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Posts Tagged ‘Dear Martin’

Books for Book Clubs: Start the new year with a great list

Last autumn, we were honored to once again meet with an amazing, long-standing book group who asked us to come up with a list of great books for them to read, enjoy, and discuss. (They actually won us in a charity auction; and honestly, it is really fun to think our reviews benefitted someone’s charitable causes.) To help the rest of you (who were not able to join us on a fine autumn evening over delicious food) find the right books for your book clubs or your own personal reading, we divided the list mostly by subject area, not genre. Happy reading!

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Coming of Age

Chemistry: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageChemistry by Weike Wang (2017). Once I started reading this, the pages just began to turn themselves. Our nameless narrator takes us on a journey set in Cambridge, Massachusetts where at the outset she is pursuing a PhD in Chemistry while living with her kind and attentive boyfriend Eric. It is funny, smart, observant, and poetic. It also takes us with her to challenging places of self-doubt, reflects on a less than perfect childhood as a first generation Chinese American, and grapples with the contradictions and cliches of being a woman in 21st century America. Some reviewers have described this as a book about indecision, others have said it is about depression. Pieces have been written about Chemistry as one new important books that highlights the Anglo-Asian experience For me, what Wang is sharing a truth transcends cultural experience or a DSM-5 diagnosis. I found it to be a story of an interesting young woman struggling with what it means to succeed in her field, looking for meaning in her work, and questioning deeply what it would look like to create a family for herself. Highly recommended for book groups. There’s a lot to talk about here. ~ Lisa Cadow

Prep: A Novel Cover ImagePrep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005). Ms. Sittenfeld’s debut novel provides amazing fodder for book club conversations as everyone has gone to school at some point in their lives and everyone who is old enough to read this novel has experience or is experiencing their teens. Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when dropped off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts. She’s there because she wants an education, but also because of the school’s glossy brochure, promising gorgeous and kind boys in sweaters, lovely old brick buildings, girls in kilts with lacrosse sticks, and a place where everyone looks beautiful in chapel. Lee soon discovers that Ault hosts jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand based upon years of wealth and the privileges it affords. In this novel, Lee provides a shrewd observer of–and, at some point, a participant in life at Ault. ~ Lisa Christie

Growing Old/Death

When Breath Becomes Air Cover ImageWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi  (2016) – Chances are good that you’ve heard of this best selling memoir but may not have read it given the heavy subject matter. At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this put you off from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine which gives him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)

Our Souls at Night (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover ImageOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf  (paperback 2016). I couldn’t help immediately falling for Addie, the 70-something protagonist of this story when she knocks on the door of her similarly-aged neighbor and invites him to sleep with her. No, not in that way! She simply wants Louis to come over to her house to share what both characters agree are the loneliest hours. Thus begins the story of Addie and Louis unexpectedly finding meaning and human connection in the later part of their lives. Haruf wrote this slim novel at the end of his own life with his trademark spartan prose and simple language. Named one of the best books of the year in 2015 by the The Washington Post, this masterpiece is profound and poignant and worth every minute of reading time spent lost in its all-too-few pages.~ Lisa Cadow (Note: the Book Jam Lisas tend to love most of Mr. Haruf’s novels – Plainsong for example; so, don’t stop reading Mr. Haruf if you like this novel.) ~ Lisa Cadow

Impact of Technology/Our Future

Feed Cover ImageFeed by MT Anderson (2012). As screens dominate our work and leisure, and well, basically our lives, this book about a future in which we all have direct feeds into our brains, feeds through which corporations and governments directly provide us with all the information they think we need, is prescient and honestly page-turning. The group of fictional teens starring in this novel, teens whose feeds malfunction, demonstrate oh so very well how important what we consume through media is to our lives today and perhaps provides a tale of caution we all need. ~ Lisa Christie

 Gun Violence

Long Way Down Cover ImageA Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (2017). Mr. Reynolds tackles gun violence in this unique, powerful and short novel. The story unfolds in short bouts of powerful, insightful verse over the course of a 60 second elevator ride. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes 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. I’d love to hear how Book Clubs use this book as a place to begin solving this ever present public health issue. ~ Lisa Christie

Sexual Assault/Gender Equity

Young Jane Young: A Novel Cover ImageYoung Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017). A GREAT book about youth, choices, first jobs, and how all of that affects the rest of your life. If you are a person of a certain age, it may also remind you of a certain political scandal or two. Bonus: you will laugh a lot and it is a relatively quick read so great for those months crowded with so many things you can’t possibly read all the books you wish. We are certain it will be a movie soon – so read it now so you can cast it in your mind first. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
CIRCE (#1 New York Times bestseller) Cover ImageCirce by Madeline Miller (2018) – A perfect book for fans of mythology or the classics. Really one of the best books of 2018, this novel retells portions of the Odyssey from the perspective of Circe, the original Greek witch. As The Guardian described it, Circe is not a rival to its original sources, but instead “a romp, an airy delight, a novel to be gobbled greedily in a single sitting”. May lead to great discussions about feminism today. ~ Lisa Christie

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories Cover ImageWhatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016) –  I am so glad someone put this collection of short stories in my hands. The writing by Ms. Collins – a little known African American artist and filmmaker – is distinct and concise and paints vivid pictures of life in New York in the 1970s. The backstory to the collection is even better – these stories were discovered by Ms. Collins’ daughter after her death. (Best Book of 2016 by NPR and Publishers Weekly). ~ Lisa Christie

Convenience Store Woman Cover ImageConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018). As an indie bookstore reviewer, Lauren Peugh of Powell’s Books in Oregon, stated, “Keiko Furukura has worked at her local convenience store for 18 years. Every day, she ensures that the shelves are tidy, the hot food bar is stocked, and the featured items are adequately displayed. She greets every customer with a cheerful ‘Irasshaimase!’ and no one notices that she’s never fit in anywhere else. Murata draws lush descriptions of the beauty of order and routine out of simple, spare prose, and every page crackles with the life she’s created. Because of the humor, the wit, the almost unbearable loveliness of it all, Convenience Store Woman, a small book about a quiet life, makes an enormous impact on the reader.” ~ Lisa Cadow

Domestic Violence
American by Day Cover ImageNorwegian by Night Cover ImageNorwegian by Night (2013) and American by Day (2018) by Derek Miller. See our June 18, 2018 post for our rave review of the first book in this series, Norwegian by Night. In American By Day, detective Sigrid Odegard is back in to star in this literary mystery series by Derek Miller, this time is traveling the the United States to find her missing brother, Marcus,  a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. It offers a fascinating  Norwegian perspective on “strange” America – our foods, our neighborhoods, our quirks and Sigrid’s impression of life in upstate New York. We also have the pleasure of meeting, Irv, the sheriff in the local town, who is not only a police officer but also a graduate of divinity school. Miller’s writing is refreshing and interesting and leaves the reader looking forward to his next book.~Lisa Cadow

Educated: A Memoir Cover ImageEducated by Tara Westover (2018). Educated, is one of the most affecting – if not the most affecting – memoirs of 2018 . In many ways this story is about author Tara Westover’s educational journey from her family’s rural homestead in Idaho where she received no formal tutelage, worked in the junkyard on their property, while only barely passing the GRE to matriculate to Brigham and Young. It concludes when she earns her PhD from Cambridge University in England. It is an astounding and moving narrative which often leaves the reader shaking her head in bewilderment. But when the last page is turned, this book is even more importantly about something that lies beyond formal learning and the ivory tower. It is about standing up for one’s self, making sense of reality, and finally harnessing the strength to say “This is my truth.”Many readers have observed that this book reminds them of Glass CastleJeanette Walls‘ affecting and best-selling memoir. This makes sense as they are both books about surviving and succeeding professionally unusual childhoods. And yet Westover’s experience deserves to stand alone. It’s that good. It offers a window into the Mormon experience, life in the West, and also addresses the the difficult subject of domestic abuse. Highly recommended and an excellent choice for book groups. ~Lisa Cadow

Race Relations

Between the World and Me Cover ImageBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015). Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. This book is a letter to his son about race in America. As another of our favotire authors wrote about this book, “I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’ journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory.” ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dear Martin Cover ImageMonday is Not Coming (2018) or Allegedly (2018) by Tiffany Jackson or The Hate U Give (2017) by Angie Thomas or Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2018). All these books are fabulous YA novels about life in contemporary USA. All lend themselves to great discussions about youth, race, and the USA today. And they are all pretty quick reads so perfect for months your book club is a bit overwhelmed. Briefly,  Dear Martin and The Hate U Give address gun violence in the USA. Monday is Not Coming speaks to treatment of African American girls in the USA and Allegedly addresses juvenile justice issues. ~ Lisa Christie

Immigration
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel Cover ImageDear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen Cover ImageFruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Contreras (2018) paired with Dear America by Jose Vargas (2018). Both of these books provide insight into what life brings for new immigrants to the USA.  Fruit of the Drunken Tree is one of those books that are so gorgeous when you finish you turn back to page one and start over again. I was so moved by this story and so sad to see it end that I finished the author’s notes at the end and began again, re-reading at least the first 30 pages before I was ready to let these characters go. The novel, set in Bogota during the height of Pablo Escobar’s power, shows the horrors violence breeds through the eyes of seven year old Chula and her family’s maid Petrona. Loosely based upon actual events in the life of the author, this debut novel devastates and uplifts with every perfectly placed word. Dear America is a memoir penned by the most famous undocumented immigrant in the USA. ~ Lisa Christie

Exit West: A Novel Cover ImageExit West by Mosin Hamid (2017). We LOVED this novel. It is short, gorgeously written, and covers important and timely topics – love immigration, war. Basically perfect. Or, as the New York Times said in its review, “It was as if Hamid knew what was going to happen to America and the world, and gave us a road map to our future… At once terrifying and … oddly hopeful.” –Ayelet Waldman in The New York Times Book Review ~– Lisa Christie•

Amazing Fiction You May Have Missed

The Sea (Vintage International) Cover ImageThe Sea by John Banville (2005). I often describe this slim novel as the perfect dysfunctional Irish family novel.  In it Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman travels back to the seaside town where he spent his childhood summers in an attempt to cope with the recent loss of his wife. There he confronts all he remembers and some things he does not. ~ Lisa Christie 
The House on Mango Street (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image

House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1991). My oldest son read this in High School and I joined him in the experience by re-reading Ms. Cisneros’s acclaimed novel about life as a Latino in New York City. I enjoyed it years ago and enjoyed it again this time, with a huge bonus of being able to discuss it with my son. I hate to trivialize it by calling it a coming-of-age story, but I will call it a masterpiece of childhood and self-discovery. ~ Lisa Christie

Nutshell Cover ImageNutshell by Ian McKewan (2016) – This mystery is a clever treasure. Told from the completely original perspective of a 9-month-old fetus awaiting his birth, we witness his mother, Trudy, and her lover, Claude, plotting the murder of his father. A modern day interpretation of HamletNutshell is at once tragic and immensely amusing — with the baby boy simultaneously evaluating his mother’s wine choices while expressing his powerlessness to help his unsuspecting father. Told by a master writer at the height of his story-telling abilities, this is not to be missed.  ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
FC9780316243926.jpgBurial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013) – Ms. Kent’s first novel is based upon the true story of Agnes, the last woman executed in Iceland. In it, Ms. Kent vividly renders Agnes’s life from the point where she is sent to an isolated farm to await execution for killing her former master (or did she?). Be careful though, reading this may inspire some wanderlust because of the way Ms. Kent makes Iceland a character in a vast array of memorable people Agnes encounters. Enjoy. Note, this was also reviewed in our previous post “Books to Inspire Your Summer Travels“.~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

When the Elephants Dance by Tessa Uriza Holthe (2002).  This novel provides insight into Filipino culture in the waning days of World War II.  How?  By following the Karangalans – a family who huddles with their neighbors in the cellar of a house near Manila to wait out the war.  The book alternates between 1) heart-wrenching looks at life during war as those hiding in the basement venture out to forage for much-needed food, water and news and, 2) spellbinding myths and legends the group uses to entertain each other while they wait for the war to end.  The book is a testament to the power of stories in giving much-needed resolve to survive. ~ Lisa Christie 

Luckiest Girl Alive: A Novel Cover ImageLuckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (2015). Reviewers compare it to Gone Girl. I just enjoyed reading this page-turner. Indiebound may have summed it best, “with a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive  explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to ‘have it all’ and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.” Have fun. ~ Lisa Cadow

A Fun Book that May Cause You to Rethink Mrs. Bush

American Wife: A Novel Cover ImageAmerican Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008). Ms. Sittenfeld’s story of Charlie and Alice made me re-think Mrs. Laura Bush and the politicians who surround her. Hopefully you will enjoy it and rethink your thoughts of many politicians.   As an indie book reviewer from Wisconsin wrote, “The reader will recognize the main characters, Alice and Charlie, as they experience their tempestuous courtship and marriage, and their rise to political fame and fortune. Although the setting is Wisconsin, the protagonists bear a curious resemblance to a couple from Texas who achieved the highest office of the land. This story, told from the perspective of a fictional First Lady, is hard to put down!” ~ Lisa Christie

Creative Short Story Collections

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories Cover ImageAssassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel (2014). From the title story about a man trapped in his flat with a would-be assassin of Prime Minister Thatcher, to a shorter tale about the end of a marriage Ms. Mantel’s narrators are a bit warped and the every day situations they encounter unusually framed. Basically, a superb and eclectic mix of stories to enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

Vida Cover ImageVida by Patricia Engel (2010). This collection of linked stories would make a great movie about lives lived between two countries — in this case, Colombia and the USA (mostly New Jersey and Miami). This book follows Sabina, a second generation Colombian American, as she navigates life — a life in which nothing truly terrible or amazing ever happens, but somehow makes a compelling read. Collectively, the stories outline a coming of age tale we can all relate to, whether from a recent immigrant family or not. This collection was Ms. Engel’s debut, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Fiction Award and Young Lions Fiction Award; and a Best Book of the Year by NPR, among other awards. We hope those accolades will convince you to try it, and will encourage someone in Hollywood to bring it to the big screen. ~ Lisa Christie

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories Cover ImageThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (2015). The author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon comes through again with a SUPERB book. This time, he provides connected short stories about USSR and Russia from the Cold War through today. I usually don’t like short stories, but this one has remained with me throughout the past few years. To me, it was one of the best books of 2015. And I honestly think it would make a great place for some great book club discussions.  And if you are really short on time before one of your book club gatherings, you could pick one of the stories instead of them all. ~ Lisa Christie

Compelling Nonfiction
All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir Cover Image

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018). As a mother to two sons, adopted from South America and raised in overwhelmingly white Vermont, this book was truly difficult for me. Chung’s stories of growing up as the rare person of color in her predominantly white community in Oregon and the trauma that she had to work through as a result, hit a little too close to home. Her difficulties with identity and her adoption, tugged hard at my heart and my guilt. Her writing is poignant and pointed as she tells her tale of finding her birth family, exploring her own feelings about motherhood while preparing to give birth for the first time, and discovering what family means to her. In short, this book is a great memoir for anyone interested in the experiences of people of color in the USA, the experiences of adoption in the USA, and how families are formed no matter your race or birth status.~ Lisa Christie

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey Cover ImageMy Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2018). I used this book for one of the book clubs I run in my health coaching job.  In this memoir, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist desxcribes her life before and after she experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. She watches her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life-all within four hours. However, her stroke was a blessing and enabled many revelations. A great book for intense discussions about life and thinking. ~ Lisa Cadow

Brazilian Adventure Cover ImageBrazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming (1932). In 1932, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming (yes, the James Bond Fleming) traded in his editor job for an adventure  — taking part in a search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. Colonel Fawcett was lost, along with his son and another companion, while searching Brazil for the Lost City of Z (a trip recently memorialized by a Hollywood movie). With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and company hiked, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of Fawcett’s fate. Mr. Fleming tells the tale with vivid descriptions and the famous British wry humor, creating a truly memorable memoir and possibly one of the best travel books of all time.~ Lisa Christie

West with the Night: A Memoir Cover ImageWest With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942). This incredible book shows how an amazing woman lived, flew, loved and laughed in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Cover ImageSomething/anything by Brene Brown (assorted years). We first heard of Ms. Brown because of a TED talk. Then she seemed to be everywhere – on multiple NPR interviews, in magazines, books in friends’ homes. So we picked up a book or tow of hers and read.  In all, she takes her research studying difficult emotions such as shame, fear, vulnerability from her career at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and adds insights from her own “mid-life unraveling” and other real life adventures. Her messages throughout are more insightful than they may at first appear. And, she reminds us all that courage, compassion and connection are gifts that only work when exercised. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Pairings: Because They Can Be Twice As Good

Madame Bovary Cover ImageIn One Person Cover ImageMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856) – John Irving’s In One Person (2012) – Madame Bovary  plays an important role in Mr. Irving’s tale of a bi-sexual man growing up on the grounds of a Vermont prep school and the life he then leads.

 

On Beauty: A Novel Cover ImageHowards End Cover ImageOn Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006) with Howard’s End by Forster (1910). Ms. Smith retells Howard’s End as the tale of an interracial family living in a university town in Massachusetts. Both sides of the Atlantic play a part in the escapades that ensue. Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny. Enjoy and then read Howard’s End, Forster’s classic tale of English social mores at the end of the 19th century and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

Gertrude and Claudius: A Novel Cover ImageHamlet Cover ImageGertrude and Claudius by John Irving (2000) with Hamlet by Shakespeare (1603). Most agree that Gertrude and Claudius are the villains of Hamlet . John Irving creates a Gertrude and Claudius Shakespeare left behind for his imagination. In this slim novel, Mr. Irving tells the tale of Hamlet from the villains’ perspective and things shake out slightly differently.  Read both versions and compare. ~ Lisa Christie

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Books for Summer Camping: Kids and YA

It is that time of year: time for kids, young adults, and the adults who love them to read, read, read during these long summer days. Maybe it is because they have to for those back to school English assignments that loom in August and September.  Maybe it is because we all need some down time between summer activities. Or maybe it’s because vacation plans include long stretches of travel time that can not all be filled with electronic devices. Whatever the reason, we have compiled a list of books for Young Adults, kids who are reading chapter books, kids who are emerging readers, kids who are reluctant readers, kids who are not yet reading….  We hope somewhere in this list is the perfect book for the kids you love. (And honestly, we recommend all of them to adults as well.)

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YA: Young Adult fiction

FC9780062662804.jpgThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018) – Probably the best YA book I have read this year.  Reminiscent of Kwame Alexander’s style of telling stories in poetry, Ms. Acevedo uses poems to tease out the subtleties of her main character’s life in Brooklyn. In doing so has created a character – the fierce, gifted with words Xiomara Batista – who we care about, and whom we empathise with even if we are not a young black woman, even if we don’t live in Brooklyn, and even if our high school days are long behind us. The themes Ms. Acevedo intwines throughout this novel told in poems include, but are not limited to Latina culture, Catholicism, coming (or not) out, budding sexuality, high school teachers and curriculum, first romance, generation gaps, immigration, first gen issues, city life, poverty, music, and the power of words. Read this and rediscover the power of poetry, of youth, and of love – both first romance kind and the often much more complicated familial type. I find it hard to believe this was a first published novel for Ms. Acevedo; and, I thank children’s librarian extraordinaire Ms. Beth for bringing it to my attention. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422651.jpgAllegedly by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – As a child, Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Or did she? The public thinks so and the many books and TV specials based upon her life definitely think so. However, maybe all is not as it seems. The answers didn’t matter until a teenaged Mary B. Addison is moved to a group home, gets pregnant, and wants to keep her baby. Ms. Jackson keeps you guessing as to Mary’s guilt or innocence throughout, but possibly most importantly, she shines a spotlight on the lives of young women and girls caught up in our legal system and prisons. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062422675.jpgMonday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson (2018) – This novel takes on the heartbreaking reality of missing children of color, and does so with compassion and urgency. Monday Charles is missing and only her friend Claudia is concerned enough to do anything about it. Even well-meaning and caring teachers take too much time to hear Claudia’s concerns, and kind neighbors ignore signs something is amiss.  But, Claudia continues to be vocal that Monday is missing – even as she navigates high school placement tests and her shame that her learning disabilities are in the open.  Cleverly paced and plotted, and written with concern and compassion, Ms. Jackson highlights the fates of too many children of color in this country with a book teens and adults alike will be glad they read. Two books into her career, I am now officially a fan of this author and look forward to her next novel. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062330628.jpgFar From the Tree by Robin Benway (2017) – I loved this National Book Award Winner. The three bio siblings discover each other exists in their teens, when each is confronting a personal crisis in their adoptive and/or foster family. One is dealing with divorce and alcoholism, the other teen pregnancy, the third the foster system. They are all dealing with what it means to be family and how to become an adult.  Perfect really. ~ 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. During this ride, Will must decide whether or not to follow the RULES – No crying. No snitching. Revenge. – and kill the person he believes 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

FC9781101939499.jpgDear Martin by Nic Stone (2017) – A superb YA novel about being profiled by police for being black, and how current events, BLM, and politics affect black youth today.  In this excellent debut novel, a black student – Justyce McAllister, top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year – is handcuffed by a police officer and released without physical harm. The psychological toll of being profiled is explored as this novel delves into his life at his mostly white prep school and in his mostly black neighborhood. To help cope, Justyce researches the writings of MLK and writes him letters asking for guidance about how to live today. While Martin obviously never answers, the letters provide a great premise for thinking about how MLK would have handled life as a black man today. The letters also provide grounding once the novel’s action turns extremely ugly. Read it and discuss. (It could be considered the boy’s perspective on the situations in The Hate U Give reviewed below.) ~ 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

FC9780545320696.jpgCurveball: The Year I lost my Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick (2016) – How does an amazing pitcher deal with the fact he will never pitch again while simultaneously navigating his freshman year of high school? Mr. Sonnenblick offers a compelling answer in this tale of friendship, first love and change. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781250170972.jpgChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018) – A TERRIFIC start to a new series of magic and danger, palace intrigue and adventure, and love and hatred.  I won’t say more about the plot as I really want you to discover this one for yourself.  Please pick it up and just enjoy!  ~ Lisa Christie

 

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“Adult” Novels for Young Adults

FC9780316154529-1.jpgFC9780316025263.jpgInto the Beautiful North and The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (assorted years) – I stumbled upon an interview with Mr. Urrea on NPR as I was linking our selections to the Norwich Bookstore’s Web site and was reminded how much I love Mr. Urrea’s tales, so I added this category to this post. (The Hummingbird’s Daughter made my most meaningful reads list.)  Mr. Urrea’s novels are funny, using humor to deflate explorations of horrific things (e.g., dangerous border crossings, poverty), and to explore wonderful things (e.g., love, family, friendships, movies).  Into the Beautiful North was reviewed by me previously as “the book Jon Stewart would have written if he ever wrote about crossing the Mexican border into the USA”. The fact these novels depict lives of Mexicans just adds a bonus during these times of immigration conflicts and politically polarizing actions at our southern border. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780142001745.jpgThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (2002) – This book has been around for awhile and is a movie with genuine movie stars, but the fact a friend just discovered and read it, reminded us that we all miss good books when they are first published.  So we review it here 16 years after it first hit our bookshelves. This novel is a coming of age story for Lily, a girl in South Carolina in 1960s, whose mother’s death subtly haunts her and whose African-American nanny raises her. When her nanny insults town racists, Lily decides it is time for the two of them to run away.  The tale lovingly unfolds from there. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Poetry

I’m Just No Good At Rhyming by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Funny poems for kids and adults who love them. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

One Last Word by Nikki Grimes (2018) – Ms. Grimes takes a few of the many poems penned during the Harlem Renaissance, prints them, and uses them to create her own poems of response for each one. The poems depict the lives of kids today, and offer a bit of inspiration, understanding, and often humor. Terrific illustrations and art are sprinkled throughout, and short bios, with resources, are offered for each featured poet and artist. ~ Lisa Christie

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (2018) – This “advice book” is different and simple and profound and lovely.  Most importantly to me it shows Mr. Reynolds’ large heart and powerful prose.  A great gift for kids who may be worried about the upcoming school year. ~ Lisa Christieimages-2.jpg

Nonfiction

FC9780062748539.jpgNotorius RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (2018) – This was the perfect counterpoint for me to absorb last winter/spring after another school shooting. Why you may ask? Well, it reminded me that there are fabulous people out there in high places looking out for people who don’t have voices. It also provided a superb look at the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would also be an excellent primer to read before seeing RBG in theaters. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781481463713.jpgThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande (2016) – This book seems especially important with the recent talk separations of families along the US border and burgeoning hatred towards illegal immigrants. Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for young adults; in it, she tells of her life as a toddler in an impoverished town in Mexico, her three attempts to cross into the USA with a coyote as a young child, her life in LA as an illegal immigrant, how her family gained legal status, and how she managed college. This is not for the faint hearted due to themes of physical abuse and complicated relationships with parents who are always leaving. But it is important to be informed, and this book will put faces on any political discussions about immigration that the teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781603093002.jpgMarch: Books One, Two and Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (assorted years) –  John Lewis, the Congressman and man who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., has, with two collaborators, written a memoir in the form of a graphic novel. This series begins with his childhood in rural Alabama and follows Mr. Lewis through meeting Martin Luther King and then his own student activist days in Nashville, and into his life as a Congressman. The pictures explore how his life must have felt during each moment in time.  The prose explains what he was thinking as each of the momentous moments of his life unfolds.  The 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was inspirational to Mr. Lewis and other student activists.  We hope March series proves as inspiring to future leaders.  ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780448467108.jpgWho is? What Was? Series by assorted authors (assorted years) – We really can not recommend these books highly enough for emerging readers and beyond. The topics are varied, the illustrations humorous, and the information fascinating (e.g., did you know that King Henry VIII was so large he fell out of his coffin?). ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780446677554.jpgCounting Coup by Larry Colton (2001) – Mr. Colton journeys into the world of a group of Crow Indians living in Montana, and follows the struggles of a talented, moody, 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.

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Kids

FC9781484746431.jpgBurning Maze: The Trials of Apollo Book Three (and other seriesby Rick Riordan (2018) – Once again Mr. Riordan delivers a wry adventurous tale of Greek and Roman Gods and their offspring. In this outing, the former god Apollo, cast down to earth by Zeus, is an awkward mortal teen named Lester Papadopoulos. Te become a god again, Lester must restore five Oracles that have gone dark and do so without the help of his godly powers and while bound in servitude to a cranky demigod named Meg. Things get more complicated from there. ~ Lisa Cadow (seconding the recommendations Mr. Riordan’s previous series as she has not yet read this one) and Lisa Christie

FC9780525429203.jpgFC9780803740815-1.jpgThe War I Finally Won (2018) and The War that Saved My Life (2015) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley — The War I Finally Won, the follow-up to Ms. Bradley’s first book about Ada and her family, shows Ada just as feisty as she was in her debut. It also brings home the realities of war for everyone in the British countryside. This time heroes who are close friends die while defending Britian and her allies, rationing is tough, code breakers are introduced, prejudices against Germans spill over to refugee children, and personal lives continue to influence outcomes – even as the war intensifies. As I wrote before about The War that Saved My Life, when Gary Schmidt (one of my favorite authors) blurbs a book with the words “I read this in two big gulps” I pay attention. The initial tale about two of the many children who were sent from London to the countryside for safety (think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – which we also recommend) is also full of adventure, hardship, and ultimately love. In both novels, I especially loved Ada and here feisty fight for her place in the world. Please read them both! ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780062499660.jpgSecret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (2018) – Since Liza Bernard of the Norwich Bookstore put this book in our hands we will let her review speak for its selection in this list. “Sisters Alix and Jools, along with their parents, spend a summer week at the beach. We have the pleasure of experiencing the sea for the first time through their eyes – and ears and hopes and fears! A refreshingly wonderful interlude in the otherwise tumultuous array of chapter books written for this age group. No parent dies, no one is abused, there are no floods: just caring and sharing, learning and growing with wonder about the world around them.” We now add, it is a perfect pick for anyone wanting to remember that there is magic in the ordinary day, and how great vacations can be. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780763681173.jpgRaymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (2016) – Ms. Camillo returns to 1970s Florida and creates a superb tale of three young girls who discover each other and themselves over the course of a summer.  The plot centers around Raymie’s plan to bring her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, back — she will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, get her picture in the paper and remind him he needs to come home. First though she must learn to twirl a baton and defeat the two other girls in her lessons. Delightful. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780451470348.jpgSoar by Joan Bauer (2016) – Many years ago, we fell in love with Ms. Bauer’s Newbery Honor Medal Winner Hope Was Here. But we haven’t read much of her work since. We corrected this awhile back when one of the Book Jam Lisas could not put Ms. Bauer’s latest novel – Soar – down, finishing it in one long swoop. Ms. Bauer’s main character and narrator of this tale – Jeremiah, is a heart transplant recipient and the world’s biggest baseball fan. He may not be able to play (yet) due to his transplant, but he sure can coach. And, he is just what his middle school needs after a huge high school sports scandal breaks his new hometown. Infused with humor, baseball trivia, and a lovely adoption sub-plot, this book is all about grit, hard work, and determination. It also does an amazing job of reminding readers that kids can be truly amazing people. We love all the books listed for this post, and we admit that some of Soar could be construed as corny, but we recommend it as an excellent (and possibly necessary) break from today’s politics. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9781101934593.jpgFlying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (2017) – Ms. Oh, the founder of We Need Diverse Books, has edited a collection of short stories by authors who happen to be persons of color. The group has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing as well as popularity as New York Times bestsellers. Each story is completely unrelated to the rest and totally fabulous. This collection is perfect for a reluctant reader as one of these stories is sure to be just right. (My bet is on the one by Kwame Alexander.) And as a collection it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780803738393.jpgThe Best Man by Richard Peck (2016) – This may be the best book I read last year. Mr. Peck’s superb sense of humor and his ability to remember what it is like to be a kid make this tale a memorable, smile-inducing novel. Somehow, without preaching, he manages to cover gay marriage, death, divorce, war, national guard service, reconciliation, bullying, bad teachers, social media, hormones, school lunches, middle school, the British Empire, and the Cubs, all in a tale about being a kid in the 21st Century.  Read it today; no matter your age, you will not be sorry. ~ Lisa Christie

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Older titles that are still great, because there are always kids who just turned 8 or 10 or …

FC9781416949329.jpgFC9780689818769.jpgFrindle or Trouble-Maker or other titles by Andrew Clements – Mr. Clements is a former school principal and his love of kids – especially the ones who end up in the principal’s office – comes through in each of his books. He treats kids with humor and compassion and presents many real world dilemmas in each of his books for young readers. Pick one up and enjoy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689817212.jpgFC9780689711817.jpgAnything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg (assorted years) – Ms. Konigsburg was truly a superb gift to young readers everywhere. Her books are fun, well-written, humorous, and help kids work through the issues they face every day.  Our favorites – The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. But please discover your own. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780689844454.jpgFC9781534420113.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 and Classics for Kids).  And, The Boggart by Susan Cooper (1993) – When Emily’s and Jess’s family inherits a Scottish castle, they travel to explore. Unbeknownst to them they also inherit a Boggart — an invisible, mischievous spirit who’s been playing tricks on residents of their castle for generations. When they accidentally trap the boggart in their belongings and take him back to Toronto, nothing will ever be the same. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

FC9780803740013.jpgUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (March 2014) – We agree with Publishers Weekly assessment – “Fans of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will find this another delightful lesson in art history.” In this novel, Theodora Tenpenny of Manhattan tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It includes her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea.  It also shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends. And, along the way it introduces young readers to the world of art and the importance of asking for help when you need it.  Not bad for an author’s first children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

FC9780375872921.jpgWill In Scarlet by Matthew Cody (2013) – An EXCELLENT and FUN tale of Robin Hood and his merry men before they became famous.  In this version of this timeless tale, you meet them as a gang of outlaws and watch them find their mission in life.  A superb adventure for any middle grades reader and the adults who love them, or who love English legends. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9780547237602.jpgFC9780544022805.jpgThe Wednesday Wars (2007) and OK For Now (2011) by Gary Schmidt – 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. Previously reviewed in Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.

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 and Classics for children, young adults, and the adults who love them.)

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Some Series for Kids Just Branching out of Early Readers and Needing Beginning Chapter Books

Calendar Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Four young children – Bradley, Brian, Nate and Lucy (younger relatives of the A to Z Mystery kids) – continually unearth problems that need to be solved as they travel the roads and playgrounds of their home town. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow

Capital Mysteries by Ron Roy (assorted years) – Pre-teens KC and Marshall uncover bad guys and save the world from their homes in Washington, DC.  KC’s home just happens to be the White House. ~ Lisa Christie

BallPark Mysteries by David Kelley (assorted years) – Two kids travel the country attending baseball games (one of their moms is a sports reporter) and solving mysteries. Reminiscent of those original “meddling kids” – Scooby’s gang. ~ Lisa Christie

Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne (assorted years) – This seems to be the original model for this genre. It now bring over 50 titles with the adventures of young siblings Jack and Annie and their time-traveling adventures in their magic treehouse to young readers everywhere. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Picture Books

Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy (2018) – I am really claustrophobic and yet was still fascinated by this story of the first people to envision and build a device to explore the ocean’s depths.  And yes, Ms. Roy’s illustrations still have me feeling a bit dizzy, but the tale of these two boys who became the men who invented the Bathysphere is worth a bit of discomfort; it will also appeal to the adventurers, inventors, and explorers in all of us (even if only vicariously). We discovered Ms. Roy through her first illustrations in SS Taylor’s Expeditioners series; this provides us a perfect excuse to recommend SS Taylor’s series for kids who need a good chapter book or family read aloud. ~ Lisa Christie

7 ate 9 by Tara Lazar (2017) – Good puns are never done.  Clever Noir picture book playing on a classic preschool joke/pun. ~ Lisa Christie

Duck Mouse Wolf by Mac Barnett (2017) – SUPERB fun tale of interspecies cooperation and making the best of a situation. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers (2018) –  Picture books for young activists and the adults who love them. ~ Lisa Christie

a house that once was by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith (2018) – Awesome illustrations by Mr. Lane provide a great opening into this book about what makes a home and how a kid’s imagination is THE BEST. A winner of a picture book. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima (2018) – AWESOME tale of imagination and love.  A little girl’s mission is simple – to find party hats; how she gets them so complicated. We also are hoping the fact her adventures include two dads and a lot of penguins is a shout out to And Tango Makes Three, a great picture book based upon an actual penguin at the Central Park Zoo with two dads. ~ Lisa Christie

Alfie by Thyra Heder (2018) – This picture book shows how there are two sides to every story.  In the first we see Nia’s perspective of how her beloved, but rather boring turtle Alfie disappears one day. In the second we see Alfie’s perspective of why. Bonus: All the action revolves around birthday parties, which we know kids love to talk about. ~ Lisa Christie

Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty illustrated by David Roberts (2018) – Ada’s curiosity is unending and leads her to great big messes.  Doe sit also make her a great scientist?  We all can learn from Ada’s fearless explorations, and the rhymes and illustrations are fun. ~ Lisa Christie

We also recommend you visit our previous summer reading picks for YA and kids.

 

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