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Archive for the ‘Kids at Heart’ Category

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

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Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Beach Reads”

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

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

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

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Mysteries/Thrillers

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

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

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

 

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Non Fiction

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

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

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

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

 

 

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YA

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

HAPPY READING from the BOOK JAM!

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The Book Jam is pleased to introduce our first young adult guest blogger – Carly Miles. Carly is a rising eighth grader at Richmond Middle School in Hanover, NH. (Richmond Middle School is part of our small Vermont town’s school district; the cross state boundaries aspect is a long story that involves JFK.) Since one of her selections – Like No Other  – is one of the Book Jam’s all-time favorite YA books, both Book Jam Lisas are looking forward to spending a few long summer days with Carly’s other well-reviewed selections. And now, we are proud to present her picture, her bio, and the four books she thinks we all need to read ASAP.

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Carly loves books, summer, and, surprisingly for some people, does not like cats or dogs. Her favorite leisure activity is sleep, so she gets as much of that as possible, especially during the summer. She enjoys some aspects of school, but gets very bothered by teachers who are arrogant, unsympathetic or just plain bad. She also, along with most students, hates homework, because if we spend seven hours every day, five days a week at school, what is the purpose of homework? To stress us out even more? That’s mean.

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FC9780142425763.JPGI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014) – Moving, yet hilarious. Beautiful, yet awkward. I don’t know how she did it, but  with I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson has created the perfect novel. The story hovers magically between one sixteen-year-old girl who has sworn off boys and is mourning the loss of her mother, and her 13-year-old twin brother, who is in a parallel story, and hasn’t had the harsh experiences that will soon come. When life takes a turn for the worse, both twins react differently: one hides behind an untrue identity while another hides away completely, buried under superstition and regret. The characters at sixteen are different people from who they were at thirteen. But, is there a way to return, even partially, to the people they were in the past?~ Carly Miles

FC9780553496642.JPGEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (2015) – In the world outside of novels, there are sometimes rumors, or jokes, about SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) , but never do they come close to reaching the true meaning of being allergic to everything. Madeline suffers from SCID and has not left her house for seventeen years. But, strangely she doesn’t seem bothered by it. Then, Olly moves next door. He changes her life and opens her eyes to a world she has only read about. She doesn’t realize it at the time, but he will soon be the reason her fragile lungs may breath unfiltered air for the first time since she was a baby. ~ Carly Miles

FC9780142417805.JPGThe Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (2010) – Jandy Nelson has created the ultimate heartbreaker. From page one, you empathize with seventeen-year-old Lennie as she carves a unique path through love, sadness, regret and loss. She learns how to keep her late sister, Bailey, in her heart, while still moving forward with her own story; she learns how to deal with consequences and regret mistakes. This book has enough life lessons to create a new bible, plus the beautifully imagined prose and poetry of Nelson. Combined, The Sky is Everywhere is truly a miracle. ~ Carly Miles

FC9781595146748.JPGLike No Other by Una LaMarche (2014) – This book contains the inspiring love story of the most unique characters ever invented. It’s no Romeo and Juliet, or even The Longest Ride. This novel should have it’s own genre; a category all to its own, called, “Love Stories Like no Other”. This category would include this book, and only this book. It is about a clashing of two worlds, but without the cheesy “one glance and your world is changed” scenes that accompany most love stories. Here, there’s a broken elevator and an awkward, yet beautiful moment between a boy and a girl. That moment propels the fast-food-restaurant-working boy from the streets and the yes-ma’am-no-ma’am, strictly Jewish girl to enter each other’s lives and create a story that is truly like no other. ~ Carly Miles
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A reluctant reader recently discovered the novels of Kwame Alexander and we are thrilled! It is not that this reader can’t read, or that he does not understand complicated texts. He can and he does. It is just that he says he would rather stare at the walls of his room than read a book by choice. And thus, much to our dismay, with rare exceptions, he does not read outside of his class assignments. So when he devoured, in a 24 hour period that included sleep, school, and hockey practice, an entire book – Booked by Kwame Alexander – and wanted to talk about it, we noticed. We then realized he had done the same with Mr. Alexander’s first book The Crossover. This post was conceived to help anyone else out there who is searching for superb books that show reluctant readers the joys of great prose.

So thank you Mr. Alexander;  the mom of this very reluctant reader owes you.

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TThe Crossover Cover Imagehe Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2015) – My 13-year-old reluctant reader handed The Crossover to me last fall when I was looking for a good book. He did not know it at the time, but he hit a sweet spot for me as 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 – a girl, 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 2015 Newbery Medal Winner and 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner book haunted me days after reading the last page.

Booked Cover ImageBooked by Kwame Alexander (2016) – This novel is yet another hit from Mr. Alexander. In it, a soccer player, 12-year-old Nick, experiences family hardships (divorce), school problems (bullying and a sports rivalry with his best friend), and teen angst (girls and soccer tryouts). Luckily, The Mac, a rapping school librarian, is on hand to help with inspiring words and great books to read. The verse format is winning, the word choices magical, and my 13-year-old fan of The Crossover gives this a huge thumbs up.

 

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As we write this, snow blankets our Vermont homes. Yes, after finishing the least snowy winter we can remember, April brings significant accumulation. The words of TS Eliot’s  The Wasteland spring to mind –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Once again we approach African American/Black History Month with curiosity and questions. In addition to pondering why only one month is devoted to contributions of African Americans, we are embracing February’s heightened attention to contributions of African Americans as an opportunity to review GREAT books by Black authors. One is considered a classic; others are brand new, some somewhat new. One is geared to kids, others for adults, and one for young adults. But, we recommend them all. (We also revisited our past year of reviews to see how well we represented the diversity of race and culture that books offer us. Details of our annual audit are at the end of this post.)

Enjoy!

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God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (paperback January, 2016). A  story about the power of parenting and its unforeseen effects on our children (and society). I have only read Beloved so am a relative newcomer to the power of Morrison’s prose. This story is the only one of Morrison’s books to be set in the modern day yet it has a timeless, almost parable-like quality to it. It centers on two main characters, young lovers Bride and Booker, both in their 20’s, whose life paths and current missteps have been and continue to be affected by the events of the actions of their parents.  We meet them in glitzy, bustling LA but follow them to a quiet, obscure town in northern California that provides a backdrop for painful truths to emerge. Morrison addresses the subject of racism within the black community as well as the epidemic of sexual abuse within our society. There are, however, themes of hope, new life, and healing woven in throughout. Not an easy read but an important one.~ Lisa Cadow

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1975) – Somehow I missed reading this classic in my youth, which is why I am so glad my 4th grader chose this book for our current read-aloud. While the subject matter is tear-inducing, this ten-year-old and I are enjoying this well told tale of a loving family living through horrific relations among black and white populations in a rural town. In fact, my son keeps comparing this novel to Stella By Starlight, another book we read aloud about “messed up” (as my teen would say) race relations that I highly recommend (reviewed on my ongoing reading list). He also connected this book to what he heard on the news during the past year, resulting in many great conversations. ~ Lisa Christie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2015). On page ten of this succinct, accessible manifesto, Adichie already has readers laughing out loud when she describes herself as  “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”. Full of disarming humor, this book invites serious discussion about a term (feminist) that is challenging to unpack the world over – whether you live in Nigeria or New York. Adichie raises lots of “What if’s?” about the future, ponders the present, and tells stories of her own family and upbringing in Africa. This work was inspired by a a TEDx talk Adichie delivered in 2006. If you would like to see it, watch here. Please share the it – and the book – with your daughter, your son, everyone. ~ Lisa Cadow (Lisa Christie wholeheartedly seconds this review)

Black Man in a White Coat by Tweedy Damon, MD (2015) – “It’s up to us, as doctors, to find the commonalities and respect the differences between us and our patients,” Dr. Tweedy writes. This examination of a black man’s medical education and subsequent service as a doctor offers insight, honesty, and questions about the role of race in America today. I enjoyed every self-reflective moment of being with Dr. Damon in his memoir; may all my doctors embody his compassion. (This would make a great gift for the medical students/doctors in your life.) As a NYTimes review of this book states, “on one level the book is a straightforward memoir; on another it’s a thoughtful, painfully honest, multi-angled, constant self-interrogation about himself and about the health implications of being black in a country where blacks are more likely than other groups to suffer from, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and cancer.” ~ Lisa Christie

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Two authors, one black and one white, were placed together on a book tour. As a result, they became friends as they bonded over their sadness/dismay/anger over what was happening to black teens in the USA (i.e., Trayvon Martin, Ferguson). As a result of their need to make sense of what they were seeing and to help, they created this book – their view of an incident in which a young black man is beaten by a white cop. The tale is told in alternating chapters and voices – one voice being the black male who was beaten and the other a white teen who witnessed the beating. Nothing is as simple as it seems, but the voices feel real, and I love the idea of these two authors collaborating on such an important issue. This novel also reminded me of another book I loved and highly recommend – Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, reviewed on the Book Jam last June~ Lisa Christie

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We end today’s recommendations with a review of how broad a selection of authors we have featured since last February’s diversity audit. We found that during the past twelve months, we reviewed books by 140 authors. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” and “Guest Author” posts as we do not choose those all of those books.)  Slightly over half (59%) of the authors we featured were women, 37% were men, and 4% were written by groups of authors or organizations such as Lonely Planet. A majority of the authors we featured (77%) were white, with 23% authors of color. Overall, 15% of the authors we featured were nonwhite Africans or African Americans, 4% Hispanics, and 2% Asians. Geographically speaking, we featured almost all the continents, with 56% of featured authors hailing from the USA, 33% from Europe, 7% from Canada, 3% from Australia, and 2% from Africa.

To sum, we can and will do better featuring authors of color.

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

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

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

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Elizabeth Lisa Medina Young's photo.

Well, we bet you never thought you’d read a Book Jam post thanking a movie star, and honestly neither did we. But Mr. Hawke’s latest endeavor – a book entitled Rules for a Knight – has us leading 2016 with a sincere thank you to him.

Why gratitude? Well, reading this slim volume aloud to a ten-year-old boy and 12-year-old boy over the holiday break led to GREAT discussions about what sort of people they wish to become, and how they are going to get there. The discussions had nothing to do with what job they will hold, or where they will live, or academic grades. Instead, the conversations centered around what sort of people they wish to be, and included pondering questions such as: How do you show people you are grateful for their service? If you believe helping others is important, how do you serve others? How do you respond to life’s set-backs? How do you know who you are? Yes, much of the writing is a bit clumsy in its earnestness, and much of the advice is very yoda-like; but honestly, for us, any book that causes pre-teen boys to open up and discuss meaningful topics is worth reading.

These discussions inspired us to think about other books that might lead to amazing conversations about how to live (or just amazing conversations). Thus, we start 2016 with a review of Rules for a Knight, and a few other books that may lead to great discussions, and/or inspire your new year. You will see they are quite an eclectic mix as we weren’t certain what you might be in the mood to read or what inspiration you require. But each in its unique way, is helping us answer our ultimate question for 2016 – “How can I be useful?”. So, thank you Ethan Hawke for this gift of meaningful conversations with pre-teen boys about how to live a life (and for Before Sunrise and Dead Poets Society).

May 2016 be filled with fun books, good people, great discussions, some opportunities to learn a bit, and some fun adventures.

Positive Energy+'s photo.

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015) – In this book, a knight, fearing he will not survive an upcoming battle, writes a letter to his children that he hopes will guide them as they face life’s choices. His themes include solitude, humility, forgiveness, honesty, courage, grace, pride, and patience; and, he uses Eastern and Western philosophy, and modern spiritual and political themes throughout. What emerges is a short guide to what gives life meaning, and to what allows one to both create and appreciate beauty. As we said in the introduction, we found this a great read-aloud for discussions with youngsters. Note — while the kids we experienced this with were boys, Mr. Hawke incorporates girls into the prose, and we think this book would lead to fun conversations with kids, regardless of gender.

The Best Place to be Today: 365 Things To Do and The Perfect Day To Do Them by Lonely Planet (2015) – As regular readers of the Book Jam know, both Book Jam Lisas LOVE to travel. We also tend to rely on the Lonely Planet guides when we leave Vermont to explore the world. We love the concept behind this specific Lonely Planet book — each day of the year has a destination highlighted with information on what is there, and reasons why it is good to be enjoying that destination on that particular day. For example, this would be a great planning tool if you know you would like to go somewhere for Memorial Day, but need some inspiration about where it would be good to be on that specific weekend. We also think it would be fun to put on your dining room table and flip a page every day of the year for some great photos, some new knowledge, and some travel inspiration.

Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living by Jason Gay (2015) – Mr. Gay, a Wall Street Journal sports columnist, wrote a rule book that does not take itself too seriously. Best of all for us — it definitely does not make you feel guilty for all the things you are not doing (or doing as the case might be). What it does do is make you laugh (a lot – so much so that one of us completely distracted her husband with loud guffaws as he was trying hard to accomplish some work), and ponder the fact that maybe everything is not hard as you are making it. Read this as a powerful antidote to the daily news.

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016 (2015) – Planning a big trip in 2016?  Well, this Lonely Planet volume will help guide you to your best destination. Along with vivid descriptions and ideas, this book provides: 1) a list of the top ten countries, regions, and cities to visit in 2016, 2) 16 top travel lists to give you fresh ideas for exploring the world from a new perspective, and 3) more than 35 events mapped out in a year long travel planner.

The Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson (2015) – We must admit we don’t normally think of Scandinavia when we think of what to make for dinner. So, we were intrigued when we came across this cookbook on the Norwich Bookstore’s shelves.  And, since we have vowed to expand our culinary horizons in 2016, we are glad we found this tome. We look forward to allowing it to inspire new dishes throughout the year. We will also enjoy thinking while we cook of the midnight sun, nordic myths, and fjords.

Paris by Serge Ramelli (2015) – We both love France, we both love Paris, and we both love this book of stunning images from the City of Light. Mr. Ramelli’s photos are truly spectacular, and a full book of Paris is lovely indeed. There is also something incredibly soothing about looking at a book of images, not words. Please pick this up and just enjoy some armchair travel in 2016.

And to finish this first post of 2016, one of us returns to her Southern roots by adding a quote from a fellow Tennessean. May 2016 be superb for all y’all!

TobyMac's photo.

 

 

 

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