Hopefully most of my month will be spent slaving over this book, but that doesn't mean I'm abandoning my blog. Each Tuesday, I'm going to feature a woman I admire as a continuation of my Inspiration series! I have some great ladies lined up, and I'm super excited to "introduce" you to them.
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. I love Love LOVE this book. Everyone should read it. I literally just closed the cover and already want to read it again. (Thankfully, there's a sequel.) It's 1935, and Moose's family moves to Alcatraz when his father gets a job as a prison guard. Moose has to make new friends at his new school, but the warden's daughter keeps tripping him up. On the home front, Moose's older sister Natalie would be diagnosed as autistic, if the term existed back then. No one really understands her, and since Moose has to take care of her, she makes it that much harder for him to adjust. Moose's family struggles with Natalie's development and getting her into a special school by lying about her age, but when even that doesn't work, Moose takes matters into his own hands.
This book is really clever, and so honest that it tugs at your heart and will more than likely make you tear up. I love that there is so much history in it - I never knew that families actually lived on Alcatraz! The author includes a section at the end citing her sources and inspiration, with an extensive bibliography that I'm eager to follow up with.
Smithereens by Susan Taylor Chehak. Frankie Crane takes a small town by storm when she travels from Kentucky to Iowa to visit her "foster" family. Mrs. Caldwell sent donations to Frankie for seventeen years, so to who else would Frankie turn when she had nowhere to go? May Caldwell's life is forever changed when her "foster" sister shows up to stay for a summer. Drama ensues, and the premise was interesting and had potential, but was very slow to develop. Then, in half a breath, things escalated and the book was over. This was an instance of too much foreshadowing, hinting at the drama and darkness that had happened before the story started, and then when it was time for the big reveal, things fell flat. The writing style seemed to change at the end of the book as well, and it was a little difficult to follow the idea from the start of a sentence to the end. Kind of confusing, overall. I'm still not completely sure about what happened in the book, and in what order.
The Cartoonist by Betsy Byars. I loved Byars' style as a younger reader because her books aren't all happiness and sunshine, and I still appreciate that now. Alfie loves drawing cartoons, but no one seems to understand why he does it. His friend makes fun of him for it, his teacher gets angry that he draws in class, and his mother never gets the jokes. He spends all his spare time drawing in his house's attic, with all his comic strips hanging from the rafters. When Alfie's older, trouble-making brother is going to move back home with his pregnant wife, the only place for them to live is the attic. But the attic is all Alfie has, and he knows he has to take a stand to keep what means the most to him.
The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline W. Smith, William Drever, and Robert M. Chase. Reviewed (with pictures!) here.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. Reviewed here.
Not Taco Bell Material by Adam Carolla. A funny book about Adam Carolla's life, structured (no pun intended) according to the houses he lived in as he grew up. I thought this was a really unique way to frame the story - take your memories from each dwelling and put them into chapters that way. The transitions were natural and, as he grew more successful, it was interesting to see how his homes changed, yet he still stayed the same guy, working with his hands, working hard, period! The book might chronicle his rise from a poor boy to a famous comedian, but he's not telling you to dream for fame and it will come. The last paragraph sums up the entire book: "That's what my book is about - not getting better houses in the physical sense, but in the symbolic sense. Working hard and using your talents, whatever they may be, to pursue your dreams, whatever they may be, and to get a better life for yourself, in whatever form that takes for you."
He does reference his first book, In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks, a lot. He leaves out some stories relevant to this book because they were already in the other one. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that book has been on my shelf a couple years and I haven't read past the first chapter (whoops!) so I have some catching up to do.
Irrelevant to the book review, but funny regardless: I told a friend I was reading this book, and she said "I saw that book and immediately thought of you!" I said I was flattered, and she clarified "I was thinking about you because of your car, not because I think you're not Taco Bell material." Haha! (For those who live under a rock, my car is a 9-year-old Toyota Corolla named Adam.)
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. While waiting for the "original" The Happiness Project to become available at my library, I decided to go ahead and start with Happier at Home. The book stands alone, and is an enjoyable read. Rubin decides to tackle her home life in nine months, focusing on a certain area each month. Chapter topics include Possessions, Marriage, Parenthood, Time, Body, and more. Though some topics didn't directly concern me, having no husband or children, the chapters on Marriage and Parenthood still had relevant lessons on being kind to all people, and how to react when your first instinct might be, say, annoyance at being interrupted. There are many little lessons that I took away with me and eagerly employed in my own life; I can't wait to read The Happiness Project, which I assume will have similar lessons exploring more aspects of life beyond the home.
2013 Writer's Market edited by Robert Lee Brewer (Chapter 2: Managing Work). The idea of making writing a business is a daunting one, but this chapter in Writer's Market makes it a little less so. It still made me nervous just to read about all these things I'd need to do as a "real" writer, but it helps to have something to reference. There are charts in this chapter to function as a Submissions Manager (which I started back in 2009) as well as help with filing quarterly self-employed taxes (which I've been doing this year as a freelance designer). There is also a great chart that lists different tasks writers do, such as research, articles, conferences, speaking engagements, etc, and how much to charge for these: there is a high price, a low price, and the average. I haven't yet negotiated payments or contracts, but it makes me feel more confident knowing there's something like this at my fingertips to reference when that time comes.
Bloom by Kelle Hampton. After reading a review of this book on Jessica's blog, I started reading Kelle's blog from the beginning. I loved her happy attitude, how she put a positive spin on everything, making magic out of everyday life, and how completely she loved her firstborn daughter. The book helped fill in a lot of gaps that the blog didn't cover - like Kelle's childhood, her experiences as a teacher, and how she met her husband. After awhile, though, her optimistic demeanor started to wear on me. I appreciate her honesty in saying she didn't want her second daughter to have Down syndrome, didn't think she would love her, wanted to run away, etc. I'm sure those are common reactions, and it takes a lot to 'fess up to them, especially knowing they'll be in print (and on the Internet) forever. At the same time, from my limited experience of volunteering with mentally handicapped adults, I thought "How can you feel this is the end of the world?" Nella was healthy and beautiful, what more could you want? I know I wasn't in Kelle's place, and I know she has since grown to love her life, but it was hard to get past that initial feeling, especially with how quickly she bounced back into her perkiness. I appreciate that life is beautiful and should be treated as such, but it's ok to have bad days and 'fess up to those, too.
I still found the book interesting, and am glad I started reading Kelle's blog. The book itself is gorgeous - slightly larger than standard hardcovers, with glossy pages and photographs Kelle herself took scattered throughout. It feels more like looking through a family album than reading a memoir.