Monday, July 30, 2012

It's Monday 7/30! What Are You Reading?

Well, my week of quiet solitude is over!  On Saturday, we picked up our two teen sons from their week of sailing with their grandparents.  All of them were exhausted when we met up with them!  Though I wasn't happy to have the TV on all day yesterday, it is nice to have the boys back home.  Now it is almost August, and school starts four weeks from today - the summer is flying by!

We all enjoyed some good books last week:
  • I am still reading Sharp North by Patrick Cave, a teen/YA dystopian novel and one of my Big Book Summer Challenge choices.  It's interesting and engaging so far, a unique story set in the UK years after disastrous flooding has changed the world.  My son, Jamie, loved it and recommended it to me.
  • I am still listening to Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, a middle-grade audio book that won the Odyssey Award for Audio Book Excellence...with good reason!  It is wonderful, and I am enjoying it very much.
  • I also read Book 5: Prince of the Elves in the popular Amulet graphic novel series.  The drawings were good, but I had no idea what was happening throughout the entire book - obviously the result of starting with Book 5!  From what I've heard, it's been a bestseller, so we will have to try starting with Book 1 to see for ourselves.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings, Book 2 in this popular series of huge books!
  • While on the boat last week, Jamie, 17, read The Rogue Crew by Brian Jacques, part of the Redwall series which was Jamie's favorite when he was younger.  He's not sure how he missed this one, but he thoroughly enjoyed this bit of comfort reading!
  • When he returned from the boat, I convinced Jamie to try Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  He read for hours yesterday and is LOVING it (as I knew he would!).  It's just such a fun, unique novel, filled with 80's pop culture references that I knew Jamie would enjoy.
  • Craig, 14, took a break from reading while on his trip, but yesterday he reluctantly started his second required book for the summer, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  He has been dreading this one!  To him, it looks like a "girly" novel.  According to the Amazon description, the story goes "...from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture," so hopefully, he can tolerate the hair ribbons and crushes parts and enjoy the action and suspense!
Even though the kids were gone last week, I still had a very busy week with not nearly as much time for writing as I'd hoped, so I posted just one new review: Liesl and Po, a wonderful middle-grade audio book.  I also posted a link to a hilarious blog post, where a writer mom asked her 6-year old daughter to explain what various classic novels were about, from looking at their covers - lots of fun!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Liesl and Po

I’ve heard great things about Lauren Oliver’s novels, but I’d never read one, so I was glad for the opportunity to listen to the middle-grade audio book Liesl and Po.  This unique tale of a girl who befriends a ghost was full of fun and adventure.

Young Liesl lives in her attic bedroom, locked there by her stepmother (the quintessential evil stepmother) since her beloved father died.  One night, a ghost named Po appears in her room, and the two lonely souls find comfort in each other and become friends.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, a young orphan named Will, who is apprenticed to a cruel alchemist, mixes up two wooden boxes and delivers them to the wrong recipients, with dire consequences. The two desperate children each set out on their own quests to right wrongs, and their destinies eventually intertwine in a magical story about friendship and family.

I really enjoyed this engaging adventure story, with surprises around every corner.  It reminded me a bit, in tone and subject matter, of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, though Liesl and Po has a wholly unique plot.  Po is a gentle, kind sort of ghost, but the bad guys in this story are truly evil, in fairy tale style.  In the end, good triumphs over evil, and every character gets what he or she deserves in a satisfying conclusion. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio book, performed by the very talented Jim Dale (narrator of the Harry Potter audios and many other excellent audio books).  However, I just saw on Amazon that the paper book is illustrated with beautiful pencil drawings, so I think that either format would be an excellent choice for middle-grade readers and their families.  You can listen to a sample of the audio here.

HarperChildren’s Audio

This video provides a peek at the beautiful illustrations:
Video Trailer for Liesl and Po

And here is a wonderful video interview with Lauren Oliver about the writing of Liesl and Po:
Interview with Lauren Oliver

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's Monday 7/23! What Are You Reading?

Today is my birthday!  Happy Birthday to me - ha ha.  I am celebrating by relaxing alone at home - ahhhh!  My sons are off on their grandparents' sailboat for a week, so my husband and I are enjoying a rare bit of peace and quiet.  Life is so easy with just the two of us - we haven't run the dishwasher in 2 days, and it's still not full!

My 8th birthday!

We had a good reading week:
  •  I finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and I LOVED this unique novel!  It is just so much fun but has some depth to it as well.  I found myself thinking about the characters days after I'd finished the book - always the sign of a good novel.  I can't wait to listen to the book discussion of it on The Readers, one of my favorite book podcasts.  And my husband and son will love this book, too!
  • Now I am reading Sharp North by Patrick Cave, a teen/YA dystopian novel that has been sitting on my TBR shelf for far too long.  My Big Book Summer Challenge motivated me to finally read it.
  • I am listening to Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, a middle-grade audio book that won an Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audio Book Production.  I can see why it won an award - I am loving it so far and hoping to have more time to listen with the kids gone this week!
  • I also read another graphic novel that Scholastic sent me: Drama by Raina Telgemeier. I really enjoyed this story about a middle school musical production, especially since my son had the lead role in his middle school's musical this spring!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings (Book 2).  He wants to read Ready Player One before I return it to the library but is too immersed in this hefty tome for now!
  • Jamie, 17, finished The Sapphire Rose, Book 3 in David Eddings' Elenium Trilogy.  He really enjoyed this fantasy series that his Dad recommended.
  • Jamie told me on the phone this morning that he is now reading The Rogue Crew by Brian Jacques.  He LOVED the Redwall series when he was younger and just discovered this one title that he'd never read before.  It was his first-ever purchase at his college bookstore!  And he loves to read books about sailing or the ocean while he is on the sailboat.
  • Craig, 14, finished the first of two required summer reading books this week, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  He found it interesting, and is now enjoying a break from reading during his vacation (yes, I have one son who brings an extra bag full of books on vacation and another who doesn't read at all on vacation!).
I posted two reviews last week:  The Postmistress by Sarah Blake and Cardboard, a middle-grade graphic novel by Doug Tennepel.

My Big Book Summer Challenge is well underway, but there is still time to participate if you have a big book (or two) that you'd like to read this summer.  Check out the challenge and the links to some big book reviews!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Cardboard

I’m not usually a big fan of graphic novels.  I did enjoy a few of the Bone books, by author Jeff Smith, that we had around the house and my son loved the Sardine in Outer Space books by Emmanuel Guibert books when he was younger, but I rarely read or request graphic novels now.  Scholastic recently sent me a few graphic novels (uncorrected proofs) that I hadn’t asked for, so I thought I’d just take a quick look when I had a few minutes.  The first one I read was Cardboard by Doug Tennapel, and I was impressed by its clever premise and creative story.

Mike is a single father without a job.  The opening panels make it clear that he is a good guy and a skilled carpenter, but he can’t find work in the depressed economy and is becoming desperate.  Today is his son’s birthday, and he wants to get Cam something special, but he doesn’t even have enough money for food.  On his way home, he sees a roadside stand where a mysterious man is selling toys, but he can’t afford any of them.  When he mentions that his son is a really good boy who deserves a good birthday present, the man offers him an empty cardboard box for exactly the amount of change in Mike’s pocket.  Mike thinks it’s pretty lame, but he figures he and Cam can do some sort of creative project with the cardboard box.

He brings it home, and Cam good-naturedly suggests they build a boxer out of the box, so father and son work together late into the night to build a cardboard man.  While they are sleeping, the cardboard man comes to life and announces that his name is Bill.  Mike and Cam are astounded but thrilled with the magical cardboard that brought their new friend to life, but the neighborhood bully, Marcus, discovers their secret and wants the magic for himself.

The story turns into a fantastical adventure, with all sorts of cardboard creations coming to life and wreaking havoc on the neighborhood.  It’s a battle of Cam’s (and Bill’s) goodness versus Marcus’ evil, and things quickly get out of hand until the boys are no longer in control.  As I said, I’m certainly not a graphic novel expert, but I enjoyed reading this and thought the drawings and text told an interesting story.  The novel is filled with action and is fast-paced, an original and exciting story sure to please young boys and reluctant readers in particular.

285 pages, Scholastic

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Monday 7/16! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another crazy busy week.  I literally had appointments every single day last week - run, run, run!  Fortunately, all that time in waiting rooms gave me some extra reading time...a silver lining!

Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished The Postmistress by Sarah Blake...almost in time for the book discussion at my library!  I had 10 pages to go when it was time for the meeting, so I finished it right afterward.  It was a good book, and it sparked some great discussions!  I'll post a review this week.
  • Although I normally alternate between kids' books and grown-up books, I had another library book/discussion book that I couldn't wait to read!  I am reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline to prepare for a book discussion on one of my favorite podcasts, The Readers.  I've been hearing great things about this novel since it was published a year ago and am so glad I finally got to it.  It is really, really good, a story about a teen in 2045 who is competing in a huge worldwide online game inside the virtual reality world where most of Earth's human residents now spend their waking hours.  The game's creator (a sort of Gates/Zuckerberg geek success) was obsessed with the 80's, so the novel - and the game - are filled with 80's pop culture references.  It's a great story and lots of fun!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings (Book 2)...and will be for a while!  He's enjoying this hefty book.
  • Jamie, 17, is busy with school work but found time to continue reading David Eddings' The Elenium Trilogy.  He finished book 2, The Ruby Knight, and is now reading book 3, The Sapphire Rose.  He seems to be enjoying this series by one of his dad's favorite authors!
  • Craig, 14, is still reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, one of his required reading books for the summer.  He's enjoying it and finding it interesting, but he'd rather be out with his friends than reading!
I lugged my laptop along to several appointments last week, so I also had time to catch up on a few reviews while sitting in waiting rooms!  I reviewed two of my Big Book Summer readsOutlander by Diana Gabaldon and Blood Red Road by Moira Young, a teen/YA post-apocalyptic novel.  I also posted a summary of Books Read in June (better late than never!).

There are eight of us now participating in the Big Book Summer Challenge, and reviews are being posted, so check it out.  There's still plenty of time left in the summer to read a big book, so join the fun!  And if you are already participating, be sure to add your own big book review links!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Teen/YA Review: Blood Red Road

My first Big Book Summer read was Blood Red Road, a dystopian/post-apocalyptic teen/YA novel by Moira Young.  The book is written in a unique, sparse style that took some getting used to, but the compelling story pulled me in and held my attention.

Eighteen-year old Saba lives in a desolate future wasteland with her twin brother, Lugh, their father, and their 9-year old sister, Emmi.  Their mother died giving birth to Emmi, and the family lives a fairly harsh existence, plagued by dust storms and struggling day-to-day to find food.

Their difficult but peaceful existence is disrupted by a raging sandstorm one day that brings four mysterious, cloaked horsemen who snatch Lugh and take him away.  Devastated by the loss of her beloved twin, Saba sets out on a quest to find Lugh.  Away from the isolation and safety of their home, Saba discovers that the outside world is a dangerous and frightening place.  She is forced to take care of and defend herself for the first time in her life, and she learns she is much stronger than she thought.  Along the way, she meets a clever, attractive loner named Jack whom she’s not sure she can trust and an all-girl gang of revolutionaries called the Free Hawks.

The whole story is told in Saba’s voice, in a sort of slang, and written in a spare style without quotation marks.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter, where Lugh is trying to fix their roof with help from his sisters:

And then there’s Emmi. She’s doin what she always does, which is pester me an Lugh. She dogs my heels as I go from the ladder to the junk pile and back.

            I wanna help, she says.

            Hold the ladder then, I says.

            No! I mean really help! All you ever let me do is hold the ladder!

            Well, I says, maybe that’s all yer fit fer. You ever think of that?

            She folds her arms across her skinny little chest and scowls at me. Yer mean, she says.

            So you keep telling me, I says.

When I first began reading the novel, I found the style a bit off-putting, but it didn’t take long for me to get into the rhythm of it.  Once the story pulled me in, I got used to the unusual writing approach, and by the end of the novel, it felt like exactly the right way to tell the story from Saba’s perspective, reflecting the desolation of that time and place.

This is a fast-paced, action-packed story of a young woman finding her inner strength in a dangerous and lawless time.  It’s filled with twists and turns that keep you guessing…and cheering for Saba and her new friends.  The title page says this is Dustlands, Book 1.  I can’t wait for Book 2 (scheduled or release on October 30)!

459 pages, Margaret K. McElderry Books (Imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Monday 7/9! What Are You Reading?

I'm a little late posting today - spent all morning running errands and going to appointments.  Whatever happened to the lazy days of summer??

In fact, I was insanely busy all last week - post-vacation catch-up!  I am making progress, slowly but surely.  I am down to just 100 unread e-mails now (I started with 1000!).  So, little time for either reading or blogging last week, but I am hoping to get back to normal this week. 

Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Outlander by Diana Galbaldon.  I enjoyed it very much and would definitely read another in the series...when  have a few weeks to devote to it!
  • I am diverting briefly from my Big Book Summer focus to read a novel for my library's book group, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.  I don't know if I'll be able to finish in time for the discussion on Wednesday, but I am enjoying the book.
  • I started a new audio, the middle-grade novel, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.  I have only finished disk 1, but I am loving it already.
  • In a few spare moments (OK, I admit it, in the bathroom), I read a new middle-grade graphic novel, Cardboard by Doug Tennapel.  I liked it more than I expected to - it's a unique premise and a very clever story about magic cardboard that gets out of hand.
  • My husband, Ken, finally got his turn with George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings (Book 2) now that our son finished the first three books!
  • Jamie, 17, had to get back to work upon returning home (he still has 2 classes to finish this summer), so he's not reading as much as he'd like to, but he is continuing to enjoy David Eddings' The Elenium Trilogy with the second book, The Ruby Knight.
Two more bloggers signed up for the Big Book Summer Challenge last week - welcome!  Join the fun - there's still plenty of time to read a big book this summer (or two).

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a middle-grade/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Books.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

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

No, don't worry, I didn't enter Witness Protection.  I disappeared for a few weeks because we were on vacation!  Our vacations are mostly tech-free - long road trips cross country, camping along the way.  We drove to South Dakota's Black Hills - one of our favorite places on earth! - to visit family and enjoy all the amazing scenery, and we made lots of fun stops along the way.  Although I did miss interacting with friends online, I have to admit that I didn't miss all the obligations and responsibilities - of course, now I have 950 e-mail messages to wade through!

So, we read lots of great books over the past 3 weeks (it's actually been a full month since my last Monday update).  We read far fewer than usual, though, because all of us were focused on some really BIG books - perfect for my Big Book Summer Challenge!  Here's the run-down:
  • Before we left, I finished Blood Red Road by Moira Young, a teen dystopian novel and my first Big Book of the summer, at 459 pages.  It's an unusual novel, written in a unique style, but it grew on me - the story was gripping.
  • During our trip, I read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  At 850 pages, it lasted our entire trip (and I am still working on finishing it!).  I am loving it - it is just as good as everyone has told me for years - an epic story about a woman in Scotland in 1945 who gets sent back in time to the 1700's.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.  He loved it but very kindly held off on starting Book 2 because he knew our son would fly through both books (he was right!).  
  • Next, Ken read Running Blind by one of his favorite authors, Lee Child.
  • Jamie, 17, started the trip by reading and enjoying The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, a recent re-release by favorite author Nancy Farmer, while he waited (rather impatiently!) for Ken to finish Martin's novel! 
  • Next, as predicted, Jamie flew through George R.R. Martin's series, reading A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords (which we gave to Ken for Father's Day while we were away!).  He loved the series and can't wait to read Book 4!
  • After polishing off those three enormous novels, Jamie delved into the duffel bag of books he brought with him (he reads a LOT on our trips!) and started The Diamond Throne by David Eddings, Book 1 of The Elenium trilogy.  Eddings is an old favorite author of my husband's, so he picked up two of his trilogies at the used bookstore for our son before we left.
  • Craig, 14, started his assigned summer reading for school while we were gone with Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and was surprised to find it fascinating!
  • In the car, we listened to a new teen audio book, Revived by Cat Patrick, a creepy sci fi/romance about a girl who is part of a secret government program to test a new drug that can revive people who have died.  Ken and Jamie thought there was too much romance and not enough action, but we all enjoyed the intriguing and unique story.
So, that's about it.  I did manage to post two new reviews before we left:  The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern and The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez, a teen memoir.  I also posted a summary of Books Read in May...and now it's already time to summarize June!

It's still early in the summer - plenty of time left to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge if you haven't yet!  It's an easy-breezy challenge - you only need to read one big book (over 400 pages) this summer to participate.  Sign up today and join the fun!  Here are a few pictures from our trip.  If you are interested, you can see more at our trip blog.

Ken and I at Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, SD

Craig and Jamie at Mount Rushmore

All of us at Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin