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Archive for the ‘Closet Mystery Lovers’ Category

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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Summer is finally here — the bugs, the heat and humidity, and even the news, all call for mysteries where the problem at hand is successfully solved, leaving the reader with hopes for the next story of that detective’s travails.

 

FC9780544292666.jpgNorwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller (2013) – Every once in a while, an author tells a story in a way that makes the reader feel as if they have stumbled on something fresh and new. This is one such story. We quickly meet 82-year old Saul, a veteran of the Korean war, who has moved from a life in New York City to live out the rest of his years in Oslo with his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband. He very quickly witnesses a crime that leads him to go on the lam in order to shelter an eight year old boy who he names Paul. This book is about so much: identity, aging, Judaism, PTSD, American politics, Norwegian politics, organized crime in Europe.  I fell quickly in love with the characters in this book – especially Saul, Paul, and Norwegian detective Sigrid Odegard – and missed them after turning the last page. I don’t know how we missed this intelligent, poignant and funny mystery when it was first published in 2013 (luckily we learned about it by word of mouth), but we’re on the case now and have already moved on to read Derek Miller’s other excellent mysteries (see next review).  Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781328876652.jpgAmerican by Day by Derek B. Miller  (2018) – See above for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. Detective Sigrid Odegard is back in this literary mystery by Derek Miller, who this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. Though I haven’t yet finished it, I can share that so far it is as entertaining and intelligent as Norwegian by Night. 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 meet another quirky character, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book. American by Day is a Summer 2018 must-read for mystery lovers. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides introducing me to a new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective, Cormac Reilly, possesses an 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 soggy time in the Irish countryside. I look forward to the next book in this series. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316206853.jpgAnd finally, if you haven’t yet tried them, now is the time to try the Robert Galbraith detective series as the miniseries they inspired on the BBC is coming Stateside. The series is set in the UK with an Iraq War vet – Coroman Strike – as the troubled, but inspired detective who tries his best to stay solvent and sane. ~ Lisa Christie

Enjoy, and welcome to the heat of summer!

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Once again we highlight books that in some fashion address sexual assault as part National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. We promise each of these books is a great book in its own right; we just unite them here because they each in some way help us think about how to prevent violence in both words and deeds. They also provide an excuse to once again highlight the important work of WISE — our local organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence through survivor-centered advocacy, prevention, education, and mobilization for social change. In this age of #metoo, we still believe in the power of books to provide greater understanding of sexual assault, and its costs for all of us.

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FC9780062362599.jpgHunger by Roxane Gay (2017) – I don’t think I have ever read such a well-written, honest, and brutal account of sexual assault and its aftermath. This sounds like a horrific reason to pick up a book; and, it is horrid to think that the author endured a brutal and life-altering assault at age 12. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal and punctuated with self-loathing. That said, her story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than horror; this memoir is also filled with hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, mistakes, social commentary, and always, always her body and her relationship with it. If you wish to understand how sexual assault affects people long after the crime, Ms. Gay will help. If you have ever tried to explain your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If you have never understood this relationship, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese often feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift to you. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, Ms. Gay shows you are not alone. If you just want to spend some time with a talented writer of insight, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. (Previously reviewed in We’re Back, with Two Great Books from Our “Gone Reading Break“.)  ~Lisa Christie

FC9781616205041-1.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. (Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from the perspective of 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.  Why do we include it here?  Because part of this book deals with Candidate Trump’s treatment of women including an unwanted, unexpected, and unprofessional kiss of Ms. Tur by Mr. Trump. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.”  (First reviewed on LAST Minute Holiday Gift Ideas.) ~Lisa Christie

FC9780312674397.jpgSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2001) – What happens when a high school student attends a party and is raped by an upperclassman, someone she has to see every day at school afterwards? Ms. Anderson provided one answer to this question long before the #metoo movement in this page-turning book for young adults.  Years after reading this award-winning young adult novel, we still remember being completely taken by the narrator, Melinda, and her story. This thought-provoking YA novel bursts open many of the hypocritical aspects of high school and illustrates the importance of learning to speak up for oneself (and we would argue to speak up for those who can not speak for themselves), while opening a window into the horrors of rape. Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. (First reviewed in another WISE post years ago.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307949486.jpgGirl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005) – Perhaps the ultimate revenge novel, this thriller follows a woman and her ways of coping with unspeakable childhood trauma. It is an international bestseller, twice a movie, and spawned the translation into many languages of crime stories by many, many Scandinavian authors. (First reviewed in Summer’s Sneaky Pleasures Scandinavian Thrillers.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781449486792-1.jpgthe sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) – Somehow we missed her first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feeling some angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur’s honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope are just what we needed. “To hate is an easy lazy thing but to love takes strength everyone has but not all are willing to practice” seems a perfect thought for today’s news. And, “a lot of times we are angry at other people for not doing what we should have done for ourselves” hit home. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Today, Carin Pratt, bookseller extraordinaire at the fabulous Norwich Bookstore, has graciously agreed to be our guest blogger. We were thrilled when she said yes because neither of us can ever resist even one of her recommendations. Her “you must read this book” statements always point us to books that challenge our thinking and are graced with incredible writing. We are excited Book Jam readers will benefit from her latest recommendations with today’s special post. And, we apologize in advance for the fact that the stack of books you purchase from your favorite bookstore or check out from your library will be a bit bigger than usual as a result of Carin’s recommendations. (We hope you have been keeping that New Year’s resolution to lift more weights.)

So, thank you Carin! Happy end of the USA’s Presidents’ Day Weekend! Happy reading!

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I have taken the challenge of Liza at the Norwich Bookstore to read outside my comfort zone this year.  As my comfort zone consists of literary fiction, literary fiction, and literary mysteries, with a smattering of not-so-literary mysteries tossed in, and since I work in a bookstore and all kinds of books are pretty handy, this shouldn’t be too hard.  To that end, here is what I am reading this month, and here’s to breaking out of long-held habits.

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When was the last time you read an art book?  I thought so. I am no exception. Then The Secret Lives of Color (Kassia St. Clair) walked into my life. St. Clair tells the stories of seventy five colors, how they came about, what they are made of, what they are associated with, and how, in some cases, they changed history. A fascinating, even thrilling book.  You will never look at anything yellow again in the same way. And now, when someone walks into the store looking for a “red” book, I can be even more obnoxious than usual and ask “Would that be rosso corsa, hematite, vermilion or cochineal?” ~ Carin Pratt

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As I lived in Washington DC for 30 years, I pretty much have sworn off DC tell-alls and books about politics. Been there, done that. But I did pick up Fire and Fury (Michael Wolff). As a former journalist, I did have some issues with the sourcing of his book about Trump and question how Wolff knew exactly what some people were thinking and feeling, but I found the book riveting and read it practically straight through. A warning, though: if you are looking for a book about Trump that will make you feel better about him and his administration, this ain’t it. ~ Carin Pratt
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As a voyeur, I am more of a reader of memoirs than biographies. But this year could change things, what with my husband regaling me day after day with Grant‘s trials and exploits. (“Wait, wait, I can’t walk the dog.  Grant‘s about to conquer Vicksburg.”) Then a patron came into the store and told me I had to read Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill. (Sonia Purnell). Why, I asked. Because, she said, did you know that Winston Churchill liked to turn somersaults in his bathtub? Well, no.  But that was certainly enough to get me to read the book. And turns out she was a remarkable and complex woman, who has been totally overshadowed by her somersaulting (admittedly he had other talents) husband. ~ Carin Pratt
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Good essays make you think and that can be hard work. I can be a lazy reader. But the essays of Peter Orner in Am I Alone Here?  Notes on Living to Read and Reading toLive, have not only altered how I look at essays — I love to think about things, especially books and writing, and now I pledge to read one book of essays a month. There are so many good and provocative essayists out there — just check out our section at the store. Or ask me. (And yes, I consider the MOTH collections essays.) ~ Carin Pratt
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As kind of a meat-and-potatoes reader, not one for the weirder stuff, I avoid science fiction and dystopic literature, by and large. But I’ll make exceptions for exceptional writing (i.e. Station Eleven). There has been a lot of buzz around Carmen Maria Machado’s stories Her Body and Other Parties (National Book Award Finalist, a number of prizes…) and these eight impossible-to-characterize stories deserve every bit of it. Mythic, fantastic, horrifying, provocative and utterly original, they are wonderfully written and totally unforgettable. Try as you might. ~ Carin Pratt
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And now an image (see above) and tribute from Carin’s previous life in DC. (Trust us, your day will be a bit brighter if you click on this link to her former boss’s tribute to Carin. And although we can picture Carin laughing and/or rolling her eyes when she reads this — we admit we teared up a bit when Mr. Schieffer did.) Thank you Carin for guest blogging, for your recommendations, and for just being you. We are grateful you now live in a small Vermont town next to our small Vermont town so that our lives can intersect a bit. DC’s loss is our gain.

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Last week in our hometown of Norwich, book lovers once again converged on our historic Norwich Inn to raise money for our treasured Norwich Public Library and get a jump start on our holiday shopping. Our superb presenters spoke about their favorite picks for gift giving, and once again sold a lot of books. We thank them for donating their expertise. And, thanks to the generosity of the amazing Norwich Bookstore, the event raised roughly $1,300 for the Norwich Public Library. And, we all get to enjoy their great list of books for us to give and to get.

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This post lists all the books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review provided by the presenter. You’ll notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make gift-giving easier, but not to deter anyone from trying any title. We hope you have fun browsing these selections. We also hope that you enjoy holiday shopping from the comfort of your computer/iPad/phone using the direct links to each selection, and that you are inspired to visit your favorite indie bookseller and purchase some of these in person.

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And now, our superb presenters’ picks for holiday gift giving, with their intriguing bios at the end.

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For people who like to cook up a culinary snowstorm

  • Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden (2017). Selected by Carin Pratt – Beautiful ways to eat more vegetables!
  • Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman (2017). Selected by Lucinda Walker – ‘Sizzling’ ‘Bacony’ ‘Carmelized’ ‘Crispy’ ‘Simple’ = Delicious.
  • How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman (2017). Selected by Lisa Cadow – Tasty Veggies. Two Thousand Recipes. Techniques!

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For people who enjoy non-fiction or reference books while sitting by the woodstove

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

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For kids & for families to read together

  • The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen (2017). Selected by Lucinda Walker – Guess who lives in wolf’s tummy!
  • The Storm Whale in Winter by Benji Davies (2017). Selected by Jeff Sharlet – The whale returns, the deep revisited.
  • 7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar & Ross MacDonald. (2017). Selected by Lisa Christie – A good pun is never done!

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

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For your favorite young adult who still likes to drink hot chocolate and spend snowy days reading

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017). Selected by Carin Pratt – Revelatory YA novel everyone should read.
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. (2017). Selected by Lisa Christie – Mystery; mental health; important: you’ll cry.
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. (2017). Selected by Lisa Christie – Elevator ride dilemma. Violence explained? Important.

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

  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). Selected by Lucinda Walker – Smart, funny, moving novel of persistence.
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017). Selected by Carin Pratt – Fearless WWII-era diver searches for father.
  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016). Selected by Lisa Christie – Short stories read like superb films.

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

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PRESENTERS’ BIOS

Lucinda Walker has been the Director of the Norwich Public Library since 2002 and is grateful for her colleagues and this remarkable community. Besides books, her favorite things include French roast coffee, skiing, Provincetown, storytelling podcasts, and Saturday Night Live. Her favorite time to read is at 3 am. Lucinda lives in Brownsville with her poet husband Peter and two amazing kids, Hartley & Lily.

Jeff Sharlet, a journalist and associate professor of creative writing at Dartmouth, is the nationally bestselling author or editor of six books of literary journalism, including The Family, described by Barbara Ehrenreich as “one of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes you’ll ever read.” He is an editor-at-large for Virginia Quarterly Review and a contributor to periodicals such as Harper’s, GQ, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in Norwich with his wife, son and daughter, where he is an avid patron of the Norwich Public Library and Norwich Bookstore.

Carin Pratt, a native of Massachusetts, Carin moved to the Upper Valley (specifically Strafford) six years ago after spending 30 years in DC working as a television producer, finishing as executive producer of Face the Nation. She’s never looked back. She reads a lot, and works part-time at the Norwich Bookstore in order to afford her addiction to books.

Lisa Christie is the co-founder of the Book Jam. In previous times, she was 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.

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.

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We hope everyone is enjoying the first parties of the 2017 holiday season, and that you are all finding great holiday gifts with ease. To help us all find a bit of respite from the lovely bustle, we are highlighting only two great books today. In addition to being fun to read yourself, both are a great host/hostess gift.download-1.jpg

FC9780374228088.jpgThe Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman (2017) – This would be the perfect gift to hand a hostess along with, of course, a thoughtfully chosen bottle of wine. Ms. Fadiman is a graceful writer who has the ability, much like a serious oenophile can identify from a mere sip the vineyard from which a wine originates, to pick the precise and exacting  words to tell this moving, intimate story about her relationship with her once-famous father Clifton Fadiman. Though she never shared his love of wine (not for want of trying!), she shares his adoration of and skill with words. Why read this book? For its beautiful prose, a little lesson on wine, for a privileged view into a special father-daughter relationship, and for a glimpse into a past era of literary and immigrant America. Readers may recognize Ms. Fadiman as the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award winner who wrote The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down. She proves again with this memoir that she is a master storyteller, as well as an astute social anthropologist. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781101973806.jpgThe Mistletoe Murder and other stories by PD James (2016) –  A superb hostess/host gift for the holidays; we argue it is much better than another bottle of wine (small caveat – depending upon your host/hostess, these Christmas tales may not be the best fit for a Hanukkah party; the murders are are not about Christmas, but take place in some way during Christmastime). This collection contains four short stories by British mystery writer PD James – each different, each well-crafted (if dryly wrought), and each taking place during the holidays. Beyond the host/hostess gift, this collection will provide welcome distractions for you, and many on your gift lists. ~ Lisa Christie

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This week we feature “3 Questions” with Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road.  Years ago, Mr. Murphy dropped out of college and started his long stint as long-haul trucker, covering covered more than a million miles to date. In The Long Haul, Mr. Murphy offers a trucker’s-eye view of America, reflecting on work, class, and the bonds we form throughout our lives.

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Mr. Finn will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, November 8th. This Norwich Bookstore event offers an excellent opportunity to listen and learn about life in America today, from a perspective many of us do not encounter in our daily life – that of a long-haul trucker. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road. (We think this might be a great holiday gift for so many on your lists – for those of you already shopping).

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

1984 because George Orwell completely nails authoritarianism. It’s attractions, it’s method, and it’s ultimate goal.

Anything by John McPhee, let’s use as an example Uncommon Carriers: Really good writing can describe anything and make it interesting. My book goes into many arcane details about truck-driving and moving people and I always had McPhee in mind when doing that.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre because it shows how complicated betrayal can really be.

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

Herman Melville. We both liked manual work, did manual work, and wrote about manual work. Melville would have been very much at home in a moving van on the road. It’s not a lot different than a whaling vessel. Hard labor mixed with boredom, travel, horrible clean-ups, and an amazing perch to observe human beings at their worst.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

A Legacy of Spies by LeCarre. It’s the inside story of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. That’s a great book! Maybe 160pp, but like Gatsby, puts it all in where it needs to be and nothing extra. Almost perfect writing. I say that for both. I flatter myself that I’m the world’s foremost authority on the LeCarre opus.

Doctkor Faustus by Thomas Mann. This is always on my nightstand. I can pick it up on any page and get mesmerized. Favorite quote from the book: “It’s not so easy to get into Hell.”

Ranger Games by Ben Blum. Recommended by a bookseller at an event. Army Ranger robs a bank. His cousin wants to know why. Riveting.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. I’m no book snob. I’ll read anything, almost. I haven’t cracked this yet but when the time comes for just plain entertainment, there it is.

NOTE: As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore or bookstore related venues. 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 and will encourage readers to both attend these special author events and read their books.

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