Buckle your seat belts and put on your sunblock because here we go, our last post before we take August off to “go reading”. In it, we share books we hope you take with you on your end-of-summer adventures. We’ve tried to find something for every literary mood you might have — fiction, memoir, thrillers, and yes, even, mind-candy reads. Have a great time wherever these books may take you. We look forward to being with you again in mid-September.
Wise Men by Stuart Nadler (2013)- Bluepoint, Cape Cod, 1952. This is exactly where I wanted to go when I picked up this newly published novel by talented writer Stuart Nadler. Having grown up in coastal Massachusetts, during the summer months I now crave stories set by the seashore, especially in New England. Along with delivering the sun and the sand, this book offers so much more: insight into race, class, and identity. Teenaged Hilly finds himself spending the summer at his new ocean-front home after his lawyer father catapults to sudden fame and fortune upon winning a class action lawsuit against the airline industry. He befriends the caretaker on the property and his niece, both of whom are black, and the conflict ensues as Hilly falls for lovely Savannah. The fallout from their relationship effects both families and years later, Hilly still bears the scars. In the second part of the book he attempts to find his young love and make amends. The prose in this debut novel is reminiscent of Hemingway, crisp and clear, evocative. Make sure to stick with narrator Hilly, elderly by the end, as all shall become clear in Wise Men‘s final, brilliant pages. ~Lisa Cadow
Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma (2013) – I seem to be reading many books set in Africa of late and I am glad, as this trend led me to this novel. Unchangeable begins with “I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written.” The “I” is the book’s narrator, a writer, whose literary attempts began early in life. At age eight, in an airport terminal where he spent a lot of time hanging out with various airport vendors waiting for his airline “hostess” mother to return from flights, he wrote and promptly lost his first novel. He then proceeds to lose three other books: “a novel, a novella, and a biography,” in a variety of creative places – in a black lake, with a woman he has loved and lost, and in an African landfill. All three lost novels are his fictional accounts of true events involving the narrator, his friend Julian, a much more successful author, and Eve, the elusive actress the narrator loves. And in this novel, the “truth” of the narrative is truly stranger than the fiction. But, what actually is truth? Ultimately, that is the question the narrator confronts and examines in this intriguing novel by a strong “new-to-me” author – Mr. Jansma. I look forward to his next book. ~ Lisa Christie
Benediction by Kent Haruf (March 2013) – With the quietness of his novels, Mr. Haruf tricks the reader into thinking nothing at all is happening. Then somewhere along the way you realize so much is going on. In Benediction — a man has mere weeks to live as his cancer advances, a daughter comes home to help him die, a son disappears, a girl comes to live with her grandma after a tragedy, a middle-aged woman lives with the choices her love life has offered and much more unfolds. Yes, all of this action happens while you as the reader are thinking “hmm where is the action of this plot?”. Through it all, you will enjoy the well-picked prose and your time in Mr. Haruf’s Holt, Colorado. ~ Lisa Christie
The Yonhalosee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclanfani (June 2013) - DiSclafani doesn’t miss a hoofbeat as she lands the reader at an all girls riding school in North Carolina in 1930. The atmosphere she creates is magical and lush, moving between the orange groves of old Florida where the narrator Theodora grew up and the oak-hickory filled Blue Ridge Mountains. This is a coming of age novel mixed with suspense and mystery as we don’t know quite what fifteen year-old Theodora has done to land herself in this privileged exile — or how she will get herself home. While I didn’t always like or identify with Theodora or her choices, I appreciated this book and the author’s excellent writing, the characters we meet, and considering the dilemmas they faced . Yonhalosee would make a good choice for a reading group as it puts forth plenty to discuss about race, class, family, and sexual morays. ~Lisa Cadow
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We both have only just started this novel, but it is so full of insight and ideas that we feel the need to share it on our summer reading post. It starts out with whip-smart Ifemilu who’s studying in Princeton, New Jersey then setting off for the less posh Trenton in the summer heat to get her hair braided. Insights on race in America and the African experience here abound, and we’re only a few pages in. Thus far in our reading we agree, it would be a great big satisfying novel to sink your teeth into as summer days wind down.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
“Beach” Reads/Mind Candy/Humorous Fiction
The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman (April 2013). There are two authors I “follow,” eagerly awaiting their next books. Eleanor Lipman is one of them(and Geraldine Brooks is the other). Reading Lipman’s books evokes the same feelings as watching a satisfying Nora Ephron film. The View from Penthouse B is a fun and farcical story about a motley crew of characters: a recently widowed writer mourning the loss of her husband and trying to get up the nerve to seek male companionship, an unemployed financial analyst who loves making cupcakes and enjoys his single, gay lifestyle in the city, and the owner of the apartment who is still reeling from her ex-husband’s betrayal and losing all of her savings to Bernie Madoff. As always, Lipman’s dialogue is witty and engaging and the reader finds herself rooting for these apartment mates to find love and belonging by book’s end. ~Lisa Cadow (And Lisa Christie, another Lipman fan is looking forward to this one in August.)
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand. And apparently in 1976, London suffered more than most. (Although, as I write this, it is hard to imagine feeling more heat in Vermont.) That 1976 heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London. The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother. And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (May 2013) — If you feel like you need a little mind candy at the beach, don’t pass over A Hundred Summers. This is another novel set on the New England seashore, this time in exclusive Seaview, Rhode Island during the summer of 1938. The country has passed through the Great Depression, is on the cusp of World War II and the great hurricane of 1938 is poised to come hurtling up the coast. It is an evocative setting and interesting time period in which to tell the story of Lily, in Seaview with her family for the season, where she runs into ghosts from her past. Nick her college sweetheart and Budgie, Lilly’s former classmate from college are now married and residing down the beach. Truths, lies, and secrets emerge as summer breezes turn to hurricane force winds. Fun, light, and perfect for a breezy day at the beach. Don’t forget to wear your 1930’s style swimsuit!
Skios by Michael Frayn (2102) – Reading Skios is kind of like falling into a Neil Simon play set in the Greek islands. Right from the start the reader is tumbling through the olive groves along with the disparate characters who are spending the weekend on this remote island. There are doddering academics, wacky philanthropists, aspiring yuppies, lying liars, and those out for just a little romantic fun who come together to make this a comedy of errors and tale of mistaken identities. You’ll want to gobble this up in one read, like a delicious hunk of feta.
Memorable Memoirs/Essay collections
If it’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother by Julia Sweeney (April 2013) – I loved this book. I loved the author’s humor. And, I appreciated her humor most when she discussed more serious topics: her chapters on adopting a girl from China and being a single mom are superb; her chapter on addiction is poignant; and her chapter on abortion should be read by everyone on all sides of this issue – but especially by policy makers. To complete your summer of activity, read this and then go hear the former SNL star Ms. Sweeney as she is one of the voices in this summer’s animated movie – Monster’s University. ~ Lisa Christie
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (June 2011) — This book by the British comedian had my cousin in stitches during a recent beach vacation. She seriously was laughing so hard she cried just from the blurb on the back of the book. She then laughed again and again as she picked up and read randomly from different chapters. Based upon her reactions and recommendations from Lisa Cadow and our friend Cindy Pierce, I finally read this gem of a book. I am so, so, so glad I did. A very superb way to think about feminism and life, and a great way to laugh a bit as you end your summer. ~ Lisa Christie
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (April 2013) – Mr. Sedaris always makes us laugh and always leaves us with something to think about. This is not a “light” read, but it is full of humor. We recommend “reading” this by listening to him narrate the audio-book version in his oh-so-unique voice. Maybe you could listen as you take that final end of summer road trip. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler Olsen (August 2011) – Mr. Adler-Olsen is my new favorite Scandinavian author of thrillers. This book is the first one in a great series based in Denmark and featuring a flawed detective and his Muslim side kick. I am tackling book three – A Conspiracy of Faith – in August, when the Book Jam “goes reading”. ~ Lisa Christie
Ghost Man by Roger Hobbs (2013) – This first novel by a young American novelist is being reviewed with high marks by sources as diverse as The New York Times, Booklist, O magazine, and Kirkus Reviews. I picked it up when Carin Pratt, a Norwich Bookstore bookseller recommended it for a great summer thriller. She is right. I usually do not enjoy books about gambling or drug wars or drug deals gone awry. However, the language choices, the level of detail about underworld dealings and the compassion with which Mr. Hobbs writes about the criminal elements in our midst grabbed me and kept me engaged until the very end. ~ Lisa Christie
Perfect Picture Books – Just in case you need a “family” read for youngsters
The Pink Refrigerator by Tim Egan – We LOVE the Dodsworth books in our house for their humor and their humor. In this latest outing, Dodsworth discovers a magic refrigerator that allows him to explore the world a bit. A PERFECT book to share with your young friends as they think about how to design their own summer adventures or as they claim “we’re bored”. ~ Lisa Christie