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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

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This week we feature “3 Questions” with Cullen Murphy, author of Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-BelieveMr. Murphy is the editor-at-large at Vanity Fair and the former managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. (He is  also the brother of the The Long Haul author and truck driver Finn Murphy who visited The Norwich Bookstore last year.)

Cartoon County tells the story of Mr. Murphy’s father — John Cullen Murphy – the illustrator of the wildly popular comic strips Prince Valiant and Big Ben Bolt, and a man who had been trained by Norman Rockwell. Cartoon County focuses on a period of time in the last century when many of the the nation’s top cartoonists and magazine illustrators – including Mr. Murohy’s father – were neighbors in the southwestern corner of Connecticut. This book, through the lens of the author’s relationship with his father, brings the postwar American era and life in the arts alive.

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Mr. Murphy will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 17th. This Norwich Bookstore event offers an excellent opportunity to learn about this unique place and time in the 20th century. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of Cartoon County.

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

A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee. This was McPhee’s profile of Bill Bradley as a Princeton basketball player, and I read it in college. It made me aware of the possibilities of a certain kind of literary reporting. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. A teacher gave me this nineteenth-century romp when I was in seventh grade in Ireland–there was a kind of high-end silliness about it that has offered a reminder ever since not to take yourself too seriously. Big Story, by Peter Braestrup. Peter was a mentor, and this book was his account of how the press reported the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. It was influential because the account offers many cautionary tales; because it demonstrated that a journalist could do scholarly work; and because I watched him research and write it even as he held a full-time job, showing how that was done.

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

Maybe William James. From what I can tell just from his writing–I’ve never read a biography, and should–he seems to have combined an omnidirectional mind and a genial disposition. And for someone who was at his peak around the turn of the last century, he comes across as someone whom you could bump into tomorrow and think you were meeting a contemporary. You would never think that about his novelist brother.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Munich, by Robert Harris. I’m a big Robert Harris fan, and would especially recommend his Rome trilogy, built around Cicero. (Also Pompeii–the opening scene is a classic.) Dinner at the Center of the Earth, by Nathan Englander. I’ve loved Englander’s work ever since reading the early stories of his that we published in The Atlantic. And Grant, by Ron Chernow. Anything by Chernow is worthwhile. Although Hamilton has gotten the most attention–for obvious reasons–I was captivated by his biographies of Rockefeller and Washington.

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

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It is that time of year again – time for our last minute holiday gift guide. We are almost, but not quite, too late for Hanukkah. However, we post in plenty of time for Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanza, New Years, and all those just after the holidays birthdays you are too tired to shop for.  Whatever holidays you celebrate, best wishes and happy reading.

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For YA fans

FC9780062330628.jpgFar From the Tree by Robin Benway (2017) –  This novel won the 2017 National Book Award winner for young people’s literature; and, I applaud its selection (even when it was up against The Hate U Give which I also loved). I was completely charmed and challenged by this completely moving tale of three biological siblings (Joaquin, Maya, Grace) who discover each other as teens.  A complex tale of adoption, race, foster care, teen life, bullying, what makes a family, and love. Definitely one of my favorite books of the year for adults or kids. Enjoy.

FC9780062498533-1.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 National Book Award Finalist 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 the jacket 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!

FC9780310761839.jpgSolo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess (2017) – Mr. Alexander does it again, with help this time from Ms. Hess; I truly love the books this man creates. Blade’s father, an ageing rock star 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, and finding your way. It is all told in Mr. Alexander’s usual sparse, but effecting poetic style (with an added bonus of a great soundtrack).

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For Adults

FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s newest novel – The Good People – reminded us of how much we liked her first one. This first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, 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?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from the perspective of a MSNBC and MBC reporter following Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” 

FC9781616205041.jpgYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) – For those of us who lived through the Bill Clinton sexual relations intern scandal, this book will seem familiar. What might not seem so familiar is the humor and candor about society’s standards contained in this “light” novel about how decisions we make when we are young have implications. Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up 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 life. Note – this is also a great audio book.

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For children

FC9781481450188.jpgPatina by Jason Reynolds (2017) – A teenaged girl learns a lot about life’s unfair experiences and how family can help you manage it all. We learn to love her family and how great track stars are made.

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I’ve read all year. 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.

FC9780763677541.jpgThe Wolf, The Duck, and The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (2017) – A SUPERBLY fun tale of interspecies cooperation and making the best of a situation. Bonus — great illustrations by award winning Jon Klassen. Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.

FC9781484717790.jpg7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar (2017) – This book is proof that good puns are never done.  It is a clever Noir picture book (who knew there was such a thing) playing on a classic preschool joke/pun. Also reviewed during our recent Pages in the Pub.

 

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For anyone

Just a reminder that most bookstores also stock Jigsaw Puzzles, board games, card games, and literary gifts like socks or necklaces.

 

 

 

 

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We hope everyone is enjoying the first parties of the 2017 holiday season, and that you are all finding great holiday gifts with ease. To help us all find a bit of respite from the lovely bustle, we are highlighting only two great books today. In addition to being fun to read yourself, both are a great host/hostess gift.download-1.jpg

FC9780374228088.jpgThe Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman (2017) – This would be the perfect gift to hand a hostess along with, of course, a thoughtfully chosen bottle of wine. Ms. Fadiman is a graceful writer who has the ability, much like a serious oenophile can identify from a mere sip the vineyard from which a wine originates, to pick the precise and exacting  words to tell this moving, intimate story about her relationship with her once-famous father Clifton Fadiman. Though she never shared his love of wine (not for want of trying!), she shares his adoration of and skill with words. Why read this book? For its beautiful prose, a little lesson on wine, for a privileged view into a special father-daughter relationship, and for a glimpse into a past era of literary and immigrant America. Readers may recognize Ms. Fadiman as the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award winner who wrote The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down. She proves again with this memoir that she is a master storyteller, as well as an astute social anthropologist. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781101973806.jpgThe Mistletoe Murder and other stories by PD James (2016) –  A superb hostess/host gift for the holidays; we argue it is much better than another bottle of wine (small caveat – depending upon your host/hostess, these Christmas tales may not be the best fit for a Hanukkah party; the murders are are not about Christmas, but take place in some way during Christmastime). This collection contains four short stories by British mystery writer PD James – each different, each well-crafted (if dryly wrought), and each taking place during the holidays. Beyond the host/hostess gift, this collection will provide welcome distractions for you, and many on your gift lists. ~ Lisa Christie

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

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

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Grief

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

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Sex and Sexual identity

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

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

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

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Mental Health

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

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Race

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

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

 

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Gun Violence

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

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Politics

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

FC9780062684929-1.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” ~ Lisa Christie

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

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This week we feature “3 Questions” with Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road.  Years ago, Mr. Murphy dropped out of college and started his long stint as long-haul trucker, covering covered more than a million miles to date. In The Long Haul, Mr. Murphy offers a trucker’s-eye view of America, reflecting on work, class, and the bonds we form throughout our lives.

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Mr. Finn will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, November 8th. This Norwich Bookstore event offers an excellent opportunity to listen and learn about life in America today, from a perspective many of us do not encounter in our daily life – that of a long-haul trucker. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save a seat and/or secure your autographed copy of The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road. (We think this might be a great holiday gift for so many on your lists – for those of you already shopping).

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

1984 because George Orwell completely nails authoritarianism. It’s attractions, it’s method, and it’s ultimate goal.

Anything by John McPhee, let’s use as an example Uncommon Carriers: Really good writing can describe anything and make it interesting. My book goes into many arcane details about truck-driving and moving people and I always had McPhee in mind when doing that.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre because it shows how complicated betrayal can really be.

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

Herman Melville. We both liked manual work, did manual work, and wrote about manual work. Melville would have been very much at home in a moving van on the road. It’s not a lot different than a whaling vessel. Hard labor mixed with boredom, travel, horrible clean-ups, and an amazing perch to observe human beings at their worst.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

A Legacy of Spies by LeCarre. It’s the inside story of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. That’s a great book! Maybe 160pp, but like Gatsby, puts it all in where it needs to be and nothing extra. Almost perfect writing. I say that for both. I flatter myself that I’m the world’s foremost authority on the LeCarre opus.

Doctkor Faustus by Thomas Mann. This is always on my nightstand. I can pick it up on any page and get mesmerized. Favorite quote from the book: “It’s not so easy to get into Hell.”

Ranger Games by Ben Blum. Recommended by a bookseller at an event. Army Ranger robs a bank. His cousin wants to know why. Riveting.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. I’m no book snob. I’ll read anything, almost. I haven’t cracked this yet but when the time comes for just plain entertainment, there it is.

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

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Both of the Lisa’s found their ways to wonderful memoirs over our “Gone Reading” hiatus. One is about hunger, the other about being hungry for Vermont. Happy reading and welcome autumn!

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FC9780062362599.jpgHunger 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 horrific 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. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal and punctuated with self-loathing. That said, her story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than horror; this memoir is also filled with hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, mistakes, social commentary, and always, always her body and her relationship with it. If you have ever tried to explain your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If you have never understood this relationship, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese often feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift 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 of insight, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781681370743.jpgThe Farm In The Green Mountains by Alice Herndan-Zuckmayer (2017) –  As an immigrant to Vermont myself, I immediately fell in love with this sliver of a memoir. Written originally as a series of letters in the 1940’s to her husband’s parents back in Europe, Herdan-Zuckmayer chronicles the five years her family spent on “Backwoods Farm” in Barnard, Vermont. She and her husband,  both intellectuals in Germany,  were exiled by the Nazis to America due to their political views. This book was a best seller in Germany after World War II and a new edition has bee published this year by The New York Review of Books. Herdan-Zuckermayer’s writing style feels like a cheerful, warm embrace and her insights into American culture are poignant. I appreciated reading  about big snows, little general stores, shared telephone party lines, raising depressed ducks, and the family’s first American Christmas.  Not to be missed are her descriptions of Dartmouth’s Baker Library (and American libraries in general) and the many pilgrimages she made there during her time in America. Alice and her husband both felt they had found a true home in this remote corner of the world, and it truly comes across in this charming account of their life in the Green Mountains. ~ Lisa Cadow

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PS — Happy Anniversary to Lisa and Ken!

 

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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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