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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.

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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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This “3 Questions” features Ted Levin, nature writer, photographer, VPR (Vermont Public Radio) commentator, and author of America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake and other books.

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Mr. Levin will visit the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, May 11th to discuss his latest book, America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake. In America’s SnakeMr. Levin captures the snake’s natural history and unique behaviors, and looks at the people who love them, loathe them, and have abused them through illegal tradeMr. Levin has written for Sports Illustrated, Audubon, National Wildlife, National Geographic Traveler, and other publications.America's Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake Cover ImageThe event with Mr. Levin is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

The Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition Cover ImageWild America: The Record of a 30,000 Mile Journey Around the Continent by a Distinguished Naturalist and His British Colleague Cover ImageA Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River Cover Image

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

a) The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Darwin loops together the past, the present, and the unimagined future, all bound together by natural selection. Seen through the lens of natural selection, the unifying principle of biology, every species is a work in progress, a continuous interpretation of its immediate environment.

b) Snakes and Snake Hunting by Carl Kauffeld (out of print), and Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher. Both were seminal books for a nature-loving twelve-year-old boy, the very first indication for me that men other than baseball players grew up to do boy things.

c) Sand County Almanac and Essays from Round River by Aldo Leopold. Leopold wrote eloquently of the wild lands of his home in Wisconsin, as well as of faraway places like Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental, all the while building a case for a healthy land ethic, an ethic now embraced by successive generations of people who feel a need for the preservation and conservation of self-sustaining ecosystems.

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

Theodore Roosevelt. I’d like meet a president who made conservation a national priority, who took vacations in the backcountry with writer-naturalists such as C. Hart Merriam, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, and John Burroughs. In 1907, Roosevelt (and Burroughs) saw the last wild flock of passenger pigeons. (Roosevelt might even be able to explain to me what in the world has happened to the Republican Party.)

Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life Cover ImageImperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre Cover ImageThe Birds of Panama: A Field Guide Cover ImageAn Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist Cover Image

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

Half-Earth by E. O. Wilson; Imperial Dreams by Tim Gallagher; Birds of Panama by George R. Angehr and Robert Dean; An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins.

searchOne of our favorite people  – the superb author Sarah Stewart Taylor – is someone we turn to when we need a great new book or author to read. Thus, we were thrilled when she agreed to turn her recent trip to Ireland into a Book Jam post about some authors she discovered while abroad. In this post, Sarah discusses the power of literature one discovers when traveling, and how literature provides superb armchair travel when hopping on a plane is just not possible. We hope you enjoy her suggested reading list as much as we do. Thank you Sarah! And, happy travels to all.

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On a trip to Dublin, Ireland recently, I ducked into a fantastic little bookshop in Sandymount. The tables were piled high with new and used books of all kinds, and I asked the proprietor to recommend some Irish mysteries for me. An obsessive fan of both Ireland and crime fiction, I love revisiting one of my favorite places on earth through the works of the Irish crime writers Tana French and John Banville (one of my favorite Irish novelists, writing mysteries as Benjamin Black), and I needed some more titles to get me through until their next ones are published.

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He obliged very nicely and I came home with an extra bag to contain all the books I’d bought. I discovered some terrific new-to-me Irish crime writers, among them Gene Kerrigan, Jane Casey (who is Irish but writes mysteries set in London), Declan Hughes, Adrian McKinty, Brian McGilloway, and Stuart Neville. 

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Reading mysteries about a place is one of my favorite ways to prepare for travel, to prolong the fun of an adventure once I’m home. Donna Leon’s Venice mysteries are among my favorites, focusing on the cases (and the meals) of the appealing Inspector Guido Brunetti and reminding me of past trips to that magical city. I love the mysteries of Cara Black, which always bring me back to trips to Paris.

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It’s also fun to read mysteries about places I haven’t yet been lucky enough to visit. Jason Goodwin’s Inspector Yashim novels, set in the 19th century Ottoman Empire, have made me obsessed with visiting (modern-day) Turkey and Colin Cotteril’s wonderful mysteries set in Cambodia have added that country to my travel bucket list. I absolutely loved a novel by Richard Crompton, set in Kenya and titled Hour of the Red God. It stars a Masai detective named Detective Mollel and was one of my favorite new mysteries of the past few years.

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So — what are your favorite mysteries about places you’ve visited — or would like to?

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In a bit of a twist, today’s 3 questions focuses on a group, Sisters in Crime, coming to the Norwich Bookstore this coming Saturday, April 16th at 2 pm. The answers were provided by Beth Kanell, a member of the group and one of the event organizers.

During the Sisters in Crime event, a group of writers will gather to expose their own mystery work to readers and to get their creative juices flowing. Each participant, both published and not yet published, will have five minutes to read a selection of their own mystery writing to the group. Participating published writers include Toby Speed, Kate George, Beth Kanell, Brett Ann Stanciu, Deloris Netzband, Joseph Olshanand, Margot Zalkind Mayor (who will read from new work by her husband, Archer Mayor), Lisa Q. Matthews, and Vicki Steifel. You are invited to read from your work or to listen.

The Sisters in Crime New England group consists of authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by a passion for the mystery genre and support of women who write mysteries. The group welcomes Sisters — and Misters — in Crime from anywhere who have an interest in the New England mystery community. To learn more, see www.sincne.org.images.png

This event is free and open to the public. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com with questions.
The Monogram Murders: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery Cover ImageBrush Back Cover Image

1) How do Sisters in Crime‘s Murder By the Minute meetings encourage and support mystery writers?

The old days of women mystery writers being nearly invisible are steadily changing — but there’s still a tilted ratio of women to men on the bookshelves, and encouragement means a lot. Reading your work at Murder by the Minute helps remind you of how good your writing is, and why you wanted to write that book, even though it’s taking longer than you hoped! The appreciation and support that writers find among the Sisters (and occasional Brothers) in Crime at this event can boost you through the toughest parts of writing, because you realize you have real people waiting to find out the criminal, the solution, and your (amateur or pro) sleuth’s discoveries about both the mystery and her- or himself.

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2) In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge/obstacle to writing a good mystery?

A mystery is satisfying when all the parts make sense, from the clues to the crime to the solution. But a mystery stays with the reader as a really good mystery when the characters claim your long-term attention. Mastering the art of memorable characters is the hidden secret to writing a really good mystery (but it helps if you totally understand the crime involved!).

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3) Which three mystery writers would you say are must-reads for the burgeoning mystery writer?

Today’s cozy mysteries are rooted in Agatha Christie‘s puzzle mysteries; the hard-boiled ones emerged from Raymond Chandler; and the art of the espionage mystery was refined by Helen MacInnes. Those are the musts — but their mysteries can feel out of date! The modern classics now include the mysteries by Sara Paretsky, Nancy Pickard, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Laura Lippman — all champions of Sisters in Crime.
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As we write this, snow blankets our Vermont homes. Yes, after finishing the least snowy winter we can remember, April brings significant accumulation. The words of TS Eliot’s  The Wasteland spring to mind –

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

You would think leading with TS Eliot would begat reviews of poetry. But instead, we turn our thoughts to reviews of “comfort books”, a concept inspired by recent frustration in one of our homes. A newly turned teen in one of our two families (unnamed to “sort of” preserve his anonymity), has been re-watching his favorite super hero movies during months of Friday family movie nights. He refuses to consider other options. His stubbornness frustrated the Lisa who is his mom, until she remembered she did the same thing when she re-read and re-read books (there was no Netflix then) as she moved from childhood to teenagehood (not sure that is a word, but it should be). Sometimes the uncertainties of life are enough, and you just need reliable, high-quality entertainment.

Since the Book Jam’s other Lisa re-read as a pre-teen/teen as well, we honor the comfort emerging from the familiar with reviews of our current “comfort books/authors”. For us, familiarity emerges as you meet someone (author or character) over and over again on the pages of a book. As a result, many of these books are part of a series because series most easily help you get acquainted with characters over time. But whether our picks form a series or just a collective of books by a favorite author, when life proves too hectic, or when we need a palate cleanser after one too many WWII books, we turn to these authors and their characters for the comfort their familiar styles of prose and their dependability for creating a well-told tale create. We hope you will enjoy these as well. Happy April.

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Bruno, Chief of Police Cover ImageBruno, Chief of Police Mystery Series by Martin Walker (assorted years) – This is comfort reading at its very best. For fans who wish to return time after time to the French countryside and spend time with down-to-earth Inspector Bruno Courreges, it is good to know that there are now eight mysteries in this wonderful series. Set in the Perigord region, readers not only get to learn about black market truffles and E.U. hygiene inspectors threatening the production of local cheeses — they also have the chance to experience this amateur gourmet whipping up an omelet, going to the local cafe for an aperitif, or venturing out on a wild boar hunt. Bruno is an immensely likeable character – “tres cool”- and brought deftly to the page by Martin Walker, a foreign affairs journalist who now lives in the Perigord region himself. Don’t forget to check out recipes from the new “Bruno’s Cookbook” (!) or to listen to Walker and his wife interviewed about it on the Diane Rehm Show here. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageCommissario Guido Brunetti Detective Series by Donna Leon (assorted years) – We love Commissario Brunetti and his family. Brunetti loves his intelligent and strong-willed English professor wife, their son, and their daughter; we love him for loving them. We also love the fact these books bring you to Venice, where you can almost taste the food the characters prepare and enjoy, where the wine flows freely at each meal, and where walks to work take the characters past piazzas and canals and Italians of every possible personality. Read one when you need to travel for awhile and can’t afford a plane ticket, or when you need a reminder that not all police, politicians, or famous personalities are corrupt. As the co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore writes in her review of the latest in this series, Ms. Leon writes with an “eye toward intelligent and thought provoking insights on the human condition”.  This series also comes with a cookbook of Italian favorites. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Orbiting Jupiter Cover ImageAny children’s book by Gary D. Schmidt (assorted years) – I honestly love every book for kids by Gary Schmidt that I have consumed to date, beginning with Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, now my least favorite of his novels. My love affair continued with Wednesday Wars, which uses Shakespeare to create a connection between a troubled student and a teacher, and then intensified with OK for Now, a tale dealing with the aftermath of war and how art, good friends, and second chances can helpThese last two titles are on my favorite children’s books list (both are loved by my oldest son as well). In his novels, Mr. Schmidt compassionately tackles tough topics, including Vietnam War, foster care, death, and abuse, but also honors readers by not preaching. Most recently, Mr. Schmidt impressed me with the incredible Orbiting Jupiterwhich due to content, I recommend reading WITH your pre-teen or pre-reading before gifting so you can know what questions may arise. In it, Mr. Schmidt creates a superb tale around a family built from foster care, in which the foster child has recently fathered a child at the tender age of 13. I know that sounds horrid, but in this tale somehow it is not. Please read this book and Mr. Schmidt’s other novels.  I turn to them whenever I need a great children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie

The Bat Cover ImageDetective Harry Hole Novels by Jo Nesbo (assorted years) – For those of you looking for grim and brooding heroes in your detective novels, Harry Hole is for you. Oslo detective Harry Hole battles personal and professional demons throughout these books, and as such is more flawed than either Chief Bruno or Commissario Brunetti. But, his universe is also populated with support, including a complex assistant detective who happens to be a practicing Muslim with a mysterious past, and a loyal, but challenging secretary. Or as The New York Times Book Review stated, “fiendishly complex and terrifically entertaining”. As a bonus, you travel to Norway every time you pick up one of the books in this series. ~ Lisa Christie

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This was read, re-read, and beloved as a teen, young adult and adult. We needed to know there were grownups who could be counted on to do the right thing, and be kind to kids as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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This “3 Questions” features Michelle Hoover, author of Bottomland. Ms. Hoover is the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University and teaches at GrubStreet, where she leads the Novel Incubator program. She is a 2014 NEA Fellow and has been a MacDowell Fellow and a winner of the PEN/New England Discovery Award. Her debut, The Quickening, was a 2010 Massachusetts Book Award “Must Read.” She is a native of Iowa and lives in Boston.
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Ms. Hoover will visit the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on March 30th to discuss her latest book, Bottomland, a novel based loosely on an unearthed family secret. The book follows the Hess family as they settles on Iowa farmland hoping to escape anti-German sentiment after WWI. As the country marches towards WWII, lives are changed when two of the daughters disappear.  The book has been critically acclaimed by many including Kirkus Reviews.

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The event with Ms. Hoover is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

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

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse taught me that both the shape of the sentence and its ideas matter, that these things are not in opposition but feed on each other. Kent Haruf’s novels, in particular Plainsong, gave me the courage to be plain spoken in my fiction, which I believe is my instinct in the first place. Toni Morrison’s Beloved proved that point of view and structure could always be fluid, and that the author has complete freedom in these choices, as long as the author carries the reader well enough along on that ride.url-1.jpgurl.jpg

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

I’m currently fascinated with Kate Atkinson. I would love to talk with her about her career, moving from her beloved, rather zany, experimental books to more genre type crime novels, and now her two historical novels, Life After Life and God of Ruins, both of which I consider two of my favorites. I would love to talk to Emily St. John Mandel too. Her novel Station Eleven was perfection. I’d like to talk to writers who I think are essentially normal people that have done great, unusual work. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to talk at all.

Salvage the Bones Cover ImageMonument Road Cover ImageThe Heart Goes Last Cover ImageA Cure for Suicide Cover Image

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3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

I generally keep a pile of about ten or so, and the ones that catch me immediately are the ones I finish. I finished Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones a few weeks ago. A remarkable experience. And then there’s Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road, which I should have read years ago. Then there’s Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide, and Susan Barker’s The Incarnations—all from last year’s top book lists. I have a copy of Julianna Baggott’s Harriot Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, as well as two books by former students of mine: E.B. Moore’s Stones in the Road and Emily RossHalf in Love with Death. I know these last three well, but they’re still in that pile, keeping it warm.

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