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Archive for the ‘Closet Mystery Lovers’ Category

Books for Book Clubs: Start the new year with a great list

Last autumn, we were honored to once again meet with an amazing, long-standing book group who asked us to come up with a list of great books for them to read, enjoy, and discuss. (They actually won us in a charity auction; and honestly, it is really fun to think our reviews benefitted someone’s charitable causes.) To help the rest of you (who were not able to join us on a fine autumn evening over delicious food) find the right books for your book clubs or your own personal reading, we divided the list mostly by subject area, not genre. Happy reading!

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Coming of Age

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America. Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~ Lisa Cadow

Prep: A Novel Cover ImagePrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Ms. Sittenfeld’s debut novel provides amazing fodder for book club conversations as everyone has gone to school at some point in their lives and everyone who is old enough to read this novel has experience or is experiencing their teens. Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when dropped off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She’s there because she wants an education, but also because of the school’s glossy brochure, promising gorgeous and kind boys in sweaters, lovely old brick buildings, girls in kilts with lacrosse sticks, and a place where everyone looks beautiful in chapel. Lee soon discovers that Ault hosts jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand based upon years of wealth and the privileges it affords. In this novel, Lee provides a shrewd observer of–and, at some point, a participant in life at Ault. ~ Lisa Christie

Growing Old/Death

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)

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageOur 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.) ~ Lisa Cadow

Impact of Technology/Our Future

Feed Cover ImageFeed by MT Anderson (2012). As screens dominate our work and leisure, and well, basically our lives, this book about a future in which we all have direct feeds into our brains, feeds through which corporations and governments directly provide us with all the information they think we need, is prescient and honestly page-turning. The group of fictional teens starring in this novel, teens whose feeds malfunction, demonstrate oh so very well how important what we consume through media is to our lives today and perhaps provides a tale of caution we all need. ~ Lisa Christie

 Gun Violence

Long Way Down Cover ImageA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017). Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in this unique, powerful and short novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. I’d love to hear how Book Clubs use this book as a place to begin solving this ever present public health issue. ~ Lisa Christie

Sexual Assault/Gender Equity

Young Jane Young: A Novel Cover ImageYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). A GREAT book about youth, choices, first jobs, and how all of that affects the rest of your life. If you are a person of a certain age, it may also remind you of a certain political scandal or two. Bonus: you will laugh a lot and it is a relatively quick read so great for those months crowded with so many things you can’t possibly read all the books you wish. We are certain it will be a movie soon – so read it now so you can cast it in your mind first. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead “a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. May lead to great discussions about feminism today. ~ Lisa Christie

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories Cover ImageWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) –  I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly). ~ Lisa Christie

Convenience Store Woman Cover ImageConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). As an indie bookstore reviewer, Lauren Peugh of Powell’s Books in Oregon, stated, “Keiko Furukura has worked at her local convenience store for 18 years. Every day, she ensures that the shelves are tidy, the hot food bar is stocked, and the featured items are adequately displayed. She greets every customer with a cheerful ‘Irasshaimase!’ and no one notices that she’s never fit in anywhere else. Murata draws lush descriptions of the beauty of order and routine out of simple, spare prose, and every page crackles with the life she’s created. Because of the humor, the wit, the almost unbearable loveliness of it all, Convenience Store Woman, a small book about a quiet life, makes an enormous impact on the reader.” ~ Lisa Cadow

Domestic Violence
American by Day Cover ImageNorwegian by Night Cover ImageNorwegian by Night (2013) and American by Day (2018) by Derek Miller. See our June 18, 2018 post for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. In American By Day, detective Sigrid Odegard is back in to star in this literary mystery series by Derek Miller, this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. It offers a fascinating  Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also have the pleasure of meeting, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is not only a police officer but also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book.~Lisa Cadow

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018). Educated, is one of the most affecting – if not the most affecting – memoirs of 2018 . In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass CastleJeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Race Relations

Between the World and Me Cover ImageBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. This book is a letter to his son about race in America. As another of our favotire authors wrote about this book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dear Martin Cover ImageMonday is Not Coming (2018) or Allegedly (2018) by Tiffany Jackson or The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2018). All these books are fabulous YA novels about life in contemporary USA. All lend themselves to great discussions about youth, race, and the USA today. And they are all pretty quick reads so perfect for months your book club is a bit overwhelmed. Briefly,  Dear Martin and The Hate U Give address gun violence in the USA. Monday is Not Coming speaks to treatment of African American girls in the USA and Allegedly addresses juvenile justice issues. ~ Lisa Christie

Immigration
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Contreras (2018) paired with Dear America by Jose Vargas (2018). Both of these books provide insight into what life brings for new immigrants to the USA.  Fruit of the Drunken Tree is one of those books that are so gorgeous when you finish you turn back to page one and start over again. I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven year old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Dear America is a memoir penned by the most famous undocumented immigrant in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Mosin Hamid (2017). We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in its review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~– Lisa Christie•

Amazing Fiction You May Have Missed

The Sea (Vintage International) Cover ImageThe Sea by John Banville (2005). I often describe this slim novel as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  In it Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman travels back to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers in an attempt to cope with the recent loss of his wife. There he confronts all he remembers and some things he does not. ~ Lisa Christie 
The House on Mango Street (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image

House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991). My oldest son read this in High School and I joined him in the experience by re-reading Ms. Cisneros’s acclaimed novel about life as a Latino in New York City. I enjoyed it years ago and enjoyed it again this time, with a huge bonus of being able to discuss it with my son. I hate to trivialize it by calling it a coming-of-age story, but I will call it a masterpiece of childhood and self-discovery. ~ Lisa Christie

Nutshell Cover ImageNutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – This mystery is a clever treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of HamletNutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (2002).  This novel provides insight into Filipino culture in the waning days of World War II.  How?  By following the Karangalans – a family who huddles with their neighbors in the cellar of a house near Manila to wait out the war.  The book alternates between 1) heart-wrenching looks at life during war as those hiding in the basement venture out to forage for much-needed food, water and news and, 2) spellbinding myths and legends the group uses to entertain each other while they wait for the war to end.  The book is a testament to the power of stories in giving much-needed resolve to survive. ~ Lisa Christie 

Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel Cover ImageLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2015). Reviewers compare it to Gone Girl. I just enjoyed reading this page-turner. Indiebound may have summed it best, “with a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive  explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to ‘have it all’ and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.” Have fun. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Fun Book that May Cause You to Rethink Mrs. Bush

American Wife: A Novel Cover ImageAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008). Ms. Sittenfeld’s story of Charlie and Alice made me re-think Mrs. Laura Bush and the politicians who surround her. Hopefully you will enjoy it and rethink your thoughts of many politicians.   As an indie book reviewer from Wisconsin wrote, “The reader will recognize the main characters, Alice and Charlie, as they experience their tempestuous courtship and marriage, and their rise to political fame and fortune. Although the setting is Wisconsin, the protagonists bear a curious resemblance to a couple from Texas who achieved the highest office of the land. This story, told from the perspective of a fictional First Lady, is hard to put down!” ~ Lisa Christie

Creative Short Story Collections

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories Cover ImageAssassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014). From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

Vida Cover ImageVida by Patricia Engel (2010). This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Christie

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover ImageThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015). The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time, he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. I usually don’t like short stories, but this one has remained with me throughout the past few years. To me, it was one of the best books of 2015. And I honestly think it would make a great place for some great book club discussions.  And if you are really short on time before one of your book club gatherings, you could pick one of the stories instead of them all. ~ Lisa Christie

Compelling Nonfiction
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Cover Image

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018). As a mother to two sons, adopted from South America and raised in overwhelmingly white Vermont, this book was truly difficult for me. Chung’s stories of growing up as the rare person of color in her predominantly white community in Oregon and the trauma that she had to work through as a result, hit a little too close to home. Her difficulties with identity and her adoption, tugged hard at my heart and my guilt. Her writing is poignant and pointed as she tells her tale of finding her birth family, exploring her own feelings about motherhood while preparing to give birth for the first time, and discovering what family means to her. In short, this book is a great memoir for anyone interested in the experiences of people of color in the USA, the experiences of adoption in the USA, and how families are formed no matter your race or birth status.~ Lisa Christie

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Cover ImageMy Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2018). I used this book for one of the book clubs I run in my health coaching job.  In this memoir, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist desxcribes her life before and after she experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She watches her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours. However, her stroke was a blessing and enabled many revelations. A great book for intense discussions about life and thinking. ~ Lisa Cadow

Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1932). In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night: A Memoir Cover ImageWest With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Cover ImageSomething/anything by Brene Brown (assorted years). We first heard of Ms. Brown because of a TED talk. Then she seemed to be everywhere – on multiple NPR interviews, in magazines, books in friends’ homes. So we picked up a book or tow of hers and read.  In all, she takes her research studying difficult emotions such as shame, fear, vulnerability from her career at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and adds insights from her own “mid-life unraveling” and other real life adventures. Her messages throughout are more insightful than they may at first appear. And, she reminds us all that courage, compassion and connection are gifts that only work when exercised. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Pairings: Because They Can Be Twice As Good

Madame Bovary Cover ImageIn One Person Cover ImageMadame 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.

 

On Beauty: A Novel Cover ImageHowards End Cover ImageOn Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006) with Howard’s End by Forster (1910). Ms. Smith retells Howard’s End as the tale of an interracial family living in a university town in Massachusetts. Both sides of the Atlantic play a part in the escapades that ensue. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny. Enjoy and then read Howard’s End, Forster’s classic tale of English social mores at the end of the 19th century and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel Cover ImageHamlet Cover ImageGertrude and Claudius by John Irving (2000) with Hamlet by Shakespeare (1603). Most agree that Gertrude and Claudius are the villains of Hamlet . John Irving creates a Gertrude and Claudius Shakespeare left behind for his imagination. In this slim novel, Mr. Irving tells the tale of Hamlet from the villains’ perspective and things shake out slightly differently.  Read both versions and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

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Image result for images of holiday giftsDo not panic – we are here with some GREAT ideas for last minute gift giving. Happy end of 2018, and happy holidays.

Adult Nonfiction/Coffee Table/Gift Books

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany Cover ImageBibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Janet Mount (2018) – For the voracious book omnivore in your life, this cleverly curated offering will feel perfectly at home decorating a coffee table, in a well-stocked bathroom, or simply piled by the bedside. Wherever it lives, however, it will always find itself in someone’s hands. The colorful cover illustration entices the viewer to open the book and once in, provides much food for thought: What are the best bookstores in New York City (including the quizzes that they offer potential new hires!)? What are some of  the most iconic book covers of the past several decades? Name some of the best literary cats! There are even “Bibliophile” notecards and a daily planner that can accompany this lovely gift. ~Lisa Cadow

The Lost Words Cover ImageThe Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by Janet Morris (2017) – This gorgeous, oversized picture book could be gifted equally to the word lovers, nature-enthusiasts, etymological historians, and art-appreciators in your life. The Lost Words is a most thought-provoking recent compilation that challenges readers of any age to consider why words disappear — or, conversely, are born. It highlights and lushly illustrates words such as “dandelion,” “willow,” and “otter” that were, in the most recent revision of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, edited out of the compilation by the Oxford University Press. In their place, were put new ones such as “blog”, “broadband”, “chatroom”, “committee”, and “voice-mail.”  This is a beautiful conversation piece – perusing it makes the reader  feel as if she is taking a stroll through the English countryside – that will challenge all who encounter it to take a moment to reflect on our rapidly changing, albeit still stunning natural world. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Calypso Cover ImageCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear on the page. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor. Pick this up and enjoy or give it as a great gift! ~ Lisa Christie

Adult Fiction

Lethal White (A Cormoran Strike Novel) Cover ImageLethal White (and other titles) by Robert Galbraith (2018) – This series continues to be one of my favorites. I was so grateful to devour this thriller as the news from DC was so horrid. And I will let the New York Times speak for me – “At times you might feel as you did when reading the Harry Potter books, particularly later in the series, when they got longer and looser. You love the plot, and you love being in the company of the characters, and you admire the author’s voice and insights and ingenuity, and you relish the chance to relax into a book without feeling rushed or puzzled or shortchanged…. Long live the fertile imagination and prodigious output of J.K. Rowling.”The New York Times ~ Lisa Christie

CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead ” a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. If needed, this would be an especially great gift for the feminists in your life. ~ Lisa Christie

Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems Cover ImagePriest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems by Tony Hoagland (2018) –  I would have picked this up for the title alone, but a recommendation from delightfully smart and poetry-loving Penny McConnel of the Norwich Bookstore meant I had to read it. She wanted to include it in her Pages in the Pub selections, but ran out of choices; so, I am happy to include it for her here. This collection contemplates human nature and modern culture with anger, humor, and humility. I honestly wanted to read this collection in one fell swoop and had to force myself to slow down and savor each poem. As The New York Times wrote, “Hoagland’s verse is consistently, and crucially, bloodied by a sense of menace and by straight talk.” ~ Lisa  Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Moshin Hamid (2017) – We LOVED this novel.  It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in it’s review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Teens

Love & Other Carnivorous Plants Cover ImageLove & Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves (2018) – A superb YA book that deals with eating disorders, death, questioning one’s sexuality, mental health issues, and going away to, and returning from college with grace and love and humor. Quick plot summary Danny and Sara met in Kindergarten and vowed to be friends forever – a vow strained by Danny’s departure to Harvard after first promising to room with Sara at another college. Things unravel for them both while apart and their reunion back home during the summer after their first year away starts the drama of this book. Truly a stellar debut by this young (I think she is 24) author. This book received a starred review by Book List and praise from the School Library Journal and Kirkus. Impressive all around. (Bonus fact: She is a Dartmouth graduate.) ~ Lisa Christie

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures Cover ImageAmerican Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Two Cultures by America Ferrera (2018) – A great and timely selection of essays about being an American immigrant or child of immigrants. Most of the essays address aspects of being a teen in the USA, providing a great “in” for most teens to the stories of these immigrants.  Plus, you will recognize a lot of the authors (e.g., Lin Manuel Miranda). ~ Lisa Christie

Picture Books for All Ages

In the Town All Year 'Round Cover ImageIn the Town All Year Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner (2008) – This is an older title that we somehow missed until recently. A sophisticated “Where’s Waldo” of the surprising things you find in town every day. A great way for kids and the adults who love them to discuss what people do day in and day out. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun festivities from the four corners of the globe Cover ImageAtlas of Animal Adventures and Atlas of Dinosaur Adventures and Atlas of Adventure Wonders of the World by Lucy Letherland (assorted years) – Ms. Letherland wrote one of our favorite oversized picture books of all time – Atlas of Adventure. We are pretty certain we gifted it to just about every family we knew once we discovered it. And, we must say every family thanked us profusely for adding it to their collection. Thus, we were excited to see Ms. Letherland’s illustrations grace these other books. All of these books provide oversized, joyous illustrations and plenty of inspiration to learn more about a wide variety of places and topics. ~ Lisa Christie

More Traditional Picture Books

Harriet Gets Carried Away Cover ImageHarriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (2018) – AWESOME tale of imagination and love.  A little girl’s mission is simple – to find party hats; how she gets them so complicated. We also are hoping the fact her adventures include two dads and a lot of penguins is a shout out to And Tango Makes Three, a great picture book based upon an actual penguin at the Central Park Zoo with two dads. ~ Lisa Christie

Ada Twist, Scientist Cover ImageAda Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2018) – Ada’s curiosity is unending and leads her to great big messes.  Doe sit also make her a great scientist?  We all can learn from Ada’s fearless explorations, and the rhymes and illustrations are fun. ~ Lisa Christie

City Cover ImageCity by Ingela P. Arrhenius (2018) – The bold, colorful, almost block-like pictures remind of us our favorite board book for toddlers – My Car by Byron Barton. Very few words and bold graphic illustrations make this the perfect oversized book for very young readers to share with the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Christie

 

Chapter Books for Kids to Read or Families to Read Aloud

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle Cover ImageThe Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss (2018) – This delightful story of a girl who loves bicycles, is faced with a fate she does not want – friendship camp – and decides to take her life into her own hands and onto her favorite two wheels, has everything a great tale for kids should have – spirited heroine, a cookie-wielding sage, ghosts, quirky inventors, luck, a grand goal – bicycling across the country to meet her hero, and ultimately adults who help her seize her own destiny. Told in a perfectly sly manner with great humor and charm, this adventure book will leave every reader smiling. Thank you Ms. Beth (see below as well) for putting this in my hands.  ~ Lisa Christie

The Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare Cover ImageThe Extraordinary Colors of Auden Dare by Zillah Bethell (2018) – Ms. Beth, our small town’s children’s librarian, put this in my hands and I honestly couldn’t believe that any book could live up to her hype. But, it charmed me completely. In this novel, a colorblind boy, Auden Dare lives in a future world where the scarcity of water is the cause of all wars.  Auden’s brilliant scientist uncle suddenly dies, leaving a home to Auden’s mother and notes outlining a mystery for Auden and Auden’s new friend Vivi. These notes lead them on an adventure they both needed and to a new friend, the mysterious robot Paragon. Together Vivi and Auden must solve the mystery that is Paragon and possibly save the world and their own families in the process. Auden, Paragon and Vivi will stay with you long after the last page. ~ Lisa Christie

Mascot Cover ImageMascot by Antony John (2018) – I laughed. I cried. I snorted from laughing and crying. And, I loved this book about baseball, horrific accidents (a dad dies and a son is in a wheelchair), rebuilding muscles and lives, friendships, parents who annoy, and middle school. I might even have to become a Cardinals fan. Reminiscent of my other favorite middle grades baseball novel Soar in its scope and its unflinching look at tough situations and how people can inspire as they face every obstacle. You will be so grateful you read this book. Or as Kirkus reviews says, “Noah’s dilemma is universal: the struggle to rebuild identity when what once defined us no longer exists. Highlights the challenges of adapting to puberty and sudden disability at the same time.” ~ Lisa Christie

Speechless Cover ImageSpeechless by Adam P. Schmidt (2018) – This tale of Jimmy, a middle school aged boy tasked with giving the eulogy for his “very hard to love” cousin, is a superb way to think about all the “hard to love” people we encounter as we go through life and what we may do to be better as a result. The fact Jimmy’s suit is way to small and buttons are threatening to pop at any moment is one of many small details that Mr. Schmidt uses with great skill to make the characters, their issues, and the whole plot real. A great debut novel that will have you thinking at its close. Note: this novel addresses alcoholism, tragic accidents, abuse. ~ Lisa Christie

Wallpaper Deer New year Lantern Star decoration Christmas tree Snow Berry Branches Pine cone Holidays Boards 3840x2400 Christmas New Year tree Conifer cone Wood planks

 

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Here in Vermont we are benefitting from a blizzard of recommendations of books for kids and young adults this holiday season. What is our source? Well, two BOOK BUZZes over the course of two days means that numerous students from area schools presented their favorite books to read, give, and get. On Friday we posted the selections from the middle school students at Crossroads Academy, today we post the selections from students from our own Norwich elementary school, the Marion Cross School.

We hope you (and the kids you need to shop for) enjoy the selections from these students. Their names and grades are listed at the end of this post.

The Secret of Platform 13 Cover ImageLast Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star #1) Cover ImageThe Unicorn in the Barn Cover Image

Books for your friends who don’t like to read but who would love a great story

The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) Cover Image

Superb books you would assign to your favorite adult (teacher, aunt, parent) as required reading

  • The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta (2018). Selected by Hannah. Another dimension with a hidden adventure.

Iron Hearted Violet Cover ImageThe Little Prince Cover Image

Best family read-alouds

  • Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill (2012). Selected by Twyla. Best friends, dragon, mirrored sky, war.
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1942). Selected by Mr. Bill. A little philosopher ponders life’s mysteries.

The One and Only Ivan Cover ImageWaiting for the Magic Cover Image

Perfect books to help you ignore the fact you are waiting for your sister or brother to finish hockey practice

  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2012). Selected by Gavin. Silver-back Ivan and Elephant Stella.
  • Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan (2011). Selected by Mrs. French. Four dogs help family find comfort.

Who Is the Dalai Lama? (Who Was?) Cover ImageWho Is Jane Goodall? (Who Was?) Cover Image

Fun non-fiction books for kids who prefer TRUE stories

Refugee Cover Image

Fiction Books that do a great job of teaching history

  • Refugee by Alan Gratz (2017). Selected by Penelope. Three kids, all refugees, different times.

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives Cover ImageGrandpa's Great Escape Cover ImageAll's Faire in Middle School Cover Image

GREAT Books to give to your friends for their birthdays

Ballpark Mysteries #6: The Wrigley Riddle Cover Image

The BEST Book to give to your younger brother or sister because it was your favorite in 2nd grade

Mascot Cover ImageThe Contract (Jeter Publishing) Cover Image

Sports books that are about so much more

  • Mascot by Antony John (2018). Selected by Jacobi. Kid in wheelchair. Out with Fredbird.
  • The Contract Series by Derek Jeter (Assorted Years). Selected by Joe. A dad, a bully, & a nothing.

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere Cover Image

Picture Books to read with your reading buddy (or younger sister or brother)

The Apothecary (The Apothecary Series #1) Cover ImageThe Zodiac Legacy: Balance of Power Cover ImageFriday Barnes, Girl Detective (Friday Barnes Mysteries #1) Cover ImageCalvin and Hobbes Cover Image

A series you won’t be able to put down, or what to read when you run out of Wimpy Kid books

  • The Apothecary Series by Maile Meloy (Assorted Years). Selected by Adeline. Potions! Flying! Chemistry! Stop the Bomb!
  • Zodiac Legacy by Stan Lee (Assorted Years). Selected by Benjamin. Zodiac Powers Return After 144 years.
  • Friday Barnes, Girl Detective by R. A. Spratt (Assorted Years). Selected by Milly. Smart girl detective solves crazy mysteries.
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (Assorted Years). Selected by Daniil. Calvin and Hobbes Never Grow Old.

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The Marion Cross presenters

4th grade

  • Drew
  • Ally
  • Harrison
  • Joe
  • Addy
  • Roxy

5th grade

  • Wyatt
  • Twyla
  • Milly
  • Daniil
  • Jacobi

6th grade

  • Penelope
  • Campbell
  • Benjamin
  • Gavin
  • Lucy
  • William
  • Hannah

Adults

  • Mr. Bill (Thank you Mr. Bill for your support of BOOK BUZZ and the MCS students always.)
  • Mrs. McCaull (Thank you Mrs. McCaull for all your help coaching the students. BOOK BUZZ would not happen without you.)
  • Mrs. French (Thank you Mrs. French – and the 4th, 5th and 6th grade teams – for your support of BOOK BUZZ; teachers like you make a huge difference.)

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Once again, students in a local K-8 school – Crossroads Academy – helped us find GREAT books to give to kids and teens (and adults honestly) this holiday season. Their presentations during BOOK BUZZ were superb, and their book selections should help all of us cross some of our holiday shopping needs off our lists. Thanks to the generosity of the Norwich Bookstore, they also raised some money for their library.

We hope you enjoy their selections.

Sparkers Cover ImageEverything I Know About You Cover ImageSpy School Goes South Cover Image

Books for your friends who don’t like to read but who would love a great story

Emily Dickinson Poems Cover ImageThe Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes Ppb Cover ImageTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea Cover Image

Superb books you would assign to your favorite adult (teacher, aunt, parent) as required reading

The Only Girl in School: A Wish Novel Cover ImageWhere the Sidewalk Ends Special Edition with 12 Extra Poems: Poems and Drawings Cover ImageTisha: The Wonderful True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness Cover Image

Best family read-alouds

  • The Only Girl in School by Natalie Standiford (2016). Selected by Mia. An adventurous novel full of friendship.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (1974). Selected by Brynne. Poetry for children and adults alike.
  • Tisha by Robert Specht (1976). Selected by Hannah. A determined teacher in snowy Alaska.

Mascot Cover Image

Sports books that are about so much more

  • Mascot by Antony John (2018). Selected by Lisa. Accident changes all. Cardinals, friends help.

Hoot Cover ImageA Mango-Shaped Space Cover ImageThe Hunger Games Cover ImageStargirl Cover Image

Perfect books to help you ignore the fact you are waiting for your sister or brother to finish hockey practice

  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (2004). Selected by Rhys. Mystery of a boy saving habitat.
  • A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (2003). Selected by Natalie. Girl with synesthesia copes with challenges.
  • The Hunger Games Series by Susan Collins (Assorted years). Selected by Hannah. Extreme dystopian world. I love it!
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2000). Selected by Mia. Stargirl! A book full of love.

 

Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms #1) Cover ImageThe Stonekeeper (Amulet #1) Cover ImageThe Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy Cover ImageThe Black Mage: Apprentice Cover Image

A series you won’t be able to put down, or what to read when you run out of Wimpy Kid books

  • The Five Kingdom Series by Brandon Mull (Assorted years). Selected by Rhys. Thrilling, fantasy, search for lost friends.
  • Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi (Assorted years). Selected by Jai. Trapped in darkness, can they escape?
  • The Penderwicks Series by Jeanne Birdsall (Assorted years). Selected by Thea. Heartwarming books filled with adventure and joy!
  • Black Mage Series by Rachel E. Carter (Assorted years). Selected by Eleanor. Magical competition. Love defeated. Last stand.

The Fault in Our Stars Cover Image

Books that are sad, but really, really good

The Invention of Wings: A Novel Cover ImageThe Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts With Epilogue Cover ImageThe Parker Inheritance Cover Image
Fiction Books that do a great job of teaching history

  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014). Selected by Laura. Two women. Same beliefs. Different paths.
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1879). Selected by Daniel. Russian saga about brothers’ tumultuous relationships.
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (2018). Selected by Lisa. Civil rights. Buried treasure? New friend.

The Lord of the Rings Deluxe Edition Cover Image
GREAT Books to give to your friends for their birthday

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (Assorted Years). Selected by Gael .One hobbit to save the Middle-earth.

Not Quite Narwhal Cover ImageRescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship Cover Image

Picture Books to read with your reading buddy (or younger sister or brother)

  • Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (2018). Selected by Ms. Brodsky. Unicorn born Narwhal. Discovers is unicorn.
  • Rescue and Jessica by Jessica Kensky (2018). Selected by Ms. Brodsky. Girl and dog. Love and teamwork.

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The Crossroads Presenters

Grade 6

  • Hannah
  • Jai
  • Laura
  • Natalie

Grade 7

  • Rhys
  • Thea

Grade 5

  • Mia
  • Gael

Grade 8

  • Brynne
  • Daniel
  • Eleanor

Librarian

  • Ms. Brodsky

THANK YOU!

best christmas jumper jingle my bells

 

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The snow stopped falling long enough for a lucky portion (we sold out yet again) of the Upper Valley reading public to attend the seventh annual Pages in the Pub: Holiday Edition in Norwich. We thank the terrific Norwich Bookstore for their generous donation of 20% of the evening sales to the stupendous Norwich Public Library, the Norwich Inn for hosting us, the terrific presenters (Lucinda, Penny, and Rob) for their work, enthusiasm, and the donation of their time, and all those who attended for once again making Pages in the Pub an incredibly fun evening.

This post lists all books discussed during the evening, each with a special six-word review written by the presenter, and each with a link to a longer review at the Norwich Bookstore web site. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing and gift-giving easier. And, please note their are gift ideas for every age and genre preference. We hope this list helps your cross off some of your holiday shopping, including maybe a gift or two for yourself. Bios of the fabulous presenters can be found at the very end of this list.

Quiet Cover ImageNight Play Cover Image

For kids & for families to read together

  • Quiet by Tomie dePaola (2018). Selected by Penny. Peace, Happiness, Family, Contemplative, Just be.
  • Night Play by Lizi Boyd (2018). Selected by Lisa Christie. At night, stuffies play. Festive cutouts.

Anna, Banana, and the Sleepover Secret Cover ImageHarbor Me Cover Image

For middle grade & middle school readers, those beyond Tonka trucks and tea parties but not ready for teen topics

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures Cover Image

For your favorite ’tween & teen thinking about how to be an amazing adult

  • American Like Me by America Ferrara (2018). Selected by Lisa Christie. Famous voices find identity, place. Heartfelt/heartening.

The Maze at Windermere: A Novel Cover ImageThe Great Believers Cover ImageWhere the Crawdads Sing Cover ImageWhere We Live Cover ImageOn Brassard's Farm Cover ImageThe Cabin at the End of the World: A Novel Cover Image

For anyone who just needs an engrossing novel to help them recover from the news

  • The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake Smith (2018). Selected by Rob. A timeless tale of Newport, RI.
  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (2018). Selected by Lucinda. ’80s heartbreak leads to present survival.
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018). Selected by Lisa Cadow. Naturalist writes lyrical southern novel-mystery.
  • Where We Live by W D Wetherell (2018). Selected by Penny. Incredible plots; strong writing; interesting characters.
  • On Brassard’s Farm by Daniel Hecht (2018). Selected by Lucinda. Vermont dairy farm provides life lessons.
  • The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (2018). Selected by Rob. What would you do to survive?

Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way Cover ImageNow & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus  + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers Cover ImageOttolenghi Simple: A Cookbook Cover ImageSalt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking Cover Image

For people who like to cook up a culinary snowstorm

  • Aperitif by Rebekah Peppler (2018). Selected by Lisa Cadow. Serve hors d’oeuvres like a Parisian.
  • Now and Again by Julia Turshen (2018). Selected by Lisa Cadow. Activist makes hip food and leftovers fun.
  • Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi (2018). Selected by Penny. Simple, unique, quick, delicious, inspired flavors.
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat (2017). Selected by Lucinda. Your taste buds will thank you!

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageHow to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals Cover Image

For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

  • Educated by Tara Westover (2018). Selected by Lisa Cadow. Turbulent Idaho childhood, PhD from Cambridge.
  • How to be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery (2018). Selected by Lisa Cadow. Animal friends impart powerful life lessons.

The Library Book Cover ImageSpying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures Cover ImageRising: Dispatches from the New American Shore Cover Image
For people who enjoy non-fiction or reference books while sitting by the woodstove

  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean (2018). Selected by Penny. Books, fires, libraries, LA, entertaining, informative.
  • Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson (2018). Selected by Rob. A deep dive into whale’s mystique.
  • Rising by Elizabeth Rush (2018). Selected by Penny. Coastal, climate, lyrical stories; not depressing.

A World of Cities Cover ImageBerlin Book One: City of Stones Cover ImageTrekking Beyond: Walk the world's epic trails Cover ImageThe Book of the Horse: Horses in Art Cover Image

For enjoyment by your hosts or coworkers – gifts for just about anyone!

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Our Amazing Presenters

Lucinda Walker has been the Director of the Norwich Public Library since (gasp!) 2002. In the words of Eloise, she “loves, loves, loves” her job, her colleagues and the Norwich community. In her free time she listens to podcasts (Ear Hustle, Heavy Weight and Everything is Alive are her current favorites), cries at the Great British Bake-off, skies in any kind of weather and drinks way too much dark-roasted coffee. Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her writer husband Peter and two awesome kids, Hartley & Lily.

Penny McConnel has been selling books for 39 years. She and Liza Bernard opened the Norwich Bookstore in August of 1994 and Penny although not working anyway near as many hours she did in the past, still can often be found behind the counter at the store or selling books at the many offsite events where the store travels. She lives in Norwich with husband Jim and spends her off time reading, knitting, gardening, cooking & dreaming of her next beach walk.

Rob Johnson is a Financial Advisor, loving husband to Alanya, and proud father of Bruce, a second grader at MCS. He is a Brazilian American who grew up in Florida, came to New England to see snow and never looked back! Rob is an avid reader and a #1 fan of the Norwich Bookstore. When not engrossed in a good book you can find Rob running around Norwich, coaching soccer, attending a Rec Council meeting, sharing a Vermont IPA with friends, and eating anything sweet.

Book Jam folks

Lisa Cadow is the co-founder of the Book Jam. When not reading or experimenting in her kitchen, she works as a health coach for Dartmouth Health Connect, an innovative primary care practice in Hanover, NH. She fervently believes that health outcomes would improve if doctors could prescribe books to patients as well as medicine. Lisa lives in Norwich with her husband, three cats, and a fun border collie and loves it when her three adult children visit.

Lisa Christie, co-founder of the Book Jam, was in previous times the Founder/Executive Director of Everybody Wins! Vermont and USA, literacy programs that help children love books. She currently works as a part-time non-profit consultant, part-time Dartmouth graduate student, and all-the-time believer in the power of books. She lives in Norwich with her musician husband, two superb sons, and a very large dog. She often dreams of travel.

 

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Image result for images of halloweenWell, we had long ago planned a post for yesterday that dealt with scary books for Halloween (with a small shout out to voting). However, the tragic shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and the pipe bombs sent last week, had us rethinking this as we went to post. It feels as if  entertainment from fake scary things may reduce the actual scary things occurring last week. So, we delayed a bit.

After some reflection, we are plunging ahead with some great recommendations of books for those of you needing some diversions through thrillers, mysteries, and some self-induced scares. We plunge ahead with a few caveats: 1) we know these books in no way reduce these tragedies, 2) our thoughts, best wishes, and some political actions are with Pittsburgh and the staff in all the offices who received scary mail last week, 3) anyone needing more contemplative reading may get some help from one of our previous posts – But the News, which we posted after the tragic events in Charlottesville in August 2017, and 4) an obvious statement this violence needs to end.

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Lethal White (A Cormoran Strike Novel) Cover ImageLethal White by Robert Galbraith (2018) – The newest instalment of Mr. Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike Detective series, has everything you loved from the first three – Mr. Strike’s complex life and personality, the moxy and romantic challenges of his smart once-sidekick and now-business partner Robin, and London. Fans of JK Rowling (aka Galbraith) will be thrilled as the page turning prose of Harry Potter continues in this series. Pick it up, dive in, and let its great quantity of well-paced pages entertain you for a bit. ~ Lisa Christie

Edgar Allan Poe Complete Tales and Poems Cover ImageEdgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (2009). In honor of our scarily-themed Book Jam post, I pulled this complete collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s short poems and stories off the shelf (mind you, it’s heavy!). It is perhaps a must have for the robust home library – and if it’s not in yours, it is at least a title that a book lover should revisit at the time of year when a chill is in the air and the spirits return for a visit. My fingers immediately flipped to “The Tell Tale Heart,” a story about murder, guilt and madness that I was eager to reread. It had made a big impression on me as a sensitive 8th grader, when I was new to this author’s macabre sensibility. And, nearly 40 years later, it did not disappoint. It is just as disturbing, the narrator’s strange voice compelling me to hold the book at a slight distance, as if this could protect me from him. I love now, with a different perspective, to think not of Mr. Poe just as scary but also in his 19th century studio, brilliantly carving out a new American genre, writing about ravens, black cats, and sinister houses of Usher. It is completely worth a second – or first visit. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Haunting of Hill House Cover ImageThe Haunting of Hill House (and well almost anything) by Shirley Jackson  (1959) – Described as the greatest haunted house story of all times, Ms. Jackson’s novel of four seekers who visit a scary called Hill House and encounter what initially appears to just be unexplained phenomenon, but progresses to pure terror.  Ms. Jackson truly was a master of turning the ordinary into the chilling. As Stephen King praised, “[One of] the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.” We love the fact Ms. Jackson was also a Vermonter. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The So Blue Marble Cover ImageThe So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes (1940 and 2018) – This slim book offers probably the spookiest opening chapter of any book I’ve read in awhile.  The every day matter of factness of the words contrasting the actions of the people just creeped me out. The rest of this short mystery swept me into the lives of the rich and famous in post WWI NYC. And while a bit campy, I enjoyed my time with them. If you are in the mood for a bit of NYC glamour, and/or some time travel back to the 1940s, pick this up.  Or as the New York Times Book Review stated, ”You will have to read [The So Blue Marble] for yourself, and if you wake up in the night screaming with terror, don’t say we didn’t warn you.” NOTE: We found this novel through the Passport to Crime and British Library Crime Classics reprints in a window display at the Norwich Bookstore. If you like this one, you can find many many more like it in these collections. ~ Lisa Christie

The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories Cover ImageThe Turn of the Screw and other ghost stories by Henry James (1898) – In this classic horror tale, a nanny becomes convinced her charges are being stalked by the supernatural.  It remains in print over 100 years later for a reason. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft Cover ImageThe entire Stephen King canon The Shining, It, The Body (assorted years) – Basically, just about anything Mr. King writes is guaranteed to scare you. And, if you are in the mood for a superb memoir, Mr. King’s On Writing remains one of our favorites. It truly changed the way we viewed his prose. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

And, as a reminder to EVERYONE to PLEASE VOTE NEXT WEEK, we close with a review from our friend and bookseller Carin Pratt – Fear, which offers a look at our current political climate which has truly become the scariest part of the news. And on that note, we again send prayers and wishes and probably most importantly a promise to be agents of hope, love, and change, to all those affected by Saturday’s bombing of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the mail bombs from last week.

Fear: Trump in the White House Cover ImageFear by Bob Woodward (2018) – If you read the Washington Post and/or the New York Times you may not find many surprises in this meticulously reported account of Trump in the White House. But in the aggregate, this portrayal of a dysfunctional, chaotic White House and a president whose attention span is non-existent, whose knowledge of policy, economics and foreign policy (i.e Why DO we have NATO?) is sparse, to say the least, and whose judgment and morals, well, let’s not go there — is devastating and scary. Fear indeed. – Reviewed by Carin Pratt

PS — SO, once again, PLEASE VOTE — no matter your preference, we really hope you all just VOTE.  And finally click here for some political inspiration from our home state to help us all survive these scary times. We promise you will love this clip, and we hope you enjoy some humorous words from Al Yankovic.

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Books for summer camping: Adult fiction and nonfiction

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Some people might say that we’ve now entered the “dog days of August” but here at the Book Jam we like to call this time of year the “dog-eared book days of August”. It is the season when we finally get to the books in our pile that have been beckoning, lazing with them by the lake for long periods of time, folding over pages to remind us where to return  (hence the dog ears) only when it is time for a short break from the prose.

August is when we look forward to pulling out or back packs and beach bags and filling them full of books (and maybe a clean change of clothes, too) and heading with them to the shore of some quiet sunny river to get lost in the stories and ideas that lie between the pages.

Below are 28 ideas for what you might want to put in your backpack and head to the hills with to lose yourself in after a day of hiking. Remember, the faster you set up your tent, the faster you can open up those dog-eared and well loved books.

Happy reading!

 

Books Inspired by Ancient Greeks or Shakespeare and even Henry James (Because this seems to be a trend in our reading, and continues as MacBeth by Jo Nesbo is on our bedside table for August.)

FC9780316556347.jpgCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – This saga covers the origin, life and final decisions of Circe, the original Greek witch.  Sprinkled throughout with men, women and gods from Greek Mythology, I found myself spell bound by what would happen next – even though I technically knew. And because Circe manages to succeed alone, banished to an island, she draws the wrath of gods, slightly reminiscent of some women today. In the end this is a gripping tale centered around a dysfunctional family of rivals, love and loss, punishment, and a tribute to a strong woman living in a predominantly man’s world. (Also on the April 2018 Indie Next List.) 

FC9780525431947.jpgNutshell: A Novel by Ian McEwan (2016) — Ok the tale of Hamlet reworked for Modern Day London and told form the perspective of an unborn child?  Yes, sounds too precious, but Mr. McEwan pulls it off. It truly is more brilliant than this quick summary shows it should be.  Perhaps because the narrator allows Mr. McEwan to ponder modern problems and pleasures without seeming to lecture.  Perhaps it is because of Mr. McEwan’s lovely prose.  Whatever the reason, I highly recommend this one, while admitting a bias for Mr. McEwan’s work. (A New York Times and Washington Post notable book and previously reviewed by us a few times.)

FC9780449006979.jpgGertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it.  And if you don’t believe us, try the New York Times Book review “Updike has used Shakespeare to write a free-standing, pleasurable, and wonderfully dexterous novel about three figures in complex interplay.”  

FC9780451493422.jpgMrs. Osmond by John Banville (2017) – I am a huge fan of Mr. Banvile’s The Sea, which I often describe as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  I also enjoy his mysteries under his pen name Benjamin Black. I also loved reading The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James in my early 20s just after completing my own stint in Europe. Granted I was backpacking and sleeping in tents while Isabel Archer was being wined and dined for her fortune, but I still related somehow. Thus, I picked up Mr. Galbraith’s treatise of what happens to Isabel once The Portrait of A Lady ends, with high expectations for a great story. These were met. Somehow Mr. Banville manages to capture and use Mr. James’s prose style, wry humor, and social commentary while making this sequel his own.Mrs. Osmond explores what happens when the people we love aren’t who they seemed to be, how sudden wealth changes everything, what living abroad as an American can mean, and family. As The Guardian summed, “Banville is one of the best novelists in English. . . . Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche.”

FC9781770413993.jpgRose and Poe by Jack Todd (2017) – I am always going to read anyone who attempts to retell The Tempest, and Mr. Todd did not disappoint. In this tale, Mr. Todd re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the point of view of Caliban (Poe) and his mother (Rose). Rose and Poe live in the woods quietly along side Prosper Thorne, a banished big city lawyer and his gorgeous daughter Miranda. When Poe appears carrying Miranda’s bruised and bloody body, he is arrested, despite lack of evidence he committed the crime; and Rose and Poe find themselves facing bitter hatred and threats from neighbors who once were friends. A timeless tale of how we stigmatize what frightens us, and the consequences of our prejudices.  

FC9781501140228.jpgHouse of Names by Colm Toibin (2017) – In this measured retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and her children, Mr. Toibin creates a sympathetic character as he reveals the tragic saga that led to her bloody actions (killing her husband). Told in four parts, Mr. Toibin portrays a murderess, her son Orestes, and the vengeful Electra, all the while playing with who deserves sympathy in the end. (Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR.)

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Historical fiction

FC9780812985405.jpgLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) – A fascinating look at Lincoln after his beloved son Willie dies and the USA is burning down all around him due to the Civil War.  Told in a completely uniquely gorgeous style and premise – actual historical documents describing this time and the souls of the dead interred with Willie give voice and color to the narrative. Challenging to read; fascinating to think about. (Winner of the Man Booker Prize, and an IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780062563705.jpgHalf-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (2017) Ragnvald and Svanhild, the brother and sister duo at the heart of this novel, lead the way through an adventurous re-telling of Norway’s medieval history. For those of you looking for a saga that highlights how personalities and desires influence everything, and that uses actual historical characters and battles, Ms. Hartsuyker’s work may be the perfect summer read for you. (August 2017 IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780385542364-1.jpgThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) – I am late to the party over this National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But, this tale of Cora and her life as a slave will capture your imagination and give you many reason to pause and think about race relations today. Please pick it up if you have not already. (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.) 

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General Fiction

FC9780316316132-1.jpgLess by Andrew Sean Green (2017) – This look at mid-life and lost loves is loaded with superb prose and insight.  Mr. Less makes a lovely main character to rout for, his life reflections are populated by interesting characters, and his travels abroad reminiscent of something Twain once wrote. I must admit it was not as funny for me as had been hyped, but I still liked it. Enjoy! (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Notable Book, Top Ten pick for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.) 

FC9781616205041.jpgYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) – For those of us who lived through the Bill Clinton sexual relations intern scandal, this book will seem familiar. What might not seem so familiar is the humor and candor about society’s standards contained in this light novel about how decisions we make when we are young have implications. (September 2017 IndieNext book.)  

FC9781944700553.jpgMem by Bethany C Morrow (2018) – What happens when you can choose to eliminate horrific memories? Where do they go? What happens to your life afterwards?  Ms. Morrow gives her answers to these questions in this slim look at life in 1920s Montreal. And, since Brenna Bellavance the newest bookseller at the Norwich Bookstore brought this to my attention, I will use her review and say ditto to the haunting aspect. “Elsie is not a real person. From the moment she came to exist, she has been told this repeatedly. She is merely the physical embodiment of an unwanted memory extracted from another woman, a real woman, whose face she sees every time she looks in a mirror. Except that she remembers a life she didn’t live, loves people she never met, thinks her own thoughts, and feels her own feelings. So what makes a real person….real? Exquisite and haunting, Mem has stayed with me.” (June 2018 IndieNext Book.)  

FC9780679734772.jpgThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – I LOVED this once again as I read it to discuss with my 9th grader who was forced to read it for his English teacher. Bonus — he, a very reluctant reader, loved it too :)! (Thanks you Ms. Eberhardt.) The trials and tribulations of the narrator as she navigates her life in NYC are deliciously unraveled by Ms. Cisneros sparse prose. Or as the New York Times reviewed ““Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage . . . and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”  

FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand, and currently, all over the globe, the weather is setting records for heat and discomfort. Apparently in 1976, London suffered more heat than most. So, we added a book we reviewed in 2013 to today’s post in honor of heat waves everywhere. That 1976 British heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London.  The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother.  And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer.  Enjoy!  

FC9780812996067.jpgAlternate Side by Anna Quindlen (2018) – I start this review with the confession that I miss Ms. Quindlen’s New York Times and Newsweek columns. Her insight, humor, precise prose, and hope amidst the chaos and difficulties she wrote of were a staple of my life for many years. These characteristics are evident in this summer beach read of a novel.  Nora has a great job, twins in college, a kind husband, and the perfect house on the best block in New York City – a dead end filled with people who get along. Then an incident occurs and unravels pretty much everything. Alternate Side offers a lovingly portrayed look at life in middle age with kids in college, jobs not quite what you dreamed of when you were 20, and of New York City itself.  A great beach read for anyone – especially anyone who truly loves NYC. As the New York Times stated, “Exquisitely rendered . . . [Quindlen] is one of our most astute chroniclers of modern life. . . . [Alternate Side] has an almost documentary feel, a verisimilitude that’s awfully hard to achieve.”

FC9780062484154.jpgWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly 

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – I LOVED this novel.  It is concise, gorgeously written, and covers important topics – love, immigration, war.  Perfect. (Winner 2018 Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, Ten Best Book of 2017 for the New York Times.)  

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Mysteries and thrillers and other beach reads

FC9780804114905.jpgLast Bus to Woodstock by Collin Dexter (1975) – I have been a fan of the BBC’s Inspector Lewis, Morse, and Endeavor series for years.  This is the first time I read those series’ primary source materials.  I am so glad I finally did. This was well-plotted intelligently written and fun to read.  I especially enjoyed vicariously visiting Oxford sites I have been privileged to stroll. Pick this series up (this title is first in the series), read, and perhaps then plan a trip to the UK – or watch the series. Thank you Danielle Cohen, an amazing audio-book narrator and actor, for reminding me that the books behind the BBC are great as well. Publishers Weekly agrees, “A masterful crime writer whom few others match.”

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides having my new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective Cormac Reilly has a unexplained complicated past, the requisite desire for justice, and great assistance from another well-wrought detective Carrie O’Halloran and a new newbie to the Garda – Peter Fisher. The setting in Galway is part of the action and allows you to vicariously travel to some very wet time in the Irish countryside. (Also a July 2018 IndieNext pick.)   

FC9780061655517.jpgNemesis (and other titles) by Jo Nesbo (2002) – Somehow I missed this instalment in the Harry Hole series.  Another page-turner for mystery fans. As the nomination for the Edgar Nominee for Best Novel of the Year states — “The second Harry Hole novel to be released in America–following the critically acclaimed publication of The RedbirdNemesis is a superb and surprising nail-biter that places Jo Nesbo in the company of Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and other top masters of crime fiction. Nesbo has already received the Glass Key Award and the Booksellers’ Prize, Norway’s most prestigious literary awards. Nemesis is proof that there are certainly more honors in this extraordinary writer’s future”.  

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (2017) – I so want to believe there is someone like August Snow – a half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood – 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, he makes mistakes, and wow his body count is way too high for my tastes by the end, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit, enjoy this one! (Also a Winner of the Hammett Prize, and annual award for best mystery by the International Association of Crime Writers.)  

FC9781508238607.jpgPoison by John Lescroart (2018) – I love Mr. Lescroart’s Dimas Hardy Series for the chance to relive life in San Francisco and the great cast of characters Mr. Hardy uses to always ensure justice is served.  This latest instalment continues this love affair. These are my reliable guilty pleasure.  

 

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Nonfiction

FC9780316392389.jpgCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor.  I will frame his paragraph in “Leviathan” beginning “It’s ridiculous how often you have to say hello on Emerald Island” for its treatise on the fact Southerners insist on saying hello. I will then present it to my children as a constant explanation for why I say hello to complete strangers; they may never understand this trait, but they will forever have documentation of its source – my childhood in Tennessee. Pick this up and enjoy! (We suppose we should have put this in the inspired by Ancient Greeks category.) 

FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times. (Previously reviewed in mother’s day picks.)

FC9780143125471-1.jpgThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – Not sure why I never got around to reading this, but I am so glad I finally did. What a terrific tale of triumphing – ultimately over Hitler, but also over horrendous parents, poverty and low expectations.  

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own life. (Named on the best books of the year by NPR, New York Times, Esquire, Booklist.) 

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” (The author was the recipient of the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.)   

FC9781608197651.jpgMen We Reaped by Jessmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America. Ms. Ward’s starting point is a two year period of time shortly after she graduated college during which five boys who she loved and grew up along the Mississippi Coast with experience violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. And while the material is brutal, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we hope to see it on a big screen near you soon. (On the October 2013 IndieNext list.) 

And, One final note — this post is our last for a while as it is is time for our annual “Gone Readin’ hiatus”. We look forward to bringing you great reviews of superb books at some point in late September.

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