Onion John by Joseph Krumgold

onion-john
Onion John

by
Joseph Krumgold

Rating:
4 book marks

Everything changes the year Andy Rusch turns twelve.  Until then, being a kid was easy in the 1950s.  And in the small New Jersey town of Serenity, baseball, friends, school and helping out in his dad’s hardware store fill Andy’s days.  Then one day, he befriends the town’s hermit, Onion John.  John lives up on Hessian Hill, in a makeshift house built of stones.  He is a fixture in town and an expert gardener, but people keep their distance because John is in his own world and speaks a language nobody understands.  When Andy takes the time to listen, he opens his mind to John’s world of naïve superstition.

Mr. Rusch has big plans for Andy, including college at MIT and he doesn’t approve of the friendship.  He wants Andy to get out of Serenity and be the first man on the moon, a vision Andy has trouble sharing.  His dad tells him he must forget John’s foolish ideas and focus on this dream.  Andy wants to please his father, but whose dream is it?

In an effort to understand, Mr. Rusch reaches out to Andy’s friend.  The story takes a turn when Mr. Rusch and the townspeople decide they know how to better Onion John’s life.  A new and modern house will civilize John and bring him into the real world.  Although John tries hard to embrace his new circumstances, his old ways get in the way, disaster follows and then there’s no going back.

Onion John is the story of an unlikely friendship and how well-meaning people get caught up in an idea and fail to see that change doesn’t always work.  Andy understands, because, while he’s becoming an adult, he’s still a part of John’s childlike fantasy world.  And sometimes a child’s logic is the best.

It would’ve been better for everybody if he didn’t try so hard, to change.  First, he wasn’t very good at it.  And second, I didn’t see anything wrong with the way he was.

This interesting coming of age story is a little dated, but its themes of family, community, dreams and doing the right thing are timeless.

Click here to read more about Joseph Krumgold on Goodreads.  He was the first author to win the John Newbery Medal twice!


Note:  Summer is over, but I’m still reading my Summer Reading Challenge books!  I chose Onion John to fill the category of a book that was published the year I was born.  I discovered later, however, that it was published before I was born, but that it was awarded The Newbery Medal the following year.  I say that counts!

Take a look at my choices for the 16 in 16 Challenge:

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series:  Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 – A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Book 8 – A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit:  Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry
Book 9 – A Book with Non-human Characters:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Book 10 – A Book Recommended by a Librarian:  Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Book 11 – A Book Being Made into a Movie this Year:  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Book 12 – A Book with Bad Reviews:  The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

fever pic

Fever 1793
by
Laurie Halse Anderson

Rating:
4 book marks

Now that the kids are back at school, lots of middle-schoolers are reading historical novels like Fever 1793, the story of Mattie Cook, a fourteen-year-old girl living in Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever plague of 1793. Mattie must grow up quickly during that summer, as the fever strikes her family and friends. She makes difficult decisions and learns hard lessons about survival, life and love.

Anderson weaves history into her story and the reader learns about these difficult times in early America, as well as about how people lived and how the black population built a powerful supportive network to help them through sickness and hunger. She also includes a great deal about doctors’ different approaches to healing the sick and the heated debate over these methods.

I like how Mattie matures during this time.  Anderson shows how, despite vastly different circumstances, young teenagers of all time periods share similar feelings of love, loyalty and rebellion and must make difficult decisions that ultimately shape their adult characters.

Although the story includes sadness and loss, Fever is more a story of hope and survival with a definite feel-good ending.

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Summer Reading Challenge – A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

A Book Being Made into a Movie This Year

Rating:
5 book marks

Conor O’Malley is tormented by a recurring nightmare, too terrible to speak about.  During the day, he pushes it down because he has a lot to deal with in his real life.  His mother is dying of cancer and he’s being pushed around at school.  At thirteen, he wants to handle it alone.

Then a voice calls to him in the dark.  It’s not the nightmare.  It’s a monster, formed out of a yew tree and it has come to tell Conor that the nightmares won’t stop until he admits the truth, the thing he is the most afraid of.

This is the beginning of a dark and serious story about a boy learning how to let go of his dying mother.

The monster explains,

Here is what will happen, Conor O’Malley.  I will come to you again on further nights.  And I will tell you three stories.  Three tales from when I walked before.  And when I have finished my three stories, you will tell me a fourth.

Over a period of weeks, the monster visits the boy and tells the stories, each with surprising twists.  Meantime, Conor’s daytime life is spiraling.  The cancer treatments are not working and Harry at school continues to bully him.  When Conor makes desperate and violent efforts to be seen, he hopes being punished will lessen the horrors of his nightmare.  But he cannot find relief until he faces the truth.  That’s when he can look to the future.

Here’s a book that looks like a children’s book, but is more appropriate for a mature young adult and older readers.  The story’s serious nature makes it an emotional experience.  Although most reviews are overwhelmingly positive, several suggest that A Monster Calls should not be considered a self-help book for kids who have lost a parent.  That’s a personal decision.  I think the book is excellent.  The monster’s fables tie perfectly into Conor’s story and are terrific examples of the contradictory nature of human thought.  A great book for older children and adults.


About the book:

Siobhan Dowd was a British writer and activist.  She was raised in London by Irish parents and visited Ireland often when she was a girl, developing strong ties her parents’ homeland.  Dowd wrote children’s literature, including A Swift Pure Cry, The London Eye Mystery, Bog Child and Solace of the Road.

Dowd spent much of her adult life fighting for human rights and was very active in the English and American PEN, a writers’ organization, where she edited a collection of work by imprisoned authors and journalists and led a defense committee for Salman Rushdie.  She also felt strongly about protecting children’s rights.

Dowd died of breast cancer in 2007.  She wrote profusely during her illness and, prior to her death, had developed the outline and characters for A Monster Calls. After she died, Dowd’s editor asked Patrick Ness to write the story.

Ness says this about Dowd:

When I was asked if I would consider turning her work into a book, I hesitated.  What I wouldn’t do – what I couldn’t do – was write a novel mimicking her voice…But the thing about good ideas is that they grow other ideas.  Almost before I could help it, Siobhan’s ideas were suggesting new ones to me, and I began to feel that itch that every writer longs for:  the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story.

A Monster Calls was illustrated by Jim Kay.  In 2012, the book won both the Carnegie and Greenway medals for writing and illustration, the first time a book has won both awards.  (Read more about Dowd in The Guardian and on Wikipedia and see this article in The Telegraph for more details about Ness and Kay.)


About the movie:

A Monster Calls was made into a movie and will be released in the United States on October 21, 2016.  Written by Ness and directed by J.A. Bayona, the film stars Lewis MacDougall as Conor, Liam Neeson as the monster, Felicity Jones as his mum, Tony Kebbell as his dad, and Sigourney Weaver as the grandma.  Check out the film here on IMDb.com.


Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series:  Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 – A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Book 8 – A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit:  Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry
Book 9 – A Book with Non-human Characters:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Book 10 – A Book Recommended by a Librarian:  Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

 

From the Archives: Books about Water and the Sea

Ocean

With only a few weeks left on our summer calendars, there’s still time to read a book about water and the sea.  Take a look at this mix of classic tales, popular fiction and nonfiction!


Classic fiction

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens to a group of young British schoolboys when their plane is shot down and they land on deserted island in the Pacific?


The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The classic Hemingway story of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who has not caught a fish in eighty-four days


Popular fiction

sea creatures pic

Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel
Set in Miami, Florida, a story about love, marriage, family, death, art, weather and the sea


stiltsville book cover

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
All about marriage, family and relationships in a community of stilt houses in the Miami sand flats


The Dressmaker cover

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Light historical fiction and romance written into the history of the Titanic’s voyage, its passengers and the disaster’s aftermath


the light between oceans pic

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
A story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife, who live alone on an island off Western Australia


The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Fast-paced, coming-of-age fantasy tale for adults about the mysteries of life, death, nature, the past, and the present


We Are Water

We Are Water by Wally Lamb
A rotating narrative about abuse over time and generations, and its range of effects


Mystery

Death in a Red Canvas Chair cover

Death in a Red Canvas Chair by N. A. Granger
Debut mystery novel, the first in a series about Rhe Brewster and her adventures as an amateur detective.  Set in the fictional coastal town of Pequod, Maine


Death in a Dacron Sail cover

Death in a Dacron Sail by N. A. Granger
The second in the Rhe Brewster mystery series, full of New England color and Maine personality


Romance

I also enjoyed reading Tracy's first love story!

Catalina Kiss by Tracy Ewens
Where the Tracy Ewens romance series begins.  Set on the island of Catalina during Prohibition, a light, feel-good romance


Young Adult/Children’s

Casey of Cranberry Cove

Casey of Cranberry Cove by Susan Kotch
Teen love on the Jersey shore, lots of fun shore references for Jersey guys and girls


the cay pic

The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Touching coming-of-age story about an eleven-year-old American boy living on the island of Curaçao during World War II


Tommy's Mommy's Fish

Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish by Nancy Dingman Watson
Tommy wants to give his mother the best birthday present so he heads to the beach to catch the biggest fish he can.


Non-fiction

Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast

Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast by Margie Miklas
Coffee table/photo book featuring the people, streets and culture of a beautiful part of Italy, showcasing magnificent coastlines, ancient architecture and vibrant street life


In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
True survival story of the whaleship Essex, attacked and sunk by an eighty-five foot sperm whale in the Pacific


Read but not reviewed

Billy Budd by Herman Melville
A classic Melville story about the battle between good and evil

Jaws by Peter Benchley
Gripping suspense novel about a killer shark off a Long Island beach

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Ahab takes on a killer whale.  Classic story inspired by the whaleship Essex

Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
Meditations about love, marriage and family written by Charles Lindbergh’s American wife


Do you have any favorite tales about the sea?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Summer Reading Challenge – Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry

Calmer Girls

Calmer Girls  by Jennifer Kelland Perry

A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit

Rating:
4 book marks

Samantha Cross has always been in her older sister Veronica’s shadow, but this could be a summer of big changes.  When the Cross girls move with their mother from Calmer Cove to the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Samantha’s first friend is a handsome eighteen-year-old boy, Ben Swift.  Samantha watches the inevitable sparks fly between Ben and Veronica and she knows she can’t compete with her sister’s beauty and flirtatious charms.  Maybe, she dreams, Ben will tire of Ronnie and appreciate Sam’s love of books and artistic talents.  And maybe he will notice those pretty green eyes behind her glasses.

What sounds like a simple story of first love is much more complex, however, because the Cross family has been upended by crisis.  The girls’ parents have separated, money is tight and their mother Darlene is drinking too much.  Between Darlene working the night shift and her father far away in Alberta, Sam and Ronnie are on their own to navigate the new social terrain.  High school starts in a couple months but for now it’s new friends, parties and Ben.

Ben may seem like the perfect guy, but he is keeping his own family problems shut tight in his head.  As the weeks pass, sibling rivalry, jealousy, misunderstandings and fistfights add tension to romance and friendship and the Cross family spirals towards disaster.

Calmer Girls is a realistic and at times, edgy Young Adult coming of age novel, taking the typical problems of adolescence and placing it in a part of the world many people have not seen.  Perry also includes the important themes of alcoholism, abuse and economic downturn to make her story both relevant and meaningful.  Set in the 1990s, readers will also enjoy many references to popular music, including Pearl Jam, Green Day, REM and Nirvana.

I very much enjoyed reading Calmer Girls and I chose this book for my summer reading challenge to read about a place I would like to visit.  Newfoundland, Canada sounds like a beautiful place and it’s easy to picture the scenes, thanks to Perry’s descriptive talent.  From a sizzling plate of “chips” and gravy, seasoned with packets of vinegar and salt, to city street scenes and the beauty of the sea, Calmer Girls is both a love story and a visit to a charming place.


Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series:  Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 -A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Thanks for visiting – come back soon

Summer Reading Challenge – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Art by Ellen Forney

A Book That Has Been Banned

Rating:
5 book marks

Arnold “Junior” Spirit is trapped in a life of poverty on the Spokane Indian reservation and he has to do something about it.  Everyone around him is poor, but Junior has the additional problem of not fitting in on the reservation.  Skinny with a big head, thick black plastic glasses and prone to seizures, he’s been picked on and beat up his whole life.  Drawing cartoons helps him cope, but Junior knows what will happen if he stays.  It’s what has already happened to his mother and alcoholic father.  “They dreamed about being something other than poor,” he writes, “but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.”

Junior is good in school and knows that’s his ticket.  So when he asks his parents if he can switch to the all-white Reardon High School, one of the best schools in the state, they say okay.  They do that because they love him.

The switch costs Junior his best and only friend, Rowdy.  And it’s very different at Reardon where the kids have everything they want.  Will he be able to live in both worlds?  Junior’s sense of humor carries him through much, but he must reach deeper to survive a series of tragedies at home.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-autobiographical account of Alexie’s life and is a terrific Young Adult coming-of age story.  Ellen Forney’s fantastic cartoon illustrations add an extra dimension to Junior’s character.  I chose it as part of my summer reading challenge to read a book that has been banned.

The Diary has been banned by many schools because of its depiction of sex and violence in the story.  (Click here to read more about Sherman Alexie and his response to this criticism.)  It has also won many awards, including the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and has been named to several annual lists including “Best Books of 2007” by the School Library Journal and the 2008 “Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults” by the Young Adult Library Services Association.  I highly recommend it for older young adults, high school and adult readers.

Visit Alexie’s website at fallsapart.com.

Click here to read about a terrific short story by Alexie, “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”.


Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series:  Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 -A Book To Help You Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum

Thanks for visiting – come back soon

The Liberty Box by C. A. Gray

The Liberty Box
The Liberty Box

by
C. A. Gray

Rating:
3 book marks1 half bookmark

Imagine a society in which the government takes over its people’s thoughts, making them believe they are prosperous. Only an outsider can see the truth: an evil Potentate has formed a deviant New Republic in which its people are actually destitute and powerless. In The Liberty Box, a devastating economic collapse in America has led to this dystopian society. After the collapse, angry citizens turned to riots and looting and a police state resulted. Benjamin Voltolini, a venture capitalist billionaire knew how to get the economy running again. His solution began with a genetically engineered virus, let loose on the population.

This is the exciting premise of Book 1 of this Young Adult series. Twenty-four years later, Kate Brandeis is a successful newscaster, who is unknowingly supporting the Potentate’s propaganda. She regularly reports on the government’s Enemies of the State and their executions. Kate is shocked when her former roommate’s name shows up on the EOS list and she turns to fiancé and computer genius Will to help her find out what happened. A rush of memories returns to Kate, but the government discovers her research and does everything it can to maintain control.

I enjoyed reading The Liberty Box. Gray makes her story believable with good, evil and conflicted characters, and she makes it interesting by introducing mystical ideas. Gray’s ideas include Jackson MacNamera, a larger-than-life character with heightened senses. When Jackson joins a group of rebel outsiders, he must define his role in this growing conflict.

The Liberty Box is a fast-paced story with a clear definition of good and evil. Gray includes varied twists and setbacks which ultimately lead to the beginnings of a rebellion. Whether this movement is strong enough to support a revolution is left to the next book, which is nicely previewed at the finish of Book 1. This enjoyable read leaves many questions unanswered, promising more excitement in Book 2!

I received a copy of The Liberty Box in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!