Monday, December 27, 2010

It's Monday 12/27! What Are You Reading?

It's the last Monday of 2010!  Hard to believe, isn't it?

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays with their families and got lots of books as gifts!  If you're interested in seeing which books we received this Christmas, check out my blog posts on books the kids got and books my husband and I got.  Looks like 2011 will be another good reading year!

Of course, this past week was super-busy with holiday preparations, but we did read a few books, especially this weekend when things got quieter.  Now we're preparing to visit my father-in-law in Oklahoma (as long as the airport reopens soon!) and getting books ready for that trip, too:
  • I finished Crossing the Tracks, a new teen/YA novel by Barbara Stuber, and posted a review.
  • I read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman, a novel mostly set in Savannah, GA, that made a few "best of 2010" lists.  I enjoyed it very much and posted a review at Book By Book.
  • Last night, I started a middle-grade/teen novel I've been dying to read: Pendragon Book 10: the Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale.  The Pendragon series is one of my all-time favorites for kids and teens (and me!), and I'm both excited and sad to finally be reading the last book of the series.  I thought it was a good one to take on our trip (long but lightweight paperback and very compelling!).
  • My husband, Ken, finished Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (and loved it).  I was hoping to post a review of Leviathan and its sequel, Behemoth, but I don't know if I'll have time to finish it before I go.
  • Ken started Roastbeef's Promise by David Jerome, a hilarious road trip novel that I reviewed this past spring.  He's been laughing out loud and reading passages aloud to me, so I think he's enjoying it!
  • Jamie, 16, is still working on The Magician of Hoad by one of his favorite authors, Margaret Mahy (he loved her earlier novel, Madigan's Fantasia).  He's been too busy playing on his new ping-pong table and in the rare snow we got yesterday to read much, but he just ran upstairs to pick out books for our trip.  Jamie does not travel light when it comes to reading material!  He will read through our entire 6-hour trip.
  • Craig, 12, isn't currently reading anything, since school is out, but I hope to entice him with his new Christmas books.
I also posted one other review at Book By Book:  Still Alice, a wonderful novel by Lisa Genova.

I better get to my packing.  Hope you have a wonderful and relaxing holiday week and a Happy New Year!  Talk to you again in 2011!

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Christmas Books!

We had a very nice Christmas here in the Jackson household yesterday, with LOTS of books exchanged as gifts.  There's nothing better than new books for Christmas!  Here's a run-down of the new books that Jamie (16) and Craig (12) got:

Jamie got the next two books in two of his favorite series, plus a cartoon book just for fun:
  • Fang by James Patterson, part of his teen series, Maximum Ride.
  • Erak's Ransom by John Flanagan, Book 7 in The Ranger's Apprentice series.
  • Weiner Dog Art, A Far Side Collection by Gary Larson.
Craig also got a cartoon book, plus the only two books in the world he would probably even consider reading voluntarily (I was so excited to find they'd both been recently released in hardcover):
  • The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville, Book 4 in The Unicorn Chronicles series.
  • The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure by Ted Bell, sequel to Nick of Time.
  • Foxtrot Sundaes: A Foxtrot Collection by Bill Amend.
Craig also enjoys annual world record-type books, so he also got:
  • Scholastic Almanac 2011: Facts and Stats
  • Scholastic Book of World Records 2011
If you're interested in the grown-up books that my husband and I received, check out my other blog, Book By Book.

Hope you had a very merry Christmas at your house and are enjoying your new books!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Crossing the Tracks

I was intrigued by the jacket description when Crossing the Tracks, Barbara Stuber’s novel for teens/YA, was released this summer, but it got lost among the stacks of books on my shelf for a few months.  I’m so glad I finally found time to read this warm, thoughtful coming-of-age novel set in 1926.

Fifteen-year old Iris feels very alone and abandoned.  Her mother died when she was six years old, and her father has been distant ever since.  Here, she stops by to visit him in the shoe store he runs in their hometown in Kansas because she’s worried about something:

“Hello.” I sound croaky, cautious.

He nods as he anchors a stack of receipts with a green glass paperweight.  He does not ask what I’m doing there. 

“How are you today?”

He looks up sharply.  “Fine!”

I twist my hair, helpless for what to say next.  The back room curtain hangs open.  Daddy’s shoe repairman, Carl, has left for the day.  “Do you…uh, need help with anything?”


“How are the new Kansas City store plans coming along?” I wince.  The question is so out of the blue, so idiotic and phony-sounding.

He shrugs, which could mean Okay or Can’t you see I’m busy or Get lost, Iris.

I turn, bump the counter.  Shoeboxes clatter to the floor.  “Oh, I’m sorry, I just…” I straighten the mess, swipe my eyes.  “I’ll see you soon – around five, then.”

He glances at the clock and says not one word when I walk out the door.

“Bye, Daddy.”

Then Iris discovers that her father has arranged for her to spend the summer working as a housekeeper for a doctor and his mother in a small rural town, while he takes his latest girlfriend to Kansas City to open the new store.  She takes the train there, feeling more abandoned and out of place than ever.  The doctor and his mother are kind, but she senses pure evil in another resident of the town who menaces both her and his own daughter.

This is a wonderfully tender novel about growing up and finding where you belong, though it has an element of suspense as well.  It’s about family and friendship and love, and I came to care about its well-drawn characters and enjoyed the details of the time and place.  Crossing the Tracks is Stuber’s first novel; I can’t wait to read more.

258 pages, Margaret K. McElderberry Books (Simon & Schuster)


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trends in Children's Publishing in 2010

The Book Catcher blog posted a list of Ten Trends in Children's Book Publishing from 2010 this week.  It's an interesting list that reflects a lot of the kids' and YA books I read this year.  Take a look and tell me what you think!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday: Audio Books

Somehow, when I was writing my Monday post this morning, I completely forgot about audio books!  So, in addition to what we read last week:
  • I listened to David Sedaris' essay collection, Holidays on Ice.  Not your typical Hallmark Channel-style holiday fare, but I really like Sedaris.  A couple of these essays were hilarious, and I love listening to him read them himself.
  • During our trip this weekend, our family listened to A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata, a riveting novel for middle-grade readers (though we thought it definitely more appropriate for older kids/teens) about a young boy who's training to be an elephant handler, living in Vietnam during the war.  We're not quite finished, but it's been excellent so far.

It's Monday 12/20! What Are You Reading?

Whew, it's been a whirlwind week, with another revving up today.  I spent most of last week toiling away on our year-end photo DVD, with two frantic days spent trying to figure out how to get movies off our camcorder and onto my computer (don't you hate problems like that??).  I was finally successful and burned a pile of DVDs just in time to finish wrapping gifts for my family and hit the road on Friday.  We spent the weekend celebrating Christmas (and two birthdays) with part of my family in Connecticut and returned home last night.  Now I have to finish my shopping for the kids, get groceries, bake cookies, wrap gifts....'tis the season!

Believe it or not, with all that flurry of activity, I still found time to read:
  • I finished Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, the sequel to Leviathan.  It was excellent - I can't wait for book 3.
  • My husband was intrigued by my and my son's accolades, so he read Leviathan last week, too, and loved it!  In fact, he brought it to my mom's house, and my 4-year old nephew was fascinated by the amazing illustrations in Leviathan.  He sat with me for 30 minutes, going through the entire book and looking at the pictures - the only time he sat still all weekend!
  • Even though I have stacks of books waiting to be read on my own bookshelf, I picked up Still Alice by Lisa Genova from my library's new paperback releases shelf last week and read it.  I have been wanting to read this book for ages, and I'm so glad I did.  It's a novel about Alice, a 50-year old professor at Harvard who is an accomplished and brilliant professional, and her journey with early-onset Alzheimer's.  It is a heart-breaking but compelling book - I could hardly bear to set it down.
  • I'm now reading a teen novel, Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber.  It's about a 16-year old girl whose father sends her to live with another family in a small town as a housekeeper.  The novel is set in Kansas in 1926, and I'm enjoying it very much so far.
  • Jamie, 16, finished The Stand by Stephen King last week during a couple of sick days.  He said it was excellent, though he was a bit disappointed by the ending.  He prefers neat, happy endings and thought too many people died in this novel.
  • Jamie has now turned to the considerable stack of books that have been piling up while he read The Stand!  His first choice was The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  Her earlier novel, Madigan's Fantasia, still ranks as one of Jamie's all-time favorite fantasy novels.  He says Mahy's novels have very complex plots, and you never now what is going to happen next.  He's enjoying this one very much so far.
  • Craig, 12, is busy today performing in 8 concerts!  He's in both band and chorus and has concerts all day for his classmates, then two tonight for parents.  So, he's had very little free time lately!  His class finished reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Much to my disappointment, we haven't had any time to read aloud from our favorite Christmas picture books yet this season, but I'm sure we'll get to at least a few this week.  We haven't watched any favorite Christmas specials yet, either - I'm sure it's partly the result of my kids getting older, too.

I did manage to post a couple of reviews last week, of the teen/YA novel Empty here, and of a classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, at Book By Book.

What are you and your family reading last week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Empty

Suzanne Weyn’s new teen/YA novel Empty paints a bleak picture of our society just ten years from now, when the world’s fossil fuels are finally running out.  Her suspenseful novel focuses on several teens in the small town of Sage Valley when a war breaks out over the last oil reserves and a double-hurricane hits the eastern United States.

These two catastrophes bring the growing crisis to a head, stranding people with no electricity, heat, or transportation.  Gwen, a Goth loner, is used to fending for herself; her mother left her and her older brother several years ago.  Tom, her next-door neighbor, is a football player struggling to adjust to his father’s recent death when the crisis hits.  He has a crush on Niki, a cheerleader at school whose family’s wealth has insulated her from the growing shortages leading up to these events.

Here, Tom is thinking about how things got so bad so quickly, as he’s considering converting his dad’s old truck to a hybrid:

It happened quicker than anybody thought it could – country by country, well by well, the oil had started to dry up.  It was right in front of everybody’s faces, but they pretended it wasn’t happening.  They still tried to drive everywhere.  They still cranked up their heat in winter and air-conditioning in summer.  Reserves were depleted.  Alaska was drilled.  The price went higher and higher.  And while rich people – really rich people – could still afford to get places, the crunch got tighter and tighter on everyone else.  Tom didn’t like to think about it – because there wasn’t much he could do about it.  Except, he guessed, fixing up the truck.

As this passage indicates, the book is a mix of factual information about the crisis and what led to it and the intertwining personal stories of the main teen characters, as they struggle to adapt to the nightmare of what’s going on around them.  There are even “news stories” appearing in between chapters, describing what’s happening in the wider world with the war and the natural disasters.

Some readers might find all that extra information distracting from the story and perhaps even a bit preachy at times, as this is clearly a cautionary tale of what could happen if our society’s rampant, blind consumption continues.  This didn’t bother me at all; I was pulled into the fast-paced story of the kids and found the explanatory information additive.  Besides, I fully believe something like this could happen and thought the book was frightening in its realism.  Also, Empty is just a plain good adventure story.

183 pages, Scholastic

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday 12/13! What Are You Reading?

Whew, what a busy week!  My husband was out of town again last week, so I was on my own with the kids and the house, plus a few last 2010 writing assignments, plus the very long list of things to do for Christmas.  I did manage to finish most of my online shopping, so that's good.  We have a rather lengthy Christmas celebration because none of our family lives here in Delaware.  So, it starts this weekend with a trip to Connecticut to celebrate Christmas (and two birthdays) with part of my family, then back home for a few days, then out to Oklahoma to visit my father-in-law.  This week's big jobs are finishing our year-end photo DVD so I can get copies in the mail and getting Christmas cards out.  I ordered them back in November so I'd be on top of things but haven't sent a single one out yet!

So, that was my long-winded way of explaining why I didn't post a single new review last week!  Fortunately, I still had time to read:
  • I finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and even made it to my book group discussion!  It was my second time reading it, and I loved it even more this time.  It is one of the best books ever written - so clever and funny and sweet and thoughtful.  Love it.
  • I mentioned last week I finished the audio version of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I enjoyed it so much that this week, I started the newly released sequel, Behemoth (book version this time).  I'm almost finished, and it's excellent.
  • My husband is just finishing up The Bricklayer, a suspense novel by Noah Boyd - he says he already knows how it ends!
  • Jamie, 16, is at the end of The Stand by Stephen King.  He's home sick today, so he'll probably finish it.
  • Craig, 12, is reading A Christmas Carol for his 7th grade English class.  It's one of his favorites because we listen to it on audio every year.
Although I didn't post any reviews, I posted a few Best of 2010 Lists:  Two kids/teen lists from amazon and Publisher's Weekly and another Best of 2010 List from BookPage.  On my other blog, Book By Book, I posted links to Best of 2010 Lists for grown-up books from amazon and BookPage.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

BookPage's Best Kids' Books of 2010

Just after I posted yesterday about a couple of Best of 2010 lists, BookPage posted their own list for kids' and teen books!

BookPage has named their picks for top 10 picture books, middle-grade books, and teen books.  Check it out.  Although I rarely read picture books anymore, I was very interested in the other two lists.

I read (actually listened to) Keeper and Touch Blue on the middle-grade list and enjoyed both of them.

On the teen list, I read (and loved) Mockingjay.  I tried to listen to As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth and thought it sounded really good, but the MP3 disk the publisher sent me started in the middle of the story, and I never got the corrected one.  Might have to request that one again now that I know it was a good one!

What do you think of BookPage's Top Ten Lists?  Have you read any of these?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Best Books of 2010

It's that time of year again...time for all the Best Books of the Year lists!

I just posted a couple of Best Books of 2010 lists for grown-up books at Book By Book, so I thought it would be fun to look at some of the middle-grade and teen lists, too.

I tend to read more of the new kids' and teen/YA releases since I review those as part of my job, though I still never have time to read as many as I want to!

Here's Amazon's Top Ten Teen Books of 2010 list.  My family listened to the audio of Incarceron and definitely agree that it was one of the top teen books of the year.  The sequel is coming out soon, and we can't wait to listen to it!

Here's Publisher's Weekly's list of Best Kids/Teen Books of the year.  Their list includes 22 fiction titles, and 3 nonfiction.  Incarceron made their list, too (I told you it was good!), as well as Mockingjay, which I also loved.

Have you read any of the top titles of the year?  What were your favorites of 2010?

I'll wait to make my own favorites list until the year is actually over - I still have time to read a few more!

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Monday 12/6! What Are You Reading?

Well, the holiday season is now in full swing!  We were relaxing on the beach a little more than a week ago, and now it’s cold and almost Christmas.  Very weird.  We went to our favorite tree farm this weekend and picked out a tree, then decorated it on Sunday (one of our favorite parts of the season).  I've been scrambling to order gifts (I've ordered lots of books!), make our annual photo calendars, and manage other tasks.  This week's big project is the annual DVD of family photos I put together every year.  I'm sort of our family's unofficial photographer and memory-keeper!

So, Holiday preparations are keeping us very busy, but we did find time for some good books:
  • I read a new teen novel, Empty by Suzanne Weyn, a cautionary tale about what could happen when the world runs out of fossil fuels and how a group of teens cope.  It was frightening but compelling – review to come this week.
  • I’m in the middle of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for my book group this week.  It’s the 50th Anniversary of this classic, and I’m enjoying it just as much as I did the first time I read it, a few years ago.  It’s one of the best books ever written, in my opinion.
  • I finished listening to the audio of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, a middle-grade steampunk novel.  Jamie read the book ages ago and told me it was excellent.  He was right!  Now I’m motivated to read the sequel, Behemoth, which was recently released.
  • Jamie, 16, finished his vacation reading and returned to The Stand by Stephen King, though school work is keeping him pretty busy.
  • Craig, 12, is not only reading but happy about it!  His English class is reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which is a perennial favorite at our house.  We usually listen to one of the many audio versions each season at this time.  Last year, we enjoyed the one read by Patrick Stewart.  Craig said this weekend, “It’s such a great book!”  I’m thrilled to see him enthusiastic about reading for a change.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd, a thriller paperback.

Last week, I posted reviews of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton at Book By Book and Brixton Brothers and the Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity, a humorous middle-grade mystery, here.  I also posted a summary of all the books I read in November.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: Brixton Brothers and the Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity

Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett is the first in a series of new mystery novels for middle-grade readers.  This book is different from most kids’ mysteries because it is firmly a tongue-in-cheek look at the popular genre.  Filled with humor and irony, Brixton Brothers is an obvious send-up of the Hardy Boys.

Steve Brixton is obsessed with The Bailey Brothers and especially with The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook:

The Bailey Brothers, of course, were the sons of world-famous detective Harris Bailey.  They helped their dad solve his toughest cases, and they had all sorts of dangerous adventures, and these adventures were the subject of the fifty-eight shiny red volumes that made up the Bailey Brothers Mysteries, also by MacArthur Bart.  Numbers two through fifty-nine on Steve Brixton’s list of the Fifty-Nine Greatest Books of All Time were taken up by the Bailey Brothers Mysteries.

Sound familiar?  Like so many kids through the past decades have wanted to be just like the Hardy Boys, Steve Brixton wants to solve mysteries like the Bailey Brothers, and he has even sent away for his own Bailey Brothers Detective License.  This weekend, though, Steve has a much duller assignment: to write a report for English class.  He’s at the library, checking out a boring book on American quilting, when he’s suddenly pulled into the middle of a top-secret case of treason against the US government.  Unbelievably, Steve finds himself being chased by secret agents, crooks, and even the police who somehow think he is some sort of criminal mastermind.

The book is filled with the action and adventure expected in kids’ mysteries while also gently poking fun at them.  It includes excerpts from Bailey Brothers books as Steve applies his extensive knowledge of the series to his current predicament.  Several plot twists are a bit far-fetched but that’s all part of the fun, too.  Illustrations by Adam Rex, reminiscent of those in the original Hardy Boys’ books, add another element of humor.

I enjoyed the book very much, and I think that kids who maybe have outgrown the Hardy Boys will enjoy it, too.  It will appeal to those who like both mysteries and humor and who have an appreciation for irony.

179 pages, Simon & Schuster

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Monday 11/29! What Are You Reading?

 Happy Monday - hard to believe it's almost December already!

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your family.  We had a very special holiday week.  My mom and her husband treated us and my sister's family to a vacation in Jamaica at the Beaches Negril resort!  It was our first trip to the Caribbean (aside from Puerto Rico) and our first time at a resort, and the entire week was magnificent.  We spent the week swimming, snorkeling, and eating a lot!  My chronic illness even cooperated so that I could enjoy the trip - I realized it helps a lot when I have absolutely no responsibilities, no stress, and can sleep for 11 hours a night!

I wasn't here for last Monday, so this is a 2-week catch-up on our reading:
  • I read lots of short books in the busy week before we left, starting with a sweet middle-grade novel, Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, author of the award-winning Rules.  Check out my review.
  • I finally got to The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, a wonderfully moving and inspirational book written by an author disabled with the same illness my sons and I have, ME/CFS.  I'll post a review this week at Book By Book.
  • Before we left, I squeezed in one more middle-grade book, a humorous take-off on the Hardy Boys called Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett.  Lots of fun - review to come this week.
  • On our trip, I read a classic, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, for one of my book groups that's meeting tomorrow evening.  I'm not a huge fan of period novels, so it dragged at times for me, but overall, I enjoyed it.
  • Jamie, 16, decided to leave our hardcover copy of the 1,000-page The Stand at home for vacation (he's somewhere around page 700).  Instead, he brought along and read two old favorite paperbacks.  He likes to read themed novels when we travel, so he read two novels set among pirates in the Caribbean:  Peter Raven Under Fire by Michael Molloy (this might have been his third read of this one!) and The Angel's Command by Brian Jacques.  He says both are excellent (appropriate for middle-grade or teens).
  • Craig, 12, read absolutely nothing!  That's his idea of vacation.  I really need to get him back in the reading habit this week (kicking and screaming).
  • My husband, Ken, spent two weeks in Europe on business, came home for one night, then left with us for Jamaica the next day!  He finished New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith, a mystery novel set among the wealthy high society of our favorite city.  He started a new paperback he picked up for his travels, The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd, a new author for him but one recommended by a favorite of his, Lee Child.
So, lots of reading and lots of fun.  Now it's time to catch up, read those 400 e-mails waiting for me, and get back to writing reviews. Hope you had a great holiday, too!

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: Touch Blue

I absolutely loved Cynthia Lord’s debt novel, Rules, which won a Newberry Honor, so I was excited to hear she had released a new middle-grade novel, Touch Blue.  Lord’s realistic, fun portrayal of adolescents’ ups and downs continues with this unique story.

The setting for Touch Blue happens to be one of my favorites: a small island off the coast of Maine (wouldn’t you love to live there?).  Eleven-year old Tess loves to go out on her family’s boat with her lobsterman father and wholeheartedly believes in all sorts of maritime folk tales about luck, including the one that says when you touch something blue, you can make a wish.

Tess’ island schoolhouse is about to be closed down by the state due to a decrease in enrollment.  The islanders have come up with a plan to keep it open by taking in foster kids to increase enrollment (and do something good in the process).  Thirteen-year old Aaron comes to live with Tess’ family.

Aaron has had a rough life.  His mom is not able to take care of him, and his grandma died a couple of years ago.  He’s been moved around to different foster homes and feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere.   Here’s Tess’ first view of Aaron:

Then I see Aaron.  Skinny as a spar, he seems too tall for thirteen, with a pinched-sour mouth and red hair.  A redhead on a boat is unlucky!  Why didn’t I remember to mention that to his caseworker?  His hair, bright as October leaves, falls near to his shoulders.

Tess is doing her best to find good luck charms and make the right wishes, but it might take more than that to make things work out.  This sweet story about belonging to a family and a community is perfect for middle-grade readers, with realistic characters and plenty of warmth and humor.

186 pages, Scholastic

To learn more about Cynthia Lord and her books, you can visit her website and her blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's Monday 11/15! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  I can't believe it's mid-November already, and the holiday season starts next week - yikes!  Things will get really hectic from here out.

Last week was a busy one, too.  Craig was home sick for two days, I was under the weather myself most of the week, my husband was still out of town, and Craig hurt his knee on Thursday.  Typical week with kids, right?  He got an MRI Friday night, and we're headed to the orthopedic specialist this morning.  It's feeling a lot better, so hopefully, it's nothing too serious.

I did find time to read during all that craziness (actually waiting rooms are a great opportunity to read!):
  • I finished Beloved by Toni Morrison.  Wow.  I understand why it's considered a modern classic.  Review to come this week (somehow I ran out of time for reviews at the end of the week...)
  • I read a sweet middle-grade novel, Touch Blue, by award-winning author Cynthia Lord.  I loved her first novel, Rules, and this one was very good as well.
  • I started The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a beautifully written memoir by Elisabeth Tova Bailey who has the same chronic illness I have.  So far, it's just as good as everyone said it was.
  • Jamie, 16, is still making his way through The Stand by Stephen King.  A friend was teasing him this weekend, "You're still reading the same book?"  Jamie said, "It's over 1000 pages long with small print!"  Despite all the school work that keeps him busy, he is still finding time to enjoy this novel and says it just keeps getting better and better.
  • I honestly have no idea what Craig, 12, is reading right now.  I'm having trouble getting him to read much of anything, and he keeps switching books after reading only a chapter or two!  I know he started a Hardy Boys book last week while he was home sick (his version of comfort reading).  If anyone has any suggestions of a book for a 7th grade boy that grabs you in the very first chapter, I'd love to hear it! 

Last week, I posted a review of the teen suspense novel, The Deadly Sister.  I also posted a couple of fun items on my adult book blog, Book By Book:  some new videos by the author of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and a trailer for a new movie version of Jane Eyre.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teen/YA Review: The Deadly Sister

The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer is a murder mystery/thriller with some surprising twists and turns.  Besides the mystery at its heart, it takes a close look at what family means.  How far would you go to protect your family members?

Seventeen-year old Abby Goodwin has always watched out for her younger sister, Maya, from her problems at school through more recent and serious problems with drugs:

She slammed her car into a light pole.  The police found her partying in a construction site late at night, high out of her mind.  When the school threatened academic expulsion, I vowed to find her a tutor so she could get her GED.  I lied to our parents about where she got that wad of rolled-up bills they discovered in her messenger bag.  I kept quiet when she pawned the china our grandmother had left our parents; they wouldn’t know it was gone until they tried to set the table next Thanksgiving.  Every secure thing she pried up in our lives, I quietly followed behind and glued it back down.

I might have been able to protect her forever.

Until Jefferson Andrews showed up dead.

When Abby finds the dead body of a classmate of theirs during a morning run and discovers that Maya is missing, she launches into her role as protector.  After helping Maya to hide, she starts her own investigation to try to clear Maya’s name.  From there, nothing is at it seems, and the more she discovers, the less things seem to make sense.  Who can she trust?  And what is the right thing to do?

This novel moves along at a quick pace, with lots of unexpected twists and turns in the plot.  I read it quickly, wanting to know what would happen next.  Fan of mysteries and thrillers will enjoy this unique novel about sisterly devotion.

310 pages, Scholastic

Recommended for older teens and young adults, as it contains violence and drug abuse.


Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Monday 11/8! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  Another busy week here.  Last week of the marking period for the kids, so they had a lot of work to do, my husband is traveling for business again, and I'm busy trying to be both mom and dad!  I don't think the kids had any time at all for reading last week, but I did:
  • I finished Unwind by Neal Shusterman and absolutely loved it!  I couldn't wait to tell you about it, so I posted a review the same day.
  • Now, I'm in the middle of Beloved by Toni Morrison for our library book discussion this week.  It's a Classic Potluck - everyone reads a classic of their own choosing then tells the group about it.  I know some don't consider Beloved old enough to be a classic, but it was included on a list of classics from the library, and I've wanted to read a Toni Morrison book for a long time.  She's got an unusual writing style at times, but I'm enjoying this moving story very much so far. 
  • My husband took his new mystery, New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith, with him on his trip, along with Unwind, after Jamie and I raved about it!
  • Jamie, 16, is still reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for school (he says he's ahead of the class since he read a lot while he was sick recently) and The Stand by Stephen King for fun.
  • Craig, 12, is still reading The Book of Time by by Guillaume Prevost, the first book in an exciting, fast-paced time-travel series, but I don't think he read at all last week!  We'll have to remedy that this week...
Besides the review of Unwind (you must read this book!), I also posted a summary of all the books I read in October on my other blog, Book By Book.

And check out these details of the upcoming movie versions of The Hunger Games and The Help.  I can't wait to see both of them!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Hunger Games Movie

I'm so excited!

They're turning one of my all-time favorite teen/YA books, The Hunger Games, into a movie!  This update talks about the director (sounds like a good one - I loved Pleasantville and Seabiscuit). 

No word yet on who will play Katniss.  I think it needs to be a relatively unknown actress.  For instance, I think Kristen Stewart would have done a great job with Katniss...before she became such a big star in the Twilight movies.

Will you go see the movie?  Who do you think should play in the lead roles?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Unwind

I usually only read at certain times of day – when I rest in the afternoon and before bed at night – but today, I carried my book around with me, snatching minutes of reading time whenever I could.  Neal Shusterman’s dystopian teen/YA novel Unwind is absolutely chilling and completely compelling.  In fact, I also usually write my reviews in the order I read the books, but I couldn’t wait to tell you about Unwind.

Sixteen-year old Connor can’t believe his parents have signed the order to have him unwound.  In this frightening future, a second Civil War has been fought over reproductive rights.  The compromise that ended the war, The Bill of Life, states that life begins at conception and can not be disrupted until the age of thirteen.  From thirteen to eighteen, though, parents can choose to “unwind” their child, whereby every bit of him or her is transplanted into different donors, so that life doesn’t officially end.

Risa, fifteen, is a ward of the state who needs to be unwound to make room for the infant orphans arriving.  And Lev celebrates his thirteenth birthday with a huge party – not a bar mitzvah, but a tithing party, as Lev, the tenth child in a family with ten kids, has been brought up specifically to be unwound as a tithe for his family’s church:

“Are you getting scared?” Pastor Dan asks.  He’s always able to figure out what’s on Lev’s mind.

Lev nods.  “I thought I was ready.  I thought I was prepared.”

“It’s natural.  Don’t worry about it.”

But it doesn’t ease the disappointment Lev feels in himself.  He’s had his entire life to prepare for this – it should have been enough.  He knew he was a tithe from the time he was little.  “You’re special,” his parents always told him.  “Your life will be to serve God, and mankind.”  He doesn’t remember how old he was when he found out exactly what was meant for him.

In this warped world, the three Unwinds are strangers, but their paths soon cross in unexpected ways and they are bound by their destinies.  Their only hope of survival is to work together.

Unwind is a fast-paced, suspenseful adventure where the outcome of failure is unthinkable.  Although its premise is disturbing, it’s impossible to put down.  Like Shusterman’s excellent Skinjacker Trilogy that begins with Everlost, the author has created another unique world populated by adolescents left on their own to create their own society.  His characters are fully formed and sympathetic, even the ones who don’t appear so at first.  I finished Unwind and wanted to read everything else Neal Shusterman has written.

335 pages, Simon & Schuster


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


Monday, November 1, 2010

It's Monday 11/1! What Are You Reading?

Eeek!  November already?  How on earth did that happen?  From here on out, time seems to go double-speed through January. 

Back to October for a moment.  We had a wonderful Halloween weekend, filled with pumpkins, cider, and fun costumes.  Our whole family dressed up as rock stars for Halloween (that's me in front), and the boys had a blast trick-or-treating.  We love our Halloween traditions - fun weekend, but tough to have Halloween on a Sunday night.  My son was getting ready for school this morning and said, "Mom, we have a problem!"  The insides of his ears were black from the spray-on hair dye!  I got him cleaned up before the bus came.  Personally, I had a terrible time washing off the black lipstick and eyeliner.

Besides Halloween, we had a very busy week - my husband was out of town, my mom stayed with us most of the week, Jamie was sick for another 3 days, then had a mountain of make-up, we had very little reading time.  Here's what we read:
  • I finished The Deadly Sister by Eliot Shrefer and enjoyed it very much.  It's a murder thriller for teens/YA with some unexpected twists.  Review coming this week.
  • I usually alternate kids/teen books with grown-up books, but I made an exception this week so I could read something spooky for Halloween.  So, I'm in the middle of Unwind by Neal Shusterman, a chilling book about a time in the future when abortion is illegal but parents can choose to "unwind" their kids when they're teens, sending them to a harvest camp where all of their organs are transplanted to donors so that life doesn't technically end.  I loved Shusterman's Everlost and Everwild, and Unwind is just as good.  A perfect Halloween read!
  • My husband, Ken, worked long hours on his business trip, so he just finished Cover Her Face by P.D. James, which he said was a classic British mystery.
  • Next, he's starting a book I gave him for his birthday, New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith - I thought he'd enjoy a mystery set in our favorite city!
  • Jamie, 16, is still reading Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury for school and The Stand by Stephen King for fun (he's on about page 500 of 1000!).
  • I don't think Craig, 12, read much at all last week, but he's still working on The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost, the first book in an exciting, fast-paced time-travel series.
I had a lot of fun last week posting my Top Ten Books to Read for Halloween, and I posted a review of a teen audio book, She's So Dead To Us (which sounds a bit Halloween-y but really isn't).  I also posted a review of Who Has Seen the Wind on my grown-up book blog, Book By Book.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Teen Review: She’s So Dead To Us

I don’t normally read the typical shallow teen dramas about wealthy high school kids who are snobs, but something drew me to She’s So Dead To Us by Kieran Scott.  My instincts were right – I thoroughly enjoyed this audio book that has surprising depth.

Ally Ryan grew up in a wealthy community in Orchard Hill, in a big house with lots of friends who lived in big houses.  When she left with her parents over a year ago, after her father’s financial scandal caused her friends’ families to lose a lot of money, she never thought she’d be back.  But here she was:

I hesitated for a split second at the foot of Harvest Lane.  What was I doing here anyway?  I hadn’t seen this hill since February of my freshman year – the night my family and I had driven down it for what I thought was the last time, me staring out the back window of my dad’s soon-to-be repossessed BMW, trying to commit every detail to memory.  I hadn’t even called my friends to say good-bye.  Hadn’t texted.  Hadn’t e-mailed.  Hadn’t tweeted a less-than-140-character “See ya!”  I’d been too confused, too scared, too embarrassed.  And soon, too much time had passed, and getting in touch felt awkward and humiliating and I just…never had.  Now here I was, eighteen months later, wishing I could go back and smack my freshman self upside the head.  Because if I had said good-bye, if I had kept in touch with any of them, it would have made moving back here so much easier.  But how was supposed to know my mother would one day get a job at Orchard Hill High?  When we left, my parents had told me we were gone for good, and I believed them.

So, Ally and her mom have come back to their old town, not to live in one of those huge houses on the hill, but in a small rented condo.  Coming back poor and not staying in touch aren’t Ally’s only problems, though.  As she encounters friends from her past, she realizes it’s even more complicated than that, and it seems like Ally will always be left out of the in-group.

Meanwhile, there’s a new family living in her old house, with a son Ally’s age.  Although Jake and Ally like each other immediately, Jake is now a solid part of Ally’s old group of friends – the friends who aren’t speaking to her anymore.

I liked that this novel was multi-dimensional.  It wasn’t just about the rich kids ostracizing their old friend who no longer has money.  It’s about facing challenges in life, staying loyal to family, and discovering what true friendship really is.  The novel alternates between Jake’s and Ally’s voices (with two different narrators on the audio) which makes it even more interesting, to hear about events from their two different perspectives.  I enjoyed it very much.

Simon & Schuster Audio

(NOTE:  This book is most appropriate for older teens, since it includes profanity and teen drinking.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Top Ten Books for Halloween

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Today's seasonal topic is Top Ten Books To Read for Halloween.  This was fun!  My 16-year old son, Jamie, helped me with this list:

  1. Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett (I read this as a kid, then read it aloud to my sons each Halloween when they were younger - it's the perfect Halloween book for younger kids)
  2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (first one that came to mind!)
  3. Ruined by Paula Morris (awesome teen ghost story)
  4. Wake and Fade by Lisa McMann (nothing spookier than haunted dreams!)
  5. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (I don't normally read paranormal romance but I liked this one)
  6. The Light (Morpheus Road #1) by D.J. MacHale (a fast-paced ghost story)
  7. Num8ers by Rachel Ward (loved this spooky paranormal thriller)
  8. Everlost by Neal Shusterman (what's better for Halloween than a book about the afterlife?)
  9. The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney (Jamie's top pick)
  10. Skin Hunger and Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey
What are your favorite books for Halloween?

(To read my list of favorite grown-up books for Halloween, check out Book By Book.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Monday 10/25! What Are You Reading?

Another Monday after another very busy week.  Soccer, school functions, and house guests this weekend.  My mom and her husband were visiting.  The guys all went to a Ravens-Bills football game, while my mom and I took the train to NYC to see a show on Broadway.  We saw Next to Normal which was stunningly good, with amazing music, great acting, and very powerful emotions.  So, lots of fun for all of us, but not a lot of reading time!  Things should start to slow down a bit, as the boys' soccer seasons begin to wind down.

Here's what we're reading:
  • I finished Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell, a classic coming-of-age novel set in the Canadian prairie.  It was wonderful - warm and tender, funny, sad - just like real life.  My mom is reading it now; our book group meets Wednesday to discuss it.
  • Now I'm reading a teen suspense novel/murder mystery, The Deadly Sister by Eliot Schrefer.  I'm only on chapter 9, but it's already a very compelling story about two sisters, one of whom may have been involved in a murder.  It's hard to put down!
  • Jamie, 16, made a little more progress on The Stand by Stephen King, unfortunately because he was home sick for much of last week.  
  • Jamie also finished Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer for his American Lit class.  He said the story was interesting, but he didn't like the way the book was written (he would have preferred to hear the story told from a first-person perspective, but, of course, that's impossible).  His class has now started Fahrenheit 451 by Rad Bradbury, an old favorite of mine.  When I was in high school, I read every Ray Bradbury book in our public library!
  • Craig, 12, has started The Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost, the first book in an exciting, fast-paced time-travel series.  The real surprise is that Jamie and I both loved this series and have been trying to get Craig to read it for years.  He likes to be independent, so he rarely takes our advice on reading materials!  I think he'll really enjoy this book.
  • My husband, Ken, is still working on his English mystery, Cover Her Face by P.D. James.  He had very little reading time last week!
Last week, I posted a review of Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, a wonderful teen novel about a boy who has a chimp for a baby brother.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Half Brother

I loved Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, a fascinating and well-written novel.  Oppel is the author of many other novels for kids and teens, including Airborn, winner of the Printz Honor, and Silverwing, the beginning of one of my son’s favorite middle-grade animal series.  I was intrigued as soon as I read the summary of Half Brother.

On his thirteenth birthday, Ben gets a new baby brother unlike any other.  Zan is a newborn baby chimpanzee who Ben’s scientist parents want to raise as a human so they can teach him sign language for their university research projects.  Here, they celebrate Ben’s birthday, hours after his mother brought Zan home:

She went to the kitchen and when  she came back she was holding a birthday cake, thirteen candles lit up.  She and Dad launched into “Happy Birthday to You.”  Normally it made me kind of embarrassed when they sang, but this time I couldn’t help smiling, because I honestly hadn’t thought there’d be cake.  Mom must have made a special trip earlier to get one.

I blew out the candles and made a wish.  I wish’d that we’d be happy in our new home.

Then I looked over at baby Zan, all swaddled in his basinet, and thought:

We are the weirdest family in the world.

Before long, Zan is an integral part of their family life, and he and Ben become as close as, well, brothers.  Some serious problems crop up as Zan grows bigger, but this book is not just about the relationship between a boy and a chimp.  It’s about family and fitting in at a new school and growing up. 

This plot could easily become silly in the hands of a lesser author, but it's not.  The novel is very well-written, with both warmth and humor.  And, of course, the story about teaching Zan sign language is absolutely fascinating.  It reminded me a bit of my favorite Michael Crichton book, Congo, about a gorilla named Amy who knows sign language.  The novel also touches on some serious issues such as animal rights and bullying.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish.

375 pages, Scholastic


Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Monday 10/18! What Are You Reading?

Rough Monday morning today.  I attended an all-day medical conference yesterday on my chronic illness along with two friends.  It was wonderful and interesting and very worthwhile...but a long, long day for me.  I'm pretty wiped out today.  Of course, both boys forgot assignments at home this morning, so I will be making a run to each school...Monday.

Thank goodness Monday also means What Are You Reading day!  Something to look forward to on a hectic morning.  None of us had a lot of reading time this week, but we squeezed in a little:
  • I finished Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel - review to come this week.  I loved this middle-grade novel about a boy whose scientist parents are bringing up a baby chimp as a human to try to teach him sign language.  The book is funny, touching, fascinating, and thought-provoking.
  • I'm now reading a book for my neighborhood book group meeting next week, Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell, a coming-of-age story about a young boy growing up in a prairie town in Saskatchewan.  I'd never heard of it before, but apparently, it is considered a Canadian classic.  It's enjoyable so far.
  • I finished a teen audio book, She's So Dead To Us by Kieran Scott, and enjoyed it - review to come.
  • My husband, Ken, planned to take 2 paperbacks with him on his trip to Texas last week but forgot both at home!  So, he bought one at the airport by one of his favorite authors, Robert Crais: The Forgotten Man, a Elvis Cole novel.  He says it was very good.
  • Now Ken is back to the novel he started last week, Cover Her Face, a mystery by P.D. James.  He was having trouble remembering all the characters last night as he tried to pick up where he left off!
  • Jamie, 16, is still reading The Stand by Stephen King for fun, and Into the Wild by Job Krakauer for school.  He was pretty sick last week and struggling to keep up with homework, so he didn't have much time for any reading.
  • Craig, 12, finished Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi for school and is looking forward to his class visit to the Renaissance Faire this week.  I don't think he's started a new book yet (that will probably require a little push from Mom!)
I had my hands full last week taking care of the kids and the house on my own while Ken was out of town, but I did manage to post reviews of a couple of old favorite animal middle-grade series, Warriors and Silverwing.  On my grown-up book blog, Book by Book, I posted a summary of all the books I read in September (better late than never!) and a short review of Blind Descent by Nevada Barr.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

P.S. Jamie just texted and said he doesn't need his assignment until tomorrow, and I e-mailed Craig's essay to his teacher...sigh...I love my couch (and my laptop!).

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Middle-Grade Reviews: Bats and Cats

    I recently came across a couple of reviews of wonderful series for middle-grade readers that I originally wrote for Family Fun magazine but that never made it into print.  As you'll see by the references to now-16 year old Jamie, I wrote these quite a few years ago, but both book series are still wildly popular and excellent choices for middle-grade readers.  Bats and cats...

    If your kids have already plowed through every Redwall book at the library and bought every Guardians of Ga’Hoole book at the school book fair, here are two series sure to satisfy their ardor for animal adventures.

    The Warriors series by Erin Hunter follows the exploits of four Clans of wild cats and one housecat’s quest to join them.  My 11-year old son, Jamie, has devoured each book in the 6-book series as soon as it was released.  I intended to read just the first book for this review, but the engaging plot kept me hooked until I had finished the whole series while my grown-up books sat unread on my nightstand.  Despite the fierce title, the Clans live by a strict honor code and fight only when necessary to defend themselves.  Erin Hunter has created a fascinating feline world filled with details of the cats’ daily lives, relationships, traditions, and spiritual beliefs and populated by compelling characters who face an array of challenges. Jamie and I have both begun the new trilogy, Warriors:  The New Prophecy, which focuses on the next generation of Clan cats.  Ages 8 – 12.  HarperCollins, $15.95 hardcover, $5.99 paperback.  

    NOTE:  Since I wrote this review, two additional Warriors series have been released: Power of Three and Omen of the Stars, and Erin Hunter has begun a new series about polar bears called Seekers.

    In Silverwing: How One Small Bat Became a Noble Hero by Kenneth Oppel, readers view the world from the perspective of bats instead of cats.  The young undersized protagonist, Shade, gets separated from his colony during their annual migration and meets all kinds of characters – both friendly and frightening – on his journey to find his family.  This soaring tale of adventure and growing up is sure to appeal to tweens, who can read more about the Silverwing bat colony and Shade’s exploits in the sequels, Sunwing and Firewing.  Jamie flew through this series during a sick week home from school and almost forgot the television was even in the room.  Ages 8 – 12.  Aladdin Paperbacks, $5.99 paperback; $15.95 boxed set.

    Have you read either of these excellent series?  They still stand as two of Jamie's favorites!


    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Tag! You're It

    I was tagged by Jan @ Eating Y.A. Books. Thanks, Jan!

    Rules of the game:

    Accept the tag and link to the tagger at the beginning of your post.

    Answer the questions honestly in your post by listing four things.

    Pass on the love by picking four other people to tag and listing them at the bottom of your post. Notify them that you tagged them.

    4 Things That Are In My Handbag
    - A 4-section, mini notebook where I write down books I want to read, things I need to do, gift ideas, music I like, and all sorts of other things.
    - My wallet which is stuffed full of receipts but usually very little cash!
    - Cell phone (I never carried a purse until I had a cell phone - then it became too much to carry in my pockets).
    - Reading glasses, a new addition!  How come print keeps getting smaller?

    4 Favorite Things In My Bedroom:
    - BOOKS!
    - 3 pillows each for me and my husband
    - My journals - a daily one, a Joy Journal, vacation journals, and more!
    - My dark sock, on my nightstand, for covering my eyes when the morning light wakes me up too early.

    4 Things On My Desk: 
    - My very old eMac, severely outdated but still loved!
    - My new MacBook, only when it needs to be charged.
    - A picture of my niece when she was a baby.
    - 10 years' worth of Family Fun magazines (I write for FF)

    4 Things I've Always Wanted To Do (but haven't yet):
    - Travel all over the world
    - Take my kids all over the world
    - Publish a memoir
    - Did I mention travel??

    4 Things I Enjoy Very Much At the Moment
    - Reading 
    - Camping
    - Family road trips
    - My book groups

    4 Songs I Can't Get Out Of My Head:
    Wow, it's different every day!  Here are some I hear a lot (mostly because my son plays the same songs over and over) that sometimes get stuck:
    - Hey, Soul Sister
    - Edge of Seventeen
    - Living on a Prayer (he played this one a dozen times while doing his homework last night!)
    - Dynamite

    4 Things You Don't Know About Me: 
    - I have a degree in Chemical Engineering, though I haven't worked in that field in a while now.
    - I was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Rochester, NY.
    - Both of my sons and I all have an immune system disorder known in the US by the very misleading name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that has dramatically changed our lives.
    - I met my husband in New Orleans, where we both used to live (we both worked for a DuPont plant there and he was assigned to be my mentor!)

     4 Bloggers I am Tagging:
    So many good blogs to choose from!  Here are some of my favorite blogs that cover kids/teens books:
    1.  Julie at My Book Retreat
    2. Andrea at The Little Bookworm 
    3.  Anne at My Head is Full of Books
    4.  Polishing Mud Balls
     Tag, you're it!  Have fun with it.