Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Choldenko's Al Capone Series--the last two installments of the trilogy! Not just for kids!!

I was lucky enough to purchase all three of the books in Choldenko's Al Capone series at the library book sale! I have read and reviewed the first book, Al Capone Does My Shirts: A Novel, and loved it so much, I want to share my thoughts about and reactions to the other two installments in this trilogy as well. Besides, my grandson, to whom I will gift these books, is preparing to move with his family over 1,700 miles away soon and I want him to leave with these in hand!
Yep! Mine looks
just like this! 
Ms. Choldenko replied to my email message containing the link to my blog post, asking me if I would care to read and review an advance copy of her newest book, Chasing Secrets, due to be released August 4, 2015! And...offered to send me a copy! Now, let's consider: (1) I am an "avid" reader (Some might say 'obsessive,' but they would be wrong!), (2) I love to share my impressions to what I've read via blog posts, and (3) I value nothing as highly as getting to know the authors whose work I truly admire. Of course my immediate response was--I would be more than happy to read and review this book prior to its release!! And thank you!! :) (Happy dance time for sure!) This is one of the things I miss most about working at Borders, after all: free books and many of them ARCs received prior to release! But I promised myself that I would not begin reading that book until I had completed a blog post about these two... :) (I bargain with myself in this way quite often!)

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
The second book in this series finds Moose with more worries than before, wondering exactly what Mr. Capone might require as payment for making Natalie's admission to the Esther P. Marinoff School happen...for the second time! On the morning of the big occasion of Natalie's return to school, 
Nat's mouth puckers to one side. "Moose school. Natalie home," she says. 
  "Not today," my mother says brightly. "Today is your big day. Today you're going to school." 
  "Not today," Nat tells her. "Not today. Not today."
  I can't help smiling at this. Natalie likes to repeat what you say and here she's repeating my mom's exact words with a change of inflection that makes them say what Natalie wants them to say and not at all what my mother meant. I love when Natalie outsmarts Mom this way. Sometimes Nat is smarter than we are. Other times she doesn't understand the first thing about anything. That's the trouble with Natalie--you never know which way she'll go. (5)
Remember, Moose's older sister, Natalie, exhibits behaviors and symptoms of what would have probably been diagnosed as autism decades later. Daily life for Moose is quite different with Nat at school:
  I can't remember the last time my mom made me breakfast.
  I hate to admit it but it's nice having my mother to myself this way. We've been three people and an octopus all my life, and now the octopus is gone. It's not Natalie that's missing so much as the hubbub around her. The wild-goose chase of what to do and how to help her--one heartbreak chasing another. 
  What's left now is just my mother and me. How strange this is. How quiet. (55)
I do believe life can be just as different for "normal"/healthy siblings as for those displaying symptoms of autism, Asperger's, and the like. 

  At the table, she sits with me while I eat, as if she has nothing better to do. "You're a good son, Moose," she says as I help myself to another pancake. "A good brother too. Don't think I haven't noticed." 
  ...This is not how my mother usually behaves. She doesn't notice me except in relation to Natalie. 
  "I wonder if you'll forgive me," she says in a voice barely audible. 
  "For what?" I manage to say. 
  Again her eyes search my face. "For being so wrapped up with Natalie," she whispers.
  I stuff my mouth full of more pancake to push the unexpected feelings down. (56)
Awwww...having a 'special' child puts added strain and tension on the family members, though I believe that overall, the siblings benefit from learning hands-on about respect and willingness to accept and help others.

There is more interplay among the Alcatraz kids and Scout, especially with regard to adolescent hormones and who likes who. :) And the way Moose delivers roses is hysterical! As they say, whatever could go wrong, did! Although we gain additional insight into Trixle's personal life, it only solidifies our feeling that he is mean, with no compassion toward others. :(

Annie and Moose are 'having it out' regarding Capone's expectation of payback when Moose finally whispers,
"So are we going to play ball."
  Annie rolls her eyes. "Jeepers, Moose. Something like this happens and all you can think about is baseball?"
  "Yeah,...It is." 
This passage rang so true of an adolescent male! I had to laugh!

Call it paranoia, but Moose wonders if the scratchy shirt that gave him hives, the constant plumbing problems in his apartment, and some of the comments made to him directly by Buddy Boy and Willy One Arm (who keeps Molly in his shirt pocket except when she's balanced on top of his head), aren't all part of a master plan... And then the kids all work together, each contributing to prevent a disaster... 
  Life is complicated. You'd think on a prison island--what with the bars and rules and everything--it would all be so clear...but it's not. (256) 
Have you ever done something wrong for the right reason? 

     Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko
It's tougher than you might think... 
  No one believes I live on Alcatraz. Even my eighth-grade history teacher made me write on the chalkboard I do not live on Alcatraz two hundred times. 
  My mother couldn't buy stockings... They wouldn't take her check, on account of it said: Helen Flanagan, Alcatraz Island, California. My father had trouble getting his driver's license. They thought he was an escaped prisoner too stupid to fake his address, instead of an officer at the most notorious prison in North America. (1)

This is the first day that Moose's father assumes his new job as Associate Warden at the famous Alcatraz prison. Moose is worried, believing his "dad is too nice to be a warden." Especially once he learns about the 'points system' maintained by the cons...killing a warden earns the most points possible, even just injuring one is worth a lot! 

Fire breaks out in the apartment where Moose and his family live and the Trixle's are determined to blame it all on Natalie, to get her and her family off the island. Moose muses,
  Out the window, a sailboat rips across the bay with a big tan guy holding the tiller. The lives of people like that seem so easy. My life is never like that. (40)
Isn't it the truth? Don't we all feel like that on occasion? As if others live such an idyllic life...while ours is anything but?!? Though if we knew that person well enough, we would be aware of the challenges he must surmount in his own life...no one has a 'perfect' life though it may appear to be so from a distance. 

It is after the fire, Moose is back in his family's apartment looking for items that can be salvaged, when he discovers the blue homework notebook that he thought was lost. With relief, he realizes he won't have to rewrite his school essay after all.
  That's strange. How could I have missed it before?...I won't have to do the paper again! Doing your homework twice is like puking, the having to eat your own vomit. (83)
Ugh! Now that's a vision I didn't want to have! :) Though it does sound like a young male teenager's thought! Upon inspection, Moose discovers notes left on his essay: 
  On the top of the first page of my thesis about Roosevelt and his polio, it says State problem in handwriting that is hauntingly familiar. 
  Al Capone has sent me notes before. I know his handwriting really well. 
  But how did he get his hands on my homework? It must have been the cons working on our place. Somebody took my homework and gave it to him. 
  Except why'd he write that? He doesn't like my thesis? He's my English teacher now? 
  And then on the bottom of the last page he wrote: 
  Roosevelt is a good fella, but Capone is the guy you should be writing about. Okay, Roosevelt had that polio problem, but he was born rich. Capone started with nothing. He earned every penny himself. 
  Capone messed up my homework. How strange is that? A gangster did my homework. Not just any gangster either--public enemy number one.
  Luckily, he wrote in pencil. (83-84)
Ah, Moose later learns Capone had given him a huge clue, though in a way so subtle that none of the other cons would suspect, and unfortunately, Moose doesn't pick it up as quickly as he wishes he had...though he manages to intervene at the last minute. 

There is more than one mystery contained within this third installment, and Piper must finally confess and suffer the consequences of her actions. This is the most complex of the three books. It is heartening to see how all the kids work together. All in all, another well-written story by Choldenko. I don't know if she has plans to write any more books in this series, but I hope so... Even if you don't feel compelled to read these yourself, they would, in my opinion, make an excellent gift for a young reader! 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Gone With the Wind Read-Along Check-In #1

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Chapters 1-10
And now for one of my favorite books of all time...Gone With the Wind!! 
After 45 years it still is one of my absolute favorites. 
It's been a long time since I last reread it and I believe I appreciate it more, the older I get! 

  These people, drawn from many different places and with many different backgrounds, gave the whole life of the County an informality that was new to Ellen, an informality to which she never quite accustomed herself. She instinctively knew how Coast people would act in any circumstance. There was never any telling what north Georgians would do. 
  And, quickening all of the affairs of the section, was the high tide of prosperity then rolling over the South. All of the world was crying out for cotton, and the new land of the County, unworn and fertile, produced it abundantly. Cotton was the heartbeat of the section, the planting and the picking were the diastole and systole of the red earth. Wealth came out of the curving furrows, and arrogance came too--arrogance built on green bushes and the acres of fleecy white. If cotton could make them rich in one generation, how much richer they would be in the next! (39)
I believe this to be one of the most succinct descriptions of the southern US and its rise due to agriculture at the time. And just listen to the language...heartbeart...red earth...diastole...systole... Perhaps because I am a displaced farm girl, I can just see those fields...and feel nature's rhythms. Scarlett's father, Gerald, got quite a catch with her mother, Ellen, who was from a rather genteel southern family. 
Ah, Gerald and his horse riding! As Scarlett watches him approach on horseback:
...jumping fences and keeping it a secret from his wife gave him a boyish pride and guilty glee that matched her own pleasure in outwitting Mammy. (19)
Perhaps Scarlett just inherited her scheming little mind, and her insistence to do just as she pleases, no matter what Mammy or her mother says! 

I had rather forgotten just how much Scarlett and Mammy tried to manipulate each other! So funny! And all the customs of dress and manners in those days and times! They seem so ridiculous to me now in so many ways! Men were rude and outspoken, women were always kind, gracious and forgiving. (41) (Yep! I would have never made it as a Southern Belle!) I so enjoy Mitchell's writing--it really is superb. I was shocked at just how fast the story moves, yet I feel the characterization and detailed settings are so thorough and well defined! I feel as if I'm right there beside Scarlett...and Mammy...and Melanie...down in the Deep South! Oh, and especially Rhett!! I love me some Rhett!! ;)
I had the best time discovering pictures to post! Oh, my, the way Scarlett and Mammy do fuss at each other! And Scarlett is surely no angel, to say the least!
     But for all the modesty of her spreading skirts, the demureness of hair netted smoothly into a chignon and the quietness of small white hands folded in her lap, her true self was poorly concealed. The green eyes in the carefully sweet face were turbulent, willful, lusty with life, distinctly at variance with her decorous demeanor. Her manner had been imposed upon her by her mother's gentle admonitions and the sterner discipline of her mammy; her eyes were her own. (1)
I chuckled and giggled at Scarlett and Mammy negotiating over the breakfast food before the Wilkes' barbeque! That whole thing about a lady not eating much! So funny to me...now! Back then, such silliness was taken so very seriously! 

And the Tarleton family, especially those twins! (So glad they were not my sons!) In the usual "manly" feats the twins excelled, 
  And they were equally outstanding in their notorious inability to learn anything contained 
between the covers of books. Their family had more money, more horses, more slaves 
  than any one else in the County, but the boys had less grammar than most of their poor 
  Cracker neighbors. (2)
Observing Scarlett and the twins:
  The faces of the three on the porch were neither slack nor soft. They had the vigor and 
  alertness of country people who have spent all their lives in the open and troubled their 
  heads very little with dull things in books. (2)
Mitchell states it succinctly and leaves no room for doubt as to the lack of academic achievement or motivation to do so among these spoiled southern children. (Makes a shiver go up and down my spine!) For instance, when describing the local soon-to-be Confederate Troop, 
     Drills always ended in the saloons of 
  Jonesboro, and by nightfall so many 
  fights had broken out that the officers 
  were hard put to ward off casualties 
  until the Yankees could inflict them. (12)
That had me laughing out loud--literally! :)

And of course, Scarlett has all the young men waiting on her hand and foot. And she is such a conniving little wench! She's constantly monitoring Ashley and Melanie since their engagement is to be announced--certain that if only she can get Ashley alone and confess her unbridled love for him, he will forsake Melanie and run off with her that very night! Good grief! What conceit! That extends way beyond self-confident

  "...Ashley was born of a line of men who used their leisure for thinking, not doing, for spinning brightly colored dreams that had in them no touch of reality. He moved in an inner world that was more beautiful than Georgia and came back to reality with reluctance. He looked on people, and he neither liked nor disliked them. He looked on life and was neither heartened nor saddened. He accepted the universe and his place in it for what they were, and, shrugging, turned to his music and books and his better world. 
  Why he should have captivated Scarlett when his mind was a stranger to hers she did not know. (18)
And that, my friends, pretty much says it all as to how differently these two approach and live life. Although the phrase "opposites attract" is often used, I wonder just how often that really works?
Scarlett finally manages to speak with Ashley "alone"...or so she thinks... Enter Rhett! That handsome devil! He hears every word of Scarlett's profession of adoration and love to Ashley and then rises up from the sofa where he was lying down to let her know he knows... I secretly always loved Rhett for doing that...putting Scarlett in her place, more or less, and guaranteeing a hold over her, which she took very seriously! Even her usual "I won't think of that now...If I think of it now, it will upset me." (51) can't quite dispel her disappointment, anger, and embarrassment to realize Rhett, alone, knows her true feelings. 

And then poor Charles Hamilton, Melanie's brother. That poor soul! He never even saw it coming or knew what had hit him, did he? ;) As Scarlett admitted to herself within a day of her marriage, 
...she regretted it all. She had often heard of people cutting off their noses to spit their faces but heretofore it had been only a figure of speech. Now she knew just what it meant. (92)
As soon as the men started leaving the Wilkes' plantation to plan for going to war, the cold calculating Scarlett re-emerged long enough to figure she could do worse than marry Charles. 
  "He has a lot of money,"..."And he hasn't any parents to bother me and he lives in Atlanta. And if I married him right away it would show Ashley that I didn't care a rap--that I was only flirting with him. And it would just kill Honey." (89)
Within two weeks Scarlett became Mrs. Charles Hamilton (The day before Ashley and Melanie's wedding!) and within two months she was a widow, pregnant with her dead husband's child. And poor Charles? As did many thousands of other "volunteers," he died of disease as a result of unsanitary crowded living conditions with insufficient shelter. He never even got close to war. Scarlett arrives in Atlanta to stay with Melanie and Aunt Pittypat and
The difference between the two girls lay in the fact that Melanie spoke kind and flattering words from a desire to make people happy, if only temporarily, and Scarlett never did it except to further her own aims. (109)

In the process of helping to nurse soldiers and work to raise funds for the various hospitals, Rhett re-enters Scarlett's life and scandalously bids the highest amount to dance with her (A newly widowed mother of an infant, for goodness sakes!) at the major fundraiser. Needless to say, this thrilled 17-year-old Scarlett and prompted her father, Gerald, to come for her. Do you think Scarlett returned to Tara with him? Let's just say it is rather uncanny how seamlessly Scarlett and Rhett work together and scheme their way to getting what they want... They seem to have forged an unspoken unconscious formidable partnership! 

I realize I am more than a month behind with this initial posting, but I love love love this book, and I will catch up!! Promise! Are you joining in the Read-Along? It is interesting that the URL for the pursuit of happiness now leads to a message that the authors have deleted the site...hmmm... Well, I guess that means we're on our own! But so be it! I will still catch up and bravely continue onward! I have found at least one other blogger participating and posting: Bryn at GleaningfulWho knows? Perhaps there are more out there! :)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Literary Wives #15

My Father's Wives 
Admittedly, I know nothing about this author. We never watch TV--purposefully! And if I did, I would never watch sports! So I have no preconceived notions or expectations going into this book. Though the premise does sound interesting and I feel it could go anywhere.

I enjoyed this book! Granted, I could personally relate to several aspects of this story, and that always seems to increase my enjoyment! There was much humor, subtle and otherwise! One of the opening scenes was amazingly similar to Jonathan Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You, though in its own way, it was unique to Jonathan's story. I was left with much to ponder since the ending was not all nicely and neatly wrapped up, leaving some room for interpretation and speculation! The initial opening scene was quite humorous, John listing the three times he had been "struck by lightning" by various females, and the one time he was not... 
     Her face was so close to mine our noses touched, and I could smell the 
  apples and cinnamon on her lips, feel the warmth of her breath. It was the 
  closest I have ever been to anyone, in every way. It didn't feel like lightning 
  at all--just the opposite. Lightning is loud and scary; Claire made me feel 
  quiet and safe. (26)
Awwww...how sweet! I have read of male characters depicted as just knowing they will marry someone after their initial meeting, as Jonathan does.  This seems a bit too impetuous to me. I certainly never felt that way upon meeting someone. Girls, could you weigh in on this? Any of you felt that way? 

I can definitely relate to discovery of your spouse's infidelity and the emptiness, bewilderment, and abandonment you may feel as you try to incorporate this new reality into your most intimate of relationships, particularly if you have children. Yeah, I remember...and I applaud Jon for proceeding with his daily life, though he was naturally a bit distracted--I was totally unnerved--it took quite a while for me to fully incorporate this knowledge and get back to my routine. I could understand how the mind might latch onto some seemingly nonsensical thought about the fancy Frette sheets in the wake of what he saw through the keyhole. I believe that is a defense mechanism of the mind, incorporating such shattering knowledge a bit at a time...

I loved the way Jonathan actually missed his children so much! I cannot imagine missing out on time spent with them when they're young. He seemed to be a very kind, caring, hands-on father to both Andrew (age 6) and Phoebe (age 9) even though he was obviously a successful Wall Street executive. That made me like him even more. Speaking with them on the phone actually made him miss them more than not, so he would simply speak to their photographs in his office! Awwww... 

I loved how Claire used the fact that she was married to finally assert herself with her parents and decline their skiing invitation, 
     "I hate skiing!" Claire said...
     "You're kidding," I said. "I hate it too! I thought you loved it!"
     "Never! My parents have been making me ski since I was six; I've hated 
  every day of it. It's freezing cold, the lift lines are endless, and the food in the 
  lodge is disgusting, even the hot chocolate. I just never had the heart to tell 
  my parents because it makes them so happy. But come on, I'm a married 
  woman now." (37)
As Jonathan realizes in remembering this scene, Claire lied to her parents rather skillfully... Though he continues,
     I think every couple has that perfect moment, when both people realize   
  they really are right for each other and all the assumptions they had to make 
  along the way have been verified. Little doubts melt away, and for the first 
  time they both know for sure they really are going to be all right after the 
  euphoria of the engagement and the buzz of the parties and the whirlwind of 
  the wedding an the sporadic arrival of fancy dishes; when life becomes just 
  life again, they really are going to love each other after all. (37)
Although I never had a formal wedding or any of the other hoopla--just threw a party for the families the first time, and quietly signed papers at the courthouse the second time--I could relate to this feeling of solidarity with your partner, kinda you and him/her against the world. :)

Another aspect of this book to which I could closely relate was not really knowing your own father. I have never met my biological father and it is too late since he died almost 20 years ago, so I could easily relate to wanting to know more about this person, but especially given the fact that his father was so famous and powerful, and obviously NOT someone for whom a relationship would necessarily last a lifetime! I thought the perspectives of Jonathan's stepmothers were quite interesting, to learn that basically this man went from one partner to another based upon what he thought he needed at that time in his life, with evidently no thought of their feelings, only his own...though that could fit with the stereotypical politician's reputation? 

It was remarkable to note Percival's real feelings of inadequacy and fears...of dying...of being alone, etc. Perhaps that is one of the biggest differences between these two men, the father had a blustery public persona which hid deep personal "problems"/issues while Jonathan was very confident and driven but was a much more settled and psychologically balanced person in his relationships. 

Now for the wifely questions:

1) What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
Being a wife to Jonathan's father, Percival the third (How pretentious is that name?), was obviously to be swept off your feet by someone with so much charisma and charm as to make you believe he really did care about you, though as several (perhaps all?) of his ex-wives noted, he truly did not care about anyone but himself in the end. And, perhaps it was to hopefully fulfill Percival's perceived need at that particular time. However, he did profess to each of them his love for Alice, Jon's mother, so perhaps somewhere down deep he did have a sense of loyalty, but he certainly didn't show it... As for Claire, I truly believe she was innocent and that it wasn't her Jon spied through the keyhole after all, and I believe he was quite secure in this interpretation of the events of the recent past. It all seemed to fit. Claire ran everything for her family, she was the glue that held it all together, but she was also very kind, caring, loving, and seemingly sincere. I believe each of Percival's wives had to be their own independent person so they could not just survive, but thrive, in the wake of his abandonment. Whereas, Jon and Claire seem to work at staying together and making a successful long-term relationship. So this book appeared to be more about how a man selects a wife than about how a woman carries out her role as wife, though we meet many women who discuss their role as wife...

2) In what way does this woman define "wife"--or in what way is she defined 
    by wife? 

I think all of Percival's wives were sincere in their role as his wife, though perhaps overly-impressed by his power and status, but they were mostly independent self-sufficient females who also made lives for themselves after their marriage to him. (Of course, the money helped make them financially secure if they weren't already...) Each of them seemed to be very unique from the others, definitely not a matter of him having always selected the same type of person to marry. It seems that wives of more successful men (at least in a financial sense) are perhaps more defined by their role as "the wife of..." whomever, than those whose husbands have less financial resources, unless the wives are successful in their own right. To me, Claire fit the stereotype of being "the wife of..." Jon, and it seemed to work for both of them, and their children. 

Have you read this one yet? What did you think? I have a copy of his other book, All You Could Ask For, and I hope to read it sometime soon...

Please check out the reviews of the other co-hosting bloggers:

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J
Naomi of Consumed by Ink
Kay of whatmeread

Join us for our next Literary Wives review of 
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel 
on Monday, August 3rd. 

I am really looking forward to reading this one. 

And...we will have an interview with the author posted along with the reviews! (I'm double-excited now!) :)