Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Slacker


Slacker 
by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Press, 2016. Intermediate Fiction, 320 p
Cameron Boxer is not only a slacker, he is the Michelangelo, the Mozart, the Einstein of slackers. He has absolutely no interests except playing computer games. He gets so engrossed playing online one day that he almost allows his home to burn down.  In response, his parents challenge him to join some kind of extracurricular group unrelated to gaming.  Cameron and his friends decide to create a fake service club at their school with themselves as its only members.  Their plan backfires when other people in the school, including the school counselor, get involved.

Here is another funny school story by the guy that brought us Ungifted and Restart.  As always, Korman is right on target with his depiction of junior high interactions and social quirks. The obsessed crusaders, the hopeful administrator, the brainy side kick, the skeptical sister, they are all here, but Korman lifts them above stereotypes.  Instead they are funny, likable people feel like you have known all your life.  This is the great choice for Korman fans, or for anyone who likes a light, funny, fast, read with a little heart.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

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Pay Attention, Carter Jones
by Gary Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2019. I FIC. 217 p.
Carter's father is serving in Afghanistan, and his mother is struggling to make ends meet.  Carter helps out with his little sisters when he can but he can tell life is hard for his mom. Then one day, Mr. Bowls-Fitzpatrick, a butler from England who drives a eggplant colored Bentley, shows up on the doorstep. The butler quickly takes the family in hand and with courtesy, decorum, and a bit of self importance, starts to sort things out.  He is determined to make Carter into a gentleman, and one way to do that, in his opinion, is to teach Carter and his friends to play cricket.  Carter resists at first, but little does he know that the game, and the butler, is just what he needs to get through the challenges headed for his life. 

I love Gary Schmidt (Wednesday Wars, and Okay for Now) and, as bizarre as the premise for this book is, I loved it, too. When it comes to tender adult/child relationships, Schmidt just has the velvet touch.  It is all about good people helping other good people get through tough times.  I also liked Schmidt's emphasis on what is means to be a gentleman, and how dignity and decorum can make life run more smoothly. It is a lesson any of us would do well to remember.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Crawdads Sing
By Delia Owens
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2018, 370 pg., Fiction

Kya remembers the day her mother left. After that, one by one, so did her siblings and finally her father. Alone in the marsh she learns how to survive on her own. The marsh is her home. It is her family, her world. No one knows the marsh like her. Kya only ventures into town when she has to and people there call her "the marsh girl." Very few ever reach out and even less care about her - until Chase Andrews shows up dead. Suddenly the whole town focuses on Kya, Chase's murder, and the brutal quest for justice.

There is a reason this book has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for 50 weeks.  First let's talk about the setting. This book is set on the marshes of the North Carolina Coast in the 1960's and 70's. It is a time of racial and social prejudice. It is also a remote landscape - human wise, but the animal and plant life abound and the marsh is a character in itself. Now let's talk about the language. Owens is practically poetic in her descriptions of the marsh. Sentences echo their subject - from lush march grasses, the flapping seagulls, to rhythm of ocean tides. Owens has captured the what the human senses would describe were the reader to actually visit a marsh - and she has put it on paper. Next let's discuss her characters. Kya is of course the main character and much of the book focuses on Kya's character development, but she also builds each and every other character alongside Kya, piece by piece. While it may seem to be aggravatingly slow each character emerges so complete that they are all but tangible. Owens tops this off with a rich and captivating story line. Chapters move back and forth between the present - Chase Andrews murder - and the Kya's past in order to tell the story. Both story lines move side by side until they intersect; the overarching question being "who killed Chase Andrew's?" I was positively captivated by this book. There is no other way to describe it. It is a must reader. Readers who enjoy historical fiction/drama, mystery,  or coming of age stories.
Reader's should know that this book does contain mature romance, abuse, and strong language.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up


The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up 
by Marie Kondo
Ten Speed Press, 2014, nonfiction, 213 p.
Kondo is a de-cluttering and organizing consultant from Japan.  In this book she shares her attitudes and secrets for bringing your life in to beautiful order.  Her main suggestion is to keep only the things that give you joy and that by eliminating a large proportion of your possessions you will have a more orderly life.  Kondo is what someone might call an animist, or someone that believes all things have a spirit and feelings. She advocates greeting your home with a cheery hello when you get back from work, and thanking  your possessions and clothes for all their hard work during the day etc.  It was a bit weird, but I did feel like I got a lot of good ideas from the book.  Since reading the book I have already thrown out some clothes that I didn't like and reorganized my underwear drawer, following her folding technique. I remember when this book first swept through the US as a New York Times Best Seller.  Several of my friends starting giving away stuff on Facebook trying to de-clutter.  Although its initial popularity has died down, this is still a good choice for those looking for motivation to put their house, or life, in order.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington

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by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch
Flatiron Books, 2019. Nonfiction, 413 p.
George Washington was waiting tensely in New York City for the British troops to arrive in June 1776 when John Jay and others of his intelligence officers uncovered a plot to overthrow the army and betray Washington to the British. In a forward Meltzer states that he saw the plot mentioned in a footnote of a history he was reading. He was intrigued and went to talk with a Washington historian about it.  The historian said that it was an interesting side note, but that, because of its clandestine nature, there were probably not enough original sources about it to put together a clear picture of what really happened.  Meltzer and Mensch were determined to prove him wrong.

The result is a fast paced story that feels like one of Meltzer's action adventure novels but is based on historical evidence.  As the authors tell the story of the one specific plot, they also recount how Washington, a new commander of the Continental Army, learns the importance of military intelligence and counter-intelligence and develops the framework of operatives that are the forerunners of the modern CIA.  Meltzer and Mensch don't hesitate to add a little extra drama here and there, but are careful to explain which of there assertions are based on primary sources, and which are his own educated suppositions. This is a great choice for both history buffs and those who like Meltzer's fiction but want to take a bite out of a more meaty, nonfiction topic.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sold on a Monday

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Sold on a Monday
by Kristina McMorris
Sourcebook Landmark, 2018, Fiction. 352 p
Ellis is a want-a-be reporter in Chicago during the depression.  He is stuck writing for the society page, but dreams of getting his big break.  He is also a budding photographer, and when he snaps a picture of two boys with a sign that says, "2 Children for Sale" he has no idea where the picture will take him. Lily works as a secretary at the same paper, but she, too, has hopes of a more illustrious writing career.  She also has a secret and when she starts working with Ellis to find out what happened to the kids in his picture, her own life threatens to unravel.

I picked up this one because it was a New York Times Best Seller when it came out last year.  It started out feeling like a straight forward historical fiction, but turned into a mystery with a little romance at the end. The author has a great way of throwing in historical details that put the reader right into the depression era.  The main characters are interesting and appealing.  There are a lot of complicated and sympathetic relationships.  If you are a historical fiction lover, this may be your next favorite read. (2018, 352 p.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Some Writer: The Story of E. B. White


Some Writer: The Story of E. B. White
by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, Youth Biography, 161 p.
I have read a bunch of biographies of authors before, and after you have read a few you start to feel that someone has to have a tortured life to be a good writer.  E.B. White proves that hypothesis  wrong.  He grew up in a loving home.  He started writing early, winning his first writing competition at nine, and then regularly submitted poems to magazines until he went to college.  After college he took a road trip with a friend and ended up as a reporter in San Francisco.  Later he returned east and wrote for Harper's Magazine and the New Yorker.  He eventually moved with his wife and family to a farm in Maine where he wrote Stewart Little, Charlotte's Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan, all of which, to my knowledge, have never been out of print.

This is a great choice for a child who is interested in becoming a writer, or for anyone who ever loved one of E.B. White's books.  It is also a good choice for a child who is a reluctant reader but who needs to read a biography more than 100 pages long.  That is because it is really well written and is illustrated with beautiful color collages that make it both appealing and a very fast read.