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Posts Tagged ‘March’

Today, the Book Jam had planned to post reviews of some great books to read as summer fades. However, the news from Charlottesville, Virginia has us reeling. Thus, we reviewed our archives and are republishing reviews of books that might help us all contemplate racism in the United States and what we wish to do about it. We include books for adults, young adults, and children because it seems to us that, no matter our age, we all have a lot to think about. (Please note these are all great stories – with a caveat that some are more literary than others; they all just happen to contain an opportunity to think about race and our reactions and actions.)

To sum — because we feel, for a variety of reasons, that these books are far more relevant — today, instead of the “beach reads” we had planned to recommend, we re-share these reviews with the best of intentions and love.

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Mudbound by Hilary Jordan (2008) — This novel provides yet another reason to always read Bellewether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction winners.  This prize-winning 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

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (2013) – Congressman John Lewis wrote this memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Book One 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. We also recommend Book Two and Book Three that follow his life to the present. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Interpreter of Maladies Cover ImageInterpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) – If you somehow missed this collection of nine short stories about Indian-American immigrants, fix that now and read these Pulitzer Prize winning tales. Ms. Lahiri’s prose is gorgeously crafted, and her characters and their trials and tribulations – both the mundane and the incredible – will stay with you long after you finish the last sentences. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Americanah Cover ImageAmericanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013) – Before she wrote We Should All Be Feminists, Ms. Adichi earned our reading loyalty with this incredible novel of love and culture clash. As Maureen Corrigan of NPR stated, “Adichie has written a big knockout of a novel about immigration, American dreams, the power of first love, and the shifting meanings of skin color . . . Americanah is a sweeping story that derives its power as much from Adichie’s witty and fluid writing style as it does from keen social commentary. . . . ”

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

Like No Other by Una LaMarche (July 2014) – West Side Story with an African-American as the male lead and a Hasidic girl as the female lead.  Set in modern-day Brooklyn, this tale explores the feelings one’s first true love brings, and what it means to make your own way into the world — even if it requires navigating respecting one’s parents while rebelling from their rules. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Ghana Must Go Cover ImageGhana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (2013) – When a renowned surgeon dies suddenly outside his home in Accra, his family, which is scattered across the globe, suddenly learns much more about him and what his choices meant for them. Beautifully rendered, this novel takes you from Accra to Lagos to London and to New York. It also shows us the power of love, family, and choices as we figure out who we are and where we come from. ~ Lisa Christie

Dreaming in Cuban Cover ImageDreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (1992) – Reaching far back in our bookshelf, our memories, and into the Caribbean Sea, our hands land on Garcia’s 1992 novel of the Cuban immigration experience. Told from the perspective of three generations of strong women, this lush narrative will be appreciated by lovers of magical realism. Strong female characters tell the story of the experiences of being political expats in New York City, and also of the ones left behind in Cuba. Moving between the United States and Cuba, and the present and the past, this book creates a sensation of dreaming but also of the very real situation of a country and its people experiencing turmoil and change. ~ Lisa Cadow (seconded by Lisa Christie)

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition Cover ImageThe Distance Between Us: YA version by Reyna Grande(2016) – With this book, Ms. Grande has adapted her adult memoir for middle grade readers and 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 insert faces into any political discussions about immigration that the pre-teens and teens in your life might encounter. ~ Lisa Christie

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided Cover ImageIn The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero (2016) – One of the stars of “Orange is the New Black” penned this memoir (with some help from a co-author) about her life as the USA-born daughter of undocumented immigrants from Colombia. Her story hinges on the day her parents were deported while she was at school, after which she was left to fend on her own, relying on her friends for places to live so she could finish High School in the USA. She is now using her fame to help shed light on the lives of the undocumented in the USA. While the prose may not sing quite as well as some of the other books on this list from award winning authors, I, for one, was appalled at some of the more surreal aspects of her story (e.g., she was completely forgotten by the US government which never checked on her, or helped her in any shape or form). And, I am very grateful she broke years of silence to put her face on many nameless Americans, and on a problem we all need to help solve. ~ 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. Among them, the group has earned every major award in children’s publishing, as well as popularity as New York Times bestselling authors. 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. (Perhaps the one by Kwame Alexander?) And, as a collection, it makes a great family read aloud. ~ Lisa Christie

FC9781442494985.jpgStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (2015) – A superb book about racism in depression-era North Carolina told from the perspective of a young African American girl. Don’t take my word for the quality of this book, my 11-year-old says it is among his top five favorite books. The New York Times said it is a “novel that soars”; School Library Journal called it “storytelling at its finest” in a starred review. The audio book will make car rides pass quickly. ~ Lisa Christie

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

The Golem's Mighty Swing Cover ImageThe Golem’s Mighty Swing by James Sturm (2017) –  This graphic novel tells the tale of the Stars of David, a barnstorming Jewish baseball team that played during the Depression. Using the true story of a team that travels among small towns playing ball and playing up their religious exoticism as something for people to heckle, this books combines baseball, small towns, racial tensions, and the desperate grasp for the American Dream. ~ Lisa Christie

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014) – Mr. Stevenson is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. Peppered with statistics about of people — those on death row who are people of color, the number of people permanently incarcerated for non-violent crimes committed when they were 12 or 13, etc… — Mr. Stevenson’s book brings these numbers to life in ways that make you care. He also, although he could not have known this when writing it, bring stories from today’s headlines home in ways that, be warned, may incite action on your part in 2015. (NoteThe New York Times selected this as one of its 100 notable books of 2014, Esquire Magazine called it one of the 5 most important of 2014 and it was one of Time Magazine‘s top ten books of 2014.)~ Lisa Christie

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood Cover ImageBorn A Crime by Trevor Noah (2016) – Mr. Noah, of Daily Show fame, is funny. He is insightful. And, he has a unique backstory for his life thusfar. All this combines to create a superb, insightful, humorous, and important memoir about life as a biracial child in South Africa during and after Apartheid. Read it, laugh, learn, and pass it along to others who can benefit from a well told life story. (Please note: Mr. Noah reads the audiobook version and we have been told it is tremendous.)

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon (2014) – A powerful look at “what goes down” when a 16-year-old black boy in a hoodie is shot by a white man. Was it defense against a gang incident? Was it a man stopping a robbery gone wrong? Was it being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it none of these, or a combination of these? And, just when you think you have all the pieces and perspectives to know what happened, a new piece of information inserted into one of the multiple voices used to tell this story, sends you another direction. A seriously impressive book – cleverly staged, with superb and unique voices throughout, and a plot from today’s headlines. This book makes you think about how perspective influences what you see, how stories are told, how choices have implications, and – well, to be honest – the pull and power of gangs.  Read it and discuss with your favorite teen. ~ Lisa Christie

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012) – As the author himself facetiously writes, please read this as part of your preparation for African-American history month activities. Through truly funny and often painful humor,  Mr. Thurston makes readers think hard about their own racist tendencies.  He even has a focus group, with a token white person, to help him think through many of the items he discusses.  Whether you agree with him or not, for me, any time I am thinking about how I could better interact with the world, I am truly appreciative of the source that started me thinking about improving my actions. Bonus – it makes you laugh. ~ Lisa Christie

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Well, March arrived in Vermont like a lion and honestly appears to be leaving as one as well. The political news is still divisive and disturbing. And, for a variety of reasons, both Book Jam Lisas have been reading a lot of serious books. So to break out a bit, today we review a bunch of mysteries/thrillers in the sincere hope that reading some “just for fun” books will help us all smile more often as March becomes April. Enjoy!

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August Snow Cover ImageAugust Snow by Stephen Mack Jones (Feb 2017) – I so hope that in real life there is someone like August Snow – a half black/half Mexican, ex-cop with a strong sense of justice and neighborhood  loyalty – looking out for Detroit. The hope this book expresses for Detroit weaves throughout the narrative, and Mr. Jones’s descriptions of Detroit’s decline and partial resurgence make the city an actual character in this thriller. Yes, Mr. Snow makes many mistakes, and wow, by the end of this tale, his body count is way too high for my tastes. However, few books take place in today’s Detroit; please enjoy this one! ~ Lisa Christie

The Bat Cover ImageThe Bat by Jo Nesbo (2013) – Somehow, we missed the first Detective Harry Hole mystery. Luckily, we rectified that last week. What fun!  Even if you have enjoyed the other novels in this detective series already, going back to the first mystery and watching him solve the murder of a lovely Norwegian ex-pat living Down Under, is somehow the perfect antidote for healthcare news. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

IQ Cover ImageIQ by Joe Ide (2017) – This debut features a great protagonist and a great sidekick whose incredibly complicated lives combine for a great plot.  Set in modern day LA and following a man whose amazing brain lay dormant for awhile but has awakened as a solver of others’ problems — a la Sherlock Holmes (who the author recognizes in this acknowledgements), this book marks the start of a great series. We are ready for book two and thank Carin Pratt for pointing us in the direction of Mr. Ide. ~ Lisa Christie 

Closed Casket: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery Cover ImageClosed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie (2017) – Agatha Christie writes again. OK, so someone else writes for her, but the oh so British atmosphere and Hercule Poirot are pretty much the same. Have fun! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

The Whistler Cover ImageThe Whistler by John Grisham (2016) – Sometimes I just need the comfort of a reliable storyteller, and with Mr. Grisham I almost always get that. But, I always get a tale of people trying to do the right thing in spite of the odds against them. And honestly in 2017, I really, really need more of that. So, read this for a page-turner, but then think about it as a way to begin working for and fighting for what you believe is important. We can all use more of that lately. (Oh yes, the plot — in this Grisham Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, gets in trouble when taking on corruption on the Florida bench.) ~ Lisa Christie 

FC9780312426132The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin (2006). Take a trip back in time to Istanbul  circa 1836 to meet intriguing Investigator Yashim. Filed under the category of “How The Heck Did We Miss This Book?”, this mystery (the first in a  series) is full of obscure historical references, complex characters, and wonderful food imagery. The reader is transported back to 19th century Ottoman Empire and can truly feel her/himself walking by the donkey carts and spice vendors of Istanbul while she/he works alongside Yashim to solve a mystery involving a series of murders that threaten the sultan’s political court. Besides being a talented detective, Yashim is also an excellent cook. He is also a eunich. Utterly fascinating, this book is perfect for history buffs, fans of literary mysteries, or the traveler looking for the perfect book to take on an upcoming trip to Turkey. If your curious about the cookbook that Jason Goodwin published in 2016, listen here: Yashim Cooks Istanbul ~ ~ Lisa Cadow  

In This Grave Hour Cover ImageIn This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear (2017) – Another Maisie Dobbs mystery finds Maisie on a case involving Belgium refugees just as Prime Minister Chamberlin declares Britian at war with Germany. Ms. Winspear has definitely gotten Maisie out of her “please get on with it already” phase of incredible self-analysis to again using her honed introspection to help others. Enjoy this look at the UK as WWII begins. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie 

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Ah summer… A time for young students to swim, to fish, to camp, to be bored and most importantly to read what they want, when they want.  And right about now is the time those of you who know kids spending hours at overnight camps might need things to pack in their care packages.  Since most camps won’t allow candy, we have selected some perfect books for you to include instead — even if the campers in your life are only making it as far as their back yard.

Because we like to highlight great independent bookstores everywhere, we would like to mention The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont. This bookstore specializes in children’s books and seems the perfect partner for our picks for young summer campers. If your travels take you near Lake Champlain in northern Vermont, please stop in and peruse their shelves; their incredible staff will help you find our picks, as well as many other books that are perfect for you and the young readers in your life.

NOTE: All our picks today are targeted to elementary aged students and tweens.  Our picks for young adults and adults will follow later this month.

Relatively Recent Releases with Adventure as the Theme

Manhunt by Kate Messner (June 2014) – In this third book of the Silver Jaguar Society series, the youngest members – Henry, Jose and Anna head to Paris, with their Jaguar Society relatives, to solve a series of international art thefts. The ensuing complications include that the adults promptly disappear leaving them stranded in Shakespeare and Company (yes, the famous Paris landmark) with a boy they don’t quite trust, that they do not speak French and that they are constantly hungry as they try to recover both the lost art and the missing adults. ~ Lisa Christie

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (June 2014) – I would call this a cross between Mary Poppins (only for the roof top scenes, not the nanny) and The Adventures of Hugo Cabret. This story begins with a baby floating on the ocean in a cello case, who is then rescued and taken in by an unusual and kindly bachelor. Of course, the child services lady does not think the bachelor is fit to care for a girl. The solution? Find the girl’s mother armed only with the one small clue embedded in the cello case. The clue leads the pair to Paris, a variety of rooftops, and eventually, to other orphaned children who can help them. The clue also leads you to an enchanting story. ~ Lisa Christie

Boy or Beast: The Creature from the 7th Grade by Bob Balaban (October 2013) – While I disagreed a bit with the ending because I thought there was a squandered lesson, the humor and storyline are perfect for the middle grade reader approaching puberty or in the midst. Truly just fun. ~ Lisa Christie 

Relatively Recent Releases With Girls as the Star

Another Day as Emily by Eileen Spinelli (May 2014) – What do you do when your LITTLE brother gets all the credit for helping you save your neighbor’s life? Or, when your best friend and the boy down the block don’t quite get you? Or, when you don’t get a part in the community theater play? Why you become the poet Emily Dickenson of course. But then you discover being a recluse is not as easy as it seems. A charming look at life through the eyes of an unique girl. ~ Lisa Christie

Spy Catchers of Maple Hill by Megan Frazer Blakemore (May 2014) – This book combines, small town Vermont, McCarthyism, potential Russian Spies, Union troubles and two intriguing kids. Kids will enjoy Hazel Kaplansky – the narrator and girl extraordinaire. Hazel strongly believes in the pursuit of knowledge and truth no matter what the cost, and she loves a good mystery.  So when Senator McCarthy targets a local union in her small Vermont town, Hazel knows it is up to her to uncover the Russian spies. But first, she enlists Samuel, the new boy with a mysterious past, to help. ~ Lisa Christie

Now Some Books that We Know We Mentioned Before —  But We Only Gave Them Six Words and They Deserve More

Under 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

Will In Scarlet by Matthew Cody (November 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

IF You Are Worried Kids Will Forget All They Learned in School, A Few More Serious Books…

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (August 2013) –  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 book 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. The pictures explore how his life must have felt at the 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 proves as inspiring to future leaders.  We truly look forward to Book Two. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (February 2014) – Celeste Marconi is 11 and has bigger problems than many pre-teens.  Her country – Chile – is in the midst of being overtaken by a military dictatorship.  Once that happens, her best friend is among those “disappeared” by the General, her parents go into hiding to protect her from their support of the previous leader, and her grandparents send her to far-away Maine to live with her Tia and escape the problems brought by the dictator.  An excellent introduction both to Chile and to all that being an exile entails. ~ Lisa Christie

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson (December 2013) – A true story of one of the boys saved by Schindler’s List. This is a unique entry point into an important story for kids to know. It is also a well told tale. ~ Lisa Christie

 

Older Titles We Highlight Because Someone is Always New to Chapter Books

Frindle 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

Anything – and we mean ANYTHING – by E.L. Konigsburg – She 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

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

Calendar Mysteries by Ron Roy – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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

Great Audio Books for Route to Camp or for Those Kids Who are Reluctant Readers, but Avid Listeners 

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling – This series, broken into seven books of young witches and wizards, is a page-turning tale. Luckily, it is also an amazing audio book narrated by British Thespian Jim Dale. He has created distinct voices for the many, many characters – that is fun for all ages. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan – This set of five books is creating a generation of Greek Myths experts.  It also makes a great family listen in audio book form.  Enjoy the tales of Percy and his friends and their exploits saving the world from monsters. Bonus: You can then continue with the books of Mr. Riordan’s Lost Heroes series. `  Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

 

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