A lucky 13 books read this month, due mostly to Mock-Printz reading. Though the Ashbury/Brookfield novels (Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie & The Ghosts of Ashbury Hall) also took up a good bit of my time. Once I got going with that series, I just couldn’t stop. Overall, it was a very good month for reading.
The Year of Secret Assignments
Delightful! The pen pal exercise continues another year with a trio of best friends from Ashbury. They happen to end up with boy pen pals from Brookfield and the games begin. This book had me blurting out a chuckle now and then and nicely captures young love.
The main characters also casually drink without consequence. I’ve not really encountered that before in YA books. I grew up in the “drink and drive once and lose an arm” and “have sex once and get pregnant” era of YA storytelling. I think their drinking, which is supported by their parents, is very true-to-life, but it was still odd for me to encounter.
The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
I may be over identifying a tad, but I think Bindy Mackenzie is perhaps the most lively character in a book I’ve read this year and I fell completely in love with her. She is smart as a whip and entirely clueless as to why her actions anger and annoy people. The teacher in me kept thinking, “Oh Bindy! How could you?” while the straight-laced high school me hearkened back to my own slightly alienating teenage choices. She wants to help, but her helping comes from the wrong place, like when she first sends notes to some of her classmates telling them they are certain poison animals. Her intent is to be mean to them and show them what they really are. I’m sure her meanness went right over their head. Later, to make amends, she writes notes recasting those same classmates as more noble animals, which also went right over their heads.
Through her diaries, transcriptions and various reports we see what shaped Bindy and the various forces acting around her for this difficult year. There is a mystery, but it isn’t the best part. The best part is watching Bindy navigate through her year. Characters from the previous two books appear, which is quite fun.
As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth
Lynne Rae Perkins
Read for Mock Printz.
This author, so the book cover tells me, is also an illustrator, and her prose is very painterly in its descriptions like this one about a car windshield: “The sediment of dirt deposited evenly across the windshield, punctuated by the dried fluff of unfortunate insects, glowed incandescent in the sunlight. It was like trying to see through dandelion fluff.”
I found that I spent a lot of time suspending disbelief during the story which was quite distracting. I was on board (hah!) with him getting left behind by the train and walking to town, but after that it all seemed a bit convenient for the narrative. Still, the author introduces a lot of interesting people along the journey, sort of like meeting all those Texans in No Country for Old Men. So I didn’t love this book, but after I suspended disbelief, I enjoyed the journey.
Spies of Mississippi
Read for Mock Printz.
A very brief history of a dark time in US History. The book traces the creation and activities of a state-sponsored agency created to spy on and defeat any integration or Civil Rights efforts in the state of Mississippi. I was about halfway through when the facts of the book suddenly hit me. Wow! The state of Mississippi set up and recruited spies as well as investigated people who had not committed any crime. They then attempted to discredit these people in any way possible. Holy Crap! The fact that some of the people who worked for the commission are still living makes it even more remarkable.
The book is perfect for young adult readers, hitting on the horrors of the Jim Crow/Civil Rights era without being too graphic. For example, it describes in pretty clear detail the beating that a civil rights worker received, but when discussing the murders of the three civil rights workers it only mentions the burned out car and the fact their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam. It does not go into details of how they were killed.
The Ghosts of Ashbury Hall
Like the three before it, a funny and gripping account of a year at Ashbury. The narrative structure is stretched a little thin with this book, but it is still enjoyable. This time two new students arrive at Ashbury. They are quite mysterious. Also, there also might be a ghost haunting the school. Characters from previous books have returned and it is good to check in with them. I really love the Lydia character and I wouldn’t mind reading another book about her college experience.
Read for Mock Printz.
Set in a steampunk-inspired future London this follows the journey of Fever Crumb, an orphan found and raised by the order of Engineers. They have raised her in their rational ways, so she is not your ordinary fourteen year old.
The writing was great in that I could see future London quite clearly and follow along as Fever makes her way from the orderly world of the Engineers into the household of an “archeologist.” Her rational responses to the children in the household were amusing and I was quite delighted to see that in this future the word “blog” has emerged as a swear word.
Overall, a well done “finding ones identity” sort of novel with a lot of fun details thrown in.
Read for Mock-Printz
Solid tale set during gold rush times in the Arctic Circle. I didn’t love it, but would recommend it to an outdoorsy, possibly reluctant, fourteen year old reader.
Fabulous narration and dialogue that qualifies as “a hoot.” One of the better teenaged female characters I’ve read in ages.
Finnikin of the Rock
I really loved the journey these characters went on and got wrapped up in their world. Excellent strong female character.
100 Essential Modern Poems by Women
Parisi & Weston
I thought I wanted more information about the authors of the poems I read, but this book has a few pages of information and only two or three poems. It would be great to have a summary paragraph or two and then more poems, or even the current amount of biographical information and then many more poems. Overall, a nice list.
The Prince of Thieves
I prefer to read the book and then watch the movie, but sometimes when watching a movie my favorite title credit will flash onto the screen: Based on a the book ABC by 123. “There’s a book?” I always silently exclaim. If I like the movie–and sometimes if I don’t like the movie, (ahem Sideways)–I’ll seek out the book.
I expected to like the movie the Town in a “wow, this is a really bad movie but I like it” sort of way. However, it turned out to be quite gripping and I really did like it. The book was even better. As the main character in the movie, Ben Affleck seems to have it all together: robbing the banks, romancing the kidnapped teller, keeping his bank robber friends in line, attending the AA meetings. However, the book’s main character is much more doubtful and flawed. It’s much more of an examination of character flaws through the recovering alcoholic lens than I expected. There were also some great descriptive passages, one of which I meant to excerpt here but forgot and returned the book. Like the movie, my expectations for the book were low and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
They Called Themselves the KKK
Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Looking for a short, concise history of Reconstruction Era and the birth of the KKK? This is your book. It’s well written and chock full of great primary source material. If there could be a book like this on every historical subject I would read a lot more non-fiction history.
The Resilient Gardener
Clear instructions of how to grow and preserve staple crops such as beans, corn, squash, potatoes and eggs. Deppe spends almost as much time explaining how to keep and cook what is grown as she does explaining how to grow it. She lives in Corvallis, so Oregon readers have an advantage here. Overall, a great book which I will probably purchase.
Started but did not finish
I finished everything I started this month.