Book Reviews

Eleanor’s book review:


Awkward, by Svetlana Chmakova

September 1, 2014

Eleanor and I really enjoy listening to audio books while driving in the car.  We listen to books that either she has shown interest in reading or I have known about it for years but haven’t read yet.  (As a teacher I have seen many “good kid books,” but can’t keep up with them all.)

This time we read a Newberry winner, Bud Not Buddy, by photo-1Christopher Paul Curtis.

The story is of an endearing, 10 year-old, orphan boy during the depression (1936).  He has a suitcase of items that are his whole world and remind him of his mother.  He is sent  to a foster home where he has some bad luck and then decides to strike out on his own to find his father.

Bud has a notion of who his father is because of the belongings in his suitcase, but the adult reader thinks it’s highly unlikely.  Eleanor believed in Bud finding his father.   I believed Bud would have a bildungsroman experience.

The book was engaging and I especially liked the opportunity to talk to Eleanor about the difficulties of the depression.  The character Bud, was a strong narrator and the story had a good flow and pace.  The theme of being black during the depression is only briefly touched upon, but an equally good message.  The boy in the story is impossible to not like as his manners are impeccable.

It turns out the most unlikely items in his suitcase unravel the mystery of Bud’s family.  After the book was over the author talks about how this book was inspired by his grandparents on both sides of his family, and how he regrets he didn’t listen more carefully to their stories of the depression.  I really liked that part of the book and was glad Eleanor heard that message.

Eleanor says, “Great book.  I loved it.”

August 2014

While running errands around town Eleanor and I listened to an audio book, Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli.  It turned out that we finished the book on a road trip so Jamie, Eleanor’s other mother, listened to the end with us.

I was a bit concerned about the book subject matter but I was trusting the author’s skill.   Eleanor and I have already read, Wednesday Wars, Third Grade Angels, Fourth Grade Rats, and I have read Star Girl.

Wringer is about a boy who lives in a town where the yearly event centers around the killing of thousands of pigeons.  The boys become, “wringers,” at the age of 10.  True to his skill, Spinelli  was able to delicately tell the story and layer it with themes and symbolism.  The themes of “be who you are, make good choices in friends, and trust yourself, were not lost on Eleanor.

Spinelli does not go into to too much detail about the killing and by the time the scene arrives he has already set it carefully.

I asked Eleanor, “Why do you think this author is writing a story about killing pigeons?”  She answered, “To teach people not to kill them.”  So I responded with, “Think more deeply than that.”  She said, “The message here is to be who you are and do what you know is right.”

In our discussion together about the book, I was able to talk about the importance of choosing friends and we got a lot of mileage out of the character of Beans, who never brushes his teeth.

Eleanor’s Review:

I liked the book and I liked how it was a bit intense.  Every time we stopped and couldn’t listen to the book, I wanted to hear more. 

I didn’t really like the idea of shooting the pigeons, I thought it was mean and cruel.  It should be adopt a pigeon instead of shoot a pigeon.

I would suggest this book to most of my friends, especially the boys.

July 2014

My July book was, “A Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green.  As it’s a very popular Y.A. (young audience) book, I had already heard about it from my students.  So I read it myself last May.  photo 4-1This meant I didn’t have to read it again for book club.

I’m a fan of John Green, I think his video blog with his brother is clever and entertaining, I use his, Crash Course, History videos in my classroom.  I was interested in reading one of his books.

He is a great writer and the book was a smooth and easy read.  This book has received quite a bit of press as the subject matter is about two teens with terminal cancer.  It has also been made into a movie, which I have not seen.

As a parent, I did like the way Green was sensitive to their pain and difficulties as well as the teen age main characters.  I found myself bothered by the idea that a young woman dying of cancer could find her true love, it’s a bit too pat, too tidy for a teenage dream.  However, John did tell the story in an insightful way by remaining true to the themes of, “living each day fully,” and “sometimes letting go is the best freedom there is.”

I have two colleague friends who have a 16-year-old daughter dying of cancer right now.  It is a rare form of cancer that has had some success with an experimental drug.  Because of the daughter’s age, they can not get her on the drug trial.  It is heart breaking.  While reading this book, I couldn’t help but be moved by my thoughts of my friends.    I wish I knew John Green and could ask him to use his prodigious media power to shine a light on my friend’s daughter and the need to get the drugs to whomever might want to try them.

June 2014

The Telling Room; A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese,” by Michael Paterniti


It’s the first time I’ve read this author and I don’t really know anything about him.  My impressions are that he has a writing style that is both approachable and rich in vocabulary.

This book is not a typical novel as it’s more of a travelogue and history.  It’s nonfiction which is not normally something I love, but it reads like an epic fictional story.

The reader gets to know this author and his family through this story and I didn’t expect that personal touch.  You also get to know Ambrosio and his beautiful life full of wine, cheese, farming, family, slow food in the village of Guzman, Spain.

I listened to this book on tape as I commute 40 minutes or so to and from work.  It is not a book I would listen to for 2 hours straight, and it’s not a book I would have finished reading if I was reading it in bed at night.  It seemed to have quite a few repeats of explanations and events in the story.  It really could have been a much tighter book in terms of length. There was also a lot of personal processing from the author which I could have done without.  But he did have a loving eye set on the main character, Ambrosio, and his story of Ambrosio is beautiful.