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Archive for the ‘Armchair Travelers’ Category

Books for Summer Campers

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A recent conversation with the father of a 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter about a horrific car trip with the said kids, revealed that he had never heard of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series. We were saddened as we can guarantee that the print version and/or the audiobooks have saved more family car trips than anyone can count. So, we sent him straight to his local bookstore to stock up on print and audio book versions. This encounter reminded us that new parents are often unfamiliar with books we assume everyone knows because they have been around for awhile. In short, we remembered that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that most parents don’t know about most of the great things for kids that have saved numerous parents before them.

So, this year’s annual post of “books for summer campers” includes our usual emphasis on recent books for kids but also includes some classics, because we would hate for anyone to miss out on the joys of Susan Cooper just because we assume everyone knows about her amazing novels for kids. As always, we hope our selections help the last days of summer pass magically for the children in your life. (NOTE: We tried to include hardcovers and paperbacks and ebooks, so you could access whatever type you need. We also included a few series as we know from experience if a kid likes one book it is a great thing to have another one just like it waiting to begin.)

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Chapter books for elementary school kids to read (or be read to)

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I’ve read all year, or at least the one that made me grin the most. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid, make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs — all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of “We Need Diverse Books“, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. Among them, the group has earned every major award in children’s publishing, as well as popularity as New York Times bestselling authors. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (Perhaps the one by Kwame Alexander?) And, as a collection, it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781580897136.jpgA Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (2016) – We agree that we all need more diverse books (see review above); and, this novel about Bilal, a 10-year-old boy from Pakistan newly arrived in the USA, provides a good place to start. This tale of family, culture, and refuge compassionately addresses immigration from a kid’s perspective. The plot turns on such questions as: Will Bilal’s father be able to join him or has he disappeared in Pakistan for  good? Will he survive the fact his younger sister’s English is better than his? Will he learn to love baseball as much as cricket? And, what is home? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781410495884.jpgThe Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan (2017) – This second book in Mr. Riordan’s Apollo trilogy is fabulous. Enjoy Mr. Riordan’s trademark humor and well told tale for younger readers! And, if you haven’t already, try his other series; they all capture the trials of growing up with humor, grace, and with some learning about mythology. You, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my 11-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie

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Some oldies but goodies (i.e. classics) for kids

FC9780689711817.jpgMixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisberg (1967) – The 50th anniversary of this beloved book seems like a great time to reveal that this book was the favorite of all the books we read in elementary school — for each of the Book Jam Lisas. In it, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account. This tale holds up today — as each of us has read it to our kids at some point and loved it all over again. (We also recommend the audio book versions of this book of her other engaging novels such as The View From Saturday.)~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442489677.jpgDark is Rising series by Susan Cooper ( 1965-1977) Will Stanton discovers that he is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping mankind free from the Dark. And now, the Dark is rising. Will, along with Merriman – a wise teacher, three mortal siblings, and a mysterious boy named Bran are soon caught up in a fight against evil.  These stories thrilled us as children YEARS ago, introduced us to UK towns and villages, and still engage children today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780140386745.jpgJip by Katherine Paterson (1998) – Many know her classic, Newbery award winning novel The Bridge to Terebithia, but this winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, tells the tale of an orphan in Vermont, and depicts a history that most of us never hear about. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780547328614.jpgIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960) – We reach back before we were born for this book. But it played an important part in our early reading experiences. It also proved to be a favorite read aloud to our own children (and even inspired a mother-son trip kayaking trip to the Channel Islands off the coast of California where this book is set). Karana’s quiet courage, her loneliness and terror eventually lead to strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic. This book chronicles Karana’s year’s long survival (along with beloved dog Rontu) alone on an island after all of her relatives and tribe have been evacuated to the mainland. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, also known as “The Woman of San Nicholas Island,” a Native American woan who lived on her own for eighteen years until she was rescued by a ship sailing in the area. It will hold children spellbound as they learn about indigenous people and try to imagine how they would have survived if faced with a similar challenge. ~Lisa Cadow 

FC9780786838653.jpgRick Riordan’s various mythology series (assorted years) — As mentioned above, you, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Christie

 

downloadMystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis A. Whitney  – Yes, the famous adult author wrote a mystery or two for children. And, this mystery is one I read over and over as a kid. And, when I moved to San Francisco as an adult I was glad that I had; this book provided me a map of Nob Hill, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, The SF Bay, and Chinatown that I didn’t even realize it embedded in me until I resided there. It is out of print, but we include it here as an example of how the books you read as a kid are so much a part of who you are as an adult, and in some cases quite literally map aspects of your future life. ~ Lisa Christie

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For slightly older readers/young adults

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Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017) – Mr. Alexander does it again, with help from Ms. Hess; I truly love the books this man creates. Blade is the son of an aging rock star who has reacted to the death of Blade’s mom with an everlasting and highly dysfunctional descent into addiction and absentee parenting. As the story unfolds, Blade deals with high school graduation, his father’s inability to stay sober, his sister’s delusions of grandeur, the fact the love of his life has broken his heart, and a recent revelation he is adopted, by escaping to Ghana to find the birth mother he didn’t even know he missed. This is a terrific tale of music, maturing, love, adoption, family, and finding your way, told in Mr. Alexander’s usual sparse, but effecting poetic style (with an added bonus of a great soundtrack).  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101997239.jpgThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamona by Pablo Cartaya (2017) – The power of poetry and protest permeates this novel about a young man Arturo, living in Miami and simultaneously trying to save his family’s restaurant and navigate his first crush.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781484717165.jpgThe Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (2017) – This prequel to the fabulous and complicated Code Name Verity shows the family and upbringing that created Verity’s heroine Julia. The plot incorporates dead bodies, missing servants, life life of the gentry, travellers, and the Scottish countryside of the 1930s. It also made me want to re-read the original novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys –  My then 8th grader loved this tale of the World War II in the Baltic States. In it, a group of teens and a few adults is trying to escape Hitler’s and Stalin’s armies and make it to safety on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Ms. Sepetys does a fabulous job of creating memorable characters and wrapping them into a plot heavily weighted by historical events.  Or, as The Washington Post stated, “Riveting…powerful…haunting.”~ Lisa Christie

FC9781524739621.jpgAlex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz (2017) – The Hamilton craze continues in this historical novel for teens. This time, Eliza tells the story of her romance with and eventual marriage to Alexander Hamilton.  Along the way, the author intermingles Eliza’s role in history as well as the work of Mr. Hamilton and other revolutionaries.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Terrifyingly, her uncle/Tio has disappeared without a trace. The government is monitoring her family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Ms. Alvarez helps readers understand what dictatorship looks like, what it means to be left behind, and how we all dream of better lives. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780760352298.jpgGeorge Washington: Frontier Colonel by Sterling North (2016) and other titles in this series – We realize while many of our picks are based in fact, our list is lacking in nonfiction; we remedy that now with a new series of biographies by Young Voyageur/Quarto Publishing Group. We would describe this new series as the “Who is? What Was?” (or bobble-head books as many kids call them) series for older readers, with fabulous primary source materials scattered throughout.  ~ Lisa Christie

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Some early chapter books for emerging readers

FC9780375813658.jpgMagic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – These are a must read for those children looking for beginning chapter books as they progress with their reading. In this series, Jack and Annie, just regular kids, discover a tree house in the woods near their house – a treehouse that allows them to use books to time travel. As the series unfolds, they are whisked back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs, a medieval castle, ancient pyramids, treasure-seeking pirates etc… These books also make EXCELLENT audio books for car trips with pre-school kids of almost every age and persuasion. (You are welcome for all the hours of peace and learning and fun these books will bring your household.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307265104.jpgCapitol Mysteries Series by Ron Roy (assorted years) – This series is for emerging readers who like their fictional tales to be slightly more realistic than time travel. In this set, KC Corcoran, a news junkie whose step-dad happens to be the President, tackles all sorts of mysteries (e.g., how to make school exciting, how to save the President from his clone). As a bonus, each of these early chapter books features fun facts and famous sites from Washington, D.C. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316358323.jpgAssorted Adventures of Tin Tin by Herge (assorted years) – These graphic novels have been translated into 38 languages for good reason – kids love them.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

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A Few Picture Books

FC9780763637842.jpgLibrary Lion by Michelle Knudsen (2007) – Miss Merriweather, is a very rule-oriented librarian – no running and you must be quiet. As long as you follow the rules, you are welcome. Then one day a lion shows up. There are no rules about lions; and so the fun begins in this New York Times bestselling ode to libraries. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781423164821.jpgElephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (assorted years) – Gerald (an elephant) and Piggie (a pig) have a superb friendship and an unusual capacity for silly. Mr. Willems used to write for Sesame Street and with these books has created a wonderful way for kids to learn to love to read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780789309624.jpgA superb and classic travel book series by Mirolsav Sasek (assorted 20th century years) – We remember these from our childhood and are pretty certain they helped instil our wanderlust.  Mr. Sasek was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, and is best remembered for his classic stories on the great cities of the world. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Once again, we celebrated books, reading, and the power of youth last week at Vermont’s Thetford Academy (TA). The students’ and teachers’ picks for this latest BOOK BUZZ (the student version of the Book Jam’s Pages in the Pub) were eclectic and superb. We hope you enjoy reading from their list as much as we enjoyed hearing them passionately convince the audience why their book selections just had to be read.

We thank the presenters for their time, their enthusiasm and the list of books they generated. Their support made BOOK BUZZ a success. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised money for the Thetford Academy Library.

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With great pleasure, we now list all twenty books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy reading about their picks from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for summer reading, with their bios at the end.

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BOOKS YOU WOULD GIVE TO YOUNGER YOU

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982). Selected by Hannah – For those who wish to dream.

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball Cover ImageThe Haters Cover Image

BOOKS ABOUT ROAD TRIPS TO TAKE ON ROAD TRIPS

Where Nobody Knows Your Name by John Feinstein (2014). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Everybody wants to make the Majors.

The Haters by Jesse Andrews (2016). Selected by Ms. OwenEscape band camp, find trouble, self. 

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FAVORITE BOOKS STARRING ANIMALS

House of a Million Pets by Ann Hodgman (2007). Selected by Hannah – Humorous tale for passing rainy day.

Scythe Cover ImageAmerica Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't [With 3-D Glasses] Cover Image

BOOKS TO READ ALOUD WITH A FLASHLIGHT/IN A TENT/AROUND A CAMPFIRE

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe Book 1) by Neal Schusterman (2016). Selected by Ms. Owen – No one dies unless you kill them.

America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t by Stephen Colbert (2012). Selected by Malcolm – Clever, relevant, and hilariously scary. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

The Pearl Thief Cover ImageTrue Letters from a Fictional Life Cover ImageJane Eyre Cover Image

PROTAGANISTS WE LOVE

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (2017). Selected by Lisa – How people become heroes, WWII History. (Lisa also recommended Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012) and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (2013). The Pearl Thief is the prequel to these two other books by Wein.)

True Letters From A Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan (2016). Selected by MalcolmWryly humorous coming-out story set in Upper Valley.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847). Selected by Hannah – For young souls finding/justifying their strength.
A Collection of Essays Cover ImageNature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World Cover Image

NON-FICTION THAT YOU CAN’T PUT DOWN OR BOOKS FOR THOSE WHO PREFER TRUE STORIES

A Collection of Essays by George Orwell. Selected by Malcolm – Intriguing and darkly insightful retrospective.

Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman (2015). Selected by Ms. Owen – Heartfelt renderings gives hours of leafing.

City of Thieves Cover ImageSalt to the Sea Cover Image

BOOKS THAT DO A GREAT JOB TEACHING HISTORY

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008). Selected by Mr. Deffner – A dozen eggs or your life. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016). Selected by Ms. Owen – Refugees flee WWII carrying secrets. (Previously reviewed by the Book Jam.)

The Hate U Give Cover ImageNineteen Minutes Cover Image

BOOKS YOU WOULD ASSIGN TO GROWNUPS AS REQUIRED

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Police shooting’s effect on a family. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (2007). Selected by Hannah – Entraps you with thought-encoding thriller.

We Should All Be Feminists Cover Image

BOOKS TO GIVE FRIENDS FOR THEIR BIRTHDAYS

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014). Selected by Lisa – Concise, enlightening case for feminism’s importance. (Previously reviewed by The Book Jam.)

Montana 1948 Cover ImageWhy Not Me? Cover Image

BOOKS FOR FRIENDS WHO DON’T LIKE TO READ

Montana 1948 by Larry Watson (1993). Selected by Mr. Deffner – Moral dilemma with two you love.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (2015). Selected by Malcolm – Inspiring, perspective-changing, and hilarious memoir.

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OUR FABULOUS PRESENTERS

  • Hannah loves reading, (especially Jane Austen) has a fondness for bees, and aspires to be a nurse. She is a junior at Thetford Academy.
  • Malcolm’s favorite things to do are run, read, write, and both watch and create films. He loves distance running and proudly self-identifies as a film nerd. He is seventeen years old and attends Thetford Academy.
  • Ms. Owen runs the TA library and most importantly helps many, many students find the perfect book to read next – even if they aren’t sure they want to read anything.
  • Mr. Deffner coaches cross-country and teaches English at TA when he is not taking his sons on road trips or basketball games.
  • Lisa Christie is the co-founder and co-blogger of the Book Jam. When not coordinating BOOK BUZZ or Pages in the Pub, she is usually reading.

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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.

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image from the March 7, 2017 Boston Globe

This week we feature Andrew Forsthoefel  author of Walking to Listen. Based upon his travels as a new graduate of Middlebury College, when he walked America with a backpack, an audio recorder, copies of Whitman and Rilke, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen”, this book offers us all a chance to hear those Mr. Forsthoefel met along his route.

Walking from his home in Pennsylvania, toward the Pacific, he met people of all ages, races, and inclinations. Currently based in Northampton, Massachusetts, Andrew Forsthoefel is a writer, radio producer, and public speaker.  He facilitates workshops on walking and listening as practices of personal transformation, interconnection, and conflict resolution.

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time Cover ImageAndrew Forsthoefel will visit the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 to discuss Walking to ListenThe 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.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Cover ImageThe Snow Leopard: (Penguin Orange Collection) Cover ImageA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Cover Image

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

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, welcomed me into the wonders of contemplative writing—she plumbs the depths of her inner world while exploring her natural surroundings, and the balance becomes a revelatory relationship between her heart and the earth, her mind and and the woods. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen, is a masterpiece of subtlety and humility, blending spiritual wondering with boots-on-the-ground, embodied experience. And Dave EggersA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was an inspiring model of how to write a memoir from a place of acute self-inquiry, sincerity, and radical transparency. I also gotta pay homage to Walt Whitman and Rainer Maria Rilke—poets, healers, warriors of the heart, makers of beauty and peace.

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

I’d have coffee with the Sufi poet Rumi in the desert somewhere, just to be around someone who was so profoundly in love with the world, so willing to feel the full catastrophe of being human without retreating into cynicism or despair. He made medicine of his experiences by translating them into poetry, and his life became an offering by the way he was willing to commit himself to the labor of love, his faith that the human experience is not an irreparable disaster, that it is undergirded by the redemptive potential for connection with oneself, one another, and the planet. Almost a thousand years later, he continues to serve humanity with his words. What a life! We might not even say a single word in our conversation, might just look at each other and smile. After coffee, we’d have to go for a walk.

The Law of Dreams Cover ImageJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption Cover ImageThe New Jim Crow Cover Image

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety Cover ImageThe End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment Cover ImageBraiding Sweetgrass Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

I just finished The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens, a heartbreaking novel about one young man’s emigration from Ireland in the 1800s. Couldn’t put it down. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, were recent (and necessary) reads for me, illuminating the racism and oppression laced into and created by our criminal justice system. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, and The End of Your World by Adyashanti, arrived in my hands right on time a few months ago, and I’m keeping them on my bedside table to remind me not to fall asleep. Up next: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

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Well, March arrived in Vermont like a lion and honestly appears to be leaving as one as well. The political news is still divisive and disturbing. And, for a variety of reasons, both Book Jam Lisas have been reading a lot of serious books. So to break out a bit, today we review a bunch of mysteries/thrillers in the sincere hope that reading some “just for fun” books will help us all smile more often as March becomes April. Enjoy!

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August Snow Cover ImageAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (Feb 2017) – I so hope that in real life there is someone like August Snow – a half black/half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood  loyalty – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative, and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, Mr. Snow makes many mistakes, and wow, by the end of this tale, his body count is way too high for my tastes. However, few books take place in today’s Detroit; please enjoy this one! ~ Lisa Christie

The Bat Cover ImageThe Bat by Jo Nesbo (2013) – Somehow, we missed the first Detective Harry Hole mystery. Luckily, we rectified that last week. What fun!  Even if you have enjoyed the other novels in this detective series already, going back to the first mystery and watching him solve the murder of a lovely Norwegian ex-pat living Down Under, is somehow the perfect antidote for healthcare news. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

IQ Cover ImageIQ by Joe Ide (2017) – This debut features a great protagonist and a great sidekick whose incredibly complicated lives combine for a great plot.  Set in modern day LA and following a man whose amazing brain lay dormant for awhile but has awakened as a solver of others’ problems — a la Sherlock Holmes (who the author recognizes in this acknowledgements), this book marks the start of a great series. We are ready for book two and thank Carin Pratt for pointing us in the direction of Mr. Ide. ~ Lisa Christie 

Closed Casket: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery Cover ImageClosed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie (2017) – Agatha Christie writes again. OK, so someone else writes for her, but the oh so British atmosphere and Hercule Poirot are pretty much the same. Have fun! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

The Whistler Cover ImageThe Whistler by John Grisham (2016) – Sometimes I just need the comfort of a reliable storyteller, and with Mr. Grisham I almost always get that. But, I always get a tale of people trying to do the right thing in spite of the odds against them. And honestly in 2017, I really, really need more of that. So, read this for a page-turner, but then think about it as a way to begin working for and fighting for what you believe is important. We can all use more of that lately. (Oh yes, the plot — in this Grisham Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, gets in trouble when taking on corruption on the Florida bench.) ~ Lisa Christie 

FC9780312426132The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (2006). Take a trip back in time to Istanbul  circa 1836 to meet intriguing Investigator Yashim. Filed under the category of “How The Heck Did We Miss This Book?”, this mystery (the first in a  series) is full of obscure historical references, complex characters, and wonderful food imagery. The reader is transported back to 19th century Ottoman Empire and can truly feel her/himself walking by the donkey carts and spice vendors of Istanbul while she/he works alongside Yashim to solve a mystery involving a series of murders that threaten the sultan’s political court. Besides being a talented detective, Yashim is also an excellent cook. He is also a eunich. Utterly fascinating, this book is perfect for history buffs, fans of literary mysteries, or the traveler looking for the perfect book to take on an upcoming trip to Turkey. If your curious about the cookbook that Jason Goodwin published in 2016, listen here: Yashim Cooks Istanbul ~ ~ Lisa Cadow  

In This Grave Hour Cover ImageIn This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear (2017) – Another Maisie Dobbs mystery finds Maisie on a case involving Belgium refugees just as Prime Minister Chamberlin declares Britian at war with Germany. Ms. Winspear has definitely gotten Maisie out of her “please get on with it already” phase of incredible self-analysis to again using her honed introspection to help others. Enjoy this look at the UK as WWII begins. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

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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!

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Fiction

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

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“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

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Mysteries/Thrillers

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

 

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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

 

 

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YA

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

HAPPY READING from the BOOK JAM!

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searchOne of our favorite people  – the superb author Sarah Stewart Taylor – is someone we turn to when we need a great new book or author to read. Thus, we were thrilled when she agreed to turn her recent trip to Ireland into a Book Jam post about some authors she discovered while abroad. In this post, Sarah discusses the power of literature one discovers when traveling, and how literature provides superb armchair travel when hopping on a plane is just not possible. We hope you enjoy her suggested reading list as much as we do. Thank you Sarah! And, happy travels to all.

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On a trip to Dublin, Ireland recently, I ducked into a fantastic little bookshop in Sandymount. The tables were piled high with new and used books of all kinds, and I asked the proprietor to recommend some Irish mysteries for me. An obsessive fan of both Ireland and crime fiction, I love revisiting one of my favorite places on earth through the works of the Irish crime writers Tana French and John Banville (one of my favorite Irish novelists, writing mysteries as Benjamin Black), and I needed some more titles to get me through until their next ones are published.

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He obliged very nicely and I came home with an extra bag to contain all the books I’d bought. I discovered some terrific new-to-me Irish crime writers, among them Gene Kerrigan, Jane Casey (who is Irish but writes mysteries set in London), Declan Hughes, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, and Stuart Neville. 

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Reading mysteries about a place is one of my favorite ways to prepare for travel, to prolong the fun of an adventure once I’m home. Donna Leon’s Venice mysteries are among my favorites, focusing on the cases (and the meals) of the appealing Inspector Guido Brunetti and reminding me of past trips to that magical city. I love the mysteries of Cara Black, which always bring me back to trips to Paris.

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It’s also fun to read mysteries about places I haven’t yet been lucky enough to visit. Jason Goodwin’s Inspector Yashim novels, set in the 19th century Ottoman Empire, have made me obsessed with visiting (modern-day) Turkey and Colin Cotteril’s wonderful mysteries set in Cambodia have added that country to my travel bucket list. I absolutely loved a novel by Richard Crompton, set in Kenya and titled Hour of the Red God. It stars a Masai detective named Detective Mollel and was one of my favorite new mysteries of the past few years.

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So — what are your favorite mysteries about places you’ve visited — or would like to?

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Well, we bet you never thought you’d read a Book Jam post thanking a movie star, and honestly neither did we. But Mr. Hawke’s latest endeavor – a book entitled Rules for a Knight – has us leading 2016 with a sincere thank you to him.

Why gratitude? Well, reading this slim volume aloud to a ten-year-old boy and 12-year-old boy over the holiday break led to GREAT discussions about what sort of people they wish to become, and how they are going to get there. The discussions had nothing to do with what job they will hold, or where they will live, or academic grades. Instead, the conversations centered around what sort of people they wish to be, and included pondering questions such as: How do you show people you are grateful for their service? If you believe helping others is important, how do you serve others? How do you respond to life’s set-backs? How do you know who you are? Yes, much of the writing is a bit clumsy in its earnestness, and much of the advice is very yoda-like; but honestly, for us, any book that causes pre-teen boys to open up and discuss meaningful topics is worth reading.

These discussions inspired us to think about other books that might lead to amazing conversations about how to live (or just amazing conversations). Thus, we start 2016 with a review of Rules for a Knight, and a few other books that may lead to great discussions, and/or inspire your new year. You will see they are quite an eclectic mix as we weren’t certain what you might be in the mood to read or what inspiration you require. But each in its unique way, is helping us answer our ultimate question for 2016 – “How can I be useful?”. So, thank you Ethan Hawke for this gift of meaningful conversations with pre-teen boys about how to live a life (and for Before Sunrise and Dead Poets Society).

May 2016 be filled with fun books, good people, great discussions, some opportunities to learn a bit, and some fun adventures.

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Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015) – In this book, a knight, fearing he will not survive an upcoming battle, writes a letter to his children that he hopes will guide them as they face life’s choices. His themes include solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, and patience; and, he uses Eastern and Western philosophy, and modern spiritual and political themes throughout. What emerges is a short guide to what gives life meaning, and to what allows one to both create and appreciate beauty. As we said in the introduction, we found this a great read-aloud for discussions with youngsters. Note — while the kids we experienced this with were boys, Mr. Hawke incorporates girls into the prose, and we think this book would lead to fun conversations with kids, regardless of gender.

The Best Place to be Today: 365 Things To Do and The Perfect Day To Do Them by Lonely Planet (2015) – As regular readers of the Book Jam know, both Book Jam Lisas LOVE to travel. We also tend to rely on the Lonely Planet guides when we leave Vermont to explore the world. We love the concept behind this specific Lonely Planet book — each day of the year has a destination highlighted with information on what is there, and reasons why it is good to be enjoying that destination on that particular day. For example, this would be a great planning tool if you know you would like to go somewhere for Memorial Day, but need some inspiration about where it would be good to be on that specific weekend. We also think it would be fun to put on your dining room table and flip a page every day of the year for some great photos, some new knowledge, and some travel inspiration.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay (2015) – Mr. Gay, a Wall Street Journal sports columnist, wrote a rule book that does not take itself too seriously. Best of all for us — it definitely does not make you feel guilty for all the things you are not doing (or doing as the case might be). What it does do is make you laugh (a lot – so much so that one of us completely distracted her husband with loud guffaws as he was trying hard to accomplish some work), and ponder the fact that maybe everything is not hard as you are making it. Read this as a powerful antidote to the daily news.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 (2015) – Planning a big trip in 2016?  Well, this Lonely Planet volume will help guide you to your best destination. Along with vivid descriptions and ideas, this book provides: 1) a list of the top ten countries, regions, and cities to visit in 2016, 2) 16 top travel lists to give you fresh ideas for exploring the world from a new perspective, and 3) more than 35 events mapped out in a year long travel planner.

The Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson (2015) – We must admit we don’t normally think of Scandinavia when we think of what to make for dinner. So, we were intrigued when we came across this cookbook on the Norwich Bookstore’s shelves.  And, since we have vowed to expand our culinary horizons in 2016, we are glad we found this tome. We look forward to allowing it to inspire new dishes throughout the year. We will also enjoy thinking while we cook of the midnight sun, nordic myths, and fjords.

Paris by Serge Ramelli (2015) – We both love France, we both love Paris, and we both love this book of stunning images from the City of Light. Mr. Ramelli’s photos are truly spectacular, and a full book of Paris is lovely indeed. There is also something incredibly soothing about looking at a book of images, not words. Please pick this up and just enjoy some armchair travel in 2016.

And to finish this first post of 2016, one of us returns to her Southern roots by adding a quote from a fellow Tennessean. May 2016 be superb for all y’all!

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