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Archive for the ‘Kids at Heart’ Category

DSC04450Late July — a time to tackle some of those books on your kids’ or nieces’ or nephews’ or grandkids’ summer reading list, a perfect excuse for your kids to spend a day in a hammock with a good book, an opportunity for rainy days to be filled with words, and the season when many young campers would love a care package full of books. So to help you navigate all these reasons to read, we’ve compiled our annual list of books for young summer campers — whether they have a tent pitched in their own backyard or are someplace far away.

To help guide selections a bit, we divided our picks into two categories 1) picks for young to middle grade readers, and 2) books for young adults. We do so, as always, with the disclaimer these categories are very, very loose; so please use them as guidelines, not gospel. We also decided to feature more recent titles, but this does not mean we don’t recommend the classics – The Wednesday Wars, Stuart Little, Harry Potter, Rose Under Fire, Swallows and Amazons, The Bluest Eye, Percy Jackson. We whole heartedly recommend the classics and older titles and blog about them often; we just don’t feature them in this post.

We hope you have fun with these books wherever you and your young loved ones may be this summer. Happy reading!

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Some fiction and non-fiction for young to middle grade readers

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2015) – This series brings us back to our days of devouring the “Little House” books. And while this series, unlike Ms. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, is not a memoir, it feels authentic, and the illustrations are especially evocative of those etchings of Ma, Pa, Laura and Mary. In this sequel to Bo at Ballard Creek, we continue to follow Bo, her brother, and her two dads as they travel the Alaskan Gold Rush. Give this one to all your Little House fans; they will thank you. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015) – Perhaps my favorite book for kids so far in the summer of 2015.  Fans of Dave Barry will love the humor. Fans of fun adventures will love this book about four kids and their unusual plan to save the President using a kite and some stolen property (it all makes sense in the end). ~ Lisa Christie

X:A novel by IlyAsah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon (2015) – This novel looks at Malcolm X and his formative years in Michigan, Boston and NYC.  Written by his daughter and Ms. Magoon (author of another recommended kids book, How it Went Down), this book humanizes a legend, and illustrates how your choices and your reactions to them shape your life. ~ Lisa Christie

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – SUPERB! Sad. Powerful. Trent’s 6th grade year is scarred by the aftermath of a tragic accident in 5th grade.  Nothing gets much better until Trent meets an unique and also scarred, force of nature called Fallon. The story of Trent and Fallon is one of second chances, recovery and friendship. It is also an honest look at rage, anger,and blame. As award-winning author Gary Schmidt states, “This book will change you.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (2015) – Ruby has a big secret that keeps her from inviting friends over to play and that takes her out of town every Saturday — her mom is in prison. She is fuzzy on the details of why her mom is incarcerated because, quite honestly, she does not really want to know. However, in this book she is starting middle school in mere weeks and she is thinking about her mom more often than when she was a young child. Plus, there is a new girl in her condo complex who just might be a friend. This story tells Ruby’s story and introduces the reader to the complicated lives led by children of the incarcerated. This would be a great book to read with your kids as it would lead to great conversations about bad choices and the ripple of repercussions they leave behind. ~ Lisa Christie

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015) – A plot influenced by magic realism and launched by a fairy tale about the fate of three princesses, allows a harmonica to travel among three children in three different states/countries (Germany, Pennsylvania and California) during WWII. This harmonica unites their very different war experiences (rescuing a father from concentration camp, ensuring a brother does not go to an orphanage, helping a family hold on to their farm) into one lovely book. Uniquely crafted, this story of love, music, and war will both educate and delight. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ferals by Jacob Grey (2015) – Caw was abandoned by his parents when he was very young and he has been living with and talking to the crows ever since. Then one day, he and his crows save a girl, and he finds his first human friend. Things then get complicated as they discover other humans who can talk with animals, and then learn that some of those “ferals/animal talkers” are intent on destroying the world by bringing the “Spinning Man” back to life. Believe us — this will all make sense to the kids who read this dark adventure for animal lovers. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Graphic Library’s many stories — The Attack on Pearl Harbor, Matthew Henson, Jim Thorpe, Shackleton and his lost Antarctic Expedition, The Battle of Gettysburg (assorted years) – GREAT nonfiction graphic novels covering a variety of topics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

images-1Some Fiction Picks for For Young Adults

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles (2015) – Ms. Knowles is one of our favorite Young Adult (YA) writers ever since we read Living with Jackie Chan. In this outing, she describes one day in the life of a few teachers, a couple of cheerleaders, some stoners, some jocks and some who don’t know exactly where they fall in the High School hierarchy. Her tale serves as a reminder that everyone has a story to tell, and maybe more importantly, that we would all be better off if we took some time to find those tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (2014) – What I loved most about this book is that the main romance is between two girls, and it is NOT a big deal. That fact alone makes this book lovely. That matter of fact telling would never have been included in books aimed at teens of my generation. So thank you Ms. LaCour. But, in addition to some teen romance, this book gives you insight into the world of making movies, a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend, teen sleuths, homeless teens, messed up adults, bi-racial families, and great friends. And, just so you know, I tried to put this down because I needed to read something else for other work, but I kept picking it back up as I just wanted to know what happened in the end to all these characters. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love, life and suicide told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch, living in Indiana, trying to figure out what senior year of High School means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). I SOBBED at the end, but am glad I have this perspective on young adult life and the aftermath of death. I can not recommend it highly enough; but be warned readers will be sad along with the happy. ~ Lisa Christie

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2011) – We are a bit late to the game on this book as we just discovered this YA series last month. But, we are so glad though as we loved this first book. In it, a Louisiana native relocates to a London Boarding school where she discovers an ability to see and speak with ghosts just as gruesome crimes mimicking those of the horrific Jack the Ripper begin. The good news is if your favorite YA readers likes this one, there are at least two more titles to devour. ~ Lisa Cadow and 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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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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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, The Book Jam has 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. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.) 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, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.
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Our first “3 questions” in 2015 features Pamela and Jon Voelkel and their latest book, Jaguar Stones: The Lost CityBook Four of their Jaguar Stones series for middle grade readers. In this outing, 14-year-old Max Murphy waits in his uncle’s house for his parents’ release from a Latin American jail, when he is forced into yet another scheme of the Maya Death Lords. He heads to the United States with Lola, his Mayan friend from the previous books, on a quest where failure could mean the end of the world… again.
 
The Voelkels will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, March 7th to discuss Jaguar Stones: The Lost CityThis event is free and open to the public.  Reservations are not required, you need only to show up for a lot of fun with these two interesting authors. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com for additional information. And now, the “3 questions”.
1) If you could give your own book award to an outstanding title you read last year, what would it be?
Pamela: The award is for “Book That Most Consistently Kept 5th-Grader Up Way Too Late On School Nights Because She And Her Mother Always Wanted To Read Just One More Chapter”. And it goes to Liar And Spy by Rebecca Stead. Or to When You Reach Me by the same author. They were both responsible for way too many hours of lost sleep.
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2) What three books would you re-read if you had the time to do so?
Jon: When I was growing up in Colombia, the old lady next door used to shout at my brother and I to be quiet when we played in the back yard. It only made us louder. One day, in an inspired change of tactics,  she dumped a cardboard box of books on our doorstep. They were old and out of print, but three of them became the favorite books of my childhood:  The Road to Miklagard by Henry Treece, The Old Breton Fort,  and The Fish, the Knife & Bobby Magee. I don’t know who wrote the last two, but if I could get my hands on those three books, I would love to re-read them. (Book Jam note: These are all out of print, so we can not link to them, but the Norwich Bookstore would be happy to try to find them for you.)
3) What three authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Pamela and Jon:  Working on the Jaguar Stones books has filled our heads with stories from the Golden Age of Maya archaeology. Our dinner guests would be three authors who blazed new trails in the jungles of Central America. Jon would invite John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, two daring explorers who brought the ancient Maya to the attention of the world. Their book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán – written by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood – tells the story of their extraordinary adventures. It was a huge bestseller in its day and is still required reading for Mayanists. To the same dinner, Pamela would invite Alice Dixon Le Plongeon, a photographer’s daughter who, in 1873, left the comforts of London far behind to live in the ruins of Uxmal with her much older and fearsomely bearded husband, the eccentric Augustus Le Plongeon. Inspired by a jade artifact she discovered, Alice wrote the dreadful novel Queen Moo’s Talisman, which I don’t recommend you read. Do however seek out her biography Yucatan Through Her Eyes, which contains extracts from her diary and her amazing early photographs of Uxmal and Chichen Itza.

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So a cold, snowy Vermont February is here once more, and again we find ourselves asking, “Do we create a specific post for African-American history month, or does creating a specific post somehow minimize the contributions of people of color?” This question led to — “Do we skip this year’s post, or do we again use this month as a reason to highlight the contributions of African-Americans and African-American authors?” And finally we asked, “How can thinking about these questions help us improve The Book Jam?” We answered that last question first by doing a quick audit of our site looking at our posts from the past 12 months, to see the races/ethnicities of authors we have showcased.

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We found that during the past 12 months, we reviewed 140 books. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” posts as we do not choose all those books.) Over half (57%) were written by white authors from the USA, 24% by white authors not from the USA (mostly Brits, Canadians, Australians and a few Africans), and 19% were written by authors of color (Asian, Black, Indian, Latinos) from anywhere in the world. We noted that featured authors of color tend to be African-American (50%), followed by Latino (37%), and Indian/Asian (13%). Our gender break-down was more even, with 54% of books we reviewed written by women and 46% by men. We also looked at the images we insert into the posts (beyond the frequent book covers), and noted that we tend to insert images of objects, not people. But, we were uncomfortable to note that when we do insert images of people, they tend to be white.

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This audit led to a vow to be more aware of inserting pictures of people of all races and to feature more authors of color in 2015 — and beyond, in all our posts. We believe “you are what you read” and that reading from a diverse set of perspectives enriches you; so we will strive for more diversity. Our reflection also landed us on the side of using this month to give air time to recent books by authors who are African-American or ones that highlight the African-American experience. This decision was reinforced by an African-American student at Dartmouth College who reminded us recently, “sometimes it just helps for the white person in the room to be the one to raise the race issue.”

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So, after all the build up, we are pleased to share the latest GREAT books we have read that happen to have been penned by African-American authors. We think we have something for everyone here: some fiction, some poetry, some non-fiction and some items for children and young adults. And we sincerely hope our selections help you enjoy some great books this month.

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How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen. ~ Lisa Christie

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014) – I fall hard just about every time an author uses free verse to tell a story to children (e.g., Love That Dog by Sharon Creech). And Ms. Woodson’s prose paints powerful images in this National Book Award winning autobiography about growing up a “brown girl” during the 1960s and 1970s in South Carolina, Ohio and New York.  Her story emerges a book about the Civil Rights movement, growing up, and finding one’s voice as a writer. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – This slim volume was a National Book Award finalist and offers a powerful way to meditate on what race means in the USA today.  Using news events, such as Hurricane Katrina or another professional tennis player imitating Serena Williams by stuffing towels under her outfits to enhance her bottom and breasts, Ms. Rankine contemplates both what it means to be Black in the USA, and what part we all play as events unfold and we chose what to acknowledge and feel. I think it is important to note that I did not read this in one sitting; but instead, I picked it up, read a bit, thought, put it down for awhile, and repeated. I recommend consuming this book in the same manner, or in one fell swoop. But no matter how you read it, you will be glad you did. ~ Lisa Christie (and Lisa Cadow)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We LOVED this book but use the prose of Penny McConnel, co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore to describe it. Thanks Penny! “This amazing book has filled me with such great joy, interest and admiration both during and after I completed it. Efemelu, a young smart Nigerian girl dreams of someday going to America. When she does, her eyes are opened to so much more than she had anticipated; most importantly racism. Back home in Nigeria Efemelu had never thought about being black because everyone was, but when she arrived in the states, she discovered the heavy weight of race that burdens both the black and white populations. In the states she graduates from college, has several relationships with good men and ultimately writes a very popular blog called “Understanding America For The Non White American.” Throughout these years, Efemelu has never forgotten Obinze, the young Nigerian boy she fell in love with in high school and the reader never stops hoping that they will eventually find each other. This is a contemporary story that is not just another story of immigration, but one of identity, love and powerful insights. Adichie is a powerful voice in contemporary fiction; a brave writer whose work I look forward to reading more of.” ~ Penny McConnel (Seconded by Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie)

Matthew Henson: Artic Adventurer by Graphic Library (2006) – I am ashamed to say I had no idea an African American, along with two Inuit men, were with Admiral Robert Peary when he successfully traveled to the North Pole and on his previous unsuccessful attempts. I am grateful this graphic biography for children brought these men to my attention. THANK YOU to our town’s children’s librarian for putting this book in my sons’ hands. (But I will add, shame on me and shame on American history books for not highlighting Mr. Henson. And, shame on us still, for not talking about the Inuits who made the success possible.) ~ Lisa Christie

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selena Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls (2015) – Mr. Qualls received a Coretta Scott King Honor award for his previous work, and his illustrations for The Case for Loving are “spot on” in their inviting nature. In this picture book (also recently reviewed by The New York Times), Mr. Qualls teams with his wife to tell the story of Loving Versus Virginia, a landmark civil rights decision of the US Supreme Court that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriages, a case resonating as we watch legal decisions over gay marriage unfold. But, beyond its importance, this book tells the story of love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Anyone who has been to a drugstore in the USA lately knows that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. All those red hearts can only mean one thing — valentines are coming. And, after a completely unscientific survey of those we have met the past few days, we have concluded people fall in two camps – those who embrace Valentine’s Day and those who don’t. (Some claimed to ignore it, but seriously, who can successfully do that?!?)

No matter how you choose to deal with this holiday, a very good book can help you cope with the pressure to find or keep love. And, now that we think about it, we admit they can even help you ignore the whole thing if you wish. To help with whatever strategy you choose, we have picked three books for Valentine’s Day – one for those of you in need of a love story with an edge, one for those of you who would like to embrace its sentiments, and one for those of you in need of a laugh as you search for and/or advise others as they navigate their path to “true love”.

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For those who need the catharsis of an angry love story

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – This book is going to be BIG.  We will 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. We can also say this book is a great pick for those needing to feel a bit better about their own love life, and/or for those stuck in troubled places, and/or for those of you needing a page turner on these cold winter days. Read it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you.

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For those needing a good book unapologetically about love 

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 bookstore, the love found when a baby is left among his shelves, and the love life of one of his publishing reps. A “shelf talker” the author wrote for Mr. Fikry, the fictional bookseller hero of this book, to use in his store to sell this book (yes that is confusing) succinctly sums what we would say about “The Storied Life…“. Thus, instead of crafting another review, we now share Ms. Zevin’s fictional shelf talker. “Despite its modest size and the liberties the author takes, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has some lovely moments. Though my taste runs to books that are less sentimental than this one, I’m sure my wife, my daughter, and my best friend cop will love this book, and I will heartily recommend it to them.” And thus, 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)

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For those who need a laugh or two as they journey towards true love, and/or for those of you helping guide teens as they navigate their paths towards love

We Should Hang Out Sometime!: Embarrassingly, a true story by Josh Sundquist (2014) – Mr. Sundquist — a paralympian, a Youtube sensation who was helped along the way by the Vlog-Brothers – Hank and John Green (of The Fault in Our Stars fame), and a cancer survivor — has written an often hilarious, sometimes painfully awkward memoir about his attempts to find a girlfriend. As a reader, you follow him from his Christian Youth Group to college, and then to LA as he attempts to find a date. Ultimately, this book is about how self doubt and fear crippled him more than his actual amputation. Written for young adults, this memoir would make a great reminder to anyone that dating is awkward no matter who you are, but that somehow, we all manage our way through it. (PS – he finally gets the girl.)

And, we finish with a quote from a superb book and classic movie —  The Princess Bride — “This is true love — you think this happens every day?” May love happen for you often, even if not every day.

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This post is one of our favorites to write each January because in it we are able to tell you about books we think you’ll actually have time to read (now that your many, many holiday activities are over). We also like this post because we can think of no better way to counteract the post-holiday blues than with a really good book. Some years we seem to focus on “FUN” fiction, other years highlight fiction that really makes you think about important subjects, some years we seem to focus on poetry or non-fiction items that caught our eye. We often add a pick for kids or young adults. This year, our three picks straddle a few categories; we sincerely hope this means that 2015 will bring eclectic adventures both in literature and in life.

Please ENJOY this first Book Jam post of a new year, and may 2015 bring you all many great adventures and books.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014) – Mr. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. Peppered with statistics about of people — those on death row who are people of color, the number of people permanently incarcerated for non-violent crimes committed when they were 12 or 13, etc… — Mr. Stevenson’s book brings these numbers to life in ways that make you care. He also, although he could not have known this when writing it, bring stories from today’s headlines home in ways that, be warned, may incite action on your part in 2015. (Note: The New York Times selected this as one of its 100 notable books of 2014, Esquire Magazine called it one of the 5 most important of 2014 and it was one of Time Magazine‘s top ten books of 2014.)~ Lisa Christie

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (2013): Hot off the presses in paperback in summer 2014, the main character of this book is a 100-year old painting that hangs on the wall of a modern London townhouse. The story behind its creation and the mysterious woman at its center takes us back to World War in Nazi-Occupied France and introduces us to two memorable protagonists from different eras — Liv and Sophie. There is surprising depth to this page-turner/love-story; it has the reader considering larger questions such as what is the value of art and just who has the right to own it? What an excellent plot and a very satisfying read — perfect to curl up with in the bath or by the wood stove after the relatives have left. And P.S. If you enjoy this immensely readable work, rejoice!, as this best-selling British novelist has ten other titles to explore – including Me Before You (paperback 2013) which this reviewer can also recommend. ~Lisa Cadow

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall (2014) – A love story that unfolds through the eyes of 14 different observers of the boy and girl involved.  Perfect for the young adult who needs a bit of romance. Bonus, it is not too saccharine-sweet due to the varying perspectives unfolding the tale. ~ Lisa Christie

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

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home, Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. I can not praise it enough. ~ Lisa Christie

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)  – Buckle up your backpacks and get ready for playground politics and the modern parenting. The lives of three mothers converge on the first day of kindergarten at an upscale elementary school in coastal Australia. Observant, humorous, a tad bit dark, this “un-putdownable” book explores the lies that we all tell ourselves and each other. Part mystery (someone ends up dead, but who?), part social commentary, part page-turner, this book is sure not to disappoint. ~ Lisa Cadow

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

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a fabulous World War II novel (yes, dear readers, there is room for another title in this genre) that tells the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl from Paris, and Werner, a brilliant German boy with a gift for math, radios and engineering. Their seemingly disparate lives converge in the seaside fortress town on St. Malo, France in 1944. Many people are describing this as “the book of the year”, and I just might have to agree. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013) – I loved this crisply smart romantic comedy that takes you into the world of socially challenged Don Tillman, a 39-year-old geneticist looking for love in all of the wrong ways. This is sort of a “When Harry Met Sally” story with a Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime narrator. Throw in a DNA matching side plot and you have yourself a love story with a little science on the side. ~Lisa Cadow

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

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

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

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

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014) – Publishers Weekly says “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” The plot follows Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan, shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends, and it introduces viewers both to the world of beautiful and important art, and to the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781594631573The Vacationers by Emma Straub (2014) – Put on your sun block and travel to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca with Manhattan’s Post family for their two-week summer vacation. Author Straub slowly reveals the issues, skeletons, and neuroses of the Posts as well as those of the house guests who are accompanying them for this adventure. There’s a little something for everyone in this book (i.e., love, remorse, redemption, parenting, cooking, a beautiful Spanish villa). ~ Lisa Cadow

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

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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