Archive for the ‘Two Peas in a Pod: Similar Themes’ Category


Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Cover ImageFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”.  This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace.  We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant novel. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.

The Bluest Eye Cover ImageThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”.  We say bring on the controversy and learn.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”.  To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover ImageNickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”.  We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…

Of Mice and Men Cover ImageOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 1) Cover ImageHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry  by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.

Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So, thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.

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


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


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

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

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

FC9781595146748.JPGLike No Other by Una LaMarche (2014) – This book contains the inspiring love story of the most unique characters ever invented. It’s no Romeo and Juliet, or even The Longest Ride. This novel should have it’s own genre; a category all to its own, called, “Love Stories Like no Other”. This category would include this book, and only this book. It is about a clashing of two worlds, but without the cheesy “one glance and your world is changed” scenes that accompany most love stories. Here, there’s a broken elevator and an awkward, yet beautiful moment between a boy and a girl. That moment propels the fast-food-restaurant-working boy from the streets and the yes-ma’am-no-ma’am, strictly Jewish girl to enter each other’s lives and create a story that is truly like no other. ~ Carly Miles

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This “3 Questions” features Sara Rath, author of 15 books, including the new historical novel, Seven Years of Grace: The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague, published by the Vermont Historical Society. This book dramatizes the life of Vermonter Achsa W. Sprague, who in the decade preceding the Civil War, lectured to audiences of of thousands on Spiritualism, the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and prison reform. Using Sprague’s papers at the Vermont Historical Society, the story includes trances, angels, and the love Achsa felt for a married man.

Ms. Rath has been named a MacDowell Fellow, received a Fellowship to the Ucross Foundation, and was awarded a Wisconsin Arts Board Individual Artist’s Fellowship. She will visit the Norwich, Vermont at 7 pm on Thursday, June 16th to discuss Seven Years of Grace: The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague 

Seven Years of Grace: The Inspired Mission of Achsa W. Sprague Cover Image

This event with Ms. Rath is free and open to the public, and will be held at the Norwich Historical Society at 277 Main Street (just one block from the Norwich Bookstore). Reservations are recommended as space is limited: please call the Norwich Bookstore 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com. The Norwich Bookstore will attend and provide Ms. Rath’s book for purchase.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life Cover ImageA Dark-Adapted Eye Cover ImageFar from the Madding Crowd Cover Image

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

This is a difficult question for many reasons.  “The author I am today” writes in a variety of genres: poetry, nonfiction, fiction. My undergraduate degree is in English, and I have an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, in Montpelier, so I have read widely and have been influenced by a wide variety of poets and authors. To narrow this down, my copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird has pages falling out because I refer to it so often.  I also love mysteries by the English author Ruth Rendell, who wrote as Barbara Vine, and A Dark Adapted Eye is the first work of hers that captivated me.  As an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, I was especially fond of my classes in The English Novel, so I’d have to add Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, the usual.  I’m a great Anglophile.


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

I confess to a guilty pleasure: the cozy mysteries in the Agatha Raisin series written by  M. C. Beaton, a/k/a Marion Chesney.  She is a prolific author, 80 years old, who also writes historical romances — but Agatha Raisin is a cheeky middle-aged busybody who lives in the Cotswalds and solves murders.  Perhaps if we had coffee, Marion would invite me to her thatched cottage in the Cotswalds for a visit!

Nurse, Come You Here!: More True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle Cover ImageCarry the One Cover ImageBrooklyn Cover ImageThe Blood of an Englishman: An Agatha Raisin Mystery Cover ImageDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Cover ImageThe Sea Cover ImageWays to Spend the Night Cover ImageEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune Cover Image

(3) What books are currently on your bedside table?

Magazines:  The New Yorker, Real Simple, Eating Well

Nurse, Come You Here!  More Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle
, by Mary J. MacLeod.
Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw
Brooklyn, by Colm Tolbin
The Blood of an Englishman, by M. C. Beaton
Dead Wake, Erik Larson
The Sea, John Banville
Ways to Spend the Night, (short stories), Pamela Painter
Empty Mansions, Bill Dedman and Clark Newell, Jr.

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A reluctant reader recently discovered the novels of Kwame Alexander and we are thrilled! It is not that this reader can’t read, or that he does not understand complicated texts. He can and he does. It is just that he says he would rather stare at the walls of his room than read a book by choice. And thus, much to our dismay, with rare exceptions, he does not read outside of his class assignments. So when he devoured, in a 24 hour period that included sleep, school, and hockey practice, an entire book – Booked by Kwame Alexander – and wanted to talk about it, we noticed. We then realized he had done the same with Mr. Alexander’s first book The Crossover. This post was conceived to help anyone else out there who is searching for superb books that show reluctant readers the joys of great prose.

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


TThe Crossover Cover Imagehe Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2015) – My 13-year-old reluctant reader handed The Crossover to me last fall when I was looking for a good book. He did not know it at the time, but he hit a sweet spot for me as I am drawn to children’s books written in verse; and, Mr. Alexander’s poetry did not disappoint. His lyrical, artistic, pointed, and poignant word choices expertly develop a narrative of “closer than close” twin brothers who are basketball stars, facing the first challenge to their relationship – a girl, and trying to navigate their evolving relationship with their parents. (A mom who is also their assistant principal complicates their lives quite a bit.) This 2015 Newbery Medal Winner and 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner book haunted me days after reading the last page.

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


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Mother’s Day has come and gone, and yet you somehow have yet to find the perfect gift. So you promised you would send something ASAP. We thought we’d help by reviewing two books to help you get the right gift for your mom – even if it is after the fact (and, even if it ends up being a gift for you). Enjoy!

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice Cover ImageEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – Yes, we know that the New York Times panned it. And honestly, we agree with their reviewer that Ms. Austen’s Jane would never consent to be married on a reality show; but, that is a small point in light of the fact that as you read Eligible, you get to spend additional hours with the Bennet Sisters. Viewing Liz as a magazine writer, Jane as a yogi, Kitty and Lydia as self obsessed gym goers, and Mary as a grump with a secret, lets you have a bit of fun with a well-known tale. We also are strong believers that sometimes it is more than OK to read a book just to have some fun — no deepening of knowledge or self-reflection required. We also believe it takes no small amount of courage to take on a classic. So, kudos to Ms. Sittenfeld for bravely adapting Pride and Prejudice. As for the rest of you – start reading. To help sway you, we share some assessments from a few other critics:

  • “A hugely entertaining and surprisingly unpredictable book, bursting with wit and charm.” The Irish Times
  • “Endlessly amusing . . . Her take on Austen’s iconic characters is skillful, her pacing excellent, and her dialog highly entertaining. . . . Austen fans will adore this new offering, a wonderful addition to the genre.” Library Journal
  • “Sittenfeld adeptly updates and channels Austen’s narrative voice the book is full of smart observations on gender and money. . . . A clever retelling of an old-fashioned favorite.” Publishers Weekly

FC9781607747307The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2014) – Whether you (or your mother) are seeking inspiration to clean out your sock drawer or to declutter your whole darn house, pick up a copy of this book and start reading. Kondo will talk you calmly an confidently through her personal philosophy of tidiness, one she’s been developing since she was a girl growing up in Japan. Kondo admits to a lifelong fascination with organization, one which drove her to rush home from grade school so that  the she could straighten up her messy little brother’s room. Her childhood curiosity then turned into a small consulting business (which has a three month waiting list and no repeat clients because they are always successful)  and then into a book which took the world by storm upon its publication two years ago . She encourages people to keep only the objects that “spark joy” in  their lives and to discard the other objects. Warning: once you start reading and cleaning, you won’t be able to stop with just the sock drawer!







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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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imgresAfter our last post, a few subscribers wrote us looking for “happy” stories. They were clear these should not be poorly written tales or romance novels or self-help, but just great books that as you close their last pages you feel good about the world.

Since these requests came from parents (each mentioned they read with their kids), we picked “happy books” as our theme for our annual Mother’s Day gift guide.  Don’t worry, if you are not a Mom or someone in need of a Mother’s Day gift for the moms in your life, these are all very good books we frequently recommend to many readers with great results. So, please pick one (or two) for yourself and/or your mom, and enjoy a well-told tale that will leave you feeling happy.


Books That Just Leave You Feeling Good When You Close Their Pages

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda (2007) . Truly an original, uplifting (though it may not seem so at first!) book set in modern-day France and translated beautifully. It is a story of friendship and connection despite the busy life that swirls all around us. And, most importantly for this post, it leaves you feeling good about life. Basically, who would not want to spend time in a Parisian flat with memorable characters? We promise you will enjoy every moment you spend with this novel. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (they grew up with a Shakespeare professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to quote the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue, but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, but most of all it is the sisters’ love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life in 1960s Britian through the eyes of a gorgeous girl who just wants to be funny.  Mr. Hornsby delivers in this tale of a group of people (two male writers, a male producer and a funny girl) who meet and create an iconic BBC sitcom, and then must deal with all the fame that it brings. Fans of “I Love Lucy” or BBC sitcoms will be charmed, as will fans for Mr. Hornby’s humor and wit.

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is best known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straight forward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. We think you will just have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2015) – As people who love bookstores and booksellers, it is hard not to like this charming novel about a bookseller and his store, the love found when a baby is left among his shelves, and the love life of one of his publishing reps. We recommend this to anyone in need of a story that leaves you smiling, or for anyone needing a book to give someone who loves a sentimental tale (e.g., your Mom). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

A Little Less “Happy”, but Truly Great Books 

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2008) – Many characters intersect in this tale of New York and love and life and redemption. Beginning in August 1974 as a man walks a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers, this ambitious and well done novel follows the stories of many New Yorkers, including, but not limited to, an artist, an Irish monk, a group of mothers mourning their military sons, and a prostitute. This won the National Book Award, please read it to discover why for yourself. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it led to their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Unusual and Interesting Books – Fiction and Non-fiction

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – this book makes you laugh out loud. ~ Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – This saga, written in gorgeous/lyrical prose, with a bit of magical realism, shows a history of Mexico that until this book was unknown to me. Reach for it when you are looking for a reason to sit down with an engrossing book for a few days. ~ Lisa Christie


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