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Posts Tagged ‘Beryl Markham’

Books for Book Clubs: Start the new year with a great list

Last autumn, we were honored to once again meet with an amazing, long-standing book group who asked us to come up with a list of great books for them to read, enjoy, and discuss. (They actually won us in a charity auction; and honestly, it is really fun to think our reviews benefitted someone’s charitable causes.) To help the rest of you (who were not able to join us on a fine autumn evening over delicious food) find the right books for your book clubs or your own personal reading, we divided the list mostly by subject area, not genre. Happy reading!

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Coming of Age

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). 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. Highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~ Lisa Cadow

Prep: A Novel Cover ImagePrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Ms. Sittenfeld’s debut novel provides amazing fodder for book club conversations as everyone has gone to school at some point in their lives and everyone who is old enough to read this novel has experience or is experiencing their teens. Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when dropped off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She’s there because she wants an education, but also because of the school’s glossy brochure, promising gorgeous and kind boys in sweaters, lovely old brick buildings, girls in kilts with lacrosse sticks, and a place where everyone looks beautiful in chapel. Lee soon discovers that Ault hosts jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand based upon years of wealth and the privileges it affords. In this novel, Lee provides a shrewd observer of–and, at some point, a participant in life at Ault. ~ Lisa Christie

Growing Old/Death

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi  (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf  (paperback 2016). I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.) ~ Lisa Cadow

Impact of Technology/Our Future

Feed Cover ImageFeed by MT Anderson (2012). As screens dominate our work and leisure, and well, basically our lives, this book about a future in which we all have direct feeds into our brains, feeds through which corporations and governments directly provide us with all the information they think we need, is prescient and honestly page-turning. The group of fictional teens starring in this novel, teens whose feeds malfunction, demonstrate oh so very well how important what we consume through media is to our lives today and perhaps provides a tale of caution we all need. ~ Lisa Christie

 Gun Violence

Long Way Down Cover ImageA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017). Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in this unique, powerful and short novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. I’d love to hear how Book Clubs use this book as a place to begin solving this ever present public health issue. ~ Lisa Christie

Sexual Assault/Gender Equity

Young Jane Young: A Novel Cover ImageYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). A GREAT book about youth, choices, first jobs, and how all of that affects the rest of your life. If you are a person of a certain age, it may also remind you of a certain political scandal or two. Bonus: you will laugh a lot and it is a relatively quick read so great for those months crowded with so many things you can’t possibly read all the books you wish. We are certain it will be a movie soon – so read it now so you can cast it in your mind first. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead “a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. May lead to great discussions about feminism today. ~ Lisa Christie

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories Cover ImageWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) –  I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly). ~ Lisa Christie

Convenience Store Woman Cover ImageConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). As an indie bookstore reviewer, Lauren Peugh of Powell’s Books in Oregon, stated, “Keiko Furukura has worked at her local convenience store for 18 years. Every day, she ensures that the shelves are tidy, the hot food bar is stocked, and the featured items are adequately displayed. She greets every customer with a cheerful ‘Irasshaimase!’ and no one notices that she’s never fit in anywhere else. Murata draws lush descriptions of the beauty of order and routine out of simple, spare prose, and every page crackles with the life she’s created. Because of the humor, the wit, the almost unbearable loveliness of it all, Convenience Store Woman, a small book about a quiet life, makes an enormous impact on the reader.” ~ Lisa Cadow

Domestic Violence
American by Day Cover ImageNorwegian by Night Cover ImageNorwegian by Night (2013) and American by Day (2018) by Derek Miller. See our June 18, 2018 post for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. In American By Day, detective Sigrid Odegard is back in to star in this literary mystery series by Derek Miller, this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. It offers a fascinating  Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also have the pleasure of meeting, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is not only a police officer but also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book.~Lisa Cadow

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018). Educated, is one of the most affecting – if not the most affecting – memoirs of 2018 . 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 CastleJeanette 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

Race Relations

Between the World and Me Cover ImageBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. This book is a letter to his son about race in America. As another of our favotire authors wrote about this book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dear Martin Cover ImageMonday is Not Coming (2018) or Allegedly (2018) by Tiffany Jackson or The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2018). All these books are fabulous YA novels about life in contemporary USA. All lend themselves to great discussions about youth, race, and the USA today. And they are all pretty quick reads so perfect for months your book club is a bit overwhelmed. Briefly,  Dear Martin and The Hate U Give address gun violence in the USA. Monday is Not Coming speaks to treatment of African American girls in the USA and Allegedly addresses juvenile justice issues. ~ Lisa Christie

Immigration
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Contreras (2018) paired with Dear America by Jose Vargas (2018). Both of these books provide insight into what life brings for new immigrants to the USA.  Fruit of the Drunken Tree is one of those books that are so gorgeous when you finish you turn back to page one and start over again. I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven year old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Dear America is a memoir penned by the most famous undocumented immigrant in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Mosin Hamid (2017). We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in its review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~– Lisa Christie•

Amazing Fiction You May Have Missed

The Sea (Vintage International) Cover ImageThe Sea by John Banville (2005). I often describe this slim novel as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  In it Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman travels back to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers in an attempt to cope with the recent loss of his wife. There he confronts all he remembers and some things he does not. ~ Lisa Christie 
The House on Mango Street (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image

House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991). My oldest son read this in High School and I joined him in the experience by re-reading Ms. Cisneros’s acclaimed novel about life as a Latino in New York City. I enjoyed it years ago and enjoyed it again this time, with a huge bonus of being able to discuss it with my son. I hate to trivialize it by calling it a coming-of-age story, but I will call it a masterpiece of childhood and self-discovery. ~ Lisa Christie

Nutshell Cover ImageNutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – This mystery is a clever treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of HamletNutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (2002).  This novel provides insight into Filipino culture in the waning days of World War II.  How?  By following the Karangalans – a family who huddles with their neighbors in the cellar of a house near Manila to wait out the war.  The book alternates between 1) heart-wrenching looks at life during war as those hiding in the basement venture out to forage for much-needed food, water and news and, 2) spellbinding myths and legends the group uses to entertain each other while they wait for the war to end.  The book is a testament to the power of stories in giving much-needed resolve to survive. ~ Lisa Christie 

Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel Cover ImageLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2015). Reviewers compare it to Gone Girl. I just enjoyed reading this page-turner. Indiebound may have summed it best, “with a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive  explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to ‘have it all’ and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.” Have fun. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Fun Book that May Cause You to Rethink Mrs. Bush

American Wife: A Novel Cover ImageAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008). Ms. Sittenfeld’s story of Charlie and Alice made me re-think Mrs. Laura Bush and the politicians who surround her. Hopefully you will enjoy it and rethink your thoughts of many politicians.   As an indie book reviewer from Wisconsin wrote, “The reader will recognize the main characters, Alice and Charlie, as they experience their tempestuous courtship and marriage, and their rise to political fame and fortune. Although the setting is Wisconsin, the protagonists bear a curious resemblance to a couple from Texas who achieved the highest office of the land. This story, told from the perspective of a fictional First Lady, is hard to put down!” ~ Lisa Christie

Creative Short Story Collections

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories Cover ImageAssassination 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

Vida Cover ImageVida by Patricia Engel (2010). This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Christie

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover ImageThe 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. I usually don’t like short stories, but this one has remained with me throughout the past few years. To me, it was one of the best books of 2015. And I honestly think it would make a great place for some great book club discussions.  And if you are really short on time before one of your book club gatherings, you could pick one of the stories instead of them all. ~ Lisa Christie

Compelling Nonfiction
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Cover Image

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018). As a mother to two sons, adopted from South America and raised in overwhelmingly white Vermont, this book was truly difficult for me. Chung’s stories of growing up as the rare person of color in her predominantly white community in Oregon and the trauma that she had to work through as a result, hit a little too close to home. Her difficulties with identity and her adoption, tugged hard at my heart and my guilt. Her writing is poignant and pointed as she tells her tale of finding her birth family, exploring her own feelings about motherhood while preparing to give birth for the first time, and discovering what family means to her. In short, this book is a great memoir for anyone interested in the experiences of people of color in the USA, the experiences of adoption in the USA, and how families are formed no matter your race or birth status.~ Lisa Christie

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Cover ImageMy Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2018). I used this book for one of the book clubs I run in my health coaching job.  In this memoir, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist desxcribes her life before and after she experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She watches her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours. However, her stroke was a blessing and enabled many revelations. A great book for intense discussions about life and thinking. ~ Lisa Cadow

Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1932). In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night: A Memoir Cover ImageWest With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Cover ImageSomething/anything by Brene Brown (assorted years). We first heard of Ms. Brown because of a TED talk. Then she seemed to be everywhere – on multiple NPR interviews, in magazines, books in friends’ homes. So we picked up a book or tow of hers and read.  In all, she takes her research studying difficult emotions such as shame, fear, vulnerability from her career at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and adds insights from her own “mid-life unraveling” and other real life adventures. Her messages throughout are more insightful than they may at first appear. And, she reminds us all that courage, compassion and connection are gifts that only work when exercised. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Pairings: Because They Can Be Twice As Good

Madame Bovary Cover ImageIn One Person Cover ImageMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person (2012) – Madame Bovary  plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

 

On Beauty: A Novel Cover ImageHowards End Cover ImageOn Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006) with Howard’s End by Forster (1910). Ms. Smith retells Howard’s End as the tale of an interracial family living in a university town in Massachusetts. Both sides of the Atlantic play a part in the escapades that ensue. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny. Enjoy and then read Howard’s End, Forster’s classic tale of English social mores at the end of the 19th century and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel Cover ImageHamlet Cover ImageGertrude and Claudius by John Irving (2000) with Hamlet by Shakespeare (1603). Most agree that Gertrude and Claudius are the villains of Hamlet . John Irving creates a Gertrude and Claudius Shakespeare left behind for his imagination. In this slim novel, Mr. Irving tells the tale of Hamlet from the villains’ perspective and things shake out slightly differently.  Read both versions and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

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We recently gave an older, but favorite, novel to a friend as part of her 40th birthday gift (the gift – one book from each of the decades of a friend’s life). Her review — “I am reading this slowly, as I do not want it to end“, reminded us of how much we loved reading this book for the first time. And that remembrance has us thinking about books we wish we could read again for the first time, or at least re-read if we had time. So, we now share a few treasured picks from our past. We hope that if you have missed any of these, you will soon have the pleasure of reading some or ideally all of them for the first time.

Stones from the River by Urusla Hegi (1997) – One of my favorite books of all time, Stones from the River is an epic story of World War I and II. Trudi, a “zwerg”- or a dwarf – is one of the most memorable characters in recent literature. Her journey, and that of her village, helps the reader to understand more deeply the tragic period of history in Germany. As one reviewer put it: “this is a nightmare journey with an unforgettable guide.” ~ Lisa Cadow

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – I think I learned all the nuances of good and evil from this book. I definitely remember loving every page-turning moment so much that I stayed up all night reading it at some point in High School. ~ Lisa Christie

Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) – It’s not that I would want to enter this literal “room” again, the one the two main characters inhabit in isolation, but rather it is the sheer brilliance of this story told by the narrator, five year old Jack, that makes me want to return. This book reminds us of the resiliency of the human spirit. It also is a major motion picture; so hurry up and read the book first. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010) – This wasn’t a book that I expected to enjoy, but I gave it a whirl it because so many different types of readers recommended it. It offers a great tour through rock and roll, introduces a motley crew of characters, and provides a rollicking cultural ride through the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. By the way, it won the Pulitzer in 2011.~ Lisa Cadow (ditto Lisa Christie) 

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Its prose is lyrical; its story is relatable; and, its setting is the sublime shores of a mythic country in Latin America.  I read it while suffering from my first (yes, there were a few more to come) broken heart. It helped somehow. Please pick it up if you have not already read this classic. ~ Lisa Christie

Let the Great World Spin by Collum McCann (2009) – A friend recommended this to me after her book club read it, and I am grateful she did. I loved McCann’s poetic description of life in NYC through the stories of apparently unrelated New Yorkers. I am also grateful that this book introduced me to a new “favorite” author.  I would love to be able to read this again for the first time, but instead I highly recommend it to you. And, while you read this, I will enjoy his latest collection of short stories – Thirteen Ways of Looking~ Lisa Christie

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (1991) – I wish I had this book to start again for the very first time. The reader lands in China in the 1920’s and emerges again breathless and changed 500 pages later in modern 1970’s China. Wild Swans is the true story of three generations of Chinese women, told by granddaughter, Jung, who is now living in the US. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – Read as part of a graduate school course on multiculturalism. The amazing insights into so many things regarding race and life that are packed in this slim volume have haunted me ever since. ~ Lisa Christie

Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith (1994) – I saw this play in Boston, and then read the book in order to think a bit more about racial relations.  A version of this amazing theater production is available on PBS, but it also makes for a great read. ~ Lisa Christie

In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Tana French is one of my great author heroines. She crafts a riveting mystery with a literary pen and a psychological mind that keeps you on the edge of your seat and all the while learning about the complexity of human behavior. It’s fascinating to slip into her world and into modern day Ireland. In the Woods is her first book, so it holds a special place on my shelf. ~ Lisa Cadow

Hunting and Gathering (2007) – Time spent with this group of Parisians is well spent. When I read this in 2008, it was the first book in a long time that left me feeling happy about the world when I finished it. And since it was recommended to me by Lisa Cadow, we recommend it again here. ~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night (1942) by Beryl Markham- This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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images-2Before we take our annual August “gone reading” vacation, we thought we would share some of our favorite (thusfar) 2015 “beach reads” to help fill these final days of summer. For purposes of this post, we define “beach read” as a book that provides escape or some fun or some laughs, but that is still well-written (or at least, even if not War and Peace, does not insult your intelligence). If we did a long review of a book fitting this criteria in an earlier post (e.g., Funny Girl), we did not include the book in this post; but, we still encourage you to read it. So, if nothing here strikes your fancy, please refer to our previous posts from 2015 (e.g., Books for Father’s Day Gifting and for Congratulating Graduates), or browse our picks from previous summers. We look forward to sharing our favorite books with you again September. But, in the meantime, happy reading with some of the books from this list. We’ve officially “gone reading”.
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Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (2015) – So far, this is our go-to beach book for this summer. The title refers to the number of grapes required to make a bottle of wine. The story revolves around a Sonoma, California vineyard and the family who has tended it for decades. The novel launches with the narrator, a successful LA lawyer with a lovely British architect for a fiance, sitting, inappropriately dressed, in her brothers’ bar after discovering there is more to her fiance than she believed. As she retreats to her family’s vineyard to think, she learns her fiance is not the only one with secrets. And yes, we both were casting it for the inevitable movie as we read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2015) – I have been fascinated by Beryl Markham since reading her memoir West with the Night. (A book Ernest Hemingway praised with the comment “[Ms. Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers”.) In this novel, Ms. McLain creates a fictional account of Ms. Markham’ remarkable life that fills the holes her memoir left unanswered — offering more about her childhood, her horse training and her early marriage. A fun beach read, although we admit we prefer Ms. Markham’s memoir over this fictional account of her life. ~ Lisa Christie PS – My father-in-law, a former Marine Corp pilot, enjoyed this novel as well. And Lisa Cadow is jealous I read and reviewed before she did.

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A fun, bittersweet summer novel set in Mallorca and spanning across generations of the Spaniards and Brits who call it home, even if only for a few weeks each summer. Told backwards, the novel unravels what caused a great love to sour, and shows all the aftershocks of love gone awry. Be warned, the Mediterranean setting and its olive trees, beaches, succulent food, will have you booking tickets before you finish its last pages. And, since inspiring travel is probably the highest praise we can give a book, we are pretty certain you will enjoy this one. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Fall: A Novel by John Lescroart (2015) — We finish with a mystery, because most vacations welcome a good detective novel. I truly believe that ANYONE who loves San Francisco should read Mr. Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy series because each is so grounded in that amazing City by the Bay. I also believe that mystery-lovers will enjoy the characters in this series: the retired policeman turned attorney who is a recovering alcoholic with part ownership in a tavern (of course he is), the gruff and scarred homicide detective, and the DA who really is trying to do the right thing, to name a few. In this latest installment, with Mr. Lescroart’s signature suspenseful plots, Mr. Hardy’s daughter joins his law firm. She then adds some excitement to their case-load when an attractive, well-educated white man accused of killing a teenage African-American foster child he was trying to help chooses Ms. Hardy as his lawyer. You might want to begin with the first “Dismas Hardy” novel – Dead Irish, and really dive in to the 20 books in this series, but you can also enjoy this latest installment on its own. ~ Lisa Christie

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Some Books for Book Clubs, and Anyone Looking for a Great Read

imagesWe were privileged to visit a local book club to present a few books for them to consider reading together. Their graciousness was incredible, and their appreciation for our ideas inspired us to share our picks with all of you. As you will see, we were slightly carried away and included MANY books by a diverse group of authors on many topics. So, our reviews are by necessity brief. To help you navigate this long list, we organized the titles in very loose categories, with a caveat that many would fit in multiple places. We hope this list inspires you to read some great books during these deliciously long summer days.

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Fiction – just for laughs/fun/easy reading/escape

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (June 2015) – Run-away bride drives home to Sonoma County, and is helped by her complicated family through decisions about what happens next.  Bonus — readers learn a lot about the history of Sonoma’s transition to vineyards.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornsby (2015) – A fun look at life as a 1960s BBC sitcom star.

Foreign Affairs by Allison Lurie (1964) – Life of an American English professor becomes complicated when she spends a term in England with a younger colleague. It is a fun read that also won the Pulitzer.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2013) – Mom runs away from Seattle playground dramatics (and fulfills a fantasy felt by many at one point their parenting lives).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols (2015) – A love story told backwards beginning with the deaths of the main characters from a fall off a cliff on Mallorca to the moment they met decades before.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (2014) – A fun, well-told tale of suburban parenting.

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Fiction – slightly more serious

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi (1997) – Dramatic, different, compelling. All the things a story should be.

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – The story of Teddy from Atkinson’s Life After Life.  A great read for WWII fiction fans, fans of pilots and those of you who ever wondered what might have been.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – Two remarkable characters try to survive the siege of Leningrad. Wicked with fun, yet poignant.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (2014) – Contemporary Ireland after the fiscal meltdown provides the background for a superb cast of characters. Enjoy.

Any novel by Halldor Laxness (Independent People) – This Nobel Prize winning author from Iceland is gifted, and his books take you to a land many of us never get to visit to see people we enjoy getting to know.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) – Set in the aftermath of the collapse of civilization this tells the story of a Hollywood star, a savior and a cast of actors wandering what used to be the Great Lakes.

Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2013) – Set ten years after civilization collapses, a man, his conscience and his dog try to figure out life.

Euphoria by Lily King (2014) – A page-turning fictional account of Margaret Mead’s life. Enjoy your time in the Samoan backcountry.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013 in Australia/2014 in USA) – A fictional account of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. In this book the author pictures her as a superb story-teller who becomes a memorable protagonist for a great piece of historical fiction.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – A classic tale of the American Midwest and the American immigration story.

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A saga spanning the 20th century in China and Los Angeles. Enjoy this tale of how a father’s love for China shapes his daughter’s life. We have recommended this to many book clubs – including an all men club – with great success.

The Submission by Amy Waldman  (2012) – This fiction answers what happens when the winning design for a monument for 9-11 is awarded to a Muslim.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (2013) – A story by a first time author, who also happens to work in a facility for the mentally ill, about a young man’s struggle with mental illness.  Not as depressing as that sounds.

Ghana Must Go by Talye Selasi (2013) – A tale of immigration to America, the pull of the home country, and how some decisions by your parents have ramifications for you for the rest of your life.

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Pairings of books – because sometimes reading books back to back enhances the experience

The Cove by Ron Rash (April 2012) and In The Fall by Jeffrey Lent (2000)These two books are gorgeously written and approach the Civil War from two different settings, an isolated holler in North Carolina and the mountains of Vermont.

On Beauty (2008) by Zadie Smith with Howard’s End by EM Forster (1910) – On Beauty beautifully retells Howard’s End, a classic tale of England.

Prep (2004) and American Wife (2008) by Curtis Sittenfeld – In these two books, Ms. Sittenfeld tackles Prep School and former first lady Laura Bush.  Both will leave you thinking differently.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person  (2012) – Madame Bovary plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

Girl At War by Sara Novic (2015) with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Both books tackle the impact of war – one in Croatia and one in Chechnya – on those left in its wake.

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst (2014) and Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansome (2008) – Both books look at WWII from the perspective of the Spanish Civil War.  Mr. Furst explores this theme using a thriller, Ms. Sansome in a more traditional historical novel.

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014) – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” These words begin this novel about a mixed race Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan (2015) – This novel explores the consequences of bullying in a tale of a high school girl who moves from NYC to a football obsessed town in Alabama.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – A story of how one boy is trying not to let a tragic accident define his life and how a girl with a disfigured face shows him the way (sort of).   

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A tale for middle grade readers that illustrates the importance of perspectives and prejudice.  The plot can be summed as a black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man.  This book shows there is more to that tale.

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Short Stories/poetry

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection of short stories – some completely haunting — by a master storyteller.

The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (2014) – Stories about Communists in the USA and abroad.

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Memoir

H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald (2015) – TH White, birds and dealing with the loss of a father mingle in this well-told memoir.

Any book by Alexandra Fuller – A superb set of memoirs about growing up in Africa and finding one’s place in the world.

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway (1964) – A FABULOUS tale of life as an American ex-pat in Paris that is sprinkled with the famous — the Hemingways, F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and others.

West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942) – SUPERB tale of a woman and her life in flight, as a horse trainer and as a woman making her way in 20th century Africa.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr (2007) – The author of All the Light We Cannot See first wrote this memoir of his year in Rome on a writing fellowship with his wife and newly born twins.

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Current Issues

Can We Talk about Race? And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum (2008) – Timely collection of lectures about race in the USA.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – These poems are cleverly illustrated and outlined in a way that opens conversations about race in the USA.

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History

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (2015) – The historian tackles two brothers and their impact on the world. Or you could read his Truman or John Adams and then watch the primaries and discuss USA politics all night long.

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Essays

Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1992) – A collection of essays about America, Americans and how to live.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2010) – Mr, Chabon has written a superb group of thoughts about being a man, fatherhood, being a son and friend. Enjoy.

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Research shows that reading novels and other literature helps readers better understand other perspectives and increases the reader’s own social navigation abilities.  An October 2013 NY Times article discussing the studies stated researchers “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.” While we agree what the study uncovered ample self-improvement reasons for picking up some great fiction, we believe that many pieces of classical literature are also just darn good stories. So in this post we share some of our favorite classics — many read long, long ago. And we implore you, please don’t think of the classics as something you HAD to read in High School; read them for the great books that they are. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. Do you know what it is? ~ Lisa Cadow Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Though lesser known than One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel is my favorite of the two. Its premise distills to a basic question — what if it were possible, not only to promise to love someone ”forever,” but to actually do so, to actually make all life’s choices based upon this vow? Set in an unnamed Caribbean town, the three characters, Florentino, Fermina and Dr. Urbino form the love triangle at the center of the author’s answers to this question. Florentino, after declaring his undying love for Fermina as a teen, is not at all deterred when she marries Dr. Urbino, and vows to wait until she is free. This happens 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later (yes, I had to look this detail up), when suddenly, (in a way only Garcia Marquez can pull off) Dr. Urbino dies while chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The novel explores all three of their lives in real time, in retrospect, with some magic realism (of course), and through the prism of this promise to love forever. ~ Lisa Christie My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – This novel unwraps the difficulties facing the Shimerdas, recent immigrants to America’s midwest, as narrated by a boy who met the family on a train taking them all to the same Nebraska town to live. While the hardships are harrowing, and the situations faced by both major and minor characters truly dire, the novel somehow manages to be both quiet and reassuring. It is a practical, well-crafted, not at all romantic look at the resilience of the human spirit and the hardiness of the many European immigrants who came across the ocean to begin again in America’s west. As such, this story is important, but more importantly, it is a very good story. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942)  – Originally published in 1942, West with the Night still reads as if it was hot off the presses. This breathtaking memoir tells the story of the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, penned by an author who was described by Ernest Hemingway as someone who “can write rings around all of us.” Markham was an adventurer, a poet, a philosopher, and a free spirit to her core who has served as an inspiration to generations of women. Her first loves were the horses she trained in east Africa as a teen. After discovering aviation, however, she never looked down. From 1931 to 1936 Markham delivered mail from her plane to remote locations in east Africa before heading north, across the Mediterranean, and then eventually across the Atlantic. If you liked Out of Africa, you will love this book. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam on March 27, 2012)  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore.  Their responses are posted on The Book Jam during the days leading up to their engagement.  Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

Today’s post features Meg Lukens Noonan, the author of The Coat Route: Craft, Luxury, and Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 CoatWhile we have not yet read her book, we agree with her desire to meet/drink with Beryl Markham.

In brief — The Coat Route looks at the question – “In today’s world of fast fashion, is there a place for a handcrafted $50,000 coat?”. To answer it, Ms. Noonan traces a luxury coat from conception to delivery, looking at all its components and the places they come from.
Ms. Noonan has been a freelance writer for twenty-five years, specializing in adventure, active and luxury travel. Credits include Outside, The New York Times, Travel and Leisure, Islands, Men’s Journal and National Geographic Adventure. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two daughters.
Ms. Noonan will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, August 28th.  This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended as seating is limited. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com for more information or to save a seat.
1.What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?
 The Panama Hat Trail: A Journey from South America by Tom Miller. I’ve always admired this book, which traces the making of a Panama hat all through Ecuador. It’s a good story, told with humor and filled with history and colorful characters. I swiped the idea of a sartorial travelogue from him.
 The Orchid Thief: A true story of beauty and obsession by Susan Orlean. Orlean is one of those magical, dogged non-fiction writers who can make a subject you didn’t have any interest in at all become the most fascinating thing in the world. She absolutely nails characters with just a few perfectly-chosen words. She’s also very good at knowing just how much of herself to put in the story. I studied that book to try understand how she did it.
 At Home: A short history of private life by Bill Bryson. Bryson’s voice is so distinctive and seems so effortless–it’s like he’s sitting in the room chatting with you. He’s also a brilliant researcher, who packs every paragraph with astonishing, meaningful facts. There are no throw-away sentences. I love all his books, but Home is the one I kept referring to when I was working on The Coat Route. I was trying to figure out how to write about things that were inherently boring–like buttons–and how to present history and information without being really tedious.
2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
Beryl Markham, author of West With the Night, her lyrical memoir about living in Kenya. She was fearless, beautiful, scandalous and a superb writer. I’m pretty sure she would want to skip the coffee shop and go straight to a bar to drink gin–and I would happily tag along.
3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
  
Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Dear Life by Alice Monro

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, we’ve paired with the The Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont to present an ongoing series entitled “3 Questions”.  In it, we pose three questions to authors with upcoming visits to the bookstore. Their responses are posted on The Book Jam in the week leading up to their engagement. Our hope is that this exchange will offer insight into their work and will encourage readers to attend these special author events.

Sarah Stewart Taylor

We are excited to welcome author Sarah Stewart Taylor and her first children’s novel – The Expeditioners.  This novel has garnered great advance press with an outstanding Kirkus review  – “Full of kid power, clues, codes and maps, this will appeal to sophisticated readers who appreciate their adventure served with heaping helpings of cleverness.” It also received an independent booksellers designation for recommended children’s books.

Ms. Taylor will launch her new adventure novel for readers aged eight and up – The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon – on Saturday, November 17 from 2-4 pm at The Norwich Bookstore. The event includes exciting activities and snacks for attendees.  While the book is geared for middle grade readers, all ages are welcome during this event.  And, this time, no reservations are required though you can call (802) 649-1114 to pre-order your signed copy of The Expeditioners.

Without further ado, Sarah’s answers to our three questions:

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

 West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. The adventure! the romance! the writing! Every time I see it, that green cover sends me right back to the first time I read it, a 13-year-old in the suburbs, curled up with a book that transported her halfway around the world.

 

 

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. Because after West with the Night, I read The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley, and then Hemingway and Isak Dinesen, and Chinua Achebe made me ask necessary questions about those books that I loved.

 

Possession, by A.S. Byatt. I still remember the thrill of reading it the first time, my utter involvement with the parallel narratives. It was romance, adventure, mystery — all in one, and all about books!

 

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

Roald Dahl. I just think it would be fun. Although it would have been more fun to meet him when I was a child. I have the feeling he didn’t like adults much.

3. What books are currently on your bedside table? 

 Lemony Snicket’s new book – Who Could That Be At This Hour?, Howard’s End (which I re-read once a year, right about now), Hilary Mantel’s Bringing up the Bodies, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt, and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

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