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Archive for the ‘Fiction Fanatics’ Category

 

Happy last days of summer. We enjoyed many great books over the summer months, and are slightly sad to see the longer days fade. That said, we are truly looking forward to all the good books being published for autumn and the holidays.

We start our 2014-15 posting season (yes, we Lisas still tend to adhere to the rhythm of an academic year) with two picks from our “gone reading” hiatus. Many of the other books we read in August will appear in later posts around various themes. But, for now, our two picks for your last week of official summer.

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The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (2013) – It seems only appropriate to include this title in a post celebrating the last days of summer; this novel is set in that very season in Welfleet, Massachusetts in 1972. 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 in her neighbor’s horse barn. As she tries to make sense of what happened that June day, she simultaneously navigates adolescence, her parent’s fraught relationship, and her father’s political campaign for Senate. 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. If you appreciate this book and the smart way it sets itself apart from being just another beach read, you might also enjoy Wise Men by Stuart Nadler also set on the Cape but in the summer of 1952 (reviewed on the Book Jam, July 23, 2013). ~ Lisa Cadow

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with his narrative of a son trying to understand his unusual family — a family of four orbiting the manifestations of his mother’s bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story, and/or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. Along the way, it also provides a look at life in Bombay. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book; it is well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie

And a bonus pick — One of the many books read with with my 6th grader this summer. He proclaimed it “the best book ever” (with The Wednesday Wars by the same author the “next best”). Mr. Schmidt, the author, has an amazing descriptive voice, ear for dialog, and ability to capture middle school angst and humor.  You don’t need to take our word for it, School Library Journal raved as well.

OK For Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – Even though I had read this before and knew what was coming, I still cried while reading this with my son. Douglas Swieteck, a character from The Wednesday Wars, has many tough situations to overcome in this novel. His family just moved. His father is abusive and up to no good. His mother is trying to hold it together. And, his oldest brother returns from Vietnam with limbs missing, as well as seen and unseen scars. Along the way a superb librarian, some drawing lessons, an Audubon portfolio, and a few grown-ups willing to take a chance on a kid from the wrong side of the tracks provide much-needed help. But perhaps even more importantly, Doug manages to improve some grown-ups along the way. Please read this book and then share it with your favorite pre-teen. ~ Lisa Christie

And now, farewell summer 2014 …

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore.  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the week leading up to their engagement.  Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

For the 2014-15 season of author events, we have developed brand new questions. We hope you enjoy this new season of queries and each author’s unique insights.  We are starting with an experiment — featuring two authors at once. In this case Ann Hood and SS Taylor who are both visiting the Norwich Bookstore in September. (Since we developed more than three questions, they each received a different selection of three to answer.)

Ann Hood is the author of six novels including The Obituary Writer and The Knitting Circle. A native of Rhode Island, she travelled the world as a flight attendant before turning to writing. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Best American Food Writing Awards, Best American Spiritual Writing and Travel Writing Awards, and a Boston Public Library Literary Light Award.  We have had the pleasure of dining with her (and hearing her speak) and can also personally attest that she is a superb and entertaining person.

Ms. Hood will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 10 to discuss her latest book The Italian Wife and her writing life. Reservations are recommended. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat.

1. What was the last book that kept you up all night reading?

I am addicted to the Commissario Ricciardi detective series by the Italian Writer Maurizio de Giovanni. They all keep me up reading! Ricciardi is a homicide detective in 1930s Naples who hears  the last words of dead people. I just got the latest one, By My Hand, and anticipate sleepless nights ahead.
 
2. If you could give your own book award to an outstanding title you read last year, what would it be?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. A big hearted, fat book that I loved sinking into. The setting of World War ll Europe is intimately portrayed, and the way the two characters lives interweave and converge is brilliant.
3. What three authors would you invite to a dinner party?
I like wild dinner parties, so I would probably invite Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, serve lots of booze, and jump into a fountain at the end. Oh! That’s only two. I guess Dorothy Parker would make things interesting.

And now our second author – SS Taylor, whose Expeditioner Series is perfectly illustrated by Katherine Roy. S.S. Taylor has been fascinated by maps ever since the age of ten, when she discovered an error on a map of her neighborhood and wondered if it was really a mistake. She has a strong interest in books of all kinds, expeditions, old libraries, mysterious situations, long-hidden secrets, missing explorers, and traveling to known and unknown places. SS Taylor lives in Vermont; and we at the Book Jam are superbly lucky to call her a friend.

SS Taylor will appear in at the Norwich Bookstore from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, September 13th to celebrate the publication of the second novel in her Expeditioners series The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair. While the book is geared to middle grade readers, all ages will enjoy the Expeditioners, and all are welcome during this special event.  Because this event is part of the Bookstore’s Second Saturday series, reservations are not required, but an RSVP is appreciated. When you call (802) 649-1114 to RSVP, you may also pre-order your signed copy of SS Taylor’s works

1. What was the last book that kept you up all night reading?

I just finished Ben Macintyre‘s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal and couldn’t put it down. It covers the beginnings of the British and American spy agencies during World War II and then the intricate web of lies told by Soviet double agents like Philby during the Cold War. Macintyre looks at Philby’s betrayal through the lens of his long friendships with other British spies, which gives this true story the depth and level of character exploration of a great Le Carre novel. I also really liked Macintyre’s Double Cross about the turned spies (eccentric characters all) who helped convince Hitler that D-Day was going to happen in Calais rather than Normandy, thus giving the Allies crucial extra time.
2. What book did you last give as a gift and why?
I recently bought a copy of David Weisner‘s Flotsam for my nephew. It’s an amazing wordless picture book about a boy who finds a mysterious camera on a beach and gets the film developed. My kids have loved it (though I had to explain “film” to them!) I think my nephew will too.
3. What three books would you re-read if you had the time to do so?
Hmmm. I love re-reading favorite books, so I haven’t exactly been holding myself back! But if I had a week with nothing to do but read, I might do an E.M. Forster marathon — Howards’s End, Room with a View, and Passage to India in one go!

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Now that Ms. Boyd’s studio event has ended, we remind you that The Book Jam has “gone reading”. Do not fear — we left behind great picks for you to read during these last few weeks of summer.  Just visit our July 2014 posts for our most recent choices of great Young Adult, Elementary/Middle Grades and Adult novels.

We will be back in mid-September with more superb books for you from our August reading adventures.  In the meantime, have a GREAT back-to-school season and superb Labor Day weekend.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore.  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the week leading up to their engagement.  Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

We are breaking our tradition of not posting in August because we are excited to again welcome author and friend Lizi Boyd for the debut of her latest work, an enchanting picture book called Flashlight.

Ms. Boyd has written and illustrated many children’s books including the critically acclaimed Inside Outside, but her talent doesn’t stop with books. She also creates other art such as the papers and stationery — all available for purchase from the Norwich Bookstore. She is our first repeat author, so it was fun to see how her answers differ this time around.  (When we return in autumn, we will debut three new questions for this series.)

Ms. Boyd will appear in her Norwich studio from 5 to 7 pm on Friday, August 15 to celebrate the publication of Flashlight.  (Click here for directions.) While the book is geared to preschoolers, all ages will enjoy Flashlight, and all are welcome during this special studio event.  While you wait to visit her studio, be sure to click here to watch Flashlight‘s movie trailer.

Because this event is not at the Bookstore, reservations are not required, but an RSVP is appreciated. When you call (802) 649-1114 to RSVP, you may also pre-order your signed copy of Flashlight

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

The Mouse Who Liked to Read in Bed by Miriam Clark Potter and Zenas Potter. I just found my ratty little copy from 1958. I wasn’t reading yet, but I vividly remember the first PG w/ black and white illustration: “Scuffie was a little field mouse with bright brown eyes. He liked to read in bed. He had a tiny table made of an empty spool. He had found that in a wastebasket. By his bed was a pink birthday candle. That was his reading light. One day, in an old doll house, way up in the farm house attic, he had run across a wee, wee quilt. He had dragged that home, for a bedcover. And his bed! He had fixed up a tiny four-poster, with a candy box, and some stubby pencils”. This little book influenced not only a desire to make drawings and stories out of the littlest bits of ideas but also must have given me my big love of being cozy in bed with a pile of books. (NOTE: Sadly, this book is now out of print.)

So of course, Maurice Sendak, who illustrated a A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik (a friend of my mothers, which I just discovered via an inscription, along with my mothers notes of her phone number and address). Also, Leo Lionni and little books by Hockney and the list could go on and on.

2. What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why? 

I’ve been waiting since last year when I answered this question, and it’s still tea with Ursula Nordstrom. She was a brilliant editor who worked with absolutely everyone mid-century and changed the world of “children’s books”.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

The three books reside by my bed. I just finished The Stories by Jane Gardam, meeting all sorts of old and new characters, and really meeting them because Ms. Gardam gives that to the reader.  Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips which I’ve just dipped into. And, Euphoria by Lily King, which is waiting for me.

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There are so many books that we could list as perfect books for these last fleeting weeks of summer.  However, we recognize reading time is limited, and we severely limited our picks to help you choose the right book(s) for you.

We hope you enjoy our selections. And we truly hope, that whatever you choose to read during these last weeks of summer, you have a great time reading; we know we will.

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. Things are not as they immediately appear however, for parents Franny and Jim who are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary or for their 28 year-old son and college-bound 18 year-old daughter. 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. As a reader, I appreciated the way the characters’ concerns were slowly shared –  as well as were the the sights, sounds, beaches, nightclubs and even grocery stores of the island. There’s a little something for everyone in this book (i.e., love, remorse, redemption, parenting, cooking, a beautiful Spanish villa) which makes it the  perfect summer read. ~ Lisa Cadow

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – Truly terrific. A well-crafted tale of three anthropologists and their time observing and living with the various peoples in the Territory of New Guinea. Set between the two World Wars, Ms. King explores a complex love triangle among three gifted and often confused young scientists. This novel is loosely based upon real life events from the life of Margaret Mead — all from a trip to the Sepik River in New Guinea, during which Mead and her husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson —  and it has me searching for nonfiction treatments of her life. The New York Times agrees that this book is a must read this summer. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781476746586All 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. The author does and excellent job of slowly building the suspense and pace throughout the novel turning it into a real page-turner by the time the bombs start dropping in Brittany. Many people are describing this as “the book of the summer”, and I just might have to agree. ~ Lisa Cadow

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 is US) – This haunting tale of Iceland (we at the Book Jam love Icelandic tales), takes the true stories of Agnes – a woman convicted of murdering two men, of the family of four forced to house her while she awaits her execution, and of Toti – the Reverend charged with saving her soul, and then combines them into a fabulous first novel. As winter unfolds, each night after the day’s work is completed, Agnes narrates her version of the events leading up to the murders for anyone willing to listen. The tale she weaves is haunting for all those hearing her; you will remember this novel long after you finish.~ Lisa Christie

Please note that this will be our last post until mid-September — we have “gone reading” for the month of August. We look forward to sharing our “gone reading” finds with you in our Autumn posts.

 

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An email from one of our great friends in need of perfect books for her soon-to-be-High-School-Senior to read this summer led to this post.  Since this student is an avid and discriminating reader, she wanted well-written books. However, since this student’s summer plans include attending a challenging academic camp, she wanted our picks to be “fun” to read.

What follows is based upon the list we created for her.  Since we think it is pretty good list for anyone (adult and young adult alike) looking for good books to read this summer, we share it now with you.

Before we begin our reviews, we would like to note two things about this list. 1) Most of the titles were published years ago. We list them now because people currently in high school were too young for these novels when they initially appeared on bookstore shelves, and we don’t want them or anyone to miss a chance to read these titles. 2) Most of these picks, while selected for readers who are YA’s target audience, are not books that most publishers would label as YA. Two 2014 YA titles finish out our list for anyone looking for a purely YA read.

What Could Be Called “Coming of Age” Novels 

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straightforward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. Have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – Mr. Urrea creates a history of Mexico as seen through the life of one of their saints (who happens to be one of his distant relatives). This saga, written in gorgeous and lyrical prose, shows a Mexico that many might otherwise miss. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Novels with an Adventurous Bent

Death Comes To Pemberley by PD James (2011) – This mystery revisits at the characters and places from Pride and Prejudice six years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. Their lives are rambling along quite well until a murderer enters their realm. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Department Q mysteries by Jussi Adler Olsen (assorted years) – All the Department Q mysteries take place in Denmark. They all involve a lovable and unique cast of police detectives. They all teach you a bit about life in Scandinavia. They are all well-written and fun, with some gory details periodically inserted. ~ Lisa Christie

A More Serious Novel with International Overtones

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – This well-written novel tracks the lives of partygoers when an event honoring a Japanese businessman visiting an embassy in an unnamed South American country goes terribly awry. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Some Non-Fiction Choices 

On Writing by Stephen King (2000) – His attempt to show people how to write well, is really an autobiography about a writing life. Well-written, fascinating look at an American author that happens to have some good tips on getting better at writing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (2011) – This short book follows an Afghan refugee through the countries he must cross, and shows what he must do to survive and achieve political asylum. The fact that he was ten when his journey began, and he did it all alone, makes it a truly thought-provoking read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor at Little Big Horn by Larry Colter (2001) – An amazing tale of a gifted young basketball player named Sharon LaForge. Mr. Colter follows her and her team as they navigate the challenges of their basketball season and their home lives on an Native American reservation. I still remember passages thirteen years after reading it the first time. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Actual YA Titles For Young Adults (and adults – let’s be honest here)

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

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (May 2014) – I can not say much about the plot as it will ruin the book.  But this story of a privileged family summering on an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard is a page-turner. The plot revolves around decisions leading up to a tragedy, and then focuses on how the decisions made after the tragedy affect the family, particularly the 18-year-old narrator. ~ Lisa Christie

This list is not meant to be a one size fits all recommendation.  If you have trouble matching the young adults in your life to any of these books, please send us a comment and we will try to find a book to meet your needs.

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Sometimes we seek out books about certain places or topics (e.g., our Iceland post). Sometimes, the books we happen to be reading and current events collide. This happened earlier this year when the anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act converged with our reading two pieces of fiction dealing with the aftermath of the civil right movement in Mississippi.

Besides the fact we read these two books back to back, what do these two books have in common?  Both present the authors’ views of post 1960s Mississippi – in one case the book is set in the present day and in the other in the late 1980s.  Both have plots that depend upon evolving race relations. Both invoke the 1960s civil rights movement as they try to solve current dilemmas. Both invoke quintessential town squares we come to expect in books that take place in the American South (think To Kill A Mockingbird).  Both were very well received by book critics at The Washington Post and New York Times. And, most importantly for a Book Jam post in June, both picks fit the “summer thriller” category. We hope you enjoy taking them to the beach or to a treehouse or to your mountain cabin or to your favorite chair on very your own front porch.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (March 2014) – I am glad this is the first part of a trilogy, as much was left unfinished for the next two books to tackle.  After reading John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, I was drawn to this novel of Mississippi and a present day crime rooted in the 1960s civil rights struggle. The details made my stomach turn — mostly because much of what Mr. Iles plotted is based in actual unsolved cases involving disappeared “negroes” and the white people who tried to help. However, I don’t think that summer reading is required to be light and there are plenty of characters to cheer for, so we call this as a great summer read.  Honestly, this novel is more of a saga written as a thriller with current social issues intertwined in the plot, but whatever you call it, it is a book I recommend.

Others recommend it as well.  The Washington Post’s review stated both that “With ‘Natchez Burning’, Greg Iles is back better than ever“, and that the book brings “… an impressive beginning to what could prove to be an epic exploration of the nation’s secrets and hidden sins, and it marks the return of a gifted novelist who has been out of the public eye for much too long.” ~ Lisa Christie

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (October 2013) – Mr. Grisham is a master at plot and suspense, and has once again created a page-turning story. Since I am a fan of the movie A Time To Kill, spending time with Jake Brigance during Sycamore Row — this time three years after the trial from A Time to Kill – felt like a mini reunion. Again, as with Mr. Iles’s book, other reviewers agree this is a must read. As the New York Times review stated “‘Sycamore Row’ reminds us that the best legal fiction is written by lawyers.” Or as the Washington Post reviewer wrote “‘Sycamore Row’ is easily the best of his books that I’ve read and ranks on my list with Stephen King’s “11/22/63” as one of the two most impressive popular novels in recent years.” Please note: This book ended up on many best of 2013 lists — lists that include authors whose novels tend not to become blockbuster movies  — and it was also previously mentioned by The Book Jam in our 2013 last minute holiday gifts post~ Lisa Christie

BONUS pick on this Mississippi Theme:

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This 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

 

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