The Book Jam Blog
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Witches, Thrillers, and Voting
We thought long and hard about what direction to take with today’s post. Should we highlight books about politics to remind people that voting is less than two weeks away? Or, even though on most days things feel scary enough, should we review some spooky fiction to recognize that Halloween is also right around the corner?
Drum roll please (witch’s cackle, werewolf howl - insert preferred sound here)... We decided to spook it up. In the end, we figured most of you are keenly aware of the fact that November 3rd is eight days away. So, we found a super fun new graphic novel for kids about witches, which reminded us of a classic piece of historical fiction from our childhood (also related to the witches theme), and that led to another thrilling historical fiction novel for adults - all chosen to help keep you all busy (and maybe even a little scared) in the days leading up to the election. We hope today's reviews help you find your next great read. And, we encourage all of you who have the privilege of voting to exercise your right to do so on or before November 3rd (We even snuck in a BONUS fourth review of a YA novel that takes place entirely on election day just to inspire everyone).
Happy Voting and Happy Halloween!
Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse (2020). This graphic novel follows Effie, a recently orphaned pre-teen, after she is dropped on the Brooklyn doorstep of her mysterious aunts (Selimene and Carlota) in the dark of the night. Things don't start well when one of her aunts spends their initial time together telling the person dropping Effie off that she could not possibly take care of a girl (nothing like feeling unwanted to make you uncomfortable at home). And yet, as their days together unfold, something about the aunts' weirdness forms a bond between the three; a bond assisted by Effie's two very kind new friends from school and an encounter with an actual pop star. If nothing else, Effie's life has certainly gotten more interesting since arriving in Brooklyn. A truly great book filled with thoughtfulness, laughs, magic, witches, and superb illustrations. I hope this is book one in a long line of graphic novels for kids (and adults like me). ~ Lisa Christie
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959). I haven’t read this book in over 40 years but I remember it being an absolute favorite. Just thinking about it takes me back to Halloweens as a girl growing up in New England, the chill in the air, the memory of raking up piles of rustly leaves, dreaming up a costume for October 31st, and thoughts of cozying up with books like this one over fall weekends to learn more about the interesting history of the region where I grew up. Author Elizabeth George Speare won a Caldecott Medal for this story set in 17th century Connecticut about a young girl who becomes friends with a suspected witch. A book as relevant today as it was when it was written; it explores themes of ostracism as well as what it means to stand up for one’s beliefs. A timeless - and “spooky” - read (and a great read aloud!). ~ Lisa Cadow (Seconded by Lisa Christie)
Perfume: The Story of a Murder by Patrick Suskind (1986). Perfume was an international bestseller nearly twenty-five years ago when it was first published, but it still retains its fresh aroma and power to intrigue. Set in 18th century France, this historical fiction thriller starts out in Paris with the birth of Grenouille to a poor mother working in a decrepit dish stall. It is Grenouille’s perfect sense of smell – his gift is to the nose what perfect pitch is to the ear – that sets him apart but, alas, it is also this boy’s biggest curse. We follow him through his shaky first years as an orphan to his discovery of “the perfect scent” (and the abominable crime that follows), and then through his life as a master perfumer. Whether it is the setting of Paris and its Provinces, the concocting of masterful perfumes, intrigue, history, or a psychological thriller that you seek, you will find them all in this satisfying novel. ~ Lisa Cadow
Bonus Pick, with an election theme, for Young Adults
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (2020). Somehow this YA novel manages to squeeze in abortion rights, voting rights, police brutality, gun violence, budding musicians, and the trials and tribulations of teenage romance all without being preachy or condescending. The romance will appeal to readers looking for a little insight into dating life, the political activism will attract many others, and the fact all the action unfolds on one voting day highlights the importance of that simple and profound act. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
Poetry, Indigenous Peoples' Day
Today in Vermont, we celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day, joining fifteen states and a few cities and towns in this holiday. This provides the perfect opportunity to highlight a recent anthology of poetry and a book about a Native American high school student, as well as mention a few more Native American authors. No matter what your town calls today's holiday, we hope it finds you healthy, employed, and in search of some great books to read.
When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through edited by Jo Harjo (2020). If ever there was a title designed for covid-19, I believe this is it. The light of the world is subdued by the news of late; and, I believe that songs, poetry, and books illuminate. The anthology attached to this title curates centuries of poetry from indigenous peoples of North America for us all to contemplate and enjoy. The collection is divided into five geographically organized sections, each with an introduction from contributing editors who provide historical, tribal, geographical, and artistic contexts for the works in that section. Each poet is also introduced prior to their work. From historical entries such as Chief Seattle's speech in 1854 about the importance of ancestors, while rebuking government land treaties, to a poem about the completely modern task of getting mileage out of a very old car, these poems provide plenty to ponder and offer beams of hope. I initially found this collection through the Norwich Public Library. I liked it enough to purchase it from a local indie store for my high school senior to reference in his poetry class next term (and for all of us to enjoy). If you have a poetry collection, this makes an excellent addition. If you don't yet have a collection, this would be a great place to start. ~ Lisa Christie
Counting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) - We relaize it has been almost 20 years since this exploration of the lives of one group of Montana's Crow Indians, through the lens of a basketball playing teen, captured our attention. And yet, it still springs to mind when we think of books about Native American experiences in the USA, just as much as more recent books by Louise Erdrich or Sherman Alexie. In this book, Mr. Colton follows the struggles of a talented, moody, and charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story however – it exposes how Native Americans have long since been cut out of the American dream. It was also most recently reviewed in our post - A Fiction Book List for Today (and yes, we recognize it's not fiction). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie