Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Monday 5/27! What Are You Reading?

Happy Memorial Day to those of you in the U.S.! My grandfather was a proud Marine who served in World War II and was at Iwo Jima, so he is on my mind today. He died a few years ago.

My big news today is the kick-off of my annual Big Book Summer Challenge!  I love using the long days of summer (and the break from my book groups) to tackle some of the bigger books I never seem to have time for. You only need to read a minimum of 1 book over 400 pages long between now and September to participate, so check it out and join in the fun!

I hope you've all enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend - we've had a very leisurely weekend. Our younger son has been visiting his grandparents, helping them get their sailboat ready for the season, and our older son is home from college but has been out with friends much of the time, so Ken and I have enjoyed lots of quiet time together, a nice dinner out with friends last night...and lots of reading!
  • I finally finished American Pastoral by Philip Roth. It is a long novel with very dense prose, but I found it very thought-provoking and interesting and am glad I read it. Reviews from my book group were widely varied - some really disliked it; others loved it. I will post a review this week.
  • I am also still reading (a bit at a time) The Art of Nonconformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau, which was recommended by a friend of mine.
  • I have just started The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (my second time) for my online family book group this week. It is just as good as I remembered...and also counts as my first Big Book of the summer!
  • In some spare minutes, I read a middle-grade graphic novel, Tommysaurus Rex by Doug Tennepel. It is a fun, imaginative story sure to appeal especially to middle-grade boys.
  • And, finally, I am listening to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne on audio. It is just as good as I'd heard from everyone.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. At over 1200 pages, this novel definitely meets the criteria of a Big Book! He is almost finished with it now.
  • Jamie, 18, is thrilled to be done with his first year of college and taking full advantage of finally having some reading time! He finished The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, Book 1 in the Heroes of Olympus series, moved onto Book 2, The Son of Neptune, and is now reading Book 3, The Mark of Athena. A new friend from college loves reading as much as Jamie does, so they are both reading this series right now. He told me he is planning to start a book club with his friends in the fall - I'm so proud!
  • Craig, 15, is very busy trying to finish up all his work for the school year, including some make-up work still left from his last surgery in February. He is reading Romeo and Juliet for his Freshman Lit class this week.
I posted one review last week:

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, an amazing novel that just won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction - highly recommended.

And I launched my Big Book Summer Challenge this weekend. Like summer itself, it is a low-key, easy-going challenge, so check it out. I also posted my own list of books to read for the challenge.

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.)    

Thinking of my Grandpa today who served as a Marine in World War II.

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Monday 5/20! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh...the quiet solitude of a Monday morning after a busy weekend. But this is the end of the peace and tranquility for me for a while! My oldest son comes home from college this week, my youngest son has two weeks of school left, then finals, and then another knee surgery. So, I am trying to make the most of this last bit of quiet, productive time!

Good reading this week:
  • I finished The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson and was blown away by this recent Pulitzer Prize winner! The story completely pulled me in, and I never wanted it to end. I'll try to review it this week (before things get hectic!).
  • I am now reading American Pastoral by Philip Roth for my neighborhood book group, but I waited too long to start it because I was so engrossed in the Orphan Master's Son! There is no way I can finish it before Wednesday - it is over 400 pages of very dense prose - but I am giving it my best try. It's a strange story with a strange format, but I am enjoying it so far.
  • I am also still reading (a bit at a time) The Art of Nonconformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau, which was recommended by a friend of mine.
  • I finished listening to an amazing middle-grade audio book, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Its Newberry Medal was well-deserved. I posted a review last week.
  • And I started a new audio book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. I know, I am way behind on this one! I can see why it got such great reviews when it first came out.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. At over 1200 pages, this novel definitely meets the criteria of a Big Book. It's almost time for my annual Big Book Summer Challenge! Look for details this weekend.
  • Jamie, 18, is still reading The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, though I suspect he had little reading time this week, in the midst of final exams.
Not only did I not have time to post much on my blogs this week, but I just realized this weekend that I never even posted my Monday update to my Great Books for Kids and Teens blog - oops!

I did write two reviews:

A Short Guide to a Happy Life and Being Perfect, two slim nonfiction books by Anna Quindlen, perfect for graduation season.

The One and Only Ivan, an award-winning middle-grade novel by Katherine Applegate that I listened to on audio.

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.)    

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Middle-Grade Review: The One and Only Ivan

Katherine Applegate won a Newberry Medal for her middle-grade novel The One and Only Ivan, and the award was well deserved. I just listened to it on audio and was completely taken in by this unique story narrated by a gorilla.
Yes, Ivan is a gorilla, and he tells his story. When I first realized this at the start of the audio, I worried it would be kind of gimmicky and silly, but nothing could be further from the truth. Ivan lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, in a small glass enclosure. Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog, are friends of Ivan’s who also live at the Mall. Stella performs in daily shows, and Ivan is known for his drawings that sell in the gift shop for $30 each ($40 framed).

The animals have some human friends, too, including George, who cleans up around the mall, and his kind daughter, Julia. Things change for all the residents of the Big Top Mall when Mac, the owner, brings in a new baby elephant, in an effort to lift sagging profits. Little Ruby misses her family but is welcomed by Stella, Ivan, and Bob. After Ruby arrives, though, Ivan begins to realize that things need to change – and hopefully, for the better – so he comes up with a crazy plan that just might work.

Far from being silly, these animals who can talk among themselves stir deep emotions – joy and sorrow, horror and happiness. The book is recommended for ages 8 and up, but parents should consider whether their child is emotionally mature enough for the serious issues it raises including wild animals being taken into captivity (and worse) and mistreatment of animals. I won’t give away specific plot points, but one character does die in the book, and there is one passage of poachers killing and capturing gorillas. Parents may want to read the book aloud to younger kids, so they can talk about what’s happening. I think it depends on the child. I have an 11-year old niece who cried inconsolably every single time she watched Spirit (which has some tense moments but a happy ending) – I wouldn’t recommend this book to her!

For most kids, though – and grown-ups, too – there is a big pay-off for getting through the sad stuff, and the story does have a happy ending. Think in terms of Charlotte’s Web or Babe, both in terms of tone and quality. This is a book with plenty of heart plus a sense of humor. Interestingly, Applegate was inspired to write this novel based on a true story of a gorilla known as Ivan, the Shopping Mall Gorilla. She has crafted a moving story of friendship and determination, with unusual emotional depth for a middle-grade novel. Definitely a winner.


P.S. I loved listening to the audio - the narrator does Ivan's voice perfectly - and it would be perfect for a family road trip. The book also has some advantages, though, including a few illustrations and short chapters perfect for middle-grade readers.

Visit Katherine Applegate's website, including more information on the real Ivan.

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.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible.


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Middle-Grade Review: The Game of Sunken Places

The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson has been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for a long time, ever since my teen son read it a few years ago. I’ve heard good things about Anderson’s books, but this was the first one I ever read. It’s a mystery/fantasy story for middle-grade readers that is sort of like a cross between The Hardy Boys and Jumanji.

Thirteen-year old Gregory’s eccentric adopted uncle invites him and a friend to spend their school holiday at his house in Vermont. When Gregory and his best friend, Brian, arrive at the old mansion in the woods, they find that Uncle Max is even stranger than they’d thought. He and his home seem to exist in a different century, and Uncle Max insists that the boys dress in tweed knickers and stiff-collared shirts while they are visiting. Meals are quiet, formal affairs attended by servants at a big dining room table with Uncle Max and Gregory’s cousin, Prudence.

The boys poke around the deserted nursery and decide to ease their boredom with an old board game they find, The Game of Sunken Places. This game, though, is like none they’ve ever played before, and as they explore the area around the mansion, more and more spaces on the board become visible. This strange game takes them far beyond the game board and nursery, as they explore the woods around the house and discover things they never dreamed existed in real life – trolls, spirits, and other fearsome creatures – all locked in an age-old battle that now includes the two friends.

The tone of this novel, especially at the beginning, reminded me very much of old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries – two old friends discovering a mystery. It’s an us-against-the-world feeling, with plenty of good-natured joking between the boys (Gregory is especially prone to wise cracks). Then, the action turns more toward fantasy, as the mysteries surrounding Uncle Max and the old house turn out to involve all sorts of otherworldly beings, unseen worlds, and ancient conflicts.

I’m not a huge fan of fantasy normally (my son is), but I enjoyed this fast-paced and thoroughly unique story. It is filled with action, suspense, a good dose of humor to lighten the mood, and surprises around every corner. Kids who enjoy fantasy stories about strange creatures and other worlds will love this novel.

260 pages, Scholastic

(M.T. Anderson wrote another 3 books in this series, titled The Norumbegan Quartet)


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ender's Game Movie Trailer

The trailer for the movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card's highly acclaimed novel, Ender's Game, was recently released. I first read Ender's Game about 25 years ago, based on the recommendation of my husband (then boyfriend!), and I loved it and went on to read the entire series. My oldest son, now 18, read it a few years ago, and he loved it, too. So, we are all very excited that they have finally made a movie out of this fabulous book!

Here's the trailer:

I didn't realize that Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley were starring in it - looks like it should be good! Its release date is 11/1/13 - can't wait!

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's Monday 5/6! What Are You Reading?

Ah, lovely weather here last week, but a rough week in our house. My son had a killer sinus infection that triggered a nasty flare-up of his chronic immune disorder, so he was home from school all week and totally wiped out...and that means I got very little done! He's 15, so I know he doesn't need constant supervision (and I did make runs to the grocery store and drugstore), but he does like company when he feels that bad.  Also, his appetite doesn't suffer when he's sick, so I spent a LOT of time cooking, doing dishes, and going out for take-out requests!

Anyway, he is feeling better now and back at school, and we had a very nice weekend. No matter what our week is like, we always enjoy our books:
  • I finished The Game of Sunken Places, a middle-grade novel by M.T. Anderson (and the first I've read of this award-winning author). It was a cross between a mystery and a fantasy, fast-paced and unique.
  • I am now reading The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, which recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (and many other accolades and awards). I requested it at the library as soon as I heard about the Pulitzer because I've been wanting to read it ever since the two hosts on my favorite podcast, Books on the Nightstand, raved about it. It is set in North Korea and is excellent so far and completely engrossing.
  • I am also making my way through a nonfiction book, The Art of Nonconformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau. A good friend of mine from high school recently recommended this book, so I requested it at the library, too (I need to get back to my TBR shelf). I decided I couldn't read a book about setting goals and changing the world before bed or I'd never get any sleep! So, I'm reading the novel at bedtime and squeezing in bits of the nonfiction during the day.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. This hefty book is a long-term project. He was laughing that he'd read 200 pages and his bookmark still looked like it was at the beginning of the book!
  • Neither of our sons has had time (or energy) for reading. At 18 and 15, they are busy with school work at this time of year.
I did manage to write some reviews and blog posts last week:

 A review of The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, a historical novel about a young girl who is an indentured servant in 1790's Virginia.

A review of Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix, a fascinating teen/YA novel about a secret project that "unages" a group of elderly people.

I also posted my April Reading Summary.

And a Weekend Cooking post about clay pot cooking and crockpot cooking.

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.)    
My sons and I at my book signing this weekend - two of my essays were published in a Chicken Soup anthology.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Books Read in April

With April, spring finally arrived here, much to our collective relief! The weather was lovely, and I was able to do more reading outside on the deck. Although I started the month with a novel I didn't finish, the rest of my reading month went well, as I read and enjoyed some excellent books:

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a compelling, suspenseful novel (Missouri)
  • A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen, a brief nonfiction book
  • Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen, another brief book with advice from the esteemed writer

So, in all, I read 6 books last month (plus 130 pages of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver), though the last two were very short! Almost all of the books I read in April were fiction, except for the two Quindlen books, and most of them were adult books - just 1 YA book this time. My favorites were The Yokota Officer's Club and The Kitchen House, both read for my book groups, showing once again that participating in book groups can introduce you to some wonderful books you'd never have read on your own!

I added 4 new states and 1 new country to my 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge, bringing my 4-month total up to 16 U.S states and 4 other countries. I didn't add a single book this month to my 2013 TBR Pile Reading Challenge - almost all of the books I read came from the library! I actually listened to the first half of The Kitchen House on audio, so I'm counting that toward my 2013 Audio Book Challenge.

What was your favorite book read in April?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Teen/YA Review: Turnabout

I have read and enjoyed several middle-grade novels by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Turnabout, one of her teen/YA novel s that was recently re-released, is aimed at teens but will appeal to older readers since its plot is all about aging. I found it fascinating and engrossing

In 2000, Amelia is 100 years old, living in a nursing home and waiting to die, when a couple of doctors ask her to sign a release form to join a unique scientific study. Soon, she has been moved to a new facility with 50 other elderly patients who are now all a part of Project Turnabout. The two doctors in charge have administered a drug to all of them that is “unaging” them; they are all becoming younger each day. At first, they are all thrilled; each day, they are regaining lost skills – hearing, walking, memory – but there are some catches. The biggest one is that the doctors assumed they could stop the process at any time, but it turns out they can’t.

After a few years, Amelia and her new friend, Anny Beth, decide to leave the facility and live out their second chance lives on their own. When the novel opens in 2085, Anny Beth has unaged to 18 and Amelia just turned 15, and they are both still getting younger. They realize they will not be able to care for themselves much longer and need to figure out what to do. They think they have plenty of time, until an ancestor of Amelia’s tries to get in touch with them. The super-secret project required them to break all ties to family (their families thought they died of old age) in order to avoid becoming the center of a media circus.

The action goes back and forth from the start of the project to the present day in 2085, gradually filling in the stories of the project’s inception and Amelia and Anny Beth’s long, eventful reverse lives. I was captivated by this unique story and all the questions it provoked. It’s a fascinating concept to consider. There was plenty of suspense, not only in finding out how Amelia and Anny Beth would address their problem of turning back into children but also how they would elude the persistent family member following them. The details of the project and its progress are also gradually revealed. In all, this is a fast-paced and compelling story that easily kept my attention. I finished it in just a few days and look forward to reading more of Haddix’s novels.

240 pages, Simon Pulse