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Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction Buffs’ Category

 

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Well, March arrived in Vermont like a lion and honestly appears to be leaving as one as well. The political news is still divisive and disturbing. And, for a variety of reasons, both Book Jam Lisas have been reading a lot of serious books. So to break out a bit, today we review a bunch of mysteries/thrillers in the sincere hope that reading some “just for fun” books will help us all smile more often as March becomes April. Enjoy!

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August Snow Cover ImageAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (Feb 2017) – I so hope that in real life there is someone like August Snow – a half black/half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood  loyalty – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative, and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, Mr. Snow makes many mistakes, and wow, by the end of this tale, his body count is way too high for my tastes. However, few books take place in today’s Detroit; please enjoy this one! ~ Lisa Christie

The Bat Cover ImageThe Bat by Jo Nesbo (2013) – Somehow, we missed the first Detective Harry Hole mystery. Luckily, we rectified that last week. What fun!  Even if you have enjoyed the other novels in this detective series already, going back to the first mystery and watching him solve the murder of a lovely Norwegian ex-pat living Down Under, is somehow the perfect antidote for healthcare news. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

IQ Cover ImageIQ by Joe Ide (2017) – This debut features a great protagonist and a great sidekick whose incredibly complicated lives combine for a great plot.  Set in modern day LA and following a man whose amazing brain lay dormant for awhile but has awakened as a solver of others’ problems — a la Sherlock Holmes (who the author recognizes in this acknowledgements), this book marks the start of a great series. We are ready for book two and thank Carin Pratt for pointing us in the direction of Mr. Ide. ~ Lisa Christie 

Closed Casket: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery Cover ImageClosed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie (2017) – Agatha Christie writes again. OK, so someone else writes for her, but the oh so British atmosphere and Hercule Poirot are pretty much the same. Have fun! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

The Whistler Cover ImageThe Whistler by John Grisham (2016) – Sometimes I just need the comfort of a reliable storyteller, and with Mr. Grisham I almost always get that. But, I always get a tale of people trying to do the right thing in spite of the odds against them. And honestly in 2017, I really, really need more of that. So, read this for a page-turner, but then think about it as a way to begin working for and fighting for what you believe is important. We can all use more of that lately. (Oh yes, the plot — in this Grisham Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, gets in trouble when taking on corruption on the Florida bench.) ~ Lisa Christie 

FC9780312426132The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (2006). Take a trip back in time to Istanbul  circa 1836 to meet intriguing Investigator Yashim. Filed under the category of “How The Heck Did We Miss This Book?”, this mystery (the first in a  series) is full of obscure historical references, complex characters, and wonderful food imagery. The reader is transported back to 19th century Ottoman Empire and can truly feel her/himself walking by the donkey carts and spice vendors of Istanbul while she/he works alongside Yashim to solve a mystery involving a series of murders that threaten the sultan’s political court. Besides being a talented detective, Yashim is also an excellent cook. He is also a eunich. Utterly fascinating, this book is perfect for history buffs, fans of literary mysteries, or the traveler looking for the perfect book to take on an upcoming trip to Turkey. If your curious about the cookbook that Jason Goodwin published in 2016, listen here: Yashim Cooks Istanbul ~ ~ Lisa Cadow  

In This Grave Hour Cover ImageIn This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear (2017) – Another Maisie Dobbs mystery finds Maisie on a case involving Belgium refugees just as Prime Minister Chamberlin declares Britian at war with Germany. Ms. Winspear has definitely gotten Maisie out of her “please get on with it already” phase of incredible self-analysis to again using her honed introspection to help others. Enjoy this look at the UK as WWII begins. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

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Over two Saturday evenings in April during an event called Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library – our local library, will host dinners in their homes to raise money for our superb librarians and the historic Vermont building they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts selected as the theme for their dinner. Adding a bit of mystery to the event, dinner guests choose their dinner assignment by the book selections — the location and hosts are revealed only after books and guests have been matched.

How does this relate to books for you to read?  Well, the event offers a diverse group of hosts, and an eclectic selection of books to read. There is great fiction, some nonfiction about doctors and the Israeli-Palestine conflict, as well as a memoir or two. The books they selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your reading preferences. So, today we share their selections, accompanied by the hosts’ brief review of why they picked the book that they did. We also, as always, link all the books to our fabulous local bookstore – The Norwich Bookstore; each link provides access to more information and published reviews about each of the Tables of Content books. If you live near Norwich, we hope you can participate in this amazing event. And, no matter your location, happy reading!

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The Dinners on Saturday April 1, 2017

Born to Run Cover ImageBorn to Run by Bruce Springsteen (2016) – A memoir by Bruce Springsteen – winner of twenty Grammy awards, Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and an Academy Award – provides the starting point for this dinner’s conversations. We will begin with a discussion of music, and end, well, who knows where. If you wish to critique Bruce as inadequate when compared with Baroque composers or the Beatles, you are welcome. If your heart belongs to Patti Smith, that other rock star turned best-selling author, we’d love to hear from you. Whatever your interest in music, you are welcome to join us for a night in which “The Boss” will be the entry point for discussions about music and life. Food? Well, as of press time, we are uncertain about the menu, but it will definitely be “Born in the USA.” Who knows? We might even go a little crazy and hire a band to entertain us.

Homegoing Cover ImageHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016) – Homegoing is an amazing story about two half-sisters born on the Gold Coast of Africa during the height of the slavery trade; one was sold into slavery, the other was married off to a British slaver. In her debut novel, Yaa Gyasi interweaves the very different paths that the sisters and their descendants follow. Join us for a fun evening of African cuisine and stimulating conversations.

Lunatic Heroes Cover ImageLunatic Heroes by C. Anthony Martignetti (2012) – Join us for a homemade Italian feast as we discuss Lunatic Heroes, a collection of short stories detailing the New England boyhood of the late Italian-American author C. Anthony Martignetti. You’ve likely never heard of this book, but your hosts (and Neil Gaiman) assure you that reading it is time well spent. Martignetti casts an unflinching and insightful eye on his dysfunctional family and details the trials of growing up Italian-American in 1950s New England. Although Martignetti looks back with disgust on what his family tried to serve him for dinner (examples include pigs feet, congealed blood pie, and baby cow stomachs), your hosts will stick to more palatable and better known examples of Italian food. Martignetti, who became a psychotherapist, would no doubt encourage you to bring stories of your own crazy extended family to share over some Barolo.

Steve Jobs Cover ImageSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (2011) – It is common knowledge that Steve Jobs was not a nice person. It is also well known that he was one of the most important entrepreneurs and visionaries of our lifetime. Walter Isaacson follows Steve Job’s life from birth to death in the captivating biography, Steve Jobs. Isaacson spent years interviewing and gathering information from over 100 of the closest to most obscure people in Jobs’ life, capturing his best, worst and every moment in between. It is no small feat that over 50% of households in the United States have one or more Apple devices. That being said, does Steve Jobs’ success forgive his behavior? Where would we be without him today and what would I do without my iPhone?! So take a break from your Apple devices and come join us and “Think Different” for a dinner discussion on the genius behind Apple.

Dinners on Saturday April 8, 2017
A Gentleman in Moscow Cover ImageA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016) – Set in the early 1920’s Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel for writing a seditious poem. Deprived of his extravagant lifestyle, this gracious gentleman chooses to live a meaningful and full life despite his confinement. We’ll leave behind the current political quagmire as we enjoy a Russian-inspired meal fit for an aristocrat.

God's Kingdom Cover ImageGod’s Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher (2015) – Howard Frank Mosher was one of Vermont’s most prolific writers. HIs recent death is a loss to all who love to read. Throughout his life, Mr. Mosher chronicled the Northeast Kingdom, and its special way of life, in his multiple novels. In his last book before his death, God’s Kingdom, he explores the Kennison family and its many complexities. Although fiction, the “Kingdom” remains a place apart from the rest of Vermont. Mr. Mosher gives us intimate insights into this special place. A French inspired, Spring Vermont dinner will be served!

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East Cover ImageThe Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan (2007) – The Lemon Tree provides readers with a personalized account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In recounting the decades long friendship of a Jewish settler and a Palestinian refugee, the book explores the passionate issues on both sides. Come enjoy a delicious dinner with your neighbors in what is sure to be an evening full of lively discussion.

Second Suns: Two Trailblazing Doctors and Their Quest to Cure Blindness, One Pair of Eyes at a Time Cover ImageSecond Suns by David Relin (2016 ) – In Second Suns, David Relin tells the amazing story about two doctors (one Nepalese; one American) and how their lives merged with a common goal to rid the world of preventable blindness. Their relatively simple surgical procedure has changed the lives of many in the Himalaya region and in parts of Africa. These doctors are also the co-founders of the Himalayan Cataract Project, which is currently a semi-finalist for a $100M grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Please join us for some tasty Nepalese food, drinks and some engaging conversation about these two incredible humans and the good they are doing in our world.

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover ImageThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – We have selected The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a first novel for this writer and the Pulitzer Prizer winner for 2016. It’s a book to be read slowly and relished. The artistry of the prose lingers intriguingly even while the plot and themes discomfort. Food is a minor theme of the book and we will be serving Vietnamese and 1970’s American classics to fully savor this passage: “We did our best to conjure up the culinary staples of our culture, but since we were dependent on Chinese markets our food had an unacceptably Chinese tinge, another blow in the gauntlet of our humiliation that left us with the sweet-and-sour taste of unreliable memories, just correct enough to the evoke the past, just wrong enough to remind us that the past was forever gone, missing along with the proper variety, subtlety, and complexity of our universal solvent, fish sauce.”

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016) – When Breath Becomes Air is an incredibly eloquent and beautifully written memoir based on the life, and death, of Paul Kalanithi. This brilliant thirty-six year old neurosurgeon was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer just as he was about to complete a decade of training to become a neurosurgeon, and as he approached becoming a father. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? Take a break from the political discussions and come prepared to enjoy a delicious and life-affirming dinner of food and wine among friends and neighbors over vibrant conversation in celebration of our moments here on earth.

THANK YOU and Bon Appetit!

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Well, last week was quite the week for politics in the USA. Our first Black President vacated the White House after eight years of service. Our new President was inaugurated. And, millions marched on Saturday in rallies in DC, many state capitals, and cities throughout the world to remind our new administration that inclusiveness remains important — and that over half the US population is women.

So today, we shine the pink spotlight on books that will help to remind us all what is at stake. We have selected several titles that include short manifestos (Adichie), speculative fiction (Atwood), a turn-of-the-20th century heroine (Chopin), and a comedienne’s memoir (Moran) that reminds us that (still) “there’s never been a better time to be a woman.”images.jpg

A Room of One's Own Cover ImageA Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929) -It is our intent to read every book that is reviewed on this site. In this case, we make a slight exception because only one of us has read it and this reading occurred years ago, possibly most importantly years before she could understand the importance of a “room of one’s own” as every room she inhabited was hers — she was so very, very single. In this collection of essays, Wolfe essentially argues that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She asserts that females cannot be a part of the literary conversation if they do not have the freedom and autonomy to write. Woolf also highlights the importance of education for women and their tenuous place in society without it. Though only one of us has had the opportunity to delve into this very, very important work, after this weekend the other Lisa has placed it at the top of her pile. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Handmaid's Tale Cover ImageThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985) – This work of speculative fiction has never once been out of print since it was first published over thirty years ago. The topics it tackles are so important and the construct so fascinating that directors have made in to a movie, an opera, and even a television series. It is set in a dystopian future New England where women have been stripped of their rights after a new government assumes power. Told through the eyes of Offred, a handmaid (the class of women assigned in this new society for reproductive purposes), Atwood explores the nature of power, fanaticism, resistance, and hanging on to hope in the face of great obstacles. ~ Lisa Cadow

We Should All Be Feminists Cover ImageWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – This gem of a book emerged from a speech by Ms. Adichie in which she outlines a twenty-first century view of feminism, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. In doing so, she succinctly and beautifully makes the case why we should all be feminists – feminism benefits all of us no matter our gender.  Read it; give it; live it. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Awakening and Selected Stories Cover ImageThe Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) – In this slim, ground breaking work of fiction published at the end of the 1800’s, Chopin introduces us to Edna Pontellier, a white mother and wife from the South who is deeply unsatisfied with her life. When Edna falls in love outside of her marriage, she begins to ask new questions and push new boundaries alarming those around her.  It is hard to remember that this book was published before Woolfe, Wharton, and Welty started writing because its style is so modern, the subjects it tackles so ahead of its time. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Color Purple Cover Image The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982) – A book so important and complicated it won both the Pulitzer and National Book Award, and inspired a Broadway Musical. This compassionate novel, focusing on the lives of African American women in the 1930s, shows how two sisters one in the American South and one in Africa sustain their love across time, distance, and hardships. It garnered glowing reviews such as one from The New York Times Book Review,”intense emotional impact . . . Indelibly affecting . . . Alice Walker is a lavishly gifted writer,” and has frequently been the target of censors. ~ Lisa Christie

How to Be a Woman Cover ImageHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (2011) – We end this list with humor because laughter and empathy help all conversations. Every sentence in this raucous, side-splitting book offers exquisite insight into subjects such as women’s shoes, Germaine Greer, strident feminism, motherhood, handbags, hair styles, pornography, surviving puberty, and making it through dating with your self-worth intact — in sum, how to be a woman. Moran has much to offer women as they reflect on their own journeys, and those of their daughters. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (excerpted from review from Book Jam Holiday Gift Guide 2012).
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While it is hard to top the list the Pages in the Pub presenters gave us in November or the one that BOOK BUZZ students gave us earlier this month, for those of you still needing gift suggestions, we have a few books for you to try. We truly hope our list helps you succeed with your last minute present shopping. Happy Holidays!

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Adults

Clever Novels for Fiction Lovers
Nutshell Cover ImageHomegoing Cover Image

The Nutshell by Ian McEwan (2016) – I heard about this retelling of Hamlet from the perspective of an unborn fetus while in the UK this summer. I was skeptical, but since I love most of Mr. McEwan’s work I read it as soon as it was available.  WOW!  As Lisa Cadow said in our previous review  – this novel is treasure. Told from the completely unique perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. As Lisa Cadow said, this modern-day interpretation of Hamlet, Nutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016) – A perfect debut novel to give to people who like to discover new authors. The work spans eight generations of characters living in Ghana, the UK and the USA. Thank you Liza Bernard for bringing this to our attention. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Must Read Memoirs, with Belly Laughs

You'll Grow Out of It Cover Image

You’ll Grow Out of It! by Jessi Klein (2016) – Recommended by Lucinda Walker, librarian extraordinaire, during Pages in the Pub, this laugh out loud, poignant, insightful memoir was exactly what I needed to counteract the vitriol of the recent election. ~ Lisa Christie

For Those Book Lovers Who Have Everything

Sense and Sensibility Cover ImageMadame Bovary: Provincial Lives Cover ImageGreat Expectations Cover ImageAnna Karenina Cover Image

Assorted Classics such as Sense and Sensibility, Madame Bovary, Inferno (for example),  from the Penguin Clothbound Classic series. Or, you might prefer the Word Cloud Classics faux leather series with  Great Expectations , Jane Eyre, and Anna Karenina to name a few. Titles in both these series are gorgeous and reasonably priced. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Closet Mystery Lovers (We review a few more of these as they make great gifts.)

A Great Reckoning Cover ImageThe Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageI Let You Go Cover ImageThe Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel, Continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series Cover Image

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (2016) – Somehow Ms. Penny cast of characters in her lovely Quebec Village of Three Pines makes murder comforting. The latest instalment of her Inspector Gamache series is well plotted, infused with poetry and just a great end of summer read.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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

I Let You Go by Clare Macintosh (2016) – THE thriller for summer. Written by a retired UK police woman, this is better than than the books it gets compared to – Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. You will like the characters, you will feel each plot twist and you will lose a day of productivity as you finish this novel. Have fun! ~ Lisa Christie

Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (2016) – Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series will not be disappointed. This had me entertained for hours en route home from the UK. ~ Lisa Christie

For History Buffs
Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure Cover ImageThe Night Watch Cover Image

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006) – This one is for fiction lovers. Yes, another WWII novel, but worth reading.  This time the plot revolves around people in London just after WWII ends, during the nightly bombings of WWII, and at the start of the war, all told backwards chronologically.  May of the women have taken up important positions as ambulance drivers, the men are in jail for a variety of crimes; their adventures and connection they share link the tales. The prose is beautiful and the images Ms. Waters creates of life for civilians during war memorable. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup (2002) – This one is for nonfiction readers. I haven’t finished this yet as someone (hello Langhus Family) just gave it to me as gift, but I am loving this true tale of how the wine industry in France was saved during WWII. Combine this paperback with a bottle from France, and voila you have a perfect holiday gift combination. ~ Lisa Christie

For Food Lovers 

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The easiest way to find great cookbooks is to visit our recent post on great cookbooks.

For Travellers and Others Who like Books about Cool Stuff

The Best Things in Life Are Free Cover ImageMap Stories: The Art of Discovery Cover ImageGreat City Maps Cover Image@Natgeo: The Most Popular Instagram Photos Cover Image

The Best Things in Life Are Free by Lonely Planet (2016) – Just when you thought Lonely Planet had covered all the travel book angles, they do it again. This time a guide to all things free as you travel this world. Have fun not spending money as a result of owning this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Map Stories: The art of discovery by Francisca Matteoli – The author uses twenty places and voyages that inspired her to show how maps emerge from discovery and how discovery creates maps. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Great City Maps: A historical journey through maps, plans and paintings by DK Smithsonian (2016) – This is like a museum in a book. The authors take you through maps of various cities and show you how cities are shaped by events, geography, and the people inhabiting. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

@Nat Geo: The most popular instagram photos by National Geographic (2016) – This could be the perfect gift for your favorite photographer or explorer. Perhaps you could have it accompany an actual camera under the tree for your aspiring picture takers or a coupon for an exploration of a nearby, unknown territory during the holiday break? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Kids and Kids at Heart

For All Fans of Harry Potter

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay Cover Image

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling (2016) — This is terribly fun to read and really what is better than returning to the wonderfully magical world of Harry Potter? This time you visit in 1920 and hang out with a Hufflepuff hero. There is a reason JK Rowling once said that was her favorite Hogwarts house. Combine this screenplay with two tickets to see the movie, and you have a perfect last minute gift for almost anyone. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For Those Who Like Memoirs and Biographies

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImagePrisoner B-3087 Cover Image

The Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with all the recent talk about walls along the US border and hatred towards illegal immigrants.  Ms. Grande has adapted her memoir for young adults and 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 put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz (2013) – An amazing book about the holocaust that my 13 year old just declared probably “the best book he’s read”.  Mr. Gratz takes the true story of Jack Gruener, who was moved through ten concentration camps including Auschwitz, and with slight poetic license creates a tale of survival amongst unspeakable horrors that must be remembered. ~ Lisa Christie

Just for Fun

The Trials of Apollo, Book One: The Hidden Oracle Cover ImageRaymie Nightingale Cover ImageJust My Luck Cover Image

The Trials of Apollo: Book One by Rick Riordan (2016) – Mr. Riordan’s treatment of mythology may be getting old for some, but not for me. Why? Well because his ability to capture teen angst and power remains spot on and perfect for narrating these tales. In his latest book, Apollo has fallen to earth as a teenage boy with flab and acne as punishment for his most recent sin against his father Zeus. He turns to his children at Camp Half Blood for help, and with his mortal enslaver manages to figure out what is going wrong on earth. The question is can he solve it? (Cliffhanger alert – Not in book one.) ENJOY! And thank you Augie Fortune for introducing me to this author all those years ago when you visited Vermont. ~ Lisa Christie

Raymie 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 Christie 

Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern (2016) – Truly a superb book that illustrates what it is like to be a 4th grader, 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 

Great for Reluctant Readers

Booked Cover ImageWho Was Harriet Tubman? Cover Image

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.) We also highly recommend The Crossover .~ Lisa Christie

Who is What Was Who Is series (assorted years) – We recommend this series every year, but they keep adding great books.  Truly perfect for reluctant readers, and they will learn a lot. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Books Based in Historical Facts and/or People

The Seventh Most Important Thing Cover ImageThe War That Saved My Life Cover ImageSalt to the Sea Cover ImageAnna and the Swallow Man Cover Image

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015) – Listened to with my ten year old and his friend on a long trip to Maine. We all loved this tale of a “trash man” who is actually making an amazing piece of art (actual artist James Hampton), the boy who hurts him and the penance he must pay.  There are lessons for all in this, but most importantly there is a good story of what happens when someone tales the time to get to know someone. ~ Lisa Christie

The 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 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

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

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (2016) – This slim YA novel looks at life as a refugee – this time in Poland during WWII.  Anna’s father never comes home from work on day and she is befriended by a mysterious stranger who remains nameless throughout the book. 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~ Lisa Christie 

Picture Books – We are going with the experts at Marion Cross School as heard during BOOK BUZZ

Chalk Cover ImageGo, Dog. Go! Cover Image

Chalk by Bill Thomson (2010). Selected by Ava B – Magic chalk drawings come to life.

Go, Dog. Go! by PD Eastman (1961). Selected by Mateo, presented with help from Drew – What is up in that tree?

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!  May the final days of 2016 be filled with books and loved ones.

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Norwich is buzzing about BOOK BUZZ: Book selections by kids for kids, just in time for holiday giving

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The spirit of community is afoot in Norwich, Vermont. At the end of a snowy day in our hometown, people gathered to taste wine and raise money for the Haven, our local shelter; some attended a First Wednesday presentation, a project of the Norwich Public Library and Norwich Historical Society and Vermont Humanities Council; they attended our Select Board meeting and heard about all the area nonprofits who need support; they joined our school board meeting; and of course they shopped at Dan & Whit’s, our unique General Store and the Norwich Bookstore, our beloved indie bookseller. Yes, one of the many reasons The Book Jam loves our hometown is that fact that on certain nights your options for community engagement are abundant. (Continuing the Norwich community theme, just next door in White River Junction, at Open Door, people were listening to Norwich beloved doctor, Michael Lyons and storyteller extraordinaire Cindy Pierce discuss how to talk about sex with your kids.)

However, what really has the town buzzing is the fact that on this same night, ten elementary school students (all in 4th 5th or 6th grade), one teacher, and one principal stood up in front of an audience of 100 and presented two of their favorite books. Why? Quite simply because they wanted to help you find the perfect books for the kids in our town, and to raise money for our school. Yes, BOOK BUZZ came to Norwich last week, and wow did the student presenters give us a great list of books to share. These books are kid tested and kid approved and will make great holiday gifts, and/or provide a superb list for your kids to tackle over the upcoming holiday break.
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THANK YOU to all the presenters:

Thank you to the BOOK BUZZ sponsors – The Marion Cross School PTO (especially Stephanie McCaull and Susan Simmers), boloco and the Norwich Bookstore.

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And now, the presenters’ list.

Shiloh Cover ImageThe Orphan Army Cover ImageFriday Barnes, Girl Detective Cover Image

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

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story Cover ImageThe Tao of Pooh Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover Image

SUPERB BOOKS YOU WOULD ASSIGN TO YOUR FAVORITE ADULT (TEACHER, AUNT, PARENT) AS REQUIRED READING

Sheep in a Jeep Cover ImageFish in a Tree Cover ImageSmells Like Dog Cover Image

BEST FAMILY READ-ALOUDS

  • Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw; Margot Apple, ill. (1986).Selected by Jasper – My family likes to read it.
  • Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt (2015). Selected by Ava G – Girl with dyslexia finds new friends.
  • Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors (2010). Selected by Ava B – Treasure-hunting adventures with Homer and Dog.

Because of Winn-Dixie Cover ImageThe Wild Robot Cover ImageAl Capone Does My Shirts Cover Image

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

  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000). Selected by Hazel – Lost dog found by a special girl.
  • The Wild Robot By Peter Brown (2016) – Selected by Rowan – Robot finds her way in nature.
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (2004) – Selected by Anna A – Interesting story, boy lives on Alcatraz.

When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone Cover ImageWho Was Roberto Clemente? Cover ImageWhat Was the Alamo? Cover ImageWho Is J.K. Rowling? Cover Image

FUN NON-FICTION BOOKS FOR KIDS WHO PREFER TRUE STORIES

  • When the Wolves Returned by D.H. Patent (2008) – Selected by Mrs. French – Wolves return balance to Yellowstone Park.
  • Who Was? What Was? Who Is? (series) (assorted authors and dates) – Selected by Lisa – Great people, places, and things explained.

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FICTION BOOKS THAT DO A GREAT JOB OF TEACHING HISTORY

  • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015) – Selected by Mateo –  Beaten down, but still got up.
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2015) – Selected by Rowan – Girl struggles to find her dad.

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GREAT BOOKS TO GIVE YOUR FRIENDS FOR THEIR BIRTHDAYS\

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made Cover Image

THE BEST BOOK TO GIVE YOUR YOUNGER BROTHER OR SISTER BECAUSE IT WAS YOUR FAVORITE IN 2ND GRADE

Chalk Cover ImageGo, Dog. Go! Cover Image

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

  • Chalk by Bill Thomson (2010). Selected by Ava B – Magic chalk drawings come to life.
  • Go, Dog. Go! by PD Eastman (1961). Selected by Mateo, presented with help from Drew – What is up in that tree?

The Boys in the Boat (Young Readers Adaptation): The True Story of an American Team's Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics Cover ImageSoar Cover Image

SPORTS BOOKS THAT ARE ABOUT SO MUCH MORE

Warriors #1: Into the Wild Cover ImageEncyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt Cover ImageThe Terrible Two Cover ImageThe Terrible Two Get Worse Cover Image

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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Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Cover ImageFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”.  This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace.  We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant novel. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.

The Bluest Eye Cover ImageThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”.  We say bring on the controversy and learn.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”.  To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover ImageNickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”.  We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…

Of Mice and Men Cover ImageOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 1) Cover ImageHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry  by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.

Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So, thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.

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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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