Beth Reynolds has been a bookseller for 20-plus years, 15 of them at the Norwich Bookstore. She spends her weekdays in the children's section of the Norwich Public Library, but on Saturdays you can find her here, helping a child find the perfect birthday present or recommending books to adults looking to get lost in a good read.
It’s been too long since I picked up a book and just fell in love with the characters. You know that feeling, the one where the book seems to vibrate or maybe sparkle a little. The kind of book that makes you smile and ignore the rest of your life. From the very beginning, you fall under Sunny’s spell. She’s an albino girl who is now back in Nigeria after spending most of her life in the States. She’s as confused as we are about this mysterious place called Leopard Knocks and all the juju that’s happening there. Is it possible that she and her three friends can defeat the evil that’s arrived? Dubbed as “the Nigerian Harry Potter”, that enormous praise makes one stand up and take notice. But it’s the way the events are steeped in heritage and ancestry that makes Okorafor’s book resonate as a timeless classic. That and the bird that will fly you to the tree- house and the wasp that builds small structures. Reading this helped fill the Black Panther sized hole in my heart. Ages 12 and up
Reading these email exchanges between a brother and a sister is addictive. You think you can stop, but then you decide to read just one more. So much of what I’ve been reading lately has been about race and resistance. And while I’ve learned so much from these incredible authors, sometimes a funny book can provide a much-needed break from reality. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this writer and his sister, the photographer. Their distinctive voices are witty and sharp; stumbling onto this book was a delightful surprise.
Honest and enlightening, Jerkin’s 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.
There is something so freeing about opening up a book and realizing that you could start anywhere, no need to be limited by the typically demanding page one; instead each category offers a new place to begin. Zadie’s astounding talent is apparent in ways big and small, the breath and depth of her topics is far reaching. I was delighted to find that two of my favorite essays “Joy” and “Find your Beach” have been included here. I’ve just recently discovered her commentary on the movie “Get Out” and her piece on Key and Peele, both tilted the axis of my world a little. I will always, always love Zadie’s introduction to "Through the Looking Glass" (illustrated by Mervyn Peake), but now I have several more essays to return too when I am overtaken by the need to reread something that speaks to me.
I keep thinking about this sharp incisive book by Zumas. At first it was a bit frenetic, each chapter is told from a different point. They are short and concise, which had the advantage of keeping the storyline moving. But when you start to sink in, to harness that energy, you notice that it’s a puzzle to figure out the relationships between the cast of characters. There’s Ro and her students, with her desire for a child and the way she brings to life the subject of her biography. Susan who doesn’t know if she wants to leave her marriage, but who everyone thinks should be happy with the life she has created. Mattie, the teenager who has a relationship to both women, but can’t turn to them in her time of need. And lastly, the Mender, a woman who sees the world differently and who has ties to all of the characters. Zumas set her tale in a future world, that now seems utterly devastating and timely. Read this book and be part of the larger conversation, for it will still be sounding in your head after you manage to finally put it down.
Gordon’s books are delightful, his characters seem so charming and sincere. They have flaws and imperfections, but the friendship between the characters is always the stronger force. In this story, George is always turning down invitations to travel in favor of staying home to bake. It isn’t until he meets Pascal that he discovers the real reason for sticking close to home. Here’s to the power of creativity, persistence and the possibility of a freshly baked pie. I love the bits of newspaper, photographs and other ephemera sprinkled throughout. I haven’t had a book crush this hard since his first -- Herman and Rosie.
Machado’s collection is explosive, jagged, and delightfully unexpected. She makes me want to be a better writer, maybe toss up all the words and see how they land. The ideas presented here are reconstructed in surprising combinations that shift the paradigm of writer and then of reader. I was thoroughly engaged and quietly astonished at her mastery, wit and love of folklore and fairytales. This National Book Award finalist is familiar and revelatory all at the same time--it deserves a spot on your bedside reading table.
Whittaker's debut focuses on two girls making their way in a traditionally male dominated field. Given that the Cartoon Center is here in the Upper Valley, this is the perfect book for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the industry. The world shortly after college is not one that is often explored, here we see it from the perspective of two very different characters who lift each other up in a myriad of ways, some obvious, others more subtly. And all the ways we give of ourselves-- to our art, to our failing bodies, to those we love. The push and pull of life. Her characters were so flesh and bone real I expected them to animate and run off the page. I miss them.
To briefly describe this novel, one could say it is a portrait of a writer as a mother. The story begins before she is married, insisting she doesn't want children. We trace her trajectory from wife to mother back to writer. Wolas sprinkles snippets of Joan's stories throughout. I would get lost in one, and when I came back up for air, it was only then that I would grasp the true level of the author's mastery. This is clearly my hands down favorite novel of the year, which takes on art, betrayal, self discovery, travel and the sacred art of writing. For anyone who believes in the power of words and the lure of a story well told.
Dealing with the loss of a beloved teacher and feeling estranged from the books that used to give her comfort, Sparrow seeks solace on the roof of the school. After being hospitalized for a suicide attempt, she is given the option of a weekly therapy visit. During these sessions she begins a slow transformation and learns to confront her loneliness. Music becomes an outlet and her greatest joy. Moon gives us an authentic and honest portrayal of a struggling teen who finds support in friendship, cool therapists and women of rock. By the end your What to Read and What to Listen To lists will have grown exponentially. Hand this to everyone you know.
This is the sequel that you didn’t know you absolutely needed. Ada has had surgery to fix her clubfoot, and while there is freedom to be found in her new life, there is also the loss and heartbreak of war. I loved spending more time with these characters and seeing their day to day interactions, with honest, raw emotions. Together they face adversity, prejudice and learn how to live with each other as a family. Ada’s secret ride is a thrilling moment that had me cheering out loud. I swear I could feel the wind rushing by my own face.
Imagine crawling up into your grandmother’s attic and dusting off an old trunk, Snow and Rose could certainly be the treasured keepsake that you find there. Martin has peopled her creation with captivating characters and charming animals--a librarian with a goat, a cat named Earl Grey. The story has a quietly menacing undertone (as all good fairy tales do,) to keep the reader engaged; while the endearing illustrations give it the feel of a bygone but longed for era. Take this book to the coziest corner you can find and accompany Snow and Rose as they set out to fulfill their destiny.
Brutal, beautiful and break your heart into a million jagged pieces. Why would you want to read this? If you pass it by you will miss the once in a lifetime chance to meet Turtle. A girl like this doesn’t come along everyday in literature. Her life is far from easy. Living in isolation with her dad, their world has shrunk to the size of the two of them. The construction of that world makes you see how a life can be lived so different from your own. Every chapter contains tragedies, hardships, and blow-your-mind-is-this-really-happening moments. I couldn’t decide whether to throw it across the room or hug it to my chest; to keep it to myself, or share it with the world. It is a testament to Tallent’s poetic writing that gives rise to such polarizing extremes. When (not if) you read it, I promise you won’t soon forget it.
A survival story of a different sort. Wren’s family, at the brink of despair, send their addicted daughter to a rehab program in the middle of the desert. With only the bare minimum in her pack, Wren endures hardship and begins to face her demons. Eventually she finds her footing in this new world away from school, friends and the only life she’s ever known. Of course she discovers more about herself, but we are also shown glimpses of her descent into chemical dependency. This poignant story set in a harsh, brutal environment shows the full journey and transformation of a teen who has hit rock bottom but realizes through pain and struggle that she doesn’t want to live there.
Bartok takes the classic orphan story and turns it on its head. Filled with endearing characters and enchanting illustrations, Wonderling begs to be read aloud as a shared experience, or read under the covers at night as the best kept secret. This high fantasy adventure hearkens back to storytellers of yore and will thoroughly captivate and delight today’s readers.
With spare, effervescent prose, Clemmons strings together a series of vignettes like snapshots linked together on a clothesline. Stripping away the extraneous words and sentiment, we are left with raw, honest emotion, that put me in the mind of The Mothers mixed with Zadie Smith’s Swingtime. Proving that books of substance and beauty do no need to be doorstoppers, this debut tackles loss, redemption and the difficult steps one must be take in order to finally move forward. If you wish more books were written in the style of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, pick this up.
I hear that Crazy Cactus Lady is the new Crazy Cat Lady. I have been seduced by succulents and this is my new go to guide. There’s something about their unique texture that I find beautiful and arresting. Stockwell has lived and worked with these plants for decades and now he’s sharing his enthusiasm. The photos are clear, the information concise and the ideas very inspiring. If you’ve been thinking about bringing home a few of these stunning plants because you can't bring home a dog or cat, this is the book for you. Bonus: you can name them, but you don’t need to walk them.
This is hands down the best YA book I’ve read this year. (More John Green than John Green, if such a thing were possible.) Zentner’s characters are authentic and human, motivated by grief and passion and family. Even better, he shows you all sides of the tragic situation that changes the course of many lives, then lets us peer into Carver’s life as he learns how to take that first small step towards moving beyond loss. I found it to be funny, brave and tear inducing too, but only because it felt so honest. I recently listened to an interview with Jeff on the ‘88 Cups of Tea’ podcast. I learned so much about his process and the way his characters really push the story forward. You’ll find that Carver and his friends take up residence in your head, and will most likely stay in your thoughts for awhile. This is one that’s truly worthy of all the superlatives. And a few tissues.
Divided into different chapters—Splendor, Growth, Moments in Time—Gulotta’s pairing of poetry is sumptuous. She gets to the very heart of these topics, capturing the essence in words and food. And as a result satisfies your hungers, quenching a longing you didn’t know you had. I have a friend who’s started reading a poem every morning. I’ve found it to be an inspirational practice. If you’d like to try it for yourself, you’ll find an abundance of verse to ponder and savor here.
If Anne Tyler and Emma Straub were teaching a writing class this novel would be Heiny’s A+++ worthy thesis. Peopled with characters that make you chuckle in recognition, this is that rare book that beckons you to connect, but doesn’t drop the anvil on your head leaving you filled with despair. Witty and sharp as any master origami maker’s folds, we need more books like this one. I laughed, I cried and I found myself wishing I could create something as lovely as this.
I’ve read all of Sullivan’s work and she just get better and better. Each is distinct in tone and tempo, but there’s a common thread that runs through—her interest in her characters and the respect she gives them on the page. At the heart of this novel is the relationship between two sisters. There is excitement when Nora and Theresa--in their late teens, early 20s--leave Ireland to come to America. This is the trip that ultimately changes how their lives spin off in ways that would have been unimaginable had they stayed. Sacrifice, guilt, family ties and bonds are some of the themes touched upon as we delve deep into these two generations. Comparing past and current storylines shows us how something that once was gives rise to what will be. We go back and forth between past and present, discovering love in all its forms. A perfect afternoon would involve: a book such as this, a never-ending cup of tea and not a clock in sight.
Are you looking for a funny book? A story of friendship or family? How about a immigrant story or a coming of age tale? Or F All of the Above? Satyal's novel is all that and more. This is the book I didn't know I needed---it's important, timely and utterly entertaining.(Especially the restaurant scenes.) Somehow he zooms in to the very tender truth of a situation and then periscopes out to give us a bird's eye view. His characters are fully formed and just trying to make their way in the world, yearning for more. But it's the way they intertwine that sparks them to life. One of the characters describes their four person road trip to a writer's conference as inspiration for a Wes Anderson film, reason enough to buy this book. Reason two, how could pass up this brilliant cover?
I want to give this glorious book to every woman I know. Overflowing with honest, sound advice and motivation, I try and sit with it most mornings and let some of the words wash over me. The women represented are diverse in background, race and age, but they are all inspirational in business and in life. They are writers, artists, entrepreneurs and musicians—including our own Neko Case. Flipping through you’ll see some women you know, some who are unfamiliar. But each short interview offers several points of connection and encouragement. The pictures add deeper insights into workplaces and creative spaces. This is THE book for all your graduation/mother's day needs. Buy several. They will absolutely love it—trust me.
Hard to imagine a book about a woman dying of cancer and writing to her young son not being maudlin. Yes, you need to grab the tissues, but mostly for the laugh/cry moments. Karen is a smartly drawn, confident character who is sick and in need of help. She’s spent her life in the world of politics and trying to keep her son close without looking for his estranged father’s input. I am thrilled to add her to this new roster of complicated women characters emerging in this year’s fiction. Trying to provide for your son after you’re gone is a herculean task. In her latest novel Grodstein shows us just how big; giving us a compelling reason to keep reading, to question intentions and make deep connections.
“Brutiful” a portmanteau of brutal and beautiful feels like an accurate description, especially for a book whose very premise revolves around a couple in a war-torn country finding doors to take them to different designations. His writing is spare and visually haunting. Such as the two men who grace less than a chapter-- they sit on the balcony like two tall trees who didn’t mind the breeze, not knowing if two minutes or two hours had passed. So many current topics are touched upon throughout the book: immigration, identity, love and family. Given the state of the world, this book puts you in the thick of it, but gives more than it takes. Open it up, and let this be the portal that takes you far away from your world.
I came into this book with all the wrong expectations. I kept waiting for something to happen, all the while earmarking thoughtful passages I wanted to return to. I kept putting it down and picking it up, finally clearing my mind in the hopes of finishing. If we spend our twenties trying to make time go faster so that we can finally grow up and get to the good stuff, then I guess that makes me The Idiot. Looking back now I can see that my life then and the time spent reading this novel should have been enjoyable. If only I had let myself relax and lose the unrealistic expectations. I think art can be what’s right in front of you and simultaneously sneak up on you all at once. Batuman’s novel is for those of us who don’t mind a delve into the nostalgic past and for those twentysomethings excited to revel in their present. Honestly, being a grown up is really overrated. Think of it this way: being young and single means you have more time to read.
Andrea is still figuring it out. She’s a 39 year old, single woman living in New York and confronting where and how she fits in. She's a former artist, yet somehow her friend Brad still hasn’t given up painting. She’s chosen a life without children, while friend Indigo gives birth to a beautiful baby; and her brother the musician struggles with a disabled child. This slim collection of linked short stories really had a profound effect on me. The colorful cast of characters kept popping in and out of the stories, creating a more complete portrait of Andrea's world. Her struggles were real to me. It’s easy to say that comparisons between what we have and what others have are never helpful, but how many of us can hold on to that truth? It doesn’t stop us from worrying about whether we’re good enough and if we ourselves have value. Attenberg delivers all this in her witty, acerbic, manner so that when you come to the end you see why you pushed through Andrea’s early years. It's all about love. And family. And art.
In a recent interview, Michael Chabon said he thought George Saunders will be an author read in 100 years. I think that might be right on the mark. In his first novel, Saunders takes the form and turns it inside out and upside down. At first it might seem daunting or incompre- hensible, but once you let the words wash over you his intentionality starts to shine through. Structure and prose give way to cadence and raw emotion. Wry, poignant, and lyrical, the experimental writing style pushes boundaries. This is a book that cannot leave you unchanged. As the idea of Lincoln holding his son haunted Saunders so will the voices in this book stay in your head. Bookseller tip: read the interview at the end of the book to give you a sense of the story before plunging in.
A woman heads to Greece to meet up with her husband to tell him that their marriage is over. When she gets there, Christopher is nowhere to be found. And there is where our sinister tale begins. With spare, atmospheric prose, Kitamura creates a singular world —a woman in search of her husband. This haunting, at times claustrophobic, novel is an eloquent lesson in first person narration. We never leave the nameless woman’s head, but we are slowly schooled in the ways of secrets and desires. In an interview I read recently. Kitamura spoke in favor of letting bad writing stand, she felt that authors shouldn’t always be in search of the perfect word, at the risk of honoring the story that needs to be told. It is a rare author who can people her creation with unlikeable characters, yet produce a book that readers will feel compelled to finish. Only then can they finally come up for air. A quick read that won’t let you go.