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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

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

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

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The Dinners on Saturday April 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THANK YOU and Bon Appetit!

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17075-an-african-american-woman-looking-out-a-window-pv.jpgWe audit because we truly believe we are what we read, and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing and create focus for filling those gaps in the coming year.

So, our latest audit results:

During the previous twelve months (from our February 2016 audit), we reviewed 124 authors. For purposes of this audit, we did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections, and we could not include books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors.

Women authors were 62% of the authors we featured.  Men comprised the remaining 38% of the featured authors; we do not have access to the number of authors we reviewed who are transgender or other sexual identifies. In addition, although we know some of the authors we highlighted are gay or lesbian or bisexual, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race.

Fifty-six white women, from a variety of nations, were reviewed, comprising 45% of all authors we featured. We reviewed one South American woman and six Latinas from the USA meaning 6% of our featured authors were women with a Latina background. We featured three Asian women, and 9% of our authors were African or African American women.

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Slightly fewer than a third (29%) of the authors we featured were white men from a variety of continents: 6% were African American men; 2% were Asian/Indian men; and, we reviewed one Latino-American male author.

Adding men and women together, 74% of the authors we reviewed were white.  We can make ourselves feel slightly better about this bias by pointing out that fewer than half (44%) of the white authors featured were from the USA, meaning there was diversity among the nations represented (i.e., Canada, Australia, Sweden, France). The largest group of nonwhite authors were African or African American for 15% of our featured authors.

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We also note we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 77% of authors in last year’s audit were white, which was slightly lower than 2015’s audit when 81% of our featured authors were white.

However, the fact remains that only 26% of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were authors of color. And even though a librarian friend pointed out we should look at the low percentages of books being published by authors of color to truly have a picture of the possibilities for our reviews (e.g., 22% of Childrens book authors published in 2016 were people of color; we could not find a similar study of books for adults), the fact that almost three quarters of the authors we reviewed are white gives us pause.

So, once again we vow to keep our eyes searching the shelves for a diversity of reads and our minds aware of the challenges facing authors of color. And, we finish February – Black History Month in the USA – by highlighting some great, never before reviewed by us, books by African or African American authors.

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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.)

The Hate U Give Cover ImageThe 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 or young adults to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done us all 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, told by a gifted author, with complex characters who will haunt you.  Please read this one!

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration Cover ImageThe Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (2010) – Ms. Wilkerson puts human faces on one of the most important social movements in American history – the Great Migration. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, this book will fascinate and teach you. Ms. Wilkerson captures the treacherous and exhausting trips by car and train of more than six million African Americans from the South to the North. She portrays how their new homes grew into ghettos, as well as how these migrants changed their new cities with their southern culture, highlighting their food and faith.

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Well, it has been quite the week or two regarding immigration, immigration reform, and real life consequences of immigration policies and executive orders. It has ushered in a time where many Americans don’t recognize their country — the one of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”(from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus). But, it is also a time in which many other Americans, afraid of terrorism and terrorists, are acting and reacting from a place where immigration restrictions feel protective and correct. Since none of us have all the answers, nor all the righteousness, nor all the facts, we thought we would turn to the voices of immigrants – to those who have lived and are living lives directly affected by what to many of us are only policies. To find these voices, we turned to books. We hope the list we collected helps you put faces on the headlines and perhaps inspires action; but most importantly, we wish these books will create empathy and compassion towards all of us living in this great world of ours.
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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

Brooklyn Cover ImageBrooklyn by Colm Toibin (2009) – Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a girl, Eilis, who leaves Ireland post World War II to travel to New York for better prospects. She arrives alone, leaving behind her beloved sister, Rose, her mother and brothers. Brave, smart Eilis carves out a life for herself and even finds a beau in sweet Tony before tragedy calls her unexpectedly back to Ireland. Brooklyn is a complicated love story, one that also paints one of the most poignant pictures of homesickness and a rough transatlantic journey that we have ever read. It is definitely a book that will stay with the reader and generate plenty of discussion for lucky book groups that have yet to select it. Also, this is one of the rare instances where the movie is as good as the book (see Book Jam review February 29, 2016). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Into the Beautiful North Cover ImageInto the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (2009) – Inspired by “The Magnificent Seven“, 19-year-old Nayeli goes north from her small town in Mexico to recruit seven men to save her village from ruin at the hands of drug dealers, and to find her father who disappeared north years before. Beautifully written and funny — think of this novel as the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA. ~ Lisa Cadow and 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

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

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 and Lisa Christie

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover ImageThe Sympathizer  by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The Pulitzer landed on an important book in 2016. The narrator, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, was rescued by the Americans during the fall of Saigon due to his work with the US military and diplomatic corps. His life further unravels from this relocation to LA. His tale provides a superb entry into conversations about the Vietnam War, as well as the lives of all the Vietnamese immigrants to the USA who followed the soldiers and sailors across the Pacific to life in America. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Home of the Brave Cover ImageHome of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (2007) – My 11-year-old read this for school earlier this year, and I am so glad he did. I borrowed it and devoured it in one sitting. A great book about the complicated lives of immigrants to the USA. It weaves the tale of a boy, from an unnamed country in Africa, adjusting to cold days and nights in Minnesota and wondering what happened to his mother, the only other person from his family to have survived the genocide there. ~ Lisa Christie

Before We Were Free Cover ImageBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – We finish with a Vermont author who has penned so many great tales (e.g., How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of Butterflies), and highlight Before We Were Free her award winning novel for older children. In this tale, by the 12th birthday of the main character Anita, most of her Dominican relatives have emigrated to the United States, a few have disappeared without a trace, and the police continually terrorize her family remaining in the DR all of whom are suspected of opposing el Trujillo’s dictatorship. A heartrending tale of growing up based upon the author’s extended family’s own experiences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

OK, two more….

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. . . . ”

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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Be a Woman Cover ImageHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (2011) – We end this list with humor because laughter and empathy help all conversations. Every sentence in this raucous, side-splitting book offers exquisite insight into subjects such as women’s shoes, Germaine Greer, strident feminism, motherhood, handbags, hair styles, pornography, surviving puberty, and making it through dating with your self-worth intact — in sum, how to be a woman. Moran has much to offer women as they reflect on their own journeys, and those of their daughters. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (excerpted from review from Book Jam Holiday Gift Guide 2012).
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So, the relatives have left. And yes, you had a great time with them over the holidays; but, you are probably a bit grateful for some peace and quiet, and would love to fill it with a good book or two. Luckily, we have a few to recommend that hopefully hit whatever mood you are in. Thus, our first post of 2017 features a few good books – a novel/thriller, an actual thriller, another thriller, a collection of essays, a reference to the original 1963 inspiration for those essays, a memoir, a quote book inspired by a beloved children’s book, and a link to that children’s book – to peruse in the quiet that the relatives left.

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Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil Cover ImageTell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta (2016) – Apparently we have been missing some great YA novels if Ms. Marchetta’s first adult novel (we’d actually call it a mystery/thriller) is any indication of her ability to tell a tale. This book is part crime story, part immigration tale, part indictment of prejudice against Muslims, part family saga, and totally gripping. Whatever you want to call it, it is worth reading – full of empathy for each and every complicated character. If you need a plot summary, the tale revolves around a suspended cop’s quest to find the truth behind a devastating bombing involving his daughter. I particularly loved the fact that half-way through I was certain the book had to end, yet another plot twist produced enough pages for me to keep reading for another hour or two. Pick this up for “a novel of great scope, of past and present, and above all the Marchetta trademark of a fierce and loving heart” as Markus Zusak of The Book Thief fame blurbs on its back cover. ~ Lisa Christie

619p8s6m37l-_sx320_bo1204203200_In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (paperback 2016 ) – And now for a pure mystery! Hot off the presses in paperback this past summer, this thriller is a perfect winter read: mysterious footprints in the snow, harrowing runs through a freezing woods, kitchen doors blowing open for no reason, letting in the chilly November wind. Ware’s first mystery  (we reviewed her second, the excellent  The Woman in Cabin 10  back in November) is sure to pull in readers as voyeurs to a “hen party” gone all wrong. Set in the English countryside, an odd grouping of friends is gathered to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of beautiful Clare – but then a murder happens and things spiral out of control. Told in the popular, current style by an unreliable narrator Nora, who is a crime writer herself, this book keeps readers on their toes as they slowly learn the complicated story of childhood friends who now find themselves thrown together ten years later for a weekend they will never forget. ~Lisa Cadow

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race Cover ImageThe Fire This Time: A great new generation speaks about race by Jesmyn Ward (2016) – This collection of recent essays inspired by James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America – The Fire Next Time, is a powerful way to start the year. Perhaps it will help you figure out how to advocate for equal opportunity for all; it will definitely make you think about what life is like for those with black skin in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Men We Reaped: A Memoir Cover ImageAnd, if you like The Fire This Time, I highly recommend Ms. Ward’s memoir – Men We Reaped  – illustrating what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black, and female in America. Ms. Ward’s starting point is a two year period of time shortly after she graduated college during which five boys who she loved and grew up along the Mississippi Coast with experience violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. And while the material is brutal, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” I am glad she found her voice, and told her story. ~ Lisa Christie

365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Precepts Cover Image365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Precepts by RJ Palacio (2014 in hard cover/2016 in paperback) – A GREAT book to use every day of the year. Mr. Browne of Wonder teaching fame has put together a list of his precepts in this companion book to Wonder – one for every day of the year. Each is uniquely illustrated on a page, and each month is introduced by Mr. Browne’s recollections from teaching in essays and conversations between Mr. Browne and Auggie, Julian, Summer, Jack Will, and others from Wonder, providing a Wonder epilogue of sorts. This would be a great book to keep near the dinner table to help start conversations about life based upon that day’s quote, or Mr. Browne’s essays. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

PS – Happy Birthday Dad – you definitely effectively instilled my love of reading – Lisa Christie

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While it is hard to top the list the Pages in the Pub presenters gave us in November or the one that BOOK BUZZ students gave us earlier this month, for those of you still needing gift suggestions, we have a few books for you to try. We truly hope our list helps you succeed with your last minute present shopping. Happy Holidays!

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Adults

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

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

Must Read Memoirs, with Belly Laughs

You'll Grow Out of It Cover Image

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

For Those Book Lovers Who Have Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Food Lovers 

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

For Travellers and Others Who like Books about Cool Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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Kids and Kids at Heart

For All Fans of Harry Potter

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

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

For Those Who Like Memoirs and Biographies

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

The Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with all the recent talk about walls along the US border and hatred towards illegal immigrants.  Ms. Grande has adapted her memoir for young adults and in it she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving.  But it is important to be informed, and this book will put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

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

Just for Fun

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

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

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

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

Great for Reluctant Readers

Booked Cover ImageWho Was Harriet Tubman? Cover Image

Booked by Kwame Alexander (2016) – Another hit by Mr. Alexander. This time a soccer player experiences family hardships (divorce) and teen angst (soccer tryouts).  The poetry format is winning. And my 13-year-old fan of The Crossover finished this in 18 hours (with school interfering.) We also highly recommend The Crossover .~ Lisa Christie

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

Books Based in Historical Facts and/or People

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chalk Cover ImageGo, Dog. Go! Cover Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And now, the presenters’ list.

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

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

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

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

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

BEST FAMILY READ-ALOUDS

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

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

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

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

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

FUN NON-FICTION BOOKS FOR KIDS WHO PREFER TRUE STORIES

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

The War That Saved My Life Cover ImageA Night Divided Cover Image

FICTION BOOKS THAT DO A GREAT JOB OF TEACHING HISTORY

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

Treasure Hunters Cover ImageThe Seventh Most Important Thing Cover Image

GREAT BOOKS TO GIVE YOUR FRIENDS FOR THEIR BIRTHDAYS\

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made Cover Image

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

Chalk Cover ImageGo, Dog. Go! Cover Image

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

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

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

SPORTS BOOKS THAT ARE ABOUT SO MUCH MORE

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

SERIES YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PUT DOWN, OR WHAT TO READ WHEN YOU RUN OUT OF WIMPY KID BOOKS

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