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Archive for December, 2011

Soon there will be time to curl up with a good book...

Ah the holidays… they’re lovely, they’re fun, and they mean special time spent with family, friends and books. Books?

Yes, books. Following the opening of presents, the carving of prime rib and the savoring of the yule log, the days after the relatives have left can mean sinful, precious, pockets of time to read. During those brief spells when you do not want – or have! – to face the dishes, go back to school, work, or regular routines, there are sagas awaiting hungry eyes and tired psyches.

So, welcome to what is now an annual tradition at The Book Jam: a list of books we recommend reading during the peace that descends when the holiday bustle ends. We’ve added some books to our list that we, too, are hoping to tackle “after the relatives have left”.

(Please note that once again we are keeping it local and linking to our town’s gem, the Norwich Bookstore. Future posts will again link to the IndieBound site so that we can support independent bookstores nationwide.)

What We Have Read and Now Recommend to Others 

The Art of Fielding (2011) by Chad HarbachReading this book is akin to watching a no-hitter unfold.  You know something special and rare is happening and all you can do is enjoy. While baseball is important in this novel, so are friends and education and learning how to live a good and honorable life. ~ Lisa Christie

East of the Sun (2009) by Julia Gregson. This book caught me by surprise. I picked it up at a bookstore in a train station knowing nothing about it. It turns out it to have been international bestseller written by a Brit and though many people review it as a romance,  I perceived it quite differently. East of the Sun is compelling historical fiction about four British women starting new lives in India in the 1920s. I lost myself in it and couldn’t do anything else but read for two days. ~Lisa Cadow

Hunting and Gathering (2007) by Anna Gavalda. Truly an original, uplifting (though it may not seem so at first!) book set in modern-day France and translated beautifully. It is a story of friendship and connection despite the busy life that swirls all around us. It leaves you feeling good about life. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Let the Great World Spin (2009) by Colum McCann.   A great look at NYC and 9/11 and characters whose lives touch by coincidence, but whose impact upon each other is profound. ~ Lisa Christie

The Night Circus  (2011) by Erin Morgenstern.  This new, fast-paced novel is magic-filled and has a plot that keeps readers turning the pages. Author Morgenstern is a creative story-teller and a beautiful writer who tells the tale of an ephemeral 19th century circus with one-of-a-kind performers. It’s a love story, an artistic exploration of place, people, time and timepieces.  Think of it as a circus themed Romeo and Juliet story with alchemy, sorcery and a very dangerous game at its core. ~ Lisa Cadow

What WE Hope to Read after the Relatives Have Left

11-22-63  (2011) by Stephen King  – Because 1) I have heard once you get started you just can not put it down.  And, I am intrigued by the thought of altering history so that JFK is not assassinated. I look forward to seeing if my version of  what would happen instead is even remotely related to Mr. King’s.  Because, 2) ever since reading On Writing by Mr. King, I have been a fan of his, even if I don’t usually pick up his fiction as I tend to think the  news has enough terror for my life.  Finally, because 3) reading this would expand my usual choices and experiencing an atypical genre is not a bad way to start a new year. ~ Lisa Christie

Lionheart (2011) by Sharon Kay Penman - Because I just finished one of her other tomes and would love to get lost in medieval England/France/Wales again.  And, time is required for reading this; once you pick up one of her historical sagas, there is little room for anything else. ~ Lisa Christie

Sister (2011) by Rosamund Lupton. This book has been mentioned on many “best of” lists, enough so that I delved a little deeper. It seems like the kind of intelligent, suspenseful tale I look for when choosing a mystery.  Besides, I am always up for a trip to present day London.  ~Lisa Cadow

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgiveness (2011) by Alexandra Fuller.  Fuller is one of my favorite authors. I loved her last memoir of growing up in Africa in the 70′s and 80′s and look forward to learning more about her  family and about mother’s experience in Zimbabwe. This is a writer not to miss.~Lisa Cadow

Other Recommended Reading – in the Form of a Blog – for after the Relatives Have Left (or Even For While They Are Here as It May Inspire a Good Meal or Two)

A Fork on the Roadhttp://forkontheroadblog.com. A SUPERB Blog about food and cooking.  A great resource for those of you looking to try some new recipes for the new year or to go on some food adventures.  Latest entry looks at the Met in NYC from the perspective of food. ~ Lisa Christie

What We are Reading Right Now and Loving

West of Here (2011) by Jonathan Evison. ~Lisa Cadow

The Rules of Civility (2011) by Amos Towles. ~Lisa Cadow

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time (2011) by  Mark Adams. ~ Lisa Christie

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Your Tailor-Made 2011 Holiday Book Giving Guide

Great bling for a literary friend: the "banned books" bracelet.

As book lovers (fanatics, really), we feel compelled and excited to recommend this year’s favorites to those in the market for literary presents. We firmly believe that books and book-related accessories make wonderful gifts for anyone. Really – they do – we promise – trust us.

To help you match the perfect gift with the discriminating readers in your life, we’ve created categories inspired by the types of people in our lives. There are matches for historians, fiction fanatics, gardeners, outdoor enthusiasts,  your co-workers, young readers, tough teens and many more. Below are hardcovers and new paperbacks (all published this year), games and even “book bracelets” that will make your holiday gift giving experience learned and painless.

While our regular blog posts link to the national independent bookstore site IndieBound, for the purposes of this special holiday issue we’re “going local” and have linked directly to our favorite neighborhood source - The Norwich Bookstore. And, as always, there’s a little bit of Vermont flair and Green Mountain perspective sprinkled, like snowflakes, throughout post. ~The Book Jam

Fiction for the “I Don’t Know How She Does It” Crowd (Books for Those Who Can Not Spare Time for Bad Fiction):

The style and the story set "The Call" apart from the pack.

The Call by Yannick Murphy. A lovely, funny, touching novel, IndieBound describes it best: “…an absolute delight to read. E.B. White meets James Herriot with just a touch of Jonathan Safron Foer.” Set in Vermont, this is the log of a rural veterinarian’s year and of what happens when his son is injured in a hunting accident. One of the best books of the year. ~Lisa Cadow

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. A well-crafted tale of how Harvard changed the lives of its first Native American students and how they influenced Harvard.  It also provides an insightful look at 18th century Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge.  This book has love, faith, magic and adventure. (We like this one so much that we also would recommend it as a gift for some of our other categories – “fiction for wise women” and “men who have enough flannel shirts” – see below for these and other categories.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Language of Flowers by Vannessa Diffenbaugh. It is among the farmers markets and grape vineyards of  California that we get to know Victoria, a young woman recently emancipated from the foster care system and finding her way in the world while supporting herself as a part-time florist. Flashbacks and memories help bring us to the present day where this challenging and challenged character is growing a new life and discovering the possibility of love.  ~Lisa Cadow

Fiction for Wise Women (Those Who Have Seen More than a Few Winters):

Unanimous pick for fiction. Among the best of 2011.

I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck. I LOVED the beautiful prose and the compelling characters.  The plot, which reviews the choices each partner makes from the moment of they met 43 years earlier to the instant the male dies, kept me engaged.  I’m jealous of those reading this for the first time. ~Lisa Christie

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. This slim volume is a masterpiece of efficiency and story telling. Otsuka weaves together the impressions, histories, emotions, and journeys of hundreds (if not thousands) of Japanese “picture brides” who came to the US post-WWI in search of a better life and brighter future.~Lisa Cadow

The Time In Between by Maria Duenas. In this inspiring international bestseller, a Spanish woman turns poverty and severe betrayal into a life of success as a seamstress and then dangerous intrigue as an undercover agent for the Allies.  A great way to learn more about Spain during WWII, something I honestly had not given much thought to before.  ~Lisa Christie

For Men Who Have Enough Flannel Shirts but Not Enough Good Fiction:

Great fiction for the flannel shirt set.

Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Unique in style and voice, this book provides a page turning look at the lives of “players” in the American music business from the 1970s to present day. (We also believe this is a good choice for the “I don’t know how she does it” crowd.)~Lisa Christie

Doc by Maria Doria Russell. I don’t especially enjoy Westerns, but I picked this up because I have loved Ms. Russell’s previous books.  I am so glad I did; I was fascinated by this look at the lives and loves of Doc Holliday and his contemporaries and the vivid portrait she paints of the American West. ~ Lisa Christie

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This is another book new to paperback this year.  A fact for which we are grateful as it is a pleasure to recommend this look at Henry the VIII’s court through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, a member of the King’s inner circle. Others agree as this engrossing read was the Winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2009. ~ Lisa Christie

For People Who Like to Cook Up a Culinary (Snow) Storm:

Mouthwatering. Nigel Slater's "Tender"

Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater. This best-selling British cookbook will bring summer into your winter kitchen - eggplant, tomatoes, potato cakes and all. Tender is a love letter to British chef Slater’s garden patch. It’s a beautiful, mouth-watering tome of recipes~Lisa Cadow

Plenty:Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. If you haven’t yet cooked with this talented London-based chef, it’s time to start. He’s a wizard with vegetables and combining spices (like za’atar and sumac) and ingredients (fennel, pomegranate, and celery root)  to create alchemy in the kitchen. ~Lisa Cadow

Ancient Grains for Modern Meals: Mediterranean Whole Grain Recipes for Barley, Farro, Kamut, Polenta, Wheat Berries & More by Maria Speck.  If your New Year’s resolution is to eat more whole kamut, this book deserves a spot on your shelf. A little taste of the Mediterranean is always welcome in the deep, dark winter as is a guide to making delicious salads with non wheat-based products. ~ Lisa Cadow

How to Cook Everything (Completely revised 10th anniversary edition) by Mark Bittman. This was new to e-books in 2011 so we snuck it in. Why? Because years after purchasing, I still refer to this tome almost weekly. ~ Lisa Christie

For People Who See Fully Formed Gardens Under Ten Feet of Snow:

For the farmers market fanatic.

Markets of New England by Christine Chitnis. BIG NOTE : We are VERY, VERY PROUD that Lisa Cadow’s Vermont Crepe & Waffle food cart is mentioned in this pocket-sized guide. But all bragging aside, this is great for the glove compartment so you’ll always be able to find a market on your travels.  ~ Lisa Cadow & Lisa Christie

The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball. A wonderful recollection, part love story, part small farming manual, by a Harvard-educated woman whose life takes a sharp U-turn from a city path onto a rural dirt, tractor-lined road. ~Lisa Cadow

This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, sixty acres and a family undone by Melissa Coleman. An amazing, honest look - from the perspective of a woman who was once a child caught up in it all - at life in the back to the land movement that Helen and Scott Nearing lived in Maine. A family tragedy suffered during this time makes this story all the more poignant. ~Lisa Christie

For People Who Like to Think and Chat While Sitting by the Woodstove:

A must-have book filled with a fascinating take on art, history and culture.

History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil Macgregor. This book is AMAZING, INTRIGUING, MIND ALTERING!  Written by the Director of the British Museum, it will provide hours of perusing, discovery and conversation.  Don’t miss the page with the “weapons chair” from Mozambique. ~Lisa Cadow & Lisa Christie

For Historians Who Love Vermont but Periodically Feel the Need to Hop a Plane to Paris (or hear a good speech)

The Greater Journey by David McCullough.  Armchair travel to Paris, some history of names you have heard of as well as many who will be new to you, and the always reassuring voice that is David McCullough. ~Lisa Christie

Lincoln on the Civil War: Selected Speeches by Abraham Lincoln.  A beautiful rendering of some of the most powerful speeches in the English language. A perfect gift for your favorite history buff or speech writer. ~Lisa Christie

For People Who Always Have a Cat in Their Lap:

This will make your cat lover purr...in French

The French Cat by Rachael Hale. This is my favorite coffee table book of the year and an essential for Francophiles and kittyophiles.  Take time to appreciate the grace and sophistication of these French kitties napping among the olives, slinking down cobbled roads, and lapping from lily ponds.  ~Lisa Cadow

For Those Interested in Looking at The Year in Review Just a Little Bit Differently:

People are just dying to read it.

The Obits: The New York Times Annual 2012 by William McDonald and Peter Hamill.  A unique way to review the year. Superbly written, perhaps macabre, but always full of insight, history and intriguing personalities. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For People Hungry for a Taste of the Great Outdoors:

A season-by-season guide to understanding the landscape of New England.

Naturally Curious: A Photographic Field Guide and Month-by-Month Journey through the Fields, Woods and Marshes of New England by Mary Holland. This is a perfect book to have on hand up at the camp or cabin…or just in a New England home. Ever wonder what wild flowers bloom in March? Or how to tell a wood frog egg mass from a spotted salamander egg mass? Look no further. Complete with photos, diagrams and easy to understand text.~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For Lucky People Who’ve Just Moved to Vermont:

Tag Man: A Joe Gunther Novel by Archer Mayor. The latest installment in a superb series that provides an entertaining (and perhaps slightly morbid - really, how many murders can a state of .5 million people have?) way to learn about just about every town in Vermont. ~Lisa Christie

For People Who Enjoy Living Vicariously through Other People’s Memories, A His and Hers Set and a bonus selection:

A memoir of Hurricane Katrina.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. An intriguing look at Katrina and New Orleans. Made me think hard about how we react to disaster. ~Lisa Christie

Just Kids by Patti Smith. This National Book Award winning memoir, just out in paperback, provides a fascinating account of a cutting edge artist’s life in NYC in the early 1970′s. Smith’s engaging writing style and stories evoke and explain an era of political, cultural and artistic awakening. And, it left us wondering - how could one person have been in so many important places with so many important people and survive so many situations and temptations?  ~Lisa Cadow & Lisa Christie

The Man Who Couldn’t Eat by Jon Reiner – A moving look at how disease can shape a life. (Could also be good for sitting by a woodstove.) ~ Lisa Christie

Literary Gifts for Your Hostess/Administrative Assistant/Boss/Co-worker:

Roll the dice and find your inner poet.

Haikubes: An easy way to infuse someone’s life with poetry every day. They’re a poet and they didn’t even know it!

Bananagrams:  Scrabble-like, make-your-own crossword FUN for all ages… provided you can spell.

Banned Books bracelets (with a copy of a banned book): What a great gift for all the rebels and accessory-lovers in your life.

For Families with Young Children to Read Together During the First Snow Storm (Oops…We Already Had Two!):

Discovering the world under the snow while on a cross country ski ride.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner. This gentle picture book explains what is asleep or scurrying about beneath the snow while a father and child ski above. ~Lisa Cadow

My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer. A funny well-illustrated look at the clash of wills between a father and daughter. ~Lisa Christie

Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan.  A great second book in a SUPERB new series by a master storyteller.  Keeps the kid humor, fun adventures and the Greek myths, but adds Roman Gods to the mix. ~Lisa Christie

For Those Beyond Tonka Trucks and Tea Parties, but Not Yet Ready for Teen Topics:

A National Book Award finalist, not just for kids.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. One of my favorite books of 2011. I LOVED this national book award finalist and I sobbed at points in the narrative.  You could pair it with The Wednesday Wars, which is also by Schmidt, and which Lisa Cadow and I both loved. (She has not yet read this one.  Thus, she does not yet know how much she likes it.) ~Lisa Christie

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy. This has a bit of everything: London, the Cold War, Hollywood blacklists, homage to Great Expectations, magic and new friends. ~ Lisa Christie

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Malone. This was new to paperback in 2011 so we kept it on this list. A superb combination of The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Blue Balliet’s works. ~Lisa Christie

Tales for Teens Who Still Like to Drink Hot Chocolate and Spend Snowy Days Reading : No gender stereotyping intended, but the first books listed we recommend are for young women and the last two are for young men.  That is not to say we’d necessarily stick to that for all teens – it is merely a guide.

The Call by Yannick Murphy. This lovely, touching, funny novel is as comfortable on young adult shelves as it is among grown-up titles. Inde Bound describes it best: “…an absolute delight to read. E.B. White meets James Herriot with just a touch of Jonathan Safron Foer.” Set in Vermont, this is the log of a rural veterinarian’s year and of what happens when his son is injured in a hunting accident. One of the best books of the year.~Lisa Cadow

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Magic, suspense and circuses always seem to prove a winning combination.  ~Lisa Cadow

The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkeness. This is a more adult version of “Twilight” but will appeal to the younger crowd, too (my teen reader couldn’t put it down). Time traveling vampires, zombies and witches spend time between London, central France and Massachusetts. ~Lisa Cadow

Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge. Baseball, poetry and even a navigating teen dating component.  Can start with Shakespeare Bats Clean-up if you wish, but it is not required to understand the great characters in this book or to appreciate the poetry and prose. ~Lisa Christie

In the Sea There are Crocodiles: Based on the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari by Fabio Geda. The novel begins in a small Afghan village and chronicles ten-year-old Ena’s harrowing escape from the middle east through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece and finishes in Italy. His ability to survive, to see the goodness in people, to work hard and to learn along on the way is inspiring. Author Geda does a magnificent job capturing Ena’s voice and in creatively telling the tale. ~Lisa Cadow

That is all for this year’s holiday gift giving recommendations. We truly hope they help you find the perfect book for all the people in your life.  Lisa and Lisa

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