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Posts Tagged ‘Jussi Adler-Olsen’

The Book Jam’s 2014 Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Brazilian Adventure: A Quest into the Heart of the Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting

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

PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS

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

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

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

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

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An email from one of our great friends in need of perfect books for her soon-to-be-High-School-Senior to read this summer led to this post.  Since this student is an avid and discriminating reader, she wanted well-written books. However, since this student’s summer plans include attending a challenging academic camp, she wanted our picks to be “fun” to read.

What follows is based upon the list we created for her.  Since we think it is pretty good list for anyone (adult and young adult alike) looking for good books to read this summer, we share it now with you.

Before we begin our reviews, we would like to note two things about this list. 1) Most of the titles were published years ago. We list them now because people currently in high school were too young for these novels when they initially appeared on bookstore shelves, and we don’t want them or anyone to miss a chance to read these titles. 2) Most of these picks, while selected for readers who are YA’s target audience, are not books that most publishers would label as YA. Two 2014 YA titles finish out our list for anyone looking for a purely YA read.

What Could Be Called “Coming of Age” Novels 

Zorro by Isabel Allende (2005).  While Ms. Allende is known for magic realism, this novel offers a more straightforward narrative than found in most of her books. Ms. Allende’s account of the legend begins with Zorro’s childhood and finishes with the hero. Have fun with this book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell (2002) – A look at China and USA through the eyes of a young woman whose life is greatly affected her American father’s fascination with China. Not necessarily light, but truly a great, great “coming of age” book. We have been recommending this to men, women and young adults for years and have never had a disgruntled customer.  One all male book club declared it their best discussion book ever. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – Mr. Urrea creates a history of Mexico as seen through the life of one of their saints (who happens to be one of his distant relatives). This saga, written in gorgeous and lyrical prose, shows a Mexico that many might otherwise miss. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Novels with an Adventurous Bent

Death Comes To Pemberley by PD James (2011) – This mystery revisits at the characters and places from Pride and Prejudice six years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. Their lives are rambling along quite well until a murderer enters their realm. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Department Q mysteries by Jussi Adler Olsen (assorted years) – All the Department Q mysteries take place in Denmark. They all involve a lovable and unique cast of police detectives. They all teach you a bit about life in Scandinavia. They are all well-written and fun, with some gory details periodically inserted. ~ Lisa Christie

A More Serious Novel with International Overtones

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – This well-written novel tracks the lives of partygoers when an event honoring a Japanese businessman visiting an embassy in an unnamed South American country goes terribly awry. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Some Non-Fiction Choices 

On Writing by Stephen King (2000) – His attempt to show people how to write well, is really an autobiography about a writing life. Well-written, fascinating look at an American author that happens to have some good tips on getting better at writing. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (2011) – This short book follows an Afghan refugee through the countries he must cross, and shows what he must do to survive and achieve political asylum. The fact that he was ten when his journey began, and he did it all alone, makes it a truly thought-provoking read. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor at Little Big Horn by Larry Colter (2001) – An amazing tale of a gifted young basketball player named Sharon LaForge. Mr. Colter follows her and her team as they navigate the challenges of their basketball season and their home lives on an Native American reservation. I still remember passages thirteen years after reading it the first time. ~ Lisa Christie

Some Actual YA Titles For Young Adults (and adults – let’s be honest here)

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

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (May 2014) – I can not say much about the plot as it will ruin the book.  But this story of a privileged family summering on an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard is a page-turner. The plot revolves around decisions leading up to a tragedy, and then focuses on how the decisions made after the tragedy affect the family, particularly the 18-year-old narrator. ~ Lisa Christie

This list is not meant to be a one size fits all recommendation.  If you have trouble matching the young adults in your life to any of these books, please send us a comment and we will try to find a book to meet your needs.

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Since in the very near future many, many people across the USA are heading to airports and getting in cars for April school vacations or for Seder and Easter dinners, we thought we would highlight a few great audio books for you to listen to during those long car rides, or to download to your devices for those plane trips. And since one of us always has young children in the mini-van making adult audio fare impractical for her, and the other Lisa’s work commute is too short for audio books these days, we also asked for help from two of our great local booksellers when we searched for audio-books intended for mostly adult audiences.

No matter where the road takes you, we truly hope you enjoy these picks. And yes, each of these picks is good in the printed form as well.

And, if you do not have a reason to listen to children’s literature, please skip to the end where there are picks just for you.

For families with pre-schoolers to 2nd graders in the car

Magic Tree House Series, by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – Seriously, the phrases “Magic Tree House”, or “Jack and Annie”, are magic to the preschool set. These words are all you need to know to entertain pre-schoolers for hours. We promise. We have recommended these to hundreds of parents and grandparents and have yet to receive a complaint. OK we have heard one – the author, at a book a year, does not write and record fast enough. So now a synopsis of what causes all the fuss. In this series, siblings, named Jack and Annie, time travel in a magic treehouse that appears periodically in the woods near their home. While listening to these books, your kids learn a bit about all sorts of historical times and people, all while thinking they are part of an amazing adventure. You, as the adults in the car, get to know your children will not ask “are we there yet” as long as the audio-book is running. Bonus: The written versions make great early chapter books for emerging readers. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

For families with elementary school aged children in tow (depending upon the kids, probably best for 2nd grade and up)

Same Sun Here by Silas HouseNeela VaswaniHilary Schenker (2012) – An interesting audio book with alternating narrators reading alternating chapters telling the story of two pen pals — one in NYC and one in rural KY — and the adventures they share via printed page and letters mailed through the US Postal service. Bonus: We know it is shocking that they used pen and paper even though email was available (the novel is set just after 9-11), but maybe you can discuss how you survived the “Olden Days” before email as you listen with children. ~ Lisa Christie


Frindle (1996) or No Talking (2007) by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former elementary school teacher and principal who truly seems to understand kids, and seems to have a special place in his heart for young troublemakers. Both of these books take place in a contemporary school setting where students cause a bit of a mess for themselves and/or the adults in their lives. Listen and enjoy the humor of elementary school aged students and the adults who work with them. Bonus: If you like these books, Mr. Clements has written many, many more, and someone has recorded them all for you to hear. ~ Lisa Christie

For families needing a good book to appeal to kids in 3rd to 12th grade

The Hobbit (1937) or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (1954) by JRR Tolkein – The “oh so British” narrator is superb. The content is both interesting enough for the teens in your car and adventurous enough for the elementary school aged. And since the only visuals are in their head, the plot is not too scary for most upper elementary aged kids. Bonus: You can cross some “classics” off your high schooler’s college prep reading lists. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For families with teens and above

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (2003) – The US President won a grammy for his reading of his autobiography.  You will win greater knowledge of his life. Pre-teens and teens can relate to his story of how hard his mother made him work at school.  Parents can ponder his comments about how parenting with his wife Michelle caused him to think hard about divisions of labor in households and the chores that typically fall on women, whether they work outside the home or not. Listen and have fun road-tripping with the President in your ear. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox (2002) – Yes, this choice may seem cheesy at first glance, but his life is full of ups and downs that make great stories (alcoholism, stardom, Parkinson’s). The book is well-written and funny. Yes, we said well-written; and yes, he admits he got some advice from his brother-in-law Michael Pollan. Bonus: Honestly, having his voice in your car is like a lovely conversation with a long lost friend or an intense introduction to someone you would like to know. ~ Lisa Christie

For times when mostly adults are listening


NOTE: These next choices are picked by our friends Liza Bernard and Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore. Both have a long enough commutes to listen to numerous audio-books.

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson and read by Bill Bryson (2013) – Humorist Bill Bryson, tackles the events of 1927 in his latest book. The players include Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone. The New York Times review declares this book “a wonderful romp.” Carin’s review of the audio-book, “well done”. ~ picked by Carin 

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – Carin says, this novel is “one of the best I have read this year. And, the audio version is well read.”  Both Lisas of the Book Jam loved this book about the Chechnya Conflict as well, and will review it in a post soon. ~ Picked by Carin

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibon (2013) – Katie Kitchel, another great Norwich Bookstore Bookseller, picked this novel as her staff pick recently.  To quote her – “Don’t let the slim size of this novel deceive you. It is full of haunting questions, powerful imagery, and the emotion of a mother who has lost a son. This novel seeks to remind us, that first and foremost, Mary was a mother.” Liza is now recommending the audio-book. Since it is read by Meryl Streep, we have no trouble imagining why. ~ Picked by Liza

Department Q Detective series by Jussi Adler-Olsen (assorted dates) – We have sung the praises of this Danish series in its written form. Now Carin, a very well-read woman, has told us they are delightful in their audio-book form, especially the voice of Assad, the main detective’s trusted assistant. ~ Picked by Carin

Jack Reacher Mysteries by Lee Childs (assorted dates) – “Fun, well-plotted mysteries that are well narrated in the audio form.”  Never Go Back is most recent. ~ Picked by Liza

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Buckle your seat belts and put on your sunblock because here we go, our last post before we take August off to “go reading”.  In it, we share books we hope you take with you on your end-of-summer adventures.  We’ve tried to find something for every literary mood you might have — fiction, memoir, thrillers, and yes, even, mind-candy reads. Have a great time wherever these books may take you. We look forward to being with you again in mid-September.

Fantastic Fiction

FC9780316126489Wise Men by Stuart Nadler (2013)- Bluepoint, Cape Cod, 1952. This is exactly where I wanted to go when I picked up this newly published novel by talented writer Stuart Nadler. Having grown up in coastal Massachusetts, during the summer months I now crave stories set by the seashore, especially in New England.  Along with delivering the sun and the sand, this book offers so much more: insight into race, class, and identity.  Teenaged Hilly finds himself spending the summer at his new ocean-front home after his lawyer father catapults to sudden fame and fortune upon winning a class action lawsuit against the airline industry.  He befriends the caretaker on the property and his niece, both of whom are black, and the conflict ensues as Hilly falls for lovely Savannah.  The fallout from their relationship effects both families and years later, Hilly still bears the scars. In the second part of the book he attempts to find his young love and make amends.  The prose in this debut novel is reminiscent of Hemingway, crisp and clear, evocative.  Make sure to stick with narrator Hilly, elderly by the end, as all shall become clear in Wise Men‘s final, brilliant pages. ~Lisa Cadow

 Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma  (2013) –  I seem to be reading many books set in Africa of late and I am glad, as this trend led me to this novel.  Unchangeable begins with  “I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written.”  The “I” is the book’s narrator, a writer, whose literary attempts began early in life.  At age eight, in an airport terminal where he spent a lot of time hanging out with various airport vendors waiting for his airline “hostess” mother to return from flights, he wrote and promptly lost his first novel.  He then proceeds to lose three other books: “a novel, a novella, and a biography,” in a variety of creative places – in a black lake, with a woman he has loved and lost, and in an African landfill.   All three lost novels are his fictional accounts of true events involving the narrator, his friend Julian, a much more successful author, and Eve, the elusive actress the narrator loves.  And in this novel, the “truth” of the narrative is truly stranger than the fiction.  But, what actually is truth?  Ultimately, that is the question the narrator confronts and examines in this intriguing novel by a strong “new-to-me” author – Mr. Jansma.  I look forward to his next book. ~ Lisa Christie

Benediction by Kent Haruf (March 2013) – With the quietness of his novels,  Mr. Haruf tricks the reader into thinking nothing at all is happening.  Then somewhere along the way you realize so much is going on.  In Benediction — a man has mere weeks to live as his cancer advances, a daughter comes home to help him die, a son disappears, a girl comes to live with her grandma after a tragedy, a middle-aged woman lives with the choices her love life has offered and much more unfolds.  Yes, all of this action happens while you as the reader are thinking “hmm where is the action of this plot?”.  Through it all, you will enjoy the well-picked prose and your time in Mr. Haruf’s Holt, Colorado. ~ Lisa Christie

 FC9781594486401The Yonhalosee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclanfani (June 2013) DiSclafani doesn’t miss a hoofbeat as she lands the reader at an all girls riding school in North Carolina in 1930. The atmosphere she creates is magical and lush, moving between the orange groves of old Florida where the narrator Theodora grew up and the oak-hickory filled Blue Ridge Mountains. This is a coming of age novel mixed with suspense and mystery as we don’t know quite what fifteen year-old Theodora has done to land herself in this privileged exile — or how she will get herself home. While I didn’t always like or identify with Theodora or her choices, I appreciated this book and the author’s excellent writing, the characters we meet, and considering the dilemmas they faced . Yonhalosee would make a good choice for a reading group as it puts forth plenty to discuss about race, class, family, and sexual morays.  ~Lisa Cadow

 Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We both have only just started this novel, but it is so full of insight and ideas that we feel the need to share it on our summer reading post.  It starts out with whip-smart Ifemilu who’s studying in Princeton, New Jersey then setting off for the less posh Trenton in the summer heat to get her hair braided.  Insights on race in America and the African experience here abound, and we’re only a few pages in.  Thus far in our reading we agree, it would be a great big satisfying novel to sink your teeth into as summer days wind down.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

“Beach” Reads/Mind Candy/Humorous Fiction

 FC9780547576213The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman (April 2013). There are two authors I “follow,” eagerly awaiting their next books. Eleanor Lipman is one  of them(and Geraldine Brooks is the other). Reading Lipman’s books evokes the same feelings as watching a satisfying Nora Ephron film. The View from Penthouse B is a fun and farcical story about a motley crew of characters: a recently widowed writer mourning the loss of her husband and trying to get up the nerve to seek male companionship, an unemployed financial analyst who loves making cupcakes and enjoys his single, gay lifestyle in the city, and the owner of the apartment who is still reeling from her ex-husband’s betrayal and losing all of her savings to Bernie Madoff. As always, Lipman’s dialogue is witty and engaging and the reader finds herself rooting for these apartment mates to find love and belonging by book’s end.  ~Lisa Cadow (And Lisa Christie, another Lipman fan is looking forward to this one in August.)

 FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand.  And apparently in 1976, London suffered more than most. (Although, as I write this, it is hard to imagine feeling more heat in Vermont.)  That 1976 heat wave is the setting for a series of events in this wonderful book about an Irish Catholic clan living in London.  The chain of events unfurls once the father of three grown children disappears, causing all the grown children to rally around their mother.  And well, his disappearance leads to a secret which when unveiled leads to a series of events that rapidly take over everything in the hot, hot heat of this long ago summer.  Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780399162169A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams (May 2013) — If you feel  like you need a little mind candy at the beach, don’t pass over A Hundred Summers. This is another novel set on the New England seashore, this time in exclusive Seaview, Rhode Island during the summer of 1938. The country has passed through the Great Depression, is on the cusp of World War II and the great hurricane of 1938 is poised to come hurtling up the coast. It is an evocative setting and interesting time period in which to tell the story of Lily, in Seaview with her family for the season, where she runs into ghosts from her past. Nick her college sweetheart and Budgie, Lilly’s former classmate from college are now married and residing down the beach. Truths, lies, and secrets emerge as summer breezes turn to hurricane force winds. Fun, light, and perfect for a breezy day at the beach. Don’t forget to wear your 1930’s style swimsuit!

Skios by Michael Frayn (2102) – Reading Skios is kind of like falling into a Neil Simon play set in the Greek islands. Right from the start the reader is tumbling through the olive groves along with the disparate characters who are spending the weekend on this remote island. There are doddering academics, wacky philanthropists, aspiring yuppies, lying liars, and those out for just a little romantic fun who come together to make this a comedy of errors and tale of mistaken identities. You’ll want to gobble this up  in one read, like a delicious hunk of feta.

Memorable Memoirs/Essay collections

 If it’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother by Julia Sweeney (April 2013) – I loved this book. I loved the author’s humor. And, I appreciated her humor most when she discussed more serious topics: her chapters on adopting a girl from China and being a single mom are superb; her chapter on addiction is poignant; and her chapter on abortion should be read by everyone on all sides of this issue – but especially by policy makers.  To complete your summer of activity, read this and then go hear the former SNL star Ms. Sweeney as she is one of the voices in this summer’s animated movie – Monster’s University. ~ Lisa Christie

 How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (June 2011) — This book by the British comedian had my cousin in stitches during a recent beach vacation.  She seriously was laughing so hard she cried just from the blurb on the back of the book. She then laughed again and again as she picked up and read randomly from different chapters.  Based upon her reactions and recommendations from Lisa Cadow and our friend Cindy Pierce, I finally read this gem of a book.  I am so, so, so glad I did.  A very superb way to think about feminism and life, and a great way to laugh a bit as you end your  summer. ~ Lisa Christie

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (April 2013) – Mr. Sedaris always makes us laugh and always leaves us with something to think about.  This is not a “light” read, but it is full of humor.  We recommend “reading” this by listening to him narrate the audio-book version in his oh-so-unique voice.  Maybe you could listen as you take that final end of summer road trip. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Tantalizing Thrillers

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler Olsen (August 2011) – Mr. Adler-Olsen is my new favorite Scandinavian author of thrillers.  This book is the first one in a great series based in Denmark and featuring a flawed detective and his Muslim side kick.  I am tackling book three – A Conspiracy of Faith –  in August, when the Book Jam “goes reading”. ~ Lisa Christie

Ghost Man by Roger Hobbs (2013) – This first novel by a young American novelist is being reviewed with high marks by sources as diverse as The New York Times, Booklist, O magazine, and Kirkus Reviews.  I picked it up when Carin Pratt, a Norwich Bookstore bookseller recommended it for a great summer thriller.  She is right.  I usually do not enjoy books about gambling or drug wars or drug deals gone awry.  However, the language choices, the level of detail about underworld dealings and the compassion with which Mr. Hobbs writes about the criminal elements in our midst grabbed me and kept me engaged until the very end. ~ Lisa Christie

Perfect Picture Books – Just in case you need a “family” read for youngsters

The Pink Refrigerator by Tim Egan – We LOVE the Dodsworth books in our house for their humor and their humor.  In this latest outing, Dodsworth discovers a magic refrigerator that allows him to explore the world a bit. A PERFECT book to share with your young friends as they think about how to design their own summer adventures or as they claim “we’re bored”. ~ Lisa Christie

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Summer often means reading lighter, just-for-fun, books.  This does not mean you need to pick a book that insults your intelligence with sloppy writing or poorly plotted themes.  However, it does often mean thrillers.  And now that we have a “go-to” author for four of the five Scandinavian countries, we thought we would devote a post just to this genre.  Yes – we say genre – one with dark winters and brief, sun-filled summers, problems with immigration, and bad guys who are usually people everyone knows because the population of the respective country is just too small not to.  The buzz may have started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it is now so much more.  So today, a day just barely past the summer solstice, we toast these gorgeous countries of the midnight sun with a salute to some of their literature.
 

Denmark

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen (2012) – Mr. Adler-Olsen has created a series based around a group of detectives – headed by Detective Carl Morck –  in Copenhagen’s Department Q.  Dept. Q resolves unsolved cases, and as detectives in novels tend to do, Q runs into resistance from other departments, and from the Danes they investigate.  In this installment, the group looks into the unsolved murder of a young brother and sister from decades ago. In the process, they gain insight from a trivial pursuit game, pursue Denmark’s ruling elite and search for an elusive homeless woman who holds all the answers.  You, as the reader, learn about the Danish landscape and people, and can travel a bit through the northern tip of Europe.  FYI – The first book in this series, which we have not yet read is – The Keeper of Lost Causes.

Finland

OK, Finland is the country we are missing, and we decided to post today even without a Finnish selection.  However, we are still looking and would love any suggestions.

Iceland

Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (2010)We were lucky 1) to be in Iceland and 2) to find Ms. Sigurdardottir’s books in the Reykjavik airport.  Turns out she is known as Iceland’s premiere mystery writer; yes, they have more than one.  In this installment, Thora, the heroine lawyer, is juggling her own kids, her son’s live-in girlfriend and their young son, and a client who, of course, is innocent of the crime he is accused of committing. He is also innocent of four similar unsolved murders buried in ash when one of Iceland’s volcanoes erupted and disrupted everything (including solving crimes). Or is he?

Norway

Any mystery by Jo Nesbo. Seriously, we enjoy spending time with Mr. Nesbo’s severely flawed inspector  – Harry Hole – in any of his novels. We also love living among the fjords and towns of Norway briefly for the duration of each book.  And since his first Inspector Harry Hole thriller – The Bat – is released in the USA in July, you can get started from the beginning if you have not yet discovered this author.

Sweden

Although after the block buster movie, it seems like most people on this planet have already discovered Mr. Steig Larsson, we still like the books by the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  So if you haven’t yet started this riveting “good for a beach read or plane ride” trilogy, featuring Lisbeth Salander, one of the best known characters in literature, and her journalist friend Mikael Blomkvist, we suggest that you do.

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