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Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction Buffs’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

And representing the Book Jam:

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

Books for summer campers/ young reader (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

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

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

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

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

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Since in the very near future many, many people across the USA are heading to airports and getting in cars for April school vacations or for Seder and Easter dinners, we thought we would highlight a few great audio books for you to listen to during those long car rides, or to download to your devices for those plane trips. And since one of us always has young children in the mini-van making adult audio fare impractical for her, and the other Lisa’s work commute is too short for audio books these days, we also asked for help from two of our great local booksellers when we searched for audio-books intended for mostly adult audiences.

No matter where the road takes you, we truly hope you enjoy these picks. And yes, each of these picks is good in the printed form as well.

And, if you do not have a reason to listen to children’s literature, please skip to the end where there are picks just for you.

For families with pre-schoolers to 2nd graders in the car

Magic Tree House Series, by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – Seriously, the phrases “Magic Tree House”, or “Jack and Annie”, are magic to the preschool set. These words are all you need to know to entertain pre-schoolers for hours. We promise. We have recommended these to hundreds of parents and grandparents and have yet to receive a complaint. OK we have heard one – the author, at a book a year, does not write and record fast enough. So now a synopsis of what causes all the fuss. In this series, siblings, named Jack and Annie, time travel in a magic treehouse that appears periodically in the woods near their home. While listening to these books, your kids learn a bit about all sorts of historical times and people, all while thinking they are part of an amazing adventure. You, as the adults in the car, get to know your children will not ask “are we there yet” as long as the audio-book is running. Bonus: The written versions make great early chapter books for emerging readers. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

For families with elementary school aged children in tow (depending upon the kids, probably best for 2nd grade and up)

Same Sun Here by Silas HouseNeela VaswaniHilary Schenker (2012) – An interesting audio book with alternating narrators reading alternating chapters telling the story of two pen pals — one in NYC and one in rural KY — and the adventures they share via printed page and letters mailed through the US Postal service. Bonus: We know it is shocking that they used pen and paper even though email was available (the novel is set just after 9-11), but maybe you can discuss how you survived the “Olden Days” before email as you listen with children. ~ Lisa Christie


Frindle (1996) or No Talking (2007) by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former elementary school teacher and principal who truly seems to understand kids, and seems to have a special place in his heart for young troublemakers. Both of these books take place in a contemporary school setting where students cause a bit of a mess for themselves and/or the adults in their lives. Listen and enjoy the humor of elementary school aged students and the adults who work with them. Bonus: If you like these books, Mr. Clements has written many, many more, and someone has recorded them all for you to hear. ~ Lisa Christie

For families needing a good book to appeal to kids in 3rd to 12th grade

The Hobbit (1937) or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (1954) by JRR Tolkein - The “oh so British” narrator is superb. The content is both interesting enough for the teens in your car and adventurous enough for the elementary school aged. And since the only visuals are in their head, the plot is not too scary for most upper elementary aged kids. Bonus: You can cross some “classics” off your high schooler’s college prep reading lists. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For families with teens and above

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (2003) – The US President won a grammy for his reading of his autobiography.  You will win greater knowledge of his life. Pre-teens and teens can relate to his story of how hard his mother made him work at school.  Parents can ponder his comments about how parenting with his wife Michelle caused him to think hard about divisions of labor in households and the chores that typically fall on women, whether they work outside the home or not. Listen and have fun road-tripping with the President in your ear. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (2002) – Yes, this choice may seem cheesy at first glance, but his life is full of ups and downs that make great stories (alcoholism, stardom, Parkinson’s). The book is well-written and funny. Yes, we said well-written; and yes, he admits he got some advice from his brother-in-law Michael Pollan. Bonus: Honestly, having his voice in your car is like a lovely conversation with a long lost friend or an intense introduction to someone you would like to know. ~ Lisa Christie

For times when mostly adults are listening


NOTE: These next choices are picked by our friends Liza Bernard and Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore. Both have a long enough commutes to listen to numerous audio-books.

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson and read by Bill Bryson (2013) – Humorist Bill Bryson, tackles the events of 1927 in his latest book. The players include Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone. The New York Times review declares this book “a wonderful romp.” Carin’s review of the audio-book, “well done”. ~ picked by Carin 

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Carin says, this novel is “one of the best I have read this year. And, the audio version is well read.”  Both Lisas of the Book Jam loved this book about the Chechnya Conflict as well, and will review it in a post soon. ~ Picked by Carin

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibon (2013) – Katie Kitchel, another great Norwich Bookstore Bookseller, picked this novel as her staff pick recently.  To quote her – “Don’t let the slim size of this novel deceive you. It is full of haunting questions, powerful imagery, and the emotion of a mother who has lost a son. This novel seeks to remind us, that first and foremost, Mary was a mother.” Liza is now recommending the audio-book. Since it is read by Meryl Streep, we have no trouble imagining why. ~ Picked by Liza

Department Q Detective series by Jussi Adler-Olsen (assorted dates) – We have sung the praises of this Danish series in its written form. Now Carin, a very well-read woman, has told us they are delightful in their audio-book form, especially the voice of Assad, the main detective’s trusted assistant. ~ Picked by Carin

Jack Reacher Mysteries by Lee Childs (assorted dates) – “Fun, well-plotted mysteries that are well narrated in the audio form.”  Never Go Back is most recent. ~ Picked by Liza

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The Book Jam is of two minds about African-American history month.  On the one hand, any excuse to delve further into books by amazing authors who are African-American (see Toni Morrison) is a reason to rejoice.  On the other hand, we do not want to seem belittling by focusing on African-American history just because it is February.  And, since one of our sons (who technically is Latino) is identifying as a Black boy, we are especially cognizant of the complicated issues this month brings to light.

Martin Luther King Jr.Civil Rights MovementBlack History FactsAfrican-American Soldiers in the Civil WarHarriet TubmanMarch on WashingtonFreedom Rides

We also recognize that as white women, we can not ever know what it is like to be Black in the USA.  However, we believe as recent well-publicized research about reading has shown, good fiction has the power to transform and teach.  So in that light, and, since The Book Jam often features books by or about African-Americans and/or Africa, we are choosing to look at February as another excuse to highlight more great fiction and nonfiction options by and about African-Americans. May we all learn something. 

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kid (2014) – I sincerely hope any Oprah nay-sayers are ready to overlook her pick of this book for her book club.  If you dismiss this novel just because she chose it, you will miss out on a great story. Besides, we honestly believe that any book that helps you understand the day-to-day plight of African-American slaves and the forming of two important American abolitionists is worth your precious reading time.  The narration mostly takes place in Charleston, SC and alternates between the voices of a young woman slave owner and of her young slave.  The prose by the best selling author of The Secret Life of Bees keeps you turning the pages, the characters are interesting, and few of the relationships are simple – which makes you think.  What I most loved about this book — both of the narrators are based upon actual people from history. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (2013) – Yes, that John Lewis, the Congressman and the man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has (with two collaborators) written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Told in flashback as a story relayed to two young constituents who came to visit his Capital Hill offices on the morning of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, this book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. and into his student activist days in Nashville.  The pictures perfectly explore how his life must have felt at the time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  According to the authors, the 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March proves as inspiring to future leaders.  We are so glad we found this book (thanks to our town’s children’s librarian), and are truly looking forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations Edited by Retha Powers and Henry Louis Gates (2013) – Perfect for anyone interested in history, famous individuals or words of wisdom.  Five thousand (although we took the editors’ word for that number and did not count them) quotes are pulled — covering such diverse time frames as Ancient Egypt, American slavery, the Civil Rights Era, Apartheid, and today. With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and passages from authors, artists, scientists, philosophers, theologians, activists, politicians, this volume places quotes from Aesop’s Fables and the Holy Bible beside the words of Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Jay-Z. How many books can claim that? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

And yes, we reviewed these last year, but we believe they are worth mentioning again -

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. 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 – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Bradley (2011) – A book for children and the adults in their lives.  In this book, three young slaves, two of them President Jefferson’s own children fathered with his slave Sally Hemings, tell their stories of life at Monticello.  Their voices highlight the contradiction between slavery and freedom, and illustrate the USA’s struggles while the Founding Fathers still lived and worked.  As such, the USA’s history unfolds from a typically unseen perspective. ~ Lisa Christie

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