Monday, March 31, 2014

It's Monday 3/31! What Are You Reading?

Wow, how can it possibly be the last day of March already? I am more than ready for April, since we've had such a long and hard winter, but the month just went by very quickly. This past weekend was our only 48 hours alone together as a family until summer, so we drove about two hours away, to a St. Michael's, a lovely town on Maryland's Eastern Shore, and stayed at a beautiful inn out on a point surrounded by water. Unfortunately, it was dark, cold, windy, and pouring rain all weekend....AND my youngest son had bronchitis and a sinus infection and felt awful on Saturday! Not quite the getaway we'd pictured, but we still had a nice weekend and spent some time together as a family - we had some delicious meals, watched a movie in our room, and played cards (with lots of laughs!).

And, as always, we read a lot:
  • I finished Gap Creek by Robert Morgan for my online family book group. It's a bit depressing at times, but overall, I enjoyed this novel about a hard life on an isolated farm in the Carolina mountains at the turn of the century.
  • Next, I started another book group selection, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, a modern classic novel that was made into a popular 1988 movie. It's an unusual novel - very philosophical so far, about life and love.
  • I have also been (slowly) making my way through another nonfiction book, Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule -and Your Life by Julie Morganstern. Yes, I am still on a quest to get better at time management!
  • I started a new audio book, The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett. Its history is interesting - the famous author (who has now written over 40 books) wrote this novel when he was only 17 years old! He revised it recently so that it could be re-released.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Unsouled by Neal Schusterman, the book that was supposed to be the final one in the Unwind trilogy, but is now book 3 of 4. Apparently, Schusterman just can't let go of this story - and neither can his fans. My son and I can't wait to read this one.
  • Ken is now traveling for the week and reading Brilliance, a suspense novel, by Marcus Sakey on his Kindle.
  • Jamie, 19, has been on a reading streak lately! He is now on spring break for a week and has been reading like crazy. He told us he downloaded 26 free books to his Kindle last week! He already read two of them last week: The Last King's Amulet by Chris Northern (book one in The Price of Freedom series) and The Choosing by Jeremy Laszlo, book one of The Blood and Brotherhood Saga (Jamie has figured out that publishers often offer the first book in a series free as e-books!). He said both books were good.
  • Now, he's gone back to an old favorite series, Beyonders by Brandon Mull. Book three was just released, so he is re-reading book two, Seeds of Rebellion, before moving onto the new book.
I didn't have much time for blogging last week, so I just posted two reviews:

Review of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

Review of The Last Present, a middle-grade novel by Wendy Mass

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 Unleashing Readers

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Middle-Grade Review: The Last Present

When I started Wendy Mass’s middle-grade novel The Last Present, I didn’t realize it was the last book in a series that I hadn’t completely read! But I did read the first book in the series, 11 Birthdays, a few years ago and enjoyed it. Despite missing out on some of what happened in the middle, I enjoyed this final novel in the popular middle-grade series set in the fictional town of Willow Falls.

Amanda and Leo, the main characters from 11 Birthdays, are now 13 years old, and their lives have continued to be affected by the magical events described in that book. At the start of the book, they are enjoying their friend David’s bar mitzvah when they need to rush to the hospital because the little sister of another friend, Connor, has suddenly become paralyzed. As Grace lies in her frozen state, her family and friends gather around her hospital bed. Amanda and Leo are certain that Angelina, the mysterious and ancient woman in town who caused their experiences two years ago, is somehow behind what’s happened to Grace…and they are right!

It turns out that only Amanda and Leo can save Grace, by going back in time to each of Grace’s birthdays, trying to make a small change there that will change her future for the better. They enlist the help of their friends, including Rory and Tara who were featured in books two and three. To say much more would ruin the considerable surprises in store for readers!

It seems that the two books I missed each feature a different character – Rory in one and Tara in the other – and revolve around other strange affairs involving Angelina. It would have been better if I’d read those two books, but I was still able to enjoy this fourth book (though I wouldn’t recommend reading this one without at least reading the first book). Although this sort of magical realism isn’t always my favorite kind of story, I enjoyed the two books I read in this series, possibly because time travel is a favorite plot device of mine! Mass is a talented writer, weaving together a realistic story of friendship (and young love as well!) with a magical plot.

246 pages, Scholastic


Monday, March 24, 2014

It's Monday 3/24! What Are You Reading?

So glad it is Monday - the weekend really wiped me out! Pretty sad when you need to recover from your weekend, huh? And not because I had a wild fun time - just because I did too much around the house, with cooking, dishes, laundry, etc. I really need to fix that and add a little fun into my Sundays!

I did manage a 2-day "me retreat" last week at the beach, with plenty of reading and some writing catch-up, too. We all enjoyed our books last week:
  • I finally finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and loved every one of its 600+ pages! The characters and the time and place really pulled me in, and I was sad to say good-bye to Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay.
  • Next, while I was away, I squeezed in a quick middle-grade novel, The Last Present by Wendy Mass. It turned out to be the last book in a 4-book series, and I only read the first one. So, I obviously missed some of the references to earlier events, but I knew enough to enjoy the book - Mass is an excellent writer for middle-grade readers, and it's a time travel story (my favorite kind!).
  • I recently started Gap Creek by Robert Morgan, the next selection for my online family book group. It's set in the rural Appalachians around the turn of the century, about a young girl who gets married and struggles to set up her own household in an isolated place.
  • On the way home from the beach, I finished listening to Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the final book in the Divergent trilogy. I reviewed it (and the second book, Insurgent) when I got home. The third book was my favorite - now I have to go see the new movie!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Unsouled, the third book in the teen/YA Unwind series by Neal Schusterman, which he, our college son, and I all love. He's enjoying it so far - I can't wait to read it next!
  • Jamie, 19, finished the Medieval fantasy series he was reading, The Staff and the Sword, by Patrick W. Carr. He finished reading book two, The Hero's Lot, and book 3, A Draw of Kings.
  • Craig, 15, is reading MacBeth by Shakespeare for his Brit Lit class and said he did really well on last week's quiz!
I wrote a couple of reviews last week, plus other posts:

Review of The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, a thriller I listened to on audio.

Review of Insurgent and Allegiant by Veronica Roth, also listened to on audio.

Saturday Snapshot, with photos of my (cold) beach visit last week.

Weekend Cooking post, with several very tasty recipes, adaptable for a Paleo diet (or not)

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 Unleashing Readers

Friday, March 21, 2014

Teen/YA Review: Insurgent and Allegiant

Over the past two months, I listened to both Insurgent (book 2) and Allegiant (book 3), the sequels to Veronica Roth’s hot post-apocalyptic/dystopian trilogy that began with Divergent.  If you have somehow missed this popular trilogy (been living in a cave maybe?), then you should go back and read the review of Divergent (no spoilers there or in this review) and start there.

As Insurgent opens, Tris and her friends are still reeling from the violence and loss that ended book one.  The city of Chicago erupted into chaos as conflict arose between the five different factions. Now it seems that war is the only possible outcome. Tris and each of her friends must decide where their loyalty stands and which ideology and leader they each agree with.

This follow-up novel is all about conflicts and choices. Many secrets emerge that were not obvious in the seemingly peaceful world at the beginning of Divergent. As more and more secrets are revealed, Tris must make more choices – about who to believe, who to follow, and what is right. Making matters worse, she is haunted by both grief and guilt throughout this second novel, from events that occurred in book one. Through it all, with Tobias by her side, she must also consider what it means to be divergent.

In the final book of the trilogy, Allegiant, the action moves beyond the city’s boundaries, as Tris and her companions venture outside the fence to learn more about their society.  In this book, the chapters alternate between Tris and Tobias, so for the first time, we get a glimpse into Tobias’ perspective. Conflict continues in Chicago between those who believe in the faction-approach they know and those who believe in a factionless society, as an all-out war seems inevitable. Outside of the fence, Tris and the others learn a lot of surprising truths about their own family histories, the rest of the world, and how the faction-divided society began. The question is, what is its future?

Although I enjoyed Divergent and Insurgent, Allegiant was by far my favorite book of the series. The first two books were a bit too violent for my taste, without any real explanation of how this unusual society came to be. That explanation is finally revealed in book three, which made it far more interesting for me. My favorite aspect of dystopian novels is seeing how the author takes elements of our own society and shows how those were taken to an extreme to end up with the dystopian society. I like the thoughtfulness and thought-provoking nature of that kind of story, which I finally got in Allegiant. For me, that brought the series up closer to the level of The Hunger Games trilogy or the Unwind series.

All in all, I am glad I stuck with it and read/listened to the entire trilogy. The audio books were all very well done, with talented voice actors (including two different narrators for Tris and Tobias in the final book). I tried listening to Insurgent on audio with my family last summer, but my son and husband both lost interest because it had been too long since we’d all read Divergent. And that’s an important point with this series: because of the number of characters and the complicated plot, it is best to read each book immediately after the previous one. It’s far more enjoyable that way, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time going back and asking, “Wait a minute, who was that?” I am glad I finally had a chance to listen to the entire series…and now my husband has been inspired to go back and listen to it all, too. The movie adaptation of Divergent opens today – I can’t wait to see it on the big screen!


Monday, March 17, 2014

It's Monday 3/17! What Are You Reading?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

When I was in college, St. Patrick's Day was pretty much the biggest holiday of the year (with a big emphasis on green beer, of course), so it is still near and dear to my heart, even though I can no longer drink...or stay up late! I am wearing green, though, plus a lovely green nail polish (Minty Sprint!), and we had our big corned beef dinner last night when my college son was home, with plenty of leftovers for today. If you are looking for a really great corned beef recipe for today (or some other easy and tasty meal ideas), check out my Weekend Cooking post from yesterday.

And now, it is snowing again here today...sigh...yet another day with school cancelled! On the positive side, I have planned a little writing retreat for myself this week and am headed to the beach for a couple of quiet days to myself at a friend's condo. I am very much looking forward to the writing time and plenty of reading time, too!

Meanwhile, we have all enjoyed our books this week:
  • I am still reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, even though we had our book discussion on it last week. I am down to the last 50 pages or so (it's over 600 pages!). I was surprised to find that some people didn't like it because I love it more the more I read. These two characters and their story really pulled me in and grabbed me. I can't wait to find out what happens next but also don't want it to end!
  • I am also still listening to Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the third and final book in the Divergent trilogy. I like this one better than I liked the first two because it is delving into why this post-apocalyptic world is the way it is, so I am finding the story much more interesting and thought-provoking, more along the lines of Hunger Games or the Unwind series.
  • My husband, Ken, read The Drop by Michael Connelly this week and enjoyed it - he and I have always liked Connelly's novels.
  • Now Ken is reading Unsouled, the third book in the teen/YA Unwind trilogy by Neal Schusterman, which he, our college son, and I all love. This dystopian series is absolutely chilling because it is based on elements of our own current society taken to an extreme.
  • Jamie, 19, started a new Medieval fantasy series (his favorite kind of book), The Staff and the Sword by Patrick W. Carr. Last week, he read book one, A Cast of Stones, on his Kindle, and he is now reading book two, The Hero's Lot. He mentioned to me yesterday that getting sick the previous week (bronchitis) reminded him of how much he enjoys reading, so he's trying to read more, even while he's at school. That's my boy.
I tried to catch up a bit last week on my book blogs, so I posted:
Review of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier, a wonderful novel.

 Review of Thin Space by Jody Casella, a teen/YA realistic novel with a supernatural twist.

 Summary of Books Read in February and Challenge Progress.

Weekend Cooking, including easy and tasty weeknight dinners plus my favorite Corned Beef recipe.
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 Unleashing Readers

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Books Read in February

Yet another snow storm...will this winter ever end?
Yes, yes, I am late again with my monthly summary. This year got off to a rough start, so I seem to be constantly playing catch-up. But here it is, finally - my February summary! It was actually an excellent reading month, both in quantity and quality, in spite of being such a short month. Here's all that I finished last month:
  • Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, historical fiction (Hawaii)
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, literary fiction (Rhode Island)
  • Thin Space by Jody Casella, a teen/YA novel (Massachusetts)

  • The Good Sister by Wendy Corsi Staub, a thriller on audio (New York)
  • The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier, fiction (Massachusetts)
  • 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, nonfiction

  • Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, middle-grade audio
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth, teen/YA audio (Illinois)
  • Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick, middle-grade fiction (Louisiana)

Can you believe it? I finished 9 books in February! To be fair,  I started a couple of them in January - in fact, ironically, the time management book took me a full two months to finish (I guess I really don't have more time than I think!). I liked every single book on this list, so it's hard to pick a favorite...I guess that would be a tie between Moloka'i and The Unfinished Life of Elizabeth D. - both were excellent, engaging novels. I read a nice mix - 4 adult novels, 1 nonfiction book, 2 teen/YA novels, 2 middle-grade novels, and three of the books were audios.

Update on 2014 Reading Challenges:
I added six states to my Where Are You Reading Challenge 2014 (it's easy at the beginning of the year!).  I read just one from my TBR shelves, Insurgent, for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. At this rate, my TBR bookcase will burst! I need to stop going to the library for a while.  I listened to three audio book for my 2014 Audio Book Challenge, so that one's going well so far. I finally read one nonfiction book!  But no classics yet.

What was your favorite book read in February?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Teen/YA Review: Thin Space

In the midst of reading several very large adult novels for my book groups, I was looking for a quick and engaging read (a palate cleanser!), and I found it in Thin Space by Jody Casella. This compelling teen/YA novel mixes realistic teen portrayals with a touch of the supernatural, in a short thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Marshall is grieving the loss of his twin in a horrible car accident that happened several months ago. His family and old friends give him a wide berth, figuring he just needs space to mourn and recover, but there is more going on with Marshall than meets the eye. For starters, he goes everywhere barefoot, even as winter begins in western NY.  His parents and teachers think it has something to do with his grieving process, but Marsh has a secret: he is searching for a thin space, a barrier between this world and the next where people can move between the two worlds…and from what he’s read, you can only enter cross over a thin space in bare feet.

The entire novel is told from Marsh’s perspective, so the story of exactly what happened on the day of the accident emerges only gradually. Marsh thinks there could be a thin space in a house on his street, where an elderly neighbor recently died, and he sees his chance to get into the house again and explore when a new girl, Maddie, moves into the house with her mother and brother. Maddie joins Marsh in his supernatural search. Although she has her own reasons for wanting to find a thin space, it is clear that the two of them actually like each other as well. The question is, can any kind of relationship grow here, in the midst of so much pain and with Marsh’s all-encompassing obsession with the dead?

Thin Space has a unique premise and a convoluted plot that slowly becomes clearer as the story evolves. It was just as compelling as I’d hoped, and I finished the novel in a few short days. The characters all felt real, and although the novel has an underlying supernatural premise, most of the book takes place in the real world, reading like good realistic teen/YA fiction. This is one of those novels with so many twists and surprises that when I finished, I wanted to immediately go back and re-read it! Thin Space is Casella’s first novel, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more from her.

243 pages, Simon Pulse

Thin Space


Monday, March 10, 2014

It's Monday 3/10! What Are You Reading?

Busy Monday! I usually try to post my Monday update first thing in the morning, but here it is 4 pm already. I hope this isn't a harbinger of the coming week!

Here's what we read last week, in the midst of our busy lives:
  • I am still reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - it is over 600 pages! - for my book group this week. There is no way I will finish it in time since I am still not even halfway through it, but I am really enjoying it. I've heard great things about this novel for years, so I'm glad to finally have a chance to read it.
  • I am now listening to the audio book Allegiant by Veronica Roth, having just finished book 2 in the series a week ago. This is good preparation for the Divergent movie that is being released this week! And, I've inspired my husband to re-listen to the entire series (he's heard book 1 and just the beginning of book 2).
  • My husband, Ken, finished John Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, a follow-up to his famous A Time to Kill and a Christmas gift from our son. He enjoyed it, and I've moved it into my own TBR pile now!
  • Jamie, 19, did some comfort reading this week because he got a bad cold and bronchitis and spent most of the week in his dorm room, resting. For him, comfort reading means re-reading old favorites. He re-read The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, and now he is re-reading Merlin by Stephen R. Lawhead.
I didn't have a lot of writing time last week (again!), but I managed one review and another post:

Review of Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick, an outstanding and emotionally powerful middle-grade novel.

Weekend Cooking 3/9, with several dinner recipes appropriate for either Paleo dieters or anyone else.

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 Unleashing Readers

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Middle-Grade Review: Zane and the Hurricane

Today is Mardi Gras day, the end of a very special season of celebration in New Orleans, so it seemed like the perfect time to write a review of an amazing middle-grade novel I just finished, Zane and the Hurricane by award-winning author Rodman Philbrick. As you might have guessed, this is a novel about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and I was completely engrossed in its emotionally powerful story from beginning to end.

Twelve-year old Zane Dupree lives in New Hampshire with his mom and his dog Bandit (Bandy for short). Zane’s mom discovers a long-lost relative living in New Orleans, Zane’s great-grandmother, known as Miss Trissy, who raised his father when he was a boy. Zane’s dad died before he was born, so Zane never knew him, but his mom really wants him to know his great-grandmother.  Zane agrees to go visit Miss Trissy, if he can bring Bandy along. His timing is terrible, though, because just as he arrives in hot and humid New Orleans, a tropical depression that was supposed to die out turns into a huge storm named Katrina.

Zane meets Miss Trissy in the first few chapters, and the rest of the novel focuses on what happens during and after Katrina. Miss Trissy lives in the Ninth Ward, which took the worst brunt of the flooding and damage after the levees broke. If you saw any news at all about Katrina, you know that Zane’s story is a difficult one, filled with fear and tragedy. It’s not all horrible; the novel includes instances of courage, friendship, and generosity alongside the bad things.

We used to live in New Orleans, so we watched the news of Katrina with even more horror than most Americans as we saw parts of our beloved city destroyed. I found this novel to be very realistic and true to New Orleans’ true character and spirit, both the good and the bad. The author did a fabulous job of describing the city and its people and making you feel like you were really there. The bulk of the novel occurs during the storm and the flooding afterward so there is a lot of tension and suspense, as the reader goes along with Zane through the terror and uncertainty of those first days that forever changed New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

Philbrick includes plenty of factual information about Katrina, including maps, a timeline, and real facts that were used as the basis for certain events in the story. All of it – the fiction and the facts – made me want to learn more. This is an emotional story that packs a powerful punch and stays with you long after you read the last page.

181 pages, The Blue Sky Press (an imprint of Scholastic)

Monday, March 3, 2014

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

Here we are on another Monday, with snow falling steadily outside and yet another snow day with school cancelled! This winter feels like it will never end...

Inside, it is cozy and warm, and we had a fun (though exhausting!) weekend, with our annual Mardi Gras party plus my mom and her husband here for the weekend. So, you would think we had no time for reading...but we always make time to read, no matter what else is going on! It looks like I read a LOT last week, but mostly, I finished up a lot of books I'd been working on for a while:
  • I finished The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier in time for my neighborhood book group on Wednesday. It was an excellent novel, and we had so much to discuss! In addition, the author very kindly made some personalized videos for our group, answering our questions about the book and telling us what was behind its writing. I hope to write a review this week and tell you more.
  • My next book group book wasn't in at the library yet, so I squeezed in a short middle-grade novel, Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. It's about a young boy who is visiting his great-grandmother in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits and how he survives both the storm and its aftermath. It's an emotionally powerful story that made me want to read more about Katrina. The timing was just right for me, as we used to live in New Orleans and were celebrating Mardi Gras this weekend. I hope to post a review tomorrow, Mardi Gras day.
  • On Friday, I finally started my next book group pick, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I've been meaning to read this award-winning novel for years, so I was glad when my other book group picked it; however, it's over 600 pages of very dense text, so it will be a challenge to finish it in time for next week's meeting!
  • I finally finished 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam! Woo Hoo!! It took me 2 months to read it, so I think I really needed it. The author had some interesting insights into time management, achieving your goals, and living a more deliberate life. I want to take some notes and try implementing some of her advice before I return it to the library.
  • And I finished my audio book, Insurgent by Veronica Roth. I started it with my family last summer, but they lost interest, so I am glad that I finally found time to finish it. I'm not quite as big a fan of the series as some people are (for me, it's certainly not as thought-provoking or well-written as The Hunger Games trilogy, which I often hear it compared to), but it is an engaging story, and the audio was well done. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the third and final book, Allegiant.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading John Grisham's latest, Sycamore Row, a follow-up to his famous A Time to Kill and a Christmas gift from our son. He was laughing last night at all the books I finished last week, but this is a hefty one he's working on.
  • Jamie, 19, finished reading The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater and brought it back home so I can read it next. I'm not sure what he's reading now - with all the activity this weekend, I forgot to ask him!
I had very little time last week for writing, with all the party and house guest preparation. I managed just two posts:

Review of Flora & Ulysses, a middle-grade novel by Kate DiCamillo

Weekend Cooking post, all about how to celebrate Mardi Gras - there's still time - 2 more days to go!

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 Unleashing Readers.  

Happy Mardi Gras! My sons and I, about 5 years ago