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 days 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.

Willy Loman's Reckless Daughter or Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances Cover ImageSolitary Bee Cover Image

This “3 Questions” features two poets Elizabeth Powell and Chelsea Woodard. These award winning poets have authored numerous volumes of poetry. Both authors will visit the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont at 7 pm on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 to discuss poetry and their latest collections. The event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

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Elizabeth Powell

Elizabeth A. I. Powell’s second book Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances won the Robert Dana Prize in poetry. A Pushcart Prize winner, Ms. Powell has also received a Vermont Council on the Arts grants and a Yaddo fellowship. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Ecotone, Harvard Review, Handsome, Hobart, Indiana Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Slope, Sugarhouse Review, Ploughshares, Post Road, and elsewhere. Born in New York City, she has lived in Vermont since 1989 with her four children.

A New Selected Poems Cover ImageNine Stories Cover ImageThe Nick Adams Stories Cover Image

1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?

Galway Kinnell’s Selected Poems….my grandmother gave it to me and the musicality and lyricism  combined with the depth of meaning and metaphor totally blew my mind permanently as a 15 year old. Prior to reading that book, I had the usual suspects, and I had spent my young childhood listening to a record album called something like “The Wit of John F. Kennedy”, and I think listening endlessly and obsessively to that gave me a real sense of tuning in to speech patterns and cadences.

Also, I like what Charles Simic says about good lines of  poetry, that they are like good jokes in phrasing and timing. I grew up also listening to a lot of Groucho Marx and Richard Pryor. The Book of Lists was also important. I love list poems now.

But in terms of books, JD Salinger’s Nine Stories was and is important to my sensibility, how to come at the truth  from an angle.

As a young person I loved Ernest Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories. It showed me the perfect sentence. It taught me “that everything is 7/8 below the surface.”


2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Walt Whitman because he contains multitudes and I like that!

Fortune Smiles: Stories Cover ImageI Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems Cover ImageJesus' Son Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

chelsea woodard - writer, editor, poet, critic and translator

Chelsea Woodard

Chelsea Woodard received her MFA from the Johns Hopkins University and her PhD from the University of North Texas. She earned a BA in Visual Arts and English from Union College. Her poems have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Southwest Review, Best New Poets, Blackbird, 32 Poems and other journals. She currently teaches in New Hampshire where she lives with her husband, Pete.

An Eco-Acoustic Reading of Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist Cover ImageThe Canterbury Tales Cover ImageRonia, the Robber's Daughter Cover Image

1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?

Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist has had a large influence on me. The fact that, while he is looking downward and backward in the poems, “digging” into the details of his personal and familial history, he is always looking beyond those things into new territory as well, trying to make whatever “darkness” he finds “echo” somehow. His echoing darkness, to me, is a very resonant image for poetry. Reading the Canterbury Tales in college and then re-reading them, as a graduate student, years later also had a big impact. I was astounded and still am by the music of the Tales, the grittiness of the detail, and the unexpected pathos. Chaucer’s rhyme royal is stunning. I felt, reading the Tales, that I was able to see such a vividly defined worldview through the pilgrims’ stories. I also love how Chaucer gives the female characters such agency, and always read him in the Tales as a sort of pioneer feminist. There are also numerous children’s books that have been formative. One in particular is a book by the Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren, called Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter. I still keep a copy on my bookshelf. Lindgren’s descriptions of the forest and its inhabitants have always stuck with me––the feeling that there are things lurking in the undergrowth both beautiful and terrifying, the sense of awe for the natural world that she expresses even in a story meant for children.
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?

Probably Anthony Hecht. From everything I’ve heard, he was incredibly wise and dignified, and I think his writing is imbued with such grace, intelligence, and gravitas. Also sadness. I would love to sit and talk with him about life, or history, or writing. He was one of the great greats. I wish I could have met him. Second would be Geoffrey Chaucer.

We Are as Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America Cover ImageThe Wynona Stone Poems Cover ImageThe Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales Cover ImageThe Last Illusion Cover Image3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

A creative nonfiction book called We Are as Gods by Kate Daloz, about the back to the land movement in the 1970s. A friend recommended her book, and I went to her talk in Peterborough this summer––it’s a fascinating and vivid story. Caki Wilkinson’s most recent book, The Wynona Stone Poems, The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales (which I have not started but am looking forward to), Gene Weingarten’s collection, The Fiddler in the Subway, and The Last Illusion, by Porochista Khakpour.


Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Cover ImageFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”.  This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace.  We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant novel. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.

The Bluest Eye Cover ImageThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”.  We say bring on the controversy and learn.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”.  To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover ImageNickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”.  We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…

Of Mice and Men Cover ImageOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 1) Cover ImageHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry  by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.

Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So, thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.

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Hello, and Happy Autumn. While the leaves in Vermont have not quite changed, we are so happy to be back recommending great books for you to read. Luckily, the end of summer brought us many books that we are excited to tell you about this Autumn. Most of our reviews will appear in future posts about politics, cooking, tough topics, and mysteries. But for now, we highlight two books to help you end September with a great book in your hands. (Note: We are surprised neither of us picked from our favorite category of adult fiction to share on this first autumnal post; we will spend some time thinking about why before our next post.)search-2.jpg

51ec0bx4i4l-_sx328_bo1204203200_In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Hardcover 2015, Paperback 2016) –  If you are looking for a little more “je ne sais quoi” in the kitchen inspiration department or simply are craving the feeling of having someone serve you a cafe au lait of stories and  secrets about French cooking, then this is the book for you. Reading this made me feel as if I had pulled up a chair at Loomis’ table in Louviers and was having a conversation with an old friend about all she had learned from villagers, butchers, neighbors, and facile home cooks since moving to this northern French town several decades ago. It also inspired me to get out my mixing bowl and make “Madame Korn’s Quick Lemon Cake” and to get out my saucepan to whip up the delicious “Crisp Green Salad with Poached Eggs.”  The majority of the eighty-five recipes she includes are simple and use everyday ingredients. The stories she tells of her life in France are charming and take the reader on a lovely kitchen tour of a country that puts it food at the center of the cultural table. ~Lisa Cadow

Prisoner B-3087 Cover ImagePrisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz (2013) – If you are looking for a book for your pre-teen and you to read together (or for either of you to read alone), please choose this piece of history.  Prisoner B-3087 is a moving book about the holocaust that my 13-year-old (yes, he is my reluctant reader) shared with me after declaring “this is probably the best book I’ve read”. Mr. Gratz takes the true story of Jack Gruener, who was moved through ten concentration camps including Auschwitz, and with slight poetic license creates a tale of survival amongst unspeakable horrors that must be remembered. Yes, it is depressing, but it is also uplifting; Mr. Gruener survived, as did his wife, and they now dedicate their lives to educating children about The Holocaust and WWII. You may not be able to see them in person, but you can read this book. ~ Lisa Christie



Gone Reading


The Book Jam is officially on hiatus for our annual end of summer “Gone Reading” event. We will be back in late September with many new recommendations of great books for you to read and give, and “3 questions” with superb authors. In the meantime, do not dismay, we left behind great picks for you to read during these last few weeks of summer. Just visit some of our previous posts – our summer reading list for adults or  summer recommendations for younger readers  or crime and travel with author Sarah Stewart Taylor or… Well, you get the picture.  Happy Reading!


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So, school starts very soon and your 4th grader was supposed to read four books before seeing his teacher on day one. Your 11th grader was supposed to pick one book not on the required reading list and has no idea what to choose, and besides she would rather hang with her friend today (and tomorrow and forever). Your 6th grader has already consumed 20 books and you don’t have anything else to recommend to him.

Well, the Book Jam has some solutions to these and other reading dilemmas. We hope the books on this list help your kids (and you as these are great for adults too) out of your “Book Jams”. While we hate strict categories, to guide you on possible age appropriateness, we divided the picks into YA and elementary/younger middle schoolers. Again, please remember that these are merely guidelines. Enjoy these last days of summer!


Novels for Elementary School Students and Younger Middle Schoolers

Soar Cover ImageSoar by Joan Bauer (2016) – Years ago, we fell in love with Ms. Bauer’s Newbery Honor Medal Winner Hope Was Here. But we haven’t read much of her work since. We corrected this yesterday when one of the Book Jam Lisas could not put Ms. Bauer’s latest novel – Soar – down, finishing it in one long swoop. Her main character and narrator of this tale – Jeremiah, is a heart transplant recipient and the world’s biggest baseball fan. He may not be able to play (yet) due to his transplant, but he sure can coach. And, he is just what his middle school needs after a huge high school sports scandal breaks his new hometown. Infused with humor, baseball trivia, and a lovely adoption sub-plot, this book is all about grit, hard work, and determination. It also does an amazing job of reminding readers that kids can be truly amazing people. We love all the books listed for this post, and we admit that some of Soar could be construed as corny, but the Lisa who read Soar hasn’t been so happy reading a kid’s book in a long, long, long time. We recommend it as an excellent (and possibly necessary) break from politics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The War That Saved My Life Cover ImageThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015) — When Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite authors) blurbs a book with the words “I read this in two big gulps” I pay attention. This tale of two of the many children who were sent during WWII from London to the countryside for safety (think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) is full of adventure, hardship, and ultimately love. I especially loved Ada and here feisty fight for her place in the world. ~ Lisa Christie

Raymie Nightingale Cover ImageRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016) – Ms. Camillo returns to 1970s Florida and creates a superb tale of three young girls who discover each other and themselves over the course of a summer. The plot centers around Raymie’s plan to bring her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, back; she will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, get her picture in the paper, and remind him he needs to come home. First though, she must learn to twirl a baton and defeat the two other girls in her lessons. Delightful! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

My Life with the Liars Cover ImageMy Life With the Liars by Caela Carter (2016) – I never thought I would write the next sentence – I loved this children’s book about a religious cult. But, I loved this children’s book about a religious cult. I have no idea how to sell this book, but after a retired elementary school librarian pointed out that kids will have no trouble with the content, it is parents who will have doubts, I decided to add this to our annual summer list of great books for kids to read. I truly, truly loved the narrator – almost-13-year-old Zylynn. I was spellbound as she explained her quest to return to the compound where she was born and lived up until her birth father recently brought her to his home. Her father’s home is “on the outside, in the darkness, and among the liars” and is far away from the “light” of the cult. As the book jacket states, “Caela Carter has created a stunningly unique and poignant story of one girl’s courage to decide who she is and what she will believe in”. If you are not certain if your kids can handle this concept, read it yourself; you won’t be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook Cover ImageAll Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor (2016) – This kid will restore your faith in humanity and the art of doing the right thing. A superb middle grade book about a boy who is raised in a prison alongside his incarcerated mother and her fellow inmates. The love they share is inspiring and the forces trying to keep them apart are well-intentioned, but coming up against a kid they underestimated. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie (Seconded by Katie Kitchel of the Norwich Bookstore)

Just My Luck Cover ImageJust My Luck by Cammie McGovern (2016) – Truly a superb book that illustrates what it is like to be a 4th grade boy, have an autistic older brother, a distracted teacher, and feel as if you were the cause of your father’s life-altering accident. Basically, it shows what it is like to be loved and to love. ~ Lisa Christie

What Was Ellis Island? Cover ImageWho Was Jackie Robinson? Cover ImageThe Who Is, Who Was, What Was series (assorted dates and authors) – There are hundreds of these slim, entertaining volumes about significant people, places and events in US and world history (e.g, Harriet Tubman, Blackbeard, Winston Churchill, Underground Railroad, Pearl Harbor, William Shakespeare, Bill Gates). These are great first books to be read alone by beginning readers and provide a lot of great information in a fun manner for kids of all ages who are interested in “real” stories. Be careful, once you read one, your kids might want to start collecting them. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

As Brave as You Cover ImageBrave as You by Jason Reynolds (2016) – A slow tale of how life changes two Brooklyn boys who are spending summer vacation in Virginia with their grandparents. Their grandpop is blind, their grandma makes them work in her garden and sell sweet peas at the local flea market, the oldest brother Ernie meets a girl, and their parents are in Jamaica figuring out how not to get a divorce. The younger brother Genie and Ernie will show you that being brave sometimes means not doing something almost as often as as it means taking action.~ Lisa Christie

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor – THANK YOU Marion Cross School for featuring this as one of your “Battle of the Books” choices. Because of you, I have finally read this classic, and I am so glad I did. Ms. Taylor’s writing is superb, and apparently brought out my southern accent as I read this aloud to my youngest son. The tale of dangerous race relations in the USA is gripping, leaving my son to ask for one more chapter over and over again. Alone this book is superb; as a way to talk about today’s headlines with a 4th grader, it is priceless.~ Lisa Christie (Seconded by Lisa Cadow)

The Crossover Cover ImageBooked Cover ImageThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2015) – My 13-year-old son (who self describes as someone who hates reading) gave this to me when I was looking for a good book. I truly thank him. I am drawn to children’s books written in verse, and Mr. Alexander’s poetry did not disappoint. His lyrical, artistic, pointed, and poignant word choices expertly develop a narrative of closer than close twin brothers who are basketball stars, facing the first challenge to their relationship – girls, and trying to navigate their evolving relationship with their parents (a mom who is also their assistant principal complicates their lives quite a bit). This award winning book is haunting me days after the last page was read.  We combine this review with that of Booked by Kwame Alexander (2016), another hit by Mr. Alexander. This time a soccer player experiences family hardships (divorce) and teen angst (soccer tryouts). The poetry format is winning. And, my 13-year-old fan of The Crossover finished this in 18 hours (with school interfering.) ~ Lisa Christie


YA novels, Plus Adult Novels and Books for Young Adults

Salt to the Sea Cover ImageSalt to the Sea by Ruta Spetys (2016) – Just when you thought WWII had been written about from every angle, an author proves we needed another WWII book. In this novel, four teenage refugees and their fellow refugees flee the Russians and the Germans. Their tales will haunt you as you listen to today’s headlines about Syrian and other refugees. This YA outing is important. ~ Lisa Christie

East of Eden Cover ImageEast of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – We think we learned all the nuances of good and evil from reading this book in our youth. East of Eden provides a spellbinding tale of two families in California’s Salinas Valley, in particular two brothers, who reenact the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Oprah reinstated her Book Club for this book; now that’s power. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – A gorgeous collection of connected short stories that illustrates the power of love transcends borders, boundaries and cultural expectations. This was our first introduction to the work of Ms. Lahiri and we are glad we discovered her prose early in her career. Her insight into the lives of Indian immigrants to the USA is memorable. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Brave Companions: Portraits in History Cover ImageBrave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – Gorgeous, insightful, interesting, and diverse essays about exceptional women and men who shaped the course of history, and whose stories prove timeless. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (1958) – Set in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this book is based upon a real life murder. It unfolds as a gripping tale of suspense, and ends with an inevitable movie starring a young Lee Remick and James Stewart that won seven Oscars including best picture and best actor in a leading role and best screenplay. ~ Lisa Christie

All American Boys Cover ImageAll-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Told in two voices in alternating chapters, this YA novel unravels what happens to a town when a white policeman beats a black teen. The authors wrote this in response to what they saw, while on book tour together, after Ferguson. And while some of the situations are convenient, overall, the book is a superb way to get your teen to talk about today’s headlines, how race, upbringing and situations all affect one’s perspective, and how hard it is to “do the right thing”. Oh, the fact both writers are award winning YA authors is an added bonus. ~ Lisa Christie

Anna and the Swallow Man Cover ImageAnna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (2016) – This slim YA novel looks at life as a refugee – this time in Poland during WWII.  One day, Anna’s father never comes home from work, and as she copes, she is befriended by a mysterious stranger who remains nameless throughout the book. The book tells the tale of what happens next from Anna’s perspective. And somehow, the author makes walking in circles in Poland compelling and meaningful, especially in light of today’s headlines from Syria. A great choice for fans of The Book Thief (2006)~ Lisa Christie

Hope in the Unseen Cover ImageHope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – This book illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods as they navigate their education. Read years ago, it has haunted me ever since. ~ Lisa Christie


Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn Cover ImageCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of a group of Crow Indians living in Montana, and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Let the Great World Spin Cover ImageLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2010) – Given to us by a friend, and read when we needed a reminder that books could be gorgeous and uplifting. This novel connects a diverse group of New Yorkers and addresses life in the 1970s in a timeless and lyrical fashion. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One & Two (Special Rehearsal Edition Script): The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production Cover ImageHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (2016) – Listed because young adults grew up with Harry Potter and need to know what happened next. Also, because thinking about what Harry is like at 37 (19 years after the last book ended), will help young adult readers think about the grown-up choices they will face soon enough. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie






Ahhh summer, a time when longer days provide extra daylight to read. It is also a time for the Book Jam’s annual list of books for you to take to the beach, lake, mountains, and/or your own backyard or apartment roof. This year, we included many older titles, as we know paperback copies are easier to carry while moving about. (Please remember that each review is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site, and can be downloaded to your i-pad or e-reader too.) We also tried to include titles to help when you crave a substantive piece of nonfiction, a quick YA read, a surprising mystery/thriller, a page-turning “beach read”, as well as, fiction that makes you think. Happy reading!



The Nightingale Cover ImageThe Nightingale by Kirstin Hannah (2015) – This book has been staring at us from the best-seller bookshelves and still in hardcover for over a year but we resisted its charms until the summer of 2016. It invites us into the wartime world  of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, in 1940’s  France and tells a tale of their very different roles in the resistance movement. The Nightingale is an excellent summer read which caught this reader off guard in the final pages, with tears streaming down my face without a kleenex all while sitting in the window seat of an airplane. A compelling story with excellent character development which as with any good tale leaves one asking, “What decisions might I have made if put in the same situation?” The Nightingale shows us that there are also still many aspects of World War II to explore through the powerful vehicle of literature. ~ Lisa Cadow (and Lisa Christie)

The Sense of an Ending Cover ImageThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – This Booker Prize winner concisely explores what happens when you receive information late in life that skews your memories and perhaps questions your entire view of yourself. In this case, a retired historian receives a puzzling bequest that causes him to investigate what actually happened to a childhood friend. These 163 pages of exquisite prose will haunt you long after you finish reading. I somehow missed this when it was published, and am so glad I found it this summer (also reviewed by Lisa Cadow in December 2012). ~ Lisa Christie

The Night Watch Cover ImageThe Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006) – Yes, yet another WWII novel, but so worth reading. This time, the plot revolves around people in London just after WWII ends, during the nightly bombings of WWII, and then at the start of the war, told backwards chronologically. Many of the women have taken up important positions as ambulance drivers and business owners, and the men are in jail for a variety of crimes; their adventures and seemingly random connections link their tales. The prose keeps you wanting more, and the images Ms. Waters creates of life for civilians during WWII are memorable. ~ Lisa Christie

Lily and the Octopus Cover ImageLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (2016) – In just the way we adore our beloved pets, a reader can’t help instantaneously feeling the same way about Lilly the dachshund and her worried, emotionally-closed yet deeply loving caregiver Ted. We join these characters when Ted realizes that his best friend and canine companion of many years, Lilly, may be sick. This is a funny, very well observed story about courage, caregiving, change, and emotional growth. Set in temperate, languorous Los Angeles and told by quirky, single, gay Ted (a narrator with one of the most original voices to emerge in recent memory) this is one of my favorite books of the year. ~ Lisa Cadow

Strawberry Fields Cover ImageStrawberry Fields (published as Two Caravans in Europe) by Marina Lewycka (2008) – A devastating, funny, and thought-provoking account of life as an immigrant. Ms. Lewycka has created a core of memorable characters, initially united as strawberry pickers in the idyllic countryside around Kent, England, but who then partake on a road trip of tragic, humorous, political, and loving proportions. Do not let the fact it is a rather quick paced read belittle the importance of what these characters have to say. ~ Lisa Christie

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (paperback 2015) – This lovely story touches a chord with all who read it. Meet cranky and curmudgeonly Ove a retired Swede stuck in his routines who has very set ideas about how things should be. He patrols his planned neighborhood daily to ensure that rules are being followed, that the garbage is being set out for collection just so, and that nobody parks incorrectly. Things in his world get shaken up when a Pakistani family moves in next door and upends his sense of order. A  pesky stray cat also enters his world and refuses to leave. All of these interlopers conspire to challenge Ove’s no-nonsense, iron facade and might just teach him a thing or two about love. ~ Lisa Cadow

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Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (paperback 2016) – I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.)

The Sympathizer Cover ImageThe Sympathizer  by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The Pulitzer landed on an important book; important in that Mr. Nguyen, in extremely effective prose, unfolds the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese man. The narrator, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, was rescued by American troops during the fall of Saigon due to his work with them there. His war-torn life unravels further from this rescue and leaves you thinking. As an Indie bookseller wrote when this novel hit the shelves, “Nguyen injects much dark humor into this tragic story, and the narrator’s voice is both subversive and unforgettable. The Sympathizer will be one of the most talked-about novels of the year.” He was right, and we should probably mention we almost reviewed this in our Mysteries/Thriller category. ~ Lisa Christie

Sweetbitter Cover ImageSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (2016) – Make a reservation and let Stephanie Danler serve you a story of the fast-paced, drug-laced restaurant world of New York City circa 2016. The author herself worked at Union Square Cafe so she offers a reliable narrator in Tess, a waitress at an upscale watering hole who has followed her heart to the bright lights and big city. This book shines a light on the dynamic in upscale restaurants with many highly educated people vying for stressful, coveted serving positions. This is a coming of age story and a love story for Tess and a very well written novel. Given the lifestyle of the characters who live a life of hard work and hard core play, this has been likened to a fictional counterpart to Anthony Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential~ Lisa Cadow


“Beach Reads”

The Nest Cover ImageThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (2016) – This is a pitch perfect  beach, mountain, or summer-in-the city read as well as one of the best novels of the year. It’s about what happens when three 40-and-50 something siblings learn that they might not be receiving the inheritance (referred to by their family as “The Nest”) that they had expected due to an incident involving their prodigal brother Leo. Each one of them — Bea, Melody, and Jack – had been relying on this money to solve a number of life problems like looming college tuitions and secret debt so it’s possible evaporation is cause for panic. Set in New York City, Brooklyn and its environs, this book is witting, sharply observed, insightful, and as one reviewer put it, is full of “emotional truths.” I appreciate how it explores what happens when individuals are challenged to solve problems by digging deep inside themselves, explore places they never wanted to travel, and as a result discover unexpected resiliency. Highly, highly recommended. ~ Lisa Cadow

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice Cover ImageEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – This book is included for those of you in need of a novel that is truly just fun to read. Yes, the New York Times panned it, and I agree that Jane would never consent to be married on a reality show, and Austen scholars probably cringed the entire way through as it is difficult to truly emulate Ms. Austen, but those are small points in light of the fact you get to spend hours of reading with the Bennett Sisters. Liz as a magazine writer, Jane as a yogi, Kitty and Lydia as self obsessed gym goers, and Mary as a grump with a secret, lets you have a bit of fun with a well-known tale. And besides, it takes no small amount of courage to take on a classic. So kudos for that act of bravery Ms. Sittenfeld; and to the rest of you – start reading. (We also recommend American Wife and Prep by Ms. Sittenfeld as fun summer reads.) ~ Lisa Christie

A Spool of Blue Thread Cover ImageA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (paperback 2016) – Readers have come to know that they can count on Anne Tyler for a well-told tale about family and her 20th book is no exception. This story centers around the Whitshank family, their house in Baltimore, and the four generations who have shared and filled with life the space built by their patriarch. It is about what happens when the current adult generation is forced to face the reality that this house may be too much for their aging parents to manage alone. Poignant, universal in its appeal, yet never saccharine or bordering on cliche, this is a gentle and meaningful read. ~ Lisa Cadow



Arthur & George Cover ImageArthur and George by Julian Barnes – Mr. Barnes uses a true experience from Sir Arthur Doyle’s life and explores race relations, class structure, and mystery as Sir Arthur agrees to help a man exonerate himself. Brilliantly imagined and a great entry to discussing issues of race and class today (and in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s time). I was reminded of this novel when loving The Sense of an Ending, and since detective novels have a special place in summer reading, we are including it here. ~ Lisa Christie

The Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageThe Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon (2016) – Another superb Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery. This time, a young girl is attacked and left for dead, but instead suffers severe brain damage. Years later her grandmother asks Guido to investigate. The tale weaves illegal immigration, refugees and mental illness together. It also allows us to spend time with Guido and his superb family. Enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel, Continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series Cover ImageThe Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (2016) – This latest edition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series was not written by Steig Larsson, but it will not disappoint fans of Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist, and other characters we met in the original trilogy. You will not regret having this page turner keeping you company on your next plane ride. ~ Lisa Christie



Non Fiction

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936 1939 Cover ImageSpain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild (2016) This book is for those of you who crave large volumes of nonfiction to inform your longer summer days. For this review we merely ditto what Carin Pratt wrote in her staff pick review for the Norwich Bookstore. “Almost 3,000 Americans (some famous, most not) traveled to Spain to fight Franco’s Fascists in what Hochschild has called “the first battle of World War II.” Most were untrained and under-armed but unfailingly idealistic, and ultimately, they fought a battle they were predetermined to lose. Adroitly and with empathy, Hochschild tells their largely forgotten stories.” ~ Lisa Christie

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Cover ImageDead Wake by Erik Larson (2015) – For those of you needing “true” stories,  we recommend this account. Mr. Larson manages to take an event for which you know the outcome – the May of 1915 torpedoing by a German U-boat of the luxury ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, killing almost 1200 people – to life. How? By taking tales of the passengers, historical accounts of U-boats, and British intelligence and interweaving them in straightforward, compelling prose. (Coincidentally, this was also selected as a Norwich Bookstore staff pick by Carin Pratt.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Best Place to Be Today: 365 Things to Do & the Perfect Day to Do Them Cover ImageThe Best Place to be Today by Lonely Planet (2015) – A travel destination idea for every day of the year. May it inspire last minute travel plans this summer – even of the armchair variety. Bonus – it makes a grat hostess gift. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie





Salt to the Sea Cover ImageSalt to the Sea by Ruta Spetys (2016) – Just when you thought you WWII had been written about from every angle, an author proves we needed another WWII book. In this take, four teenage refugees and their friends flee the Russians and the Germans and try to make a safe haven to the Baltic north. Their tales will haunt you as you listen to today’s headlines about Syrian and other refugees. This one is important. Yes, this is YA, but every adult I have given it to has loved it. ~ Lisa Christie








Because both Book Jam Lisas celebrated July Fourth across the pond, we had little time for long reviews and obviously even missed the actual date. So today, a bit after the 4th celebrations in the States, we quickly highlight two books to help you find the right book to read this summer. The first is a great source of inspiration or a superb host/hostess gift for all the people you visit on vacation during these warm summer months, the second is a smart and observant novel from one of our best new female voices in fiction. Look for our annual summer reading lists for adults and then kids here later this month. In the meantime, happy belated July 4th to all from our current European vantage points.

FC9780761184881.JPGThe Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna (2016) – A gorgeous piece of art filled with wisdom for grads, dads, moms, and/or job changers. Ms. Luna took her popular internet talk and turned it into a book to help people figure out what is next for them. Read it if you feel the need for a quick shot of inspiration, or you require a great gift for your vacation hosts or recent graduate or…



51lprRT5YCL._AC_UL115_Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (2016).  “Modern Lovers” is simply a great go-to summer read: excellent for beach-side entertainment as well as perfect for summer in the city.  Straub has a fresh voice, a talent for observing complex relationships, and a knack for picking great settings for her novels (this one set in hipster Brooklyn).  Meet Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe who were all friends and former band mates at Oberlin College in the 1980’s and all live within on block of each other in the City.  Now in their early fifties and about to launch their teenage children into the world, this is a “coming of age story” for both young and old. My 18-year-old daughter, my son’s 20-year-old girlfriend and I all tore through this fun, poignant book while on vacation and enjoyed processing it together. The Book Jam loves author Emma Straub who also wrote the best-selling novel “The Vacationers” ( reviewed on this site in July 2014).