Friday, March 30, 2012

Any Good Audio Book Suggestions?

I am looking for a really good audio book the whole family will enjoy to take on our spring break road trip and would appreciate any suggestions.

My sons are 14 and 17.  They both love adventure and suspense.  One loves fantasy; the other enjoys it sometimes but only if it is really good.  They both enjoy dystopian novels, too, and everyone loves humor.

Some of our past favorites have included:
Any recommendations for this trip??

Teen/YA Review: An Abundance of Katherines

I have been meaning to read a John Green novel for a very long time; I keep hearing people rave about what a wonderful writer he is and how he is one of the best YA authors out there.  So, even though I have stacks and stacks of teen/YA books here at my house, waiting to be read, I detoured to the Teen section of our library last week to search for John Green.  None of his better-known award-winners were on the shelf (I have a feeling they rarely are!), but I found one book, An Abundance of Katherines, that I brought home and read.  I enjoyed this heartfelt, humorous novel very much.

Colin Singleton has just graduated from high school, but he is not celebrating.  He has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Katherine, one in a long string of break-ups with Katherines – nineteen to be exact.  Colin is a child prodigy who started to read at age two.  The problem is that he feels like everyone else has caught up to him now, and what is a child prodigy who is no longer a child?  He fears he is no longer special and will never do anything that really matters in life.

To cheer him up – and amuse himself – Colin’s best friend, Hassan, suggests a road trip to get Colin’s mind off the latest Katherine.  Hassan is an overweight Muslim who was as much of an outcast as Colin when the two met in middle school and became each other’s first – and only – best friend.  So, the two set off in Satan’s Hearse, their name for Colin’s enormous Oldsmobile, and leave Chicago.

They encounter new friends, a town in the middle of nowhere Tennessee, a dead archduke’s grave, and a feral hog, but Colin is still obsessing over the break-up and his long, bleak history with Katherines.  He decides to approach the problem mathematically, coming up with a Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability that he hopes will allow anyone to predict the course (and eventual demise) of any relationship.  Then, maybe, he will have done something that matters.

This novel has a great sense of humor, and the witty repartee between Colin and Hassan is endlessly amusing.  But there are also plenty of solid, real-life emotions here, as both boys grapple with their insecurities and grow emotionally during the summer.  The issues here are those that every young person deals with – the meaning of friendship, the quest for love, and battles with self-doubt.  Overall, it was a very entertaining and satisfying novel.  I look forward to reading more John Green books!

215 pages, Dutton Books


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Top Ten Kids/Teen Books I'd Play Hooky With

It's Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten day over at The Broke and the Bookish.  Stop by their blog to read all of the great lists this week!

Today's topic is Top Ten Books On My Shelf I'd Like to Play Hooky With.  This is an easy one for me!  My TBR shelves are always overflowing.  And the thought of it - an entire day with nothing to do but read! - just makes my heart go pitter-patter.  Maybe someday...

In the meantime I can dream.  Here are the Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books On My Shelf I'd Like to Play Hooky With:
  • Blood Red Road by Moira Young - a recent dystopian novel
  • Crispin by Avi - my husband and son have been telling me for years how great this book is
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett - another one that's been languishing on my shelf for ages
  • Sharp North by Patrick Cave - my son loved this one
  • The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer - a recently re-released award-winner
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go (Book 1 of the Chaos Walking trilogy) by Patrick Ness
  • Dead to You by Lisa McMann - a recent release by a favorite author
  • Good Fortune by Noni Carter - this one has been sitting in my "to review" basket for far too many months
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - ditto
  • Strings Attached by Judy Blundell - I enjoyed What I Saw and How I Lied and look forward to this novel
How about you?  What kids/teen/YA book(s) would you grab if you could play hooky for a day and do nothing but read?

(If you'd like to see my list of Top Ten Grown-up Books I Want to Play Hooky With, check out Book By Book.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's Monday 3/26! What Are Your Reading?

What a rollercoaster week! My older son is finally doing a bit better (he's been incapacitated from his treatment for Lyme disease) and started back to school part-time last week.  He was even able to have his two best friends over this weekend, so we were all in high spirits!  Then, my younger son hurt his knee running around the yard and ended up in the ER for hours last night.  No diagnosis yet - Ortho can't see him until tomorrow - but it seems pretty severe.  The worst part?  Soccer season begins today, and Craig was so excited to be "playing up" on the high school-age team with his brother.  He's exhausted today and also pretty bummed out.

So, for the first time in months, Jamie is actually in school, and Craig is the one lying here on the couch.  I may never be alone in the house again!

Thank goodness for books to help distract us!  Last week, we read:
  • I am still reading Bill Bryson's childhood memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and loving it.  It is highly entertaining, educational, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
  • I am still listening to Marisa De los Santos's novel Falling Together.  I'm enjoying it, but it takes forever to listen to an audio book when you can only manage 10-minute increments!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian yesterday and really liked it.  I'm not sure what he is starting next - probably something on his Kindle after all those hours in the ER last night.
  • Jamie, 17, finished re-reading The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  He enjoyed it but said that Maddigan's Fantasia is still his favorite of Mahy's novels.
  • Next, Jamie decided to re-read a favorite trilogy, The Books of Umber by P.W. Catanese, starting with Book 1, Happenstance Found, then Book 2, Dragon Games, and he is now reading Book 3, The End of Time.
  • Craig, 14, read The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen, a sailing adventure that was right up his alley!
I didn't have any time for writing reviews last week, but I hope to catch up this week.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

It's Monday 3/19! What Are You Reading?

We enjoyed a wonderful weekend camping at nearby Elk Neck State Park in Maryland - the first time we've had our pop-up camper out of the garage in a full year!  It was just a little 24-hour getaway, but it was so nice to be outdoors (and away from the to-do lists!) in this glorious spring-like weather - we walked to the beach, enjoyed our favorite "dinner in foil" camping meal, sat around the campfire and ate s'mores....and of course, relaxed with our books!

Here's what we read this week:
  • I finished The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, an unusual novel - I enjoyed both reading it and discussing it with my library's book group.  You can check out my review here.
  • While at the library for the book discussion, I stopped by the YA section and finally - finally! - found a John Green novel to read, An Abundance of Katherines.  Thanks to all of you who've been telling me for years what a great writer Green is.  I know this isn't even one of his top, award-winning novels, but I enjoyed it very much.
  • Now, I am reading Bill Bryson's hilarious memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, which has been waiting on my TBR shelf for years and recommended by my husband.  It's wonderful so far!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, based on my recommendation, after I read it for my neighborhood book group a couple of weeks ago.  He's enjoying it.
  • Jamie, 17, had another long sick week, so he had lots of reading time.  He finished Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (for the second time) and loved it.  He recommended it this weekend to Craig's friend who came camping with us.  Jamie and I are both anxiously awaiting Book 2, Ruins, due to be released in October.
  • To Jamie's delight, Book 2 of the Beyonders series arrived from the publisher mid-week, so he first re-read Book 1, A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull, then quickly moved onto Book 2, Seeds of Rebellion.  He says it was amazing! (see the photo of him enjoying the book while we were camping).
  • Now, Jamie is re-reading The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  He wanted to start with her earlier novel, Maddigan's Fantasia, but after a thorough search, we figured out that he'd lent it to a friend years ago and never got it back.  This is one of Jamie's all-time favorite authors!
  • Craig, 14, is reading Book 3 of The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, Night of the Soul Stealer.  He's enjoying this series.
Last week, I posted reviews of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender and a teen/YA novel, Irises by Francisco X. Stork.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Jamie enjoying Beyonders during our camping weekend.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Teen/YA Review: Irises

I enjoyed Marcelo in the Real World so much that I was eager to read another Francisco X. Stork book.  I chose Irises, a teen/YA novel about sisters dealing with the death of their father and their mother’s long-term vegetative state.  Although it wasn’t quite as special as Marcelo, Stork’s signature talents shine through, with well-developed characters and emotional depth.

Sisters Kate and Mary have led a very sheltered life – no cell phones, no car, strict rules about clothing – with their minister father, especially since their mother was injured in a car accident two years ago and entered a vegetative state.  Now their father has died suddenly, and their quiet, predictable lives are in turmoil.  Kate has dreams of leaving El Paso to study medicine at Stanford.  Mary has two years of high school left and a great talent for painting but lost her motivation and inspiration after her mother’s accident. 

Now, with no family but a distant aunt, they have to figure out what comes next – where will they live when the new minister takes over their home? How will they pay for everything? And most disturbingly, what should they do about their mother, who has been living at home, cared for by them and hired nurses?  To complicate matters further, Kate’s boyfriend Simon wants to propose, and Mary meets a new boy who both attracts and scares her.

As in Marcelo, Stork has created real characters with complex thoughts and feelings.  These two girls are facing some epic problems, with no obvious solutions.  Among many other issues, the novel deals with the question of whether their mother should live and what kind of a life she has, questions that have been debated at length in the real world recently.  There is a lot of emotional depth here, and plenty of complex situations that teens may not have considered before.  I enjoyed the novel and found it engaging and thought-provoking.

288 pages, Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)

Monday, March 12, 2012

It's Monday 3/12! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  We had a more relaxing weekend than usual, with some of the deadlines (and pressure) for financial aid for college behind us.  Not that there isn't more we have to do, but the big-pressure items are taken care of.  And this weather is fabulous!!  Supposed to be in the mid-70's most of the week here.  It's very early for such warm temperatures, but I'm not complaining!

We all enjoyed lots of good reading this week:
  • I finished a teen/YA novel, Irises by Francisco X. Stork (author of Marcelo in the Real World) last week - it was very good, though not quite as exemplary as Marcelo.
  • I am now reading a novel that's been on my TBR list for a while, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  Our local library's lunchtime book group is discussing it this week - a perfect excuse for me to read a book I've heard so many good things about.  I'm enjoying it very much (might finish it today), though it is a bit different than I expected.  I'm very interested to see how it ends.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Divergent by Veronica Roth, a teen dystopian novel that my son and I both enjoyed.  He enjoyed the story but thought that aspects of the society described were unrealistic (I agree).
  • Next, Ken decided to read the book I just finished, Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, before we have to return it to the library.  I loved the novel set at the end of World War II.  This is Ken's first Bohjalian.
  • Thankfully, Jamie, 17, got his requested book from the library very quickly last week!  Within a couple of days, he had finished the 517-page The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima (A Seven Realms novel).  He says this is a great series.  He is tortured by the fact that the next book is not due out until October!
  • Next, Jamie decided to reread a favorite of mine and his, Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card.  As with the first reading, he says it is extremely thought-provoking and wonderfully complex.  We are both anxiously awaiting book two (another one not due to be released until October!).
  • Craig, 14, was having trouble getting into the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, so he switched books and is now reading Book 3 in The Last Apprentice series, Night of the Soul Stealer, by Joseph Delaney. He enjoyed Books One and Two recently.
I posted two new reviews last week: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian and a middle-grade sci fi sequel, The Whisper by Emma Clayton.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  A kids/teen version is hosted by Teach Mentor Text.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: The Whisper

My son and I both loved Emma Clayton’s post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel The Roar, so we were excited when the sequel The Whisper was recently released.  It provided a satisfying conclusion to the story, though we both thought it wasn’t quite as good as the first book.  I will try to tell you a bit about the sequel without giving away any secrets from its predecessor.

As in The Roar, the setting is a dystopian future where the Animal Plague has left the world divided into two, with all humans living north of an enormous wall that circumnavigates the globe.  The poor and middle class in this world live crammed in tiny fold-down apartments or are struggling to survive in The Shadows, the dark and flooded London streets that were left behind when the wealthy, ruling class built their penthouses up above the London skyline.

The action in this book is split between twins Mika and Ellie, who are part of a brainwashed child army led by the evil Mal Gorman, and their friend Kobi, who is fleeing into The Shadows with his father to escape from Gorman’s control.  Without giving away any spoilers, most of the book is about the children revolting – how they try to evade Gorman’s mind control and somehow bring peace to their tormented world.

This novel is very much about kid power, to something of an unbelievable extent from an adult’s point of view, but middle-grade readers are sure to cheer on these brave kids as they try to outwit the adult leaders of their world and avoid war.  Like The Roar, it is action-packed and fast-paced, with lots of cool technology to add to the fun.  It is not as strong a novel as The Roar, but it provides a gratifying finale to this unique story.

309 pages, Scholastic


Monday, March 5, 2012

It's Monday 3/5! What Are You Reading?

Monday already?  I am soooo tired this morning - I could barely get out of bed.  But here I am, up and alert and ready to go....well, I'm up anyway.

We all had a great reading week:
  • Believe it or not, I managed to finish Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian in time for my book group meeting on Wednesday...well, I actually finished the last few pages during my book group meeting!  I loved the book - set in Germany in 1945 - and will post a review this week.
  • Next I started a teen/YA novel, Irises by Francisco X. Stork (author of Marcelo in the Real World).  I'm almost finished with it and have enjoyed it.
  • My husband, Ken, started Divergent by Veronica Roth, a teen dystopian novel that my son and I both enjoyed - I love when we share books in our family!
  • Jamie, 17, read like crazy last week, including several huge bricks that I brought home from the library for him.  In preparation, he reread The Demon King, Book One of the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima.  Then he read Book Two, The Exiled Queen.  He is loving this series so much that he begged me to request Book Three from the library and has been asking me hourly if it is in yet!
  • Since he couldn't read Book Three yet, he read another library book I got him, The Lost Hero, Book One in Rick Riordan's new series, The Heroes of Olympus.  He said it was excellent, building on the Percy Jackson series with some of the same characters but with the addition of Roman gods.
  • Craig, 14, finished his Hardy Boys book and started the first book in the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, The Ruins of Gorlan.
  • Craig's English class is reading an excerpt from The Diary of Anne Frank in school, so we talked about that this weekend.
I wasn't feeling well most of last week, so I struggled to manage much writing time.  I posted one review this weekend, The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore, a teen sci fi novel.  I also posted a summary of Books Read in February.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and a kidlit version is hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: The Power of Six

 A few months ago, my family and I watched the movie adaptation of I Am Number Four, and we all enjoyed it very much.  My 17-year old son said it seemed like the sort of story where the book was probably even better than the movie (he is an avid reader!), so we gave him I Am Number Four and its sequel, The Power of Six, by Pittacus Lore for Christmas.  He loved them both.  Interestingly, I had tried to interest him in the audio version of The Power of Six, but he refused to listen!  He said he wanted to read it in traditional format.  Though I was frustrated by his stubbornness at the time, I have to admit now that he was right: this was a very good story but one best read rather than listened to.

This sci fi series, The Lorien Legacies, is about a dying planet (Lorien) that sent 10 of its children to Earth in an effort to someday revive their race.  Those children have been in hiding, along with their adult guardians, spread across the planet, living as humans among us for years.  In this latest book, The Power of Six, the stories of Number Four, known as John Smith, and Number Six are continued from the first book, as they go on the run to try to stay away from both the FBI and their alien enemies, the Magadorians (I won’t say much more than that in case you haven’t read the first book yet).

Readers are also introduced to a new Lorien character, Number Seven, known as Marina, who has been living in an orphanage in a monastery in Spain with her guardian.  The chapters alternate between John and Marina narrating, with lots of action, suspense, and even a bit of romance.  This book is rife with battle scenes between the Lorien teens and the fierce Magadorians who want to eradicate their race, which I found a bit tiresome but my son says were the best part of the book!  The series’ story is moved forward quite a bit with this book, as each of the kids develops his or her powers, and more back-story is explained.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and found it interesting and engaging.  My only complaint is with the audio production.  There were two narrators: a male reader, Neil Kaplan, who read the chapters from John’s perspective and a female narrator, Marisol Ramirez, who read Marina’s chapters.  Ramirez did a great job, and I enjoyed listening to Marina’s chapters; however, John’s chapters, read by Kaplan, were often cringe-worthy.  He used different voices for different characters, which just did not work.  John’s friend, Sam, who is supposed to be a bit of a geek, was voiced with an abrasive, nasally voice that just sounded ridiculous, and he didn’t do much better with the female voice used for Six.  In fact, my son overheard me listening one day, and said, “See?  I told you the audio would be no good!”  I wouldn’t go that far – I did listen to the whole thing – but this is definitely one case where I would recommend reading the book rather than listening.


NOTE: This book is recommended for ages 14 and up.  I think that older middle-grade readers would also enjoy it, though there is a lot of graphic violence during the battle scenes, so keep that in mind.