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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

Maybe it was the fact that a few of our friends spent this autumn struggling with mental health issues, or maybe because one of us works in healthcare and October was National Mental Health Awareness Month in the USA, but very unintentionally it appears many of the books we have read recently contain a mental illness theme. And please, before you stop reading because you think our picks will be depressing and “who needs that in November (or what some Vermonters call ‘stick season’)?”, please know that these books are amazing and thought provoking. Plus, we could argue many great characters in great literature exhibited mental illnesses, we just don’t think of the books they were in as about illness (think Hamlet, Mrs. Dalloway, Holden Caulfield).

Perhaps mental illnesses are specifically labeled in these more recent books because the societal taboo around discussing mental illnesses is thawing a bit, and authors find themselves able to address mental illness in ways they could not have tried previously. Or, perhaps not, but whatever these authors’ rationales, we are glad for at least a few reasons. One, we truly hope it means that the world in general is more aware of and ideally accepting of people with mental illnesses. And two, it means some great new books are out there for all of us to read. While we have read many books that could work in today’s post, we limited ourselves to two recently published fiction choices and two slightly older memoirs.

We hope you will read them, even if mental illness makes you sad or uncomfortable, because they are all really good books.

Two TRULY AMAZING works of fiction

Shock of the FallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – Wow, I cried at the end of this one. I completely understand why this novel was the COSTA book of the year for 2013 (awarded to fiction written by writers in Ireland and the UK). Told in a completely engaging manner in the first person by the main character Matthew (although you don’t know his name for awhile), this FIRST novel by Mr. Filer explores mental illness, what triggers it, how people help and hurt the patient’s prognosis, what mental health hospitals try to accomplish, how funding for services for mental health is precarious, and how the mentally ill function so well for so long, until they don’t. Mr. Filer is a mental health nurse (and I would add outstanding novelist) and his compassion for his patients comes through throughout this novel. The narration is brilliant; and, the situation is heart-breaking, unbelievably moving, bittersweet, and above all compelling. As London’s Daily Mail says, “you’re going to love it.” (This novel is currently available in Europe, and will be available in the USA in January 2015. You can pre-order it in the States; and for now, we link this pick to the Waterstones web site.) ~ Lisa Christie

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with a narrative of a son trying to figure out his unusual family. A family orbiting the ups and downs of his mother and the manifestations of her bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, lots of humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book — well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie

Two insightful memoirs

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron (1992) – The author of Sophie’s Choice struggled with depression for years.  Years ago, a friend of mine, whose father also struggles mightily with depression, told me that his father stated this brief memoir by Styron came the closest he had ever read to describing what living with a mental illness feels like. He also said his dad recommends it to anyone living with someone suffering from depression. While admittedly sounding completely bleak, this book has been described as conveying “the full terror of depression’s psychic landscape, as well as the illuminating path to recovery”, and my memory of reading it years ago would second this assessment. ~ Lisa Christie

Blue Nights by Joan Didion (2012) – Written to help make sense of the death of her daughter, this book is full of moving and poetic prose, profound thoughts and insight into life with long undiagnosed mental illness, as well as the author’s own process of aging. While Ms. Didion is frustratingly very vague about the exact nature of her daughter’s illness and even the cause of her death, she refers throughout this lyrical memoir to the “signs” all along the way that something was troubling her daughter, and that in retrospect maybe help could have arrived in time. I am so glad I picked this up thinking I could use a good memoir, never knowing it would be a perfect companion pick for today’s post. ~ Lisa Christie (Lisa Cadow also supports any Didion selection)

This post is dedicated to Dr. Jerry M. Wiener, a psychiatrist who spent a significant portion of his career trying to lift the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses, and to his tremendous partner Louise Wiener whose professional life has been dedicated to educating children and their families.

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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.
This “3 questions” features Ellen Stimson, whose family’s escapades about moving to Vermont were featured in Mud Season. In her latest book – Good Grief! Life in a Tiny Vermont Villageshe chronicles what happens next. She explores what happens after you live your dream for awhile? And perhaps most importantly, what happens when your children become teenagers?
 
She will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, November 19th to discuss Good Grief! Life in a Tiny Vermont Village. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Just call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?
  • The Anna Papers and every single other word Ellen Gilchrist has ever written. (Please note The Anna Papers is out of print, but the Norwich Bookstore can help you find a copy.) She shows us that you can explore all of the big questions in life really within one small geography and one rambling family system. Her characters come back and teach us about growing up and love and aging, and they face all of the big questions in their normal lives just like the rest of us do.
  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. There is this great passage where the narrator, a paraplegic man, is researching his grandmother’s life through her papers. She had a big juicy life, but he has just come upon some tragedy she faced, her house burning down or something, and he wonders about the Doppler Effect on our lives. He imagined how it all must have sounded to her in the moment, bearing down on her like a freight train, as opposed to how it sounded to him years later when he knew about all the joys that had followed and the sounds of the tragedy had receded into the distance. It was a lesson about taking the long view that I try to remember almost every day.
  • Texasville by Larry McMurtry. Mr McMurtry knows that humor is the grease and he doesn’t skimp on it either.
2. What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
Maybe Pat Conroy. I love those big fat characters of his, and those long gorgeous blowsy descriptions of the South. I really want that man to cook for me. God, I bet he can cook like a dream.
3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

I am reading Sarah Waters’ ​The Paying Guests (delicious), Ann Hood’s An Italian Wife ( I met her recently at a joint reading. Now, she’s a real writer.), and the new David Ignatius – The Director. (He has a bit in here where the Baghdad CIA station chief writes a list of rules for when you are under fire. Number one is – “Always have a plan for when something bad happens”. And number two is – “always move first”. If you want until the situation is clear it may be too late. I think these apply to book writing pretty handily.)

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Research shows that reading novels and other literature helps readers better understand other perspectives and increases the reader’s own social navigation abilities.  An October 2013 NY Times article discussing the studies stated researchers “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.” While we agree what the study uncovered ample self-improvement reasons for picking up some great fiction, we believe that many pieces of classical literature are also just darn good stories. So in this post we share some of our favorite classics — many read long, long ago. And we implore you, please don’t think of the classics as something you HAD to read in High School; read them for the great books that they are. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. Do you know what it is? ~ Lisa Cadow Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Though lesser known than One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel is my favorite of the two. Its premise distills to a basic question — what if it were possible, not only to promise to love someone ”forever,” but to actually do so, to actually make all life’s choices based upon this vow? Set in an unnamed Caribbean town, the three characters, Florentino, Fermina and Dr. Urbino form the love triangle at the center of the author’s answers to this question. Florentino, after declaring his undying love for Fermina as a teen, is not at all deterred when she marries Dr. Urbino, and vows to wait until she is free. This happens 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later (yes, I had to look this detail up), when suddenly, (in a way only Garcia Marquez can pull off) Dr. Urbino dies while chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The novel explores all three of their lives in real time, in retrospect, with some magic realism (of course), and through the prism of this promise to love forever. ~ Lisa Christie My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – This novel unwraps the difficulties facing the Shimerdas, recent immigrants to America’s midwest, as narrated by a boy who met the family on a train taking them all to the same Nebraska town to live. While the hardships are harrowing, and the situations faced by both major and minor characters truly dire, the novel somehow manages to be both quiet and reassuring. It is a practical, well-crafted, not at all romantic look at the resilience of the human spirit and the hardiness of the many European immigrants who came across the ocean to begin again in America’s west. As such, this story is important, but more importantly, it is a very good story. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942)  – Originally published in 1942, West with the Night still reads as if it was hot off the presses. This breathtaking memoir tells the story of the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, penned by an author who was described by Ernest Hemingway as someone who “can write rings around all of us.” Markham was an adventurer, a poet, a philosopher, and a free spirit to her core who has served as an inspiration to generations of women. Her first loves were the horses she trained in east Africa as a teen. After discovering aviation, however, she never looked down. From 1931 to 1936 Markham delivered mail from her plane to remote locations in east Africa before heading north, across the Mediterranean, and then eventually across the Atlantic. If you liked Out of Africa, you will love this book. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam on March 27, 2012)  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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

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

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

What Could Be Called “Coming of Age” Novels 

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

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

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

Some Novels with an Adventurous Bent

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

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

A More Serious Novel with International Overtones

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

Some Non-Fiction Choices 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last week, on a GORGEOUS Spring evening that actually felt like summer (being Vermonters some of us were melting in the 78 degree heat), readers from Norwich, Vermont and surrounding towns gathered in The Norwich Inn Pub to hear about some superb new books to bring to the mountains this summer, and to give to grads and dads later this month.

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.

 beer & book

This event sold out, but those people lucky enough to get a ticket sipped drinks, listened to great book reviews and laughed a bit.  We focused on GREAT books for summer reading because summer is just around the corner, and great gifts for grads and dads because those celebrations are upon us. Because of everyone’s efforts, a few people completed their father’s day shopping during the event, and most got a good start on stocking up on great summer reading.  We also raised over $700 for the library, all while increasing sales for a treasured independent bookstore – The Norwich Bookstore of Norwich, Vermont.

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

  • Beth Reynolds - Beth is the children’s librarian at the Norwich Public Library during the week and dons her bookseller cap on the weekends at the Norwich Bookstore where she has helped many a family find the perfect last-minute birthday present. When not working in town you can find her at home knitting, reading, baking, writing or taking pictures of her new lop-earred bunny.
  • Carin Pratt – Carin moved to the Upper Valley three years ago after spending 30 years in DC working as a television producer. She’s never looked back. She reads a lot.
  • Penny McConnel – Penny is the co owner of The Norwich Bookstore. She lives in Norwich with husband Jim and enjoys gardening, reading, studying Italian, cooking, knitting, visiting her three sons and a grandson in Phoenix, the Bay Area and Burgundy France, and best of all, doing things with Jim.
  • Jim Gold – Our first male presenter in Norwich says — “Reading has given me the quiet eye and understanding heart to see beyond the confines of my dental profession. It fosters good conversation. Other activities that feed my soul:  hiking, cycling, canoeing, gardening, woodturning, cooking and time with my favorite and far more experienced book seller, Penny McConnel.”
  • Lisa Christie – 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 of Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide literacy organization.  In her spare time she reads (though never as much as she would like), bikes, swims and has fun with her husband and two sons.

Since most of you could not join us in person, we now share the great titles discussed last week. This post lists all twenty-one books discussed during the evening (Beth somehow snuck in an extra title), each with its special six-word review written by the presenter. Each of their selections is linked to The Norwich Bookstore web site where you can learn more about the picks and order your books. 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.

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

  • Summertime by Joanne Dugan (2014). Selected by Beth – Photos you’ll want to jump inside.
  • My Venice by Donna Leon (2013). Selected by Jim – Poignant. Insightful. Clever. Observant. Witty. No BS.

Cookbooks – For anyone looking for summer inspiration

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

  • My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor (2013). Selected by Penny – Inspiring. Hopeful. Insightful. Educational. Fantastic story.

Adult Fiction – For a woman who only has time for the best fiction after hiking all day

  • Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (2014). Selected by Carin – Thirty-somethings navigate small town lIfe.
  • While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (2014). Selected by Lisa – “True” story of “Sleeping Beauty”. Fun.
  • We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride (2014). Selected by Beth – It’s all about connections. And love.
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (2012). Selected by Jim – Excellent character development carries moving tale.
  • And The Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass (2014). Selected by Penny – Searching can bring you home again.

 

Adult fiction – For a man who has enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

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

  • Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (2012). Selected by Lisa – Series. Art. History. Fun. Smart kids.

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

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009). Selected by Beth – Imagine Harry Potter going to college.
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014). Selected by Lisa – Charmed Island Life? Tragic Choices.  OK?

PERFECT books for the dads and grads in your life – or stated another way, last minute gifts to ensure happy celebrations

A brief note to our valued readers — While we are not Goodreads, we are trying to grow and show that small independent bloggers and bookstores make a difference.  So this June, we are campaigning to increase our subscribers.

Please subscribe if you have not already done so.  And if you are a subscriber, please encourage your fellow readers to subscribe to the Book Jam.  To subscribe, go to the right hand side of our blog – under email subscription – and provide your email. THANK YOU!

 

 

 

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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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