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Posts Tagged ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon’

Related imageThe holiday bustle has begun, and time for reading has diminished a bit. Rather than give up entirely, we decided to review a few poetry collections that allow you to read a page or two, enjoy, and move on to your next errand. They might also make great gifts for someone on your list. (Perhaps one will become your holiday 2018 go-to hostess gift?) We added a two short story collections for those who just don’t like poems. And, we ensured all the books are available as paperbacks so that reading and gifting are both a bit easier on your wallet if needed.

Enjoy! And happy holidays!

Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems Cover Image

Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God: Poems by Tony Hoagland (2018) –  I would have picked this up for the title alone, but a recommendation from delightfully smart and poetry-loving Penny McConnel of the Norwich Bookstore meant I had to read it. She wanted to include it in her upcoming Pages in the Pub selections, but ran out of choices; so, I am happy to include it for her here. This collection contemplates human nature and modern culture with anger, humor, and humility. I honestly wanted to read this collection in one fell swoop and had to force myself to slow down and savor each poem. As The New York Times wrote, “Hoagland’s verse is consistently, and crucially, bloodied by a sense of menace and by straight talk.” ~ Lisa Christie

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver Cover ImageJust about ANY poetry collection by Mary Oliver (assorted years) – Few poets have perfected the art of poems for quiet contemplation as well as Ms. Oliver. Her perfectly placed words lend themselves to thoughts of nature and friendship and love. We could not pick our favorite volume, so we are just recommending you pick any collection and start reading, or gifting today. – Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

What Work Is: Poems Cover ImageWhat Work Is by Philip Levine (1991) – Mr. Levine, a recent US Poet Laureate famous for his work about working class Americans, pens poems crossing many class divides. This collection won the National Book Award. It was also reviewed by The Library Journal, “What Work Is ranks as a major work by a major poet . . . very accessible and utterly American in tone and language.”~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Life on Mars: Poems Cover ImageLife on Mars by Tracy K. Smith (2011) – A book about race, power,  paternalism, and so much more. This pointed collection won the Pulitzer in 2012, but her overall body of work has received numerous starred reviews and this comment from Publishers Weekly, her “lyric brilliance and political impulses never falter”. ~ Lisa Christie

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems Cover ImageSailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (2002) – Known by many for his frequent appearances on Prairie Home Companion, former US Poet Laureate Mr. Collins manages to produce powerful poems while also greatly widening the circle of poetry’s audience with their accessibility. This volume collects many poems from previous works in one collection, and thus is a good place to start admiring his poetry. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover ImageThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015) – The author of the amazing novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon created this superb collection of short stories. Each connects in themes about the USSR/Russia from the Cold War through today. This collection received multiple accolades as one of the best books of 2015, and may provide insight into the news about Russia dominating today’s headlines. ~ Lisa Christie

Flying Lessons & Other Stories Cover ImageFlying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh. (2017). Because Kids need breaks from the holiday bustle as well, we wanted to include something for them.  This collection provides a great group of stories for kids. I love the stories themselves, and I love the fact the collection allows us all to read more diverse authors. I also greatly appreciate that these are great for reading aloud as a family, providing some reading joy for adults as well. ~ Lisa Christie

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It is that time of year again. We’ve been making our lists and checking them twice; and well, it took a bit more time than we thought. And, while it is still Monday somewhere, this post is a wee bit late. So, here you have it — The Book Jam’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.

We truly hope this list helps you find the perfect present for the loved ones in your  life. We also hope that you find some time to curl up with a few good books yourself. (OK, maybe that last part only happens after the relatives have left.)

To help you envision the perfect recipient for each book, we again assembled our selections in somewhat artificial categories (e.g., nonfiction for people who like to think and chat while sitting by the wood stove). Please use them as a guide, not as strict rules about who can and should read any of these picks. For your convenience, each of our picks is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site. Thus, you do not have to leave your computer to check these items off your list. Finally, we hope our selections help take a bit of stress out of the shopping aspect of this whirlwind season.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Presents

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015) – The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. One of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. History buffs will love the descriptions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Fans of Life After Life will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner.  This book focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have.  His ability to navigate life’s changes as lover, father, husband, grandfather are lovingly portrayed.  This is basically a book about an ordinary, but lovely, man living an ordinary life in extraordinary times. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015) – These shorts stories, although one is basically anovella, are GORGEOUSLY crafted and memorable.  Definitely one of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie


The Nature of the Beast
by Louise Penny (2015) – The latest Inspector Gamache novel does not disappoint. This one’s plot revolves around weapons of mass destruction and the true nature of evil. What we like most about this series is the loving relationship between Gamache and his wife.  Pick this up if you want a page turner full of wonderful characters, and something a bit lighter than the other picks in this category. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


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NON-FICTION/REFERENCE/POETRY: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK & CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2015)I can think of no other book that offers readers such an ornithological “bird’s eye view”, the clear, laser-sharp perspective of being in a falcon’s brain and on the hunt. But it is so much more: this memoir is at once a lesson in being an austringer (a falconer) and training Mabel, a goshawk, while also being a psychological exploration of mourning as Macdonald comes to terms with the sudden loss of her father, her closest companion in her birding journey. This book is raw, honest and brilliant and leaves the reader feeling as if she has just come in from from a walk in the woods with her favorite goshawk — or as if she has been perched on a tree watching the fickle humans on the ground below. ~ Lisa Cadow

Ultimate Travel: The 500 Best Places by Lonely Planet (2015) The Perfect gift for aspirational and inspirational destinations. And if your budget does not allow travel, the pictures are gorgeous and the descriptions educational. ~ Lisa Christie

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COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOW STORM

In A French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis (2015) – For the Francophile in your life, Loomis “cookbook” explores what it means to be a french home cook. Loomis, who has lived in France for most of her adult life, raised her children there and runs a cooking school from her home, attempts to distill great food for all. ~ Lisa Cadow

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BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (2015) – A plot influenced by magic realism and launched by a fairy tale about the fate of three princesses allows a harmonica to travel among three children in three different states/countries (Germany, Pennsylvania and California) during WWII. This harmonica unites their very different war experiences (rescuing a father from concentration camp, ensuring a brother does not go to an orphanage, helping a family hold on to their farm) into one lovely book. Uniquely crafted, this story of love, music and war will both educate and delight. ~Lisa Christie

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (2015) – I loved Lizzie, a young girl who wants to accompany her father on his doctor’s rounds in early 1900s San Francisco, but instead must attend a school for girls to learn how to serve tea and dance and become a “lady”. The influx of the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown and then beyond, changes everything as Lizzie fights to save her family’s cook from the Chinatown quarantine. Ms. Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) has once again crafted a great book for young lovers of historical fiction. ~Lisa Christie

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan (2015) -Mr. Riordan does it again! I love this new series by Mr. Riordan. Same superb ear for teens, but with a Norse Myth Twist this series. Annabeth Chase from Mr. Riordan’s previous series has a cameo or two. ~Lisa Christie

Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A great book about depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. ~Lisa Christie

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YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015) – This YA book combines juvenile delinqency, folk artist James Hampton, 1960s America in a lovely tale about redemption, friendship and learning to make your own way. ~Lisa Christie

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015) – A superb, superb book about love, life and suicide told from the perspective of two teens – Violet and Finch – living in Indiana, trying to figure out what senior year of HS means, what colleges to attend and how to play the hands they have been dealt by life (him – abusive father, indifferent mother; her – she survived a car wreck, her sister did not). I SOBBED at the end, but am glad I have this perspective on young adult life and the aftermath of death. I can not recommend it highly enough; but be warned you will be sad along with the happy. ~Lisa Christie

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PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS — (Yes, we selected the recent Pages in the Pub picks as they are so good)

Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Adorable raccoon combines with very fun and quirky art for a fun tale about mischief. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Three different views on life are expressed as three toys explore one very big snowstorm. Reading this would be a SUPERB way to introduce the concept that friends can be friends and like very different things or see the same thing in very different ways. Our local librarian used it in a unit about friendship. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). As Katie Kitchel stated during her presentation, the moral of this story is that persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

 

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BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO CONTEMPLATE MORE DIFFICULT ISSUES — IN THIS CASE, RACE IN THE USA

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (2015) – Haunting. This novel can be read on so many levels — as a straight story of brothers in trouble in Nigeria, as a parable about Nigeria, as a tale of how our expectations shape our reality.  But on any level, it is good; and for me, what makes it even more amazing is that the author is only 29. ~Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) -Uniquely laid out and provocative; and wow, does this make you think about race in America. Read it to help you make sense of today’s headlines. ~Lisa Christie

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – Sad, thoughtful, angry, well-written and timely memoir written in the form of a letter to his son.  Won the National Book Award too. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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As 2014 finishes, we thought we would highlight some of the most memorable books we read in 2014. We know we missed some and we tended not to highlight the big books which we also enjoyed (e.g., Goldfinch). Thus, we hate to say these were the best books of 2014, but this list should provide a good source of great reading as 2014 winds down and 2015 begins. So in no particular order, our list for you of books we found memorable that we hope you find time to read.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home, Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. I can not praise it enough. ~ Lisa Christie

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)  – Buckle up your backpacks and get ready for playground politics and the modern parenting. The lives of three mothers converge on the first day of kindergarten at an upscale elementary school in coastal Australia. Observant, humorous, a tad bit dark, this “un-putdownable” book explores the lies that we all tell ourselves and each other. Part mystery (someone ends up dead, but who?), part social commentary, part page-turner, this book is sure not to disappoint. ~ Lisa Cadow

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – I discovered this haunting tale of Iceland earlier this year and am glad I did. Ms. Kent does a superb job of taking the true stories of 1) Agnes, a woman convicted of murdering two men, 2) the family who must house Agnes while she awaits her execution, and 3) Toti, the Reverend who must save Agnes’s soul, and combining them into a fabulous first novel. ~ Lisa Christie

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a fabulous World War II novel (yes, dear readers, there is room for another title in this genre) that tells the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl from Paris, and Werner, a brilliant German boy with a gift for math, radios and engineering. Their seemingly disparate lives converge in the seaside fortress town on St. Malo, France in 1944. Many people are describing this as “the book of the year”, and I just might have to agree. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013) – I loved this crisply smart romantic comedy that takes you into the world of socially challenged Don Tillman, a 39-year-old geneticist looking for love in all of the wrong ways. This is sort of a “When Harry Met Sally” story with a Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime narrator. Throw in a DNA matching side plot and you have yourself a love story with a little science on the side. ~Lisa Cadow

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This prize-winning story set in post WWII Mississippi is a heartbreaking story of racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the high price of silence as members of two families living in rural Mississippi collide. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (2013) – I was drawn to this book for its blue-blooded oceanfront Cape Cod setting but ended up appreciating it for it’s complex characters, unexpected twists and turns of plot, and the voice of its twelve-year-old narrator Riddle who unwittingly witnesses a terrible crime. It is all at once a mystery, the tale of a dysfunctional family, a coming-of-age story, and a look back at the summer traditions and politics of a different (pre-twitter) era. ~ Lisa Cadow

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (August 2013) – Congressman John Lewis has written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. This book begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville. We truly look forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014) – Publishers Weekly says “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” The plot follows Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan, shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends, and it introduces viewers both to the world of beautiful and important art, and to the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781594631573The Vacationers by Emma Straub (2014) – Put on your sun block and travel to the Mediterranean island of Mallorca with Manhattan’s Post family for their two-week summer vacation. Author Straub slowly reveals the issues, skeletons, and neuroses of the Posts as well as those of the house guests who are accompanying them for this adventure. There’s a little something for everyone in this book (i.e., love, remorse, redemption, parenting, cooking, a beautiful Spanish villa). ~ Lisa Cadow

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (Feb. 2014) – I hate short stories because they end just as I am involved with the characters. But, this collection about a variety of interesting “communists”/immigrants to America from behind “The Iron Curtain” is superb. ~ Lisa Christie

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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The Book Jam’s 2014 Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

Well, it is that time of year again. Time to think of gifts for the people in your life. Time to cook amazing meals to share with family and friends. And, we truly hope, time to curl up with a few good books yourself. (OK maybe that last part only happens after the relatives have left.)

To help you find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, we have assembled some of our favorites from our 2014 reading. Not all were published this year, which means many are available in a less expensive paperback form. And, once again to help you envision the perfect recipient for each book, we have assembled our selections in somewhat artificial categories (e.g., fiction for men who have enough tech, but not enough good fiction). Please use them as a guide, not as strict rules about who can and should read any of these picks.

For your convenience, each of our picks is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site (or Waterstones’ site for a few not yet available in the USA). Thus, you do not have to leave your computer to check these items off your list (Happy Cyber Monday). Finally, we truly hope our selections help take a bit of stress out of the shopping aspect of this whirlwind season. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

COOKBOOKS: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO COOK UP A CULINARY SNOW STORM

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How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman (2014) – The theme for our lives this year in the kitchen keep is simple, keep it fast. This cookbook fits the bill. Most of the recipes take half an hour to prepare – nothing more than a cool forty-five minutes. This food Bittman showcases reads like a “best of” menu from your favorite pub. And ,it’s just what you want to eat after a long day at working or shuttling kids. It’s comfort food with a modern twist. There’s the Kale Caesar with Roasted Asparagus, 30 Minute Chicken Tagine, the Chicken, Bacon, Avocado, and Tomato Wrap, Provencal Tomato Soup with Fennel, even quick Skillet Fruit Crisp.  Treat yourself or a friend to this new culinary treasury.

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Make It Ahead by Ina Garten (2014) – Ina Garten’s recipes are always sure to please, and this book is no exception. Leafing through its pages, looking at the gorgeous photos makes the reader feel like they are visiting their favorite caterer’s take away shop. These are recipes that you can make for your next dinner gathering or deliver to a friend who needs a meal. We love the updated Roast Chicken with Bread and Arugula Salad (a short cut on the Zuni Cookbook classic), Carrot and Cauliflower Puree, and Winter Slaw (with kale, Brussels sprouts, and radicchio). Each recipe gives tips to the home cook for steps to perform ahead of time and assemble at the last minute. No kitchen library is complete without a few of Ina Garten’s classic cookbooks.

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi (2014) – Well, he has done it again. Mr. Ottolenghi has produced a book that makes you want to start cooking now, preferably beginning with his first recipe and proceeding all the way through to the end. And of course, you will be tasting delicious dish after dish along the way.  (And honestly, we like that this is less of a travel log than Mr. Ottolenghi’s  Jerusalem, and instead is a “fun to look at / fun to try” collection of recipes.) Note this is a perfect reference book for those of you feeding vegetarians over the holidays.

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Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton (2014) – You’ve got to admire not only Gabrielle Hamilton’s uber food-sense and culinary artistry but also her razor-sharp edginess. Prune, the cookbook, is the product of her years as a restauranteur in Brooklyn and her bistro with the same name. Her literary voice shines through in each recipe (if you haven’t already, do read Hamilton’s brilliant food memoir Blood Bones and Butter, 2011). She writes with the intent to teach the home cook, but her recipes emerge from the perspective of a restaurant chef (quantities are in orders, not servings, descriptions of how much to order for a weekend crowd are included, faux splatters and finger prints on the pages make the reader feel as though they are looking are her private notes). But Hamilton is definitely not going for the Miss Congeniality award. She lectures, scolds, treats the reader like a “stagiere” in her restaurant. We are inclined to run – not walk –  to forage for the ingredients for her Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage.

NON-FICTION/REFERENCE/POETRY: FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO THINK & CHAT WHILE SITTING BY THE WOOD STOVE



How to be an explorer of the world by Keri Smith (2008) – We somehow missed this when it was first published, but are loving it now. In this journal, readers are encouraged to explore and document the world around them. Readers are told to take notes, to collect things they find on their travels, to notice patterns and to focus on one thing at a time in a series of illustrated prompts.  This would make a great “What do we do now? We’re bored” solution generator.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – We know we have reviewed this before. But now, this tale of how nine men from the University of Washington showed the world what true grit really means during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, is available in paperback and would make a great gift for anyone presenting gift difficulties this holiday season.

MEMOIRS, MOSTLY ABOUT TRAVEL: TALES FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T GET AWAY TO FAR-OFF LANDS AS OFTEN AS THEY WISH

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Heminway (1964) – We are so glad we finally got around to reading (Lisa Christie) or re-reading (Lisa Cadow) this memoir.  His Paris is a place we would have loved to have visited, and the characters involved are all the more amazing as they are historical figures you know from many other contexts (e.g., Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald).

Brazilian Adventure: A Quest into the Heart of the Amazon

Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1933) – This travel log is superb,and honestly took us by surprise with how much we loved it. The story begins when the narrator, a London literary editor, signs on for an expedition to find Colonel PH Fawcett, who has gone missing in the Amazon.  With self-depreciating humor, Mr. Fleming proceeds to explore how an expedition comes together, embarks and continues in the face of hardships of 3,000 miles of wilderness. Have fun with this one. We honestly can not recommend it highly enough.

ADULT FICTION: FOR A WOMAN WHO ONLY HAS TIME FOR THE BEST FICTION

Unknown-1Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014)  – Buckle up your backpacks and get ready for playground politics and the modern parenting. The lives of three mothers converge on the first day of kindergarten at an upscale elementary school in coastal Australia. Observant, humorous, a tad bit dark, this “un-putdownable” book (by the author of What Alice Forgot 2012) explores the lies that we all tell ourselves and each other. Part mystery (someone ends up dead, but who?), part social commentary, part page-turner, this book is sure not to disappoint.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – We discovered this haunting tale of Iceland in Rhode Island at Island Books, and we are very glad we did. Ms. Kent does a superb job of taking the true stories of 1) Agnes, a woman convicted of murdering two men, of 2) the family who must house Agnes while she awaits her execution, of 3) Toti, the Reverend who must save Agnes’s soul, and combining them into a fabulous first novel.

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (2014) – It is almost as if Gail Carson Levine created one of her fairy tale retellings for grown-ups.  In this novel, Ms. Blackwell tells the “true story” of Sleeping Beauty, with explanations of why she was lying in the tower when the Prince came, who exactly were Millicent and Flora, and why the king and queen feared spinning wheels.  It is truly a page-turning tale of family, secrets, and promises. Read it and enjoy losing yourself in an unique telling of a well-known tale.

ADULT FICTION: FOR A MAN WHO HAS ENOUGH TECH, BUT NOT ENOUGH GOOD FICTION

The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Dec 2013)- The latest Department Q novel shows how the misfit threesome stuck in the bowels of the Copenhagen Police Department have melded into an effective cold-case solving unit, and a worthy family.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) – This book shows how a thriller becomes a powerful novel; it provides a superb author, a historical plot and intense situations with characters you care about. We especially liked the Spanish Civil War angle in this well-plotted tale.  Enjoy this one and then pick up one of Mr. Furst’s many other superb historical thrillers.

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home (which is promptly burned to the ground). Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters (e.g., the daughter of the abducted man, the father of a despised informant, a doctor trying to hold together a hospital with only three staff members) in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. We can not praise it enough.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – Truly terrific. A well-crafted tale of three anthropologists and their time observing and living with the various peoples in the Territory of New Guinea. Set between the two World Wars, Ms. King explores a complex love triangle among these gifted and often confused young scientists. This novel is loosely based upon real life events from the life of Margaret Mead — all from her trip to the Sepik River in New Guinea, during which Mead and her husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson. It has us searching for nonfiction treatments of her life. The New York Times agrees that this book is a “must read”.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – We love her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, so we leapt at the chance to read some short stories by Ms. Mantel.  The collection is diverse and always interesting, from a piece about when you know a marriage has ended to the title story about an assassin, she keeps you guessing about what is really going on with each character.  Pick this up and enjoy them one at a time or in one fell swoop.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a fabulous World War II novel (yes, dear readers, there is room for another title in this genre) that tells the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl from Paris, and Werner, a brilliant German boy with a gift for math, radios and engineering. Their seemingly disparate lives converge in the seaside fortress town on St. Malo, France in 1944. The author does and excellent job of slowly building the suspense and pace throughout the novel turning it into a real page-turner by the time the bombs start dropping in Brittany. Many people are describing this as “the book of the year”, and we just might have to agree.

BOOKS FOR YOUNGSTERS (AGES 8-12): THOSE BEYOND TONKA TRUCKS & TEA PARTIES BUT NOT YET READY FOR TEEN TOPICS

The Misadventures of Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (2014) – Two dads adopt four sons, and chaos and so, so, so much love ensue.  Boys we know LOVED this book.  And, we must say it was completely entertaining listening for all ages on a car trip to Maine.

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli (2014) – What do you do when your LITTLE brother gets all the credit for saving your neighbor’s life when you helped too? Or when your best-friend and the boy down the block don’t quite get you? Or when you don’t get a part in the community theater’s play? Why, you become Emily Dickenson of course; but then you discover being a recluse is not as easy as it seems.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014) – Publishers Weekly says “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” That fan base includes us; so, we were thrilled to read this. The plot follows Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan as she tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. Characters include her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing else but working on her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea (and certainly not caring for Theodora). The book shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends, and it introduces viewers both to the world of beautiful and important art, and to the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book!

The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair by SS Taylor with superb illustrations by Katherine Roy (2014) – The Wests are back and embroiled in an amazing adventure involving underwater secrets, pirates and lessons about friendship love and family. If you have not yet read the first book, start with The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (2012)  – Great atmosphere surrounds this story of an orphan girl and her two friends as they travel from a London boarding school to Russia and are thrown from a train into the snow, rescued by a princess (or is she?) and brought to a decaying castle surrounded by wolves, legends and tragedy. You sort of see the end coming, but it doesn’t matter as you are so fully immersed in Russia you don’t care.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION — FOR TEENS /TWEENS AND THE ADULTS WHO LOVE THEM

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (2014) – West Side Story with an African American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world – even if it requires navigating wanting to respect one’s parents while still rebelling from their rules.

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and unfortunately a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – An excellent debut novel about the power of all the things left unsaid in a family. How secrets hurt. How children try so hard to please their parents. How parents’ expectations, even if well-meaning, can crush. How you must live your life, not the life others expect you to live.  All of this is intwined in the story of Lydia and her family (three mixed race children and their Chinese father and Caucasian mother living in 1970s Ohio) after she is found dead in a lake. Read it. (Note many people review this as an adult book, but we see it as a YA coming of age novel.)

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting

The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting by Holly Bourne (2014) – WOW, Ms. Bourne grabs you from the opening premise and keeps you turning pages.  Yes, you know that disaster awaits, but you are so hoping that somehow it all ends well.  Please read this with your favorite High Schooler.  We think it might open up some great conversations about mean girls, horrid boys, cutting, suicide, finding great friendships, and the meaning of life.

PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS

Once Upon An Alphabet (2014) and The Day the Crayons Quit (2013) by Oliver Jeffers – Author of our favorite picture book from last year – The Day the Crayons Quit – has penned a series of short stories based upon each letter of the alphabet. His droll nature gets kids thinking about letters and life. (Disclaimer: this book could be considered a bit dark for some children in the way Roald Dahl was a bit dark, so please pre-read if you are concerned about gifting this to kids you know.) Please note that we recommend this as a read-aloud with your young kids, as the ratio of prose to pictures is rather high, and as stated above, a bit sophisticated. And, if you missed The Day the Crayons Quit last year, we highly recommend gifting it to someone special this year. Crayons is a much more traditional picture book for children that is funny, funny, funny!

New York in Four Seasons by Michael Storrings (2014) – A picture book for adults and kids that is actually a love story for New York.  You might recognize Mr. Storrings’ drawings from Christmas ornaments.  In this book, his pictures powerfully illustrate a city he LOVES, and his prose tells you why you should love it too. Great illustrations include Central Park, Coney Island, and some more seasonal items – Christmas windows, 4th of July fireworks and the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. We envision this as the perfect gift from New Yorkers, former New Yorkers or New Yorker wanna-bes to give to anyone they want to love NYC too.

Atlas of Adventures: A Collection of Natural Wonders, Exciting Experiences and Fun Festivities from the Four Corners of the Globe

Atlas of Adventures: A collection of natural wonders, exciting experiences and fun fun festivities from the four corners of the globe by Lucy Letherland (2014) – We would describe this as similar to MAPS, which we reviewed last year and still recommend to anyone who has missed it. Ms. Letherland’s book encourages the reader through fun illustrations and some well selected prose, to travel the world to have adventures specific to unique locations. A GREAT holiday gift, but one that is not available in the USA until 2015 (so put it on your lists for 2015 US fans), but available in Europe now for Book Jam readers overseas.

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Last week, on a GORGEOUS Spring evening that actually felt like summer (being Vermonters some of us were melting in the 78 degree heat), readers from Norwich, Vermont and surrounding towns gathered in The Norwich Inn Pub to hear about some superb new books to bring to the mountains this summer, and to give to grads and dads later this month.

The evening was the latest outing of the Book Jam’s live event – “Pages in the Pub”.  This event is designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, educators, librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles.

 beer & book

This event sold out, but those people lucky enough to get a ticket sipped drinks, listened to great book reviews and laughed a bit.  We focused on GREAT books for summer reading because summer is just around the corner, and great gifts for grads and dads because those celebrations are upon us. Because of everyone’s efforts, a few people completed their father’s day shopping during the event, and most got a good start on stocking up on great summer reading.  We also raised over $700 for the library, all while increasing sales for a treasured independent bookstore – The Norwich Bookstore of Norwich, Vermont.

Our SUPERB presenters included (and we truly thank them for their time and talent):

  • Beth Reynolds – Beth is the children’s librarian at the Norwich Public Library during the week and dons her bookseller cap on the weekends at the Norwich Bookstore where she has helped many a family find the perfect last-minute birthday present. When not working in town you can find her at home knitting, reading, baking, writing or taking pictures of her new lop-earred bunny.
  • Carin Pratt – Carin moved to the Upper Valley three years ago after spending 30 years in DC working as a television producer. She’s never looked back. She reads a lot.
  • Penny McConnel – Penny is the co owner of The Norwich Bookstore. She lives in Norwich with husband Jim and enjoys gardening, reading, studying Italian, cooking, knitting, visiting her three sons and a grandson in Phoenix, the Bay Area and Burgundy France, and best of all, doing things with Jim.
  • Jim Gold – Our first male presenter in Norwich says — “Reading has given me the quiet eye and understanding heart to see beyond the confines of my dental profession. It fosters good conversation. Other activities that feed my soul:  hiking, cycling, canoeing, gardening, woodturning, cooking and time with my favorite and far more experienced book seller, Penny McConnel.”
  • Lisa Christie – Lisa is, among other things, the co-founder of the Book Jam and a nonprofit consultant. One of her best jobs was being the founder of Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide literacy organization.  In her spare time she reads (though never as much as she would like), bikes, swims and has fun with her husband and two sons.

Since most of you could not join us in person, we now share the great titles discussed last week. This post lists all twenty-one books discussed during the evening (Beth somehow snuck in an extra title), each with its special six-word review written by the presenter. Each of their selections is linked to The Norwich Bookstore web site where you can learn more about the picks and order your books. You’ll also notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier.  Have fun looking, and enjoy getting a head start on your summer of great reading.

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacation

  • Summertime by Joanne Dugan (2014). Selected by Beth – Photos you’ll want to jump inside.
  • My Venice by Donna Leon (2013). Selected by Jim – Poignant. Insightful. Clever. Observant. Witty. No BS.

Cookbooks – For anyone looking for summer inspiration

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

  • My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor (2013). Selected by Penny – Inspiring. Hopeful. Insightful. Educational. Fantastic story.

Adult Fiction – For a woman who only has time for the best fiction after hiking all day

  • Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (2014). Selected by Carin – Thirty-somethings navigate small town lIfe.
  • While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (2014). Selected by Lisa – “True” story of “Sleeping Beauty”. Fun.
  • We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride (2014). Selected by Beth – It’s all about connections. And love.
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (2012). Selected by Jim – Excellent character development carries moving tale.
  • And The Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass (2014). Selected by Penny – Searching can bring you home again.

 

Adult fiction – For a man who has enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

Books for summer campers/ young readers in Tree-houses (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

  • Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (2012). Selected by Lisa – Series. Art. History. Fun. Smart kids.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009). Selected by Beth – Imagine Harry Potter going to college.
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014). Selected by Lisa – Charmed Island Life? Tragic Choices.  OK?

PERFECT books for the dads and grads in your life – or stated another way, last minute gifts to ensure happy celebrations

A brief note to our valued readers — While we are not Goodreads, we are trying to grow and show that small independent bloggers and bookstores make a difference.  So this June, we are campaigning to increase our subscribers.

Please subscribe if you have not already done so.  And if you are a subscriber, please encourage your fellow readers to subscribe to the Book Jam.  To subscribe, go to the right hand side of our blog – under email subscription – and provide your email. THANK YOU!

 

 

 

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Last night, on a GORGEOUS Spring evening just before Mother’s Day, readers from Rhode Island gathered in Newport to hear about some superb new books to bring to the beaches this summer, and to give to moms on Mother’s Day.

The evening was the latest outing of the Book Jam’s live event – “Pages in the Pub”.  This event is designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, educators, librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles.

This time, we gathered for the first time ever outside our home state of Vermont at the Salvation Cafe in Newport. There we sipped drinks and turned pages, all with the goal of raising money for BabySteps, a Rhode Island based early childhood education center.  We focused on GREAT books for summer reading, because summer is just around the corner, and Newport is a great place to remember the pleasures of beaches.

Because of everyone’s efforts, a few people completed their mother’s day shopping during the event, and most got a good start on stocking up on great summer reading.  We also raised around $600 for BabySteps, while increasing sales for a treasured independent bookstore – Island Books of Newport and Middletown, Rhode Island.
Since most of you could not join us in person, we now share the great titles discussed in Newport. This post lists all twenty books discussed during the evening, each with its special six word review written by the presenter. Each of their selections is linked to Island Books web site where you can learn more about the picks and order your selections. You’ll also notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier.  Have fun looking, and enjoy getting a head start on your summer of great reading.

Our SUPERB presenters included (and we truly thank them for their time and talents):

  • Ann Hood, Acclaimed Author – Ann is an avid knitter, a nomad, a book lover, and a writer. She travelled all the way from Providence for this event. She’s also a native Rhode Islander.
  • Linda Finn, Board Chair of BabySteps, an early childhood learning program – Linda is a first term, part-time State Representative for Middletown and Portsmouth. She also owns and operates Linda Finn Garden Design, a residential landscape design firm; is a founding member of RI Coalition Against Gun Violence; and, is the Board Chair of BabySteps.
  • Judy Crosby, Owner of Island Books – Judy is the owner of Island Books in Middletown and Newport. When not working at the stores you can find her at home in Portsmouth reading, cooking or gardening. With “Pages in the Pub”, she fulfills the longtime dream of having a book event at the Salvation Cafe thanks to owner Sue Lamond, champion of all things ‘local’ and great supporter of Island Books!

And representing the Book Jam:

  • Lisa Christie, Co-Founder of The Book Jam – Lisa is, among other things, the co-founder of the Book Jam and a nonprofit consultant. One of her best jobs was being the founder/first director of Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide literacy organization. And, while she loves living in Vermont, she was VERY excited to be in Newport for an evening.

 

 

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacations

  • Centrist Manifesto by Charles Whelan (2013). Selected by Lisa – Usual politics tiring? He proposes solutions.
  • The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2013). Selected by Linda – Friendship, politics, muckrakers. Facts like fiction!

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

Adult Fiction – For women who have time for the best fiction while at the beach

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman (2014). Selected by Ann – Secrets, lies, disappearances, a tangled web!
  • Under the Wide & Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (2014). Selected by Ann – Improbable, impassioned, adventurous, unforgettable love story.
  • We Are Water by Wally Lamb (2013). Selected by Linda – Very modern, engaging, family drama.
  • The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh (2014). Selected by Judy – Multi-layered coming-of-age. Keeps pages turning.


 

 

 

 

Adult fiction – For men who have enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon by Anthony Marra (2014). Selected by Lisa – AMAZING writing. Chechnya conflict. Great characters.
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers (2014). Selected by Linda – Intrigue, internet, music fuel this mystery.                                 
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (2014). Selected by Judy – Mars Mission. Accident.  Man’s struggle to survive.

 

Cookbooks or coffee table books or reference books – For your favorite grad or dad

 

Books for summer campers/ young reader (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

  • Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014). Selected by Lisa – Lonely girl uncovers painting. Solves mystery.
  • Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013). Selected by Lisa – How a boy inspired Robin Hood.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (2002). Selected by Judy – Must-read (or re-read) for everyone before movie!

BONUS – PERFECT books for the moms in your life, or last minute gifts to ensure a Happy Mother’s Day

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Last week’s school vacation found us traveling the country with our families. And that meant we perused a few airport bookstores.

The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite and the Corruption of Our Great Universities faced us from the “featured books” table or shelf in most of these stores. Seeing that book over and over got us thinking. We then 1) remembered that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and 2) recognized that people all over the country, not just in elite colleges, are dealing with issues relating to sexual assault and the price of silence around these issues.

Then, since when we think, we think of books, we started thinking about books that have helped us think about sexual assault issues for an April post. So today, we highlight two GREAT books — and we really mean REALLY GREAT — that on some level deal with sexual abuse. Our pairing is a bit creative because sexual assault is not what we would say either of these books is about if you asked us to summarize their plots in a sentence or two. But, they both address the topic in some manner, and both are books we recommend as great reads.

Getting away from the fiction, we want to link to our superb local resource on these issues – WISE. We also encourage anyone reading this post to learn about sexual assault resources wherever you reside and read. Because as we recently learned, victims are closer to most of us than we realize.


Now, without further ado we say — whether you want to think about the important topic of sexual assault prevention or not — please read these two AMAZING novels (the second one is targeted towards young adults). We promise you will not regret a minute of the time you spend flipping their pages (electronic or paper).

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home, Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters – the daughter of the abducted man, the father of a despised informant, a doctor trying to hold together a hospital with only three staff members – in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. I honestly can not praise it enough.

How does this book fit today’s theme? Without giving too much away, one of the characters falls victim to human trafficking as she tries to escape the war. This causes reflection on abuse of women during conflicts of all sizes. ~ Lisa Christie (seconded by Lisa Cadow)

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits — both from the wrong side of the tracks and smart enough to know that first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to risk love anyway. When Park meets Eleanor, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were, and ultimately your first love.  I also truly believe, that when the book ends, you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and those from family situations that are less than ideal.

How does this fit with our theme?  One of the characters is abused by a family member. Again, this abuse not what the book is about, but rather an important plot line that makes you think about domestic abuse and how it hides. ~ Lisa Christie

 

 

 

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