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.
Bruno, 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
Commissario 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
Any 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 help. These 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 Jupiter, which 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
Detective 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 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