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Archive for the ‘Closet Mystery Lovers’ Category

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

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Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Beach Reads”

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

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

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

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Mysteries/Thrillers

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

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

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

 

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Non Fiction

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

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

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

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

 

 

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YA

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

HAPPY READING from the BOOK JAM!

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This “3 Questions” features Sara Rath, author of 15 books, including the new historical novel, Seven Years of Grace: The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague, published by the Vermont Historical Society. This book dramatizes the life of Vermonter Achsa W. Sprague, who in the decade preceding the Civil War, lectured to audiences of of thousands on Spiritualism, the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and prison reform. Using Sprague’s papers at the Vermont Historical Society, the story includes trances, angels, and the love Achsa felt for a married man.

Ms. Rath has been named a MacDowell Fellow, received a Fellowship to the Ucross Foundation, and was awarded a Wisconsin Arts Board Individual Artist’s Fellowship. She will visit the Norwich, Vermont at 7 pm on Thursday, June 16th to discuss Seven Years of Grace: The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague 

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This event with Ms. Rath is free and open to the public, and will be held at the Norwich Historical Society at 277 Main Street (just one block from the Norwich Bookstore). Reservations are recommended as space is limited: please call the Norwich Bookstore 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com. The Norwich Bookstore will attend and provide Ms. Rath’s book for purchase.

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

This is a difficult question for many reasons.  “The author I am today” writes in a variety of genres: poetry, nonfiction, fiction. My undergraduate degree is in English, and I have an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, in Montpelier, so I have read widely and have been influenced by a wide variety of poets and authors. To narrow this down, my copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has pages falling out because I refer to it so often.  I also love mysteries by the English author Ruth Rendell, who wrote as Barbara Vine, and A Dark Adapted Eye is the first work of hers that captivated me.  As an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, I was especially fond of my classes in The English Novel, so I’d have to add Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, the usual.  I’m a great Anglophile.

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

I confess to a guilty pleasure: the cozy mysteries in the Agatha Raisin series written by  M. C. Beaton, a/k/a Marion Chesney.  She is a prolific author, 80 years old, who also writes historical romances — but Agatha Raisin is a cheeky middle-aged busybody who lives in the Cotswalds and solves murders.  Perhaps if we had coffee, Marion would invite me to her thatched cottage in the Cotswalds for a visit!

Nurse, Come You Here!: More True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle Cover ImageCarry the One Cover ImageBrooklyn Cover ImageThe Blood of an Englishman: An Agatha Raisin Mystery Cover ImageDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Cover ImageThe Sea Cover ImageWays to Spend the Night Cover ImageEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune Cover Image

(3) What books are currently on your bedside table?

Magazines:  The New Yorker, Real Simple, Eating Well

Books:  
Nurse, Come You Here!  More Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle
, by Mary J. MacLeod.
Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw
Brooklyn, by Colm Tolbin
The Blood of an Englishman, by M. C. Beaton
Dead Wake, Erik Larson
The Sea, John Banville
Ways to Spend the Night, (short stories), Pamela Painter
Empty Mansions, Bill Dedman and Clark Newell, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In a bit of a twist, today’s 3 questions focuses on a group, Sisters in Crime, coming to the Norwich Bookstore this coming Saturday, April 16th at 2 pm. The answers were provided by Beth Kanell, a member of the group and one of the event organizers.

During the Sisters in Crime event, a group of writers will gather to expose their own mystery work to readers and to get their creative juices flowing. Each participant, both published and not yet published, will have five minutes to read a selection of their own mystery writing to the group. Participating published writers include Toby Speed, Kate George, Beth Kanell, Brett Ann Stanciu, Deloris Netzband, Joseph Olshanand, Margot Zalkind Mayor (who will read from new work by her husband, Archer Mayor), Lisa Q. Matthews, and Vicki Steifel. You are invited to read from your work or to listen.

The Sisters in Crime New England group consists of authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by a passion for the mystery genre and support of women who write mysteries. The group welcomes Sisters — and Misters — in Crime from anywhere who have an interest in the New England mystery community. To learn more, see www.sincne.org.images.png

This event is free and open to the public. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com with questions.
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1) How do Sisters in Crime‘s Murder By the Minute meetings encourage and support mystery writers?

The old days of women mystery writers being nearly invisible are steadily changing — but there’s still a tilted ratio of women to men on the bookshelves, and encouragement means a lot. Reading your work at Murder by the Minute helps remind you of how good your writing is, and why you wanted to write that book, even though it’s taking longer than you hoped! The appreciation and support that writers find among the Sisters (and occasional Brothers) in Crime at this event can boost you through the toughest parts of writing, because you realize you have real people waiting to find out the criminal, the solution, and your (amateur or pro) sleuth’s discoveries about both the mystery and her- or himself.

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2) In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge/obstacle to writing a good mystery?

A mystery is satisfying when all the parts make sense, from the clues to the crime to the solution. But a mystery stays with the reader as a really good mystery when the characters claim your long-term attention. Mastering the art of memorable characters is the hidden secret to writing a really good mystery (but it helps if you totally understand the crime involved!).

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3) Which three mystery writers would you say are must-reads for the burgeoning mystery writer?

Today’s cozy mysteries are rooted in Agatha Christie‘s puzzle mysteries; the hard-boiled ones emerged from Raymond Chandler; and the art of the espionage mystery was refined by Helen MacInnes. Those are the musts — but their mysteries can feel out of date! The modern classics now include the mysteries by Sara Paretsky, Nancy Pickard, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Laura Lippman — all champions of Sisters in Crime.
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As we write this, snow blankets our Vermont homes. Yes, after finishing the least snowy winter we can remember, April brings significant accumulation. The words of TS Eliot’s  The Wasteland spring to mind –

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

You would think leading with TS Eliot would begat reviews of poetry. But instead, we turn our thoughts to reviews of “comfort books”, a concept inspired by recent frustration in one of our homes. A newly turned teen in one of our two families (unnamed to “sort of” preserve his anonymity), has been re-watching his favorite super hero movies during months of Friday family movie nights. He refuses to consider other options. His stubbornness frustrated the Lisa who is his mom, until she remembered she did the same thing when she re-read and re-read books (there was no Netflix then) as she moved from childhood to teenagehood (not sure that is a word, but it should be). Sometimes the uncertainties of life are enough, and you just need reliable, high-quality entertainment.

Since the Book Jam’s other Lisa re-read as a pre-teen/teen as well, we honor the comfort emerging from the familiar with reviews of our current “comfort books/authors”. For us, familiarity emerges as you meet someone (author or character) over and over again on the pages of a book. As a result, many of these books are part of a series because series most easily help you get acquainted with characters over time. But whether our picks form a series or just a collective of books by a favorite author, when life proves too hectic, or when we need a palate cleanser after one too many WWII books, we turn to these authors and their characters for the comfort their familiar styles of prose and their dependability for creating a well-told tale create. We hope you will enjoy these as well. Happy April.

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Bruno, Chief of Police Cover ImageBruno, Chief of Police Mystery Series by Martin Walker (assorted years) – This is comfort reading at its very best. For fans who wish to return time after time to the French countryside and spend time with down-to-earth Inspector Bruno Courreges, it is good to know that there are now eight mysteries in this wonderful series. Set in the Perigord region, readers not only get to learn about black market truffles and E.U. hygiene inspectors threatening the production of local cheeses — they also have the chance to experience this amateur gourmet whipping up an omelet, going to the local cafe for an aperitif, or venturing out on a wild boar hunt. Bruno is an immensely likeable character – “tres cool”- and brought deftly to the page by Martin Walker, a foreign affairs journalist who now lives in the Perigord region himself. Don’t forget to check out recipes from the new “Bruno’s Cookbook” (!) or to listen to Walker and his wife interviewed about it on the Diane Rehm Show here. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageCommissario Guido Brunetti Detective Series by Donna Leon (assorted years) – We love Commissario Brunetti and his family. Brunetti loves his intelligent and strong-willed English professor wife, their son, and their daughter; we love him for loving them. We also love the fact these books bring you to Venice, where you can almost taste the food the characters prepare and enjoy, where the wine flows freely at each meal, and where walks to work take the characters past piazzas and canals and Italians of every possible personality. Read one when you need to travel for awhile and can’t afford a plane ticket, or when you need a reminder that not all police, politicians, or famous personalities are corrupt. As the co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore writes in her review of the latest in this series, Ms. Leon writes with an “eye toward intelligent and thought provoking insights on the human condition”.  This series also comes with a cookbook of Italian favorites. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Orbiting Jupiter Cover ImageAny children’s book by Gary D. Schmidt (assorted years) – I honestly love every book for kids by Gary Schmidt that I have consumed to date, beginning with Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, now my least favorite of his novels. My love affair continued with Wednesday Wars, which uses Shakespeare to create a connection between a troubled student and a teacher, and then intensified with OK for Now, a tale dealing with the aftermath of war and how art, good friends, and second chances can helpThese last two titles are on my favorite children’s books list (both are loved by my oldest son as well). In his novels, Mr. Schmidt compassionately tackles tough topics, including Vietnam War, foster care, death, and abuse, but also honors readers by not preaching. Most recently, Mr. Schmidt impressed me with the incredible Orbiting Jupiterwhich due to content, I recommend reading WITH your pre-teen or pre-reading before gifting so you can know what questions may arise. In it, Mr. Schmidt creates a superb tale around a family built from foster care, in which the foster child has recently fathered a child at the tender age of 13. I know that sounds horrid, but in this tale somehow it is not. Please read this book and Mr. Schmidt’s other novels.  I turn to them whenever I need a great children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie

The Bat Cover ImageDetective Harry Hole Novels by Jo Nesbo (assorted years) – For those of you looking for grim and brooding heroes in your detective novels, Harry Hole is for you. Oslo detective Harry Hole battles personal and professional demons throughout these books, and as such is more flawed than either Chief Bruno or Commissario Brunetti. But, his universe is also populated with support, including a complex assistant detective who happens to be a practicing Muslim with a mysterious past, and a loyal, but challenging secretary. Or as The New York Times Book Review stated, “fiendishly complex and terrifically entertaining”. As a bonus, you travel to Norway every time you pick up one of the books in this series. ~ Lisa Christie

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This was read, re-read, and beloved as a teen, young adult and adult. We needed to know there were grownups who could be counted on to do the right thing, and be kind to kids as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Once again it is mud season in Vermont and this means those of us living in Norwich are thinking about which Table of Content we will attend next month.  The rest of you benefit from our dilemma because we are dedicating this post to the books that are inspiring each dinner, with a review by the hosts as to why they chose their book.

How do these dinners work?  Well, on two April Saturdays (2nd and 30th) in an event called Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library, will host dinners in their homes to raise money for our superb librarians and the building they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts selected as the theme for their evening. To add excitement to the event, dinner guests choose their dinner assignment by the book selections — the location and hosts are revealed only after the selected books and guests have been matched.18201d855ea2f82fb9a2f3bee3777cb4.jpg

How does this relate to books for you to read?  Well, the books they selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your reading preferences because once again, the hosts provided us with an eclectic selection. We thank all the hosts for their contributions to our reading lists and to the library’s bottom line by hosting these delicious fundraising dinners. We truly hope you enjoy reading some of their selections. BONUS for this post only: If you choose to purchase your Tables of Content book from the Norwich Bookstore, they will donate 20% of the purchase price to the Norwich Public Library! Just mention that your purchase is for the Tables of Content event. This applies to ebook sales as well.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Books Inspiring the April 2nd Dinner Parties

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (2015) – John Grisham called it “a marvelous debut novel… Set in coal country of Appalachia, rich in history and lore and tragedy. The story has everything a big, novel should have, and I hated to put it down.” Join us for a great night of conversation and dinner!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (2015) – In this picaresque novel, John Perdu cures human maladies through his literary apothecary – a book barge on the Seine, in Paris. When he discovers a letter from his past, Mr. Perdu sets out to find love through the people, landscape, and food of Provence. Join us for fun conversation, French food and fine wine from the Norwich Wine Shop. Relaxed and casual!

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)- Join us for an evening of food and drink inspired by Donna Tartt’s intriguing novel The Secret History. The story unfolds at a small Vermont college, where a 20-year-old Californian transplant describes his entry into a mysterious circle of students studying Greek classics in an exclusive program. The events leading up to, and following, a tragic event are all at once suspenseful, mesmerizing and engrossing.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (2015) – In a not too distant future, California has completely dried up and is inhabited by the remnants of society who chose to live in arid independence. Surviving on rationed cola and squatting in an abandoned mansion, a former model and army deserter embark on an adventure when a mysterious child enters their lives. Watkins’ powerful use of language keeps you thirsty for every drop of water as an encroaching desert threatens to swallow what’s left of humanity. The characters in the book no longer have access to California cuisine, but dinner guests will dine on local foods and wines made famous in The Golden State. Attire is Californian casual.

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas (2011) – Sira Quiroga lives alone in Madrid with her seamstress mother and apprentices under her during her teens. By 20, she’s a professional seamstress and engaged to a mild-mannered government clerk. Sira thinks she knows the trajectory of her life until she meets a handsome, charismatic salesman who sweeps her off her feet. This leads to a chain of events that lands Sira in Morocco abandoned, penniless, and hopelessly in debt. In desperation, she falls back on her dressmaking skills and builds a successful business which ultimately brings her back to Madrid on a dangerous mission. There, she becomes the preeminent couturier of Nazi wives and is is enmeshed in the world of espionage. Join us for Spanish-inspired food and drink and a discussion about how ordinary citizens can make extraordinary contributions in challenging times, then and now. Dress is casual.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1965) – Hemingway’s incredible memoir of life as an American ex-pat in Paris provides the theme for this French inspired meal. Your hosts for the evening came to read this book late in our lives; and we are so glad we finally found the time to enjoy his view of life in Paris and his quest for literary fame. This feast may even move outside if the spring-like weather holds. But inside or outside, we’ll celebrate life among the authors, painters and conversationalists that surrounded Hemingway, and we will serve a meal inspired by life along the Seine. Reading the book in advance is not required. We look forward to welcoming you to our table; please join us!

Books Inspiring April 30th Dinners

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food by Barbara Kingsolver (2007) – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a most impressive piece of work.  Barbara Kingsolver makes a convincing case for putting diversified farms at the center of American food production and home cooking at the center of eating. The book is filled with engaging research, beautiful imagery, and delightful humor. Be prepared to gain new perspectives on the ‘industrial-food pipeline’ and the many benefits of eating locally. Creating a food culture that’s better for the neighborhood and better on the table is the important idea explored here. Barbara Kingsolver began her family’s journey in the month of April eating locally sourced food, and we’ll follow her lead. Our farm-to-table dinner will be made from all local ingredients. Dress is casual. Please bring a passage you enjoyed from the book or a story about your favorite locally-sourced foods.

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britian by Bill Bryson (2016) – His words are witty, historically accurate, at times socially unacceptable, and frequently irreverent. His geography and sense of place are wonderfully described in a journey that roughly follows the Bryson line from Bognor Regis in the South  to Cape Wrath in the North.  Mr. Bryson invites us to accompany him as a fellow traveler, sharing his experiences as if we were there. An old map of the UK will be provided and guests are invited to place pins on their favorite villages and share a favorite story. All this to be accompanied by cosmopolitan fare while we eschew the stewed tomatoes, clotted cream and spotted dick. His prose is precise, humorous, and yes, again irreverent. Guests are encouraged to select a favorite passage to be read aloud. Dress is British Casual.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (2014) – “She was thinking about the way she’d always taken for granted that the world had certain people in it… How without any one of these people the world is subtly but unmistakably an altered place, the dial turned just one or two degrees.” Welcome to Year 20, when survivors of an apocalyptic flu pandemic and of the ensuing chaos remake their worlds after so many lives interrupted. Shakespeare’s work survives, while the Internet, cell phones and jet travel are no more. Our characters are connected by a moment in time and by relationships that reveal themselves in life and art. Come connect with new friends and neighbors in our moment in time, and we’ll share great food, drink and merriment.  

The Heist by Daniel Silva (2014) – Stolen art, international espionage, a Middle East dictator — A thrilling page turner, The Heist by Daniel Silva follows Israeli spy/art restorer, Gabriel Allon across Europe and the Middle East as he hunts for one of the world’s most famous stolen paintings.The Heist was one of Penny McConnel’s selections for Pages in the Pub this past December. Please join us for some great Italian food, wine and conversation with others who like to indulge in some of the finest spy fiction.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – In the midst of a national epidemic of injustice, particularly toward black men, this personal, moving, poetic, and sensitive letter of an African-American father writing to his teenage son about racism in America is something we all need to consider as a community. Alongside a discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates gripping story, Between the World and Me, we’ll enjoy the comforts of a warm meal and good drink. Dress is casual!

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl (2014) – To a mouth-watering base of the Manhattan foodie scene, add zesty insider information about magazine publishing. Mix well with a dash of mystery, a sprinkle of romance, a generous pinch of food history, and a scant spoonful of personal tragedy. The resulting literary confection is Delicious!, the first novel by legendary Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl. The New York Times Book Review sums it up as “a whole passel of surprises: a puzzle to solve; a secret room; hidden letters; the legacy of James Beard; and a parallel, equally plucky heroine from the past, who also happens to be a culinary prodigy.” Great food and a great story–what could be more fun, or delicious?! In keeping with the spirit of the book, our menu will rely on recipes from the Gourmet archives (but will NOT include any dishes developed to accommodate the limitations of wartime rationing!). No cast-iron guarantees, but Billie’s Gingerbread may make an appearance. So fire up your palate and come prepared to guess the secret ingredient in one of the dishes (a prize will be awarded!) and to entertain the group with a story about the best /most exotic meal you have ever had. Dress is colorful New York City creative; no all-black allowed!

The Martian by Andy Weir (2014) – After being left for dead during a brutal Martian storm, astronaut Mark Watney is forced to use his wits to survive. As he regains the ability to communicate with NASA and rescue missions are launched, we follow his ambitious plan to leave the red planet behind. Join us for some disco music (courtesy of a music collection) and a delightful dinner that will push the limits of molecular gastronomy. As is only fair, potatoes will feature heavily in both food and drink, but there will also be feats of edible engineering that would challenge even Watney’s resourcefulness. Be prepared to science the sh*t out of this feast while calculating how many pirate ninjas are required to power a rover down Main St.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1890) – Drugs, murder, marriage, stolen treasure, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, London – Sherlock Holmes! How could that be anything but fun?  Please join us for an exotic evening where we’ll seek to blend both the East and West. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. We’ll chat. There’s just so much to talk about! We’re bound to have fun. Please come.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – We followed Joe Rantz on his incredible journey from a challenging, often heart wrenching childhood, to the University of Washington rowing team, to the winning rowing team of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Along the way we thought long and hard about resilience, opportunity, personal journeys, and the pure and special beauty of being part of an amazing team.  We even learned a thing or two about making boats! Join us for a dinner made for champions — you’ll eat and drink like an Olympian, and enjoy a great conversation to boot! Dress is sporty casual. Guests are strongly encouraged to share their favorite quote from the book, and their own best experiences as part of Olympic-like teams.

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It is that time of year again. We’ve been making our lists and checking them twice; and well, it took a bit more time than we thought. And, while it is still Monday somewhere, this post is a wee bit late. So, here you have it — The Book Jam’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.

We truly hope this list helps you find the perfect present for the loved ones in your  life. We also hope that you find some time to curl up with a few good books yourself. (OK, maybe that last part only happens after the relatives have left.)

To help you envision the perfect recipient for each book, we again assembled our selections in somewhat artificial categories (e.g., nonfiction for people who like to think and chat while sitting by the wood stove). Please use them as a guide, not as strict rules about who can and should read any of these picks. For your convenience, each of our picks is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site. Thus, you do not have to leave your computer to check these items off your list. Finally, we hope our selections help take a bit of stress out of the shopping aspect of this whirlwind season.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Presents

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

The 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. One of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. History buffs will love the descriptions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Fans of Life After Life will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner.  This book focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have.  His ability to navigate life’s changes as lover, father, husband, grandfather are lovingly portrayed.  This is basically a book about an ordinary, but lovely, man living an ordinary life in extraordinary times. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015) – These shorts stories, although one is basically anovella, are GORGEOUSLY crafted and memorable.  Definitely one of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie


The Nature of the Beast
by Louise Penny (2015) – The latest Inspector Gamache novel does not disappoint. This one’s plot revolves around weapons of mass destruction and the true nature of evil. What we like most about this series is the loving relationship between Gamache and his wife.  Pick this up if you want a page turner full of wonderful characters, and something a bit lighter than the other picks in this category. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


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NON-FICTION/REFERENCE/POETRY: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK & CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2015)I can think of no other book that offers readers such an ornithological “bird’s eye view”, the clear, laser-sharp perspective of being in a falcon’s brain and on the hunt. But it is so much more: this memoir is at once a lesson in being an austringer (a falconer) and training Mabel, a goshawk, while also being a psychological exploration of mourning as Macdonald comes to terms with the sudden loss of her father, her closest companion in her birding journey. This book is raw, honest and brilliant and leaves the reader feeling as if she has just come in from from a walk in the woods with her favorite goshawk — or as if she has been perched on a tree watching the fickle humans on the ground below. ~ Lisa Cadow

Ultimate Travel: The 500 Best Places by Lonely Planet (2015) The Perfect gift for aspirational and inspirational destinations. And if your budget does not allow travel, the pictures are gorgeous and the descriptions educational. ~ Lisa Christie

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COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOW STORM

In A French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis (2015) – For the Francophile in your life, Loomis “cookbook” explores what it means to be a french home cook. Loomis, who has lived in France for most of her adult life, raised her children there and runs a cooking school from her home, attempts to distill great food for all. ~ Lisa Cadow

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BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015) – A plot influenced by magic realism and launched by a fairy tale about the fate of three princesses allows a harmonica to travel among three children in three different states/countries (Germany, Pennsylvania and California) during WWII. This harmonica unites their very different war experiences (rescuing a father from concentration camp, ensuring a brother does not go to an orphanage, helping a family hold on to their farm) into one lovely book. Uniquely crafted, this story of love, music and war will both educate and delight. ~Lisa Christie

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (2015) – I loved Lizzie, a young girl who wants to accompany her father on his doctor’s rounds in early 1900s San Francisco, but instead must attend a school for girls to learn how to serve tea and dance and become a “lady”. The influx of the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown and then beyond, changes everything as Lizzie fights to save her family’s cook from the Chinatown quarantine. Ms. Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) has once again crafted a great book for young lovers of historical fiction. ~Lisa Christie

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan (2015) -Mr. Riordan does it again! I love this new series by Mr. Riordan. Same superb ear for teens, but with a Norse Myth Twist this series. Annabeth Chase from Mr. Riordan’s previous series has a cameo or two. ~Lisa Christie

Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A great book about depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. ~Lisa Christie

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YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015) – This YA book combines juvenile delinqency, folk artist James Hampton, 1960s America in a lovely tale about redemption, friendship and learning to make your own way. ~Lisa Christie

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love, life and suicide told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what senior year of HS means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). I SOBBED at the end, but am glad I have this perspective on young adult life and the aftermath of death. I can not recommend it highly enough; but be warned you will be sad along with the happy. ~Lisa Christie

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PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS — (Yes, we selected the recent Pages in the Pub picks as they are so good)

Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Adorable raccoon combines with very fun and quirky art for a fun tale about mischief. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Three different views on life are expressed as three toys explore one very big snowstorm. Reading this would be a SUPERB way to introduce the concept that friends can be friends and like very different things or see the same thing in very different ways. Our local librarian used it in a unit about friendship. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). As Katie Kitchel stated during her presentation, the moral of this story is that persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

 

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BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO CONTEMPLATE MORE DIFFICULT ISSUES — IN THIS CASE, RACE IN THE USA

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (2015) – Haunting. This novel can be read on so many levels — as a straight story of brothers in trouble in Nigeria, as a parable about Nigeria, as a tale of how our expectations shape our reality.  But on any level, it is good; and for me, what makes it even more amazing is that the author is only 29. ~Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) -Uniquely laid out and provocative; and wow, does this make you think about race in America. Read it to help you make sense of today’s headlines. ~Lisa Christie

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – Sad, thoughtful, angry, well-written and timely memoir written in the form of a letter to his son.  Won the National Book Award too. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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