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Archive for the ‘Armchair Travelers’ Category

Some Books for Book Clubs, and Anyone Looking for a Great Read

imagesWe were privileged to visit a local book club to present a few books for them to consider reading together. Their graciousness was incredible, and their appreciation for our ideas inspired us to share our picks with all of you. As you will see, we were slightly carried away and included MANY books by a diverse group of authors on many topics. So, our reviews are by necessity brief. To help you navigate this long list, we organized the titles in very loose categories, with a caveat that many would fit in multiple places. We hope this list inspires you to read some great books during these deliciously long summer days.

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Fiction – just for laughs/fun/easy reading/escape

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013) – Mom runs away from Seattle playground dramatics (and fulfills a fantasy felt by many at one point their parenting lives).

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life as a 1960s BBC sitcom star.

Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – Life of an American English professor becomes complicated when she spends a term in England with a younger colleague. It is a fun read that also won the Pulitzer.

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – Run-away bride drives home to Sonoma County and is helped through decisions about what happens next by her complicated family.  Bonus — readers learn a lot about the history of Sonoma’s transition to vineyards.

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A love story told backwards beginning with the deaths of the main characters from a fall off a cliff on Mallorca to the moment they met decades before.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) – A fun, well-told tale of suburban parenting.

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Fiction – slightly more serious

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (1997) – Dramatic, different, compelling. All the things a story should be.

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – The story of Teddy from Atkinson’s Life After Life.  A great read for WWII fiction fans, fans of pilots and those of you who ever wondered what might have been.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – Two remarkable characters try to survive the siege of Leningrad. Wicked with fun, yet poignant.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2014) – Contemporary Ireland after the fiscal meltdown provides the background for a superb cast of characters. Enjoy.

Any novel by Halldor Laxness (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.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – Set in the aftermath of the collapse of civilization this tells the story of a Hollywood star, a savior and a cast of actors wandering what used to be the Great Lakes.

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2013) – Set ten years after civilization collapses, a man, his conscience and his dog try to figure out life.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – A page-turning fictional account of Margaret Mead’s life. Enjoy your time in the Samoan backcountry.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – A fictional account of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In this book the author pictures her as a superb story-teller who becomes a memorable protagonist for a great piece of historical fiction.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – A classic tale of the American Midwest and the American immigration story.

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A saga spanning the 20th century in China and Los Angeles. Enjoy this tale of how a father’s love for China shapes his daughter’s life. We have recommended this to many book clubs – including an all men club – with great success.

The Submission by Amy Waldman  (2012) – This fiction answers what happens when the winning design for a monument for 9-11 is awarded to a Muslim.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – A story by a first time author, who also happens to work in a facility for the mentally ill, about a young man’s struggle with mental illness.  Not as depressing as that sounds.

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – A tale of immigration to America, the pull of the home country, and how some decisions by your parents have ramifications for you for the rest of your life.

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Pairings of books – because sometimes reading books back to back enhances the experience

The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) and In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent (2000)These two books are gorgeously written and approach the Civil War from two different settings, an isolated holler in North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont.

On Beauty (2008) by Zadie Smith with Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910) – On Beauty beautifully retells Howard’s End, a classic tale of England.

Prep (2004) and American Wife (2008) by Curtis Sittenfeld – In these two books, Ms. Sittenfeld tackles Prep School and former first lady Laura Bush.  Both will leave you thinking differently.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person  (2012) – Madame Bovary plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

Girl At War by Sara Novic (2015) with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Both books tackle the impact of war – one in Croatia and one in Chechnya – on those left in its wake.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) and Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2008) – Both books look at WWII from the perspective of the Spanish Civil War.  Mr. Furst explores this theme using a thriller, Ms. Sansome in a more traditional historical novel.

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These words begin this novel about a mixed race Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan (2015) – This novel explores the consequences of bullying in a tale of a high school girl who moves from NYC to a football obsessed town in Alabama.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – A story of how one boy is trying not to let a tragic accident define his life and how a girl with a disfigured face shows him the way (sort of).   

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A tale for middle grade readers that illustrates the importance of perspectives and prejudice.  The plot can be summed as a black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man.  This book shows there is more to that tale.

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Short Stories/poetry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection of short stories – some completely haunting — by a master storyteller.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (2014) – Stories about Communists in the USA and abroad.

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Memoir

H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2015) – TH White, birds and dealing with the loss of a father mingle in this well-told memoir.

Any book by Alexandra Fuller – A superb set of memoirs about growing up in Africa and finding one’s place in the world.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway (1964) – A FABULOUS tale of life as an American ex-pat in Paris that is sprinkled with the famous — the Hemingways, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and others.

West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – SUPERB tale of a woman and her life in flight, as a horse trainer and as a woman making her way in 20th century Africa.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (2007) – The author of All the Light We Cannot See first wrote this memoir of his year in Rome on a writing fellowship with his wife and newly born twins.

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Current Issues

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – Timely collection of lectures about race in the USA.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – These poems are cleverly illustrated and outlined in a way that opens conversations about race in the USA.

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History

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) – The historian tackles two brothers and their impact on the world. Or you could read his Truman or John Adams and then watch the primaries and discuss USA politics all night long.

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Essays

Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – A collection of essays about America, Americans and how to live.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) – Mr, Chabon has written a superb group of thoughts about being a man, fatherhood, being a son and friend. Enjoy.

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imgres-2It is the season of Dads and Grads. And, we can think of no better gift to mark their special day(s) than a superb book. So to help you find the perfect gift for every special Dad or Grad in your life this June, we have created a short, but diverse, list of possibilities. (Note: Our picks for Dads from last year  – http://thebookjamblog.com/2013/06/11/june-10-dads-turn-books-for-fathers-day/ – still make great gifts too.)

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)— Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. Fathers will appreciate a superbly crafted story about a man as he becomes a war hero, lover, husband, father, grandfather, and finally senior citizen. History buffs will love the depictions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Pilots and lovers of planes will appreciate the detailed descriptions of how WWII era planes worked. Grads will love that this is just a good story. Fans of Life After Life (this category includes the Book Jam Lisas) will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner. This novel focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have and is basically a book about a lovely man living his life in extraordinary times.  Please buy this for the Dads in your life, and then pick it up yourself to read at some point this summer. (Small disclaimer — It took about 60 pages for me to get into the rhythm of this novel; but I am so glad I stuck it out as the story, particularly the ending, has stayed with me long after closing the last page.) ~ Lisa Christie

H is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald (2014) — Readers, be ready to take flight with this brilliant 2014 Costa Book of the Year award winner. It was a bestseller in England and is now being hand sold as a favorite by indie booksellers in the United States. After MacDonald’s father dies unexpectedly, she embarks upon a journey of healing and discovery that begins with training a goshawk named Mabel. In truth, her avian journey began many years before with her childhood love of birds and falconry — but to train a goshawk! These are the mother of all birds: challenging, nervous, prone to tantrums, and requiring daily manning. Her focus turns to Mabel by necessity, but also as a way through her grief. In the process, she deepens her self-knowledge and also her respect and understanding of birds. She simultaneously leads the reader on a quest to better know the enigmatic TH White (who was a falconer and author of The Once and Future King).  H is for Hawk is nature writing at its best, leaving the reader turning the last page marvelling at the creatures with whom we share the world and yearning for our own healing encounter with the wild. ~Lisa Cadow

Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life (2015) — This book is for sports lovers, and anyone who has ever parented or coached a kid playing any sport of any kind.  The “Manifesto” expands upon a letter St. Louis Cardinal’s Manager Mike Matheny wrote to parents of a little league team he agreed to coach. The philosophy Mr. Matheny expressed in the letter outlined (among other things) his strongly held beliefs that authority should be respected, discipline and hard work rewarded, and humility considered a virtue. In this book he builds on that letter by offering a hopeful path beyond the (unfortunately) often typical path of poor behavior from sports parents, fans and leagues. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) — Books by Mr. McCullough are like comfort food – you know the style of the prose (plain-spoken, yet somehow soaring), the general premise (history), and that you will learn something. In this book, he takes on the Wright brothers. You may think you know all you need to know about The Wright Brothers from elementary school history – they invented the airplane, because of them Ohio and North Carolina fight over who was first in flight, and they owned a bicycle shop. But, you probably did not know they first gained recognition in France, that one of their first models had a canoe on bottom in case it landed in the ocean, and that their sister was brilliant too. A great gift for history buffs and anyone looking for a story of how two ordinary men accomplished a superbly extraordinary thing. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) — A perfect gift for the dads and grads who are news junkies or interested in social justice issues, or for any of us who are trying to make sense of today’s news about race. This collection of four essays by renowned psychologist and Spellman College President Dr. Tatum focuses on race in America. While each has a school-based slant, the questions they raise and the information they impart is important for anyone to consider as we navigate the recent news about race in America. Please note that though the pieces were written over seven years ago their wisdom and questions remain timely. ~ Lisa Christie

Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (2013) — Every once in awhile I pick up a book on how to write – favorites being Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. (Both King’s and Lamott’s books would be great gifts as well.) This “new to me” volume of advice joins those favorites. The authors’ relationship, their joint adventures together as editor and writer, and their love of a good story that is well-told, propel this clearly-written volume of advice on writing. This will make a great gift for any graduate (or Dad) who will be writing as they continue their education, any “would-be” writer, or honestly, any lover of well-written books. ~ Lisa Christie

And, a repeat review, but it is probably our favorite collection of essays about Dads/Men so we are OK with that.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) — One of our favorite collections of essays ever.  Reading this will make you appreciate dads and men.  It will also make you appreciate Mr. Chabon’s writing. And, it may make you laugh and cry a bit. Younger graduates might also enjoy this collection as many of the essays focus on the mistakes and triumphs of Mr. Chabon’s youth. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

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Is there a better way to spend a night than dining with fellow bibliophiles discussing a book you’ve all read and loved – with dishes and delicacies designed to compliment the book? This is exactly what happens during a spring fundraiser in Vermont. On this delicious evening, participants and hosts literally eat their favorite words.

On both April 25 and May 2, in the second iteration of Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library will serve dinners in their homes to raise money for our fabulous librarians and the facility they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts have selected to be the theme for their evening. To add intrigue and an element of the unknown, paying dinner guests choose which dinner to attend by picking the book of their choice. The location and hosts are only revealed after the books and all the guests have been matched.

How does this relate to books for you to read? The event is hosted by a diverse group of readers, and wow did they provide an eclectic selection of books again this year. They selected great fiction, off-the-beaten-path nonfiction, a British mystery or two, and even a travel guide. The books selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your literary preference.

We asked this year’s dinner hosts to provide a brief review of why they picked their title; and, we share their selections and thoughts with you below. Happy reading! For those of you near the Upper Valley, we hope you can join us at one of these delicious Tables of Content.

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The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2012) – Climb out your window and disappear!  In the style of Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, we promise an unpredictable and playful evening.  This “mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling novel about aging disgracefully” will provide the perfect springboard for a night of spinning yarns and celebrating our days.  Slippers encouraged.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887) – A Study In Scarlet is the book that introduced Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the world, and launched a whole genre of detective fiction. Come along and share a Victorian English dinner while we discuss the great detective, his various TV and movie incarnations, and anything else that comes up – perhaps other great fictional detectives past and present.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – Engage all of your senses as we seek the unseen world.  We will taste France and discuss chance encounters that change lives.  We might grapple with how time, technology, obsession, or risk connect us all with invisible threads.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – Join us for an evening of music and food inspired by Ann Patchett’s brilliant novel ‘Bel Canto’.  In the book, a bunch of strangers are assembled for a celebratory birthday party somewhere in South America when a band of terrorists interrupt the festivities. With lyrical writing that intrigues and captivates, Ms. Patchett explores how different characters react to prolonged captivity and how romance and compassion can arise from tense circumstances.  We promise we won’t hold you hostage.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – A thriller-page turner. Neither my husband nor I could put it down.“City of Thieves” follows a character named Lev Beniov, the son of a revered Soviet Jewish poet who was “disappeared” in the Stalinist purges, as Lev and an accomplice carryout an impossible assignment during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. Before Lev begins to tell his story, however, a young Los Angeles screenwriter named David visits his grandfather in Florida, pleading for his memories of the siege. A Spring dinner that promises no borscht.

The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby (2006) – We’ve all been raised with a few ground rules of etiquette: say please and thank you; don’t chew with your mouth open; and don’t ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table! We’re inviting you to break the rules and to join us for an evening of cross-cultural food and meaningful conversation inspired by The Faith Club. This compelling book tells the story of three mothers, their three religions, and their quest to understand one another. Amidst challah and couscous, shish kabobs and hot cross buns, we’re looking forward to tasty treats and great conversations!

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – Rachel takes the same commuter train everyday to and from London. The train stops briefly beside a row of suburban houses that allows her to see the same couple day after day. She even fantasizes that she knows them and gives them names. Then one day she looks at their houseand sees something shocking, and her whole life spins out of control. This book speeds along like a commuter train. You can’t wait to turn the next page. And you can be sure to start our evening we will be serving Rachel’s favorite, gin and tonic in a can.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934) – What could be more fun than fussy Hercule Poirot traveling first class on the Orient Express?  Join us for an elegant evening to celebrate this classic Agatha Christie novel.  Who did it?

Rick Steves’ Greece (2013) – Have you been to Greece or is it on your bucket list? Either way, your hosts will help you enjoy an evening of conversation, connection, and good food, all inspired by the guidebook of that preeminent traveler Rick Steves, who notes that the Greeks were responsible for democracy, mathematics, medicine, theater, and astronomy, among many other accomplishments. Please bring along your own Greek travel treasures and mementos, your stories, and your questions—or your copy of Oedipus Rex! You may want to sample a traditional retsina or a glass of ouzo, but Greece is also well-known for some lovely, simple wines that are sure to please.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011) – Join us for a night inspired by the exhilaration, frustration, inspiration and growth that comes with coming of age as a twenty-something in New York City.  We’ll enjoy some jazz as we kick off the night but keep the music evolving to match our mood over the evening, all to accompany a NYC-inspired menu full of flavor and flair.  This book read like a crisp, delicious glass of bubbly for me – so there will be plenty of that to accompany our dinnertime discussion and delights. Oh – and we’ll be leaving the fleece, clogs and Upper Valley casual wear in the closet and donning something a bit more fun – we hope you’ll be inspired to have a little fashion fun too.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – While we wish we could discuss Go Set a Watchman, this dinner occurs before its July 14th publication date. So to help us prepare for the prequel/sequel – already a New York Times Best-seller – we will revisit Harper Lee’s amazing novel and eat genuine southern food. Yes, we will open our copies of the Junior League Cookbooks from Memphis, Pensacola and Charleston. Don’t worry, we won’t deep-fry anything – except maybe the cracklin’ bread – but we will show you what southern hospitality entails.

And, just in case you thought this list could not get any better — as an added bonus, the Norwich Bookstore will donate 20% of the purchase price of any of the Tables of Content‘s books to the Norwich Public Library! You need only mention to the bookseller that the book is for Tables of Content. We thank the Norwich Bookstore for their generosity.

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So a cold, snowy Vermont February is here once more, and again we find ourselves asking, “Do we create a specific post for African-American history month, or does creating a specific post somehow minimize the contributions of people of color?” This question led to — “Do we skip this year’s post, or do we again use this month as a reason to highlight the contributions of African-Americans and African-American authors?” And finally we asked, “How can thinking about these questions help us improve The Book Jam?” We answered that last question first by doing a quick audit of our site looking at our posts from the past 12 months, to see the races/ethnicities of authors we have showcased.

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We found that during the past 12 months, we reviewed 140 books. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” posts as we do not choose all those books.) Over half (57%) were written by white authors from the USA, 24% by white authors not from the USA (mostly Brits, Canadians, Australians and a few Africans), and 19% were written by authors of color (Asian, Black, Indian, Latinos) from anywhere in the world. We noted that featured authors of color tend to be African-American (50%), followed by Latino (37%), and Indian/Asian (13%). Our gender break-down was more even, with 54% of books we reviewed written by women and 46% by men. We also looked at the images we insert into the posts (beyond the frequent book covers), and noted that we tend to insert images of objects, not people. But, we were uncomfortable to note that when we do insert images of people, they tend to be white.

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This audit led to a vow to be more aware of inserting pictures of people of all races and to feature more authors of color in 2015 — and beyond, in all our posts. We believe “you are what you read” and that reading from a diverse set of perspectives enriches you; so we will strive for more diversity. Our reflection also landed us on the side of using this month to give air time to recent books by authors who are African-American or ones that highlight the African-American experience. This decision was reinforced by an African-American student at Dartmouth College who reminded us recently, “sometimes it just helps for the white person in the room to be the one to raise the race issue.”

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So, after all the build up, we are pleased to share the latest GREAT books we have read that happen to have been penned by African-American authors. We think we have something for everyone here: some fiction, some poetry, some non-fiction and some items for children and young adults. And we sincerely hope our selections help you enjoy some great books this month.

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How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen. ~ Lisa Christie

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014) – I fall hard just about every time an author uses free verse to tell a story to children (e.g., Love That Dog by Sharon Creech). And Ms. Woodson’s prose paints powerful images in this National Book Award winning autobiography about growing up a “brown girl” during the 1960s and 1970s in South Carolina, Ohio and New York.  Her story emerges a book about the Civil Rights movement, growing up, and finding one’s voice as a writer. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – This slim volume was a National Book Award finalist and offers a powerful way to meditate on what race means in the USA today.  Using news events, such as Hurricane Katrina or another professional tennis player imitating Serena Williams by stuffing towels under her outfits to enhance her bottom and breasts, Ms. Rankine contemplates both what it means to be Black in the USA, and what part we all play as events unfold and we chose what to acknowledge and feel. I think it is important to note that I did not read this in one sitting; but instead, I picked it up, read a bit, thought, put it down for awhile, and repeated. I recommend consuming this book in the same manner, or in one fell swoop. But no matter how you read it, you will be glad you did. ~ Lisa Christie (and Lisa Cadow)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We LOVED this book but use the prose of Penny McConnel, co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore to describe it. Thanks Penny! “This amazing book has filled me with such great joy, interest and admiration both during and after I completed it. Efemelu, a young smart Nigerian girl dreams of someday going to America. When she does, her eyes are opened to so much more than she had anticipated; most importantly racism. Back home in Nigeria Efemelu had never thought about being black because everyone was, but when she arrived in the states, she discovered the heavy weight of race that burdens both the black and white populations. In the states she graduates from college, has several relationships with good men and ultimately writes a very popular blog called “Understanding America For The Non White American.” Throughout these years, Efemelu has never forgotten Obinze, the young Nigerian boy she fell in love with in high school and the reader never stops hoping that they will eventually find each other. This is a contemporary story that is not just another story of immigration, but one of identity, love and powerful insights. Adichie is a powerful voice in contemporary fiction; a brave writer whose work I look forward to reading more of.” ~ Penny McConnel (Seconded by Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie)

Matthew Henson: Artic Adventurer by Graphic Library (2006) – I am ashamed to say I had no idea an African American, along with two Inuit men, were with Admiral Robert Peary when he successfully traveled to the North Pole and on his previous unsuccessful attempts. I am grateful this graphic biography for children brought these men to my attention. THANK YOU to our town’s children’s librarian for putting this book in my sons’ hands. (But I will add, shame on me and shame on American history books for not highlighting Mr. Henson. And, shame on us still, for not talking about the Inuits who made the success possible.) ~ Lisa Christie

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selena Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls (2015) – Mr. Qualls received a Coretta Scott King Honor award for his previous work, and his illustrations for The Case for Loving are “spot on” in their inviting nature. In this picture book (also recently reviewed by The New York Times), Mr. Qualls teams with his wife to tell the story of Loving Versus Virginia, a landmark civil rights decision of the US Supreme Court that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriages, a case resonating as we watch legal decisions over gay marriage unfold. But, beyond its importance, this book tells the story of love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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The Book Jam’s 2014 Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

Well, it is that time of year again. Time to think of gifts for the people in your life. Time to cook amazing meals to share with family and friends. And, we truly hope, time to curl up with a few good books yourself. (OK maybe that last part only happens after the relatives have left.)

To help you find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, we have assembled some of our favorites from our 2014 reading. Not all were published this year, which means many are available in a less expensive paperback form. And, once again to help you envision the perfect recipient for each book, we have assembled our selections in somewhat artificial categories (e.g., fiction for men who have enough tech, but not enough good fiction). Please use them as a guide, not as strict rules about who can and should read any of these picks.

For your convenience, each of our picks is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site (or Waterstones’ site for a few not yet available in the USA). Thus, you do not have to leave your computer to check these items off your list (Happy Cyber Monday). Finally, we truly hope our selections help take a bit of stress out of the shopping aspect of this whirlwind season. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOW STORM

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How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman (2014) – The theme for our lives this year in the kitchen keep is simple, keep it fast. This cookbook fits the bill. Most of the recipes take half an hour to prepare – nothing more than a cool forty-five minutes. This food Bittman showcases reads like a “best of” menu from your favorite pub. And ,it’s just what you want to eat after a long day at working or shuttling kids. It’s comfort food with a modern twist. There’s the Kale Caesar with Roasted Asparagus, 30 Minute Chicken Tagine, the Chicken, Bacon, Avocado, and Tomato Wrap, Provencal Tomato Soup with Fennel, even quick Skillet Fruit Crisp.  Treat yourself or a friend to this new culinary treasury.

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Make It Ahead by Ina Garten (2014) – Ina Garten’s recipes are always sure to please, and this book is no exception. Leafing through its pages, looking at the gorgeous photos makes the reader feel like they are visiting their favorite caterer’s take away shop. These are recipes that you can make for your next dinner gathering or deliver to a friend who needs a meal. We love the updated Roast Chicken with Bread and Arugula Salad (a short cut on the Zuni Cookbook classic), Carrot and Cauliflower Puree, and Winter Slaw (with kale, Brussels sprouts, and radicchio). Each recipe gives tips to the home cook for steps to perform ahead of time and assemble at the last minute. No kitchen library is complete without a few of Ina Garten’s classic cookbooks.

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi (2014) – Well, he has done it again. Mr. Ottolenghi has produced a book that makes you want to start cooking now, preferably beginning with his first recipe and proceeding all the way through to the end. And of course, you will be tasting delicious dish after dish along the way.  (And honestly, we like that this is less of a travel log than Mr. Ottolenghi’s  Jerusalem, and instead is a “fun to look at / fun to try” collection of recipes.) Note this is a perfect reference book for those of you feeding vegetarians over the holidays.

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Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton (2014) – You’ve got to admire not only Gabrielle Hamilton’s uber food-sense and culinary artistry but also her razor-sharp edginess. Prune, the cookbook, is the product of her years as a restauranteur in Brooklyn and her bistro with the same name. Her literary voice shines through in each recipe (if you haven’t already, do read Hamilton’s brilliant food memoir Blood Bones and Butter, 2011). She writes with the intent to teach the home cook, but her recipes emerge from the perspective of a restaurant chef (quantities are in orders, not servings, descriptions of how much to order for a weekend crowd are included, faux splatters and finger prints on the pages make the reader feel as though they are looking are her private notes). But Hamilton is definitely not going for the Miss Congeniality award. She lectures, scolds, treats the reader like a “stagiere” in her restaurant. We are inclined to run – not walk –  to forage for the ingredients for her Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage.

NON-FICTION/REFERENCE/POETRY: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK & CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE



How to be an explorer of the world by Keri Smith (2008) – We somehow missed this when it was first published, but are loving it now. In this journal, readers are encouraged to explore and document the world around them. Readers are told to take notes, to collect things they find on their travels, to notice patterns and to focus on one thing at a time in a series of illustrated prompts.  This would make a great “What do we do now? We’re bored” solution generator.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – We know we have reviewed this before. But now, this tale of how nine men from the University of Washington showed the world what true grit really means during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, is available in paperback and would make a great gift for anyone presenting gift difficulties this holiday season.

MEMOIRS, MOSTLY ABOUT TRAVEL: TALES FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T GET AWAY TO FAR-OFF LANDS AS OFTEN AS THEY WISH

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Heminway (1964) – We are so glad we finally got around to reading (Lisa Christie) or re-reading (Lisa Cadow) this memoir.  His Paris is a place we would have loved to have visited, and the characters involved are all the more amazing as they are historical figures you know from many other contexts (e.g., Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald).

Brazilian Adventure: A Quest into the Heart of the Amazon

Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1933) – This travel log is superb,and honestly took us by surprise with how much we loved it. The story begins when the narrator, a London literary editor, signs on for an expedition to find Colonel PH Fawcett, who has gone missing in the Amazon.  With self-depreciating humor, Mr. Fleming proceeds to explore how an expedition comes together, embarks and continues in the face of hardships of 3,000 miles of wilderness. Have fun with this one. We honestly can not recommend it highly enough.

ADULT FICTION: FOR A WOMAN WHO ONLY HAS TIME FOR THE BEST FICTION

Unknown-1Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)  – Buckle up your backpacks and get ready for playground politics and the modern parenting. The lives of three mothers converge on the first day of kindergarten at an upscale elementary school in coastal Australia. Observant, humorous, a tad bit dark, this “un-putdownable” book (by the author of What Alice Forgot 2012) explores the lies that we all tell ourselves and each other. Part mystery (someone ends up dead, but who?), part social commentary, part page-turner, this book is sure not to disappoint.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – We discovered this haunting tale of Iceland in Rhode Island at Island Books, and we are very glad we did. Ms. Kent does a superb job of taking the true stories of 1) Agnes, a woman convicted of murdering two men, of 2) the family who must house Agnes while she awaits her execution, of 3) Toti, the Reverend who must save Agnes’s soul, and combining them into a fabulous first novel.

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (2014) – It is almost as if Gail Carson Levine created one of her fairy tale retellings for grown-ups.  In this novel, Ms. Blackwell tells the “true story” of Sleeping Beauty, with explanations of why she was lying in the tower when the Prince came, who exactly were Millicent and Flora, and why the king and queen feared spinning wheels.  It is truly a page-turning tale of family, secrets, and promises. Read it and enjoy losing yourself in an unique telling of a well-known tale.

ADULT FICTION: FOR A MAN WHO HAS ENOUGH TECH, BUT NOT ENOUGH GOOD FICTION

The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dec 2013)- The latest Department Q novel shows how the misfit threesome stuck in the bowels of the Copenhagen Police Department have melded into an effective cold-case solving unit, and a worthy family.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) – This book shows how a thriller becomes a powerful novel; it provides a superb author, a historical plot and intense situations with characters you care about. We especially liked the Spanish Civil War angle in this well-plotted tale.  Enjoy this one and then pick up one of Mr. Furst’s many other superb historical thrillers.

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home (which is promptly burned to the ground). Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters (e.g., the daughter of the abducted man, the father of a despised informant, a doctor trying to hold together a hospital with only three staff members) in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. We can not praise it enough.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – Truly terrific. A well-crafted tale of three anthropologists and their time observing and living with the various peoples in the Territory of New Guinea. Set between the two World Wars, Ms. King explores a complex love triangle among these gifted and often confused young scientists. This novel is loosely based upon real life events from the life of Margaret Mead — all from her trip to the Sepik River in New Guinea, during which Mead and her husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson. It has us searching for nonfiction treatments of her life. The New York Times agrees that this book is a “must read”.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – We love her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, so we leapt at the chance to read some short stories by Ms. Mantel.  The collection is diverse and always interesting, from a piece about when you know a marriage has ended to the title story about an assassin, she keeps you guessing about what is really going on with each character.  Pick this up and enjoy them one at a time or in one fell swoop.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a fabulous World War II novel (yes, dear readers, there is room for another title in this genre) that tells the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl from Paris, and Werner, a brilliant German boy with a gift for math, radios and engineering. Their seemingly disparate lives converge in the seaside fortress town on St. Malo, France in 1944. The author does and excellent job of slowly building the suspense and pace throughout the novel turning it into a real page-turner by the time the bombs start dropping in Brittany. Many people are describing this as “the book of the year”, and we just might have to agree.

BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

The Misadventures of Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (2014) – Two dads adopt four sons, and chaos and so, so, so much love ensue.  Boys we know LOVED this book.  And, we must say it was completely entertaining listening for all ages on a car trip to Maine.

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli (2014) – What do you do when your LITTLE brother gets all the credit for saving your neighbor’s life when you helped too? Or when your best-friend and the boy down the block don’t quite get you? Or when you don’t get a part in the community theater’s play? Why, you become Emily Dickenson of course; but then you discover being a recluse is not as easy as it seems.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014) – Publishers Weekly says “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” That fan base includes us; so, we were thrilled to read this. The plot follows Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan as she tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. Characters include her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing else but working on her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea (and certainly not caring for Theodora). The book shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends, and it introduces viewers both to the world of beautiful and important art, and to the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book!

The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair by SS Taylor with superb illustrations by Katherine Roy (2014) – The Wests are back and embroiled in an amazing adventure involving underwater secrets, pirates and lessons about friendship love and family. If you have not yet read the first book, start with The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (2012)  – Great atmosphere surrounds this story of an orphan girl and her two friends as they travel from a London boarding school to Russia and are thrown from a train into the snow, rescued by a princess (or is she?) and brought to a decaying castle surrounded by wolves, legends and tragedy. You sort of see the end coming, but it doesn’t matter as you are so fully immersed in Russia you don’t care.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (2014) – West Side Story with an African American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world – even if it requires navigating wanting to respect one’s parents while still rebelling from their rules.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and unfortunately a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – An excellent debut novel about the power of all the things left unsaid in a family. How secrets hurt. How children try so hard to please their parents. How parents’ expectations, even if well-meaning, can crush. How you must live your life, not the life others expect you to live.  All of this is intwined in the story of Lydia and her family (three mixed race children and their Chinese father and Caucasian mother living in 1970s Ohio) after she is found dead in a lake. Read it. (Note many people review this as an adult book, but we see it as a YA coming of age novel.)

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting

The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting by Holly Bourne (2014) – WOW, Ms. Bourne grabs you from the opening premise and keeps you turning pages.  Yes, you know that disaster awaits, but you are so hoping that somehow it all ends well.  Please read this with your favorite High Schooler.  We think it might open up some great conversations about mean girls, horrid boys, cutting, suicide, finding great friendships, and the meaning of life.

PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS

Once Upon An Alphabet (2014) and The Day the Crayons Quit (2013) by Oliver Jeffers – Author of our favorite picture book from last year – The Day the Crayons Quit – has penned a series of short stories based upon each letter of the alphabet. His droll nature gets kids thinking about letters and life. (Disclaimer: this book could be considered a bit dark for some children in the way Roald Dahl was a bit dark, so please pre-read if you are concerned about gifting this to kids you know.) Please note that we recommend this as a read-aloud with your young kids, as the ratio of prose to pictures is rather high, and as stated above, a bit sophisticated. And, if you missed The Day the Crayons Quit last year, we highly recommend gifting it to someone special this year. Crayons is a much more traditional picture book for children that is funny, funny, funny!

New York in Four Seasons by Michael Storrings (2014) – A picture book for adults and kids that is actually a love story for New York.  You might recognize Mr. Storrings’ drawings from Christmas ornaments.  In this book, his pictures powerfully illustrate a city he LOVES, and his prose tells you why you should love it too. Great illustrations include Central Park, Coney Island, and some more seasonal items – Christmas windows, 4th of July fireworks and the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. We envision this as the perfect gift from New Yorkers, former New Yorkers or New Yorker wanna-bes to give to anyone they want to love NYC too.

Atlas of Adventures: A Collection of Natural Wonders, Exciting Experiences and Fun Festivities from the Four Corners of the Globe

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) – We would describe this as similar to MAPS, which we reviewed last year and still recommend to anyone who has missed it. Ms. Letherland’s book encourages the reader through fun illustrations and some well selected prose, to travel the world to have adventures specific to unique locations. A GREAT holiday gift, but one that is not available in the USA until 2015 (so put it on your lists for 2015 US fans), but available in Europe now for Book Jam readers overseas.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.)  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the week leading up to their engagement.  Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.
This post we feature Deirdre Heekin — proprietor and wine director Osteria Pane e Salute in Woodstock, Vermont (where her husband, Caleb Barber, is head chef), Middlebury College alum, and of course, author.  Her previous books include In Late Winter We Ate Pearsa memoir/cookbook she and her husband wrote about their year in Italy and Libation, a Bitter AlchemyHeekin’s book of essays about how she came to make wine and liqueurs.
Ms. Heekin will visit the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on October 29th to discuss her latest book, An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Just call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat. Please note this event will take place in the newly expanded section of our beloved Norwich Bookstore. CONGRATULATIONS to the owners and booksellers there — both for 20 years of serving readers with great books and gifts, and for their new space.
 
1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?
I’m actually including four! Reading Between the Vines by Terry Theise, Naked Wine by Alice Feiring, False Papers by Andre Aciman, and Swann’s Way (Remembrance of Things Passed) by Marcel Proust.
  • Terry Theise‘s writing about wine, landscape, and the winegrowers he profiles is some of the most soulful, evocative and precise wine writing out there and very moving. His work inspires me to try to write with the same kind of balanced intention and heart.
  • Alice Feiring‘s work is eloquent and provocative. I admire her courage in writing things as she sees them, her willingness to drive a discussion that she feels is important, and to write about her own arguments honestly and with humility, humor, and flair.
  • Andre Aciman has long been a favorite prose stylist. He writes with longing, melancholy, joy, curiosity and nostalgia. He is a consummate craftsman, the crystalline and fluid prose he shapes with great care and an uncanny sense of place.
  • Marcel Proust‘s examination of memory has always delighted and inspired me. So much of what I write about is based on memory and I have learned so much from reading and rereading his work recreating the world in which his past exists.
2. What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
I would love to meet with the writers Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck, over a coffee or a glass of wine at their magical gardens. Their work of writing, creating, and living together was a testament to the power of their relationship as well as a benchmark for the art of the written word and shaping a landscape, guiding the narrative of a place, its plants and the people who live there. Their work together, and now Joe’s alone, is also in my top five writers who have influenced how and why I am an author today.

 
3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

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There are so many books that we could list as perfect books for these last fleeting weeks of summer.  However, we recognize reading time is limited, and we severely limited our picks to help you choose the right book(s) for you.

We hope you enjoy our selections. And we truly hope, that whatever you choose to read during these last weeks of summer, you have a great time reading; we know we will.

FC9781594631573The Vacationers by Emma Straub (2014) – Put on your sun block and travel to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca with Manhattan’s Post family  for their two-week summer vacation. Things are not as they immediately appear however, for parents Franny and Jim who are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary or for their 28 year-old son and college-bound 18 year-old daughter. Author Straub slowly reveals the issues, skeletons, and neuroses of the Posts as well as those of the house guests who are accompanying them for this adventure. As a reader, I appreciated the way the characters’ concerns were slowly shared –  as well as were the the sights, sounds, beaches, nightclubs and even grocery stores of the island. There’s a little something for everyone in this book (i.e., love, remorse, redemption, parenting, cooking, a beautiful Spanish villa) which makes it the  perfect summer read. ~ Lisa Cadow

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – Truly terrific. A well-crafted tale of three anthropologists and their time observing and living with the various peoples in the Territory of New Guinea. Set between the two World Wars, Ms. King explores a complex love triangle among three gifted and often confused young scientists. This novel is loosely based upon real life events from the life of Margaret Mead — all from a trip to the Sepik River in New Guinea, during which Mead and her husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson —  and it has me searching for nonfiction treatments of her life. The New York Times agrees that this book is a must read this summer. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781476746586All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a fabulous World War II novel (yes, dear readers, there is room for another title in this genre) that tells the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl from Paris, and Werner, a brilliant German boy with a gift for math, radios and engineering. Their seemingly disparate lives converge in the seaside fortress town on St. Malo, France in 1944. The author does and excellent job of slowly building the suspense and pace throughout the novel turning it into a real page-turner by the time the bombs start dropping in Brittany. Many people are describing this as “the book of the summer”, and I just might have to agree. ~ Lisa Cadow

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 is US) – This haunting tale of Iceland (we at the Book Jam love Icelandic tales), takes the true stories of Agnes – a woman convicted of murdering two men, of the family of four forced to house her while she awaits her execution, and of Toti – the Reverend charged with saving her soul, and then combines them into a fabulous first novel. As winter unfolds, each night after the day’s work is completed, Agnes narrates her version of the events leading up to the murders for anyone willing to listen. The tale she weaves is haunting for all those hearing her; you will remember this novel long after you finish.~ Lisa Christie

Please note that this will be our last post until mid-September — we have “gone reading” for the month of August. We look forward to sharing our “gone reading” finds with you in our Autumn posts.

 

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