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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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It’s that time of year — a time when those of us lucky to be near Norwich, Vermont can combine food, books, and great company in a fun pair of evenings entitled Tables of Content. Lucky because what could be better than raising money for an incredible public library (our own Norwich Public Library), meeting new people, eating great food, and discussing superb books and the topics they lead us to?  For those of us unable to join a Tables of Content gathering, take heart, the books being discussed as well as a brief blurb about the book and the evening are listed below. We hope these reviews both inspire those of us near Norwich to attend a Table of Content, and that they help those of us who are not nearby, to read a great book and find some good food.

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Tables on Saturday April 7, 2018

FC9780735212206.jpgExit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) – NPR called Exit West “a breathtaking novel by one of the world’s most fascinating young writers…Hamid encourages to us to put ourselves in the shoes of others, even when they’ve lived lives much harder than anything we’ve endured. We have nothing in common except the most essential things, the things that make us human.” The book is on all the best books of 2017 lists — let’s read it and find out why! Then join us for a family-style meal inspired by the delicious and palate awakening cuisines of those who have come to our country from far, far away to begin again. *Sorry, but please choose a different different TOC if spices and flavors from other parts of the world are not your bag! Vegetarians welcome!

FC9781501126062.jpgSing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017) – Set in rural Mississippi, told from each character’s point of view, we learn about the untimely and extremely unfortunate deaths of two people, different generations, both a result of racial strife, who come to haunt a mother and her son. The focus is a broken family in rural Mississippi — a failed black mother, her husband whose cousin killed her brother and is about to be released from jail, her sensitive and paternal thirteen year old son, and the toddler, who adores her older brother. The torments of imprisonment, racism, and innate hatred are weaved throughout the narrative. But we’ll manage to keep the conversation lively and the food just might have to include some southern biscuits!

FC9780062120397.jpgThe Son by Philip Meyer (2013) – ​The Son covers 200 tumultuous years of Texas history, as told by three generations of the McCullough family.  Much of the story centers around Eli McCullough, who was kidnapped by Comanches at the age of 13 in 1849, and went on to become a Texas Ranger and then a cattle baron at the turn of the 20th century.  We also hear the voices of Peter McCullough, Eli’s conflicted son, and Jeannie, his great-granddaughter who watches the family wealth shift from cattle to oil.  But while The Son is a great read that provides a detailed portrait of the triumphs and brutalities of frontier life, we’re really in it for the food. We’ll be feasting on beef brisket (imported from our favorite brisket maker) and other Texan treats, while sampling four kinds of whiskey from Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas.

FC9780374228088.jpgThe Wine Lover’s Daughter by Anne Fadiman (2017) – We found a memoir of a happy father-daughter relationship to guide our Tables of Content evening!  What miraculous book you might ask? Answer: Anne Fadiman’s (of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down fame) portrait of her famous father Clifton. Born in 1904, Clifton rose far above his early beginnings, but remained impressively down to earth. His dream to teach at Columbia ended when he was told they could only hire one Jew (Lionel Trilling). So Clifton pivoted and became a rising star of the editorial and publishing world. His career included writing for the New Yorker, being an editor for Simon & Schuster, a judge for Book-of- the-Month Club, and co-author of The Lifetime Reading Plan (still in print.) However, lucky for us, wine might have been his greatest joy. Join us as we celebrate wine and the written word. Our menu will harken back to 20th century Manhattan (vegetarians welcome!). Let’s raise a glass to family and sharing stories around the table.Related imageTables on Saturday, April 14, 2018

FC9780143118527.jpgThe Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif Shafak (2010) – Written by the most widely read female writer in Turkey, this is a lyrical tale of parallel narratives. Ella Rubenstein finds herself drawn to the life of Rumi and his teaching based on the unity of all people and religions. Our dinner will feature delicious foods from many regions. Please join us as we discuss love, life and all that makes us human.

FC9780199537150.jpgFrankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1818) – 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus. Through her seminal work, Shelley sparked the imaginations of generations to question the balance between progress and ethics. Join us in a gastronomical laboratory where food, fun, conversation, and science meet.

FC9780062409218.jpgNews of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016) – Before fake news, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd earned money by reading newspaper articles from far-flung locales to audiences throughout northern Texas. After raising a family, fighting in two wars, and completing a career in printing, the widower Captain Kidd enjoyed a nomadic carefree lifestyle in his twilight years. His life takes a most unexpected turn when he’s asked to deliver a 10-year orphan, who had been kidnapped by Native American Kiowa raiders four years earlier, to surviving relatives 400 miles away. Come share their remarkable journey of danger and discovery while enjoying food of the region as interpreted by your New England hosts.

FC9781476753867.jpgThe Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by Laurie Gwen Shapiro (2018) – Tale of a young immigrant in the 1920’s who tries to become part of Richard Byrd’s Antarctic Expedition, during an era when the American media and populous is swept up in daring feats of formidable explorers like Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart. Theme for dinner: 1920’s common meals, as found in Fannie Merritt Farmers The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (Jessie Thorburn Kendall’s copy- My Great Grandmother).

FC9781616207823.jpgWhat Unites Us by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner (2017) – This is a gently presented, welcome overview of the long life of a journalist and observer of our country who also considers himself a deeply patriotic American. Rather’s evenhanded and civil insights into some very difficult current topics are accurately suggested by calling out the section heads in his table of contents (beginning with his pages simply entitled “What is Patriotism?”): Freedom, Community, Exploration, Responsibility, and Character. Please join us for a meal that we will create in the spirit of celebrating the warmth and comfort we enjoy in this melting pot of Norwich, Vermont, USA.

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Well, it has been quite the week or two regarding immigration, immigration reform, and real life consequences of immigration policies and executive orders. It has ushered in a time where many Americans don’t recognize their country — the one of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”(from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus). But, it is also a time in which many other Americans, afraid of terrorism and terrorists, are acting and reacting from a place where immigration restrictions feel protective and correct. Since none of us have all the answers, nor all the righteousness, nor all the facts, we thought we would turn to the voices of immigrants – to those who have lived and are living lives directly affected by what to many of us are only policies. To find these voices, we turned to books. We hope the list we collected helps you put faces on the headlines and perhaps inspires action; but most importantly, we wish these books will create empathy and compassion towards all of us living in this great world of ours.
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The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImageThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – With this book, Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for middle grade readers and young adults. In it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed; and, this book will insert faces into any political discussions about immigration that the pre-teens and teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

Brooklyn Cover ImageBrooklyn by Colm Toibin (2009) – 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. Also, this is one of the rare instances where the movie is as good as the book (see Book Jam review February 29, 2016). ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Into the Beautiful North Cover ImageInto the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (2009) – Inspired by “The Magnificent Seven“, 19-year-old Nayeli goes north from her small town in Mexico to recruit seven men to save her village from ruin at the hands of drug dealers, and to find her father who disappeared north years before. Beautifully written and funny — think of this novel as the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided Cover ImageIn The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (2016) – One of the stars of “Orange is the New Black” penned this memoir (with some help from a co-author) about her life as the USA-born daughter of undocumented immigrants from Colombia. Her story hinges on the day her parents were deported while she was at school, after which she was left to fend on her own, relying on her friends for places to live so she could finish High School in the USA. She is now using her fame to help shed light on the lives of the undocumented in the USA. While the prose may not sing quite as well as some of the other books on this list from award winning authors, I, for one, was appalled at some of the more surreal aspects of her story (e.g., she was completely forgotten by the US government which never checked on her, or helped her in any shape or form). And, I am very grateful she broke years of silence to put her face on many nameless Americans, and on a problem we all need to help solve. ~ Lisa Christie

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – If you somehow missed this collection of nine short stories about Indian-American immigrants, fix that now and read these Pulitzer Prize winning tales. Ms. Lahiri’s prose is gorgeously crafted, and her characters and their trials and tribulations – both the mundane and the incredible – will stay with you long after you finish the last sentences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dreaming in Cuban Cover ImageDreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (1992) – Reaching far back in our bookshelf, our memories, and into the Caribbean Sea, our hands land on Garcia’s 1992 novel of the Cuban immigration experience. Told from the perspective of three generations of strong women, this lush narrative will be appreciated by lovers of magical realism. Strong female characters tell the story of the experiences of being political expats in New York City, and also of the ones left behind in Cuba. Moving between the United States and Cuba, and the present and the past, this book creates a sensation of dreaming but also of the very real situation of a country and its people experiencing turmoil and change. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) Cover ImageThe Sympathizer  by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The Pulitzer landed on an important book in 2016. The narrator, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, was rescued by the Americans during the fall of Saigon due to his work with the US military and diplomatic corps. His life further unravels from this relocation to LA. His tale provides a superb entry into conversations about the Vietnam War, as well as the lives of all the Vietnamese immigrants to the USA who followed the soldiers and sailors across the Pacific to life in America. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Home of the Brave Cover ImageHome of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (2007) – My 11-year-old read this for school earlier this year, and I am so glad he did. I borrowed it and devoured it in one sitting. A great book about the complicated lives of immigrants to the USA. It weaves the tale of a boy, from an unnamed country in Africa, adjusting to cold days and nights in Minnesota and wondering what happened to his mother, the only other person from his family to have survived the genocide there. ~ Lisa Christie

Before We Were Free Cover ImageBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – We finish with a Vermont author who has penned so many great tales (e.g., How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of Butterflies), and highlight Before We Were Free her award winning novel for older children. In this tale, by the 12th birthday of the main character Anita, most of her Dominican relatives have emigrated to the United States, a few have disappeared without a trace, and the police continually terrorize her family remaining in the DR all of whom are suspected of opposing el Trujillo’s dictatorship. A heartrending tale of growing up based upon the author’s extended family’s own experiences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

OK, two more….

Americanah Cover ImageAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – Before she wrote We Should All Be Feminists, Ms. Adichi earned our reading loyalty with this incredible novel of love and culture clash. As Maureen Corrigan of NPR stated, “Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . Americanah is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . ”

Ghana Must Go Cover ImageGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013) – When a renowned surgeon dies suddenly outside his home in Accra, his family, which is scattered across the globe, suddenly learns much more about him and what his choices meant for them. Beautifully rendered, this novel takes you from Accra to Lagos to London and to New York. It also shows us the power of love, family, and choices as we figure out who we are and where we come from.

 

 

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Yes, we recognize it is practically February and the holidays are long past. However, due to other great blog topics, we only now get to our annual picks from our holiday reading.  So, with no further ado, two great books we read as 2015 passed into 2016.

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The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014, paperback 2015) – “What does it mean to be a sister, a friend, a woman, an outcast, a slave? How do we use our talents to better ourselves and our world?” These questions, posed by Bobbi Dumas of NPR in her review of The Invention of Wings, target the core themes addressed in Kidd’s absorbing novel.  The reader is introduced to Sarah Grimke, a real-life abolitionist born into a family of plantation owners in Charleston, South Carolina. Kidd brings this fascinating and history-changing individual to  life more than a century and a half after her death. (I found myself wondering how I hadn’t known of her previously.) Sarah, a radical and different thinker from an early age, is given “Handful,” a slave, as a present for her eleventh birthday and the story is launched from this pivotal moment. The story is told from both character’s perspectives, exploring a painful part of our nation’s history and transporting the reader to the bustling streets of Charleston and Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century.  This is precisely the kind of absorbing historical fiction that I long to find –and I hope that you do as well. ~ Lisa Cadow

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (2016) – Just when you thought authors had run out of ways to tell WWII tales, this sparse, lyrical, YA/older K-12 novel enters the world. This slim volume explores life as a refugee — a topic especially meaningful in light of today’s headlines from Syria — in Poland during WWII. The story begins when Anna’s father fails to return home from work, and she is forced to fend for herself after family friends refuse to help. Early in her meanderings, she is befriended by a mysterious man who remains nameless and “history-less” throughout the book. The pair proceeds to wander Poland, remaining ever-vigilant to stay one step ahead of both the Nazi and the Russian armies. They also manage to merge into an unusual team of friends and defenders. Throughout their tale, the author somehow makes walking in circles around Poland compelling and meaningful. Saying more would ruin this novel; but, if you need an overarching plot summary, this is a story about the meaning of truth, and what it means to be good and evil. Need a one sentence summary? This is a superb choice for fans of The Book Thief. ~ Lisa Christie

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Halloween is right around the corner, and it seems as if many people are thinking spooky thoughts or at least pondering perfect costumes. We thought we would take a few minutes during this spookiest of weeks to highlight some thrilling books for you to read.  As many are complete page-turners, and a few slightly haunting, you might want to find a nightlight to use as you enjoy them.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014) – A collection by Hillary Mantel is probably not the most obvious choice for a post about thrillers. But trust us, many of the short stories contained in this collection are down right haunting, especially as they are portrayed in such a matter-of-fact, plausible manner. From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage, to a story of two pre-teen girls spying on a mysterious form, Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. As an NPR reviewer wrote “Every other story here makes a permanent dent in a reader’s consciousness because of Mantel’s striking language and plots twists, as well as the Twilight Zone-type mood she summons up.” And, if you have not yet read anything by Ms. Mantel, these stories provide a great excuse to try her work. The New York Times wrote in their review of this collection, “Over the past decade or two, Mantel has made a name for herself — no other way to put it — as one of the indispensable writers of fiction in English.” That description itself provides a very good reason to try anything Ms. Mantel pens. But the bonus for reading this particular book — it is actually a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

10161216Mr. Churchill’s Secretary: Maggie Hope Mystery #1 by Susan Elia MacNeal (2012) – If you’re a fan of the Maisie Dobbs‘ series by author Jacqueline Winspear, this book is for you.  Set in London in 1940, readers join brainy Maggie Hope who is working below her pay grade as —  you guessed it! — Winston Churchill’s Secretary. Having graduated from the top of her class at her American college with a talent for mathematics, she is under-utilized scribing speeches. However, her work in the highest level of government brings her right up against the people making history and possibly ensnared in a plot to bring  down the empire. This mystery has a little bit of everything: psychological intrigue, budding romance, a fascinating historical setting, unravelling family secrets, and a strong and admirable heroine. Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

Cukoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling (2012) – This fun mystery provides an excuse to keep reading long past your bedtime. Ripped straight from today’s headlines with unemployed Iraq war veterans and tabloid gossip, this book compellingly portrays life in modern London through the eyes of two great main characters. You will so like both the main detective Cormoran Strike —  a wounded Iraq War veteran struggling to make a living as a private investigator, and his superb assistant Robin — a young woman searching for a career. You might also feel as if Ms. Rowling is lashing out a bit at her own fame, and very definitely at the culture of today’s tabloids throughout this page-turning tale.  ~ Lisa Christie

BONUS PICK – 11-22-63 by Stephen King (2011) – What would a post about thrillers/mysteries be without a Stephen King entry? Probably not very complete. New England’s favorite thriller author offers a bit of time travel with this one —  to Dallas on 11/22/6 when three shots ring out, and President Kennedy is dead. The owner of a Maine diner enlists Jake, a high school English teacher, to prevent the Kennedy assassination by taking a portal in the diner’s storeroom back to the 1960s. Finding himself in Texas, Jake begins a new life that eventually leads to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. Does he change history or not? That is a question I can not yet answer as I could not finish this page-turner in time for this post. But I look forward to finding out. Since however, this book has been described by NPR as Mr. King’s “most ambitious and accomplished”, I feel OK recommending a book I have not quite finished. ~ Lisa Christie

 

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Next month, Catching Fire – part two of the Hunger Games trilogy debuts in movie form; The Fault In Our Stars is being filmed and/or edited as we write this.  Divergent will be a movie before we know it.  These movie versions of books have us thinking about terrific young adult fiction.  And when we think, we tend to read.  So today we thought we would highlight some great young adult books that have not yet made it to the big screen.

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider (2013) – This novel offers a great way to think about fate and choices.  Plus, this has one of the most memorable opening chapter events of any book I have ever read.  If you continue past chapter one you will: 1) Get to know Ezra – the golden boy of his high school until a car accident ends his star tennis career.  2) Get to know Toby – a boy ostracized by his classmates ever since being the innocent victim of the horrific event in chapter one.  3) Meet Cassidy – the new girl in town with a huge secret that sets her apart.  4) Start to believe Ezra is right when he states that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them.  Yes, Ezra believes each life has a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen In other words, an event that is “the beginning of everything”. ~ Lisa Christie

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012) – OK, I lost sleep reading this one; I could not put it down.  It has young women heroines, WWII history, a glimpse into life in England and France, spies, and Nazis.  Pick it up and be prepared to spend a day reading. Note: This review is short as it is hard to review this book without giving away too much plot; and, surprise is important with this book. ~ Lisa Christie

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (September 2013) – I am not sure how the award winning author of Code Name Verity endured the research for this book.  She must have just kept thinking it was so much worse for the actual prisoners. But in this book, she takes on the German concentration camps, specifically Ravensbruck.  Ravensbruck is where her heroine Rose, an American ATA pilot, ends up after being overtaken by two German fighter planes.  What happens to her there is unthinkable; what she witnesses is worse.  But somehow, while this book caused me to cry quietly throughout, and then sustainably at the end, the message is one of hope, survival, and bearing witness so that the horrible, horrible things that happened in Ravensbruck, never occur again.  May all world leaders read this and govern accordingly.  But in the meantime, get this book in the hands of your favorite future world leader and yourself. (And yes, a few characters from Code Name Verity play a part, but mostly this is the tale of Rose and her fellow prisoners.) ~ Lisa Christie

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits — both from the “wrong side of the tracks” and smart enough to know that first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to try anyway.  When you watch as Park meets Eleanor, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were, and your own first love.  I also truly believe that when the book ends you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and from family situations that are less than ideal. ~ Lisa Christie

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For those of you needing something to do while you wait for the 2012 Super Bowl or for those of you needing something to read during the Super Bowl, we have some novels for you.  Why? Because assuming there is great overlap between avid readers and avid sports fans, we want to make sure  you all have some super reads to accompany the pre-game hype, the chili, the nachos, all those funky ads and the let-down once the game is over.

So here we go – two Super Reads for Super Bowl Sunday. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats   and When the Elephants Dance .

Some things these books have in common: neither novel is well-known among my friends or even among fellow book lovers/sellers I have encountered.  Both novels take place in lands I have not yet been lucky enough to visit.  Both novels are grounded in their location. Both novels draw on traditional folklore from their respective countries to weave a tale that remains with the reader for a long time. I believe both were even first novels for their respective authors.  So this post is dedicated to these two amazing – even “super” – finds that are reminiscent of each other.  We hope that flipping their pages is as enjoyable as waiting for those touchdowns, Super Bowl parties and amusing ads.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philip-Sendker ( Feb 2012).  I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the English translation of this novel and I loved every word.  I am now fully aware of why this has remained a bestselling novel in Germany,  and I am extremely grateful someone translated it to English so that I was able to read it — as my German is non-existent.

The plot begins when a 30-something woman goes in search of her father who has mysteriously left his family and job in America to find his first love.  The story continues in Burma where the daughter is met by a wise man who slowly reveals the incredible truth of her father’s childhood. In between these revelations, the daughter must reconcile her father’s story with the man she thought she knew.  The characters and the beauty of Burma will remain with you long after you close this book. ~ Lisa Christie

When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (March 2002).  This novel provides insight into Filipino culture in the waning days of World War II.  How?  By following the Karangalans – a family who huddles with their neighbors in the cellar of a house near Manila to wait out the war.  The book alternates between 1) heart-wrenching looks at life during war as those hiding in the basement venture out to forage for much-needed food, water and news and, 2) spellbinding myths and legends the group uses to entertain each other while they wait for the war to end.  The book is a testament to the power of stories in giving much-needed resolve to survive. ~ Lisa Christie

OK, for those of you reading this who need a sports book for your Super Bowl count down– here you go — John Feinstein’s young adult series.  If possible, listen to them as an audio book. He narrates and that oh-so-familiar voice from his guest spots on NPR and It’s Only a Game, guides you well as you enjoy the mysteries that Steve Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson, his book smart, common sense endowed and avid sports fan teen heroes uncover as they cover America’s great sporting events: NCAA final four, Super Bowl, US Open.  And, while we haven’t yet read it, we noticed that he also has a new book for adults One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game. He considers this not a memoir (he says he is too young for that), but  more of an epilogue to many of his previous best sellers. ~ Lisa Christie

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