Friday, January 29, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: When You Reach Me

When I read a review written by Heather at Tales of a Capricious Reader of the middle-grade novel, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, I knew I had to read this book. I immediately requested it at the library. I finished it last night and couldn’t wait to tell you about it! You don’t have to just take my word and Heather’s, though. When You Reach Me recently won the 2010 Newberry Medal and has been at the top of many Best Of 2009 lists.

Miranda, a twelve-year old girl living in New York City in 1978, is pretty happy with her life and her best friend, Sal, until one day in October when everything begins to change. Sal gets punched in the stomach on their way home from school by a boy they don’t even know then suddenly cuts Miranda out of his life. A few days later, Miranda receives the first of several mysterious notes:

This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.

I ask two favors.

First, you must write me a letter.

Second, please remember to mention the location of your house key.

The trip is a difficult one. I may not be myself when I reach you.

Miranda tries to unravel this strange puzzle, while helping her mother prepare for her appearance on the game show The 20,000 Pyramid. One of my favorite aspects of this book, though, is that Miranda is obsessed with the book A Wrinkle in Time, which just happened to be my favorite book when I was her age!

“Still reading that same book?” Belle asked, once I had settled into my folding chair next to the cash register to read. “It’s looking pretty beat-up.”

“I’m not still reading it,” I told her. “I’m reading it again.” I had probably read it a hundred times, which was why it looked so beat up.

“Okay,” Belle said, “so let’s hear something about this book. What’s the first line? I never judge a book by the cover, “she said. “I judge by the first line.”

I knew the first line of my book without even looking. “It was a dark and stormy night.” I said.

She nodded. “Classic. I like that. What’s the story about?”

I thought for a second. “It’s about a girl named Meg – her dad is missing, and she goes on this trip to another planet to save him.”

Just like Miranda, I read and re-read A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid, along with the rest of that wonderful series by Madeleine L’Engle. I even played Meg in our class play of the book! I love that Stead used that wonderful, classic novel as the jumping off point for a whole new mystery. And it is a good mystery, one that kept me guessing right up until the last chapter, with a very satisfying conclusion. Stead’s writing kept me interested from the first pages, with characters I came to care about and clever plot twists. Whether you’re a fan of A Wrinkle in Time like I am or just looking for a good story, you’ll love When You Reach Me.

197 pages, Wendy Lamb Books (Random House)

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Monday 1/25! What Are You Reading?

I've been busy reading two grown-up books for two different book groups this past week, but the rest of my family enjoyed some good books:
  • Jamie, 15, finished Raven's Rise, book 9 in the fabulous Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale. He said it was insane (that's good), filled with lots of twists he didn't see coming. Now he's one book ahead of me, so I'll have to get to this one soon!
  • Jamie started The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, a Christmas gift from us. We must be the last family on earth who hasn't read this award-winning book yet!
  • Craig, 12, finished Dark Whispers, book 3 in his favorite Unicorn Chronicles series by Bruce Coville. He says it ended with a cliff-hanger - he can't wait for book 4 to come out! You can read his summary here.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Brisingr, the third book in Christopher Paolini's trilogy that began with Eragon. I haven't read the series, but it's a favorite of Ken and Jamie.
What books are you and your family reading this week?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: Dark Whispers

Today's review is written by my 12-year old son, Craig. He read Dark Whispers, book 3 in The Unicorn Chronicles series by Bruce Coville. This is Craig's favorite series. It's an exciting fantasy adventure about a young girl, Cara, who's trying to save the unicorns from extinction. He says that boys shouldn't be afraid to read this series just because it's about unicorns! It's full of suspense and action, and both boys and girls in his class are enjoying the series. Here's his summary of Dark Whispers (I haven't read the book myself, so his summary might include some spoilers):

Cara is on a quest to the Centaur’s valley to get a story about the Whisperer to figure out who it is and where it came from. Cara’s father is also on a quest to find Cara’s mother and rescue her from the rainbow prison.

In Cara’s quest she gets attacked by delvers and gets thrown in an underground dungeon. There she meets a delver that was charged for treason. They escaped together and got out alive. On Cara’s dads quest he has found some friends that accompany him on his journey to the rainbow prison.

The climax of the story is when Cara achieves her goal and obtains the story of the Whisperer. The price she had to pay for the story was unthinkable. Cara makes her way back to the queen of the unicorns to tell her the story of the Whisperer. She has to make haste before the hunters come and hunt down the unicorns to extinction.

Craig says the book ends with a cliff-hanger - he can't wait to read the next one in the series!

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's Monday 1/18! What Are You Reading?

Craig turned 12 this week and had a bunch of friends sleep over last night. We also had two sets of grandparents visiting this week, so it was a very busy week! We managed to squeeze in a little reading:
  • I finished I Wanna Be Your Shoebox, a warm and funny middle-grade novel by Cristina Garcia. You can read my review and some additional quotes I really liked.
  • I'm listening to a teen/YA audio book, Camilla, by one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L'Engle. It's very good so far.
  • Jamie, 15, is still working on Raven's Rise, book 9 in the fabulous Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale. He's got mid-terms this week...and it's a 550 page novel!
  • Craig is almost finished with Dark Whispers, book 3 in his favorite Unicorn Chronicles series by Bruce Coville.
I also posted my list of Top Ten Kids/Teens Books Read in 2009 last week.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is sponsored by J. Kaye's Book Blog)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: I Wanna Be Your Shoebox

Yumi Ruiz-Hirsch, the star of I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Cristina Garcia, is one of my favorite characters to come along in a middle-grade novel in a long time. She’s an eighth grader in southern California struggling to deal with too many changes in her life:

Don’t you wish sometimes that everything could stay the same forever? A perfect moment stretched out for the rest of your life? Why do things always have to change so much anyway?

My name is Yumi Ruiz-Hirsch, and my grandfather is dying. It feels funny to call him “my grandfather” because from the time I could talk, he insisted I call him Saul. Nobody else I know calls their grandparents by their real names. Saul is Jewish, and my grandmother is Japanese and she’s twenty-five years younger than him. Her name is Hiroko, and I call her by her first name, too. When I tried calling my mother “Silvia,” she refused to answer me. She’s Cuban (with a little Guatemalan thrown in), and nobody in her family calls their elders by their first names. Mom says this mix of identities makes me a poster child for the twenty-first century.

In addition to her beloved grandfather dying, Yumi’s mom has a new boyfriend and wants to move, and her school orchestra is being cut because of a lack of funds. Yumi splits her time between her mom’s house, her punk rocker dad’s loft, and Saul and Hiroko’s apartment. Life is in turmoil for her, but as Saul tells her, the choice is either to sit and watch or join the dance.

Yumi narrates most of the novel, but her parts are interspersed with passages where Saul is telling her his life story:

I spent a few years living hand to mouth in New York. I wasn’t much older than you are now. What are your responsibilities? Cleaning your room? Doing your homework? Luxuries, little one. Yeah, you might be forced to move, but your mother’s alive, ain’t she? And she loves you, right? You don’t know how good things are until you lose them. That’s what I’m telling you – appreciate what you got, kid. I know there’s lots of changes happening right now, but it might just work out for the best. You never know how closing one door can open another.

I just loved Yumi’s close relationship with her grandfather and their long talks together. This endearing novel is warm and funny, with likable, quirky characters who stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

198 pages, Simon & Schuster

Ages 8-14

Accelerated Reader Level 5.1, 7 points

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Top Ten Kids/Teens Books Read in 2009


2009 was a great reading year - so many wonderful books for kids, teens, and young adults! It was hard to narrow my favorites down to the Top Ten. I suppose I cheated a little by including several multiple books in a series! Anyway, here are the Top Ten Kids/Teens Books I Read in 2009 (in no particular order):

  1. Wake and Fade by Lisa McMann
  2. Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
  3. Alabama Moon by Watt Key
  4. Skin Hunger and Sacred Scars (The Resurrection of Magic series) by Kathleen Duey
  5. The Higher Power of Lucky and Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron
  6. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  7. Pendragon series (I read books 6, 7, and 8 this year!) by D.J. MacHale
  8. Prism by Faye and Aliza Kellerman
  9. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
  10. The Cronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu
What were your favorite kids/teen/YA books read in 2009?

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Monday 1/11! What Are You Reading?

We read some great books this week!

  • I’m reading an excellent middle-grade novel, I Wanna Be Your Shoebox, by Cristina Garcia, about a thirteen year-old girl who is part Japanese, part Cuban, and part Russian Jew.
  • Jamie, 15, was sick this weekend, so he had a lot of reading time. He finished The Pilgrims of Rayne, book 8 in D.J. MacHale’s wonderful Pendragon series. He read all day long, closed the book, and asked, “Do we have book 9 yet?”
  • We do! Jamie immediately picked up book 9 in the Pendragon series, Raven’s Rise and is still engrossed in it. He and I agree that this series just gets better and better.
  • Craig – who turns 12 this week! – found his lost book and is rushing to finish both books before the end of the marking period. Both are Bruce Coville books, one of his favorite authors: Dark Whispers, book 3 in The Unicorn Chronicles, and Aliens Stole My Body, the fourth and final book of the Aliens series.

I posted a review of a magical tale of Norse mythology, the audio book Odd and the Frost Giants by award-winning author Neil Gaiman.

What great kids and teen books are YOU reading this week?

What are you reading Mondays is sponsored by J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Middle-grade Review: Odd and the Frost Giants

Neil Gaiman, author of many best-selling books, including Coraline and the award-winning The Graveyard Book, has published a new book for middle-grade readers. During the holidays, we listened to and enjoyed the audio version of Odd and the Frost Giants, written and read by Neil Gaiman.

Odd and the Frost Giants is an old-style fable set in ancient Norway, during the time of the Vikings, featuring a sweet and brave twelve-year old boy:

There was a boy called Odd, and there was nothing strange or unusual about that, not in that time or place. Odd meant the tip of a blade, and it was a lucky name.

He was odd, though. At least, the other villagers thought so. But if there was one thing that he wasn’t, it was lucky.

Odd’s father died when he was ten years old, and Odd walks with a crutch because his leg was shattered in an accident. One year, during a terrible winter that won’t end, Odd runs away from home to escape his stepfather, into the forest. He meets three mysterious animals – a huge bear, a fox, and an eagle – who share with him a very strange story that sets him off on a journey to a magical place.

This enchanting tale of Norse gods and a small boy’s bravery will be especially appealing to kids who enjoy stories of mythology and magical creatures. The audio version, read by Gaiman himself, is a mesmerizing story, particularly when listened to in the car on a snowy day. I haven’t seen the printed book myself, but its listing on amazon shows some beautiful pencil drawings to accompany the tale. It’s a brief book (the audio is 90 minutes long), appropriate for kids ages 7 and up on audio or as a read-aloud.

90 minutes, Harper Audio

128 pages, HarperCollins

Listen to an audio sample.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 In Review

I took a few minutes today to tally up the reading I did in 2009. This was the first year of Great Books for Kids and Teens, and I read/listened to a total of 84 books this year. Of those:
  • 20 were middle-grade books
  • 9 were middle-grade audio books
  • 13 were teen/YA books
  • 3 were teen/Ya audio books
I posted 39 reviews at Great Books for Kids and Teens. For a tally of the grown-up books I read and reviewed, check out Book by Book.

2009 was a great reading year! I'm still working on my Top Ten lists for 2009, and working to catch up on a bunch of reviews after the busy holiday season, so stay tuned!

Monday, January 4, 2010

It's Monday 1/4! What Are You Reading?

Happy New Year!

We had a busy holiday season, so I had to take a little break from blogging. We read some great books during the holiday break, though, and I have a lot of reviews coming up!
  • I finished Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard, an imaginative teen science fiction novel set during the future when humans have populated space. My son was right - it was very good.
  • Jamie, 15, read a lot during our trip to Oklahoma (including two 6-hour air travel days!). He finished Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamand, an exciting pirate adventure set in the 23rd century, when most of England is under water. He enjoyed it very much and says the author's view of the future was interesting.
  • Jamie also read Nation by Terry Pratchett, a Christmas gift from my husband and I that I chose based on reviews I read on other blogs. He says it was brilliant and gripping.
  • He has now started Pendragon: The Pilgrims of Rayne (book 8) by D.J. MacHale, part of our all-time favorite series for middle-grade and teen readers. I read book 8 this summer and loved it.
  • Craig, 11, was half-way through Aliens Stole My Body, the fourth and final book in Bruce Coville's Aliens series when he lost the book at school! He was very upset about it (I'm requesting it from the library today for him), but he cheered up when he received Dark Whispers for Christmas. This is the third book in Bruce Coville's Unicorn Chronicles series, Craig's favorite series. He says it's exciting and suspenseful.
What are YOU reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is sponsored by J. Kaye's Book Blog).