Monday, January 30, 2012

It's Monday 1/30! What Are You Reading?

Here we are...Monday again! I have one son feeling better and heading back to school this morning after two weeks at home...and the other one curled up on the couch feeling awful. I wonder whether I will ever experience a normal, quiet, solitary work day again!  Really sick of the TV constantly making noise in the background.

Another busy weekend here - we are still buried in forms and paperwork for college, but we did finally file the FASFA (financial aid form) this weekend - progress! Not nearly enough time for reading this week, but here's what we did manage:
  • I finished Divergent by Veronica Roth, an excellent teen dystopian novel (see my review).  I'm looking forward to book 2!
  • I was in the mood for more kids/teen reading, so I next read a middle-grade book I've been dying to read for months: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.  It was aptly named - full of wonder!  Just an amazing, one-of-a-kind book.
  • I am also still listening to an audio book, The Power of Six by Pitticus Lore, though I'm still not loving the narrators.  It is a good story, though.
  • And I finally started a book for one of my book groups, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel about two Cuban brothers who move to NYC in the early 1950's and start an orchestra.  I thought it started out a bit slow, but I am enjoying it now.  This book has been on my TBR shelves for almost 10 years!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading one of his Christmas gifts from me, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, and enjoying it, though he hasn't had much reading time either.
  • Jamie, 17, is reading Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Book Three in the Chaos Walking trilogy.  He says this post-apocalyptic trilogy is excellent and his dad and I need to read it next!
  • Craig, 14, gave up on Chronicles of the Red King: The Secret Kingdom by Jenny Nimmo, a prequel to one of his all-time favorite series, Charlie Bone.  He says it just wasn't as good as the Charlie Bone series.  
  • He is now finally reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, which the other three of us have been suggesting to him for ages!  Craig likes to be independent and make his own choices, but he admits we were right about this book.  He's only a couple of chapters into it and is already loving it.  He actually turned the TV off voluntarily a few minutes ago to read!
I posted two reviews last week:  Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls and Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I also posted a link to the winners of the Youth Media Awards, including the Newberry and Caldecott Honors, plus many others - so many good books out there waiting to be read!

I learned a bit more about customizing the look of my blogs, though I am still a novice (after 7 years of blogging!)  I would love to figure out how to add photos and other customizations.  I like the clean look of it now, but it is a bit plain.  Someday...

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  You might also want to take a look at the kids/teen version of what are you reading Monday over at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ALA Announces Award Winners!

This week, the American Library Association (ALA) announced the latest winners of the Youth Media Awards, including such well-respected awards as the Caldecott Medal, the Newberry Medal, Coretta Scott King Award and more.  It's an impressive list of books, audio books, and videos from picture books to Young Adult novels.

Of all of these prestigious award-winners, I have only read one of them: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (which I happen to be reading right now!) which won the Schneider Family Book Award for "artistic expression of the disability experience."

Looks like I need to get busy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Teen/YA Review: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth was the hottest new dystopian release of 2011.  My 17-year old son read it as soon as it came out and kept saying, “Mom, you have to read this!”  I also read many great reviews of it and watched with interest as it showed up on many Best of 2011 lists. I finally found time to read it last week and discovered that all that hype was well-deserved; Divergent is an exciting, original novel.

Among the decrepit buildings of Chicago and the enormous swamp that used to be Lake Michigan, the community has been rebuilt into five factions, each with their own unique role in society:  Abnegation (the selfless who govern), Dauntless (the brave who defend the city), Erudite (the intelligent who pursue knowledge), Amity (the peaceful who grow food), and Candor (the honest who always tell the truth). 

At age 16, each person must choose their faction.  While most choose to stay within the faction they were born to, some change factions at this time.  It is a decision with life-long consequences, determining whom they will live with, what kind of job they will have, and even their core beliefs.  Beatrice has lived happily and peacefully in Abnegation with her brother and parents her whole life, but she isn’t certain it is where she really belongs.  She is worried about her aptitude test and the Choosing Ceremony the following day and has no idea which faction she will choose.

I don’t want to say anymore about what Beatrice chooses or what the consequences of that choice are – no spoilers here!  But things are not quite as simple as they first seem in this new kind of society, and there are some conflicts brewing behind the seemingly peaceful surface.  As Beatrice goes through her initiation (whether you are born into a faction or transferred in, you must go through initiation when you become an adult), she learns things that are disturbing and makes some new friends as well as some enemies.

Divergent is a fast-paced, action-packed story with lots of surprising plot twists.  I remarked to my son that it was more violent than I’d expected, and he rolled his eyes and teased, “Mom, you are such a girl!”  Yes, I am!  And yes, some of the violence did surprise me, though it is a very common element of dystopian fiction.  Despite that, I was totally absorbed into this story and hated to set the book down to go to bed each night.  I finished it yesterday and was immediately ready to read its sequel (Insurgent, which is due to be released May 1, 2012).  And that is the sign of a good book.

496 pages, Kathryn Tegen Books (imprint of HarperCollins)

Can't get enough of Divergent?  Check out the Divergent fan site.

P.S. I was just as fascinated by the author’s backstory as I was by the book itself.  Veronica Roth is a very young author, just out of college, with a very big success with her first novel!  Read more about her at her blog.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Monday 1/23! What Are You Reading?

Very busy week and not a great weekend.  We enjoyed a gathering of friends on Saturday evening but spent the rest of the weekend frantically trying to get our taxes started, finish the FASFA form for college financial aid, and apply for a scholarship that requires more information than most college applications!  Very frustrating work.  Going through our medical records for taxes, I uncovered a half dozen mistakes our health insurance company made on our claims last year.  How can a company survive when they are that incompetent?  (Of course, most of the mistakes are in their favor!)  No wonder health insurance is so expensive.  So, now I have some wonderful phone calls to look forward to this week to straighten all this out.

As always, books provided a nice respite for us, although I don't think any of us had much time for reading last week:
  • I am still reading Divergent by Veronica Roth (almost finished).  It's a teen dystopian novel that garnered a lot of attention when it was released last year.  It's excellent - I kept wanting to ditch all my work and read more this weekend!
  • I am also still listening to an audio book, The Power of Six by Pitticus Lore, and enjoying that as well, although I'm not thrilled with the narrator of the audio.  Also, I can't figure out how to turn off Shuffle on the audio book on my iPod, so I have to stop after every chapter to find the next chapter - it's very confusing listening to the chapters out of order!  
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading one of his Christmas gifts from me, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  He says it's fascinating that good people didn't see what was coming with the Holocaust.
  • Jamie, 17, finished The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, Book Two in the Chaos Walking trilogy, and immediately moved onto Book Three: Monsters of Men.  He says this post-apocalyptic trilogy is excellent and just keeps getting better!
  • Craig, 14, had a lot of trouble deciding what to read next, but he finally settled on Chronicles of the Red King: The Secret Kingdom by Jenny Nimmo, a prequel to one of his all-time favorite series, Charlie Bone.
I posted one review last week of The Novice: A Story of True Love, a Thai folktale about Buddhism that I enjoyed.  I also posted my list of Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To Someone Who Doesn't Normally Read YA.  And I posted a summary of the 5 Reading Challenges I've chosen to participate in for 2012 (finally!).

And, you may have noticed that I changed the look of my blog a bit.  This is actually a really big deal for me...after 6 years of blogging!  I know very little about the technical side of blogging, so changing my blog's look and finally figuring out how to add separate pages (see my new page for 2012 Challenges) was a giant step forward.  Now that I know how to do it, I may add some additional pages - tell me what pages or tabs you have on your blogs.  And I still wasn't able to add a photo to the header of my blog - I have no idea how people do such creative and unique things with their blogs!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Friday, January 20, 2012

2012 Reading Challenges

OK, we're more than half-way through January now.  I suppose if I plan to join some challenges for 2012, I better get going!  I don't normally "do" reading challenges - too much pressure and too little time! - but I did enjoy participating in two of them last year.  So, after much deliberation (plus some procrastination), I have settled on these five reading challenges for 2012:

 2012 Where Are You Reading Challenge, hosted by Sheila at Book Journey -
This was my very first challenge (in 2011), though I took the no-stress approach and just tracked the locations where my books took place, rather than making any attempt to hit a certain target.  My final tally for 2011 included 20 different states and 11 different countries.  We'll see how many different places I visit through books in 2012!

Books On the Nightstand 12 in '12 Challenge -
Hosted by my favorite podcast (if you've never listened to Books on the Nightstand, you must try it!), the 12 in '12 Challenge allows each reader to set his or her own +12 challenge for 2012.  My challenge is:
  • To read at least 12 books from my TBR shelf, including at least 3 recommended by my husband.
My TBR shelves just keep getting more and more crowded, so I want to be sure to get to plenty of those books this year, including some my husband has read and recommended (and moved from his side of the TBR bookcase to mine).

2012 Dystopian Challenge, also hosted by Sheila at Book Journey -
I already have several dystopian novels on my TBR shelf, so I thought this one would be fun.  I am signing up at the Intermediate Post World Trainee, shooting for 4-6 dystopian novels in 2012.

What's In a Name 5 Challenge, hosted by Beth Fish Reads -
I decided to sign up for this one just for pure fun!  She has 5 very unique and creative categories set up for 2012.  "Read one book in each of the following categories:
  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title: Moon Called, Seeing Stars, Cloud Atlas
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title: Little Bee, Spider Bones, The Witches of Worm
  4. A book with a type of house in the title: The Glass Castle, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Ape House
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Sarah's Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary
  6. A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title: Day of the Jackal, Elegy for April, Freaky Friday, Year of Magical Thinking
The book titles are just suggestions, you can read whatever book you want to fit the category."

2012 Memorable Memoirs Challenge, hosted by Melissa at The Betty and Boo Chronicles -
I love to read memoirs and have several already on my TBR shelf waiting to be read, so this one is  a perfect fit for me.  I am signing up The Diarist level, aiming to read between 1 and 4 memoirs in 2012 (though I may move up to the next level later).

So, that's it!  Now I just need to figure out how to make a separate tab on my blog to track my challenges.  Even though I have been blogging for about 6 years, I've never really moved beyond the basics!

What challenges are you signing up for this year?

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's Monday 1/16! What Are You Reading?

Not a typical Monday here.  The kids are off from school today, Jamie is recovering from a stomach virus, and I have a lot of work around the house to catch up on today because we were gone this weekend for Craig's birthday. 

Things have been hectic around here, but we still found time to enjoy our books this week:
  • I finished Great House by Nicole Krauss last week and posted a review.
  • I also finished my first audio book of the year, The Novice: A Story of True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is a parable about living a life devoted to the teachings of Buddha.  I don't know a lot about Buddhism, but I enjoyed this unique book.
  • Now I have started a new audio book, The Power of Six by Pitticus Lore, which I've been looking forward to for months.  It's good so far.
  • Next I read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, a sort of novelized prequel to her best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle.  I loved this book about Walls' grandmother's life and can't wait to talk to my book group about it on Wednesday.
  • Last night, I started Divergent by Veronica Roth - finally!  It's an intriguing concept so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading one of his Christmas gifts from me, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  I want to read it when he finishes!
  • Jamie, 17, is reading The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, Book Two in the Chaos Walking trilogy.  He says it is even better than the first book.
  • Craig, 14 (as of Friday!), is finishing Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted today.
Last week, I posted reviews of Great House by Nicole Krauss and the middle-grade novel Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. 

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Breadcrumbs

When I heard that Anne Ursu had a new middle-grade novel coming out last year, I knew it would be something special.  I’m a fan of Ursu’s, having enjoyed one of her grown-up novels, The Disapparation of James, and her middle-grade trilogy, The Cronus Chronicles, which cleverly combines fantasy and wit.  I recently listened to her latest, Breadcrumbs, on audio, and this magical story did not disappoint.

Ten-year old Hazel has had a rough time lately – her father left her and her mother, they don’t have a lot of money, and Hazel doesn’t feel that she fits in with the other kids at school.  All of that is OK, though, because Hazel has her best friend, Jack, who lives next door.  Together, they create fantasy worlds, go sledding, and play superhero baseball, so it doesn’t matter if the other kids don’t want to hang out with her at recess.  Suddenly, though, Jack seems to have changed and Hazel feels him pulling away from her.  When Jack disappears, she puts her hurt feelings aside and goes after him because she knows she is his only hope.

When Hazel heads into the Minnesota woods alone, with her backpack filled with necessities (including an autographed baseball Jack gave her), she has no idea that she is literally stepping into another world.  In her quest to find Jack, Hazel encounters all kinds of strange characters, many of whom will be familiar to fans of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales.  In a classic struggle of good versus evil, Hazel uses her wits and her connection with Jack to seek out the Snow Queen and bring Jack back home.  It’s a sometimes scary journey for Hazel, but somehow you always believe that things will turn out well in the end.

The genius of this novel is the way that Ursu weaves a realistic story of 10-year old best friends struggling with the kinds of challenges that real kids face together with a fantasy world populated by fairy tale characters.  The blending of fantasy and reality (which was also evident in The Cronus Chronicles) is sure to appeal to middle-grade readers.  Add to that Ursu’s considerable talent for prose, peppered with references to popular children’s literature, and even a dose of her trademark humor, and you have a magical, engaging story.

Although I enjoyed the audio production of this book, I think this is a case where the traditional paper book is best, thanks to Erin McGuire’s beautiful illustrations.  I bought a copy of the hardcover for my 9-year old niece for Christmas, and she paged through the book reverently, pausing to exclaim over each illustration and running her hands over the beautiful cover.  She even gently removed the jacket and gasped in delight at the embossed snowflakes on the book itself (a girl after my own heart!).  It’s a beautifully produced book that makes a lovely gift for any young reader.

320 pages, Walden Pond Press

For more information about Anne Ursu and her books (including some of the illustrations from Breadcrumbs), check out her website.

Monday, January 9, 2012

It's Monday 1/9! What Are You Reading?

Well, so far the new year is off to a good start for me - I felt good all last week, enjoyed the warm, sunny weather at the end of the week, and even got all of my goals set for 2012 and my calendar set up (I am usually way behind!).  I also caught up with my end-of-year blog posts on my book blogs, though I still need to write one more catch-up post about the book challenges I am joining for 2012 - should be fun!

We enjoyed our books last week:
  • I am almost done with Great House by Nicole Krauss.  This turned out to be a rather long read, even though the book isn't that big, because it is fairly dense prose, but I have enjoyed it.  I should finish it today.
  • I started a new audio, The Novice: A Story of True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is a parable about living a life devoted to the teachings of Buddha.  I thought this was an appropriate audio book for the start of a new year!  I'm enjoying it so far.
  • My husband, Ken, finished his first-ever e-book, The Breach, a suspense novel by Patrick Lee.
  • Next, Ken picked up the book he started before our trip, Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen, one of my favorite memoirs, and read a few more chapters.  I think he prefers this book in small tastes.
  • Last night, Ken started one of his Christmas gifts from me, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  We're both looking forward to this novel set in Nazi Germany by the author of The Devil in the White City.
  • Jamie, 17, finished The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare and loved it.
  • Now he is reading another of his Christmas gifts, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Book One in the Chaos Walking trilogy.  He says it is very good, though somewhat dark and different than what he usually reads.
  • Craig, 13, is reading Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted, hoping to finish it this week so he can take his Accelerated Reader quiz before the end of the marking period next week.
I didn't write any new reviews last week, but I did post my year-end summary/list of Best Books Read in 2011, both here and at Great Books for Kids and Teens.  I also posted my wrap-up for the Where Are You Reading 2011 Challenge.  It was fun keeping track of the settings of all the books I read.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Best Kids/Teen Books Read in 2011

I went back through my reading journal yesterday and found that I read a total of 68 books in 2011.  Thirty-two of those books were for kids, teens, and YAs, and 36 were adult books (for a tally of the grown-up books, check out my year-end post at Book By Book).  Of the 32 kid/teen books:
  • 2 were picture books
  • 11 were middle-grade novels
  • 19 were teen/YA novels
  • 6 of the kid/teen/YA books I read were audios
I read so many good books this past year - it is always hard to choose favorites - but after much deliberation, these are my Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books Read in 2011:
All in all, a very good year!

What were your favorite books read in 2011?

Monday, January 2, 2012

It's Monday 1/2! What Are You Reading?

Happy New Year!!  I hope you have all had an enjoyable holiday week with your families.  We just returned last night from a trip to Oklahoma to visit my father-in-law.  It was a nice visit (and great weather!), but it is wonderful to be back home now.  Jamie, our 17-year old son, was very ill all week with a flare-up of his chronic illnesses, so that marred the week.  On the upside, it is quiet and low-key there, so we all had plenty of time to read:

  • I finished Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, a coming-of-age teen book about a young man with an Asperger's-like condition who is trying to fit into the "real world" per his father's request.  It was excellent - just as good as I'd heard.
  • Now I am reading one of my Christmas gifts, Great House by Nicole Krauss.  I loved her novel, A History of Love.  This one took a bit of time to get into, but after reading on airplanes all day yesterday, I am enjoying it.
  • My husband, Ken, brought his new Kindle Fire on the trip and spent a lot of time playing with it!  He's also been reading his first e-book download, The Breach by Patrick Lee, a suspense novel, though he watched movies on the flights - I think he's enjoying his new toy!
  • Jamie, 17, read most of his Christmas gifts this week since he was sick!  He lugged the hefty Inheritance by Christopher Paolini all the way to Oklahoma and finished in in just days.  He said it was a different ending than he'd expected, a bit sad, but he loved the book.
  • Next, he read I Am Number Four and The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore.  We'd watched the Number Four movie adaptation a couple of months ago, and he wanted to read the book and its sequel.  He enjoyed both very much.
  • Now he is reading another hefty and long-awaited novel, The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare.  It kept him happily occupied through hours of flight yesterday.
  • Craig, 13, got a laptop for Christmas, so he spent a lot of time this week playing with his new toy and watched movies on the planes, but he and I enjoyed reading Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted at bedtime all week.  He was reluctant to read it (because I had recommended it!) but is enjoying it.
I don't normally travel with my laptop, but I brought it along this week specifically to catch up on my book blogs!  Here's what I posted:
Ah, it's nice to start the new year off all caught up!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Happy New Year!