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Archive for the ‘Must Read Memoirs’ Category

Books for summer camping: Adult fiction and nonfiction

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Some people might say that we’ve now entered the “dog days of August” but here at the Book Jam we like to call this time of year the “dog-eared book days of August”. It is the season when we finally get to the books in our pile that have been beckoning, lazing with them by the lake for long periods of time, folding over pages to remind us where to return  (hence the dog ears) only when it is time for a short break from the prose.

August is when we look forward to pulling out or back packs and beach bags and filling them full of books (and maybe a clean change of clothes, too) and heading with them to the shore of some quiet sunny river to get lost in the stories and ideas that lie between the pages.

Below are 28 ideas for what you might want to put in your backpack and head to the hills with to lose yourself in after a day of hiking. Remember, the faster you set up your tent, the faster you can open up those dog-eared and well loved books.

Happy reading!

 

Books Inspired by Ancient Greeks or Shakespeare and even Henry James (Because this seems to be a trend in our reading, and continues as MacBeth by Jo Nesbo is on our bedside table for August.)

FC9780316556347.jpgCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – This saga covers the origin, life and final decisions of Circe, the original Greek witch.  Sprinkled throughout with men, women and gods from Greek Mythology, I found myself spell bound by what would happen next – even though I technically knew. And because Circe manages to succeed alone, banished to an island, she draws the wrath of gods, slightly reminiscent of some women today. In the end this is a gripping tale centered around a dysfunctional family of rivals, love and loss, punishment, and a tribute to a strong woman living in a predominantly man’s world. (Also on the April 2018 Indie Next List.) 

FC9780525431947.jpgNutshell: A Novel by Ian McEwan (2016) — Ok the tale of Hamlet reworked for Modern Day London and told form the perspective of an unborn child?  Yes, sounds too precious, but Mr. McEwan pulls it off. It truly is more brilliant than this quick summary shows it should be.  Perhaps because the narrator allows Mr. McEwan to ponder modern problems and pleasures without seeming to lecture.  Perhaps it is because of Mr. McEwan’s lovely prose.  Whatever the reason, I highly recommend this one, while admitting a bias for Mr. McEwan’s work. (A New York Times and Washington Post notable book and previously reviewed by us a few times.)

FC9780449006979.jpgGertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it.  And if you don’t believe us, try the New York Times Book review “Updike has used Shakespeare to write a free-standing, pleasurable, and wonderfully dexterous novel about three figures in complex interplay.”  

FC9780451493422.jpgMrs. Osmond by John Banville (2017) – I am a huge fan of Mr. Banvile’s The Sea, which I often describe as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  I also enjoy his mysteries under his pen name Benjamin Black. I also loved reading The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James in my early 20s just after completing my own stint in Europe. Granted I was backpacking and sleeping in tents while Isabel Archer was being wined and dined for her fortune, but I still related somehow. Thus, I picked up Mr. Galbraith’s treatise of what happens to Isabel once The Portrait of A Lady ends, with high expectations for a great story. These were met. Somehow Mr. Banville manages to capture and use Mr. James’s prose style, wry humor, and social commentary while making this sequel his own.Mrs. Osmond explores what happens when the people we love aren’t who they seemed to be, how sudden wealth changes everything, what living abroad as an American can mean, and family. As The Guardian summed, “Banville is one of the best novelists in English. . . . Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche.”

FC9781770413993.jpgRose and Poe by Jack Todd (2017) – I am always going to read anyone who attempts to retell The Tempest, and Mr. Todd did not disappoint. In this tale, Mr. Todd re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the point of view of Caliban (Poe) and his mother (Rose). Rose and Poe live in the woods quietly along side Prosper Thorne, a banished big city lawyer and his gorgeous daughter Miranda. When Poe appears carrying Miranda’s bruised and bloody body, he is arrested, despite lack of evidence he committed the crime; and Rose and Poe find themselves facing bitter hatred and threats from neighbors who once were friends. A timeless tale of how we stigmatize what frightens us, and the consequences of our prejudices.  

FC9781501140228.jpgHouse of Names by Colm Toibin (2017) – In this measured retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and her children, Mr. Toibin creates a sympathetic character as he reveals the tragic saga that led to her bloody actions (killing her husband). Told in four parts, Mr. Toibin portrays a murderess, her son Orestes, and the vengeful Electra, all the while playing with who deserves sympathy in the end. (Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR.)

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Historical fiction

FC9780812985405.jpgLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) – A fascinating look at Lincoln after his beloved son Willie dies and the USA is burning down all around him due to the Civil War.  Told in a completely uniquely gorgeous style and premise – actual historical documents describing this time and the souls of the dead interred with Willie give voice and color to the narrative. Challenging to read; fascinating to think about. (Winner of the Man Booker Prize, and an IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780062563705.jpgHalf-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (2017) Ragnvald and Svanhild, the brother and sister duo at the heart of this novel, lead the way through an adventurous re-telling of Norway’s medieval history. For those of you looking for a saga that highlights how personalities and desires influence everything, and that uses actual historical characters and battles, Ms. Hartsuyker’s work may be the perfect summer read for you. (August 2017 IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780385542364-1.jpgThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) – I am late to the party over this National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But, this tale of Cora and her life as a slave will capture your imagination and give you many reason to pause and think about race relations today. Please pick it up if you have not already. (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.) 

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General Fiction

FC9780316316132-1.jpgLess by Andrew Sean Green (2017) – This look at mid-life and lost loves is loaded with superb prose and insight.  Mr. Less makes a lovely main character to rout for, his life reflections are populated by interesting characters, and his travels abroad reminiscent of something Twain once wrote. I must admit it was not as funny for me as had been hyped, but I still liked it. Enjoy! (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Notable Book, Top Ten pick for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.) 

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. (September 2017 IndieNext book.)  

FC9781944700553.jpgMem by Bethany C Morrow (2018) – What happens when you can choose to eliminate horrific memories? Where do they go? What happens to your life afterwards?  Ms. Morrow gives her answers to these questions in this slim look at life in 1920s Montreal. And, since Brenna Bellavance the newest bookseller at the Norwich Bookstore brought this to my attention, I will use her review and say ditto to the haunting aspect. “Elsie is not a real person. From the moment she came to exist, she has been told this repeatedly. She is merely the physical embodiment of an unwanted memory extracted from another woman, a real woman, whose face she sees every time she looks in a mirror. Except that she remembers a life she didn’t live, loves people she never met, thinks her own thoughts, and feels her own feelings. So what makes a real person….real? Exquisite and haunting, Mem has stayed with me.” (June 2018 IndieNext Book.)  

FC9780679734772.jpgThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – I LOVED this once again as I read it to discuss with my 9th grader who was forced to read it for his English teacher. Bonus — he, a very reluctant reader, loved it too :)! (Thanks you Ms. Eberhardt.) The trials and tribulations of the narrator as she navigates her life in NYC are deliciously unraveled by Ms. Cisneros sparse prose. Or as the New York Times reviewed ““Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage . . . and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”  

FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand, and currently, all over the globe, the weather is setting records for heat and discomfort. Apparently in 1976, London suffered more heat than most. So, we added a book we reviewed in 2013 to today’s post in honor of heat waves everywhere. That 1976 British heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London.  The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother.  And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer.  Enjoy!  

FC9780812996067.jpgAlternate Side by Anna Quindlen (2018) – I start this review with the confession that I miss Ms. Quindlen’s New York Times and Newsweek columns. Her insight, humor, precise prose, and hope amidst the chaos and difficulties she wrote of were a staple of my life for many years. These characteristics are evident in this summer beach read of a novel.  Nora has a great job, twins in college, a kind husband, and the perfect house on the best block in New York City – a dead end filled with people who get along. Then an incident occurs and unravels pretty much everything. Alternate Side offers a lovingly portrayed look at life in middle age with kids in college, jobs not quite what you dreamed of when you were 20, and of New York City itself.  A great beach read for anyone – especially anyone who truly loves NYC. As the New York Times stated, “Exquisitely rendered . . . [Quindlen] is one of our most astute chroniclers of modern life. . . . [Alternate Side] has an almost documentary feel, a verisimilitude that’s awfully hard to achieve.”

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 – a little known 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 even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly 

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – I LOVED this novel.  It is concise, gorgeously written, and covers important topics – love, immigration, war.  Perfect. (Winner 2018 Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, Ten Best Book of 2017 for the New York Times.)  

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Mysteries and thrillers and other beach reads

FC9780804114905.jpgLast Bus to Woodstock by Collin Dexter (1975) – I have been a fan of the BBC’s Inspector Lewis, Morse, and Endeavor series for years.  This is the first time I read those series’ primary source materials.  I am so glad I finally did. This was well-plotted intelligently written and fun to read.  I especially enjoyed vicariously visiting Oxford sites I have been privileged to stroll. Pick this series up (this title is first in the series), read, and perhaps then plan a trip to the UK – or watch the series. Thank you Danielle Cohen, an amazing audio-book narrator and actor, for reminding me that the books behind the BBC are great as well. Publishers Weekly agrees, “A masterful crime writer whom few others match.”

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides having my new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective Cormac Reilly has a unexplained complicated past, the requisite desire for justice, and great assistance from another well-wrought detective Carrie O’Halloran and a new newbie to the Garda – Peter Fisher. The setting in Galway is part of the action and allows you to vicariously travel to some very wet time in the Irish countryside. (Also a July 2018 IndieNext pick.)   

FC9780061655517.jpgNemesis (and other titles) by Jo Nesbo (2002) – Somehow I missed this instalment in the Harry Hole series.  Another page-turner for mystery fans. As the nomination for the Edgar Nominee for Best Novel of the Year states — “The second Harry Hole novel to be released in America–following the critically acclaimed publication of The RedbirdNemesis is a superb and surprising nail-biter that places Jo Nesbo in the company of Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and other top masters of crime fiction. Nesbo has already received the Glass Key Award and the Booksellers’ Prize, Norway’s most prestigious literary awards. Nemesis is proof that there are certainly more honors in this extraordinary writer’s future”.  

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (2017) – I so want to believe there is someone like August Snow – a half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, he makes mistakes, and wow his body count is way too high for my tastes by the end, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit, enjoy this one! (Also a Winner of the Hammett Prize, and annual award for best mystery by the International Association of Crime Writers.)  

FC9781508238607.jpgPoison by John Lescroart (2018) – I love Mr. Lescroart’s Dimas Hardy Series for the chance to relive life in San Francisco and the great cast of characters Mr. Hardy uses to always ensure justice is served.  This latest instalment continues this love affair. These are my reliable guilty pleasure.  

 

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Nonfiction

FC9780316392389.jpgCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor.  I will frame his paragraph in “Leviathan” beginning “It’s ridiculous how often you have to say hello on Emerald Island” for its treatise on the fact Southerners insist on saying hello. I will then present it to my children as a constant explanation for why I say hello to complete strangers; they may never understand this trait, but they will forever have documentation of its source – my childhood in Tennessee. Pick this up and enjoy! (We suppose we should have put this in the inspired by Ancient Greeks category.) 

FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times. (Previously reviewed in mother’s day picks.)

FC9780143125471-1.jpgThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – Not sure why I never got around to reading this, but I am so glad I finally did. What a terrific tale of triumphing – ultimately over Hitler, but also over horrendous parents, poverty and low expectations.  

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. (Named on the best books of the year by NPR, New York Times, Esquire, Booklist.) 

FC9780062684929.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.” (The author was the recipient of the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.)   

FC9781608197651.jpgMen We Reaped by Jessmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows 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.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we hope to see it on a big screen near you soon. (On the October 2013 IndieNext list.) 

And, One final note — this post is our last for a while as it is is time for our annual “Gone Readin’ hiatus”. We look forward to bringing you great reviews of superb books at some point in late September.

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Books for Summer Camping: Kids and YA

It is that time of year: time for kids, young adults, and the adults who love them to read, read, read during these long summer days. Maybe it is because they have to for those back to school English assignments that loom in August and September.  Maybe it is because we all need some down time between summer activities. Or maybe it’s because vacation plans include long stretches of travel time that can not all be filled with electronic devices. Whatever the reason, we have compiled a list of books for Young Adults, kids who are reading chapter books, kids who are emerging readers, kids who are reluctant readers, kids who are not yet reading….  We hope somewhere in this list is the perfect book for the kids you love. (And honestly, we recommend all of them to adults as well.)

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YA: Young Adult fiction

FC9780062662804.jpgThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018) – Probably the best YA book I have read this year.  Reminiscent of Kwame Alexander’s style of telling stories in poetry, Ms. Acevedo uses poems to tease out the subtleties of her main character’s life in Brooklyn. In doing so has created a character – the fierce, gifted with words Xiomara Batista – who we care about, and whom we empathise with even if we are not a young black woman, even if we don’t live in Brooklyn, and even if our high school days are long behind us. The themes Ms. Acevedo intwines throughout this novel told in poems include, but are not limited to Latina culture, Catholicism, coming (or not) out, budding sexuality, high school teachers and curriculum, first romance, generation gaps, immigration, first gen issues, city life, poverty, music, and the power of words. Read this and rediscover the power of poetry, of youth, and of love – both first romance kind and the often much more complicated familial type. I find it hard to believe this was a first published novel for Ms. Acevedo; and, I thank children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for bringing it to my attention. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422651.jpgAllegedly by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – As a child, Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Or did she? The public thinks so and the many books and TV specials based upon her life definitely think so. However, maybe all is not as it seems. The answers didn’t matter until a teenaged Mary B. Addison is moved to a group home, gets pregnant, and wants to keep her baby. Ms. Jackson keeps you guessing as to Mary’s guilt or innocence throughout, but possibly most importantly, she shines a spotlight on the lives of young women and girls caught up in our legal system and prisons. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422675.jpgMonday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – This novel takes on the heartbreaking reality of missing children of color, and does so with compassion and urgency. Monday Charles is missing and only her friend Claudia is concerned enough to do anything about it. Even well-meaning and caring teachers take too much time to hear Claudia’s concerns, and kind neighbors ignore signs something is amiss.  But, Claudia continues to be vocal that Monday is missing – even as she navigates high school placement tests and her shame that her learning disabilities are in the open.  Cleverly paced and plotted, and written with concern and compassion, Ms. Jackson highlights the fates of too many children of color in this country with a book teens and adults alike will be glad they read. Two books into her career, I am now officially a fan of this author and look forward to her next novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062330628.jpgFar From the Tree by Robin Benway (2017) – I loved this National Book Award Winner. The three bio siblings discover each other exists in their teens, when each is confronting a personal crisis in their adoptive and/or foster family. One is dealing with divorce and alcoholism, the other teen pregnancy, the third the foster system. They are all dealing with what it means to be family and how to become an adult.  Perfect really. ~ Lisa Christie

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. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes 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

FC9781101939499.jpgDear Martin by Nic Stone (2017) – A superb YA novel about being profiled by police for being black, and how current events, BLM, and politics affect black youth today.  In this excellent debut novel, a black student – Justyce McAllister, top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year – is handcuffed by a police officer and released without physical harm. The psychological toll of being profiled is explored as this novel delves into his life at his mostly white prep school and in his mostly black neighborhood. To help cope, Justyce researches the writings of MLK and writes him letters asking for guidance about how to live today. While Martin obviously never answers, the letters provide a great premise for thinking about how MLK would have handled life as a black man today. The letters also provide grounding once the novel’s action turns extremely ugly. Read it and discuss. (It could be considered the boy’s perspective on the situations in The Hate U Give reviewed below.) ~ Lisa Christie

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

FC9780545320696.jpgCurveball: The Year I lost my Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick (2016) – How does an amazing pitcher deal with the fact he will never pitch again while simultaneously navigating his freshman year of high school? Mr. Sonnenblick offers a compelling answer in this tale of friendship, first love and change. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781250170972.jpgChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018) – A TERRIFIC start to a new series of magic and danger, palace intrigue and adventure, and love and hatred.  I won’t say more about the plot as I really want you to discover this one for yourself.  Please pick it up and just enjoy!  ~ Lisa Christie

 

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“Adult” Novels for Young Adults

FC9780316154529-1.jpgFC9780316025263.jpgInto the Beautiful North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (assorted years) – I stumbled upon an interview with Mr. Urrea on NPR as I was linking our selections to the Norwich Bookstore’s Web site and was reminded how much I love Mr. Urrea’s tales, so I added this category to this post. (The Hummingbird’s Daughter made my most meaningful reads list.)  Mr. Urrea’s novels are funny, using humor to deflate explorations of horrific things (e.g., dangerous border crossings, poverty), and to explore wonderful things (e.g., love, family, friendships, movies).  Into the Beautiful North was reviewed by me previously as “the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA”. The fact these novels depict lives of Mexicans just adds a bonus during these times of immigration conflicts and politically polarizing actions at our southern border. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780142001745.jpgThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002) – This book has been around for awhile and is a movie with genuine movie stars, but the fact a friend just discovered and read it, reminded us that we all miss good books when they are first published.  So we review it here 16 years after it first hit our bookshelves. This novel is a coming of age story for Lily, a girl in South Carolina in 1960s, whose mother’s death subtly haunts her and whose African-American nanny raises her. When her nanny insults town racists, Lily decides it is time for the two of them to run away.  The tale lovingly unfolds from there. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Poetry

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Funny poems for kids and adults who love them. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

One Last Word by Nikki Grimes (2018) – Ms. Grimes takes a few of the many poems penned during the Harlem Renaissance, prints them, and uses them to create her own poems of response for each one. The poems depict the lives of kids today, and offer a bit of inspiration, understanding, and often humor. Terrific illustrations and art are sprinkled throughout, and short bios, with resources, are offered for each featured poet and artist. ~ Lisa Christie

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (2018) – This “advice book” is different and simple and profound and lovely.  Most importantly to me it shows Mr. Reynolds’ large heart and powerful prose.  A great gift for kids who may be worried about the upcoming school year. ~ Lisa Christieimages-2.jpg

Nonfiction

FC9780062748539.jpgNotorius RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2018) – This was the perfect counterpoint for me to absorb last winter/spring after another school shooting. Why you may ask? Well, it reminded me that there are fabulous people out there in high places looking out for people who don’t have voices. It also provided a superb look at the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would also be an excellent primer to read before seeing RBG in theaters. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781481463713.jpgThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with the recent talk separations of families along the US border and burgeoning hatred towards illegal immigrants. Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for 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 put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781603093002.jpgMarch: Books One, Two and Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (assorted years) –  John Lewis, the Congressman and man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has, with two collaborators, written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. This series begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville, and into his life as a Congressman. The pictures explore how his life must have felt during each moment in time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  The 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March series proves as inspiring to future leaders.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780448467108.jpgWho is? What Was? Series by assorted authors (assorted years) – We really can not recommend these books highly enough for emerging readers and beyond. The topics are varied, the illustrations humorous, and the information fascinating (e.g., did you know that King Henry VIII was so large he fell out of his coffin?). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of a group of Crow Indians living in Montana, and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream.

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Kids

FC9781484746431.jpgBurning Maze: The Trials of Apollo Book Three (and other seriesby Rick Riordan (2018) – Once again Mr. Riordan delivers a wry adventurous tale of Greek and Roman Gods and their offspring. In this outing, the former god Apollo, cast down to earth by Zeus, is an awkward mortal teen named Lester Papadopoulos. Te become a god again, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark and do so without the help of his godly powers and while bound in servitude to a cranky demigod named Meg. Things get more complicated from there. ~ Lisa Cadow (seconding the recommendations Mr. Riordan’s previous series as she has not yet read this one) and Lisa Christie

FC9780525429203.jpgFC9780803740815-1.jpgThe War I Finally Won (2018) and The War that Saved My Life (2015) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley — The War I Finally Won, the follow-up to Ms. Bradley’s first book about Ada and her family, shows Ada just as feisty as she was in her debut. It also brings home the realities of war for everyone in the British countryside. This time heroes who are close friends die while defending Britian and her allies, rationing is tough, code breakers are introduced, prejudices against Germans spill over to refugee children, and personal lives continue to influence outcomes – even as the war intensifies. As I wrote before about The War that Saved My Life, when Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite authors) blurbs a book with the words “I read this in two big gulps” I pay attention. The initial tale about two of the many children who were sent from London to the countryside for safety (think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – which we also recommend) is also full of adventure, hardship, and ultimately love. In both novels, I especially loved Ada and here feisty fight for her place in the world. Please read them both! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062499660.jpgSecret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (2018) – Since Liza Bernard of the Norwich Bookstore put this book in our hands we will let her review speak for its selection in this list. “Sisters Alix and Jools, along with their parents, spend a summer week at the beach. We have the pleasure of experiencing the sea for the first time through their eyes – and ears and hopes and fears! A refreshingly wonderful interlude in the otherwise tumultuous array of chapter books written for this age group. No parent dies, no one is abused, there are no floods: just caring and sharing, learning and growing with wonder about the world around them.” We now add, it is a perfect pick for anyone wanting to remember that there is magic in the ordinary day, and how great vacations can be. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780763681173.jpgRaymie 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

FC9780451470348.jpgSoar by Joan Bauer (2016) – Many years ago, we fell in love with Ms. Bauer’s Newbery Honor Medal Winner Hope Was Here. But we haven’t read much of her work since. We corrected this awhile back when one of the Book Jam Lisas could not put Ms. Bauer’s latest novel – Soar – down, finishing it in one long swoop. Ms. Bauer’s main character and narrator of this tale – Jeremiah, is a heart transplant recipient and the world’s biggest baseball fan. He may not be able to play (yet) due to his transplant, but he sure can coach. And, he is just what his middle school needs after a huge high school sports scandal breaks his new hometown. Infused with humor, baseball trivia, and a lovely adoption sub-plot, this book is all about grit, hard work, and determination. It also does an amazing job of reminding readers that kids can be truly amazing people. We love all the books listed for this post, and we admit that some of Soar could be construed as corny, but we recommend it as an excellent (and possibly necessary) break from today’s politics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I read last 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. ~ Lisa Christie

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Older titles that are still great, because there are always kids who just turned 8 or 10 or …

FC9781416949329.jpgFC9780689818769.jpgFrindle or Trouble-Maker or other titles by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former school principal and his love of kids – especially the ones who end up in the principal’s office – comes through in each of his books. He treats kids with humor and compassion and presents many real world dilemmas in each of his books for young readers. Pick one up and enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689817212.jpgFC9780689711817.jpgAnything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg (assorted years) – Ms. Konigsburg was truly a superb gift to young readers everywhere. Her books are fun, well-written, humorous, and help kids work through the issues they face every day.  Our favorites – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. But please discover your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgFC9781534420113.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill, he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers and Classics for Kids).  And, The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993) – When Emily’s and Jess’s family inherits a Scottish castle, they travel to explore. Unbeknownst to them they also inherit a Boggart — an invisible, mischievous spirit who’s been playing tricks on residents of their castle for generations. When they accidentally trap the boggart in their belongings and take him back to Toronto, nothing will ever be the same. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780803740013.jpgUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (March 2014) – We agree with Publishers Weekly assessment – “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” In this novel, Theodora Tenpenny of Manhattan tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It includes her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea.  It also shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends. And, along the way it introduces young readers to the world of art and the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780375872921.jpgWill In Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013) – An EXCELLENT and FUN tale of Robin Hood and his merry men before they became famous.  In this version of this timeless tale, you meet them as a gang of outlaws and watch them find their mission in life.  A superb adventure for any middle grades reader and the adults who love them, or who love English legends. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780547237602.jpgFC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt – These two books provide an excellent introduction to this era and some of the topics of the 60s and 70s – Vietnam, the women’s movement, environmentalism. They also tackle school bullies, poverty, joblessness, great teachers and hope. Both provide memorable characters in extremely moving moments. Both were award winners – OK For Now was a National Book Award Finalist and The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book. Previously reviewed in Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.

FC9780544570986.jpgBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic,perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball. (Also reviewed in Sports Books That are About So Much More and Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.)

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Some Series for Kids Just Branching out of Early Readers and Needing Beginning Chapter Books

Calendar Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Four young children – Bradley, Brian, Nate and Lucy (younger relatives of the A to Z Mystery kids) – continually unearth problems that need to be solved as they travel the roads and playgrounds of their home town. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Capital Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Pre-teens KC and Marshall uncover bad guys and save the world from their homes in Washington, DC.  KC’s home just happens to be the White House. ~ Lisa Christie

BallPark Mysteries by David Kelley (assorted years) – Two kids travel the country attending baseball games (one of their moms is a sports reporter) and solving mysteries. Reminiscent of those original “meddling kids” – Scooby’s gang. ~ Lisa Christie

Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – This seems to be the original model for this genre. It now bring over 50 titles with the adventures of young siblings Jack and Annie and their time-traveling adventures in their magic treehouse to young readers everywhere. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Picture Books

Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy (2018) – I am really claustrophobic and yet was still fascinated by this story of the first people to envision and build a device to explore the ocean’s depths.  And yes, Ms. Roy’s illustrations still have me feeling a bit dizzy, but the tale of these two boys who became the men who invented the Bathysphere is worth a bit of discomfort; it will also appeal to the adventurers, inventors, and explorers in all of us (even if only vicariously). We discovered Ms. Roy through her first illustrations in SS Taylor’s Expeditioners series; this provides us a perfect excuse to recommend SS Taylor’s series for kids who need a good chapter book or family read aloud. ~ Lisa Christie

7 ate 9 by Tara Lazar (2017) – Good puns are never done.  Clever Noir picture book playing on a classic preschool joke/pun. ~ Lisa Christie

Duck Mouse Wolf by Mac Barnett (2017) – SUPERB fun tale of interspecies cooperation and making the best of a situation. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers (2018) –  Picture books for young activists and the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Christie

a house that once was by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Awesome illustrations by Mr. Lane provide a great opening into this book about what makes a home and how a kid’s imagination is THE BEST. A winner of a picture book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (2018) – AWESOME tale of imagination and love.  A little girl’s mission is simple – to find party hats; how she gets them so complicated. We also are hoping the fact her adventures include two dads and a lot of penguins is a shout out to And Tango Makes Three, a great picture book based upon an actual penguin at the Central Park Zoo with two dads. ~ Lisa Christie

Alfie by Thyra Heder (2018) – This picture book shows how there are two sides to every story.  In the first we see Nia’s perspective of how her beloved, but rather boring turtle Alfie disappears one day. In the second we see Alfie’s perspective of why. Bonus: All the action revolves around birthday parties, which we know kids love to talk about. ~ Lisa Christie

Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2018) – Ada’s curiosity is unending and leads her to great big messes.  Doe sit also make her a great scientist?  We all can learn from Ada’s fearless explorations, and the rhymes and illustrations are fun. ~ Lisa Christie

We also recommend you visit our previous summer reading picks for YA and kids.

 

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This week’s heat in Vermont makes it a bit too warm to cook; thus, today we highlight books that are “sort of” about cooking. Maybe they will inspire you to cook. Maybe they will inspire you to sit and read, perhaps with a cool tomato salad and some watermelon as nourishment.  We also note that both provide a great break from the news cycle we seem to be caught in of shootings and political divisiveness. So, when your news feed is too hot to handle, and/or when the thought of cooking fries your brain, find a nice icy drink, sit in a comfy chair, and try these two titles.

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FC9780307718297.jpgComing to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook by Alice Waters (2017). It is a sweet and savory pleasure to read this American culinary icon’s memoir. Learning about Alice Water’s mid-western childhood, a pivotal family move to California in her teens, and traveling with her in the late 60’s on a rather footloose and fancy-free trip through Europe sets the stage for the somewhat haphazard opening of Chez Panisse in the 1970’s. She’s a fascinating mash-up: her creative, free-spirited side reminds one a bit of Patti Smith, but her culinary vision is more of a Julia Child (minus the formal training). Her story offers a fascinating window into the vibrant art and political scene in San Francisco “back in the day.” It also serves to remind us that the making of an influential and  important institution, in this case Chez Panisse, does not necessarily start out with a big budget or perfection on opening night — but rather with passion, intuition, and a deep desire to learn. I was struck again and again by how delicious food need not be fancy, but instead sourced with attention to the land and farmers. Several Alice Water’s fans lamented the fact that there isn’t a great deal of new information about her in this book, but for this reader who is somewhat new to her fan club, it opened the door on a good view into to her kitchen, her life, and influences. I appreciate the inspiration it offered, too: as soon as I turned the last page, I pulled out my copy of The Art of Simple Food and with her voice as a guide, whipped up a delectable aioli (with local Vermont eggs, of course) to serve alongside some gently steamed artichokes. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781451674200.jpgComfort Food Diaries: My quest for the perfect dish to mend a broken heart by Emily Nunn (2017) – Part cook book, part memoir, part recipe for regaining one’s equilibrium, this book by former New Yorker editor Emily Nunn, won some diverse recognition: NPR’s Best Books of 2017, Best Books on Food of 2017, The Guardian, Best Food-Focused Memoirs, Eater, Top 10 Narrative Food & Drink Books, Booklist, 20 Best Cookbooks, The Telegraph. And while I saw these reviews and was intrigued, it was not until a former roommate (who went to college with Ms. Nunn) put this in my hands that I managed to read this tale. In it, Ms. Nunn describes how during one life-changing, alcohol-enhanced night, she takes to Facebook for help with managing her brother’s death, a devastating breakup with her fiance, and her subsequent eviction from the home that they shared.  The next morning, she discovers many of her friends want to help and offer their couches, guest rooms, and kitchens to her to use while she puts her life back together. Thus, her “Comfort Food Tour” begins. Luckily for us readers, she chronicled her journey across America searching for what food comforts others in the hopes one of these dishes will unlock something for herself. Ms. Nunn manages to make her descent into the depths of personal angst and depression funny, insightful, and delicious – with recipes sprinkled throughout. As the indie-booksellers state in their review, Ms. Nunn “delivers a moving account of her descent into darkness and her gradual, hard-won return to the living”. I am glad my friend sent this to me. I hope you will be glad this found its way to you as well. ~ Lisa Christie

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A major part of this blog’s mission is to put the right book in the right hands at the right time. This is powerful stuff – and no easy task. This can mean helping a book group to find a thought-provoking read for their next month’s gathering (Best Books for Book Groups). It can also be about helping people at holiday time to select the perfect book to give as a gift (Pages in the Pub). Recently, however, we have begun moving deeper into the community to connect people with the pages that might right for them. “BOOK BUZZ” is a successful initiative we now run regularly in local schools that has kids “talking books” with their peers, while simultaneously raising money for their libraries. Most recently of all, in fall 2017, we launched an effort to help bring book discussions to our town library that focus on medical issues. This is what we call “Novel Medicine.”

So why “Novel Medicine”? Try to think about it this way: “medicine” and “healing” are things that can happen both in and outside of an exam room or a hospital. In creating this series, we wanted to further explore the powerful learning and behavior change that can happen outside of a formal medical space when someone reads a book and talks about it – be it a novel, a memoir, or a collection of poems. This group is intended to put the right book in the right hands at the right time in a slightly different way: it aims to more pointedly explore the intersection between reading and dialogue, and health and wellness.

Discussions have to this point been moderated by Book Jam blogger Lisa Low Cadow, who is by night an avid reader and by day a health coach at Dartmouth Health Connect, a primary care clinic in Hanover, New Hampshire. (And, they have recently been hosted by the Norwich Public Library.) Her interest in this idea grew out of the thousands of hours she has spent in exam rooms with patients as well as in her role as facilitator in a Women’s Health and Wellness Group which over the past five years has read over ten books together. During this time, she has noticed the transformative effect that books, especially novels, can have on self-understanding and healing.

So far on our “Novel Medicine” journey we’ve read two graphic novels and a memoir, all of which are reviewed below. Each of these three works are excellent and inspired rich and robust conversations. For the two graphic novels we chose, we took advantage of a free program being offered by the National Library of Medicine (NILM) called “Graphic Medicine” which lends complete kits to groups or individuals interested in running this kind of discussion. Each kit includes six books, a discussion guide, as well as clinical information about the medical conditions being discussed. (For more information on the International 2018 Graphic Medicine Conference that is being held this August at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, just downstream from us, click on the following link: https://www.graphicmedicine.org/2018-vermont-conference/.)

We’d love to know your thoughts about this initiative and any books that readers might suggest that we might consider next.

FC9780452295544.jpgMy Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor (2009) You may have already seen the powerful  TED talk given by author Jill Bolte Taylor. It is one of the most viewed videos in their collection because her experience of having a stroke at aged 38 was a powerful one  — and the way she communicates about her learning is extremely moving. Taylor’s book has an equally profound effect on readers. Up until she had her stroke, Taylor was a Harvard trained neuroscientist at the peak of her career. She was both teaching about and continuing to study the brain. Then one morning, out of the blue, she experienced a stroke on the left side of her brain which profoundly impacted not only the rest of her life but also her understanding of the human experience, spirituality, and of how healing traumatic brain injuries needs to be approached. A must read for: all who have a brain(!) — but also for those who may have experienced a concussion and want to learn more about how the mind works and how to better heal it.  ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781592407323.jpgMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney (2012).  In this brave, candid, and brilliantly illustrated memoir about her bipolar disease, Forney takes readers on the roller coaster ride of her experience from her early twenties before her formal diagnosis, through the waves of her initial manic episodes (that include uber creativity as well as hyper-sexuality; reader beware), down to the depths of her depression, and through the difficult slog of figuring out how to effectively prescribe (and take) her medications.  This memoir is brutally honest – Forney doesn’t shy away from things that are raw and even potentially embarrassing. It is such an essential read for those trying to better understand what bipolar really means, what it is like to live with it, what the support of love ones can mean when challenged with behavioral health issues, and how management IS possible. Don’t underestimate the power that drawings can have on conveying a storyline and accompanying emotion! This was one of the most powerful books I read in 2017 and one that I have now recommended to numerous patients and friends. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780375423185.jpgEpileptic by David B. (2006) – What is the experience of someone who grows up with a sibling who develops epilepsy at age 11? How does it affect family dynamics? How does it affect siblings who are trying to grow up and become independent during this time? How do friends, family, and the kids on your street treat you? What effect do multiple seizures and strong medications have on a human body? So many questions – and this book offers David B.’s experience and personal answers. This fascinating work was immensely popular in France (as it was originally written and published there in the late 1990’s) and has now been translated into multiple languages. It is intimate and takes the reader into a very personal place and space in the Beauchard family, through their family tree, and then into the adult life of David B. in Paris as a student and then as an aspiring cartoonist. His art is affecting and is heavily influenced by his fascination with mythic creatures and battles, heroes and monsters. One of the most memorable aspects of his work are the three “beasty” best friends, imaginary beings who shadow him through his childhood and help support him through his brother’s illness. Also fascinating is how David B. represents the changing and aging of his brother, sister, and parents. Particularly recommended for those who have acted as caretaker or caregiver during a loved one’s chronic illness.   ~Lisa Cadow

Stay tuned for more on this new Book Jam program; and in the meantime, enjoy these great books.

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Mother’s Day is on the horizon, and after some recent excellent reading, we feel the need to recommend some good books for gift giving. However, we have done this many times in the past, and don’t want to be too repetitive.

So instead, today we review some new books about motherhood that perhaps everyone should read in preparation for honoring – and remembering what it’s like to be – mothers.

All of these titles would make great gifts for the mothers in your life – they feature edgy, introspective, smart, honest, and fun writing. And, if you are still looking for more ideas for gifts, you can find some great titles in all our past reviews, including the ones where we tried to cultivate a specific list for mom’s day gifts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

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FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times.

My new short-term goal – to meet this author. Since we are both Vermonters, achieving it may be as simple as just driving the state asking who knows her; eventually, with this method, I will find her. So be forewarned Ms. Harrington, I may exhibit stalker like tendencies soon. But more likely, I will merely ask the fabulous booksellers at the Norwich Bookstore to let Ms. Harrington know she has a new fan. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780316393843.jpgAnd Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell (2018) – The catchy title of this new memoir immediately begs the question: “But is anyone ever ready for motherhood?” O’Connell initially thinks that she is, though her positive pregnancy test does come as a surprise to her and her fiance. With this book, she bravely charts her physical and emotional journey from single New York career woman-writer to the end of her first year with a toddler. Nothing is off limits: her pregnancy anxieties, a difficult labor, her maternal ambivalence, sex (or lack thereof) after delivery, “to daycare or not to daycare?”, or finding new, true mommy friends. In a nutshell, O’Connell describes the wonder-filled but very rocky road to becoming a family of three in a timeless yet contemporary way. Even as a mother with adult children, I fully related to her emotions – the raw, honest way that she writes made my own experiences feel close and fresh again.  I even found a tear of recognition rolling down my cheek in her final chapter. As soon as I finished, I ran out and purchased a copy for a friend who is newly pregnant. It is the perfect gift for new mothers.

We found our way to this book because it was featured in an excellent New York Times piece about recent books about motherhood. ~ Lisa Cadow

BONUS PICK

FC9780544002234.jpgAre You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel (2012) – One of us read this graphic novel years ago when it first published; one of us is in the midst of it now.  Thus, neither of us can review it in detail today. However, it immediately sprang to mind when we thought about this post. So, for today’s review, we will use the words of Jonathan Safran Froer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated,Are You My Mother is a work of the most humane kind of genius, bravely going right to the heart of things: why we are who we are. It’s also incredibly funny. And visually stunning. And page-turningly addictive. And heartbreaking.” We both found our way to this book because we are huge fans of Ms. Bechdel (note: a fellow Vermonter).

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Once again we highlight books that in some fashion address sexual assault as part National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. We promise each of these books is a great book in its own right; we just unite them here because they each in some way help us think about how to prevent violence in both words and deeds. They also provide an excuse to once again highlight the important work of WISE — our local organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence through survivor-centered advocacy, prevention, education, and mobilization for social change. In this age of #metoo, we still believe in the power of books to provide greater understanding of sexual assault, and its costs for all of us.

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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 wish to understand how sexual assault affects people long after the crime, Ms. Gay will help. 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. (Previously reviewed in We’re Back, with Two Great Books from Our “Gone Reading Break“.)  ~Lisa Christie

FC9781616205041-1.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.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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 who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election.  Why do we include it here?  Because part of this book deals with Candidate Trump’s treatment of women including an unwanted, unexpected, and unprofessional kiss of Ms. Tur by Mr. Trump. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.”  (First reviewed on LAST Minute Holiday Gift Ideas.) ~Lisa Christie

FC9780312674397.jpgSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2001) – What happens when a high school student attends a party and is raped by an upperclassman, someone she has to see every day at school afterwards? Ms. Anderson provided one answer to this question long before the #metoo movement in this page-turning book for young adults.  Years after reading this award-winning young adult novel, we still remember being completely taken by the narrator, Melinda, and her story. This thought-provoking YA novel bursts open many of the hypocritical aspects of high school and illustrates the importance of learning to speak up for oneself (and we would argue to speak up for those who can not speak for themselves), while opening a window into the horrors of rape. Speak was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. (First reviewed in another WISE post years ago.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780307949486.jpgGirl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005) – Perhaps the ultimate revenge novel, this thriller follows a woman and her ways of coping with unspeakable childhood trauma. It is an international bestseller, twice a movie, and spawned the translation into many languages of crime stories by many, many Scandinavian authors. (First reviewed in Summer’s Sneaky Pleasures Scandinavian Thrillers.) ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781449486792-1.jpgthe sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) – Somehow we missed her first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feeling some angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur’s honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope are just what we needed. “To hate is an easy lazy thing but to love takes strength everyone has but not all are willing to practice” seems a perfect thought for today’s news. And, “a lot of times we are angry at other people for not doing what we should have done for ourselves” hit home. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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We hesitate to follow the joy of family celebrations for Passover and Easter, and the first signs of true spring with a post about war and refugees. However, waking this morning and hearing news from the weekend about immigrants in the USA, and noting that Syria has really never left the news for years, we are forging ahead with reviewing books that help us all learn a bit more about refugees and war. As much as we’d love for the world to be at peace, it is not. And, we firmly believe reading great books about important topics is a great way we can all help move the needle towards peace.

So, today we review two books about refugees and war that help us look a little deeper than the NPR stories and newspaper articles on these topics. One book is a fictional account of war in an unnamed country that could be Syria. The other is a first person account by a child of living in a war zone – in her case Syria. Both are important, helpful, and we believe worth your time.

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FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – We LOVE this novel.  It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important topics (e.g., immigration, war). Clever in every way. Two bonus aspects — 1) it is an excellent Book Club choice; and, 2) it is now available in paperback.

Now, a brief plot summary that in no way does this book justice: two young people — fierce Nadia and gentle Saeed — meet as their home country teeters on the brink and then eventually succumbs to civil war. Their struggle to find and create home, spans this terrific novel about refugees, war, randomness, friendship, kindness, family, and love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781501178443.jpgDear World by Bana Alabed (2018) — I don’t tweet so I missed the “real-time” story of this young Syrian. But, I am so glad I found Ms. Alabed’s book about her life. Tragically, her idyllic childhood ended at age three when civil war arrived in Aleppo. As war continued, she endured bombing, destruction, and fear while trapped with her family with little to no access to food, water, or medicine. Eventually, Ms. Alabed and her family escape to Turkey. Throughout, she tweeted about her experience. These tweets and some prose from her mother comprise this moving and important first-hand account about living in war and being a refugee. Is this high literature? Probably not; but, it is a raw first hand account of living in a war zone and being a refugee. And, sometimes it takes a kid to bring the horrors of the headlines to life. Don’t take our word for it though. JK Rowling described this book as “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror, this is the testimony of a child who has endured the unthinkable.” ~ Lisa Christie

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