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The Book Jam’s 2014 Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

Well, it is that time of year again. Time to think of gifts for the people in your life. Time to cook amazing meals to share with family and friends. And, we truly hope, time to curl up with a few good books yourself. (OK maybe that last part only happens after the relatives have left.)

To help you find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, we have assembled some of our favorites from our 2014 reading. Not all were published this year, which means many are available in a less expensive paperback form. And, once again to help you envision the perfect recipient for each book, we have assembled our selections in somewhat artificial categories (e.g., fiction for men who have enough tech, but not enough good fiction). Please use them as a guide, not as strict rules about who can and should read any of these picks.

For your convenience, each of our picks is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site (or Waterstones’ site for a few not yet available in the USA). Thus, you do not have to leave your computer to check these items off your list (Happy Cyber Monday). Finally, we truly hope our selections help take a bit of stress out of the shopping aspect of this whirlwind season. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOW STORM

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How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman (2014) – The theme for our lives this year in the kitchen keep is simple, keep it fast. This cookbook fits the bill. Most of the recipes take half an hour to prepare – nothing more than a cool forty-five minutes. This food Bittman showcases reads like a “best of” menu from your favorite pub. And ,it’s just what you want to eat after a long day at working or shuttling kids. It’s comfort food with a modern twist. There’s the Kale Caesar with Roasted Asparagus, 30 Minute Chicken Tagine, the Chicken, Bacon, Avocado, and Tomato Wrap, Provencal Tomato Soup with Fennel, even quick Skillet Fruit Crisp.  Treat yourself or a friend to this new culinary treasury.

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Make It Ahead by Ina Garten (2014) – Ina Garten’s recipes are always sure to please, and this book is no exception. Leafing through its pages, looking at the gorgeous photos makes the reader feel like they are visiting their favorite caterer’s take away shop. These are recipes that you can make for your next dinner gathering or deliver to a friend who needs a meal. We love the updated Roast Chicken with Bread and Arugula Salad (a short cut on the Zuni Cookbook classic), Carrot and Cauliflower Puree, and Winter Slaw (with kale, Brussels sprouts, and radicchio). Each recipe gives tips to the home cook for steps to perform ahead of time and assemble at the last minute. No kitchen library is complete without a few of Ina Garten’s classic cookbooks.

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi (2014) – Well, he has done it again. Mr. Ottolenghi has produced a book that makes you want to start cooking now, preferably beginning with his first recipe and proceeding all the way through to the end. And of course, you will be tasting delicious dish after dish along the way.  (And honestly, we like that this is less of a travel log than Mr. Ottolenghi’s  Jerusalem, and instead is a “fun to look at / fun to try” collection of recipes.) Note this is a perfect reference book for those of you feeding vegetarians over the holidays.

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Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton (2014) – You’ve got to admire not only Gabrielle Hamilton’s uber food-sense and culinary artistry but also her razor-sharp edginess. Prune, the cookbook, is the product of her years as a restauranteur in Brooklyn and her bistro with the same name. Her literary voice shines through in each recipe (if you haven’t already, do read Hamilton’s brilliant food memoir Blood Bones and Butter, 2011). She writes with the intent to teach the home cook, but her recipes emerge from the perspective of a restaurant chef (quantities are in orders, not servings, descriptions of how much to order for a weekend crowd are included, faux splatters and finger prints on the pages make the reader feel as though they are looking are her private notes). But Hamilton is definitely not going for the Miss Congeniality award. She lectures, scolds, treats the reader like a “stagiere” in her restaurant. We are inclined to run – not walk –  to forage for the ingredients for her Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage.

NON-FICTION/REFERENCE/POETRY: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK & CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE



How to be an explorer of the world by Keri Smith (2008) – We somehow missed this when it was first published, but are loving it now. In this journal, readers are encouraged to explore and document the world around them. Readers are told to take notes, to collect things they find on their travels, to notice patterns and to focus on one thing at a time in a series of illustrated prompts.  This would make a great “What do we do now? We’re bored” solution generator.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – We know we have reviewed this before. But now, this tale of how nine men from the University of Washington showed the world what true grit really means during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, is available in paperback and would make a great gift for anyone presenting gift difficulties this holiday season.

MEMOIRS, MOSTLY ABOUT TRAVEL: TALES FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T GET AWAY TO FAR-OFF LANDS AS OFTEN AS THEY WISH

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Heminway (1964) – We are so glad we finally got around to reading (Lisa Christie) or re-reading (Lisa Cadow) this memoir.  His Paris is a place we would have loved to have visited, and the characters involved are all the more amazing as they are historical figures you know from many other contexts (e.g., Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald).

Brazilian Adventure: A Quest into the Heart of the Amazon

Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1933) – This travel log is superb,and honestly took us by surprise with how much we loved it. The story begins when the narrator, a London literary editor, signs on for an expedition to find Colonel PH Fawcett, who has gone missing in the Amazon.  With self-depreciating humor, Mr. Fleming proceeds to explore how an expedition comes together, embarks and continues in the face of hardships of 3,000 miles of wilderness. Have fun with this one. We honestly can not recommend it highly enough.

ADULT FICTION: FOR A WOMAN WHO ONLY HAS TIME FOR THE BEST FICTION

Unknown-1Big 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 (by the author of What Alice Forgot 2012) 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.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – We discovered this haunting tale of Iceland in Rhode Island at Island Books, and we are very glad we did. Ms. Kent does a superb job of taking the true stories of 1) Agnes, a woman convicted of murdering two men, of 2) the family who must house Agnes while she awaits her execution, of 3) Toti, the Reverend who must save Agnes’s soul, and combining them into a fabulous first novel.

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (2014) – It is almost as if Gail Carson Levine created one of her fairy tale retellings for grown-ups.  In this novel, Ms. Blackwell tells the “true story” of Sleeping Beauty, with explanations of why she was lying in the tower when the Prince came, who exactly were Millicent and Flora, and why the king and queen feared spinning wheels.  It is truly a page-turning tale of family, secrets, and promises. Read it and enjoy losing yourself in an unique telling of a well-known tale.

ADULT FICTION: FOR A MAN WHO HAS ENOUGH TECH, BUT NOT ENOUGH GOOD FICTION

The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dec 2013)- The latest Department Q novel shows how the misfit threesome stuck in the bowels of the Copenhagen Police Department have melded into an effective cold-case solving unit, and a worthy family.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) – This book shows how a thriller becomes a powerful novel; it provides a superb author, a historical plot and intense situations with characters you care about. We especially liked the Spanish Civil War angle in this well-plotted tale.  Enjoy this one and then pick up one of Mr. Furst’s many other superb historical thrillers.

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home (which is promptly burned to the ground). Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters (e.g., the daughter of the abducted man, the father of a despised informant, a doctor trying to hold together a hospital with only three staff members) in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. We can not praise it enough.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – Truly terrific. A well-crafted tale of three anthropologists and their time observing and living with the various peoples in the Territory of New Guinea. Set between the two World Wars, Ms. King explores a complex love triangle among these gifted and often confused young scientists. This novel is loosely based upon real life events from the life of Margaret Mead — all from her trip to the Sepik River in New Guinea, during which Mead and her husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson. It has us searching for nonfiction treatments of her life. The New York Times agrees that this book is a “must read”.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – We love her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, so we leapt at the chance to read some short stories by Ms. Mantel.  The collection is diverse and always interesting, from a piece about when you know a marriage has ended to the title story about an assassin, she keeps you guessing about what is really going on with each character.  Pick this up and enjoy them one at a time or in one fell swoop.

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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. The author does and excellent job of slowly building the suspense and pace throughout the novel turning it into a real page-turner by the time the bombs start dropping in Brittany. Many people are describing this as “the book of the year”, and we just might have to agree.

BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

The Misadventures of Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (2014) – Two dads adopt four sons, and chaos and so, so, so much love ensue.  Boys we know LOVED this book.  And, we must say it was completely entertaining listening for all ages on a car trip to Maine.

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli (2014) – What do you do when your LITTLE brother gets all the credit for saving your neighbor’s life when you helped too? Or when your best-friend and the boy down the block don’t quite get you? Or when you don’t get a part in the community theater’s play? Why, you become Emily Dickenson of course; but then you discover being a recluse is not as easy as it seems.

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.” That fan base includes us; so, we were thrilled to read this. The plot follows Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan as she tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. Characters include her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing else but working on her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea (and certainly not caring for Theodora). The book 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!

The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair by SS Taylor with superb illustrations by Katherine Roy (2014) – The Wests are back and embroiled in an amazing adventure involving underwater secrets, pirates and lessons about friendship love and family. If you have not yet read the first book, start with The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (2012)  – Great atmosphere surrounds this story of an orphan girl and her two friends as they travel from a London boarding school to Russia and are thrown from a train into the snow, rescued by a princess (or is she?) and brought to a decaying castle surrounded by wolves, legends and tragedy. You sort of see the end coming, but it doesn’t matter as you are so fully immersed in Russia you don’t care.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (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 wanting to respect one’s parents while still rebelling from their rules.

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 unfortunately 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.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – An excellent debut novel about the power of all the things left unsaid in a family. How secrets hurt. How children try so hard to please their parents. How parents’ expectations, even if well-meaning, can crush. How you must live your life, not the life others expect you to live.  All of this is intwined in the story of Lydia and her family (three mixed race children and their Chinese father and Caucasian mother living in 1970s Ohio) after she is found dead in a lake. Read it. (Note many people review this as an adult book, but we see it as a YA coming of age novel.)

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting

The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting by Holly Bourne (2014) – WOW, Ms. Bourne grabs you from the opening premise and keeps you turning pages.  Yes, you know that disaster awaits, but you are so hoping that somehow it all ends well.  Please read this with your favorite High Schooler.  We think it might open up some great conversations about mean girls, horrid boys, cutting, suicide, finding great friendships, and the meaning of life.

PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS

Once Upon An Alphabet (2014) and The Day the Crayons Quit (2013) by Oliver Jeffers – Author of our favorite picture book from last year – The Day the Crayons Quit – has penned a series of short stories based upon each letter of the alphabet. His droll nature gets kids thinking about letters and life. (Disclaimer: this book could be considered a bit dark for some children in the way Roald Dahl was a bit dark, so please pre-read if you are concerned about gifting this to kids you know.) Please note that we recommend this as a read-aloud with your young kids, as the ratio of prose to pictures is rather high, and as stated above, a bit sophisticated. And, if you missed The Day the Crayons Quit last year, we highly recommend gifting it to someone special this year. Crayons is a much more traditional picture book for children that is funny, funny, funny!

New York in Four Seasons by Michael Storrings (2014) – A picture book for adults and kids that is actually a love story for New York.  You might recognize Mr. Storrings’ drawings from Christmas ornaments.  In this book, his pictures powerfully illustrate a city he LOVES, and his prose tells you why you should love it too. Great illustrations include Central Park, Coney Island, and some more seasonal items – Christmas windows, 4th of July fireworks and the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. We envision this as the perfect gift from New Yorkers, former New Yorkers or New Yorker wanna-bes to give to anyone they want to love NYC too.

Atlas of Adventures: A Collection of Natural Wonders, Exciting Experiences and Fun Festivities from the Four Corners of the Globe

Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun fun festivities from the four corners of the globe by Lucy Letherland (2014) – We would describe this as similar to MAPS, which we reviewed last year and still recommend to anyone who has missed it. Ms. Letherland’s book encourages the reader through fun illustrations and some well selected prose, to travel the world to have adventures specific to unique locations. A GREAT holiday gift, but one that is not available in the USA until 2015 (so put it on your lists for 2015 US fans), but available in Europe now for Book Jam readers overseas.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, we’ve 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.  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 and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

For the 2014-15 season of author events, we have developed brand new questions. We hope you enjoy this new season of queries and each author’s unique insights.  We are starting with an experiment — featuring two authors at once. In this case Ann Hood and SS Taylor who are both visiting the Norwich Bookstore in September. (Since we developed more than three questions, they each received a different selection of three to answer.)

Ann Hood is the author of six novels including The Obituary Writer and The Knitting Circle. A native of Rhode Island, she travelled the world as a flight attendant before turning to writing. She has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Best American Food Writing Awards, Best American Spiritual Writing and Travel Writing Awards, and a Boston Public Library Literary Light Award.  We have had the pleasure of dining with her (and hearing her speak) and can also personally attest that she is a superb and entertaining person.

Ms. Hood will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, September 10 to discuss her latest book The Italian Wife and her writing life. Reservations are recommended. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat.

1. What was the last book that kept you up all night reading?

I am addicted to the Commissario Ricciardi detective series by the Italian Writer Maurizio de Giovanni. They all keep me up reading! Ricciardi is a homicide detective in 1930s Naples who hears  the last words of dead people. I just got the latest one, By My Hand, and anticipate sleepless nights ahead.
 
2. If you could give your own book award to an outstanding title you read last year, what would it be?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. A big hearted, fat book that I loved sinking into. The setting of World War ll Europe is intimately portrayed, and the way the two characters lives interweave and converge is brilliant.
3. What three authors would you invite to a dinner party?
I like wild dinner parties, so I would probably invite Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, serve lots of booze, and jump into a fountain at the end. Oh! That’s only two. I guess Dorothy Parker would make things interesting.

And now our second author – SS Taylor, whose Expeditioner Series is perfectly illustrated by Katherine Roy. S.S. Taylor has been fascinated by maps ever since the age of ten, when she discovered an error on a map of her neighborhood and wondered if it was really a mistake. She has a strong interest in books of all kinds, expeditions, old libraries, mysterious situations, long-hidden secrets, missing explorers, and traveling to known and unknown places. SS Taylor lives in Vermont; and we at the Book Jam are superbly lucky to call her a friend.

SS Taylor will appear in at the Norwich Bookstore from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, September 13th to celebrate the publication of the second novel in her Expeditioners series The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair. While the book is geared to middle grade readers, all ages will enjoy the Expeditioners, and all are welcome during this special event.  Because this event is part of the Bookstore’s Second Saturday series, reservations are not required, but an RSVP is appreciated. When you call (802) 649-1114 to RSVP, you may also pre-order your signed copy of SS Taylor’s works

1. What was the last book that kept you up all night reading?

I just finished Ben Macintyre‘s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal and couldn’t put it down. It covers the beginnings of the British and American spy agencies during World War II and then the intricate web of lies told by Soviet double agents like Philby during the Cold War. Macintyre looks at Philby’s betrayal through the lens of his long friendships with other British spies, which gives this true story the depth and level of character exploration of a great Le Carre novel. I also really liked Macintyre’s Double Cross about the turned spies (eccentric characters all) who helped convince Hitler that D-Day was going to happen in Calais rather than Normandy, thus giving the Allies crucial extra time.
2. What book did you last give as a gift and why?
I recently bought a copy of David Weisner‘s Flotsam for my nephew. It’s an amazing wordless picture book about a boy who finds a mysterious camera on a beach and gets the film developed. My kids have loved it (though I had to explain “film” to them!) I think my nephew will too.
3. What three books would you re-read if you had the time to do so?
Hmmm. I love re-reading favorite books, so I haven’t exactly been holding myself back! But if I had a week with nothing to do but read, I might do an E.M. Forster marathon — Howards’s End, Room with a View, and Passage to India in one go!

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The Book Jam’s Official 2012 Holiday Gift Guide

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We got off easy in our last post by recapping “Pages in the Pub” and publishing holiday gift ideas from other bibliophiles.  Now it’s time for our take on the season. This post is focused on what we think are some of THE VERY BEST PICKS for the readers on your list.  So sit back and enjoy the literary ride – great holiday gift ideas are only a click away.

And just in case you need any more convincing, now might be a good time to remind you why books make such wonderful presents. Here are our top five reasons in descending order:

5) With a book you can never buy the wrong size! One size fits all.

4) Books don’t need batteries, won’t break, and don’t require troublesome instructions for assembly.

3) They are oh so easy to wrap.

2) Because “curling up on the sofa with your iphone” just doesn’t sound as cozy as “curling up on the sofa with a good book.”

1) And finally, the number one reason why books make the best presents: How amazing is it to give a gift that has a whole new world inside of it?

Please Note:  While most of these selections are 2012 titles, we’ve also listed a few “timeless” treasures as well as some less expensive paperback selections published in 2012. And yes, this list is looooong, but there are so many great books to give, why limit ourselves – or your giving options? We’ve kept many of our categories from last year, some with a Vermont “twist” and added some new ones as well.

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For the Curious Reader, the Style Maven, or the Cerebral Type in Your Life – Books that Make for Interesting Conversations around a Woodstove:

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Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything by Randy Cohen (2012) – We LOVE the original ethicist from the New York Times Magazine.  We love his humor. And, we love his takes on sticky situations, even when we don’t agree.  Get this, open it randomly and use Mr. Cohen’s answers to the submitted questions to start conversations about how you and your friends and family would handle each situation and others you come up with on your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

My Ideal Bookshelf by Jane Mount (2012) – This book answers what books would favorite authors/other famous folks include if their choices were limited?  It causes the reader to ask, what books would you include in your home if you could only have so many books? Why? What would your bookshelf look like?  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

My Cool Shed: An Inspirational Guide to Stylish Hideaways and Workspaces by Jane Field (2012) – This is a wonderful, inspirational little book for those fascinated by how to make the most out of small spaces. Or it would make the perfect gift to someone dreaming of downsizing as it’s full of ideas for how to create a whole world, an ambience, in just a few square feet.~Lisa Cadow

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life by Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (2012) – Who knew advice columnists could write like this? And these aren’t just your one paragraph “Dear Annie” responses to life’s difficult questions. These are roadmaps, gems of responses considered from every angle and reflected back with grace and beauty. This book took our breath away and then gave us back enough back to laugh and cry. You will want to keep a copy of this on your bedside table to help you navigate life a little better. Written by Wild’s Cheryl Strayed you know you’re in the hands of a master writer. Perfect for anyone looking for insight into the “wild” ride we call life. ~Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

For the Artists Among Us (And There Are Many in These Here Mountains):

 

SnApp Shots:How to take great pictures with smart phones and apps by Adam Bronkhorst (2012) – We didn’t know we needed this book until we saw it on the shelves at the Norwich Bookstore.  But, we DO need it  – as bloggers, as iphone users, as parents – since it is packed full of helpful tips and clever images for inspiration. We are ready to pull out our phones and start getting results today – but first we have to buy it. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Just My Type: A book about fonts by Simon Garfield (2011) - How to look at the written word just a little bit differently. Type choice, their histories and the effects they have on readers come to life with this fascinating, page-turning read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Adventures in Cartooning: Christmas Special by James Sturm and Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost (2012) – This sequel to the hit Adventures in Cartooning, continues the authors’ efforts to make cartooning accessible to all. While I must admit I like the original book a bit more, buy this sequel for anyone who could use a new Christmas tale and the original for your favorite budding artist. ~ Lisa Christie

We Don’t Know How We Missed These – Books Published Prior to 2012: 

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The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (2007) – In this year of all things British (Queen’s Jubilee, The London Olympics) it was wonderful to discover this gem.  Author Bennet’s (imagined) Queen discovers, for the first time, the joys and sorrows of reading, reminding the reader of this as well. A superb book about what books offer – if we could have a literary “mascot” at the Book Jam, this would be it. For all those who understand the power and life-changing aspects of reading! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2009) – While the topics are varied, ultimately these essays, often simultaneously poignant and funny, are about the questions one encounters in trying to live a life.  Read this if you are questioning things yourself — his insight and experiences might propel you in an unknown direction. ~ Lisa Christie

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2007) – While this tale of the Holocaust as narrated by Death is now required reading for many high schoolers, you should read it because it will change you, because it is well written, and because it reminds you in the heart of the worst darkness there is hope and there are good people. I finished the last six pages or so with tears pouring down my face.  Now I am sad only because I can never read this again for the first time. This may seem like a strange holiday gift, but the recipient will be richer for receiving it from you. ~ Lisa Christie

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010) – I had been meaning to read this for a while and managed to do so when my friend Stephanie loaned me her copy. This work of nonfiction reads like a novel, and does an amazing job telling the extraordinary story of medicine, medical ethics, and th woman responsible for it all — Henrietta Lacks. ~ Lisa Christie

Happens Every Day: An all too true story by Isabel Gillies (2009) – At first glance this may not seem like an ideal “gift” book and only an excellent and engrossing read, perfect for those who crave the well-written memoir. But, actually, it might be perfect for someone who’s gone through a difficult breakup and would find solace and understanding in another’s experience. Gillies recounts the year of her divorce, how it hit her like an oncoming train, and how she weathered it all with humor, good friends and family.  ~ Lisa Cadow

Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet by David Mitchell (2010) – I must admit that I had to persevere through the first 50 pages, but once I did I was hooked. Although reading it was often like watching a train wreck – you knew horrible things were coming but could not look away – this is a fascinating look at Japanese life and Dutch trading in the 18th century and human love.  ~ Lisa Christie (Seconded by Lisa Cadow)

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (May 2011) – The other Lisa discovered this gem long ago.  And once I finally read it, I loved this novel about three sisters and their lives as twenty-somethings after they end up living with their parents again due to some failures in their post-collegiate lives and their Mom’s cancer. When you finish reading you just feel good.  Bonus – the Shakespeare references. ~ Lisa Christie

For Men Who Have Enough Flannel Shirts, but Not Enough Good Fiction:

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Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison(2012) – It can be challenging to find good reads for the men in your life but this year has provided an incoming tide of excellent titles, including Evison’s new work. This book has tragic components – the main character has lost much, including his children – but things look up (slightly) when he finds employment as caregiver to 19-year-old boy with a degenerative condition. As only the most talented of writers can, he finds beauty and comedy in his characters’ lives and even adds in a wonderful road trip to boot. Excellent.  ~ Lisa Cadow

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2012) – This book strikes me as being an adult version of A Separate Piece by John Knowles. Short, sparse, reflective and to the point, Barnes tells the story of a man making sense of an incident earlier in his life and understanding his actions from a more mature perspective. ~ Lisa Cadow

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2012) – This was a surprising find. Though Dog Stars is  about a man and his dog surviving in postapocalyptic Colorado, this novel is really a love story. Heller writes masterfully about relationships, meaning, hunting, nature, and, yes, love. Really. ~ Lisa Cadow

House of the Hunted by Mark Mills (2012) – This could be described as Maisie Dobbs with an edge, but that might turn off some potential audiences for this great read. So what it has: a strong main character – Tom, a young British Secret Service Agent who has retired to the coast of France; a great setting; a handful of Russians; some Italians; a few sexual escapades; and history of Europe between the two world wars. A great thriller. ~ Lisa Christie

Smart Lady Fiction:

   

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (2012) – One of my favorite novels of 2012, if not the favorite.  Here, Ms. Mantel continues her chronicle of the life of Thomas Cromwell. To help the King bring down Ms. Boleyn, Mr. Cromwell must play dangerous games with both his enemies and his friends. Because this account of Queen Anne’s downfall is told from the perspective of Mr. Cromwell, the famous story surprises you. For those of you who have not yet discovered Ms. Mantel’s stories of Cromwell, start with Wolf Hall and know this fascinating sequel awaits. ~ Lisa Christie

Light Between the Oceans by ML Stedman (2012) – As its title suggests, this story takes place far out to sea on a remote Australian island where Tom, a lighthouse keeper, and his wife Isabelle are stationed. Everything changes one day when a rowboat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying baby. Having tried for years to conceive a child, this offering from the sea seems to be the answer to Isabelle’s prayers. Despite Tom’s reservations, she convinces him they should claim the baby as their own. They name her Lucy and the drama is set in motion as the reader learns of the effect that decision will have on many families as well as on future generations. ~Lisa Cadow

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (2012) – With poignancy and beautiful prose, Brunt tells the coming of age story of fourteen year-old June who’s grieving the loss of her beloved uncle Finn – a famous painter who’s recently died from a mysterious illness – who was the only one who ever really understood her. Set in the late 1980’s and full of cultural references to that era, June tries to continue on with a “teenagerly” (we may have coined a new word here) existence in Westchester Country – studying, fighting with her sister, going to the occasional party, listening to the “wolves” howling in the woods  – but it is only through a most unlikely friendship in New York City, with a friend of her uncle’s, a young man named Toby, that she finds solace. This is a book about love, loss, acceptance, sisters, family, art, and what is means to truly care for someone~ Lisa Cadow

The Cove by Ron Rash (2012) – This haunting tale about the power of prejudice and of love may be an unusual holiday pick, but trust us. Set during in a dark cove in the rural Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, the book follows the life of Laurel and her brother Hank, newly returned from the war in France.  The story begins as they offer shelter to a mute wandering musician. Due to abundant local superstitions about the Cove and Laurel’s birthmark, a visitor is eerily unique and of course tragedy strikes. However, you will enjoy the story that gets you to the tragedy and the small piece of hope you are left with. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

For Fast-Paced, Insightful Reads:

   

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters (2012) – Please read and enjoy this. It has romance, gorgeous scenery, intelligence, all interwoven in a tale of the lives, loves, choices, and losses of a cast of characters as diverse as an Italian hotel owner living in a town on the Italian coast so small Cinque Terra doesn’t claim it, a lovely American actress, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and their filming of Cleopatra, a few young men overcoming addictions, and a modern-day woman trying to figure out when her life will begin and many more. The story jumps from 1962 to today and back again and back again, each time unveiling another layer of connections and dreams. A tale that ultimately shows that your life emerges from your choices. ~ Lisa Christie

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipman (June 2012) – A well-written book about the lead up to a wedding on an east coast island with humor, insight and thoughtful prose. Although, we must say we were a bit depressed when we finished. Question – will anyone ever write a book about WASPs that makes them look good? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)  – Just when you think you know what’s going on in this thriller, think again. Gone Girl will keep you on your toes – and out of commission since you won’t be able to put it down – until you turn the very last page. Meet Amy and Nick, a seemingly golden Manhattan couple (Amy with her Harvard degree and Nick with his good looks and writer’s talent), trapped in a marriage that’s gone terribly wrong. The story starts with Amy’s sudden disappearance from the house they’re renting in Missouri. All eyes turned to Nick as the clues start pointing in his direction. The story is told from Amy and Nick’s alternating points of view so the reader learns about their relationship from its romantic beginnings to its present difficult place. If you’re a fan of Tana French, you’ll appreciate Flynn’s story telling style and mastery of the psychological thriller genre. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Writing on the Wall by WD Wetherell (2012) – Three different women from three different eras inhabit a New England house. Each is trying to deal with the hand life has recently dealt them. Along the way, the latter two residents discover the stories of the woman(en) who came before them. A gem of a book that shows the power of words and stories. ~ Lisa Christie

Mysteries for When You Just Have to Have One:

   

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James (2011) – OK this is just clever writing and truly fun for any fan of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen, English period pieces, and/or PD James. In it, Ms. James imagines Elizabeth Bennet’s life years after she has become Mrs. Darcy and provides a murder to complicate their wedded bliss. Enjoy the writing and revisiting characters from Pride and Prejudice that you may or may not remember so well. Better yet re-read Pride and Prejudice first. ~ Lisa Christie

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker (August 2012) – In this latest installment of Walker’s Bruno series, Bruno must learn to work with the new magistrate – a young woman whose need to prove herself outpaces her experience – as PETA protests against foie gras, a staple of the local economy, come to town. A simultaneous problem with Basque terrorists brings back Bruno’s former flame and other issues. Add some information about our species’ origins from an archeological dig and you will find your self learning while being entertained by this gifted writer of thrillers. ~ Lisa Christie

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (2012) – The latest Inspector Gamanche mysteries once again planted me firmly in her continuing tale of Gamanche and his team of investigators. This time we all inhabited a monastery where a monk has been murdered.  One of the most thought-provoking stories I’ve read in a while emerged on the final page – a Montagnais tale (Native Canadians) of two wolves inside of a man: one wolf wants the man to be courageous patient and kind, one wants the man to be fearful and cruel.  The one the man feeds wins. ~ Lisa Christie

For the Mountain Man or Mountain Woman (A Perfect Pairing for the Outdoor Enthusiast):

WILD: From lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed (2012) – Hiking boots: too small. Adventurousness: infinite. Since I’ve enthused so much about this already, I’m just including a link to my previous review. One of the best books of 2012. ~ Lisa Cadow

Appalachian Trail: Celebrating America’s Hiking Trail foreword by Bill Bryson (2012) – A coffee table book filled with gorgeous pictures that will provide any inspiration needed to get out and see some of the many things this amazing trail has to offer.  Great for those winter days when you want to dream a bit about summer and all things green.  Perfect for the hikers in your life.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Poetry for Everyone:

 

Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry edited by Rita Dove (2012) – In a gorgeous volume, Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U .S. Poet  Laureate, introduces readers to her selection of the most significant and compelling  poems of the past hundred years. Whether you agree with her choices or not, you will, at the very least, enjoy some of these poems. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey (2006) – This Pulitzer Prize winning volume of poems was my introduction to our Poet Laureate. In Native Guard I found a moving testimony to the complications of life in “The South” and of being bi-racial in the USA. Her words are perfect and her willingness to tackle the personal so publicly is inspiring and fearless. ~ Lisa Christie

What to Make of It by Pamela Harrison (2012) – Our fellow Norwich resident Ms. Harrison continues a wonderful string of books of prose poems about life.  Yes, life.  This latest collection is a love letter to her husband. Buy it to remind yourself that love has its bad days too and that is OK, buy it for someone you love to remind them love is amazing. ~ Lisa Christie

For Those Who Adore All things France:  

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French Flair: Modern Vintage Interiors by Sebastian Siraudeau (2012) –  A view into the homes and interiors of this ageless, timeless, stylish country. ~ Lisa Cadow

Eugene Atget: Old Paris (2011) – For inspiration that comes from beautiful photos of gorgeous sights in the most beautiful of cities. This will bring tears to a Francophile’s eyes.  Great to linger over with a cafe au lait. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Paris: An Inspiring Tour of the City’s Creative Heart  (2012) by Janelle McCulloch (2012) – Take a tour, arrondissement by arrondissement with a masterful guide. You just might want to pack it for your next trip. I know I will.~ Lisa Cadow

For People Who Like to Cook Up a Culinary (Snow) Storm:

The main course of our cookbook picks for 2012 was already posted in November.  But for those of you who can’t get enough, we have another little “snack”:

Dolci: Italy’s Sweets by Francine Segan (2012) – Absolutely scrumptious. How would you like to bake an Olive Oil Apple Pie? Or perhaps whip up a batch of Bourbon caramel Sauce? A Fig, Rosemary and Honey Foccacia? A baker and dessert lover’s choice with a sweet, Italian twist. ~ Lisa Cadow

For People With A Subscription to the New Yorker:

 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (2012) – This work is hard to read. It opens with a child hiding, naked under a pile of garbage, from the police for a crime he did not commit, and continues with harrowing details of life in a Mumbai slum. But it is important to keep reading as it effectively puts faces on the dilemmas of global change, and most importantly brings visibility to the invisible – the poor. ~ Lisa Christie

Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Natasha Trethewey – US Poet Laureate Ms. Trethewey combines prose and poetry to describe the Gulf Coast, bookmarked by Hurricanes Camille and Katrina. The combination of the community’s and her family’s own stories is haunting and informative. And this book reminds people that Katrina affected so so so much more than New Orleans. ~ Lisa Christie

For People Who Enjoy Living Vicariously Through Other People’s Memories:

  

 

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – Through laugh-out-loud and sometimes painful humor,  Mr. Thurston, of Jack and Jill Politics and The Onion, speaks about serious and important aspects about race in this country and does so with intelligence and compassion.  And, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am appreciative of the source that started that thinking.  Oh, and did I mention this book is funny? Buy it for someone who needs a laugh, or who wants/needs to think a bit about race and growing up.  ~ Lisa Christie

Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia (2011) – Just out in paperback, this memoir chronicles what it takes for one man to become a successful stand up comedian (This American Life, Thurber Prize for American Humor). Read this to remember (or discover) what growing up in the 80s and 90s really meant, and how to be funny in the midst of poverty and often while in pain. ~ Lisa Christie

Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011) – While enjoying her amazing humor and self-deprecating outline of her life to date, I irritated my poor husband by laughing out loud when he was trying to sleep.  In my defense, I fell asleep with this book on my chest and woke to him having stolen it and laughing out loud.  Pick it up, read and laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

How to be a Woman by Caitlyn Moran (2011) – Every sentence in this raucous, side-splitting book offers exquisite insight  into subjects such as women’s shoes, Germaine Greer, strident feminism, motherhood, handbags, hair styles, pornography, surviving puberty, and making it through dating with your self-worth intact — in sum, how to be a woman. Moran has much to offer women as they reflect on their own journeys, and those of their daughters. ~Lisa Cadow

Travels with Epicurus  by Daniel Klein (2012) – Though this book is written by a seventy-year-old man searching for insight into how to age well, this pocket-sized read offers wisdom for all ages. Klein travels solo to an island in Greece to reflect on the words of  great philosophers and their ideas about aging while observing the older villagers around him. A travel book, a memoir, a philosophical inquiry. Lovely.  ~ Lisa Cadow

Literary Gifts for your host/administrative assistant/coworkers/boss

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New Yorker Puzzle series – The New Yorker has turned hundreds of covers into great puzzles.  Some are 500 pieces, some 1000, but all are fun for anyone. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Spot It – A game that everyone in the family will enjoy. And, which to be honest the younger you are the better you play; so kids will enjoy beating grandma at this card game. It comes in many versions – classic, sports etc…  Find one for the person in your life who has everything, but needs some fun.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

For Families to Read Together During the First Snow Storm:

  

Andrew Drew and Drew by B. Saltzberg (2012) – Reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon, but not quite.  A clever book about the pleasures of drawing and doing what you love.  And, a great reminder for kids that what you love will be there the next day right where you left it, so you should go to sleep (PLEASE). ~ Lisa Christie

A Perfect Day by Carin Berger (2012) – While the picture style is completely different, the plot reminded me on one of my favorite picture books ever – Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  Try this new version the reminds you how great a snowy day can be. ~ Lisa Christie

Oliver by Birgitta Sif (2012) – A fun reminder that making a new friend = a VERY GOOD day. ~ Lisa Christie

For Those Beyond Tonka Trucks and Tea Parties but Not Yet Ready for Teen Topics:

     

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (2012) – I am one of the few readers I know who did not love Ms. Stead’s award-winning first book.  I hope that makes my recommendation for this book stronger.  A special gem of a book in which a boy faces a few of life’s challenges with wisdom and aplomb: bullies, moving, a father who lost his job, a mother in a hospital, and a name – Georges (with an s) that not everyone appreciates. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2012) – In a faraway land, a nobleman purchases four orphans in a scheme to set one and only one of them on the throne as the long-lost Prince Jaron. The catch — the ones not chosen will probably not survive the “training”. When you add a clever housemaid as a friend, a castle with secret passageways, and the fact the entire scheme can have them all killed for treason, you have a great adventure for elementary school readers and the adults who love them.  ~ Lisa Christie

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by SS Taylor (2012) – Make way for the Wests – Zander, Kit and MK – three orphans living in the near future where computers and electricity have failed, and who must lay low so that government officials miss the fact that they no longer have adult supervision. The plot thickens when a mysterious stranger finds Kit and hands him half of one of their father’s old maps, and the trio sets off to discover why this map is so important.  Get out your atlas and read! ~ Lisa Christie

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke (2012) – When Jon is sent against his wishes to boarding school, he discovers he is a kid marked by an old family curse to die at the hands of a ghost. When he befriends Ella, hope for belaying this curse emerges.  Of course, first he has to learn how to summon a ghost knight, earn the right to be a page and find many, many ways to successfully break curfew. A GREAT adventure for elementary school readers. ~ Lisa Christie

Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Bradley (2012) – By viewing slavery, plantation life and President Jefferson through the eyes of three of his young slaves, Ms. Bradley personalizes slavery and addresses the particular controversies of Mr. Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings. None of the viewpoints are simple, and all of their feelings are complicated.  A great book to read with your children to start discussions about slavery, and how people can simultaneously act in honorable and dishonorable ways. ~ Lisa Christie

My Pop-up World Atlas by Anita Generi (2012) – Colorful maps, interactive pieces and small facts make this book fun for your future world travelers. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Tales For Teens Who Still  Drink Hot Chocolate and Spend Stormy Days Reading and Aren’t Quite Ready for Adult Fare:

 

Unspoken: The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan (2012) – Jane Eyre fans rejoice!, the Gothic novel has been revived in the form of a book for pre-teens and teens.  Kami Glass lives in a quaint town in the English countryside with a loving mother and father and two energetic younger brothers.  All is idyllic really, with one small exception – she has lived with a boy’s voice in her head for as long as she can remember.  Then, one day the voice in her head becomes too real to be comfortable.  Oh, did I mention it is funny? ~ Lisa Christie

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012) – OK, this is a book about cancer, sort of.  More importantly, it is a book about friendship.  Read it and weep. Basically, this is another superb novel by John Green.  ~ Lisa Christie

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