The Book Jam Blog
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We are back.
But... Oh summer please don’t go! We’ll eat you up. We love you so (with a nod to Maurice Sendak).
As sad as we are to say goodbye to long warm days and a season of more relaxed attitudes, we also are excited to tell you about the great books we read during our "Gone Reading" hiatus. Today, we will ease us all back into our posts with only two reviews, one from each Lisa. But, don't worry. Recaps of the rest will follow soon enough.
There There by Tommy Orange (2018, paperback 2019) - 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
The Travelers: A Novel by Regina Porter (2019) - This book has an energy I can't yet describe adequately. However, my inadequacy is irrelevant as what matters is that this energy and Ms. Porter's prose had me rapidly turning pages of this debut novel; I really, really wanted to know what happened to each of the many characters. And by "many characters", I mean that the cast list at the beginning of the novel, reminiscent of the copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead one of the characters keeps carrying around, proved extremely useful in tracking who is who. Ms. Porter deftly moves her plot and her abundance of characters between decades in a delightful, surprising, and circular motion while she portrays two main families - one black and one white - navigating the decades from the Civil Rights Movement to Obama's presidency. I am a bit jealous that those of you who have not yet read this novel, still have discovering how Agnes Miller, James Vincent, and Claudia Christie are connected in your future. Ms. Porter's tale employs wit and compassion, two things I believe we can call use more of these days. But, perhaps most importantly, as The Guardian Review of this debut states, this novel reminds us that "we are all both the heroes of our own stories and the extras in other people’s". ~ Lisa Christie
This post - our final set of reviews ushering in our annual August "Gone Reading" break - highlights great "not-kid" and "not-YA" books for your summer reading needs. We look forward to seeing you all here again with more reviews of great books at some point in mid- to late-September. Happy August and have fun wherever you have "gone reading".
"Beach reads": In this case, they are all fiction
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2019) - I feel as if Jane Austen and Ms. Brodesser-Akner would have enjoyed sharing a cup of tea and tradiing observations about society. I also believe that we all would have benefitted from the novels emerging from their discussions. Ms. Brodesser-Akner takes a topic I really, really did not want to read about - divorce and middle-aged dating - and writes so well I ended up completing every page. Her writing is bracing. Her plot is relatable; and her humor is pitch-perfect. I never thought about what kind of pictures dating apps carry; now I have. But mostly I was struck about how the things we don't share, and the feelings we don't take responsibility for end up being our demise. As the New York Times review stated, "Brodesser-Akner has written a potent, upsetting and satisfying novel, illustrating how the marital pledge — build our life together — overlooks a key fact: There are two lives. And time isn’t a sharer. You cook dinner, or I do. In marriage, your closest ally may end up your nearest rival. 'You complete me' is an awful lot of pressure." ~ Lisa Christie
Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurianne’s (2019) - As light as a glass of cool rose, this French romp will leave you smiling and wishing for a for more, perhaps a cheese plate and a soufflé - or better yet a trip to Paris. The action begins when a group of current-day Parisians (and an American Airbnber!) together enjoy a bottle of 1954 Beaujolais with special properties. This wine ends up taking them back in time to 1954 and their challenge is to find their way back to the present. Laurian, a popular French novelist with many titles to his name, has a large following in the Anglosphere. A fun beach read or title to read when in the City of Light. ~ Lisa Cadow
The Gifted School by Bruce Holinsger (2019) - This is one of those books that might be easy to read and feel better about your life - "I would never do that". "Aren't these people insane?" Or to be cynical about - "Wow what a coincidence that this novel is released as the college admissions scandal unfolds in the courts, how opportunistic". Or, to just dismiss it as a "beach read". And while it is hard to hang your hat on any of the characters and want them to succeed or to empathise with their extreme circumstances, Mr. Holsinger somehow makes them relatable and I kept reading. I picked this up as it seemed timely; and, I was looking for a relatively easy to digest quick read -- basically a "beach read". This novel (University of Virginia English professor Mr. Holinger's first) explores what happens when a pubic school system in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado creates a school for "gifted children". Think of it as the current college admission scandal for K-12 students and their families. The story unfolds through the eyes of four families in an elite town and one family from a town far enough away to be affordable and still close enough allow them to clean the houses of families in the elite town. As you can guess before you even open to page one, people behave badly, long-standing friendships are severed, and secrets are revealed. For me, all that may be beside the point. Because what I received in this "beach read", is a book that has me thinking about how while I would like to believe I would not go to the extremes of the characters in this book to help my children, I drive a barely three year old car with 62,000 miles on it from hockey, soccer, baseball, and football practices and games. And, I have gone to a teacher / principal once or twice to advocate on my sons' behalf. Thus, I probably shouldn't throw too many stones before acknowledging my own glass house. Is it the best book I have ever read? NO. Does it have me reflecting on my life in this lovely area I call home? Yes. That is a pretty good review for a "beach book". Plus, it will give your book club plenty to talk about. ~ Lisa Christie
The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol (2016) - If you’re looking for insight into the French psyche and what the French are tending to read these days, this would be a good book for you. “Waltz” is the second in a trilogy that explores the dramas of a family, in particular the lives of two very different sisters - Josephine and Iris - dealing with divorce, loss, new love, “crises de career”, raising teenage children, and dealing with mid-life. A mystery is involved - people in Josephine’s Parisian neighborhood are being murdered - and be forewarned that descriptions can be quite graphic, even disturbing. I found there to be slight similarities to The Elegance of the Hedgehog as much of the story is set in a fancy apartment building and involves a concierge. Ms. Pancol’s style is a bit less existential, though, more fast-paced and more American than Ms. Barbery’s (which could have something to do with the years Ms. Pancol spent in New York and at Columbia University as a graduate student). This book has been a mega-bestseller in France that has done well internationally as it has been translated into over 30 languages. ~ Lisa Cadow
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (2019) - Bookseller extraordinaire, Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore put this amazing saga of two families living side by side outside of NYC in my hands. Because I am still mulling this story, I'll let the words of another indie bookseller Anderson McKean of Page and Palette in Fairhope, Alabama, speak for me. “Ask Again, Yes is a compelling, heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful novel. Mary Beth Keane is incredibly talented; she does not sugar coat, instead giving readers a compulsively readable family drama. I did not expect to become so completely engrossed in these characters’ stories — two families whose lives become inextricably linked by young love and personal tragedy. Their myriad mistakes and attempts to atone beautifully demonstrate the power and grace found in forgiveness.” I will add, if you are in the mood for a well-written saga about life, love, friendship, and all the things (addiction, mental health, poor choices) that can enhance or interfere with those things - this book is for you. ~ Lisa Christie
Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019) - Full of psychological insight, Normal People is the most artful and literary of all of the titles I will review for this, our 2019 Adult Summer Campers post. This subtle work threads readers into the lives of two young Irish teens, Connell and Marianne. They meet while in high school where he is a popular athlete and she is a brainy outcast. They share a connection that they keep secret even as their paths cross again as students at Trinity College in Dublin. It is tender. It is disturbing. It is real. To quote one reviewer, this book explores “what it means to be in love today.” Another describes it as being about “the transformative power of relationships.” This isn’t an easy read but is ultimately a beautiful and impactful one. Sally Rooney is an author to watch - and to admire. ~ Lisa Cadow (Note: We previously reviewed Ms. Rooney's Conversations with Friends in our "Honoring the Irish on St. Patrick's Day" post.)
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok (2019) - One of the most anticipated books of summer 2019, Searching for Sylvie Lee takes the reader on a trip between cultures and countries, traveling back and forth in time and from New York, to the Netherlands, and even Venice and China. When brilliant, beautiful and successful Sylvie suddenly vanishes while in Holland visiting family, her younger sister Amy must put aside her fears to travel to solve the mystery of her disappearance. This book is full of suspense, mystery, and cultural observations and it offers a window into challenges faced by immigrants and minorities who leave home to start new lives. It also offers readers a treasure trove of Chinese proverbs which pepper the pages (have a pen and paper ready to copy them down). Author Jean Kwok has built a loyal base of fans over the years and is appreciated for her insight into and writing about the Chinese American experience. I was very impressed by her debut Girl in Translation which was published in 2010 and was not disappointed by this, her third book. ~ Lisa Cadow (NOTE: This review is seconded by Lisa Christie who was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this novel while traveling to Europe this Spring.)
Black is the Body by Emily Bernard (2019) - A collection of essays discussing being Black in the predominantly white spaces of Vermont. Insightful, vulnerable, and helpful. Ms. Bernard is a professor of English at the University of Vermont who was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. It is our belief our home state benefits greatly from her presence here. ~ Lisa Christie
Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones (2019) - I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Jones's debut August Snow. Thus, I was excited to see this new mystery brings August back. I was even more thrilled that I liked this second book, in what I hope is a long series, perhaps even better than the first. In this outing, August Octavio Snow decides to defend his neighbors when ICE raids threaten their peace and safety; simultaneously he answers a former colleague's call to discover how a young, unnamed Latina was murdered. By saying yes to helping in both cases, he becomes caught in a human trafficking ring. The plot allows the author's wry humor to deliver some food for thought about the USA's current immigration policies. Detroit, (and actually I'd argue Michigan this time), is once again a character; so much so that Nancy Pearl of NPR's Morning Edition seriously considered relocating after reading Mr. Jones's first offering -- "This book is so good, I actually put it down, and I briefly entertained the notion of moving back to Detroit.” Getting back to this second book, we really can't say it any better than Mike Lupica says in his New York Daily News review, “man, if you haven’t read Stephen Mack Jones’ Detroit crime novels about an ex-cop named August Snow, you ought to.” ENJOY! ~ Lisa Christie
The Fleur de Sel Murders: A Brittany Mystery (#3) by Jean-Luc Bannalec (2018) - This book made me want to visit Brittany immediately. I actually found myself with a map in hand tracking exactly where the characters in this mystery travel as I read each chapter. The writing was brisk and the book just a "fun read" on a hot summer afternoon. Commissaire Dupin provides an intriguing protagonist for this series. The descriptions of France are inspiring and somehow restful; and, the characters Dupin surrounds himself with are interesting on their own. (Note: Though I may have learned more than I possibly could ever wish to know about the salt marshes of the Guérande Peninsula, foodies will have a blast with this knowledge.) As a bonus -- I now have a new series to consume. As Kirkus Reviews describes The Brittany Mysteries, "Bannelec's Breton adventures are some of the best French local color going, with a deft blend of puzzle, personality, and description of the indescribable." The series begins with Death in Brittany. Have fun using these books to plot your next European vacation. ~ Lisa Christie
Unto Us a Son is Given: A Commissario Brunetti mystery by Donna Leon (2019)- I truly enjoy this series (first introduced to me by the author Sarah Stewart Taylor), and this book is one of the best in it. This time, Brunetti's father-in-law asks Brunetti to look into an old friend's recent wish to adopt an adult and what implications that might have for the friend's estate and his twilight years. Enjoy yet another great mystery with a kind, yet far from perfect, Commissario, his English-novel loving wife, and the people of Venice. If you wish to begin at the beginning, the first book in this series was Death at La Fenice. ~ Lisa Christie
The Body in Castle Well: Bruno Mystery #14 by Martin Walker (2019) - In "Bruno's" latest outing, an American graduate student turns up dead at the bottom of a well. This plot allows Mr. Walker, a journalist and novelist, an opportunity to explore the French Resistance, the impact of art, and life in modern France. Enjoy and be prepared to be hungry as Mr. Walker describes all the dishes his detective Bruno prepares. If you have not yet read anything in this series, you might wish to begin with the first of its 14 mysteries - Bruno, Chief of Police. ~ Lisa Christie
Historical Fiction, Including a Graphic Novel
The Huntress by Kate Quinn (2019) - For fans of wildly popular The Alice Network (2017), news of this recently released work of historical fiction by the same author is sure to excite. This book follows the stories of three women: Nina, a pilot who flies for the legendary Russian Night Witches that pushes back Hitler’s forces on the eastern front, Jordan, a seventeen-year-old growing up in post-World War II Boston with dreams of becoming a photographer and going to college, and “die Jaegerin” (The Huntress), the mistress of an SS officer in occupied Poland who flees Europe to escape her past. Their lives ultimately intersect, dramas unfold, and crimes are uncovered. Quinn, as in her last best seller The Alice Network, excels at telling the stories of strong, rebellious and unconventional female heroines and wartime history that is little known. In this case, she focuses on the Soviet Night Witches and sheds a light on their remarkable achievements and bravery. A long book at 557 pages, this one should last campers for a while at the beach or the lake. It may also motivate readers to learn more about brilliant Russian aviators who inspired the character of Nina. ~ Lisa Cadow
Berlin by Jason Lutes (2019) - This graphic novel received "Best of 2018" nods from the Washington Post, New York Public Library, Globe and Mail, the Guardian, and many more reviewers. In it, Mr. Lutes takes a look at the fall of the Weimar Republic through the eyes of a few citizens—Marthe Müller, a young woman whose brother was killed in World War I, Kurt Severing, an idealistic journalist losing faith in the printed word as fascism takes hold; the Brauns, a family torn apart by poverty and politics and life. A great book for those readers who want something historical and a bit more visual this summer. Book Jam note: Mr. Lutes is a faculty member at the amazing Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. ~ Lisa Christie
HAPPY END OF SUMMER! We hope you enjoy the extra hours of sunlight while they last.
As of this moment, the Book Jam has "GONE READING". We look forward to sharing our discoveries with you starting at some point in September 2019.
It's summer and the reading is easy -- unless you don't have a great book at the ready. For those of you who need superb books for the amazing kids in your life (or who, like Lisa Christie, of the Book Jam Lisas, like to read kids and YA books yourself), welcome to the Kids and Young Adult version of the Book Jam's annual Books for Summer Camping. We hope these recommendations help you find the perfect book to take camping, or on a road trip, or to the lake, or to a pool, or to your backyard and/or front porch. Basically, wherever your travels take you this summer -- ENJOY! (Look to us in two weeks for our adult version of Books for Summer Camping.)
Books for the Youngest Readers
My Car by Byron Barton (2003) - This board book with a plot twist and superbly clean illustrations has been a crowd pleaser for years. We gift this to every new parent we know. But don't take our word for it, librarians from the ALA Booklist agree - "Bright, graphic artwork invites readers to count, name colors and shapes, and follow Sam and his car as they drive through a bustling world from Sam's home in the country to his job in the city. The surprise ending is a gem! For young children intrigued by cars, this book is simply wonderful." ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Anything from the Eric Carle Collection by Eric Carle (assorted years) - Mr. Carle is a master storyteller and illustrator; and, his books have been amusing children for years as a result. Huge plus: most of his books are available in a variety of languages. While we recommend all his work wholeheartedly, we highly recommend using The Very Lonely Firefly in its board book form as the last book before bedtime. Read it. Turn out the lights and watch the fireflies flicker, then place the child in bed for a great sleep. Books do allow for miracles. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Quiet by Tomie dePaola (2018) - A lovely picture book, by award winning author and illustrator Mr. dePaola, for our hectic days. This book explores the importance of sitting, and observing, and just being. First reviewed for the Book Jam by Penny McConnel of the Norwich Bookstore during the Book Jam's 2018 holiday version of Pages in the Pub. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Books for Elementary School-"ish" Kids
Pay Attention Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (2019) - Mr. Schmidt (of The Wednesday Wars fame) may have just become my favorite author for kids with this book; OK, maybe that is Kwame Alexander, or Jacqueline Woodson or Jo Knowles or JK Rowling, or Andrew Clements or ... Anyway, Mr. Schmidt's newest 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 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. ~ Lisa Christie
Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles (2019) - Once again, Ms. Knowles tackles tough topics with love and candor. In this novel, Rachel's 13th birthday brings parental fights and ultimately the loss of a childhood home. Basically, this is a compassionately told tale of poverty, family, friendship, being a teen, and sexual identity. Ms. Knowles spins tales of tough issues so, so well. We are so proud to call her as a fellow Vermonter and a friend. Since she is a friend, and we may be a bit biased, we are including a portion of the review from Publishers Weekly -- Ms Knowles, "paints a down-to-earth picture of an adolescent girl who is saddled with too many responsibilities". ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (March 2019) - A great book for younger readers (4th-7th 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 perhaps 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 yourself 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 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.
The Benchwarmers by John Feinstein (2019) - Once again, Mr. Feinstein creates believable teen and pre-teen characters and uses sports to help them deal with life. In this case, a girl wishes to play for a 6th grade boys soccer team; and even though this novel is set in 2019, she is met with hostility from adults and kids; but she also gains new friends. A great book for anyone suffering from World Cup withdrawal. We also highly recommend Mr. Feinstein's other series for younger readers for anyone on your list who loves a bit of sports infused in their books or who just loves books about middle schoolers figuring out life. ~ Lisa Christie
Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (2019) - This novel won the 2019 Newberry Award for excellence in children's literature; and, its insightful compassionate, and often funny look at navigating middle school demonstrates why. Merci, a scholarship student to a prestigious prep school is different than her peers in that: 1) she doesn't have their resources; 2) she must perform community service to keep her scholarship; and, 3) she is Latina. However, her questions as she navigates 6th grade are universal - including how to survive the wrath of the popular girl when she and her popular friends think Merci is interfering with their current crush. She also is scared and confused by the changes in her beloved grandpa Lolo, her champion in her family. Enjoy this book about life as a kid. ~ Lisa Christie
Love to Everyone by Hilary McKay (2018) - Reminiscent of The War That Saved My Life, one of my younger son's favorite books of all time, Love to Everyone tells the story of WWI through the eyes of a young English girl, Clarry Penrose. Clarry manages to find good in everyone and everything. This proves a difficult task as her father isn’t fond of children and her mother died days after she was born. It also appears that her brother blames her for this latter fact and that complicates a lot in her life. In addition, she must fight to be educated as her dad thinks girls don't need schooling. She also only sees her favorite person in the world - her cousin Rupert- once a year in annual trips to Cornwall. All of this is minor to the issues WWI creates for her family, her stalwart friends, her town, and her country. A lovely tale about a girl who refuses to accept the fact many doors are closed to her dreams. It also brings WWI into the reader's heart with realistic descriptions of war time realities on the home front and in the trenches. A truly gem of a book for fans of historical fiction and well-told tales. ~ Lisa Christie
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh (2018) - Refugees are in the news and in great need. Ms. Marsh tackles this topic in a tale that allows kids to internalize what it must be like to be a migrant without a known destination or obvious future. Ahmed has fled the oppression and war in Aleppo only to find himself orphaned in Belgium; Max, a boy from Washington DC, has been reluctantly relocated by his parents to Brussels. Both are struggling to figure out what to do with their lives in Europe. Their lives collide unexpectedly leaving us with a tale of compassion, bravery, and everyday heroes. I loved the fact an actual WWII hero inspires a large portion of the plot. A GREAT way to introduce kids to the news of refugees that they see each day in the paper. It is also a great story for us all. As the School Library Journal stated in a starred review, this novel "thoughtfully touching on immigration, Islamophobia, and terrorism, this novel is a first-purchase. Hand to fans of Alan Gratz’s Refugee." ~ Lisa Christie
Resist: 35 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice by Veronica Chambers (2019) - For those who need some inspiration to face the news of late, we recommend this collection of short biographies of important people who had the courage to change history. People profiled include Ghandi, Fannie Lou Hamer, Samuel Adams, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Anastasia Somoza. A good reminder to us all that we may only be one person, but we have power to change unfair and unjust things. Think of it as a thematic collection of our favorite biography series for kids - the Who Is What Was books. (Note: Ms. Chambers also edited a thought-provoking collection of essays about Michelle Obama - The Meaning of Michelle.) ~ Lisa Christie
Books for Young Adults
With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (2019). The teen heroine of this book, Emoni’s life has been full of tough decisions as she tries to do her best for her daughter and her abuela (grandmother). Luckily, she has a place where she can temporarily forget her responsibilities - the kitchen. There, she somehow always manages to add magic to everything she cooks, creating food that is just amazingly good. This gift may also be her way to create something for herself. Ms. Acevedo's prose sings, and as the Indie Next List review stated, "The only word I can use to properly describe this book is ‘delicious.’" I could not agree more and I also recommend Ms. Acevedo's Poet X. ~ Lisa Christie
Here to Stay by Sara Farizhan (2018) - A great book about high school life today. 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. 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
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (2019) - I know little about Philippines politics or life there; but, this tale of a Filipino-American boy has me curious. Jason - Jay - is a senior in Michigan ready to finish high school and move on to college until news arrives that his beloved cousin Jun has died under mysterious and shady circumstances. And, no one will talk about it. Thus, Jay decides to use his spring break to travel to the Philippines and find out for himself what happened. Full of details about Filipino life and coming of age in America as a "hyphen", I can't recommend this book enough. ~ Lisa Christie
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019) - Speaking of The Hate U Give, I think I enjoyed Ms. Thomas's second novel even more than her first. As the mother of two teenage boys who love rap and hip hop, I doubly appreciated Ms. Thomas's insights into these genres. In this novel, set in the same neighborhood as The Hate U Give, the heroine Brianne struggles against her family’s expectations for her life as she tries to make her way doing what she loves: rapping. She also must navigate racism at her school and the world at large as well as the larger expectations of Black girls in the music world and in life. As Indie Next List stated in its review, " it is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young Black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free." ~ Lisa Christie
We asked Danielle Cohen, a professional audiobook narrator recently recognized as one of two “emerging talent” winners at this year’s Audio Publishers Association Conference (disclaimer - also our great friend), to recommend a few audiobooks for summer travels. We hope her list and the accompanying reviews help you find the perfect book for your next "listen". We thank Danielle for her help and believe this post provides a fitting ending for National Audiobook Month, or as some of us call it - June. We hope we can all find time to listen to a good story ASAP.
Signature Of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (2013), narrated by Juliet Stevenson - I decided to listen to this audiobook as Juliet Stevenson was the narrator and she didn’t disappoint, and nor did the novel. The story spans the life of Alma Whittaker which covers most of the 19th century. Alma is a curious, intelligent and fascinating woman whose passion for botany and evolution make her ahead of other women of the time. This is audiobook is almost 22 hours long and I mostly listened to it whilst driving. When I was done I had to pull over into a car park as I was crying so much. I felt that sad Alma and Juliet would no longer be accompanying me on my journeys! ~ Danielle Cohen, guest reviewer
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (2017), narrated by Gemma Whelan - Beth Reynolds, Children's Librarian at the Norwich Public Library, recommended this book to me and what a great recommendation it was. This middle school fiction novel, narrated by Gemma Whelan is full of wonderful characters, portrayed by Whelan with admirable skill. Morrigan Crow is a young girl who believes that she is cursed and doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday. However, she is saved by the eccentric Jupiter North, who whisks Morrigan away to Nevermoor, where she has to pass various magical tests to become a member of the prestigious Wundrous Society. It did remind me somewhat of Harry Potter, but that’s not a bad thing! I can’t wait to listen to book 2. ~ Danielle Cohen, guest reviewer
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (2017), narrated by Kivlighan de Montebello - This is a delightful audiobook; it’s extremely well produced with a full cast and great sound effects. It’s the story of space-loving Alex Petroski (read superbly by young actor, Kivlighan de Montebello) and his desire to launch his Golden iPod into space. The book is funny, sad, and heartwarming and we experience it all with Alex and the wonderful characters helping him along his journey. This is middle school fiction, but I listened to this with my whole family, including two teenage daughters and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. ~ Danielle Cohen, guest reviewer
The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (2005), narrated by Alfred Molina - I recently listened to this biography of the Beatles and got completely immersed in it. It felt like I was listening to fiction rather than non fiction. The Beatles had already disbanded by the time I was born, but being a kid in the 70’s and 80’s of course I listened to their music; this biography taught me a lot about their rise to fame. And, it was well read by British actor Alfred Molina. My only issue was that the writer clearly didn’t like Yoko Ono, and I don’t think he was too keen on John Lennon either. That said, it seemed well researched and for me was well worth listening to. ~ Danielle Cohen, guest reviewer
Sourdough: Or Lois and Her Adventures in the Undergournd Market: A Novel by Robin Sloan (2017) narrated by Therese Plummer - This is a quirky novel and I really enjoyed the audio version. Therese Plummer is a great narrator, who totally brings this book to life. Lois Clary is a software engineer at robotics company in San Francisco, who “acquires” a sourdough starter which basically changes her life! There are many mentions of King Arthur Flour, plus a soupcon of magic. I went out and bought a sourdough starter as soon as I’d finished the book. One final thought, if you are from the San Francisco area apparently Plummer mispronounces some street names. I didn’t notice as I’m not familiar with them, but it may annoy you!! ~ Danielle Cohen, guest reviewer
State of the Union, A Marriage in Ten Parts by Nick Hornby (May 2019) - A husband and a wife walk into a bar, order a drink, and discuss their marriage before heading to their weekly therapy session - for ten weeks in a row. What comes of it?... This isn't the beginning of a joke. Rather, it's the premise of a brilliant, short-but-sweet and even funny 10 chapter novel. Topping out at 140 pages, master comedian and writer Nick Hornby (of "About a Boy," and "High Fidelity" fame) deftly and sensitively guides readers into the depths of a relationship that's in trouble. There are kids, there are infidelities, there is wine and beer being served, there are middle aged people feeling a little bit unsexy and even, obviously, a tad bit vulnerable. But this is the loveliness of this whipper-snapper smart novel composed almost entirely of dialogue. And it is this dialogue that made it ripe to be snatched up by Sundance TV which has now made it into a popular series. This may not seem like a Father's Day gift but it is. It's honest. It addresses the challenges men and women really face when parenting, working, and facing the (beautiful!) reality of middle age. It is a wonderful springboard for discussion. And it is a book that will be appreciated by all comers: Dads, Grads, Moms, Readers, Writers, Thinkers. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Mark Bittman (2017) - It seems like we are all trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. With this cookbook, Mr. Bittman truly helps. Told in a style that assumes the reader is an amateur, without being at all patronizing, this ode to vegetable dishes is a great gift for graduates starting their cookbook library and fathers who may wish to add a few more vegetarian meals to their lives. For omnivores, Mr. Bittman's How to Cook Everything is also a perfect gift. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Cooking From Scratch: 120 recipes for colorful seasonal food from PCC Community Markets by PCC Community Markets (2018) - This new cookbook makes a great gift for any gift giving occasion this summer. We had to look up PCC Community Markets - turns out it is the nation’s largest community-owned food market. Despite our initial ignorance, we love what we have seen in their cookbook. This Seattle based market organized this cookbook with recipes for every meal of the day, including many of their most popular dishes, such as Emerald City Salad. ~ Lisa Christie
Very Good Lives by JK Rowling (2015) Ms. Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement speech lovingly illustrated in this book offers the perfect place to insert the check you were planning to give your god-daughter or grandson or son or niece on their graduation. Or, it is the perfect gift on its own for your favorite neighbor or babysitter upon his graduation. Ms. Rowling hits on failure and responsibility and of course imagaination. ~ 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. Give this as a great gift or pick this up and enjoy it yourself! ~ Lisa Christie (seconded by Lisa Cadow)
Manhood for Amateurs: The pleasures, regrets of a husband, father and son by Michael Chabon (2009) - This collection is older but we have a hard time thinking of a better look at life as a father/man in America. As IndieNext said in their review, "The subjects are varied, but the writing is consistently sharp, poignant, humorous, and a pure joy to read.” And, it's a perfect gift for any dad. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
May is Mental Health Month in the USA so we thought we would use the last post of the month to highlight mental health issues. To do so, we have reviewed one excellent new book by a therapist about her own therapy journey and her work with some of her more memorable patients. We also shared instagram and website links to another woman's ongoing mental health journey. To finish, we highlighted some direct links to mental health services. At this point, we think it goes without saying that as book bloggers, we would also argue that reading is great medicine for our collective mental health. So, let's all take a collective break from the news and read a book or two this week.
We hope in some small way this post helps us all take better care of ourselves, and show a bit more understanding for the struggles of others.
And as today is Memorial Day, we also remember the veterans we honor today (and their families).
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb (2019) -- I loved every page of this expansive memoir of the author's life as a therapist and as someone in therapy. Ms. Gottlieb's honesty about her own mental health needs -- begun by a strong need for help recovering from the unexpected ending of her engagement, but definitely not ending there - intertwined with tales of her clients really allows you to look at your own mental health and what can be done to help (even if you are fine, or think you are fine). ~ Lisa Christie and strongly seconded by Lisa Cadow who adds: As someone headed back to school in the fall to pursue a masters in counseling, I found this book to be a jump start into better understanding the therapeutic process. Gottlieb is whipper-snapper smart, funny, and a great story-teller. Lucky for us, she is also an excellent educator and she uses this book as a way to explain techniques, theory, and the history of psychology. Not surprisingly, given her choice of career path, she has fantastic insight into the human condition. You will wish you could find a therapist like her.
For those of us who would like more tales of mental health journeys, or who need help identifying your own mental health needs, or for anyone needing direct avenues to help, we have a few more resources for you.
First, if you are the type who is inspired by watching others' lives, our friend and neighbor Kate Speer has been so brave and honest about her own mental health journey. In doing so, she (and her dog Waffle) is helping and inspiring so, so, so many along the way. You can find her TED talk story here. You can find her website here. If you are on instrgram, you can find her here and her dog Waffle here. Finally, if you need help branding you can find Kate's day job here.
Secondly, both the MAYO Clinic and the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses have tips for helping to find the right mental health services for you.
Finally, for those of you who think mental health services are out of reach financially, NBC news highlighted some ways to afford the care you need.
May we all find the peace we need.
And now, one final note: Here is a moment of full disclosure in the spirit of our belief that, if - and only if - you are comfortable airing your own issues, discussing mental health with candor and compassion can help others. We are hoping that frank discussions about our own mental health take away some stigmas. (And that some of the stories and resources we highlight here today help as well.)
So, to continue, a change awhile back in my family situation (this is Lisa Christie typing) led me to a mental health crisis of my own; one which I am still struggling through with help from a very compassionate and learned therapist, and for awhile with help from a couples therapist. In posting today, I want to make it clear we at the Book Jam are not offering quick resolution or claiming to be experts. I for one, am clearly not a case where a mental health crisis meant immediate "cures"; honestly, it has actually created (or perhaps better said - unearthed) more than a few additional issues. However, I would argue that crisis and the therapy it led me to has meant many things I needed to address for my own good are finally being upended (even if not always with grace, poise, immediate gratitude, or honestly easy solutions). Thus, even if it is not always pleasant (it's often downright painful for me and others - sorry family), I firmly believe my improved mental health ultimately benefits many (please). I also believe if one's mental health improves, one's body and the rest of one's life benefit as well. So, may all our journeys lead to great places, even if the path itself is difficult. And with that, we end today's post.
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