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Archive for the ‘Just the “facts”’ Category

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Well it is official; summer is almost over. By now most students have returned to school or are in the midst of buying supplies, the final vacations have ended, the air has cooled a bit, and the calendar says September is days away.  So, today we offer reviews of a few good books to read as summer fades (and to take on any Labor Day Weekend excursions).

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

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FICTION: Because getting lost in a good story is sublime

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

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

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

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

FC9780062484154.jpgWhatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – an African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is almost even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. ~ Lisa Christie

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

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

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

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

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

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

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones  (2017) – I so hope there is someone like August Snow – half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and community – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit’s future weaves throughout the narrative, and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, he makes mistakes and, wow, by the end his body count is way too high for my tastes, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit. Enjoy this one! ~ Lisa Christie

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

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

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

MEMOIR: Because sometimes you need inspiration from others

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

FC9780062362599.jpgHunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay (2017) – I don’t think I have ever read such a well-written, honest, and brutal account of sexual assault and its aftermath. This sounds like a horrid reason to pick up a book, and it is horrid to think that the author endured a brutal and life-altering assault at age 12, but the story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than that. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal, filled with self loathing and big mistakes, but also hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, social commentary, and always, always, her body and her relationship with that body. If, as a woman, you have ever tried to explain or understand your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If, as a man, you have never understood this relationship women often have, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift of insight to you. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, Ms. Gay shows you are not alone. If you just want to spend some time with a talented writer, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up as a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own experiences. ~ Lisa Christie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Books for Summer Campers

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A recent conversation with the father of a 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter about a horrific car trip with the said kids, revealed that he had never heard of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Treehouse series. We were saddened as we can guarantee that the print version and/or the audiobooks have saved more family car trips than anyone can count. So, we sent him straight to his local bookstore to stock up on print and audio book versions. This encounter reminded us that new parents are often unfamiliar with books we assume everyone knows because they have been around for awhile. In short, we remembered that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that most parents don’t know about most of the great things for kids that have saved numerous parents before them.

So, this year’s annual post of “books for summer campers” includes our usual emphasis on recent books for kids but also includes some classics, because we would hate for anyone to miss out on the joys of Susan Cooper just because we assume everyone knows about her amazing novels for kids. As always, we hope our selections help the last days of summer pass magically for the children in your life. (NOTE: We tried to include hardcovers and paperbacks and ebooks, so you could access whatever type you need. We also included a few series as we know from experience if a kid likes one book it is a great thing to have another one just like it waiting to begin.)

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Chapter books for elementary school kids to read (or be read to)

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I’ve read all year, or at least the one that made me grin the most. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid, make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs — all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

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

FC9781580897136.jpgA Long Pitch Home by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (2016) – We agree that we all need more diverse books (see review above); and, this novel about Bilal, a 10-year-old boy from Pakistan newly arrived in the USA, provides a good place to start. This tale of family, culture, and refuge compassionately addresses immigration from a kid’s perspective. The plot turns on such questions as: Will Bilal’s father be able to join him or has he disappeared in Pakistan for  good? Will he survive the fact his younger sister’s English is better than his? Will he learn to love baseball as much as cricket? And, what is home? ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781410495884.jpgThe Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan (2017) – This second book in Mr. Riordan’s Apollo trilogy is fabulous. Enjoy Mr. Riordan’s trademark humor and well told tale for younger readers! And, if you haven’t already, try his other series; they all capture the trials of growing up with humor, grace, and with some learning about mythology. You, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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

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Some oldies but goodies (i.e. classics) for kids

FC9780689711817.jpgMixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisberg (1967) – The 50th anniversary of this beloved book seems like a great time to reveal that this book was the favorite of all the books we read in elementary school — for each of the Book Jam Lisas. In it, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account. This tale holds up today — as each of us has read it to our kids at some point and loved it all over again. (We also recommend the audio book versions of this book of her other engaging novels such as The View From Saturday.)~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781442489677.jpgDark is Rising series by Susan Cooper ( 1965-1977) Will Stanton discovers that he is the last-born of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping mankind free from the Dark. And now, the Dark is rising. Will, along with Merriman – a wise teacher, three mortal siblings, and a mysterious boy named Bran are soon caught up in a fight against evil.  These stories thrilled us as children YEARS ago, introduced us to UK towns and villages, and still engage children today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780140386745.jpgJip by Katherine Paterson (1998) – Many know her classic, Newbery award winning novel The Bridge to Terebithia, but this winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, tells the tale of an orphan in Vermont, and depicts a history that most of us never hear about. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780547328614.jpgIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1960) – We reach back before we were born for this book. But it played an important part in our early reading experiences. It also proved to be a favorite read aloud to our own children (and even inspired a mother-son trip kayaking trip to the Channel Islands off the coast of California where this book is set). Karana’s quiet courage, her loneliness and terror eventually lead to strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic. This book chronicles Karana’s year’s long survival (along with beloved dog Rontu) alone on an island after all of her relatives and tribe have been evacuated to the mainland. It is based on the true story of Juana Maria, also known as “The Woman of San Nicholas Island,” a Native American woan who lived on her own for eighteen years until she was rescued by a ship sailing in the area. It will hold children spellbound as they learn about indigenous people and try to imagine how they would have survived if faced with a similar challenge. ~Lisa Cadow 

FC9780786838653.jpgRick Riordan’s various mythology series (assorted years) — As mentioned above, you, and the children you love, will not regret a moment spent in Mr. Riordan’s novels~ Lisa Christie

 

downloadMystery of the Green Cat by Phyllis A. Whitney  – Yes, the famous adult author wrote a mystery or two for children. And, this mystery is one I read over and over as a kid. And, when I moved to San Francisco as an adult I was glad that I had; this book provided me a map of Nob Hill, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, The SF Bay, and Chinatown that I didn’t even realize it embedded in me until I resided there. It is out of print, but we include it here as an example of how the books you read as a kid are so much a part of who you are as an adult, and in some cases quite literally map aspects of your future life. ~ Lisa Christie

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For slightly older readers/young adults

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Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017) – Mr. Alexander does it again, with help from Ms. Hess; I truly love the books this man creates. Blade is the son of an aging rock star who has reacted to the death of Blade’s mom with an everlasting and highly dysfunctional descent into addiction and absentee parenting. As the story unfolds, Blade deals with high school graduation, his father’s inability to stay sober, his sister’s delusions of grandeur, the fact the love of his life has broken his heart, and a recent revelation he is adopted, by escaping to Ghana to find the birth mother he didn’t even know he missed. This is a terrific tale of music, maturing, love, adoption, family, and finding your way, told in Mr. Alexander’s usual sparse, but effecting poetic style (with an added bonus of a great soundtrack).  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781101997239.jpgThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamona by Pablo Cartaya (2017) – The power of poetry and protest permeates this novel about a young man Arturo, living in Miami and simultaneously trying to save his family’s restaurant and navigate his first crush.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781484717165.jpgThe Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (2017) – This prequel to the fabulous and complicated Code Name Verity shows the family and upbringing that created Verity’s heroine Julia. The plot incorporates dead bodies, missing servants, life life of the gentry, travellers, and the Scottish countryside of the 1930s. It also made me want to re-read the original novel. ~ Lisa Christie

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

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys –  My then 8th grader loved this tale of the World War II in the Baltic States. In it, a group of teens and a few adults is trying to escape Hitler’s and Stalin’s armies and make it to safety on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Ms. Sepetys does a fabulous job of creating memorable characters and wrapping them into a plot heavily weighted by historical events.  Or, as The Washington Post stated, “Riveting…powerful…haunting.”~ Lisa Christie

FC9781524739621.jpgAlex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz (2017) – The Hamilton craze continues in this historical novel for teens. This time, Eliza tells the story of her romance with and eventual marriage to Alexander Hamilton.  Along the way, the author intermingles Eliza’s role in history as well as the work of Mr. Hamilton and other revolutionaries.  ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Terrifyingly, her uncle/Tio has disappeared without a trace. The government is monitoring her family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship. Ms. Alvarez helps readers understand what dictatorship looks like, what it means to be left behind, and how we all dream of better lives. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780760352298.jpgGeorge Washington: Frontier Colonel by Sterling North (2016) and other titles in this series – We realize while many of our picks are based in fact, our list is lacking in nonfiction; we remedy that now with a new series of biographies by Young Voyageur/Quarto Publishing Group. We would describe this new series as the “Who is? What Was?” (or bobble-head books as many kids call them) series for older readers, with fabulous primary source materials scattered throughout.  ~ Lisa Christie

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Some early chapter books for emerging readers

FC9780375813658.jpgMagic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – These are a must read for those children looking for beginning chapter books as they progress with their reading. In this series, Jack and Annie, just regular kids, discover a tree house in the woods near their house – a treehouse that allows them to use books to time travel. As the series unfolds, they are whisked back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs, a medieval castle, ancient pyramids, treasure-seeking pirates etc… These books also make EXCELLENT audio books for car trips with pre-school kids of almost every age and persuasion. (You are welcome for all the hours of peace and learning and fun these books will bring your household.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307265104.jpgCapitol Mysteries Series by Ron Roy (assorted years) – This series is for emerging readers who like their fictional tales to be slightly more realistic than time travel. In this set, KC Corcoran, a news junkie whose step-dad happens to be the President, tackles all sorts of mysteries (e.g., how to make school exciting, how to save the President from his clone). As a bonus, each of these early chapter books features fun facts and famous sites from Washington, D.C. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316358323.jpgAssorted Adventures of Tin Tin by Herge (assorted years) – These graphic novels have been translated into 38 languages for good reason – kids love them.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

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A Few Picture Books

FC9780763637842.jpgLibrary Lion by Michelle Knudsen (2007) – Miss Merriweather, is a very rule-oriented librarian – no running and you must be quiet. As long as you follow the rules, you are welcome. Then one day a lion shows up. There are no rules about lions; and so the fun begins in this New York Times bestselling ode to libraries. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781423164821.jpgElephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (assorted years) – Gerald (an elephant) and Piggie (a pig) have a superb friendship and an unusual capacity for silly. Mr. Willems used to write for Sesame Street and with these books has created a wonderful way for kids to learn to love to read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780789309624.jpgA superb and classic travel book series by Mirolsav Sasek (assorted 20th century years) – We remember these from our childhood and are pretty certain they helped instil our wanderlust.  Mr. Sasek was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, and is best remembered for his classic stories on the great cities of the world. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Ahhh travel … Honestly, when we are not doing it, we are dreaming about it. When we are not dreaming about it, we are reading as much as we can about far away places. So for today, we review some of our favorite books for inspiring future travel and/or for taking you away without leaving home.

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Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1933) – In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey Cover ImageThe River of Doubt by Candice Millard (2006) – After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to take on the most punishing physical challenge he could find — the first descent of an unmapped tributary of the Amazon (River, not the retail behemoth). Like Fleming, in the previously reviewed book, Roosevelt’s cast of adventurers is ill-prepared for the hardships ahead. Almost immediately, they lose their canoes and supplies in the whitewater rapids. This loss is followed by starvation, Indian attacks, disease, drowning, and murder; Roosevelt was brought to the brink of suicide. This nonfiction tale held my then 10-year-old and 13 year-old boys and their father in rapt attention as our family read-aloud when we were privileged to explore the Amazon River portion of my youngest’s native Colombia.

A Moveable Feast Cover ImageMoveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1960) – We now move from South America to Europe with Mr. Hemingway’s classic memoir of his time in Paris. Read it to capture what Paris meant to American ex-pats in the 1920s. Or, read it just to enjoy fabulous writing and a glimpse into history. This book vividly renders the lives of Hemingway, his first wife Hadley, and their son Jack. It also includes irreverent portraits of their fellow travellers, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford, as well as insight into Hemingway’s own early experiments with his writing.

Burial Rites Cover ImageBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). While the people Agnes encounters are memorable, perhaps most memorable is the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character too. As with anything written by the incredible writer Halldor Laxness, Burial Rites is for anyone planning a trip to this spectacular country, wanting to go there in their imagination, or wanting to revisit a trip they took there long ago.

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing and the living of life, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”. In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to both attend these special author events and read their books.

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Today, we feature Noah Isenberg and his work We’ll Always Have Casablanca.

Mr. Isenberg is director of screen studies and professor of culture and media at The New School, the author of Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, editor of Weimar Cinema, and the recipient of an NEH Public Scholar Award. He lives in Brooklyn, New York and will be in the Upper Valley for the summer teaching at Dartmouth College.

Mr. Isenberg will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 6 pm on Thursday, June 29th to discuss We’ll Always Have Casablanca. Please note that this event is a discussion circle, a more informal event than the store’s Wednesday evening speaker series. However, advance reservations are still recommended. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat.

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

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Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which I first read as a teenager living in Stockholm, Sweden (it was part of the International Baccalaureate course in world literature), taught me the power of storytelling. Susan Sontag’s Under the Sign of Saturn introduced me to the exquisite craft of the essay and the central role of the critic in cultural, aesthetic, and political debates. And Franz Kafka’s The Trial for its ability to haunt, to transport, and to captivate the reader.

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

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I’d like to have (had) coffee with Susan Sontag, to discuss with her the life she led during her years as a novelist, playwright, critic, and filmmaker. I’d want to know more about her teens in North Hollywood and about her college friendship, at Chicago, with filmmaker Mike Nichols, and about her extraordinary work as an essayist.

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

A Stricken Field Cover ImageSick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy Cover ImageMy Brilliant Friend, Book One: Childhood, Adolescence Cover ImageModernism in the Streets: A Life and Times in Essays Cover ImageMother's Tale Cover Image

Martha Gellhorn, A Stricken Field

Judd Apatow, Sick in the Head

Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

Marshall Berman, Modernism in the Streets

Phillip Lopate, A Mother’s Tale

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The convergence of the NBA finals, NHL finals, The French Open, baseball season, and golfing tournaments has us thinking about one of our favorite categories for BOOK BUZZ — sports books that are about so much more. Today we celebrate this current sports mania by highlighting some books about sports that are also about so much more. This list touches on running, basketball, crew, track and field, and football – both the American version and the kind the rest of the world plays. Please note that we include titles for adults, young adults, and children, but we do not label them as we don’t ever want to tell anyone that they are too old or too young to read a great book.

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The Golem's Mighty Swing Cover ImageThe Golem’s Mighty Swing by James Sturm (2017) –  This graphic novel tells the tale of the Stars of David, a barnstorming Jewish baseball team that played during the Depression. Using the true story of a team that travels among small towns playing ball and playing up their religious exoticism as something for people to heckle, this books combines baseball, small towns, racial tensions, and the desperate grasp for the American Dream. For those of you in the Upper Valley, Mr. Sturm will attend the Upper Valley Nighthawks game on June 10 to sign copies of this graphic novel.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen Cover ImageBorn to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall (2016) – No, this isn’t a Bruce Springsteen song but rather an inspirational book about long-distance running. Though we have yet to read it (behold, this is the second time we’ve ever included a book we haven’t read, see below!), one of us has ordered a copy due to her daughter’s utter enthusiasm about it.  After turning the last page, this daughter completely changed her own footwear and training regimen. So lace up your running shoes and start learning about a tribe that lives remotely and traditionally in the Copper Canyon of Mexico and  is renowned for its members who run 100 to 200 miles without a rest. By all accounts, this is a fascinating anthropological exploration of a little known people as well as a work that has the effect of getting readers running for the pure joy of it.

Soar Cover ImageSoar by Joan Bauer (2016) – We have recommended this before in numerous posts. However, since everyone we know who has read it has loved it, we feel no guilt whatsoever to adding this tale of how a boy’s love of baseball helps him adjust to a new school, a heart condition, and well life, to this post as well. Please read it if you haven’t already and enjoy!

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics Cover ImageThe Boys in the Boat (adult and YA versions) by Daniel James Brown (2013) – This story follows nine University of Washington students as they strive to become the rowing team representing the USA at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. These young men were never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, much less those attending the Olympics; their story is one of grit and inspiration.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption Cover ImageUnbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (2010) – What is the sports aspect of this non-fiction book of surviving Japanese POW camps during WWII? Well, the amazing hero of this spellbinding tale was an Olympic runner long before he served the USA in the war. This book provides an incredible testament to the resilience of the human spirit. We recommend reading this and then joining your family to watch the movie version.

Fever Pitch Cover ImageFever Pitch by Nick Hornby (1998) – Fever Pitch is Mr. Hornby’s tribute to a lifelong obsession with English Football.  This award-winning memoir captures the fever pitch of fandom, coming of age stories, and the humor required to live a successful life.

Booked Cover ImageThe Crossover Cover ImageBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic, perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball.

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream Cover ImageFriday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger (1990) – This book illustrates how sports – in this case high school football – can shape a community. It also inspired a pretty great television series (and a superb fundraising dinner for our town library). We recommend this book to football lovers (and lovers of small towns) everywhere.

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life Cover ImageThe Playbook: 52 Rules to aim, shoot and score in this game called life by Kwame Alexander (2017) – This reminds us of another book of wisdom – 365 days of Wonder. But in The Playbook, Mr. Alexander uses sports and inspiring people such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama to offer advice about life. As with all his writing we have read thus far, Mr. Alexander uses humor and the well chosen word to get his point across. Bonus — this would make a superb elementary or middle school graduation gift.

Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback Cover ImagePaper Lion by George Plimpton (2009) – And now, for the second time ever (see above) we are including a book we have not yet read. But in our research about sports books we discovered that Book Week called this, “possibly the most arresting and delightful narrative in all of sports literature.” And we love the Detroit Lions; seriously Detroit could use a winning team people. So, we include this hoping someone will discover it as the perfect book for them, while we add it to our ever-growing pile of “to be read” book.

 

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Ok, let’s be honest – this won’t really be last minute for most of us. In reality, this list of superb possibilities for Mother’s Day gift giving will be just in time, as most of us have yet to wrap up Sunday’s gift giving occasion.

So, for all of you looking for a great Mother’s Day gift, or something good to read yourself, here we go:

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FC9781583335741.JPGOh She Glows Every Day by Angela Liddon (2016) – If your mother likes to cook veggies (or if you like to cook  veggies for your mother!), consider adding this plant-based recipe book to your shelf. Oh She Glows Every Day  is bursting with fresh, flavorful vegan ideas. Don’t be alarmed by the “v-word”: every dish in this collection tastes amazing and doesn’t leave eaters missing meat at all. These two mom chef reviewers particularly love the “Thai Crunch Salad” (Liddon’s almond butter dressing and cast-iron skillet tofu are now staples), the “Guacamole and Black Bean Loaded Sweet Potatoes” (how filling, how healthy, how easy!), and the “Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Coconut Bacon” (we love the addition of maple syrup to this dish — how Vermont!). This book, quite simply put, is VEGGIE-LICIOUS! ~ Lisa Cadow 

Celine Cover ImageCeline by Peter Heller (2017) – So, maybe your mom is not a PI, or hiding the fact she gave birth to a child when she was 15, meaning you have an older sibling somewhere. Maybe she is not the daughter of a woman who fled the Nazis and then ended up in an long lasting affair with the most famous admiral of WWII, but your mom is your mom and she really does deserves a good book for Mother’s Day. And, if you also read this novel exploring the complicated life of its main character Celine, it might provide a great way to discuss life’s decisions, and possibly discover some things she hasn’t yet told you. ~ Lisa Christie

The Women in the Castle Cover ImageThe Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (2017) – A compassionate, yet tough look at how Germans allowed the Nazi party to take hold with such devastating consequences for all.  This novel follows three German women before, during, and after WWII as they face the consequences of their personal choices. The story questions what it means to survive and, ultimately, what it takes to move on with forgiveness when the unimaginable occurs. (Ms. Shattuck used to live nearby and shop at the Norwich Bookstore so we love this chance to highlight her work.)~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Trials of Apollo, Book Two: The Dark Prophecy Cover ImageThe Dark Prophecy: Book Two of the Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan (2017) -Why are we including a children’s book in a Mother’s Day gift post? Well, this latest Rick Riordan adventure novel, when given to the children in your life, will buy you hours of peace and quiet as they consume yet another page-turning novel about demi-gods. In this second installment of the Trials of Apollo series, Apollo remains trapped in an acne infested, muscle-lacking teenage body, and my son’s favorite Riordan character – Leo – is back, making him very happy. You are welcome; and, enjoy the peace! Be sure to give this to a busy mom to offload on her brood, allowing her to enjoy some peace too. ~ Lisa Christie

We Should All Be Feminists Cover ImageWe Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – Yes, we have recommended this multiple times (and be warned will probably recommend it again for Father’s Day), but this brief treatise of why men and women should be proud to be feminists remains important. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Porn for New Moms Cover ImagePorn for New Moms by Susan Anderson (2008) – An oldie, but humorous goodie. For moms (new and experienced) who just need some laughs. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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