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Posts Tagged ‘National Book Award’

Books for summer camping: Adult fiction and nonfiction

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Some people might say that we’ve now entered the “dog days of August” but here at the Book Jam we like to call this time of year the “dog-eared book days of August”. It is the season when we finally get to the books in our pile that have been beckoning, lazing with them by the lake for long periods of time, folding over pages to remind us where to return  (hence the dog ears) only when it is time for a short break from the prose.

August is when we look forward to pulling out or back packs and beach bags and filling them full of books (and maybe a clean change of clothes, too) and heading with them to the shore of some quiet sunny river to get lost in the stories and ideas that lie between the pages.

Below are 28 ideas for what you might want to put in your backpack and head to the hills with to lose yourself in after a day of hiking. Remember, the faster you set up your tent, the faster you can open up those dog-eared and well loved books.

Happy reading!

 

Books Inspired by Ancient Greeks or Shakespeare and even Henry James (Because this seems to be a trend in our reading, and continues as MacBeth by Jo Nesbo is on our bedside table for August.)

FC9780316556347.jpgCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – This saga covers the origin, life and final decisions of Circe, the original Greek witch.  Sprinkled throughout with men, women and gods from Greek Mythology, I found myself spell bound by what would happen next – even though I technically knew. And because Circe manages to succeed alone, banished to an island, she draws the wrath of gods, slightly reminiscent of some women today. In the end this is a gripping tale centered around a dysfunctional family of rivals, love and loss, punishment, and a tribute to a strong woman living in a predominantly man’s world. (Also on the April 2018 Indie Next List.) 

FC9780525431947.jpgNutshell: A Novel by Ian McEwan (2016) — Ok the tale of Hamlet reworked for Modern Day London and told form the perspective of an unborn child?  Yes, sounds too precious, but Mr. McEwan pulls it off. It truly is more brilliant than this quick summary shows it should be.  Perhaps because the narrator allows Mr. McEwan to ponder modern problems and pleasures without seeming to lecture.  Perhaps it is because of Mr. McEwan’s lovely prose.  Whatever the reason, I highly recommend this one, while admitting a bias for Mr. McEwan’s work. (A New York Times and Washington Post notable book and previously reviewed by us a few times.)

FC9780449006979.jpgGertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it.  And if you don’t believe us, try the New York Times Book review “Updike has used Shakespeare to write a free-standing, pleasurable, and wonderfully dexterous novel about three figures in complex interplay.”  

FC9780451493422.jpgMrs. Osmond by John Banville (2017) – I am a huge fan of Mr. Banvile’s The Sea, which I often describe as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  I also enjoy his mysteries under his pen name Benjamin Black. I also loved reading The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James in my early 20s just after completing my own stint in Europe. Granted I was backpacking and sleeping in tents while Isabel Archer was being wined and dined for her fortune, but I still related somehow. Thus, I picked up Mr. Galbraith’s treatise of what happens to Isabel once The Portrait of A Lady ends, with high expectations for a great story. These were met. Somehow Mr. Banville manages to capture and use Mr. James’s prose style, wry humor, and social commentary while making this sequel his own.Mrs. Osmond explores what happens when the people we love aren’t who they seemed to be, how sudden wealth changes everything, what living abroad as an American can mean, and family. As The Guardian summed, “Banville is one of the best novelists in English. . . . Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche.”

FC9781770413993.jpgRose and Poe by Jack Todd (2017) – I am always going to read anyone who attempts to retell The Tempest, and Mr. Todd did not disappoint. In this tale, Mr. Todd re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest from the point of view of Caliban (Poe) and his mother (Rose). Rose and Poe live in the woods quietly along side Prosper Thorne, a banished big city lawyer and his gorgeous daughter Miranda. When Poe appears carrying Miranda’s bruised and bloody body, he is arrested, despite lack of evidence he committed the crime; and Rose and Poe find themselves facing bitter hatred and threats from neighbors who once were friends. A timeless tale of how we stigmatize what frightens us, and the consequences of our prejudices.  

FC9781501140228.jpgHouse of Names by Colm Toibin (2017) – In this measured retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and her children, Mr. Toibin creates a sympathetic character as he reveals the tragic saga that led to her bloody actions (killing her husband). Told in four parts, Mr. Toibin portrays a murderess, her son Orestes, and the vengeful Electra, all the while playing with who deserves sympathy in the end. (Named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR.)

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Historical fiction

FC9780812985405.jpgLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017) – A fascinating look at Lincoln after his beloved son Willie dies and the USA is burning down all around him due to the Civil War.  Told in a completely uniquely gorgeous style and premise – actual historical documents describing this time and the souls of the dead interred with Willie give voice and color to the narrative. Challenging to read; fascinating to think about. (Winner of the Man Booker Prize, and an IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780062563705.jpgHalf-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker (2017) Ragnvald and Svanhild, the brother and sister duo at the heart of this novel, lead the way through an adventurous re-telling of Norway’s medieval history. For those of you looking for a saga that highlights how personalities and desires influence everything, and that uses actual historical characters and battles, Ms. Hartsuyker’s work may be the perfect summer read for you. (August 2017 IndieNext pick.) 

FC9780385542364-1.jpgThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) – I am late to the party over this National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But, this tale of Cora and her life as a slave will capture your imagination and give you many reason to pause and think about race relations today. Please pick it up if you have not already. (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.) 

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General Fiction

FC9780316316132-1.jpgLess by Andrew Sean Green (2017) – This look at mid-life and lost loves is loaded with superb prose and insight.  Mr. Less makes a lovely main character to rout for, his life reflections are populated by interesting characters, and his travels abroad reminiscent of something Twain once wrote. I must admit it was not as funny for me as had been hyped, but I still liked it. Enjoy! (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, New York Times Notable Book, Top Ten pick for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.) 

FC9781616205041.jpgYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) – For those of us who lived through the Bill Clinton sexual relations intern scandal, this book will seem familiar. What might not seem so familiar is the humor and candor about society’s standards contained in this light novel about how decisions we make when we are young have implications. (September 2017 IndieNext book.)  

FC9781944700553.jpgMem by Bethany C Morrow (2018) – What happens when you can choose to eliminate horrific memories? Where do they go? What happens to your life afterwards?  Ms. Morrow gives her answers to these questions in this slim look at life in 1920s Montreal. And, since Brenna Bellavance the newest bookseller at the Norwich Bookstore brought this to my attention, I will use her review and say ditto to the haunting aspect. “Elsie is not a real person. From the moment she came to exist, she has been told this repeatedly. She is merely the physical embodiment of an unwanted memory extracted from another woman, a real woman, whose face she sees every time she looks in a mirror. Except that she remembers a life she didn’t live, loves people she never met, thinks her own thoughts, and feels her own feelings. So what makes a real person….real? Exquisite and haunting, Mem has stayed with me.” (June 2018 IndieNext Book.)  

FC9780679734772.jpgThe House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – I LOVED this once again as I read it to discuss with my 9th grader who was forced to read it for his English teacher. Bonus — he, a very reluctant reader, loved it too :)! (Thanks you Ms. Eberhardt.) The trials and tribulations of the narrator as she navigates her life in NYC are deliciously unraveled by Ms. Cisneros sparse prose. Or as the New York Times reviewed ““Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage . . . and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”  

FC9780385349406Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (June 2013) — Yes, summer and heat go hand in hand, and currently, all over the globe, the weather is setting records for heat and discomfort. Apparently in 1976, London suffered more heat than most. So, we added a book we reviewed in 2013 to today’s post in honor of heat waves everywhere. That 1976 British 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!  

FC9780812996067.jpgAlternate Side by Anna Quindlen (2018) – I start this review with the confession that I miss Ms. Quindlen’s New York Times and Newsweek columns. Her insight, humor, precise prose, and hope amidst the chaos and difficulties she wrote of were a staple of my life for many years. These characteristics are evident in this summer beach read of a novel.  Nora has a great job, twins in college, a kind husband, and the perfect house on the best block in New York City – a dead end filled with people who get along. Then an incident occurs and unravels pretty much everything. Alternate Side offers a lovingly portrayed look at life in middle age with kids in college, jobs not quite what you dreamed of when you were 20, and of New York City itself.  A great beach read for anyone – especially anyone who truly loves NYC. As the New York Times stated, “Exquisitely rendered . . . [Quindlen] is one of our most astute chroniclers of modern life. . . . [Alternate Side] has an almost documentary feel, a verisimilitude that’s awfully hard to achieve.”

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 – a little known 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 even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly 

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid – I LOVED this novel.  It is concise, gorgeously written, and covers important topics – love, immigration, war.  Perfect. (Winner 2018 Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, Ten Best Book of 2017 for the New York Times.)  

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Mysteries and thrillers and other beach reads

FC9780804114905.jpgLast Bus to Woodstock by Collin Dexter (1975) – I have been a fan of the BBC’s Inspector Lewis, Morse, and Endeavor series for years.  This is the first time I read those series’ primary source materials.  I am so glad I finally did. This was well-plotted intelligently written and fun to read.  I especially enjoyed vicariously visiting Oxford sites I have been privileged to stroll. Pick this series up (this title is first in the series), read, and perhaps then plan a trip to the UK – or watch the series. Thank you Danielle Cohen, an amazing audio-book narrator and actor, for reminding me that the books behind the BBC are great as well. Publishers Weekly agrees, “A masterful crime writer whom few others match.”

FC9780143133124.jpgThe Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (2018) – Besides having my new favorite name – Dervla, Ms. McTiernan’s debut novel introduces a great new detective series. Her main detective Cormac Reilly has a unexplained complicated past, the requisite desire for justice, and great assistance from another well-wrought detective Carrie O’Halloran and a new newbie to the Garda – Peter Fisher. The setting in Galway is part of the action and allows you to vicariously travel to some very wet time in the Irish countryside. (Also a July 2018 IndieNext pick.)   

FC9780061655517.jpgNemesis (and other titles) by Jo Nesbo (2002) – Somehow I missed this instalment in the Harry Hole series.  Another page-turner for mystery fans. As the nomination for the Edgar Nominee for Best Novel of the Year states — “The second Harry Hole novel to be released in America–following the critically acclaimed publication of The RedbirdNemesis is a superb and surprising nail-biter that places Jo Nesbo in the company of Lawrence Block, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, and other top masters of crime fiction. Nesbo has already received the Glass Key Award and the Booksellers’ Prize, Norway’s most prestigious literary awards. Nemesis is proof that there are certainly more honors in this extraordinary writer’s future”.  

FC9781616957186.jpgAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (2017) – I so want to believe there is someone like August Snow – a half black, half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit 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 his body count is way too high for my tastes by the end, but so few books take place in modern day Detroit, enjoy this one! (Also a Winner of the Hammett Prize, and annual award for best mystery by the International Association of Crime Writers.)  

FC9781508238607.jpgPoison by John Lescroart (2018) – I love Mr. Lescroart’s Dimas Hardy Series for the chance to relive life in San Francisco and the great cast of characters Mr. Hardy uses to always ensure justice is served.  This latest instalment continues this love affair. These are my reliable guilty pleasure.  

 

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Nonfiction

FC9780316392389.jpgCalypso by David Sedaris (2018) – Mr. Sedaris’s latest collection of essays tackles the “not-so-joyful” aspects of reaching middle age. Perhaps because of this, this collection is not as laugh-out-loud funny as his previous collections. That said, it is impossible for me to read Mr. Sedaris’s work without hearing his distinctive voice in my head, making his wry insights even funnier than they initially appear. And honestly, his perceptive commentary about life’s mundane and heartbreaking moments is superb no matter the level of humor.  I will frame his paragraph in “Leviathan” beginning “It’s ridiculous how often you have to say hello on Emerald Island” for its treatise on the fact Southerners insist on saying hello. I will then present it to my children as a constant explanation for why I say hello to complete strangers; they may never understand this trait, but they will forever have documentation of its source – my childhood in Tennessee. Pick this up and enjoy! (We suppose we should have put this in the inspired by Ancient Greeks category.) 

FC9780062838742.jpgAmateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington (2018) – This collection of essays features a distinctive voice (one that is often seen in The New Yorker, and McSweeney’s) that applies humor, tears, cursing, love, and unique insight to almost every aspect of motherhood/life: a failed pregnancy, relocating across the country, a request to end “mommy wars” steeped with insight from both sides, grandparents/Florida, to do lists, meal-train etiquette, participation trophies, parenting experts, plane rides with kids, and partners. You will grin throughout this collection, as each essay is graced with humor and humility. You will tear-up a bit reading many of the essays as some are poignant and unsparing (e.g., a retelling of a failed pregnancy, and/or a story of a fight over divorcing – they didn’t – that uses FB “likes” to score points). Quick note: we found this book because one of its chapters was a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times. (Previously reviewed in mother’s day picks.)

FC9780143125471-1.jpgThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (2013) – Not sure why I never got around to reading this, but I am so glad I finally did. What a terrific tale of triumphing – ultimately over Hitler, but also over horrendous parents, poverty and low expectations.  

FC9780399588174.jpgBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Funny, sad, and amazingly moving memoir about growing up 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 life. (Named on the best books of the year by NPR, New York Times, Esquire, Booklist.) 

FC9780062684929.jpgUnbelievable by Katy Tur (2017) – An up front and personal account of the 2016 presidential race from a MSNBC and MBC reporter who followed Trump from the time when everyone thought his candidacy was a long shot all the way through his election. As Jill Abramson said in a New York Times book review – “Compelling… this book couldn’t be more timely.” (The author was the recipient of the 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.)   

FC9781608197651.jpgMen We Reaped by Jessmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black and female in America. Ms. Ward’s starting point is a two year period of time shortly after she graduated college during which five boys who she loved and grew up along the Mississippi Coast with experience violent deaths. (Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath also play a role in this drama.) Her prose illuminates these dead young men and the people who loved/still love them; it also exposes the people behind the statistics that almost one in 10 young black men are in jail and murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of 24. And while the material is brutal, the memoir is not; it is insightful, introspective, beautifully written, and important. At some point Ms. Ward states that the series of deaths is “a brutal list, in its immediacy and its relentlessness, and it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time.” We are glad she found her voice and told her story. And, we hope to see it on a big screen near you soon. (On the October 2013 IndieNext list.) 

And, One final note — this post is our last for a while as it is is time for our annual “Gone Readin’ hiatus”. We look forward to bringing you great reviews of superb books at some point in late September.

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This week’s “3 Questions” features Lauren Groff,  bestselling author of the novels The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia and Fates and Furies, and the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds. Ms. Groff has won the PEN/O’Henry Prize, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Ms. Groff’s most recent novel is Florida, of which the critics have said, “Storms, snakes, sinkholes, and secrets: In Lauren Groff’s Florida, the hot sun shines, but a wild darkness lurks. Florida is a “superlative” book” – Boston Globe, “gorgeously weird and limber”  – New Yorker,  and “brooding, inventive and often moving” – NPR Fresh Air. Ms. Groff lives with her family in Gainesville, Florida, but will be reading on July 19th (with Fairlee resident and author Christopher Wren) as part of The Meetinghouse Readings in Canaan. These readings are held at 7:30 p.m. on four Thursday evenings in July and early August, and are free and open to the public; no reservations needed. Please call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com with questions and/or to secure your copies of Ms. Groff’s works.

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1.What three books have helped shape you into the writer you are today, and why?
​Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems taught me to love poetry and enigma. George Eliot’s Middlemarch ​is a book I reread every year to remind myself what wisdom and warmth look like in a novel. Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red taught me that writers should risk everything because the reward ​ can be so thrilling.

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2.What author (living or dead) would you most like to have a cup of coffee with and why?
​I’d love to have a cup of coffee with Virginia Woolf to try to understand the brain that could write a book so colossal and world-rearranging as To The Lighthouse.

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3.What books are currently on your bedside table?
​I’m in a renovated barn in Orford, New Hampshire with so little furniture there’s no bedside table. But I’m doing a large project on the largely forgotten writer Nancy Hale and am reading all of her books right now. [Editor’s note: Ms. Hale’s books are unfortunately out of print so you wont find them at the Norwich Bookstore.]

As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to better understand the craft of writing, The Book Jam has 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 attend these special author events and read their books.

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It is that time of year again. We’ve been making our lists and checking them twice; and well, it took a bit more time than we thought. And, while it is still Monday somewhere, this post is a wee bit late. So, here you have it — The Book Jam’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide.

We truly hope this list helps you find the perfect present for the loved ones in your  life. We also hope that you find some 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 envision the perfect recipient for each book, we again assembled our selections in somewhat artificial categories (e.g., nonfiction for people who like to think and chat while sitting by the wood stove). 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. Thus, you do not have to leave your computer to check these items off your list. Finally, we hope our selections help take a bit of stress out of the shopping aspect of this whirlwind season.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Presents

ADULT FICTION: FOR ANYONE LOOKING FOR A GREAT BOOK

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015) – The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. One of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie

God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015) – Yes, this is another book about WWII, but it is truly fabulous. History buffs will love the descriptions of British air raids over Germany and the Blitz in London. Fans of Life After Life will love another look at Ursula, Teddy and the family from Fox Corner.  This book focuses on Teddy, a fighter pilot who gets a life in a future he never expected to have.  His ability to navigate life’s changes as lover, father, husband, grandfather are lovingly portrayed.  This is basically a book about an ordinary, but lovely, man living an ordinary life in extraordinary times. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann (2015) – These shorts stories, although one is basically anovella, are GORGEOUSLY crafted and memorable.  Definitely one of the best books of 2015. ~ Lisa Christie


The Nature of the Beast
by Louise Penny (2015) – The latest Inspector Gamache novel does not disappoint. This one’s plot revolves around weapons of mass destruction and the true nature of evil. What we like most about this series is the loving relationship between Gamache and his wife.  Pick this up if you want a page turner full of wonderful characters, and something a bit lighter than the other picks in this category. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie


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

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2015)I can think of no other book that offers readers such an ornithological “bird’s eye view”, the clear, laser-sharp perspective of being in a falcon’s brain and on the hunt. But it is so much more: this memoir is at once a lesson in being an austringer (a falconer) and training Mabel, a goshawk, while also being a psychological exploration of mourning as Macdonald comes to terms with the sudden loss of her father, her closest companion in her birding journey. This book is raw, honest and brilliant and leaves the reader feeling as if she has just come in from from a walk in the woods with her favorite goshawk — or as if she has been perched on a tree watching the fickle humans on the ground below. ~ Lisa Cadow

Ultimate Travel: The 500 Best Places by Lonely Planet (2015) The Perfect gift for aspirational and inspirational destinations. And if your budget does not allow travel, the pictures are gorgeous and the descriptions educational. ~ Lisa Christie

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

In A French Kitchen by Susan Herrmann Loomis (2015) – For the Francophile in your life, Loomis “cookbook” explores what it means to be a french home cook. Loomis, who has lived in France for most of her adult life, raised her children there and runs a cooking school from her home, attempts to distill great food for all. ~ Lisa Cadow

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

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 Christie

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (2015) – I loved Lizzie, a young girl who wants to accompany her father on his doctor’s rounds in early 1900s San Francisco, but instead must attend a school for girls to learn how to serve tea and dance and become a “lady”. The influx of the plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown and then beyond, changes everything as Lizzie fights to save her family’s cook from the Chinatown quarantine. Ms. Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) has once again crafted a great book for young lovers of historical fiction. ~Lisa Christie

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book One: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan (2015) -Mr. Riordan does it again! I love this new series by Mr. Riordan. Same superb ear for teens, but with a Norse Myth Twist this series. Annabeth Chase from Mr. Riordan’s previous series has a cameo or two. ~Lisa Christie

Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A great book about depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. ~Lisa Christie

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

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (2015) – This YA book combines juvenile delinqency, folk artist James Hampton, 1960s America in a lovely tale about redemption, friendship and learning to make your own way. ~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 HS 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 you will be sad along with the happy. ~Lisa Christie

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PICTURE BOOKS: FOR FAMILIES TO READ TOGETHER DURING SNOW STORMS — (Yes, we selected the recent Pages in the Pub picks as they are so good)

Dewey Bob by Judy Schachner (2015). Adorable raccoon combines with very fun and quirky art for a fun tale about mischief. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins  (2015). Three different views on life are expressed as three toys explore one very big snowstorm. Reading this would be a SUPERB way to introduce the concept that friends can be friends and like very different things or see the same thing in very different ways. Our local librarian used it in a unit about friendship. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

Job Wanted by Teresa Bateman (2015). As Katie Kitchel stated during her presentation, the moral of this story is that persistence, confidence, & hard work prevail.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

 

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BOOKS FOR PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TO CONTEMPLATE MORE DIFFICULT ISSUES — IN THIS CASE, RACE IN THE USA

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (2015) – Haunting. This novel can be read on so many levels — as a straight story of brothers in trouble in Nigeria, as a parable about Nigeria, as a tale of how our expectations shape our reality.  But on any level, it is good; and for me, what makes it even more amazing is that the author is only 29. ~Lisa Christie

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014) -Uniquely laid out and provocative; and wow, does this make you think about race in America. Read it to help you make sense of today’s headlines. ~Lisa Christie

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) – Sad, thoughtful, angry, well-written and timely memoir written in the form of a letter to his son.  Won the National Book Award too. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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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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On one day each year in the United States we honor and remember the soldiers who have died fighting in this nation’s many wars.  So today, on this Memorial Day holiday, we expand the honors and recognize fallen soldiers and sailors, as well as men and women currently serving in armed services throughout the world.
We salute them with books that honor the work that they do each day — often far, far from home — on behalf of each of us.  We remember them with books that offer insight into conflict and resolution, victory and loss, good and evil – with the hope that they inspire and offer insight into achieving a more peaceful future. And while war provides plot lines for many great novels, in the interest of time and space, we only selected a few titles for today’s recommendations.

9780399157769City of Women by David Gillham (2012, paperback 2013). This story often reads like a Hollywood thriller, with staccato dialogue punctuating its pages bringing to life a wartime Berlin. I appreciated the perspective offered by new author Gillham of a once great European city in 1943 inhabited primarily by women as all of the men had gone off to fight for Hitler’s army. There is intrigue and espionage, sex and illicit affairs, and a reluctant heroine who starts to fight for the resistance.  This is one of those books that helps the reader to perhaps better understand the psyche of the German people who became participants in an unfortunate war. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see this book appearing soon as a movie in a theater near you. ~Lisa Cadow 

Transatlantic by Colum McCann (June 2013) – When the National Book Award winning author of one of my favorite books  – Let the Great World Spin – writes a new book, I am very happy.  When the book is superb, I am even happier.  Transatlantic takes three stories: 1) two British WWI veterans who are the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic, 2) Frederick Douglass and his fundraising trip to Ireland, and 3) Senator George Mitchell’s journey as he brokered peace in Northern Ireland.  He then uses the lives of three generations of very strong women to tie these three seemingly disparate events together.   How does this book fit in today’s blog theme?  Well, each of the characters in it is significantly affected by their history with war — be it WWI, The Civil War, or the Irish conflicts.  But beyond this fit, I loved the well-picked prose, and I truly enjoyed the company of each of the memorable (historic or otherwise) characters in this novel.  I was also intrigued to read in the acknowledgements that Mr. McCann spent time with Senator Mitchell to talk about what brokering peace entailed and meant.  It is truly a gorgeous novel. ~ Lisa Christie 

A Few From Year’s Past:

FC9780452295292City of Thieves by David Benioff (2008). A looter named Lev and deserter Kolya are cellmates in prison tasked to find a dozen eggs in a wartime St. Petersburg  for a Soviet colonel who needs them for his daughter’s wedding cake. This unlikely pair brave frigid temperatures, hunger, danger, and despair to try and deliver this most ridiculous imperative. One of the most endearing, brilliant, WWII books I have read yet. ~Lisa Cadow

 A Century of November by WD Wetherell (2005) – Years ago when my father-in-law, a retired Marine Corp Colonel and a retired high school history teacher, called this the best book about war that he has read, I listened. Bonus, the author lives so close to us that The Book Jam can visit him. ~ Lisa Christie

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