Archive for the ‘Armchair Travelers’ Category


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







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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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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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We celebrated books in the Norwich Inn during the annual holiday edition of Pages in the Pub in our home town of Norwich, Vermont last week. Our superb presenters spoke about their favorite picks for gift giving, and wow did they sell a lot of books. We thank them for that, and for leaving all of us a great list of books to give and get. Bonus – thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, the event raised around $1,400 for the Norwich Public Library (while increasing sales for a great indie bookstore).


This post lists all twenty- three 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 and gift-giving easier. We hope you have fun looking, and that you enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using direct links to each selection. And now, our superb presenters’ picks for holiday gift giving, with their intriguing bios at the end.


Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix by Mark Bittman (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Yummy dishes; up, down, across, diagonal.

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell (2014). Selected by James – Master Chef Teaches Son. Goodbye Take-out.


438 Days: Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin (2015). Selected by James – Thirty-hour trip goes quite awry.

Hold Still by Sally Mann (2015). Selected by Penny – Photography, family, bravery, mortality, beauty, fear.


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015). Selected by Penny – Perhaps my favorite book of 2015.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Ryan Stradal (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Forging family through lutefisk and bars.

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Deeply evocative. Beautifully written. Perfectly human.

The Sellout by Paul Beattie (2015). Selected by James  – Outrageous satire: black narrator segregates neighborhood.


The Cartel by Don Winslow (2015). Selected by James – Narco-Terror: North America’s ISIS. Gripping.

The Heist by Daniel Silva (2015). Selected by Penny – Guilty pleasure, art, espionage, marriage, Israel.


The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015). Selected by Katie – Beauty surprises, kindness transforms, both inspire.

The Boys in the Boat: YA adaptation (2015). Selected by Katie – Loved by adults, now perfect for kids!


How Machines Work: Zoo Break! by David Macaulay (2015). Selected by Katie – Inspiration for the afternoon scientist—invent!!

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015). Selected by Lisa – Field-trip hijinks involve spies, adventure, laughs.

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2014). Selected by Lisa – Little House fans will thank you.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015). Selected by Lisa – History, mystery, magical realism. Boys & girls.


Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Adorable raccoon. Quirky art. Sweetness abounds!

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Selected by Lisa – Three different views. One big snowstorm.

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). Selected by Katie – Moral: Persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.


For armchair travelers

Lonely Planet’s Wild World by Lonely Planet (2015). Selected by Katie – Gorgeous adventure awaits, snuggled in armchair.

Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland (2015). Selected by Lisa – Fun illustrations finally reach US audience.  (Also has an Atlas of Adventure activity pack.)

For messy people who can’t find their own coffee table

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2015). Selected by James – Can book save human oil slick?

For the person who doesn’t usually read animal books

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (2015). Selected by Lucinda – Making friends with octopuses (not octopi!).



James BandlerIn spite of his father’s not-entirely unfair observation that he’d have trouble finding a rat in his own cup of coffee, James Bandler spend his formidable years writing about corporate misbehavior for a series of financially troubled newspapers and magazines. Now a recovering journalist and professional fact-finder, he is best known as the private chauffeur of two Norwich teenagers and the vice-chairman of the Dennis Thatcher Society of North America (DTSNA), Vermont Chapter.

Katie Kitchel – Like the books she enjoys reading, Katie’s career has been a varied mosaic. Since graduating from Dartmouth in 1995, Katie has worked as a victim’s advocate, a mediator, a trainer, a music teacher, an arts administrator, an admissions reader, and a bookseller. Her most cherished job, though, is being mom to her boisterous boys. In her “spare time”, she loves to READ and to SING and to perform in musicals and dramas alike. She lives in Norwich, VT with her husband, her three boys, and her wildly energetic dog.

Penny McConnel has been selling books for 30 years and cannot imagine doing anything else. She lives in Norwich with her husband Jim, a retired dentist. When not reading or selling books, Penny can be found cooking, in her garden, singing and for two months in the winter enjoying life with Jim in California.

Lucinda Walker loves being the Director of the Norwich Public Library and thanks Norwich for adopting her. Lucinda’s journey to librarianship began at the Windsor Public Library, where she spent many a long Saturday afternoon devouring their children’s books. She counts among her favorite things: French roast coffee, storytelling podcasts, and Saturday Night Live (plus books, of course!) Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her poet husband Peter and kids, Hartley & Lily.

Book Jam Lisas

Lisa Cadow is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog, and the founder of Vermont Crepe & Waffle, a food cart and catering company serving authentic French crepes. When not reading, traveling or testing recipes for her food blog, Fork on the Road, she works as a health coach for Dartmouth Health Connect, an innovative primary care practice in Hanover, NH. She lives in Vermont with her husband, three teens (two of whom are away at college most of the year now), three cats, and an energetic border collie.

Lisa Christie is the co-founder/co-blogger for the Book Jam Blog. In previous times, she was the founder/first Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and a former Executive Director of Everybody Wins! USA, literacy programs that help children love books (www.everybodywins.org). She currently works part-time as a non-profit consultant, part-time graduate student, and most importantly full-time mom/wife. She lives in Vermont with her husband, two sons, and a very large Bernese mountain dog, and often dreams of travel.


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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.


This 3 Questions features Victoria Shorr and her book Backlands. Ms. Shorr is a writer and political activist who lived in Brazil for 10 years. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles, where she cofounded the Archer School for Girls, and is now working to found a college-prep school for girls on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Backlands is based on the true story of Lampiao, Brazil’s most notorious bandit, who ruled over a group of nomadic outlaws in northeastern Brazil. Taking from the rich, admired and feared by the poor, the bandits roamed and ruled from 1922 to 1938. The novel unfolds from the viewpoint of Maria Bonita, a woman stuck in a loveless marriage until she met Lampiao, and rode off with him to become the “Queen of the Bandits”. (Photo by Dan Deitch.)

Ms. Shorr will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, July 22nd to discuss Backlands. This 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.

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

I would say the three that come to mind are  The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann and “The Fall River Axe Murders,” a story by Angela Carter.  They all take a historic event and then re-imagine it intensely, so that rather than reading a series of facts, you are actually there, living the history.  It was reading these retellings that made me realize that I could tell my story–which is a true one–better if I crossed that line into fiction.

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

Virginia Woolf said she would be afraid to find herself alone in a room with Jane Austen, but I would love it–especially if Virginia Woolf stayed as well! I felt I got to know them both quite well, recently rereading their work, and in fact, writing a piece about Jane Austen’s having turned down the one very good proposal of marriage that she got, I would like very much to hear her out about that. This took what Isak Dinesen calls  “courage de luxe”  [maybe she could join us!]–though it would have to be tea, of course, not coffee.


3) What books are currently on your bedside table?

I am on a Coleridge bender, having started with Alathea Hayter’s Voyage in Vain (out of print), and then moved into Richard Holmes‘s two volume biography.  Also Sybille Bedford’s Legacy,  John Lahr’s Mad Pilgrimmage of the Flesh, which my husband and I fight over, and Michael Lewis’s Liars’ Poker, which my sons say will explain it all to me.

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Some Books for Book Clubs, and Anyone Looking for a Great Read

imagesWe were privileged to visit a local book club to present a few books for them to consider reading together. Their graciousness was incredible, and their appreciation for our ideas inspired us to share our picks with all of you. As you will see, we were slightly carried away and included MANY books by a diverse group of authors on many topics. So, our reviews are by necessity brief. To help you navigate this long list, we organized the titles in very loose categories, with a caveat that many would fit in multiple places. We hope this list inspires you to read some great books during these deliciously long summer days.

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Fiction – just for laughs/fun/easy reading/escape

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – Run-away bride drives home to Sonoma County, and is helped by her complicated family through decisions about what happens next.  Bonus — readers learn a lot about the history of Sonoma’s transition to vineyards.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life as a 1960s BBC sitcom star.

Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – Life of an American English professor becomes complicated when she spends a term in England with a younger colleague. It is a fun read that also won the Pulitzer.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013) – Mom runs away from Seattle playground dramatics (and fulfills a fantasy felt by many at one point their parenting lives).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A love story told backwards beginning with the deaths of the main characters from a fall off a cliff on Mallorca to the moment they met decades before.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) – A fun, well-told tale of suburban parenting.

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Fiction – slightly more serious

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (1997) – Dramatic, different, compelling. All the things a story should be.

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – The story of Teddy from Atkinson’s Life After Life.  A great read for WWII fiction fans, fans of pilots and those of you who ever wondered what might have been.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – Two remarkable characters try to survive the siege of Leningrad. Wicked with fun, yet poignant.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2014) – Contemporary Ireland after the fiscal meltdown provides the background for a superb cast of characters. Enjoy.

Any novel by Halldor Laxness (Independent People) – This Nobel Prize winning author from Iceland is gifted, and his books take you to a land many of us never get to visit to see people we enjoy getting to know.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – Set in the aftermath of the collapse of civilization this tells the story of a Hollywood star, a savior and a cast of actors wandering what used to be the Great Lakes.

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2013) – Set ten years after civilization collapses, a man, his conscience and his dog try to figure out life.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – A page-turning fictional account of Margaret Mead’s life. Enjoy your time in the Samoan backcountry.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – A fictional account of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In this book the author pictures her as a superb story-teller who becomes a memorable protagonist for a great piece of historical fiction.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – A classic tale of the American Midwest and the American immigration story.

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A saga spanning the 20th century in China and Los Angeles. Enjoy this tale of how a father’s love for China shapes his daughter’s life. We have recommended this to many book clubs – including an all men club – with great success.

The Submission by Amy Waldman  (2012) – This fiction answers what happens when the winning design for a monument for 9-11 is awarded to a Muslim.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – A story by a first time author, who also happens to work in a facility for the mentally ill, about a young man’s struggle with mental illness.  Not as depressing as that sounds.

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – A tale of immigration to America, the pull of the home country, and how some decisions by your parents have ramifications for you for the rest of your life.

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Pairings of books – because sometimes reading books back to back enhances the experience

The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) and In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent (2000)These two books are gorgeously written and approach the Civil War from two different settings, an isolated holler in North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont.

On Beauty (2008) by Zadie Smith with Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910) – On Beauty beautifully retells Howard’s End, a classic tale of England.

Prep (2004) and American Wife (2008) by Curtis Sittenfeld – In these two books, Ms. Sittenfeld tackles Prep School and former first lady Laura Bush.  Both will leave you thinking differently.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person  (2012) – Madame Bovary plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

Girl At War by Sara Novic (2015) with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Both books tackle the impact of war – one in Croatia and one in Chechnya – on those left in its wake.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) and Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2008) – Both books look at WWII from the perspective of the Spanish Civil War.  Mr. Furst explores this theme using a thriller, Ms. Sansome in a more traditional historical novel.

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These words begin this novel about a mixed race Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan (2015) – This novel explores the consequences of bullying in a tale of a high school girl who moves from NYC to a football obsessed town in Alabama.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – A story of how one boy is trying not to let a tragic accident define his life and how a girl with a disfigured face shows him the way (sort of).   

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A tale for middle grade readers that illustrates the importance of perspectives and prejudice.  The plot can be summed as a black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man.  This book shows there is more to that tale.

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Short Stories/poetry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection of short stories – some completely haunting — by a master storyteller.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (2014) – Stories about Communists in the USA and abroad.

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H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2015) – TH White, birds and dealing with the loss of a father mingle in this well-told memoir.

Any book by Alexandra Fuller – A superb set of memoirs about growing up in Africa and finding one’s place in the world.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway (1964) – A FABULOUS tale of life as an American ex-pat in Paris that is sprinkled with the famous — the Hemingways, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and others.

West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – SUPERB tale of a woman and her life in flight, as a horse trainer and as a woman making her way in 20th century Africa.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (2007) – The author of All the Light We Cannot See first wrote this memoir of his year in Rome on a writing fellowship with his wife and newly born twins.

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Current Issues

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – Timely collection of lectures about race in the USA.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – These poems are cleverly illustrated and outlined in a way that opens conversations about race in the USA.

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The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) – The historian tackles two brothers and their impact on the world. Or you could read his Truman or John Adams and then watch the primaries and discuss USA politics all night long.

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Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – A collection of essays about America, Americans and how to live.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) – Mr, Chabon has written a superb group of thoughts about being a man, fatherhood, being a son and friend. Enjoy.


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imgres-2It is the season of Dads and Grads. And, we can think of no better gift to mark their special day(s) than a superb book. So to help you find the perfect gift for every special Dad or Grad in your life this June, we have created a short, but diverse, list of possibilities. (Note: Our picks for Dads from last year  – https://thebookjamblog.com/2013/06/11/june-10-dads-turn-books-for-fathers-day/ – still make great gifts too.)

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)— Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. Fathers will appreciate a superbly crafted story about a man as he becomes a war hero, lover, husband, father, grandfather, and finally senior citizen. History buffs will love the depictions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Pilots and lovers of planes will appreciate the detailed descriptions of how WWII era planes worked. Grads will love that this is just a good story. Fans of Life After Life (this category includes the Book Jam Lisas) will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner. This novel focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have and is basically a book about a lovely man living his life in extraordinary times.  Please buy this for the Dads in your life, and then pick it up yourself to read at some point this summer. (Small disclaimer — It took about 60 pages for me to get into the rhythm of this novel; but I am so glad I stuck it out as the story, particularly the ending, has stayed with me long after closing the last page.) ~ Lisa Christie

H is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald (2014) — Readers, be ready to take flight with this brilliant 2014 Costa Book of the Year award winner. It was a bestseller in England and is now being hand sold as a favorite by indie booksellers in the United States. After MacDonald’s father dies unexpectedly, she embarks upon a journey of healing and discovery that begins with training a goshawk named Mabel. In truth, her avian journey began many years before with her childhood love of birds and falconry — but to train a goshawk! These are the mother of all birds: challenging, nervous, prone to tantrums, and requiring daily manning. Her focus turns to Mabel by necessity, but also as a way through her grief. In the process, she deepens her self-knowledge and also her respect and understanding of birds. She simultaneously leads the reader on a quest to better know the enigmatic TH White (who was a falconer and author of The Once and Future King).  H is for Hawk is nature writing at its best, leaving the reader turning the last page marvelling at the creatures with whom we share the world and yearning for our own healing encounter with the wild. ~Lisa Cadow

Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life (2015) — This book is for sports lovers, and anyone who has ever parented or coached a kid playing any sport of any kind.  The “Manifesto” expands upon a letter St. Louis Cardinal’s Manager Mike Matheny wrote to parents of a little league team he agreed to coach. The philosophy Mr. Matheny expressed in the letter outlined (among other things) his strongly held beliefs that authority should be respected, discipline and hard work rewarded, and humility considered a virtue. In this book he builds on that letter by offering a hopeful path beyond the (unfortunately) often typical path of poor behavior from sports parents, fans and leagues. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) — Books by Mr. McCullough are like comfort food – you know the style of the prose (plain-spoken, yet somehow soaring), the general premise (history), and that you will learn something. In this book, he takes on the Wright brothers. You may think you know all you need to know about The Wright Brothers from elementary school history – they invented the airplane, because of them Ohio and North Carolina fight over who was first in flight, and they owned a bicycle shop. But, you probably did not know they first gained recognition in France, that one of their first models had a canoe on bottom in case it landed in the ocean, and that their sister was brilliant too. A great gift for history buffs and anyone looking for a story of how two ordinary men accomplished a superbly extraordinary thing. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) — A perfect gift for the dads and grads who are news junkies or interested in social justice issues, or for any of us who are trying to make sense of today’s news about race. This collection of four essays by renowned psychologist and Spellman College President Dr. Tatum focuses on race in America. While each has a school-based slant, the questions they raise and the information they impart is important for anyone to consider as we navigate the recent news about race in America. Please note that though the pieces were written over seven years ago their wisdom and questions remain timely. ~ Lisa Christie

Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (2013) — Every once in awhile I pick up a book on how to write – favorites being Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. (Both King’s and Lamott’s books would be great gifts as well.) This “new to me” volume of advice joins those favorites. The authors’ relationship, their joint adventures together as editor and writer, and their love of a good story that is well-told, propel this clearly-written volume of advice on writing. This will make a great gift for any graduate (or Dad) who will be writing as they continue their education, any “would-be” writer, or honestly, any lover of well-written books. ~ Lisa Christie

And, a repeat review, but it is probably our favorite collection of essays about Dads/Men so we are OK with that.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) — One of our favorite collections of essays ever.  Reading this will make you appreciate dads and men.  It will also make you appreciate Mr. Chabon’s writing. And, it may make you laugh and cry a bit. Younger graduates might also enjoy this collection as many of the essays focus on the mistakes and triumphs of Mr. Chabon’s youth. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow


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