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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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Mother’s Day has come and gone, and yet you somehow have yet to find the perfect gift. So you promised you would send something ASAP. We thought we’d help by reviewing two books to help you get the right gift for your mom – even if it is after the fact (and, even if it ends up being a gift for you). Enjoy!

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice Cover ImageEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – Yes, we know that the New York Times panned it. And honestly, we agree with their reviewer that Ms. Austen’s Jane would never consent to be married on a reality show; but, that is a small point in light of the fact that as you read Eligible, you get to spend additional hours with the Bennet Sisters. Viewing Liz as a magazine writer, Jane as a yogi, Kitty and Lydia as self obsessed gym goers, and Mary as a grump with a secret, lets you have a bit of fun with a well-known tale. We also are strong believers that sometimes it is more than OK to read a book just to have some fun — no deepening of knowledge or self-reflection required. We also believe it takes no small amount of courage to take on a classic. So, kudos to Ms. Sittenfeld for bravely adapting Pride and Prejudice. As for the rest of you – start reading. To help sway you, we share some assessments from a few other critics:

  • “A hugely entertaining and surprisingly unpredictable book, bursting with wit and charm.” The Irish Times
  • “Endlessly amusing . . . Her take on Austen’s iconic characters is skillful, her pacing excellent, and her dialog highly entertaining. . . . Austen fans will adore this new offering, a wonderful addition to the genre.” Library Journal
  • “Sittenfeld adeptly updates and channels Austen’s narrative voice the book is full of smart observations on gender and money. . . . A clever retelling of an old-fashioned favorite.” Publishers Weekly

FC9781607747307The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2014) – Whether you (or your mother) are seeking inspiration to clean out your sock drawer or to declutter your whole darn house, pick up a copy of this book and start reading. Kondo will talk you calmly an confidently through her personal philosophy of tidiness, one she’s been developing since she was a girl growing up in Japan. Kondo admits to a lifelong fascination with organization, one which drove her to rush home from grade school so that  the she could straighten up her messy little brother’s room. Her childhood curiosity then turned into a small consulting business (which has a three month waiting list and no repeat clients because they are always successful)  and then into a book which took the world by storm upon its publication two years ago . She encourages people to keep only the objects that “spark joy” in  their lives and to discard the other objects. Warning: once you start reading and cleaning, you won’t be able to stop with just the sock drawer!

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Every year the annual Oscar broadcasts honors movies, but inadvertently it also honors books, because many movies find their inspiration in literature. This year was no exception. So as the 2016 Oscar buzz fades, we review some of the books behind two of this year’s Oscar nominated movies, as well as a book or three we think would make great movies (you are welcome Hollywood).

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Brooklyn by Colm Toiban (2009) This film received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is one of the rare examples of a movie that is as good as the book — though, at times, it is notably different. Brooklyn is a coming of age story about a girl, Eilis, who leaves Ireland post World War II to travel to New York for better prospects. She arrives alone, leaving behind her beloved sister, Rose, her mother and brothers. Brave, smart Eilis carves out a life for herself and even finds a beau in sweet Tony before tragedy calls her unexpectedly back to Ireland. Brooklyn is a complicated love story, one that also paints one of the most poignant pictures of homesickness and a rough transatlantic journey that we have ever read. It is definitely a book that will stay with the reader and generate plenty of discussion for lucky book groups that have yet to select it. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Room by Emma Donoghue (2010). There’s now way around it, the concept behind this novel sounds awfully depressing: a woman and her five year old son son are held captive in one room (the mother for seven years and the son since his birth). The mother, however, with her grit and creativity, makes the entire experience an adventure to preserve some semblance of her son’s childhood, as well as her own sanity. Somehow, the book leaves the reader feeling hopeful. Well-written, suspenseful and worth recommending to friends looking for a “good read”. The movie received four Oscar nods, including best picture, Actress in a Leading Role (SHE WON), Directing, and Adapted Screenplay. NOTE: Last reviewed on the Bookjam in October 2015 as a book we would (actually) reread if we had the time. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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And now a few that we think should become movies (and as an unintended bonus would help make the Oscar contenders a bit less white – a very good outcome in our vision).

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (2013) – This coming of age memoir shows what it is like to grow up smart, poor, black, and female in America. Ms. Ward begins with a two year period of time, shortly after she graduated college, during which five boys who she grew up with along the Mississippi Coast experienced 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 ten young black men are in jail, and that murder is the greatest killer of black men under the age of twenty-four. And while the material is difficult, 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 truly hope to see it on a big screen soon. ~ Lisa Christie

Vida by Patricia Engel (2010) – This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

For those of you who prefer Romantic Comedies for your movie enjoyment, we reviewed this next book – Eight Hundred Grapes – as part of our 2015 end of summer reading picks. We thought it would be a good movie then, and we stand by that now. (Keeping with our theme of picks that would make films less white, we challenge the producers to cast Asians, Latinos, African Americans, Indians, Native Americans, or other ethnic groups in some of the roles or as directors, best boys, or grips or…) NOTE: Apparently we do pretty well when picking books that should also be movies, we just discovered that shortly after we posted our review, FOX optioned this book for film. Coincidence? We think not.

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (2015) – The title refers to the number of grapes required to make a bottle of wine. The story revolves around a Sonoma, California vineyard and the family who has tended it for decades. The novel launches with the narrator, a successful LA lawyer with a lovely British architect for a fiance, sitting, inappropriately dressed, in her brothers’ bar after discovering there is more to her fiance than she believed. When she retreats to her family’s vineyard to think, she learns her fiance is not the only one with secrets. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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As part of our mission to promote authors, the joy of reading, and to help independent booksellers, 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. (We have a rotating list of six possible questions to ask just to keep things interesting.) 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, will encourage readers to attend these special author events, and ultimately, will inspire some great reading.

This “3 questions” features Jeffrey Lent and his latest work A Slant of Light, a novel about love, loss and war, and of theft and revenge. In it, a Civil War veteran returns home to find his wife and hired man missing and his farm in disrepair. A double murder ensues, the repercussions of which drive the narrative. Mr. Lent was born in Vermont and grew up there and in western New York State, on dairy farms. He studied literature and psychology at Franconia College in New Hampshire and SUNY Purchase. His first novel, In the Fall, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Book Review Notable Book for 2000, and remains a Book Jam favorite. His other novels include Lost Nation, A Peculiar Grace, and After You’ve Gone. Lent lives with his wife and two daughters in central Vermont. (Photo of Mr. Lent is by Geoff Hansen.)
Mr. Lent will be visiting the Norwich Bookstore at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 8th to discuss A Slant of Light. This event is free and open to the public. However, reservations are recommended as space is limited, and due to the high quality of his work, Mr. Lent consistently packs the house.  Call 802-649-1114 or email info@norwichbookstore.com to save your seat.
 
1. What three books have helped shape you into the author you are today, and why?

Light in August. This was my introduction to Faulkner and his impact is akin to a bomb going off every time I re-read him. True Grit. I read it from the library when it came out. I was in the fifth grade and ordered it at my local bookstore – the first piece of contemporary fiction I bought. Robert Frost. There was a collection of his poetry in the house, growing up. My parents had seen him read at Dartmouth, and he was writing of the world I knew.

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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 say Faulkner, but then it wouldn’t be coffee and what would I say? You’re a great writer, Bill? He already knew that. So I’d go to Frost and ask him what impact poultry had upon his poetry, and then I guess all I’d have to do is listen for several hours, which would be a grand thing.

3.What books are currently on your bedside table?

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. The Big Seven by Jim Harrison. In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen, is waiting for me.

 

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Research shows that reading novels and other literature helps readers better understand other perspectives and increases the reader’s own social navigation abilities.  An October 2013 NY Times article discussing the studies stated researchers “found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.” While we agree what the study uncovered ample self-improvement reasons for picking up some great fiction, we believe that many pieces of classical literature are also just darn good stories. So in this post we share some of our favorite classics — many read long, long ago. And we implore you, please don’t think of the classics as something you HAD to read in High School; read them for the great books that they are. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature. Do you know what it is? ~ Lisa Cadow Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) – Though lesser known than One Hundred Years of Solitude, this novel is my favorite of the two. Its premise distills to a basic question — what if it were possible, not only to promise to love someone ”forever,” but to actually do so, to actually make all life’s choices based upon this vow? Set in an unnamed Caribbean town, the three characters, Florentino, Fermina and Dr. Urbino form the love triangle at the center of the author’s answers to this question. Florentino, after declaring his undying love for Fermina as a teen, is not at all deterred when she marries Dr. Urbino, and vows to wait until she is free. This happens 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later (yes, I had to look this detail up), when suddenly, (in a way only Garcia Marquez can pull off) Dr. Urbino dies while chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The novel explores all three of their lives in real time, in retrospect, with some magic realism (of course), and through the prism of this promise to love forever. ~ Lisa Christie My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) – This novel unwraps the difficulties facing the Shimerdas, recent immigrants to America’s midwest, as narrated by a boy who met the family on a train taking them all to the same Nebraska town to live. While the hardships are harrowing, and the situations faced by both major and minor characters truly dire, the novel somehow manages to be both quiet and reassuring. It is a practical, well-crafted, not at all romantic look at the resilience of the human spirit and the hardiness of the many European immigrants who came across the ocean to begin again in America’s west. As such, this story is important, but more importantly, it is a very good story. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie West with the Night by Beryl Markam (1942)  – Originally published in 1942, West with the Night still reads as if it was hot off the presses. This breathtaking memoir tells the story of the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, penned by an author who was described by Ernest Hemingway as someone who “can write rings around all of us.” Markham was an adventurer, a poet, a philosopher, and a free spirit to her core who has served as an inspiration to generations of women. Her first loves were the horses she trained in east Africa as a teen. After discovering aviation, however, she never looked down. From 1931 to 1936 Markham delivered mail from her plane to remote locations in east Africa before heading north, across the Mediterranean, and then eventually across the Atlantic. If you liked Out of Africa, you will love this book. (Previously reviewed on the Book Jam on March 27, 2012)  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Sometimes we seek out books about certain places or topics (e.g., our Iceland post). Sometimes, the books we happen to be reading and current events collide. This happened earlier this year when the anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act converged with our reading two pieces of fiction dealing with the aftermath of the civil right movement in Mississippi.

Besides the fact we read these two books back to back, what do these two books have in common?  Both present the authors’ views of post 1960s Mississippi – in one case the book is set in the present day and in the other in the late 1980s.  Both have plots that depend upon evolving race relations. Both invoke the 1960s civil rights movement as they try to solve current dilemmas. Both invoke quintessential town squares we come to expect in books that take place in the American South (think To Kill A Mockingbird).  Both were very well received by book critics at The Washington Post and New York Times. And, most importantly for a Book Jam post in June, both picks fit the “summer thriller” category. We hope you enjoy taking them to the beach or to a treehouse or to your mountain cabin or to your favorite chair on very your own front porch.

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (March 2014) – I am glad this is the first part of a trilogy, as much was left unfinished for the next two books to tackle.  After reading John Grisham’s Sycamore Row, I was drawn to this novel of Mississippi and a present day crime rooted in the 1960s civil rights struggle. The details made my stomach turn — mostly because much of what Mr. Iles plotted is based in actual unsolved cases involving disappeared “negroes” and the white people who tried to help. However, I don’t think that summer reading is required to be light and there are plenty of characters to cheer for, so we call this as a great summer read.  Honestly, this novel is more of a saga written as a thriller with current social issues intertwined in the plot, but whatever you call it, it is a book I recommend.

Others recommend it as well.  The Washington Post’s review stated both that “With ‘Natchez Burning’, Greg Iles is back better than ever“, and that the book brings “… an impressive beginning to what could prove to be an epic exploration of the nation’s secrets and hidden sins, and it marks the return of a gifted novelist who has been out of the public eye for much too long.” ~ Lisa Christie

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (October 2013) – Mr. Grisham is a master at plot and suspense, and has once again created a page-turning story. Since I am a fan of the movie A Time To Kill, spending time with Jake Brigance during Sycamore Row — this time three years after the trial from A Time to Kill — felt like a mini reunion. Again, as with Mr. Iles’s book, other reviewers agree this is a must read. As the New York Times review stated “‘Sycamore Row’ reminds us that the best legal fiction is written by lawyers.” Or as the Washington Post reviewer wrote “‘Sycamore Row’ is easily the best of his books that I’ve read and ranks on my list with Stephen King’s “11/22/63” as one of the two most impressive popular novels in recent years.” Please note: This book ended up on many best of 2013 lists — lists that include authors whose novels tend not to become blockbuster movies  — and it was also previously mentioned by The Book Jam in our 2013 last minute holiday gifts post~ Lisa Christie

BONUS pick on this Mississippi Theme:

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This story set in post WWII Mississippi is a heartbreaking story of racial relations, poor treatment of returning veterans, and the high price of silence as members of two families living in rural Mississippi collide. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

 

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Last week, on a GORGEOUS Spring evening that actually felt like summer (being Vermonters some of us were melting in the 78 degree heat), readers from Norwich, Vermont and surrounding towns gathered in The Norwich Inn Pub to hear about some superb new books to bring to the mountains this summer, and to give to grads and dads later this month.

The evening was the latest outing of the Book Jam’s live event – “Pages in the Pub”.  This event is designed to bring together independent booksellers, literary bloggers, educators, librarians, and book lovers for an evening of talking about great titles.

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This event sold out, but those people lucky enough to get a ticket sipped drinks, listened to great book reviews and laughed a bit.  We focused on GREAT books for summer reading because summer is just around the corner, and great gifts for grads and dads because those celebrations are upon us. Because of everyone’s efforts, a few people completed their father’s day shopping during the event, and most got a good start on stocking up on great summer reading.  We also raised over $700 for the library, all while increasing sales for a treasured independent bookstore – The Norwich Bookstore of Norwich, Vermont.

Our SUPERB presenters included (and we truly thank them for their time and talent):

  • Beth Reynolds – Beth is the children’s librarian at the Norwich Public Library during the week and dons her bookseller cap on the weekends at the Norwich Bookstore where she has helped many a family find the perfect last-minute birthday present. When not working in town you can find her at home knitting, reading, baking, writing or taking pictures of her new lop-earred bunny.
  • Carin Pratt – Carin moved to the Upper Valley three years ago after spending 30 years in DC working as a television producer. She’s never looked back. She reads a lot.
  • Penny McConnel – Penny is the co owner of The Norwich Bookstore. She lives in Norwich with husband Jim and enjoys gardening, reading, studying Italian, cooking, knitting, visiting her three sons and a grandson in Phoenix, the Bay Area and Burgundy France, and best of all, doing things with Jim.
  • Jim Gold – Our first male presenter in Norwich says — “Reading has given me the quiet eye and understanding heart to see beyond the confines of my dental profession. It fosters good conversation. Other activities that feed my soul:  hiking, cycling, canoeing, gardening, woodturning, cooking and time with my favorite and far more experienced book seller, Penny McConnel.”
  • Lisa Christie – Lisa is, among other things, the co-founder of the Book Jam and a nonprofit consultant. One of her best jobs was being the founder of Everybody Wins! Vermont, a statewide literacy organization.  In her spare time she reads (though never as much as she would like), bikes, swims and has fun with her husband and two sons.

Since most of you could not join us in person, we now share the great titles discussed last week. This post lists all twenty-one books discussed during the evening (Beth somehow snuck in an extra title), each with its special six-word review written by the presenter. Each of their selections is linked to The Norwich Bookstore web site where you can learn more about the picks and order your books. You’ll also notice that the selections are divided into rather specific categories to make browsing easier.  Have fun looking, and enjoy getting a head start on your summer of great reading.

Non-fiction or reference book – For people who like to ponder large tomes during summer vacation

  • Summertime by Joanne Dugan (2014). Selected by Beth – Photos you’ll want to jump inside.
  • My Venice by Donna Leon (2013). Selected by Jim – Poignant. Insightful. Clever. Observant. Witty. No BS.

Cookbooks – For anyone looking for summer inspiration

Memoirs – For people who enjoy living vicariously through other people’s memories

  • My Beloved World by Sonya Sotomayor (2013). Selected by Penny – Inspiring. Hopeful. Insightful. Educational. Fantastic story.

Adult Fiction – For a woman who only has time for the best fiction after hiking all day

  • Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (2014). Selected by Carin – Thirty-somethings navigate small town lIfe.
  • While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell (2014). Selected by Lisa – “True” story of “Sleeping Beauty”. Fun.
  • We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride (2014). Selected by Beth – It’s all about connections. And love.
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (2012). Selected by Jim – Excellent character development carries moving tale.
  • And The Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass (2014). Selected by Penny – Searching can bring you home again.

 

Adult fiction – For a man who has enough camping equipment, but not enough good fiction

Books for summer campers/ young readers in Tree-houses (ages 8-12) – books for those beyond tonka trucks and tea parties but not yet ready for teen topics.

  • Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (2012). Selected by Lisa – Series. Art. History. Fun. Smart kids.

Books for your favorite High Schooler – “not required” reading for teens to ponder during the long hours of summer vacation

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman (2009). Selected by Beth – Imagine Harry Potter going to college.
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014). Selected by Lisa – Charmed Island Life? Tragic Choices.  OK?

PERFECT books for the dads and grads in your life – or stated another way, last minute gifts to ensure happy celebrations

A brief note to our valued readers — While we are not Goodreads, we are trying to grow and show that small independent bloggers and bookstores make a difference.  So this June, we are campaigning to increase our subscribers.

Please subscribe if you have not already done so.  And if you are a subscriber, please encourage your fellow readers to subscribe to the Book Jam.  To subscribe, go to the right hand side of our blog – under email subscription – and provide your email. THANK YOU!

 

 

 

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