Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Teen/YA Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

I normally only post a review on one of my book blogs, depending on whether it is for adults or for kids/teens/YA, but I am making an exception for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne because it is an engrossing, moving story perfect for both adults and teens/YA. I listened to this unique historical novel on audio and thought it was a teen book all along; I was surprised to get to the end and listen to a note from the author where he explained that the publisher had decided to market it to adults. Whether they’ve intended it for teens and YAs or not, it has become very popular with that age group, ranking as #6 in Historical Fiction for Teens on

It seems like every other book is set in World War II, but this one takes on a wholly unique perspective of the Holocaust: that of a young German boy whose father is in a high-level position within the Nazi party. Bruno is only nine years old, and author Boyne captures his point of view perfectly. He’s not a Nazi child during World War II; he is simply a child like any child in any other time and place in history. Bruno goes to school, enjoys playing with his friends, can’t understand why his older sister is acting differently lately, loves his parents, and is unaware of the larger world of politics and war.

When Bruno comes home from school one day to find that his family is moving from their big house in Berlin, he is upset, as any child would be, to leave his friends and his beloved home for someplace unknown. Their new home is far away, with no other houses near by, and Bruno complains about it to his mother, who tells him he must not complain because this move is important for his father’s career. There is a huge fence bordering Bruno’s new house, and through it, he can see hundreds of men, women, and children, all dressed alike in striped pajamas. Desperate for some company, Bruno sets off on a hike along the fence where he finally meets another boy, Schmuel. Though they are separated by the fence, the two nine-year old boys discover they have a lot in common and become friends.

The child’s voice in this novel is completely authentic and pulls you right into his world. He truly has no idea what is going on in the larger world. He thinks that the new place where they live is called Out-With and that his father’s important boss is nicknamed the Fury. Bruno’s innocence and naivety allow us a different kind of perspective on this horrific part of history. The audio production was excellent, with the narrator’s slight German accent  and childlike tone making Bruno’s perspective believable.

Boyne so perfectly captures Bruno’s simple little-boy world that at first, I actually thought this was a book for middle-grade readers. But there are some heart-rending developments in the story that would be distressing to younger readers, and in light of Bruno’s complete ignorance, it is necessary for the reader to have some basic understanding of what was happening in that part of the world in 1942 in order to fully grasp the events of the novel. It is a compelling, powerful, and haunting story that will stay with you long after you close the book or turn off your iPod.

Listening Library


Monday, June 24, 2013

It's Monday 6/24! What Are You Reading?

Whew, summer has definitely arrived in Delaware. It is supposed to be in the 90's all week, and the humidity is sky-high already - you step outside and it feels like you've run into a brick wall. Not my favorite kind of weather. But it's a perfect day to stay in the air conditioning and read!

I had a busy week, taking care of my son who is recovering from knee surgery, hosting my mom for a few days, and going to my neighborhood book group, so I am running a bit behind on reviews. I am declaring this week catch-up week! Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh in plenty of time for book group. Like everyone else in my group, I loved this novel about a young woman who has grown up in the foster care system, with no love or support, and how she builds herself a life as an adult.
  • Now I am reading Arcadia by Lauren Groff for my other book group which meets this week. This is a novel about a boy who grows up on a commune in the 70's. It is engrossing so far, and I am looking forward to discussing it.
  • I am still listening to Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter on audio, though I didn't have much time for it last week with all that was going on. It's an engaging story that goes back and forth between 1960's Italy and modern-day Hollywood. Loving it so far!
  • I also squeezed in a middle-grade graphic novel last week, The Silver Six by A.J. Lieberman and Darren Rawlings. Graphic novels are a good choice when time is limited! I really liked this one and will try to write a review this week.
  • My husband finished The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson this weekend and agreed it was a compelling and fascinating book. Some of the second half of this novel set in North Korea is a bit confusing, but we enjoyed discussing it. The details of daily life in North Korea are horrifying.
  • Now, Ken is reading Gone for Good by Harlen Coben, a nice, small paperback for his business trip this week!
  • Jamie, 18, continues to enjoy his summer reading time and fly through books! He finished ALTDORF, a Historical Novel of Switzerland, by J.K. Swift (The Forest Knights, Book 1).
  • Now, he has moved onto another freebie on his Kindle, City of Rogues by Ty Johnston, Book 1 of The Kobalos Trilogy (The Ursian Chronicles). He's been on a major Medieval fantasy kick.
I didn't write any reviews last week - just a couple of posts:

 Gender Bias in Book Reviews - based on a fascinating study, with a look at my own reading habits.

Weekend Cooking, with a couple of our favorite summer recipes.

Don't forget, it's only the first week of summer, so there is still plenty of time to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge! It's super-easy and relaxed, as summer should be, and you only need to read one book of 400 pages or more to participate. So, join the fun!

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, June 17, 2013

It's Monday 6/17! What Are You Reading?

Ah...I love the peace and quiet of Monday mornings, after the hectic weekend! I am out on the deck right now with my laptop, and all I can hear are birds. A little bunny just hopped through the backyard, enjoying a buffet breakfast on our lawn!

My older son just left for his college class, and my younger son is still asleep, so all is quiet for the moment. We had a nice family weekend together. And we read a lot last week:
  • I finished Book Two in the middle-grade series Infinity Ring, Divide and Conquer by Carrie Ryan. I am really enjoying this fast-paced middle-grade time travel series.
  • Now I am reading The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh for my neighborhood book group this week. Despite all the rave reviews, I wasn't sure I'd like it just because the topic didn't sound interesting to me, but it is a wonderful novel. I have been reading much too late every night!
  • I started a new audio book, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. I don't usually have much time for audio books during the summer because I'm never alone, but I put this one on my iPod and have been listening to it a lot (while walking, cooking, weeding, etc.) I'm completely hooked on this novel, too!
  • My husband, Ken, set aside Gone for Good by Harlen Coben (saving that small paperback for an upcoming trip) when The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson came back in at the library for us. Now, he can finish it.
  • My 18-year old son, Jamie, is having a blast finally having some time for pleasure reading! He flew through several books last week on his Kindle. He is on a Medieval kick at the moment. First, he read A Quest of Heroes, Book One in the Sorcerer's Ring series by Morgan Rice, and enjoyed it very much.
  • Next, he read A Circle of Iron by Greg Benage (Eldernost, Book 1), a free e-book he downloaded last winter (he loves the idea of free books!), and he liked that, too.
  • And now, he is reading another Medieval e-book, ALTDORF, a Historical Novel of Switzerland, by J.K. Swift (The Forest Knights, Book 1) - looks like kind of a Robin Hood type story.
  • Craig, 15, is recovering from knee surgery and playing Xbox games all day long! He does have some required summer reading, but for now, he is just enjoying no stress and no responsibilities. He's actually feeling pretty good (other than knee pain) and recovering more quickly than we'd anticipated.
Being home all last week taking care of my son gave me plenty of time for blogging (for a change!). I wrote the following posts:

Review of Blue Asylum, a unique historical novel by Kathy Hepinstall.

Review of Infinity Ring, Books 1 and 2, a middle-grade time travel series by multiple authors.

Books Read in May monthly summary.

Weekend Cooking post - CSA season has begun!

Young Book Bloggers, including a fun article from BEA, plus links to the highlighted blogs.

 Don't forget, it's only mid-June, so there is still plenty of time to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge! It's super-easy and relaxed, as summer should be, and you only need to read one book of 400 pages or more to participate. So, join the fun!

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, June 15, 2013

Young Book Bloggers

I enjoyed reading this article in Publisher's Weekly about young book bloggers at the recent Book Expo America Convention. The article profiles several book bloggers who attended BEA and are under 21 years old.

I also enjoyed checking out the blogs featured in the article:

Reading Teen - started by two moms, it has now been taken over by their teen children! The moms are still involved but now a small group of teens writes most reviews.

Blogger [Heart] Books - a book blog run jointly by Lanna and Julie (18).

Page to Premier - cofounded by Kimmy (20) focuses on YA books being made into movies. Kimmy also hosts, which is all about the Hunger Games movies.

What are your favorite book blogs hosted by teens and young people?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Middle-Grade Review: Infinity Ring

My son had knee surgery last weekend, and with long hours spent at the hospital, stress, and exhaustion, I needed something light and fast-paced to read. Infinity Ring, a new middle-grade time travel series, fit the bill perfectly. I enjoyed Book One: A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner so much that I immediately moved onto Book Two: Divide and Conquer by Carrie Ryan (this is one of those series with different authors for each book and an online tie-in).

Eleven year-olds Dak and Sera have been best friends for as long as they can remember. They are both geniuses – and therefore outcasts among their peers – so they have bonded over their geekiness. To say that Dak is a history buff is an understatement; he’s been reading thick historical tomes since he first learned to read and spouts obscure historical facts constantly. Sera’s talents lie more in science – she’s been messing around with quantum mechanics since she was a preschooler.

This series takes place either in present day or perhaps a bit into the future. It’s hard to tell exactly because Dak and Sera’s world is slightly different from ours. Some of the differences are subtle and trivial, like the different-sounding names and varied spellings from what we’re familiar with. Other differences are more obvious: there are 48 states in the U.S. and its capital is Philadelphia. And one difference is very significant: a powerful group called the SQ rules the world and has been around since the earliest days of civilization. We don’t know much about the SQ except that they are very powerful and very dangerous.

While exploring Dak’s parents’ lab one day, the two friends discover a time travel device that Dak’s parents have been working on, and Sera figures out how to finish it and make it work. Soon after, the two friends are recruited by a group called the Hystorians who explain that there are certain Breaks in history where things went horribly wrong (mostly thanks to the SQ), resulting in the ever-increasing problems facing the world today (frequent extreme weather events, violence, the SQ’s all-encompassing power and abuses). Through an unexpected disaster, Dak, Sera, and a young Hystorian named Riq are sent back in time on their own and have to try to fix the Breaks and set history back on its proper course.

The history here is sometimes a bit confusing since the history of the story differs a bit from our own, but reading about these major events in history made me want to go look them up online and learn more. In addition, each book includes a pull-out guide to an online game that immerses kids in another historical event, as they help Dak, Sera, and Rik to fix another Break. I tried the first game, and it's fun (though my son told me I;m terrible at online games!) It’s clever because you don’t have to play the games in order to enjoy reading the books, but playing the games brings a whole new dimension to the experience and builds on the basic storyline.

There’s nothing I like better than a good time travel plot, and this series is filled with fast-paced adventure set against some fascinating historical backdrops. In the first book, the kids travel back to 1492 when Columbus was setting off on his historical voyage, and in the second, they travel to 885 in France when the Vikings attacked the island city of Paris. The action, historical details, and suspense are all great; I read the two books in just a few days. The writing is not spectacular – dialogue seems a bit stiff and unrealistic at times and I noticed a few anachronisms in speech during their time travel – but it will be satisfactory for middle-grade readers looking for lots of action and a gripping story, and perhaps the addition of the online games (as well as the short length of the books!) will help to engage reluctant readers. I think that all readers will be fascinated and engaged by the historical settings, as I was.

Book One: 190 pages, Scholastic
Book Two: 188 pages, Scholastic

For more information on both the books and the games, head to the Infinity Ring website. You input a code from the book in order to play the games, but for June and July only, the first two games are available for free!


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Books Read in May

May was a lovely but hectic month here. I read fewer books than usual but included a couple of long (and very good) novels. Here's what I read in May:

So, it was an all-fiction month - two adult novels and three middle-grade reads, one on audio. My favorite of the month - and maybe of the year so far! - was The Orphan Master's Son, a gripping, fascinating novel set in North Korea.

I added 3 new states and one country to my 2013 Where Are You Reading Challenge - making good progress there!  I read just one book off my TBR shelf (The Game of Sunken Places) for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge- lots of library and review books last month. I added one more audio book to my 2013 Audio Book Challenge, bringing me up to 4 for the year so far. And, finally, I added one more book (American Pastoral) to my Those Books I Should Have Read 2013 Challenge because I've been meaning to read a Roth novel for ages.

What was your favorite book read in May?

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's Monday 6/10! What Are You Reading?

I'm running late today - actually, just running around like crazy! My 15-year old son had knee surgery on Friday and can't move around much by himself yet, so my days are filled with fetching food, lifting his leg, helping him to the bathroom and back, bringing extra pillows, etc. Poor kid is in a lot of pain, but the good news is that he will have a shorter recovery time than first anticipated because the surgeon was able to use a simpler procedure than he'd originally planned. So, that's all good, but these first couple of weeks are the toughest.

Thank goodness for books and their ability to carry us away to distance places and times!
  • I finished Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall for my library's discussion group this week. It was interesting and engaging - about a woman during the Civil War who is committed to a mental institute on Sanibel Island. Her crimes were basically disobeying her husband and being compassionate toward the slaves on their plantation. I'm looking forward to the discussion - that's my treat to myself this week!
  • I also finished listening to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne on audio. I loved it - it is an amazing, heart-breaking story of friendship during the Holocaust. I haven't started a new audio yet because I have no time to myself for the foreseeable future! I will have to download one onto my iPod.
  • With the sleep deprivation and stress this weekend, I was looking for a quick, gripping read, and Book One of The Infinity Ring, A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner, fit the bill perfectly. A middle-grade book with under 200 pages, it quickly grabbed my attention. Besides, it's a time travel plot which is my favorite theme! I should be starting my next book group pick now, but I think I will squeeze in Book Two of The Infinity Ring first.
  • My husband, Ken, got about a quarter of the way through The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (which I recommended), and we had to return it to the library. Looks like word finally caught on about how amazing this recent Pulitzer Prize winner is! I've requested it for him again so he can finish it.
  • In the meantime, Ken finished The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, another novel I recommended to him. I'm not sure he loved it as much as I did, but he did find the premise intriguing (the earth's rotation slows down, causing longer and longer days and nights).
  • Being in the same exhausted, stressed state of mind as me, Ken chose a fast-paced suspense novel next, Gone for Good by Harlan Coben.
  • Jamie, 18, spent the weekend with friends at the beach, so he didn't read much last week. He is still reading The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller.
  • Craig, 15, is done with school and on heavy painkillers right now, so he is spending his time watching TV and playing video games!
Not a lot of time for blogging last week, but I managed a few posts:

My Top Ten Travel-Related Books

Top Ten Travel-Related Books for Kids/Teens/YA

Review of American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Review of Tommysaurus Rex, a graphic novel by Doug TenNapel
(my reviews were written while waiting in the hospital, so I don't know how coherent they are!)

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.)    

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Middle-Grade Review: Tommysaurus Rex

I don’t read many graphic novels, but one of the few I enjoyed last year was Doug TenNapel’s Cardboard, and now he’s written another one for middle-graders with just as much fun and creativity, Tommysaurus Rex.

Ely lives a happy suburban life with his parents and his dog, Tommy, until disaster strikes. To help cheer Ely up, his parents let him go visit his grandfather’s farm for the summer. Ely works hard and enjoys his grandfather’s company but is still sad (and dealing with bullies), until he discovers a real live Tyrannosaurus Rex living in a cave! Life with a dinosaur has its share of challenges but is lots of fun for Ely and the townspeople. And it’s even better when Ely realizes there is something special about this dinosaur.

Like Cardboard, this new graphic novel focuses on a unique premise that will be a big hit with young boys – who wouldn’t want a real dinosaur for a pet? It’s every boy’s dream!  The story is engrossing, and the pictures are lots of fun. This graphic novel will be especially appealing to reluctant readers, ages 7 and up.

137 pages, Graphix (Scholastic)

Check out some of TenNapel's other work at his website and blog


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Top Ten Travel-Themed Books

It's Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten Day over at The Broke and the Bookish. I haven't had much time for participating in Top Ten Tuesday lately, but I just had to jump in on this one because I love to travel and I love books that are about traveling. I have defined "travel" rather loosely for this list, including some historical fiction and time-travel plots!

So, here are My Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books with Travel Themes:
  • Lionboy by Zizou Corder, an extraordinary middle-grade trilogy about a boy who can talk to cats (including lions) whose action moves through England, France, Venice, Africa, and Caribbean - it made us reach for our atlas and want to travel to all these places!
  • Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, a teen/YA novel and one of my all-time favorite road trip books! The scrapbook style and details of places visited on a cross-country trip adds to its appeal.
  • The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence, a great mystery series for middle-graders that puts the reader in the middle of Ancient Rome.
  • Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale, a favorite of both my son and I, this series takes "travel" to a whole different dimension, with each book taking place in a different world!
  • Alabama Moon by Watt Key, a middle-grade novel and a favorite of our whole family, takes place in rural Alabama where an orphaned boy tries to survive on his own.
  • Northward to the Moon by Polly Horvath, sequel to the middle-grade hit My One Hundred Adventures follows Jane and her family as they travel across the country in their station wagon.
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, the heartfelt tale of a lost stuffed rabbit whose journeys are both geographical and emotional.
  • The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt, first in a series of middle-grade novels that combine mystery and travel to exotic locations - this one takes place in London, Amsterdam, and Paris.
  • The Gate of Days by Guillaume Prévost, a time-travel novel for middle-graders but there's also plenty of travel to different places.
  • The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin, a teen/YA novel set in the backwoods of Idaho - not exactly a vacation story (it's about a reform camp for wayward girls), but the location is wonderful!
I would love to hear about your favorite books with a travel theme - anyone know of other great roadtrip or time travel novels for me? Those are my favorites.

(I listed favorite grown-up travel-themed books over at Book By Book.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

It's Monday 6/3! What Are You Reading?

Chaotic and busy here last week!  My college son came home from school, along with all of his friends, old and new. Our house has been filled with college kids all week (not that I mind). My high school son has final exams this week and is still trying to finish up make-up work from his last surgery by the end of the week...when he will have yet another (hopefully last) knee surgery. So, busy, busy here and no more alone time for mom!

And it's June already! So, be sure to check out my annual Big Book Summer Challenge so you can enjoy a book-ish summer. It's super low-key - you only have to read one (or more) books of 400 pages or more by September to participate. So join the fun!

I did a lot of blogging here last week due to Armchair BEA...but then had no time for writing reviews! Anyway, we all had a good reading week:
  • I just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (my second time) for my online family book group this month . It was just as amazing as I remembered - I cried as I read the last pages last night. It counts as my first Big Book of the summer
  • I am still listening to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne on audio (almost done now).  It's been weird reading/listening to two different books about children set during the Holocaust at the same time. This one is also excellent, told from the unique point of view of a young boy who is completely ignorant of the horrors that are going on around him.
  • Today, I will start Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall for my local library's book discussion next week.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, book 3 in his A Song of Ice and Fire series.  Woohoo!  He deserves a round of applause for that one at 1200 pages! That's HIS first Big Book of the Summer.
  • He took my advice and is now reading The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson which blew me away. He says he's having trouble getting into it, so I hope he likes it.
  • Jamie, 18, is thrilled to be home for the summer and to finally have some time for fun reading! He finished Book 3 in the Heroes of Olympus, The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan. He and a college friend were reading the series together, and they both loved it!
  • Jamie is now reading The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller. He says it's great so far!
No reviews last week but lots of posts about books and more:

Armchair BEA Posts:
Snapshot Saturday - my purple irises.
Weekend Cooking - feeding hungry college students and a couple of Rachael Ray 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.)