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.
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”.
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.
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)
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.
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Kids at Heart, Must Read Memoirs, Two Peas in a Pod: Similar Themes | Tagged awkward memoir, books for Valentine's Day, Gabrielle Zevin, Gone Girl, Hank and John Green, John Green, Josh Sundquist, love, Love Stories, Paula Hawkins, romance novels, The Fault in Our Stars, The Girl on the Train, The Princess Bride, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Vlog-Brothers, valentine's Day, Valentine's Day books, We Should Hang Out Sometime, William Goldman | Leave a Comment »
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.)
Posted in Must Read Memoirs, Two Peas in a Pod: Similar Themes | Tagged Andrew Aydin, Angela Farris Watkins, Civil Rights Movement, Congressman John Lewis, Congressman Lewis, Dr. King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., graphic novels, John Lewis, Love Will See you Through, March on Washington, March: Book One, March: Book Two, Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, Nashville, Nate Powell, President John F Kennedy, Rosa Parks, Sally Wern Comport | Leave a Comment »
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
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Kids at Heart, Must Read Memoirs | Tagged A Little Something Different, Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative, JoJo Moyes, Just Mercy, Me Before You, Mr. Stevenson, Sandy Hall, The Girl You Left Behind | Leave a Comment »
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.
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
The 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
Posted in Book Clubs, Fiction Fanatics, Kids at Heart | Tagged A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Marra, Best Books of 2014, Big Little Lies, Burial Rites, Congressman John Lewis, Hannah Kent, Hilary Mantel, Last Summer of the Camperdowns, Like No Other Una LaMarche, March: Book One, Mudbound, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, The Rosie Project, The UnAmericans, Under the Egg | Leave a Comment »
Well, due to a lingering Nor’easter we had to reschedule, but we finally made it to the Norwich Inn last week for the annual holiday edition of Pages in the Pub in our home town of Norwich, Vermont. Our superb presenters spoke about their favorite picks for our gift giving categories, and wow did they sell a lot of books. And thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, they raised around $1,000 for the Norwich Public Library (while increasing sales for a great indie bookstore). The presenters also left us with a great list of books to give and to get.
This post lists all twenty-three books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. (Yes, we again limited the presenters to six words so we would not run out of room in this post, and they creatively rose to the challenge.) You’ll also notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing and gift-giving easier.
We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for holiday giving and their bios at the end.
COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOW STORM
- Make It Ahead by Ina Garten (2014). Selected by Lucinda – Delicious dishes made ahead remove stress.
- My Paris Kitchen by David Leibovitz (2014). Selected by Penny – Paris Recipes, Photographs, Delicious Stories, Techniques.
MEMOIRS: FOR PEOPLE WHO ENJOY LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE’S MEMORIES.
- Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014). Selected by Lucinda – Laugh. Cry. Laugh again. Then talk.
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014). Selected by Lauren – Must-read: equality, justice, compassion. BEST BOOK.
POETRY: JUST BECAUSE
- Aimless Love by Billy Collins (2013). Selected by David – Accessible poetry with imaginative surprises.
ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013). Selected by Penny – Nigeria, America Racism, Relationships, Blog, Thoughtful.
- Us by David Nichols (2014). Selected by Lucinda – Can visiting Europe repair the family?
- All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014). Selected by Penny – French Girl, German Boy, WW2 Intrigue.
- Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014). Selected by Lisa – Short stories by master storyteller. Unique.
- Cobra by Deon Myer (2014). Selected by Lauren – Cape Town crime thriller with twist.
BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS
- Holes by Louis Sachar (2000). Selected by Lauren – Perfect pick for reluctant young reader.
- Misadventures of Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (2014). Selected by Lisa – Hilarious brood of six creates chaos, love.
- Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli (2014). Selected by Lisa – Funny sibling rivalry leads to Dickinson.
YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM
- I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014). Selected by Penny – Twins, Art, Loss, Family, Homosexuality, Individuality.
- Like No Other by Una LaMarche (2014). Selected by Lisa – Modern-day West Side story. Fun!
NON-FICTION/REFERENCE BOOK/COFFEE TABLE BOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK ANDCHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE
- Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (2014). Selected by David – Aiming for good end to good life.
- This is the Story of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (2013). Selected by Jim – Unpretentious, insightful, biographical, interesting, sensitive, compassionate.
- Elephant Company by Vicki Croke (2014). Selected by Jim – Educational, enlightening, well written, engaging, evocative, entertaining.
- Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg (2014). Selected by Lucinda – OMG – Funny texts by authors. LOL!
PERFECT PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS
- Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (2014). Selected by Lauren – An interactive journey through the seasons.
- I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein (2014). Selected by Penny – Dog adopts, trains, eventually loves owner.
- Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea (2014). Selected by Lisa – Lane Smith pics. Do-It-My-Way Kid.
- One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl (2104). Selected by Lisa – Charming counting bears. Sing-Song Rhyming.
OUR SUPERB PRESENTERS
- Lucinda Walker – Lucinda’s first love was Encyclopedia Brown. Lucinda has been the Director of the Norwich Public Library since 2002. She would like to give a grateful shout out to her amazing colleagues and the Norwich community. Lucinda loves reading, skiing, listening to podcasts, drinking coffee, and dancing with her awesome husband Peter and 2 kids, Hartley & Lily.
- David Otto – Having worked nearly forever, as a clergyman, pastoral counselor, and currently a fee only financial planner, David gets out of the office to ride his bike, spend summers in Maine with his family, and cross-country ski in the winter. He reads mostly non-fiction and sometimes refers to himself in Norwich as Mr. Mary Otto.
- 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. She is very excited to once again be a participant in Pages in the Pub.
- Jim Gold – Reading has given me the quiet eye and understanding heart to see beyond the confines of my discipline. 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 and travels (though never as much as she would like), bikes, swims, tries to speak Spanish and has a lot of fun with her husband and two sons.
- Lauren Girard Adams – After spending two years in South Africa, Lauren has returned home to Norwich with her husband and two children. Lauren is enjoying sharing tales of their adventures and experiences, including the discovery of a book or two, with family and friends here at home.
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Food Lovers, Historical Fiction Buffs, Just the "facts", Must Read Memoirs, Poetic Souls, Tough GIfts | Tagged Aimless Love, All the Light We Cannot See, Americanah, Ann Patchett, Another Day As Emily, Anthony Doerr, Atul Gawande, Being Mortal, Billy Collins, Bob Shea, Bryan Stevenson, Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Christie Matheson, Cobra, Dana Alison Levy, David Ezra Stein, David Leibovitz, David Nichols, David Otto, Deon Myer, Eileen Spinelli, Elephant Company, Hilary Thatcher, Holes, I'll Give you The Sun, I'm My Own Dog, Ina Garten, Jandy Nelson, Jim Gold, Just Mercy, Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, Lane Smith, Laura Gehl, Lauren Girard Adams, Like No Other Una LaMarche, Lisa Christie, Louis Sachar, Lucinda, Lucinda Walker, Make It Ahead, Mallory Ortberg, Misadventures of Family Flecther, My Paris Kitchen, Norwich, Norwich Bookstore, Norwich Inn, Norwich Public Library, One Big Pair of Underwear, Paris Kitchen, Penny McConnel, Roz Chast, Tap the Magic Tree, Texts From Jane Eyre, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, This Is The Story Of a Happy Marriage, Us, Vicki Croke | 4 Comments »