Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review: Lu by Jason Reynolds (2018)

Lu, the co-captain of the Defenders track team and runner of the 400 meter dash, has a lot of talent as an athlete and a lot of attitude to back it up. Often seen wearing gold chains and diamond earrings, Lu, whose parents got him into sports to help him feel confident in his albino skin, seems to have a surplus of self esteem. It's about to be a lot harder for Lu to maintain this "swagger," however, both because of family issues (his mom's expecting a new baby, and his dad is trying to make amends for the bad decisions of his own youth) and because Coach has challenged him to take on hurdles, which secretly scare him. 

After Ghost, which is the first and most memorable title in this series, Lu is the second best installment. Whereas Patina's voice took a while to establish itself, and Sunny's strange speech patterns kept him at a distance, Lu comes completely to life in the first few paragraphs of this book and remains so for the duration. The exchanges of dialogue with his parents and teammates, his ruminations about what it will be like to finally have a sibling, and his concerns over interactions with a former friend all give a well-rounded sense of Lu's personality, and the reader becomes completely invested in his well-being and success. The fact that Lu's father and Coach have a connected past also makes Lu the ideal narrator to conclude the series.

And speaking of ending the series, this book really brings everything full circle in a satisfying way. Though the story belongs to Lu from beginning to end, there are some moments with the entire team near the end of the book that bring the four-book arc to a very fitting resolution that shows not just how Lu has changed, but how the whole team has grown together as a unit over the course of the series. I'll miss reading new installments,  but the story of these characters absolutely feels complete, and I think Reynolds nailed the ending. (Thanks to Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster for the digital ARC!) 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs (1973)

Lewis Barnavelt is an orphan, chubby and unpopular, who has come to live with his uncle Jonathan in a strange house in which the ticking noise of a mysterious hidden clock is ever-present. Lewis quickly learns that both Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman, who lives next door, practice witchcraft, and when he wants to impress his new friend Tarby he decides to perform a little magic himself. Unfortunately, Lewis's attempt to be cool for Tarby also results in the raising of a woman from the dead, a resurrection that creates many problems and dangers for Lewis, his uncle, and Mrs. Zimmerman.

I did a buddy-read of this book with three Instagram friends who were reading it in anticipation of the movie. Though I typically avoid books that might be scary in any way, I've been curious about Bellairs for a long time and this seemed like a good opportunity to get acquainted with his work. As it turned out, I was able to handle the scary content just fine, and I really liked and felt for Lewis as he struggled to fit into his new home and community. I think the fact that Lewis literally raised the dead for Tarby and Tarby still didn't really want to hang out with him is a great hyperbolic commentary on the ways kids sometimes feel compelled to impress the people who just don't want to be their friends, and it also validates the feelings of kids who feel like they just can't do anything right among their peers.

I had some reservations at first about the role of the occult in the story. As I mentioned when I reviewed The Amulet of Samarkand, I generally don't think it's a good idea to encourage kids, however subtly, to play at things like raising the dead. And thankfully, I think the point of view of this book is similar to mine. It is clearly dangerous for Lewis to have raised someone from the dead, and the results are nearly disastrous. Unlike The Amulet of Samarkand, this book does not glorify the occult; if anything, it warns away from meddling in the natural courses of life and death. There are also a few very brief Catholic references early in the book, including some Latin, that I enjoyed.

I mainly connect with books through their characters, and I found the characterizations in this book to be surprisingly believable and well done. I also enjoyed the writing style, even when the author was clearly trying to build up suspense to scare me. Even the ending, which felt a bit random and disorganized, worked for me, because Bellairs sold me on it. I hope to read books two and three in the series before the end of this year.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/15/18

What I Finished Reading

  • If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell (ARC) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    Another solid entry in this cozy mystery series set at a funeral home.
  • Ivy and Bean One Big Happy Family by Annie Barrows ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I'm glad Ivy and Bean are back! This was a nice twist on the usual baby sibling storyline.
  • Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount ⭐⭐⭐
    This didn't translate all that well to the ebook format, but it would be a nice coffee table book. 
  • The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee, audiobook read by Marguerite Gavin ⭐⭐⭐
    This is a cozy story without the mystery. Sometimes it dragged, but I still enjoyed it. 
  • Thomas Alva Edison, Miracle Maker by Mervyn D. Kaufman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    I read this aloud with my oldest daughter via OpenLibrary. It was just right for a young reader who is just getting into biographies.
  • The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis ⭐⭐⭐
    This was a fun Halloween-themed read with young teen supporting characters. I skipped books 2, 3, and 4 of the series to read this during the correct season, and it didn't feel like I had missed much.
  • Casilda of the Rising Moon by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    This historical fiction novel based on the few facts known about the life of St. Casilda of Toledo was really enjoyable. (I would recommend it to Catholic families as an alternative to The Inquisitor's Tale.)

Did Not Finish

  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass
    It's not this book's fault that I decided not to finish. I just haven't been able to get in the mood for an academic text. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • X by Sue Grafton 17%
    I am alternating reading my hardcover and listening to the audiobook via Overdrive. I'm sad to be so close to the end of the series! 
  • The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs 14%
    This is the sequel to The House with a Clock in its Walls, and so far, it's good!
  • Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson 11%I like the voice in this YA mystery. It seems like it will be a quick read.
  • Deadly News by Jody Holford 3%I'm just starting this ARC, but I'm looking forward to a newspaper-related mystery. 

I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book Review: Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (2018)

Louisiana Elefante is perturbed, to say the least, when her granny wakes her up one morning and announces that the day of reckoning has arrived and they must leave their home in Florida at once. It's bad enough that Louisiana has to leave behind her friends, Raymie and Beverly, and not much better that Granny immediately has dental trouble and Louisiana has to drive her to a dentist. The worst, however, happens when Louisiana and Granny check into a hotel in a small Georgia town and everything Louisiana thought she knew about her life begins to unravel. All she wants to do is go home, but first Louisiana has to come to an understanding of where that really is.

I felt pretty lukewarm about Raymie Nightingale and two years later, I don't remember much about it. This companion novel, however, told in the strong first-person voice of Louisiana herself makes a much deeper impression. I was drawn into this story immediately, and I read the book eagerly from beginning to end in a single afternoon. The characters are believably endearing and flawed, and Granny's erratic behavior begs the reader to keep turning the pages. Though events of the story are sad, potential sorrow on the part of the reader is tempered by Louisiana's continually upbeat outlook and her willingness to rise to the occasion in even the most dismal of circumstances.

DiCamillo's writing - particularly the details she uses to demonstrate her characters' personalities and quirks - is at its best in this novel. Both of her last two novels, Flora & Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale, didn't really work for me, but to my surprise, this one is actually nearly on par with my favorite of her works, Because of Winn Dixie. (Thanks to Candlewick and NetGalley for the digital ARC!)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Review: (George) by E.L. Konigsburg (1970)

Ben, a highly intelligent middle school boy who excels at Chemistry, has always had a great relationship with George, his "concentric twin" who lives inside him and often helps him with his schoolwork. Lately, though, Ben and George have begun to disagree about Ben's actions, particularly when it comes to Ben's sudden interest in gaining the approval of his classmates. When George stops speaking to him, Ben becomes concerned that he has lost him forever, but the adults in his life become more concerned about his mental health.

Though E.L. Konigsburg has been a favorite author of mine for years, I kept putting off reading this book because of its strange premise. When I finally decided to dive in, however, I quickly became enamored of the writing style and fell happily into the world of the story. The best way I can describe this book is to say that it's like A Beautiful Mind for middle schoolers. Is George real? Is he a manifestation of some mental illness? Would it be better or worse for Ben to lose George's voice inside of him? These are the questions this book asks readers to contemplate, and though Ben resolves his conflicts for himself, the overarching questions of the story are left open to the reader's interpretation.

This is the kind of book that will probably never have mass appeal, but which might be just the right thing for a highly intelligent kid who is struggling to choose an engaging book to read. Kids who like Konigsburg's more mainstream books (i.e. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or The View from Saturday) might be surprised by the strangeness of (George), but boys, especially, who are struggling socially in early adolescence will relate to Ben and his desire to obscure the truth hidden deep inside of him in order to fit in. Konigsburg had one of the most unique writing styles of any children's author, and this unusual book just proves that she can make a compelling story out of even the most unlikely of premises.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The RAHM Report for 10/8/18

As I suspected, as soon as I reduced my Goodreads goal, my desire to read came back with a vengeance. I had a very satisfying reading week!

What I Finished Reading

  • Watching the Detectives by Julie Mulhern 
    This was another quick and fun installment of this series. Ellison, the main character, makes me laugh.
  • Lu by Jason Reynolds (ARC) 
    This conclusion to the Track series is my favorite after the first book, Ghost. Review coming soon. 
  • The Babysitter's Club: Kristy's Big Day (graphic novel) by Gale Galligan 
    I haven't read all of the BSC graphic novels, but Kristy's Big Day was my favorite book as a kid, so I needed to read this one. I was annoyed that Mallory was around because she isn't in the club yet in the original book, but otherwise this was a really good adaptation that would have made nine-year-old me very happy. 
  • Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (ARC) 
    I felt sort of lukewarm about Raymie Nightingale, but this companion book was really excellent. Review to come. 
  • My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok 
    A couple of my friends and I are reading and discussing the Well Read Mom books this year. We missed September, so we're starting with this book, which is the pick for October. I absolutely loved it and cannot wait to discuss in a couple of weeks.  
  • The Autumn People by Ruth Arthur 
    This was a good creepy tale for this time of year. It was like a cross between The Haunting by Margaret Mahy and The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope. 
  • Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace 
    This was on my September TBR, so I'm a week late getting it done. I really liked the story and I know it would have really resonated with me as a teen. 

Did Not Finish

  • Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick (ARC)
    I liked the first book, but I got bogged down in the first chapter of this one by all the issues it seems to want to take on. I just wasn't in the mood for the book decided to pass. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell (ARC) 38%
    I'm trying to read mysteries this month because I'm participating in Seasons of Reading's Frightfall read-a-thon, and mysteries are about as scary as I get. It's taken me a while to get around to this ARC, but I'm enjoying it.
  • Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass 29%
    I didn't spend much time on this one this week, but I'm not giving up on it quite yet. 
  • The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee, audiobook read by Marguerite Gavin 25%
    This is my current audiobook. It's like a cozy mystery, except the plot is not a mystery, but instead focuses on saving a small-town library. 
  • Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount 17%
    I saw this on Instagram and found out the ebook was on Hoopla and checked it out. I just clicked through a few pages, but it will be quick to get through once I focus on it for a bit. 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (not pictured)
    I'm re-reading this for a read-along at Castle Macabre. I may just skip around and not actually read straight through depending on how much time I have, so it doesn't really count as a current read.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read by Diane W. Frankenstein (2009)

This handbook for reading with children provides everything parents and other caregivers need to know about reading aloud and discussing books with kids. In a brief front section, Frankenstein lays out her advice for selecting, owning, and reading aloud children's books. The next section, the longest of the book, presents profiles of 101 different titles. Each of these includes the book cover, a brief synopsis, a related quotation, an observation the author made, a "souvenir" concept or lesson to be taken from the book, a list of themes explored by the book, possible discussion questions, and a list of read-alikes. The final portion of the book provides more general questions across a variety of themes that can be used with any book that involves the given topics and a series of additional themed booklists across a variety of subjects.

Over the past few months, I have read several books about books: The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie, The Intentional Bookshelf by Samantha Munoz, Our Library by Phyllis Fenner, and The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. Unequivocally, Reading Together is the best of the bunch. Frankenstein has obvious experience suggesting books to a variety of families (not just her own), and she wastes no words in concisely and clearly explaining how best to evaluate books and share them with kids of all ages. The books for which she provides profiles are a varied collection, covering different topics, comprehension levels, developmental phases, cultures, and interests. She gives just the right amount of information about each book to inform parents about content, and to entice potential readers to select that book. The list is also curated. It's not simply a list of every book she has read; instead, it represents the books she truly recommends and which she has seen families enjoy. 

This book inspired me not just to ask my kids more questions about the books we read, but also to consider making profiles like the author's for books we love that she didn't include. It's just an all-around excellent, practical, well-informed manual with something to offer every adult who reads with kids.