Thursday, February 28, 2013

Teen/YA Review: The Far West

After years of my son urging me to read Patricia C. Wrede’s Frontier Magic trilogy, I finally read TheThirteenth Child and Across theGreat Barrier in quick succession. He was right! It’s an excellent series that crosses the Old West with magic. I recently finished the final book of the trilogy, The Far West, and found it just as good and a fitting end to a great series.

For those who haven’t read the first two books yet, I will avoid any spoilers. The author does a good job of filling in essential information for new readers, but I would still recommend reading the series from the beginning. The story focuses on Eff who is now a young woman and finished with her schooling. Eff loves the wilderness west of the Great Barrier Spell, which keeps out dangerous wildlife – both magical like swarming weasels and Medusa lizards as well as nonmagical species. She has already made several trips out there in the previous novels, as an assistant to the professors of the local college.

Eff gets another chance to head out west at the start of this novel as part of a government-sponsored expedition, but this trip will be even more dangerous than previous ones because they’ll be attempting to travel further west than anyone has ever gone (and returned from). Her family is not happy with this plan, but Eff knows that this is what she wants to do with her life. Traveling with a large group of scientists, magicians, and soldiers, Eff encounters new and dangerous wildlife, learns more about her own unique kind of magic, and discovers more about herself. When the team encounters something that could threaten the entire continent, they will need all of their skills – including Eff’s – in order to avert disaster.

This series succeeds on so many different levels. Wrede has created an intriguing fantasy world, populated by strange and wondrous creatures and talented magicians, but the novel is also set against the fascinating backdrop of the pioneer West in a U.S. that is quite similar – though with subtle differences – to our own history. Finally, it is populated by in-depth characters whose lives you come to care about, and is a coming-of-age story of young Eff, as the series follows her from a small child to a grown woman who knows what she wants from her life. All of these elements are wrapped together in an exciting, fast-paced adventure story.

378 pages, Scholastic

NOTE: If, like me, you are fascinated about where the action in the Frontier Magic trilogy takes place relative to our own version of the nation, click on this link and scroll down to the bottom for two maps of North Columbia and the Mill City area.

In this brief video, Wrede talks about why she loves writing, with references to her Enchanted Forest series:


Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Monday 2/25! What Are You Reading?

Well, we had another rough week here, with very little time for writing or blogging. My 15-year old son is still struggling to recover from his knee surgery and also has his second sinus infection of the month. So, my focus last week was on taking care of him. On the plus side, I finally filed our taxes this weekend (woohoo!!), so maybe I can get back into the groove of blogging more regularly this week.

And I read some fabulous books last week:
  • I read Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad by Judith Redline Coopey for my neighborhood book group this week. I loved this novel about a Quaker family in the 1850's (and beyond) who are part of the Underground Railroad - excellent writing, in-depth and likable characters, and a fascinating plot.
  • Now I am reading The Dark Side of Nowhere by Neal Schusterman, one of my all-time favorite YA authors. It's very good so far - fast-paced with surprises around every corner.
  • I also started a new audio book (finally downloaded one to my new iPod so I could listen while I walk) - Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel. I have high expectations after my recent Kingsolver love fest (The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven).
  • My husband finished Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card and enjoyed it - my older son and I had recommended it. 
  • Before he moves onto its sequel, Ruins (another brick of a book), he is reading a lighter suspense novel I gave him for Christmas, The Dark Hour by Robin Burcell. I thought he'd enjoy the setting in Amsterdam because he travels there for business. He says it is overly complex so far with too many characters to keep track of - maybe it will all come together soon.
  • Our sons have been busy with college and too sick, respectively, to read much lately, though my younger son did listen to some of his all-time favorite audio book, Looking for Bobowicz, written and read hilariously by Daniel Pinkwater - that cheered him up a bit!
Like I said, almost no time for writing last week, but I did squeeze in one review at the end of the week:  Wildwood, a middle-grade audio book by Colin Meloy. I also wrote a Weekend Cooking post on Sunday, with several of our favorite recipes.

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.)

Happy Birthday to my Dad today!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Middle-Grade Review: Wildwood

Well, it took me many months, but I finally finished listening to the middle-grade audio book Wildwood by Colin Meloy. It’s an intricate fantasy filled with talking animals, bandits, mystics, and even an evil queen-wannabe.

Young Prue McKeel has a very ordinary life, living with her parents and little brother, Mac, in Portland. Then, one day when Prue is out with her brother, Mac is stolen right out of his wagon by a group of crows and carried into the tangled forest along the edge of the city. Prue takes off into the woods with her friend, Curtis, to find her baby brother, but the pair encounter far more than they could have imagined.

They come across coyote soldiers and animal constables, but finding Mac proves difficult. It turns out there is a whole secret world in the forest that the residents call Wildwood. That world is in turmoil, balanced on the precipice of a major war between forces of good and evil, and Prue and Curtis find themselves – and Mac – in the middle of the conflict.

Wildwood is a classic fantasy tale with its young protagonists at the center of an epic battle between good and evil, fighting not only for their own lives and freedom but for the liberty of all of Wildwood. Author Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists, has created an original and whimsical world. The audio book was very well done and enjoyable, but I suspect the book is also excellent, accompanied by illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis.

HarperCollins Audio


Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Monday 2/18! What Are You Reading?

Whew, rough week here last week. My 15-year old son was home from school all week with bronchitis, then had knee surgery on Friday...the result of which is that he will need a third surgery, with a lengthy recovery period. We're going to try to wait until the beginning of summer for this next one because he has already missed over 5 weeks of school this year. He's still in quite a bit of pain, but we are hoping he can make it into school tomorrow...we'll see how today goes.

So, lots of stress and not a lot of reading time, but we did manage some:
  • I finished the memoir, The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was written by a 96-year old man about his first twelve years of life, growing up very poor in a small mill town in England where Jewish families lived on one side of the street and Christian families on the other side; the two sides rarely mixed, until his sister fell in love with a Christian boy and caused an uproar. 
  • Now I am reading (and almost finished with) a teen/YA novel, The Far West by Patricia C. Wrede, the third book in her excellent Pioneer Magic trilogy that started with The Thirteenth Child.
  • I finally finished the middle-grade audio book, Wildwood by Colin Meloy! It was a long one but quite good. With my son home all week, I didn't have a chance to start a new audio book yet, but I hope to this week. I have quite a few to choose from.
  • My husband. Ken, is trying to finish Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (recommended by my son and I) before his business trip this week - the huge hardcover is too big to travel with!
  • Between college, illness, and surgery, neither of my sons had time for reading last week.
I had even less time for blogging last week, but I did manage to write one review while waiting for my son to come out of surgery. I reviewed In Other Worlds, a collection of essays about science fiction by Margaret Atwood that resulted in a long list of other books I want to read!

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.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Monday 2/11! What Are You Reading?

We had a busy week and a fun weekend, with our annual Mardi Gras party - you can read about the details (well, the food details, at least!) on my Weekend Cooking post.  Lots of work but also lots of fun. We used to live in New Orleans, so Mardi Gras is a major holiday in our house! This will be a hectic week, with both Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day. Also, my son is home sick, so we are heading to the doctor's office this morning.

With all that excitement, we still managed to enjoy our books this week:
  • I finished In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood, a book of essays on science fiction by the much-lauded author of The Handmaid's Tale. I enjoyed it very much, as well as the Bookrageous podcast discussing it. Now I have a long list of sci fi books I want to read!
  • I am now reading a memoir that my very kind cousin sent me last week: The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein. My local library's book group is discussing memoirs this week, so her timing was perfect! I am enjoying it very much - the beginning reminds me a bit of Angela's Ashes, only it is about a very poor Jewish family in England.
  • I am  - finally - almost finished with the middle-grade audio book, Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis. It is a very long audio, but I have enjoyed it and am down to the last couple of tracks.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Orson Scott Card's Pathfinder, after my son and I raved about it! It is a long one, but I told him it is well worth the effort.
  • Jamie, 18, is still reading Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of the Soldier's Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. He's really not enjoying it much, but he insists on finishing it! Now that he's back at college in the dorms, he doesn't have much reading time.
  • Craig, 15, is still making his way through his freshman lit novel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros - slowly and painfully!
I wrote two reviews last week: I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg and Trapped by Michael Northrup, a teen/YA novel. I also posted my January reading summary, a Weekend Cooking post about Mardi Gras, and a preview of 2013 book-to-movie adaptations - lots of good movies to look forward to!

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.)

Mardi Gras 2010 - me with my sons

Friday, February 8, 2013

Top 10 Anticipated 2013 Books-to-Movies

Publisher's Weekly published their list of Ten Most Anticipated Book Adaptations of 2013 this week - take a look.

I decided to post the list here because many of these movie adaptations are based on teen/YA books! It looks like the paranormal/supernatural trend is still in high gear!!

I haven't read most of these, but our family is looking forward to Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Catching Fire, and - of course - The Hobbit #2. 

But we are most excited about the movie adaptation of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card!  My husband and I both read this novel for the first time about 25 years ago, so we've been waiting a long time! It's a favorite of our older son, too.

Which movie adaptations are you most looking forward to in 2013?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Teen/YA Review: Trapped

I thought that Trapped by Michael Northrup, with its snow-covered cover, would be a perfect mid-winter read, and I was right. I read this suspenseful teen/YA novel in just two days and could scarcely set it down.

Trapped is an apt name for this story about seven high school kids trapped inside their school for days during a blizzard. A winter storm of historic proportions, even for New England, covers the area with over 10 feet of snow, piling up faster than the plows can clear it, until it is so deep that even plows can’t get through. Oh, and did I mention the power went out?

This novel works on two levels: as a fast-paced adventure story and as a character study. The adventure comes in, of course, simply from trying to survive. The kids are left without adult supervision and must fend for themselves to provide food, water, and heat.  Their challenges grow and become more extreme as the storm worsens and continues far longer than any of them thought it could. The suspense builds as the snow piles up outside. Eventually, they realize if they are going to be saved, they need to save themselves. Their deteriorating situation provides ample suspense and makes this book a page-turner.

But this is also a fascinating story of seven very different people trying to get along with each other under extreme circumstances. The high school setting adds another layer of intrigue, since these seven kids are not ones who would normally hang out together (or even acknowledge each other) in the normal school atmosphere. There are three guys who are good friends (though very different people), a gorgeous and popular female athlete and her BFF, a chronic troublemaker, and a social outcast. At first, they stick to their own kind, but as their situation becomes more dire, they need to work together – and even rely on each other – in order to survive.

I really enjoyed this fast-paced novel. It was the kind of story that completely pulled me in, so I was thinking about it all the time. I felt like I was there, in that cold, dark school in the midst of a blizzard, with them. I love novels that so completely capture my imagination. Just writing about it makes me want to read it again!

232 pages, Scholastic


Monday, February 4, 2013

It's Monday 2/4! What Are You Reading?

A new week, a new month, and a new start for me. College-age son moved back into the dorms yesterday. High school-age son is off today (and we have a hectic day filled with doctor's appointments), but hopefully, he will be back in school tomorrow after being out sick all last week. And then, I will be...alone!  Woohoo! Maybe I can finally get some work done this week...though we will miss having our older son at home.

Last week, we read:
  • I finished I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg in plenty of time for my book group. Everyone enjoyed it for its sense of humor and irony, though it was a bit light compared to what we usually read. Not great literature - just a bit of fun!
  • Next, I blew through Trapped by Michael Northrop in just two days. This teen/YA novel about seven teens stuck in their high school without power for days during a record blizzard was fast-paced and full of suspense - perfect for a cold winter week!
  • Now, I am reading In Other Worlds, a book of essays by Margaret Atwood about science fiction. This is the current selection for book discussion on the Bookrageous podcast, so I decided to try it. I'm enjoying it very much - I worried it might be dry, but Atwood's writing is lively and full of wit. I've been laughing out loud a lot!
  • And I am trying to finish a very long audio book, Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis, a middle-grade fantasy adventure. It's been very good. Maybe with both kids out of the house this week, I can finally finish it!
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Likeness by Tana French; he's enjoying this series very much.
  • Now, Ken is reading Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card, a fabulous teen/YA novel that my son and I both loved.
  • Jamie, 18, is still reading Shaman's Crossing, Book 1 of the Soldier's Son trilogy by Robin Hobb. It's not his favorite kind of fantasy, but he said he wants to finish it. His reading slowed way down this week with exams at school. Now that he's back in the dorms for spring semester, he probably won't have much fun reading time!
  • Craig, 15, was home sick all last week, but he doesn't really enjoy reading. He did read more of his freshman lit novel, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, but he doesn't like that it is not a straight-forward chronological story.
I finally found time to write a couple of reviews last week - I was getting behind!  I reviewed Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver and Across the Great Barrier by Patricia C. Wrede, a teen novel - both were excellent and highly recommended! And I wrote a Weekend Cooking post yesterday.

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.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Teen/YA Review: Across the Great Barrier

I enjoyed The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede so much that when I finished it, I immediately picked up the second book in the trilogy, Across the Great Barrier. I flew through it and loved it just as much as the first book. Wrede’s world of the Wild West with magic added in is fascinating and peopled by real, in-depth characters

In this second novel, Eff finishes high school and continues working for a professor at the Northern Plains Riverbank College in her town. Because of her experience the previous summer, she is asked to join a scientific expedition heading West, past the Great Barrier Spell, to further identify flora and fauna in the unexplored areas and check on regrowth after a devastating insect infestation in the settlements the previous year. Eff is thrilled to be heading back out into the wilderness, though her mother fears for her safety.

Meanwhile, Eff’s brother Lan (who is a seventh son of a seventh son and therefore a very powerful magician) and their best friend, William, continue their studies in magic in great eastern universities. Eff continues to be wary of her magical powers. She now knows that there is nothing inherently unlucky about being a thirteenth child, but she is still having trouble getting past the mental roadblocks that have been in place since early childhood.

Out West, Eff and the rest of the expedition discover things they’ve never even known could exist, struggle against obstacles (including saber cats and Columbian sphinxes), and try their best to help the settlements when unforeseen dangers crop up. As in the first book, Across the Great Barrier is filled with adventure and magic in the setting of the Wild West. Through the hardships and mysteries they encounter, Eff continues to grow not only physically but emotionally and magically as well, as she learns more about her own particular brand of magic and how to control it. It is an exciting, fast-paced story full of likable characters that I finished quickly. Now I am ready for book #3 – I can’t wait to see what happens to Eff and Lan next!

339 pages, Scholastic

NOTE: As with the first book in the series, Across the Great Barrier is marketed toward teens but is perfectly appropriate for older middle-grade readers as well, especially those who enjoyed the Little House and Harry Potter books!