Archive for the ‘Book Clubs’ 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

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

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.

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).

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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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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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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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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As 2014 finishes, we thought we would highlight some of the most memorable books we read in 2014. We know we missed some and we tended not to highlight the big books which we also enjoyed (e.g., Goldfinch). Thus, we hate to say these were the best books of 2014, but this list should provide a good source of great reading as 2014 winds down and 2015 begins. So in no particular order, our list for you of books we found memorable that we hope you find time to read.

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, Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. I can not praise it enough. ~ Lisa Christie

Big 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 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. ~ Lisa Cadow

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

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. Many people are describing this as “the book of the year”, and I just might have to agree. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013) – 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. 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. ~Lisa Cadow

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This prize-winning story set in post WWII Mississippi is a heartbreaking story of racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the high price of silence as members of two families living in rural Mississippi collide. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (2013) – I was drawn to this book for its blue-blooded oceanfront Cape Cod setting but ended up appreciating it for it’s complex characters, unexpected twists and turns of plot, and the voice of its twelve-year-old narrator Riddle who unwittingly witnesses a terrible crime. It is all at once a mystery, the tale of a dysfunctional family, a coming-of-age story, and a look back at the summer traditions and politics of a different (pre-twitter) era. ~ Lisa Cadow

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (August 2013) – Congressman John Lewis has written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. This book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville. We truly look forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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.” The plot follows Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan, 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! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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. 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. There’s a little something for everyone in this book (i.e., love, remorse, redemption, parenting, cooking, a beautiful Spanish villa). ~ Lisa Cadow

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (Feb. 2014) – I hate short stories because they end just as I am involved with the characters. But, this collection about a variety of interesting “communists”/immigrants to America from behind “The Iron Curtain” is superb. ~ Lisa Christie

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 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 respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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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


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


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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