Archive for the ‘Fiction Fanatics’ Category


We celebrated books in the Norwich Inn during the annual holiday edition of Pages in the Pub in our home town of Norwich, Vermont last week. Our superb presenters spoke about their favorite picks for gift giving, and wow did they sell a lot of books. We thank them for that, and for leaving all of us a great list of books to give and get. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised around $1,400 for the Norwich Public Library (while increasing sales for a great indie bookstore).


This post lists all twenty- three books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing and gift-giving easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for holiday gift giving, with their intriguing bios at the end.


Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Yummy dishes; up, down, across, diagonal.

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell (2014). Selected by James – Master Chef Teaches Son. Goodbye Take-out.


438 Days: Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin (2015). Selected by James – Thirty-hour trip goes quite awry.

Hold Still by Sally Mann (2015). Selected by Penny – Photography, family, bravery, mortality, beauty, fear.


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015). Selected by Penny – Perhaps my favorite book of 2015.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Ryan Stradal (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Forging family through lutefisk and bars.

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Deeply evocative. Beautifully written. Perfectly human.

The Sellout by Paul Beattie (2015). Selected by James  – Outrageous satire: black narrator segregates neighborhood.


The Cartel by Don Winslow (2015). Selected by James – Narco-Terror: North America’s ISIS. Gripping.

The Heist by Daniel Silva (2015). Selected by Penny – Guilty pleasure, art, espionage, marriage, Israel.


The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015). Selected by Katie – Beauty surprises, kindness transforms, both inspire.

The Boys in the Boat: YA adaptation (2015). Selected by Katie – Loved by adults, now perfect for kids!


How Machines Work: Zoo Break! by David Macaulay (2015). Selected by Katie – Inspiration for the afternoon scientist—invent!!

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015). Selected by Lisa – Field-trip hijinks involve spies, adventure, laughs.

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2014). Selected by Lisa – Little House fans will thank you.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015). Selected by Lisa – History, mystery, magical realism. Boys & girls.


Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Adorable raccoon. Quirky art. Sweetness abounds!

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Selected by Lisa – Three different views. One big snowstorm.

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). Selected by Katie – Moral: Persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.


For armchair travelers

Lonely Planet’s Wild World by Lonely Planet (2015). Selected by Katie – Gorgeous adventure awaits, snuggled in armchair.

Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland (2015). Selected by Lisa – Fun illustrations finally reach US audience.  (Also has an Atlas of Adventure activity pack.)

For messy people who can’t find their own coffee table

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2015). Selected by James – Can book save human oil slick?

For the person who doesn’t usually read animal books

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Making friends with octopuses (not octopi!).



James BandlerIn spite of his father’s not-entirely unfair observation that he’d have trouble finding a rat in his own cup of coffee, James Bandler spend his formidable years writing about corporate misbehavior for a series of financially troubled newspapers and magazines. Now a recovering journalist and professional fact-finder, he is best known as the private chauffeur of two Norwich teenagers and the vice-chairman of the Dennis Thatcher Society of North America (DTSNA), Vermont Chapter.

Katie Kitchel – Like the books she enjoys reading, Katie’s career has been a varied mosaic. Since graduating from Dartmouth in 1995, Katie has worked as a victim’s advocate, a mediator, a trainer, a music teacher, an arts administrator, an admissions reader, and a bookseller. Her most cherished job, though, is being mom to her boisterous boys. In her “spare time”, she loves to READ and to SING and to perform in musicals and dramas alike. She lives in Norwich, VT with her husband, her three boys, and her wildly energetic dog.

Penny McConnel has been selling books for 30 years and cannot imagine doing anything else. She lives in Norwich with her husband Jim, a retired dentist. When not reading or selling books, Penny can be found cooking, in her garden, singing and for two months in the winter enjoying life with Jim in California.

Lucinda Walker loves being the Director of the Norwich Public Library and thanks Norwich for adopting her. Lucinda’s journey to librarianship began at the Windsor Public Library, where she spent many a long Saturday afternoon devouring their children’s books. She counts among her favorite things: French roast coffee, storytelling podcasts, and Saturday Night Live (plus books, of course!) Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her poet husband Peter and kids, Hartley & Lily.

Book Jam Lisas

Lisa Cadow is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog, and the founder of Vermont Crepe & Waffle, a food cart and catering company serving authentic French crepes. When not reading, traveling or testing recipes for her food blog, Fork on the Road, she works as a health coach for Dartmouth Health Connect, an innovative primary care practice in Hanover, NH. She lives in Vermont with her husband, three teens (two of whom are away at college most of the year now), three cats, and an energetic border collie.

Lisa Christie is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog. In previous times, she was the founder/first Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and a former Executive Director of Everybody Wins! USA, literacy programs that help children love books (www.everybodywins.org). She currently works part-time as a non-profit consultant, part-time graduate student, and most importantly full-time mom/wife. She lives in Vermont with her husband, two sons, and a very large Bernese mountain dog, and often dreams of travel.


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Periodically, we invite other book lovers to guest post on the Book Jam.  Today, we are thrilled to welcome Carin Pratt – an outstanding bookseller and former executive producer of “Face the Nation”.  We are ever so grateful that “Face the Nation” lost her services so that the Norwich Bookstore could benefit from both her expertise and avid reading tendencies. The Book Jam Lisas are always happy to pick up a Carin Pratt recommendation, and today we are even more pleased that she is sharing her picks on the Book Jam.  Enjoy!
Every once in a while, you need to read to escape. Doesn’t matter particularly what you are escaping from — Trump, the excess Halloween candy that keeps winking at you, the pesky dog who keeps thrusting her nose into your lap wanting a walk, the dirty kitchen floor, that last cord of wood reproaching you in an unkempt pile outside the door. You get the drift. You just need to inhabit another world. One preferably totally unlike the one you live in.  Here are three books to provide you with that escape.
Somehow there’s nothing like a good South or North Pole exploration disaster story. Everland by Rebecca Hunt is just that, and you get two expeditions for the price of one — one set in 2013 and the other, in alternating chapters, set in 2012, both on the same island. Despite the time difference, the elements remain the same: howling winds, frozen extremities, ruined provisions, psychological dysfunction and epic hallucinations brought on by week-long blizzards that trap the fractious explorers in their tent. Add to that the question of when or if they will be rescued, well, it’s going to be a bumpy night, or month. Makes you want to go right out and sign up for that next ship going South, (or North), or at least shell out this year for a parka good to 40 below.
Slade House, the newest book by David Mitchell (Bone Clocks) is about soul-sucking vampires, two, to be exact. Siblings.  Now soul-sucking vampires might not be your cup of tea — they’re not mine — but give these two a try. Every ten years they have to lure some poor soul into their clutches to do what they do (which is described in a way you will find hard to forget), and gain enough energy for the next decade. They are very clever about this. Until…..  but then you will have to read it to find out.  Slade House is in many ways an old fashioned ghost story, with portals and time shifts, and all kinds of morphing. Quite gripping, but not as terrifying as some ghost stories, as there is actually some humor. And, the cover is very cool.
The Ibis Trilogy is, yes, I know, three books instead of one (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, Flood of Fire). You don’t have to read them all, though you may want to. Amitav Ghosh took ten years to write his epic of historical fiction about the opium trade. Set in the years before the opium wars in the mid 1800’s, his cast of characters cover a wide range of cultures (British, Indian, Chinese, etc) and occupations (sailors, traders, peasants, boat people, etc), and everyone has a story he weaves into the whole. It’s a funny, dramatic and linguistically playful masterpiece. And a different world altogether. Makes for a great escape.



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Stephen P. Kiernan_credit Todd R. Lockwood (2)
This “3 Questions” features Stephen Kiernan author of The Hummingbird and other novels.  Mr. Kiernan’s widely praised debut novel, The Curiosity, was published in 2013 and is in development at Twentieth Century Fox for film adaptation. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop fiction MFA program and holds an MA from Johns Hopkins University. In his 25 years as a journalist, he has won more than 40 awards. He is also the author of the non-fiction books Last Rights and Authentic Patriotism. He lives in Vermont with his two sons.


Mr. Kiernan will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, November 11 to discuss his latest book, The Hummingbird. This novel was an Indie Bookstore pick in September 2015, with the review “’The Hummingbird’ is a powerful story about the critical role of human empathy in dealing with two important contemporary issues: hospice care and post-traumatic stress disorder. Kiernan’s characters are well-drawn and give unique perspectives on death, trauma, and providing care in difficult times. ‘The Hummingbird’ is a must-read for all who want to help loved ones die with dignity as well as for those helping veterans achieve normalcy after serving our country.” — Phyllis K Spinale, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

The event with Mr. Kiernan is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.


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

I believe reading is the foundation of learning how to write, so a great many books have educated and informed my work. Three with radically different effects would be Pan by Knut Hamsun (for structure and the power of simple language), One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Marcia Marquez (because it is a great work of genius and being humbled by a book is always helpful), and Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey (because it celebrates rich imagining and demonstrates how a book makes it own internal rules).
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
I would choose to have tea, (not coffee, as a proper Brit he would never drink coffee) with JRR Tolkien so I could ask him about turning story into myth, and investing narrative with spiritual purpose.

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
My bedside table is covered with books about World War II and D-Day, which is in rough terms the topic of my next novel. Typically I read deeply for background and research, then put it all aside and let imagination write the book. This early part of the process is like putting extra logs in the wood stove, banking ideas to keep the house warm all night.


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We recently gave an older, but favorite, novel to a friend as part of her 40th birthday gift (the gift – one book from each of the decades of a friend’s life). Her review — “I am reading this slowly, as I do not want it to end“, reminded us of how much we loved reading this book for the first time. And that remembrance has us thinking about books we wish we could read again for the first time, or at least re-read if we had time. So, we now share a few treasured picks from our past. We hope that if you have missed any of these, you will soon have the pleasure of reading some or ideally all of them for the first time.

Stones from the River by Urusla Hegi (1997) – One of my favorite books of all time, Stones from the River is an epic story of World War I and II. Trudi, a “zwerg”- or a dwarf – is one of the most memorable characters in recent literature. Her journey, and that of her village, helps the reader to understand more deeply the tragic period of history in Germany. As one reviewer put it: “this is a nightmare journey with an unforgettable guide.” ~ Lisa Cadow

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – I think I learned all the nuances of good and evil from this book. I definitely remember loving every page-turning moment so much that I stayed up all night reading it at some point in High School. ~ Lisa Christie

Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) – It’s not that I would want to enter this literal “room” again, the one the two main characters inhabit in isolation, but rather it is the sheer brilliance of this story told by the narrator, five year old Jack, that makes me want to return. This book reminds us of the resiliency of the human spirit. It also is a major motion picture; so hurry up and read the book first. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – This wasn’t a book that I expected to enjoy, but I gave it a whirl it because so many different types of readers recommended it. It offers a great tour through rock and roll, introduces a motley crew of characters, and provides a rollicking cultural ride through the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. By the way, it won the Pulitzer in 2011.~ Lisa Cadow (ditto Lisa Christie) 

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Its prose is lyrical; its story is relatable; and, its setting is the sublime shores of a mythic country in Latin America.  I read it while suffering from my first (yes, there were a few more to come) broken heart. It helped somehow. Please pick it up if you have not already read this classic. ~ Lisa Christie

Let the Great World Spin by Collum McCann (2009) – A friend recommended this to me after her book club read it, and I am grateful she did. I loved McCann’s poetic description of life in NYC through the stories of apparently unrelated New Yorkers. I am also grateful that this book introduced me to a new “favorite” author.  I would love to be able to read this again for the first time, but instead I highly recommend it to you. And, while you read this, I will enjoy his latest collection of short stories – Thirteen Ways of Looking~ Lisa Christie

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (1991) – I wish I had this book to start again for the very first time. The reader lands in China in the 1920’s and emerges again breathless and changed 500 pages later in modern 1970’s China. Wild Swans is the true story of three generations of Chinese women, told by granddaughter, Jung, who is now living in the US. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – Read as part of a graduate school course on multiculturalism. The amazing insights into so many things regarding race and life that are packed in this slim volume have haunted me ever since. ~ Lisa Christie

Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith (1994) – I saw this play in Boston, and then read the book in order to think a bit more about racial relations.  A version of this amazing theater production is available on PBS, but it also makes for a great read. ~ Lisa Christie

In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Tana French is one of my great author heroines. She crafts a riveting mystery with a literary pen and a psychological mind that keeps you on the edge of your seat and all the while learning about the complexity of human behavior. It’s fascinating to slip into her world and into modern day Ireland. In the Woods is her first book, so it holds a special place on my shelf. ~ Lisa Cadow

Hunting and Gathering (2007) – Time spent with this group of Parisians is well spent. When I read this in 2008, it was the first book in a long time that left me feeling happy about the world when I finished it. And since it was recommended to me by Lisa Cadow, we recommend it again here. ~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night (1942) by Beryl Markham- This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie



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So a very “late in the calendar year” Labor Day has come and gone, most students have returned to the classroom (though some college kids on quarter systems are still waiting for classes to resume), work has turned serious again after those long summer days, and, the Book Jam is back from our annual reading hiatus with two of our favorites from those long summer days.


9780525429142Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (2015) – Possibly my favorite book of the summer, this quirky, original, and funny read explores raw talent, choices, and chance outcomes. Eva Thorwald is the central character of this novel, but we mostly get to know her through the observations of others. In this way, “Kitchens” is a lot like Olive Kitteridge, but the setting of the “great” midwest lend it a very different tone and flavor. We meet Eva as an infant and travel with her, mostly through the eyes of others, through the first thirty years of her life. She has a once-in-a-lifetime palate, is a gifted chef, and her talent is affected and developed by an interesting cast of characters we meet along the way. There are even recipes included in this smart, laugh-out-loud book — but it is about so much more than food. The author, a native of Minnesota,  is a keen observer and is gifted at capturing our culture and delivering it back to us whether it be on a plate of Walleye or on a tray of good old fashioned church peanut butter bars. Read it and eat. ~ Lisa Cadow

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (2014) – This could be my favorite book from 2015 (so far). Now, how to effectively describe it? The plot involves Elf, a world-reknowned concert pianist, and the effects her repeated suicide attempts have on her family, most specifically her sister and mom. Perhaps more importantly it is a love letter to a sister. It is an attempt to understand why some people end their lives in suicide. It is an example of compassion and understanding and love. And, it is all wrapped up in a superb prose and a fabulous tale set in Canada. Please pick this up and read. (Thank you Norwich Bookseller extraordinaire Carin Pratt for insisting over and over again that I read this novel. I finally did, and I am so so grateful for your recommendation. ) ~ Lisa Christie

This post is dedicated to the memory of Ian Gemery. May he rest in love, and may the loved ones he left behind each find their own peace.

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images-2Before we take our annual August “gone reading” vacation, we thought we would share some of our favorite (thusfar) 2015 “beach reads” to help fill these final days of summer. For purposes of this post, we define “beach read” as a book that provides escape or some fun or some laughs, but that is still well-written (or at least, even if not War and Peace, does not insult your intelligence). If we did a long review of a book fitting this criteria in an earlier post (e.g., Funny Girl), we did not include the book in this post; but, we still encourage you to read it. So, if nothing here strikes your fancy, please refer to our previous posts from 2015 (e.g., Books for Father’s Day Gifting and for Congratulating Graduates), or browse our picks from previous summers. We look forward to sharing our favorite books with you again September. But, in the meantime, happy reading with some of the books from this list. We’ve officially “gone reading”.

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (2015) – So far, this is our go-to beach book for this summer. The title refers to the number of grapes required to make a bottle of wine. The story revolves around a Sonoma, California vineyard and the family who has tended it for decades. The novel launches with the narrator, a successful LA lawyer with a lovely British architect for a fiance, sitting, inappropriately dressed, in her brothers’ bar after discovering there is more to her fiance than she believed. As she retreats to her family’s vineyard to think, she learns her fiance is not the only one with secrets. And yes, we both were casting it for the inevitable movie as we read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015) – I have been fascinated by Beryl Markham since reading her memoir West with the Night. (A book Ernest Hemingway praised with the comment “[Ms. Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers”.) In this novel, Ms. McLain creates a fictional account of Ms. Markham’ remarkable life that fills the holes her memoir left unanswered — offering more about her childhood, her horse training and her early marriage. A fun beach read, although we admit we prefer Ms. Markham’s memoir over this fictional account of her life. ~ Lisa Christie PS – My father-in-law, a former Marine Corp pilot, enjoyed this novel as well. And Lisa Cadow is jealous I read and reviewed before she did.

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A fun, bittersweet summer novel set in Mallorca and spanning across generations of the Spaniards and Brits who call it home, even if only for a few weeks each summer. Told backwards, the novel unravels what caused a great love to sour, and shows all the aftershocks of love gone awry. Be warned, the Mediterranean setting and its olive trees, beaches, succulent food, will have you booking tickets before you finish its last pages. And, since inspiring travel is probably the highest praise we can give a book, we are pretty certain you will enjoy this one. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Fall: A Novel by John Lescroart (2015) — We finish with a mystery, because most vacations welcome a good detective novel. I truly believe that ANYONE who loves San Francisco should read Mr. Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy series because each is so grounded in that amazing City by the Bay. I also believe that mystery-lovers will enjoy the characters in this series: the retired policeman turned attorney who is a recovering alcoholic with part ownership in a tavern (of course he is), the gruff and scarred homicide detective, and the DA who really is trying to do the right thing, to name a few. In this latest installment, with Mr. Lescroart’s signature suspenseful plots, Mr. Hardy’s daughter joins his law firm. She then adds some excitement to their case-load when an attractive, well-educated white man accused of killing a teenage African-American foster child he was trying to help chooses Ms. Hardy as his lawyer. You might want to begin with the first “Dismas Hardy” novel – Dead Irish, and really dive in to the 20 books in this series, but you can also enjoy this latest installment on its own. ~ Lisa Christie



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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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