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Posts Tagged ‘Our Souls at Night’

Books for Book Clubs: Start the new year with a great list

Last autumn, we were honored to once again meet with an amazing, long-standing book group who asked us to come up with a list of great books for them to read, enjoy, and discuss. (They actually won us in a charity auction; and honestly, it is really fun to think our reviews benefitted someone’s charitable causes.) To help the rest of you (who were not able to join us on a fine autumn evening over delicious food) find the right books for your book clubs or your own personal reading, we divided the list mostly by subject area, not genre. Happy reading!

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Coming of Age

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America. Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~ Lisa Cadow

Prep: A Novel Cover ImagePrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Ms. Sittenfeld’s debut novel provides amazing fodder for book club conversations as everyone has gone to school at some point in their lives and everyone who is old enough to read this novel has experience or is experiencing their teens. Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when dropped off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She’s there because she wants an education, but also because of the school’s glossy brochure, promising gorgeous and kind boys in sweaters, lovely old brick buildings, girls in kilts with lacrosse sticks, and a place where everyone looks beautiful in chapel. Lee soon discovers that Ault hosts jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand based upon years of wealth and the privileges it affords. In this novel, Lee provides a shrewd observer of–and, at some point, a participant in life at Ault. ~ Lisa Christie

Growing Old/Death

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi  (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf  (paperback 2016). I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.) ~ Lisa Cadow

Impact of Technology/Our Future

Feed Cover ImageFeed by MT Anderson (2012). As screens dominate our work and leisure, and well, basically our lives, this book about a future in which we all have direct feeds into our brains, feeds through which corporations and governments directly provide us with all the information they think we need, is prescient and honestly page-turning. The group of fictional teens starring in this novel, teens whose feeds malfunction, demonstrate oh so very well how important what we consume through media is to our lives today and perhaps provides a tale of caution we all need. ~ Lisa Christie

 Gun Violence

Long Way Down Cover ImageA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017). Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in this unique, powerful and short novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes killed his brother Shawn. With this tale, Mr. Reynolds creates a place to understand the why behind the violence that permeates the lives of so many, and perhaps hopefully a place to think about how this pattern might end. I’d love to hear how Book Clubs use this book as a place to begin solving this ever present public health issue. ~ Lisa Christie

Sexual Assault/Gender Equity

Young Jane Young: A Novel Cover ImageYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). A GREAT book about youth, choices, first jobs, and how all of that affects the rest of your life. If you are a person of a certain age, it may also remind you of a certain political scandal or two. Bonus: you will laugh a lot and it is a relatively quick read so great for those months crowded with so many things you can’t possibly read all the books you wish. We are certain it will be a movie soon – so read it now so you can cast it in your mind first. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead “a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. May lead to great discussions about feminism today. ~ Lisa Christie

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories Cover ImageWhatever 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). ~ Lisa Christie

Convenience Store Woman Cover ImageConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). As an indie bookstore reviewer, Lauren Peugh of Powell’s Books in Oregon, stated, “Keiko Furukura has worked at her local convenience store for 18 years. Every day, she ensures that the shelves are tidy, the hot food bar is stocked, and the featured items are adequately displayed. She greets every customer with a cheerful ‘Irasshaimase!’ and no one notices that she’s never fit in anywhere else. Murata draws lush descriptions of the beauty of order and routine out of simple, spare prose, and every page crackles with the life she’s created. Because of the humor, the wit, the almost unbearable loveliness of it all, Convenience Store Woman, a small book about a quiet life, makes an enormous impact on the reader.” ~ Lisa Cadow

Domestic Violence
American by Day Cover ImageNorwegian by Night Cover ImageNorwegian by Night (2013) and American by Day (2018) by Derek Miller. See our June 18, 2018 post for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. In American By Day, detective Sigrid Odegard is back in to star in this literary mystery series by Derek Miller, this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. It offers a fascinating  Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also have the pleasure of meeting, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is not only a police officer but also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book.~Lisa Cadow

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018). Educated, is one of the most affecting – if not the most affecting – memoirs of 2018 . In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass CastleJeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Race Relations

Between the World and Me Cover ImageBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. This book is a letter to his son about race in America. As another of our favotire authors wrote about this book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dear Martin Cover ImageMonday is Not Coming (2018) or Allegedly (2018) by Tiffany Jackson or The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2018). All these books are fabulous YA novels about life in contemporary USA. All lend themselves to great discussions about youth, race, and the USA today. And they are all pretty quick reads so perfect for months your book club is a bit overwhelmed. Briefly,  Dear Martin and The Hate U Give address gun violence in the USA. Monday is Not Coming speaks to treatment of African American girls in the USA and Allegedly addresses juvenile justice issues. ~ Lisa Christie

Immigration
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Contreras (2018) paired with Dear America by Jose Vargas (2018). Both of these books provide insight into what life brings for new immigrants to the USA.  Fruit of the Drunken Tree is one of those books that are so gorgeous when you finish you turn back to page one and start over again. I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven year old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Dear America is a memoir penned by the most famous undocumented immigrant in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Mosin Hamid (2017). We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in its review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~– Lisa Christie•

Amazing Fiction You May Have Missed

The Sea (Vintage International) Cover ImageThe Sea by John Banville (2005). I often describe this slim novel as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  In it Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman travels back to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers in an attempt to cope with the recent loss of his wife. There he confronts all he remembers and some things he does not. ~ Lisa Christie 
The House on Mango Street (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image

House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991). My oldest son read this in High School and I joined him in the experience by re-reading Ms. Cisneros’s acclaimed novel about life as a Latino in New York City. I enjoyed it years ago and enjoyed it again this time, with a huge bonus of being able to discuss it with my son. I hate to trivialize it by calling it a coming-of-age story, but I will call it a masterpiece of childhood and self-discovery. ~ Lisa Christie

Nutshell Cover ImageNutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – This mystery is a clever treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of HamletNutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (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 

Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel Cover ImageLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2015). Reviewers compare it to Gone Girl. I just enjoyed reading this page-turner. Indiebound may have summed it best, “with a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive  explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to ‘have it all’ and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.” Have fun. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Fun Book that May Cause You to Rethink Mrs. Bush

American Wife: A Novel Cover ImageAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008). Ms. Sittenfeld’s story of Charlie and Alice made me re-think Mrs. Laura Bush and the politicians who surround her. Hopefully you will enjoy it and rethink your thoughts of many politicians.   As an indie book reviewer from Wisconsin wrote, “The reader will recognize the main characters, Alice and Charlie, as they experience their tempestuous courtship and marriage, and their rise to political fame and fortune. Although the setting is Wisconsin, the protagonists bear a curious resemblance to a couple from Texas who achieved the highest office of the land. This story, told from the perspective of a fictional First Lady, is hard to put down!” ~ Lisa Christie

Creative Short Story Collections

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories Cover ImageAssassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014). 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 Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

Vida Cover ImageVida 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 Christie

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover ImageThe 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. I usually don’t like short stories, but this one has remained with me throughout the past few years. To me, it was one of the best books of 2015. And I honestly think it would make a great place for some great book club discussions.  And if you are really short on time before one of your book club gatherings, you could pick one of the stories instead of them all. ~ Lisa Christie

Compelling Nonfiction
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Cover Image

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018). As a mother to two sons, adopted from South America and raised in overwhelmingly white Vermont, this book was truly difficult for me. Chung’s stories of growing up as the rare person of color in her predominantly white community in Oregon and the trauma that she had to work through as a result, hit a little too close to home. Her difficulties with identity and her adoption, tugged hard at my heart and my guilt. Her writing is poignant and pointed as she tells her tale of finding her birth family, exploring her own feelings about motherhood while preparing to give birth for the first time, and discovering what family means to her. In short, this book is a great memoir for anyone interested in the experiences of people of color in the USA, the experiences of adoption in the USA, and how families are formed no matter your race or birth status.~ Lisa Christie

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Cover ImageMy Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2018). I used this book for one of the book clubs I run in my health coaching job.  In this memoir, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist desxcribes her life before and after she experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She watches her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours. However, her stroke was a blessing and enabled many revelations. A great book for intense discussions about life and thinking. ~ Lisa Cadow

Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1932). In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night: A Memoir Cover ImageWest With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Cover ImageSomething/anything by Brene Brown (assorted years). We first heard of Ms. Brown because of a TED talk. Then she seemed to be everywhere – on multiple NPR interviews, in magazines, books in friends’ homes. So we picked up a book or tow of hers and read.  In all, she takes her research studying difficult emotions such as shame, fear, vulnerability from her career at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and adds insights from her own “mid-life unraveling” and other real life adventures. Her messages throughout are more insightful than they may at first appear. And, she reminds us all that courage, compassion and connection are gifts that only work when exercised. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Pairings: Because They Can Be Twice As Good

Madame Bovary Cover ImageIn One Person Cover ImageMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person (2012) – Madame Bovary  plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

 

On Beauty: A Novel Cover ImageHowards End Cover ImageOn Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006) with Howard’s End by Forster (1910). Ms. Smith retells Howard’s End as the tale of an interracial family living in a university town in Massachusetts. Both sides of the Atlantic play a part in the escapades that ensue. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny. Enjoy and then read Howard’s End, Forster’s classic tale of English social mores at the end of the 19th century and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel Cover ImageHamlet Cover ImageGertrude and Claudius by John Irving (2000) with Hamlet by Shakespeare (1603). Most agree that Gertrude and Claudius are the villains of Hamlet . John Irving creates a Gertrude and Claudius Shakespeare left behind for his imagination. In this slim novel, Mr. Irving tells the tale of Hamlet from the villains’ perspective and things shake out slightly differently.  Read both versions and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

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Ahhh summer, a time when longer days provide extra daylight to read. It is also a time for the Book Jam’s annual list of books for you to take to the beach, lake, mountains, and/or your own backyard or apartment roof. This year, we included many older titles, as we know paperback copies are easier to carry while moving about. (Please remember that each review is linked to the Norwich Bookstore’s web site, and can be downloaded to your i-pad or e-reader too.) We also tried to include titles to help when you crave a substantive piece of nonfiction, a quick YA read, a surprising mystery/thriller, a page-turning “beach read”, as well as, fiction that makes you think. Happy reading!

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Fiction

The Nightingale Cover ImageThe Nightingale by Kirstin Hannah (2015) – This book has been staring at us from the best-seller bookshelves and still in hardcover for over a year but we resisted its charms until the summer of 2016. It invites us into the wartime world  of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, in 1940’s  France and tells a tale of their very different roles in the resistance movement. The Nightingale is an excellent summer read which caught this reader off guard in the final pages, with tears streaming down my face without a kleenex all while sitting in the window seat of an airplane. A compelling story with excellent character development which as with any good tale leaves one asking, “What decisions might I have made if put in the same situation?” The Nightingale shows us that there are also still many aspects of World War II to explore through the powerful vehicle of literature. ~ Lisa Cadow (and Lisa Christie)

The Sense of an Ending Cover ImageThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011) – This Booker Prize winner concisely explores what happens when you receive information late in life that skews your memories and perhaps questions your entire view of yourself. In this case, a retired historian receives a puzzling bequest that causes him to investigate what actually happened to a childhood friend. These 163 pages of exquisite prose will haunt you long after you finish reading. I somehow missed this when it was published, and am so glad I found it this summer (also reviewed by Lisa Cadow in December 2012). ~ Lisa Christie

The Night Watch Cover ImageThe Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006) – Yes, yet another WWII novel, but so worth reading. This time, the plot revolves around people in London just after WWII ends, during the nightly bombings of WWII, and then at the start of the war, told backwards chronologically. Many of the women have taken up important positions as ambulance drivers and business owners, and the men are in jail for a variety of crimes; their adventures and seemingly random connections link their tales. The prose keeps you wanting more, and the images Ms. Waters creates of life for civilians during WWII are memorable. ~ Lisa Christie

Lily and the Octopus Cover ImageLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley (2016) – In just the way we adore our beloved pets, a reader can’t help instantaneously feeling the same way about Lilly the dachshund and her worried, emotionally-closed yet deeply loving caregiver Ted. We join these characters when Ted realizes that his best friend and canine companion of many years, Lilly, may be sick. This is a funny, very well observed story about courage, caregiving, change, and emotional growth. Set in temperate, languorous Los Angeles and told by quirky, single, gay Ted (a narrator with one of the most original voices to emerge in recent memory) this is one of my favorite books of the year. ~ Lisa Cadow

Strawberry Fields Cover ImageStrawberry Fields (published as Two Caravans in Europe) by Marina Lewycka (2008) – A devastating, funny, and thought-provoking account of life as an immigrant. Ms. Lewycka has created a core of memorable characters, initially united as strawberry pickers in the idyllic countryside around Kent, England, but who then partake on a road trip of tragic, humorous, political, and loving proportions. Do not let the fact it is a rather quick paced read belittle the importance of what these characters have to say. ~ Lisa Christie

A Man Called Ove Cover Image

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (paperback 2015) – This lovely story touches a chord with all who read it. Meet cranky and curmudgeonly Ove a retired Swede stuck in his routines who has very set ideas about how things should be. He patrols his planned neighborhood daily to ensure that rules are being followed, that the garbage is being set out for collection just so, and that nobody parks incorrectly. Things in his world get shaken up when a Pakistani family moves in next door and upends his sense of order. A  pesky stray cat also enters his world and refuses to leave. All of these interlopers conspire to challenge Ove’s no-nonsense, iron facade and might just teach him a thing or two about love. ~ Lisa Cadow

Our Souls at Night Cover Image

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (paperback 2016) – I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.)

The Sympathizer Cover ImageThe Sympathizer  by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015) – The Pulitzer landed on an important book; important in that Mr. Nguyen, in extremely effective prose, unfolds the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese man. The narrator, a Vietnamese immigrant to the USA, was rescued by American troops during the fall of Saigon due to his work with them there. His war-torn life unravels further from this rescue and leaves you thinking. As an Indie bookseller wrote when this novel hit the shelves, “Nguyen injects much dark humor into this tragic story, and the narrator’s voice is both subversive and unforgettable. The Sympathizer will be one of the most talked-about novels of the year.” He was right, and we should probably mention we almost reviewed this in our Mysteries/Thriller category. ~ Lisa Christie

Sweetbitter Cover ImageSweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (2016) – Make a reservation and let Stephanie Danler serve you a story of the fast-paced, drug-laced restaurant world of New York City circa 2016. The author herself worked at Union Square Cafe so she offers a reliable narrator in Tess, a waitress at an upscale watering hole who has followed her heart to the bright lights and big city. This book shines a light on the dynamic in upscale restaurants with many highly educated people vying for stressful, coveted serving positions. This is a coming of age story and a love story for Tess and a very well written novel. Given the lifestyle of the characters who live a life of hard work and hard core play, this has been likened to a fictional counterpart to Anthony Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential~ Lisa Cadow

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“Beach Reads”

The Nest Cover ImageThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (2016) – This is a pitch perfect  beach, mountain, or summer-in-the city read as well as one of the best novels of the year. It’s about what happens when three 40-and-50 something siblings learn that they might not be receiving the inheritance (referred to by their family as “The Nest”) that they had expected due to an incident involving their prodigal brother Leo. Each one of them — Bea, Melody, and Jack – had been relying on this money to solve a number of life problems like looming college tuitions and secret debt so it’s possible evaporation is cause for panic. Set in New York City, Brooklyn and its environs, this book is witting, sharply observed, insightful, and as one reviewer put it, is full of “emotional truths.” I appreciate how it explores what happens when individuals are challenged to solve problems by digging deep inside themselves, explore places they never wanted to travel, and as a result discover unexpected resiliency. Highly, highly recommended. ~ Lisa Cadow

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice Cover ImageEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) – This book is included for those of you in need of a novel that is truly just fun to read. Yes, the New York Times panned it, and I agree that Jane would never consent to be married on a reality show, and Austen scholars probably cringed the entire way through as it is difficult to truly emulate Ms. Austen, but those are small points in light of the fact you get to spend hours of reading with the Bennett Sisters. 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. And besides, it takes no small amount of courage to take on a classic. So kudos for that act of bravery Ms. Sittenfeld; and to the rest of you – start reading. (We also recommend American Wife and Prep by Ms. Sittenfeld as fun summer reads.) ~ Lisa Christie

A Spool of Blue Thread Cover ImageA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (paperback 2016) – Readers have come to know that they can count on Anne Tyler for a well-told tale about family and her 20th book is no exception. This story centers around the Whitshank family, their house in Baltimore, and the four generations who have shared and filled with life the space built by their patriarch. It is about what happens when the current adult generation is forced to face the reality that this house may be too much for their aging parents to manage alone. Poignant, universal in its appeal, yet never saccharine or bordering on cliche, this is a gentle and meaningful read. ~ Lisa Cadow

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Mysteries/Thrillers

Arthur & George Cover ImageArthur and George by Julian Barnes – Mr. Barnes uses a true experience from Sir Arthur Doyle’s life and explores race relations, class structure, and mystery as Sir Arthur agrees to help a man exonerate himself. Brilliantly imagined and a great entry to discussing issues of race and class today (and in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s time). I was reminded of this novel when loving The Sense of an Ending, and since detective novels have a special place in summer reading, we are including it here. ~ Lisa Christie

The Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageThe Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon (2016) – Another superb Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery. This time, a young girl is attacked and left for dead, but instead suffers severe brain damage. Years later her grandmother asks Guido to investigate. The tale weaves illegal immigration, refugees and mental illness together. It also allows us to spend time with Guido and his superb family. Enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel, Continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series Cover ImageThe Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz (2016) – This latest edition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series was not written by Steig Larsson, but it will not disappoint fans of Lisbeth Salander, Mikael Blomkvist, and other characters we met in the original trilogy. You will not regret having this page turner keeping you company on your next plane ride. ~ Lisa Christie

 

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Non Fiction

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936 1939 Cover ImageSpain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild (2016) This book is for those of you who crave large volumes of nonfiction to inform your longer summer days. For this review we merely ditto what Carin Pratt wrote in her staff pick review for the Norwich Bookstore. “Almost 3,000 Americans (some famous, most not) traveled to Spain to fight Franco’s Fascists in what Hochschild has called “the first battle of World War II.” Most were untrained and under-armed but unfailingly idealistic, and ultimately, they fought a battle they were predetermined to lose. Adroitly and with empathy, Hochschild tells their largely forgotten stories.” ~ Lisa Christie

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Cover ImageDead Wake by Erik Larson (2015) – For those of you needing “true” stories,  we recommend this account. Mr. Larson manages to take an event for which you know the outcome – the May of 1915 torpedoing by a German U-boat of the luxury ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, killing almost 1200 people – to life. How? By taking tales of the passengers, historical accounts of U-boats, and British intelligence and interweaving them in straightforward, compelling prose. (Coincidentally, this was also selected as a Norwich Bookstore staff pick by Carin Pratt.) ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Best Place to Be Today: 365 Things to Do & the Perfect Day to Do Them Cover ImageThe Best Place to be Today by Lonely Planet (2015) – A travel destination idea for every day of the year. May it inspire last minute travel plans this summer – even of the armchair variety. Bonus – it makes a grat hostess gift. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

 

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YA

Salt to the Sea Cover ImageSalt to the Sea by Ruta Spetys (2016) – Just when you thought you WWII had been written about from every angle, an author proves we needed another WWII book. In this take, four teenage refugees and their friends flee the Russians and the Germans and try to make a safe haven to the Baltic north. Their tales will haunt you as you listen to today’s headlines about Syrian and other refugees. This one is important. Yes, this is YA, but every adult I have given it to has loved it. ~ Lisa Christie

HAPPY READING from the BOOK JAM!

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