Monday, February 28, 2011

It's Monday 2/28! What Are You Reading?

Wow, the last day of February already?  Spring is in the air around here, where the temperatures have been in the 50's, and we're getting rain instead of snow this week.  I'm ready for it!

We had a great reading week here last week:
  • I finally finished the 700-page The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb which was complex but very well-written.  My book group meets Wednesday to discuss it.
  • I took a break from the hefty epics to read a new teen/YA mystery/thriller, Blank Confession by Pete Hautman.  It was fast-paced and suspenseful, just what I was in the mood for.
  • Last night, I finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, a much-lauded memoir about the author's first year after her husband of 40 years dies suddenly that I've been wanting to read for years.  The only problem is that I got it out of the library for an online book discussion, and now I can't remember which blog it was for!  Anyone??  This could be a sign that I am involved in too many book groups!!
  • Today, I will start Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran for my neighborhood book group.  I must admit I've been procrastinating on this one just because it's not usually one of my favorite genres, but everyone has said it's good.  I promise to start today!
  • My husband, Ken, was determined to finish Under the Dome by Stephen King before his business trip today because it's too big to travel with!  He finished it at 11 pm last night, just in time.  He said it was classic Stephen King.
  • He's taking Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton with him on the plane today.  It was a Christmas gift from our oldest son to him, and he's been saving this paperback for a trip.
  • Jamie, 16, continued reading voraciously this past week, mostly because he's still not feeling great, though he did make it to school for a few days.  He read Pathfinder, Orson Scott Card's latest teen/YA novel.  He and I have both been drooling over this one ever since it arrived because we are both huge fans of Ender's Game.  Jamie says that Pathfinder had all of his favorite fictional elements in it.  I can't wait to read it next!
  • Jamie is also reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin for his American Literature class.  I've never heard of this one, but the back cover says it shocked audiences in 1899 with its passion and "honest treatment of female marital infidelity."  OK...not sure Jamie will like this one!
  • Unfortunately, he's home sick again this morning and re-reading a favorite, The Roar by Emma Clayton, a recent middle-grade science fiction release.
  • Craig, 12, is reading The Last Hunt, the final book in Bruce Coville's The Unicorn Chronicles.
I did manage to post two reviews last week:  Room by Emma Donoghue, one of the best novels I've read in years,  reviewed at Book By Book, and here, a review of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Teen/YA Fiction: Shiver

Let me just say upfront that I am not a big fan of that newest and hottest of YA genres, paranormal romance.  I really have no interest in reading about vampires and werewolves; I haven’t even read the Twilight books.  So, I was in no hurry to read Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, a novel about a teen girl who has a special relationship with one of the wolves who lives in the woods near her home and who is sometimes in the form of a teen boy.  The plot just didn’t appeal to me, but I kept reading reviews, from people whose opinions I respect, who said it was an excellent, well-written, engaging book.  So, I gave it a try (finally)…and I’m so glad that I did!

I was pleasantly surprised by Shiver.  I had no problem suspending belief in this group of teens and young adults who spend part of their lives as wolves, and I immediately liked Grace, the girl who feels such a connection to the wolves.  Grace was only eleven years old when the pack of starving wolves pulled her off the tire swing in her backyard and dragged her into the woods:

One wolf prodded his nose into my hand and against my cheek, casting a shadow across my face.  His yellow eyes looked into mine while the other wolves jerked me this way and that.

I held onto those eyes for as long as I could.  Yellow.  And, up close, flecked brilliantly with every shade of gold and hazel.  I didn’t want him to look away, and he didn’t.  I wanted to reach out and grab a hold of his ruff, but my hands stayed curled on my chest, my hands frozen to my body

I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be warm.

Then he was gone, and without him, the other wolves closed in, too close, suffocating.  Something seemed to flutter in my chest.

There was no sun; there was no light.  I was dying.  I couldn’t remember what the sky looked like.

But I didn’t die.  I was lost to a sea of cold, and then I was reborn into a world of warmth.

I remember this: his yellow eyes.

I thought I’d never see them again.

The wolf with the yellow eyes is Sam, and he feels that same undeniable connection to Grace that she feels to him.  Sam spends part of every year as a teen boy and the rest as a wolf, among a pack of similarly afflicted humans/wolves.  Sam and Grace fall in love, and Sam wants desperately to find a way to remain human so that he can be with Grace forever, but that seems impossible.  At the same time, events in their town put the entire wolf pack at risk.

Despite my initial reluctance, I was pulled into Shiver right from the first chapter and found it hard to put down.  It is a romance at its heart, but it also contains elements of suspense and adventure that kept me turning the pages. This is one of those books with such wide appeal it that transcends its genre.  I can’t wait to read the sequel, Linger, and find out what happens next in Grace and Sam’s lives.

390 pages, Scholastic Press

Where Are You Reading 2011:  Shiver takes place in the fictional town of Mercy Falls, in northern Minnesota, north of Duluth and near the Boundary Waters National Recreation Area.

If you want to learn more about the Wolves of Mercy Falls series - or just  can't get enough of it! -  check out Maggie Stiefvater's website and blog, where I just learned that the film rights have been purchased.

(You can also read my reviews of Linger and Forever, the second and third books in the trilogy.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's Monday 2/21! What Are You Reading?

Happy President's Day!

I had another rough week last week (no new reviews posted!), but this one is starting out better.  My son had a severe flare-up of his chronic illness last week, I had a moderate flare-up, and it was another hectic, overwhelming week.  I spent Friday marshaling my limited energy to pack for another weekend away, which I was dreading.  Then things turned around.  We drove to my mom's house to spend the weekend with her and her husband.  Jamie and I still felt crummy, but there was nothing to do there but rest and relax.   Craig got to go snowboarding, and my husband, Ken, went skiing for the first time in 22 years!  We all had a nice time, and now I feel rested and ready to face another full week.

Most of us are still working on the long books we were reading last week, except for Jamie.  While he was sick last week, he read four books!  That's my boy...
  • I am almost finished with the 700-page novel, The Hour I First Believed, by Wally Lamb.  It's a good thing last week's book group was postponed!  It's quite an epic, starting in the 80's and going forward to the present and backward to the Civil War.  I always enjoy Lamb's writing.
  • Ken, my husband, is still working his way through the 1000+-page Under the Dome by Stephen King.  He's enjoying it, though he's getting sick of carrying such a huge brick around with him!
  • Craig, 13, has finished reading for his upcoming book presentation and now gone back to The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville, the final book in his favorite series, The Unicorn Chronicles.
  • And then there's Jamie, 16.  He finished reading The Books of Umber 3: The End of Time by P.W. Catanese - he really enjoys that series.
  • Next, on his first sick day, Jamie spotted an old favorite on his book shelf, The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell, one of his favorite authors, and decided to re-read it.  The equivalent of comfort food for him.
  • By now, clearly too sick for school, he piled up a big stack of books he's been meaning to read and started in!   He read Closer, Book 4 of the teen/YA Tunnels series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, about a hidden, underground world.  I've only read the first book so far, but Jamie says it's one of the best series he's ever read, so I think I need to catch up.
  • Next, he read Sabotaged, Book 3 of The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  Both he and I have been enjoying this fast-paced middle-grade time travel series.
  • Now, he's reading The Last Olympian, the final book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan.  He recently bought it with a Christmas gift card.
What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's Monday 2/14! What Are You Reading?

Happy Valentine's Day!  My wonderful husband, Ken, asked me to marry him 23 years ago today (this photo is from about that time).  I can't imagine sharing my life with anyone else - we've been through so much together, good times and bad, and he's always there to support me.

One of the many things we share together is our love of books and reading.  We had a very busy week (yes, again), including a whirlwind trip back to my hometown of Rochester, NY, this weekend for my great-aunt's funeral.  We all enjoyed some good books this week:
  • I finished reading Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson for my library's book discussion last week (I read the last page and the epilogue right after the meeting ended!), a follow-up to his first book, Three Cups of Tea.  Everyone in the book discussion was fascinated and impressed by what Mortenson has achieved, though we all agreed we wouldn't want to be married to him!
  • Just as I was hurrying to finish Stones into Schools for the library book discussion, I realized that another of my book groups is meeting THIS Wednesday, leaving me only 7 days to read the 700-page The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.  I can't usually read in the car, but I made an exception this weekend.  It's an excellent, gripping novel so far, about a couple who worked at Columbine High School at the time of the shootings.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Under the Dome by Stephen King and enjoying it very much.
  • Jamie, 16, didn't have much time for reading this week, between school, homework, and the trip (he drove part of the way), but he has started The Books of Umber 3: The End of Time by P.W. Catanese.
  • Craig, 13, is re-reading Nick of Time by Ted Bell in preparation for an oral report for his English class.
  • On audio, I've been listening to a new teen book, Thunder Over Kandahar by Sharon E. McKay.  Ironically, since I was reading Stones Into Schools last week, this new audio is about two young girls in a rural Afghanistan village who are eager to attend the new school recently built by an American charitable organization.  It's excellent so far.
  • On the way to and from Rochester, our whole family listened to The Story of Cirrus Flux, a fast-paced middle-grade novel about two orphans in 1783 London, on the run from various evil foes who want to steal a magical token.  Now that we're back home, we need to find time to finish it!
Last week, I posted a review of Musicophilia by Oliver Sachs at Book By Book and a tribute to beloved children's author Brian Jacques who passed away last week.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beloved Children's Author Dies

 I just heard the sad news that Brian Jacques, 71, died this past weekend of a heart attack.  We are in mourning here at our house.  Jacques is best known for his iconic Redwall series.  My older son, Jamie (now 16), was a HUGE fan of Redwall.  He read every single book in the series - and re-read many of them two or three times!  He so loved Jacques' masterful descriptions of the animals' feasts that he also has The Redwall Cookbook.

Although I never read any of the Redwall books all the way through myself, our whole family listened to an audio book of Martin the Warrior (part of the Redwall series) on one of our road trips.  Jacques read the book himself, and we still, years later, all fondly remember his unique voice.

Jamie also loved Jacques' seafaring adventure series that began with Castaways of the Flying Dutchman and re-read all three books in the series this past fall when we went to the Caribbean.  I read the first book myself - it was fast-paced and exciting.

We were fortunate to meet Brian Jacques in 2007 when he visited Delaware for a book signing.  It was a last-minute thing for us - I had seen a notice of the book signing in the newspaper that morning, and we decided to check it out.  Jacques proved to be an amusing and engaging speaker.  He entranced the huge group of kids crowded onto the book store floor and had all of us laughing.  We waited in a long line for him to sign our books, but once up there, he was not at all rushed and spent time talking to our boys and (as you can see in the photo) laughing with them.

His death is a great loss to the world of children's publishing.  Here's a very nice summary of Jacques' life and his books, posted on BookPage this week.  His very last Redwall book, The Rogue Crew, will be published in May 2011.


Monday, February 7, 2011

It's Monday 2/7! What Are You Reading?

Getting a late start today, after a late Superbowl night.  We just had a little family party - the four of us, plus a last-minute addition of two friends of our sons - with lots of yummy junk foods!  The kids have a day off school today, so we all slept in a bit.

We had another hectic, busy week last week, with a death in the extended family, a bit of a health crisis with my older son, plus a 2-day trip to Washington, DC, for Jamie and an all-day Academic Bowl for Craig.  The good news is that my computer is still running, so that's progress!  The week passed in a blur, though we did find time for reading, as always:
  • I finished the middle-grade novel, Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary by Jerdine Nolen and posted a review.
  • I read and thoroughly enjoyed a tiny volume, Between Home and School: Letters, Notes, and E-mails, by Bill Harley, a warm, tender little story of a boy growing up, told entirely in letters and notes sent between his mother and his teachers.  Bill Harley is a favorite entertainer/storyteller of ours.
  • Now I'm reading Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson for my library's book discussion this week.  I really enjoyed his first book, Three Cups of Tea, and this follow-up is just as fascinating and inspirational.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading Under the Dome by Stephen King - he figures this one may take a few weeks!
  • Jamie, 16, decided to set aside The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer, the last book in the trilogy that began with The Sea of Trolls, because he didn't remember enough of the second book (he often re-reads earlier books in a series before moving on).  So, now he's re-reading The Land of the Silver Apples by Nancy Farmer.  This is one of his favorite fantasy series. 
  • Craig, 13, also changed books this week in order to re-read one.  He has an assignment for English to do an oral presentation on a favorite book, so he's re-reading Nick of Time by Ted Bell and keeping an eye out for favorite quotations and a good passage to read aloud to his classmates.
I tried to do a bit of catching up on my reviews last week.  In addition to the review of Eliza's Freedom Road I mentioned above, I also posted a review of the teen novel, Gone, by Lisa McMann.   On Book By Book, I also posted a long-overdue review of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, as well as a summary of what I read in January and a list of Top Ten Best Debut Books.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Friday, February 4, 2011

Middle-Grade Review: Eliza’s Freedom Road

 I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about the Underground Railroad before, so I was interested to read Eliza’s Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary by Jerdine Nolen, a new middle-grade novel about a young girl who escapes slavery in 1855.

When the novel opens, Eliza is just eleven years old, working on a farm in Alexandria, Virginia.  Her mother has been sold, which was devastating to her, but she has friends at the farm who help to take care of her.  At first she works as a helper to the cook; later she ends up acting as a personal maid to the Mistress of the farm, in the role that her mother used to fill.  Eliza is overjoyed when her close friend and mentor, Abbey, gives her a diary:

“Talk your words in this,” she told me.  That’s when Abbey gave me Mistress’s never-been-used writing diary.  Mistress had thrown it out.  She cannot see so well to write anymore.  I am writing in it now.  Abbey gave me two lead pencils, too.

“Write your words in it.  But do not ever let Sir see you do it,” she warned me.  I know what she means.  It is unlawful for Slaves to read and write.   Mistress does not but Sir enforces the Slave Laws to the letter.  Sometimes I am so full of fear for writing in my little book.  But I must write.  It helps me to think and remember.

Eliza is unusual among the slaves because Mistress taught her to read and write at a young age, so her diary entries that make up the novel are well written in standard English.

When Mistress becomes ill, Eliza accompanies her on a journey to Maryland to stay with her sister.  Although Eliza is heartbroken to leave Abbey, going to Maryland removes her temporarily from the Master’s brutal rule, and his intention to sell Eliza, as he sold her mother, at the next Slave Auction.  As Mistress’s condition worsens, it becomes clear that Eliza will have to run away in order to avoid this fate, as well as the Master’s violence. 

Interspersed among the tale of Eliza’s escape using the Underground Railroad are retellings of the stories that Eliza’s mother told her as a child.  These range from Bible stories to African folk tales to familiar stories of Brer Rabbit.

I enjoyed this little novel and learned a lot from it.  It is definitely targeted toward younger kids; there are references to violence but nothing explicit.  I think it would be ideal – and enjoyable – for older elementary or middle school students studying the Civil War, with its details both of slaves’ daily life and of how the Underground Railroad worked.

139 pages, A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Teen/YA Review: Gone

I really enjoyed Wake and Fade, the first two books in Lisa McMann's unique paranormal trilogy, so I was excited to read the final book in the series, Gone.

Janie, the main character introduced in Wake, has an unusual talent that is also a curse: she gets pulled into other people's dreams.  The process is involuntary and leaves her exhausted and drained.  In the first two books, Jamie used her strange power to help the police solve two horrific crimes, all the while becoming closer to another loner, a boy named Cabel.  She also learned that her talent comes at a terrible price.

Gone is a different kind of book.  There is no crime to solve here, no suspenseful race to the finish.  The suspense here is to find out what Janie will do with the rest of her life.  She has graduated from high school with a scholarship to college, but she has also discovered that the negative effects of being a "dream catcher" are accelerating.  She loves Cabel but worries about what effect her worsening condition will have on him as time goes on.

She feels that she has two equally awful choices: continue to use her abilities and continue to deteriorate or isolate herself away from other people's dreams and live a life of solitude.  The novel focuses on this no-win choice, but the decision is further complicated by a mysterious stranger who enters Janie's life. 

If you enjoyed Wake and Fade, you'll want to read Gone to find out what happens next and what Janie decides.

214 pages, Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster)

NOTE:  This exciting series is definitely for older teens and young adults (and grown-ups!) because it deals in part with violent crimes and sexual assault.