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Shelf Help

Welcome to Shelf Help, a podcast where booksellers help you answer one of life’s trickier – and we’d argue extremely important – questions: What should you read next?  If you’ve got a reading dilemma, you can email us a question or voice memo at We’re here to help your shelves!

Shelf Help is a collaboration between the Book Jam, a nonprofit designed to inspire readers; JAM – Junction Arts & Media; three Upper Valley bookstores: Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, VT; the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, VT; and Still North Books & Bar in Hanover, NH.

View Episode Descriptions


Episode 46 – Laura via IG says she “needs historical somewhat fictional adventure” and in this episode the booksellers delivered some great ideas. Emma discussed Hildand Menewood by Nicola Griffith. Jen, subbing for Allie, recommends Washington Black by Esi Edugyan and 100 Years of Solitude  to either read again or for the first time if you have not yet done so. And, Kari wants you to read Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn.

Episode 45 – Erin on IG asked for “some more queer books that aren’t romance or historical fiction”. This episode tackles this question Open Throat by Henry Hoake, Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White, Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby, and Cleanness by Garth Greenwell.

Episode 44 – A few people asked for “just a good summer read” – even if their names were lost in the ether before the booksellers could capture them on IG. This led Episode 44 to begin with a discussion about what makes a book a summer book. Ideas included: it’s about a road trip? it’s a paperback, it’s intense and engrossing and long because you finally have time for those books, or it’s light and breezy and entertaining. In short, we reached no conclusion about a definition of a summer read, and the booksellers came up with a great list for you for your summer – no matter your definition of a summer book. Their recommendations include VenCoby Cherie Dimqline, The Swifts for kids, Fake Accounts,and Lapvona by an author we mention a lot – Otessa Moshvegh.

Episode 43 –This comment, “I LOOOOVED Cloud Cuckoo Land and Great Circle – need epic multi-POV novels” from Amanda via IG, led us into Episode 43.  Once again, Allie was unable to join us and sent Jen in her place. Kari started with God of Endings by Jacqueline Holland. Jen mentioned two classics, Dracula and Paradise Lost and a more recent title – The Dark Materials Series by Philip Pullman. Emma mentioned the graphic novel HereNorth Woodsand Cloud Atlas.

Episode 42 –  is all about books that are “Informational but easy to digest” based on a question from Britt via Instagram.  Due to her busy schedule  – starting with owning a store and getting married in early July, Allie was unable to join us and sent Jen in her place. We were thrilled to welcome Jen again and wish Allie the best. Now the books. Jen opened with a recommendation for The Right to Sex. Emma followed with Naked Economics by Dartmouth professor Charles Wheelan. Sex and naked? — we must be headed into summer. Kari recommended Cultish andGeorge: A magpie memoir.

Episode 41 – A request from Matt S. for “gay/queer romance novels” was met in Episode 41 with an extensive list from the booksellers, including when When Kate Met Cassidy, One Last Stop, Red White and Royal Blue (soon to be a movie), In At The Deep End, Ladies Guide to Celestial Mechanics, a Lady for a Duke, and all gay hockey books — which seems to be an extensive sub category of this genre.  Have fun with these.

Episode 40 – In this episode we discussed Dianne’s need for “some good humor books that are not romantic comedies of Janet Evanovich.” This led to a brief discussion about whether Janet Evanovich writes humor books. We came to no conclusion. Suggestions included anything by Eleanor Lipman including her latest Ms. Demeanor, anything by Jenny Lawson and Samantha Irby, and French Exit. We hope these leave everyone laughing.

Episode 39 – This episode’s question came from Lisa F. and asked us to recommend “good YA book that spotlights an animal, but isn’t about animal abuse of heart wrenchingly sad.”  This was hard because many animal books are well … sad. and this amazing group still found some titles to recommend. These include Shady Hallow, Pax, Council of Animals, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Episode 38 – “Horror Recs!” is all Maria Teresa wrote in her request, but our booksellers were incredibly excited to explore this relatively new category they are now using to shelve books in their stores.  And wow, did they come up with some fun books for Episode 37, after having a broad discussion about what makes a book a horror novel, and what sort of sub-genres are included (sporers, body horror). Some titles included in this are: Such Sharp Teeth, Mexican Gothic, Devolution, and Carmilla. We hope you get a thrill from this episode.

Episode 37 – Jenn’s question, “I would love to go on a European holiday soon, but I just can’t find the time or the money. What are some recommended memoirs or ‘travel fiction?'” was the starting point for Episode 37.  Kari mentioned the Bruno Chief of Police series based in France and American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Allie suggested Lost Daughter, by Elena Ferrante and Tender is the Night, by F Scott Fitzgerald. Emma talked about the beauty of the Hedonist’s Guides to various cities as great visual inspiration to travel and A Line in the World, by Dorthe Nors. Lisa chimed in with anything by Nobel Prize-winner Halldor Laxness for those wishing to visit Iceland.

Episode 36 – Food becomes the main discussion in Episode 36 when Signe asks “Who’s the next Barefoot Contessa?” The booksellers agreed on the following – Ina Gratner still reigns and there is nothing wrong with sticking with her cookbooks. And, if you are looking for someone else they all landed on Alison Roman. Specific discussions of I Dream of Dinner (so you don’t have to) and Gesine Bullock-Prado’s latest My Vermont Table: Recipes for All Six Seasons were important parts of this episode.

Episode 35 – Kirsten asks, “My dilemma: Making time to read fiction as my thirst for knowledge/evidence increases with age.” The booksellers first challenged her assumption she should or has to read fiction, then came up with a pretty good list including books by Adrienne Brodeur, Jenny Odell, Ottessa Moshfegh, Lydia millet and Rumaan Alam.

Episode 34 – Shelf Help booksellers answer a question from Caleb –”some of my favorite books are ones with allusions to other literary works, like the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. What other books like that series would the co-hosts recommend?” Recommendations included the unexpected – a picture book – A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers, as well as other novels the Wayward children series by Seanan McGuire, Check out 19 by Claire Louise Bennett, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, and the Magpie Murders series by Anthony Horowitz.

Episode 33 – This episode was guided by a question from Shelf Help’s friend KJ, an author herself, who was looking for great books for her mom that feature protagonists who are older and not depressed about it. Her question led of course to the Thursday Murder Club mysteries by Richard Osman, and quickly veered away from those as KJ’s question specifically said don’t recommend those because her mom is not yet in assisted living.  The Group – Kari, Allie and Emma (still no Sam who was busy at the Norwich Bookstore) – came up with the following: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen by Hendrik Groen, If You Ask Me And Of Course You Won’t by Betty White, Auntie Poldi And The Sicilian Lions (An Auntie Poldi Adventure #1) by Mario Giordano and Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt, among others. They all had us looking forward, at least a bit more, to aging.

Episode 32 – Some books that provide feminist rethinkings and revisionings of the hero cycle/”hero’s journey”, or said another way books that explore the heroine’s journey: We were joined by Allie for this episode, and bid a fond goodbye to Still North’s Jen, hoping to hear from her again soon. This question from Devon was interpreted widely by the group – Allie, Emma, and Kari (still no Sam). Their picks include: Circe by Madeline Miller, The Shame by Mckenna Goodwin, The Heroine with 1001 Faces by Maria Tatar, How to be Eaten by Marion Adelmann, and Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes. We hope these help Devon (and you) find what she was looking for.

Episode 31 – Fun, yet clever books for college kids: Jen joined us again from Still North; and, Sam and Allie were still unable to be with us. But Jen, Kari, and Emma discussed great ideas to answer a question from Laura looking for great books for her kid in college. Their picks included, but were not limited to, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, Bunny by Mona Awad, Long Way To Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Hamster Princess by Ursula Vernon, and What Moves The Dead by T. Kingfisher. We all remarked we were grateful we had an actual college student – Jen – recommending today.

Episode 30 – Tolstoy and great books about unhappy families:  For this episode and its question from our friend and superb librarian Lucinda wanting more books about unhappy families, we were joined by Jen from Still North Books & Bar as Allie had a conflict. Jen was succinct, delightful, and forthcoming about her senior thesis with one recommendation – Abolish the Family by Sophie Lewis. Emma had a long list that included Normal Family by Chrysta Bilton, Fun Home by Allison Bechtdel, Priest Daddy by Partricia Lockwood and Dominicana by Angie Cruz. Kari split the difference and chose two books – Inheritance by Dani Shapiro and Bastards by Mary Anna King. Have fun with these unhappy families.

Episode 29 – What is your favorite “snack” book – a book that is great “because no matter what is going on, you can pick it up and enjoy it even if it’s only a chapter or two.”?  The bookstore owners fully embraced the concept of a snack book. Well, with the exception of Emma who confessed she does not pick books up and down, unlike her partner Sam who has multiple books going at all times. So Emma used this question as a reason to reference Shirley Jackson again. Specific book recommendations from all the booksellers included the Best American Series (essays, fiction, travel), Mythologies by Roland Barthes, and We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby.

Episode 28 – Books for High Schoolers Who Seem to Have Become Nonreaders: For Sam, these include narrative nonfiction in the sociology, history, and travel sections. Allie recommended dystopian fiction. Kari chose books that have protagonists who are the same age as the reluctant reader. And, Emma recommended series. All referenced Shelf Help’s previous reading slump episode. Specific books to ponder include: the Saga Series, Endurance by Alfred Lansing, Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, and We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach.

Episode 27 – Shelf Help’s Inaugural Holiday Gift Guide:  Each bookstore owner chose one fiction, one nonfiction, and one kids book to help listeners find the perfect gift for everyone on their lists. They picked far too many to list them all here. And when you listen, you will hear them discuss why books such as Marple: 12 new mysteriesOlga Dies DreamingInciting Joy: EssaysThe Phantomwise Tarot: A 78-Card Deck and GuidebookThe Legend of the Christmas WitchA Very Mercy Christmas, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Enjoy! We hope this episode helps you find the perfect gift for everyone on your list.

Episode 26 – Beyond Goodnight Moon: Board books for infants and the people who love them:  The bookstore owners had fun thinking about books for the youngest among us and the people who love them, which led to a debate about who are board books really for – kids or adults? Consensus was board books are for both, and then the recommendations flew. Kari recommended books by Il Sung Na such as Book of Sleep, and Emma says you can’t go wrong with Natalie Nelson and Dog’s First Baby and Cat’s First Baby. Allie’s recommendations were more interactive with puppets including selections like Little Ghostie, and Sam went slightly more classic with More More More by Vera B Williams and Sheep in a Jeep.

Episode 25 – “Not Christmas books!” Our first question we’ve received that required clarification resulted in very unique interpretations this episode. The query arrived via instagram from Sara who wrote she needs books that help her in “getting away from the encroaching Christmas.” When asked for clarification, she came back with –  “Christmas dominates the popular narrative starting late fall, hard to get away from. Stories that aren’t about Christmas or anti-Christmas are few and far between. I’m sure there’s exciting new fiction or old comfort food stories that get ‘the rest of us’ through.”

Episode 24 – Sara was on instagram looking for modern Native American fiction.  And the booksellers were brimming with books to recommend. These included anything, anything, anything – fiction for adults, fiction for children, short stories – by Louise Erdrich, A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger, and for kids both Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac and Sea in Winter by Christine Day. Listen to the entire episode for more recommendations and to hear the palatable excitement these booksellers felt in discussing this question.

Episode 23 – A listener asked via instagram for “new cozy mysteries.” The booksellers admitted they’re not big cozy mystery readers themselves, yet they had good tips for books in the genre including Shady Hollow Series, by Juneau Black; Death in Door Country, by Annelise Ryan, and Killers of a Certain Age, by Deanna Raybourn.

Episode 22  The question: “Not necessarily a dilemma, but I would like books to be paired with your astrological sign!” – came via Instagram from Nicole; and it had the booksellers so excited we delayed discussing it for a month so that Allie, Emma, and Kari could all be present to discuss. This query also resulted in our longest episode yet.

To start, we discussed personal charts and learned that Allie is a Libra sun sign, Sagittarius moon sign, with Scorpio as her rising sign. Emma is a Taurus sun sign, a Cancer moon sign, and has Virgo rising. Kari is a Sagittarius sun sign, like Emma has a Cancer moon sign, but has Aquarius rising. Lisa, like Allie, is a Libra, with a Leo moon, and Capricorn rising. (She needs to research what this all means.) Emma then provided a brief tutorial and suggested thinking of one’s sun sign as one’s ego, a moon sign as one’s id, and the rising sign as one’s super ego.  Allie was shocked no one had ever explained this to her in this way. We then launched into book recommendations. Reviewed books included, and were definitely not limited to Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich, and we spent quite a bit of time on the fact that The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande epitomizes a Virgo vibe. Listen for more pairings.

Episode 21 –  “I’ve read all of Shirley Jackson’s work. I loved it! What should I read that’s similar?” – from mrsmorganbakestoomuch via IG. Once again our booksellers began their recommendations with the query, “Are you sure you have read everything Shirley Jackson has written? There is a lot.”  Assuming mrsmorganbakestoomuch had, they jumped in. The discussion highlighted Shirley Jackson’s connections to Bennington, Vermont, the frequency with which her work is mentioned in Shelf Help, and that perhaps her estate should be Shelf Help‘s first underwriter. Jack highlighted Jazz by Toni Morrison and Secret History by Donna Tartt, leading to a short seminar on Ms. Morrison and her works. Kari mentioned Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry. Emma had a long long list including Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin, White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi and Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado (seconded by Jack).  All mentioned authors whose work resembles Ms. Jackson’s — Angela Carter, Kelly Link.  Emma also pointed out that winners of the annual Shirley Jackson Award would be a great list to tackle. We hope this helps all you Shirley Jackson fans out there; and based upon our episodes there seem to be quite a few.

Episode 20 – Anya via IG was looking for “Historical Fiction with an engaging story and characters (I’ve enjoyed Kristin Hannah)”  Our three booksellers, Kari, Jack and Emma, started with the query: Are you sure you have read everything Kristin Hannah has written? They then took off, recommending books such as Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus, Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel, by Kawai Strong Washburn, Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys and The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer among many others.

Episode 19 – Children’s books for young readers who have high reading levels and have difficulty finding just right books in terms of content (being sensitive enough with an engaging enough reading level) from Rowan via IG

Realizing Shelf Help rarely gets questions dealing with books for children, the three booksellers – Emma, Jack and Kari – had a ton of fun discussing their answers to this very common question for indie booksellers. They created significant consensus when all three agreed that The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Winternight Trilogy would be great books to hand any child with a high reading level who is not quite ready for teen and adult topics. They also offered unique picks such as Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. We hope they help those of you who have children in your life who pose this dilemma.

Episode 18 – How to sit down and finish a book rather than just starting a new one? from Andrew via IG. For the first time in the history of Shelf Help, one of our bookstore owners, Allie sent another bookseller, Jack, in her place. And Sam relied on Emma to represent the Norwich Bookstore alone, as someone had to actually stay in the store and work. Very quickly the three booksellers, Kari, Emma, and Jack, bonded over their adamant and united response to Andrew’s Insta question: How to sit down and finish a book rather than just starting a new one? Their intense agreement that you should not finish a book you don’t want to read makes this one of the shortest episodes we’ve ever recorded.  Enjoy!

Episode 17 – A very specific request from Emma’s mom – “I am always looking for books to read. They can be romantic (but not mushy), suspenseful (but not scary), historical (but not boring), and preferably available on audio. My last “must have” in a book is that it must end happily. I do not want to cry at the end of a book. I can get that watching the news!” – had the bookstore owners searching their vast knowledge of literature and creating a fabulous list of books, meeting this vast array of criteria, for us all to enjoy.

Episode 16 – This request, via Instagram from a special group of Dartmouth alums, to find books about “magical cosmic beings like toads and fairies and butterflies with special superpowers!!!” had Sam perplexed but able to rise to the occasion and Allie thrilled to respond. Enjoy a bit of magic with this episode.

Episode 15 – This episode is for all those readers who love Lauren Groff. You will not be disappointed as Kari, Allie, Emma, and Sam tackle an anonymous question from Instagram, “what/who to read once you’ve read all of Lauren Groff”.

Episode 14 – We are back from our summer recess with a list of books to enjoy as summer wanes. Specifically, we answer a question from Sarah on Instagram, “Looking for a light summer read this is well written, but is not a romance or set on a beach”. Luckily, even though we proved a bit rusty on our recording abilities, the ability of Sam, Emma, Kari and Allie to recommend good books did not wane during our recess. We are pretty confident the books discussed in this episode will help you end summer on a high note.

Episode 13 – The booksellers tackle a question about great books for younger readers when the instagram handle courtpilling asked for “Middle Grade historical fiction set in 1700s-1800s”.  Kari started us off with The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, Allie wants everyone to read Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Lisa remembered two classics by Robert Lawson – Mr. Revere and I and Ben and Me. Emma brought us to Philadelphia with Fever 1793 by Laurie Anderson and Sam finished the list with Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.

Episode 12 – Tom uses FB to ask the longest question we have received thus far, “So I could use some advice! I sorta fell out of reading regularly for fun. Due to the events of the world, I’ve focused more on reading educational topics. I used to read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy. Some of my favorite novels are the Dune series (and prequels), and growing up I LOVED the Lost Years of Merlin. I got the book series for The Magicians a few years ago and worked through that and really liked it. I’d like to get back into reading for pleasure again, but nothing has really gotten me super excited. Unfortunately, with the rise of streaming on TV it can be hard to get motivated to sit down and read. I’m trying to re-ignite my love of reading. Can you help?”  Of course we can help.  Discussed selections include: The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K.Jemisin, The Expanse Series by James SA Corey, Annihilation (or the entire Area X trilogy) by Jeff Vandermeer, Wizard of Earthsea (or the series) by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Episode 11 – Booksellers answer an anonymous question from instagram in which one desperate listener asks for the “best ways to get out of a reading slump”. For this question, Lisa adds an idea for the first time – Hunting and Gathering, a “fun to read” gem by France’s best-selling author Ana Gavalda. Kari suggests reading short stories as a great way to get reading again; she singles out St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell, and then changes things up by also recommending a memoir, The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine. Allie believes that Sisters by Daisy Johnson will help anyone stuck in a slump. These and the other selections included in this show will help anyone who feels stuck trying to find the next great book to read.

Episode 10 –  The bookstore owners attempt to answer our good friend Shari Altman’s (from a great book resource Literary North) question: “I am looking for strange and beautiful novels about middle age.” We note that Shari is nowhere near approaching middle age; we then debate what defines middle age. Allie, Sam, Emma, and Kari recommend a few books in response to her query, including House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune; Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette; So Lucky by Nicola Griffith; One DOA, One on the Way by Mary Robison; and The Swimmers by Julia Otsuka.

Episode 9 –  Episode 9 originates with an email from Cindy, “I am a first grade teacher and want to teach a unit on graphic novels. I have some graphic novels, but it is hard to find ones that are appropriate for little ones and that the reading level is not too challenging. Help!!” Each bookseller discusses one book, ok maybe two or three. And, we have an opportunity to shout out the Center for Cartoon Studies located within a baseball throw of where we record.

Episode 8 – We appeal to the inner Sam as we discuss a question left for us on Instagram: please discuss “Ottessa Moshfegh-ish literary fiction. Something grotesque and damaged but beautiful.”

Episode 7 –Each bookseller describes one book that is either funny and/or combines a superb balance between fun and thought based on an instagram question from Karen.

Episode 6 – Each bookseller reviews a short book for those phases when you have a limited amount of time, or when your book club just needs something quick.

Episode 5 – May’s Mental Health Awareness Month provides the inspiration for Episode 5. We promise it is not depressing, but instead filled with hope, help, and healing.

Episode 4 – Episode 4 provides gardening inspiration and some great gardening tips to help us all fully embrace spring and summer.

Episode 3 – Episode 3 honors April’s poetry month with a selection of poetry from each bookseller. You will be inspired to read each recommendation.

Episode 2 – In episode 2, we asked the booksellers to choose one book that they recommend to anyone looking for a good book. You will love this list and this discussion.

Episode 1 – In episode 1, we introduce each of the Shelf Help booksellers by asking each to review a book that best represents them. What results is a great list of books and some fun insight into the Shelf Help booksellers who will be recommending books on future episodes.

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