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Posts Tagged ‘Wednesday Wars’

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As we write this, snow blankets our Vermont homes. Yes, after finishing the least snowy winter we can remember, April brings significant accumulation. The words of TS Eliot’s  The Wasteland spring to mind –

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

You would think leading with TS Eliot would begat reviews of poetry. But instead, we turn our thoughts to reviews of “comfort books”, a concept inspired by recent frustration in one of our homes. A newly turned teen in one of our two families (unnamed to “sort of” preserve his anonymity), has been re-watching his favorite super hero movies during months of Friday family movie nights. He refuses to consider other options. His stubbornness frustrated the Lisa who is his mom, until she remembered she did the same thing when she re-read and re-read books (there was no Netflix then) as she moved from childhood to teenagehood (not sure that is a word, but it should be). Sometimes the uncertainties of life are enough, and you just need reliable, high-quality entertainment.

Since the Book Jam’s other Lisa re-read as a pre-teen/teen as well, we honor the comfort emerging from the familiar with reviews of our current “comfort books/authors”. For us, familiarity emerges as you meet someone (author or character) over and over again on the pages of a book. As a result, many of these books are part of a series because series most easily help you get acquainted with characters over time. But whether our picks form a series or just a collective of books by a favorite author, when life proves too hectic, or when we need a palate cleanser after one too many WWII books, we turn to these authors and their characters for the comfort their familiar styles of prose and their dependability for creating a well-told tale create. We hope you will enjoy these as well. Happy April.

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Bruno, Chief of Police Cover ImageBruno, Chief of Police Mystery Series by Martin Walker (assorted years) – This is comfort reading at its very best. For fans who wish to return time after time to the French countryside and spend time with down-to-earth Inspector Bruno Courreges, it is good to know that there are now eight mysteries in this wonderful series. Set in the Perigord region, readers not only get to learn about black market truffles and E.U. hygiene inspectors threatening the production of local cheeses — they also have the chance to experience this amateur gourmet whipping up an omelet, going to the local cafe for an aperitif, or venturing out on a wild boar hunt. Bruno is an immensely likeable character – “tres cool”- and brought deftly to the page by Martin Walker, a foreign affairs journalist who now lives in the Perigord region himself. Don’t forget to check out recipes from the new “Bruno’s Cookbook” (!) or to listen to Walker and his wife interviewed about it on the Diane Rehm Show here. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

The Waters of Eternal Youth Cover ImageCommissario Guido Brunetti Detective Series by Donna Leon (assorted years) – We love Commissario Brunetti and his family. Brunetti loves his intelligent and strong-willed English professor wife, their son, and their daughter; we love him for loving them. We also love the fact these books bring you to Venice, where you can almost taste the food the characters prepare and enjoy, where the wine flows freely at each meal, and where walks to work take the characters past piazzas and canals and Italians of every possible personality. Read one when you need to travel for awhile and can’t afford a plane ticket, or when you need a reminder that not all police, politicians, or famous personalities are corrupt. As the co-owner of the Norwich Bookstore writes in her review of the latest in this series, Ms. Leon writes with an “eye toward intelligent and thought provoking insights on the human condition”.  This series also comes with a cookbook of Italian favorites. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

Orbiting Jupiter Cover ImageAny children’s book by Gary D. Schmidt (assorted years) – I honestly love every book for kids by Gary Schmidt that I have consumed to date, beginning with Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, now my least favorite of his novels. My love affair continued with Wednesday Wars, which uses Shakespeare to create a connection between a troubled student and a teacher, and then intensified with OK for Now, a tale dealing with the aftermath of war and how art, good friends, and second chances can helpThese last two titles are on my favorite children’s books list (both are loved by my oldest son as well). In his novels, Mr. Schmidt compassionately tackles tough topics, including Vietnam War, foster care, death, and abuse, but also honors readers by not preaching. Most recently, Mr. Schmidt impressed me with the incredible Orbiting Jupiterwhich due to content, I recommend reading WITH your pre-teen or pre-reading before gifting so you can know what questions may arise. In it, Mr. Schmidt creates a superb tale around a family built from foster care, in which the foster child has recently fathered a child at the tender age of 13. I know that sounds horrid, but in this tale somehow it is not. Please read this book and Mr. Schmidt’s other novels.  I turn to them whenever I need a great children’s book. ~ Lisa Christie

The Bat Cover ImageDetective Harry Hole Novels by Jo Nesbo (assorted years) – For those of you looking for grim and brooding heroes in your detective novels, Harry Hole is for you. Oslo detective Harry Hole battles personal and professional demons throughout these books, and as such is more flawed than either Chief Bruno or Commissario Brunetti. But, his universe is also populated with support, including a complex assistant detective who happens to be a practicing Muslim with a mysterious past, and a loyal, but challenging secretary. Or as The New York Times Book Review stated, “fiendishly complex and terrifically entertaining”. As a bonus, you travel to Norway every time you pick up one of the books in this series. ~ Lisa Christie

To Kill a Mockingbird Cover ImageTo Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) – This was read, re-read, and beloved as a teen, young adult and adult. We needed to know there were grownups who could be counted on to do the right thing, and be kind to kids as well. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

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Happy last days of summer. We enjoyed many great books over the summer months, and are slightly sad to see the longer days fade. That said, we are truly looking forward to all the good books being published for autumn and the holidays.

We start our 2014-15 posting season (yes, we Lisas still tend to adhere to the rhythm of an academic year) with two picks from our “gone reading” hiatus. Many of the other books we read in August will appear in later posts around various themes. But, for now, our two picks for your last week of official summer.

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The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (2013) – It seems only appropriate to include this title in a post celebrating the last days of summer; this novel is set in that very season in Welfleet, Massachusetts in 1972. I was drawn to this book for its blue-blooded oceanfront Cape Cod setting but ended up appreciating it for it’s complex characters, unexpected twists and turns of plot, and the voice of its twelve-year-old narrator Riddle who unwittingly witnesses a terrible crime in her neighbor’s horse barn. As she tries to make sense of what happened that June day, she simultaneously navigates adolescence, her parent’s fraught relationship, and her father’s political campaign for Senate. It is all at once a mystery, the tale of a dysfunctional family, a coming-of-age story, and a look back at the summer traditions and politics of a different (pre-twitter) era. If you appreciate this book and the smart way it sets itself apart from being just another beach read, you might also enjoy Wise Men by Stuart Nadler also set on the Cape but in the summer of 1952 (reviewed on the Book Jam, July 23, 2013). ~ Lisa Cadow

Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (2012) – In a little over 200 pages, this author charmed me with his narrative of a son trying to understand his unusual family — a family of four orbiting the manifestations of his mother’s bipolar disease. Uniquely and beautifully infused with compassion, grace, humor, insight and love, this gem of a book is a must read for anyone looking for a good story, and/or anyone whose lives are touched by mental illness. Along the way, it also provides a look at life in Bombay. (Note: This would make a great Book Club book; it is well-written, short, and on many levels profound.) ~ Lisa Christie

And a bonus pick — One of the many books read with with my 6th grader this summer. He proclaimed it “the best book ever” (with The Wednesday Wars by the same author the “next best”). Mr. Schmidt, the author, has an amazing descriptive voice, ear for dialog, and ability to capture middle school angst and humor.  You don’t need to take our word for it, School Library Journal raved as well.

OK For Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – Even though I had read this before and knew what was coming, I still cried while reading this with my son. Douglas Swieteck, a character from The Wednesday Wars, has many tough situations to overcome in this novel. His family just moved. His father is abusive and up to no good. His mother is trying to hold it together. And, his oldest brother returns from Vietnam with limbs missing, as well as seen and unseen scars. Along the way a superb librarian, some drawing lessons, an Audubon portfolio, and a few grown-ups willing to take a chance on a kid from the wrong side of the tracks provide much-needed help. But perhaps even more importantly, Doug manages to improve some grown-ups along the way. Please read this book and then share it with your favorite pre-teen. ~ Lisa Christie

And now, farewell summer 2014 …

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Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents take note: almost all of these are titles for young readers. We wanted to highlight some great books that you can pack in your favorite child’s trunk for camp or send them along in a care package and know they’ll be the just right for reading with a flashlight! AND, there’s one bonus “grown up” pick tucked in at the end, the phenomenal Wild by Cheryl Strayed, chosen with the adult adventurer in mind.

Ahhh glorious summertime.

Sunny days, starry nights, afternoons spent lounging by the swimming hole, hikes through the hills, twilight marshmallow roasts, and then, finally, the sound of zipping up the tent before settling into a sleeping bag with a good book and a flashlight.  In order to best recognize this all-too-brief  but very particular reading season, we decided to spotlight books that capture the adventurous spirit of young summer campers.

Our criteria: books that are easy to read with a flashlight, that aren’t too sad, and don’t make you long for home  (read homesick). Most importantly we chose titles that empower the young reader. We looked for books that show kids (and in one case, an adult) doing exciting, brave things on their own – or with wise adults leading the way. Our model – The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg – one of our very, very favorite books from childhood.

Recent releases for the Elementary School Aged:

 Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke (2012) – Jon is reluctantly sent away to boarding school where he quickly discovers he is a kid marked by a centuries-old family curse to die at the hands of a ghost.  When he meets Ella and her ghost-expert Grandmother, hope for ending this curse begins. Of course, first he has to learn how to summon a ghost knight, earn the right to be a page and then figure out how to successfully break curfew.  And, somehow along the way he discovers boarding school is not the banishment he thought it would be.  A GREAT adventure for elementary school readers. ~Lisa Christie

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2012) – In a faraway land, a nobleman purchases four orphans in a scheme to place one, and only one of them, on the throne as the long-lost Prince Jaron. The catch, the three not chosen will probably not survive the “training”.  When you add a clever housemaid as a friend, a castle with secret passageways and the fact discovery of the scheme can have them all killed for treason, you have another great adventure for elementary school readers and the adults who love them. The False Prince has been published as the first installment of the Ascendance Trilogy, even though I just finished this one, I am ready for part two.  ~Lisa Christie   

For Middle Schoolers

 Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (2011) – One of the few sequels I have liked better than the original and I really liked the original – Wednesday Wars.  In this stunning novel,  Doug Swieteck and his family move to upstate New York. Completely awed by his hero, Yankee baseball player Joe Pepitone, and trying valiantly to be nothing like his abusive, often drunken father, Doug has a lot to overcome: new school, his brother is serving in Vietnam, and a few secrets.  Honestly, this was one of the best books I read (kid or adult) in 2011. ~Lisa Christie

Kissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle (August 2012) – A romantic novel for teens involving Shakespeare, time travel and true love. ~Lisa Christie

Now for some paperbacks, because when you fall asleep reading with a flashlight you don’t want it to hurt when the book hits your chest.

 Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999) – Recently re-“read” as an audio book with my two sons. We all loved the characters and laughed out loud a lot during this touching novel of the depression-era Flint, Michigan. The story unfolds through the eyes of Bud, not Buddy, a child on the run from his latest foster home. I loved listening to a strong audio narrator of this superb novel by an award-winning author. I also loved reading it long ago when it was first published. Enjoy! ~Lisa Christie

 

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett (2011) – This book is amazing. It has an awesome narrator – a legally blind boy who was left on the doorstep of his paternal grandparents’ home when he was an infant. His family struggles to make ends meet, but they have love, a junk store, a lot of amazingly unique bits of wisdom and a town library to end all libraries. And yes, it is at the library where he makes his very first ever friend and has the adventure of a lifetime involving Darwin’s journals, a British Museum, his father, creating a newspaper and so much more.  And it all happens over the course of one summer – really it does. ~Lisa Christie

 The Jaguar Stones: Middleworld by Jon and Pamela Voelkel – The first of series in which a middle schooler must save his parents who have been abducted while on an archeological mission in Central America. The third book in this series will greet any new fans at summer’s end as it is out in September. ~Lisa Christie

Bonus: Adult “Camping” fare:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012).  This book will have readers itching to pack up their hiking boots and set out on an adventure. “Wild” is not only the excellent story of the author’s summer-long trek along the Pacific Coast Trail at age twenty-six, but it is also a wonderfully crafted piece of writing. Strayed, brazenly and amazingly unprepared, sets off from a trail head in southern California with no hiking experience and without ever having weighed her backpack, but with plenty of pluck, spunk, and determination. Strayed, now in her mid-forties, honestly tells of her long walk and of the complex workings of her inner-landscape at the time.  This is a gratifying read that is full of emotional and physical challenges and rewards, interesting characters, beautiful scenery, and sore feet – and of growing muscles in both body and spirit. ~Lisa Cadow

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