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