Halloween is right around the corner, and it seems as if many people are thinking spooky thoughts or at least pondering perfect costumes. We thought we would take a few minutes during this spookiest of weeks to highlight some thrilling books for you to read. As many are complete page-turners, and a few slightly haunting, you might want to find a nightlight to use as you enjoy them.
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection by Hillary Mantel is probably not the most obvious choice for a post about thrillers. But trust us, many of the short stories contained in this collection are down right haunting, especially as they are portrayed in such a matter-of-fact, plausible manner. 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, to a story of two pre-teen girls spying on a mysterious form, Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. As an NPR reviewer wrote “Every other story here makes a permanent dent in a reader’s consciousness because of Mantel’s striking language and plots twists, as well as the Twilight Zone-type mood she summons up.” And, if you have not yet read anything by Ms. Mantel, these stories provide a great excuse to try her work. The New York Times wrote in their review of this collection, “Over the past decade or two, Mantel has made a name for herself — no other way to put it — as one of the indispensable writers of fiction in English.” That description itself provides a very good reason to try anything Ms. Mantel pens. But the bonus for reading this particular book — it is actually a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary: Maggie Hope Mystery #1 by Susan Elia MacNeal (2012) – If you’re a fan of the Maisie Dobbs‘ series by author Jacqueline Winspear, this book is for you. Set in London in 1940, readers join brainy Maggie Hope who is working below her pay grade as — you guessed it! — Winston Churchill’s Secretary. Having graduated from the top of her class at her American college with a talent for mathematics, she is under-utilized scribing speeches. However, her work in the highest level of government brings her right up against the people making history and possibly ensnared in a plot to bring down the empire. This mystery has a little bit of everything: psychological intrigue, budding romance, a fascinating historical setting, unravelling family secrets, and a strong and admirable heroine. Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow
Cukoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling (2012) – This fun mystery provides an excuse to keep reading long past your bedtime. Ripped straight from today’s headlines with unemployed Iraq war veterans and tabloid gossip, this book compellingly portrays life in modern London through the eyes of two great main characters. You will so like both the main detective Cormoran Strike — a wounded Iraq War veteran struggling to make a living as a private investigator, and his superb assistant Robin — a young woman searching for a career. You might also feel as if Ms. Rowling is lashing out a bit at her own fame, and very definitely at the culture of today’s tabloids throughout this page-turning tale. ~ Lisa Christie
BONUS PICK – 11-22-63 by Stephen King (2011) – What would a post about thrillers/mysteries be without a Stephen King entry? Probably not very complete. New England’s favorite thriller author offers a bit of time travel with this one — to Dallas on 11/22/6 when three shots ring out, and President Kennedy is dead. The owner of a Maine diner enlists Jake, a high school English teacher, to prevent the Kennedy assassination by taking a portal in the diner’s storeroom back to the 1960s. Finding himself in Texas, Jake begins a new life that eventually leads to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. Does he change history or not? That is a question I can not yet answer as I could not finish this page-turner in time for this post. But I look forward to finding out. Since however, this book has been described by NPR as Mr. King’s “most ambitious and accomplished”, I feel OK recommending a book I have not quite finished. ~ Lisa Christie
Posted in Closet Mystery Lovers, Fiction Fanatics, Historical Fiction Buffs | Tagged 11-22-63, Cukoo's Calling, Halloween, Hilary Mantel, Hillary Mantel, Jacqueline Winspear, JK Rowling, Lee Harvey Oswald, Maisie Dobbs, Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Mysteries, NPR, NY Times, NY Times Book Reviews, Prime Minister Thatcher, Robert Galbraith, Stephen King, Susan Elia MacNeal, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Thrillers, Twilight Zone, Winston Churchill | Leave a Comment »
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 post we feature Deirdre Heekin
— proprietor and wine director Osteria Pane e Salute
in Woodstock, Vermont (where her husband, Caleb Barber, is head chef), Middlebury College alum, and of course, author. Her previous books include In Late Winter We Ate Pears,
a memoir/cookbook she and her husband wrote about their year in Italy and Libation, a Bitter Alchemy,
Heekin’s book of essays about how she came to make wine and liqueurs.
Ms. Heekin will visit the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on October 29th to discuss her latest book, An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir
. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Just call 802-649-1114 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
to save a seat. Please note this event will take place in the newly expanded section of our beloved Norwich Bookstore. CONGRATULATIONS to the owners and booksellers there — both for 20 years of serving readers with great books and gifts, and for their new space.
1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?
- Terry Theise‘s writing about wine, landscape, and the winegrowers he profiles is some of the most soulful, evocative and precise wine writing out there and very moving. His work inspires me to try to write with the same kind of balanced intention and heart.
- Alice Feiring‘s work is eloquent and provocative. I admire her courage in writing things as she sees them, her willingness to drive a discussion that she feels is important, and to write about her own arguments honestly and with humility, humor, and flair.
- Andre Aciman has long been a favorite prose stylist. He writes with longing, melancholy, joy, curiosity and nostalgia. He is a consummate craftsman, the crystalline and fluid prose he shapes with great care and an uncanny sense of place.
- Marcel Proust‘s examination of memory has always delighted and inspired me. So much of what I write about is based on memory and I have learned so much from reading and rereading his work recreating the world in which his past exists.
2. What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
I would love to meet with the writers Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck
, over a coffee or a glass of wine at their magical gardens. Their work of writing, creating, and living together was a testament to the power of their relationship as well as a benchmark for the art of the written word and shaping a landscape, guiding the narrative of a place, its plants and the people who live there. Their work together, and now Joe’s alone, is also in my top five writers who have influenced how and why I am an author today.
3. What books are currently on your bedside table?
Posted in Amateur Philosophers, Armchair Travelers, Fiction Fanatics, Food Lovers, Just the "facts" | Tagged Alice Feiring, Andre Aciman, Andrea Camilleri, Beverly Nichols, Bleak House, Bury Your Dead, Caleb Barber, Charles Dickens, Deidre Heekin, Down the Garden Path, False Papers, Gli Arancini di Montalbano, In Late Winter We Ate Pears, Joe Eck, Jon Bonne, Libation, Libation: A Bitter Alchemy, Louise Penny, Marcel Proust, Middlebury College, Naked Wine, Norwich Bookstore, Oesteria Pane e Salute, Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey, Reading Between the Vines, Remembrance of Things Passed, Robert Camuto, Stendhal, Swann's Way, Terry Theise, The Charterhouse of Parma, The New California, To Eat, Unlikely Vineyard: The Education os a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir, Vermont, Wayne Winterrowd, Woodstock | Leave a Comment »
Book Jam Question: Why read Young Adult Literature?
Answer from Beth Reynolds, Children’s Librarian, Norwich Public Library, and bookseller, The Norwich Bookstore:
“It all comes down to is this: Labels don’t matter, good writing does.”
Outstanding children’s librarian Beth Reynolds (and someone we are also lucky to call a dear friend) offers some words of wisdom around the YA genre and some sure fire hits for all of us looking for a good book — young adults and adults alike. This is our first in what we hope will be a series of guest bloggers on the Book Jam. So now, please enjoy a posting by our first guest author — librarian extraordinaire, Ms. Beth!
Ask anyone who works with books and they can fill you in on what happens to be the latest internet drama over one book or another. There is always an uproar about some genre: Chick-lit, Fantasy, Horror, Science fiction, Romance etc… When a group of books gets categorized and labeled, readers of that genre are often dismissed for their tastes. As if what they’re reading isn’t good enough, as if it isn’t literary enough for the likes of critics or someone looking down from on high.
As someone who spends her weeks donning her librarian’s cap and weekends wearing her bookseller name-tag, I can tell you that it’s often possible for me to guess a reader’s preference when they walk through the door.(Again, this is Ms. Beth writing this post, so please don’t try to find the Book Jam Lisas working in either a bookstore or library, although we both frequent both.) After many years of experience, it is possible for me to make some predictions and assumptions–but it’s not foolproof. In fact, the best interactions I have are with readers interested in a book just because the topic interests them, because a friend suggested it, or because they heard an interview on the radio.
But truly, NOTHING makes me happier than an adult coming into the Young Adult section to get a book, not for a teen, but for themselves. Much ink has been spilt over this very controversy – adults who read YA. If you think adults reading YA are wasting their time or if reading in the teen section is not something you’ve ever considered, think about this:
- The lines between adult fiction and YA are blurry — There is a large amount of crossover and sometimes a book that ends up classified in one section is often thought to belong in the other. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was published as YA here but as Adult in England, the opposite is true of Mark Haddon‘s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Take a look at the Alex awards for each years offerings of titles published as adult but of interest to teens; you could be reading YA and not even know it.
- YA books remind us of what it was like being a teen — I admit to reading a fair amount of boy meets girl, or boy meets boy or girl meets girl. Something about the vulnerability mixed with the possibility and potential for more appeals to me. I love the ability of these teen characters to live in the moment and their willingness to take that risk. Sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine that adults are ones doing the writing they manage to convey such honest teen emotions. Recently, Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld and The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider became some of my favorites new books to recommend. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is being published in January and I hope everyone rushes out to read it.
- There is often a shared feeling of experience among books in different genres — There are times when I read an adult book and I think “Hey, this feels just like book I read that was meant for younger readers. Somehow the author has managed to evoke that same essence”. Here are a few of my recent discoveries of superb pairings:
All the Light We Cannot See = The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close = Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
Me Before You = Say What You Will
The Rosie Project = The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee
- There is more in the YA section then sex, drugs and gratuitous swearing — John Green, Maureen Johnson, Jennifer Smith, E Lockhart, Rainbow Rowell, Gayle Foreman… fabulous authors of realistic, contemporary fiction. Just kids, no fantasy or paranormal romance, with their honest emotions. There is a scene from Green’s The Fault in Our Stars when Hazel’s mom worries about losing her daughter, she questions whether or not she’ll be a mom anymore. To me that writing shows that divide for what it is: an aching, piercing line that divides, but one which we as adults can crossover to occasionally pretend that the world of choices after high school is still ahead of us. Many people say they wouldn’t go back again, but reading YA lets you relive some of the good parts.
The best part of reading YA is that these books are often told in the first person. The writer knows they have to grab the reader from the very beginning, so the first sentence often hooks you. Also, most books in this genre are not incredibly long and don’t require a huge time commitment. If nothing else, they are easily accessible but filled with thought-provoking ideas that linger after you finish reading. They contain multitudes– like some of the teens you know. Sometimes I read them in between other books, I think of them as palate cleansing. They take you out of your own head and that’s often why I read.
I ran into a mom and her teen-aged daughter the other day and we started reminiscing about the book club we had when our kids were in 4th grade. Wanting to invoke that feeling again, I asked if her daughter would be up for a Book Club when she went away to college next year and we started listing off fun titles to read. She asked if I had read When We Were Liars and I nodded my affirmation with a conspiratorial smile. Her mom looked intrigued and I thought, “Hey, my work here is done. Though my mission to have adults sample what YA has to offer still looms large”. If you’re intrigued to find out more about adults reading YA, read on:
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Kids at Heart | Tagged Afterworlds, ALA, Alex Awards, Alice Hoffman, All the Bright Places, All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Horowitz, Beth Reynolds, Book Thief, Carl Hiaasen, Children's Librarian, Douglas Adams Series, E Lockhart, Eoin Colfer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Gayle Foreman., Isabel Allende, James Patterson, Jennifer Donnelly, Jennifer Smith, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, Jodi Picoult, John Feinstein, John Green, Love Letters to the Dead, Maile Meloy, Mark Haddon, Maureen Johnson, Me Before You, Meg Wolitzer, Nick Hornby, Norwich Bookstore, Norwich Public Library, Rainbow Rowell, reading, Say What You Will, Sherlock Holmes, The Beginning of Everything, The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Fault in Our Stars, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Norwich Bookstore, The Rosie Project, YA, young adult, Young Adult Literature, young adults | 8 Comments »
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
Posted in Book Clubs, Fiction Fanatics, Must Read Memoirs | Tagged benefits of reading literature, Beryl Markham, Classic Fiction, classical literature, Classics, Daphne Du Maurier, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Garcia Marquez, Lisa Cadow, Lisa Christie, literary fiction, literature, Love in the Time of Cholera, My Antonia, New York Times, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Out of Africa, Rebecca, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, West With the Night, Willa Cather | Leave a Comment »
Happy last days of summer. We enjoyed many great books over the summer months, and are slightly sad to see the longer days fade. That said, we are truly looking forward to all the good books being published for autumn and the holidays.
We start our 2014-15 posting season (yes, we Lisas still tend to adhere to the rhythm of an academic year) with two picks from our “gone reading” hiatus. Many of the other books we read in August will appear in later posts around various themes. But, for now, our two picks for your last week of official summer.
The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (2013) – It seems only appropriate to include this title in a post celebrating the last days of summer; this novel is set in that very season in Welfleet, Massachusetts in 1972. 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 in her neighbor’s horse barn. As she tries to make sense of what happened that June day, she simultaneously navigates adolescence, her parent’s fraught relationship, and her father’s political campaign for Senate. 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. If you appreciate this book and the smart way it sets itself apart from being just another beach read, you might also enjoy Wise Men by Stuart Nadler also set on the Cape but in the summer of 1952 (reviewed on the Book Jam, July 23, 2013). ~ Lisa Cadow
Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with his narrative of a son trying to understand his unusual family — a family of four orbiting the manifestations of his mother’s bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story, and/or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. Along the way, it also provides a look at life in Bombay. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book; it is well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie
And a bonus pick — One of the many books read with with my 6th grader this summer. He proclaimed it “the best book ever” (with The Wednesday Wars by the same author the “next best”). Mr. Schmidt, the author, has an amazing descriptive voice, ear for dialog, and ability to capture middle school angst and humor. You don’t need to take our word for it, School Library Journal raved as well.
OK For Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – Even though I had read this before and knew what was coming, I still cried while reading this with my son. Douglas Swieteck, a character from The Wednesday Wars, has many tough situations to overcome in this novel. His family just moved. His father is abusive and up to no good. His mother is trying to hold it together. And, his oldest brother returns from Vietnam with limbs missing, as well as seen and unseen scars. Along the way a superb librarian, some drawing lessons, an Audubon portfolio, and a few grown-ups willing to take a chance on a kid from the wrong side of the tracks provide much-needed help. But perhaps even more importantly, Doug manages to improve some grown-ups along the way. Please read this book and then share it with your favorite pre-teen. ~ Lisa Christie
And now, farewell summer 2014 …
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Kids at Heart | Tagged Bi-polar disease, Elizabeth Kelly, Em and the Big Hoom, end of summer reading, Gary Schmidt, Jerry Pinto, Last Summer of the Camperdowns, OK for Now, School Library Journal, Stuart Nadler, Wednesday Wars, Wise Men | 2 Comments »
Now that Ms. Boyd’s studio event has ended, we remind you that The Book Jam has “gone reading”. Do not fear — we left behind great picks for you to read during these last few weeks of summer. Just visit our July 2014 posts for our most recent choices of great Young Adult, Elementary/Middle Grades and Adult novels.
We will be back in mid-September with more superb books for you from our August reading adventures. In the meantime, have a GREAT back-to-school season and superb Labor Day weekend.
Posted in Fiction Fanatics, Kids at Heart | Tagged Books for kids, novels, reading, summer reading, young adult, Young Adult Novels | Leave a Comment »