Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Teen/YA Review: And Then Everything Unraveled

I chose to read Jennifer Sturman’s YA novel, And Then Everything Unraveled, because it sounded like a great mix of realistic teen life, with a unique plot and a mystery to make things interesting.  I was right!  This compelling novel kept me turning the pages late into the night.

Sixteen-year old Delia is quite happy, living in computer-crazy Silicon Valley with her mother, T.K., hanging out with her two best friends, and sneaking in some surfing whenever she can.  Her quiet life falls apart one day, though, when the news is delivered that her mother disappeared while on a trip to Antarctica.  Delia’s reaction to the news is surprising:

They were probably expecting a more over-the-top response.  And I have to admit, for a split second I did feel like somebody had vacuumed out my insides.

But almost instantly, that feeling gave way to an almost bizarre sort of calm.  When I reached for the emotion that was usually right there, waiting to be tapped, I came up empty.

Because I just couldn’t believe my mother was dead.

I still can’t.  I mean, everyone else is using the past tense when they talk about her, but it’s all a huge mistake.  It has to be.  I don’t know what happened exactly, but T.K. will explain everything when she returns.

And I’m sure she will return.  This is a woman whose favorite appliance is a label maker – she’s way too organized to die by just disappearing like that, and she’s much too determined to let a little thing like being stranded in the Antarctic to do her in.

Especially when she’s the only parent I have left.

Despite Delia’s determination, her mother is presumed dead, and Delia is shipped off to live in New York City with two very different aunts who she’s never met before – one is a free-living bohemian who lives in a loft, and the other is an uptown snob.  So, while Delia’s trying to adjust to a radically different lifestyle, a snooty new private school, and relatives she didn’t know existed, she’s also continuing to search for her mother.  Oh, and just to make things more interesting, there’s a really cute guy at her new school who she’s not sure she can trust.

I really enjoyed this book and got caught up in its mystery.  The characters have depth, and the writing style is engaging, moving the story along quickly.  My only problem with the book, in fact, is that it’s one of those books that only tells half a story, and I want to hear the rest right now!  It ends with, “To Be Continued…” To be fair, there is some resolution to part of the story at the end of the novel.  I guess I’ll just have to get the sequel, And Then I Found Out the Truth, to find out the rest!

244 pages, Point (an imprint of Scholastic)

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's Monday 7/26! What Are You Reading?

Wow, what a week we've had!  House guests, broken air conditioner (with temperatures near 100), a major scare when Jamie got stung by a bee (he's allergic - no anaphylactic reaction this time but he did need prednisone), some ups and downs with my own health, and a trip to Connecticut.  Whew.  This weekend, we drove the kids to my mom's house and dropped them off for their annual week sailing with their grandparents. It's the highlight of the year for them!  And, now my husband and I have the quiet house all to ourselves for a week.  It's been a busy summer, so I'm looking forward to having some quiet time during the week to catch up on lots of things.

What we've been reading:
  • I devoted my reading week to a bunch of kids' and teens' books.  I finished the middle-grade novel William S. and the Great Escape by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and posted a review of it.
  • Next, I read And Then Everything Unraveled by Jennifer Sturman.  I really enjoyed this teen novel but it ended with a "To Be Continued..." so now I need to get my hands on its sequel, And Then I Found Out the Truth.
  • I read another teen novel, The Reminder by Rune Michaels, an intriguing story of grief and loss, with some elements of science fiction woven in.  Review to come.
  • Thanks for all the input on helping Craig, 12, to pick a book from his summer reading list!  I appreciated your opinions.  He decided to go with the majority vote (plus he's partial to mysteries), so we went to the bookstore and bought him a copy of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.  He brought it on the boat with him.
  • Jamie, 15, couldn't bear to be in a bookstore without buying something, so while we were there, he splurged on two books for himself: City of Ashes by Casandra Clare, book 2 of the Mortal Instruments series that he started last week, and the latest book in James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, another favorite of his.  He took both of them on the boat this week, along with an old sci fi novel my husband lent him, The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven.  We watched the movie Star Trek last week, and it put him in the mood for classic science fiction.  The funny thing is that he probably won't have much time for reading this week, but he doesn't go anywhere without a good supply of books!
  • My husband, Ken, picked up a library book, Chasing Darkness, by one of his favorite suspense authors, Robert Crais.
What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: William S. and the Great Escape

I’ve been hearing about middle-grade author Zilpha Keatley Snyder – winner of several Newberry Honor awards – for many years but had never had the chance to read any of her books.  My 15-year old son, Jamie, read her novel William S. and the Great Escape on our recent vacation and recommended it, so I gave it a try this week.  It’s a very well written and enjoyable novel.

The title character is 12-year old William who lives with his nine brothers and sisters in a ramshackle house in California during the Depression.  William is a good student who loves acting and Shakespeare, but he’s stuck in the Baggett family (his mother died years ago).  The older Baggetts, including his father, are all loud, lazy, and violent, and William has spent years planning to run away as soon as he is old enough:

Actually, he’d started thinking about running away almost seven years ago.  That was when he’d started going to school and began to learn, among other things, that not everybody behaved like Baggetts.  And not very long after that he began putting every penny he could get his hands on into what he thought of as his Getaway Fund.  Well, not quite every penny.  He did spend a dime, now and then, on a Saturday matinee at the Roxie Theater.  Watching how your favorite movie actors could make you believe they were all those different people was one thing he’d never been able to do without.

When William’s younger sister’s guinea pig, Sweetie Pie, gets flushed down the toilet by some of the older (and meaner) Baggetts, she insists they need to leave right away and bring the two littlest Baggetts with them.  That’s when their adventures begin.

It’s a sweet story, punctuated with mild suspense and humor, that will appeal to a wide range of middle-grade readers.  William and his two little sisters and brother will steal your heart.  You’ll be rooting for them to make their escape and find a better life!

214 pages, Atheneum Books (Simon & Schuster)


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Help Craig Choose a Book!

Craig, my 12-year old son, has a reading assignment for school this summer, in preparation for 7th grade.  He has to read two books:  Sounder, which he just finished, plus one other of his own choosing from a list.  The problem is that of the 13 book on the list, I've only heard of one of them before.

So, we're asking for your help!  Craig generally enjoys fast-paced books with action, adventure, and/or humor.  Some of his favorites are The Hardy Boys, the Charlie Bone series, A Wrinkle in Time, and Bruce Coville's Unicorn Chronicles and Aliens series.  So, please let us know if you'd recommend any of the books on this list - thanks!
  1. Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman (1955 Newberry Honor award - about a boy climbing the Matterhorn)
  2. Brian's Song screenplay by William Blinn
  3. Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson (autobiography of inner city kid who becomes a top neurosurgeon)
  4. Let the Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor (in 1935, a black man is tried for murder by an all-white jury)
  5. The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt (an abused boy slowly begins to heal at a home for boys)
  6. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (1998 Newberry medal winner set in Depression-era Oklahoma dust bowl)
  7. Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers (1988 Newberry winner about a boy who's pressured to join a gang)
  8. Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Myers (convict father takes teen son on the run with him)
  9. Thank You, Jackie Robinson by Barbara Cohen (interracial friendship between a boy and a man joined by a love of baseball)
  10. Time of the Cay by Theodore Taylor (follow-up to The Cay, about a white boy stranded on a desert island and the black man who saves him)
  11. Titanic Crossing by Barbara Williams (story of 13-year old boy on the Titanic - mixed reviews)
  12. The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg (1996 Newberry winner about a 6th grade academic bowl team)
  13. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (a Newberry winner  - mystery about 16 people in a strange game having to do with a strange will)
Wow - lots of Newberry winners there!  Also, lots of historical novels and African-American characters - I'm guessing they'll be studying American history this year!  I also noticed lots of sad stories  - I saw the phrase "gut-wrenching" more than once as I looked these up.  Craig doesn't love sad books; he said the ending of Sounder was really tough!  At first glance, it looks like he might like The Westing Game.

So what do you think?  Which book would you choose?

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Monday 7/19! What Are You Reading?

Summertime and the reading is easy...and a lot of fun!  We're settled back into a routine at home and mostly caught up after our long trip.

What we've been reading this week:
  • Jamie, 15, finished his first Stephen King book, Firestarter.  He was impressed with King's writing and the intense suspense of the book, though a bit disappointed in the ending (I read it so long ago, I don't remember how it ends!)
  • A good friend of ours, a 16-year old girl, has been telling us for years that her favorite series of all time is The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, so last week, Jamie picked up a copy of the first book, City of Bones, with a Target gift card.  He finished it yesterday and said it was excellent - he's looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
  • Craig, 12, finished Sounder by William H. Armstrong last night.  He liked it but said the ending was really sad.  He has one more book to read for school this summer, one of his choosing from a list of about ten choices.
  • I finished The Sunday Philosopher's Club by Alexander McCall Smith but then didn't feel well enough to go to the book discussion at the library on Wednesday!
  • As soon as I finished that book, I dove back into The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson.  Wow!  I finished it yesterday.  It was just as good as the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - fast-paced, well-written, and so compelling I could hardly set it down!  As a bonus, I also got to see the Swedish movie of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with a friend this weekend.  Another wow!  The movie was very well-done.  I can't wait to borrow the third book from my mom this weekend.
  • I just started a middle-grade novel, William S. and the Great Escape by Ziplha Keatley Snyder. Jamie read it on vacation and said it was excellent.
I posted two new reviews last week:  What I Saw and How I Lied, an excellent YA novel that combines history, romance, and mystery into an engaging coming-of age story; it won the National Book Award for YA in 2008.  I also reviewed  Oracles of Delphi Keep, a suspenseful and exciting middle-grade audio book.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: Oracles of Delphi Keep

The audio book of Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie kept all four of us riveted during our recent 4,000-mile road trip.  This exciting and well-written fantasy adventure kept us in suspense and wanting to hear more.

Thirteen year-old Ian Wigby has lived at the orphanage at Delphi Keep his entire life.  Theodosia was found and dropped off there on a stormy night when she was only two years old.  Ian and Theo are as close as brother and sister and are very happy living in the castle-like Keep on the edge of the Cliffs of Dover.

Out exploring the caves in the cliffs one day, Ian and Theo discover a large cave with strange writing on the walls.  Deep in the cave, they find a mysterious silver box and barely manage to grab it before being chased out of there by some sort of snarling beast.  This is the start of an exciting and sometimes terrifying adventure that shakes up their quiet world.

Along with their schoolteachers, Ian and Theo set off to uncover the magical mysteries of the writing and the silver box.  Along the way, evil forces conspire to defeat them.  It’s a classic fantasy adventure with a unique story line that will continue with future books.

In addition to excellent writing and a great story, the audio version benefits from a talented reader, Susan Duerden.  She voiced one of the characters in the movie Flushed Away and played Claire’s mother on Lost (impressive credentials for our family!), and she does a great job with both male and female characters in this book.

We can’t wait for book 2, The Curse of Deadman’s Forest, which will be released on August 24, 2010!

Listening Library

Listen to a sample.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teen/YA Review: What I Saw and How I Lied

I read What I Saw and How I Lied, a recent paperback release by Judy Blundell, while stuck for hours on a delayed flight.  It provided a welcome and worthy distraction!  This wonderful teen/YA novel won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2008.  It’s an intriguing mix of historical fiction, a touching coming-of-age story, mystery, and even a bit of romance.

In 1947 New York, Evie is fifteen and feeling in that peculiar limbo between childhood and adulthood.  Here, she and her friend Margie practice smoking with chocolate cigarettes:

Margie held her candy cigarette high in the air, even though ladies don’t smoke on the street.  We couldn’t imagine being wicked enough to smoke on the street, but it was something to shoot for, something that smacked of high heels and saying “damn” if you broke a nail.  In the meantime, we were careful not to step on any cracks in the sidewalk.  Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.  We’d been saying it since we were nine years old, and it was just like Holy Communion.  We believed in it absolutely, no matter how screwball it sounded.

The author does a great job of capturing the sense of innocence and excitement of both the age and the time period.  The war has ended, and husbands, fathers, and brothers are returning home.  Evie’s stepfather has come home to her and her mother, but he seems different in some hard-to-describe way.   Peter, a young, handsome man from his company, shows up, and Evie begins to fall in love.  When tragedy strikes, Evie’s world begins to unravel and she no longer knows what – or who – to believe…and neither does the reader.

This suspenseful mystery kept me turning the pages, as I came to care about Evie and lament the loss of her little-girl innocence.  It’s a wonderful novel for both teens and grown-ups.

281 pages, Scholastic

Monday, July 12, 2010

It's Monday 7/12! What Are You Reading?

Running a little late this morning!  There's just no routine during the summer (which is kind of nice).  I've been staying up too late and getting out of bed too late.  Plus, this morning, I got an emergency post-sleepover phone call from 12-year old Craig.  I picked him up at 8:30, he came home, ate breakfast, and went right to bed!

Reading has slowed down since vacation ended:
  • Jamie, 15, is still reading Firestarter by Stephen King.  Since we got home, video and computer games have sucked him in and reduced his reading time!
  • Craig, 12, who doesn't like to read much in the summer anyway, was getting nervous about his required summer reading for school, so he set aside his Hardy Boys book and has started reading Sounder by William H. Armstrong.  I never read this classic myself, so maybe I'll read it when he's done.
  • I also set aside one book for another this week, something I don't generally like to do.  With my two main book groups on summer hiatus, I've been in book discussion withdrawal!  So, I decided to read my library's selection for their July discussion (this Wednesday) - The Sunday Philosopher's Club by Alexander McCall Smith.  It's not my usual type of book, but I'm enjoying it.  It's a mystery set in Scotland, with lots of philosophical musings. 
  • My husband, Ken, finished his father's day gift, 61 Hours by Lee Child, one of his favorite thriller authors.  He just started Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline, which I read during vacation - lots of book trading goes on in our house!
I had fully intended to resume my normal routine of writing book reviews last week but was just snowed under with all the post-vacation catch-up - laundry, mail, bills, phone calls, doctor's appointments, etc.  I will post some new reviews this week - I promise!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's Monday 7/5! What Are You Reading?

Hope everyone had a good 4th of July yesterday!  We just returned from our 3-week, 4,000-mile road trip to Oklahoma and New Mexico Saturday night (that's why I've been mostly missing from the blogging world).  It was a wonderful vacation - we all really loved New Mexico.  You can check out photos at our trip blog - just scroll down to June 13, 2010, to read them in order.

We read a LOT of good books along the way!  I posted a Monday update a couple of weeks ago while I was at my father-in-law's and could borrow the neighbor's wifi, but here's the rest of the books we enjoyed on the trip:
  • I gave each of the boys a surprise book partway through the trip.  Craig, 12, is reading one of his favorite Hardy Boys' mysteries, What Happened at Midnight.  Summer is time for reading old favorites!
  • I gave Jamie, 15, the fourth and final book of the Book of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau, The Diamond of Darkhold.  He read it immediately, then passed it along to me!  We both loved this middle-grade adventure series, and the last book was excellent.
  • Jamie continued his vacation read-a-thon with a string of new releases.  He finished The Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, Book 1) by Patricia Wrede and said it was excellent - an engaging combination of history and fantasy.
  • He read the brand-new undersea science fiction book, Dark Life by Kat Falls, and he absolutely loved it!  The plot and setting were right up his alley - a futuristic earth where the sea levels have risen, with people split between high-level "stack cities" and an undersea community on the ocean floor.
  • He also loved William S. and the Great Escape by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, a middle-grade book that's been sitting in our to-read pile for a long time.  He thinks Craig will really like this one.
  • Jamie is now reading his first-ever Stephen King book, Firestarter.  He is, of course, bowled over by King's amazing writing and gripping suspense.
  • I finished Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline and enjoyed it more than I expected to!  I would definitely read more in that series of legal thrillers set in Philadelphia.  I also finished The Diamond of Darkhold, as I mentioned above.  I'm sorry the series is over, but it was a good ending! 
  • I've just started The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, which my mom lent me.  I enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for my book group this winter, and the second book is just as good so far.
  • We're almost done with our read-aloud book, a middle-grade/teen adventure story about geocaching, Hide & Seek by Katy Grant.  It's due for release next month, and we have all loved it!  Craig was begging for "one more chapter" every night!
  • In the car, we listened to Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie, a middle-grade fantasy/adventure novel.  This excellent audio, read by Susan Duerden who played Claire's mother on Lost, kept us all happily occupied for many hours in the car - it's a great book and very well-read.  We'll look for the next book in the series for our next road trip!
  • We started but haven't yet finished another audio, First Light by Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me.  It's another middle-grade novel, about a 13-year old boy spending some time in Greenland with his father, who is studying global warming, and a girl who lives in a secret world under the ice.  It's excellent so far.
Whew, I think that covers it!  Now I'm surrounded by piles of laundry and stacks of mail...back to real life.

What are you and your family reading?

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