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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

Some Books for Book Clubs, and Anyone Looking for a Great Read

imagesWe were privileged to visit a local book club to present a few books for them to consider reading together. Their graciousness was incredible, and their appreciation for our ideas inspired us to share our picks with all of you. As you will see, we were slightly carried away and included MANY books by a diverse group of authors on many topics. So, our reviews are by necessity brief. To help you navigate this long list, we organized the titles in very loose categories, with a caveat that many would fit in multiple places. We hope this list inspires you to read some great books during these deliciously long summer days.

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Fiction – just for laughs/fun/easy reading/escape

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – Run-away bride drives home to Sonoma County, and is helped by her complicated family through decisions about what happens next.  Bonus — readers learn a lot about the history of Sonoma’s transition to vineyards.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life as a 1960s BBC sitcom star.

Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – Life of an American English professor becomes complicated when she spends a term in England with a younger colleague. It is a fun read that also won the Pulitzer.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013) – Mom runs away from Seattle playground dramatics (and fulfills a fantasy felt by many at one point their parenting lives).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A love story told backwards beginning with the deaths of the main characters from a fall off a cliff on Mallorca to the moment they met decades before.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) – A fun, well-told tale of suburban parenting.

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Fiction – slightly more serious

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (1997) – Dramatic, different, compelling. All the things a story should be.

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – The story of Teddy from Atkinson’s Life After Life.  A great read for WWII fiction fans, fans of pilots and those of you who ever wondered what might have been.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – Two remarkable characters try to survive the siege of Leningrad. Wicked with fun, yet poignant.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2014) – Contemporary Ireland after the fiscal meltdown provides the background for a superb cast of characters. Enjoy.

Any novel by Halldor Laxness (Independent People) – This Nobel Prize winning author from Iceland is gifted, and his books take you to a land many of us never get to visit to see people we enjoy getting to know.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – Set in the aftermath of the collapse of civilization this tells the story of a Hollywood star, a savior and a cast of actors wandering what used to be the Great Lakes.

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2013) – Set ten years after civilization collapses, a man, his conscience and his dog try to figure out life.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – A page-turning fictional account of Margaret Mead’s life. Enjoy your time in the Samoan backcountry.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – A fictional account of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In this book the author pictures her as a superb story-teller who becomes a memorable protagonist for a great piece of historical fiction.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – A classic tale of the American Midwest and the American immigration story.

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A saga spanning the 20th century in China and Los Angeles. Enjoy this tale of how a father’s love for China shapes his daughter’s life. We have recommended this to many book clubs – including an all men club – with great success.

The Submission by Amy Waldman  (2012) – This fiction answers what happens when the winning design for a monument for 9-11 is awarded to a Muslim.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – A story by a first time author, who also happens to work in a facility for the mentally ill, about a young man’s struggle with mental illness.  Not as depressing as that sounds.

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – A tale of immigration to America, the pull of the home country, and how some decisions by your parents have ramifications for you for the rest of your life.

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Pairings of books – because sometimes reading books back to back enhances the experience

The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) and In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent (2000)These two books are gorgeously written and approach the Civil War from two different settings, an isolated holler in North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont.

On Beauty (2008) by Zadie Smith with Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910) – On Beauty beautifully retells Howard’s End, a classic tale of England.

Prep (2004) and American Wife (2008) by Curtis Sittenfeld – In these two books, Ms. Sittenfeld tackles Prep School and former first lady Laura Bush.  Both will leave you thinking differently.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person  (2012) – Madame Bovary plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

Girl At War by Sara Novic (2015) with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Both books tackle the impact of war – one in Croatia and one in Chechnya – on those left in its wake.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) and Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2008) – Both books look at WWII from the perspective of the Spanish Civil War.  Mr. Furst explores this theme using a thriller, Ms. Sansome in a more traditional historical novel.

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These words begin this novel about a mixed race Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan (2015) – This novel explores the consequences of bullying in a tale of a high school girl who moves from NYC to a football obsessed town in Alabama.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – A story of how one boy is trying not to let a tragic accident define his life and how a girl with a disfigured face shows him the way (sort of).   

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A tale for middle grade readers that illustrates the importance of perspectives and prejudice.  The plot can be summed as a black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man.  This book shows there is more to that tale.

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Short Stories/poetry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection of short stories – some completely haunting — by a master storyteller.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (2014) – Stories about Communists in the USA and abroad.

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Memoir

H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2015) – TH White, birds and dealing with the loss of a father mingle in this well-told memoir.

Any book by Alexandra Fuller – A superb set of memoirs about growing up in Africa and finding one’s place in the world.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway (1964) – A FABULOUS tale of life as an American ex-pat in Paris that is sprinkled with the famous — the Hemingways, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and others.

West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – SUPERB tale of a woman and her life in flight, as a horse trainer and as a woman making her way in 20th century Africa.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (2007) – The author of All the Light We Cannot See first wrote this memoir of his year in Rome on a writing fellowship with his wife and newly born twins.

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Current Issues

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – Timely collection of lectures about race in the USA.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – These poems are cleverly illustrated and outlined in a way that opens conversations about race in the USA.

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History

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) – The historian tackles two brothers and their impact on the world. Or you could read his Truman or John Adams and then watch the primaries and discuss USA politics all night long.

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Essays

Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – A collection of essays about America, Americans and how to live.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) – Mr, Chabon has written a superb group of thoughts about being a man, fatherhood, being a son and friend. Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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books-colorful-stackThe Book Jam Lisas have a favorite gift to present when significant events arise in the lives of loved ones (e.g., 10th, 20th, 50th anniversary, or 20th, 40th, 60th birthday). Yes, of course this gift involves books, but the key to this gift resides in the selection. For this gift, you as the giver, select one best selling book from the year of the original event (wedding or birthday), and then one for every subsequent decade, finishing with a book from the year of the current gift giving occasion. We recognize this description may make no sense at all, so we play out two examples below.

Rest assured we have given this gift to many, and it has been LOVED, LOVED, LOVED by recipients everywhere. Bonus for this gift — as you pick titles to give, you will discover some books you missed reading when they were first published, and the stack of great books to read on your own bed side table will grow.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #1 — Your parents/grandparents/neighbors celebrate their 40th (or you celebrate yours)

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Pick #1 is from 1975, the year they married

Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurty – Before the Academy award winning movie, there was a novel revolving around two women – Aurora and her daughter Emma, and their struggle to find the courage and humor needed to live through life’s hazards. This is something we are certain any long married couple can relate to.

Pick #2 hails from 1985

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is also a romantic. This book is their story. We think it will be fun for any married couple to read.

Pick #3 was published in 1995

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – Mr. Hornby is reliably funny as an author, and his books almost always inspire a movie that can be watched once you finish the book. In this outing, the life of a record store owner, who spends his life making top five lists (e.g., top 5 Elvis Costello songs), changes a bit when his girlfriend leaves him. He actually finds this a relief as “how can he have a future with a girl with a bad record collection?” Then once single, life with the girlfriend looks so much better. Bonus– the book will make married life look superb for the gift recipients.

Pick #4 is from 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – Nine-year-old Oskar has an urgent mission to find the lock matching a key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11. This task becomes an emotional, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey throughout New York City. 9-11 was a huge event in any marriage that lived through it. This book will help the couple receiving this gift talk about it in a new way.

Pick #5, the final selection is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)  – The next Gone Girl (from a British perspective), will make the gift recipients’ own relationship and its endurance seem that much more special. We can not say much more as almost any description of the plot will ruin the experience of reading it, but we recommend reading it before the inevitable movie based upon its prose arrives in a theater near you.

GIFT-GIVING SCENARIO #2 — Your girlfriend/niece/daughter/goddaughter turns twenty in 2015.

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Pick #1 comes from 1995, the year of their birth

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama – The current President, the one people born in 1995 remember most clearly at this point, published this autobiography during the year they were born. So, that seems like a great place to start this gift to people born in 1995. In this memoir, President Obama explores what it meant to him to be the son of a black African father and a white American mother. His book takes you from small town Kansas, from which President Obama retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, and places in between. Note: President Obama won a grammy for his recording of this memoir; so, an audio-book version might be a great option.

Pick #2 was published in 2005, when they were ten

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Many high schoolers across the country have read this as part of required reading lists because it is an amazing book of the Holocaust with an unusual narrator – Death. You should read it and give it because it 1) will change you and the gift recipient, 2) is well-written, and 3) reminds you that in the heart of the worst darkness there is hope and there are good people. And ultimately, this novel is about the power of books and stories.

Pick #3, the final pick, is from 2015, the year of this special occasion

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love and life told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what their senior year of HS 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). We can not recommend it highly enough; but, be warned you will be very, very sad, as well as happy, while you read this book. Your gift recipient will be thrilled to be reminded that High School and all its angst is behind them.

You get the idea.  And, what is truly, truly great about this idea, is that it works for anyone, for any occasion, year after year. Have fun finding the perfect books for the loved ones in your life.

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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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The Book Jam firmly believes that if you get a day off from work and school, you should know a little bit about why that day is celebrated. Thus, on today’s federal holiday in the USA, we review two great books (one for younger children and one for the rest of us) and highlight a comic book that all relate to the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love Will See you Through by Angela Farris Watkins and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport (December 2014) – In this wonderfully illustrated picture book, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. discusses Dr. King’s six guiding beliefs, and how he embodied him in different moments in his life: 1) Have Courage, 2) Love your enemies, 3) Fight the problem, not the person who caused it, 4) When innocent people are hurt, others are inspired to help, 5) Resist violence of any kind, and finally 6) The universe honors love.  This is a great way to discuss Dr. King with the children in your life, and to start discussions about your own guiding principles and what you do to try to live up to them.

March: Book Two by John Lewis (January 2015) – This second part of a SUPERB series penned by Congressman John Lewis and his aide Andrew Aydin, and then illustrated by Nate Powell in a graphic novel form, is a moving portrayal of the USA’s Civil Rights movement of 1960s. Book Two takes off where New York Times bestselling Book One left us — just after the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign led by Mr. Lewis and his fellow students. (We also loved Book One, as seen in previous Book Jam posts.)

March: Book Two follows Mr. Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders on to buses into the heart of the deep south, to their meetings with Dr. King, and into the offices of power in Washington, DC (culminating with President John F. Kennedy’s). Both books illustrate the brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder the protesters faced.  Book Two also shows the internal conflicts the young activists struggled with as their movement grew. Please read this series (and make sure your favorite younger readers find it) as an important reminder of why the work of Dr. King, Congressman Lewis, Diane Nash, Rosa Parks and so so many others is so important to all of us today. (Fun fact: This graphic novel series is inspired by a 1957 comic book – Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story that inspired Congressman Lewis and other Freedom Riders.)

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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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