Book 50 of 52: Flush by Carl Hiaasen

We’re back with our Florida pal Carl Hiaasen with Flush, a middle grade book about a pair of siblings who are picking up their father’s fight against the ne’re do wells who want to exploit Florida’s beauty for personal, financial gain.

After their father is arrested for sinking the Coral Queen, a casino boat that he accuses of dumping raw sewage into the Florida Keys, brother and sister Noah and Abby are determined to find the proof that will both get him out of jail, and the boat owner from poisoning one of their favorite beaches.

Like all Hiaasen books I’ve read, it pits the people who love Florida and its weird, wonderful beauty, against those who want to destroy it. And because it’s book for kids told from a kid’s (Noah’s) point of view, it also has the added element of being a child watching your parents fight. Their mother is threatening to divorce their father because his environmentalism is putting their finances at risk — and her general exasperation, even though she too cares for the land and water around her. It has the same kind of Florida strangeness and characters as Hiaasen’s adult books, but he does the […]

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Book 40 of 52: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

It’s the point of the summer where I’m sick of the heat, but already starting to feel nostalgic about it almost being over. I will curse how much I sweat when walking my dog, but also lament that the season at the swim club I joined is coming to an end.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki was the perfect book to read in this mood. It’s a graphic novel about Rose, and her annual family vacation to Awago. She and her summer friend (who also goes to the same place every year) are teenagers right at the age that they are both trying on different versions of themselves, and hyper tuned into what is going on around them.

I spent most of my summers in a campground outside of Avalon, N.J. and while this book is meant for teens, I’m glad I picked it up. I felt a lot of the same things the characters here do. They feel uncomfortable when grown men gawk at them. They try out horror movies to see how bad they can really be. At one point, Rose tries out gossiping about someone else in town by calling her a slut. I […]

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Book 53 of 52: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Hello from the shiny new version of Book a Week with Jen! Do you like it? I do. Since I’m going to keep the site going into the new year, it was time to make it look decent (and functional on mobile). I’ve also added a subscription option, so you can get an email the second a new post drops. I hope you sign up!

To celebrate this new look, I come with an old book, but a classic: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. It’s about Claudia and Jamie Kincaid, siblings who run away from their home in Greenwich, Conn. to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. By using their savings (including winnings from card games Jamie cheated on), and doing things like sleeping in one of the museum beds, and bathing in a now gone fountain from inside a museum restaurant, the pair of course have an adventure, and try to solve a mystery: if marble sculpture recently acquired for $225 is a work of Michelangelo.

The book isn’t told from the perspective of either child, or an omnipotent third person narrator. It’s told by Mrs. Basil […]

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Book 45 of 52: Hoot by Carl Hiassen

Another boat, another Carl Hiassen book.

Hiassen’s Stormy Weather was book five in this series, from alllllll the way back in January. I snapped a picture of it from the back of a boat speeding off to Dry Tortugas National Park. In that review, I mentioned that Hiassen’s work was ripe for a TV series or movie, especially since he hadn’t had that many. One was a 2006 movie version of his 2002 middle grade novel Hoot. It starred a lot famous people, including Brie Larson, Luke Wilson and…Jimmy Buffett, but wasn’t well received. Hopefully the upcoming Apple TV+ series Bad Monkey, starring Vince Vaughn and Ashley Nicole Black, will fare better.

So when I saw a copy of Hoot in a Little Free Library, I figured why not, and took it with me on vacation. That picture is from Miller’s Ferry to Put-in-Bay, Ohio (when I got on the boat, I realized that most people were going there to party, not to see Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial. It was a weird experience).

In Hoot, a group of middle schoolers try to save endangered owls whose habitat is under threat because of development of a new pancake […]

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Book 38 of 52: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a subscription to Libro.fm, which lets listeners buy audiobooks through an independent bookstore. With a subscription, I pay a monthly fee for one audiobook a month (plus I get discounts on additional audiobooks should I choose to buy more). Generally, one a month enough for me, but in July I found myself with a week between finishing a book and my new credit going live.

So I turned to the Libby app, which I access for free through my library, and decided why not: I’ll give The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis a whirl. If I read any of the Chronicles of Narnia as a child, I don’t remember. As a four hour audiobook, it didn’t seem like a huge investment of time.

And…eh? It was fine. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for a Christian allegory, especially not right now. I don’t think I can add much to the discourse about it, but I can say that it wasn’t a complete waste of time because I got to listen to the wonderful 2004 performance of the book by Michael York.


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Book 19 of 52: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

After reading Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer last year, and the sequel P.S. Be Eleven for book 7 of 52 this year, of course I was going to read Gone Crazy in Alabama, the third book in the trilogy about sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern and their adventures in Brooklyn, Oakland and Alabama in the late 1960s.

In this book, they spend the summer in Alabama with their grandmother, Big Ma, who previously lived with them in Brooklyn after their mother left and moved to Oakland (hence the previous Oakland trip). After their father re-married, she moved back to Alabama to live with her mother, Ma Charles. They in turn live across the creek from Miss Trotter, Ma Charles’ half sister, and the two are trapped in a bitter feud. Why? The book goes into all that of course – along with the usual “city girls in the country” doing things like collecting eggs and watching their cousin milk a cow, and the fights between the sisters. I’m one of four kids, and a lot of that continuous squawking, where you can go from playing cards to fighting in a flash, rings so very true.

It’s great, of course. I […]

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Book 15 of 52: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

As I wrote last time, I picked book 14 of 52 because I wanted a book small enough to fit in my bag during a trip to New York City. I picked Wishtree by Katherine Applegate for book 15 of 52, also for convenience: as a member of Libro.fm, I get one credit for one audiobook per month. I had four days until my next credit went live. What to listen to until then?

Wishtree is about three hours long, and available for free as an audiobook through my library. And thus I found another great title because it happened to be the right book at the right time.

Wishtree is a middle grade book about a tree (and birds and skunks and spiders) that can talk. This isn’t relevant at first because they don’t talk to people, but the fact that it’s a wish tree is.

I thought this was made up, but no: wish trees, where people make wishes to a tree, is a thing in cultures around the world. This wish tree, a 216 year old red oak, is of the Irish tradition, as the original owner of two homes by the tree was an Irish immigrant. On May […]

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Book 7 of 52: P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

In 2014, Slate ran a piece about how adults shouldn’t read young adult fiction. The subhead said that readers who do should be “embarrassed when what you’re reading is written for children.”

I know that writers don’t always chose their headlines or subheads, but the writer dug in deep in the text of the piece, chastising “fellow grownups” that “at the risk of sounding snobbish and joyless or old, we are better than this.” Well, yes, she sure did sound like all of those things!
I’ve linked to the piece but am not naming the writer because she got the backlash she deserved for shaming other people’s reading habits (and she’s reporting now, not writing commentary, which is probably a good thing for all parties involved). I don’t read a lot of YA or middle grade books, but I read a lot, and I’m not going to exclude something that looks interesting just because it’s a story told from a younger point of view.
Such is the case of P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, a middle grade novel about three girls growing up in the Bed Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn in the late 1960s. The story is told from the […]

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