Thursday, October 31, 2013

Teen/YA Review: UnWholly

One of my favorite books read for Dangerous Reads Month was UnWholly by Neal Schusterman, the sequel to his popular and highly acclaimed Unwind, which my husband, son, and I all loved. This super creepy dystopian thriller kept me up way too late reading every night!

The setting of this trilogy is a United States just slightly into the future, where a second civil war, The Heartland War, has been fought over reproductive rights. The pro-lifers and the pro-choicers finally ended the war with the Unwind Accord that says that life is inviolable starting at conception;  however, unruly or disagreeable teens (is there any other kind?) can be “unwound,” whereby all of their organs and body parts are transplanted into others so that life does not officially end. So, a kid who gets bad grades or rebels against his or her parents may wake up one morning to find officers from the National Juvenile Authority ready to take them to a harvest camp because their parents signed an Unwind Order. I know – super creepy, right??

In Unwind, Schusterman created a chilling but compelling story about a group of teens who, in various ways, escaped their unwinding. Connor escaped from the Juvies on the way to harvest camp and was officially declared an AWOL. During a car accident, he took Lev, a tithe (yes, a kid born to be unwound), as an unwilling hostage to help him escape.  Risa, an orphan and ward of the state also escaped when she was sent to a harvest camp to relieve overcrowding in her state home.

Don’t worry – no spoilers here for those who haven’t read Unwind yet! In the second book, these teens’ stories continue as they try to stay alive, evade the Juvenile Authorities, and help other Unwinds to escape. The story alternates between each of the main characters’ perspectives (plus a few new ones), providing a wide range of points of view of this frightening world. A new teen character is also introduced: Cam, a new kind of person who must come to grips with his own strange history and who learns a startling truth about unwinding.

Although the novel is action-packed from start to finish and filled with suspense, Schusterman also delves more deeply here into the ethical issues that arise from this strange new world (as all good dystopian stories do). The characters grapple with all kinds of moral issues, as the events from the first novel reverberated through society. Does the good done by providing much-needed transplant organs and tissues make up for the evil of unwinding? Should the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few? What makes someone human and defines life? Although horrifying, this world is also compelling; Schusterman himself said that he intended Unwind to be a stand-alone book, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about the world he’d created there.

While the gripping story and intricate plot kept me turning the pages, I also enjoyed the thought-provoking nature of the novel. Schusterman has created a world that is unfathomable and yet eerily similar to our own. The unthinkable act of unwinding is rationalized in frighteningly calm and logical ways. The teen characters in this trilogy are realistically portrayed and feel like old friends by the second book. The third and final book of the trilogy, UnSouled, will be released next week – my husband, son and I can’t wait to see how it all ends!

401 pages, Simon & Schuster


Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Monday 10/28! What Are You Reading?

Thank goodness it's Monday - I need to recover from my relaxing weekend. ha ha Seriously, we had a very good weekend. Too often, our weekends turn out to be just work around the house, but this time, my husband and I went out to dinner with our oldest friends Saturday night, and we drove to our favorite pumpkin farm on Sunday with both sons (and a friend) along - it was nice to have the whole family together (our oldest is in college).

So, a good weekend though exhausting for me! We enjoyed some good reading last week, too:
  • I finished Unwholly by Neal Schusterman, a teen/YA dystopian thriller and the sequel to his highly acclaimed Unwind, about a future world where wayward teens can be "unwound," with all of their body parts transplanted in other people so that they are officially still alive. Chilling and perfect for Dangerous Reads Month! I can't wait to read the final book in the trilogy, Unsouled, which will be released next week.
  • Now, I am reading one last book for Dangerous Reads Month, In the Woods by Tana French. I bought it (and later, the next two in the series) for my husband, and he's been telling me I have to read them. He was right - in some ways, it is a classic murder mystery, but with a twist and with excellent writing. Some passages read more like literary fiction than a typical mystery.
  • I am listening to Rotters by Daniel Kraus, a teen/YA novel on audio. The audio book won the Odyssey award a couple of years ago, and it is excellent so far. It's also a fit for Dangerous Reads Month since it is about grave robbing...though I was surprised to find out that it is also about bullying.
  • My husband, Ken, read Blood Red Road, a teen/YA post-apocalyptic novel that my son and I both liked. The main character narrates the book in an unusual slang-type style but, like me, he soon got used to the odd writing style and enjoyed the book. Book 2 in the Dustlands series, Rebel Heart, was just released this month, so all three of us are looking forward to reading it.
  • Last night, Ken started Ghost Man by Roger Dobbs, another gift from me. This is a thriller written by a first-time author, and I've heard it is excellent.
  • Jamie, 19, has been very busy at college with mid-terms, so he hasn't had much reading time. He said he is still working on Shadows Edge by Brent Weeks, book 2 of the Night Angel trilogy, and it is excellent so far. We bought him the first book for his birthday this summer, and he loves the series.
  • Craig, 15, is still reading Beowulf for Brit Lit class.
I posted two reviews (both good Dangerous Reads books, if you want to get into the Halloween spirit!) last week, plus some other fun posts:
Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, a supernatural coming-of-age tale by a master storyteller.

Review of In the After by Demitria Lunetta, a teen/YA post-apocalyptic and dystopian novel that I listened to on audio.

Weekend Cooking post, featuring some of the highlights of our last few weeks.

First peek at The Book Thief movie trailer - I can't wait!
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 Unleashing Readers.)

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

Our family at our favorite pumpkin farm

Friday, October 25, 2013

Teen/YA Review: In the After

Continuing the creepy fun in Dangerous Reads Month, I listened to the teen/YA audio book In the After by Demitria Lunetta. This suspenseful story combines both post-apocalyptic and dystopian elements into a fast-paced novel full of surprises.

Amy is fourteen when They come and change the world. Gruesome green-skinned monsters, They have a taste for human flesh and quickly take over the world. TV news coverage shows Them arriving in a ship, before all forms of media disappear. Amy is fortunate to live in a high –security house that helps keep Them away and her safe, but her parents – who were out when the attack began – are missing. The creatures seem to have a poor sense of sight and smell but excellent hearing, and Amy quickly learns to live a very silent existence, especially on those dangerous occasions when she must leave the house for supplies. On one of those excursions, Amy discovers a scared and battered toddler, all alone in a deserted grocery store, so she takes her home and calls her Baby.

Amy and Baby live together for several years in the safe house, using their own form of sign language to communicate and rarely seeing other human beings. They become very close, and their life together falls into a routine, though danger is still lurking just outside the fence.

Then one day, they are saved! A community called New Hope finds them and takes them into the safety of their compound where many others are living safely and peaceably together.  Finally, Amy can relax, and they can both get used to not being alone anymore. It takes a period of adjustment, but they both make new friends, start school, and settle into life in New Hope. But certain things just don’t seem right to Amy, and the more she learns about New Hope, the more concerned she becomes.  Besides Them outside the compound, she now worries about new dangers possibly lurking right inside their new home and how to keep herself and Baby safe.

Throughout the story – through both the post-apocalyptic beginning and the dystopian second half – the suspense and tension are maintained.  I listened to the book in record time. Like another post-apocalyptic novel I recently finished, AMatter of Days, this one also contains some unlikely coincidences – Amy’s father was an environmentalist who installed solar panels so they could live “off the grid” and her mother had a super-secret government job that required an electric security fence around their house – that ensured the main character’s survival in the frightening post-apocalyptic world. As with that book, I just accepted those contrivances as necessary to the story and went along for the ride – and it was a wild ride! It sounds like there might be a sequel coming…ah, yes, I see on the author’s blog that In the End will be released June 24, 2014. I can’t wait!

Listening Library/Harper Children’s Audio

If you want to listen to a sample of the audio, click on the amazon link below - there is a "Listen" button just below the photo of the cover. 

The Book Thief Movie Preview!

I'm so excited!!

One of my all-time favorite books, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, has been made into a movie! I've read the book twice myself and recently gave it to my 14-year old cousin who loves historical fiction and is fascinated by World War II for her birthday. Check out the official movie trailer:

I think it looks sooo good! I can't wait to see it....January!

What do you think? Does the trailer look good to you? Will you see the movie?

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Monday 10/21! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!

It is a happy Monday for me, as I am finally feeling better after being sick for over two weeks. I turned the corner last week just in time to go to my neighborhood book group's 125th book celebration! It was so good to be out among friends  - and talking about books, too! So, today feels like a fresh start, with a new week ahead and feeling like my old self again.

With all that time spent sick, I've had plenty of reading time:
  • I finished City of Women by David Gillham in time for my book group discussion/dinner. It's an emotionally powerful, raw story of women living in Berlin during World War II - ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, as the author says. I really enjoyed it, as did most of the others in my group.
  • I also finished my audio book, a teen/YA novel called In the After by Demitria Lunetta, part of my Dangerous Reads Month. It's a post-apocalyptic story about a teen girl and a toddler trying to survive an invasion of flesh-eating monsters, but the second half is also dystopian. I enjoyed the original story and the suspense.
  • I started another teen/YA dystopian novel for Dangerous Reads Month, Unwholly by Neal Schusterman. This is the sequel to Unwind, Schusterman's novel about a future world where abortion is illegal but parents can choose to "unwind" unruly teens between their 13th and 18th birthdays. All parts are used and implanted into other people, so the theory is that the child is still technically alive. Oh, yeah...super creepy stuff! The sequel is just as good as the first book - I can't wait to read book 3 which was just recently released.
  • I also started another teen/YA audio book, Rotters. Like Unwholly, this one has been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I was hoping my teen sons would agree to listen to it with me during our road trip this summer, but they say they are done with that (sniff, sniff). It won an Odyssey award for audio book excellence and is very good so far. It also fits in with Dangerous Reads Month, as the story includes grave-robbing (though I haven't gotten to that part yet).
  • My husband, Ken, just finished NOS4A2 by Joe Hill last night and said it was very good and very Stephen King-ish (Hill is King's son)...i.e. super creepy! I'm not sure what he's going to read next - like me, he has a big stack of books waiting to be read.
  • It's mid-term time in college, so Jamie, 19, hasn't had much time for reading, though he did start Shadows Edge by Brent Weeks, book 2 of the Night Angel trilogy.
  • And Craig, 15, is still reading Beowulf for British Lit class.
After I started to feel better at the end of the week, I finally managed a few blog posts and reviews - Woohoo!

BookPage's list of 13 Creepiest Books for October - if you want to get into the spirit of the season, this list is a great place to start!

Review of City of Women by David Gillham, historical fiction set in Berlin in 1943.

Review of A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer, a teen/YA post-apocalyptic audio book.

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 Unleashing Readers.) 

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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Teen/YA Review: A Matter of Days

I like post-apocalyptic novels. Whatever the cause of the apocalypse, it is intriguing to see how the characters survive in a world that is our world but dramatically changed. In the case of A Matter of Days by Amber Kizer, the cause is a weaponized virus.

The story opens on Day 56 of the Blustar Pandemic, a virus that killed 95% of the world’s population. Sixteen year-old Nadia and her younger brother, Rabbit, have watched their mother finally succumb to the virus and are now left on their own. They need to make their way across the U.S., from their home in Seattle all the way to West Virginia, to meet up with their uncle and grandfather, who are their only remaining family.

So, this falls into the category of a journey/road trip sort of post-apocalyptic adventure, which is one of my favorite kinds. The two kids head out from their home, past all the empty houses in their neighborhood, as Nadia very quickly learns to drive. As they make their way across the U.S., they face survival situations – needing to find food, shelter, and stay healthy – but they also face other remaining survivors, many of whom are desperate and/or violent. Along the way, they do meet up with some others, including a neglected dog, a small child, and a guy who grew up on the streets of Los Angeles, whom they aren’t sure they can trust.

I was pulled right into this suspenseful plot with likeable characters. I listened to the audio book, which was well done and engaging. The book is written in first-person in Nadia’s voice, and the narrator did a good job with it. My only criticism is that there were some convenient coincidences to help the story along: their uncle is a disease specialist in the military so he was able to send them vaccines for the virus, their father was also in the military and a survivalist, so he taught them all kinds of tips on how to survive (“be the cockroach”), and their grandfather is a paranoid anti-government person who happens to have a well-stocked survivalist compound. Then again, maybe the story wouldn’t have worked otherwise.

Despite these little contrivances, I fully enjoyed the story, and its fast pace kept me interested and entertained. I came to care about Nadia and Rabbit and cheered them on as they made their way across the deserted country, amid plenty of suspense and danger. I would like to read some of Kizer’s other novels – this is the first one I’ve read.

Listening Library

Listen to an excerpt:


Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Monday 10/14! What Are You Reading?

I was hoping for a fresh start on this Monday morning, but I still I am still in bad shape. I've been down and out for a couple of weeks now, and last week was the worst. I think I was exposed to a virus (probably the cold my son had a few weeks ago!) that triggered a severe flare-up of my immune disorder that has now developed into bronchitis. I was feeling a bit better yesterday after a few days on antibiotics, but I probably did too much and woke up today feeling totally wiped out again. So, I am resting (again) and trying to recover (still).

I was so bad last week that I couldn't manage a single review, but I did accomplish one thing: I started a Facebook page for Book By Book! Check it out, click "Like", and you'll get updates on new reviews and blog posts, the chance to interact with other book lovers, and plenty of reading fun! I have lots of ideas for fun, interactive features using this page.

The only good thing about being so sick is having an excuse to read a lot:
  • I finished my first book for Dangerous Reads Month, Unbroken by Paula Morris, a teen/YA ghost story set in New Orleans and sequel to Ruined. I enjoyed both books very much, and Unbroken set the perfect spooky mood for this month!
  • A kind neighbor went to the library for me so that I could begin our book group selection for this week, City of Women by David Gillham. I chose this one, and I am loving it so far! It's about women in Berlin during World War II, when most of the men were off fighting the war. Lots of twists and turns; I am totally engrossed in the characters and the story. My husband told me last night to stop talking to the book because the characters never listen to me!
  • I am listening to a teen/YA post-apocalyptic novel on audio, In the After by Demitria Lunetta. This is another engrossing story and another one for Dangerous Reads Month, with a teen girl trying to survive and take care of a toddler after human-eating aliens attack the earth.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, a gift from the kids and I for Father's Day. He says it is very Stephen King-like so far (Hill is King's son). I've heard this one is super creepy, so it is a perfect choice for Dangerous Reads Month!
  • Jamie, 19, was home from college yesterday for a few hours and said he'd finally had time to finish the book he was reading when he started school in August! He's been sick a bit lately, too, so he also had some reading/resting time this week. He finished Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling, book 1 of The Nightrunner series.
  • Now, Jamie is reading Shadows Edge by Brent Weeks, book 2 of the Night Angel trilogy that he started this summer while we were on vacation.
  • Craig, 15, is still reading Beowulf for his British Lit class.
Just two quick posts last week:

October is Dangerous Reads Month!

Book By Book Now on Facebook

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 Unleashing Readers.) 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October is Dangerous Reads Month!

Just like last year, Tanya Patrice over at Girlxoxo has inspired me to celebrate October with spooky, seasonal books. She has declared this October Dangerous Reads Month, and I am joining in on the fun here! Thanks - as always - for the inspiration, Tanya, and for the very cool image!

I've been trying to read lots of TBR books this year since my shelves are overflowing, so I searched through my many bookcases when I read about Dangerous Reads Month. I don't have a lot of classic horror novels waiting, but I've come up with several dangerous choices to squeeze in among my book group books this month and most of them are teen/YA novels:
  • Unbroken by Paula Morris - what better way to kick off a spooky month than with a teen/YA ghost story set in New Orleans? Loving it so far!
  • Unwholly by Neal Schusterman, the second book in his teen/YA dystopian trilogy about a society that can "unwind" a teen before they turn 18. This one's been waiting patiently on my shelf for a year now, and book #3 comes out next month. Very creepy premise.
  • I am currently listening to In the After by Demitria Lunetta, a teen/YA post-apocalyptic novel about a teen girl and a toddler trying to survive in a world that's been taken over by human-eating aliens - ew!
  • On the grown-up side, I have a couple of Laura Lippman novels to choose from - I figured that a good murder mystery is plenty dangerous, and my husband has read a few of these that I haven't gotten to yet.
  • And I encouraged my husband to join the fun - he's just started NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, a Father's Day gift that I gave him - I've heard it's super-creepy.
So, those are my plans. How about you? What will you read for this spooky, dangerous month?

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's Monday 10/7! What Are You Reading?

Whew - rough week last week. Another busy one and my chronic illness was flared up most of the week, so I had to rest a lot and cancel many of my plans. One of the things we had to cancel was a camping weekend we were all looking forward to. That was disappointing, but after 11 years of living with chronic illness, we are used to last-minute changes and going with the flow! I'm doing a little better today and am hoping for a better week...though the calendar is chock full again!

The one benefit of feeling poorly is plenty of quiet reading time! Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, the classic teen/YA coming-of-age novel. It was amazing! It was a great choice for Banned Books week - check out my review.
  • Next I went back to Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andre Makine and finished it finally! It's a slow read - literary fiction - but it was a good story, and I was glad I stuck with it. I'm sorry I missed the book group discussion, though - I've found that my enjoyment of more difficult books is really enhanced when I can discuss it with others.
  • Before my next book group read, I wanted to squeeze in a teen/YA novel. I have been reading Unbroken by Paula Morris, sequel to Ruined. It's a ghost story set in New Orleans, and a perfect way to kick off October!
  • I also started a new audio book last week and am already halfway through it - amazing progress for me! I am listening to In the After by Demitria Lunetta, a suspenseful post-apocalyptic teen/YA novel.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Time and Again by Jack Finney, a classic time travel novel that he and I both enjoyed. He noted that it was slower-paced than he expected, and I agree - it reads more like historical fiction than science fiction.
  • Now, he is reading a Father's Day gift I gave him: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. I'd heard that this supernatural thriller written by Stephen King's son was a good one, so I hope he enjoys it.
  • Craig, 15, is still reading Beowulf for Brit Lit, and Jamie, 19, is still too busy with college to have any free reading time!
 I posted two new reviews last week:

Review of Hope's Boy, a memoir by Andrew Bridge.

Review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, a teen/YA classic.

And a summary of Books Read in September.

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 Unleashing Readers.) 

I spent a relaxing weekend reading on the deck!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Teen/YA Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

In celebration of Banned Books Week, I read a classic teen/YA novel that is always high on the list of banned books, The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I don’t know how I missed this wonderful novel for so long! I devoured it in just a few days and felt like I got to know the characters intimately and lived in their world.

The entire novel is written through a series of letters that the main character, Charlie, writes to an anonymous “friend.” This is someone Charlie doesn’t know personally but overhead a classmate talking about, and he starts writing to him to ease his anxiety over starting high school. Charlie has good reason to feel anxious. His only real friend from middle school committed suicide, leaving Charlie mourning, confused, and alone.

Charlie describes his days at high school in a way that is familiar to anyone who went to high school…the cliques, the social pressures, the desire to be liked, and the insecurities. He also talks about his family – his mom, dad, older brother who has just left for college, and his older sister who is a senior in high school. Charlie’s family seems very ordinary; he loves them and they love him, but they can drive him crazy at times. His descriptions of holiday dinners with extended family are especially amusing for anyone who has a dysfunctional family of their own!

One evening at a football game, Charlie recognizes a boy from his shop class, a boy known by his classmates as Nothing. Charlie sits down next to him and begins talking with him (finding out his real name is Patrick) and gets to know his stepsister, Sam, too. Although Charlie can be very quirky at times, Patrick and Sam have their own reasons for not quite fitting in, and they all become friends, eventually pulling Charlie into their own group of friends until he finally feels like he belongs.

Charlie himself admits that one of his problems is that he thinks too much, and that is part of what makes his narration so irresistible. He analyzes everything (who didn’t in high school?), wonders about everything, and questions everything. His English teacher, who gives him extra books to read all year long, tells him he needs to participate in life more, but Charlie feels there are some advantages to being a wallflower, always quietly observing the world around him.

This quintessential coming-of-age novel follows Charlie through his entire freshman year, as he experiences all those things familiar to many high schoolers: dances, first dates, the ups and downs of friendships, drugs and drinking, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Adding to the fun are ample references to music (mix tapes – it’s set in 1991!), movies, and literature. He writes to his anonymous friend with open candor about his hopes and fears, all that is happening around him, and all that confuses him. Along the way, he grows and learns more about himself and how to feel comfortable in the world. And the reader goes along for the ride, laughing, cringing, crying, and, ultimately, caring about Charlie on his wild ride through his first year of high school.

213 pages, Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)

Why has it been banned? Ah, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a censor’s dream! It has a bit of everything – sex, drugs, yup – rock ‘n roll, too! There is also homosexuality, swearing, and sexual abuse. All of it is dealt with in a very frank, almost innocent, way, as Charlie tries to figure things out for himself.

P.S. Now that I’ve read the book, I want to see the movie, though I am a bit leery after loving the book so much. I can see from the movie photo on the cover that the characters don’t look as described in the book which drives me crazy in a book adaptation…but I have heard that the movie is excellent (including from my son!), so I look forward to giving it a try.