Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Teen/YA Review: Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am

I have a large number of middle-grade, teen, and YA books on my TBR shelves, and I tried to do a bit of end-of-the-year catching up. One of the teen/YA novels I recently read was Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis. It is a unique story about a young man who comes back from Iraq with a brain injury that leaves him with no memory of who he is.

Ben Bright is the star of his senior class in high school – a good student, the lead role in his high school play, and a longtime girlfriend named Ariela whom he plans to marry. All of his friends are going away to college next year, but Ben has other plans. He enlists in the army, much to his family and friends’ dismay. His parents don’t understand, his best friend, Niko, is angry with him, and Ariela is afraid he won’t come back. Ben explains to them that he feels a deep need to give back and help support and protect his country, and he reassures them that he won’t be going overseas.

Those who care about him reluctantly support Ben, but things change and he is sent overseas, to Iraq. The phone call they have all been dreading finally comes: Ben has suffered a severe brain trauma in an explosion, and doctors are unsure what his prognosis might be.

The rest of the novel follows both Ben and his family and friends as they all try to support Ben with his new challenges, as he slowly recovers in the hospital. He doesn’t remember any of them nor his old life nor even who he is. Ben’s journey back to life is a slow and tedious one, and his friends and family members each react differently, as he struggles with his daily challenges.

This is a very brief novel – only 148 pages – about an important topic that is rarely covered in teen/YA fiction, young people in the military and the long road to recovery for those with brain injuries. I liked that this book showed all sides of a complicated issue: readers see Ben’s determination to do the right thing and support his country but also the crazy randomness of violence in war and the difficulties for soldiers returning home injured or incomplete.

Ironically, I chose to read this novel now because I was looking for something brief, but it felt a bit too brief to me. I wished there was a little more. I think that tells you something about the story. It was well told and compelling, with very realistic characters that I came to care about. I’m glad I read it, and I still think about it.

148 pages, Simon & Schuster

 

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Monday 12/30! What Are You Reading?


Happy Almost New Year! It's hard to believe tomorrow is the last day of the year. We've been busy this past week, with Christmas preparations, then Christmas, and then traveling to visit family. But, we all received books for Christmas, so we've been reading a lot, too, especially during air travel. Here's what we have been reading this week:
  • I finished Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, book 3 in the Chaos Walking trilogy, on Christmas Eve and loved it! It was an excellent end to an outstanding series. I can't wait to read more from Ness.
  • In between books, I read a few more stories from David Sedaris' Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, a unique collection of short stories about animals acting very human-like. I was driving my son crazy reading parts aloud to him while we waited in a doctor's office. C'mon, can you blame me? A stork mother who doesn't know what to say when her child asks where babies come from? That just begs to be shared - so clever and witty!
  • I am now reading a book my husband gave me for Christmas, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, a YA novel I have been wanting to read for a long time. So far, it's just as good as everyone had said.
  • I am listening to The Real Boy by Anne Ursu on audio. I am a big fan of Anne's novels, both adult and middle-grade fiction. My son and I loved her Cronus Chronicles trilogy. I had hoped to squeeze in one last audio book this year, but I think this will be my first audio book finished in the new year. It's excellent so far, but I don't have a lot of time to listen with my whole family around all the time.
  • My husband, Ken, is also reading a new Christmas gift (from me): Wool by Hugh Howey. Both of us have been wanting to read this acclaimed dystopian novel.
  • Jamie, 19, finished Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan, volume one of The Riyria Revelations on his Kindle.
  • On the airplane, he read another book on his Kindle, Bloodlust: A Gladiator's Tale by C.P.D. Harris. From what I could see from my seat next to him, it was pretty gory, with lots of battles, but he enjoyed it. The Kindle is a great advancement for Jamie, since he is such an avid reader that on one trip when he was in middle school, we discovered he had stuffed a giant compendium of all of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books/stories into his backpack and carried it through airports!
  • Now, Jamie is reading Project Cain by Geoffrey Girard, a recent teen/YA novel we received for review that also caught my eye.
Not much time for writing last week, but I did manage one review:

Review of The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa - highly recommended.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?     

Hope you have a fun New Year's Eve and a great start to the new year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

It's Monday 12/23! What Are You Reading?


Whew. Things have been super busy here, as I'm sure is true for most of you, too! We've been traveling so much that all of our Christmas preparations got put off until this weekend, so we put up our tree (after it spent two weeks in the garage!), decorated it, put up our outdoor lights, decorated the house, hung the wreath, finished shopping, began to wrap gifts, and began to write out cards (which I bought back in November!). Today, I finished the grocery shopping, and we will bake cookies. Like I said, whew!

We still enjoyed some good books last week, though, amid the holiday hubbub:
  • I am still reading Monsters of Men, the third and final book of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, and it is just as fabulous as the first two books. I am near the end now and staying up much too late each night reading!
  • I FINALLY finished listening to Rotters by Daniel Kraus, a teen/YA novel. It was one of the strangest and most disturbing books I have ever read...and I used to read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz! It took me over two months to finish it. It's a good story but very dark.
  • I have just started listening to The Real Boy, a middle-grade novel by Anne Ursu (on my way home from the store this morning, after I finished Rotters). I'm only on chapter one but am enjoying it so far. Anne Ursu is a favorite author of mine.
  • My husband, Ken, finished World War Z by Max Brooks. Now we can watch the movie!
  • Ken also read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn this week. This is the third of Flynn's novels that he's read, and I think he liked this one best.
  • Jamie, 19, finished Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Book 1 in The Broken Empire series. 
  • Now, Jamie is reading Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan, volume one of The Riyria Revelations on his Kindle. He says it's very good - he's been reading a lot while he's home from school!
I actually managed quite a few blog posts last week, in an effort to catch up:

Top Ten New To Me Authors Read in 2013

Top Ten New To Me Kid/Teen/YA Authors Read in 2013

Review of When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Review of The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley

Summary of Books Read in November (better late than never!)

Weekend Cooking post, with several easy, tasty, and healthy weeknight recipes.

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?    


My husband and two sons decorating the Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Books Read in November

Oh, yeah, I am just a little bit late with my monthly summary from November. Things have been crazy hectic here the past few weeks. We cut down our Christmas tree two weeks ago and just finally had time to bring it in from the garage last night! Better Late Than Never is pretty much my life motto.

November was a rough month for me in other ways, but it was a good reading month! Here's what I finished reading last month:


  • The Dream by Harry Bernstein, a memoir (Illinois)
  • Flyaway by Lucy Christopher, a middle-grade novel (Scotland)
  • The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley, a middle-grade/teen graphic novel memoir (Pennsylvania)


 Lots of variety last month: I read a memoir, an adult novel, two middle-grade novels, a teen/YA novel, and a graphic novel memoir. My favorite book of the month? They were all good, but Between Shades of Gray completely blew me away! It is an amazing, powerful novel.

Update on 2013 Reading Challenges:
I added no new states to my 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge, but I did add two new countries: Lithuania and Scotland. That brings my totals up to 26 states and 13 countries. Two of the book were from my TBR shelves, bringing my total up to 18 for the 2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge.

What were your favorite books read in November? 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: The Dumbest Idea Ever!

I don’t read a lot of graphic novels, but I have enjoyed a few of them in the past, so I looked forward to reading a new release from Jimmy Gownley, The Dumbest Idea Ever! I quickly realized that this book defies categorization. Yes, it is in the form of a graphic “novel,” but it isn’t a novel at all; it’s a memoir about Gownley’s own adolescence and how he got his start as an author.


The memoir begins when Jimmy was thirteen, attending eighth grade in Catholic school in a small Pennsylvania coal town. He’s an excellent student and one of the school’s best basketball players. The only piece of his life that doesn’t seem to fit is his love of comic books and graphic novels. Everyone else sees them as a waste of time, and the nuns at school won’t even let him read them during quiet reading time.



Things are good for Jimmy until he gets the chicken pox, followed by pneumonia, and misses almost a month of school. His grades drop, he misses the championship basketball game, and things seem to keep getting worse. After a summer spent hanging out with the kids in his neighborhood, Jimmy starts high school and his problems seem to just get worse. Jimmy feels like he can’t get out of the slump that began with his long illness, plus he struggles with the kind of problems all young teens face: transitioning to high school, making new friends, talking to girls, and doing well in school.



Eventually, Jimmy writes and draws his own comic book and even manages to get it published (no spoilers here – that is revealed in the first pages of the book), but his friends don’t always understand his passion for comics. You'll have to read it for yourself to discover what the dumbest idea ever is!



I enjoyed this unique graphic novel memoir (a new category of book?). It’s a coming of age story that middle-graders will relate to, but it is also about setting goals and making your dreams come true, even when your friends don’t get it. I’m no expert on graphic novels, but I thought that both the writing and the illustrations were very good, and the story held my attention. Kids who love to write or draw will especially enjoy this inspiring real-life story.



236 pages, Graphix (a Scholastic imprint)


NOTE: This book is scheduled to be released February 25, 2014

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top Ten New To Me Kids/Teen/YA Authors


It's Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish. Head over there and check out all the top ten lists! Today's topic is Top Ten New To Me Authors Read in 2013. I had a tough time coming up with 10 at first because I have some favorite kid/teen/YA authors I tend to return to, but I ended up finding plenty of new-to-me authors I tried for the first time this year.

So, here is my list of Top Ten New-To-Me Kid/Teen/YA Authors Read in 2013:
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  • Patricia C. Wrede – I read the Frontier Magic trilogy and loved it: The ThirteenthChild, Across the Great Barrier, The Far West.
  • Patrick Ness – Chaos Walking trilogy, starting with  The Knife of Never Letting Go and TheAsk and the Answer (and I am now reading Monsters of Men).
  • Blue Balliet - Hold Fast – how did I never read any of her novels before?
  • Amber Kizer – A Matter of Days – a post-apocalyptic road trip
  • Ruta Sepetys – Between Shades of Gray – blew me away! Can’t wait to read her latest, Out of the Easy.
  • Lucy Christopher – I read both Flyaway, a middle-grade novel, and Stolen, a teen/YA novel, this year and can’t wait to read more.
  • Shaun Tan – Tales of Outer Suburbia – I’d heard so much about this author’s unique books and would love to read more.
  • Stephen Chobsky – The Perks of Being a Wallflower – I can’t believe I missed this classic for so many years!
  • Michael Northrup – Trapped – excellent suspense for teens.
  • Audrey Couloumbis - Not Exactly a Love Story, listened to on audio.

Lots of great books in that list! If you are also interested in my list of new-to-me adult authors, check out my list at Book By Book.

What were your favorite new-to-you authors this year?

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's Monday 12/16! What Are You Reading?


Happy Monday! Whew, what a whirlwind week I had last week! I spent all week making my annual DVD of family photos (videos and photo slideshows put to music on a DVD). Then, on Friday, my husband came home from a business trip, my older son finished his final exams at college, and the moment they were both back home, we packed up the truck and left for Connecticut! We had our holiday celebration with my family early this year, to accommodate everyone's schedule. It was great to see everyone, especially my wonderful niece and nephew! We got quite a bit of snow up there this weekend and had to dig out yesterday before we could drive home, but we enjoyed lots of great food and many laughs (except my husband who picked up a virus on his business trip).

So, it goes without saying that I had no time at all for blogs last week, other than my Monday posts, but we all enjoyed our books, as always:
  • I finished The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Agawa, a book that both of my sons read for their high school English courses. I loved this warm, gentle story about a housekeeper and her 10-year old son who care for an aging mathematician whose short-term memory lasts only 80 minutes. 
  • After just one week, I gave up on my idea of reading lots of short books this month...when I realized I don't have any time to write reviews! So, I picked up the hefty Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, the third and final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy (and a great way to end the year!).
  • I am still listening to Rotters by Daniel Kraus on audio, a teen/YA novel about grave-robbing, bullying, and the meaning of family. It just keeps getting darker and more disturbing - I can't imagine how it will end, but I am determined to finish it before the end of the year!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading World War Z by Max Brooks. He says it's an unusual book, written as a series of news clips from the future, rather than a story following certain characters.
  • Ken also finished City of Bones by Cassandra Clare on his iPhone during his travels last week. Now that our son is home for the holidays, we are planning to watch the movie adaptation since it is one of his favorite series.
  • Jamie, 19, is thrilled to have a break from school for a little while and have time for pleasure reading again. He finished the third and final book in the Night Angel trilogy, Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks, one of his favorite series.
  • Now, he is reading Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, Book 1 in The Broken Empire series. It must be good so far because he was up really late last night reading!
  • Craig, 15, finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon for his British Literature class.
  • Our whole family enjoyed a couple of audio books together in the car this weekend. First, we continued our family tradition of kicking off the holiday season with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens on audio. We have a bunch of different versions - this was a new(ish) unabridged recording narrated by Jim Dale (of Harry Potter audio book fame) and was excellent. It's such a hopeful, uplifting story - we were all grinning at the familiar happy ending.
  • Next, we listened to an audio book we have heard at least a half dozen times before! It is my sons' all-time favorite audio, Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater, a silly middle-grade novel that they have long outgrown, but all four of us still laugh out loud all the way through. It is a clever, funny story about a boy whose family moves to Hoboken, NJ, made even better because it is read by the author. Pinkwater nails what it is like to be a kid.
(What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.)

What are you and your family reading this week?    

My sons (in front) with their cousins.
 

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Monday 12/9! What Are You Reading?


The weeks are just flying by now! I was still very ill all last week, though starting to feel better now. I spent much of my week hustling to finish all my online shopping before the cyber week deals ended and putting together calendars and photo books on Snapfish. This week will be another hectic one - I need to start (and finish!) my annual photo DVD for our family (yes, I waited until the last minute again) and then we travel next weekend to visit family for an early Christmas celebration. Whew.

So, no time for visiting or posting much on blogs last week, but of course, we kept reading!
  • I finished When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, a historical novel about the Japanese-American internment during World War II. My son read it in school last year and liked it, and I enjoyed Otsuka's other novel, The Buddha in the Attic. Like that novel, this one features sparse and simple prose but is emotionally powerful.
  • I decided to go for the shortest books on my TBR shelves this month for a last-minute clear-out before the new year! So, next I read a teen/YA novel Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis, about a young man who enlists in the Army and suffers a brain injury in Iraq. He comes home with no memory of what happened or who he is, and his family and friends struggle with how to support him. It was very good.
  • Now I am reading - and thoroughly enjoying - another novel my sons both read it high school, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Agawa. It is a warm, gentle story about a housekeeper and her young son who take care of a math professor whose short-term memory only lasts 80 minutes. Hey, I just realized that's two books with brain-damaged characters in a row.
  • I had to start another book (I never read two at a time!) when I left The Housekeeper and the Professor in the car this weekend, and my husband was out at nap time. I started Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris, a bizarre little book filled with stories about animals in human-like situations (out on a date, at the hairdresser's, etc.). It seems like a strange concept until you realize Sedaris has applied his considerable wit to these stories, which are rife with hilarious satire about humans. Very funny so far.
  • And, last but not least, I am still listening to Rotters by Danial Kraus on audio, a teen/YA novel about grave-robbing, bullying, and the meaning of family. It's good but very dark and disturbing.
  • My husband, Ken, is now reading World War Z by Max Brooks, which turned out to add a funny element to a scary situation yesterday. He and my son got trapped by a snow storm in Lancaster, PA, and couldn't get home. They finally got a hotel room (my son said when an Amish guy in a buggy asks if you need a push, it's time to get off the road!), but there was no food available, except for vending machine-type stuff. My husband told our son, "See? This is what it'll be like when there's a zombie apocalypse." That's one of his favorite lines lately!
  • My husband has also been reading City of Bones by Cassandra Clare on his iPhone.
  • My son, 15, is reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon for his British Literature class and really enjoying it, but he was very upset when a classmate spoiled the ending!
Just two posts last week (and it's a miracle that I managed those):

Review of Flyaway by Lucy Christopher, a middle-grade novel.

Weekend Cooking post, with 3 easy but flavorful weeknight dinner recipes.

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

What are you and your family reading this week?   

Friday, December 6, 2013

Middle-Grade Review: Flyaway by Lucy Christopher

Earlier this year, I enjoyed Lucy Christopher’s chilling teen/YA thriller, Stolen, about a young girl who’s been kidnapped. Her middle-grade novel, Flyaway, has been sitting on my shelf for over a year, and I finally found time to read it. Though a much gentler, warmer story perfect for middle-grade readers, Flyaway features the same excellent writing and in-depth characters that Christopher is known for.

Flyaway is the story of a young girl named Isla who has a close relationship with her father; both of them are fascinated by the whooper swans that return to their area each winter. Isla and her father get up early one morning each year to greet the returning swans on a nearby lake where they migrate to spend the winter, but this winter, everything changes. The swans aren’t in their usual spot, and as Isla and her father run to follow the swans flying overhead, Isla’s dad collapses on the ground. When her father is admitted to the hospital, Isla feels like her world is falling apart.

Besides being worried about her dad, Isla is lonely and in need of a friend. Her best friend recently moved away, her older brother has his own friends, and her Granddad has been cranky and withdrawn since the death of her Grandma six years earlier. One day in the hospital, Isla meets Harry, a cute boy with bright red hair and a warm smile who doesn’t laugh at her fascination with the swans the way other kids at school do. But why is he in the hospital?

As the situation with her father gets worse and her friendship with Harry grows closer, Isla finds it hard to focus on her normal life and what is happening at school. She feels that if she can somehow continue the mission she started with her dad and find where the swans are wintering, somehow that will help her father. As her mother, brother, and granddad each struggle in their own way with what is happening in their family, Isla becomes more determined to find the swans, no matter what.

This is a warm and tender story about family and friendship. I liked Isla almost immediately and was rooting for her and for her dad. The family relationships in this novel are very realistically portrayed, and there is enough tension to keep the novel moving at a brisk pace but not so much as to be overwhelming for young readers. The story is about the scary things that happen in life and how we get through them…but it is also about love and hope.

336 pages, Chicken House

 

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's Monday 12/2! What Are You Reading?


I hope everyone here in the US had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends! We traveled to Rochester, NY - my hometown - for a whirlwind visit with all the branches of my family. My sons had a blast running around with their cousins all weekend, and I loved seeing everyone and catching up (my husband wasn't too thrilled with all the snow and 20 degree temperatures!).

I brought bags and bags of books with me to give to all my young cousins and kids of my cousins - some that my kids had outgrown and others that I received for review for Great Books for Kids and Teens. It was fun to see some of the kids get sooo excited when I handed over a bag of books for them. I just love to share books, especially with kids! I also had a wonderful time talking with my teen cousin about Between Shades of Gray and The Book Thief, two fabulous books that I recently sent her for her birthday - she is loving both of them!

So, here we are on Monday again - first Monday of December, last month of the year, and just 3 weeks until Christmas! So much to do. Even with all that running around and traveling last week, we still found time to read:
  • I finished Flyaway by Lucy Christopher, a middle-grade novel about a young girl named Isla whose father is obsessed with birds and especially the whooper swans that winter near their home each year. When Isla's father collapses while they are out looking for the swans, her world seems to fall apart. It was very good, and I passed it onto my cousin's 10-year old daughter as soon as I finished it this weekend!
  • I squeezed in a teen/YA graphic novel last week, The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley. I enjoyed it - it's actually a memoir, about how Gownley began drawing his own comics when he was just a teen.
  • This weekend, I started When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, a historical novel about the Japanese-American internment during World War II. My son read it in school last year and liked it, and I enjoyed Otsuka's other novel, The Buddha in the Attic, so I thought it was about time I got around to reading this one. It's excellent so far, and I can see why my son was so moved by it.
  • I am still listening to Rotters by Danial Kraus on audio, a teen/YA novel about grave-robbing, bullying, and the meaning of family. It's a long one, but I am on the last packet of discs now! It's good but very dark and sometimes disturbing.
  • And while we were driving home in the car yesterday, we stuck with our Thanksgiving tradition and began listening to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We have many audio versions of this holiday classic, but this was a new one, read by Jim Dale, and we are all enjoying it. We'll finish it on the way to my Mom's house in two weeks.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Rebel Heart by Moira Young, book 2 in the teen/YA post-apocalyptic Dust Lands trilogy that began with Blood Red Road. This one is on my list to read, too - he said it was very good.
  • Ken is now reading World War Z by Max Brooks, a novel he's been meaning to get to for a while now. It just came out on DVD, and he wanted to read the book before we watch it.
  • Even though Jamie, 19, was home from college for a few days, he still didn't have much reading time, with homework to do and cousins to hang out with! He is still reading the third and final book in the Night Angel trilogy, Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks - he absolutely loves this series!
  • Craig, 15, is reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon for his British Literature class and enjoying it very much so far.
With our travels last week, I barely had time to squeeze in one blog post:

Review of The Dream by Harry Bernstein, follow-up to his first memoir, The Invisible Wall - both are excellent!

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

What are you and your family reading this week?  

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's Monday 11/25! What Are You Reading?


This is pretty late for me - I usually write my Monday post first thing in the morning. I had to take my son to a doctor's appointment in Philly this morning, about an hour away, so that was a big expedition! Very busy week here, with planned travel to see family in Rochester, NY, for Thanksgiving, though this huge Nor'Easter storm may get in the way of those plans. It was only 20 degrees F when I got up this morning!

Amidst the hustle and bustle, we always enjoy our books:
  • I finished The Dream by Harry Bernstein, a follow-up to his first memoir, The Invisible Wall, which I read earlier this year and loved. This second memoir is about Harry's family's move from England to America in 1922 and their realization (after much struggle) of his mother's dream of a better life. It was excellent, just like the first memoir, and this one was also the beginning of a beautiful love story of Harry and his wife. I can't wait to read the third book. Harry began these memoirs when he was in his 90's!
  • I am now reading a middle-grade novel, Flyaway by Lucy Christopher, about a young girl named Isla whose father is obsessed with birds and especially the whooper swans that winter near their home each year. When Isla's father collapses while they are out looking for the swans, her world seems to fall apart. It's very good so far.
  • I am still listening to Rotters by Danial Kraus on audio, a teen/YA novel about grave-robbing, bullying, and the meaning of family. It's a long one, but I have started on the last packet of discs now! It's good but very dark and sometimes disturbing.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley on his Kindle. It's a suspense novel, and he enjoyed it.
  • Ken is now reading Rebel Heart by Moira Young, book 2 in the teen/YA post-apocalyptic Dust Lands trilogy that began with Blood Red Road. This one is on my list to read, too.
  • Jamie, 19, is busy with college and is still reading the third and final book in the Night Angel trilogy, Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks - he absolutely loves this series!
  • Craig, 15, just started The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon for his British Literature class. Although he doesn't often enjoy reading, he likes this wonderful novel so far, just like the rest of us did.
Not a lot of time for writing last week, but I managed a few posts:

Review of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, an amazing teen/YA historical novel.

Book Page's 10 Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2013, one of many "best of" lists coming out.

Weekend Cooking post, with several easy, tasty weeknight meal recipes.

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

And, remember, Book By Book is now on Facebook, so you can get updates and join in some fun bookish conversations there.

And now Great Books for Kids and Teens has its own Facebook page, too!

What are you and your family reading this week?  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Teen/YA Review: Between Shades of Gray


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Like most avid readers, I have been hearing rave reviews of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, a teen/YA historical novel, since it was first published in 2011. When it came time to choose a birthday gift for my 14-year old cousin who loves history, I decided to give her two of the best YA historical novels I could find. She is especially fascinated by the World War II period of history and loved The Diary of Anne Frank, so I chose The Book Thief and Between Shades of Gray for her. In her thank you note to me, she said she was in the middle of reading Between Shades of Gray and never wanted it to end. I decided I needed to finally read this acclaimed novel for myself, so we can talk about it when I see her at Thanksgiving next week. This compelling novel about a little-known historical tragedy deserves all of the praise it’s gotten.

In 1941, fifteen year-old Lina is living a typical teen life with her family in Lithuania, which has recently been occupied by the Soviet Union. Her family is close and loving, she loves to draw and paint, she and her cousin enjoy sharing their dreams and wishes with each other, and she is even beginning to notice boys. Then her world is shattered when the Soviet secret police burst into her home one day and force her and her mother and younger brother into a train car headed for an unknown destination. Lina’s father was taken the day before, and the family has no idea where he is.

The Soviets separate the women and children from the men, and they are forced into crowded freight train cars, where they struggle to stay alive with little food or water. Eventually, Lina, her mother, and her brother arrive at a Soviet work camp. Conditions are inhumane, and they are made to work at hard labor for 12 hours or more a day, with a food ration of just a piece of bread for each person each day. Lina struggles to remain hopeful and to find a way to find her father and get word to him of where they are being kept. Although she knows it is dangerous, she draws pictures of their experiences and hides them, in the hope that someday their story will be told. She surreptitiously draws coded pictures that she passes along from one person to the next, hoping they will eventually arrive at the prison camp where her father is being held.

This is a beautifully written and emotionally powerful story. Lina and her fellow captives come alive on these pages, and it is impossible to set this book aside – or forget its characters – once you start it. Behind this moving story are real-life facts that are astonishing and that most people, myself included, have never heard before. While most of the world was watching Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, the Soviet Union was quietly deporting hundreds of thousands of people from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia,  and Lithuania (as well as Finland) to Soviet labor camps and prisons in Siberia, some further north than the Arctic Circle. These people were deemed anti-Soviet for one reason or another and included doctors, engineers, teachers and university professors, librarians, and more. Many of them, including children, were held prisoner for 10-15 years in Siberia, under horrifying conditions.

It was stunning to me that all of this went on, and I’d never heard about it before. It seems that few people did. Even after the prisoners were returned to their hometowns (more than a decade later!), their beloved countries were still a part of the Soviet Union, and they were warned that if they ever spoke of their experiences, the secret police would immediately deport them and their families back to Siberia. This forced silence continued until the Soviet Union was disbanded in 1991 and the Baltic countries once again regained their names. Thankfully, some people – like Lina in the novel – wrote or drew about their experiences and buried or hid their journals and drawings to be found decades later.

This novel just blew me away. Between the fascinating historical backdrop and the engaging characters, the story as a whole was absolutely compelling. A week after finishing it, I still can not get it out of my mind. Everyone should read this amazing book and learn about this mostly unknown tragedy. I can’t wait to talk to my cousin about it next week!

338 pages, Philomel Books

NOTE: Like many Holocaust novels, this book describes some horrible events and includes a fair amount of tragedy and death; however, it also sends a message of hope and love, showing how people can survive and maintain their spirits under the most atrocious conditions. It is best for teens and young adults (and adults); parts of the book may be too disturbing for younger children.

If you want to hear more about the book and the history that it is based on, check out the author’s video on the book's website.

 

Monday, November 18, 2013

It's Monday 11/18! What Are You Reading?


Ah, I love the peace and quiet of a Monday morning! I know most people hate Mondays, but after a busy weekend with everyone at home (which I enjoy, too!), I like to get back into my weekday routine and dive into the week's projects. I am especially happy this Monday morning because I seem to be finally feeling better, after two months of struggling with a flare-up of my chronic illness. I am hoping this improvement continues this time!

We all enjoyed our books last week:
  • I finished Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and was absolutely blown away by this emotionally powerful teen/YA novel. It's about a teen girl in Lithuania in 1941 whose family is deported to a Soviet labor camp in Siberia. I knew nothing about these horrible events that took place at the same time as World War II (and apparently, neither did most of the rest of the world who were focused on the Nazis). I just can't stop thinking about this incredible novel.
  • I am now reading The Dream by Harry Bernstein, a follow-up to his first memoir, The Invisible Wall, which I read earlier this year and loved. This second memoir is about Harry's family's move from England to America in 1922 and their realization of his mother's dream of a better life. Like the first book, this one is excellent so far.
  • I am still listening to Rotters by Danial Kraus on audio, a teen/YA novel about grave-robbing, bullying, and the meaning of family. Yes, still listening! It's a long audio book, and I didn't have much time to listen while my son was home sick.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley on his Kindle. It's a suspense novel, and he's enjoying it.
  • Jamie, 19, started to feel better last week and moved back into his dorm on Tuesday, after more than a week at home sick. He is still not feeling quite back to his normal baseline and now he is trying to catch up at school, so his reading time has mostly disappeared again. He is still reading the third and final book in the Night Angel trilogy, Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks - he absolutely loves this series!
  • Craig, 15, has just started reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon for his British Literature class. I love how the English teachers at his school incorporate contemporary fiction into the curriculum as well as classics (though I still don't understand how you can teach Brit Lit and skip Dickens!) Although Craig doesn't enjoy reading much, we keep telling him he'll like this book. My husband, older son, and I have all read it and loved it.
 I posted a couple of reviews last week:

Review of Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, a hilarious and warm novel about family.

Review of Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos, a middle-grade/teen novel about recent immigrants trying to find their place in their new world.

I also wrote a Weekend Cooking post, with links to several delicious and nutritious recipes.

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

And, remember, Book By Book is now on Facebook, so you can get updates and join in some fun bookish conversations there.

And now Great Books for Kids and Teens has its own Facebook page, too!

What are you and your family reading this week? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Tell Us We’re Home

 Tell Us We’re Home by Marina Budhos is a unique novel aimed at older middle-grade or teen readers about three girls who are daughters of maids and nannies in a wealthy town where most of their classmates are from the families for whom their mothers work. It’s an interesting perspective on immigrants that I’d never considered before, and I enjoyed the novel.

Jaya, Maria, and Lola were all born in different countries but now live in the same small town in New Jersey. Each of them felt alone and isolated until she met the other two, and the three of them became instant friends because they had so much in common in spite of their vastly different cultural backgrounds. Their mothers all work for local families as maids and nannies, which leaves the girls each feeling very different from most of her classmates. The three become fast friends, saving coins to buy a milkshake to share, walking back from school together, and confiding in each other about the difficulties of being poor in a wealthy town.

Finding each other was a turning point for each of the girls, but life proves to be even more challenging than they expected. Jaya’s mother is accused of theft and loses two of her jobs. Maria is worried about her cousin, who is embroiled in a battle over the local playing fields where he and his friends want to play soccer – a battle that threatens to involve the entire town. Lola worries about her father’s unending depression and his inability to find work as an engineer, as he had back in Slovakia, while the bills pile up and her mother’s health worsens. Although the three friends share a lot with each other, each of their own problems threatens to pull them apart and get in the way of their friendship.

I enjoyed this novel for several reasons. It deals with a topic that I’d never really thought about before – what life is like for recent immigrants in the U.S. today, especially kids who are dumped into an unfamiliar environment at a time in their lives when they are struggling with ordinary adolescent issues, like self-image, confidence, and identity. I also liked that it didn’t over-simplify the issues. There are no easy answers to the complex problems that plague these three friends and no tidy happily-ever-after at the end. Certainly, they do resolve some of their worst problems and come to realize they can rely on each other, but deeper cultural and community issues remain, just like in real life.

My only complaint about Tell Us We’re Home was some uneven editing throughout, and especially toward the end. There were minor inconsistencies, places where the action suddenly jumped somewhere else, and other petty annoyances. For instance, in one chapter, the girls are drinking hot chocolate and then a sentence later it says that one girl held her hot mug of tea. Like I said, these were minor problems, indicative of sloppy editing, that were easy for me to overlook since the story itself was so engaging.

All in all, this is a warm, tender, thought-provoking story about immigrants, cultural differences, community, and mostly, friendship.

247 pages, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)

 

Monday, November 11, 2013

It's Monday 11/11! What Are You Reading?


Happy Veteran's Day! My grandfather is on my mind today. He served in the Marines during World War II and was at Iwo Jima (in fact, he was injured there), and that experience shaped the rest of his life. He was forever fascinated by everything related to the War, and the Marines he served with became his lifelong friends. All of the men and women who serve and protect us should be honored, not just today but every day.

So, I was feeling better last week and back on my feet, for the most part. But, our college-aged son came home sick on Monday evening, and he is still here. He probably has mono (we are waiting for blood work to confirm), which is a serious issue for someone with the immune system disorder that he and I both have. So, he is living at home for now and could be for quite a while.

As always, books provide all of us with comfort and escape during rough times:
  • I finished Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos, a middle-grade novel about the daughters of maids and nannies living in a wealthy town where their classmates are mostly the kids of families their moms work for. It was very good, and I will try to post a review this week.
  • Next, I read Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple for an upcoming book discussion/dinner this week hosted by my local bookstore (a local chef prepares food related to the book being discussed - I can't wait!). This book is clever and hilarious, filled with delicious, spot-on satire of modern life, especially life as a parent of a school-age child. I was laughing out loud from the first page to the last, though it is also a warm and tender story about love and families.
  • Last night, I started Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, a highly acclaimed teen/YA novel about a young Lithuanian girl in 1941 whose family is taken by the Soviets to a Siberian labor camp. I recently gave this book to my 14-year old cousin for her birthday (she is an avid history fan), so I wanted to read it myself so we can talk about it at Thanksgiving time!
  • I am still listening to Rotters by Daniel Kraus on audio, a unique, dark novel about grave-robbing and bullying. It's a bit of a downer, but the story is compelling.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Ghost Man by Roger Dobbs, a thriller by a first-time author that I gave him for his birthday last month. He said it was interesting how the author gets you rooting for the main character, even though he's a very bad guy.
  • Now, he has gone back to finish Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley, an e-book thriller he started on his Kindle while traveling two weeks ago.
  • Jamie, 19, was home sick all week. The only silver lining to that is that he finally had some time to read, though catching up on all the TV shows he's missed while at college occupied a lot of his time, too.  He finished Shadows Edge by Brent Weeks, book 2 of the Night Angel trilogy, a favorite of his.
  • Next, he read Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon, the first book in the Chronicles of Nick series, a book I gave him for Christmas last year.
  • Now, he is reading the third and final book in the Night Angel trilogy, Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks.
With Jamie home last week (lots of cooking for me and the TV on all the time!), I didn't manage to write any reviews, but I did write some fun posts last week:

Top Ten (Actually, Seven) Sequels I Can't Wait to Read

Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Sequels I Can't Wait to Read

Summary of Books Read in October and Challenges Progress

Catching Fire Movie Trailer

Weekend Cooking post, with recipes for lots of our favorite comfort meals.

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.)

And, remember, Book By Book is now on Facebook, so you can get updates and join in some fun bookish conversations there. 

And now Great Books for Kids and Teens has its own Facebook page, too! 

What are you and your family reading this week?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Books Read in October


October is one of my favorite months - I can't believe it's over already! It was a rough month for me - lots of sick days (weeks), but that means I had lots of reading time.

October was also Dangerous Reads Month (inspired by Tanya at Girl xoxo), and I thoroughly enjoyed reading and listening to lots of creepy books! Here's what I finished reading in October:
  • Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andre Makine, novel (Russia)
  • Unbroken by Paula Morris, teen/YA ghost story novel (Louisiana)
  • City of Women by David Gilham, historical fiction (Germany)


  • In the After by Demitria Lunetta, teen/YA post-apocalyptic/dytopian audio book (Illinois)
  • UnWholly by Neal Schusterman, teen/YA dystopian novel (Arizona)
  • In the Woods by Tana French, mystery novel (Ireland) 

So, six books total, all fiction, evenly split between teen/YA and adult novels and one was an audio book. No nonfiction or middle-grade books this month. I think you can see just from the covers that most were creepy good fits for Dangerous Reads Month! I missed a couple of reviews early in the month while I was sick. It's hard to choose a favorite, but I think for this month it was City of Women.

Update on 2013 Reading Challenges:
I added four new locations for my 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge: Louisiana, Arizona, Ireland, and Russia. That brings my totals up to 26 states and 11 countries. Three of these book were from my TBR shelves, bringing my total up to 16 for the 2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. I listened to one audio books for the 2013 Audio Book Challenge, bringing my total up to 11 for this year so far.

Oh, and in October, I started Facebook pages for both of my book blogs: Book By Book and Great Books for Kids and Teens. Check them out and click "Like" to get updates on new blog posts and reviews and have fun chatting with other book lovers!

All in all, it was a great reading month! What were your favorite books read in October?

Catching Fire Trailer

The movie adaptation of Catching Fire, sequel to The Hunger Games, comes to theaters on November 22!!

Check out the trailer:



We can't wait to see this one - my husband, son, and I all loved this trilogy.

Did you read Catching Fire? Are you looking forward to the movie?

P.S. Remember that Great Books for Kids and Teens is now on Facebook! Like the page and you can keep up with posts and reviews and enjoy chatting with other book lovers!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait to Read


It's Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten Tuesday over at The Broke and the Bookish. Head over there and check out all the top ten lists! Today's topic is Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait to Read. At first, I was going to skip this topic because I don't read a lot of series, but in looking through my reading journal, I realized there are some series and trilogies that I do want to finish. I still couldn't come up with ten, but I got close.

So, without further ado, here are Top Ten (er, Nine) Sequels I Can't Wait to Read:
 
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  1. UnSouled by Neal Schusterman, follow-up to Unwind and UnWholly (just finished last week!)
  2. In the End, sequel to In the After by Demitria Lunetta, an audio I just finished last month.
  3. Infinity Ring Book 3 - The Trap Door by Lisa McMann - I probably won't read the entire series, but McMann is one of my favorite authors, and I enjoyed Books 1 & 2.
  4. Book 3, end of the trilogy starting with The Pathfinder and Ruins by Orson Scott Card
  5. Dustlands, Book 2 - Rebel Heart by Moira Young, sequel to Blood Red Road
  6. Insurgent and Allegiant, sequels to Divergent by Veronica Roth (I have some catching up to do!)
  7. The rest of the series that follows Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voight
  8. The Blood, Book 3 of Morpheus Road, sequel to The Light and The Black by D.J. MacHale 
  9. Monsters of Men, Book 3 of the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness - I loved The Knifeof Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer.

Some of these are already sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently! There is just never enough time to read all the books I want to read. If you are also interested in the grown-up sequels I am looking forward to, check out my list at Book By Book.

What middle-grade or teen/YA sequels are you looking forward to?