Alice Hyatt is a woman who is making her way in the world after her husband absconds with a huge fortune never to be seen again. This first mystery i Alice Hyatt is a woman who is making her way in the world after her husband absconds with a huge fortune never to be seen again. This first mystery is still unresolved when a second mystery occurs. A powerful wealthy man who has hired Alice to design his garden for him in his new mansion suddenly dies, perhaps the victim of foul play.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the plot unfold as Gyllenhaal placed several mousetraps and intriguing red herrings. The small town where Alice works is well drawn, and Alice's loyalty to family is convincing and touching. I especially loved the politics of the garden club ladies, who are realistically and humorously portrayed.
This novel is about women who struggle to make ends meet and somehow manage to wrest some power of their own in order to not only make their way in the world but to succeed in gaining self confidence. Men are sources of power, but eventually recede to the background. Compared to the deep friendship of Alice and Gwen, forged in childhood, and the blossoming relationship of Alice and Mara, her talented assistant, men are not very reliable. Women must depend on each other to get things done.
As a longtime fan of Gyllenhall's work, I think that this is one of her best. As a bonus, if you are interested in gardening, you are in for a treat. ...more
Since I last spent time with Joey Pigza, he was struggling to get through his school days with the help of a kindly nurse and some improved medicationSince I last spent time with Joey Pigza, he was struggling to get through his school days with the help of a kindly nurse and some improved medication to soothe his hyperactivity. In this installment, the fifth in a series by Jack Gantos, Joey is stranded by his mother who needs to be hospitalized for acute post parted depression, and his father is already off the scene. So it is up to Joey to take care of the new baby, a cute little bundle everyone adores. Gantos wraps me around his little finger with his descriptions and depictions of Joey's acute emotional distress as he attempts to do the right thing at all times.
But there is something unbelievable about the whole situation. Wouldn't the school have put him in foster care? Don't they have truancy officers who check on why the students aren't going to school? My worrying about how life really works interfered with my ability to follow the story of how Joey rises to the occasion and acts heroically to take care of not only his baby brother, but also his blind girlfriend who visits the household.
The father as usual is a monster -- this time literally, with scars that make him look like Frankenstein. I wish I could give this book five stars. I am glad that Gantos is going to retire his tireless hero, Joey Pigza, since he really needs a rest. Along the way, I have admired his development and Gantos' writing about boys growing up under the most harrowing circumstances....more
Jack Tenpenny' last words to his granddaughter Theodora are: "Under the egg." Jack and Theo and Theos addle-brained mother live in a dilapidated houseJack Tenpenny' last words to his granddaughter Theodora are: "Under the egg." Jack and Theo and Theos addle-brained mother live in a dilapidated house in Greenwich Village where they keep chickens and grow their own food in the back garden. Jack was a painter (employed as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum). whose work was kept in his studio where the egg of the title is kept on a mantle, harvested daily from one of the chickens in a ritual preceding their parsimonious meals.
Theo discovers a painting hidden under one of Jack's painting when she accidentally spills some alcohol on it. -- Who painted the old painting? Could it be Raphael? Why did Jack hide it? Was it stolen? What is it worth? Will its sale get Theo and her mother out of penury?
Reasons why middle school age children (and I) love this book:
1. the friendship that blossoms between Bodhi, a super-privileged girl used to having everything handed to her, and Theo who must eke out her living unaided. 2. Adventure and mystery surrounding the painting 3. secrets old people reveal 4. the suffering and redemption resulting from the war (World War II) 5. two thirteen year olds living independently in the big city 6. Learning about history and art.
There is a lot of humor interspersed in the dialogue, and a charming love story budding between the two professional researchers -- a librarian and a Holocaust Archivers professional-- who help the girls solve the mystery. Authentic New York locations and people made me happy too-- the Indian who sells nuts, the Greek diner owner (not that that person exists any more, but it is a remnant of how things used to be), etc.
As an adult, I found myself asking questions. Why must Lydon act like an archetypal villain? Jack How can Theo's mother subsist on tea and no food? Why doesn't Theo do something about her mother? Wouldn't there be other relatives to help Theo live like a normal kid? But these are quibbles in a very entertaining novel....more
When your mother asks, "Why don't you go play with that nice girl across the street?" it can cast a pall on any friendship meant to develop at its ownWhen your mother asks, "Why don't you go play with that nice girl across the street?" it can cast a pall on any friendship meant to develop at its own pace. So Ivy and Bean at first resist each other.
But in their hour of need, that is, when Bean gets into trouble for teasing her old sister Nancy, the two neighbors collaborate to create a more convincing witch costume, magic wand, and serpentine race to the back yard where worms are plentiful.
It is the worms that are needed to tease the sister, and even though there is something snarky and unappealing about all of this teasing, the friendship between Bean and Ivy is very convincing....more
An important civil rights case in the 1940s is rarely spoken of because it was couched in the language of the military. Court martials seem to have diAn important civil rights case in the 1940s is rarely spoken of because it was couched in the language of the military. Court martials seem to have different rules than courts of civil law so the results can be brushed under the carpet in the name of patriotism, or failure to perform duty.
But the 50 men who refused to load ammunition on ships in San Francisco harbor in 1944 were fearful after two large ships crammed with explosives blew up, killing everyone on board and rattling the timbers for several square miles. The men charged with loading ammunition just happened to be black. These were the days when the military was segregated, and black sailors were not allowed to go to sea. Their work was restricted to cooking and loading ammunition even if no training was provided.
Much of this story was reported in an earlier book published in the 1970s when the men were all alive, and provided first hand testimony of how they were treated as mutineers when in fact they were resisting dangerous work and hazardous conditions forced on them because of their race. AFter a court martial that resulted in a foregone conclusion, after protests from Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP, after World War II was over, the armed forces were desegregated, and the men went free. But what an ordeal the Port Chicago 50 endured, and how clearly Sheinkin lays out the course of events that laid important groundwork for further advances in civil rights. I hope that the court martial verdict, so obviously racist, will one day be eradicated, and the men who stood up for their rights will have an unblemished record as United States servicemen.
How cruel the Norwegian myths can be. Astri is sold as a slave to a hunchback goatherd and treated like an animal, not even allowed to bathe. She is dHow cruel the Norwegian myths can be. Astri is sold as a slave to a hunchback goatherd and treated like an animal, not even allowed to bathe. She is determined to escape, and with her sister who had been left behind with her aunt and uncle, emigrate to America where her father had gone. The novel is divided into three sections. The first part tells of Astri's work on the goatherd's farm, the second of her escape, and the third of her voyage to America on a boat named Columbus.
Throughout the novel, Preus has inserted the portions of the original fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Having reference to the lyrical story with its magical realm takes some of the edge off the harshness of what Astri endures. She is a strong stalwart girl whose cruelty to others is a direct result of how she has been neglected and abused. The conclusion of the novel leaves enough loose ends that I wonder if there will be a sequel....more
Sisters Raina and Amara fight over markers, stuffed animals, dolls, and snakes.
This is a very funny book, full of recognizable moments like sudden punSisters Raina and Amara fight over markers, stuffed animals, dolls, and snakes.
This is a very funny book, full of recognizable moments like sudden punches received in the car from younger sister.
Much of the action takes place in the car as mother drives the family across country to a family reunion; some of it is in flashbacks.
I got a little confused but the color overlays define what era we are in: present or past.
The reasons I would nominate this book for the Newbery Award:
1) Characters develop individually and in groups
2) Settings are masterfully drawn: the house is too small, there are layouts for changes, the car's interior contains all of the characters practically at all times-- claustrophobia rules
3) Dialogue is so funny and sad I laughed and I cried
4) Questions of who matters most? Why can't I love my sister? Where is my family going? Will we stay together? are well drawn, but not pointed.
5) Graphic novels need to be recognized for the brilliant way they tell stories with both words and pictures
6) The plot and questions raised: where did the snake go? Where is my father going to live? Why don't feel I belong anywhere? is really original but also really common and universal (except may be not everyone loses a king snake in the floor of their car)....more
Ellie lives with her single mom in San Francisco. Occasionally they visit her grandfather, a cranky scientist. One day Melvin, Ellie's grandfather, coEllie lives with her single mom in San Francisco. Occasionally they visit her grandfather, a cranky scientist. One day Melvin, Ellie's grandfather, comes to live with them because he has had a breakthrough on his experiment in reversing the aging process, and while trying it out on himself, become a thirteen year old boy. Imagine if your grandfather instead of getting older got younger -- by 60 years! What kind of clothes would he like to wear? How would he comb his hair? Would he be interested in girls?
All of these questions, plus deeper ones about the consequences of scientific breakthroughs, are dealt with in this funny, thought provoking book. My one quibble with it is that even though it is set in the 1980s, people use cell phones and the Internet, so it is not exactly historical fiction, or even science fiction.
In the back are suggestions for further reading if you want to learn more about the science of the discoveries mentioned in the book....more
Gene Luen Yang wrote the story for this prequel to the Green Turtle comic book series from the 1940s, and much as I miss his graphics to accompany it,Gene Luen Yang wrote the story for this prequel to the Green Turtle comic book series from the 1940s, and much as I miss his graphics to accompany it, Sonny Liew's drawings are the perfect partner to the plot. The drawings of the mother of the would be superhero are especially apt, providing humor that had me laughing out loud. What is a Chinese mother to do when her lackluster husband is a disappointment to her, and she meets a real live superhero during a carjacking, but imagine a better life for her son by becoming a superhero. Surely if you sew a costume for him, he will grow into the role, right? This logic belonging to striving mothers hits home. The Chinese history behind the rest of the story is well plotted and complicated, since it includes an immigrant's path to the United States, four talismanic spirits behind the dynasties to China, the Revolution of 1910, and how Chinatown gangs were formed.
The Godfather came to mind as I was learning about why the Chinese immigrants needed protection, and how an innately corrupt group of thugs would form to respond to that need. All of these threads are expertly tied together with Yang's dialogue, and a love story is thrown in to sweeten the hardness of the tale. I loved this book, and hope that there will be more to come since the story ends abruptly and leaves room for further developments. Who will inherit the mantle of the dead gang leader? Will the two lovers get married? Will the hero's mother marry the man who has pined for her all of these years? These and other questions beg to be answered in further books.
I have been a fan of Gene Luen Yang since reading American Born Chinese. He has created a body of work that speaks to his identity as a Chinese American, and he has confronted the overt prejudice his people face, all while maintaining his sense of humor. What is most interesting to him lately -- consider Boxers and Saints -- is Chinese history. Since I am not an expert in Chinese history, I cannot say how accurate he is, but it seems to me that both Boxers and Saints, and now The Shadow Hero are rooted in authentic historical events. ...more
Albie is ten years old, living in New York City with his parents who work long hours, which means he is in the constant care of Calista, his babysitteAlbie is ten years old, living in New York City with his parents who work long hours, which means he is in the constant care of Calista, his babysitter. Calista goes to Art School, and indulges Albie's preferences for donuts, TV, and Captain Underpants books. Calista is funny and likable.
Albie has two friends: Erlan who lives down the hall with his triplet brothers, and triplet sisters, and Betsy who goes to school with him. Betsy stutters; she and Albie have to face down the mean boy in school and develop a hilarious routine where they hiss like hissing cockroaches and imagine squashing him like a bug.
Johnny Tremain comes in for some rough treatment since Albie is given the book by his mother when she realizes that he is only reading Captain Underpants for his reading log which she considers too babyish. At one of the most tender moments in the book, Albie's mother gets the results of his Learning/Reading Skills Diagnostic-- and Albie really wishes that he had a learning disorder, because he feels that not having one is a great disappointment to his mother.
As Albie makes his way through the school year, he may not ace his spelling tests, or become a brilliant mathematician, but he learns about power, manipulation, betrayal, celebrity politics, and kindness.
The book is larded with humor and drawings. I could have done without the drawings of donuts that begin every chapter, and the mixed race piece of the story was undeveloped. Mostly though, the narrator -- Albie -- comes through as a believable, sympathetic character who survives his ordeals in the simple things he says and does....more
Lewis Michaux begins his career as a thief in Virginia and ends it as one of the most respected businessmen in Harlem. His bookstore, the National MemLewis Michaux begins his career as a thief in Virginia and ends it as one of the most respected businessmen in Harlem. His bookstore, the National Memorial African Bookstore, thrived during the fifties and sixties when the Black Nationalist movement was beginning to stir, fueled by Malcolm X and other blacks thirsty for justice against a tradition of racism. What makes this book worth reading are the direct quotes of Michaux, a self made, self educated man, an ex convict whose closest brother is a leader of a number of churches and preaches a different kind of righteousness, in service to the lord. Lewis has a way of speaking not unlike Muhammed Ali, full of wit and rhyme, pugnacious, wise. One of the most interesting historical incidents in the book is when Elijah Muhammed debates Lighthouse Michaux, Lewis' brother a debate of the Nation of Islam against traditional Christianity.
The structure of the book is sort of problematic in that it claims to be a documentary novel, which sent me to the sources, and then when I finished, and learned that some of the characters were made up, it felt like I had been cheated. Why couldn't the author, a relative of Michaux, have written a straight up biography? In any case, I was glad to have gotten to know the bookstore owner, and sorry to have learned that the state forced the closure of his illustrious store just when he was about to breathe his last.
This is an important history of a time in Harlem when black pride existed not just in the Schomburg Library but on street corners too. I am not sure if middle school students will understand all of the references, or have the patience to read through the source notes.
Vladimir moves to a country house the summer he turns sixteen. His parents frown on the neighbors who move next door, a down on their luck family of a Vladimir moves to a country house the summer he turns sixteen. His parents frown on the neighbors who move next door, a down on their luck family of aristocrats who begin the relationship by asking if they can borrow money, or prevail upon them to reverse some damaging charges at court.
Vladimir's father is cool, aloof, in a marriage of convenience with his older mother. V is supposed to be studying for university, but one look at the young woman next door, a certain Princess Zinaida, and he is smitten. He cannot take his eyes off her. She is beautiful, charming, flirtatious, surrounded by men in love with her who she toys with. There is a count, a doctor, a hussar, a poet, etc. The story moves forward as if it were an allegory. None of these men has a chance with her.
It is the boy's father she loves. He apparently loves her as well, risking his marriage to have his affair. In all likelihood by the end of the story, Vladimir has a brother borne of the young woman, but all of that takes place off stage.
The prose style is beautiful. The unfolding of the story is lovely. The boy is so young, innocent, even half aware of his foolishness and hopelessness of having the woman return his affections. But the depiction of sadism and masochism as part of love is disturbing, and in the end it turned me off. At one point, Vladimir witnesses his father whip Zinaida, and she licks the wound with pleasure.
Must love be perverse to be passionate? Or is it just one kind of love? It seems that all other kinds are weak, pale. However, both immoral characters soon die, so are not allowed to continue their perversity.
More of everyday life with Karl Ove, his long-suffering girlfriend, and their growing family, living in Stockholm, in the present day. Knausgaard writMore of everyday life with Karl Ove, his long-suffering girlfriend, and their growing family, living in Stockholm, in the present day. Knausgaard writes essays in the middle of his meandering recording of everything he does every day: making dinner for his family, doing the dishes, changing diapers, arguing with his wife, making love with his wife. The essays treat art and literature and philosophy.
The prose does not meander so much as doggedly and accurately recreate the dailiness of ordinary life as lived by him and his family in Scandinavia. Knausgaard made a pact with himself to write five pages every day and he has kept true to his word. Through his diligence, he includes the reader in his struggle to overcome his sense of shame about what it means to be a successful writer. He has very high standards, looks up to Holderlin and Thomas Mann, and baroque artists. Yet he can wax poetic about Emmy Lou Harris and Tom Waits. His essays that lead to epiphanies about life and philosophy and art are some of my favorite passages in the book.
There are questions about the ethics of writing a novel which is clearly based on his life, his family, his wives, his parents, his near and far relations, and everything that actually happens to him, considering some of his comments are less than flattering about the same. But it is compulsive reading him as we make the journey he makes, since his mind is sharp, and his struggle to be good is touching. ...more