Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Monday 2/27! What Are You Reading?

Getting a slow start this morning, but I see bright sunshine and two of our four family members are off to school/work, so that's a good start!  Wow, what a weekend.  After a week with both of our sons home sick, I was feeling a bit stir-crazy and desperate for some quiet solitude, so I just left on Friday! 

Some friends loaned me their beach condo for a quiet getaway, and I drove down there to spend 24 hours on my own, taking care of no one but myself.  It was....weird, but good.  It took me a while to actually relax, but the downtime was a welcome respite.  What a strange world where doing dishes takes only two minutes (wash 1 plate, wash 1 fork), and I can do anything I want!  I got 3 hours of audio book time on the way there and back.  I didn't do as much reading as I'd planned because I stopped at the library on my way and picked up the entire 7-hour mini-series of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, which I read and loved last summer.  I didn't watch the entire series (still have 2 episodes to go), but it was fun to just lie on the couch and escape into the story!

Of course, I returned home to all the same stuff - messy house, sick kids, long to-do list - and spent the rest of the weekend working on some urgent things with looming deadlines, but the time away definitely helped.

So, here's what we read last week:
  • I finished middle-grade novel The Whisper by Emma Clayton, sequel to The Roar which my son and I both loved.  I think the first book was a bit better, but this novel provided a satisfying ending.
  • Yesterday, I finally started to read Skeletons at the Feast, a novel set in 1945 Europe by Chris Bohjalian, my neighborhood book group's choice for this month.  We meet on Wednesday, so I am afraid there is virtually no chance I can finish this 360-page novel before our discussion.  Since Bohjalian is known for his surprise endings, this could be trouble - I may have to lock myself in the bathroom for part of our discussion.  Damn that 7-hour mini-series!
  • I am listening to an audio book, Falling Together by Marisa De los Santos. I enjoyed reading her earlier novel, Love Walked In, and am enjoying this one so far, too. It was fun to lose myself in the story during my drive this weekend, instead of my usual routine of listening in 10-minutes spurts.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading an e-book, Big Lake by Nick Russell, on his Kindle Fire, and Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman, a hardcover novel.
  • Jamie, 17, is almost finished with Timeline by Michael Crichton, one of my favorites of Crichton's many exciting novels.  Despite several sick days last week, his reading has slowed down because he's hooked on a video game!  With his brother also home sick last week, they played non-stop (one of the things I was eager to escape from!)
  • Craig, 14, is reading The Secret of Pirates Hill, a classic Hardy Boys book and is enjoying the familiar, fast-paced mystery.
I posted two new reviews last week: Breathless by Dean Koontz, a unique and mystical story very different from his horror novels, and The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin, a teen/YA novel about a wilderness reform school that I enjoyed.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and a kidlit version is hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.

Quiet Solitude at the Beach

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Teen/YA Review: The Girls of No Return

Erin Saldin’s debut novel, The Girls of No Return, caught my eye for several reasons: as an outdoor lover, I liked the idea of a book about a wilderness school for teen girls, and it sounded like it had some emotional depth to it.  My first impressions were correct, and I read this compelling novel in just a few short days.

At the start of the novel, it’s not entirely clear why Lida’s father and stepmother are sending her away to the Alice Marshall School for Girls, deep in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, but it is obvious that she must have some serious emotional problems.  In fact, Lida holds her problems and her emotions very tightly inside her, even when all of the other girls at the wilderness school are beginning to share their feelings during Circle Share time.  As the girls hike, canoe, go to classes, and talk about their problems, Lida remains hesitant to let anyone in, so it is a big deal when the new, glamorous and mysterious girl, Gia, chooses Lida above all of the girls as her best friend.

All of the girls have their secrets, their Thing that landed them at Alice Marshall in the first place. With Gia, Lida finally begins to open up and share some of what she is feeling, but it makes her increasingly uncomfortable that Gia doesn’t seem to reciprocate.  Meanwhile, there are other girls who would like to befriend Lida, but she doesn’t want to let them in; it is clear she has been badly hurt in the past.  The tension builds to the exciting climax when it is time for the girls to go on their solo overnight backpacking trip.

I really enjoyed this book about teen girls facing their inner demons. The wilderness setting is unique and each of the girls has a distinctive personality and past. I found it engaging, suspenseful, and interesting, and I look forward to reading more from Erin Saldin.

345 pages, Arthur A. Levine (imprint of Scholastic)


Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Monday 2/20! What Are You Reading?

Whew, what an exhausting weekend after a busy week!  I drove Jamie and I to see our Lyme doctor in New Jersey (about 90 minutes away) on Friday.  Our younger son was in an all-day Academic Quiz Bowl Saturday (he did well and had a great time!), and we had a few friends over last night for a little Mardi Gras celebration.  We usually have a bigger party (we used to live in New Orleans), but with Jamie and I so sick lately, we decided to stick to a smaller, simpler gathering - just a few close friends who also used to live in New Orleans - you know, the kind of friends you don't have to clean the house for!

Despite the busy week, we all enjoyed our books:
  • This weekend, I finished Breathless by Dean Koontz - my husband was right - I loved it!  It is mystical and surprising and thought-provoking...not your typical Koontz novel.
  • As soon as I finished, I immediately picked up a middle-grade novel I've been wanting to read, The Whisper by Emma Clayton, sequel to The Roar which my son and I both loved.
  • I finished listening to The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore, the teen sequel to I Am Number Four.  I wasn't thrilled with the audio, but it's a good story.
  • I started a new audio, Falling Together by Marisa De los Santos. I enjoyed reading her earlier novel, Love Walked In, and am enjoying this one so far, too.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading an e-book, Big Lake by Nick Russell, on his Kindle Fire, though I think he is spending much more time playing Solitaire and surfing the web than reading!
  • Ken is also still in the middle of Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman, a hardcover novel.
  • Jamie, 17, is still reading Timeline by Michael Crichton, one of my favorites of Crichton's many exciting novels.  He's enjoying it very much.
  • Jamie also finished his World Lit assignment, To Live by Yu Hua, a Chinese novel.  He said it wasn't too bad, for school reading, though it was sad.
  • Craig, 14, started Found, Book 1 of The Missing by Margaret Haddix Peterson, and realized his 5th grade teacher read it aloud to the class (which means he's already taken the AR test), so he had to switch to another book.  He was in the mood for a some comfort reading, a classic Hardy Boys book, so I brought a stack back from the library for him to choose from.  He settled on The Secret of Pirates Hill.
 Last week, I posted a review of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos plus two lists for Valentine's Day: Top Ten Books That Broke My Heart and Top Ten Kids/Teen Books That Broke My Heart.  I also posted my own little homage to A Wrinkle In Time's 50th Anniversary.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and a kidlit version is hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Happy Anniversary to My Favorite Book!

Did you know that this year is the 50th anniversary of the iconic children's novel, A Wrinkle in Time, written by author Madeleine L'Engle and published in 1962?  The publishing world has been pulling out all the stops for its year-long celebration of this beloved book, including brand-new 50th Anniversary Commemorative editions, in both hardcover and paperback. I heartily agree that this is a milestone worth celebrating!

I enjoyed this article in Publisher's Weekly about a big anniversary celebration event held last week at Manhattan's Symphony Space. I wish I had been there - it sounds like so much fun! There were various performances of bits of the book, by both children and celebrities (I would have loved to hear Jane Curtin's reading), as well as recordings and photos of L'Engle herself talking about the novel, and a panel discussion of current children's authors.  Among the authors in the panel was Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me, a recent Newberry Honor winner that paid homage to A Wrinkle in Time.  Each of the panelists was asked about their first encounter with L'Engle's most famous novel, so I thought it would be fun to share with you my own early experiences with what was my all-time favorite childhood book.

I actually read A Wrinkle in Time (for the first time) for school.  My class was reading it.  I thought it was my 3rd grade class, but I recently reunited with some old elementary school classmates on Facebook who said it was a later year...I guess my memory is faulty! So, anyway, sometime in elementary school, our class read A Wrinkle in Time, and it was love at first read for me.  I loved Meg and Charles Wallace right from page 1 and was entranced by the other-worldly plot.  After reading the book, my class performed a play based on the book, and I was thrilled to be cast as Meg!  I remember being on stage with the kids playing Charles Wallace and Calvin, while someone back stage flashed strobe lights during our tesseracts (yes, awesome special effects).

I was so entranced by the book that I immediately went to the library and read through the rest of the series.  Did you know that A Wrinkle in Time is only book one in a 5-book series?  I read and loved them all!  I probably read the first book several more times during my youth.

Fast-forward 20 years or so, and I'm a mom to two sons.  I couldn't wait until they were old enough to share my favorite book with them!  But I was too impatient.  I tried reading it to them when they were maybe about 5 and 8, and they made me stop - told me it was too scary.  So, I bided my time.  Before long, my oldest read it on his own and enjoyed it.  One down, one to go.  Once my youngest son was old enough, I kept recommending it to him...but he has a fierce independent streak and hates when anyone in the family recommends anything to him! So, he avoided it.  Finally, his 6th grade teacher assigned A Wrinkle in Time as required reading for the whole class, and he had to read it.  He finished it - and loved it! - and then, my reluctant reader said those words every book-loving mother wants to hear, "This was so good!  There's a sequel?  I have to read it!" So, he read A Wind in the Door and loved that one, too.  Music to this mother's ears.

So, what's your story?  When and how did you first experience A Wrinkle in Time?


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books That Broke My Heart

Happy Valentine's Day!  It's Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten day over at The Broke and the Bookish.  Today's very appropriate topic is Top Ten Books That Broke My Heart.

Ah, I love a book that can make me cry. I think that is a sign of a good book - one that can make you feel something, a book where you come to care about the characters so much that it breaks your heart when something bad happens to them.  A kids' or teen book that can wring out such emotion is a special treasure. You can also check out my grown-up list of Top Ten Books That Broke My Heart.

So, in honor of Valentine's Day, here are my Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books That Broke My Heart:

  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White - probably the first book to break every child's heart, right?
  • The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Coleen Degnen-Veness - I remember sobbing as I read this for my 7th grade English class.
  • Go Ask Alice by Anonymous - I only read this in recent years, but Alice's inability to stop her downward spiral is heartbreaking.
  • Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor - I cried so hard listening to this audio book that I almost drove off the road searching for the Kleenex box!
  • Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott - every page of this disturbing, haunting novel of a girl who's been kidnapped is heartbreaking.
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo - how can a story about a stuffed bunny be filled with so much love and loss?
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson - a real tear-jerker.  My sons hated this beloved children's book because they don't like sad stories!
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - a book about a little girl during the Holocaust, narrated by Death, is sure to involve some heartbreak, though books save the day.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowlings - the death of a main character broke the hearts of children and adults everywhere.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowlings - the unexpected death of a minor character is even more heartbreaking.

Which children's/teen books have broken your heart?

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Monday 2/13! What Are You Reading?

Oh, it Monday?  I completely forgot about What Are You Reading Monday this morning!  I jumped right into working on all the stuff I meant to do last week.  My oldest son and I were both in bad shape all week (again) due to a continued flare-up of our chronic illness.  I am doing a bit better this week, though he is still down and out. This past month has been rough around here.

Books are a welcome respite during these long sick weeks:
  • I finally finished 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. It was good though a bit long, and I am looking forward to discussing it with my book group this week.
  • Next, I read an excellent teen novel, The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin, about an emotionally scarred teen girl's experiences at a wilderness school, interacting with other damaged girls, trying to face their Things.  It was well-written and compelling.
  • Now, I am reading Breathless by Dean Koontz, a supernatural novel my husband has been telling me I would love - so far, so good!
  • While traveling for business last week, my husband, Ken, switched to his Kindle and read an e-book, Big Lake by Nick Russell, a mystery.
  • When he returned, Ken switched back to a hardcover suspense novel he started last week, Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman.
  • Jamie, 17,  finished The Whisper by Emma Clayton, sequel to The Roar which he and I both loved.  I wanted to read it next, but it was in his room while he was sleeping when it was time for me to choose a new book!  Definitely going to read that one next.
  • Jamie also read The Unwanteds, Lisa McMann's new middle-grade novel, and enjoyed it very much - another one in my towering TBR stack!
  • Jamie ran out of teen novels he was interested in (a rare occasion in our house), so last night he started Timeline by Michael Crichton, one of my favorites of Crichton's many exciting novels.
  • Jamie is also reading a new book for his World Lit class, To Live by Yu Hua, a Chinese novel.
  • Craig, 14, finished The Hunger Games and said, "It was SO good!"  This is very high praise from someone who usually prefers active pursuits to reading.
  • Craig had trouble choosing his next book this weekend but finally settled on Found, Book 1 of The Missing by Margaret Haddix Peterson.  Jamie and I both enjoyed this series, so I hope Craig will like it also.
So that's it - lots of reading for all of us this past week.  I wasn't well enough to write any reviews, but I did manage a couple of top ten lists: Top Ten Books for Kids Who Are Reluctant Readers and Top Ten Books for Someone Who Says They Don't Like to Read. I had fun with both of these lists!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and a kidlit version is hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Top Ten Books for Reluctant Readers

Today is Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten day over at The Broke and the Bookish!  Head on over there to check out all the amazing top ten lists.  Today's topic is Top Ten Books I’d Hand To Someone Who Says They Don’t Like to Read.  I think this is especially relevant for kids/teens because there are plenty of young people who haven't yet discovered how magical reading can be because they associate it with the drudgery of school work.  Here are some books to change their minds:
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick – because it is so unique and easily read in a short time, with more than half of its pages illustrations.
  • Icecore by Matt Whyman - for reluctant teen male readers, with lots of fast-paced action.
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – for fans of the Twilight movies, with plenty of romance and a plot that pulls you in.
  • Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted – action, suspense, real-life middle school, plus a nice dose of humor.
  • Amy & Rogers Epic Detour by Morgan Matson – for teen girls, with romance, a good story, plus a travelogue-type scrapbook to keep things interesting.
  • Wake by Lisa McMann – for teens who like a dose of the supernatural, a quick read with short, easy-to-read chapters and plenty of suspense.
  • Unwind by Neal Schusterman – a gripping novel about a creepy future, with likable characters and lots of action.
  • Boom! By Mark Haddon – for reluctant male middle-grade readers who like action, outrageous silliness, and plenty of humor.
  • The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu – for kids who liked The Lightning Thief movie.
  • Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo – for fans of the Harry Potter movies; all I can say is that my own reluctant middle-grade reader read the entire series!

So, those are my choices.  What are your top picks for kids or teens who consider themselves non-readers?

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's Monday 2/6! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another rollercoaster week here!  The lows?  Both of my sons and I were all very sick last week with a flare-up of our chronic illness and spent much of the week lying around the family room uselessly (I really hate being unproductive!).  However, on Saturday, the mail delivery included two key items we've been anxiously waiting (hoping) for: our youngest son's acceptance into the local Charter high school he wants to attend and our oldest son's acceptance into University of Delaware (his first college acceptance).  All that good news came at once, considerably brightening up the week for us!  So, hopefully, this week will be a whole lot better than last.

All those sick days meant plenty of time for reading:
  • I am still reading 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'm almost finished with it.  It's a very good book, though a bit long and sometimes rambling.  I have enjoyed the story and the writing.
  • I am also still listening to an audio book, The Power of Six by Pitticus Lore, though with everyone home sick all week, I didn't have much time to myself to listen.
  • My husband, Ken, finished In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  He said it was very good, though not quite as riveting as The Devil in the White City (also by Larson).  I definitely plan to read this one, too.
  • For a change of pace, Ken is now reading a suspense novel, Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman.  I think this is one of the books I picked up for him at Borders' going-out-of-business sale last fall. 
  • Jamie, 17, finished Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, Book Three in the Chaos Walking trilogy.  It must be an exciting conclusion because I heard him talking to the book, "Oh, no!  No!", then later, "Oh, good."  He really enjoyed this exciting sci fi trilogy.
  • Jamie is now reading The Whisper by Emma Clayton, sequel to The Roar which he and I both loved.
  • Jamie has also started a new book for his World Lit class, To Live by Yu Hua, a Chinese novel.  He says it's "not bad" so far which is high praise for required reading!
  • Craig, 14, is reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and enjoying it very much.  We will all be ready for the movie adaptation when it is released in March!
Last week, I wrote a review of Wonderstruck, an amazing, one-of-a-kind middle-grade book by Brian Selznick.  I also posted my list of Top Ten Book Club Picks and a summary of Books Read in January (is it really February already?).  And, just for fun, I shared a very cool video for book lovers.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and a kidlit version is hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Wonderstruck

I somehow missed out on all the excitement surrounding Brian Selznick’s first award-winning novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I heard a lot about it but never had a chance to read it.  So, when I heard last year that Selznick had published another groundbreaking, amazing novel, I was determined not to miss it this time.  I recently finished his latest masterpiece, Wonderstruck, and now I know what all the fuss is about.  This one-of-a-kind book completely captivated me.

Wonderstruck is not just a unique story but a wholly unique way of telling a story.  The book contains two different but intersecting stories, each told in a different way.  First, we are introduced to Ben, a young boy growing up in northern Minnesota in the 1970’s.  Ben’s story is told in a somewhat traditional way, through text, as Ben reminisces about his mother and tries to adjust to her recent death.  With his mother now gone, Ben also begins to wonder about his father, an unknown man his mother never identified.

The second story in the book is told entirely through pictures.  The reader is introduced to Rose, a young girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1927, through gorgeous, full-page pencil drawings showing her in her room, overlooking New York City across the water, as she works on her scrapbook of a famous actress.  The book then alternates between Ben’s story, told in text, and Rose’s story, told in drawings.  The two children’s stories parallel each other right from the start, as both of them set out on a personal mission to find something missing from their lives.  I love that kind of  symmetry and serendipity in a story.

This unique book fully engages the reader, pulling you into the compelling stories of both Ben and Rose.  I found myself rubbing my hands over the beautiful embossed cover of the book and the smooth, exquisitely detailed pencil drawings.  It’s amazing how fully Selznick can tell Rose’s story entirely through pictures, a feat that takes on an even greater significance as you learn more about Rose’s life.  And the prose describing Ben’s adventures is equally mesmerizing.

I’ve heard some people somewhat put off by the size of this hefty novel.  At over 600 pages, it is a brick of a book, but I read it very quickly, over the course of just two days, since more than half of the pages are filled with illustrations.  And while those wonderful drawings do entice you to linger, the story keeps you turning the pages to see what will happen to Ben and Rose and how – and if – their stories will intersect at some point.  The title is apt; this novel will leave you wonderstruck.  I can’t wait to see what Selznick comes up with next…and I think I need to go back and read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, too.
629 pages, Scholastic