Monday, January 28, 2013

It's Monday 1/28! What Are You Reading?

We had a very busy week here! We took our sons and two friends up to the Poconos to my mom's house for a weekend of snowboarding, to celebrate my son's 15th birthday. The boys all had a blast, and I finally got some reading time, in front of the fire in the condo!

Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver and loved it even more than the first novel, The Bean Trees. I never wanted it to end, and days later, I am still thinking about Taylor and Turtle. Two of the best books I have ever read!
  • I am now reading I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg, this month's selection for one of my book groups. It's well-written and I am enjoying it, but Pigs in Heaven kind of ruined me for any other novel right now! I did get a lot of reading time in this weekend while the kids were snowboarding, though.
  • I also slipped in a quick little book, Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. I don't quite know how to describe it because it is so unique and quirky. I see that it is officially categorized as a children's/teen book (one review says grade 4 and up; another says grades 7-12), but some of the wit and irony is clearly aimed at adults. I will try to review it this week, so I can describe it more fully. Anyway, I liked it!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Likeness by Tana French. He still thinks the plot of this one is a bit far-fetched, but he's enjoying the excellent writing and sometimes even laughs out loud!
  • Jamie, 18, had a busy week with school and snowboarding, but he continued to read Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of the Soldier's Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. He says it's OK, but the fantasy world in this novel has guns and he prefers fantasy worlds that are pre-gun.
  • Craig, 15, is still reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros for his freshman lit class.
We were so busy last week that I didn't have time to write any reviews, but I did FINALLY sign up for some 2013 reading challenges - check out my choices and let me know what you have signed up for.

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.)

Craig and his two friends enjoying the slopes!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2013 Reading Challenges

Well, here it is, January 23, and I still have not signed up for any 2013 Reading Challenges. I only began doing reading challenges a couple of years ago, and I like to stick to those that will help me read the things I want to read, without adding any pressure or extra obligations. It's about time I made some decisions and got off my butt. huh?  So, OK, here we go...(drum roll)...

My Reading Challenges for 2013:

2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge, hosted by Sheila at Book Journey -
This was my very first challenge (in 2011), though I took the no-stress approach and just tracked the locations where my books took place, rather than making any attempt to hit a certain target.  My final tally for 2011 included 20 different states and 11 different countries, and in 2012, I visited 27 states and 6 countries through my books.  We'll see if I can beat that in 2013!

2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge, hosted by Evie at Bookish -
Like I said, I like to take on challenges that help me meet my goals, and one of my biggest on-going goals is to whittle down the ever-growing TBR pile! Last year, for another challenge, I had a goal of reading 12 books from my TBR shelf, and I managed to read (almost) 11 (that last one was finished in early 2013). Pretty pathetic to have only read 11 books off my own shelves last year, right? So, I am signing up at the A Friendly Hug level, to read 11-20 books from my TBR piles. I have already read two, so I am off to a good start.

2013 Audio Book Challenge, hosted by Theresa's Reading Corner -
I always have an audio book going on and enjoy them very much, though I am pretty slow with them. My old '92 VW doesn't have a CD player or iPod dock, so since I can't listen in the car, it takes me a while to get through an audio book!  Last year I listened to 10 audio books, so I guess I will shoot for....oh, what the heck, I will go for Going Steady, 12 audio books. I better get listening!

Those Books I Should Have Read 2013 Reading Challenge, hosted by Reading with Martinis -
For years, I have been wanting to read some of the classics my kids are reading for school. At the same time, there are a few really major authors I have never read but really want to (and never seem to get to). So, I went in search of challenges that might help in these goals, and found this one that brings both together! It's perfect for what I want - to read some of those books I have always been meaning to read but never get to, both classics and more modern books. I think I will just start at Level 1 - 6 books.

Some of the books I hope to finally read as a part of this challenge:
  • A Margaret Atwood novel
  • A Jane Austen novel
  • An Ian McEwan novel
  • The House on Mango Street (my son is reading it for freshman lit now)

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's Monday 1/21! What Are You Reading?

It doesn't feel like a Monday with my sons home from school - I'm getting a late start here!

We had a really great reading week last week - lots of outstanding books and we continued our sequel mania:
  • I finished The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman for my neighborhood book group and absolutely loved it, as did most of the others in the group. It was my first-ever e-book, and I enjoyed the experience - especially being able to highlight quotes and look up words in the dictionary with just a touch of a finger. Read my review here.
  • As soon as I finished that book, I went back to Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede, but I had been squeezing in a page or two here and there, so I was almost done by then and finished quickly! It was just as good as the first book in the series, The Thirteenth Child, and now I am ready to read book #3!
  • I am now reading Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver, another highly anticipated book. I read the first book, The Bean Trees, over New Year's and couldn't wait to get into the sequel. It is excellent so far - a compelling story but it almost doesn't matter because Kingsolver's writing is so vibrant, clever, and witty and her characters so real and likable.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Meg Gardiner's Ransom River and enjoyed it very much. He said he would definitely read more of her novels.
  • Then, Ken returned to Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy and quickly read book #3, Monsters of Men. He loved the entire trilogy, as did our son - now I need to read it!
  • Ken is now reading Tana French's The Likeness - he very much enjoyed In the Woods a few months ago. He says the premise of this one seems a little unbelievable to him so far, but she's a good writer.
  • Jamie, 18, has been reading like crazy this week, enjoying the extra free time during Winter Session (he's just taking one class and living at home). He blew through re-reading the entire Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, finishing book 2, The Exiled Queen, re-reading book 3, The Gray Wolf Throne, and reading the latest #4, The Crimson Crown. Jamie says this is one of his favorite series, and he just got a friend at college into it, too!
  • Now, Jamie is reading a new book he bought with a Christmas gift card, Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of The Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb. This is one is grown-up fantasy rather than YA - he's at that age where he still enjoys teen and YA books but is starting to cross over into adult fiction. We started him a few years ago on authors like King, Crichton, Ludlum, and Heinlein. He is also having fun with his new Kindle Fire - he "bought" 11 new e-books yesterday, 10 of which were free! He does love a bargain.
  • It was mid-term week for Craig, 15, so he did no reading other than studying for exams.
I wrote one review last week, of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. I also wrote my weekly Weekend Cooking post. I am determined to finally commit to some 2013 reading challenges this coming week!

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.) 

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's Monday 1/14! What Are You Reading?

Another busy week...when are they not busy?  I devoted much of my writing time to a project I am working on but did fit in some blog posts here and there.

And we all enjoyed our reading time - it was Sequel Week at our house!
  • I continued reading Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede, sequel to The Thirteenth Child, and was totally engrossed in it but had to set it aside mid-week to start a book for this week's neighborhood book group. I never read two books at once (especially two novels), but I admit I have been squeezing in a few pages here and there!
  • I am now reading The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman in preparation for my Wednesday book group discussion. I waited for the library as long as I could, but I was #150 on the waiting list when I signed up weeks ago! I finally gave up waiting. To save money (and time), I bought the e-book on my husband's Kindle and have been reading it that way - this is my first ever e-book! I prefer the feel of a real book, but I really love being able to look up words in the dictionary without setting my book aside, especially with all the unfamiliar Australian words in this book. The novel itself is excellent so far.
  • I also read a short story, "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu. It was the January selection for Books on the Nightstand's new Project Short Story. I haven't read short stories since high school and really enjoyed this first one. Check it out and join in the discussion!
  • My husband, Ken, quickly finished The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go, and is now eager to read the last book of the trilogy!
  • He decided to take a break from that story, though, just to keep things interesting, and is now reading Ransom River by Meg Gardiner, one of my Christmas gifts to him. I chose this novel because it was recommended by Stephen King who says Gardiner is one of his favorite authors! On the very first page, Ken read me a passage, saying Gardiner definitely has a way with words.
  • Jamie, 18, read Ruins by Orson Scott Card, sequel to Pathfinder which he and I both loved. He was completely deaf to anything we said while he read the last chapters of the book and said it was amazing!  I'm next in line for this one.
  • Now, Jamie is re-reading a favorite series, Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima. He lent the first book to a friend at college last week, who read it in a single night and begged for more! He inspired Jamie to re-read the series and then read the newest book. So far, Jamie has read book 1, The Demon King, and has started on book 2, The Exiled Queen. He bought #3 and 4 on his new Kindle last week and shared them with his friend, so he is all set to read the entire series (so far). Jamie says this is one of the best series he's ever read (and that is saying something!)
  • Craig, 15 (as of yesterday!), is still reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros for his freshman lit class. He says it's OK, but he doesn't like the way the chapters are on random subjects, rather than following a chronological order. I want to read this one when he is finished.
I wrote one review last week, of The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. I (finally) posted my 2012 Year-End Summary, including Best of 2012 List. I posted a similar summary and Best of 2012 List for kids/teen/YA books. And, I wrote a Weekend Cooking post yesterday, with a few recipe links from this past week.

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.) 

Happy 15th Birthday to my son yesterday!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: The Thirteenth Child

Ever since my son read The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede in 2010, he has been telling me, “Mom, you just have to read this book – it’s so good!” With my overflowing piles of books waiting to be read, it took me a while, but I finally found time to read it at the end of 2012. My son was right, as usual! It is a well-written and unique novel, a sort of combination of Harry Potter and Little House on the Prairie that I enjoyed so much that I immediately started reading its sequel when I finished.

Eff (don’t ever call her by her full name, Francine) was the thirteenth child born in her family, a circumstance that is considered not only unlucky but disastrous in her culture. Her twin brother, Lan, born just a few minutes later, was not only the fourteenth child in the family but the seventh son of a seventh son which makes him not just lucky but also gives him extra-special magic powers. While her entire community discriminates against Eff from the very start of her life, Lan is treated with reverence and even a bit of fear.

As enticing as that beginning sounds, the setting of this novel is even more fascinating. It is set in the United States during the time of pioneers and western expansion, but it is an alternative history, where magic is an integral part of everyday life. Certain facts of history are the same as our own history but other aspects differ. For instance, there was still a war between the states, but it was known as the Secession War, and it occurred several decades earlier than our own Civil War.

The Great Barrier Spell protects all of the states and territories east of the Mammoth River (aka Mississippi River) from both natural and magical wildlife. The bears and mammoths, sphinx cats and steam dragons, and all the other dangerous wildlife are unable to cross the barrier, allowing people to live peacefully and without fear.  But, after the war, westward expansion booms as the nation’s need for more space grows, and more and more families join settlements west of the Great Barrier Spell. Each settlement is required to have its own magician, someone professionally trained to help maintain the settlement’s protection spells.

In that setting, Eff (living in a town just east of the Great Barrier Spell, on the edge of the western frontier) struggles to overcome the challenge of her birth order, with her family’s support. She and Lan go to school, become friends with their next-door neighbor, and learn magic, but Eff is constantly worried that something terrible will happen to her or those she loves.

This novel has everything: adventure, magic, friendship, and family, with details of pioneer life added in. It is fast-paced and exciting with a warmth and depth uncommon in many adventure stories. Kids that enjoyed the Little House books or Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class in Harry Potter will especially love Eff and Lan’s world. And when you finish The Thirteenth Child and are dying to hear more, there are two more sequels already released to keep you reading happily.

NOTE: The Frontier Magic trilogy is officially labeled as teen fiction, but I’m halfway through the second book and think they would be perfectly appropriate for older middle-grade readers, too.

344 pages, Scholastic


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Best of 2012 & Year-End Summary

I finally sat down and took a look back at all the books I read in 2012. It was definitely a good reading year!

I read a total of 64 books in 2012, plus 2 that I did not finish (one of which I spent a week on!). The type breakdown is:
  • Adult Fiction = 26 books
  • Memoir =3
  • Nonfiction (not memoir) = 1
  • Middle-Grade Fiction = 15
  • Teen/YA Fiction = 18
  • Picture Books = 1
Of those 64 books, 10 of them were audio books.

That's a few less books overall than last year, but 3 of the 64 were more than 800 pages and each of those took me more than 3 weeks to read!

Now comes the tough part - choosing my favorites! I enjoyed everything I read this year (except for one of the books that I did not finish). You might conclude that means I like everything, but really, that's just because I tend to choose what I read carefully, based on what I like and reviews from people whose tastes are similar to mine. My book groups make sure I don't get stuck in any ruts!

So, my Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books Read in 2012 are (not in order):
  • Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  • Dead To You by Lisa McMann
  • Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
  • Everfound by Neal Schusterman
  • Young Fredle by Cynthia Voight
  • Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater (also, my family's favorite audio of all time!)
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Greetings from Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley
  • The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
  • The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin
 (you can check out my top ten list of grown-up books read in 2012 at Book By Book.)

And, for a little extra fun, here are a few superlatives (thanks for the idea, Tanya!):

Best Middle-Grade Book of the Year:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

 Best Audio Book of the Year:

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Best Teen/YA Book of the Year: 

The Fault in Our Stars by Lisa McMann 

Best Kid/Teen/YA Book by An Old Favorite Author:

Dead to You by Lisa McMann  

Best Kid/Teen/YA Book by a New Author:

  The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

What were YOUR favorite kids/teen/YA books of 2012?

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's Monday 1/7! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh....Monday morning - a new week in a new year, and I am (almost) alone in the quiet house (college son is still asleep) and ready for a fun and productive week!

Lots of great reading lately - it was a week of sequels for our whole family!
  • I finished The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede, an inventive middle-grade/teen novel that offers an alternate history of pioneer times in the U.S. in a world where magic and magical creatures exist. It's like a cross between Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter!
  • I was enjoying the story so much that I am now reading book #2 in the series, Across the Great Barrier, which follows the adventures of young Eff as she graduates from school and goes along on an expedition to catalog the wildlife in the Far West, past the Great Barrier Spell (which keeps wildlife, both natural and magical, away from the established towns and cities east of the Mammoth River). It's fun to just jump right into a sequel when you've enjoyed a book, instead of having to wait for it to be released.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (a dystopian YA novel recommended by our son) and loved it so much that he is now reading book 2, The Ask and the Answer. Now both of them are telling me I have to read this series!
  • In between, while traveling home from Oklahoma, my husband read West of Sheridan by Dean Ross, a post-apocalyptic novel, on his Kindle.
  • Jamie, 18, finished City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare, after first re-reading the first 4 books of the Mortal Instruments series! This is one of his favorite series.
  • Now he is reading a sequel that he and I have been eagerly awaiting for over a year: Ruins by Orson Scott Card, the sequel to Pathfinder which he and I both loved.
With some time off, I was able to post quite a bit on my book blogs last week. I wrote two reviews, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I LOVED both of these books, so check them out.

I also posted my December Reading Summary and my 2012 Reading Challenge Wrap-Up. Finally, I wrote a Weekend Cooking post about the quick and easy comfort foods we had this past week.

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, January 3, 2013

Teen/YA Review: The Fault in Our Stars

After hearing rave reviews  of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars all year, I finally got a chance to read it myself, just before the end of the year. A young friend of mine lent it to me after I squealed in delight seeing her reading it! It was just as wonderful as everyone said it was and surprisingly funny and warm for such a serious subject matter.

Seventeen-year old Hazel has had terminal cancer for much of her young life. A miracle drug has given her more time, but she and her doctors know that it is only a temporary reprieve.  Her life is pretty routine and depressing until the day that a new guy shows up at the kids’ cancer support group she attends. Augustus Waters is unlike anyone Hazel has ever met before. He is honest and funny and is a big believer in metaphor. Oh, and he’s gorgeous, with a crooked smile that Hazel loves.

Life with Augustus around is much more interesting, but there are still plenty of dark clouds on the horizon. Adding to their troubles, Hazel and Augustus’ friend Isaac needs another eye surgery for his cancer that will leave him blind. Despite these enormous challenges, the three friends keep each other laughing…and support each other when the tears and anger come. Hazel also finds support from a favorite novel that she relates to and has read dozens of times:
“My favorite book, by a wide margin, was An Imperial Affliction, but I didn’t like to tell people about it. Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together again unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”
Hazel does end up sharing her favorite book with Augustus, but I don’t want to say much more about what happens because the plot includes some surprises. The relationship between the three friends – and especially between Hazel and Augustus – is at the heart of this novel.  John Green’s talent for realistic teen dialogue shines through, and the book is filled with warmth, depth, emotion, and surprising humor. I literally did laugh and cry while reading it. A book that can make me feel such a wide range of emotions is certainly a winner.

313 pages, Dutton Books