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Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Atwood’

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Well it is official; summer is almost over. By now most students have returned to school or are in the midst of buying supplies, the final vacations have ended, the air has cooled a bit, and the calendar says September is days away.  So, today we offer reviews of a few good books to read as summer fades (and to take on any Labor Day Weekend excursions).

A quick note — this is our last post for awhile was we spend the news few weeks “Gone Reading”. We look forward to sharing our picks with you again starting in mid- to late September.

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FICTION: Because getting lost in a good story is sublime

FC9780307959577.jpgSaints For All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan (2017) – Courtney Sullivan really knows how to tell a story, especially ones about family and the ties that bind.  I was hooked from beginning of this wonderful book and found myself caring deeply about each of her well-drawn characters until the very last page. Sisters Theresa and Nora, just girls when they journey across the Atlantic from rural Ireland in the mid-1950’s, settle in the strange, unknown City of Boston. When extroverted Theresa becomes unexpectedly pregnant, the fallout from this affects the rest of each of their lives. We join the family – matriarch Nora,  her grown children, and Theresa who is now a nun in Vermont – in modern day New England in the wake of a family tragedy and learn how their paths have brought them to this moment. An excellent beach, mountain, or desert read for the Labor Day Weekend and beyond. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780735220683.jpgEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017) – This is one of the most original voices to emerge in recent fiction.  Funny, offbeat, quirky, troubled Eleanor Oliphant draws readers into her unusual world from page one. It is clear that this hard working thirty-year-old who lives in Glasgow struggles with social skills but we don’t exactly know why. When she sets her sights on wooing a grunge rocker, the story is set in motion. It is, however, her new friend Raymond from work who teaches her a thing or two about friendship and love. For me, this book was a wacky mash up of The Rosie Project, Room, and Jane Eyre. I. Loved. It.  P.S. Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9781571310613.jpgMontana 1948 by Larry Watson (1995) – A sad, short, and powerful tale of a complicated family situation. (I can’t really provide more details without ruining the plot.) It reads like a powerful memoir; I had to keep reminding myself it is fiction. I promise this one will stay with you long after you turn the last page. (Thank you to Thetford Academy’s Mr. Deffner for sending it my way.) ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062369581.jpgThe Baker’s Secret by Stephen Kiernan (2017) – Fans of World War Two and historical fiction, this book is for you. It is 1944 in Normandy, France, on the eve of D-Day, and defiant Emma, a strong willed woman and gifted baker, is determined to help her fellow villagers. When she is called upon to prepare the daily baguettes for the occupying German force she finds a way through cunning and her fierce determination benefit those in her community.  This is a story of survival and small acts of heroism during wartime that help change the course of history and the quality of daily life (and bread) ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780062484154.jpgWhatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins (2016) – I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – an African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is almost even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780393608595.jpgEvensong by Kate Southwood (2017) – This beautiful novel is a meditation on family. Told through the eyes of eighty-two-year-old Maggie Dowd who is just home from the hospital in time for the holidays, it is suffused with wisdom and memory, alternating through points in the narrator’s life from age five to the present. At the twilight of her life, we meet Maggie as she reflects on her youth, her choices, her motivations, her own children’s troubled relationship, her beloved granddaughter’s future, and what she sees as her pivotal decision to marry – an act that changed the rest of her days.  The simple beauty of Southwood’s writing can take a reader’s breath away, such as when Maggie remembers a long ago family picnic with her siblings, or sitting on an Iowa porch swing with a beau, or as a grandmother “running my hands over the baby like I’m rubbing butter into a Christmas turkey, giving the baby my pinkie to grab and suck on because I’ve done this before and I know. And here is that baby now, all grown with her woman’s bones, twisting my ring on her finger. And I haven’t a clue of what is to come for her, either, except for the certainty that it will surprise her.” This book is reminiscent of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. You won’t soon forget the voice of Maggie Dowd. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780525427360.jpgDays Without End by Sebastian Barry (2017) – And now for a completely different look at the Wild West! Twice nominated for the Booker Prize, author Sebastian Barry crafts a truly original story that follows the life of orphan Thomas McNulty from the day he comes to North America from Ireland as a young boy in the mid 19th century. His far-reaching travels take him through the emerging West first as a gender-bending performer, then as a soldier in the Civil War, and eventually as a non-traditional father with his life partner John Cole. This is an unconventional love story and a tale of an unusual family gorgeously told. As New York Times reviewer Katy Simpson Smith observes, “Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant’s peculiar lilt and a proud boy’s humor. But, in this country’s adolescence he also finds our essential human paradox, our heartbreak: that love and fear are equally ineradicable.” Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

FC9780385490818.jpgThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – My first and definitely not my last foray into Ms Atwood’s work. This tale of the USA gone awry is powerful! ~ Lisa Christie and strongly seconded by Lisa Cadow

FC9781101971062.jpgHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016) – WOW, it took too long for this book to get the top of my “to-be-read” pile. But, I am so glad I did finally read it.  I LOVE this tale of two sisters and their many generations of offspring as they live their lives in Africa and the USA from the times of African-USA slave trading to modern day. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781455537723.jpgThe Strays by Emily Bitto (2017) – This award-winning debut by an Australian author had me staying up late to discover what happened next.  Ms. Bitto uses research into depression-era Australia and an actual group of artists from that time as inspiration for a completely fictional tale of an artist colony and the ramifications of strangers living in close proximity. While I hate it when blurbs compare it to other books I love – in this case Ian McEwan’s Atonement – as that sets the bar far too high, I really enjoyed this first novel and truly look forward to what Ms. Bitto pens next. A great book for art lovers in particular, or for those interested in a novel about adolescent love, and/or the fallout from certain choices. ~ Lisa Christie

MYSTERIES: Because sometimes you just need for the bad guys to be caught

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones  (2017) – I so hope there is someone like August Snow – half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and community – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit’s future weaves throughout the narrative, and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, he makes mistakes and, wow, by the end his body count is way too high for my tastes, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit. Enjoy this one! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780735213005.jpgThe Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne (2017) – I picked this up for two reasons 1) Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore recommended it, and 2) it is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my grandparents grew up. I kept reading (but have not quite finished as we post), because as the New York Times said in its review, this book is, “Brilliant….In its balance of emotional patience and chapter-by-chapter suspense, The Marsh King’s Daughter is about as good as a thriller can be.” It still doesn’t take the place of Anatomy of a Murder as my favorite UP thriller, but that would be hard to do. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062645227.jpgMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowtiz (2017) – It took me awhile to get into  this novel, but it smoothly rolled on once I was hooked (and kept me up one night so I could finish it). In what is truly a perfect book for Agatha Christie fans, Mr. Horowitz somehow manages to simultaneously honor and skewer the mystery genre in this book-within-a-book “who done it”. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781250066190.jpgFC9780802126474.jpgWe would be remiss if we did not note that Louise Penny (Glass Houses) and Donna Leon (Earthly Remains) have 2017 additions to their superb Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Commissario Guido Brunetti series.  As usual, these series provide dependable reading pleasure for those of us who enjoy a good mystery – with a superb lead detective – every once in awhile. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

MEMOIR: Because sometimes you need inspiration from others

FC9781455540419.jpgAl Franken: Giant of the Senate by Al Franken (2017) – A book for liberally minded folks to read as a reminder there are politicians working hard to helping others. A book for more conservative minded folks to read as a reminder that many liberal politicians are actually smart, kind, hardworking people who are doing their best for America; and in this case, they even have Republican friends :)! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062362599.jpgHunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay (2017) – I don’t think I have ever read such a well-written, honest, and brutal account of sexual assault and its aftermath. This sounds like a horrid reason to pick up a book, and it is horrid to think that the author endured a brutal and life-altering assault at age 12, but the story and Ms. Gay’s candid insight offer much more than that. Her analysis of her life after assault, as a morbidly obese woman in a society that abhors fat people, is brutal, filled with self loathing and big mistakes, but also hope, self love, professional accomplishments, friendships, social commentary, and always, always, her body and her relationship with that body. If, as a woman, you have ever tried to explain or understand your relationship with your own body, Ms. Gay will help. If, as a man, you have never understood this relationship women often have, Ms. Gay will help. If you want to better understand how people who are obese feel, Ms. Gay offers this gift of insight to you. If you have a complicated relationship with your body, Ms. Gay shows you are not alone. If you just want to spend some time with a talented writer, Ms. Gay’s Hunger is your chance. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up as a biracial child in South Africa during and just after Apartheid. Mr. Noah is insightful and honest as he dissects his life and his choices and the choices that were made for him. Each chapter begins with an overview of life in South Africa that relates to the subsequent story from his own experiences. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781501126345.jpgThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward (2016) – This collection of essays by a wide range of authors of color is powerful. Perhaps it will help you figure out how to advocate for equal opportunity for all; however, no matter what, it will definitely make you think about what life is like for those with black skin in the USA. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

So again, as of this moment, The Book Jam is officially on our annual “gone reading” hiatus. We look forward to sharing what we find when we start posting reviews again in late September. In the meantime, we hope you find the perfect book to read every time you are able to to sit with a good story. Previous Book Jam posts can help you – we promise.

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

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Today, we feature Michele Campbell and her thriller It’s Always the Husband. Ms. Campbell, a New York native and resident of the Upper Valley, has taught law at the Vermont Law School and served as a federal prosecutor in New York City.  Ms. Campbell is a graduate of Harvard University and Stanford Law School.

Ms. Campbell will appear at the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, May  31st to discuss It’s Always the Husband. Reservations are recommended as they expect seats to “sell out”. Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to reserve your seat.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Cover ImageLittle Women Cover ImageThe Great Gatsby Cover Image

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

As a girl, I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott on repeat. I would literally finish the last page of these books and start over with the first. Both books had strong female protagonists who struggled to navigate the stifling expectations set for girls in their time and place, and had loving yet complicated relationships with their female family members. In high school, The Great Gatsby, with its impeccable prose and focus on issues of social class, caught my imagination. These three books shaped my interest in writing crime stories that explore issues of women, society and social class.

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

Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin are two of the greatest books written in my lifetime, and I’ve read them both numerous times. She is astonishingly prolific, and I would love to ask her about the glorious span of her career – how she writes, how she manages so many projects, and how she moves, seemingly effortlessly, between genres. Ultimately, I just think she would be inspiring to talk to. She’s a visionary, a feminist, someone with a dark sense of humor and refreshingly strong opinions. I love her.

The Gunslinger Cover ImageThe Woman in Cabin 10 Cover ImageChronicle of a Death Foretold Cover ImageWhere It Hurts Cover ImageQuiet Neighbors Cover ImageThe God of Small Things Cover ImageA Passage to India Cover Image

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

How much space do I have to tell you about all the wonderful books in my TBR pile? Like many writers, I’m a book hoarder. Between my actual, physical nightstand and my e-reader, I have enough books to keep me busy for months, if not years, to come. Some current notables: The Gunslinger by Stephen King, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Where It Hurts by Reed Farrell Coleman, Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and A Passage to India by E.M. Forster.

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Well, last week was quite the week for politics in the USA. Our first Black President vacated the White House after eight years of service. Our new President was inaugurated. And, millions marched on Saturday in rallies in DC, many state capitals, and cities throughout the world to remind our new administration that inclusiveness remains important — and that over half the US population is women.

So today, we shine the pink spotlight on books that will help to remind us all what is at stake. We have selected several titles that include short manifestos (Adichie), speculative fiction (Atwood), a turn-of-the-20th century heroine (Chopin), and a comedienne’s memoir (Moran) that reminds us that (still) “there’s never been a better time to be a woman.”images.jpg

A Room of One's Own Cover ImageA Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929) -It is our intent to read every book that is reviewed on this site. In this case, we make a slight exception because only one of us has read it and this reading occurred years ago, possibly most importantly years before she could understand the importance of a “room of one’s own” as every room she inhabited was hers — she was so very, very single. In this collection of essays, Wolfe essentially argues that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She asserts that females cannot be a part of the literary conversation if they do not have the freedom and autonomy to write. Woolf also highlights the importance of education for women and their tenuous place in society without it. Though only one of us has had the opportunity to delve into this very, very important work, after this weekend the other Lisa has placed it at the top of her pile. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Handmaid's Tale Cover ImageThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985) – This work of speculative fiction has never once been out of print since it was first published over thirty years ago. The topics it tackles are so important and the construct so fascinating that directors have made in to a movie, an opera, and even a television series. It is set in a dystopian future New England where women have been stripped of their rights after a new government assumes power. Told through the eyes of Offred, a handmaid (the class of women assigned in this new society for reproductive purposes), Atwood explores the nature of power, fanaticism, resistance, and hanging on to hope in the face of great obstacles. ~ Lisa Cadow

We Should All Be Feminists Cover ImageWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014) – This gem of a book emerged from a speech by Ms. Adichie in which she outlines a twenty-first century view of feminism, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. In doing so, she succinctly and beautifully makes the case why we should all be feminists – feminism benefits all of us no matter our gender.  Read it; give it; live it. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Awakening and Selected Stories Cover ImageThe Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899) – In this slim, ground breaking work of fiction published at the end of the 1800’s, Chopin introduces us to Edna Pontellier, a white mother and wife from the South who is deeply unsatisfied with her life. When Edna falls in love outside of her marriage, she begins to ask new questions and push new boundaries alarming those around her.  It is hard to remember that this book was published before Woolfe, Wharton, and Welty started writing because its style is so modern, the subjects it tackles so ahead of its time. ~ Lisa Cadow

The Color Purple Cover Image The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982) – A book so important and complicated it won both the Pulitzer and National Book Award, and inspired a Broadway Musical. This compassionate novel, focusing on the lives of African American women in the 1930s, shows how two sisters one in the American South and one in Africa sustain their love across time, distance, and hardships. It garnered glowing reviews such as one from The New York Times Book Review,”intense emotional impact . . . Indelibly affecting . . . Alice Walker is a lavishly gifted writer,” and has frequently been the target of censors. ~ Lisa Christie

How to Be a Woman Cover ImageHow To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (2011) – We end this list with humor because laughter and empathy help all conversations. Every sentence in this raucous, side-splitting book offers exquisite insight into subjects such as women’s shoes, Germaine Greer, strident feminism, motherhood, handbags, hair styles, pornography, surviving puberty, and making it through dating with your self-worth intact — in sum, how to be a woman. Moran has much to offer women as they reflect on their own journeys, and those of their daughters. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (excerpted from review from Book Jam Holiday Gift Guide 2012).
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This “3 Questions” features Michelle Hoover, author of Bottomland. Ms. Hoover is the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University and teaches at GrubStreet, where she leads the Novel Incubator program. She is a 2014 NEA Fellow and has been a MacDowell Fellow and a winner of the PEN/New England Discovery Award. Her debut, The Quickening, was a 2010 Massachusetts Book Award “Must Read.” She is a native of Iowa and lives in Boston.
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Ms. Hoover will visit the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on March 30th to discuss her latest book, Bottomland, a novel based loosely on an unearthed family secret. The book follows the Hess family as they settles on Iowa farmland hoping to escape anti-German sentiment after WWI. As the country marches towards WWII, lives are changed when two of the daughters disappear.  The book has been critically acclaimed by many including Kirkus Reviews.

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The event with Ms. Hoover is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.

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

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse taught me that both the shape of the sentence and its ideas matter, that these things are not in opposition but feed on each other. Kent Haruf’s novels, in particular Plainsong, gave me the courage to be plain spoken in my fiction, which I believe is my instinct in the first place. Toni Morrison’s Beloved proved that point of view and structure could always be fluid, and that the author has complete freedom in these choices, as long as the author carries the reader well enough along on that ride.url-1.jpgurl.jpg

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

I’m currently fascinated with Kate Atkinson. I would love to talk with her about her career, moving from her beloved, rather zany, experimental books to more genre type crime novels, and now her two historical novels, Life After Life and God of Ruins, both of which I consider two of my favorites. I would love to talk to Emily St. John Mandel too. Her novel Station Eleven was perfection. I’d like to talk to writers who I think are essentially normal people that have done great, unusual work. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to talk at all.

Salvage the Bones Cover ImageMonument Road Cover ImageThe Heart Goes Last Cover ImageA Cure for Suicide Cover Image

The Incarnations Cover ImageHarriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders Cover ImageStones in the Road Cover ImageHalf in Love with Death Cover Image

3. What books are currently on your bedside table?

I generally keep a pile of about ten or so, and the ones that catch me immediately are the ones I finish. I finished Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones a few weeks ago. A remarkable experience. And then there’s Charlie Quimby’s Monument Road, which I should have read years ago. Then there’s Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide, and Susan Barker’s The Incarnations—all from last year’s top book lists. I have a copy of Julianna Baggott’s Harriot Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, as well as two books by former students of mine: E.B. Moore’s Stones in the Road and Emily RossHalf in Love with Death. I know these last three well, but they’re still in that pile, keeping it warm.

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