Thursday, September 30, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: The Limit

Kristen Landon’s first middle-grade novel, The Limit, is a fast-paced thriller set in the not-so-distant future. 

The financial world has become mostly automated, with the government tracking each family’s income and expenditures.  If a family exceeds their debt limit, the government sends their oldest child (teen) to a workhouse to help pay off their debt.  Thirteen-year old Matt has heard rumors of this happening to other families:

An eighth-grade girl was taken today.

Whispers and text messages flew through Grover Middle School.  They slapped handcuffs on her and shoved her into the back of a van.  They shot her with a tranquilizer dart in the middle of the lunchroom.  She escaped and she’s hiding in the library – right now – texting her friends.

The girl went to Lakeview Middle School.  My cousin goes to Lakeview.  He said they called her out of first period and she never came back.  An eighth grader!  Nobody could believe it.  Up until now they’d only taken high school students.

Up until now we thought we were off-limits.

As these frightening events hit closer to home, Matt and his friends worry about their own families’ expenses.  Then Matt’s family unexpectedly goes over their limit, and Matt is whisked away to a far-away workhouse.  At first it doesn’t seem so bad, but as Matt begins to ask questions and dig deeper into some odd occurrences, the whole situation seems more and more sinister.

The events in the novel are made even scarier because their world is so similar to our own in so many ways.  It’s a suspenseful story, a good versus evil techno-thriller.  I enjoyed The Limit; Landon writes about kids in a realistic and believable way.  Although marketed as a middle-grade novel, I think this novel would also appeal to teens.

You can visit the author’s website at which includes a pretty cool video trailer for the book.

304 pages, Aladdin

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Dead Dad Syndrome

I read an article this week in Publisher's Weekly about the abundance of orphans in children's and teen/YA novels.  I had to laugh at this one because our family has noticed this before.  My husband complains that all Dads in stories are either dead or really inept!  And it seems like every time we start a new audio book with the kids, the parents are either dead or die in the first chapter!  It's a great article - hope you enjoy it!

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's Monday 9/27! What Are You Reading?

Monday already?  I had another long sick week spent mostly in bed - the virus I caught developed into bronchitis, and all of it triggered a severe flare-up of my chronic illness.  I'm finally starting to feel a little better and am slowing getting back to a more normal life.  This week was bad for the rest of my life but good for reading!
  • I finished The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx and will hopefully feel well enough to go to my book group's discussion of it on Wednesday.  I enjoyed this quirky, award-winning novel.
  • Next I read a new teen novel, The Limit by Kristen Landon, set in the future when families who get into debt must send their oldest children to workhouses.  It was good - a fast-paced suspense novel.
  • Now I'm in the middle of A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebecca White, a grown-up novel about two sisters who lose their parents when they're in their teens.  It's very good so far - a good distraction during a sick week.
  • My husband is reading The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, which I finished last week.  Only problem is that he's in the middle of it and it's due back at the library, so I'm trying to find him another copy!
  • Jamie, 16, is still working on The Stand by Stephen King and loving it! 
  • Jamie is also reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakuaer for his American Literature class.  I haven't read the book yet, but it was one of my favorite movies.
  • Craig, 12, is reading Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi for his English class.  He's enjoying it but is frustrated because the teacher doesn't want them reading ahead!
I did manage to write one review last week, of the middle-grade time-travel novel George Washington's Socks by Elvira Woodruff.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: George Washington’s Socks

I always enjoy time-travel stories, so I was interested to hear that a middle-grade time-travel adventure published in the 90’s, George Washington’s Socks by Elvira Woodruff, was being re-released this fall.  This mix of history and adventure will appeal to kids who enjoyed but have outgrown The Magic Tree House series.

Matt and his three friends have started an Adventure Club and plan to have an overnight camp-out.  Matt’s little sister, Katie, comes along as well, and the group settles in for the night in Tony’s backyard.  Their plan is to take turns reading adventure stories out of a book, starting with a story about George Washington crossing the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War.  Looking for a little extra adventure, the group wanders out of the backyard and, with some unexpected twists, finds themselves sent back in time and with more adventure than they’d bargained for:

As he stood staring from the old rowboat, Matt couldn’t take his eyes off the man who had rescued her [Katie].  He was a tall imposing figure in a blue and buff uniform.  Matt had the strange feeling that he knew the man, for his figure was unmistakable, with his white hair rolled on the sides, and tied in the back with a ribbon.  His face was strong and proud.  It was the face of a leader, the face of a determined man.  His eyes stared straight into Matt’s, as if one commander had recognized another.  It took all of Matt’s courage to speak.

“My…sister.  Is she all right?”

“The child is alive.  No harm will come to her.”

“Who…who are you?” Matt stammered.

“General George Washington, Leader of the Continental Troops,” came the firm reply.

The historical part of the book (which is most of it) is filled with fascinating details of the time and place.  It provides a realistic portrayal of war and the challenges faced by the soldiers during that treacherous winter (some of which might be too disturbing for younger kids).  The modern scenes are less vivid, with a nostalgic, innocent feel that seems to take place much earlier than the 1990’s.  Readers who enjoy historical fiction or adventure stories will enjoy this book.  I think my 12-year old son will like it, even though it’s a bit below his reading level.  A sequel, George Washington’s Spy, will be released in November.

166 pages, Scholastic

Accelerated Reader level 5.0, 6 points

Recommended for ages 9 – 12.


Monday, September 20, 2010

It's Monday 9/20! What Are You Reading?

Well, it was a rough week for me which explains the lack of reviews posted last week.  My husband was out of town, so I had my hands full doing double-duty most of the week, then got very sick on Thursday (thank goodness my husband was home by then!).  It seems to be a flare-up of my chronic illness, probably triggered by exposure to one of the viruses floating around, but this is the worst I've experienced in years.  I've been flat on my back in bed or on the couch since Friday morning.

The good news?  Books, books, books!  When I'm this bad, there's nothing I can do but sleep and read, and I was grateful this weekend for so many wonderful books to help me forget about my own difficult circumstances for a while.  I can't imagine getting through a rough period like this without books.
  • I finished The 19th Wife in time for my book group's 100th book celebration on Wednesday!  We celebrated with dinner at a nice restaurant, and the book generated a lot of great discussion.  It's an interesting combination of modern murder mystery and fascinating historical fiction.
  • I read the first middle-grade novel in a re-released series, George Washington's Socks: A Time Travel Adventure by Elvira Woodruff.  It's about a group of 10-year old kids who get transported back in time to the Revolutionary War.  I really enjoyed the novel and look forward to the rest of the series!
  • I finally had a chance to read The Graveyard Book, a Newberry Honor winner by Neil Gaiman.  It turns out that everyone was right - it's a delightful, clever novel about a boy who is brought up by ghosts in a graveyard.  A wonderfully enjoyable escape!
  • I also read a new teen mystery novel, Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz.  It's a unique story-within-a-story about a teen girl and her grandmother trying to solve the mystery of the girl's mother's disappearance during a Mystery Weekend with a pretend murder at her grandma's bed and breakfast.  This fast-paced suspense novel provided much-needed distraction this weekend.
  • Finally, I started The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, a novel that won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, for my other book group.  I've wanted to read this book for ages and am enjoying it so far.
  • My 16-year old son, Jamie, is still reading The Stand by Stephen King, and loving it!
  • Craig, my 12-year old son, has started reading Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi for his English class at school.  This is a favorite of both Jamie and my husband, and Craig is loving it so far (I still need to read it!).
  • My husband was so interested in my description of The 19th Wife that he decided to read it next, so he started it this weekend.
  • And, with the kids back in school, I was able to start a new audio book during my lunch times.  I started the teen/YA novel She's So Dead To Us by Kieran Scott and am enjoying it so far.
So, lots of books but not much else last week. Hopefully, I will feel well enough to resume writing reviews in the next day or so.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Title Meme

I saw this over at The Little Bookworm, and I loved it!

What To Do: Using only books you have read this year (2010), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!

(I limited my answers here to just the kids' and teen/YA books I read this year so far - to see my answers for the adult books I've read, hop over to Book By Book.)

Describe yourself: My One Hundred Adventures

How do you feel: Anything But Typical

Describe where you currently live: Morpheus Road

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  Northward to the Moon

Your favorite form of transportation:  Boom!

Your best friend is: Keeper

You and your friends are: First Light

What’s the weather like:  Icecore

You fear:  Murder at Midnight

What is the best advice you have to give:  Hide and Seek

Thought for the day:  And Then Everything Unraveled

How I would like to die: Ruined

My soul’s present condition:  Everwild

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's Monday 9/13! What Are You Reading?

Wow, mid-September already - two school weeks behind us!  We're all struggling a bit to adjust to the early mornings and hectic evenings.  We spent a very lazy Sunday yesterday, watching movies together and just relaxing - it was the perfect weather (dark and rainy) to just hole up in the house together.  Now, it's a new week - the first full 5-day week of school for the boys. 

So, none of us had a lot of time for reading last week, but we're all in the middle of some really good books:
  • I've been reading The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff.  This is one of those books I probably wouldn't have read if it weren't for my book group, but I'm glad I did - it's a compelling story (two stories, really) set in a fascinating historical context.  This is my neighborhood book group's 100th book, and we'll be celebrating this week with a nice dinner out.
  • My husband, Ken, has been reading some of the top books in the nation.  He finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (he loved the whole series) and started Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.
  • Jamie, 16, is working his way through The Stand by Stephen King.  He's totally hooked - I had to go into his room late last night to tell him to turn off his reading light and get some sleep!
  • Since The Stand is too big to haul around at school, Jamie is also reading Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve.
  • Craig, 12, is reading Alabama Moon by Watt Key, a family favorite.
Last week, I posted reviews of Mockingjay and of Ruined, a teen ghost story set in New Orleans.  I also posted a summary of the books I read in August, including some mini reviews, at my other book blog, Book By Book.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Friday, September 10, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Ruined

I thoroughly enjoyed the teen ghost story, Ruined by Paula Morris, partly because it is set in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities (we used to live there) and partly because it’s a good mystery with plenty of unexpected twists.

Fifteen-year old Rebecca lives with her Dad in New York City and can’t imagine living anywhere else.  When her Dad has to travel to China for an extended business trip, he sends her to stay in New Orleans for six months with an old family friend who Rebecca refers to as Aunt Claudia.  Being yanked out of her familiar surroundings in the middle of the school year and sent far from her friends is bad enough, but Rebecca finds that New Orleans is like a whole different world (as anyone discovers when they travel there!).  Aunt Claudia picks her up at the airport:

“You work in the French Quarter, right?” asked Rebecca.  Her father had given her a few pieces of information, in his usual scattered way.  He’d been completely distracted for the past two weeks, ever since he announced that he was pulling her out of school and sending her to the Deep, Deep South for months on end.

“In Jackson Square.” Aunt Claudia nodded, breathless with the exertion of walking to the one baggage carousel surrounded by waiting passengers.  “I read tarot cards.  It was a quiet summer, but things are starting to pick up again.  Tourists and conventions and all that.”

“Oh,” said Rebecca.  Suddenly her aunt’s outfit was making sense: It was her office wear, in a way.  Though why her decidedly nonsuperstitious dad thought Aunt Claudia would be an ideal guardian was even more of a mystery.

That’s not the only mystery Rebecca encounters in her new city.  In the midst of adjusting to strange foods, unfamiliar customs, and a new private school filled with snooty rich kids, Rebecca finally meets a friend late one night in Lafayette Cemetery, down the street from her aunt’s house.  Her new friend, Lisette, is a ghost. 

As Rebecca’s new classmates keep her in the role of the outcast, she is drawn deeper into the secrets surrounding both them and Lisette and feels that there really is no live person that she can trust, with the possible exception of Anton Grey.  But isn’t he just another stuck-up rich kid?

The unpredictable twists and turns of this story incorporate real history into tales of ghosts and ancient curses.  Although I found some of the plot elements came together a bit too neatly, I mostly enjoyed the story and its setting.  As is often the case, New Orleans itself is like an extra character in this novel, with rich details of its customs, foods, and idiosyncrasies that made me homesick!  I was especially fascinated with the descriptions of the age-old customs surrounding the Mardi Gras balls and parades that are such a big part of Rebecca’s classmates’ lives.   Teens are sure to enjoy this unique novel that combines history, romance, suspense, and the supernatural in an exotic setting.

If you enjoyed this book as much as I did, you might want to visit the author’s blog, where she has unfortunately recently announced that she will soon be leaving New Orleans.

309 pages, Point (an imprint of Scholastic)

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.


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This book is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Mockingjay

I read straight through the holiday weekend and finished Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins at 11 pm Sunday night.  No question that it was just as compelling – and disturbing – as the first two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  What I liked best about this book and this series, though, is how deftly Collins weaves thought-provoking questions about our own society into this frightening fictional world.  I could hardly get to sleep after finishing the book because my mind was spinning with these questions.  I was itching to discuss it with someone!

As in the first two books, Katniss Everdeen is the main character.  The Hunger Games are over – hopefully forever – and Panem is now at war.  The districts have finally begun to openly rebel against the Capitol, and Katniss finds herself at the center of the conflict.  Throughout the book, she is tortured by conflicting thoughts about her role.  Of course, she wants the Capitol to stop killing the children of the districts and abusing its citizens, but the horrors of actual war don’t seem like a better alternative.  Here, she wonders whether she should agree to be the rebels’ symbol, like they want her to be:

What am I going to do?

Is there any point in doing anything at all?  My mother, my sister, and Gale’s family are finally safe.  As for the rest of 12, people are either dead, which is irreversible, or protected in 13.  That leaves the rebels in the districts.  Of course, I hate the Capitol, but I have no confidence that my being the Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring it down.   How can I help the districts when every time I make a move, it results in suffering and loss of life?  The old man shot in District 11 for whistling.  The crackdown in 12 after I intervened in Gale’s whipping.  My stylist, Cinna, being dragged, bloody and unconscious, from the Launch Room before the Games.  Plutarch’s sources believe he was killed during interrogation.  Brilliant, enigmatic, lovely Cinna is dead because of me.  I push the thought away because it’s too impossibly painful to dwell on without losing my fragile hold on the situation entirely.

What am I going to do?

Katniss’ guilt and conflicting emotions are a big part of this novel, serving to alienate her from even the people closest to her.  I found this continuing struggle fascinating, in part because these are exactly the kinds of challenges we face in our own society and in our own wars.  Collins tackles significant questions here – of war and peace, power and impotence, wealth and poverty – that are mirrored in the real world.  When the goal of a war is a noble one, are any actions, no matter how destructive, worth the final result?  Do the ends always justify the means?  Where do we draw the line?

Like I said, I’m dying to sit down and discuss this book for hours!  The whole series would be great for book groups because there’s just so much to talk about in terms of moral and ethical challenges.  I think it would also be an excellent choice for older high school or college students to read and discuss in class.  I’ve heard some readers say that this book doesn’t seem appropriate for its intended teen or YA audience, but I think it’s not any more gruesome than the two previous books, where a government routinely sacrificed its children in a contest to the death for entertainment.  Perhaps the difference is that our society doesn’t actually have a parallel to the Hunger Games, but we do have our own wars where the questions brought up in this book are just as relevant.  I think that makes this third book even more relevant for young people, though certainly only for older teens and young adults.

Besides the issues that Mockingjay brings up, it is a supremely satisfying read.  If you've read the first two books, you know that Collins isn't one for neat, fairy tale endings, but this book brings closure to the series.  My husband and 16-year old son have been breathing down my neck, waiting for me to finish it so they can read it!

If, like me, you are busting at the seams to talk to other people who’ve read the book (I was careful not to include any spoilers in this review), Sheila at Book Journey has created a Mockingjay Spoiler area (scroll down and click on the Spoiler button) where you can discuss all elements of the book in detail – just what I needed!  And if you're hungry for more about this trilogy, check out The Hunger Games website.

And if The Hunger Games trilogy is too violent to share with your younger kids, you should definitely check out Collins’ earlier middle-grade series, The Underland Chronicles, that begins with Gregor the Overlander.  We read the entire series out loud with our boys when they were about 8 and 11, and all four of us loved it.  It features Collins’ wonderful writing and compelling, unique plots in a fantasy story for middle-grade readers (though there is still some war and violence toward the end of the series), with the added bonus of a great sense of humor.

390 pages, Scholastic


Monday, September 6, 2010

It's Monday 9/6! What Are You Reading?

Happy Labor Day!  Hope you're enjoying your long weekend - we sure needed it here!  My sons went back to school last week, so we were all tired by Thursday (they had Friday off) and ready for the holiday weekend.  And the weather has been perfect - it finally dropped below 90 degrees.  I actually have a sweatshirt on this morning - love it!

Lots of good reading this week:
  • I finished Ruined by Paula Morris - I enjoyed this teen ghost story very much.  The author made the most of the setting in New Orleans, one of my favorite places in the world.
  • My review copy of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins finally arrived on Friday, and I dove right into it!  I finished it at 11 pm last  Like her first two books in the series, this one was not only a can't-put-it-down suspense novel but also a thought-provoking look at some difficult issues in our own society.  I'm dying to discuss it - how about you all come over to my house so we can sit and talk for an hour or two??
  • Despite the start of school, my 16-year old son, Jamie, finally started The Stand by Stephen King.  It may take him a while, with the added time constraints of homework and soccer season.  He says it's awesome so far.
  • Jamie quickly realized he couldn't carry the encyclopedic The Stand with him to school (they're supposed to have a book to read with them each day), so he also started a nice slim paperback, Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve, author of The Hungry City Chronicles, including Mortal Engines.  It's a King Arthur tale - always a favorite!
  • Craig, 12, was thrilled to find out he can read any books he wants for English class this year (in addition to whatever they are reading together in class), so he picked up an old family favorite last week, Alabama Moon by Watt Key, a fantastic middle-grade novel that I reviewed last year.
  • My husband, Ken, is in the middle of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson and still loving this renowned thriller series.
If you're a fan of Stieg Larsson's books, too, you might enjoy this NPR show I heard last week.

Last week, I also posted a review of the hilarious middle-grade audio book Boom! by Mark Haddon.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mockingjay Arrived!

My review copy of Mockingjay finally arrived this afternoon - hurray!!

You know where to find me...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: Boom!

On our way back from a camping weekend in the Catskills recently, we got stuck in traffic that turned our 4-hour drive into a 9-hour drive.  Fortunately, I had brought along a new audio book, Boom! by Mark Haddon, that kept all four of us captivated and laughing the whole way home.  Mark Haddon is the author of the award-winning adult novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Jim, aka Jimbo, lives in London with his parents and sister.  When his older sister tells him he’s about to be expelled from school and sent away to military school, Jimbo knows she might be just teasing him…but he’s not sure.  He confers with his best friend, Charlie, who is always looking for some excitement in his life.  Charlie comes up with a brilliant plan to bug the teacher’s lounge at school, so they can hear for themselves what the teachers are (or are not) saying about Jimbo’s future.

They follow through with their plan and hear a bunch of boring teacher talk, until everyone else has left except for Mr. Kidd and Ms. Pearce.  They don’t know what to think of what they hear next:  their two teachers speaking in a strange language to each other.  When they speak one of the strange words to Mr. Kidd later and his eyes glow with a radiant blue light, they know that something very strange is going on at their school.  The two friends begin to investigate their teachers’ bizarre behavior, but soon they are in the midst of an adventure they never could have imagined.

Our whole family – including 12-year old Craig and 16-year old Jamie – loved this audio book.  It’s full of suspense and adventure, but it is also hilarious.  We were all laughing out loud at the odd cast of characters, frantic antics of Jimbo and Charlie, and the out-of-this-world plot.  If you enjoy the British style of humor, this book is for you!  Some (perhaps younger kids) may find the British accent of the reader and the British slang hard to understand, but we loved every minute of it and felt that its British-ness was a definite plus.  Great fun for middle-grade readers or for a family road trip!

Listening Library

Download an audio clip to listen to a sample of Boom!