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


-->
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:
 
-->
  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?

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's Monday 11/4! What Are You Reading?


Eeek! November already? It seems to sneak up on me every year, on the heels of all the Halloween excitement. I had another week sick on the couch, which was very frustrating. "Just" a flare-up of my chronic illness this time, but that makes almost a full month of not being very productive. So, I am hoping that November is a fresh start! And it's certainly been good so far...my son was invited away for the weekend with a friend's family, so my husband and I got away together for a mini 24-hour getaway to the beach. We've been trying to do this for over a year, so we thoroughly enjoyed the little break and the time together.

Sick time always means plenty of reading time for me (the silver lining) - here's what we read last week:
  • I closed out Dangerous Reads Month and finished In the Woods by Tana French, a compelling mystery that is also beautifully written. Here's my review.
  • I am now reading (and almost finished with) Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos, a middle-grade novel about three young girls who bond as friends because they are all daughters of maids in a very wealthy town where their classmates' families are their mothers' employers. It's been a very engaging story about the experiences of recent immigrants - can't wait to see how it ends today.
  • I am still listening to Rotters by Daniel Kraus, a teen/YA audio book that won the Odyssey award for audio excellence. While it fit in well with Dangerous Reads Month (it deals with grave-robbing), I was surprised to learn that it is also about bullying. Its very good so far - I just started Part 2.
  • My husband, Ken, was away on business last week, so he chose a book on his Kindle, Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley, a mystery/suspense novel, to read while he was traveling.
  • Now that he's back home, he's returned to Ghost Man by Roger Dobbs, a birthday gift from me last month. It's a fast-paced thriller by a first-time author, and he's enjoying it so far.
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading Shadows Edge by Brent Weeks, book 2 of the Night Angel trilogy. He loves this series but hasn't had much reading time at college lately.
  • Craig, 15, has been reading Beowulf for his Brit Lit class; I saw he had written an essay about the novel last night, so I think they are almost done with it.
Last week, I posted two new reviews:

In the Woods by Tana French

UnWholly by Neal Schusterman

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.  

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

My husband and I at Rehoboth Beach this weekend.