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Posts Tagged ‘Curtis Sittenfeld’

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Ahhh summer, a time when longer days provide extra daylight to read. It is also a time for the Book Jam’s annual list of books for you to take to the beach, lake, mountains, and/or your own backyard or apartment roof. This year, we included many older titles, as we know paperback copies are easier to carry while moving about. (Please remember that each review is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site, and can be downloaded to your i-pad or e-reader too.) We also tried to include titles to help when you crave a substantive piece of nonfiction, a quick YA read, a surprising mystery/thriller, a page-turning “beach read”, as well as, fiction that makes you think. Happy reading!

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Fiction

The Nightingale Cover ImageThe Nightingale by Kirstin Hannah (2015) – This book has been staring at us from the best-seller bookshelves and still in hardcover for over a year but we resisted its charms until the summer of 2016. It invites us into the wartime world  of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, in 1940’s  France and tells a tale of their very different roles in the resistance movement. The Nightingale is an excellent summer read which caught this reader off guard in the final pages, with tears streaming down my face without a kleenex all while sitting in the window seat of an airplane. A compelling story with excellent character development which as with any good tale leaves one asking, “What decisions might I have made if put in the same situation?” The Nightingale shows us that there are also still many aspects of World War II to explore through the powerful vehicle of literature. ~ Lisa Cadow (and Lisa Christie)

The Sense of an Ending Cover ImageThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – This Booker Prize winner concisely explores what happens when you receive information late in life that skews your memories and perhaps questions your entire view of yourself. In this case, a retired historian receives a puzzling bequest that causes him to investigate what actually happened to a childhood friend. These 163 pages of exquisite prose will haunt you long after you finish reading. I somehow missed this when it was published, and am so glad I found it this summer (also reviewed by Lisa Cadow in December 2012). ~ Lisa Christie

The Night Watch Cover ImageThe Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006) – Yes, yet another WWII novel, but so worth reading. This time, the plot revolves around people in London just after WWII ends, during the nightly bombings of WWII, and then at the start of the war, told backwards chronologically. Many of the women have taken up important positions as ambulance drivers and business owners, and the men are in jail for a variety of crimes; their adventures and seemingly random connections link their tales. The prose keeps you wanting more, and the images Ms. Waters creates of life for civilians during WWII are memorable. ~ Lisa Christie

Lily and the Octopus Cover ImageLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (2016) – In just the way we adore our beloved pets, a reader can’t help instantaneously feeling the same way about Lilly the dachshund and her worried, emotionally-closed yet deeply loving caregiver Ted. We join these characters when Ted realizes that his best friend and canine companion of many years, Lilly, may be sick. This is a funny, very well observed story about courage, caregiving, change, and emotional growth. Set in temperate, languorous Los Angeles and told by quirky, single, gay Ted (a narrator with one of the most original voices to emerge in recent memory) this is one of my favorite books of the year. ~ Lisa Cadow

Strawberry Fields Cover ImageStrawberry Fields (published as Two Caravans in Europe) by Marina Lewycka (2008) – A devastating, funny, and thought-provoking account of life as an immigrant. Ms. Lewycka has created a core of memorable characters, initially united as strawberry pickers in the idyllic countryside around Kent, England, but who then partake on a road trip of tragic, humorous, political, and loving proportions. Do not let the fact it is a rather quick paced read belittle the importance of what these characters have to say. ~ Lisa Christie

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (paperback 2015) – This lovely story touches a chord with all who read it. Meet cranky and curmudgeonly Ove a retired Swede stuck in his routines who has very set ideas about how things should be. He patrols his planned neighborhood daily to ensure that rules are being followed, that the garbage is being set out for collection just so, and that nobody parks incorrectly. Things in his world get shaken up when a Pakistani family moves in next door and upends his sense of order. A  pesky stray cat also enters his world and refuses to leave. All of these interlopers conspire to challenge Ove’s no-nonsense, iron facade and might just teach him a thing or two about love. ~ Lisa Cadow

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Our 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.)

The Sympathizer Cover ImageThe Sympathizer  by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The Pulitzer landed on an important book; important in that Mr. Nguyen, in extremely effective prose, unfolds the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese man. The narrator, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, was rescued by American troops during the fall of Saigon due to his work with them there. His war-torn life unravels further from this rescue and leaves you thinking. As an Indie bookseller wrote when this novel hit the shelves, “Nguyen injects much dark humor into this tragic story, and the narrator’s voice is both subversive and unforgettable. The Sympathizer will be one of the most talked-about novels of the year.” He was right, and we should probably mention we almost reviewed this in our Mysteries/Thriller category. ~ Lisa Christie

Sweetbitter Cover ImageSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (2016) – Make a reservation and let Stephanie Danler serve you a story of the fast-paced, drug-laced restaurant world of New York City circa 2016. The author herself worked at Union Square Cafe so she offers a reliable narrator in Tess, a waitress at an upscale watering hole who has followed her heart to the bright lights and big city. This book shines a light on the dynamic in upscale restaurants with many highly educated people vying for stressful, coveted serving positions. This is a coming of age story and a love story for Tess and a very well written novel. Given the lifestyle of the characters who live a life of hard work and hard core play, this has been likened to a fictional counterpart to Anthony Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential~ Lisa Cadow

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“Beach Reads”

The Nest Cover ImageThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (2016) – This is a pitch perfect  beach, mountain, or summer-in-the city read as well as one of the best novels of the year. It’s about what happens when three 40-and-50 something siblings learn that they might not be receiving the inheritance (referred to by their family as “The Nest”) that they had expected due to an incident involving their prodigal brother Leo. Each one of them — Bea, Melody, and Jack – had been relying on this money to solve a number of life problems like looming college tuitions and secret debt so it’s possible evaporation is cause for panic. Set in New York City, Brooklyn and its environs, this book is witting, sharply observed, insightful, and as one reviewer put it, is full of “emotional truths.” I appreciate how it explores what happens when individuals are challenged to solve problems by digging deep inside themselves, explore places they never wanted to travel, and as a result discover unexpected resiliency. Highly, highly recommended. ~ Lisa Cadow

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice Cover ImageEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – This book is included for those of you in need of a novel that is truly just fun to read. Yes, the New York Times panned it, and I agree that Jane would never consent to be married on a reality show, and Austen scholars probably cringed the entire way through as it is difficult to truly emulate Ms. Austen, but those are small points in light of the fact you get to spend hours of reading with the Bennett Sisters. Liz as a magazine writer, Jane as a yogi, Kitty and Lydia as self obsessed gym goers, and Mary as a grump with a secret, lets you have a bit of fun with a well-known tale. And besides, it takes no small amount of courage to take on a classic. So kudos for that act of bravery Ms. Sittenfeld; and to the rest of you – start reading. (We also recommend American Wife and Prep by Ms. Sittenfeld as fun summer reads.) ~ Lisa Christie

A Spool of Blue Thread Cover ImageA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (paperback 2016) – Readers have come to know that they can count on Anne Tyler for a well-told tale about family and her 20th book is no exception. This story centers around the Whitshank family, their house in Baltimore, and the four generations who have shared and filled with life the space built by their patriarch. It is about what happens when the current adult generation is forced to face the reality that this house may be too much for their aging parents to manage alone. Poignant, universal in its appeal, yet never saccharine or bordering on cliche, this is a gentle and meaningful read. ~ Lisa Cadow

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Mysteries/Thrillers

Arthur & George Cover ImageArthur and George by Julian Barnes – Mr. Barnes uses a true experience from Sir Arthur Doyle’s life and explores race relations, class structure, and mystery as Sir Arthur agrees to help a man exonerate himself. Brilliantly imagined and a great entry to discussing issues of race and class today (and in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s time). I was reminded of this novel when loving The Sense of an Ending, and since detective novels have a special place in summer reading, we are including it here. ~ Lisa Christie

The Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageThe Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon (2016) – Another superb Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery. This time, a young girl is attacked and left for dead, but instead suffers severe brain damage. Years later her grandmother asks Guido to investigate. The tale weaves illegal immigration, refugees and mental illness together. It also allows us to spend time with Guido and his superb family. Enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel, Continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series Cover ImageThe Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (2016) – This latest edition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series was not written by Steig Larsson, but it will not disappoint fans of Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist, and other characters we met in the original trilogy. You will not regret having this page turner keeping you company on your next plane ride. ~ Lisa Christie

 

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Non Fiction

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936 1939 Cover ImageSpain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild (2016) This book is for those of you who crave large volumes of nonfiction to inform your longer summer days. For this review we merely ditto what Carin Pratt wrote in her staff pick review for the Norwich Bookstore. “Almost 3,000 Americans (some famous, most not) traveled to Spain to fight Franco’s Fascists in what Hochschild has called “the first battle of World War II.” Most were untrained and under-armed but unfailingly idealistic, and ultimately, they fought a battle they were predetermined to lose. Adroitly and with empathy, Hochschild tells their largely forgotten stories.” ~ Lisa Christie

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)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Cover ImageDead Wake by Erik Larson (2015) – For those of you needing “true” stories,  we recommend this account. Mr. Larson manages to take an event for which you know the outcome – the May of 1915 torpedoing by a German U-boat of the luxury ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, killing almost 1200 people – to life. How? By taking tales of the passengers, historical accounts of U-boats, and British intelligence and interweaving them in straightforward, compelling prose. (Coincidentally, this was also selected as a Norwich Bookstore staff pick by Carin Pratt.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Best Place to Be Today: 365 Things to Do & the Perfect Day to Do Them Cover ImageThe Best Place to be Today by Lonely Planet (2015) – A travel destination idea for every day of the year. May it inspire last minute travel plans this summer – even of the armchair variety. Bonus – it makes a grat hostess gift. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

 

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YA

Salt to the Sea Cover ImageSalt to the Sea by Ruta Spetys (2016) – Just when you thought you WWII had been written about from every angle, an author proves we needed another WWII book. In this take, four teenage refugees and their friends flee the Russians and the Germans and try to make a safe haven to the Baltic north. Their tales will haunt you as you listen to today’s headlines about Syrian and other refugees. This one is important. Yes, this is YA, but every adult I have given it to has loved it. ~ Lisa Christie

HAPPY READING from the BOOK JAM!

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Mother’s Day has come and gone, and yet you somehow have yet to find the perfect gift. So you promised you would send something ASAP. We thought we’d help by reviewing two books to help you get the right gift for your mom – even if it is after the fact (and, even if it ends up being a gift for you). Enjoy!

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice Cover ImageEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – Yes, we know that the New York Times panned it. And honestly, we agree with their reviewer that Ms. Austen’s Jane would never consent to be married on a reality show; but, that is a small point in light of the fact that as you read Eligible, you get to spend additional hours with the Bennet Sisters. Viewing Liz as a magazine writer, Jane as a yogi, Kitty and Lydia as self obsessed gym goers, and Mary as a grump with a secret, lets you have a bit of fun with a well-known tale. We also are strong believers that sometimes it is more than OK to read a book just to have some fun — no deepening of knowledge or self-reflection required. We also believe it takes no small amount of courage to take on a classic. So, kudos to Ms. Sittenfeld for bravely adapting Pride and Prejudice. As for the rest of you – start reading. To help sway you, we share some assessments from a few other critics:

  • “A hugely entertaining and surprisingly unpredictable book, bursting with wit and charm.” The Irish Times
  • “Endlessly amusing . . . Her take on Austen’s iconic characters is skillful, her pacing excellent, and her dialog highly entertaining. . . . Austen fans will adore this new offering, a wonderful addition to the genre.” Library Journal
  • “Sittenfeld adeptly updates and channels Austen’s narrative voice the book is full of smart observations on gender and money. . . . A clever retelling of an old-fashioned favorite.” Publishers Weekly

FC9781607747307The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2014) – Whether you (or your mother) are seeking inspiration to clean out your sock drawer or to declutter your whole darn house, pick up a copy of this book and start reading. Kondo will talk you calmly an confidently through her personal philosophy of tidiness, one she’s been developing since she was a girl growing up in Japan. Kondo admits to a lifelong fascination with organization, one which drove her to rush home from grade school so that  the she could straighten up her messy little brother’s room. Her childhood curiosity then turned into a small consulting business (which has a three month waiting list and no repeat clients because they are always successful)  and then into a book which took the world by storm upon its publication two years ago . She encourages people to keep only the objects that “spark joy” in  their lives and to discard the other objects. Warning: once you start reading and cleaning, you won’t be able to stop with just the sock drawer!

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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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LISTEN NOW to Books to Curl Up With After the Relatives Have Left or download the jamcast now at http://www.box.net/shared/hv75ckge2i

After the relatives have gone... ...curl up with these treasures.

Lisa and Lisa pick recently published books to read once the holidays have passed, the wrapping paper is recycled, and your relatives have left.  These would also be great books to curl up with if you need to ignore the mess in your house or that project due for work.

The Lisas’ choices are The Help by Kathryn Stockett, My Life in France by Julia Child, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld and Louise Penny’s Inspector Garmache mystery series. Recorded January 2010.

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