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Archive for the ‘Book Clubs’ Category

It has been a bizarre winter here in Vermont.  Classic, picture-perfect snow storms, with lots of great powder for our famous ski slopes, have been followed by sleet, freezing rain, and March-like weather with thawing and balmy days.  And then it snows all over again.  And then it drops far below zero. So this means that we have been making sure we ski or snow shoe while the opportunity exists; and, we have been reading a lot of good fiction by our respective wood stoves and fireplaces to keep warm.  As Mark Twain said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait five minutes.” Good thing it’s always the perfect weather for reading.

Two recommended books from our most recent reading are reviewed below.  And, because we have been reading so many good books lately, and we never know what you all are in the mood to read, we put in a bonus pick or two.

9781476729084The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013) – Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes this review for Simsion’s international bestsellerThe Rosie Project. I loved this crisply smart romantic comedy that takes you into the world of socially challenged Don Tillman, a 39-year-old geneticist looking for love in all of the wrong ways. It doesn’t help that he has designed a 16-page questionnaire to help him find the perfect partner, that he “speed date” eliminates those who answer incorrectly, and that probably no one would meet his criteria.  When he meets Rosie, a sharp, beautiful “barmaid” 10 years his junior, he doesn’t know quite what to make of how he feels and of the ensuing series of unplanned, wacky events.  This is sort of a “When Harry Met Sally” story with a Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime narrator. Throw in a DNA matching side plot and you have yourself a love story with a little science on the side.

And for those TEDx fans, when you’re finished with the book, make sure to check out Simsion’s talk. As a former physicist and IT guy, he comes to writing screenplays and novels later in life. As you will learn, however, all of this experience contributed greatly to the crafting of The Rosie Project. ~Lisa Cadow

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah (2014) – This is Mr. Beah’s first novel, but not his first published work.  His acclaimed memoir A Long Way Gone, about his life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, soared to the top of bestseller lists, becoming an instant classic that “everyone in the world should read” (The Washington Post).  So with that build up, our thoughts on his fiction.  Yes, Radiance of Tomorrow is set in Africa.  And yes, the other Lisa and I seem to pick books with this setting often.  But unlike many novels with African settings that focus on life during a civil war or leading up to a war, this novel looks at what happens AFTER a civil war, with insight and grace.

In Radiance of Tomorrow, Mr. Beah explores what happens when people return to their villages when fighting is over.  Yes, it was a bit depressing to read his descriptions of what foreigners do when they arrive post-war to “help”.  Yes, when I assumed most of this novel was based in the reality of the author’s own experiences in Sierra Leone, it was even more disturbing.  But, trust me please; somehow, this book is also up-lifting.  Perhaps because the characters – the children, the elders, the mothers and fathers - are superbly memorable, the hope they carry with them is inspiring, and the prose is well-crafted. ~ Lisa Christie

Some other books worth mentioning from our 2014 wood stove reading

Thrillers/mysteries

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

Myths

Mythology by Edith Hamilton (1942) – I have been inspired to re-read this by an amazing Greek unit from my son’s fifth grade English and Social Studies classes. What a great gift to me!  I am loving spending some time with Perseus, Medusa, Hercules, Theseus, and the Gods. ~ Lisa Christie (with Lisa Cadow seconding the staying power and fun of this book)

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We are back from our August “gone reading” break and have some wonderful books to share with you. We chose only two for today’s post and will highlight many more during the remainder of 2013.  Some future picks will include cookbooks, memoirs (some are even cooking memoirs!) as well as a few great old-fashioned stories.

So before Autumn officially begins next week and the leaves truly blaze with color here in Vermont, we thought we would start with one title each that rose to the top of each of our lists.  These are not necessarily our favorite books from the summer, but they are the ones we are still thinking about, even as the leaves begin to fall to the ground, and ones we can recommend highly to all of you.  And, by pure coincidence the reviews both mention Jane Austen.

And now, drumroll please….

 We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013). This book shows just how well Karen Joy Fowler can write. She burst on to the literary scene in 2004 with her bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club and while I enjoyed her first novel, this most recent effort eclipses it, taking a deep look at human and animal behavior, and the meaning of family. Part of the power of this story results from the way Fowler has chosen to craft it –  the first eighty pages yielding a surprise to the reader who comes to it without knowing too much at the outset.  If you don’t want spoilers and trust me as a reviewer, then read no further and just pick up a copy of this book and get started.  But for those who wish to know more, continue on. This is a fictional portrait of a family who chose to raise a chimpanzee in their home alongside their biological children (based on actual experiments that were happening in the United States in the 1970′s). Meet narrator Rosemary and her older brother.  Then move around in time with them from college years, to adulthood, and back to childhood as a picture of this strange upbringing emerges, and their later lives take shape in reaction to it. What the reader is ultimately left with after turning the last page is an insight into the profound relationships and connections that exist in the animal kingdom. Highly, highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

Capital by John Lanchester (2012) – This book is brilliant.  As you begin, you think it is a straightforward story about a disparate group of Londoners united only by the fact they all live on the same street – Pepys Road in London.  And, it is true — the novel plots an intriguing story line.  However, what sneaks up on you is the social commentary. Hopefully, without creating unfair images, or unintentionally offending anyone, you could think of the author as a male Jane Austen for modern times.  How, could we compare him so?  Well, mostly because Mr. Lanchester (an award-winning journalist and novelist) nails life in the 21st century and all its messes and glories – immigration, bank failures, the consumer culture, football, love, art, terrorism, dying, twitter, to name a few.   Each chapter is a short two to three page look into the lives of people residing in one of the various houses on Pepys Road. The next chapter takes up the next household’s stories, and the next circles back again.  In each chapter, each resident is reacting to their own unique life and the personalities that inhabit it, but also to the fact they are all receiving anonymous postcard pictures of their homes each marked with the ominous message — “We want what you have”.  Each chapter is also a cliffhanger, often causing you to read on longer than your time, and your need for sleep, should allow.  As the chapters stitch together, this book lingers long after the last page.  Enjoy. I highly recommend this for anyone in the mood for a contemporary novel that offers insight without preaching, and laughter. ~ Lisa Christie

 

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On one day each year in the United States we honor and remember the soldiers who have died fighting in this nation’s many wars.  So today, on this Memorial Day holiday, we expand the honors and recognize fallen soldiers and sailors, as well as men and women currently serving in armed services throughout the world.
We salute them with books that honor the work that they do each day – often far, far from home – on behalf of each of us.  We remember them with books that offer insight into conflict and resolution, victory and loss, good and evil – with the hope that they inspire and offer insight into achieving a more peaceful future. And while war provides plot lines for many great novels, in the interest of time and space, we only selected a few titles for today’s recommendations.

9780399157769City of Women by David Gillham (2012, paperback 2013). This story often reads like a Hollywood thriller, with staccato dialogue punctuating its pages bringing to life a wartime Berlin. I appreciated the perspective offered by new author Gillham of a once great European city in 1943 inhabited primarily by women as all of the men had gone off to fight for Hitler’s army. There is intrigue and espionage, sex and illicit affairs, and a reluctant heroine who starts to fight for the resistance.  This is one of those books that helps the reader to perhaps better understand the psyche of the German people who became participants in an unfortunate war. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see this book appearing soon as a movie in a theater near you. ~Lisa Cadow 

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (June 2013) - When the National Book Award winning author of one of my favorite books  – Let the Great World Spin – writes a new book, I am very happy.  When the book is superb, I am even happier.  Transatlantic takes three stories: 1) two British WWI veterans who are the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic, 2) Frederick Douglass and his fundraising trip to Ireland, and 3) Senator George Mitchell’s journey as he brokered peace in Northern Ireland.  He then uses the lives of three generations of very strong women to tie these three seemingly disparate events together.   How does this book fit in today’s blog theme?  Well, each of the characters in it is significantly affected by their history with war – be it WWI, The Civil War, or the Irish conflicts.  But beyond this fit, I loved the well-picked prose, and I truly enjoyed the company of each of the memorable (historic or otherwise) characters in this novel.  I was also intrigued to read in the acknowledgements that Mr. McCann spent time with Senator Mitchell to talk about what brokering peace entailed and meant.  It is truly a gorgeous novel. ~ Lisa Christie 

A Few From Year’s Past:

FC9780452295292City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008). A looter named Lev and deserter Kolya are cellmates in prison tasked to find a dozen eggs in a wartime St. Petersburg  for a Soviet colonel who needs them for his daughter’s wedding cake. This unlikely pair brave frigid temperatures, hunger, danger, and despair to try and deliver this most ridiculous imperative. One of the most endearing, brilliant, WWII books I have read yet. ~Lisa Cadow

 A Century of November by WD Wetherell (2005) – Years ago when my father-in-law, a retired Marine Corp Colonel and a retired high school history teacher, called this the best book about war that he has read, I listened. Bonus, the author lives so close to us that The Book Jam can visit him. ~ Lisa Christie

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