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Archive for the ‘Fiction Fanatics’ Category

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So, kids did it again. During another BOOK BUZZ last week, the student and staff presenters provided a perfect, eclectic list of great books for us to give the kids in our life this holiday season, and to read ourselves. This time, the presenters were all students and teachers from Marion Cross School in our hometown of Norwich, Vermont.

So, a HUGE THANK YOU to the Marion Cross School presenters (listed at the end of this list), the Marion Cross PTO, Stephanie McCaull for her excellent coaching skills and unwavering support, the Norwich Bookstore for generously donating 20% of sales from BOOK BUZZ to the school, and all who attended and provided these amazing presenters a great audience (around 150 people), while also reinforcing the importance of reading great books.

Without further ado, their selections and their 6 word reviews. Please have fun giving and getting the books on this list.

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BOOKS FOR YOUR FRIENDS WHO DON’T LIKE TO READ BUT WHO WOULD LOVE A GREAT STORY

  • Sled Dog School by Terry Lynn Johnson (2017). Selected by Guin – Inspiring tale of perseverance.

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BEST FAMILY OR CLASSROOM READ ALOUD

  • The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill (1964). Selected by Phin – NYC pushcarts fight truck bullies.
  • Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (2000). Selected by Isla – Boy rescues abused dog, loves him.
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988). Selected by Blythe – Girl escapes mean parents with magic.

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PERFECT BOOKS TO HELP YOU IGNORE THE FACT THAT YOU ARE WAITING FOR YOUR SISTER OR BROTHER TO FINISH HOCKEY PRACTICE

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FUN, NON-FICTION BOOKS FOR KIDS WHO PREFER TRUE STORIES

  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (2010). Selected by Izzy – A boy’s journey during fatal war.
  • How Things Work by T.J. Resler (2016). Selected by Natalie – Shows how machines like iPhones work.

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FICTION BOOKS THAT DO A GREAT JOB TEACHING HISTORY

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GREAT BOOKS TO GIVE YOUR FRIENDS FOR THEIR BIRTHDAYS

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PICTURE BOOKS TO READ WITH YOUR READING BUDDY (OR YOUNGER SISTER OR BROTHER)

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A BOOK THAT WILL MAKE YOU LAUGH AWAY YOUR TROUBLES

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SPORTS BOOKS THAT ARE ABOUT SO MUCH MORE

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SERIES YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PUT DOWN, OR WHAT TO READ WHEN YOU RUN OUT OF WIMPY KID BOOKS

 

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The Presenters

4th grade

  • Blythe
  • Isaiah
  • Jacobi
  • Mayuri
  • Isla
  • Phin

5th grade

  • Kaya
  • Jai
  • Zabava
  • Natalie
  • Guin
  • Maddy

6th grade

  • Felix
  • Kai
  • Jess
  • Izzy
  • Iver
  • Oliver

Adults

  • Mrs. French
  • Mr. Bill
  • Lisa Christie

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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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Last Tuesday we published Part I of our list of books to help us all have conversations about difficult topics. Today, we tackle Part II. Both parts are in response to a recent conversation during which one of our teens lamented, “Why can’t I have parents who don’t talk about uncomfortable things?”, a conversation that has us thinking — How does one develop comfort talking about uncomfortable topics?

Our answer, of course, is reading great books helps get these conversations started. So today, we are again recommending more books to help you think, and ideally talk, about some uncomfortable topics – this time race, grief, sexual identity, gun violence, and politics (with another bonus book for mental health already tackled in Part I). May they all lead to great conversations

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Grief

FC9781555977412.jpgGrief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (2015) – Imagine a 5-foot-tall bird knocking you over when you answer your front door. This is not only how we are introduced to the book’s actual avian character “Crow” but also how the author invites us to think about the power of grief. This very original novella provides a snapshot of the year following the sudden death of a young family’s mother and wife. At once poetic and profound, it is a journey through loss and healing. It is beautifully written, funny, immensely sad, and true. Fans of the poet Ted Hughes will appreciate the frequent references to his work. I missed this when it was first published in 2015 and am grateful for the wise friend who put his feather-light masterpiece into my hands. ~Lisa Cadow

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Sex and Sexual identity

FC9781629560892.jpgSexploitation by Cindy Pierce (2015) – Ms. Pierce tackles the issues surrounding the fact that today’s teens are immersed in porn culture everywhere they look — Internet porn, gaming, social media, marketing, and advertising. This exposure means that teens today have a much broader view of social and sexual possibilities, making it difficult to establish appropriate expectations or to feel adequate about their own sexuality. This book will help you talk to the teens in your life about sex and more. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780763668723.jpg It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris (2014) – A SUPERB book for pre-teens. Provides excellent fodder for conversations if you read it together. We sincerely hope it helps your family discuss sex as much as it helped ours. Thank you Dr. Lyons, and White River Family Practice. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780618871711.jpgFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2007 – We hope someone does a ten year anniversary edition soon) – This graphic memoir by Vermont’s own Ms. Bechdel bravely tackles how sexual identity is formed, the costs of suppression, and well, “coming of age” for lack of a better phrase. We also highly recommend the Tony Award winning Broadway play now on tour in the USA~ Lisa Christie

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Mental Health

FC9781592407323.jpgMarbles by Ellen Forney (2012) – Forney’s brilliant account of her experience with bipolar does not shy away from sharing  intimate details in her life from the diagnosis of this condition in adulthood, to her exhausting manic episodes (including hypersexuality), to the long struggle to manage her multiple medications. She grapples deeply with whether or not she needs the bipolar to feed her artistic creativity and how it has effected other artists throughout history. This unique format invites readers to engage with subject matter through pictures and images. I find graphic novels actually help me to remember stories more vividly, the words pictures lodging themselves differently in my memory than mere words. This memoir does a great service by educating readers about a prevalent condition and expands the conversation about mental heath support in our society. Excellent, excellent for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

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Race

FC9781501126352.jpgThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward – Ms. Ward, a 2017 McArthur Genius award winner, recently collected a essays from prominent authors of color on race in the USA. A great way to approach how the color of your skin affects your lived experiences. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780307278449.jpgThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – Probably one of the most powerful fictional books about life inside black skin we have read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

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Gun Violence

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride when Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he thinks killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. ~ Lisa Christie

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Politics

FC9780062300546.jpgHillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2016) – This was first recommended by DAILY UV founder Rob Gurwitt during the Holiday 2016 Pages in the Pub, this best-selling memoir by a prominent conservative thinker Vance. In his six-word review Rob said – An afflicted, troublesome America, piercingly explained. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780062684929-1.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.” ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780393608717.jpgThe Long Haul by Finn Murphy (2017) – A trucker offers insights into life on the road, the intersection of blue collar and white collar work over a moving van and observations of how humans interact in the USA. Mr. Murphy’s perspective is rather unique to American literature, and one that may help us think more often about the people on the other side of the border (states, or jobs or..). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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So Halloween, it’s a time where we dress up as things we fear, and a time where the things we don’t want to talk about come to our doorstep asking for candy — no not the children, but the grim reaper, or witches, or corpses, or (name your demon here).

The parade of costumes last week, and a recent conversation during which one of our teens lamented, “Why can’t I have parents who don’t talk about uncomfortable things?” has us thinking — How does one develop comfort talking about uncomfortable topics?

Our answer, of course, is reading great books helps get these conversations started. So today, we are recommending books to help you think and ideally talk about some uncomfortable topics. May they all lead to great conversations.

Three items to note: 1) We experienced frustrating technical difficulties yesterday, denying us the chance to keep to our posting schedule of Mondays. 2) In our attempt to include all readers, we generated a long list of books and topics for this post. 3) We are making lemonade out of lemons and using some creative flexibility, by posting on two Tuesdays – today and next week. Today, we tackle death, mental health, addiction, and sexual assault. Next week – race, sexual identity, and politics. We truly hope these reviews lead to books that help us all have difficult conversations more often (or at least to better understand the news of late).

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Death

FC9781632861016.jpgCan’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014) – First brought to our attention by Lucinda Walker, town librarian extraordinaire, this memoir is funny, poignant, and helpful. It truly offers a superbly humorous way to approach failing health and ultimately death. As Lucinda said in her six-word review during the 2014 Pages in the Pub, “Laugh. Cry. Laugh again. Then talk”. ~ Lisa Christie

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi (2016) – (First reviewed in the summer of 2016.) 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 deter you from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Dr. 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. These studies give 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)

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Mental Health 

FC9780525555360.jpgTurtles All The Way Down by John Green (2017) – As someone for whom Mr. Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars devastated and sustained me because I read it while a lovely, young friend died from cancer, and as someone for whom his An Abundance of Katherines, had me laughing aloud as I pictured the text as an old-fashioned buddy movie (with a Muslim teen in a starring role), I hesitated to read Mr. Green’s latest novel as I was afraid it would disappoint. It does not. The main character – Aza and her best friend Daisy – a writer of Star Wars fan fiction, meander through high school, first loves, and math in Indianapolis. However, Aza also suffers from spiralling thoughts that take over her life, a mental health condition treated in a straightforward and insightful manner as this lovely tale unfolds. The characters feel real, the situations are not cliche, and Mr. Green’s writing about teen life propels the reader forward faster than he or she might wish — savoring a good story is a gift we all can benefit from. Perhaps, what touched me the most was his matter of fact acknowledgement at the end of the novel that mental illness affects Mr. Green’s own life. I also appreciated his gift of providing resources in his end notes, and second his hope that those who suffer from mental illness are not alone in their journeys. ~ Lisa Christie

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Addiction

FC9780393608960.jpgThe Outrun by Amy Liptrot (2017) – When Amy Liptrot decides to confront her alcoholism head on, she makes a beeline from the bright lights and big city of London to her home in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. She grew up there on a farm;  the “outrun” refers to a remote pasture on her parents’ land. In this frank memoir (one reviewers and readers alike have compared to Helen MacDonald’s phenomenal 2015  H Is For Hawk) Ms. Liptrot reflects on her sense of place and the role her upbringing played in her addiction. Her journey shares her triumphs, learnings, and challenges. She brings us to the brink  — and to the northernmost reaches of Scotland, writing at one point from an isolated cottage on the island of Papa Westray, where Scotland’s oldest dwelling is located dating from 3500BC. Highly moving, haunting, and recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

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Sexual Assault

FC9780804170567.jpgMissoula by Jon Krakauer (2015) – It took awhile for this to get to the top of my bedside stack of books, but once I started I could not put it down. Mr. Krakauer’s rigorously researched analysis of 52 months of reported sexual assaults around the University of Montana is enlightening, sad, anger-provoking and most tragically could have been written in so many college towns. This is important, read it, ponder it, and somehow act to end a culture in which victims are punished over and over again. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781449486792.jpgthe sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) – Somehow we missed Ms. Kaur’s first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feel angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur’s honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope seem needed. This collection is divided into five sections wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming; falling deals with sexual assault and it’s aftermath. We leave you with a quote from this collection, “to hate is an easy, lazy thing, but to love takes strength everyone has, but not all are willing to practice”. ~ Lisa Cadow and 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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Well it is official; summer is almost over. By now most students have returned to school or are in the midst of buying supplies, the final vacations have ended, the air has cooled a bit, and the calendar says September is days away.  So, today we offer reviews of a few good books to read as summer fades (and to take on any Labor Day Weekend excursions).

A quick note — this is our last post for awhile was we spend the news few weeks “Gone Reading”. We look forward to sharing our picks with you again starting in mid- to late September.

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FICTION: Because getting lost in a good story is sublime

FC9780307959577.jpgSaints For All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan (2017) – Courtney Sullivan really knows how to tell a story, especially ones about family and the ties that bind.  I was hooked from beginning of this wonderful book and found myself caring deeply about each of her well-drawn characters until the very last page. Sisters Theresa and Nora, just girls when they journey across the Atlantic from rural Ireland in the mid-1950’s, settle in the strange, unknown City of Boston. When extroverted Theresa becomes unexpectedly pregnant, the fallout from this affects the rest of each of their lives. We join the family – matriarch Nora,  her grown children, and Theresa who is now a nun in Vermont – in modern day New England in the wake of a family tragedy and learn how their paths have brought them to this moment. An excellent beach, mountain, or desert read for the Labor Day Weekend and beyond. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780735220683.jpgEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017) – This is one of the most original voices to emerge in recent fiction.  Funny, offbeat, quirky, troubled Eleanor Oliphant draws readers into her unusual world from page one. It is clear that this hard working thirty-year-old who lives in Glasgow struggles with social skills but we don’t exactly know why. When she sets her sights on wooing a grunge rocker, the story is set in motion. It is, however, her new friend Raymond from work who teaches her a thing or two about friendship and love. For me, this book was a wacky mash up of The Rosie Project, Room, and Jane Eyre. I. Loved. It.  P.S. Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781571310613.jpgMontana 1948 by Larry Watson (1995) – A sad, short, and powerful tale of a complicated family situation. (I can’t really provide more details without ruining the plot.) It reads like a powerful memoir; I had to keep reminding myself it is fiction. I promise this one will stay with you long after you turn the last page. (Thank you to Thetford Academy’s Mr. Deffner for sending it my way.) ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062369581.jpgThe Baker’s Secret by Stephen Kiernan (2017) – Fans of World War Two and historical fiction, this book is for you. It is 1944 in Normandy, France, on the eve of D-Day, and defiant Emma, a strong willed woman and gifted baker, is determined to help her fellow villagers. When she is called upon to prepare the daily baguettes for the occupying German force she finds a way through cunning and her fierce determination benefit those in her community.  This is a story of survival and small acts of heroism during wartime that help change the course of history and the quality of daily life (and bread) ~Lisa Cadow

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 – an 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 almost even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780393608595.jpgEvensong by Kate Southwood (2017) – This beautiful novel is a meditation on family. Told through the eyes of eighty-two-year-old Maggie Dowd who is just home from the hospital in time for the holidays, it is suffused with wisdom and memory, alternating through points in the narrator’s life from age five to the present. At the twilight of her life, we meet Maggie as she reflects on her youth, her choices, her motivations, her own children’s troubled relationship, her beloved granddaughter’s future, and what she sees as her pivotal decision to marry – an act that changed the rest of her days.  The simple beauty of Southwood’s writing can take a reader’s breath away, such as when Maggie remembers a long ago family picnic with her siblings, or sitting on an Iowa porch swing with a beau, or as a grandmother “running my hands over the baby like I’m rubbing butter into a Christmas turkey, giving the baby my pinkie to grab and suck on because I’ve done this before and I know. And here is that baby now, all grown with her woman’s bones, twisting my ring on her finger. And I haven’t a clue of what is to come for her, either, except for the certainty that it will surprise her.” This book is reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. You won’t soon forget the voice of Maggie Dowd. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780525427360.jpgDays Without End by Sebastian Barry (2017) – And now for a completely different look at the Wild West! Twice nominated for the Booker Prize, author Sebastian Barry crafts a truly original story that follows the life of orphan Thomas McNulty from the day he comes to North America from Ireland as a young boy in the mid 19th century. His far-reaching travels take him through the emerging West first as a gender-bending performer, then as a soldier in the Civil War, and eventually as a non-traditional father with his life partner John Cole. This is an unconventional love story and a tale of an unusual family gorgeously told. As New York Times reviewer Katy Simpson Smith observes, “Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant’s peculiar lilt and a proud boy’s humor. But, in this country’s adolescence he also finds our essential human paradox, our heartbreak: that love and fear are equally ineradicable.” Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780385490818.jpgThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – My first and definitely not my last foray into Ms Atwood’s work. This tale of the USA gone awry is powerful! ~ Lisa Christie and strongly seconded by Lisa Cadow

FC9781101971062.jpgHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016) – WOW, it took too long for this book to get the top of my “to-be-read” pile. But, I am so glad I did finally read it.  I LOVE this tale of two sisters and their many generations of offspring as they live their lives in Africa and the USA from the times of African-USA slave trading to modern day. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781455537723.jpgThe Strays by Emily Bitto (2017) – This award-winning debut by an Australian author had me staying up late to discover what happened next.  Ms. Bitto uses research into depression-era Australia and an actual group of artists from that time as inspiration for a completely fictional tale of an artist colony and the ramifications of strangers living in close proximity. While I hate it when blurbs compare it to other books I love – in this case Ian McEwan’s Atonement – as that sets the bar far too high, I really enjoyed this first novel and truly look forward to what Ms. Bitto pens next. A great book for art lovers in particular, or for those interested in a novel about adolescent love, and/or the fallout from certain choices. ~ Lisa Christie

MYSTERIES: Because sometimes you just need for the bad guys to be caught

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones  (2017) – I so hope there is someone like August Snow – half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and community – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit’s future 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, by the end his body count is way too high for my tastes, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit. Enjoy this one! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780735213005.jpgThe Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (2017) – I picked this up for two reasons 1) Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore recommended it, and 2) it is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my grandparents grew up. I kept reading (but have not quite finished as we post), because as the New York Times said in its review, this book is, “Brilliant….In its balance of emotional patience and chapter-by-chapter suspense, The Marsh King’s Daughter is about as good as a thriller can be.” It still doesn’t take the place of Anatomy of a Murder as my favorite UP thriller, but that would be hard to do. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062645227.jpgMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowtiz (2017) – It took me awhile to get into  this novel, but it smoothly rolled on once I was hooked (and kept me up one night so I could finish it). In what is truly a perfect book for Agatha Christie fans, Mr. Horowitz somehow manages to simultaneously honor and skewer the mystery genre in this book-within-a-book “who done it”. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781250066190.jpgFC9780802126474.jpgWe would be remiss if we did not note that Louise Penny (Glass Houses) and Donna Leon (Earthly Remains) have 2017 additions to their superb Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Commissario Guido Brunetti series.  As usual, these series provide dependable reading pleasure for those of us who enjoy a good mystery – with a superb lead detective – every once in awhile. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

MEMOIR: Because sometimes you need inspiration from others

FC9781455540419.jpgAl Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken (2017) – A book for liberally minded folks to read as a reminder there are politicians working hard to helping others. A book for more conservative minded folks to read as a reminder that many liberal politicians are actually smart, kind, hardworking people who are doing their best for America; and in this case, they even have Republican friends :)! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062362599.jpgHunger: A Memoir of My Body 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 horrid 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, but the story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than that. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal, filled with self loathing and big mistakes, but also hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, social commentary, and always, always, her body and her relationship with that body. If, as a woman, you have ever tried to explain or understand your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If, as a man, you have never understood this relationship women often have, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift of insight 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, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up as 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 experiences. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781501126345.jpgThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward (2016) – This collection of essays by a wide range of authors of color is powerful. Perhaps it will help you figure out how to advocate for equal opportunity for all; however, no matter what, it will definitely make you think about what life is like for those with black skin in the USA. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

So again, as of this moment, The Book Jam is officially on our annual “gone reading” hiatus. We look forward to sharing what we find when we start posting reviews again in late September. In the meantime, we hope you find the perfect book to read every time you are able to to sit with a good story. Previous Book Jam posts can help you – we promise.

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Today, the Book Jam had planned to post reviews of some great books to read as summer fades. However, the news from Charlottesville, Virginia has us reeling. Thus, we reviewed our archives and are republishing reviews of books that might help us all contemplate racism in the United States and what we wish to do about it. We include books for adults, young adults, and children because it seems to us that, no matter our age, we all have a lot to think about. (Please note these are all great stories – with a caveat that some are more literary than others; they all just happen to contain an opportunity to think about race and our reactions and actions.)

To sum — because we feel, for a variety of reasons, that these books are far more relevant — today, instead of the “beach reads” we had planned to recommend, we re-share these reviews with the best of intentions and love.

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Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This prize-winning story set in post WWII Mississippi is a heartbreaking story of racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the high price of silence as members of two families living in rural Mississippi collide. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (2013) – Congressman John Lewis wrote this memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Book One begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville. We also recommend Book Two and Book Three that follow his life to the present. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – If you somehow missed this collection of nine short stories about Indian-American immigrants, fix that now and read these Pulitzer Prize winning tales. Ms. Lahiri’s prose is gorgeously crafted, and her characters and their trials and tribulations – both the mundane and the incredible – will stay with you long after you finish the last sentences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Americanah Cover ImageAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – Before she wrote We Should All Be Feminists, Ms. Adichi earned our reading loyalty with this incredible novel of love and culture clash. As Maureen Corrigan of NPR stated, “Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . Americanah is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . ”

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (October 2013) – Mr. Grisham is a master at plot and suspense, and has once again created a page-turning story. Since I am a fan of the movie A Time To Kill, spending time with Jake Brigance during Sycamore Row — this time three years after the trial from A Time to Kill — felt like a mini reunion. Again, as with Mr. Iles’s book, other reviewers agree this is a must read. As the New York Times review stated “‘Sycamore Row’ reminds us that the best legal fiction is written by lawyers.” Or as the Washington Post reviewer wrote “‘Sycamore Row’ is easily the best of his books that I’ve read and ranks on my list with Stephen King’s “11/22/63” as one of the two most impressive popular novels in recent years.” Please note: This book ended up on many best of 2013 lists — lists that include authors whose novels tend not to become blockbuster movies  — and it was also previously mentioned by The Book Jam in our 2013 last minute holiday gifts post~ Lisa Christie

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ghana Must Go Cover ImageGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013) – When a renowned surgeon dies suddenly outside his home in Accra, his family, which is scattered across the globe, suddenly learns much more about him and what his choices meant for them. Beautifully rendered, this novel takes you from Accra to Lagos to London and to New York. It also shows us the power of love, family, and choices as we figure out who we are and where we come from. ~ Lisa Christie

Dreaming in Cuban Cover ImageDreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (1992) – Reaching far back in our bookshelf, our memories, and into the Caribbean Sea, our hands land on Garcia’s 1992 novel of the Cuban immigration experience. Told from the perspective of three generations of strong women, this lush narrative will be appreciated by lovers of magical realism. Strong female characters tell the story of the experiences of being political expats in New York City, and also of the ones left behind in Cuba. Moving between the United States and Cuba, and the present and the past, this book creates a sensation of dreaming but also of the very real situation of a country and its people experiencing turmoil and change. ~ Lisa Cadow (seconded by Lisa Christie)

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImageThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande(2016) – With this book, Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for middle grade readers and young adults. In it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed; and, this book will insert faces into any political discussions about immigration that the pre-teens and teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided Cover ImageIn The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (2016) – One of the stars of “Orange is the New Black” penned this memoir (with some help from a co-author) about her life as the USA-born daughter of undocumented immigrants from Colombia. Her story hinges on the day her parents were deported while she was at school, after which she was left to fend on her own, relying on her friends for places to live so she could finish High School in the USA. She is now using her fame to help shed light on the lives of the undocumented in the USA. While the prose may not sing quite as well as some of the other books on this list from award winning authors, I, for one, was appalled at some of the more surreal aspects of her story (e.g., she was completely forgotten by the US government which never checked on her, or helped her in any shape or form). And, I am very grateful she broke years of silence to put her face on many nameless Americans, and on a problem we all need to help solve. ~ Lisa Christie

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

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

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

The Golem's Mighty Swing Cover ImageThe Golem’s Mighty Swing by James Sturm (2017) –  This graphic novel tells the tale of the Stars of David, a barnstorming Jewish baseball team that played during the Depression. Using the true story of a team that travels among small towns playing ball and playing up their religious exoticism as something for people to heckle, this books combines baseball, small towns, racial tensions, and the desperate grasp for the American Dream. ~ Lisa Christie

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014) – Mr. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. Peppered with statistics about of people — those on death row who are people of color, the number of people permanently incarcerated for non-violent crimes committed when they were 12 or 13, etc… — Mr. Stevenson’s book brings these numbers to life in ways that make you care. He also, although he could not have known this when writing it, bring stories from today’s headlines home in ways that, be warned, may incite action on your part in 2015. (NoteThe New York Times selected this as one of its 100 notable books of 2014, Esquire Magazine called it one of the 5 most important of 2014 and it was one of Time Magazine‘s top ten books of 2014.)~ Lisa Christie

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood Cover ImageBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Mr. Noah, of Daily Show fame, is funny. He is insightful. And, he has a unique backstory for his life thusfar. All this combines to create a superb, insightful, humorous, and important memoir about life as a biracial child in South Africa during and after Apartheid. Read it, laugh, learn, and pass it along to others who can benefit from a well told life story. (Please note: Mr. Noah reads the audiobook version and we have been told it is tremendous.)

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen. ~ Lisa Christie

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

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