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Archive for the ‘Fiction Fanatics’ Category

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”.
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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

SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER!images-1

 

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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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Memoir

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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History

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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Essays

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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imgres-2It is the season of Dads and Grads. And, we can think of no better gift to mark their special day(s) than a superb book. So to help you find the perfect gift for every special Dad or Grad in your life this June, we have created a short, but diverse, list of possibilities. (Note: Our picks for Dads from last year  – http://thebookjamblog.com/2013/06/11/june-10-dads-turn-books-for-fathers-day/ – still make great gifts too.)

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)— Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. Fathers will appreciate a superbly crafted story about a man as he becomes a war hero, lover, husband, father, grandfather, and finally senior citizen. History buffs will love the depictions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Pilots and lovers of planes will appreciate the detailed descriptions of how WWII era planes worked. Grads will love that this is just a good story. Fans of Life After Life (this category includes the Book Jam Lisas) will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner. This novel focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have and is basically a book about a lovely man living his life in extraordinary times.  Please buy this for the Dads in your life, and then pick it up yourself to read at some point this summer. (Small disclaimer — It took about 60 pages for me to get into the rhythm of this novel; but I am so glad I stuck it out as the story, particularly the ending, has stayed with me long after closing the last page.) ~ Lisa Christie

H is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald (2014) — Readers, be ready to take flight with this brilliant 2014 Costa Book of the Year award winner. It was a bestseller in England and is now being hand sold as a favorite by indie booksellers in the United States. After MacDonald’s father dies unexpectedly, she embarks upon a journey of healing and discovery that begins with training a goshawk named Mabel. In truth, her avian journey began many years before with her childhood love of birds and falconry — but to train a goshawk! These are the mother of all birds: challenging, nervous, prone to tantrums, and requiring daily manning. Her focus turns to Mabel by necessity, but also as a way through her grief. In the process, she deepens her self-knowledge and also her respect and understanding of birds. She simultaneously leads the reader on a quest to better know the enigmatic TH White (who was a falconer and author of The Once and Future King).  H is for Hawk is nature writing at its best, leaving the reader turning the last page marvelling at the creatures with whom we share the world and yearning for our own healing encounter with the wild. ~Lisa Cadow

Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life (2015) — This book is for sports lovers, and anyone who has ever parented or coached a kid playing any sport of any kind.  The “Manifesto” expands upon a letter St. Louis Cardinal’s Manager Mike Matheny wrote to parents of a little league team he agreed to coach. The philosophy Mr. Matheny expressed in the letter outlined (among other things) his strongly held beliefs that authority should be respected, discipline and hard work rewarded, and humility considered a virtue. In this book he builds on that letter by offering a hopeful path beyond the (unfortunately) often typical path of poor behavior from sports parents, fans and leagues. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) — Books by Mr. McCullough are like comfort food – you know the style of the prose (plain-spoken, yet somehow soaring), the general premise (history), and that you will learn something. In this book, he takes on the Wright brothers. You may think you know all you need to know about The Wright Brothers from elementary school history – they invented the airplane, because of them Ohio and North Carolina fight over who was first in flight, and they owned a bicycle shop. But, you probably did not know they first gained recognition in France, that one of their first models had a canoe on bottom in case it landed in the ocean, and that their sister was brilliant too. A great gift for history buffs and anyone looking for a story of how two ordinary men accomplished a superbly extraordinary thing. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) — A perfect gift for the dads and grads who are news junkies or interested in social justice issues, or for any of us who are trying to make sense of today’s news about race. This collection of four essays by renowned psychologist and Spellman College President Dr. Tatum focuses on race in America. While each has a school-based slant, the questions they raise and the information they impart is important for anyone to consider as we navigate the recent news about race in America. Please note that though the pieces were written over seven years ago their wisdom and questions remain timely. ~ Lisa Christie

Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (2013) — Every once in awhile I pick up a book on how to write – favorites being Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. (Both King’s and Lamott’s books would be great gifts as well.) This “new to me” volume of advice joins those favorites. The authors’ relationship, their joint adventures together as editor and writer, and their love of a good story that is well-told, propel this clearly-written volume of advice on writing. This will make a great gift for any graduate (or Dad) who will be writing as they continue their education, any “would-be” writer, or honestly, any lover of well-written books. ~ Lisa Christie

And, a repeat review, but it is probably our favorite collection of essays about Dads/Men so we are OK with that.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) — One of our favorite collections of essays ever.  Reading this will make you appreciate dads and men.  It will also make you appreciate Mr. Chabon’s writing. And, it may make you laugh and cry a bit. Younger graduates might also enjoy this collection as many of the essays focus on the mistakes and triumphs of Mr. Chabon’s youth. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

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As a very special treat, we asked some of our favorite readers – the superb booksellers of the Norwich Bookstore – to choose just ONE book that they believe every one needs to read RIGHT NOW. (The “just one book” part was difficult, and you will see that one of them failed completely.)

We love the list their picks generated, and think you will as well (at least we hope so). So, now that Memorial Day has ended, go ahead — start your summer reading. (So you know a bit more about the people guiding these selections, the selectors’ bios follow this list.)

This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary — I have loved the other three books that this author/illustrator duo created—but I fell head over heels for this one. I don’t know if it was seeing Sadie in a box, on a boat, hammering, wearing a fox mask, sleeping in a blanket fort or looking for her wings that felt most like a connection to my younger self. I do know that reading the lines – “A perfect day is spent with friends. Some of them live on her street, and some of them live in the pages of a book” – made me want to give a copy to every family I know. ~ Picked by Beth

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Towes — This award-winning book by Canadian author Miriam Toews is at the same time very funny and and heartbreaking.  It’s the tale of two sisters, one a renowned pianist.  This is a story about suicide, but also about resilience, the use of biting wit as a coping device, and love. Beautifully written with an original voice you won’t forget.  Remarkable. ~ Picked by Carin

The ONE best thing… is when I walk into a bookstore and find not just one but THREE of my favorite mystery writers with new titles on the shelves.  Just in time for decadent sunny afternoons on the porch, (of which admittedly I have relatively few with my three young boys running around), I have the great fortune to pass the time with my dear literary friends:  Bruno, Chief of Police; Maisie Dobbs; and Mary Russel & Sherlock Holmes.  With the rugged Bruno I plunge into international intrigue and unravel ethnic tensions in the south of France; with the introspective and observant Maisie, (who shockingly drinks more wine and coffee in this edition rather than solid English tea!), I journey to Gibraltar to discover a world of spies and hidden identities; and with the dynamic Russel & Homes I find myself immersed in the world of Japanese samurai and ninjas, touched with the simple elegance of haiku. All of these new titles add depth and pleasure to three series that I have grown to love. If you have been eagerly awaiting new installments, then your wait is over!  However,  if you’ve yet to discover these series, go out and start with the first of each.  I envy the discovery, and friendship, that awaits you. ~ Picked by Katie

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman — A haunting and beautiful portrait of a bright, artistic fifteen-year-old boy and his experience with schizophrenia. Magically fantastical and hauntingly realistic scenes carry the reader into this scary and all-to-common other world. Based on his son’s story, Shusterman gives voice to amazing internal and external dialogues. Reading this novel helped me form a deeper understanding of this condition that affects many. ~ picked by Liza

The Book of Aron by Jim Shephard – If you can stomach a bit of heartbreak and devastation in your spring/summer reading, Shepard’s book is worth it. Within the first few pages, I fell in love with little Aron despite (or maybe because of) his troubled mind. He’s fragile and yet has grit, which he will need at Treblinka. ~ picked by Meghan

A Slant Of Light by Jeffrey Lent — This is a stunningly beautiful book; both in the writing and the narrative. For this his newest novel Lent returns to  the Civil War of his very popular “In The Fall”. A farmer arrives home from the war to find his wife gone off with his hired hand and at the end of the day two people are killed. and another lies badly injured. While this may not sound like a plot that makes you want to read the book, do not hesitate. This is a book of luminosity rarely found in fiction these days. Lent’s use of language will astonish you and at the end, you will be sad to turn the last page. ~ picked by Penny

The Plover by Brian Doyle — This delightful book is reminiscent of The Life of Pi.  Other reviewers are reminded of the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the passion of Walt Whitman. It is a novel filled with adventure and misadventure, and surprising and endearing, even dangerous, moments that make it a page turner and a joy to read. Doyle also invites the reader to deliberate on the philosophical angles of a life’s journey: Declan O’Donnell is done with humanity and is setting off  into the great blue sea world in his patch-worked boat, The Plover, to pursue solitude and a life apart.  However, the Universe has other plans. Enter characters and personalities, both human and animal, that interrupt his solace and eventually, completely change his course. The telling is sometimes a poetic ramble, often humorous, but always moving, unpredictably like the tides. ~ picked by Sara

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Bios of our superb selectors

  • Beth — Beth Reynolds has been a bookseller for 20-plus years, 12 of them at the Norwich Bookstore. She spends her weeks in the children’s section of the Norwich Public Library, but on Saturdays you can find her here, helping a child find the perfect birthday present or recommending books to adults looking to get lost in a good read.
  • Carin – Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, three years ago from Washington D.C. where she worked at CBS News for 27 years, the last 20 as Executive Producer of Face the Nation. Her husband, John Echeverria, is a professor at Vermont Law School, and she has two grown sons. She likes to hike, cook, garden, bike, horseback ride. She reads a lot.
  • Katie – Katie Kitchel has rejoined the Norwich Bookstore staff on a very part-time basis as she has her hands full with three young boys. She is a Dartmouth graduate, a trained mediator, and lives with her husband Davis here in Norwich.
  • Liza – Liza Bernard has had many careers including weaver, cookbook writer, art show director, graphic designer, and bookseller. All of these taught her the different skills needed to do the many things necessary to keep the Norwich Bookstore afloat. She lives in Pomfret with husband Brian and daughter Rachel (when she is home from college).
  • Meghan – The newest member of the Norwich Bookstore team, Meghan Oliver has taken on an eclectic list of responsibilities, including the store’s PR and working bookstore events. Her free time is spent reading, birding and tending to her needy beagle.
  • Penny – Penny McConnel has worked in bookstores for over 30 years. She lives in Norwich with her husband, Jim, and Penny spends as much time as she can reading, gardening, spending time with Jim, and learning Italian.
  • Sara – An eclectic reader, fabulous dresser and a fun mom, Sara Trimmer has been selling books to readers for years.

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THANK YOU and HAPPY SUMMER READING!

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imgresAfter our last post, a few subscribers wrote us looking for “happy” stories. They were clear these should not be poorly written tales or romance novels or self-help, but just great books that as you close their last pages you feel good about the world.

Since these requests came from parents (each mentioned they read with their kids), we picked “happy books” as our theme for our annual Mother’s Day gift guide.  Don’t worry, if you are not a Mom or someone in need of a Mother’s Day gift for the moms in your life, these are all very good books we frequently recommend to many readers with great results. So, please pick one (or two) for yourself and/or your mom, and enjoy a well-told tale that will leave you feeling happy.

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Books That Just Leave You Feeling Good When You Close Their Pages

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (2007) . Truly an original, uplifting (though it may not seem so at first!) book set in modern-day France and translated beautifully. It is a story of friendship and connection despite the busy life that swirls all around us. And, most importantly for this post, it leaves you feeling good about life. Basically, who would not want to spend time in a Parisian flat with memorable characters? We promise you will enjoy every moment you spend with this novel. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (they grew up with a Shakespeare professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to quote the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue, but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, but most of all it is the sisters’ love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life in 1960s Britian through the eyes of a gorgeous girl who just wants to be funny.  Mr. Hornsby delivers in this tale of a group of people (two male writers, a male producer and a funny girl) who meet and create an iconic BBC sitcom, and then must deal with all the fame that it brings. Fans of “I Love Lucy” or BBC sitcoms will be charmed, as will fans for Mr. Hornby’s humor and wit.

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is best known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straight forward 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. We think you will just have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2015) – As people who love bookstores and booksellers, it is hard not to like this charming novel about a bookseller and his store, the love found when a baby is left among his shelves, and the love life of one of his publishing reps. We recommend this to anyone in need of a story that leaves you smiling, or for anyone needing a book to give someone who loves a sentimental tale (e.g., your Mom). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

A Little Less “Happy”, but Truly Great Books 

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2008) – Many characters intersect in this tale of New York and love and life and redemption. Beginning in August 1974 as a man walks a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers, this ambitious and well done novel follows the stories of many New Yorkers, including, but not limited to, an artist, an Irish monk, a group of mothers mourning their military sons, and a prostitute. This won the National Book Award, please read it to discover why for yourself. ~ 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 led to their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Unusual and Interesting Books – Fiction and Non-fiction

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – this book makes you laugh out loud. ~ Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – This saga, written in gorgeous/lyrical prose, with a bit of magical realism, shows a history of Mexico that until this book was unknown to me. Reach for it when you are looking for a reason to sit down with an engrossing book for a few days. ~ Lisa Christie

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Rolling Stone’s article about University of Virginia and the subsequent retraction, recent news out of neighboring Dartmouth College about hazing, and the fact that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month have us pondering how to have discussions about sexual assault, domestic violence, and abuse in manner that proves helpful.

Then, since when we think, we think of books, we once again started considering books that have helped us ponder sexual assault and domestic violence issues. So today, we highlight three great works of fiction that on some level deal with sexual abuse or domestic violence. You should keep in mind that sexual assault is not what we would say these books are about if you asked us to summarize their plots in a sentence or two, but they all help you think about abuse and its aftermath in ways that we hope allow all of us to be better informed.

We also use this post as an excuse highlight and link to WISE – a superb resource for those of you who may need help or need to find help for others in your life.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – We predicted it months ago – THIS BOOK IS BIG.  We continue to describe it as the next Gone Girl (from a British perspective), but we will not say much more as almost any description of the plot will ruin the experience of reading it. But obviously our inclusion of this book in this post means that part of the plot revolves around domestic abuse. Read it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you. And, keeping with this theme, read it because it is a page-turner that allows you to think about the very important topic of assault and its aftermath.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh (2015) – Rape is a devastating event for the victim, and it also affects the community in which the rape occurs. The rape of 15-year-old Lindy, during the summer of 1989 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, begins this novel — a novel narrated by the 14-year-old boy across the street whose love for Lindy outlines his entire teen existence. With often heart-rending prose, Mr. Walsh creates a tale in which narrative, memory, forgiveness, and love are as palatable as the Southern landscape this novel inhabits. And, he shows how all those items shape a life.

We are sorry this next book is not available until September, but list it here as we don’t want you to miss this well written debut, a precautionary tale of the residual dangers of domestic violence.

Drowning is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley (available September 2015) – Olivia’s mom died days after giving birth to her. Olivia’s best friend’s father has unraveled with the help of endless bottles of booze. Her on-again off-again boyfriend does not understand her. And, her closest girlfriend is trying to live her life while dealing with a mother who is both absent and an addict. That is just the backstory; the novel takes off when Olivia’s best friend and his father have a disagreement ending in death. Sound depressing? Perhaps, but somehow Ms. Stanley uses all four characters to create a story of friendship, loyalty and small town life that will stay with you long after the last page is finished. Confession – I stayed up all night to finish this superb YA novel.

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Is there a better way to spend a night than dining with fellow bibliophiles discussing a book you’ve all read and loved – with dishes and delicacies designed to compliment the book? This is exactly what happens during a spring fundraiser in Vermont. On this delicious evening, participants and hosts literally eat their favorite words.

On both April 25 and May 2, in the second iteration of Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library will serve dinners in their homes to raise money for our fabulous librarians and the facility they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts have selected to be the theme for their evening. To add intrigue and an element of the unknown, paying dinner guests choose which dinner to attend by picking the book of their choice. The location and hosts are only revealed after the books and all the guests have been matched.

How does this relate to books for you to read? The event is hosted by a diverse group of readers, and wow did they provide an eclectic selection of books again this year. They selected great fiction, off-the-beaten-path nonfiction, a British mystery or two, and even a travel guide. The books selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your literary preference.

We asked this year’s dinner hosts to provide a brief review of why they picked their title; and, we share their selections and thoughts with you below. Happy reading! For those of you near the Upper Valley, we hope you can join us at one of these delicious Tables of Content.

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The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2012) – Climb out your window and disappear!  In the style of Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, we promise an unpredictable and playful evening.  This “mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling novel about aging disgracefully” will provide the perfect springboard for a night of spinning yarns and celebrating our days.  Slippers encouraged.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887) – A Study In Scarlet is the book that introduced Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the world, and launched a whole genre of detective fiction. Come along and share a Victorian English dinner while we discuss the great detective, his various TV and movie incarnations, and anything else that comes up – perhaps other great fictional detectives past and present.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – Engage all of your senses as we seek the unseen world.  We will taste France and discuss chance encounters that change lives.  We might grapple with how time, technology, obsession, or risk connect us all with invisible threads.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – Join us for an evening of music and food inspired by Ann Patchett’s brilliant novel ‘Bel Canto’.  In the book, a bunch of strangers are assembled for a celebratory birthday party somewhere in South America when a band of terrorists interrupt the festivities. With lyrical writing that intrigues and captivates, Ms. Patchett explores how different characters react to prolonged captivity and how romance and compassion can arise from tense circumstances.  We promise we won’t hold you hostage.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – A thriller-page turner. Neither my husband nor I could put it down.“City of Thieves” follows a character named Lev Beniov, the son of a revered Soviet Jewish poet who was “disappeared” in the Stalinist purges, as Lev and an accomplice carryout an impossible assignment during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. Before Lev begins to tell his story, however, a young Los Angeles screenwriter named David visits his grandfather in Florida, pleading for his memories of the siege. A Spring dinner that promises no borscht.

The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby (2006) – We’ve all been raised with a few ground rules of etiquette: say please and thank you; don’t chew with your mouth open; and don’t ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table! We’re inviting you to break the rules and to join us for an evening of cross-cultural food and meaningful conversation inspired by The Faith Club. This compelling book tells the story of three mothers, their three religions, and their quest to understand one another. Amidst challah and couscous, shish kabobs and hot cross buns, we’re looking forward to tasty treats and great conversations!

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – Rachel takes the same commuter train everyday to and from London. The train stops briefly beside a row of suburban houses that allows her to see the same couple day after day. She even fantasizes that she knows them and gives them names. Then one day she looks at their houseand sees something shocking, and her whole life spins out of control. This book speeds along like a commuter train. You can’t wait to turn the next page. And you can be sure to start our evening we will be serving Rachel’s favorite, gin and tonic in a can.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934) – What could be more fun than fussy Hercule Poirot traveling first class on the Orient Express?  Join us for an elegant evening to celebrate this classic Agatha Christie novel.  Who did it?

Rick Steves’ Greece (2013) – Have you been to Greece or is it on your bucket list? Either way, your hosts will help you enjoy an evening of conversation, connection, and good food, all inspired by the guidebook of that preeminent traveler Rick Steves, who notes that the Greeks were responsible for democracy, mathematics, medicine, theater, and astronomy, among many other accomplishments. Please bring along your own Greek travel treasures and mementos, your stories, and your questions—or your copy of Oedipus Rex! You may want to sample a traditional retsina or a glass of ouzo, but Greece is also well-known for some lovely, simple wines that are sure to please.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011) – Join us for a night inspired by the exhilaration, frustration, inspiration and growth that comes with coming of age as a twenty-something in New York City.  We’ll enjoy some jazz as we kick off the night but keep the music evolving to match our mood over the evening, all to accompany a NYC-inspired menu full of flavor and flair.  This book read like a crisp, delicious glass of bubbly for me – so there will be plenty of that to accompany our dinnertime discussion and delights. Oh – and we’ll be leaving the fleece, clogs and Upper Valley casual wear in the closet and donning something a bit more fun – we hope you’ll be inspired to have a little fashion fun too.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – While we wish we could discuss Go Set a Watchman, this dinner occurs before its July 14th publication date. So to help us prepare for the prequel/sequel – already a New York Times Best-seller – we will revisit Harper Lee’s amazing novel and eat genuine southern food. Yes, we will open our copies of the Junior League Cookbooks from Memphis, Pensacola and Charleston. Don’t worry, we won’t deep-fry anything – except maybe the cracklin’ bread – but we will show you what southern hospitality entails.

And, just in case you thought this list could not get any better — as an added bonus, the Norwich Bookstore will donate 20% of the purchase price of any of the Tables of Content‘s books to the Norwich Public Library! You need only mention to the bookseller that the book is for Tables of Content. We thank the Norwich Bookstore for their generosity.

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