Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Okay for Now

Okay for Now, an audio book by Gary D. Schmidt, was one of the winners of a 2012 Odyssey Honor Award for audio books.  The award was well deserved.  This was one of the best middle-grade books I have ever read (or listened to) and one of the best audio book productions I have ever listened to.  It was one of those rare books that I couldn’t wait to finish but never wanted to end.

Doug Swieteck has a rough life: his dad is abusive, his brother is a bully, and his oldest brother is off fighting in Vietnam.  To make matters worse, his father loses his job and moves the family from Long Island to “stupid Marysville” (as Doug calls it throughout the book), a small town in the Catskills, where there is nothing going on and Doug knows no one.  Even worse, everyone in town seems to assume that Doug is a thug, like his brother.  The only things that make his life bearable are his kind mother (and especially, her smile) and Lil, who teaches him how to drink a really cold Coke and becomes his first friend in Marysville.

Doug is the most endearingly flawed but likable narrator since Tom Sawyer.  Even though it sometimes feels like the whole world is falling apart around him, Doug keeps moving forward.  He discovers the Marysville Library’s greatest treasure, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, with its amazing paintings, and he becomes the town’s new grocery delivery boy on Saturday mornings.  Little by little, he finds things to like about stupid Marysville and becomes a part of the community, but not without plenty of challenges and struggles.

I loved every minute of this audio book that had me both laughing out loud and choking back tears at various points.  It is funny and heartbreaking and heartwarming, all at once, while it recreates a period of time in small-town America that has long past.  Most of all, it is real.  Doug’s ups and downs mirror those every person encounters in real life – setbacks alternating with moving forward, heart-renching times followed by joys.  Schmidt has created a cast of characters that you really come to care about.  I definitely want to go back and read Schmidt’s Newberry Honor novel, The Wednesday Wars, which introduced Doug for the first time.  Okay for Now is among the best that middle-grade literature has to offer.

Listening Library

Listen to an Excerpt:

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Monday 8/27! What Are You Reading?

Ahh....what's that sound?  Silence!  We took our oldest son to college on Saturday and helped him move into the dorms, and our youngest started high school today.  And that means...I am alone in the house!  Woohoo!  I need to mostly work on catch-up stuff today, but I am excited to finally have some time to myself to do more writing.

So, we had a very, very busy week, but we still enjoyed our books:
  • I am still working on my last Big Book of the summer, 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  It is excellent, but after two weeks of reading, I am still just past half-way!  I'm not sure if I'll finish it by Labor Day for the Big Book Summer Challenge, but I am enjoying it very much.
  • I started a new audio book, Young Fredle, a middle-grade novel by Cynthia Voigt.  It's great so far (another winner of the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audio Books), but it may take me longer to finish it than usual - my son took the car with the CD player to school with him.  My old 92 VW only has a broken cassette player and a radio!
  • My husband, Ken, finished A Clash of Kings, Book 2 in the popular George R.R. Martin series - woohoo!  He enjoyed it very much, but it was a hefty one!
  • Ken has now started Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the summer's hottest novel that we've both been anxious to read.
  • Jamie, 18, took A Feast of Crows, Book 4 in George R.R. Martin's series, with him to college, but I suspect he hasn't had a lot of time to read this weekend!
  • Craig, 14, finished his required summer reading, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, in plenty of time to return to school.  He did a great job getting all of his required reading done this summer!
I had a super busy week last week, but I DID manage to write one review, of The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls, a teen/YA novel by Julie Schumaker which I enjoyed very much.  Hopefully, I will have a bit more time for blogging this week.

Remember:  If you are participating in the Big Book Summer Challenge, this is the last week!  The challenge officially ends on Monday, Labor Day, so finish your big books and be sure to add your big book review links to the list on the challenge page.

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.)

My favorite ad for this time of year which has been in my head all morning:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Teen/YA Review: The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls

I requested a review copy of The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher simply because the author is from Delaware and the novel is set here as well, a rarity given that I live in the second-smallest state in the US (such is the low profile of our tiny state that one reviewer on Amazon incorrectly stated that this book takes place in Maryland - we are here, guys, right next door!)  I didn’t have many expectations for the book, but I was pleasantly surprised – I ended up loving this unique, realistic novel for teens.

Sixteen-year old Adrienne Haus knows this will be the worst summer ever.  Because of a serious knee injury, she is left at home while her best friend (well, her only friend) goes off to camp without her.  To make matters worse, her mother came up with the brilliant idea to have a mother-daughter summer book club, to help Adrienne and a few of her classmates do their required reading and get ready for their AP English class in the fall.

It is a disparate group of girls thrown together in this involuntary book club; the only thing they have in common is that none of them (except Wallis) wants to be in it, as explained on the back cover:

“…But we weren’t friends.  We were not a sisterhood, and we didn’t share any pants.  We were literary prisoners, sweating and reading classics and hanging out at the pool.  But, of course, that’s not the whole story. “

The book is written as Adrienne’s summer AP English assignment, with different chapters addressing not only the books read but what happened to the girls in between.  I just loved the unique approach, and the fact that the novel is not at all what you would expect.  The girls don’t fit easily into stereotypes and they don't all become best friends or learn to love literature.  The characters feel like real people, with plenty of real problems that are not easily solved.  Their summer reading parallels the course of everything else they go through that summer, and the girls grow and learn a lot about themselves and each other.  In fact, the book inspired me; I would like to read some of the books the girls in the novel read during their unbearable summer.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and look forward to reading more from Schumacher.

230 pages, Delacorte Press


Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Monday 8/20! What Are You Reading?

At least I think it's still Monday...barely!  We spent the weekend out of town with family, then all day today driving back and forth to an out-of-state doctor's appointment, so I'm running a bit behind.  Things have still been crazy hectic here, as predicted last week, but we had some good news and made a big decision.  The college found my son a single dorm room, and he decided to give it a try, with a reduced schedule of just three classes (he has some significant health issues).  So, that is all very exciting!  Move-in day for freshman is Saturday, so this will be another insanely busy week...but maybe then things will calm down a bit for me (not for long, I'm sure...).

We read some great books last week at our house:
  • I am, of course, still working on Stephen King's 11/22/63, my last Big Book for the summer!  As expected, I am loving it so far, especially the way that King wove one of his past novels, It, into the early parts of the story.  I love when an author does that - it makes you feel like an insider!
  • In the car today, I finished the middle-grade audio book Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt.  I LOVED everything about this wonderful novel!  It was quite possibly the best middle-grade novel I've ever read AND the best audio book I've ever listened to.  Highly recommended.
  •  My husband, Ken, is also reading a hefty novel, A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin.  He and our son both love this series.
  • Jamie, who turned 18 last week, read his required freshman summer book in one day last week!  Their First-Year Student Common Reader is Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo, a nonfiction book set in a poverty-stricken part of Mumbai.  Jamie said it was eye-opening and fascinating.
  • Part of his motivation for reading his required book so fast was to move onto Book 4 in the George R.R. Martin series, which he picked up in the college bookstore when we bought his required book.  He is almost finished with A Feast of Crows already and loving it!
  • Craig, 14, is slogging his way through In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, one of his required summer books.  He's not loving it!
What did you and your family read last week?

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

Jamie and his brother Craig celebrate his 18th birthday.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's Monday 8/13! What Are You Reading?

Well, I did some catching up on blogs last week and wrote quite a few posts and reviews, but this Monday post might be all that I can manage for this week!  It's going to be insanely busy, with my son's 18th birthday, a weekend away with extended family starting Friday, and so many things to get done before then that my to-do list is overflowing the page!

Truly, reading is my one refuge when things get this hectic.  Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich, laughing all the way.  It was a nice bit of fun escapism, just what I needed last week!
  • Next I read a new teen/YA novel, The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher.  I requested a review copy of this novel because I read that the author was from Delaware and the story was set here as well, but I ended up really liking this teen summer novel very much.
  • And now (drumroll please...), I have finally started 11/22/63 by Stephen King, my last selection for My Big Book Summer Challenge.  This one definitely qualifies as a big book, at 849 pages.  It will also help me meet my weight-training goals, as the hardcover edition we have is a brick of a book!  It is excellent so far - I LOVE time travel stories, so I know I will enjoy this very much.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and loved it as much as my son and I did!  If you are also a fan of this unique novel, check out my review with a link to Cline's own Easter Egg contest, just like in the book!
  • Ken is now back to reading A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin, one of his Big Books this summer.
  • Jamie, 17, finished Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead, Book 1 in The Pendragon Cycle series.  He said it was very good, and he is looking forward to reading more of the series. Now he is focused on trying to finish up the last of his high school work and get ready for college.
  • Craig, 14, is reading In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, as required reading for his freshman year of high school which starts in 2 weeks!  He's not really enjoying this novel so far.
I wrote two reviews last week:  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Sharp North, a teen/YA dystopian novel by Patric Cave.  I also posted my summary of Books Read in July (better late than never!).  And if you want to get to know me better, check out my top ten lists from last week, of the blog posts that provide the best glimpse of me - there is one list for this blog (grown-up books) and one for my Great Books for Kids and Teens blog.  I also posted a link to a fun list based on an NPR poll:  the 100 Best-Ever Teen/YA Novels.  This was an interesting list since it was based on a public poll.  Check it out.

What did you and your family read last week?

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

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Teen/YA Review: Sharp North

My son read Sharp North by Patrick Cave back when it was first released in the U.S., in 2009, and he has been telling me to read it ever since!  I finally found the time to tackle it, thanks to my Big Book Summer Challenge, and discovered my son was right: this is a fast-paced, exciting dystopian adventure with a unique plot that pulled me in and kept me reading.

Teenaged Mira has lived a content, simple life in the snowy mountains of Scotland in an isolated village with her adoptive parents.  Then, one day, a strange woman is killed in front of her in the woods, and Mira’s peaceful, happy life is shattered.  The woman leaves behind a crumpled piece of paper that contains a list of names, including her own. 

Suddenly, Mira is questioning everything she has ever been told or believed about her life.  Who is she, really?  Who was the mysterious woman and why was she killed?  Mira feels she must find answers and can no longer trust anyone, so she sets off on her own to follow the clues left by the dead woman, but she has no idea what dangers hide in the wider world beyond her little town and her protected upbringing. 

This unique novel is set in a distant, dismal future UK where relentless flood waters have changed not only the geography of the country but its internal workings as well.  Britain is now ruled by the Great Families, leaving a poor underclass who are barely surviving.  With such limited resources, reproduction has been severely limited, but there are rumors that the Great Families have secret, illegal clones of themselves – spares – just in case they are needed.

Cave weaves a complex and intricate story of a time and place very different from our familiar world.  Mira’s journey takes her on a long and dangerous series of adventures, as she follows her heart and tries to do what she feels is right, drawn by the need to find out the truth about her own life. I enjoyed this fast-paced and exciting novel very much.

518 pages, Atheneum


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Best-Ever Teen/YA Novels

I love lists, especially top book lists!  NPR just published its 100 Best-Ever Teen/YA Novels, based on a poll that drew an enormous response - over 75,000 people responded!  The list is an interesting mix of older classics and new releases.  In fact, I thought that recent publication weighed a bit too heavily in the list.  I mean, I enjoyed Divergent very much but one of the Top 100 Teen Books EVER?  Not so sure about that - I suppose time will tell, right?

Check out the list to see how many of the Best-Ever Teen Books YOU have read.  I counted 28 for myself, and my 17-year old son has read 22 of them.  We have some work to do!

How about you?  How many of the best teen novels have you read?  And do you agree with the list?  Was anything left off that YOU would include?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top Ten Posts That Provide a Glimpse of Me

Today is Tuesday, and that means Top Ten Day over at The Broke and the Bookish.  Head on over there to check out all the links to great blogs!  I love making lists, but I haven't had the time to participate in this favorite meme all summer.  Today's topic is Top Ten Posts That I Think Give You the Best Glimpse of Me.  This is an interesting one because most of my posts are either book reviews or Monday What Are You Reading? updates, but I will try to select a nice assortment to give you a better idea of who I am, both personally and as a reader (and writer), and I will include a variety of different types of book reviews.  (NOTE: This blog is just for kids/teen/YA books, so if you are more interested in grown-up books, then head over to my other book blog, Book By Book.)
  • Review: The Underland Chronicles - this was one of the first reviews I posted here, back in 2009, but it remains one of my family's favorite series.  We loved these books long before Suzanne Collins became a household name for The Hunger Games!
  • Review: Three Little Words - one of my few reviews of a teen/YA memoir, this book was powerful and has stuck with me.
  • Review: Alabama Moon - a middle-grade book review and another family favorite!
  • Teen Book Meme - this post - a list of beloved teen books - gives you an overview of what I have read and what I have missed.
  • Review: Prism - a review of both an audio book (which we often enjoy) and a teen/YA novel.  I wrote the review after listening to it on my own but later our whole family listened and loved it!
  • Top Ten Fantasy Series - part of my own Ten for Tuesday feature (before I discovered this one!), this particular Top Ten list was created by my teen son who is an avid reader and often provides input for this blog.
  • Top Ten Books of My Childhood - another of my Ten for Tuesday lists, this one provides some insight into my childhood reading habits.
  • Best Kids/Ten Books Read in 2011 - provides an overview of what I read last year and which books were my favorites.
  • Happy Anniversary to My Favorite Book - a little more insight into favorite childhood books - do you know which iconic kids' book celebrated its 50th anniversary this year?
  • It's Monday 8/6/12! What Are You Reading? - yeah, I know just about everyone writes some sort of weekly wrap-up post, but I think mine is a bit unique because I include what everyone in my family is reading, including the kids.
Oh, shoot, I can only pick 10?  Well, I think those provide a good overview of who I am and what this book blog is all about.

Monday, August 6, 2012

It's Monday 8/6! What Are You Reading?

Wow, it just occurred to me that it is now August, and we left July behind last week.  That should give you a hint as to what my week was like!  Lots of stress, emotion, and a flurry of activity after our first meeting with the Office of Disability at my son's college.  We have a very big decision to help him make this week regarding whether he is healthy enough to start college (3 weeks from today!) and if so, how much he can manage: 1 class, 3 classes, in the dorms, living at home?? 

Anyway, that has been completely occupying our minds and our time, so I had no time at all for either writing reviews or visiting blogs, but I hope to catch up a bit this week.  We did all turn to our favorite past time, reading, to help distract us from the stress in our lives:
  • I finished Sharp North by Patrick Cave and will try to write my review this week.  It is a teen/YA dystopian novel that is full of action.
  • Next, I attempted to start the book for my library's discussion group this week, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's ground-breaking 1962 book that led to a public outcry against pollution and the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and the formation of the EPA.  Since I used to work in Environmental Management, I am very interested in the subject matter and am reading bits of it when I can, but it was just too heavy and depressing for me to focus on, given my emotional state.  So...
  • I picked up Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich, a gift from my husband for my birthday last month.  This light and fluffy Stephanie Plum novel is just what I needed right now - a bit of reading fun with nothing at all to think about!  I am laughing out loud while I read and enjoying it.
  • I also continued making my way through the stack of graphic novels Scholastic sent with Bird and Squirrel on the Run! by James Burks.  Talk about light and fluffy!  This is a simple, fun graphic novel about...well, just what the title says...a bird and a squirrel who become friends and endeavor to stay away from the evil Cat.  Think classic cartoons, like Tom & Jerry.
  • My husband, Ken, finally gave in and set aside George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings so that he could read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, after our son and I raved about it!  He is enjoying it, too, and should finish this morning while he is waiting to be called for jury duty.
  • So, Jamie, 17, finished Ready Player One on Monday (with lots of laughs).
  • Now Jamie is reading Taliesin, Book 1 in The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen R. Lawhead. He says it's good so far.
  • Craig, 14, is reading In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, one of his required books for school.  He is waiting to get to the parts with more action; so far, it is mostly about sisters reminiscing about their days at school - not really his thing!
As I said, no reviews posted last week, but I did post a link to a fun list of 11 Authors Who Hated the Movie Versions of Their Books.  There are some real surprises on this list!  I added my own list of movie adaptations I loved or hated.  How about you?  Join in this fun discussion!

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.)