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Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction Buffs’ Category

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So, school starts very soon and your 4th grader was supposed to read four books before seeing his teacher on day one. Your 11th grader was supposed to pick one book not on the required reading list and has no idea what to choose, and besides she would rather hang with her friend today (and tomorrow and forever). Your 6th grader has already consumed 20 books and you don’t have anything else to recommend to him.

Well, the Book Jam has some solutions to these and other reading dilemmas. We hope the books on this list help your kids (and you as these are great for adults too) out of your “Book Jams”. While we hate strict categories, to guide you on possible age appropriateness, we divided the picks into YA and elementary/younger middle schoolers. Again, please remember that these are merely guidelines. Enjoy these last days of summer!

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Novels for Elementary School Students and Younger Middle Schoolers

Soar Cover ImageSoar by Joan Bauer (2016) – Years ago, we fell in love with Ms. Bauer’s Newbery Honor Medal Winner Hope Was Here. But we haven’t read much of her work since. We corrected this yesterday when one of the Book Jam Lisas could not put Ms. Bauer’s latest novel – Soar – down, finishing it in one long swoop. Her main character and narrator of this tale – Jeremiah, is a heart transplant recipient and the world’s biggest baseball fan. He may not be able to play (yet) due to his transplant, but he sure can coach. And, he is just what his middle school needs after a huge high school sports scandal breaks his new hometown. Infused with humor, baseball trivia, and a lovely adoption sub-plot, this book is all about grit, hard work, and determination. It also does an amazing job of reminding readers that kids can be truly amazing people. We love all the books listed for this post, and we admit that some of Soar could be construed as corny, but the Lisa who read Soar hasn’t been so happy reading a kid’s book in a long, long, long time. We recommend it as an excellent (and possibly necessary) break from politics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The War That Saved My Life Cover ImageThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015) — When Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite authors) blurbs a book with the words “I read this in two big gulps” I pay attention. This tale of two of the many children who were sent during WWII from London to the countryside for safety (think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) is full of adventure, hardship, and ultimately love. I especially loved Ada and here feisty fight for her place in the world. ~ Lisa Christie

Raymie Nightingale Cover ImageRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016) – Ms. Camillo returns to 1970s Florida and creates a superb tale of three young girls who discover each other and themselves over the course of a summer. The plot centers around Raymie’s plan to bring her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, back; she will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, get her picture in the paper, and remind him he needs to come home. First though, she must learn to twirl a baton and defeat the two other girls in her lessons. Delightful! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

My Life with the Liars Cover ImageMy Life With the Liars by Caela Carter (2016) – I never thought I would write the next sentence – I loved this children’s book about a religious cult. But, I loved this children’s book about a religious cult. I have no idea how to sell this book, but after a retired elementary school librarian pointed out that kids will have no trouble with the content, it is parents who will have doubts, I decided to add this to our annual summer list of great books for kids to read. I truly, truly loved the narrator – almost-13-year-old Zylynn. I was spellbound as she explained her quest to return to the compound where she was born and lived up until her birth father recently brought her to his home. Her father’s home is “on the outside, in the darkness, and among the liars” and is far away from the “light” of the cult. As the book jacket states, “Caela Carter has created a stunningly unique and poignant story of one girl’s courage to decide who she is and what she will believe in”. If you are not certain if your kids can handle this concept, read it yourself; you won’t be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook Cover ImageAll Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor (2016) – This kid will restore your faith in humanity and the art of doing the right thing. A superb middle grade book about a boy who is raised in a prison alongside his incarcerated mother and her fellow inmates. The love they share is inspiring and the forces trying to keep them apart are well-intentioned, but coming up against a kid they underestimated. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie (Seconded by Katie Kitchel of the Norwich Bookstore)

Just My Luck Cover ImageJust My Luck by Cammie McGovern (2016) – Truly a superb book that illustrates what it is like to be a 4th grade boy, have an autistic older brother, a distracted teacher, and feel as if you were the cause of your father’s life-altering accident. Basically, it shows what it is like to be loved and to love. ~ Lisa Christie

What Was Ellis Island? Cover ImageWho Was Jackie Robinson? Cover ImageThe Who Is, Who Was, What Was series (assorted dates and authors) – There are hundreds of these slim, entertaining volumes about significant people, places and events in US and world history (e.g, Harriet Tubman, Blackbeard, Winston Churchill, Underground Railroad, Pearl Harbor, William Shakespeare, Bill Gates). These are great first books to be read alone by beginning readers and provide a lot of great information in a fun manner for kids of all ages who are interested in “real” stories. Be careful, once you read one, your kids might want to start collecting them. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

As Brave as You Cover ImageBrave as You by Jason Reynolds (2016) – A slow tale of how life changes two Brooklyn boys who are spending summer vacation in Virginia with their grandparents. Their grandpop is blind, their grandma makes them work in her garden and sell sweet peas at the local flea market, the oldest brother Ernie meets a girl, and their parents are in Jamaica figuring out how not to get a divorce. The younger brother Genie and Ernie will show you that being brave sometimes means not doing something almost as often as as it means taking action.~ Lisa Christie

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor – THANK YOU Marion Cross School for featuring this as one of your “Battle of the Books” choices. Because of you, I have finally read this classic, and I am so glad I did. Ms. Taylor’s writing is superb, and apparently brought out my southern accent as I read this aloud to my youngest son. The tale of dangerous race relations in the USA is gripping, leaving my son to ask for one more chapter over and over again. Alone this book is superb; as a way to talk about today’s headlines with a 4th grader, it is priceless.~ Lisa Christie (Seconded by Lisa Cadow)

The Crossover Cover ImageBooked Cover ImageThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2015) – My 13-year-old son (who self describes as someone who hates reading) gave this to me when I was looking for a good book. I truly thank him. I am drawn to children’s books written in verse, and Mr. Alexander’s poetry did not disappoint. His lyrical, artistic, pointed, and poignant word choices expertly develop a narrative of closer than close twin brothers who are basketball stars, facing the first challenge to their relationship – girls, and trying to navigate their evolving relationship with their parents (a mom who is also their assistant principal complicates their lives quite a bit). This award winning book is haunting me days after the last page was read.  We combine this review with that of Booked by Kwame Alexander (2016), another hit by Mr. Alexander. This time a soccer player experiences family hardships (divorce) and teen angst (soccer tryouts). The poetry format is winning. And, my 13-year-old fan of The Crossover finished this in 18 hours (with school interfering.) ~ Lisa Christie

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YA novels, Plus Adult Novels and Books for Young Adults

Salt to the Sea Cover ImageSalt to the Sea by Ruta Spetys (2016) – Just when you thought WWII had been written about from every angle, an author proves we needed another WWII book. In this novel, four teenage refugees and their fellow refugees flee the Russians and the Germans. Their tales will haunt you as you listen to today’s headlines about Syrian and other refugees. This YA outing is important. ~ Lisa Christie

East of Eden Cover ImageEast of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – We think we learned all the nuances of good and evil from reading this book in our youth. East of Eden provides a spellbinding tale of two families in California’s Salinas Valley, in particular two brothers, who reenact the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Oprah reinstated her Book Club for this book; now that’s power. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – A gorgeous collection of connected short stories that illustrates the power of love transcends borders, boundaries and cultural expectations. This was our first introduction to the work of Ms. Lahiri and we are glad we discovered her prose early in her career. Her insight into the lives of Indian immigrants to the USA is memorable. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Brave Companions: Portraits in History Cover ImageBrave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – Gorgeous, insightful, interesting, and diverse essays about exceptional women and men who shaped the course of history, and whose stories prove timeless. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (1958) – Set in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this book is based upon a real life murder. It unfolds as a gripping tale of suspense, and ends with an inevitable movie starring a young Lee Remick and James Stewart that won seven Oscars including best picture and best actor in a leading role and best screenplay. ~ Lisa Christie

All American Boys Cover ImageAll-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Told in two voices in alternating chapters, this YA novel unravels what happens to a town when a white policeman beats a black teen. The authors wrote this in response to what they saw, while on book tour together, after Ferguson. And while some of the situations are convenient, overall, the book is a superb way to get your teen to talk about today’s headlines, how race, upbringing and situations all affect one’s perspective, and how hard it is to “do the right thing”. Oh, the fact both writers are award winning YA authors is an added bonus. ~ Lisa Christie

Anna and the Swallow Man Cover ImageAnna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (2016) – This slim YA novel looks at life as a refugee – this time in Poland during WWII.  One day, Anna’s father never comes home from work, and as she copes, she is befriended by a mysterious stranger who remains nameless throughout the book. The book tells the tale of what happens next from Anna’s perspective. And somehow, the author makes walking in circles in Poland compelling and meaningful, especially in light of today’s headlines from Syria. A great choice for fans of The Book Thief (2006)~ Lisa Christie

Hope in the Unseen Cover ImageHope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – This book illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods as they navigate their education. Read years ago, it has haunted me ever since. ~ Lisa Christie

 

Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn Cover ImageCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of a group of Crow Indians living in Montana, and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Let the Great World Spin Cover ImageLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2010) – Given to us by a friend, and read when we needed a reminder that books could be gorgeous and uplifting. This novel connects a diverse group of New Yorkers and addresses life in the 1970s in a timeless and lyrical fashion. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One & Two (Special Rehearsal Edition Script): The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production Cover ImageHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (2016) – Listed because young adults grew up with Harry Potter and need to know what happened next. Also, because thinking about what Harry is like at 37 (19 years after the last book ended), will help young adult readers think about the grown-up choices they will face soon enough. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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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.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life Cover ImageA Dark-Adapted Eye Cover ImageFar from the Madding Crowd Cover Image

(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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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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Yes, we recognize it is practically February and the holidays are long past. However, due to other great blog topics, we only now get to our annual picks from our holiday reading.  So, with no further ado, two great books we read as 2015 passed into 2016.

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014, paperback 2015) – “What does it mean to be a sister, a friend, a woman, an outcast, a slave? How do we use our talents to better ourselves and our world?” These questions, posed by Bobbi Dumas of NPR in her review of The Invention of Wings, target the core themes addressed in Kidd’s absorbing novel.  The reader is introduced to Sarah Grimke, a real-life abolitionist born into a family of plantation owners in Charleston, South Carolina. Kidd brings this fascinating and history-changing individual to  life more than a century and a half after her death. (I found myself wondering how I hadn’t known of her previously.) Sarah, a radical and different thinker from an early age, is given “Handful,” a slave, as a present for her eleventh birthday and the story is launched from this pivotal moment. The story is told from both character’s perspectives, exploring a painful part of our nation’s history and transporting the reader to the bustling streets of Charleston and Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century.  This is precisely the kind of absorbing historical fiction that I long to find –and I hope that you do as well. ~ Lisa Cadow

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (2016) – Just when you thought authors had run out of ways to tell WWII tales, this sparse, lyrical, YA/older K-12 novel enters the world. This slim volume explores life as a refugee — a topic especially meaningful in light of today’s headlines from Syria — in Poland during WWII. The story begins when Anna’s father fails to return home from work, and she is forced to fend for herself after family friends refuse to help. Early in her meanderings, she is befriended by a mysterious man who remains nameless and “history-less” throughout the book. The pair proceeds to wander Poland, remaining ever-vigilant to stay one step ahead of both the Nazi and the Russian armies. They also manage to merge into an unusual team of friends and defenders. Throughout their tale, the author somehow makes walking in circles around Poland compelling and meaningful. Saying more would ruin this novel; but, if you need an overarching plot summary, this is a story about the meaning of truth, and what it means to be good and evil. Need a one sentence summary? This is a superb choice for fans of The Book Thief. ~ Lisa Christie

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, The Book Jam has paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.) Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.

Shorr

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

Ms. Shorr will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, July 22nd to discuss Backlands. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

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

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

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

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

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3) What books are currently on your bedside table?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fiction – slightly more serious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

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

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

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

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

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Short Stories/poetry

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

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

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Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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Current Issues

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

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

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History

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

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Essays

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

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

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As a very special treat, we asked some of our favorite readers – the superb booksellers of the Norwich Bookstore – to choose just ONE book that they believe every one needs to read RIGHT NOW. (The “just one book” part was difficult, and you will see that one of them failed completely.)

We love the list their picks generated, and think you will as well (at least we hope so). So, now that Memorial Day has ended, go ahead — start your summer reading. (So you know a bit more about the people guiding these selections, the selectors’ bios follow this list.)

This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary — I have loved the other three books that this author/illustrator duo created—but I fell head over heels for this one. I don’t know if it was seeing Sadie in a box, on a boat, hammering, wearing a fox mask, sleeping in a blanket fort or looking for her wings that felt most like a connection to my younger self. I do know that reading the lines – “A perfect day is spent with friends. Some of them live on her street, and some of them live in the pages of a book” – made me want to give a copy to every family I know. ~ Picked by Beth

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Towes — This award-winning book by Canadian author Miriam Toews is at the same time very funny and and heartbreaking.  It’s the tale of two sisters, one a renowned pianist.  This is a story about suicide, but also about resilience, the use of biting wit as a coping device, and love. Beautifully written with an original voice you won’t forget.  Remarkable. ~ Picked by Carin

The ONE best thing… is when I walk into a bookstore and find not just one but THREE of my favorite mystery writers with new titles on the shelves.  Just in time for decadent sunny afternoons on the porch, (of which admittedly I have relatively few with my three young boys running around), I have the great fortune to pass the time with my dear literary friends:  Bruno, Chief of Police; Maisie Dobbs; and Mary Russel & Sherlock Holmes.  With the rugged Bruno I plunge into international intrigue and unravel ethnic tensions in the south of France; with the introspective and observant Maisie, (who shockingly drinks more wine and coffee in this edition rather than solid English tea!), I journey to Gibraltar to discover a world of spies and hidden identities; and with the dynamic Russel & Homes I find myself immersed in the world of Japanese samurai and ninjas, touched with the simple elegance of haiku. All of these new titles add depth and pleasure to three series that I have grown to love. If you have been eagerly awaiting new installments, then your wait is over!  However,  if you’ve yet to discover these series, go out and start with the first of each.  I envy the discovery, and friendship, that awaits you. ~ Picked by Katie

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman — A haunting and beautiful portrait of a bright, artistic fifteen-year-old boy and his experience with schizophrenia. Magically fantastical and hauntingly realistic scenes carry the reader into this scary and all-to-common other world. Based on his son’s story, Shusterman gives voice to amazing internal and external dialogues. Reading this novel helped me form a deeper understanding of this condition that affects many. ~ picked by Liza

The Book of Aron by Jim Shephard – If you can stomach a bit of heartbreak and devastation in your spring/summer reading, Shepard’s book is worth it. Within the first few pages, I fell in love with little Aron despite (or maybe because of) his troubled mind. He’s fragile and yet has grit, which he will need at Treblinka. ~ picked by Meghan

A Slant Of Light by Jeffrey Lent — This is a stunningly beautiful book; both in the writing and the narrative. For this his newest novel Lent returns to  the Civil War of his very popular “In The Fall”. A farmer arrives home from the war to find his wife gone off with his hired hand and at the end of the day two people are killed. and another lies badly injured. While this may not sound like a plot that makes you want to read the book, do not hesitate. This is a book of luminosity rarely found in fiction these days. Lent’s use of language will astonish you and at the end, you will be sad to turn the last page. ~ picked by Penny

The Plover by Brian Doyle — This delightful book is reminiscent of The Life of Pi.  Other reviewers are reminded of the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the passion of Walt Whitman. It is a novel filled with adventure and misadventure, and surprising and endearing, even dangerous, moments that make it a page turner and a joy to read. Doyle also invites the reader to deliberate on the philosophical angles of a life’s journey: Declan O’Donnell is done with humanity and is setting off  into the great blue sea world in his patch-worked boat, The Plover, to pursue solitude and a life apart.  However, the Universe has other plans. Enter characters and personalities, both human and animal, that interrupt his solace and eventually, completely change his course. The telling is sometimes a poetic ramble, often humorous, but always moving, unpredictably like the tides. ~ picked by Sara

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Bios of our superb selectors

  • Beth — Beth Reynolds has been a bookseller for 20-plus years, 12 of them at the Norwich Bookstore. She spends her weeks in the children’s section of the Norwich Public Library, but on Saturdays you can find her here, helping a child find the perfect birthday present or recommending books to adults looking to get lost in a good read.
  • Carin – Carin Pratt moved to Strafford, Vermont, three years ago from Washington D.C. where she worked at CBS News for 27 years, the last 20 as Executive Producer of Face the Nation. Her husband, John Echeverria, is a professor at Vermont Law School, and she has two grown sons. She likes to hike, cook, garden, bike, horseback ride. She reads a lot.
  • Katie – Katie Kitchel has rejoined the Norwich Bookstore staff on a very part-time basis as she has her hands full with three young boys. She is a Dartmouth graduate, a trained mediator, and lives with her husband Davis here in Norwich.
  • Liza – Liza Bernard has had many careers including weaver, cookbook writer, art show director, graphic designer, and bookseller. All of these taught her the different skills needed to do the many things necessary to keep the Norwich Bookstore afloat. She lives in Pomfret with husband Brian and daughter Rachel (when she is home from college).
  • Meghan – The newest member of the Norwich Bookstore team, Meghan Oliver has taken on an eclectic list of responsibilities, including the store’s PR and working bookstore events. Her free time is spent reading, birding and tending to her needy beagle.
  • Penny – Penny McConnel has worked in bookstores for over 30 years. She lives in Norwich with her husband, Jim, and Penny spends as much time as she can reading, gardening, spending time with Jim, and learning Italian.
  • Sara – An eclectic reader, fabulous dresser and a fun mom, Sara Trimmer has been selling books to readers for years.

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THANK YOU and HAPPY SUMMER READING!

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