Friday, October 31, 2014

Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko | Audiobook Review

(Love the covers to these books!  True to the plot, with period-invoking font.)

In Al Capone Does My Shirts, Moose writes a letter to Al Capone asking for assistance.  Even though he's never met Al Capone, Moose believes he can use his influence to get his sister Natalie into a special boarding school in San Francisco.  Shortly after, Moose's family receives word that Natalie has been accepted to the Esther P. Marinoff school.  And then at the beginning of Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Moose receives a note in his laundry, unsigned, that simply says "Done."  What does it mean?  And what favor will Al Capone want in return from Moose?

While Al Capone Shines My Shoes definitely still had some laugh-out-loud moments, I felt that it had a bit more weight and depth to the plot and character development than in Al Capone Does My Shirts.  Moose and his family are still living on Alcatraz, of course, but where there was a separation between Moose and the cons in the first book, they brush paths more often in this book.  And this is just as dangerous as you would imagine.  There is a scene (don't worry, it's not a spoiler) where Moose and his father are talking about the cons, and how to interact with them.  Moose's dad does such an excellent job of explaining how they are still human beings, and should be greeted in a respectful way, but that Moose needs to understand to never, ever trust them.  They are still prisoners.  And that's not the only grounding conversation between the adults and kids in this book.  The author does an absolutely fantastic job of having the adults in the books impart advice to the kids, and the kids having growing-up "aha" moments without ever sounding stilted or forced.

There's also a lot more intense action in Al Capone Shines My Shoes vs. the first book.  There were two scenes in the book where I really didn't want to stop the narration without finding out the outcome!  I love that the setting of the books (1930s) allows the kids a little more freedom and a lot more responsibility than if there was a more contemporary setting.  The kids all hang out together, just making sure they're home in time for dinner.  At one point a group of them even take the ferry over to San Francisco unsupervised, which is necessary to the plot.  All of the kids handle the extra responsibilities well, too.  Moose is often asked to watch his autistic older sister, and he always takes this seriously, never leaving her unattended or in danger, and often sacrificing his own entertainment to spend hours counting with her.

Another bonus to this book that I much appreciated was the often-complicated friendship growth between different characters.  The reader sees a very real jealousy develop between Moose's on-island best friend and his San Francisco best friend.  The author writes these scenes so well; your heart will go out to the boys as they figure out where they all belong in each other's lives.  It's not a perfect journey, but they get there, and I love that.  Moose is also growing up and is nearly thirteen.  He is definitely "noticing" Annie and Piper, and they're "noticing" him.  The books remain very PG, but it's so sweet to see those relationships working themselves out.

I listened to Al Capone Shines My Shoes on CD.  The narrator remains the same, Kirby Heyborne, and he continues to do a great job bringing Moose and the other residents of Alcatraz to life.

*I checked out my copy of Al Capone Shines My Shoes from my local library.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko | Audiobook Review

(The covers to this series are awesome, artfully incorporating the setting (Alcatraz Island) with period font (1930s).)

Throwback Thursday Review!

I originally read Al Capone Does My Shirts in March 2013 and I just finished Al Capone Shines My Shoes, so look for that review soon.  It'll be more detailed than this one.  When I finished Al Capone Does My Shirts last year, I gave it 5 stars and didn't write a review on Goodreads.  But ya'll, this book really stuck with me!  I loved it so much.  I'm constantly recommending it to young teens.  This trilogy makes a great cross-over for kids transitioning from Juv to YA, as it is still rather light, has a 12-yr-old protagonist, and yet touches on some deeper family and friends relationships than your typical Juv series.  The best part?  These books literally make me laugh out loud.  I'm doing the trilogy on CD, and I sit in traffic laughing to myself making the drivers around me worried.  :P

Goodreads has a pretty great teaser/summary for Al Capone Does My Shirts:  "Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.  I'm not the only kid who lives here.  There's my sister, Natalie, except she doesn't count.  And there are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cooks or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does.  Plus, there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it.  The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don't want.  I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can.  You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst.  Unless you're me.  I came here because my mother said I had to."

This book is Alcatraz in the 1930s through the eyes of Moose, a twelve-year-old boy with a fifteen-year-old autistic sister.  His dad work in the prison as an electrician.  It's the 1930s, so there's no TV or iPads; the kids on the island all play baseball together all the time.  On a lucky day, they might catch a "con ball;" a baseball that a convict has accidentally hit over the fence during a pickup game of ball in their yard.  On an unlucky day, Moose has to stay home with his sister, who only enjoys counting.  She reads books' indexes for fun.  Moose is twelve, and he is so sweetly caring of his sister and his parents and his friends... but he's twelve.  So while his intentions are always good, sometimes the results are disastrous.  Take the plot of this book, for example:  sure, it's easy money to take school friends' shirts to run through his laundry (the convicts do the laundry of the residents of the island), but will he get caught?  As you read this book, you'll root for Moose and your heart will go out to him and his family.  You'll also laugh out loud at some of the situations he gets himself into.

A bonus!  Gennifer Choldenko has included a section at the end of the book separating fact from fiction and giving the reader a little more information on Alcatraz.

And finally, I listened to this book on CD.  I loved the narration!  Kirby Heyborne does a fantastic job bringing Moose to life.  He also does distinct voices for each of the characters, which I love.

*I checked out my copy of Al Capone Does My Shirts from my public library.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails by Eric Prum with Josh Williams | Cookbook Review

(This book has a matte cover!  I love the feel of matte covers!)

Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails is co-written by Eric Prum and Josh Williams, the co-creators of the mason jar cocktail shaker.  They emphasize high-quality ingredients over quantity of ingredients, and none of the cocktails had more than 5 steps to follow.  

So many positives to this cocktail recipe book!  First, before you even open the book, you feel the lovely matte cover.  I love matte covers.  I love the minimalist layout of the pages, too.  Just look at that beautiful cover!

Shake opens with a few pages talking about bar basics.  There are 12 "standard" spirits the guys recommend (that's totally doable) and then they also recommend a few styles of stemware/glassware to have on hand.  I ended up trying four different cocktails from the book, and only had to buy one ingredient: rosemary sprigs.  That's awesome.  The book is subdivided by season, which is fun.  I don't want to be anything less than thorough in reviewing my books, so over the course of three weeks I tried one cocktail from each season.  ;)

For Fall, I tried the Rosemary Maple Bourbon Sour.  I think this was my favorite.  It was warm and slightly sweet and very sour and very me.  I think it's safe to say that bourbon is our fave liquor.  And this was my first time making a sour without sour mix.  I liked knowing where the sour came from (lemons) versus the probably chemical-filled sour mix.  I think this is the cocktail pictured on the front of the book.

For Winter, I tried the Mid-Winter Marg.  It's a grapefruit margarita but here's the twist: the glass is rimmed with a mixture of dried crushed chili peppers and salt!  Zing!  I thought it was delicious, and definitely warming.

(My Mid-Winter Marg, happily consumed in mid-autumn.)

For Spring, I tried the Blackberry Fence Hopper.  Isn't that a fun name?  It was a great drink.  This one will join my repertoire of faves, but with a slight modification.  According to Shake, you combine liquor, lemon juice, honey, and muddled berries in a shaker and pour over ice, then top off with seltzer water.  I'm not usually a fan of layered drinks.  It feels like you're drinking pure seltzer for a bit then-wham-hit the hard/good stuff.  So I think in the future I'd give the drink a good stir at the end.

(My Blackberry Fence Hopper.  Fun to say, and pretty to look at!)

To round out the "year," I tried the Summer Frenchie.  This cocktail has rose wine as it's base, plus fruit.  Light and refreshing.  

As I mentioned, I liked the short and reasonable ingredients lists.  I had fun experimenting and learning new cocktails.  And I enjoyed the short vignettes in each chapter where the guys talked about favorite activities.  For example, in Spring they talk about attending the horse races and in Winter they share a glance inside their workshop.  Beyond practical, this cocktail recipe book is also full of beautiful photographs and interesting info.

*I received my copy of Shake from the publisher.  Thank you!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a neat weekly feature over at a blog I really enjoy, The Broke and the Bookish.  They read books similar to some that I've been reviewing, and they're fun and they write well.  Totally worth checking out!

Top Ten Books to Read to Get in the Halloween Spirit

1. The Shining and Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.  SO SPOOKY.  And of course Stephen King's got to be on nearly all the TTT lists today!

2. The Madman's DaughterHer Dark Curiosity, and A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd.  The first one is a retelling of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells; the second is based on the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but with a twist; the third I haven't read yet, but it's going to be based on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Monsters!

3. Sanctum by Sarah Fine.  Lela travels literally to HELL to try to rescue her bestie.  HELL.

4. The Name of the StarThe Madness Underneath, and The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson.  Ghosts!  And especially the ghost (? maybe?) of Jack the Ripper!

5. Mort by Terry Pratchett.  This one is funny, I promise!  Mort is a teen who's not much good at anything.  Then Death himself comes along and takes him in as an apprentice.  (The hubby introduced me to Terry Pratchett's Discworld, so he gets credit... in a way... for this one!)

6. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal.  A dark, dark fairy tale where almost all the major players have syphilis.

7. Confessions of a Murder Suspect and Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson with Maxine Paetro.  Thriller mystery!  The main character is potentially a target in both of these books, making them even more tense.

8. Hysteria by Megan Miranda. Mallory killed her boyfriend.  She's having trouble remembering that night, but everyone says it was self-defense.  Now she's at a new school--a boarding school--and being stalked.

9. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.  A darker retelling of Beauty and the Beast with magic and shadows that can possess you and drive you mad!

10. Teen Spirit by Francesca Lia Block.  Julie and Clark try to contact Julie's recently deceased grandmother with an old ouija board and things DO NOT go well.

What about you?  What would you read to get in the Halloween mood?  Please leave your link; I love seeing others' lists!