Tag Archives: Gennifer Choldenko

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

I love Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone books so much that when she told me the latest one wasn’t being published in the UK, I bought my own copy of Al Capone Throws Me a Curve. It was worth it.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Moose Flanagan is now 13 [and a half] and tall and kind and capable, and everyone expects a lot from him. But he’s still only 13, and it’s late May 1936 on Alcatraz, and school is about to finish and Moose wants to spend the summer playing baseball, hoping to join the team, just like other boys.

His older sister Natalie is about to turn 17, and needs to be watched over by Moose, because being autistic and living side-by-side with convicts on a rock isn’t ideal. Moose also needs to keep an eye on the Warden’s daughter, Piper, which turns his summer more into ‘girl-sitting’ than baseball playing.

So far it’s been quite easy to overlook Moose’s mother, but she has to be taken into account as well, and there is more woman trouble from Mrs Trixle, meaning Moose really has his work cut out. There’s only so much one boy can do.

This is a very much a baseball story and I happily admit to understanding almost none of it, except that Moose is dead keen. How to convince the team to take him and his friend on is another matter, though.

The story will ring true to anyone with an autistic sibling; how everything turns into being about them, and how you have to be the good one, putting your own needs aside. But even Natalie has some surprises up her sleeve. And when all is said and done, Moose discovers that while baseball is important, the safety of his family comes first.

Playing baseball with Al Capone? I’m not sure I recommend it.

This book, on the other hand, I do. And if you’ve not read the others, get them all. This is US history and a story about a boy and an autism book, all rolled into one. A great period piece!

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Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

Al Capone Does My Homework

Gennifer Choldenko covers a lot in the third outing for Al Capone, in her trilogy set on Alcatraz in the 1930s. To begin with, there’s a terrific children’s novel. Then there’s the autism aspect, which she handles so well, fitting it neatly into the plot. Also some American history, as well as showing us the community spirit of people living close together in such an unusual place, with a bit of crime and lots of excitement added.

Not that Mr Capone enters centre stage, or anything. He just hovers in the background, somehow colouring much of what goes on at Alcatraz prison.

The lovely Moose is 13 now, and his Dad has been made Assistant Warden. This causes lots of trouble, with jealousies among other prison guards, and difficulties with the cons. Then there is Moose’s sister Natalie, who is 16 and is autistic. Her family are trying to teach her to make eye contact with people.

Attacks on people, arson, gambling and counter-feiting fill this book on childhood in times gone by, and exciting though this is, what matters is the friendships, the solidarity and the hard work it means to have Natalie in your family. Moose does so much, and still feels he is failing. He’s also falling in love, which is both easy and hard in such a small place. ‘Being locked in a shed with a girl you once kissed and your best friend who happens to be a girl is not exactly relaxing.’

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Homework

I know Gennifer has done a lot of research, because she says so in her notes. But it only shows in how natural the whole story feels. You end up thinking you’re there on Alcatraz, in 1930s America. I’m sorry the trilogy has come to an end, but I have enjoyed every minute of all three books. Credit to new publisher Hot Key Books for taking over, and for keeping the cover art – by Melvyn Evans – in the style we’d learned to love.

 

It’s not all the same to me

Why are we not the same? How come a book published in the English language in Ireland (which is practically British, anyway… 😉) needs to be published again in the UK? It seems so wasteful of resources, not to mention slow.

It must be something to do with money. Do more people make more money with a book published in English in ten different countries? I just get impatient with the waiting. And unlike television shows (although the less said about file sharing, the better) you can generally get hold of the physical book from ‘the other’ place.

Sometimes they are let loose on the same day, all over the world. But mostly not, even if it’s just a week’s difference. Harry Potter was released on the dot of whatever midnight was in every nook and cranny of the world. Because they knew if they didn’t, shops would not be able to sell many later copies, as the fans would have got their ‘cousin in London’ to buy and post the book.

Fine. If you need to have a publisher in each country, why not publish all over the world, in one fell swoop? Surely it would even out in the end? Big selling British novel makes money for publisher in London. In return an American publisher hits the jackpot with some other title they have published.

To return to the television angle for a moment. I love NCIS. First it appears gradually over the American continent on the first night’s screening. At a later point they sell the season to a UK channel I don’t have. This channel expects to make money from the commercials shown. Once they are done, one of the ordinary channels acquires the rights. They, too, want money from advertising.

Later on, I can buy the DVD box set. First comes the R1 version. Much later the R2. There will be a reason I can’t just tune in to CBS on the first night. I know. Advertisers in the US don’t reckon I’ll be buying much of what they want me to spend money on. But here’s the thing; I don’t buy much, if anything, brought to me by the UK advertisers, either. (There’s only so many sofas you can buy in one sale.)

So how does this work with books?

I recently reviewed Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. Simmone sent it to me, because she reckoned it’ll be a while before it’s available in Britain. I could have bought it from that online bookshop we all love to hate. At least, I think I could have. The .com version no longer forces me back to .co.uk, but merely suggests I might prefer it.

As for working out which publisher to approach, that is also very tricky. The names are often the same in different countries, but that doesn’t mean they publish the same books. A couple of years ago I had to do some detective work in order to find the correct Indian publisher of a book.

The author has written the book. It has been edited and given a cover. The printers have printed. So why not just spread this one book? OK, that would be as un-green as Kenyan green beans. We don’t want to transport books across the globe. So why not print the same thing, but in each country?

Covers. Yes. We don’t fall for the same style. But we could learn. We like Indian food. Why not like Indian book covers? It might make us more open minded. Just like there is a market for new retro covers for crime novels, we could covet cultural covers.

In short, I know very little. But I don’t want to wait. At the moment I’m wanting Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It exists. But it will be a long time coming my way, or so the publisher said, once I’d found out who it was (not the same as for the previous two Al Capones).

It’s one thing to wait for an author to write. We have to put up with this. But after that I will just vent my impatience, and snap.

Bookwitch bites #116

I am really grateful to the kind people of Wexford, Ireland, for arranging somewhere I could park my broom the other night. (Not that I have actually been to Wexford, but its proximity to Eoin Colfer makes it seem like a very nice place. That, and the broom parking.)

Broom parking

So, I’m resting a little. No flying while it’s windy. Besides, you can’t trust people not to be setting off fireworks at the moment. And that is very dangerous for witches on brooms. For others, too, but I am mostly looking after me.

We can’t all be like that lovely man, Terry Pratchett, who is a wee bit more modest than he needs to be.

Terry Pratchett

And so was the poor woman in Ystad who was locked into the library. 91-year-old Dagmar sat comfortably reading something, as you do, when it was time to close and staff claim to have ‘looked’ but seem to have missed Dagmar, so set the alarm, locked up and went home for the weekend. (It was Friday the 13th.) When eventually Dagmar moved, she set off the alarm, and someone came to find her, and even let her out. And being 91 and polite, she apologised for having caused trouble…

But you already knew that Ystad is a dangerous town. Just ask Wallander. Bet he’s never been locked in a library, though.

Locked in, is something we connect with Al Capone, among other things. Gennifer Choldenko’s third Alcatraz book Al Capone Does My Homework, is already out in the US, but the rest of us have to wait a while. Sob.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Homework

And I can just sense that you like being told about books you can’t buy yet, so I’ll show you the cover of Ruth Eastham’s to-be-published third novel, Arrowhead. Like Al Capone, it will come. One day.

Ruth Eastham, Arrowhead

As I go to pick up my broom, I will leave you in the capable hands of Meg Rosoff. Although, considering what she can do to a piece of paper with a pair of scissors, I’m not so sure about those hands. If I think about it.

Wheee!!!

Bookwitch bites #52

Could really do with an Emergency Labrador right now. Not sure what it would do for me, but feel  it’s a reassuring concept. I noticed the sign for one on the train a while ago. When I looked again, it appeared that all they had was an emergency ladder.

Fiction Express - Stewart Ross, Soterion Mission

From the train it’s not far to Fiction Express. This is interactive e-fiction where you control the plot. (Has to be better than losing the plot.) Different authors have written first chapters, which you can access free online (assuming I’ve got my facts right) and then there is a vote on what direction the story should take. Sounds like fun, unless of course you’d rather the story went somewhere different from what others have voted for.

More online writing for readers can be found at 247 Tales. This month’s author story is by Gennifer Choldenko, and it might be just a couple of hundred words, but they were quite scary words. Unlike Fiction Express, you don’t get more than 247 words, and there I was, all ready to read on. Last month’s winner is a pretty good one. Nice to see the future of writing is safe.

If you’re not sure you can write without help, I found just the thing for you: Writing a novel, six month curse, starts October. Or should that be course? If anyone wants to try it, I’m sorry but I can’t remember where I saw the ad.

Me, I’m surprisingly bad at both the writing and the remembering. As you know, I don’t set out to upset, but an ambition like that is never 100% water tight. And if I intended to insult, I wouldn’t actually send the ‘victim’ a link to the post. I had a response to just such a link recently, which I will share with you: ‘Thank you. Are all your blogs negative? It doesn’t have anything positive to say.’ Polite. If I had meant it to be bad, I’d have come up with something far juicier. Even without the help of the October curse.

Mitchell Library

To end on a much pleasanter note, I do wish I was in Glasgow this Thursday! I will be in Edinburgh on Friday, but it just isn’t the same. The lovely Bill Paterson will be doing an Aye Write! event at the Mitchell, reading from his own Tales From the Back Green. I must have one or two readers in the Glasgow area? Go! Enjoy!

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

I wish. Or perhaps I don’t, now that I think about it. Having a world famous crook anywhere near my footwear may not be a good idea. Especially seeing as Al Capone is dead.

I came late to the first book, Al Capone Does My Shirts, but ever since I found that Gennifer Choldenko was writing a sequel, I have waited and waited. My wait is now over, and the book was more than worth waiting for.

Setting aside the autism angle yet again, which on its own is enough to please me, this is such a marvellous story! It’s deceptively simple, but as you begin reading you’re immediately sucked into the story about Moose and his family and friends and neighbours on Alcatraz. You’re there. I felt as if I lived in a flat on Alcatraz, next door to Moose. Except since I don’t play baseball I would be a disappointing friend.

We have been made to believe that Al Capone helped get Moose’s sister Natalie into a school where she would learn to be a little less autistic. And a favour requires another in return. The big question for Moose is what Capone will ask for.

Apart from Capone problems, Moose also has love problems, friend problems, baseball problems. But he deals with them all, though not necessarily in the best way. His friend Annie asks if, when he has children, they would all play baseball. ‘Why else would you have kids?’ Moose replies.

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

You can tell that Gennifer has worked on Alcatraz, because the attention to detail is outstanding. Nobody could come up with so many details without knowing the place inside out. I don’t want to suggest Gennifer is old enough to have lived in the 1930s, but she does have a knack for making you think she was there. It’s like the reader is watching an old film.

The cover is in the same vein as her earlier books, and looks good enough to eat. Blue Converses and ice cream colour lettering. Delicious. So I could possibly buy the book for its cover alone without even knowing what’s inside. Al Capone is. Inside.