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Archive for the ‘Two Peas in a Pod: Similar Themes’ Category

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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Last week’s school vacation found us traveling the country with our families. And that meant we perused a few airport bookstores.

The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite and the Corruption of Our Great Universities faced us from the “featured books” table or shelf in most of these stores. Seeing that book over and over got us thinking. We then 1) remembered that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and 2) recognized that people all over the country, not just in elite colleges, are dealing with issues relating to sexual assault and the price of silence around these issues.

Then, since when we think, we think of books, we started thinking about books that have helped us think about sexual assault issues for an April post. So today, we highlight two GREAT books — and we really mean REALLY GREAT — that on some level deal with sexual abuse. Our pairing is a bit creative because sexual assault is not what we would say either of these books is about if you asked us to summarize their plots in a sentence or two. But, they both address the topic in some manner, and both are books we recommend as great reads.

Getting away from the fiction, we want to link to our superb local resource on these issues – WISE. We also encourage anyone reading this post to learn about sexual assault resources wherever you reside and read. Because as we recently learned, victims are closer to most of us than we realize.


Now, without further ado we say — whether you want to think about the important topic of sexual assault prevention or not — please read these two AMAZING novels (the second one is targeted towards young adults). We promise you will not regret a minute of the time you spend flipping their pages (electronic or paper).

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013) – A truly, truly, truly amazing debut novel about the pain and suffering inflicted during the Chechen conflict(s) and the power of love. From the opening pages describing the abduction and disappearance of a man from his home, Mr. Marra connects the lives of eight unforgettable characters – the daughter of the abducted man, the father of a despised informant, a doctor trying to hold together a hospital with only three staff members – in unexpected ways. With incredible writing and gifted storytelling, this is a superb read. I honestly can not praise it enough.

How does this book fit today’s theme? Without giving too much away, one of the characters falls victim to human trafficking as she tries to escape the war. This causes reflection on abuse of women during conflicts of all sizes. ~ Lisa Christie (seconded by Lisa Cadow)

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013) – Set during one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits – both from the wrong side of the tracks and smart enough to know that first love rarely, if ever, lasts, but willing to risk love anyway. When Park meets Eleanor, you’ll remember your own high school years, riding the school bus, any time you tried to fit in while figuring out who you were, and ultimately your first love.  I also truly believe, that when the book ends, you will think hard about children from the “other side of the tracks” and those from family situations that are less than ideal.

How does this fit with our theme?  One of the characters is abused by a family member. Again, this abuse not what the book is about, but rather an important plot line that makes you think about domestic abuse and how it hides. ~ Lisa Christie

 

 

 

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With the news from Crimea and Venezuela lately, we have been thinking a lot about revolution, protest, democracy, refugees, as well as about daily life for those who live during political uprisings. So, to help us all work our way through the news, we have selected three books to share with you — two books for younger readers and one for adults.  (One other superb pick - A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon - was slated to be part of today’s post, but will be reviewed instead in a post later this spring.)

Yes, our three picks take place in Latin America. However, wherever these books are located, we honestly believe the empathy they elicit transfers — to the Ukraine, Syria, the Congo and many other areas of conflict.

Yes, we highlight these books with hope that we all learn something to help us process today’s news.

Yes, (and this is a very, very important point) we also recommend ANY one of these three choices as a SUPERB book for you to read.

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (2014) – Celeste Marconi is eleven and has bigger problems than many pre-teens.  Her country – Chile – is in the midst of being overtaken by a military dictatorship.  As events unravel, 1) one of her best friend is among those “disappeared” by the General, 2) her parents go into hiding to protect her from their now dangerous support of the previous leader, and 3) her “grandmothers” send her to far-away Maine to live with her Tia (aunt) and escape the problems the dictator has brought her family in Chile.  Yet, throughout this novel she becomes more than her circumstances.  This is an excellent introduction both to South America and to all that being an exile entails. The Book Jam recommends this both to middle grade readers and adults who love them. And to be honest, parts of this novel have remained with me long after I closed the last pages. ~ Lisa Christie

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez (2002) - Do not let the small size of this novel fool you; it appears sparse, but says so much about what happens to families when a country’s politics take a dangerous turn. In this novel (based upon Ms. Alvarez’s own experiences in the Dominican Republic), the young protagonist, Anita (named in honor of Anne Frank), is coming of age in a Latin American dictatorship. Most of her relatives have already emigrated to the United States, a few of her relatives have disappeared without a trace or gone into hiding, and the government’s secret police are terrorizing family members who remain because of their suspected opposition of the dictatorship. The power of family and the danger of politics hit home with the slim volume for middle grade readers. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2005) – With a bit of magic realism, Mr. Urrea tells the story of Mexico’s expansive history, beginning in 1889 with civil war brewing. Around this time, a 16-year-old girl, Teresita, the illegitimate daughter of the wealthy rancher Don Tomas Urrea, woke from a strange dream that she has died. Only it was not a dream; this rebellious young woman actually woke with a power to heal. What she did with this power shapes Mexico even today. Mr. Urrea took twenty years to complete this novel based on his great-aunt Teresita, who possessed healing powers and was acclaimed as a saint. The Book Jam hopes you enjoy every aspect of his labors. As a fan of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, I certainly did. ~ Lisa Christie

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