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Archive for the ‘Belly Laughs’ Category

Since in the very near future many, many people across the USA are heading to airports and getting in cars for April school vacations or for Seder and Easter dinners, we thought we would highlight a few great audio books for you to listen to during those long car rides, or to download to your devices for those plane trips. And since one of us always has young children in the mini-van making adult audio fare impractical for her, and the other Lisa’s work commute is too short for audio books these days, we also asked for help from two of our great local booksellers when we searched for audio-books intended for mostly adult audiences.

No matter where the road takes you, we truly hope you enjoy these picks. And yes, each of these picks is good in the printed form as well.

And, if you do not have a reason to listen to children’s literature, please skip to the end where there are picks just for you.

For families with pre-schoolers to 2nd graders in the car

Magic Tree House Series, by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – Seriously, the phrases “Magic Tree House”, or “Jack and Annie”, are magic to the preschool set. These words are all you need to know to entertain pre-schoolers for hours. We promise. We have recommended these to hundreds of parents and grandparents and have yet to receive a complaint. OK we have heard one – the author, at a book a year, does not write and record fast enough. So now a synopsis of what causes all the fuss. In this series, siblings, named Jack and Annie, time travel in a magic treehouse that appears periodically in the woods near their home. While listening to these books, your kids learn a bit about all sorts of historical times and people, all while thinking they are part of an amazing adventure. You, as the adults in the car, get to know your children will not ask “are we there yet” as long as the audio-book is running. Bonus: The written versions make great early chapter books for emerging readers. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

For families with elementary school aged children in tow (depending upon the kids, probably best for 2nd grade and up)

Same Sun Here by Silas HouseNeela VaswaniHilary Schenker (2012) – An interesting audio book with alternating narrators reading alternating chapters telling the story of two pen pals — one in NYC and one in rural KY — and the adventures they share via printed page and letters mailed through the US Postal service. Bonus: We know it is shocking that they used pen and paper even though email was available (the novel is set just after 9-11), but maybe you can discuss how you survived the “Olden Days” before email as you listen with children. ~ Lisa Christie


Frindle (1996) or No Talking (2007) by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former elementary school teacher and principal who truly seems to understand kids, and seems to have a special place in his heart for young troublemakers. Both of these books take place in a contemporary school setting where students cause a bit of a mess for themselves and/or the adults in their lives. Listen and enjoy the humor of elementary school aged students and the adults who work with them. Bonus: If you like these books, Mr. Clements has written many, many more, and someone has recorded them all for you to hear. ~ Lisa Christie

For families needing a good book to appeal to kids in 3rd to 12th grade

The Hobbit (1937) or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (1954) by JRR Tolkein - The “oh so British” narrator is superb. The content is both interesting enough for the teens in your car and adventurous enough for the elementary school aged. And since the only visuals are in their head, the plot is not too scary for most upper elementary aged kids. Bonus: You can cross some “classics” off your high schooler’s college prep reading lists. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For families with teens and above

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (2003) – The US President won a grammy for his reading of his autobiography.  You will win greater knowledge of his life. Pre-teens and teens can relate to his story of how hard his mother made him work at school.  Parents can ponder his comments about how parenting with his wife Michelle caused him to think hard about divisions of labor in households and the chores that typically fall on women, whether they work outside the home or not. Listen and have fun road-tripping with the President in your ear. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (2002) – Yes, this choice may seem cheesy at first glance, but his life is full of ups and downs that make great stories (alcoholism, stardom, Parkinson’s). The book is well-written and funny. Yes, we said well-written; and yes, he admits he got some advice from his brother-in-law Michael Pollan. Bonus: Honestly, having his voice in your car is like a lovely conversation with a long lost friend or an intense introduction to someone you would like to know. ~ Lisa Christie

For times when mostly adults are listening


NOTE: These next choices are picked by our friends Liza Bernard and Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore. Both have a long enough commutes to listen to numerous audio-books.

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson and read by Bill Bryson (2013) – Humorist Bill Bryson, tackles the events of 1927 in his latest book. The players include Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone. The New York Times review declares this book “a wonderful romp.” Carin’s review of the audio-book, “well done”. ~ picked by Carin 

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Carin says, this novel is “one of the best I have read this year. And, the audio version is well read.”  Both Lisas of the Book Jam loved this book about the Chechnya Conflict as well, and will review it in a post soon. ~ Picked by Carin

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibon (2013) – Katie Kitchel, another great Norwich Bookstore Bookseller, picked this novel as her staff pick recently.  To quote her – “Don’t let the slim size of this novel deceive you. It is full of haunting questions, powerful imagery, and the emotion of a mother who has lost a son. This novel seeks to remind us, that first and foremost, Mary was a mother.” Liza is now recommending the audio-book. Since it is read by Meryl Streep, we have no trouble imagining why. ~ Picked by Liza

Department Q Detective series by Jussi Adler-Olsen (assorted dates) – We have sung the praises of this Danish series in its written form. Now Carin, a very well-read woman, has told us they are delightful in their audio-book form, especially the voice of Assad, the main detective’s trusted assistant. ~ Picked by Carin

Jack Reacher Mysteries by Lee Childs (assorted dates) – “Fun, well-plotted mysteries that are well narrated in the audio form.”  Never Go Back is most recent. ~ Picked by Liza

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The Book Jam is of two minds about African-American history month.  On the one hand, any excuse to delve further into books by amazing authors who are African-American (see Toni Morrison) is a reason to rejoice.  On the other hand, we do not want to seem belittling by focusing on African-American history just because it is February.  And, since one of our sons (who technically is Latino) is identifying as a Black boy, we are especially cognizant of the complicated issues this month brings to light.

Martin Luther King Jr.Civil Rights MovementBlack History FactsAfrican-American Soldiers in the Civil WarHarriet TubmanMarch on WashingtonFreedom Rides

We also recognize that as white women, we can not ever know what it is like to be Black in the USA.  However, we believe as recent well-publicized research about reading has shown, good fiction has the power to transform and teach.  So in that light, and, since The Book Jam often features books by or about African-Americans and/or Africa, we are choosing to look at February as another excuse to highlight more great fiction and nonfiction options by and about African-Americans. May we all learn something. 

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid (2014) – I sincerely hope any Oprah nay-sayers are ready to overlook her pick of this book for her book club.  If you dismiss this novel just because she chose it, you will miss out on a great story. Besides, we honestly believe that any book that helps you understand the day-to-day plight of African-American slaves and the forming of two important American abolitionists is worth your precious reading time.  The narration mostly takes place in Charleston, SC and alternates between the voices of a young woman slave owner and of her young slave.  The prose by the best selling author of The Secret Life of Bees keeps you turning the pages, the characters are interesting, and few of the relationships are simple – which makes you think.  What I most loved about this book — both of the narrators are based upon actual people from history. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (2013) – Yes, that John Lewis, the Congressman and the man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has (with two collaborators) written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Told in flashback as a story relayed to two young constituents who came to visit his Capital Hill offices on the morning of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, this book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and into his student activist days in Nashville.  The pictures perfectly explore how his life must have felt at the time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  According to the authors, the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March proves as inspiring to future leaders.  We are so glad we found this book (thanks to our town’s children’s librarian), and are truly looking forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations Edited by Retha Powers and Henry Louis Gates (2013) – Perfect for anyone interested in history, famous individuals or words of wisdom.  Five thousand (although we took the editors’ word for that number and did not count them) quotes are pulled — covering such diverse time frames as Ancient Egypt, American slavery, the Civil Rights Era, Apartheid, and today. With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and passages from authors, artists, scientists, philosophers, theologians, activists, politicians, this volume places quotes from Aesop’s Fables and the Holy Bible beside the words of Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Jay-Z. How many books can claim that? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

And yes, we reviewed these last year, but we believe they are worth mentioning again -

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Bradley (2011) – A book for children and the adults in their lives.  In this book, three young slaves, two of them President Jefferson’s own children fathered with his slave Sally Hemings, tell their stories of life at Monticello.  Their voices highlight the contradiction between slavery and freedom, and illustrate the USA’s struggles while the Founding Fathers still lived and worked.  As such, the USA’s history unfolds from a typically unseen perspective. ~ Lisa Christie

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Luckily for anyone still looking for great books to give to friends and family this holiday season, our 2013 holiday gift themed Pages in the Pubs continued in Hardwick, Vermont on December 3rd.

Once again, our goals were to uncover great gifts for our readers, raise money for libraries (this time, Jeudevine Memorial Library), increase sales for superb independent bookstores (Galaxy Bookshop), and gather a community of book-lovers together, bringing business to a local restaurant (Claire’s). Once again, the list the presenters came up with is eclectic, and full of superb ideas for giving.

This post lists all 21 books that at least one of the four Hardwick presenters picked as a superb holiday gift. Each has a special six word review written by the presenter.  Their selections are linked to the Galaxy Bookshop’s web site where you can learn more about their picks and order your selections. Our Hardwick presenters included:

  • Jerry Schneider – Jerry was born and raised a few miles from “Winesburg”, Ohio and taught English a few years before heading to Montana. He is a children’s librarian/educator in schools. In summers does nature programs in libraries. He is working on a YA novel about a father, son, and baseball.
  • Lisa Sammet – Lisa is the Library Director at the Jeudevine Memorial Library in Hardwick. She’s been a librarian, youth librarian, English teacher, farmer, and Peace Corps volunteer. She also has been a professional storyteller performing in schools and libraries for over 30 years.
  • Linda Ramsdell  – Linda opened The Galaxy Bookshop in 1988 and has enjoyed opening boxes of books and putting them in the hands of readers ever since. Linda considers herself extraordinarily fortunate to have spent half of her life in a place where books, people, ideas and imagination meet.
  • Lisa Christie – Lisa is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog.  In previous times, she was the founder and Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA, literacy programs that help children love books. She currently works as a non-profit consultant/independent bookseller.

Have fun looking at the selections. We truly hope you enjoy getting some holiday shopping accomplished from the comfort of your computer/iPad/cell-phone (you can download from the link), or from an in-person visit to your local independent bookstore. Enjoy!

MEMOIR FOR THOSE WHO LIKE TO LIVE VICARIOUSLY THROUGH OTHERS’ EXPERIENCES

End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe. Selected by Lisa S. – As mother dies, she and son read.

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

   

Maps by Aleksandra & Daniel Mizielinska. Selected by Lisa C. – The world unfolds through fun illustrations.

Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by D. J. Brown. Selected by Linda – Gripping and inspiring window to a world and time.

50 Foods by Edward Behr. Selected by Linda – Opinionated culinary guide with fun illustrations.

 

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

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Selected by Jerry – Classic glimpses of small town lives.

Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Selected by Lisa S. – Two friends. Iraq War. Poetic. Tragic.

Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver. Selected by Jerry – Shows why Carver is the best!

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

  

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.  Selected by Lisa S. – Follows friends from camp. They mature.                        

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Selected by Lisa C. – Not Eat Pray Love. Just great fiction.

Bitter Almonds by Cosse. Selected by Lisa C. – French woman tutors. Immigrant teaches. Sparse.

ADULT FICTION FOR ANYONE

  

11/22/63 by Stephen King. Selected by Jerry – Can Jake alter events around JFK?         

Transatlantic by Colum McCann. Selected by Linda – Spectacular storytelling, expansive scope, real and imagined.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. Selected by Linda – Pure laugh out loud fun.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION: FOR TEENS & TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM

 

The Ruby Red Trilogy by Kerstin Gier. Selected by Lisa S – Time Travel, Mystery, Adventure and romance.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Selected by Jerry – Can classmates get beyond extraordinary face?

BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS: THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES, BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

 

Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill. Selected by Lisa C. – For Little House Fans. Gold Rush.

True Colors by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. Selected by Linda – Heartwarming, historic, memorable characters & mystery.

PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS

 

The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert. Selected by Linda – Horses! Reindeer! Travel with Anja. Magical.           

Journey by Aaron Becker. Selected by Jerry – Red marker, imagination, & her spectacular journey!

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Tom LichtenheldSelected by Lisa S. – For littles who love machines & need sleep!                    

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. Selected by Lisa C. – Crayons protest. Readers laugh. Great gift!

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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 “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore.  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days 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.

Susan Conley, Author - Portland, ME

Today’s post features Susan Conley, author of Paris Was the Place, an Indie Next Pick, and an Elle Magazine Readers Prize Pick.  An American novelist, nonfiction writer, poet and creative writing professor, Ms. Conley’s memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune, was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine and the Daily Beast. Ms. Conley has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Breadloaf Writers Conference, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She currently teaches at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program, and at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Susan is co-founder of The Telling Room, a nonprofit creative writing lab in Portland, Maine.

Ms. Conley speaks at the Norwich Bookstore next week on Wednesday, September 18th at 7 pm.  Reservations are recommended, please call 802-649-1114 or e-mail info@norwichbookstore.com for more information or to make a reservation.

While we have not yet read her book, we enjoyed her answers to our questions below.  We especially like her eclectic list of books on her bedside table as it includes many of our favorite authors such as Jane Gardam, Halldor Laxness and David Sedaris.  We also truly hope she manages to finish Independent People by Laxness; we both loved that novel!

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

 Joan Didion’s The White Album taught me that women could write about the same things that men could:  rock and roll and politics and driving cars on the Santa Monica freeway. But that women could do something perhaps more interesting–they could layer on to that social inquiry a more internal, emotive investigation of what it means to be a mother or a sister or a daughter or a wife. Didion opened up the world of complex, nuanced, startling intimate creative non-fiction to me. Her novels are also lessons in compression and distillation and I have devoured all of those too.
Tolstoy’s War and Peace taught me about breadth and scope and the infinite possibilities of how to write about family. You may be able to tell I preferred the domestic chapters to the war chapters, but those battle scenes and schemes were extremely educational too. This book showed me how to write about the intricacies of place and how to use place as a full-blown character in my work–a portal into the story. This book is also so generous with its treatment of scenes. Tolstoy stays in the scenes for a long, long time. Much longer, in fact, than you think it’s possible to.  And this is how he is able to fully render his character, until they come completely alive on the page and work their way into our hearts.
 Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is on the list because this was the book that showed me how novels can spend all their time tracing their character’s shifting internal thoughts. Not much happens in this beautiful novel. It’s mostly the mapping of each character’s fluid, discursive inner thinking. Woolf showed me that it is rare that two characters in a novel (or in the world for that matter) are actually speaking to one another–actually exchanging ideas. And that most often they are pushing some kind of unseen and often unconscious agenda in their mind without even knowing it. Often they are lost in their own dreams and their own questions and musings. Then every so often, two people connect, as they do in quiet, powerful moments in To the Lighthouse and there’s great pathos and emotion.
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
Probably the esteemed Virginia Woolf. Because of her prolific career–so many novels and essays and letters and journals. But also because of her layered, complicated life and the crowd she hung out with. Her perch in the famed Bloomsbury art world in England and her famous sister Vanessa would make talking to Virginia even more fascinating. That is, if I could get her to talk. I have a feeling she would be rather circumspect and want to drink her coffee (or tea rather) and then go home.
     
3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
I will simply look at the pile, right next to the bed, and list them for you. There are always many and they all call to me:  Richard Russo’s Elsewhere, Colum McCann’s Dancer, Pers Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time, Jane Gardam’s The Man in the Wooden Hat.  Halldor Laxness’ Independent People. David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. (Sedaris is always on my bedside table. He keeps me honest and keeps me taking risks.)

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On a GORGEOUS spring day last week – yes, spring does eventually reach Vermont – The Book Jam traveled to Vermont’s amazing Northeast Kingdom. We love to visit this region to bike, camp, ski and to simply enjoy the magnificent views.  This time, though, we were there to chat about books, to learn what librarians and booksellers in this more remote part of our state are recommending for summer reading, and to raise some money for Vermont libraries. (We also spent a bit too much in the Whistle Emporium, a superb gift/art/kitchen/just fun stuff store, located next to Claire’s.)  Thank you to the Vermont Community Foundation for making Pages in the Pub in Hardwick possible.

Our presenters to a packed pub at Claire’s Restaurant and Bar in Hardwick, Vermont included:

  • Linda Ramsdell, owner and founder of Galaxy Bookshop since 1988.  Linda considers herself extraordinarily fortunate to have spent half of her life in a place where books, people, ideas and imagination meet.
  • Lisa Sammet, library director of Jeudevine Memorial Library in Hardwick. She’s been a librarian, youth librarian, English teacher, farmer, and a Peace Corps volunteer. She also has been a professional storyteller in schools and libraries for over 30 years.
  • Rachel Hexter Fried, retired attorney and current Chair of the Stannard Selectboard. She supports independent bookstores and loves having the Galaxy in Hardwick. She is a voracious reader.
  • Lisa Christie, co-founder and co-blogger of The Book Jam Blog. Formerly the Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA; currently, a nonprofit consultant and mom who reads whenever she can find time.

We limited their written reviews to six words (those in the audience were able to hear a 2 minute review). So, although the list of books in this post is longer than our usual, we hope the brevity of the reviews helps you think about each, and helps you decide whether they should make your summer 2013 reading list.  Enjoy!

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacations

Former People by Douglas Smith. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Bolshevik Revolution’s destruction of aristocratic Russia.

  

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

Elsewhere by Richard Russo. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Russo’s life with his compulsive mother.

Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Remarkable WWII story of courage tragedy.

North of Hope by Shannon Huffman Polson. Selected by Lisa Christie. Bear kills. Daughter grieves, grows, loves.

   

Adult Fiction – For a woman who only has time for the best fiction

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Poor boy’s rise to Manor master chef.

Sweet Toothby Ian McEwan.  Selected by Lisa Sammet. Cold war espionage, clever, love and truth.

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. 1 horse, great characters, nothing terrible happens.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. Selected by Lisa Christie.  Father Dies. Family Gathers. Gorgeous Prose.

  

Adult fiction – For a man who has enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

Canada by Richard Ford. Selected by Rachel Hexter Fried. Exquisitely written story. Parents rob bank.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Post-apocalyptic suspense, savage and tender.

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney. Selected by Lisa Christie. “Ad-man” matures late in life.                                      

                           

 Cookbooks or coffee table books or reference books – For your mom/grad/dad

Vermont Farm Table by Tracey Medeiros. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. Inspired photos, approachable recipes, neighbors, friends.

Saved: How I Quit Worrying about Money and became the Richest Guy in the World by Ben Hewitt. Selected by Linda Ramsdell.  Much to ponder at any point in life.

Picture Books (zero to 7) – books for youngsters to peruse under trees and in tree houses

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmet. Selected by Lisa Sammet. Fractured fairy tale with wry humor.

Books for summer campers/ young reader (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet. Selected by Lisa Christie. Langston’s poems. Homeless Family. Books save.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum. Selected by Linda Ramsdell. Rarely glimpsed window to a world.

Some bonus books mentioned by the presenters during their presentations:

Catherine the Great by Robert Massie. Mentioned by Rachel.

Atonement by Ian McEwan mentioned by Lisa S.

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon mentioned by Linda

The Danger Box by Blue Balliet mentioned by Lisa C.

At the end of our chats, the four presenters were curious about what audience members were reading.  Some of their current reading includes:

Beautiful Ruins by Jesse Walters; Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand; Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen; Freeman by Leonard Pitts; Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson; Slow Democracy: Rediscovering Community, bringing decision-making back home by Susan Clark and Woden Teachout; Seward: Lincoln’s  Indispensible Man, by Walter Stahr; My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor; Mysteries by Benjamin Black;  and  Same Ax, Twice by Howard Mansfield.

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4

AH February, once the groundhog has left his/her lair and seen/not seen a shadow, everyone’s thoughts turn to love.  However, we don’t want to be the kind of book bloggers who when Valentine’s Day rolls around recommend predictable, saccharine love stories, those that could be described as glasses of Rhine wine too sugary to swallow.  Our own experiences of February 14th haven’t always been red, rosy and filled with heady, oaky Chardonnay. And, we’re guessing this is probably the case for some reading this post as well.  So, in the spirit of that understanding, we’d like to suggest three titles that are more attuned with 2013 cocktails poured full of modern love  –  those with shake-ups, stir-ups, trips over thin ice (in Antarctica no less!), but with the occasional sweet, unusual, happy ending, too.

Affairs of the heart know no boundaries of course.  All three picks also take the reader on wild geographical adventurers: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, starts out in Seattle but has scenes set at the ends of the earth in a place most writers don’t dare to tackle – Antarctica. The whimsical My Berlin Kitchen looks at issues of identity and belonging; and, we move with the author around the America and Europe in search of a kitchen she can call home. Truth in Advertising is set closer to the center of “civilization” in the ad world of modern New York, but moves the reader from coast to coast and beyond. Upon turning the last page of any of these three selected stories about modern love, readers will not only feel well-traveled, but also that their own hearts have stretched and grown in unexpected ways.  Each offers an alternative love story – each will make you laugh and leave you with a smile. Sip slowly, though, they will come to an end all too quickly.

Cheers, book lovers. And, Happy Valentine’s Day, too.

 Truth in Advertising by John Kenney (Jan 2013) – Funny, observant, wry, thoughtful, insightful, unswervingly full of modern truths and questions, not at all preachy — we should have expected nothing less than being able to use these adjectives to describe a book by a New Yorker contributor.  That said, this book was just what we needed – a funny, unique coming of age story about a 40-year-old man (yes, it took him awhile) making a living, but not a life, as a NYC ad man.  Mad Men fans might appreciate a chance to look at advertising in the current century. New Yorkers will love the chance to see Manhattan in all its glory.  Anyone in need of some humor and a well written tale (with an echo of a Catcher in the Rye sensibility) will surely enjoy this book.  P.S. This is a perfect read for right after the Super Bowl as it features main character Finbar Dolan working under the wire to create the perfect ad for a demanding client to show to the nation during the Super Bowl.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

 Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013).  In this unique send up of all things pretentious, internet-oriented and well basically, all things about modern life that are enjoyed by those people who can afford it (e.g., private schools, Starbucks, exotic travel, personal assistants), a mother mysteriously goes missing and her child investigates.  The cause of her disappearance?  Possibly a workaholic husband, difficulty competing with local stay-at-home moms, an aversion to rain (it takes place in Seattle), a home being invaded by blackberries, an overwhelming aversion to people, a mysterious past, and a few well-plotted surprises.  We loved the plot twists and the unexpected quirkiness of this witty send up of modern life, modern love, modern parenting, and the exploration of  what it means to find a place (no matter what age you are) for one’s talents in this ever evolving world. ~Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

9780670025381My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss (2012). This is  lovely, gentle read by an author many may recognize as the creator of the popular food blog, “The Wednesday Chef” which was inspired by none other than Julie Powell’s Julie by Julia blogging adventures. In this food memoir, Weiss explores what it means to belong. Born in Berlin to an Italian mother and an American father who soon divorce, she spends much of her childhood schooling and summering in different countries and on different continents. Her interest always lay in the kitchen and with books which ground her through her peripatetic, international and fascinating upbringing. Each chapter tells a piece of her story with recipes inspired by time spent in places such as Sardinia, Berlin, and Brookline, Mass (a highlight: the description her uncle making pizza in a little cottage in the Italian countryside with stringy mozzarella and puffy, soft dough). Part of Weiss’ quest for belonging involves not only finding the perfect kitchen in which to cook but also the person with whom her heart feels most at home. A very nice addition to the food lover’s library – recipe box?- of titles. ~Lisa Cadow

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This marks the third year at The Book Jam that we’ve published our special “After the Relatives Have Left”  edition. We love this post as it signals the quiet and reflection that comes at year’s end and use it to offer reading suggestions that are perfect for snuggling up – and calming down – with after all of the craziness of the holidays has passed. If you’re still busy with family and friends, it’s also a good time to start a reading list for the year ahead so that you’re ready to beat the January doldrums if and when they hit.

But hopefully, the space between Christmas and New Year’s will offer you some prime time to read. Remember, the Christmas goose will have been cooked, the presents delivered,  the eight Chanukah candles lighted, the latkes fried so now exhale and pick up a great read. You deserve to have one of these great authors entertain you!

9780307959423 Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (2012) – I am not sure how others feel about Oprah’s book picks, but if having her pick a book for her book club turns you away, please ignore her stamp of approval on this beautiful and devastating debut novel by Ms. Mathis.  The Twelve Tribes follows Hattie Shepherd, a migrant from Georgia to Philadelphia, as she searches and hopes for a better life.  Instead, she marries young to the wrong man; and the novel begins as their firstborn twins succumb to an illness money could have easily prevented.  She then gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with tough love and not an ounce of tenderness they crave from her.  Subsequent chapters follow some of her children as they make their way in the world with the knowledge she has bestowed upon them.   This novel uses the stories of Hattie as a window to the Great Migration and how it shaped the American dream.  It will leave you with a good story to ponder. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780425247440What Alice Forgot by  Liane  Moriarty (paperback 2012). This is a fun, light and yet  surprisingly thought-provoking read. Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, expecting her first child, and blissfully happily married. Except she’s not – she’s actually all of a sudden thirty-nine, the mother of three kids, and in the middle of divorce proceedings when she regains consciousness after hitting her head while working out at the gym. Wait! What? But she hates gyms! It turns out that she’s lost ten years of her memory in the accident and her twenty-nine year old self struggles to gain her footing in this new life she can’t remember living.  This is a perfect pick for “After the Relatives Have Left”  and year-end as it had me smiling and considering what it would be like to go back in time to my younger self to observe the personal changes, choices, decisions made after an important decade of living.  ~Lisa Cadow

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (2012) – This short novel was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. My theory as to why is that Ms. Levy manages to pack a lot into a few pages, short chapters, well-chosen words and well placed pauses in action.  Also it is a dark tale, and awards panels seem to gravitate towards those.  So, if you are looking for an uplifting read, this book is not for you.  The novel looks at love and secrets as two families share one villa in the hills above Nice.  The action begins with a naked (but live and uninvited) body unexpectedly floating in the villa’s pool. But truly, the action begins years earlier when the five people (two men, two women and a girl) on holiday started keeping secrets from each other and from themselves.  A perfect quick read for those of you who would like a well-told, well-written story that makes you think.  (It would make a great Book Club book.)  But, again, a disclaimer – it may leave some readers a bit depressed due to its message about the destructive power of secrets.  Think of it as the opposite of What Alice Forgot.~ Lisa Christie

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