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

 

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Happy Thanksgiving week.

As the holiday season approaches, perhaps you are beginning to think about what to do when your guests arrive. Perhaps you need non-political topics to discuss. Maybe you need some new inspiration in the kitchen for all the meals you will be sharing. Perhaps you need a cooking activity for a few people to tackle together. Maybe you need things to entertain kids while adults talk. Maybe you need items that spark intergenerational conversations. Maybe you are the one visiting others and need a perfect gift for your hosts. Lucky for any of you with any of these needs, or anyone who just need some great gift giving ideas, we found a few oversized books with fun illustrations, and a few cookbooks with mouth watering recipes that can help. We truly believe all of these books will provide hours of entertainment for anyone perusing their pages. Enjoy!

Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook Cover ImageOttolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi (2018). This new book helps home cooks to live a flavorful kitchen dream! Believe it or not, these are Ottolenghi recipes with ten ingredients or less, most of which can be made in under a 45 minutes. From spending time with Ottolenghi’s  newest brilliant book I’ve learned that: one can lightly grill grapes on skewers (in a stovetop grill pan!) to accompany a silky burrata hors d’oeuvre plate, that zucchini loves to be served with peas (in a soup, on a platter sprinkled with oregano), and that butternut soup can come alive with curry and harrissa, and sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds. Believes me, the list goes on and on and on with enough new exciting dishes to try for throughout next year. Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Green Tahini Dip? Wow. So many of of his 300 pages of recipes are plant-based, verdantly vibrant, and infused with flavorful vegetables that meat actually takes a backseat – though, don’t despair, there are still two juicy chapters full of succulent fish, lamb, and chicken dishes. Please note that “Papardelle with Rose Harissa, Black Olives and Capers” just many eek out our family’s go-to, classic Marcella Hazan Spaghetti Bolognese recipe. ~Lisa Cadow

Apéritif: Cocktail Hour the French Way Cover ImageAperitif: Cocktail Hour the French Way by Rebekah Peppler (2018): If you’ve ever had the pleasure of dining chez les francais, the first thing you will notice is the elegant simplicity of their appetizers. They favor small, salty bites that please the palette and interesting, bubbly drinks which don’t fill up guests before the main course arrives. This book is bursting with observations and ideas that author Rebekah Peppler collected during her time living and dining in France. It features fresh simple recipes low-alcohol  drinks and high-taste appetizers that anyone who entertains should have in their repertoire such as simply fried potato chips, zippy marinated olives, cheese puffs. This book makes for the perfect, sophisticated hostess gift this season – and the next.  ~Lisa Cadow

A World of Cities Cover ImageA World of Cities by James Brown (2018): The pictures in this oversized book remind us of vintage travel posters. Their bold graphics inspire.  The fun facts sprinkled over each page provide many points for interesting discussions. The pages also give fun tidbits for all the fact-obsessed people throughout the world to add to their repertoire. The 30 dazzling cities Mr. Brown highlights should inspire even the most reluctant arm-chair traveller. Truly a gorgeous conversation starter, and a great gift! ~ Lisa Christie

Everything & Everywhere: A Fact-Filled Adventure for Curious Globe-Trotters Cover ImageEverything and Everywhere: A fact filled adventure for curious globe trotters by Marc Martin (2018): This journey around the world is crammed with busy pictures and words that discuss the things and people that make the places depicted unique. The pages almost leap with exuberance into the readers’ imaginations. A superb way to discover, or be reminded how interesting this world can be. ~ Lisa Christie

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate that holiday this week; and, happy holidays to all.

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Image result for images of halloweenWell, we had long ago planned a post for yesterday that dealt with scary books for Halloween (with a small shout out to voting). However, the tragic shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and the pipe bombs sent last week, had us rethinking this as we went to post. It feels as if  entertainment from fake scary things may reduce the actual scary things occurring last week. So, we delayed a bit.

After some reflection, we are plunging ahead with some great recommendations of books for those of you needing some diversions through thrillers, mysteries, and some self-induced scares. We plunge ahead with a few caveats: 1) we know these books in no way reduce these tragedies, 2) our thoughts, best wishes, and some political actions are with Pittsburgh and the staff in all the offices who received scary mail last week, 3) anyone needing more contemplative reading may get some help from one of our previous posts – But the News, which we posted after the tragic events in Charlottesville in August 2017, and 4) an obvious statement this violence needs to end.

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Lethal White (A Cormoran Strike Novel) Cover ImageLethal White by Robert Galbraith (2018) – The newest instalment of Mr. Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike Detective series, has everything you loved from the first three – Mr. Strike’s complex life and personality, the moxy and romantic challenges of his smart once-sidekick and now-business partner Robin, and London. Fans of JK Rowling (aka Galbraith) will be thrilled as the page turning prose of Harry Potter continues in this series. Pick it up, dive in, and let its great quantity of well-paced pages entertain you for a bit. ~ Lisa Christie

Edgar Allan Poe Complete Tales and Poems Cover ImageEdgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (2009). In honor of our scarily-themed Book Jam post, I pulled this complete collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s short poems and stories off the shelf (mind you, it’s heavy!). It is perhaps a must have for the robust home library – and if it’s not in yours, it is at least a title that a book lover should revisit at the time of year when a chill is in the air and the spirits return for a visit. My fingers immediately flipped to “The Tell Tale Heart,” a story about murder, guilt and madness that I was eager to reread. It had made a big impression on me as a sensitive 8th grader, when I was new to this author’s macabre sensibility. And, nearly 40 years later, it did not disappoint. It is just as disturbing, the narrator’s strange voice compelling me to hold the book at a slight distance, as if this could protect me from him. I love now, with a different perspective, to think not of Mr. Poe just as scary but also in his 19th century studio, brilliantly carving out a new American genre, writing about ravens, black cats, and sinister houses of Usher. It is completely worth a second – or first visit. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Haunting of Hill House Cover ImageThe Haunting of Hill House (and well almost anything) by Shirley Jackson  (1959) – Described as the greatest haunted house story of all times, Ms. Jackson’s novel of four seekers who visit a scary called Hill House and encounter what initially appears to just be unexplained phenomenon, but progresses to pure terror.  Ms. Jackson truly was a master of turning the ordinary into the chilling. As Stephen King praised, “[One of] the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.” We love the fact Ms. Jackson was also a Vermonter. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The So Blue Marble Cover ImageThe So Blue Marble by Dorothy B. Hughes (1940 and 2018) – This slim book offers probably the spookiest opening chapter of any book I’ve read in awhile.  The every day matter of factness of the words contrasting the actions of the people just creeped me out. The rest of this short mystery swept me into the lives of the rich and famous in post WWI NYC. And while a bit campy, I enjoyed my time with them. If you are in the mood for a bit of NYC glamour, and/or some time travel back to the 1940s, pick this up.  Or as the New York Times Book Review stated, ”You will have to read [The So Blue Marble] for yourself, and if you wake up in the night screaming with terror, don’t say we didn’t warn you.” NOTE: We found this novel through the Passport to Crime and British Library Crime Classics reprints in a window display at the Norwich Bookstore. If you like this one, you can find many many more like it in these collections. ~ Lisa Christie

The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories Cover ImageThe Turn of the Screw and other ghost stories by Henry James (1898) – In this classic horror tale, a nanny becomes convinced her charges are being stalked by the supernatural.  It remains in print over 100 years later for a reason. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft Cover ImageThe entire Stephen King canon The Shining, It, The Body (assorted years) – Basically, just about anything Mr. King writes is guaranteed to scare you. And, if you are in the mood for a superb memoir, Mr. King’s On Writing remains one of our favorites. It truly changed the way we viewed his prose. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

And, as a reminder to EVERYONE to PLEASE VOTE NEXT WEEK, we close with a review from our friend and bookseller Carin Pratt – Fear, which offers a look at our current political climate which has truly become the scariest part of the news. And on that note, we again send prayers and wishes and probably most importantly a promise to be agents of hope, love, and change, to all those affected by Saturday’s bombing of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the mail bombs from last week.

Fear: Trump in the White House Cover ImageFear by Bob Woodward (2018) – If you read the Washington Post and/or the New York Times you may not find many surprises in this meticulously reported account of Trump in the White House. But in the aggregate, this portrayal of a dysfunctional, chaotic White House and a president whose attention span is non-existent, whose knowledge of policy, economics and foreign policy (i.e Why DO we have NATO?) is sparse, to say the least, and whose judgment and morals, well, let’s not go there — is devastating and scary. Fear indeed. – Reviewed by Carin Pratt

PS — SO, once again, PLEASE VOTE — no matter your preference, we really hope you all just VOTE.  And finally click here for some political inspiration from our home state to help us all survive these scary times. We promise you will love this clip, and we hope you enjoy some humorous words from Al Yankovic.

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We have returned from our annual “gone reading” break. And boy, did we read.

We are excited to share our new favorites with you over the next few months, but to begin this autumnal season of blogging, we gave ourselves the task of picking ONE book each for this first post-“gone reading” post. Emerging from our discussions about this first post was a realization that we both read great books that address education. Hence, today’s selections include reviews of three books (Lisa Cadow could not narrow her selection to one) with education at their heart.

Don’t worry, we have plenty more recommendations to share before the holidays (e.g., the new Robert Galbraith thriller, a novel by a first time Colombian-American author, and an adoption memoir). We also have some exciting guest blogs lined up; and, we are thrilled Pages in the Pub and BOOK BUZZ both happen this autumn, providing additional opportunities to highlight great books reviewed by fun and interesting people.

However, to begin, today we offer three recommendations around the theme of education.Related image

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018) – During this back-to-school time of year, it only seems appropriate to focus our energies on books that have to do with themes of academia. Such is the case with Educated, one of the most affecting memoirs of 2018 (or, for that matter, of the past several years). In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”

Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Yet another book placed in the setting of academia and one of my very favorites of the year! Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America.

Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Also highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~Lisa Cadow

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an undocumented citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas (2018) — This book offers a poignant, plainly spoken, well-crafted, and intimate look at life as an undocumented worker in the USA. Mr. Vargas is possibly the most famous undocumented citizen in the USA and uses his Pulitzer Prize winning writing abilities to create an insightful and searing look at what being undocumented actually means.  What emerges is a portrait of many things I assumed would be part of an undocumented worker’s life – hard work, fear, contributing to one’s community, and hardships associated with maintaining basic dignity.  What I had not previously considered is how extraordinarily difficult it is to live a life with a lie at its core. What is the education connection? Well, despite Mr. Vargas’s contention this book is about homelessness, I would argue that the book repeatedly demonstrates the importance of great schools, amazing teachers, good books, and mentors. Basically, this book illustrates what education can open for so many. And, as with the other two picks in this post, this memoir is highly recommended (and timely based on recent news) for Book Clubs. ~ Lisa Christie

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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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Every year we audit the diversity of the authors we review because we truly believe we are what we read; and also because we truly believe that the best way to expand your horizons (when you can’t actually travel) is to read books written by or about people who are different from you. It is our hope these audits expose the voices we are missing in our libraries, and allow us to fill those gaps in our next year of reviews.

During the twelve months since our February 2017 audit, we reviewed 164 authors. If you have no interest in the audit results and only wish to see our new reviews of four great books, just scroll down to the next image — the new reviews start there.

The fine print for this audit: We did not include guest columns or the “3 Questions” series, because we don’t control their selections. We also excluded books written by groups such as Lonely Planet or series written by a variety of authors. Although we know some of the authors we highlighted identify as members of the LGBTQ community, we do not know the sexual orientations for all the authors we review, and thus do not audit by sexual orientation. We also do not have access to economic class statistics. Thus, our diversity audit focuses on gender and race/ethnicity.

Now some significant numbers from this latest audit: Women authors were 59% of the authors we featured. Fewer than half (41%) of all authors we featured were white women, and some (18%) of all authors we read were white women from outside the USA. Fewer than 10% of our featured authors were Latinas (5%) or Asian women (4%); and, 15% of the authors were black (either African or African-American) women.

There was slightly less diversity of country and ethnicity in the men we reviewed. Almost a third (28%) of the authors we featured were white men from outside of the USA. Ten percent of the male authors were black. Very few authors we featured were Asian men (1%) or Latinos (1%).

Adding men and women together, 32% of the authors we reviewed were persons of color. Within the white authors there was geographic diversity — more than half (55%) of the white authors we featured were from outside the USA (i.e., Canada, UK, Australia, Sweden). The largest group (25% of total authors reviewed) of authors of color were black (African or African American).

To sum, while we are improving the diversity of the authors reviewed — 26% of authors in 2016 and 23% in 2015 were persons of color — the fact remains that not quite a third (32%) of the authors we featured during the past 12 months were authors of color. So, once again, we vow to continue to search the shelves for a diversity of authors.

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And now some new reviews.

We begin February – Black History Month – by highlighting some great, new books by authors who identify as black.

FC9781250171085.jpgWhen They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018) – This memoir by one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement powerfully combines her personal experiences as a black woman in the USA with overarching social commentary about life for black Americans living in poverty. Her family’s story is incredibly moving and her prose makes all she has dealt with in her short life incredibly accessible. In the process, she also outlines the work, people, and dreams behind Black Lives Matter, a story greatly enhanced by her candor about her personal journey. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780871407535.jpgThe Annotated African American Folktales edited by Henry Louis Gates and Maria Tatar (2018) – Susan Voake of the Norwich Bookstore brought this to our attention with her recent review — “Hallelujah! Let’s begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields. Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.” I agree this volume is worth reading, as well as owning, for years to come. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062359995.jpgAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016) – This novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2016, but somehow I only just read it last week. (Perhaps I was too busy reading her fabulous children’s books.) In this adult novel, August, the novel’s main character, and her closest girlfriends believe Brooklyn is a magical place where they feel beautiful and capable, and they know a bright future is theirs for the taking. It is also a place where men behave badly, mothers have difficulties coping, and madness often prevails. Told in sparse prose, Ms. Woodson provides insight into growing up a black girl in the USA, and city life in NYC. If you need further persuasion her work is worth reading, she has been recognized with the Coretta Scott King, Newberry Honor, and a Caldecott Honor awards, just to name a few. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781594206252.jpgFeel Free by Zadie Smith (2018) – Essays by one of my favorite writers are always a reason to celebrate. This new collection contains musings about social networks, joy, the Oscar-nominated movie “Get Out”, Rome, mourning, and Key and Peele. As always, this book contains her precise, beautiful, and thought-provoking prose. Enjoy! (Thank you to children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for letting us borrow your advance copy of this superb collection so we could include it today.) ~ Lisa Christie

And, we finish with some political cartooning.

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