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Posts Tagged ‘Sebastian Barry’

images-1As March roared into Vermont like a lion (and seems prepared to roar again with yet another nor’easter tonight), we asked our favorite booksellers to review the one book they are recommending right now. It is our hope this list will help those of us in the Northeast enjoy the next snowstorm a little more by adding a few reasons to curl up by a roaring fire, and that it will also help those of you who reside elsewhere find your next great book to read.

Thank you Norwich Bookstore Booksellers. As always, your selections have added to the stack of books weighing down our bedside tables.

And now, their list:

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Beth recommends:

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (2018) – Honest and enlightening, Jerkins’ debut essay collection is just what I wanted it to be– short bits that allow me to sit with a topic for awhile before plunging straight back in for more. There are surprising points of connection, but more importantly I’ve learned about black culture and her experience with men, hair products, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It takes courage to write about one’s life at such a young age. The shortest passages “How to Be Docile” and “How to Survive” pack a gut punch. They may be small, but they are fierce. That last line is everything. It gives me the inspiration to keep writing, keep pushing, keep reaching. The best essays teach and inspire in equal measure, Jerkins is one to watch.

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Brenna recommends:

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (2018) – Oh, how I love the mercenary mind of 12-year-old Flavia De Luce. Like Louise Penny and Laurie R King, Alan Bradley succeeds in writing mysteries whose nuanced characters drive the story as much as any plot-device. The ninth book in this series is no different. The young chemist with a fondness for poisons, is accompanied by her two sisters and Dogger, the family friend/servant, on a boating trip, when she almost immediately hooks a body. Not just any body- this body is the son of a notorious poisoner- just the thing to rapturously distract our macabre little heroine from the enormous loss her family is (in their reserved, very British way) attempting to reconcile.

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Carin recommends:

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2017) – Sebastian Barry (in my opinion, Ireland’s best living writer) won the Costa Prize for this mesmerizing novel. It is filled with the travails, loves and adventures of an Irish immigrant to America in the mid-1800s who survives the Indian Wars, the Civil War and Andersonville Prison.

It’s violent, but then so was that era in America’s history. This is stop-you-in-your-tracks writing, and you learn a lot about what it was like to be Irish then.

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Jennifer recommends:

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites by Deb Perelman (2017) – I love this cookbook. I’m reading it like a book of short stories. The little essays describing how she came to develop the recipes draw me into her cooking mindset. The recipes themselves are quite approachable, and the ones I’ve already made came out beautifully. I especially appreciate that she provides alternate methods for ingredient prep and doesn’t assume, for instance, that everyone owns a food processor.

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Kathryn recommends:

Disappointment River: Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage by Brian Castner (2018) – A book filed with historical content and present day adventure. In 1789, Scottish explorer and fur trader, Alexander MacKenzie set out to find the Northwest Passage, a shorter route to China. In 2016, Brian Castner began a 1,124 mile journey in a canoe to retrace MacKenzie’s earlier trek in search of that missing waterway. Great read for that cathartic wilderness experience of suffering from your armchair.

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Liza B. recommends:

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018) – When we are upset, it is important to be heard! Often our well-meaning friends try to sooth, distract, or even plan revenge. What we need is a Rabbit in our lives: some one who is present, who listens, who understands, rather than trying to fix things for us. An important book in these times of breakage and shouting; an oasis of healing and comfort. The uncluttered illustrations pair perfectly with the simple text creating a clear yet complex tale.

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Penny recommends:

Personal History by Katharine Graham (1997) – I came to this absorbing memoir after seeing the recent film, The Post. Although written 20 years ago, this Pulitzer Prize winning biography remains a strong and insightful read. Graham reveals she spent most of her first 40 years as a shy, insecure person. After the suicide of her husband Phil Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine took the helm. She played a monumentally important role in shaping our nation’s history as she quietly guided the paper through many turbulent years, including exposing The Pentagon Papers and Watergate. This is a frank, honest and courageous account of a woman who found her sense of self in a man’s world. To me, she is a remarkable role model.

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Sara recommends:

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira (2018) – Oliveira’s second novel about a spirited and determined woman, Mary Sutter. Her first offering, My Name is Mary Sutter, about the young Mary, an experienced midwife who, against immeasurable odds, trains to be a surgeon during the Civil War, won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Fiction. This book, also beautifully written, has a sinister slant. Mary, now an established physician with a successful family practice leads the citizenry of Albany in a desperate, exhaustive search for two missing girls, sisters lost during a cataclysmic winter storm. Also lost are their parents in sweeping tragedies of snow and flood that nearly destroy the local lumber mills. Intrigue, politics, and finally, grit get the girls back to the Sutter home. Tenderness and love temper their mistreatment and recovery. An untried attorney skillfully puts the pieces of the case together and sensitively draws out the girls’ account of what happened. During a climactic prosecution, the perpetrator is discovered and a raw justice is served. Haunting but ultimately satisfying.

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Susan recommends:

The Taster by V.S. Alexander (2018) – Berlin 1943: Twenty-five year old Magda Ritter’s parents send their daughter to relatives in the countryside of Berchtesgarden to wait out the war. But Berchetesgarden is the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda’s aunt and uncle are passionate Nazis and believe every true German must serve the Fuhrer. With limited jobs available in the small town, they pull their few strings to get Magda an interview with the Reich. Several weeks later she is working for Hitler – as one of the tasters who will sample every dish prepared for him. Based on the life of Margot Woelk, who kept her wartime occupation a guarded secret until she was 95 years old, and peopled with fictionalized versions of other inhabitants of Hitler’s intimate household, this historical novel presents the final years of the war from the German perspective. Loyalty, love and betrayal – to oneself, one’s family and one’s country are key themes which resonate in 2018.

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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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