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Archive for July, 2012

Don’t worry, there still remains time to put those now waning but still (!) extra daylight hours to good use with Part Two of our Summer 2012 Picks.  As in the last Book Jam post, our criteria remain that summertime reads should optimally:

1) Not require too much work from the reader (hence our title – “Summertime and the Reading is Easy”);

2) Be placed in an “estival” – just a fancy word for having to do with summer – setting;

3) Elicit a chuckle or two.

So with these in mind, some further suggestions from us to inspire your summer reading. Have fun riding the waves, hiking those mountains, swinging in hammocks and turning those pages.

For a Summer Setting:

 The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt (2003). This is an “oldie-but- goodie” as it was published in 2003 but it’s lost none of its ability over the past decade to deliver a dose of summer nostalgia and insight into the meaning of vacation, memory, and family dynamics. The reader can practically feel the breezes from Buzzard’s Bay fluttering across the pages of this memoir of a family and it’s beloved beach house. Author Colt masterfully tells not only the story of a multi-generational experience in this eleven bedroom shingled behemoth on the shores of Wings Neck, Cape Cod but also of the history and psychology of summer pilgrimages since the time of Thoreau. Sadly, the time has come for the Colts to sell this treasure as the upkeep and maintenance has become too much of an expense and complications for the fourth generation to bear. A true classic to keep  on the bookshelf next to the bowls of sea glass and piles of shells. ~Lisa Cadow

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (2011). You can’t get any closer to the beach than with this novel that illustrates how a summer home can fill the hearts and minds of the family that inhabits is pine walls for half a century. Sullivan does an excellent job creating three generations of female characters whose hopes, dreams, and fears collide on the coast of Maine one year in late June. Young Maggie is pregnant, Ann Marie seemingly has it all but feels lonely and aimless in her empty nest, and matriarch Alice is still haunted by a night that changed the course of her life over sixty years ago. Need I say it? Maine is a great beach read. ~Lisa Cadow

For a Chuckle:

The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart (04 August 2012) – As with Ms. Stuart’s previous book – The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise – quirky and oh-so British characters drive the plot of this novel. In Pigeon Pie, Princess Alexandrina is left homeless and penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor. Luckily, there are “grace-and-favor homes” in Hampton Court Palace for downtrodden royalty and Queen Victoria offers one to the Princess. Though the Palace is rumored to be haunted, initially all is well, the princess is befriended by three eccentric widows, the dampness of the quarters can be withstood with a stiff upper lip, her favorite servant – Pooki – comes along, and, well, they have a roof overhead. However, all gets complicated when Pooki bakes a pigeon pie for a picnic and the truly, truly insufferable General-Major Bagshot dies after eating a piece or two or three. When the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect. However, the Princess is not going to lose her dearest friend and unique discoveries and encounters abound. Bonus for reading it this summer?  The London setting will enhance any Olympic watching. ~ Lisa Christie

For when you need to escape your family vacation with a great book about one as dysfunctional as your own”

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (May 2011) – I know the other Lisa reviewed this for our previous Shakespeare inspired post, but this may have been my favorite read this summer, so I am putting it in here as well. What caught my attention in a way that differed from the other Lisa’s?  As someone who has always been slightly fascinated by the influence of birth order on personality development, I loved that aspect of this fun, well-written book. It’s plot? Three diverse and interesting twenty-something sisters and their lives when they each return (for their own unique reasons) to their hometown to live for awhile with their parents. Why are they back home? Due to various failures of their post-collegiate lives to meet their desires, and a need to deal with their Mom’s cancer. Bonus? The Shakespeare references. ~ Lisa Christie

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And with this list, we sign off for the entire month of August to read more books ourselves and to find some superb new selections for you.

May you all have great, just can’t put this book down moments during your end-of-summer reading. See you after Labor Day with some great new selections.

~Lisa and Lisa

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Summertime and the reading is easy….

Readers, it’s time to put those extra daylight hours to good use. What better way than with a book that like a big, strong wave sucks you in, pulls you under and spits you back out on the shores of life feeling entertained, transported, and ready for more fun?

But what makes for the perfect summer book?  Somehow, it seems that summertime reads should charm and delight more than those consumed during the colder seasons.  At this time of year, it’s nice to feel as if you’re reluctantly leaving a lovely garden party full of friends, gazing back longingly at all those interesting, lively guests you’re temporarily leaving behind when you put in a bookmark.  Summer reads shouldn’t require too much work from the reader (hence our title – “summertime and the reading is easy”); we think they feel that much more appropriate if they are placed in an “estival” (fancy word for having to do with summer) setting; and it’s definitely a plus if they elicit a chuckle or two.

So with these criteria in mind, some suggestions from us for your summer reading. Have fun riding the waves and turning those pages.

For A Summer Setting:

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead (May 2012) – This book most definitely meets the criteria of being set in summer – and on the clambake studded shores of a New England island no less. The humor is apparent from page one and the drama proceeds to unfold as the members of a WASP family gather for the wedding of an oldest, already pregnant – gasp!- daughter. All of the action in this character driven novel takes place over the course of three days while the guests and family alike act out, explore (and even consider breaking out of) their strictly prescribed roles. The different generations  and changing societal norms combine to make this a complicated romp through what should be a simple ceremony. Shipstead’s crisp writing is full of wry observations about tradition, the ties that bind, and the quest for everlasting love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For a Chuckle:

 Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray (June 2012)I am not sure what it says about my life that I related to and needed this book.  But, I so totally appreciated her humorous look at life in a family when the mother does not feel seen or heard by others.  The main character has superb self-awareness and humor, her overworked husband and two oblivious kids are sympathetic, and you will want a mother-in-law like the one in this novel.  If you are looking for a “beach” read that will have you smiling and maybe even appreciate yourself and others a bit more, look no further. ~ Lisa Christie

For when the Reading is Easy:

 The House of the Hunted by Mark Mills (June 2012) – We would describe this as Maisie Dobbs with an 007 edge, but it might turn off some potential audience members for this page-turning read.  So what it has: a strong main character – a former British Secret Service Agent who has retired at a young age to the coast of France; a great setting; Russians, Italians; a few sexual escapades; and some history of Europe between the two world wars.  A great thriller for your summer beach trips. ~ Lisa Christie

We have more great summer books and will post those descriptions in two weeks. Why wait?  Because we wanted to give you time to enjoy these selections first.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “Three Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

We are pleased to welcome Rob Gurwitt and Rob Mermim, the authors of Circus Smirkus: 25 Years of Running Home to the Circus. This book chronicles the story of Circus Smirkus, a special traveling international youth circus, created by Rob Mermin in response to his own question from long ago, “What would a society feel like,” he wondered, “in which there was humor without malice, laughter without scorn, decency in human relations, delight in sharing skills without aggressive competition?”

In 1987, after a long apprenticeship as a clown in Europe, he set out to create that society on a small patch of farmland in Greensboro, Vermont, and for the 25 years since, Circus Smirkus has been transforming the lives of its young performers – aged 10 to 18 ­ – and inspiring audiences wherever it plays.

CIRCUS SMIRKUS: 25 Years of Running Home to the Circus is the story of his vision.The authors will appear at the Norwich Bookstore on Wednesday, July 18th at 7 pm. Call 802-649-1114 to reserve your spot for this very special evening.

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This is the first time we’ve interviewed co-authors for 3 Questions so bear with us! Listed first are Rob Mermin’s responses and Rob Gurwitt’s immediately follow.

Rob Mermin, the founder of Circus Smirkus, ran off to Europe when he was nineteen to begin a 40-year career in circus, theater and TV. He trained in classical mime with Etienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau. He is also the former dean of Ringling Bros. Clown College. Rob’s awards include Copenhagen’s Gold Clown; Best Director Prize at the former Soviet Union’s International Festival on the Black Sea; and the Governor’s Award for Excellence, Vermont’s highest honor in the arts. Rob lives in Montpelier, Vermont.

 1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

Freddy the Pig” series by Walter Brooks were the first books I ever took out of the library when I was a kid. Freddy was at various times a detective, explorer, magician, politician, cowboy, poet, and daydreamer. He surely set me on the path to Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and others tales of worldly travel and grand adventure.

 2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Mark Twain, to laugh and complain about the human race.

 3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

About to open Hermann Hesse’s novel about the artist’s life, The Glass Bead Game, which I read when I was twenty.  I’m wondering about my response to it now, after 40 years. I love to revisit good books.

Rob Gurwitt is a freelance writer who lives in Norwich, Vermont. As a writer, he got toknow Circus Smirkus on a magazine assignment in 1999, and he and his family have been captivated by circuses ever since. His two children are performing with Circus Smirkus this summer. It is their second year on tour with the troupe.

 1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

When I was about 12, I discovered The Best of Gregory Clark on my parents’ shelves. He was a wry, observant columnist and storyteller for the Toronto Star between the wars, tapping out gems of emotion and truth in tight prose that felt roomy. I still read him. Same with Meyer “Mike” Berger, the first “About New York” columnist for the NY Times, who found little story bombs in what everyone else considered the humdrum and commonplace. Every writer should take lessons from him. Finally, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was the first book that made me go, “Oh my God, people can write like that!” Not that I ever could.

  2. What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Hands down, David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Cloud Atlas). Though I think it would take more than one cup of coffee to figure out how such a protean, brilliant mind works.

 3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I know, I’m late to the game — but all of you who’ve already read it, don’t you envy me for getting to read it for the first time?

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Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents take note: almost all of these are titles for young readers. We wanted to highlight some great books that you can pack in your favorite child’s trunk for camp or send them along in a care package and know they’ll be the just right for reading with a flashlight! AND, there’s one bonus “grown up” pick tucked in at the end, the phenomenal Wild by Cheryl Strayed, chosen with the adult adventurer in mind.

Ahhh glorious summertime.

Sunny days, starry nights, afternoons spent lounging by the swimming hole, hikes through the hills, twilight marshmallow roasts, and then, finally, the sound of zipping up the tent before settling into a sleeping bag with a good book and a flashlight.  In order to best recognize this all-too-brief  but very particular reading season, we decided to spotlight books that capture the adventurous spirit of young summer campers.

Our criteria: books that are easy to read with a flashlight, that aren’t too sad, and don’t make you long for home  (read homesick). Most importantly we chose titles that empower the young reader. We looked for books that show kids (and in one case, an adult) doing exciting, brave things on their own – or with wise adults leading the way. Our model – The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg – one of our very, very favorite books from childhood.

Recent releases for the Elementary School Aged:

 Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke (2012) – Jon is reluctantly sent away to boarding school where he quickly discovers he is a kid marked by a centuries-old family curse to die at the hands of a ghost.  When he meets Ella and her ghost-expert Grandmother, hope for ending this curse begins. Of course, first he has to learn how to summon a ghost knight, earn the right to be a page and then figure out how to successfully break curfew.  And, somehow along the way he discovers boarding school is not the banishment he thought it would be.  A GREAT adventure for elementary school readers. ~Lisa Christie

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2012) – In a faraway land, a nobleman purchases four orphans in a scheme to place one, and only one of them, on the throne as the long-lost Prince Jaron. The catch, the three not chosen will probably not survive the “training”.  When you add a clever housemaid as a friend, a castle with secret passageways and the fact discovery of the scheme can have them all killed for treason, you have another great adventure for elementary school readers and the adults who love them. The False Prince has been published as the first installment of the Ascendance Trilogy, even though I just finished this one, I am ready for part two.  ~Lisa Christie   

For Middle Schoolers

 Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – One of the few sequels I have liked better than the original and I really liked the original – Wednesday Wars.  In this stunning novel,  Doug Swieteck and his family move to upstate New York. Completely awed by his hero, Yankee baseball player Joe Pepitone, and trying valiantly to be nothing like his abusive, often drunken father, Doug has a lot to overcome: new school, his brother is serving in Vietnam, and a few secrets.  Honestly, this was one of the best books I read (kid or adult) in 2011. ~Lisa Christie

Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle (August 2012) – A romantic novel for teens involving Shakespeare, time travel and true love. ~Lisa Christie

Now for some paperbacks, because when you fall asleep reading with a flashlight you don’t want it to hurt when the book hits your chest.

 Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999) – Recently re-“read” as an audio book with my two sons. We all loved the characters and laughed out loud a lot during this touching novel of the depression-era Flint, Michigan. The story unfolds through the eyes of Bud, not Buddy, a child on the run from his latest foster home. I loved listening to a strong audio narrator of this superb novel by an award-winning author. I also loved reading it long ago when it was first published. Enjoy! ~Lisa Christie

 

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett (2011) – This book is amazing. It has an awesome narrator – a legally blind boy who was left on the doorstep of his paternal grandparents’ home when he was an infant. His family struggles to make ends meet, but they have love, a junk store, a lot of amazingly unique bits of wisdom and a town library to end all libraries. And yes, it is at the library where he makes his very first ever friend and has the adventure of a lifetime involving Darwin’s journals, a British Museum, his father, creating a newspaper and so much more.  And it all happens over the course of one summer – really it does. ~Lisa Christie

 The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld by Jon and Pamela Voelkel – The first of series in which a middle schooler must save his parents who have been abducted while on an archeological mission in Central America. The third book in this series will greet any new fans at summer’s end as it is out in September. ~Lisa Christie

Bonus: Adult “Camping” fare:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012).  This book will have readers itching to pack up their hiking boots and set out on an adventure. “Wild” is not only the excellent story of the author’s summer-long trek along the Pacific Coast Trail at age twenty-six, but it is also a wonderfully crafted piece of writing. Strayed, brazenly and amazingly unprepared, sets off from a trail head in southern California with no hiking experience and without ever having weighed her backpack, but with plenty of pluck, spunk, and determination. Strayed, now in her mid-forties, honestly tells of her long walk and of the complex workings of her inner-landscape at the time.  This is a gratifying read that is full of emotional and physical challenges and rewards, interesting characters, beautiful scenery, and sore feet – and of growing muscles in both body and spirit. ~Lisa Cadow

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