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Posts Tagged ‘Kekla Magoon’

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Once again we approach African American/Black History Month with curiosity and questions. In addition to pondering why only one month is devoted to contributions of African Americans, we are embracing February’s heightened attention to contributions of African Americans as an opportunity to review GREAT books by Black authors. One is considered a classic; others are brand new, some somewhat new. One is geared to kids, others for adults, and one for young adults. But, we recommend them all. (We also revisited our past year of reviews to see how well we represented the diversity of race and culture that books offer us. Details of our annual audit are at the end of this post.)

Enjoy!

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God Help the Child by Toni Morrison (paperback January, 2016). A  story about the power of parenting and its unforeseen effects on our children (and society). I have only read Beloved so am a relative newcomer to the power of Morrison’s prose. This story is the only one of Morrison’s books to be set in the modern day yet it has a timeless, almost parable-like quality to it. It centers on two main characters, young lovers Bride and Booker, both in their 20’s, whose life paths and current missteps have been and continue to be affected by the events of the actions of their parents.  We meet them in glitzy, bustling LA but follow them to a quiet, obscure town in northern California that provides a backdrop for painful truths to emerge. Morrison addresses the subject of racism within the black community as well as the epidemic of sexual abuse within our society. There are, however, themes of hope, new life, and healing woven in throughout. Not an easy read but an important one.~ Lisa Cadow

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1975) – Somehow I missed reading this classic in my youth, which is why I am so glad my 4th grader chose this book for our current read-aloud. While the subject matter is tear-inducing, this ten-year-old and I are enjoying this well told tale of a loving family living through horrific relations among black and white populations in a rural town. In fact, my son keeps comparing this novel to Stella By Starlight, another book we read aloud about “messed up” (as my teen would say) race relations that I highly recommend (reviewed on my ongoing reading list). He also connected this book to what he heard on the news during the past year, resulting in many great conversations. ~ Lisa Christie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2015). On page ten of this succinct, accessible manifesto, Adichie already has readers laughing out loud when she describes herself as  “Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men”. Full of disarming humor, this book invites serious discussion about a term (feminist) that is challenging to unpack the world over – whether you live in Nigeria or New York. Adichie raises lots of “What if’s?” about the future, ponders the present, and tells stories of her own family and upbringing in Africa. This work was inspired by a a TEDx talk Adichie delivered in 2006. If you would like to see it, watch here. Please share the it – and the book – with your daughter, your son, everyone. ~ Lisa Cadow (Lisa Christie wholeheartedly seconds this review)

Black Man in a White Coat by Tweedy Damon, MD (2015) – “It’s up to us, as doctors, to find the commonalities and respect the differences between us and our patients,” Dr. Tweedy writes. This examination of a black man’s medical education and subsequent service as a doctor offers insight, honesty, and questions about the role of race in America today. I enjoyed every self-reflective moment of being with Dr. Damon in his memoir; may all my doctors embody his compassion. (This would make a great gift for the medical students/doctors in your life.) As a NYTimes review of this book states, “on one level the book is a straightforward memoir; on another it’s a thoughtful, painfully honest, multi-angled, constant self-interrogation about himself and about the health implications of being black in a country where blacks are more likely than other groups to suffer from, for instance, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney failure and cancer.” ~ Lisa Christie

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (2016) – Two authors, one black and one white, were placed together on a book tour. As a result, they became friends as they bonded over their sadness/dismay/anger over what was happening to black teens in the USA (i.e., Trayvon Martin, Ferguson). As a result of their need to make sense of what they were seeing and to help, they created this book – their view of an incident in which a young black man is beaten by a white cop. The tale is told in alternating chapters and voices – one voice being the black male who was beaten and the other a white teen who witnessed the beating. Nothing is as simple as it seems, but the voices feel real, and I love the idea of these two authors collaborating on such an important issue. This novel also reminded me of another book I loved and highly recommend – Kekla Magoon’s How It Went Down, reviewed on the Book Jam last June~ Lisa Christie

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We end today’s recommendations with a review of how broad a selection of authors we have featured since last February’s diversity audit. We found that during the past twelve months, we reviewed books by 140 authors. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” and “Guest Author” posts as we do not choose those all of those books.)  Slightly over half (59%) of the authors we featured were women, 37% were men, and 4% were written by groups of authors or organizations such as Lonely Planet. A majority of the authors we featured (77%) were white, with 23% authors of color. Overall, 15% of the authors we featured were nonwhite Africans or African Americans, 4% Hispanics, and 2% Asians. Geographically speaking, we featured almost all the continents, with 56% of featured authors hailing from the USA, 33% from Europe, 7% from Canada, 3% from Australia, and 2% from Africa.

To sum, we can and will do better featuring authors of color.

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DSC04450Late July — a time to tackle some of those books on your kids’ or nieces’ or nephews’ or grandkids’ summer reading list, a perfect excuse for your kids to spend a day in a hammock with a good book, an opportunity for rainy days to be filled with words, and the season when many young campers would love a care package full of books. So to help you navigate all these reasons to read, we’ve compiled our annual list of books for young summer campers — whether they have a tent pitched in their own backyard or are someplace far away.

To help guide selections a bit, we divided our picks into two categories 1) picks for young to middle grade readers, and 2) books for young adults. We do so, as always, with the disclaimer these categories are very, very loose; so please use them as guidelines, not gospel. We also decided to feature more recent titles, but this does not mean we don’t recommend the classics – The Wednesday Wars, Stuart Little, Harry Potter, Rose Under Fire, Swallows and Amazons, The Bluest Eye, Percy Jackson. We whole heartedly recommend the classics and older titles and blog about them often; we just don’t feature them in this post.

We hope you have fun with these books wherever you and your young loved ones may be this summer. Happy reading!

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Some fiction and non-fiction for young to middle grade readers

Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (2015) – This series brings us back to our days of devouring the “Little House” books. And while this series, unlike Ms. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, is not a memoir, it feels authentic, and the illustrations are especially evocative of those etchings of Ma, Pa, Laura and Mary. In this sequel to Bo at Ballard Creek, we continue to follow Bo, her brother, and her two dads as they travel the Alaskan Gold Rush. Give this one to all your Little House fans; they will thank you. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015) – Perhaps my favorite book for kids so far in the summer of 2015.  Fans of Dave Barry will love the humor. Fans of fun adventures will love this book about four kids and their unusual plan to save the President using a kite and some stolen property (it all makes sense in the end). ~ Lisa Christie

X:A novel by IlyAsah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon (2015) – This novel looks at Malcolm X and his formative years in Michigan, Boston and NYC.  Written by his daughter and Ms. Magoon (author of another recommended kids book, How it Went Down), this book humanizes a legend, and illustrates how your choices and your reactions to them shape your life. ~ Lisa Christie

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff (2015) – SUPERB! Sad. Powerful. Trent’s 6th grade year is scarred by the aftermath of a tragic accident in 5th grade.  Nothing gets much better until Trent meets an unique and also scarred, force of nature called Fallon. The story of Trent and Fallon is one of second chances, recovery and friendship. It is also an honest look at rage, anger,and blame. As award-winning author Gary Schmidt states, “This book will change you.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (2015) – Ruby has a big secret that keeps her from inviting friends over to play and that takes her out of town every Saturday — her mom is in prison. She is fuzzy on the details of why her mom is incarcerated because, quite honestly, she does not really want to know. However, in this book she is starting middle school in mere weeks and she is thinking about her mom more often than when she was a young child. Plus, there is a new girl in her condo complex who just might be a friend. This story tells Ruby’s story and introduces the reader to the complicated lives led by children of the incarcerated. This would be a great book to read with your kids as it would lead to great conversations about bad choices and the ripple of repercussions they leave behind. ~ Lisa Christie

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

Ferals by Jacob Grey (2015) – Caw was abandoned by his parents when he was very young and he has been living with and talking to the crows ever since. Then one day, he and his crows save a girl, and he finds his first human friend. Things then get complicated as they discover other humans who can talk with animals, and then learn that some of those “ferals/animal talkers” are intent on destroying the world by bringing the “Spinning Man” back to life. Believe us — this will all make sense to the kids who read this dark adventure for animal lovers. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Graphic Library’s many stories — The Attack on Pearl Harbor, Matthew Henson, Jim Thorpe, Shackleton and his lost Antarctic Expedition, The Battle of Gettysburg (assorted years) – GREAT nonfiction graphic novels covering a variety of topics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

images-1Some Fiction Picks for For Young Adults

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles (2015) – Ms. Knowles is one of our favorite Young Adult (YA) writers ever since we read Living with Jackie Chan. In this outing, she describes one day in the life of a few teachers, a couple of cheerleaders, some stoners, some jocks and some who don’t know exactly where they fall in the High School hierarchy. Her tale serves as a reminder that everyone has a story to tell, and maybe more importantly, that we would all be better off if we took some time to find those tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour (2014) – What I loved most about this book is that the main romance is between two girls, and it is NOT a big deal. That fact alone makes this book lovely. That matter of fact telling would never have been included in books aimed at teens of my generation. So thank you Ms. LaCour. But, in addition to some teen romance, this book gives you insight into the world of making movies, a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend, teen sleuths, homeless teens, messed up adults, bi-racial families, and great friends. And, just so you know, I tried to put this down because I needed to read something else for other work, but I kept picking it back up as I just wanted to know what happened in the end to all these characters. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

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

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2011) – We are a bit late to the game on this book as we just discovered this YA series last month. But, we are so glad though as we loved this first book. In it, a Louisiana native relocates to a London Boarding school where she discovers an ability to see and speak with ghosts just as gruesome crimes mimicking those of the horrific Jack the Ripper begin. The good news is if your favorite YA readers likes this one, there are at least two more titles to devour. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fiction – slightly more serious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YA – because sometimes it is good to read about teens

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

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

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

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

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Short Stories/poetry

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

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

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Memoir

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

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

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

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

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

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Current Issues

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

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

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History

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

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Essays

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

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

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So a cold, snowy Vermont February is here once more, and again we find ourselves asking, “Do we create a specific post for African-American history month, or does creating a specific post somehow minimize the contributions of people of color?” This question led to — “Do we skip this year’s post, or do we again use this month as a reason to highlight the contributions of African-Americans and African-American authors?” And finally we asked, “How can thinking about these questions help us improve The Book Jam?” We answered that last question first by doing a quick audit of our site looking at our posts from the past 12 months, to see the races/ethnicities of authors we have showcased.

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We found that during the past 12 months, we reviewed 140 books. (We removed the “Pages in the Pub” and “Three Questions with Authors” posts as we do not choose all those books.) Over half (57%) were written by white authors from the USA, 24% by white authors not from the USA (mostly Brits, Canadians, Australians and a few Africans), and 19% were written by authors of color (Asian, Black, Indian, Latinos) from anywhere in the world. We noted that featured authors of color tend to be African-American (50%), followed by Latino (37%), and Indian/Asian (13%). Our gender break-down was more even, with 54% of books we reviewed written by women and 46% by men. We also looked at the images we insert into the posts (beyond the frequent book covers), and noted that we tend to insert images of objects, not people. But, we were uncomfortable to note that when we do insert images of people, they tend to be white.

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This audit led to a vow to be more aware of inserting pictures of people of all races and to feature more authors of color in 2015 — and beyond, in all our posts. We believe “you are what you read” and that reading from a diverse set of perspectives enriches you; so we will strive for more diversity. Our reflection also landed us on the side of using this month to give air time to recent books by authors who are African-American or ones that highlight the African-American experience. This decision was reinforced by an African-American student at Dartmouth College who reminded us recently, “sometimes it just helps for the white person in the room to be the one to raise the race issue.”

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So, after all the build up, we are pleased to share the latest GREAT books we have read that happen to have been penned by African-American authors. We think we have something for everyone here: some fiction, some poetry, some non-fiction and some items for children and young adults. And we sincerely hope our selections help you enjoy some great books this month.

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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 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. ~ Lisa Christie

brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014) – I fall hard just about every time an author uses free verse to tell a story to children (e.g., Love That Dog by Sharon Creech). And Ms. Woodson’s prose paints powerful images in this National Book Award winning autobiography about growing up a “brown girl” during the 1960s and 1970s in South Carolina, Ohio and New York.  Her story emerges a book about the Civil Rights movement, growing up, and finding one’s voice as a writer. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) – This slim volume was a National Book Award finalist and offers a powerful way to meditate on what race means in the USA today.  Using news events, such as Hurricane Katrina or another professional tennis player imitating Serena Williams by stuffing towels under her outfits to enhance her bottom and breasts, Ms. Rankine contemplates both what it means to be Black in the USA, and what part we all play as events unfold and we chose what to acknowledge and feel. I think it is important to note that I did not read this in one sitting; but instead, I picked it up, read a bit, thought, put it down for awhile, and repeated. I recommend consuming this book in the same manner, or in one fell swoop. But no matter how you read it, you will be glad you did. ~ Lisa Christie (and Lisa Cadow)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – We LOVED this book but use the prose of Penny McConnel, co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore to describe it. Thanks Penny! “This amazing book has filled me with such great joy, interest and admiration both during and after I completed it. Efemelu, a young smart Nigerian girl dreams of someday going to America. When she does, her eyes are opened to so much more than she had anticipated; most importantly racism. Back home in Nigeria Efemelu had never thought about being black because everyone was, but when she arrived in the states, she discovered the heavy weight of race that burdens both the black and white populations. In the states she graduates from college, has several relationships with good men and ultimately writes a very popular blog called “Understanding America For The Non White American.” Throughout these years, Efemelu has never forgotten Obinze, the young Nigerian boy she fell in love with in high school and the reader never stops hoping that they will eventually find each other. This is a contemporary story that is not just another story of immigration, but one of identity, love and powerful insights. Adichie is a powerful voice in contemporary fiction; a brave writer whose work I look forward to reading more of.” ~ Penny McConnel (Seconded by Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie)

Matthew Henson: Artic Adventurer by Graphic Library (2006) – I am ashamed to say I had no idea an African American, along with two Inuit men, were with Admiral Robert Peary when he successfully traveled to the North Pole and on his previous unsuccessful attempts. I am grateful this graphic biography for children brought these men to my attention. THANK YOU to our town’s children’s librarian for putting this book in my sons’ hands. (But I will add, shame on me and shame on American history books for not highlighting Mr. Henson. And, shame on us still, for not talking about the Inuits who made the success possible.) ~ Lisa Christie

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selena Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls (2015) – Mr. Qualls received a Coretta Scott King Honor award for his previous work, and his illustrations for The Case for Loving are “spot on” in their inviting nature. In this picture book (also recently reviewed by The New York Times), Mr. Qualls teams with his wife to tell the story of Loving Versus Virginia, a landmark civil rights decision of the US Supreme Court that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriages, a case resonating as we watch legal decisions over gay marriage unfold. But, beyond its importance, this book tells the story of love. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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The Book Jam’s 2014 Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Brazilian Adventure: A Quest into the Heart of the Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting

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

PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS

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

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

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

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

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