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Reading with Tweens – Projekt 1065

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I am a sucker for the Scholastic book fair. I get a little jolt of excitement when I get that email from the PTA telling me the book fair is coming. I sign up for multiple volunteering shifts. I peruse the shelves with my kids nearly every day of the fair. When they ask for thirteen books each and a handful of total crap – pens, erasers, notepads, posters, I cannot help myself. I buy nearly all of it. Because it’s tax free and a portion of the sales goes back to the school! And because I’m a total book junkie. So when Landon handed me a stack of books, a Lamborghini poster and an assortment of junk that would be lost or broken in the next 10 minutes, I didn’t bat an eye. Enter Projekt 1065 and our first installment of Reading with Tweens!

Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz is a fast-pacprojekt 1065 reading with tweensed thriller set in World War II Berlin. Michael O’Shaughnessy
is the thirteen year old son of the Irish Ambassador to Germany and his wife, who are spies for the Allies. As he grows they draw Michael into their world, permitting him to join Hitler Youth and assigning him tasks that nobody would suspect a mere boy to carry out. The stakes are raised immeasurably when Michael rescues a downed British pilot – a Jew – and the trio hides him in the embassy. Together, the family and their hidden cargo work to discover the plans for Projekt 1065.

As I mentioned earlier this week, Landon loves WWII fiction. My mom commented (hi, Mom!) that perhaps Landon’s love for the genre is being guided by a certain someone, my grandfather and her dad, who was a military history buff to the extreme. His heroes were WWII generals and that devotion led him to his career in the military. I’d like to think there’s a touch of my grandpa’s love of history in Landon. Another aspect to his interest is likely his Jewish heritage. It’s strangely compelling for a kid (heck, for adults too) to imagine what he would do in the face of such adversity. Read more

Reading with Tweens

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I come from a family of readers. My grandparents, mom, aunts, uncles, and cousins all are voracious readers. Naturally when I had kids of my own, one of my deepest wishes for them is that they would inherit that same passion. We started reading to them at bedtime as babies, and bedtime reading has continued as they’ve grown. But now that they are 11 and 8 years old, the bedtime ritual has shifted so that the kids often are silently reading to themselves. We don’t have the same intimate cuddled up time that we used to when they relied on us to tell the stories.

It occurred to me one night when Landon, the eldest, suggested that I read the book he had just finished, that I could still capture special time with my kids by reading the books they are reading on my own time and then talking about the book with them afterwards. And the idea for the “Reading with Tweens” book club on 5280Mommy was born. Read more

Review: Eligible, A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

I am a lover of all things Jane Austen. Obviously, her books are held in my highest esteem and most treasured spot in my heart. But I also adore movie adaptations, both faithful and updated, books about Jane, her Facebook page, and updated adaptations of her books, told from a modern perspective. So it was with overwhelming enthusiasm that I cracked the spine of Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld.

I like Sittenfeld. Her first book, Prep, was a fast, fun read that I also found smart and painfully reminiscent of my own adolescence. The American Wife had a similar tone and I enjoyed the salaciousness of imagining Laura Bush taking on the challenges thrown at Sittenfeld’s imaginary first lady, said to be inspired by Bush.

So I had reasonably high hopes for Eligible. And I was mostly satisfied. Eligible, subtitled as a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, is set in the author’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. (Strike one. I lived in Columbus for five long years – I consider it to be the least of all Ohio evils – and can’t understand why anyone would set a book in Cincinnati. Aside from a pretty awesome use of Skyline Chili, there’s no other utility to the setting.)

EligibleThe sisters’ names are unchanged, to save confusion and brain power, I guess. Jane is approaching 40 and lives in New York City near Lizzy. The girls return home for a summer to straighten out their parents’ affairs after Mr. Bennet falls ill. Half the fun of this book is getting to each well-known plot point and seeing how Sittenfeld deals with it. What is Wickham hiding? What scandal befalls poor Lydia? What could Bingley possibly find at fault with Jane? Why is Mr. Darcy such a douchebag before becoming the world’s most beloved suitor?

Allow me to just throw out some terms and let your imagination run wild: reality TV, in-vitro fertilization, LGBTQ issues, dot-com success stories, booty calls and hate-sex. Intrigued? You should be.

Strike two comes in the telling of this thoroughly ridiculous but undeniably entertaining story. Sittenfeld simply tries too hard to match the flow and cadence of Austen. It’s distracting. The best parts of the story happen when she drops that pretense and just goes with the flow. Case in point – when one of the younger Miss Bennets tells one of the elders to “fuck off” it is just too much fun. You know that’s what Kitty and Lydia were thinking every damn day. It’s gratifying to see it in print.

I’m glad to say there is no strike three, as long as you don’t take the book (or your dedication to Ms. Austen) too seriously. Thankfully, I do not.

Favorite Quotes:

For Christ’s sake, Mary, put a sock in it.

First of all, I’m not gay. And even if I were, I’d rather be a lesbian than a sociopath.

“My dear,” said Mr. Bennet, “if a sock puppet with a trust fund and a Harvard medical degree moved here, you’d think he was meant to marry one of our girls.”

Links:

To purchase Eligible, click here

Jane Austen’s Facebook page

Review: My Grandmother Asked Me…

Meet my new favorite author, Fredrik Backman. I’ve read two of his books, the unwieldily titled “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” and “A Man Called Ove.” Reading his books is like being told a story: cuddled up on a couch with a fuzzy blanket, your dog warming your feet, fire crackling in the background and a glass of merlot in your hand. The storyteller sits opposite you in an old wooden rocking chair, hand crocheted afghan on his lap, as he lulls you in a gentle half-consciousness with his tales. Even more astounding is that he’s speaking to you in Swedish and yet somehow his story is beautifully translated into gorgeous English words, sentences and paragraphs, as if that’s how they originated.

my-grandmother-asked-me-to-tell-you-shes-sorry-9781501115073_hrMy Grandmother Asked Me is told by seven year old Elsa. She’s an uncommonly bright child and, as many such children are, slightly odd as a result. Her grandmother, more than just slightly odd, is her very best friend in the world. The two of them create fantasy worlds, a secret language, and go on crazy adventures together. And then one day, Granny gets sick.

What follows is a whirlwind in Elsa’s young life, full of tracking down the people Granny has somehow wronged for Elsa to apologize on her behalf. Letters from Granny mysteriously arrive with instructions to Elsa on their delivery. Elsa’s journey takes her to the doors of each resident in their apartment house, where she learns something new about each of them and about Granny. The apartment house is an island of misfit toys – Elsa is faced with sweet old couples, coffee addicts, scary animals, grumpy old men, and the brokenhearted (not all mutually exclusive categories). Read more

Review: The Nightingale

I picked up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah a few months ago. I was at my bi-monthly book club and the hostess suggested either it or The Primates of Park Avenue as our next selection. Primates sounded fun, catty, and gave us the opportunity to drink themed cocktails at our next dinner. As if we need an excuse for that. The Nightingale, on the other hand, wasn’t as immediately attractive because it seemed we had read a lot of WWII fiction, so we went with Primates. A choice we all bitterly regretted. I decided to read The Nightingale first. I blew through it and then spent a week trying to slog my way through Primates. More on that another day.

The NightingaleThe Nightingale is wonderful. The story focuses on two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne lives in the Loire Valley with her husband and young daughter. She has a quiet, charmed and happy life before the war. (Anyone who has picnics in the Loire Valley as part of their daily life is blessed beyond measure.) When her husband, Antoine, is called to fight for France, she not only has to endure life without her childhood sweetheart, but is eventually called upon to house a German officer. Vianne is quiet, subdued even. She keeps her head down and her chin up.

Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, is a fiery nineteen year old with a long history of boarding school expulsions. After an altercation at her last school involving the proper way to eat an orange, she is sent back to Paris and her father’s bookstore. Things quickly change for both women when the Germans invade. Isabelle’s naturally feisty personality takes a political turn. The book follows the sisters throughout the war and beyond: their choices, their sacrifices, and their reactions when confronted with love and with war.

What I liked about this novel is the focus on everyday lives of the French during the war and the eventual path both sisters take. I ran across a post on A Mighty Girl‘s Facebook page recently that recounted a woman named Nancy Wake, a British secret agent. I won’t go in to more detail here, as I don’t want to spoil the novel, but I will say that I love stumbling across true stories that have inspired novels after I’ve finished the book. It gives me a chance to revisit the characters and places in my mind, and gives me a little bit of proof that the magic from the book really may have happened.

Favorite quotes:

From the picnic basket, she withdrew a crusty baguette, a wedge of rich, double-creme cheese, two apples, some slices of paper-thin Bayonne ham, and a bottle of Bollinger ’36.

If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.

Helpful links regarding the book and other recommended reads:

Buy the book here

Read about author Kristin Hannah here (A note: Ms. Hannah is one of those former attorneys who has eschewed her legal career to gain fame and fortune as an author. I hate her. In only the most affectionate way.)

Read A Mighty Girl’s brief story on Nancy Wake here

Read more about Nancy Wake and others like her in Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, found here 

And finally, if you recall the Reading Challenge I mentioned from my local library, this book satisfied the category ” A book with a strong female lead.”

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