An Un-Calibrated Centrifuge

My dad once said to me, "You give a lot of books three stars." I do.

SPOILER ALERT!

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts - Gennifer Choldenko

Some light spoilers follow. 

 

Interesting concept bogged down by too many characters and too many storylines. 

 

Choldenko (I thought this author's name was Cholden for the longest time because our spine labels only carry the first 7 of an author's surname) was unconvincing writing as a boy. I think the book suffers from being limited to Moose's perspective alone. I didn't really understand his relationship with his mother until his father spells it out at one point. And what as the deal with Piper? I felt like I was getting whiplash trying to figure out if Moose liked her or not (and ultimately it's a moot point, so why include it at all? He seemed to like Scout about the same as Piper and I preferred that relationship). 

 

The historical fiction aspect was also a big miss for me. I only really knew it was the 1930s because the book kept telling me and because they were living on Alcatraz. 

 

Almost every aspect seems to exist to service the plot, which was too fractured for me to really get into it. I wish the story were more streamlined, characters were better developed, and the conflicts made more explicit. One of the main conflicts is so vague I think that made it more sinister than Choldenko intended. However, I also think this is something only adults would worry about and that the lack of details will be fine for kids reading the books (they'll either pick up on it or they won't). 

 

 I will admit to getting chills at the ending. I really bought into the mythos of Al Capone on Alcatraz. That aspect of the book was effective. But that part of the book is gone so quickly and then the whole thing is over, it's hard to say that it felt that satisfying. I'd be interested to see where the sequels go, but I'll probably just Google the books rather than reading them. 

 

ETA: There is a scene at the end of the book between Moose and the warden that I did really like. Moose thinks how the warden tells him that Moose is almost a man and needs to act like it, but the warden treats Moose like a child. That to me is the 12-year-old feeling. That weird transitional period of life. I wanted more of that. 

Saga Vol. 9

Saga Volume 9 - Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan

Wow. Nope. (But, like, in a good way?)

Educated

Educated - Tara Westover

This book was in intense read. The family gets into so many car crashes for people who don't have insurance! I had to resort to skimming several times because Westover does not sugarcoat the more grotesque aspects of what happened to her and her family. But the parts that I could read are very compelling. I'm close in age to the author which also made for an interesting reading experience (I think we were living in England at the same time...). 

Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy is a book I always knew about and never read. For no reason in particular that I can remember (other than perhaps no one recommended it or gave it to me). This make me sad now because I missed out on many years of enjoying Harriet and her story. It definitely holds up to the test of time. Great coming-of-age book. 

A Tale Dark and Grimm

A Tale Dark & Grimm - Adam Gidwitz

My coworker (again, the one with the best taste) recommended this book to me. 

 

Let me take this moment to say that I didn't really enjoy a Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. He was always going on about how their lives were so terrible, but I just thought they're not dead, they're still together, much worse things could be happening to them... It just never felt like he really delivered on the promise that the Baudelaires' lives were so horrible. 

 

I had no such problems with A Tale Dark and Grimm. It does exactly what it says on the tin. One of the best fractured fairy tales I've read. 

The Thing about Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish - Ali Benjamin

My coworker (who has the best taste) recommended this book to me telling me it would make me cry (I appreciated the warning so I didn't end up reading it on desk). It absolutely made me cry. It also gave me that feeling that the best children's books do, that twelve-year-old feeling that's both joyful and painful. After reading it I immediately wanted to reread all of Sharon Creech's best stuff (but didn't have time because of school and stuff). 

The Little book of Hygge

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well - Meik Wiking

I don't remember much about this book other than liking the illustrations and wishing (just the tiniest bit) that I still lived somewhere where it snows in the winter. My first introduction to hygge (other than an episode of QI possibly?), and I don't think it was a bad one. 

The Secret of the Old Clock

The Secret of the Old Clock - Carolyn Keene

I went through a girl detective phase this spring which included revisiting Nancy Drew. I read a bunch of these as a kid but got tired because it never seemed possible to solve the mystery yourself (I moved on to Encyclopedia Brown). I was planning on reading The Hidden Staircase as well but didn't get around to it. I don't feel any burning desire to read more, but it was fun to revisit Nancy Drew for one book. 

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me  - Rebecca Stead

After our disastrous book discussion on Lincoln Jones, we got to discuss When You Reach Me. Book discussion only went slightly better. There were about seven people, half of whom hadn't finished reading the book or were very confused about the plot. 

 

In preparation I reread the book three times (once per month leading up to the meeting). Normally I don't reread books I love that quickly because I'm afraid they'll lose their magic. It was great every time though. Rereading really let me see all the ways the story is working and pick up on all the clues. 

 

The Absent Author

The Absent Author - Ron Roy, John Steven Gurney

One of our children's librarians loves this series. She read all of them. Having read the first, I can see why. They're a good starter chapter book series with more substance than most. The 11-year-old liked these when she was younger. 

The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones

The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones - Wendelin Van Draanen

EW! 

 

We read this for book club back in March and the author came to our book discussion. About half the attendees were white. Lincoln Jones' race came up and Van Draanen said she purposely kept everything (location, everyone's race, etc) vague so the book could be read as people want. It's like she wanted brownie points for writing a black kid without the potential of backlash for doing it poorly. 

 

Of course, all the white people went on and on about how great that was and how they KNEW Lincoln was black (I didn't know until an old white character mistakes him for boys she met while a missionary in Africa... I can't remember if a specific country was named) and they also knew the character who work with Lincoln's mom (retirement home/care facility) were also not white because of course people who would have these jobs aren't white, but everyone who lives in the facility is white (basically it was a lot of racist nonsense about how non-white people should be servants to white people OBVIOUSLY). 

 

And then Van Draanen also talked about how she uses sensitivity readers and she works so hard to be authentic (also BS). She wrote a book with Native American characters (Paiute) with storytelling as a major element. A sensitivity reader told her Paiute don't tell stories at the time of year the book is set in. Instead of rewriting/reworking the story, Van Draanen ignored the sensitivity reader and published the book anyway. 

 

The entire discussion left a really sour taste in my mouth. So many super ignorant and racist remarks from these annoying white people (Oh, we don't see color, but we also know that every poor character in this book isn't white because authenticity, we're so progressive!!!). 

 

I enjoy Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes series, but have been very cautious with my reading and recommending of her books since March. 

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Baby Monkey, Private Eye - Brian Selznick, David Serlin, Brian Selznick

I had just Googled when Brian Selznick's next book was coming out when Baby Monkey, Private Eye came in our shipment at work. The title hadn't shown up in my Google search (possibly because the author is credited as David Serlin, Selznick's husband?). 

 

I checked it out immediately and was not disappointed. The story is very cute and the illustrations are full of visual allusions (which are explained at the back of the book). I don't know if there are plans for more Baby Monkey books, but if there are I'll definitely be checking those out too.  

Poe Dameron 001

Poe Dameron #1 - Charles Soule, Phil Noto

I don't really remember reading this. It might have been because I was feeling really dissatisfied with Poe's character after TLJ, and I thought this might make me feel better? It clearly wasn't enough to interest me in the series though. I think Rey and Finn show up in some later issues. Maybe I'll just try and track those down (but probably not...).

Lyra's Oxford

Lyra's Oxford - Philip Pullman, John Lawrence

When I'm not reading HDM, sometimes I'll wonder if these little companion books are necessary. And then I reread HDM, find myself desperate for more of Lyra and her world and decide, yes, they absolutely are. Now give us the green book already, Philip Pullman.

Bomb

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon - Steve Sheinkin

Wow wow wow this is not what I'm here for.

 

"Another [danger] is that an actual government--like the secretive rulers of North Korea--might just be crazy enough to lash out with atomic bombs." ... you mean like the US did at the end of WWII because Japan wouldn't surrender? 

 

The book wants to be a spy thriller but misses largely on the thriller aspect. I know the scientists succeed, and I have no attachment to any of the players in the story so the stakes are very low while reading. It's also difficult to get caught up in espionage antics when you know the end result is two atomic bombs dropped on civilians.

 

It's not worth the time. I skimmed most of the end and a lot of the middle. Wouldn't have kept reading if it weren't on NPR's Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf list.

Catching Up

I'm super behind on my book reviews. I'm going to try and catch up soon. In the meantime I'm adding dates for the books I've read that don't need reviews. Sorry if this floods your timeline. I've been using this site for four(?) years, and I still don't understand it.