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

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

Some highlights include:

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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Yes, another summer has passed and I read quite a few  books.  Challenged by the BookJam’s other Lisa to reflect upon my summer reading (would you guess she is married to a teacher?), I realized that I spent the summer with my sons, Harry PotterPercy Jackson  and random Super Heroes.

I’d love to be able to impress and report that with my non-kid reading time I dedicated my energies to the classics or to edgy modern literature, but alas I did not. Instead, I kept picking up mysteries. I blame this on the fact that I found two series that once started, I was driven to finish in one fell swoop.  And well, that basically filled the summer. But boy did that entail a lot of armchair travel! These two series took me to the ever entertaining French countryside and San Francisco.

The first of these series belongs to the author Martin Walker.  I read the initial book in this set  – Bruno, Chief of Police: a novel of the French countryside – years ago and enjoyed it, but I can’t say I loved it.

That opinion changed when someone put his second novel, The Dark Vineyard: a novel of the French Countryside, in my hands.  In this book, Mr. Walker hits his stride both with both his story telling capabilities and in developing the character of Bruno. I devoured it and then plunged right into reading his third and latest installment – Black Diamond: a mystery of the French Countryside.  In addition to spending part of his year in the south of France, Mr. Walker is the Senior Director of the Global Business Policy Council and as such appears both knowledgeable about the region and well, literate.

The second series of mysteries that kept me occupied – and traveling – was the “Dismas Hardy series” by John Lescroart.  As someone who was lucky enough to live in San Francisco in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I’ll try just about any book that takes place in that city by the bay.

I found this series because my husband reads thrillers.  He gave me one in an airport years ago; I read it and promptly forgot about it. This summer, though, he loaded a few onto my iPad and I was hooked.  As with Mr. Walker’s series, I read the first, then another and a third and kept plowing right on through the entire set.

And, while I often turn my nose down at the thought of a thriller, these thrillers are my new mind candy.  Why?  They allow me to live again in my old hometown, if only for the duration of the novel.  They have two interesting main characters – Dismas Hardy and his best friend, homicide detective Abe Glinsky, each supported by intelligent families.  And as a bonus, and possibly most importantly to me, each plot places you firmly in San Francisco and provides an enjoyable page turner.

My summary – Mr. Lescroart’s novels are great books for anyone missing San Francisco and/or wanting some escapist reading. Nothing But the Truth begins the series, but you can start just about anywhere.

For additional mysteries that transport you to interesting places, I recommend Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache novels set in the modern-day Quebec countryside, Jacqueline Winspear‘s Maisie Dobb’s series set in Post WWI London, Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Sweeney St. George series set in Boston/New England, and Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther series set in our home state of Vermont.  Luckily, three of the four series have a 2011 installment for you to enjoy.

Happy reading and happy traveling! Lisa Christie

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Mystery Click to listen now or download http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/0/1/f_662854061.

In the Woods

Lisa LC began the show with a confession: she’s not  (gasp! –Agatha Christie please don’t turn in your grave)  a mystery reader.  However, after numerous recommendations, she finally picked up a copy of Tana French’s immensely popular In the Woods and was riveted from page one.  Acknowledging that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew entertained her as a child and confessing a contemporary love for the Maisie Dobbs series, she now understands  that she’s actually a closeted mystery lover.   J Lisa C then also came out of the mystery closet,  and confessed her own new found appreciation of this thrilling genre.

And so our show began with recommendations for great mysteries – ones great even for people who don’t think they like mysteries. In the Woods by Tana French – Lisa LC’s review “This woman knows how to write!”  She appreciated the sense of place created  by the author  (Dublin and Ireland in the early seventies and then post-economic boom), the feeling of suspense evoked by French and the intricately psychological aspects of this novel.

 

 

Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time and The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey – J Lisa C likes the precise writing style, subtle and effective character development and the very British tone of these two books by Josephine Tey. Tey was a contemporary of Agatha Christie but perhaps due to lack of movies and television shows depicting her works, she’s not quite as well known.

Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – Lisa LC was intrigued by the look at two continents – Australia and England – and the unraveling of family secrets. Bruno Chief of Police by Martin Walker is another favorite of admitted francophile Lisa LC. This is the story of a police inspector in southern France who encounters small town issues like  family feuds as well big world problems such as racism and the complexities created by the EU and the euro. (J Lisa likes it as well.)

Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series – J Lisa C looks forward to every installment of this series. The books offer a chance to live a bit with a inspector, his wife and his two children – all of whom she admires. It also transports you to Venice  – not a bad place to vacation, even if only in your mind.

Both Lisas love and recommend: Maisie Dobbs novels – A series of books by Jacqueline Winspear that transport the reader into post WWI England and allows insight into what it takes for people and countries to recover from such massive devastation. Louise Penny’s novels set in southern Quebec also made our cut.  We love the main dectective – Inspector Gamache, his family and the characters he befriends as the mysteries unfold.

Because we can’t stop talking about books, we also mentioned the following books, many of which are definitely not mysteries: Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – In The Woods reminded Lisa LC of The Lovely Bones – a best-selling book told from the perspective of a dead child. Still Alice by Lisa Genova – The well-told story of 50-year-old Harvard professor Alice Howland as she grapples with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Wit, A Play by Margaret Edson – A one woman play about living with cancer and dying with grace. Just Kids by Patti Smith – The best selling memoir of life as an artist and life spent loving an artist. The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – A tale of a beefeater, his wife and their tortoise and of course, the Tower of London.

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