Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Monday 8/30! What Are You Reading?

Back to school time!  Craig just got on his bus, and Jamie starts tomorrow - one down and one to go! 

School days memories...this photo was taken on Craig's first day of kindergarten and Jamie's first day of 4th grade.  Now they're starting 7th grade and 11th grade (and they're both taller than I am!).  Where did the years go?

Enough reminiscing...I'm sure you'd rather hear about reading!  We enjoyed some good books last week...
  • I finished The Little Book by Selden Edwards, a birthday gift from Ken.  I really enjoyed this book - it was one of those that I liked more and more the more I read.  It's a time travel story of a man who travels from 1988 San Francisco to 1897 Vienna, with all of the thought-provoking moral dilemmas that I love in a time travel story, as he inadvertently runs into famous historical figures like Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud as well as some of his own family members.
  • I just started Ruined, a new teen ghost story by Paula Morris.  I'm loving this book so far since it's set in my favorite place, New Orleans (we used to live there).
  • Jamie, 16, finished and loved Congo by Michael Crichton, which we gave him for his birthday.  I think it's Crichton's best novel, about an ape who can communicate with sign language.
  • Craig, 12, finished his summer reading assignment, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, the day before school started!  I tried to encourage him to start a new book just for fun last night, but no go.  The good news is that his English teacher is thinking of not using the Accelerated Reader (AR) program this year so that her students can read any book they want (AR is a computerized system - you have to choose a book on your school's AR list, then take a quiz when you finish).  That would be very good since the new books we get for review are never on the AR list yet!
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Girl Who Played with Fire and immediately picked up The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - he's hooked on this exciting series!
Last week, I posted reviews of The Reminder, a teen novel by Rune Michaels, and Hide and Seek, a suspenseful middle-grade novel by Katy Grant that our whole family loved.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: Hide & Seek

During our annual 3-week summer roadtrip, we revived a beloved family tradition and read aloud before bed each night.  I chose a brand-new middle-grade novel, Hide & Seek by Katy Grant, and everyone in our family loved this exciting and suspenseful story.  Twelve-year old Craig frequently pleaded for “one more chapter”!

One reason I chose this book is because geocaching, an outdoor activity my family loves, is an essential part of the plot.  For those of you not familiar with geocaching, it’s a combination of hiking and treasure hunting, with a cool technological twist.  You look up nearby geocaches at, enter the coordinates into a handheld GPS, and then use the GPS to lead you to the cache.  The cache, hidden by another geocacher, usually contains a logbook to log your find and some small trinkets to exchange.  Our family loves camping and hiking, and, as on this recent trip, we often incorporate geocaching into our outdoor fun.

Chase, the fourteen-year old protagonist of Hide & Seek, also enjoys geocaching.  His dad recently bought him his own GPS, and Chase is eager to try finding some caches on his own.  He spent his summer helping out at his family’s rental cabins and store and can’t wait for some freedom:

So I pretty much keep my mouth shut and get all my chores done as fast as I can.  But it’s enough to drive a guy crazy.  When summer finally ends and the tourists go home, school starts, and then I’m stuck in a classroom all day.  Sometimes you just need to get out and breathe.

This was going to be the first geocache I’d ever done completely on my own, so I’d planned everything carefully.  Shea was right – my backpack was heavy.  It was full of stuff I might need: a stainless steel water bottle, a plastic bowl for Dexter, some trail mix, beef jerky, binoculars, some extra AA batteries, and a Swiss army knife.  And then the items to trade for the geocache, and my GPS so I could find the treasure.

Chase finds the geocache he’s looking for, but there’s an unexpected surprise there – a mysterious note from someone who sounds like he needs help.  That starts off an adventure and mystery that Chase could never have imagined.  The more involved he gets, the more Chase wonders whether the situation might be more than he bargained for.

I don’t want to tell you any more about the plot because the best part about this book is the constant surprises, plot twists, and fabulous suspense  (that’s what led my son to beg for more every night).  The plot is unique, the characters are likeable and real, and the writing is tight and engaging.  All four of us thoroughly enjoyed this new novel that’s perfect for middle-grade readers or as a read-aloud!

For more information on Hide & Seek and Katy Grant’s other books, check out the author’s website.

227 pages, Peachtree Publishers


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Teen/YA Review: The Reminder

I enjoyed Rune Michaels’ intriguing novel, The Reminder, about a teen girl struggling to come to terms with her mother’s recent death.  The novel is a unique blend of drama and suspense, with a bit of science fiction mixed in.

Daisy, known as Daze to her family and friends, feels lost without her mother.  Her father’s not coping much better, and it bothers Daze that her little brother doesn’t remember their mother very well.  She struggles with nightmares and getting on with her normal life in the face of such tragedy.  Then, strange things start happening:

The first time I heard my dead mother’s voice, there was a logical explanation.

It was the middle of the night, naturally – that’s when ghosts tend to visit.  I woke up from a familiar nightmare, gulping down air, my face damp with sweat, my heart hammering, visions of blue and green slipping away as I grabbed darkness gratefully instead.

Then I heard it again, like I must have heard through my sleep.

Mom’s voice.  Mom’s laughter, rippling under my bedroom door along with the sliver of light from the living room.

I don’t want to say too much more abut the plot because there are a few surprises in store for both Daze and the reader.  The novel is well written and does a great job of exploring the nature of grief and loss, while keeping things interesting with some unique plot twists.  This was the first book I’ve read by Rune Michaels, and I look forward to more, including her latest release, Nobel Genes.

You can visit the author’s website or her blog to learn more about her and her books.

182 pages, Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)


Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Monday 8/23! What Are You Reading?

Just returned from a weekend spent camping in the Catskills with my extended family.  It was good to see everyone, and the kids had a blast running around with their cousins all weekend (not much reading this weekend!).  Kind of a rough ending, though - packed up in the pouring rain on Sunday, then spent 9 hours driving home!!!  It should have taken about 5 hours - crazy traffic, road construction, plus the rain slowed things down to a crawl.  So, home now, with piles of sopping wet, muddy laundry and a filthy camper.  The A/C is out for the 6th time this summer - thank goodness it cooled down over the weekend - supposed to be in the 80's this week instead of the 90's.

With Jamie's birthday last week, plus camping preparation, we didn't do a lot of reading but squeezed in a bit:
  • I finished Elvis and Olive by Stephanie Watson and posted a review.  I really enjoyed this sweet, funny middle-grade novel about two very different girls who become good friends and spend a summer spying.
  • I started a novel my husband gave me for my birthday last month, The Little Book by Selden Edwards.  It's set in 1890's Vienna, with a main character who has somehow been transported there from 1988 San Francisco.  It's good so far with a very intriguing plot - I always enjoy time-travel novels.
  • Sixteen-year old Jamie is reading a book we gave him for his birthday last week, Congo by Michael Crichton.  He enjoyed Crichton's Sphere this spring, and Congo is my all-time favorite Crichton book, about an ape who can communicate with sign language.  He's enjoying it very much so far.  It's fun sharing favorites with my kids!
  • Twelve-year old Craig - who feels it's a complete waste of time to read during the summer - is still working on The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin for his assigned summer reading.  He does like it and says it's getting better and better - he'd just rather be outside running around!  He needs to finish it this week because school starts next Monday.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and started right in on The Girl Who Played with Fire.  He's loving this series!  My mom's husband, who we saw this weekend, is also reading the series on his Kindle, and I gave my sister The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for her birthday this weekend.  A runaway family hit!
  • Our never-ending trip home yesterday was made much more enjoyable by a new audio book, Boom! by Mark Haddon, the first kids' book by the author of the award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (which Jamie, Ken, and I have all read).  It's a very funny middle-grade adventure book that kept us all laughing even in the midst of traffic.  We have just a little bit left to finish tonight (after 9 hours in the car, there was no way we were going to sit in the driveway and finish it last night no matter how good it was!)
And, last week, I gratefully accepted the Versatile Blogger Award and passed it along to five deserving bloggers, so please check them out!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: Elvis & Olive

I chose to read a middle-grade novel targeted toward a slightly younger audience (probably best for grades 3 to 6) this week so that I can pass it along to my little cousins when I see them this weekend.   I expected to do a quick read-through and review of Elvis & Olive by Stephanie Watson, but I was pleasantly surprised by this sweet and funny novel of young friendship.

Natalie, a straight-A student and a bit of a perfectionist, has just finished 4th grade and is already bored by summer.  As she rides her bike around the block over and over trying to beat her best time, she encounters someone new in the neighborhood:

He was still holding his hand out, willing Natalie to stay where she was.  The other hand was behind his back.

“I’m gonna tell you a secret,” he said.

“Why would you tell me a secret?” Natalie asked.  “I don’t even know you.”


“Usually you know someone before you tell them a secret,” she said, offering her hand to shake his.  “I’m Natalie.  You’re the new boy from across the street, right?”

His eyes became slits.

“Boy?!  I’m not a boy.  I’m a GIRL!”  The shout echoed off the houses.  Natalie slowly lowered her hand back to the handlebar.

With this difficult introduction, Natalie meets Annie.  The two girls couldn’t be more different.  Natalie dresses neatly and is cautious and shy, while Annie is often covered with dirt but is brave and outgoing.  They quickly get past their rough start, become friends, and decide to devote their summer to being spies and uncovering secrets.  Their code names are Elvis and Olive, and suddenly, Natalie’s summer is anything but boring.

I just loved these two girls and their friendship – it reminded me very much of summers spent with my best friend roaming around our neighborhood, sharing secrets.  It’s not all fun and games, though.  Both girls have some secrets of their own, and secrets have a way of leaking out when you least expect it.  It’s a fun and heartwarming story that carries you along to a satisfying conclusion.  I can’t wait to pass this wonderful book along to my cousins this weekend!

NOTE:  The sequel, Elvis & Olive: Super Detectives, came out in hardcover on July 1.

230 pages, Scholastic

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Versatile Blogger Award!

Lovely Anne, a high school librarian and writer of the blog, My Head Is Full of Books, awarded me The Versatile Blogger Award last week!  Thank you, Anne - I very much appreciate the award!  Please stop by and visit her wonderful blog with lots of great book reviews for teens, YA, and grown-ups, too (hence her own versatility!).

Here are the rules for this award:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...)
4. Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

(Note: As many of you know, I have a chronic illness and have limited energy/time for blogging, so I'm only going to pass this along to 5 other bloggers.  If I don't limit myself a bit, I wouldn't be able to accept awards at all, so I hope you understand.)

Now, 7 things about myself.  Since this is a kids/teens book blog, I'll try to focus on those areas of my life:
  1. My Mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten (thanks, Mom!) - Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman was the first book I read on my own, and it is still a favorite of mine and my own kids.  There is an awesome photo of me reading The Cat In the Hat while sitting on my potty seat (obviously, even earlier) - I wish I could share that with you, but I think my Mom has it.  Suffice it to say, I have always loved books!
  2. I was a huge fan of both Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden when I was a kid.  A friend and I used to pretend to be Trixie and Honey, but we could never find any good mysteries in our neighborhood.
  3. My all-time favorite series as a kid was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and its sequels.  I even got to play Meg in our 3rd grade play!
  4. I went on a Ray Bradbury binge in high school and read every single Bradbury book in our public library.  Oddly, I haven't read any Bradbury since then.  I really want to revisit his books.
  5. Besides Bradbury, as a teen I began to read more and more books from the adult section of the library, though I still liked some teen books.  There really wasn't as much YA variety back then as there is now.  My Mom, Dad, and I read every single Stephen King book that came out - we just passed them between the three of us.
  6. I joined a book group about 7 years ago with a group of friends and was stunned by the wonderful variety of books we read!  I rediscovered reading at that point in many ways.  That group disbanded, but I now belong to two other book groups - one in my neighborhood and another at a local Unitarian church (but it's not a religious book group - just regular books) and I sometimes attend a third at my local library if I can squeeze it in.  Book groups have introduced me to so many genres of books that I never would have tried otherwise!
  7. I'm a freelance writer, and in addition to my book blog, I write reviews of books and other media for Family Fun magazine.  Lots of fun and my kids love being testers!
Now, I'd like to pass this award onto the following well-deserved and versatile blogs (no one said they had to be book blogs, so I've included a variety here):
So, please stop by and visit these very worthy blogs.
(And awardees:  no pressure if you can't meet all the requirements listed above!  Feel free to just bask in the glory of accepting an award.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Monday 8/16! What Are You Reading?

Yes, it's Monday, but - more importantly - it's my oldest son's 16th birthday!  Yikes!  How did 16 years go by so fast??  Now he'll be driving, starting his Junior year of high school, and beginning to look at colleges.  But he's still a great kid and in no hurry to grow up too fast.  Every year he says he loves the age he is and wishes he could stay at that age!

Besides being warm, caring, and lots of fun, Jamie absolutely LOVES to read, so this week's What Are You Reading Monday is dedicated to him!
  • This week, the birthday boy read Tentacles by Roland Smith, the sequel to Cryptid Hunters which he read last week.  He loves this middle-grade series about a man obsessed with tracking down mythological creatures.
  • Jamie is currently reading Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson, the third book in the Maximum Ride series for teens.  He said this morning that he stayed up too late reading last night because Patterson writes such gripping novels!
  • I finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson with a marathon reading session yesterday (it worked out perfectly because I wasn't feeling well anyway).  A satisfying ending to an excellent series!
  • I just started a novel for elementary school kids (maybe 3rd through 6th grades), Elvis & Olive by Stephanie Watson.  It's very good so far, about two very different girls who become friends.
  • Craig, 12, is still reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin for school.
  • My husband, Ken, is well into The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and is already eyeing books 2 and 3 on the bookshelf!
I posted a new review of the audio book First Light by Rebecca Stead.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Middle-Grade Review: First Light

    Award-winning author Rebecca Stead’s (When You Reach Me) first novel, First Light, is a unique mystery adventure set in an ice-covered world.  The audio book kept all four of us captivated during several recent car trips.

    Twelve-year old Peter joins his parents on an expedition to Greenland so his father, a glaciologist, can study global warming.  Although life in the frozen world is vastly different from his usual routine in New York City, Peter enjoys exploring the icecap with his parents and their research assistant.  Back home, Peter began to have headaches accompanied by mysterious visions he couldn’t understand and these worsen in Greenland.

    Meanwhile, fourteen-year old Thea lives with her people deep underground in a secret icy world called Gracehope where they settled to escape persecution.  Most in her society are content with the status quo, but Thea dreams of finding a route to the surface and the sun.  Thea and Peter’s stories are told in alternating chapters and begin to come together in this exciting adventure that combines science and magic.

    Thea’s underground world reminded us all a bit of the city in Jeanne DuPrau’s Book of Ember series, though the rest of the plot is quite unique.  The audio book is read by two different actors, one reading Thea’s chapters and the other reading Peter’s, which made it even more interesting to listen to.  First Light is a unique story that the whole family can enjoy together.

    Listening Library

    Download an excerpt of First Light.


    Monday, August 9, 2010

    It's Monday 8/9! What Are You Reading?

    Whew, what a week.  I was unable to do any blogging (writing or reading).  I won't bore you with the whole long story, but here's a brief recap:  dishwasher broke, air conditioner broke (for the 5th time in 3 weeks), my husband needed emergency laser eye surgery for a retinal tear (second time), and my beloved old iBook burned up (literally).  I was waiting at the eye hospital for my husband when my son, Craig, called on my cell to tell me, "Uh, Mom...your laptop had this awful burning smell and then the screen went black."  Not a good sign, right?  A rush trip to the Apple store that evening confirmed what we suspected - the CPU burned out and the computer was now just a paperweight.

    You may recall that I just got a gorgeous new MacBook laptop for my birthday 2 weeks ago, but I hadn't yet transferred data from the old one.  I was waiting for a special cable I needed that guessed, the same day the iBook burned out.  I've managed to get the new laptop set up - that's what I'm working on now - but I still need to try to retrieve my old data.  My husband removed the old hard drive, and we're hopeful the files are still intact (the guy at the Apple Genius Bar thought they probably would be OK).

    Thank goodness I had a good book to escape into during all that trauma last week and the long hours in the hospital waiting room!
    • I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.  Wow, what an amazing book!  I can't believe I waited so long to read it.  It just took me away to another time and place (which I was grateful for last week).  I can't wait to discuss it at my library book group this week - so much to talk about!
    •  I just started The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson, book 3 of the wildly popular series that begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I was thrilled that the third book picks up right where the second ended, and I'm already totally hooked.  It's a great series!
    • Jamie, 15, read Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith, a middle-grade novel he's been dying to read about a guy who has dedicated his life to finding cryptids, mysterious creatures whose existence has never been proven (think Loch Ness Monster, for example).  We had received the second book in the series, Tentacles, a while back for review, so we picked up book 1 in the bookstore a couple of weeks ago.  He loved it!
    • Craig, 12, is working on his summer reading for school, reading The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.  He's enjoying it very much, though he said it's a bit scary to read at bedtime.
    • My husband, Ken, finally got his hands on a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, thanks to a friend at work.  He's enjoying it so far and should have plenty of reading time this week on his business trip.
    What are  you and your family reading this week?

    (What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila of Book Journey.)

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    It's Monday 8/2! What Are You Reading?

    My husband and I had a nice, quiet week alone while the kids spent a week on their grandparents' sailboat - fun for everyone! 

    Good reading last week, too:
    • I finally had a chance to finish a wonderful new book, How To Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers written by a friend of mine, Toni Bernhard.  The book is an inspirational guide for anyone dealing with challenges in life (and who isn't?).  I posted a review on my other blog, Book By Book.
    • I started Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden for my library's book discussion next week.  I'm probably the last person on earth to read this best-seller.  It's one of those books that I never would have read if not for a book group - it just didn't sound appealing to me, despite all the good reviews.  Boy, was I wrong!  It's so compelling and well-written, I was hooked from the first chapter.
    • Jamie, 15, did manage some reading on his trip - he read City of Ashes, book 2 in Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series.  He's loving this series recommended by a friend of ours.
    • Craig, 12, started The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - part of his summer reading assignment for school.  
    • My husband, Ken, finally got his hands on a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in Stieg Larsson's hot thriller trilogy.  He was still only #137 on the waiting list at the library, so a friend lent it to him.
    • On our car trips back and forth to drop off and pick up the kids, we finished listening to First Light by Rebecca Stead on audio.  We all loved it - review to come!
    Last week, I posted a review of And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman, an enjoyable teen novel with elements of mystery and romance.

    What are you and your family reading this week?

    (What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.)