The Book Jam Blog
Read our latest reviews
As we promised when we published our list of books for younger campers in late June, in spite of everything that’s changed in 2020, some traditions continue. So without further ado, we end July with the second part of our summer tradition: The Book Jam’s annual review of perfect summertime reads for adults. (In case you missed it, click here to see our list for the younger set.) We fervently hope that these recommendations help you to find just the right fit for curling up with in tents, by the lakeshore, or under the branches of your favorite tree. After all, we can still camp (and read) - if only for now in our own backyards. If everything else about these months seems turned inside out this year, try turning the page of a great book!
And with these reviews, these two Book Jammers set off for our own special annual tradition: our much awaited "Gone Readin'” time when we devour as many titles as we can in order to share reviews of them you when we return in September. Our stacks, the sun, and the rest of summer await us! So stay tuned for autumn when we will publish great book recommendations to help you all get through - and “read through” - the homestretch of 2020.
Mysteries and Thrillers
The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor (2020). A terrific atmospheric thriller set in Ireland (with some grounding in Long Island). You will love the main detective Maggie d'Arcy, and her colleagues and friends as they try to solve the mystery behind a series of abductions and deaths of women along the Irish coast. This mystery is personal for Maggie because it involves the disappearance of her cousin Erin 23 years prior. This book is receiving a ton of praise, and we could not be happier for our friend Sarah. So, to ensure we are not oozing with bias about how good this mystery is, we will now quote a few reviews. As New York Times best-selling author Deborah Crombie states in her review, "with its evocative Dublin setting, lyrical prose, tough but sympathetic heroine, and a killer twist in the plot, Sarah Stewart Taylor's The Mountains Wild should top everyone's must-read lists this year!" Publishers Weekly continues, “Taylor’s affection for Irish geography, history, and culture suffuses the tale, adding texture and atmosphere. Fans of Elizabeth George should take note.” And finally, Minneapolis Star Tribune sums it up, "Sarah Stewart Taylor has written a beautiful, bittersweet novel about loyalty and loss and how they can blind us to the truth." We say, just buy it and read it! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell (2020). Ms. Campbell's latest thriller pits townies against wealthy beach home owners, and shows us how poor choices shape our lives. You know the train wreck is coming and you can't look away. And as Ms. Campbell is also a friend, we will again use some reviews from other sources. Newsweek says, "prepare for A Stranger on the Beach to chill your bones, even if you're reading it on the beach." Or, "A Stranger on the Beach rides its rising tide of terror to a finale that blanched my knuckles. An exceptionally suspenseful thriller" says A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window. And finally from Publishers Weekly, "engrossing...breezy intrigue on a hot summer day." ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Trace Elements by Donna Leon (2020). The plot almost does not matter to us at this point in Ms. Leon's Guido Brunetti series; and, in case you need a heads up, this time a water pollution scandal leads to murder. Somehow what works in these books, is time spent with beloved characters we've grown to know over the years. Although the numerous food descriptions were missing this time, so we felt less hungry than usual. And, we are not yet sure if we are disappointed about that fact or not. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
House of Beauty by Melba Escobar (2015 in Spanish, 2019 in English). This murder mystery rests among Bogota's elites and the people who serve them. Perfect for a rainy Sunday Covid isolation day, it offers great insight into the lives of different classes in Colombia and a well plotted twisty tale. This is rather remarkable as from page one you are told almost all that happened. As The Guardian said in its review, "this delicate, merciless filleting of race and gender politics is highly recommended".~ Lisa Christie
The Guest List by Lucy Foley (2020). If you’re looking for a great summer or vacation read, look no further. Instead, step gingerly onto a rickety skiff and ferry out to a creepy island off the coast of Ireland where a glamorous destination wedding party has run amok. Despite the meticulous planning, the delectable menu, the engraved silver napkin rings for every guest, a howling storm kicks up and, you guessed it, there’s a murder. This mystery is told from multiple points of view In the days leading up to the ceremony including that of the bride, the best man, the wedding planner, the “plus one,” and the sister-of-the-bride. They’re all, in their own ways “unreliable narrators” - some carrying old secrets, some simmering resentments - so the reader is left wondering up until the last minute whodunnit. The Guest List is a good old fashioned page turner that’s well-crafted, and well-written. It’s also atmospheric with richly developed characters. If you happen to listen to the audio version, that’s also a win: it’s excellent with multiple narrators reading with accents to match the characters who hail from different British Isles. ~ Lisa Cadow
The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo (2015). Europa Press does it again - they found another beautiful written engrossing tale and put it out for all of us to read. In this novel, set in 1963, Hurricane Flora is bearing down on Cuba and seven women are among the people evacuated to the former governor's mansion for safety. They are guarded by a young soldier of Castro's regime and pass the time sharing stories. This story is at once a historical saga, an adventure, an account of struggling against oppression, and a tale of the power of forgiveness. Bonus, I learned a lot about Cuba, a location that fascinates me and about which I know every little. ~ Lisa Christie
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (2020). This gifted author reimagines Hilary Rodham Clinton's life as one in which she does not marry Bill Clinton. It has me thinking about both my assumptions about Mrs. Clinton and how the choices in my life determined who I am. Whatever you think of Mrs. Clinton, I believe this will have you thinking differently about something in your life or the news. We also highly recommend American Wife, Ms. Sittenfeld's take on another former First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush. ~ Lisa Christie
Writers & Lovers by Lily King (2020). While it was a slow start for me, I eventually loved this and ended up reading and loving it in one four hour swoop during a night of Covid-19 insomnia. The plot revolves around Casey, a woman in her late 20s, struggling to complete her first novel while waiting tables at a prestigious Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant and juggling a complicated personal life. I would guess the character is somewhat based upon Ms. King, but I have no way of knowing. I enjoyed time spent in Cambridge and in 1997 as well. As IndieNext wrote in their review - "I don’t think there’s a single unnecessary word in the whole thing. Writers & Lovers is a joy to read, a gift from a writer at the top of her game.” ~ Lisa Christie
The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell Antonio (2020). Reality TV, fried Chicken, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and rural Kansas combine in this deceptively simple story of what happens when social media and small town life collide. Mae, Amanda, Barbara, Nancy, and their unique neighbors are all portrayed with love and quirks. The plot revolves around who will win a reality show's designation of best fried chicken in town and the messes those cameras can uncover (literally and figuratively as one of the characters suffers from extreme hoarding). What it really revolves around is how where we grow up shapes us, how family is lovely, horrific, and definitely complicated, and how we are all doing the best we can in this life. KJ Dell Antonio seems to have taken her years as a NYTimes columnist and best selling author observing how good and bad parenting occurs and turned it into a terrific, fun, and insightful debut novel about how families are formed and changed by the distinctive people in them. NOTE -- This was scheduled to be published in summer 2020 and has been postponed until December 2020 due to Covid-19. We include it here as pre-orders help authors. So, please consider ordering this one from your favorite indie bookstore now and be prepared for a treat when the weather turns colder. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel (2020). The final novel in Ms. Mantel's Thomas Cromwell Trilogy did not disappoint. We love this series. Time spent in Henry VIII England is nice mental travel from Covid-19 in Vermont, although the references to the plague definitely meant something different in book three than when we read the first books in this trilogy years ago. Thomas Cromwell proves to be a fascinating character and well worth three large tomes. Read all three and you may not need any other books to get through August. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Any novel by Halldor Laxness (assorted years) We highly recommend Independent People. This Nobel Prize winning author from Iceland is gifted, and his books take you to a land many of us never get to visit to see people we enjoy getting to know. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head... by Dan Harris (2014). A skeptic shows us all how meditation can make us (and the people around us) happier. This seems more important than ever. Because this appears to be hard to find in paperback, we linked to the audiobook. ~ Lisa Christie
I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (2018). Collection of insightful, raw, and relatable essays about life in the USA. They are also funny, and we believe many readers will recognize bits of themselves as they read. Warning it contains many descriptions of what happens when "rule followers" get off track. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Surrender White People by D.L. Hughley (2020). The humor in this book effectively drives important points home. I think any discomfort we feel as we read Mr. Hughley's pointed critiques will just be fodder to absorb important things about life as a Black person in the USA. As Kirkus Reviews stated, "readers will frequently laugh out loud, but there’s far more to this couldn’t-be-timelier book than just jokes." ~ Lisa Christie
If you would like to read more books that might help your discussions (and ideally actions) around racism, we recommend our previous list from early June - A Fiction Book List for Today. Our past diversity Audits - Our Annual Diversity Audit & New Books to Read or Books Honoring Black History Month and Our Annual Diversity Audit - may also prove helpful. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
And with this, we have "gone readin'". We hope you enjoy the end of summer; may it bring many, many great books into your life!