Monday, January 31, 2011

It's Monday 1/31! What Are You Reading?

Well, I am very glad to say hello to a new week!  As you may have read in my last post, I spent every waking moment last week trying to resolve computer problems, so I was unable to do any blogging - reading or writing - or anything else, for that matter!  It was an exhausting, stressful week.  I think (she says hopefully) that everything is OK now - it took a 4th trip to The Apple Store on Sunday.  So far, so good, but I'm still holding my breath a bit.

Reading saved my sanity last week!!  I kept my book with me while I was sitting at the computer desk for hours at a time and read while I waited for various things to load, erase, and re-load.  Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, the novel about teens who turn into wolves and vice-versa, and ended up loving it!  A very pleasant surprise since I don't usually like paranormal romance.
  • Next, I read one of my Christmas presents from my husband, Ken: Room by Emma Donoghue.  WOW.  What an amazing book.  One of the best I've read.  I finished it on Saturday, and I'm still thinking about it.
  • Now I'm reading a middle-grade novel, Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary by Jerdine Nolen.  It's very good so far - fascinating.
  • I just moments ago finished an audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine.  It really grew on me; I enjoyed it.
  • My husband, Ken, read Gone by Lisa McMann, the last book in the teen trilogy, Wake and Fade.
  • During one of my 4 trips to the mall to fix my computer, I stopped into Borders and treated myself to some new books with my Christmas gift cards - that cheered me up a bit!  I also browsed the BOGOF clearance rack and got two for me and two for Ken.  He started one of them this week, Golf Dads by Curt Sampson, a book of essays about fathers, sons, and golf (right up his alley!)
  • He has also started Under the Dome by Stephen King, a big undertaking at 1074 pages!  We've both been wanting to read that one.
  • Jamie, 16, read The Books of Umber 2: Dragon Games by P.W. Catanese, a series he is really enjoying.  He wanted to re-read Book 1 first but couldn't find it.  Could it be we have too many books in this house??   He thinks he read another book this week but can't remember what it was.  Besides the computer problems, we had several snow days last week - things are just in turmoil around here!
  • Today Jamie started The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer, the last book in the trilogy that began with The Sea of Trolls.
  • Jamie is also reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for his American Literature class.  Definitely an American classic.
  • Craig, 13, is reading The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville, the fourth and final book in one of his all-time favorite series, The Unicorn Chronicles.
I guess that about covers it.  No reviews last week since I was without a computer for most of it, though I did have fun posting Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid during a brief hiatus in the internet black-out.  Hopefully, I can get back on track this week and catch up on some reviews (after I finish the 400 unread e-mails waiting for me!).  Wow, this post ended up being really long.  Sorry I was so chatty - I missed you guys!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back Soon (I Hope)

I've had very limited internet access all week due to problems with my computer.  After spending many hours at the Apple Store with some great Geniuses at the Genius Bar, we've come to the conclusion that the only option left is to erase the hard drive on my beloved MacBook and re-install the system from scratch (the likely cause is some corrupted files that are now affecting the system).  I'm in the process of backing up all my files which is taking forever because of the problems.  I'm writing this from my ancient e-Mac desktop (11 years and still going!), but I'm a bit limited here.

Just wanted to let you know why I'm not posting or visiting much.  Hopefully, I'll be back in shape before too long!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read As a Kid

I always enjoy Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, though I don't always have the time to join in the fun.  This week's topic inspired me - Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read As a Kid.

I read voraciously as a kid.  My mom jokes that if my head was in a book, I didn't even know what was going on around me (now my oldest son immerses himself in his reading the same way!).  I loved my Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books, but I also read a lot of kid classics, like the Chronicles of Narnia series, A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, Mary Poppins, Pippi Longstocking, The Wind in the Willows, The Little House books, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and even my mom's old copy of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.  I loved them all!

Other kid classics I've read more recently as an adult, including all the Winnie the Pooh stories, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland books.

So, to make this list, I referred to a List of Top 100 Children's Books that I posted last year here.  Here are my picks of Books I Wish I'd Read as a Child:

  • Anne of Green Gables (never read but keep hearing about it)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I only knew the movie version starring Gene Wilder as a kid - still a favorite flick)
  • My Side of the Mountain
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • The original Wizard of Oz books by Frank L. Baum
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • Watership Down
  • Anything by Jules Verne
  • The Cricket in Times Square
I've seen movie versions of many of these but never read the books.  Wow, that was a tough list to make.  Turns out I've read lots and lots of childhood classics.  I tried to stick to books that were around when I was a kid and books I still haven't read as an adult, even though I could have included a bunch I've read with my own kids that I wish I had read myself as a kid, like The Indian in the Cupboard and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I would have loved that one as a kid!).

Want to join in the fun?  What books do YOU wish you'd read as a kid?

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's Monday 1/24! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  Wow, last week was a long one for me.  My husband was away the whole week, the kids were off school on Monday, plus we got two snow storms with two 2-hour delays for school (and no one here to do the shoveling!)  I really felt as if I did no work last week, just spent all my time trying to keep up.  We had a very nice, well-balanced weekend, though.  I got some things done around the house and cooked some nice meals but also took some time for fun.  I played games with my sons and went out to dinner ALONE with my husband - can't remember the last time we did that!

So, here we are...Monday again, with another snow storm predicted this week...and it's not even February yet!  We all did some good reading last week:
  • I finished a book for my neighborhood book group this week, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks.  Parts of it were slow-going for me because I know nothing at all about music, but some chapters were fascinating.  I'm interested to hear what everyone else thought at our meeting Wednesday.
  • Now I'm reading Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  I realize I must be the last person on earth to read this top-seller from 2009, but I'm just not normally into the paranormal romance genre.  Despite that, I was enticed by all the amazing reviews of this book, and so far, I'm enjoying it very much.
  • I'm still listening to the audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine and enjoying it  more and more.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Broken Prey by John Sandford, a paperback thriller he borrowed from his dad.
  • Jamie, 16, re-read Leviathan this week, and then read Behemoth.  He enjoyed both very much.  He's having trouble picking his next book because there are so many here that he wants to read!  I think he and I will make a trip to Borders today to spend our Christmas gift cards.
  • Craig, 13, gave up temporarily on the Ted Bell Time Pirate series - he was just having trouble getting into it, even though he loved the first book, Nick of Time.  Instead, he started his other Christmas gift, The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville.  The Unicorn Chronicles is his other favorite series, and so far, he's really enjoying this last book in the series.
Last week, I posted a review of Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders at my other book blog, Book By Book, and a review of Pendragon Book 10: Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale, the final book in one of my favorite kid/teen series.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Pendragon 10: Soldiers of Halla

On our recent trip to Oklahoma after Christmas, I absolutely devoured Pendragon #10: Soldiers of Halla by D.J MacHale.  Then, the moment I finished it, my 16-year old son snatched it up and read the 600-page book in less than 24 hours!

The Pendragon series has been one of our all-time favorites for years, and it obviously still holds that rank in our household.  This series finale did not disappoint.

The star of these books is Bobby Pendragon, a 14-year old boy living in Connecticut with his family at the start of the series, and an 18-year old young man who is responsible for the fate of the universe by the end.  In between, it's a fast-paced adventure through space and time to different Territories, peopled by a wide variety of beings, all united in a race against time to defeat evil, in whatever form it appears in their world.

I'm not going to say much about the plot of this particular book because the twists and turns are an integral part of the imaginative story, and I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone who wants to read the series from the beginning...which I highly recommend!  My son and I were both very satisfied with the series ending and the answers it provided.  I couldn't wait for him to finish it, too, so we could talk about it!

Pendragon will appeal to older kids, teens, and adults who enjoy adventure, science fiction, or fantasy with an intricate, suspenseful plot that makes you keep turning the pages long past bedtime.  I couldn't wait to read the final book, but now I'm sorry that it's over.  I'll miss Bobby and his friends!  Give this series a try - you won't be sorry.

608 pages, Aladdin

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Monday 1/17! What Are You Reading?

Happy Martin Luther King Day!  The kids are home from school today, recovering from Craig's 13th birthday party this weekend.  My husband took them and five friends snow-tubing, then the boys all slept over.  A wild weekend with a house full of teen boys!

Now that Craig's birthday is past, our extended holiday season is finally over.  Now it feels like the new year can finally begin!  Those January birthdays are tough.

Despite all the activity, we did find some time for reading this week:
  • I quickly finished Gone by Lisa McMann.   I loved the first two books in the somewhat supernatural teen trilogy, Wake and Fade, and enjoyed this final book as well, though it was quite different from the first two.
  • I'm now reading a book for my neighborhood book group next week, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks.  I've always wanted to read something by Oliver Sacks, but this one is kind of dragging for me, probably because I'm not at all musically inclined and know very little about composing or playing music.  It's mildly interesting, but I'm craving a good bit of fiction now.  I'm sticking with it (though skimming a bit) in the interest of the book discussion.
  • I'm still listening to the audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine and enjoying it very much.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Nation by Terry Pratchett, a renowned teen sci-fi novel that our son has been telling both of us to read for a while now.  Ken is traveling this week, so he wanted a light paperback! 
  • Jamie, 16, read The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby this week and loved it.  He finished it last night and said he wishes it were the start of a series but doesn't think it is give the ending (anyone know for sure?).  I asked him what he's going to read next, and he said, "I need more steampunk!"  He's planning to re-read Leviathan so he can read Behemoth next.
  • Craig, 12 (oops - 13 now!), is doing something similar.  He set aside The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure by Ted Bell so that he could first re-read Nick of Time, the first book in the series.
Last week, I posted a review of the middle-grade/teen audio book, A Million Shades of Gray, a unique tale set in the jungles of Vietnam during the war.  I also posted about a reading challenge, Where Are You Reading 2011?

On my grown-up book blog, I posted a review last week of The Lovely Bones.

What are you reading this week?

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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Where Am I Reading Challenge 2011

I don't normally sign up for challenges, just because I don't want any restrictions or limitations on what I choose to read (aside from the two book groups I belong to!).  This is one, hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, is different, though, and I haven't actually signed up for it completely...but it just sounds like fun!

The idea is to track the location settings of the books you read this year, marking them on a Google Map.  The actual challenge is to read a book from all 50 states, plus other countries.  I'm not going to choose books based on trying to get all 50 states, but I do plan to track Where I Am Reading this year and keep my Google Map up-to-date, jut for fun.

So, you can see my map at this link.   I'm still trying to finish up some reviews from the end of 2010, so my 2011 map only has two pins in it so far!

For more information on the challenge, take a look at this post from Book Journey.  Where are you reading??

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: A Million Shades of Gray

Our family always enjoys audio books on car trips, and we listened to a very different sort of story during our holiday trips to visit family.  A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata is set in Vietnam during the war in the 1970’s and presents a picture of a place and a time that none of us knew much about before listening.

Thirteen year-old Y’Tin wants to be an elephant trainer, and he is already well on his way as the youngest trainer in his village in the jungles of Vietnam.  He loves the elephants, especially Lady.  Here, at eleven, he learns that his mentor, fourteen year-old Tomas, will let him ride Lady into the village  that day:

Tomas looked at him thoughtfully.  “I think you want to be an elephant handler even more than I once did.”

“Sure thing,” Y’Tin said in English.  He had learned that from one of the American Special Forces soldiers his father knew.  The Americans had many words for “yes.”  “Sure,” “okay.,” “right,” “affirmative,” ”absolutely,” “yeah,” “check,” “roger that,” and “sure do, tennis shoe” came immediately to mind.

Y’Tin walked around to Lady’s trunk to have a talk with her.  “I’m going to ride you in today, Lady.  Behave yourself.”

As if in answer, Lady pushed him to the ground with her trunk.  And wouldn’t let him up.  It was embarrassing.  He tried to get away, but Lady was too strong.  “Tomas,” he said, “uh, can you help me?”

Soon after, the Americans pull out of Vietnam, and Y’Tin’s village and people are suddenly in danger from the North Vietnamese.  Y’Tin’s bravery is put to the test, as he must decide whether to stay with his people, held captive in his village, or try to escape into the jungle where he might be able to save the elephants.

Throughout the novel, Y’Tin’s relationship with Lady grows and develops into a special kind of trust, but Y’Tin’s friends and family are also dear to him, and he wants to protect all of them.  There are no easy choices.

This book is recommended for ages 9 – 12, and the audio actually says “8 and up” on the package, but we all agreed that some scenes would probably be too disturbing for the younger side of that range.  The novel takes place during a war and accurately depicts some of the terror and violence inherent in war, including the loss of people close to Y’Tin.  Of course, all kids are different in maturity level, but I’m guessing that 10 and up would be a bit more appropriate for an age recommendation, and certainly young teens will also enjoy this book. 

A Million Shades of Gray transports the reader to a unique place and time and shows an interesting perspective of how some of the Vietnamese people may have viewed American involvement in the war.  It’s also about growing up, within the distinctive environment Y’Tin lives, and about relationships and, of course, about the elephants themselves.  We all enjoyed this unusual tale.

Simon & Schuster Audio


Monday, January 10, 2011

It's Monday 1/10! What Are You Reading?

January 10, but today feels like the start of the new year to me.  Last week didn't count because my husband was home sick most of the week, and my chronic illness was flared up, keeping me on the couch.  This morning, everyone is at school and work, the house is quiet, I'm feeling better, and NOW I'm ready to start the new year!

The only good side to last week was plenty of reading time:
  • I finished Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks for my library book discussion this week.  As with her other two novels I've read, March and People of the Book, it was fascinating and engaging.  It's about one woman's experience (and her English village) with the Plague in 1666.
  • I knew exactly what book I wanted to read next:  Gone by Lisa McMann.  The paperback arrived last week, and I loved the first two books in the trilogy, Wake and Fade.  I already stayed up way too late last night reading it!
  • I also started a new audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine.  I heard about this novel last year on my favorite book podcast, Books on the Nightstand, so I grabbed it up when I saw it on my library's new release shelf last week.
  • My husband, Ken, read a lot last week, since he was stuck at home with a bad cold.  He finished Bodies Left Behind by Jeffrey Deaver and said it was good but not one of Deaver's best.
  • He also finished Roastbeef's Promise by David Jerome, an amusing road trip novel that I read last spring.
  • Ken next read Behemoth, the middle-grade/teen sequel to Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld that I recently finished.  He's also enjoying this imaginative series very much.
  • Finally, Ken read one of his Christmas gifts that he's been saving, Worth Dying For by Lee Child.  This is one of Ken's favorite authors, and he said he wanted to savor this latest release.  He just finished it last night.
  • Jamie, 16, decided to read Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins finally, but first, he re-read Catching Fire to remind himself of exactly what happened in the second book.  He was completely engrossed in it for much of the weekend, to his brother's frustration!  He's in the middle of Mockingjay now.
  • Craig, 12, is reading one of his Christmas gifts, The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure by Ted Bell, sequel to Nick of Time, one of Craig's all-time favorite books.
Last week, I posted reviews of Leviathan and Behemoth, plus a review of the audio book, Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris at my other blog, Book By Book.

I also posted a summary of my 2010 reading, for kids' and teen/YA books here and for grown-up books at Book By Book, and I posted my lists of Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books Read in 2010 and Top Ten Adult Books Read in 2010 at Book By Book.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Top Ten Kids/Teen Books Read in 2010

I know you've all been waiting breathlessly for list of Top Ten Kids/Teens Books I Read in 2010!  Note that these are books I read in 2010, not necessarily 2010 releases (though many are).  I had a very hard time narrowing down this list to only ten.  It was an excellent year for kids/teen/YA books.

Here are my Top Ten, in no particular order:
Let's see...we have two from Neal Schusterman - I love his fast-paced otherworldly adventures.   Two excellent series that straddle the middle-grade and teen markets:  Leviathan and Pendragon.  There are a couple of repeat series from my 2009 Top Ten List: Pendragon (told you it was a favorite) and the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  And, I have some sequels from this list to look forward to in 2011, the sequels to Behemoth, Incarceron (the Sapphique audio is waiting here for our next road trip!), and Everwild.

All in all, a very good year for kids' and teen books!

Check out my list of Top Ten Grown-up Books I Read in 2010 at Book By Book.

What were your favorite books from 2010?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teen/YA Review: Leviathan and Behemoth

Leviathan and its sequel, Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, have been big hits so far in the YA book community.  My husband, my teenage son, and I are all thoroughly enjoying this exciting series set in a unique world.

The novels take place in an alternate reality during the time of World War I.  In this alternate place, the world is split into two main factions:  the Clankers and the Darwinists.  The Clankers, mainly Germany and Austria-Hungary, have enormous steam-driven machines, heavily armored and ready for battle.  The Darwinists, led by Britain and enabled by the early DNA research of Charles Darwin, have developed genetically modified animals as their “machines”.  The Leviathan is a living, breathing airship that is its own ecosystem, formed in part by a huge whale.

The two main characters of the series are young teens, each on separate sides of the growing conflict.  Deryn Sharp is a young girl, disguised as a boy, in the British Air Service.  She’s got excellent skills but is in constant danger of her secret being revealed.  Alek is the prince of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire but is on the run with a small crew of loyal men in their Stormwalker.

It’s an exciting, fast-paced story, filled with fascinating details of the bizarre technologies used by both sides, as the reader gets to know and care about both Deryn and Alek, whose paths eventually cross.

I listened to Leviathan on audio and read the written edition of Behemoth.  Although the audio was excellent, with convincing British and Austrian accents by the narrator, this is one case where I think I would recommend the written form.  The reason?  The spectacular illustrations in the books, drawn by Keith Thompson.  The detailed black and white drawings really add a lot to the story, especially in helping the reader to visualize some of the bizarre creations of the Darwinists and the Clankers.  I pored over every illustration eagerly and even referred often to the written book while I listened to the audio.

Kids and teens who love adventure, especially fans of steampunk, will love this thrilling series (though it’s classified as YA, I think older middle-grade readers will enjoy the series as well).  The hardcover editions are especially nice (you just can't help but run your hands over the textured covers) and would make a wonderful gift.  We can’t wait for the next book!

464 pages, Simon Pulse


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Books Read in 2010

It's that time of year again: time to look back at the past year in review.

2010 was a good reading year for me.  I read a total of 81 books in 2010, including:
  • 22 Middle-grade books (7 of these were audio books)
  • 23 Teen/YA books (3 of these were audio)
  • 36 grown-up books
If you're interested in the break-down of adult books I read, check out my post at Book By Book.

I read about the same number of books as in the previous year (just 4 less than in 2009).  I'm working on my Best of 2010 lists and hope to post those soon.

How was your reading year in 2010?

I'm looking forward to more good books in 2011!

Monday, January 3, 2011

It's Monday 1/3! What Are You Reading?


I hope everyone enjoyed a relaxing holiday week, full of reading!  We had a busy week - it seems like much more than a week ago since my last Monday post.  We flew to Oklahoma to visit my father-in-law.  There are no direct flights, so it takes a full day's travel each way.  The bright side of that is LOTS of reading time!  Between long waits in airports (our first flight was delayed 4 hours), long flights, plus a lot of quiet time at my father-in-law's (he's 85 years old and loves on his own), we all fit in lots of time with some good books:
  • I had an excellent book for traveling:  Pendragon Book 10: the Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale.  I absolutely loved the Pendragon series, and this was a wonderful ending!  At almost 700 pages, it kept me happily occupied most of the week.
  • I borrowed my next book off my mother-in-law's old bookshelf: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  I've been wanting to read this book for years and just never got to it.  Jamie remarked this weekend, "Mom, that must be a good book because you've hardly set it down!"  It was good - I finished it last night and just sat and thought about it after closing the cover.
  • I've just started Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks for my library's book discussion next week.  I loved two of her other novels, March and People of the Book, so I'm very much looking forward to this one.
  • My husband, Ken, read one of his new Christmas gift books during our trip, Breathless by Dean Koontz.  He said it was confusing at first, with lots of different story lines, but they eventually came together, and he enjoyed the book overall.
  • Now he's home sick today and reading a book he borrowed from his dad, Bodies Left Behind by Jeffrey Deaver.  I just listened to an interesting interview with Jeffrey Deaver this weekend on the Reading and Writing Podcast (this one was podcast #27).
  • Ready for this?  Jamie, 16, read four books in the first three days of our trip, then waited (rather impatiently) for me to finish mine so he could read that, too!  He kicked off the trip by finishing The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  He enjoyed it very much but said her earlier novel, Madigan's Fantasia, is still his favorite.
  • Next, he zipped through three books in one of his favorite series, Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan:  Book 5: The Sorcerer of the North, Book 6: The Siege of Macindaw, and Book 7: Erak's Ransom.  He says he's going to use the Borders gift card he got for Christmas to get Book 8!
  • Jamie breathed down my neck for the next day while waiting for me to finish Pendragon Book 10: the Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale, then snatched it up as soon as I turned the last page.  He read this 700-page book in less than 24 hours on the way home!  He is truly a reading machine.
  • Craig, 12, was excited about the two books he got for Christmas, but only read the prologue of The Time Pirate by Ted Bell.  He thinks he may need to re-read the first book first.  He'll have a chance to dive into his new books now that school is starting again.
  • Finally, our family finished listening to an audio book that we started the week before, A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata, a wonderful middle-grade/teen book about a boy who wants to be an elephant trainer, growing up in the jungles of Vietnam during the war.
Now, it's back to our regular routines and more limited reading time, but I'm looking forward to lots of great books in 2011!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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