Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Ahhhhh, Valentine’s Day – a date in February that seems to elicit extreme reactions. You either LOVE it or cringe at the very thought.  Since we would never dream of telling you how to react to this annual event, instead we thought we’d recommend what to read if you’re searching for some romantic prose.

Our twist: a focus on love stories either inspired by or written by the ultimate cupid-with-a-quill, the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.  The publication dates of the books span a period of  more than 400 years – from 1596 to 2011- but all are relevant and fresh and most are full of fun. One, upon reading, you might question how we call it a love story, but we stand by this classification.

So here we go, Shakespeare-inspired love stories for Valentine’s Day.  We hope you like them, whether you’re a fan of Valentine’s Day or not. Here at the Book Jam we like to say, “If books be the music of love, read on”.

1) For those of you who know that the back story for a love affair is often extremely interesting:

Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it. ~ Lisa Christie



2) For those of you finding love later in life, with all the complications that brings:

Julie and Romeo (2001) by Jeanne Ray  (2001). We both find this a funny, sexy, and endearingly charming book. Each of us read it years ago thinking it would make the perfect mother-in-law or mother’s gift.  Funny thing though, in trying to pick a book for women older than ourselves, we actually found a book that appealed to us and have since given or recommended it to many readers, regardless of  their age.  In this twist on Romeo and Juliet, Julie, a divorced “60 something” woman, meets Romeo a widower and well, they fall in love.  The conflict? Their families have feuded with each other for years and their kids truly truly hate the idea of their parents dating. The humor? What they go through to actually “date”.  Is this something you would discuss in a English Lit Class? Probably not, but read it anyway and enjoy. Great for a quick Sunday read, the beach or a carry-on bag. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

3) For those of you whose love life needs a bit of fantasy and humor and wonderful prose:

Midsummer Nights Dream  by Shakespeare (1596).  One by the Bard himself.  Great language, humorous and ridiculous plot twists as Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia try to find their true loves.  Throw in a Fairy Queen and King who are feuding and a mischievous fairy named Puck and well, you have all the makings of a truly romantic comedy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie



4) For those looking for a smart but light modern day romp through grown-up sisterly love, its requisite bickering, and some budding romance – with a lot of Shakespearean references thrown in:

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011). While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (who grew up with a Shakesperean professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to qoute the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, as promised in the intoduction to this post. But most of all it is the sisters love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing.  ~Lisa Cadow

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Brrrr. Baby, it’s cold outside. No matter. These frigid temperatures make it all the better to cozy up with a book. In bed. Under a pile of blankets. Wearing very thick socks. Mittens, however, are no good, as they would get in the way of turning the pages.

So if these below zero temperatures make you hungry as you struggle to keep your body temperature at 98.6, then we have a couple of titles to fill you up. The best news of all is that they are both calorie free.
White  Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby (2011). Luscious. If you could never read the words truffle, champagne, lavender honey and fois gras enough, then add this novel to your list.

In this appetizing story, author Kelby imagines the last days of the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). It’s clear that she’s thoroughly researched and included many details from his illustrious career (Escoffier was the designer of the Titanic’s menus, one of  Sarah Bernhardt’s lovers, a business partner of the hotelier Cesar Ritz, the creator of the modern restaurant kitchen layout, and the designer of such immortal recipes as “Peach Melba” and “Cherries Jubilee”). But this talented writer pushes further and imagines that which “is left unsaid,” believing it to be the most interesting part of  any life.

The first pages unfold with Escoffier’s ailing wife, Delphine, wishing for him to create a dish of her very own. Though they have been married for decades, he has never named one after her. They are both dying and it is in their family kitchen that a lifetime of love is explored, remembered, savored, and interpreted for the first time.

This is more than just a book for food lovers. It’s a sensuous, poetic story that brings details from this era of history to life so that readers can truly taste it. ~Lisa Cadow

The Hundred Foot Journey (2010) by Richard C. Morais. How did I miss this toothsome treasure when it was first published? Some reviewers have described it as Bollywood meets “Ratatouille.” That’s fitting as this fictional story chronicles the development of a talented chef from his boyhood in India through a brief adolescence in England to a full-fledged culinary career in France. But there is more to it than that.

The main character, Hassan, rises above cultural prejudices, crippling accidents, and jealous competitors to shine in his art despite a cut-throat working environment. Culinary enthusiasts will savor the descriptions of oysters (who knew they could be so tricky?!), French kitchens and country markets. Francophiles will love reading about the Alps and villages of the Jura. But the story really shines once Hassan reaches Paris, the pinnacle of all things epicurean. As a former senior editor at Forbes magazine, author Morais keeps the story moving while seamlessly explaining the fiscal realities, risks, and politics involved in running a multi-million dollar restaurant. This book is an education in flavor, talent, and another tantalizing take on the history of fine dining. Read it and eat! ~Lisa Cadow

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As part of the reading we squeezed in “after the relatives left,” (or in one of our cases – as we were travelling to visit them), we were mesmerized by a few books that truly transported us to other times and places.

So at this time of year, in the bleak of winter, when you might be craving an out-of-body experience, picking up one of these titles will do the job. Right from page one.

Some highlights include:

Rules of Civility (2011) by Amos Towles. Each time I picked up this book it was as if a ’38 Bentley had siddled up to my door to take me for a literary ride. This fabulous novel transports. It’s set in Depression-era  Manhattan and is gloriously atmospheric in the New York it portrays (think flapper dresses, smoky jazz clubs and Great Gatsby-esque Hampton estates with flowing champagne). It is also rich in strong characters and probing in the questions it asks its readers about choices, careers paths and the assumptions we make in life. Towles writing is polished, gorgeous even (hard to believe it’s a first novel), and takes us to 1938 to tell the story of that year in the life of Katey Kontent, a smart, ambitious, working class girl who finds herself rubbing shoulders with the 1%. Besides being a great read, it is a love letter to New York City. Book Group Worthy. ~Lisa Cadow

The Redbreast by Jo  Nesbo (2007). Does watching the Blockbuster movie adaptation of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have you looking for your next Scandinavian thriller?  Look no further than this first book in Nesbo’s Norwegian series.  What is better praise than the fact it might satisfy that craving for a good thriller?  Well, for me the most satisfying aspect of this thriller is that it transports you to modern-day (OK 1999) Norway.  As the plot switches times, you learn about Norwegian politics during Bill Clinton’s presidency, during WWII, and, ultimately, how Norway’s landscape and history shape the people living in Oslo, Bergen and other small Norwegian towns today.  The book’s main hero, Harry Hole, is flawed and thus interesting. The people he encounters are truly characters in their own right.  And, the plot keeps you reading page after page.  No, this is not high literature – it is a thriller.  But, an even better aspect of this book? If you like it, there are many more in this “Harry Hole” series.   ~ Lisa Christie

11/22/1963: A Novel by Stephen King (2011) – I have not yet finished this tome, but the pacing is superb, the concept fantastic (in the truest sense of that word) and the plot truly does allow you to time travel back to the 1960s.  If this book ends poorly, I will amend this recommendation in the next post.  Enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie




The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffinegger (2004). This “oldie but goodie” is eight years old but is still fresh in the story it tells and in the writing style it offers readers. Right away you know you’re in for quite a trip and will have to get your bearings, just as do main characters Henry DeTamble, a time traveling librarian, and his artist wife Clare. This is a unique tale that explores fate and love within a non-linear time sequence. So if you’ve been putting off reading it, January 2012 might just be the perfect “time”. ~Lisa Cadow

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The recent release of Jeffrey Eugenide’s The Marriage Plot (2011) has us both thinking about literary love, old-fashioned romance and the way smart, current authors are crafting stories about this timeless topic.  Luckily, we’ve both just read ones we enjoyed and are thrilled to recommend these titles. Good for curling up with after the turkey’s put away. ~ The Book Jam

I just read and LOVED I Married You for Happiness (2011) by Lily Tuck. When I picked it up I was intrigued by the idea of a tale narrated by a woman spending the night holding the hand of her recently dead husband.  Once I started reading, I LOVED the beautiful prose and the compelling characters.  The plot –  which reviews the choices each partner makes from the moment of meeting 43 years earlier to the instant the male dies – kept me engaged.  I’m jealous of those reading this for the first time. As a bonus, after finishing this delightful novel, I then realized I had also read and enjoyed the author’s National Book Award winner – The News from Paraguay, another love story of sorts. –Lisa Christie

This charming and original first novel is filled with the voices of young immigrants  Vaclav & Lena (2011), both new to the borrough of Brooklyn and to the challenges of friendship. The reader meets them as ten-year-olds and recently arrived from Russia. Smart Vaclav dreams of magic and of being as famous as David Copperfield while living in his family’s small apartment that always smells of borscht and is filled with the sounds of his father’s Russian TV shows . Lena, his “beautiful assistant,” struggles to overcome a difficult domestic situation, to finish her American homework and to fit in with the popular set at school. For a while it is their friendship with each other that rescues them from the loneliness of their lives as outsiders. Then, Lena mysteriously disappers and the story resumes seven years later when Vaclav & Lena unexpectedly reunite. We fall in love with these strong, kind characters who create magic in unexpected ways and find love in unusual places. I strongly recommend this book. –Lisa Cadow

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Sometimes the view of the wider world from Vermont can be obscured by our colorful maples, majestic green mountains and by the many freedoms we enjoy living here. It can be easy to forget – or seem impossible – that there are countries where clean, running water isn’t the norm, where many girls don’t get the chance to attend school and where most men have more than one wife.

As I write, my three children are all in class, the washing machine is on its second load of the day and I am my husband’s only wife. Books like “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away” and “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” serve to open up the view to the rest of our world, in this case Nigeria, and support readers in understanding more deeply the conflicts, culture and issues others are experiencing. These two books are excellent and engrossing, balanced with humor and delightful characters so they are as enjoyable as they are educational. And, both explore the effects of and fallout from men having multiple wives, but they have their own unique plots and provide great discussions points (even if only in your own head) when read together.

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away (2011) is a novel set smack dab in the oil-polluted, violent back waters of the Niger River Delta. It examines the complex political and economic problems of  this petroleum rich country from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl named Blessing. The majority of the story takes place in her family compound with no electricity or running water but  there are occasional glimpses into the preposterously air-conditioned, manicured, guarded  compound nearby that houses foreign oil workers.  I became enthralled by the 12-year old narrator’s voice, full of questions about the often perplexing behaviors of those around her: her beloved brother Ezekiel who’s fallen in with a dangerous crowd while trying to navigate the path to adulthood; her mid-wife grandmother a fountain of  Nigerian fables and wisdom but also of cultural contradictions; her own mother who is always working, desperate to escape her impoverished surroundings and to educate her children; her Christian-turned-Muslim grandfather who decides it’s time to take a much younger second wife; and this silly, yet endearing, second wife herself, Celestine. This is a special coming of age story.

Then there’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (2010) by Lola Shoneyin. This novel takes a humorous but disturbing look at the practice of polygamy in Nigeria. Though I found “Tiny Sunbirds” to be more poetically written, “Secret Lives” takes a darker look at what can happen when a man has many wives –four in the case of Baba Segi. The real conflict arises when Baba Segi decides to take as a fourth wife a young woman with a college degree. This throws the household into a state of alarm and confusion, threatening the three other uneducated wives. The reader gets a look into the world of Baba Segi and each of his wives, learning their secrets, fears,  dreams and often sordid plans.

Happy, insightful, educational reading. Enjoy the view.  -Lisa Cadow

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Hello Book Jam Readers. Just a quick note about format: we’ve decided on a new strategy here at the BookJam which is to post regular reviews written individually, without a podcast element. Our schedules are busy and don’t always allow us to come together to record but we still want to share a list of favorites with our subscribers. But don’t worry, we still plan to podcast periodically with special author interviews and with our trademark “Lisa Lisa” book discussions. As always, happy reading! And please feel free to send us feedback. Best, Lisa and Lisa 

Whew. Summer really flew by – and so did a bunch a great new titles. I just wish I’d had a chance to read them all. Alas, being only a mere mortal I managed a dozen or so, and below I’ve noted a few favorites. The overall theme to my picks seems to be “women adventuring,” whether it’s over the high seas to Egypt in 1861, or to India in 1928, or to start up a restaurant on a wing and a prayer in the late 1990’s.  -Lisa L C

Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (2011). Books about food are always interesting to me but I think this memoir by one of America’s most respected female chefs transcends that genre. Hamilton holds a MFA in writing  and it shows. She sometimes left me breathless with her creative use of language, her turns of phrase, and well, her fluency. She’s led a fascinating life (heck, she’s only in her mid to late forties) which started with growing up in a crumbling castle in rural Pennsylvania where her parents threw an annual lamb roast party, to working as cook at a summer camp in the Berkshires, to marrying into an Italian family that led her to spend a month of every summer in the boot of that country learning from the natives. Of course, it’s more than food she’s writing about. It’s about struggling to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. It’s about learning how to create her own family, to figure out what happened in her family of origin, and how to manage a fantastic restaurant on top of it all. It’s delicious.

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger (2011). This short novel is very satisfying and fills the reader in on a little known piece of history. The story chronicles the voyage of real-life Lady Duff Gorden who’s forced to leave England in the 1860’s and travel to Egypt as a result of tuberculosis. It’s told from the perspective of her lady’s maid whose own story is also fascinating (love and intrigue included). Lady Gordon and her domestic servant travel in houseboats on the Nile and live in an ancient palace in Luxor. Author Pullinger researched her topic carefully and based it on a published book of Gordon’s letters  (see http://www.amazon.co.uk/Letters-Egypt-Lucie-Austin-Gordon/dp/0860684555) and it really brings that era, the sights, the sounds and women’s struggles vividly to life. I loved it.

East of the Sun by Julia Grigson (2009). I blindly picked up this book at a bus station shop because I’d temporarily run out of things to read and was on the road. I hadn’t heard anything about it but spent the next few days engrossed in England/India circa 1928. It’s historical fiction (and labelled as romance but it’s not cheesy – really!)  and I learned more about the generation of “Raj Orphans” (see our review of “Old Filth” by Jane Gardam) and about a group known as the “fishing fleet”, women who went over to India to find husbands (and much more).

Happy Reading. Lisa Cadow

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Listen now or Download Kathleen Britton

Though recorded back in the springtime, it’s taken until late August to publish this special interview with Katharine Britton. Many thanks to this talented author for her time, thoughts, patience, and most of all for her new book.

We were lucky enough to spend a gorgeous last official day of spring with Katherine Britton on the porch of Lisa LC’s home. The weather truly enhanced what a privledge it is to spend time with a person who only recently earned the ability to call herself a published novelist.  Yes, Ms. Britton has published her first novel – Her Sister’s Shadow – and it is doing well on on beaches, poolsides, mountain tops, lake shores and assorted vacation spots across America this summer.

We spoke of summer, weather, the importance of home, family, birth order, fairies, elves, brownies and of course books.  The books that came up during our conversation include, in no particular order,

From her childhood memories:

Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Counterpane Fairy by Katharine Pyle

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Anne of the Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Bronte sisters’ novels

More recent reading:

Jhumpa Lahiri’s works

The novels of Anita Shreve

The Big House: A century of life in an American summer home by George Howe Colt

House by Tracy Kidder

History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Also a pick for our “Stories for Old Men Waiting” blog and podcast)

Year of Wonders: A novel of the plague by Geraldine Brooks

Room by Emma Donoghue

We then discussed books we hope summer’s longer days allow us to tackle.  Now that her book tour is ending, Katharine’s “hoped-for” books include, include but are not limited to:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Caleb’s Crossing also by Geraldine Brooks and recently finished by JLisa C. J Lisa highly recommends this for people who like Geraldine Brook’s works and anyone with an interest in the history of Martha’s Vineyard or Native American history or the view from the point of view of a woman in colonial America.

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