Monday, December 27, 2010

It's Monday 12/27! What Are You Reading?

It's the last Monday of 2010!  Hard to believe, isn't it?

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays with their families and got lots of books as gifts!  If you're interested in seeing which books we received this Christmas, check out my blog posts on books the kids got and books my husband and I got.  Looks like 2011 will be another good reading year!

Of course, this past week was super-busy with holiday preparations, but we did read a few books, especially this weekend when things got quieter.  Now we're preparing to visit my father-in-law in Oklahoma (as long as the airport reopens soon!) and getting books ready for that trip, too:
  • I finished Crossing the Tracks, a new teen/YA novel by Barbara Stuber, and posted a review at Great Books fro Kids and Teens.
  • I read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman, a novel mostly set in Savannah, GA, that made a few "best of 2010" lists.  I enjoyed it very much and posted a review.
  • Last night, I started a middle-grade/teen novel I've been dying to read: Pendragon Book 10: the Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale.  The Pendragon series is one of my all-time favorites for kids and teens (and me!), and I'm both excited and sad to finally be reading the last book of the series.  I thought it was a good one to take on our trip (long but lightweight paperback and very compelling!).
  • My husband, Ken, finished Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (and loved it).  I was hoping to post a review of Leviathan and its sequel, Behemoth, but I don't know if I'll have time to finish it before I go.
  • Ken started Roastbeef's Promise by David Jerome, a hilarious road trip novel that I reviewed this past spring.  He's been laughing out loud and reading passages aloud to me, so I think he's enjoying it!
  • Jamie, 16, is still working on The Magician of Hoad by one of his favorite authors, Margaret Mahy (he loved her earlier novel, Madigan's Fantasia).  He's been too busy playing on his new ping-pong table and in the rare snow we got yesterday to read much, but he just ran upstairs to pick out books for our trip.  Jamie does not travel light when it comes to reading material!  He will read through our entire 6-hour trip.
  • Craig, 12, isn't currently reading anything, since school is out, but I hope to entice him with his new Christmas books.
I also posted one other review of Still Alice, a wonderful novel by Lisa Genova.

I better get to my packing.  Hope you have a wonderful and relaxing holiday week and a Happy New Year!  Talk to you again in 2011!

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fiction Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

My mom read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman on our recent Thanksgiving vacation and handed it to me as soon as she finished it!  I enjoyed this coming-of-age tale very much.

First, let me admit that I'm not a big fan of so-called Southern fiction.  Certainly, I loved some of the exemplary books that started this genre (I don't really think it should be its own genre) like The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and all of Rebecca Wells' novels, but there have been a lot of shallow copycats getting by with their southern setting and the requisite cast of colorful women characters.

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt has those elements, but it also has a surprising emotional depth.  Yes, it has the wise, kind black servant woman who takes the damaged child under her wing amid homestyle southern cooking, but this novel also deals with some very serious issues, including racial discrimination and mental illness, with intelligence and grace.

The story begins in the north, with CeeCee, a young girl in Ohio, who has spent most of her life taking care of her mentally ill mother, while her father stays busy (and stays away) traveling for work.  When tragedy hits, CeeCee is taken in by her great-aunt Tootie (I had a great-aunt Tootie, too!) whom she hasn't seen since she was an infant.  Tootie whisks her away to her beautiful home in Savannah, where the healing process begins.

I found the novel compelling, its characters interesting, and its plot unique.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  My only complaint - and it's a minor one - would be the lack of any decent male characters at all.  Every single man in the novel (with one exception who was dead) was either a liar, a cheater, a jerk, or all three.  While I'm all for girl power and understand that the main theme was the healing power of women, I felt the lack of any good male characters at all felt a bit artificial.  As I said, it's a minor complaint, as the novel overall was very satisfying, even to a northern girl like myself.  And if you generally like Southern fiction, then you'll love this novel even more.

306 pages, Penguin Books

New Books for Christmas!

We had a nice, quiet day at home yesterday, just the four of us.  As is typical here, LOTS of books were exchanged as gifts.  I just love getting new books for Christmas!

(If you're interested in the books my kids, ages 12 and 16, got, check out my post at Great Books for Kids and Teens.)

Here are the books that my husband and I received for Christmas:
  • Ken gave me two books by Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit and her latest, Unbroken.  The author is near and dear to my heart because she has the same illness I have (only even more severe), yet has written these two amazing best-sellers.  She's an inspiration to me, both as a patient and a writer, and I can't wait to read her books!
  • He also gave me Room by Emma Donoghue which made me squeal, "Oh, my gosh!  How did you know?"  I'm dying to read this top book of 2010 that everyone has been talking about.
  • I gave Ken the latest from his favorite author, Lee Child, Worth Dying For.
  • I also included a paperback in his stocking, Breathless by Dean Koontz.  He and I both used to read every Dean Koontz book that came out, but we haven't read him in years.  This one sounded intriguing.
  • Our son, Jamie, gave his dad Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton.  All of us love Crichton, and Jamie really loved that this book is set in Jamaica where we just vacationed in November.  I suspect he may be borrowing it when Dad is finished.
  • Jamie gave me a Borders gift card - he knows I'll have a blast shopping for books!
I hope you all enjoyed a lovely Christmas with your families and are diving into your new books!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fiction Review: Still Alice

I have wanted to read Still Alice by Lisa Genova for a long time because I kept hearing great reviews, and its premise sounded intriguing.  So, even though I have a shelf full of books waiting to be read here at home, it called to me from my library's New Paperback Releases shelf; I'm so glad I made time to read it.

It is a powerful, emotional novel about a 50-year old woman dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.  Alice is a highly intelligent and accomplished professional woman, a cognitive psychology professor (yes, that's a bit of irony) at Harvard who is asked to speak at conferences around the world.  When she begins to notice some memory problems, she assumes it is probably due to menopause.  The novel follows her through her devastating diagnosis, telling her family and friends, and through the course of her illness.

When I started this book, I wondered if it would really capture my attention, since it would seem you already know at the beginning how it will end, but Alice's story was riveting.  Interestingly, I found I could relate to some of Alice's experiences in adjusting to life with a serious illness.  Though my own chronic illness is not progressive and fatal like Alzheimer's is, many of Alice's struggles with acceptance, frustration, and adapting to her new limitations struck a chord with me.

As I read, I grew to love Alice and found myself rooting for her, cheering for small victories in the face of such a horrible illness and crying for her increasingly common defeats.  It is a powerful, engaging story that will be of particular importance to readers who know someone with Alzheimer's.  Though it is sad at times, at its heart, this novel is about the strength of the human spirit and its capacity for joy and love.

292 pages, Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday: Audio Books

Somehow, when I was writing my Monday post this morning, I completely forgot about audio books!  So, in addition to what we read last week:
  • I listened to David Sedaris' essay collection, Holidays on Ice.  Not your typical Hallmark Channel-style holiday fare, but I really like Sedaris.  A couple of these essays were hilarious, and I love listening to him read them himself.
  • During our trip this weekend, our family listened to A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata, a riveting novel for middle-grade readers (though we thought it definitely more appropriate for older kids/teens) about a young boy who's training to be an elephant handler, living in Vietnam during the war.  We're not quite finished, but it's been excellent so far.

It's Monday 12/20! What Are You Reading?

Whew, it's been a whirlwind week, with another revving up today.  I spent most of last week toiling away on our year-end photo DVD, with two frantic days spent trying to figure out how to get movies off our camcorder and onto my computer (don't you hate problems like that??).  I was finally successful and burned a pile of DVDs just in time to finish wrapping gifts for my family and hit the road on Friday.  We spent the weekend celebrating Christmas (and two birthdays) with part of my family in Connecticut and returned home last night.  Now I have to finish my shopping for the kids, get groceries, bake cookies, wrap gifts....'tis the season!

Believe it or not, with all that flurry of activity, I still found time to read:
  • I finished Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, the sequel to Leviathan.  It was excellent - I can't wait for book 3.
  • My husband was intrigued by my and my son's accolades, so he read Leviathan last week, too, and loved it!  In fact, he brought it to my mom's house, and my 4-year old nephew was fascinated by the amazing illustrations in Leviathan.  He sat with me for 30 minutes, going through the entire book and looking at the pictures - the only time he sat still all weekend!
  • Even though I have stacks of books waiting to be read on my own bookshelf, I picked up Still Alice by Lisa Genova from my library's new paperback releases shelf last week and read it.  I have been wanting to read this book for ages, and I'm so glad I did.  It's a novel about Alice, a 50-year old professor at Harvard who is an accomplished and brilliant professional, and her journey with early-onset Alzheimer's.  It is a heart-breaking but compelling book - I could hardly bear to set it down.
  • I'm now reading a teen novel, Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber.  It's about a 16-year old girl whose father sends her to live with another family in a small town as a housekeeper.  The novel is set in Kansas in 1926, and I'm enjoying it very much so far.
  • Jamie, 16, finished The Stand by Stephen King last week during a couple of sick days.  He said it was excellent, though he was a bit disappointed by the ending.  He prefers neat, happy endings and thought too many people died in this novel.
  • Jamie has now turned to the considerable stack of books that have been piling up while he read The Stand!  His first choice was The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  Her earlier novel, Madigan's Fantasia, still ranks as one of Jamie's all-time favorite fantasy novels.  He says Mahy's novels have very complex plots, and you never now what is going to happen next.  He's enjoying this one very much so far.
  • Craig, 12, is busy today performing in 8 concerts!  He's in both band and chorus and has concerts all day for his classmates, then two tonight for parents.  So, he's had very little free time lately!  His class finished reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Much to my disappointment, we haven't had any time to read aloud from our favorite Christmas picture books yet this season, but I'm sure we'll get to at least a few this week.  We haven't watched any favorite Christmas specials yet, either - I'm sure it's partly the result of my kids getting older, too.

I did manage to post a couple of reviews last week, of the teen/YA novel Empty at Great Books for Kids and Teens , and of a classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, here.

What are you and your family reading last week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fiction Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

What can I say about this 50-year old timeless masterpiece that hasn’t already been said?  I recently read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for the second time, for one of my book groups.  I read it for the first time three years ago, for my other book group!  There’s good reason why this classic has stood the test of time and is still so popular with book groups.

Although I remembered the basic plot and that I liked the book very much, I was still astonished by the way I responded to it the second time around.  Within the first few pages, I was laughing out loud and in awe of Harper Lee’s talent for telling an interesting, funny, heartwarming and thought-provoking story.

Everything about To Kill a Mockingbird is just so clever, so perfectly formed.  I was especially impressed this time around with the way that she tells us about a horrifying injustice through the eyes of the innocent Scout.  It provides such a different perspective than, for instance, reading the same story told as a modern legal thriller.  In particular, the scene in front of the courthouse at night, when Scout faces an angry mob with such naiveté, is just breath-taking. 

Her conversation with Mr. Cunningham transforms the man from part of a reckless, unthinking horde into just a neighbor, an ordinary man, and she single-handedly diffuses the tension that could easily have resulted in murder:

“I go to school with Walter,” I began again.  “He’s your boy, ain’t he?  Ain’t he, sir?”

Mr. Cunningham was moved to a faint nod.  He did know me, after all.

“He’s in my grade,” I said, “and he does right well.  He’s a good boy,” I added, “a real nice boy.  We brought him home for dinner one time.  Maybe he told you about me, I beat him up one time but he was real nice about it.  Tell him hey for me, won’t you?”


And besides, who can resist those descriptions of Scout’s first day of school and her encounters with the teacher who is upset to find that she already knows how to read and write?  I was laughing out loud from the very first chapter.  This is definitely one of my favorite books – top five, if not best of all time.


Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday 12/13! What Are You Reading?

Whew, what a busy week!  My husband was out of town again last week, so I was on my own with the kids and the house, plus a few last 2010 writing assignments, plus the very long list of things to do for Christmas.  I did manage to finish most of my online shopping, so that's good.  We have a rather lengthy Christmas celebration because none of our family lives here in Delaware.  So, it starts this weekend with a trip to Connecticut to celebrate Christmas (and two birthdays) with part of my family, then back home for a few days, then out to Oklahoma to visit my father-in-law.  This week's big jobs are finishing our year-end photo DVD so I can get copies in the mail and getting Christmas cards out.  I ordered them back in November so I'd be on top of things but haven't sent a single one out yet!

So, that was my long-winded way of explaining why I didn't post a single new review last week!  Fortunately, I still had time to read:

  • I finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and even made it to my book group discussion!  It was my second time reading it, and I loved it even more this time.  It is one of the best books ever written - so clever and funny and sweet and thoughtful.  Love it.
  • I mentioned last week I finished the audio version of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I enjoyed it so much that this week, I started the newly released sequel, Behemoth (book version this time).  I'm almost finished, and it's excellent.
  • My husband is just finishing up The Bricklayer, a suspense novel by Noah Boyd - he says he already knows how it ends!
  • Jamie, 16, is at the end of The Stand by Stephen King.  He's home sick today, so he'll probably finish it.
  • Craig, 12, is reading A Christmas Carol for his 7th grade English class.  It's one of his favorites because we listen to it on audio every year.
Although I didn't post any reviews, I posted a few Best of 2010 Lists:  links to Best of 2010 Lists for grown-up books from amazon and BookPage, and on my other blog, Great Books for Kids and Teens, I posted links to two kids/teen lists from amazon and Publisher's Weekly and another Best of 2010 List from BookPage

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Best Books of 2010

It's that time of year again...time for all the Best Books of the Year lists!  I don't often have a chance to read brand-new hardcovers, but I follow book news of new releases pretty carefully and add the ones that sound good to my ever-growing To-Be-Read list.

Here's BookPage's List of the Top 40 Books of 2010.  I haven't read any on this list yet, but several are on my TBR list, and a couple are sitting on my shelf waiting: The Passage (birthday gift) and Saving CeeCee Honeycut.  I'm dying to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Unbroken is on my Christmas list!

Amazon's 100 Best Books of 2010 is an annual tradition.  Their Editor's Choice list has many of the same titles as BookPage's but also includes some more popular titles.  I've read one on this list, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

How about you?  Have you read any of the top books of 2010?  Do you agree with the books on these lists?  What are your top books of 2010?

I'll wait until the year is really finished before I put my own list together.

(If you're interested in kids' and YA books, check out the lists at Great Books for Kids and Teens).

Monday, December 06, 2010

It's Monday 12/6! What Are You Reading?

Well, the holiday season is now in full swing!  We were relaxing on the beach a little more than a week ago, and now it’s cold and almost Christmas.  Very weird.  We went to our favorite tree farm this weekend and picked out a tree, then decorated it on Sunday (one of our favorite parts of the season).  I've been scrambling to order gifts (I've ordered lots of books!), make our annual photo calendars, and manage other tasks.  This week's big project is the annual DVD of family photos I put together every year.  I'm sort of our family's unofficial photographer and memory-keeper!

So, Holiday preparations are keeping us very busy, but we did find time for some good books:
  • I read a new teen novel, Empty by Suzanne Weyn, a cautionary tale about what could happen when the world runs out of fossil fuels and how a group of teens cope.  It was frightening but compelling – review to come this week.
  • I’m in the middle of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for my book group this week.  It’s the 50th Anniversary of this classic, and I’m enjoying it just as much as I did the first time I read it, a few years ago.  It’s one of the best books ever written, in my opinion.
  • I finished listening to the audio of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, a middle-grade steampunk novel.  Jamie read the book ages ago and told me it was excellent.  He was right!  Now I’m motivated to read the sequel, Behemoth, which was recently released.
  • Jamie, 16, finished his vacation reading and returned to The Stand by Stephen King, though school work is keeping him pretty busy.
  • Craig, 12, is not only reading but happy about it!  His English class is reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, which is a perennial favorite at our house.  We usually listen to one of the many audio versions each season at this time.  Last year, we enjoyed the one read by Patrick Stewart.  Craig said this weekend, “It’s such a great book!”  I’m thrilled to see him enthusiastic about reading for a change.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Bricklayer by Noah Boyd, a thriller paperback.

Last week, I posted reviews of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and Brixton Brothers and the Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity, a humorous middle-grade mystery, at Great Books for Kids and Teens.  I also posted a summary of all the books I read in November.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey).

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fiction Review: The Age of Innocence

My book group decided to read a classic this month (in fact, both of my book groups did!), and we chose Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, an author I had never read before.  It provided a nice escape during my vacation last week on the beach.

Winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, The Age of Innocence is about a love triangle set in the 1870's high society of New York City.  While I enjoyed it overall and can certainly see how Wharton's beautiful writing won the Pulitzer, I'm not generally a huge fan of period novels, especially those set in high society.  I find I get a bit impatient with the characters, as their strict societal rules keep them from relating to each other honestly. Perhaps this is why I have still never read a Jane Austen novel (though I do still plan to).

Despite this (not Wharton's flaw but my own!), I did admire the way Wharton drew a picture of a long-lost time and place.  She transported me back in time, and I had no trouble finishing the book.  In fact, I have requested the DVD of the movie from the library.  One of the things I love about book groups is how they help me broaden my reading horizons, and I'm glad to have read this classic.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Books Read in November

I know I say something similar every month, but I am still stunned that it is somehow December already - where did the fall go?

November was a very busy month here, but I managed to read seven books, including four for kids and teens and three adult books:
  • Unwind by Neal Schusterman, a chilling and compelling dystopian teen novel.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison, a powerfully emotional book about slavery and its aftermath in the lives of one family.
  • Touch Blue by award-winning author Cynthia Lord, a sweet middle-grade novel about family and foster care, set on an island in Maine.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, a moving memoir of observations of a snail in the life of a chronically ill woman (review to come this week!)
  • Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett, a humorous take-off on the Hardy Boys for young middle-grade readers.
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Warton, a classic set in 1870's New York City high society, read for my book group (though I missed my meeting and discussion last night).
  • Empty by Suzanne Weyn, a new teen novel set ten years in the future, when the world is running out of oil.
All in all, a good reading month.  I think my favorite was Unwind - Neal Schusterman has such a way with teen dystopian novels; I couldn't put it down.  As you can see, I'm a bit behind in reviews after last week's vacation, but I'm hoping to get caught up this week.

I hope you had a good reading month in November, too!