Monday, May 28, 2012

It's Monday 5/28! What Are You Reading?

Happy Memorial Day!  These Monday holidays always feel strange, to not have to get up to the alarm and run around first thing on a Monday morning - not that I'm complaining!  My younger son has been in Connecticut with his grandparents this weekend, and my husband, older son, and I have been taking it easy, trying to recover a bit from our hectic weeks.  And there is lots more to come!  This week, we have a raft of school functions, leading up to Jamie's high school graduation on Friday and Craig's "graduation" from middle school next Wednesday, accompanied by lots of family visits!

So, not a lot of time for reading this week, but we all managed some:
  • I am almost...wait a minute...OK.  I have just now finished The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern.  This completely unique novel grew on me, pulled me in until I felt I was part of it and came to care about the characters.  I'm sorry it is over now.
  • I am still listening to Ghost Knight, a middle-grade novel by Cornelia Funke.  It's very good so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and enjoying it.  He thinks our oldest son would probably like it, too.
  • Jamie, 17, has been reading Spiral by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, Book 5 of the Tunnels series.  He says the books just get better and better, and the authors have amazing imaginations!  I've only read the first one, so I will have to check out the rest of the series one of these days.
  • Craig, 14, has been reading Brian's Winter by Gary Paulsen, one of many sequels to The Hatchet, a favorite in our family.
I did finally find time to write a couple of reviews last week (while in medical waiting rooms!):  Faith by Jennifer Haigh, a hit with my book group, and the teen/YA novel Dead To You by Lisa McMann which I loved.

But the big news here is that I am hosting my first-ever reading challenge!  Big Book Summer Challenge is an easy, laid-back challenge perfect for the relaxed summer months, a chance to tackle one or more of the long books you've been meaning to read but never seem to find time for.  Check it out and sign up!  Here are my own big book goals for the summer.

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.)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Big Book Summer Challenge!


Hey, I just wanted to let you know about a challenge I am hosting over at Book By Book - my first-ever hosted challenge - Big Book Summer Challenge.

It is all about taking advantage of the long, relaxed summer days to tackle some of the bigger books you may have been putting off!

Here is a picture of the big books I hope to read this summer:

(but you don't have to read a whole stack of big books to join the challenge - just one is enough, if that's what you want to do!)

So, head over to Book By Book for details on the Big Book Summer Challenge and sign up yourself!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Teen/YA Review: Dead To You

I can’t hold in my enthusiasm any longer…I LOVED this book!  I was already a fan of Lisa McMann’s Wake, Fade, and Gone trilogy and her novel Cryer's Cross, so I was excited to see she had a new teen/YA novel out, but Dead To You surpassed even my high expectations.  It is a gripping novel of suspense with a unique premise that I could hardly bear to put down, but it has plenty of emotional depth, too.

Ethan was abducted from his neighborhood when he was just seven years old.  Now 16, he has finally been returned to his family in Minnesota, but it’s not an easy transition.  Ethan retains no memories of his life pre-abduction, and after nine years without him, his family has moved on, even having another child (whom Ethan thinks of as the “replacement child”), though of course his parents are thrilled to finally have him back. 

Ethan’s abductor acted like his mother until she abandoned him, and Ethan feels guilty that he doesn’t hate her, in spite of what she did to his family.  Meanwhile, his younger brother, Blake, just seems bitter and angry toward him. The biggest challenge of all is Ethan’s memory, which remains stubbornly blocked for reasons that none of them understand.  There are some positives, too, like the pretty girl down the street who says they were best friends when they were little, and his adorable little sister, Gracie, whom he bonds with in spite of her role as the replacement child.

I won’t say any more because this is a story best discovered bit by bit by the reader.  It won’t take you long to uncover its secrets, though, because it is so compelling, even when it is horrifying.  It was one of those books that I couldn’t stand to put down but also never wanted to end.  McMann has a talent for telling gripping stories populated by very real-feeling characters.  I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

243 pages, Simon Pulse

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Monday 5/21! What Are You Reading?

Our crazy, hectic season continues!  Last week was a rough one for me - my husband was away on business, my mom came to visit, my son finished high school, more houseguests came for the weekend, and my younger son had the lead in his school musical!  We went to both shows, Friday and Saturday night, and Craig did an outstanding job as Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance (check out his photo below).  Lots of activity and excitement for all of us!

So, I had no time at all for reading blogs last week or for writing my own reviews or blog posts.  None of us had much reading time, either, though I squeezed in a bit in doctor's waiting rooms last week:
  • I finished the teen/YA novel Dead To You by Lisa McMann in record time.  I could hardly bear to set it down - it was absolutely compelling and original, about a teen boy who is returned to his family at 16, after being abducted at 9, and the conflicts that arise as he tries to readjust to his long-lost family.  Amazing book.
  • Now I am reading The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern, a novel I borrowed from my mom a few months ago and have been dying to read.  It's a very strange book - unique and magical - but I am becoming immersed in its characters and plot.
  • I started a new audio book last week, Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke, a middle-grade novel about a British boy away at boarding school for the first time who encounters murderous ghosts and must enlist the help of a ghost knight to help fend them off.  It's very good so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.  He says the beginning is very confusing, with dozens of different characters to keep track of; he's appreciating the lists and charts at the end!
  • Jamie, 17, finished re-reading an old favorite, Peter Raven Under Fire by Michael Molloy, a middle-grade pirate adventure.
  • Jamie also re-read The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima, Book 3 of the Seven Realms series.  He loves this series and can't wait for the release of The Crimson Crown this fall!
  • Craig, 14, finished Attack of the Fiend, Book 4 in The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney.  He needs to read one more book before the end of the school year - I'm not sure what he's chosen for his next one.
As I said, no time for writing reviews or other blog posts last week.  Hopefully, things will be a bit less hectic 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.

Craig as Frederic (in the striped shirt) in The Pirates of Penzance.

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's Monday 5/14! What Are You Reading?

Just another Manic Monday...

Life continues to be insanely busy, as we hurtle toward the end of the school year and graduation.  Last week, we had play rehearsals, doctor's appointments, physical therapy, soccer, school, and Craig's 8th Grade Semi-Formal Dance (see photo below).  I enjoyed a lovely Mother's Day yesterday - just a quiet day at home with my family (we are usually traveling to spend the weekend with my mom, but she's coming down this week instead).  My husband and sons cooked breakfast for me, gave me flowers and gifts, and took me out for a very nice dinner.  And I finally had some time to start planning our vacation (which is good because it's less than a month away!)  Up this week...lots of houseguests, more doctor's appointments, book group, and Craig's musical (he has the lead in Pirates of Penzance).

So...busy, busy, busy.  Our books provide a brief respite from all the activity:
  • I finished Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voight and really enjoyed the warm and tender coming-of-age novel for middle-grade readers and teens.  You can read my review here.
  • I also finished Leisl and Po by Lauren Oliver, a wonderful audio book, read by Jim Dale, about a girl who befriends a ghost.
  • I just finished reading Faith by Jennifer Haigh for this week's neighborhood book group.  Haigh is one of my favorite authors, and this novel did not disappoint.  It's about a family's reaction when their son/brother, a Catholic priest, is accused of molesting a young boy during the flurry of such accusations in Boston about ten years ago.  It is haunting and thought-provoking.
  • Last night, I started a new teen/YA novel, Dead to You by Lisa McMann.  I loved McMann's Wake trilogy and her novel, Cryer's Cross.  Although I just started it, this novel about an abducted teen returned to his family after 9 years, already has me in its grip.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson and enjoyed the psychological thriller about a woman with amnesia.
  • Ken is now reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, a gift I gave him for Easter.  Neither of us have read this popular series (or watched its spin-off TV show), but I thought it sounded like something he'd really like.  He says it is very complicated, with lots of characters, so it takes a while to get into, but he's enjoying it so far.
  • Jamie, 17, finished re-reading The Exiled Queen, Book 2 in the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams, one of his new favorites.
  • While he is waiting for Book 3 from the library, Jamie picked up another old favorite, Peter Raven Under Fire by Michael Molloy, a middle-grade pirate adventure that he has probably read at least four times before!  This is his version of comfort food.
  • Craig, 14, is almost finished with Attack of the Fiend, Book 4 in The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney.  He loves this series!
I managed to write two book reviews last week:  Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson and Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voight, a middle-grade/teen novel.  I also posted a clip from the news about Little Libraries, an idea I just loved!

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.)

Craig and his friends ready for their semi-formal (Craig is in the middle, in black)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Dicey’s Song

Apparently, the Tillerman series by Cynthia Voight is quite well known and has been enjoyed by generations of young (and not so young) girls.  I knew none of that, only that the second book in the series, Dicey’s Song, had won the Newberry Medal and that the series had been recently re-released by Simon & Schuster’s Atheneum imprint.  So I read this warm and tender novel with few expectations and was pleasantly surprised.

In the first book of the series, Homecoming, the four Tillerman children are abandoned by their mother, who is lost in her own misery, so they set off from Rhode Island and make their way all the way to Maryland, to a grandmother they’d never met.  It didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the first book; the relevant details are woven into this story seamlessly.  Twelve-year old Dicey is the oldest of the four children and has gotten used to being responsible for…well, for everything.  So, though they are all happy to be living with Gram, it is a big adjustment for Dicey to go back to being a kid and to share the heavy load of her responsibilities with someone else.

The novel begins the day before school starts, so all four children have a lot of new things to adjust to – new school, new classmates, and new challenges.  Things are difficult at first; each of them has his or her own problems that they must work together as a family to solve.  Besides all this newness, Dicey is facing the additional changes of growing up and entering adolescence.

I really loved this gentle, well-written story with surprising emotional depth for a teen novel. I think this novel will appeal to older middle-grade readers as well (not to mention adults like me!).  Though it seems set slightly in the past, the issues and challenges that the children face are relevant to today’s kids.  I am looking forward to reading more about the Tillerman’s.

247 pages, Atheneum


Monday, May 7, 2012

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

Life is still insanely busy and rushing past at breakneck speed, but I did manage to do some catching up on my book blogs last week!

Despite the busy week, we all enjoyed some good books:
  • I finished Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, a unique thriller about a woman with amnesia that kept me captivated until the very last page.  Everyone in my book group enjoyed it, too.
  • I am now reading Dicey's Song, a middle-grade/teen novel by Cynthia Voight, part of her award-winning series about the Tillerman family.  The books have recently been re-released, and this is my first time reading any of them.  It is excellent - warm and real, about four siblings who have lost their mother and gone to live with their previously unknown grandmother in another state.
  • I am also still listening to Leisl and Po by Lauren Oliver on audio.  I am almost done (finally) with this excellent middle-grade novel about a girl and a ghost.
  • My husband, Ken, temporarily set aside The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman, a nonfiction book about World War II, so that he could read Before I Go To Sleep before it is due back to the library!  I think he is enjoying the unique suspense novel so far.
  • Jamie, 17, finished re-reading Maddigan's Fantasia by Margaret Mahy, one of his all-time favorite novels.  He and I are still reading lots of ancient Persian poetry and prose, trying to get him caught up in his World Lit class.  Not the most exciting stuff I've ever read.
  • When he needs a break from all his make-up schoolwork, Jamie is re-reading The Exiled Queen, Book 2 of The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima.
  • Craig, 14, is reading Book 4 of The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney, Attack of the Fiend.
As I said, I finally had the chance to catch up on reviews last week.  I posted:
What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Night of the Spadefoot Toads

Our family loves Bill Harley, author, storyteller, and entertainer-extraordinaire.  His CDs and DVD feature a mixture of silly songs and outrageous stories that we can listen to again and again (and still laugh like crazy!).  He wrote a holiday picture book, Dear Santa: the Letters of James B. Dobbins, that quickly became a favorite in our household (even now that the boys are teens) for its warmth and wit.  So, I was eager to read his latest middle-grade novel, Night of the Spadefoot Toads.  I expected silly humor but instead found a serious, engaging novel with an environmental bent that I enjoyed very much.

Ten-year old Ben is not happy.  His family just moved thousands of miles from his beloved desert in Arizona to cold, wet Massachusetts.  He left behind his best friend, his pet lizard, and the desert landscape he loves.  Ben feels like he doesn’t fit into this new place.  He has no real friends yet and misses the reptiles that lived near his home.  Then, he makes an unlikely friend – his new science teacher, Mrs. Tibbets (who his fellow students estimate is at least a hundred years old!).  She asks Ben to help her with some yard work and, while at her house, shows him some of the unfamiliar flora and fauna in the woods behind her house.

Before long, Ben is as excited as Mrs. Tibbets about the expected appearance of the spadefoot toads, a species that emerges from underground just one night a year (sometimes not at all) after a hard, soaking rain in early spring.  Just as things seem to be looking up for Ben, he learns that Mrs. Tibbets is being forced to sell her house and land to developers, thereby further endangering the rare toads that live there.  In his desire to help the toads, Ben begins to neglect his schoolwork, his family, and even some budding friendships.  He needs to figure out a creative way to save the toads without damaging his own life.

I found myself pulled into this intriguing novel right from the start.  The characters are well-drawn and realistic.  Although it does not feature Harley’s renowned silliness, it is clear that he remembers what it is like to be a kid, just as his funny stories from his own childhood told in his live shows and CDs, illustrate.  The facts about the toads in the novel are all true, and the book won the Green Earth Book Award.  This is a sure winner for middle-grade readers who like to read about kids like themselves or have an interest in animals and the environment.

218 pages, Peachtree Publishers

NOTE:  If you'd also like to check out Harley's fabulous sense of humor, I highly recommend Yes to Running! in either CD or DVD form (see link below).


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teen/YA Review: Ship Breaker

Before our recent spring break road trip to Oklahoma, I perused the teen/YA shelves at the library for something that would appeal to the whole family.  My sons are 14 and 17 now and no longer content to listen to whatever audio books Mom chooses – and often they prefer to listen to their iPods now – so I was hoping to find an audio that would engage them, as well as my husband and I, during our long hours of driving.  I chose Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, a teen/YA dystopian novel that sounded action-packed; like most kids their age, they both read and enjoyed The Hunger Games, so I thought that a dystopian novel might work.  Well, I still couldn’t get my youngest son to listen with us (he’s just at that age when he needs to make his own choices), but the other three of us enjoyed Ship Breaker very much.

It’s set in a post-apocalyptic time along the US’s Gulf Coast, where one huge storm after another has changed the landscape and the economy.  Although there are a wealthy few in charge, most people in the Gulf Coast region have to scrape together a living by working on a crew, helping to scavenge metal and copper wiring from the huge oil tankers that have run aground there.  Nailer, a teen boy, lives from one day to the next with his violent, drug-addicted father, working light crew with his group of rough peers, hoping he doesn’t grow so much that he can no longer crawl through the ships’ ductwork. 

After one particularly bad storm, a wealthy clipper ship wrecks a short distance from their beach, and Nailer and a crewmate, Pima, find it before anyone else notices it.  The ship is filled with more wealth than they have ever seen or heard of – including silver platters and gold jewelry – but as they are scavenging whatever they can carry, they discover a girl about their own age who is barely alive.  Now they have a problem: do they turn the girl over to the adults and allow the girl herself to be sold for her parts or try to hide her so they can collect a ransom when her family comes looking for her?

It’s a dark, gritty story populated by coarse but likeable characters faced with often unthinkable ethical dilemmas.  My husband, son, and I really enjoyed the audio which captures the tone of the desperate time and place.  The story was fast-paced and exciting and kept our interest over the long hours in the car!

352 pages, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Brilliance Audio