Thursday, November 29, 2012

NYT's 25 Notable Children's Books of 2012

And so it begins!

The season's Best of 2012 lists have begun.

Here, the New York Times lists its 25 Most Notable Children's Books of 2012, with selections in young adult, middle-grade, and picture book categories.

I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read a single one of them yet!  I am always behind in new books because I have so many good older ones waiting to be read.  I do have John Green's The Fault in Our Stars sitting on my shelf, though - lent to me by a young friend after I squealed upon seeing her reading it!

And speaking of John Green, an Entertainment Weekly poll found him to be readers' #1 author!  That's not just out of YA authors, but ALL authors - he even came in ahead of J.K. Rowling.

Have you read any of the NYT's top 25?  Do you agree with their choices?  I better get busy!

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Monday 11/26! What Are You Reading?

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.  We drove to Rochester, NY, (my hometown) for the long weekend, stayed with my dad and his wife, and enjoyed lots of visits with family and friends.  It was a very nice weekend, and it was great to see everyone!  Now we are back home, with lots to do!

So, we didn't have a lot of time for reading last week.  Unfortunately, I can't read a book in the car (I get sick), but I can manage flipping through magazines, so I caught up on months' worth of magazines that had piled up!  Besides those, here is what we all read last week:
  • I am STILL working my way through Middlemarch by George Eliot.  It is a hefty one, and I am feeling ready to move onto something else....but I am still enjoying it and want to see what happens - 200 pages to go!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness (a Lincoln Lawyer novel) and enjoying it.
  • Jamie, 18, can read in the car (lucky!), so he finished City of Ashes (#2), read City of Glass (#3), and has started City of Fallen Angels (#4), in his quest to re-read Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series for the third time, in preparation for book #5 which was recently released.
Believe it or not, I did manage to post two book reviews before we left last Wednesday: Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, a spooky, suspenseful novel, and The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, a middle-grade/teen audio book.  I enjoyed both novels very much.

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 hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: The Freedom Maze

On a recent car trip, I was kept mesmerized for hours by The Freedom Maze, an audio book by Delia Sherman that combines fascinating historical fiction with just a touch of magic.  The book is intended for ages 10 and up and is an excellent choice for both older middle-grade readers and teens (and adults like me!).

In Louisiana in1960, thirteen-year old Sophie is feeling displaced.  Her parents have recently split up, and her mother is learning to be an accountant and selling their nice house in the suburbs to move herself and Sophie to an apartment in New Orleans.  She sends Sophie off for the summer to her aunt’s house, an old plantation home in southern Louisiana, where Sophie spend boring days listening to her grandmother’s stories of the old days, wandering around the grounds, and exploring the old maze in the garden.

Sophie longs for adventure of the sort she reads about in books by C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit, but when she makes a wish and gets whisked back in time to 1860, she gets more than she bargained for.  With her unruly curly hair, tan, and dirty, bare feet, she is mistaken for a slave on her family’s working sugar plantation.  The matriarch (Sophie’s great, great-grandmother) can see the family resemblance in her nose, so she assumes Sophie is the product of the union between a family member down the river at another plantation and a slave.  From there, the story follows Sophie as she enters the world of slavery in pre-Civil War Louisiana.

Sherman tells a mesmerizing story here, with ample historical details.  The minutiae of the slaves’ lives presented here is a fascinating side of history that is rarely presented.  And Sherman doesn’t shrink from the darker side of the story; there is a scene where a slave is beaten and plenty of intimations of rape (and the results of it).  She handles it all with care, though, weaving together an amazing story, following both Sophie growing up, as well as the political movements of the time toward the start of the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, as Sophie’s grandmother still calls it!).

I loved this book, and the audio production was excellent.  The longer I listened, the more I wanted to hear.  I could hardly stand to get out of the car after 3 hours because I wanted to hear how it ended!  This unique novel will captivate fans of both historical fiction and time travel novels.

272 pages, Candlewick
Listening Library 

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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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. This excellent audio book was nominated for an Audie Award in 2013.


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Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Monday 11/19! What Are You Reading?

Hello, Monday!  I am very happy to greet a new week because last week was a rough one.  My chronic illness flared up badly, so I was pretty useless all week (no reviews at all!).  But I seemed to have turned the corner yesterday, so I am ready for a new week.  I'm also excited for a Thanksgiving week filled with family, spending time with my sons and husband, as well as all the family members we rarely see. 

Reading was one of the few things I could manage last week, so I enjoyed my books:
  • I am still reading Middlemarch by George Eliot.  It is a hefty book, and I didn't finish in time for my book group meeting on Thursday, but I am now more than halfway through and am enjoying it very much.  I have been pleasantly surprised by Eliot's writing talents - Middlemarch is clever and witty, and my book is filled with tabbed quotes that I loved.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Neal Schusterman's Everfound, a teen/YA novel that we both enjoyed very much.
  • Last night, Ken started Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness ( a Lincoln Lawyer novel), a paperback I gave him for Father's Day.  He and I have both always enjoyed Connelly's novels, and this seemed like a good choice for a week of travel and holiday hectic-ness!
  • Jamie, 18, is still reading City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare for the third time!  I'm sure he will use our long road trip this week to read.
 And that was it for this week!  No reviews, but I did write a Weekend Cooking post, with a recipe for a quick and delicious black bean soup, and a tribute to Robert Louis Stevenson on his birthday.

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.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Robert Louis Stevenson!

Robert Louis Stevenson was born on this day in 1850, so happy birthday to him!  That would make him...uh...162 if he were still alive today (yeah, I had to bring up the calculator!).

Stevenson was a talented writer.  We read Treasure Island aloud to our two sons a couple of times when they were younger; it is a favorite book at our house!

We also greatly enjoyed watching Disney's 1950 movie adaptation starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver - dozens and dozens of time!  It was one of our sons' favorite movies, and Ken and I enjoyed it, too.  In fact, I included it in a round-up of great pirate products for Family Fun magazine in 2005.  And, of course, the Muppets starred in a pretty good adaptation of the novel, too!

I do think, though, that Treasure Island is the only Stevenson book I ever read.  In fact, I was surprised when  looked him up on amazon and discovered that he also wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - I've seen stage productions of that one but have never read it.  And, of course, he also wrote A Children's Garden of Verses, but I don't think I read that one either.

What are your favorite Robert Louis Stevenson works?  Happy Birthday, Robert!


Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Monday 11/12! What Are You Reading?

It was a long, tiring week but a lot of fun!  After voting Tuesday morning, I drove to Connecticut to take care of my mom.  She had hip surgery three weeks ago and still can't do much for herself.  So, I was there to help, but it was also the first time she and I have had so much time alone together since...well, since my kids were born!  We watched movies, read, talked for hours, and ate some delicious food together (see my Weekend Cooking post).  We really enjoyed each other's company, in spite of the crazy weather last week.

I came home to a busy catch-up weekend, planning meals, getting groceries, picking up the house, etc.  Yesterday we had friends over for dinner.  More fun, but today is definitely a recovery day.

Despite the very busy week, I squeezed in some reading time:
  • I am still working my way through Middlemarch by George Eliot.  Whew, it is slow going!  This classic novel is growing on me, and I am enjoying it, but I'm only on page 177 (of 799!!).  Not likely I will finish in time for my book group meeting on Thursday.  Yesterday, I began listening to it on audio when I am not able to read (free audio versions of classic books are available at LibriVox).
  • All that driving time gave me lots of opportunity to listen to audio books!  I finished The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, a middle-grade novel about a girl in 1960 Louisiana who goes back in time to meet her own ancestors in pre-War 1860.  I loved this book, and its historical details were fascinating - it made the miles fly by!
  • On the way home, I started The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, a middle-grade novel.  It's good so far but different than I expected, using a 6th grade academic quiz bowl as the foundation to delve into the lives of four very different students.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Everfound by Neal Schusterman, a teen/YA supernatural novel that I recently finished and reviewed.
  • Jamie, 18, doesn't have a lot of time for reading in college, but he is making his way through City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare for the 3rd time!
With such a busy week, I only had time to write one review, of The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka which my book group loved. And I posted my weekly Weekend Cooking summary.

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, November 5, 2012

It's Monday 11/5! What Are You Reading?

Wow, what a week we had last week!  We were stuck in the house, with school cancelled, for several days due to Hurricane Sandy (though we suffered no damage), then we had Halloween.  Life finally began to return to normal on Thursday and then it was the weekend!  So, I didn't get much work done; I am way behind on reviews!

However, the storm gave us lots of time for Spooky Halloween Reading!  I was almost wishing we lost power for a few hours so the kids would have to set aside the video games and TV and read, but we didn't and they didn't!  Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Everfound by Neal Schusterman at the beginning of the week.  I loved this exciting conclusion to the imaginative teen/YA Skinjacking trilogy...and I even made sure to post a review right away, in time for Halloween!
  • Next, I read a fabulously creepy book, Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.  This one exceeded my expectations with edge-of-your-seat suspense that kept me reading much later than I should have every single night with a mixture of both supernatural thrills and too-real human-type chills.  I just finished it yesterday, so I will post a review this week.
  • And now, I have FINALLY started Middlemarch by George Eliot, the November selection for one of my book groups.  The problem?  We meet on November 15, and there is no way I can finish its 800 pages of densely-packed print in time!  I just couldn't bear to set Night Strangers aside...
  • My husband, Ken, took full advantage of being stuck inside by the storm and zipped through the hefty The Twelve by Justin Cronin in a mere week!  I can't wait to read this long-awaited sequel to The Passage!
  • Now Ken is reading Everfound by Neal Schusterman - we just pass books around in our house until everyone has read them!
  • Jamie, 18, came home for the storm (college was closed for several days) but forgot City of Ashes, book #2 in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series (which he is re-reading) in his dorm room.  Despite piles of new books all over the house, he refused to start anything else and instead played video games with his brother!
I posted just one review last week, of Everfound, a teen/YA novel by Neal Schusterman.  I also wrote some fun posts: my October Book Summary and a new Weekend Cooking post.

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.)

Our son and his friend dressed as old men for Halloween, so Ken and I dressed as toddlers!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Teen/YA Review: Everfound

Happy Halloween (one day late)!  I have been preparing for Halloween by reading some spooky books this month (see my review of Magisterium), and what is spookier than ghosts?  Everfound by Neal Schusterman, the third and final book in his Skinjacking trilogy that started with Everlost, was a satisfying conclusion to an excellent series.

This is going to be tricky (get it?  tricky on Halloween?), but I’m going to try to tell you about the third book without giving away what happens in the first two books because if you haven’t read this series yet, you are really missing out….and you need to start at the beginning.

Everlost is the world that exists in between the living world and the dead world.  It is populated only by children and teens who are not yet ready to head into the light and “get where they are going.”  There, kids can see the real world but can not interact with it or change it.  The exception are skinjackers, a certain minority of the kids in Everlost who can temporarily take over a living body and thereby interact with the living world.

Many of the same main characters from earlier books play key roles in Everfound:  Allie the Outcast, Nick the Chocolate Ogre, Mary Hightower, and Mikey the McGill.  They are joined in this third and final book by two new characters.  Jix is a furjacker – a skinjacker who likes to take over big cats – sent by the Mayan King of Everlost to find out more about Mary.  Mary, as before, is intent on controlling all of Everlost, though her plans have become more sinister than before. Some of the skinjackers, led by Milos, have figured out how to bring more children into Everlost to increase the size and strength of Mary’s growing army.  All of the kids are terrified by the appearance of a scar wraith, the most feared type of being in all of Everlost, a person who is half in the living world and half in Everlost and whose touch is said to be capable of extinguishing the Everlost child he touches forever.

As Mary’s power grows and her army of skinjackers becomes more powerful, Allie, Nick, Mikey, Jix, and the others realize they must set aside their differences in order to save Everlost – and the living world – from Mary’s evil plans.  As with the first two books, Everfound is fast-paced and full of suspense, with plenty of likeable characters to root for.  I loved it, and my husband and son can’t wait to read it next!

500 pages, Simon & Schuster