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Archive for the ‘Book Clubs’ Category

Research shows that reading novels and other literature helps readers better understand other perspectives and increases the reader’s own social navigation abilities.  An October 2013 NY Times article discussing the studies stated researchers “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.” While we agree what the study uncovered ample self-improvement reasons for picking up some great fiction, we believe that many pieces of classical literature are also just darn good stories. So in this post we share some of our favorite classics — many read long, long ago. And we implore you, please don’t think of the classics as something you HAD to read in High School; read them for the great books that they are. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. Do you know what it is? ~ Lisa Cadow Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Though lesser known than One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel is my favorite of the two. Its premise distills to a basic question — what if it were possible, not only to promise to love someone ”forever,” but to actually do so, to actually make all life’s choices based upon this vow? Set in an unnamed Caribbean town, the three characters, Florentino, Fermina and Dr. Urbino form the love triangle at the center of the author’s answers to this question. Florentino, after declaring his undying love for Fermina as a teen, is not at all deterred when she marries Dr. Urbino, and vows to wait until she is free. This happens 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later (yes, I had to look this detail up), when suddenly, (in a way only Garcia Marquez can pull off) Dr. Urbino dies while chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The novel explores all three of their lives in real time, in retrospect, with some magic realism (of course), and through the prism of this promise to love forever. ~ Lisa Christie My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – This novel unwraps the difficulties facing the Shimerdas, recent immigrants to America’s midwest, as narrated by a boy who met the family on a train taking them all to the same Nebraska town to live. While the hardships are harrowing, and the situations faced by both major and minor characters truly dire, the novel somehow manages to be both quiet and reassuring. It is a practical, well-crafted, not at all romantic look at the resilience of the human spirit and the hardiness of the many European immigrants who came across the ocean to begin again in America’s west. As such, this story is important, but more importantly, it is a very good story. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942)  – Originally published in 1942, West with the Night still reads as if it was hot off the presses. This breathtaking memoir tells the story of the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, penned by an author who was described by Ernest Hemingway as someone who “can write rings around all of us.” Markham was an adventurer, a poet, a philosopher, and a free spirit to her core who has served as an inspiration to generations of women. Her first loves were the horses she trained in east Africa as a teen. After discovering aviation, however, she never looked down. From 1931 to 1936 Markham delivered mail from her plane to remote locations in east Africa before heading north, across the Mediterranean, and then eventually across the Atlantic. If you liked Out of Africa, you will love this book. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam on March 27, 2012)  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Last night, on a GORGEOUS Spring evening just before Mother’s Day, readers from Rhode Island gathered in Newport to hear about some superb new books to bring to the beaches this summer, and to give to moms on Mother’s Day.

The evening was the latest outing of the Book Jam’s live event – “Pages in the Pub”.  This event is designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, educators, librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles.

This time, we gathered for the first time ever outside our home state of Vermont at the Salvation Cafe in Newport. There we sipped drinks and turned pages, all with the goal of raising money for BabySteps, a Rhode Island based early childhood education center.  We focused on GREAT books for summer reading, because summer is just around the corner, and Newport is a great place to remember the pleasures of beaches.

Because of everyone’s efforts, a few people completed their mother’s day shopping during the event, and most got a good start on stocking up on great summer reading.  We also raised around $600 for BabySteps, while increasing sales for a treasured independent bookstore – Island Books of Newport and Middletown, Rhode Island.
Since most of you could not join us in person, we now share the great titles discussed in Newport. This post lists all twenty books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. Each of their selections is linked to Island Books web site where you can learn more about the picks and order your selections. You’ll also notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier.  Have fun looking, and enjoy getting a head start on your summer of great reading.

Our SUPERB presenters included (and we truly thank them for their time and talents):

  • Ann Hood, Acclaimed Author – Ann is an avid knitter, a nomad, a book lover, and a writer. She travelled all the way from Providence for this event. She’s also a native Rhode Islander.
  • Linda Finn, Board Chair of BabySteps, an early childhood learning program – Linda is a first term, part-time State Representative for Middletown and Portsmouth. She also owns and operates Linda Finn Garden Design, a residential landscape design firm; is a founding member of RI Coalition Against Gun Violence; and, is the Board Chair of BabySteps.
  • Judy Crosby, Owner of Island Books – Judy is the owner of Island Books in Middletown and Newport. When not working at the stores you can find her at home in Portsmouth reading, cooking or gardening. With “Pages in the Pub”, she fulfills the longtime dream of having a book event at the Salvation Cafe thanks to owner Sue Lamond, champion of all things ‘local’ and great supporter of Island Books!

And representing the Book Jam:

  • Lisa Christie, Co-Founder of The Book Jam – Lisa is, among other things, the co-founder of the Book Jam and a nonprofit consultant. One of her best jobs was being the founder/first director of Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide literacy organization. And, while she loves living in Vermont, she was VERY excited to be in Newport for an evening.

 

 

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

  • Centrist Manifesto by Charles Whelan (2013). Selected by Lisa – Usual politics tiring? He proposes solutions.
  • The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2013). Selected by Linda – Friendship, politics, muckrakers. Facts like fiction!

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

Adult Fiction – For women who have time for the best fiction while at the beach

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman (2014). Selected by Ann – Secrets, lies, disappearances, a tangled web!
  • Under the Wide & Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (2014). Selected by Ann – Improbable, impassioned, adventurous, unforgettable love story.
  • We Are Water by Wally Lamb (2013). Selected by Linda – Very modern, engaging, family drama.
  • The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh (2014). Selected by Judy – Multi-layered coming-of-age. Keeps pages turning.


 

 

 

 

Adult fiction – For men who have enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon by Anthony Marra (2014). Selected by Lisa – AMAZING writing. Chechnya conflict. Great characters.
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers (2014). Selected by Linda – Intrigue, internet, music fuel this mystery.                                 
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (2014). Selected by Judy – Mars Mission. Accident.  Man’s struggle to survive.

 

Cookbooks or coffee table books or reference books – For your favorite grad or dad

 

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.

  • Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014). Selected by Lisa – Lonely girl uncovers painting. Solves mystery.
  • Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013). Selected by Lisa – How a boy inspired Robin Hood.

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

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (2002). Selected by Judy – Must-read (or re-read) for everyone before movie!

BONUS – PERFECT books for the moms in your life, or last minute gifts to ensure a Happy Mother’s Day

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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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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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“Oh what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”  ~Walter Scott, “Marmion.”

Here in our small Vermont village we accept each other at face value. Townsfolk know the family trees of residents who’ve lived here for generations, those who move here to work and raise families – sometimes referred to as “flatlanders” – are accepted for whom they purport to be. We greet each other with a friendly wave in the local general store or  talk about kids growing up fast while waiting at the circulation desk at the library, secure in the knowledge they we’re leading our lives alongside people who are what they say they are, or are who we think they are.

But this past week, amidst the snowstorms of early January, we found ourselves tangled up in books that rocked our comfortable assumptions a bit. The female protagonists in these two engrossing reads were leading normal lives, one in a contemporary English town, the other in a 1975 Paris, when suddenly they picked up clues that their realities weren’t at all what they appeared.

The literary deception and confusion was just enough so that when we picked up our heads and emerged from the reading webs we’d woven by the wood stove and took a trip to our friendly general store, our neighbors – and even ourselves – looked just a little off kilter, just a little less familiar, even if only for the blink of a spider’s eye.

9780143121510The Other Woman’s House by Sophie Hannah (2012).  Another great psychological thriller emerges from the British Isles to join the ranks of those written by Ireland’s Tana French and England’s Rosamund Lupton. One night Connie Bowskill is having trouble sleeping and decides to go to the computer to take a virtual tour of a house that is the object of her obsession. What she sees on-screen, in addition to the kitchen and dining room, is a dead body in the den lying face down in a pool of blood. (Sound like a game of Clue? Well, hang on to your hats and see if you can solve it.) When she returns moments later with her husband to show him this gruesome image, it has disappeared. The story then leads the reader into the confusing maze that is Connie’s life to try to determine why things seem so disorienting. This is the sixth book written by Sophie Hannah – though the first we have read and reviewed on The Book Jam – that features the detectives Zailer and Waterhouse. If you haven’t read the previous stories, their relationships might be a tad bit confusing. Nevertheless, this is a mystery worth reading for a mind bending trip to answer the questions “Is Connie Bowskill crazy?” and “What really happened in that house?”  ~Lisa Cadow

9780143121565The Confidanby Helene Gremillon (2012). Set in Paris in 1975 but exploring the events in a small French town at the onset of World War II,  this is an excellent piece of  historical literary fiction that reads like a psychological thriller. When Camille’s mother dies in an accident, condolence letters start pouring in. One, however, arrives from a man named Louis written on thick white paper, smelling slightly of tea, and is seemingly misaddressed, as Camille doesn’t know anyone by that name. This letter, and the ones that follow faithfully each week in installments, tells the story of Louis and Annie’s intense first love and the complicated relationships and tragedies that surround it. But why is someone sharing it with Camille? What is the connection to her life and family? “The Confidant” was a bestseller in France in 2010 and was translated by Alison Anderson, the same woman who masterfully delivered readers “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”.  ~Lisa Cadow

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