I didn’t intend to somehow take a monthlong break from my Monday reading posts, but that’s what happened. A month of reading should be around 10-15 books for me, but instead I have a sad six titles to share–four of which I read to my son!–plus a handful of picture books.
The Gordon Korman extravaganza continues. Jackpot is the penultimate book in the Swindle series and shares the same tediously repetitive plot structure as Hideout. A thirty million dollar lottery ticket is unclaimed, and The Man with the Plan sets out to find it before it expires. Which means dozens of visits to people’s homes to ask if they have the missing ticket. Basically it’s the same scene repeated for 200 pages. Korman tries to inject an extra bit of interest by having Griffin’s friends shun him in favor of the new kid, Victor, who develops quite the aversion to Griffin. The whole misunderstanding could have been cleared up in a two-second conversation, but then we wouldn’t have a 200-page book.
Unleashed is (for now) the last in the Swindle series, and while the plot is utterly absurd, at least there is one. Griffin and his arch-nemesis Darren Vader enter an invention contest at school, and each is determined to win, since the loser has agreed to give a speech before the entire school praising the wisdom and wonders of the winner. Griffin is once again at odds with his best friends, as an unfortunate boys vs girls split happens over a misunderstanding. (Again, two-second conversation=everything cleared up. Communication is key, people!) The sweetie (that would be vicious guard dog Luthor) has developed an obsession with the exterminator’s truck. There is a crazy new neighbor who is obsessed with anti-government conspiracy theories. Somehow all the plot threads come together in a break-in at a top secret government facility.
We had to wait on Unleashed at the library, so in between the last two Swindle novels, my son grabbed The Fourteenth Goldfish off the shelf and we read that. I am sure all of you can appreciate what absolute bliss it was to read this book aloud. I keep thinking my son is going to tire of middle-grade and demand we move to YA lit, but he was enthralled by this book. Turns out he loves novels featuring kooky old folks, so now I need to find some more middle-grade with memorable elderly people. The only one I can think of is Missing May, but I think that might be a bit heavy for him. Any suggestions?
And now we are into Gordon Korman’s most recent series, Masterminds. It suffers from the same lack of character development and overreliance on absurd plot developments as the Swindle series, but it’s quite page-turney and engaging. I do wish characters would stop “rasping,” however. It is perfectly fine to “say” their words. No need to “rasp” all the time.
Someone in an online parenting group I belong to suggested I read Amir Levine and Rachel Heller’s Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find–and Keep–Love. I haven’t read many self-help books, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found this unexpectedly enthralling. All of the anecdotes about people’s lives, the translation of neuroscience into easily digested soundbytes, and the many bulleted lists of suggestions for becoming more secure and sane in your relationship made this a very quick and surprisingly insightful read. I did end up feeling quite bad for my husband, who has a superevolved secure attachment style, for being stuck with me, since I veer between anxious and avoidant–an attachment mess, in other words.
It was quite the achievement to finally finish Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock: A Diary. I’ve been reading it since May, 2015, a few pages a week. The book is partly about time, so it’s fitting that my own experience of the book was strongly influenced by the time in which I took to read it. It’s partly about the nature of keeping a diary, of trying to capture and narrate a life, especially an artistic life. It’s partly about being a mother and wife who is a writer. It’s mostly about taking boring, weird little moments that happen each day–things observed, snippets of conversation–and filtering them through Julavits’s very particular sensibility. She is what I call a hamster wheeler–frequently getting stuck in the hamster wheel of her thoughts–and she’s especially good at capturing the spinning cycle of anxious, obsessive thinking that is so familiar to her fellow hamster wheelers.
K.G. Campbell’s Dylan the Villain is clever and entertaining and features some dazzling illustrations. It’s a bit like The Incredibles meets The Despicables and written in that exaggeratedly elevated style that always appeals to me in a picture book and that I find so funny to share with small children with limited vocabularies. The pacing felt a little off to me and the ending too open and rushed, but I think it has the potential to be a crowd pleaser.
Rabbit is a bit of a carrot hoarder, and he’s run into a problem: he no longer has the room to store his carrot collection in his small burrow. So he decides to impose on his friends and squeeze his carrot horde into their homes. Disaster after disaster ensues as he destroys the homes of his long-suffering friends. Not an especially memorable book for me, but charming illustrations and the moral, though stronger than I like in a picture book, does leave a bit of room for conversation and independent thought.
The White Cat and the Monk is an unlikely picture book, and I’m still trying to figure out why it works so well. The text is based on a poem by a ninth-century Irish monk. Not much happens: the monk sits over his manuscript trying to figure out the answer he’s looking for, and the white cat goes out hunting. Each is fully engaged in a meaningful task, and each is made happy by the companionship of the other. Sydney Smith’s illustrations could not be more perfect.
Henry Cole’s new book, Spot, the Cat, engaged me and my son for quite some time. He’s “off” picture books right now (SIGH), but he couldn’t resist searching each of Cole’s detailed pencil drawings for Spot, who wanders out of an upstairs window and disappears into the city for adventures. Once Spot’s boy realizes the cat is missing, he is off to search and becomes increasingly distraught as the cat can’t be found. In the end, both are reunited. My hope is that the boy has learned a lesson about leaving the windows open! (Spot, the Cat is also the recipient of an Amazon review that would be perfect for Travis Jonker’s One-Star Review series, though it’s actually a two-star review, and I quote in full: “I did not know it had no words. It was TOO hard to find the cat, at least on first pages.”)
I am now off to try to spot the cat myself. A black and white mama cat and her white and black kitten have taken up residence in the overgrown shrubs behind our garage. She left the kitten to go hunting yesterday, and although the kitten dutifully stayed exactly where she must have told it to stay, it cried so loudly I could hear it inside the house with the windows closed. I spent hours trying to lure them both to me for kisses and cuddles, but they are having none of it. They did, however, polish off a plate of food and hopefully drink some water. I have named them Barbara and Bruce, and my poor husband can’t decide which to protest more–the names or my desire to become a house of eight (six is his arbitrary limit, but I say when you already have six, what’s two more?).
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