Thursday, February 27, 2014

Middle-Grade Review: Flora & Ulysses

I recently listened to Kate DiCamillo’s latest middle-grade novel, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures on audio. Like DiCamillo’s other well-known middle-grade novels, this one was warm and original, with a great sense of humor, and I enjoyed listening to it.

Ten-year old Flora is a self-described cynic who loves comic books and superheroes. Her summer begins with a bang when a squirrel in her yard gets sucked up into her family’s new super-powered vacuum cleaner (the Ulysses 2000X). Like so many other mild-mannered citizens in the comic books that Flora reads, that trauma results in the squirrel developing super-powers: he can talk, he has super-strength, and he can write poetry. Flora names him Ulysses, and their adventures begin!

Flora’s parents are divorced, her mother seems interested only in writing romance novels (which Flora hates!), and her neighbor’s great-nephew, William, seems intent on hanging around with Flora all summer. In the midst of all of this, Flora is trying to protect her new superhero friend, whom her mother seems bent on destroying. All of this is great fodder for a young girl with an avid imagination, a love of comic books, and a rodent friend with superpowers!

Flora and Ulysses have all kinds of adventures together and close calls, in the spirit of superhero comic books, and maybe learn some life lessons along the way. I listened to this unique and humorous novel on audio, which I now see was a mistake. I had no idea as I listened, but it turns out that this fun novel is actually written partly in text and partly comic-book style. I took a look on amazon (click on the amazon link below and click on the “Look Inside” pic of the cover) and loved the graphic novel style and fun illustrations that really add to the overall attraction of this novel.  While the audio was enjoyable, I can see now that I missed out on a lot without the visuals, so this is one book that is better in paper format.

Overall, Flora & Ulysses is a fun romp, filled with DiCamillo’s trademark warmth and tenderness, as well as a great sense of humor.

Although my sons have outgrown most DiCamillo novels by now (they are 16 and 19), we all have very fond memories of listening to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (still one of the most amazing middle-grade novels I have ever read) on audio in the car and reading The Tiger Rising together out loud.

Listening Library

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Monday 2/24! What Are You Reading?

Monday morning - I love the feeling of starting a new week, with new possibilities and a fresh start. We had a busy weekend but with time for fun, too...and everyone was feeling good! This week will be a busy one as well, but we always make time for reading:
  • I finished the teen/YA novel Thin Space by Jody Casella, a story about a twin grieving the loss of his brother and trying to find an opening between this world and the next. It was very good, mostly a realistic story about grief, with a touch of the supernatural.
  • Now I am reading my next book group selection, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier, for my neighborhood book group on Wednesday. I am loving this book and staying up much too late at night reading! It's about a woman who inherits the journals of a good friend after her untimely death and finds out there were a lot of things she didn't know about her friend. It is also about motherhood and self-identity and the way people change over time. The author offered to answer our questions in a personalized video clip, so I am very much looking forward to hearing from her.
  • I finished listening to The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, a thriller on audio. I thought I had it all figured out, but there were still some surprises at the end!
  • I am now listening to Insurgent by Veronica Roth, Book 2 in the Divergent trilogy. We started listening to this on vacation last summer, but my husband and son lost interest (mainly because it had been too long since they read Divergent), so I am finally getting back to it.
  • And I am still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam...but I am finally getting near the end! It's been very good, and there is a lot of advice in it that I want to try to implement.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading John Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, a follow-up to his famous A Time to Kill and a Christmas gift from our son. He's enjoying it and pointed out that it counts as a Big Book!
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (I think) - he had a busy week, finishing up his Calc 3 final from last semester while attending new classes for this semester.
I didn't have as much writing time last week as I'd hoped, but I did manage two posts:

Review of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, a literary novel.

Weekend Cooking, about our new experiences with restricted diets, including healthy, tasty recipes that can be enjoyed by anyone.

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.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

It's Monday 2/17! What Are You Reading?

Another week with more snow (lots more - check out my pics), more snow days, and more medical urgencies to keep me busy. It is supposed to snow again tonight! We did have a fairly quiet weekend, with one son off at college (home on Sunday) and the other on a school ski trip. Today is a holiday, so my husband and younger son are both home. Please, oh, please, no more snow days this week!

We did manage plenty of reading this week, though:
  • I finished The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides for my library's books discussion. Well, to be more precise, I still had 100 pages to go when I went to the discussion, but I finished it afterward. It seemed to be a love-it-or-hate-it book. Of the six people at the meeting, four of us enjoyed it (including me), and two couldn't finish it. One couldn't get past page 2! I really liked it overall and did finish it after the meeting. I hope to post a review of it this week.
  • My next book group selection isn't available yet at the library, so I decided to squeeze in a short teen/YA novel, Thin Space by Jody Casella, a supernatural tale about a grieving twin who is trying to find a "thin space," a break between this world and the next where he can be reunited with his dead brother. It's very good so far and fast-paced.
  • I am still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, squeezing in a page here or there when I can. This is my waiting room book, so I made some progress last week!
  • On audio, I am listening to The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, a creepy suspense thriller. I didn't love it at first, but I have to admit that it has grabbed my attention now, and I'm having trouble setting it down.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading John Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, a follow-up to his famous A Time to Kill and a Christmas gift from our son.
  • My 19-year old son did the right thing last week, setting down a slow book that he wasn't enjoying much to read The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater which I read recently and loved (mom knows best!). He loved it, too, and immediately moved onto The Dream Thieves, book 2 in this fast-paced teen/YA series. I want to read the second book when he is done with it.
  • Our 16-year old son is reading MacBeth for his British Literature class.
 Despite best-laid plans, I didn't have any time for writing reviews last week, though I did finally post my Summary of Books Read in January. I am catching up, little by little, after a rough start to the year!

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Books Read in January

It's a little late, but I am finally posting my January summary. It was a COLD month, filled with waaay too many snow days with my kids home from school! Plus a few family medical problems thrown in for fun! So, I only read 4 books in January, but they were all good (and they were all fairly long, too):

  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, a teen/YA novel (Virginia)
  • The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, a middle-grade novel on audio (fantasy location)

So, not a lot of books, but a nice variety, with one adult novel, two teen/YA, and one middle-grade (and an audio). It was an all-fiction month! Tough to pick my favorite - they were all good - but The Raven Boys probably grabbed me the most.

Update on 2014 Reading Challenges:
I added just one state and one country to my Where Are You Reading Challenge 2014 - I couldn't believe that two of my four books this month took place in the same state!  I read just one from my TBR shelves, The Raven Boys, for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. And I listened to one audio book for my 2014 Audio Book Challenge. No nonfiction or classics yet.

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's Monday 2/10! What Are You Reading?

Another busy week - more snow and ice (check out my ice storm photos), my older son still horribly sick with his chronic illnesses, and my husband out of town. This morning things are looking up a bit. Our son did move back onto campus last night, but he's still not in good shape, and we are very worried about how he'll manage. We spent a lot of time last week and this weekend consulting with various medical professionals and are trying some new, fairly radical changes to diet, medicines, and supplements this week in the hopes that it will help him.

BUT, for now, I am blissfully alone in a quiet house this morning (still worrying, but one step at a time!). As always, our books provided distraction and comfort last week:
  • I finished Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, the February choice for my online family book group. I was captivated by this compelling fictional story based on historical fact about a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. Here's my review.
  • Next, I picked up another book group read, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, for my library's book discussion on Wednesday. There's no way I will finish it in time, but I am enjoying it so far - the first of Eugenides' novels I've read.
  • I finished my audio book, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, a middle-grade novel about a young girl and a poetry-writing squirrel superhero. Yes, I said squirrel. It was fun and silly and warm - classic DiCamillo.
  • I started a new audio book, The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, this one a grown-up novel. I'm only on the second chapter, but it seems to be about family secrets.
  • And I am still making my way - slowly but surely - through 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It's been interesting so far, but I have been focused on my book group novels.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Jo Nesbo's The Bat on his Kindle and enjoyed it.
  • Ken has now started Sycamore Row by John Grisham, a Christmas gift from our son. It's a follow-up novel to Grisham's A Time to Kill, which we both read about 20 years ago and barely remember!
  • Our oldest son, Jamie, 19, was still reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy this week but was struggling with it. He said it was very long and fairly slow-paced, so it wasn't keeping his attention, especially given how sick he was. I finally convinced him that it was OK to set it aside and read something else!
  • I suggested a fast-paced teen/YA novel to him, so he picked up The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater which I read recently and loved. He needed some comfort reading!
  • Craig, 16, just started reading MacBeth by Shakespeare for his Brit Lit class.
Despite the hectic, stressful week, I actually managed quite a few blog posts:

Coming Soon: Your Favorite Books as Movies 2014, about some of this year's most hotly anticipated book adaptations on the big screen.

My 2014 Reading Challenges - yes, I finally found time to sign up for some challenges!

Review of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, a wonderful historical novel set in Hawaii

Review of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, a teen/YA novel

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.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

2014 Reading Challenges

2014 Reading Challenges

Yes, I finally found time to join some challenges for 2014! I spent a lot of time searching for just the right challenges, plus a few old favorites:

I sign up for this one every year and love keeping track of where my reading takes me! Last year, I read books that took place in 27 different states and 13 different countries. We'll see how I do this year!

I participated in this challenge last year - it is perfect for me, as I don't have a TBR pile - I have an entire TBR bookcase! Last year, I read 26 books from my TBR shelves, and I hope to top that this year, so I guess that puts me in the First Kiss (21 - 30) category.

2014 Audio Book Challenge, hosted by The Book Nympho

Last year, I listened to 14 audio books, so I will sign up for Stenographer (10 - 15) level.

Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014, hosted by The Introverted Reader

I was looking for a memoir challenge and came across this one, which includes memoirs as well as other nonfiction. I love memoirs and only read 4 memoirs last year plus 4 other nonfiction books, so I look forward to reading more this year! I am signing up for the Explorer level (6-10).

The Classics Reading Challenge 2014, hosted by Thoughts At One in the Morning

 This is just what I was looking for! Some classics challenges are too restrictive. I want incentive to read some of the books my kids are reading in school, some "modern" classics that I missed, and even re-read some classics that I read decades ago. This challenge includes all that.

Teen/YA Review: The Raven Boys

Much to my surprise, I loved Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Shiver, Linger, and Forever). For someone who normally doesn’t enjoy paranormal romance much, I devoured those three books one after the other, and loved every moment. So, I was excited when her next novels were published, but I had trouble finding time to read them. I finally read The Raven Boys recently and loved it!

Sixteen-year old Blue lives a fairly unusual life, living with her clairvoyant mother in a house with several other psychics. Blue herself doesn’t have any psychic powers, though she has an unusual ability to amplify others’ powers when they are near her. She attends the local high school in her town but is seen as something of an outcast there, a status she sort of enjoys.

This year, though, everything changes. Each year, on a particular night, Blue and her mother go to an abandoned church, and her mother sees the ghostly figures of those who will die in the coming year. Blue has never seen them herself, but this year, she sees a boy who speaks to her and says his name is Gansey. To make matters worse, Blue has been told – by every psychic she’s ever met – that she will cause her true love to die with a kiss.

When Blue meets Gansey in person in town, she gets pulled into his group of friends, against her better judgment. Gansey and his friends attend an exclusive private school, Aglionby, and everyone knows that Raven Boys from Aglionby are nothing but trouble. Besides, Blue knows that Gansey will die in the next year, and that secret weighs heavily on her. But Blue likes this group of misfit boys, especially Adam who attends Aglionby on a scholarship. In addition, they are involved in a quest related to the town’s unusual paranormal phenomena that intrigues Blue.

It’s a somewhat complex plot, revolving around the Raven Boys, Blue, her mother and the other psychics, and especially the boys’ quest. Eventually, all the disparate pieces come together, in a story that is creative and unusual. I was really pulled into this story by its characters. Blue, Gansey, and Adam are especially likable, so much so that, like in the Wolves of Mercy Falls books, I found myself absorbed in their story and rooting for them – and completely believing in the odd paranormal elements of the book. There are lots of plot twists here and plenty of surprises. As soon as I finished the book, I combed through the carton of new releases waiting for review here and was thrilled to find the second book in the series, The Dream Thieves. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

408 pages, Scholastic


Monday, February 3, 2014

It's Monday 2/3! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday...and it's snowing again! It was no surprise that the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday. My son already had a scheduled day off school today, so at least its not another snow day, but I do need to figure out when to pick him up from his friend's house in this storm.

Anyway, we had a pretty good week here last week and enjoyed our little family Superbowl party, even though the game itself was incredibly boring! And we enjoyed our books:
  • I am still reading Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, the February choice for my family book group (I started an online family book group last year on Facebook - it is so much fun sharing books with my far-away cousins and aunts!). It's a novel about a little Hawaiian girl who is exiled to a leper colony on Moloka'i in the 1890's. It is a wonderful and captivating book - I need to hurry up and finish it for our discussion.
  • I am also still reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It's very good, but it's taking me a while to get through it just because I don't normally read two books at once. 
  • I started a new audio book, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, a middle-grade book I've been meaning to get to for a while. I finally figured out how to keep the non-titled tracks in order on my iPod! It's good so far - a lot of fun, with DiCamillo's famous sense of whimsy.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Bat by Jo Nesbo, the first book in the Harry Hole series, on his Kindle. He's read several other Harry Hole novels and enjoys this renowned Scandinavian crime writer.
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, Book One in The Obsidian Trilogy. He says it's good (and very long!), but not one of his favorites. He has one more week at home and then heads back to college for spring semester.
I posted nothing at all at Book By Book in between my Monday posts last week! That gives you some indication of how hectic things have been here, with both sons at home, lots of medical appointments, too many snow days, and a busy weekend. I did manage to write one review here:

Review of The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, a middle-grade audio book.

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?