Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “popular books”

Reader Round Up: December

December found me coasting into an attempt to best my best Goodreads challenge by scooting into the finish line of 165 books for 2020. Woo Hoo! My previous best was 140 last year. That is the upside about staying close to home: more time to read.

With Christmas Break comes two weeks of no school, which means nothing to plan and nothing to grade. The weather was not conducive to walking much and my library provided most of my inter-library loan requests. Recliner, book stack, open schedule—reader bliss. Here are December’s highlights:

The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

What is Jasper Fforde’s genre? Erudite Absurdism? He is indeed unique in his style. This is a amusing read, if one can get past any hidden or unconfessed squeamishness towards talking rabbits. Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey made me a wee bit uncomfortable and I can’t claim to be a Beatrix Potter fan. Perhaps if C.S. Lewis had ennobled the rabbit in Narnia I would be more at ease with Fforde’s tale of talking rabbits.
However, my feelings aside, Fforde’s writing is oh so clever. He takes on issues ranging from reality TV to politics to human behavior and even jabs at his own double consonant last name. Having embraced Thursday Next, I was ever so happy that Mr. Fforde has not lost his way with wit and wordplay.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Considering this book was written twenty years ago, it still resonates so much. Esperanza lives a privileged life in Mexico until her father dies. Consequently she and her mother immigrate to California to find work on the farms picking produce. Life is vastly different for Esperanza living in the rough conditions of the camps. She must endure and live in hope that times will become better. Well-written and containing thought-provoking ideas of perspective, especially when it comes to the issues of immigration. The story is based on the author’s grandmother’s life providing a richer understanding of the harshness of prejudice and the sorrow of loss. Yet, there is a sense of possibility and hope in the story that is appealing and creates a sense of hope.

Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

When a story makes me cry that’s the litmus test for a memorable novel.Where to start? First off, a unique plot device involving Grand Central Station and a fairytale of an impossible romance. Next, full characterization of all characters, be they the lost and found clerk to the MCs. I came away knowing these people and became genuinely, emotionally involved in their story. If you appreciated The idea behind The Time Traveler’s Wife Grunwald’s book is suggested.
Then there is the plethora of historical detail that is presented as a tribute to the various eras of New York from flappers to returning WWII soldiers to a city rebuilding and reshaping itself. But the double-punch ending is the real wow of Grunwald’s story of love found, lost, and found again.

Oh, if there is a movie? I nominate Paul Rudd for Joe.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, Roma Gill ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, is presented in an accessible student edition by Roma Gill, that provides thorough side notes to this lively play. The ancillary includes discussion questions and other useful classroom study aides. A slim, yet efficient textbook for better understanding the play.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafazi, Christina Lamb ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Even without all the attention Malala received after the Taliban’s bullet nearly ended her life, this well-spoken young woman from Pakistan would still be a notable person. Her zeal for education and desire for peace are notable and admired. Her voice is clearly heard around the world and she has taken on the UN, American presidents, and the Taliban expressing her beliefs.
A book that combines her story, her beliefs, and her country’s history makes for illuminating reading.

It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I remember this book from my child and it was a welcome reread in my personal challenge to read all Newbery award winners during this past year.

This is a true tribute to sixties NYC. Neville creates a likable narrator in Davey, a fourteen year old who is starting to figure out life. He realizes he doesn’t have to argue with his father all the time and he can be choosy about his friends. He can also chose a pet and he adopts Cat from Kate, the neighborhood cat lady.
Even though it was written in the sixties the story still holds relevance since many of the issues in the book remain the same: family dynamics, friendship flurries, the search for identity. Just the prices have changed and no iPhones are in sight.
I like to think of this as a positive Catcher in the Rye.

I won’t have as much time in January with school starting back up, but I have some fabulous reads lined up. Did you have some memorable reads last month or are you looking forward to some new ones coming your way?

Reader Round Up: November

Thanksgiving break proved extra relaxed this year since no traveling was involved and no expected or unexpected company . The only obligation was making two pumpkin pies. Oh, with a side of Thanksgiving dinner.

Less demands meant more reading time. Check out the links to the Goodreads reviews. Here are November’s highlights:

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Sometimes seeing the movie can spark an interest in the book. Of course the book was better. A brother and sister are shipped to the country as part of the WWII evacuation. No matter how many of these type of stories I read I continue to find each of them intriguing.

The movie

The Right Kind of Fool by Sarah Loudin Thomas
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
The newest Appalachia story from Sarah. Her books are always provide an particular insight into the region based in some way a true story. In this case, the story revolves around a deaf boy and a murder mystery.

We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Based on a true story of a woman who gave birth while in an iron lung. A likable tale that transcends into an implausible fairy tale with a surprise appearance of Elvis.

My Daniel by Pam Conrad
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
A story of the enduring bond between a brother and sister set during Nebraska’s early settler days. An added element is dinosaur fossil hunting.

Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Another older Newbery find. A young girl is sent to live with her spinster aunt when her mother dies. The catch is she has a family in town and they are all on good terms, which is unusual for a story plot. Not an orphan, definitely loved—the conflict? Which family is her true home?

My reading list is still filled with a composite of classics, Newbery titles, and new releases. My favorites tend to be the old Newbery winners. Nothing like solid writing from the past where the big problems of today were not in residence.

Reading Round Up: March

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Image: Barnes and Noble

War books are difficult to read. There is rarely a good side to war, no matter how well the story is written. With this knowledge then, with some reluctance, I began reading Salt to the Sea as I knew a WWII story would have tragedy and travail. Yet, the story starts with a strong hook and its hypnotic four person viewpoint narrative continues throughout, making it a compelling read about the worst maritime disaster in history. Surprisingly, good manages to surface in the horror that pervades in this aspect of war.

The story centers on the evacuation efforts of those fleeing Russian soldiers. Thousands escape with barely any belongings in hope of finding refuge on ships. The main focus is on the Wilhelm Gustloff, which carried 10,000 refugees on board. It’s amazing that a loss of over 9,000 lives has not had more attention. Almost half of those lost were children. This is a story of four lives and their perspective. Riveting to the end. The historical detail is commendable. A solid five star read.

Historical Background
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Image: Amazon

At times the book had the feel of a PBS series, the detail and characterization being so colorful and descriptive, ready for adaptation. This is not a complaint; however, a book of nearly 500 pages does contain a bit of hefty plot making and detail. It’s as if it wants to become a series. The book is not so much a war story as it is a study of England and its people before war irrevocably altered a way of life.

Told from various character experiences, a reader senses the summer before the Great War to be one never seen again in England.  The warmth of friendships, the comfort of routine, and the pace of English country life is laid before the reader in welcome detail, so when war does arrive the shock is truly felt.

Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, Mr Tillingham and the other characters of Helen Simonson’s second novel are admirably portrayed, as is the setting and the various subplots. Sometimes it felt a bit much, as in a bit too much detail. The over-length of the story contributed to the four and a half star rating–a hundred pages of exposition trimming would have helped to keep attention on the story instead of on the extra particulars. Colorful details, while appreciated, can become distracting if overdone.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Image: Amazon

Told from two perspectives, All American Boys, tells the story of police brutality, from that of the victim and of a witness. And it gets complicated. White cop, black teenage kid. White witness, friends with the cop and his younger brother. Loyalties are tested. Lines drawn at school. Choices are made.

The authors provide a realistic account of a situation happening too often across the country. What could have added to the story, ends up watering down the impact, as there is also a weak account of the police officer’s viewpoint, although it seems added in to only offset the difficulty of the situation. Being a police officer is difficult. Another character emphasizes the tough split-second decisions officers must make that can result in permanent consequences. The interjection of the police officer in question inadvertently comes off as him being menacing. It might have been better to hear his full his viewpoint to add the perspective of the police officer along with the victim and the witness.

Overall, an important, timely story told with realism and an ear for true dialogue. A four star read.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Image: Good Reads

Having avoided this book because how can any book about the Holocaust be different from the other ones I’ve read? There is an inevitable sadness and horror to the truth of the events.

John Boyne does manage to bring a different perspective to his Holocaust tale, in that his story is told as a fable. Bruno, a nine year old German son of a high ranking Nazi official, must move with his family to Out-With because the Fury deems Bruno’s father capable enough to run the death camp. Bruno, however,  does not know it is a death camp. He also does not know why there are so many people wearing grey-striped pajamas. He hates this place. He hates it until while exploringone day he discovers a boy on the other side of the fence. A nine year old boy named Shmuel who is wearing striped pajamas. The story is about their friendship.

On a literal level, the story is annoying with its purposeful euphemisms and the veiled naïveté of Bruno. Yet, reading the story as a fable, as a story that could never happen in a world so advanced as ours, it deserves the acclaim it has received. A four star as sometimes the fable aspect is somewhat overdone.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Warning: Only those with a serious crush on the 80’s are advised to saunter forth to experience Ernest Cline’s whopping tome of this romanticized era. And it helps to be a gamer. Not being a fan of either, I really didn’t appreciate the story. Plus, I couldn’t figure out if the audience was meant to be YA or adult. All this contributed to the three star rating. I did like the Willy Wonka mash up with Tron aspect.
The Man He Never Was: A Midern Reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde by James Rubart

Image: Amazon

The story provides much promise as it starts out: a man waking alone in a strange room with no memory. Amnesia stories can be intriguing mysteries as pieces are put back together. Unfortunately, there are too many plot holes to sustain the premise that a person can easily disappear for almost a year without more repercussions than indicated.

At times the message of how a person can overcome weaknesses through the strength of relying on the Lord is inspiring. It is confusing, even dismaying, that this truth gets garbled with New Age aspects of meditation centers, Eastern teas, and cosmic rooms. At times there is a Ted Dekker feel of spiritual mysticism to the plot. Robert Whitlow provides the same blending of spiritual and inspirational, but with more of a faith-based storyline. Rubart’s mixture is confusing, if not disturbing, in its approach to the idea of the dark side, the Hyde, within a person. A three star read. 

The publisher provided a copy in exchange for a fair review.

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