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Posts Tagged ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

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Yet again, we recently had a conversation in which we stated that while AMAZING authors are writing superb books for children today, children do not always have to read the absolutely latest books. It really is worth looking at books written over the years — because even if that book for ten-year-olds is ten years old, it is new to today’s ten-year-olds. So, with that in mind, we are reviewing a few “classics” written over the years for kids and young adults.

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For Children

FC9780448464961.jpgThe Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene (assorted years) – These classic detective novels about teenage Nancy, her boyfriend Ned, and their friends were loved, loved, loved by one of us. They are also beloved all over the world, with multiple movies and TV shows. This does not make them any less magical for children who discover them for the first time. We now add the Trixie Belden Series by Julie Campbell – This series was read and re-read as an seven, eight, and nine year old by the one of us who could not even remotely relate to the perfect Nancy Drew; Trixie’s obvious flaws and obnoxiously curly hair made her feel right at home. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689846236-1.jpgThe Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938) – This tender, heart-renching tale of a boy named Jody and the orphaned fawn he adopted has been read by millions and made into a movie. The fawn, Flag, becomes Jody’s best friend. Unfortunately, their life in the woods of Florida is harsh, complete with fights with wolves, bears, and even alligators.  However, ultimately their failure at farming forces Jody to part with his dear friend.~ Lisa Cadow

FC9780689844454.jpgKing of Shadows by Susan Cooper (1999) – Nat is thrilled to join an American drama troupe traveling to London to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the famous Globe Theater. However, after being taken ill, he is transported 400 years to an earlier London, Will Shakespeare, and another production of the play. History, time travel, adventure, and family all propel this tale.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my now 12-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie (Also reviewed in Books for Summer Campers.)

FC9780881035414.jpgAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947) – This infamous diary, written by a teenage victim of the Holocaust, has helped millions understand the horrors of WWII. As so many know because of this diary, in 1942,  thirteen-year-old Anne and her family fled their home in Amsterdam to go into hiding. For two years, until they were betrayed to the Gestapo, they lived in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building, facing hunger, boredom, the constant insane difficulties and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. With this diary Anne Frank let us all know what so many experienced. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544570986.jpgBooked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (assorted years) – Yes, we love Mr. Alexander’s books. Yes, we have recommended both these books before. But trust us, the youth readers you love will love these books about soccer (Booked) and basketball (The Crossover). They are poetic, perfect for reluctant readers, and both address how life happens while you have your eye on the ball. (Also reviewed in Sports Books That are About So Much More.)

FC9780545791342.jpgHarry Potter Series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – This ebtire series reminded us as adults of the magic of stories for children and adults. This series magically reminded readers all over the world that kids can be powerful and adults can be stern, but helpful. Please don’t let the commercial aspects of successful movies and theme parks turn you away from these characters. They really are great tales. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780786838653.jpgPercy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan (assorted years) – This was an important audio books for me and my two sons.  It combines Greek myths and real life, relatable kids – perfect. And, if you like this initial Percy Jackson series there are many, many spin-off series, including one devoted to Egyptian myths, one to Norse myths, and one that combines Greek and Roman myths, using characters from the original Percy Jackson Series. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780064409391.jpgThe Chronicles of Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis (assorted years) – We both read and re-read this series throughout elementary school and loved it each time. The series addresses bullying, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes, that adults are often helpful to children, but sometimes they are not, teamwork, and the power of great stories. For Lisa Christie, this series truly laid the groundwork for her love of all things British. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689711817.jpgThe Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg (1967)Probably the favorite book from elementary school for each of us. Running away to live in a museum in NYC? Sign us up. For those of you needing a plot overview, not just a reminder of this fabulous book, in this book, Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, and in doing so does not run from somewhere, she runs to somewhere–a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant — the Met. And, in a very smart move, she does so with her penny pinching brother and his bank account.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141321066.jpgThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett (1911) – In this novel, orphaned Mary Lennox is sent to her uncle’s mansion on the Yorkshire Moors. There she finds many secrets, including a dormant garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. This was perhaps the first book to show us both the beauty of England, as well as the possibilities of special places and unlikely friendships. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780679824114.jpgThe Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborn (assorted years) – The audio book versions of these early chapter books have saved many a car trip with kids.  The paper versions are excellent first chapter books for emerging readers. And the main characters – Jack and Annie – will provide your early readers with hours of friendship and adventure as they use their time-traveling treehouse. As adults, you may learn a thing or two about history as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt (For those of us of a certain age, it is hard to believe the the 1960s and 1970s are being taught in our schools as history instead of as current events. But they are. These two books provide an excellent introduction to this era and some of the topics of the 60s and 70s – Vietnam, the women’s movement, environmentalism. They also tackle school bullies, poverty, joblessness, great teachers and hope. Both provide memorable characters in extremely moving moments. Both were award winners – OK For Now  was a National Book Award Finalist and The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book.

FC9780440237846.jpgBefore We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) – By Anita’s 12th birthday, most of her relatives have emigrated from the Dominican Republic of 1960 to the United States, and because they are suspected of opposing Trujillo, the government’s secret police terrorize those left behind. A fictional version of Ms. Alvarez’s experiences as a child in the DR, this book reminds us all of what it feels like to not feel safe in your own home and how important the promise of a new life somewhere else are to those who need hope.

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A few for Young adults

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2000) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of Montana’s Crow Indians and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, and charismatic young woman basketball player named Sharon. This book far more than just a sports story – it exposes Native Americans as long since cut out of the American dream. But it also showcases the power of sports to change lives. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062498533.jpgThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Sometimes it takes a work of fiction to give life to current events. And sometimes it takes a book for children to give all of us a starting point for conversations about difficult issues. Ms. Thomas has done all of us a service by producing this fresh, enlightening, and spectacular book about the black lives lost at the hands of the police every year in the USA. Starr Carter, the teen she created to put faces on the statistics, straddles two worlds — that of her poor black neighborhood and  that of her exclusive prep school on the other side of town. She believes she is doing a pretty good job managing the differing realities of her life until she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood friend by a police officer. As a description of this book stated, The Hate U Give “addresses issues of racism and police violence with intelligence, heart, and unflinching honesty”.  Just as importantly, it is a great story, with fully formed characters who will haunt you, told by a gifted author. Please read this one!  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie (First reviewed in But the News…)

FC9780307389732.jpgLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988) – Long ago in Colombia Florentino Ariza, a poet meets and falls forever in love with Fermina Daza. She marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino does not give up easily and decides to wait as long as he has to until Fermina is free. This ends up as 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, when suddenly, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies, chasing a parrot up a mango tree. The tale is then told in flashbacks to the time of cholera and then again in present time.  The words are perfect, the plot unforgettable and the novel one you will not regret picking up. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780375759314.jpgCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987) – This novel follows the lives and aspirations of two couples as they move between Vermont and Wisconsin.  The prose quietly propels you through with compassion and majesty, providing incredible insight into friendship and marriage. (We acknowledge we may be a bit biased due to the Vermont connection, but Mr. Stegner’s prose is phenomenal.) ~ Lisa Cadow (seconded by Lisa Christie)

FC9781481438254.jpgA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017) – Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in an unique and powerful novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride when Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he thinks 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. ~ Lisa Christie (First reviewed in FEARS: Part Two)

FC9780380778553.jpgRebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – This was the very first book that kept me up all night reading and for this pleasure I will forever be in its debt. Enter this gothic drama on the shores of Monte Carlo where our unnamed protagonist meets Max, the dashing, wounded, and mysterious millionaire she is swept away by and marries. The following pages whisk readers back to his English country estate “Manderley” where his deceased wife “Rebecca” haunts the characters with her perfect and horrible beauty. Can Max’s new wife ever live up to her memory? Will the lurking, skulking housekeeper Mrs. Danvers drive us all mad? How will the newlyweds and Manderley survive all the pressures pulsing in the mansion’s wings? If finding out the answers to these questions isn’t enough to entice you to curl up with this book right away, it also has one of the most famous first lines in literature.  ~ Lisa Cadow (Reviewed in Fiction Lovers – a few classics)

FC9780140186390-1.jpgEast of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) – While Grapes of Wrath (1939) is probably assigned more often by English teachers everywhere, this book reads like a soap opera told in excellent prose. I also think that one can learn all the nuances of good and evil from this tale of Mr. Steinbeck. And I can say that almost 40 years later, I still remember how I felt reading this book as a teen. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780767901260.jpgA Hope In the Unseen by Ron Suskind (1998) – Using actual people, this book clearly illustrates the obstacles faced by bright students from tough neighborhoods. As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Suskind followed a few students in a high school in a struggling, drug-riddled neighborhood in Washington, D.C. for a few years to see what happens to students in schools that lack the resources to effectively serve them. The true story of one of these students, the heart of this book, will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780671792763.jpgBrave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough (1991) – Gorgeous, insightful, interesting and diverse essays populate this collection. We promise you will learn something and the diversity of the subjects (e.g., life in DC, building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Harriet Beecher Stowe, pioneer aviators like Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, and Anne Lindbergh, what Presidents do in retirement) means that there is something in this collection for every reader. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780307278449.jpgThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970) – WOW, what insight into so many things can be found in this slim volume. Told in multiple, sometimes contradictory, interlocking stories, Ms. Morrison explores Whiteness as the common standard of beauty, the power of stories for survival, and sexual abuse. We don’t think you will forget this tale anytime soon. ~Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780446310789.jpgTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – The amazing Mrs. McPherson (yes teachers, you are remembered years later) introduced my eighth grade English class to this classic — one which resonated so well as a 12-year-old and continues to awe me (and thousands of others) today. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780141040349.jpgFC9781607105558.jpgPride and Prejudice (1813) and Sense and Sensibility (1811) by Jane Austen – Just good books. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Displays at the Norwich Bookstore and the Norwich Public Library during last month’s Banned Books Week reminded us that many beloved books would not have reached us had banning succeeded. Thus, we write today’s post in gratitude for those librarians, booksellers, parents, and teachers who keep banned books circulating. And now, we review SOME (and only some) of our favorite banned books. (Honestly, the lists of what has been banned are pretty incredible and this post could continue for awhile if we had more space, and you had more time.)

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Cover ImageThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon (2003) – This book was banned due to “profanity and atheism”. We caught the profanity when we read it, and didn’t really blink. But somehow,when we think back to enjoying this book, we can’t remember the atheism. What we do remember is a compelling main character who reminded us that being different can be a gift, and that disabilities challenge but also are only part of what makes people amazing. We are grateful this book made it to our reading shelves. And, we know of quite a few lovers of Broadway shows who are grateful as well.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Cover ImageFun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) – The banned book site states Fun Home is most often challenged due to “violence and graphic images”.  This information produced chuckles because Fun Home is a “graphic” memoir. We also chuckled often while actually reading this memoir because Ms. Bechdel treats the fraught material of her childhood with humor and grace.  We understand some readers may be squeamish about her unabashed look at suicide, homosexuality, and other themes. But honestly, we believe any squeamishness reinforces the need to read this poignant novel. We note that Broadway also loved this book. Suddenly, we sense a theme in this post — wish to create an award winning play? Adapt a banned book.

The Bluest Eye Cover ImageThe Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1994) – This book makes one of the Lisas all time best book lists; so, banning it feels personal. We have a hard time understanding how a novel exploring how racism makes a girl wish she had a different color skin could possibly be anything other than enlightening. However, The Bluest Eye is often banned due to “sexually explicit” material, and “containing controversial issues”.  We say bring on the controversy and learn.

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This all-time “must read” for the Book Jam Lisas is often banned due to “offensive language and racism”.  To this we counter, isn’t talking about (and eliminating racism) the point of this book?

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America Cover ImageNickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001) – This book is banned due to its “political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint”.  We argue that reading something written by those who don’t share your political views is worthwhile, and perhaps especially helpful during this US election year. More importantly however, we argue this book about Ms. Ehrenreich’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a minimum wage is a must read for anyone making policy, employing people, renting apartments to people, doctoring those without insurance, etc…

Of Mice and Men Cover ImageOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937) This was banned “due to offensive language, racism, violence”. We love it for its ability to inspire sobs in a few pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 1) Cover ImageHarry Potter series by JK Rowling (assorted years) – Banned “due to satanism”; somehow we missed the satanic references while reading this series. Perhaps we were having too much fun with the magic and the lessons of friendship, loyalty, and standing up to bullies (after all what is Voldemort but an extreme bully?). We are grateful that these books survived banning so that thousands of children around the world could learn that reading is fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Cover ImageRoll of Thunder Hear My Cry  by Mildred Taylor (1976) – This Newbery Award winning classic makes the banned lists “due to offensive language”. We feel learning from this story and the abuse suffered by the main characters due to their skin color overshadow any offensive language. We also believe the banners definitely missed the fact this book provides an intimate look at life in the USA as an African American girl.

Well, we could keep going; but, we will stop here, with one quick closing thought. While we love the fact everyone uses reviews and recommendations to determine what books to consume (hopefully, the Book Jam helps you with this), we truly abhor the idea of someone deciding that controversial books will be unavailable to anyone rather than merely reviewed. So, thank you again to all those educators out there who ensure books remain on shelves to influence all of us.

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As we write this, snow blankets our Vermont homes. Yes, after finishing the least snowy winter we can remember, April brings significant accumulation. The words of TS Eliot’s  The Wasteland spring to mind –

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

You would think leading with TS Eliot would begat reviews of poetry. But instead, we turn our thoughts to reviews of “comfort books”, a concept inspired by recent frustration in one of our homes. A newly turned teen in one of our two families (unnamed to “sort of” preserve his anonymity), has been re-watching his favorite super hero movies during months of Friday family movie nights. He refuses to consider other options. His stubbornness frustrated the Lisa who is his mom, until she remembered she did the same thing when she re-read and re-read books (there was no Netflix then) as she moved from childhood to teenagehood (not sure that is a word, but it should be). Sometimes the uncertainties of life are enough, and you just need reliable, high-quality entertainment.

Since the Book Jam’s other Lisa re-read as a pre-teen/teen as well, we honor the comfort emerging from the familiar with reviews of our current “comfort books/authors”. For us, familiarity emerges as you meet someone (author or character) over and over again on the pages of a book. As a result, many of these books are part of a series because series most easily help you get acquainted with characters over time. But whether our picks form a series or just a collective of books by a favorite author, when life proves too hectic, or when we need a palate cleanser after one too many WWII books, we turn to these authors and their characters for the comfort their familiar styles of prose and their dependability for creating a well-told tale create. We hope you will enjoy these as well. Happy April.

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Bruno, Chief of Police Cover ImageBruno, Chief of Police Mystery Series by Martin Walker (assorted years) – This is comfort reading at its very best. For fans who wish to return time after time to the French countryside and spend time with down-to-earth Inspector Bruno Courreges, it is good to know that there are now eight mysteries in this wonderful series. Set in the Perigord region, readers not only get to learn about black market truffles and E.U. hygiene inspectors threatening the production of local cheeses — they also have the chance to experience this amateur gourmet whipping up an omelet, going to the local cafe for an aperitif, or venturing out on a wild boar hunt. Bruno is an immensely likeable character – “tres cool”- and brought deftly to the page by Martin Walker, a foreign affairs journalist who now lives in the Perigord region himself. Don’t forget to check out recipes from the new “Bruno’s Cookbook” (!) or to listen to Walker and his wife interviewed about it on the Diane Rehm Show here. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageCommissario Guido Brunetti Detective Series by Donna Leon (assorted years) – We love Commissario Brunetti and his family. Brunetti loves his intelligent and strong-willed English professor wife, their son, and their daughter; we love him for loving them. We also love the fact these books bring you to Venice, where you can almost taste the food the characters prepare and enjoy, where the wine flows freely at each meal, and where walks to work take the characters past piazzas and canals and Italians of every possible personality. Read one when you need to travel for awhile and can’t afford a plane ticket, or when you need a reminder that not all police, politicians, or famous personalities are corrupt. As the co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore writes in her review of the latest in this series, Ms. Leon writes with an “eye toward intelligent and thought provoking insights on the human condition”.  This series also comes with a cookbook of Italian favorites. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Orbiting Jupiter Cover ImageAny children’s book by Gary D. Schmidt (assorted years) – I honestly love every book for kids by Gary Schmidt that I have consumed to date, beginning with Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, now my least favorite of his novels. My love affair continued with Wednesday Wars, which uses Shakespeare to create a connection between a troubled student and a teacher, and then intensified with OK for Now, a tale dealing with the aftermath of war and how art, good friends, and second chances can helpThese last two titles are on my favorite children’s books list (both are loved by my oldest son as well). In his novels, Mr. Schmidt compassionately tackles tough topics, including Vietnam War, foster care, death, and abuse, but also honors readers by not preaching. Most recently, Mr. Schmidt impressed me with the incredible Orbiting Jupiterwhich due to content, I recommend reading WITH your pre-teen or pre-reading before gifting so you can know what questions may arise. In it, Mr. Schmidt creates a superb tale around a family built from foster care, in which the foster child has recently fathered a child at the tender age of 13. I know that sounds horrid, but in this tale somehow it is not. Please read this book and Mr. Schmidt’s other novels.  I turn to them whenever I need a great children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie

The Bat Cover ImageDetective Harry Hole Novels by Jo Nesbo (assorted years) – For those of you looking for grim and brooding heroes in your detective novels, Harry Hole is for you. Oslo detective Harry Hole battles personal and professional demons throughout these books, and as such is more flawed than either Chief Bruno or Commissario Brunetti. But, his universe is also populated with support, including a complex assistant detective who happens to be a practicing Muslim with a mysterious past, and a loyal, but challenging secretary. Or as The New York Times Book Review stated, “fiendishly complex and terrifically entertaining”. As a bonus, you travel to Norway every time you pick up one of the books in this series. ~ Lisa Christie

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This was read, re-read, and beloved as a teen, young adult and adult. We needed to know there were grownups who could be counted on to do the right thing, and be kind to kids as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Is there a better way to spend a night than dining with fellow bibliophiles discussing a book you’ve all read and loved – with dishes and delicacies designed to compliment the book? This is exactly what happens during a spring fundraiser in Vermont. On this delicious evening, participants and hosts literally eat their favorite words.

On both April 25 and May 2, in the second iteration of Tables of Content, generous friends of the Norwich Public Library will serve dinners in their homes to raise money for our fabulous librarians and the facility they inhabit. Each dinner is based on a book the hosts have selected to be the theme for their evening. To add intrigue and an element of the unknown, paying dinner guests choose which dinner to attend by picking the book of their choice. The location and hosts are only revealed after the books and all the guests have been matched.

How does this relate to books for you to read? The event is hosted by a diverse group of readers, and wow did they provide an eclectic selection of books again this year. They selected great fiction, off-the-beaten-path nonfiction, a British mystery or two, and even a travel guide. The books selected will provide hours of inspired reading no matter what your literary preference.

We asked this year’s dinner hosts to provide a brief review of why they picked their title; and, we share their selections and thoughts with you below. Happy reading! For those of you near the Upper Valley, we hope you can join us at one of these delicious Tables of Content.

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The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2012) – Climb out your window and disappear!  In the style of Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, we promise an unpredictable and playful evening.  This “mordantly funny and loopily freewheeling novel about aging disgracefully” will provide the perfect springboard for a night of spinning yarns and celebrating our days.  Slippers encouraged.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1887) – A Study In Scarlet is the book that introduced Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to the world, and launched a whole genre of detective fiction. Come along and share a Victorian English dinner while we discuss the great detective, his various TV and movie incarnations, and anything else that comes up – perhaps other great fictional detectives past and present.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) – Engage all of your senses as we seek the unseen world.  We will taste France and discuss chance encounters that change lives.  We might grapple with how time, technology, obsession, or risk connect us all with invisible threads.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (2001) – Join us for an evening of music and food inspired by Ann Patchett’s brilliant novel ‘Bel Canto’.  In the book, a bunch of strangers are assembled for a celebratory birthday party somewhere in South America when a band of terrorists interrupt the festivities. With lyrical writing that intrigues and captivates, Ms. Patchett explores how different characters react to prolonged captivity and how romance and compassion can arise from tense circumstances.  We promise we won’t hold you hostage.

City of Thieves by David Benioff (2009) – A thriller-page turner. Neither my husband nor I could put it down.“City of Thieves” follows a character named Lev Beniov, the son of a revered Soviet Jewish poet who was “disappeared” in the Stalinist purges, as Lev and an accomplice carryout an impossible assignment during the Nazi blockade of Leningrad. Before Lev begins to tell his story, however, a young Los Angeles screenwriter named David visits his grandfather in Florida, pleading for his memories of the siege. A Spring dinner that promises no borscht.

The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby (2006) – We’ve all been raised with a few ground rules of etiquette: say please and thank you; don’t chew with your mouth open; and don’t ever talk about politics or religion at the dinner table! We’re inviting you to break the rules and to join us for an evening of cross-cultural food and meaningful conversation inspired by The Faith Club. This compelling book tells the story of three mothers, their three religions, and their quest to understand one another. Amidst challah and couscous, shish kabobs and hot cross buns, we’re looking forward to tasty treats and great conversations!

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins (2015) – Rachel takes the same commuter train everyday to and from London. The train stops briefly beside a row of suburban houses that allows her to see the same couple day after day. She even fantasizes that she knows them and gives them names. Then one day she looks at their houseand sees something shocking, and her whole life spins out of control. This book speeds along like a commuter train. You can’t wait to turn the next page. And you can be sure to start our evening we will be serving Rachel’s favorite, gin and tonic in a can.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934) – What could be more fun than fussy Hercule Poirot traveling first class on the Orient Express?  Join us for an elegant evening to celebrate this classic Agatha Christie novel.  Who did it?

Rick Steves’ Greece (2013) – Have you been to Greece or is it on your bucket list? Either way, your hosts will help you enjoy an evening of conversation, connection, and good food, all inspired by the guidebook of that preeminent traveler Rick Steves, who notes that the Greeks were responsible for democracy, mathematics, medicine, theater, and astronomy, among many other accomplishments. Please bring along your own Greek travel treasures and mementos, your stories, and your questions—or your copy of Oedipus Rex! You may want to sample a traditional retsina or a glass of ouzo, but Greece is also well-known for some lovely, simple wines that are sure to please.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011) – Join us for a night inspired by the exhilaration, frustration, inspiration and growth that comes with coming of age as a twenty-something in New York City.  We’ll enjoy some jazz as we kick off the night but keep the music evolving to match our mood over the evening, all to accompany a NYC-inspired menu full of flavor and flair.  This book read like a crisp, delicious glass of bubbly for me – so there will be plenty of that to accompany our dinnertime discussion and delights. Oh – and we’ll be leaving the fleece, clogs and Upper Valley casual wear in the closet and donning something a bit more fun – we hope you’ll be inspired to have a little fashion fun too.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – While we wish we could discuss Go Set a Watchman, this dinner occurs before its July 14th publication date. So to help us prepare for the prequel/sequel – already a New York Times Best-seller – we will revisit Harper Lee’s amazing novel and eat genuine southern food. Yes, we will open our copies of the Junior League Cookbooks from Memphis, Pensacola and Charleston. Don’t worry, we won’t deep-fry anything – except maybe the cracklin’ bread – but we will show you what southern hospitality entails.

And, just in case you thought this list could not get any better — as an added bonus, the Norwich Bookstore will donate 20% of the purchase price of any of the Tables of Content‘s books to the Norwich Public Library! You need only mention to the bookseller that the book is for Tables of Content. We thank the Norwich Bookstore for their generosity.

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS pick on this Mississippi Theme:

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

 

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Looking at all the PR leading up to this weekend’s Oscars ceremony, we started thinking about all the books that have inspired award-winning films. To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the WindThe Help and The Godfather just begin this list. Then, we started thinking about what we have read lately that could inspire the next round of directors and screen writers. And, of course, we found a few books to recommend. Even if these books never become movies, we hope you enjoy them in their prose form.

Pick #1The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol (Feb. 2014) – What would make a better movie than a collection of short stories about people who made movies in the mid-20th century, and were persecuted as a result of their beliefs? The UnAmericans is this book, and wow would it provide great characters for Hollywood’s current best to make their own.  But, while you wait for its screen debut, please read this great collection of fiction.  Now, the envelope please –oops we meant now, our review:

To start, I HATE short stories. They leave me bereft because just as I am starting to care so much about their characters, they are over.  So the fact I am recommending a collection of short stories is rare and special. This collection is amazing. Each story has unforgettable characters. Each is well written by one of Stanford’s Wallace Stegner Fellows (a sign for the Book Jam of an author who can write – hello Bo Caldwell).  Yes, I was a bit sad at the end of each one because it was over.  How did I survive?  I chose to concentrate on the overarching theme, and look at it as a strangely constructed novel about a variety of interesting “communists”/immigrants to America from the various countries that were once known as those behind the Iron Curtain. ~ Lisa Christie

Pick #2 — The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson (Dec. 2013) – Yes, someone has already made Schindler’s List. However, we truly believe the true story of one of the young boys he saved would make a great leap to the big screen. But, until Mr. Spielberg hears our advice, please read this true story of one of the young Jewish boys saved during WWII by Herr Schindler.  In this book, the boy reflects, as an older man, how chance, kindness, luck, intelligence, but most importantly Mr. Schindler, saved his life.  This book for young people outlines important themes, brings life to unsung people that we should know about, uses care and candor throughout, and is well-written.  ~ Lisa Christie  

Pick #3Ripper by Isabel Allende (Feb. 2014) – What could be a more sure-fire hit than a movie: 1) filmed in San Francisco, 2) with a Latino lead who is not the stereotypical drug dealer, but is instead a police detective, and 3) that at its core is actually about a bunch of wicked-smart teen gamers who help solve the mystery of a serial killer? Well If Ripper ever becomes a movie, that is what you would see.  In the meantime, enjoy Ms. Allende’s first mystery that combines murder, San Francisco and gaming.  In it,, the teen daughter of a SF detective teams with misfit teens in an online game where players attempt to solve the identity of Jack the Ripper.  The game becomes real when a grouping of murders in SF looks like the work of a serial killer.  With access to her father’s files, the unintentional involvement of her rather unique mother and grandfather, the girl and her gaming friends prove instrumental in figuring things out. We predict a sequel featuring these teens, and at least a movie or two.  ~ Lisa Christie

BONUS PickUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (March 2014) – Just before posting today’s reviews, our town’s lovely children’s librarian put a great middle grades novel in our hands.  And, since the author herself credits the book Monuments Men as essential to her story, it seems timely to include a review of this superb book in an Oscars post.

Publishers Weekly says “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” That fan base includes us; so, we were thrilled to read this.  What would the movie look like?  Well, it would follow Theodora Tenpenny around Manhattan as she tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It would include her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea (certainly not providing for Theodora).  It would show how two amazing, but lonely, girls can make great friends.  And, it would introduce viewers to both the world of amazing art, and the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Since we highlighted books for moms in 2011, we thought it only right to balance things out by recognizing good reads for dads. Posting the day after Father’s Day seemed like excellent timing.

Sadly, we couldn’t find an equivalent or, more importantly, an appropriate “Porn for Dads” title  to suggest on par with the Porn For New Moms book that inspired our Mother’s Day 2011 piece, so we decided instead to focus on books that consider parenting from the dad’s point of view.

File:Michael Landon Pa Ingalls Little House on the Prairie 1974.jpg

Before our search began in earnest, we took a little detour and our thoughts veered towards favorite father figures from young adult literature.We reminisced, of course, about “Pa” from the Little House on the Prairie series that marked our childhoods.  What wasn’t to like? He rode horses with bravado, played lullabies on the fiddle, could hunt and gather like no one’s business, fiercely loved his wife and kids and was darn handsome to boot (one look at Michael Landon in the TV series proves this to be true).
Gregory Peck also looms large for us in his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.  Again, how can you go wrong with Atticus? He was a kind and wise  lawyer on the side of all that is right who allows his two children complete freedom and insights only when asked? Admittedly, he attracts danger at times, but that serves to make him an even more exciting Dad.

After this brief trip down memory lane, we  refocused and began looking for modern-day dads who write about and speak to the particular joys and challenges of millennial parenting. We realize that times are very different from when Pa was taming the frontier and that the noble Atticuses of the world raised their children over fifty years ago. So for this post we found fathers who are charting the journey now. Their accounts are fraught with occasional stumbles, honesty, and always humor. So here it is – a list of great gifts for your favorite dads or great reads for yourself about and by dads:

 Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon (2009) – A collection of essays by a well-known and well-reviewed author, whose topics cover everything from the positive traits embedded in the loneliness of a suburban childhood, to questions from one’s children about one’s own use of drugs, to being raised by a single mom, to living with a complicated passionate wife, to being in Chicago with his young son when Obama won, to watching a daughter’s bat mitzvah.  But ultimately the essays, so very often simultaneously poignant and funny, are about the questions one encounters in trying to live a life.  Mr. Chabon’s answers and more importantly his questions, have me thinking, and also looking forward to reading his upcoming piece of fiction – Telegraph Avenue: A Novel (September 2012).  Read this if you are questioning things yourself – his insight and experiences might just propel you in an unknown direction. ~ J. Lisa Christie

Father’s Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son by Buzz Bissinger (2012). This is not just a book for dads but one for all parents.  “Father’s Day” is a moving, exceptionally well-written and extremely honest memoir about a cross-country road trip that Bissinger takes with his 26-year-old son, Zach. It is a book that, as he explains it, has been in the writing for many years, since his twin sons Gerry and Zach were born three minutes apart. This short three minutes made a big difference in each of their lives: Gerry went on to live a “normal” life filled with girls, college, and graduate school; Zach, who experienced oxygen deprivation was effected cognitively and has spent his life  in special programs and under the care of his parents. Traveling across America with his son Zach, Bissinger explores his journey as a father, his relationship with his own parents, and the complexities of his own adult journey.  Father’s Day is about the expectations of parenthood and, in the case of Bissinger, the reality of the experience of raising an extraordinary son. (Note: If the name Buzz Bissinger sounds familiar, he is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and also the author of Friday Night Lights).

Shortlisted – only because we haven’t quite finished it yet:

 Dan Gets a Minivan:Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad by Dan Zevin.  His 2002 book – The Day I turned Uncool:Confessions of a Reluctant Grown-up was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and has been optioned by Adam Sandler for a movie.

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