’ review, “today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals. And the only way forward, says Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist—and offers simple tools that can improve anyone’s communication.” I add this book here to help you have great conversations during all those gatherings you will host and attend in 2019, and because I think we all could use some help having better conversations.
~ Lisa Christie
Brunch is Hell by Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newman (2017) – A humorous look at how to throw a dinner party, and save the world in the process, by the hosts of the public radio show The Dinner Party Download. Disclaimer — I have only perused this guide, but I plan to use it as a reference the next time I invite people into my home; perhaps for no other reason than this physical reminder of their lighthearted approach to important matters on their radio show may help me feel less stressed about any gathering. Besides, the authors’ major claim is — “if we revive the fading art of throwing dinner parties the world will be better off, and our country might heal its wounds of endless division” — and I’d like to believe they are correct. Note: The audio book version is read by the authors and is most likely very entertaining.
~ Lisa Christie
Last autumn, we were honored to once again meet with an amazing, long-standing book group who asked us to come up with a list of great books for them to read, enjoy, and discuss. (They actually won us in a charity auction; and honestly, it is really fun to think our reviews benefitted someone’s charitable causes.) To help the rest of you (who were not able to join us on a fine autumn evening over delicious food) find the right books for your book clubs or your own personal reading, we divided the list mostly by subject area, not genre. Happy reading!
Coming of Age
Chemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America. Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here.
~ Lisa Cadow
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Ms. Sittenfeld’s debut novel provides amazing fodder for book club conversations as everyone has gone to school at some point in their lives and everyone who is old enough to read this novel has experience or is experiencing their teens. Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when dropped off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She’s there because she wants an education, but also because of the school’s glossy brochure, promising gorgeous and kind boys in sweaters, lovely old brick buildings, girls in kilts with lacrosse sticks, and a place where everyone looks beautiful in chapel. Lee soon discovers that Ault hosts jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand based upon years of wealth and the privileges it affords. In this novel, Lee provides a shrewd observer of–and, at some point, a participant in life at Ault. ~ Lisa Christie
Growing Old/ Death
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (paperback 2016). I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.) ~ Lisa Cadow
Impact of Technology/ Our Future
Feed by MT Anderson (2012). As screens dominate our work and leisure, and well, basically our lives, this book about a future in which we all have direct feeds into our brains, feeds through which corporations and governments directly provide us with all the information they think we need, is prescient and honestly page-turning. The group of fictional teens starring in this novel, teens whose feeds malfunction, demonstrate oh so very well how important what we consume through media is to our lives today and perhaps provides a tale of caution we all need. ~ Lisa
A Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017). Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in this unique, powerful and short novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. I’d love to hear how Book Clubs use this book as a place to begin solving this ever present public health issue. ~ Lisa Christie
Sexual Assault/ Gender Equity
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). A GREAT book about youth, choices, first jobs, and how all of that affects the rest of your life. If you are a person of a certain age, it may also remind you of a certain political scandal or two. Bonus: you will laugh a lot and it is a relatively quick read so great for those months crowded with so many things you can’t possibly read all the books you wish. We are certain it will be a movie soon – so read it now so you can cast it in your mind first.
~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Circe by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead “a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. May lead to great discussions about feminism today.
~ Lisa Christie
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly). ~ Lisa Christie
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). As an indie bookstore reviewer, Lauren Peugh of Powell’s Books in Oregon, stated, “Keiko Furukura has worked at her local convenience store for 18 years. Every day, she ensures that the shelves are tidy, the hot food bar is stocked, and the featured items are adequately displayed. She greets every customer with a cheerful ‘Irasshaimase!’ and no one notices that she’s never fit in anywhere else. Murata draws lush descriptions of the beauty of order and routine out of simple, spare prose, and every page crackles with the life she’s created. Because of the humor, the wit, the almost unbearable loveliness of it all, Convenience Store Woman, a small book about a quiet life, makes an enormous impact on the reader.” ~ Lisa Cadow
In American by Day, by Derek Miller (2018), detective Sigrid Odegard is back in to star in this literary mystery series by Derek Miller, this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus, a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. It offers a fascinating Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also have the pleasure of meeting, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is not only a police officer but also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book. ~Lisa Cadow
Educated by Tara Westover (2018). Educated, is one of the most affecting – if not the most affecting – memoirs of 2018 . In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. This book is a letter to his son about race in America. As another of our favotire authors wrote about this book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Monday is Not Coming (2018) or Allegedly (2018) by Tiffany Jackson or The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2018). All these books are fabulous YA novels about life in contemporary USA. All lend themselves to great discussions about youth, race, and the USA today. And they are all pretty quick reads so perfect for months your book club is a bit overwhelmed. Briefly, Dear Martin and The Hate U Give address gun violence in the USA. Monday is Not Coming speaks to treatment of African American girls in the USA and Allegedly addresses juvenile justice issues. ~ Lisa Christie
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Contreras (2018) paired with Dear Americaby Jose Vargas (2018). Both of these books provide insight into what life brings for new immigrants to the USA. Fruit of the Drunken Tree is one of those books that are so gorgeous when you finish you turn back to page one and start over again. I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven year old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Dear America is a memoir penned by the most famous undocumented immigrant in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie
Exit West by Mosin Hamid (2017). We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in its review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~Lisa Christie
Amazing Fiction You May Have Missed
The Sea by John Banville (2005). I often describe this slim novel as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel. In it Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman travels back to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers in an attempt to cope with the recent loss of his wife. There he confronts all he remembers and some things he does not. ~ Lisa Christie
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991). My oldest son read this in High School and I joined him in the experience by re-reading Ms. Cisneros’s acclaimed novel about life as a Latino in New York City. I enjoyed it years ago and enjoyed it again this time, with a huge bonus of being able to discuss it with my son. I hate to trivialize it by calling it a coming-of-age story, but I will call it a masterpiece of childhood and self-discovery. ~ Lisa Christie
Nutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – This mystery is a clever treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of Hamlet, Nutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (2002). This novel provides insight into Filipino culture in the waning days of World War II. How? By following the Karangalans – a family who huddles with their neighbors in the cellar of a house near Manila to wait out the war. The book alternates between 1) heart-wrenching looks at life during war as those hiding in the basement venture out to forage for much-needed food, water and news and, 2) spellbinding myths and legends the group uses to entertain each other while they wait for the war to end. The book is a testament to the power of stories in giving much-needed resolve to survive. ~ Lisa Christie
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2015). Reviewers compare it to Gone Girl. I just enjoyed reading this page-turner. Indiebound may have summed it best, “with a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to ‘have it all’ and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.” Have fun. ~ Lisa Cadow
Creative Short Story Collections
Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014). From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie
Vida by Patricia Engel (2010). This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Christie
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015). The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time, he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. I usually don’t like short stories, but this one has remained with me throughout the past few years. To me, it was one of the best books of 2015. And I honestly think it would make a great place for some great book club discussions. And if you are really short on time before one of your book club gatherings, you could pick one of the stories instead of them all. ~ Lisa Christie
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018). As a mother to two sons, adopted from South America and raised in overwhelmingly white Vermont, this book was truly difficult for me. Chung’s stories of growing up as the rare person of color in her predominantly white community in Oregon and the trauma that she had to work through as a result, hit a little too close to home. Her difficulties with identity and her adoption, tugged hard at my heart and my guilt. Her writing is poignant and pointed as she tells her tale of finding her birth family, exploring her own feelings about motherhood while preparing to give birth for the first time, and discovering what family means to her. In short, this book is a great memoir for anyone interested in the experiences of people of color in the USA, the experiences of adoption in the USA, and how families are formed no matter your race or birth status.~ Lisa Christie
My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2018). I used this book for one of the book clubs I run in my health coaching job. In this memoir, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist desxcribes her life before and after she experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She watches her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours. However, her stroke was a blessing and enabled many revelations. A great book for intense discussions about life and thinking. ~ Lisa Cadow
Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1932). In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.~ Lisa Christie
West With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
So, perhaps things are a bit quieter after the bustle of December holidays. You may even have time to curl up with a good book by a wood stove, fireplace, or beach. Thus, today to end the year, we post our annual selections of great books to enjoy after the relative have left. HAPPY 2019!
Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018). Rarely does a book live up to its hype, but somehow, Mrs. Obama’s book does. Her reflections on her childhood, her own children, her career to date, and, of course, her interactions with her husband and other political leaders allow us all to learn something useful for our own lives. To top that off, she writes well. Her tale is unique. She has a great sense of humor and the right amount of gravitas. If you have not yet read this, we recommend you do so you can start 2019 off with a great book. BONUS: We have heard this makes an amazing audio book experience as well. ~ Lisa Christie
Cabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere by Zach Klein, Steven Leckart & Noah Kalina (2015). This beautiful, pensive book is the perfect balm to soothe the soul after a busy holiday season. Despite the salacious title, this is actually a deeply meditative collection of essays and photographs that reflects on how we can actively create community and build our own authentic quiet spaces. Author Zach Klein was looking for just this (and an escape from Manhattan) a decade ago when he went in search of land in Upstate New York. He found the perfect spot, a parcel with a brook running through it where he and a group of like-minded souls have now built several structures and created a school to teach building skills. (Check out their popular website here: https://cabinporn.com/ and become on of 120,000 followers). Their book is full of inspiration in the form of cabins, yurts, geodesic domes, converted grain silos, barns, and underground structures from all over the word. The pictures leave you feeling soothed and the essays incite reflection. In sum, if the increasing noise and fractured natured of our busy daily lives has you craving stillness and authenticity, look no further than to the pages of this book. If you dare to turn them, you just may find that a cabin lies ahead for you in 2019. P.S. Rumor has it a second book is in the works! ~Lisa Cadow
Do not panic – we are here with some GREAT ideas for last minute gift giving. Happy end of 2018, and happy holidays.
Adult Nonfiction/Coffee Table/Gift Books
Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Janet Mount (2018) – For the voracious book omnivore in your life, this cleverly curated offering will feel perfectly at home decorating a coffee table, in a well-stocked bathroom, or simply piled by the bedside. Wherever it lives, however, it will always find itself in someone’s hands. The colorful cover illustration entices the viewer to open the book and once in, provides much food for thought: What are the best bookstores in New York City (including the quizzes that they offer potential new hires!)? What are some of the most iconic book covers of the past several decades? Name some of the best literary cats! There are even “Bibliophile” notecards and a daily planner that can accompany this lovely gift. ~Lisa Cadow
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Janet Morris (2017) – This gorgeous, oversized picture book could be gifted equally to the word lovers, nature-enthusiasts, etymological historians, and art-appreciators in your life. The Lost Words is a most thought-provoking recent compilation that challenges readers of any age to consider why words disappear — or, conversely, are born. It highlights and lushly illustrates words such as “dandelion,” “willow,” and “otter” that were, in the most recent revision of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, edited out of the compilation by the Oxford University Press. In their place, were put new ones such as “blog”, “broadband”, “chatroom”, “committee”, and “voice-mail.” This is a beautiful conversation piece – perusing it makes the reader feel as if she is taking a stroll through the English countryside – that will challenge all who encounter it to take a moment to reflect on our rapidly changing, albeit still stunning natural world. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Calypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear on the page. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor. Pick this up and enjoy or give it as a great gift! ~ Lisa Christie
Lethal White (and other titles) by Robert Galbraith (2018) – This series continues to be one of my favorites. I was so grateful to devour this thriller as the news from DC was so horrid. And I will let the New York Times speak for me – “At times you might feel as you did when reading the Harry Potter books, particularly later in the series, when they got longer and looser. You love the plot, and you love being in the company of the characters, and you admire the author’s voice and insights and ingenuity, and you relish the chance to relax into a book without feeling rushed or puzzled or shortchanged…. Long live the fertile imagination and prodigious output of J.K. Rowling.”--The New York Times ~ Lisa Christie
Circe by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead ” a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. If needed, this would be an especially great gift for the feminists in your life. ~ Lisa Christie
Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems by Tony Hoagland (2018) – I would have picked this up for the title alone, but a recommendation from delightfully smart and poetry-loving Penny McConnel of the Norwich Bookstore meant I had to read it. She wanted to include it in her Pages in the Pub selections, but ran out of choices; so, I am happy to include it for her here. This collection contemplates human nature and modern culture with anger, humor, and humility. I honestly wanted to read this collection in one fell swoop and had to force myself to slow down and savor each poem. As The New York Times wrote, “Hoagland’s verse is consistently, and crucially, bloodied by a sense of menace and by straight talk.” ~ Lisa Christie
Exit West by Moshin Hamid (2017) – We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in it’s review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Love & Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves (2018) – A superb YA book that deals with eating disorders, death, questioning one’s sexuality, mental health issues, and going away to, and returning from college with grace and love and humor. Quick plot summary Danny and Sara met in Kindergarten and vowed to be friends forever – a vow strained by Danny’s departure to Harvard after first promising to room with Sara at another college. Things unravel for them both while apart and their reunion back home during the summer after their first year away starts the drama of this book. Truly a stellar debut by this young (I think she is 24) author. This book received a starred review by Book List and praise from the School Library Journal and Kirkus. Impressive all around. (Bonus fact: She is a Dartmouth graduate.) ~ Lisa Christie
American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Two Cultures by America Ferrera (2018) – A great and timely selection of essays about being an American immigrant or child of immigrants. Most of the essays address aspects of being a teen in the USA, providing a great “in” for most teens to the stories of these immigrants. Plus, you will recognize a lot of the authors (e.g., Lin Manuel Miranda). ~ Lisa Christie
Picture Books for All Ages
In the Town All Year Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner (2008) – This is an older title that we somehow missed until recently. A sophisticated “Where’s Waldo” of the surprising things you find in town every day. A great way for kids and the adults who love them to discuss what people do day in and day out. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Atlas of Animal Adventures and Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures and Atlas of Adventure Wonders of the World by Lucy Letherland (assorted years) – Ms. Letherland wrote one of our favorite oversized picture books of all time – Atlas of Adventure. We are pretty certain we gifted it to just about every family we knew once we discovered it. And, we must say every family thanked us profusely for adding it to their collection. Thus, we were excited to see Ms. Letherland’s illustrations grace these other books. All of these books provide oversized, joyous illustrations and plenty of inspiration to learn more about a wide variety of places and topics. ~ Lisa Christie
More Traditional Picture Books
Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (2018) – AWESOME tale of imagination and love. A little girl’s mission is simple – to find party hats; how she gets them so complicated. We also are hoping the fact her adventures include two dads and a lot of penguins is a shout out to And Tango Makes Three, a great picture book based upon an actual penguin at the Central Park Zoo with two dads. ~ Lisa Christie
Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2018) – Ada’s curiosity is unending and leads her to great big messes. Doe sit also make her a great scientist? We all can learn from Ada’s fearless explorations, and the rhymes and illustrations are fun. ~ Lisa Christie
City by Ingela P. Arrhenius (2018) – The bold, colorful, almost block-like pictures remind of us our favorite board book for toddlers – My Car by Byron Barton. Very few words and bold graphic illustrations make this the perfect oversized book for very young readers to share with the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Christie
Chapter Books for Kids to Read or Families to Read Aloud
The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss (2018) – This delightful story of a girl who loves bicycles, is faced with a fate she does not want – friendship camp – and decides to take her life into her own hands and onto her favorite two wheels, has everything a great tale for kids should have – spirited heroine, a cookie-wielding sage, ghosts, quirky inventors, luck, a grand goal – bicycling across the country to meet her hero, and ultimately adults who help her seize her own destiny. Told in a perfectly sly manner with great humor and charm, this adventure book will leave every reader smiling. Thank you Ms. Beth (see below as well) for putting this in my hands. ~ Lisa Christie
The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell (2018) – Ms. Beth, our small town’s children’s librarian, put this in my hands and I honestly couldn’t believe that any book could live up to her hype. But, it charmed me completely. In this novel, a colorblind boy, Auden Dare lives in a future world where the scarcity of water is the cause of all wars. Auden’s brilliant scientist uncle suddenly dies, leaving a home to Auden’s mother and notes outlining a mystery for Auden and Auden’s new friend Vivi. These notes lead them on an adventure they both needed and to a new friend, the mysterious robot Paragon. Together Vivi and Auden must solve the mystery that is Paragon and possibly save the world and their own families in the process. Auden, Paragon and Vivi will stay with you long after the last page. ~ Lisa Christie
Mascot by Antony John (2018) – I laughed. I cried. I snorted from laughing and crying. And, I loved this book about baseball, horrific accidents (a dad dies and a son is in a wheelchair), rebuilding muscles and lives, friendships, parents who annoy, and middle school. I might even have to become a Cardinals fan. Reminiscent of my other favorite middle grades baseball novel Soar in its scope and its unflinching look at tough situations and how people can inspire as they face every obstacle. You will be so grateful you read this book. Or as Kirkus reviews says, “Noah’s dilemma is universal: the struggle to rebuild identity when what once defined us no longer exists. Highlights the challenges of adapting to puberty and sudden disability at the same time.” ~ Lisa Christie
Speechless by Adam P. Schmidt (2018) – This tale of Jimmy, a middle school aged boy tasked with giving the eulogy for his “very hard to love” cousin, is a superb way to think about all the “hard to love” people we encounter as we go through life and what we may do to be better as a result. The fact that Jimmy’s suit is way to small and buttons are threatening to pop at any moment is one of many small details that Mr. Schmidt uses with great skill to make the characters, their issues, and the whole plot real. A great debut novel that will have you thinking at its close. Note: this novel addresses alcoholism, tragic accidents, abuse. ~ Lisa Christie