Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fall Into Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Back in September, I signed up for the the Fall Into Reading 2011 Challenge, hosted at Callapidder Days,my first-ever challenge!  I decided to challenge myself to read 10 grown-up books and 10 kids/teen books before the end of December (you can find my wrap-up for the kids/teen/YA books at Great Books for Kids and Teens.)  I think I did pretty well for my first challenge.  I read 8 of the 10 grown-up books on my list:
  1. Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich
  2. The Songcatcher by Sharon McCrumb (my neighborhood book group's December pick)
  3. She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan (December pick for my other book group)
  4. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (for Banned Books week)
  6. Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
  7. The Hundred Dresses (the library's book discussion pick for November)
  8. Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb (the library's book discussion pick for December - the rules were to read something holiday-themed)
 The two books on my list that I did not get to:
  1. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
  2. Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz
I also wrote blog posts for many of the weekly questions which were lots of fun and sparked some good discussions!

As this was my first-ever challenge, I think I learned a good lesson - don't be overly ambitious!  I missed my goal by a bit here (and by a bit more for kids and teen books).  Also, I think I would prefer challenges where you aren't locked into reading certain titles ahead of time - I definitely missed having the flexibility to choose something new to read that wasn't on my challenge list.  Of course, that could also be solved with a shorter list, to leave room for in-the-moment choices!

All in all, it was a lot of fun....and I finally made a small dent in my TBR shelves!  Thanks to Callapidder Days for hosting.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Fiction Review: Wishin’ and Hopin’


I don’t normally read holiday-themed books, but when my online friend Pam said she’d enjoyed Wally Lamb’s Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story, it seemed to me like the perfect book to read the week before Christmas.  I enjoyed this light-hearted, fun, coming-of-age story very much….and it was perfect reading for a busy holiday week.

The slim novel is narrated by Felix Funicello (a distant cousin of Annette!) and tells the story of his fifth grade year at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School in 1965 in a small town in CT.  He navigates the nuns at school, his pretty new substitute teacher from Quebec, his know-it-all classmate Rosalie, and the requisite Christmas pageant.  Felix’s family owns the lunch counter at the local bus station, and Felix is trying to figure out what French kissing is and how to keep his best friend out of trouble.  Here’s a sample from the beginning of the novel:

Lyndon Johnson was president back then, Cassius Clay was the heavyweight champ, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo were newly famous.  Our family had a claim to fame, too.  Well, two claims actually.  No, three.  My mother had recently been notified that her recipe, “Shepherd’s Pie Italiano,” had catapulted her into the finals of that year’s Pillsbury Bake-Off in the “main meal” category and she was going to be on television.  I was going to be on TV, too – a guest, along with my fellow Junior Midshipmen on a local program, Channel 3’s The Ranger Andy Show.  So there were those two things, plus the fact that our third cousin on my father’s side was a celebrity.

(I loved this reference to the local Ranger Andy Show.  Where I grew up in Rochester, NY, our local kids’ talent show was The Skipper Sam Show, and my best friend Michelle appeared on it with her dance class!)

The setting and the 60’s pop culture references are lots of fun, and Felix tells his story with warmth and humor.  I smiled through most of the book, laughed out loud quite a bit, and really came to care about Felix and his family.  All of the details of school, family life, and the 60’s bring the novel and the characters to life, in Lamb’s signature style.  Certainly, this is a different kind of book than Lamb’s other novels – light-hearted and fun without any serious topics delved into – but it was enjoyable and just right for the season.  You don't have to wait until next December to read it, though.  Although the book ends with the much-anticipated Christmas pageant, this nostalgic novel would be fun to read any time of the year.

268 pages,  Harper

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Books for Christmas

We're done traveling (for a few days), so I wanted to share with you all the books we got for Christmas!  Books are a favorite gift at our house and for extended family.  Here's a summary of the grown-up books we gave and received; to see what kids/teen books we exchanged, check out Great Books for Kids and Teens.
  • My husband, Ken, thrilled me on Christmas morning with several books I've been dying to read.  I've already started Great House by Nicole Krauss.  I really loved her earlier novel, The History of Love, so I've been looking forward to reading this one.  It's a little rambly and confusing so far, but I'm only 14 pages in.
  • He also gave me Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  I have loved every one of Brooks' novels and can't wait to read this one!
  • And he gave me Time and Again by Jack Finney because he knows how much I love novels with a time travel plot.  I heard about this one when my favorite podcast, Books On the Nightstand, did a recent show on time travel books.
  • I gave Ken the latest Harry Bosch novel, The Drop by Michael Connelly (we both enjoy his novels).
  • I also gave Ken Erik Larson's latest, In the Garden of Beasts.  He and I both really enjoyed Larson's Devil in the White City.  I will probably read this one when he is done!
  • And I gave Ken a Kindle Fire!  He travels quite a bit and doesn't really have his own computer for home (just a work laptop), so he is really having fun with this.  He downloaded a 99 cent suspense novel for this trip.
  • I gave my mom, who is an avid reader, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, because I'd heard so many fabulous reviews and figured it was new enough that she hasn't read it yet.  I suspect I will be borrowing it from her at some point!  Isn't that the best kind of gift??
  • And we gave her husband, a football fan, 100 Yards of Glory: The Greatest Moments in NFL History, a huge coffee table book filled with pictures and text.
How about you?  What books and book-related items did YOU get for the holidays?  Hope you are enjoying some time off with your family.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Monday 12/26! What Are You Reading?


I hope you all enjoyed some wonderful holiday celebrations with your family this past week!  We had a very nice Christmas here.  I've included an "after" photo below of what our living room looked like after opening presents!  There were lots of great books exchanged, as always - I'll post a list later this week. 

Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, we still managed to read last week:
  • I finished a light-hearted holiday book, Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin', a warm and funny novel narrated by a fifth-grade boy in 1965.  I loved it!  Perfect reading for this past week.
  • I am now reading  Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, a highly acclaimed teen book I had been meaning to read for a long time.  It's just as good as everyone said.
  • I finished listening to Breadcrumbs, a wonderful, magical middle-grade novel written by Anne Ursu.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen, based on my recommendation.  I absolutely loved this book, and he is also enjoying reading about our favorite city and favorite foods.  
  • Jamie, 17, is reading the final book in The Icemark Chronicles trilogy by Stuart Hill, Last Battle of the Icemark.  You know it's been a busy week when Jamie is still reading the same book he started last week!
  • Jamie finished reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga for his World Lit class.  He says it's very good and that I should read it.
  • Craig, 13, finished Curse of the Bane, Book Two of The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney, just in time to take his Accelerated Reader quiz before winter break.
  • Craig is now reading Alibi Junior High by Greg Logsted.  He wouldn't normally read a book that I recommended (it's a parent/teen thing), but I also recommended this book to his classmates, who've been loving it, so his teacher suggested he try it!
I only had time to write one review last week of a memoir, She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan (who used to be James) - it was fascinating and warm with a great sense of humor.  I hope to try to catch up on reviews and other posts during the break this week.

What are you and your family reading this week?  Enjoy your time off with a good book!

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

The "After" Picture

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Memoir Review: She’s Not There


I participate in a book group held at a local Unitarian Church.  Though we usually choose our own books, in honor of LGBT History Month (October), both book groups at the church decided to read She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan, about a James who became Jenny.  As expected, the book was fascinating, but I also found it warm and even funny.

In the opening chapter, Jenny picks up two young girls who are hitchhiking and realizes that one of them was her student (she’s a college English professor) back when she used to be a man named James.  It’s a surreal sort of situation, and she doesn’t know what to say…and the girl never recognizes her.  From there, the memoir flashes back to her earliest memory, at age 3, the first time she realized that others saw her as a boy, even though she knew she was a girl.

The story continues through James’ young life, as a child, teenager, young adult, and beyond.  He knew all along that he was really female inside but struggled to conform to others’ perceptions of him as a male.  It’s a fascinating story of an almost unimaginable internal battle.  As a child, he came up with the romantic idea that perhaps when he fell in love, that would cure him of these strange feelings of not belonging.  And he did eventually fall in love, with Grace who would become his wife, and he really did believe for a while that love was his cure.

I think that is the most heart-breaking aspect of this book – the absolute true love that he and Grace feel for each other.  They have a happy marriage and two wonderful sons whom they both love.  But eventually, Jim can no longer ignore the fact that he always feels wrong, out of place and in the wrong body.  He finally breaks the news to Grace (who is shocked) and begins the long, difficult process of fully transforming into a woman, eventually getting gender reassignment surgery.

Seeing inside the emotional life of a transgendered person and the people who love her is absolutely fascinating, something that I’d never even considered before. Jim’s journey to become Jenny is both heart-warming and heart-breaking.  Making the story even more interesting is the fact that his best friend is fellow author Richard Russo (yes, that Richard Russo) who writes an afterword to the memoir.  And, yes, she even includes before and after photos that captivated me.

Although everyone in our book group thought the book was interesting and it sparked a great discussion, not everyone liked the book equally.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, though.  I loved Jenny’s writing style – warm, funny, self-deprecating – which helps to put the reader at ease in this unfamiliar territory.  The other aspect that makes it stand out is Jenny’s unfailing optimism and positive attitude.  In fact, that bothered some readers – that she didn’t struggle even more with this transformation – but she attributes her attitude to her mother’s upbringing and acceptance of her, and there are other transgendered people in the story who don’t have that love and acceptance and are far less well-adjusted, to show how difficult this life can be.  Overall, I found this book to be an excellent example of the best kind of memoir – one that tells a fascinating story in a way that makes the reader feel as if she knows the author personally.

300 pages, Broadway Books

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Monday 12/19! What Are You Reading?

Fa la la la la!  Holiday time and very busy, like everyone else!  We spent the weekend in Pennsylvania with my family, celebrating an early Christmas, plus two birthdays.  It was great to see everyone and start to enjoy the season (as opposed to just running around like crazy), and I got to spend lots of time with my niece and nephew.  I hope you are beginning to enjoy the holiday season, too.

Lots of good books this week:
  • I finished Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King,  book one of a new series, The Guardians, by children's book veterans William Joyce and Laura Geringer.  I enjoyed this seasonal fantasy and reviewed it last week.
  • Next, I read another middle-grade novel, After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick, with a very different tone.  It's the engrossing, warm story of an eighth grade boy who is struggling with the after-effects of cancer treatment in addition to the usual middle school angst.
  • Now, I am treating myself to a light-hearted holiday book, Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin', a warm and funny novel narrated by a fifth-grade boy in 1965.  It's great so far - lots of fun.
  • I'm still listening to Breadcrumbs, a wonderful, magical middle-grade novel written by Anne Ursu, and gave a copy to my niece this weekend for Christmas.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Stephen King's new release, 11/22/63: A Novel, about someone who time travels back to 1963 to try to prevent Kennedy's assassination, and enjoyed it very much.
  • Ken is now reading Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen, based on my recommendation.  I absolutely loved this book, and he is also enjoying reading about our favorite city and favorite foods.  We've also been watching Treme on DVD, so he is immersed in New Orleans culture right now!
  • Jamie, 17, is reading a favorite trilogy, The Icemark Chronicles by Stuart Hill.  He finished The Cry of the Icemark and Blade of Fire and is now reading the final book, Last Battle of the Icemark.  He says this is one of the best series he has ever read...and that's saying a lot!
  • Jamie is also reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga for his World Lit class.  He says it's pretty good (high praise for required reading).
  •  Craig, 13, is reading The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney - he's currently on Book Two: Curse of the Bane and hopes to finish it this week.
I didn't have much time for blogging last week, with all the holiday preparations, but managed to post a review of  Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce and Laura Geringer, a unique fantasy novel that tells of the origin of St. Nick.  I also posted my response to the last question in the Fall Into Reading Challenge, about what books I would like to receive for Christmas (easy one!).

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fall Into Reading Challenge Question #12

You may recall that I have joined the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted over at Callapidder Days.  She is posing a question each week.  I  have missed a few weeks as the holiday season got busy, but this week's question is:

Christmas is quickly approaching. What book- or reading-related gift would you love to receive for Christmas?

Oh, this is an easy one for me.  In fact, my husband has been complaining that I haven't given him any gift ideas...but I gave him a list of books I want weeks ago!  I've really been trying not to buy books for myself this past year, to save money.  I use the library and borrow from friends.  So, it's a wonderful treat to get new books for my birthday and Christmas.  I like to give my husband a long list of books, so that he can have some fun choosing which ones to get me.  Here's the wish list I gave him:

"Here is a list of books I would LOVE to read!
  • Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
  • Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney
  • Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
  • The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • Faith by Jennifer Haigh
  • Great House by Nicole Krauss
  • Solar by Ian McEwan
Oh, I could go on and on - so many good books!  But these are some of the ones I want to read most."

Then I had to tell him the very next day to remove Freedom from my list.  I always tell my kids they're not allowed to buy anything for themselves in the month before Christmas, but I broke my own rule when I saw a copy of Freedom at our used bookstore for just $2!  Just couldn't pass that one up...

And I bought LOTS of books to give as gifts this Christmas, but I can't tell you about those, in case anyone in my family reads my blog.

How about you?  What books or book-related gifts do you want to receive for the holidays?
 

Monday, December 12, 2011

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

Monday...a fresh start to a new week.  Everyone is healthy and in school, so that's an excellent start!!  We spent the weekend working on college and scholarship applications, make-up work (my son), and finally getting our Christmas tree and decorating it.

Remember a few weeks ago, I mentioned I gave talks on writing and reading at my son's middle school to the 8th grade English classes?  Well, on Friday, I received this note from the teacher:
The students are LOVING your recommendations!!! Esp. Mike Lupica, Everlost  and Alibi Junior High. Parents are thrilled with the fact that their kids are reading more. You really helped start this with your reviews and by talking to them. THANK YOU!

As a book lover AND a parent, this just made my day!  My son says that everyone is requesting books now, talking about my recommendations, and even recommending books to each other.  How exciting!

Meanwhile, my family is enjoying our books as well:
  • I finished She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a memoir about James becoming Jennifer, for one of my book groups.  I loved this book - it was well-written, warm, funny, and fascinating.
  • I am now reading the first book in a new series, The Guardians, by children's book veterans William Joyce and Laura Geringer.  Book One is Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King - I wanted to be sure to get to this seasonal novel before Christmas.  The series will explain the origins of legendary characters, including St. Nick, through the kind of imaginative fantasy tales you'd expect from Joyce.
  • I'm still listening to Breadcrumbs, a wonderful, magical middle-grade novel written by Anne Ursu.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading Stephen King's new release, 11/22/63: A Novel, about someone who time travels back to 1963 to try to prevent Kennedy's assassination, and he is loving it.
  • Jamie, 17, was sick all last week with a bad flare-up of his chronic illness, so he did a lot of reading.  He comforted himself with an old favorite series, The Great Tree of Avalon by T.A. Barron.  He read all three books: Avalon, Avalon: The Eternal Flame, and Avalon: Child of the Dark Prophecy.
  • Next, he moved onto another old favorite series starting with The Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill.  He's been waiting literally years to read the final book in the trilogy because a friend borrowed book 2 from him and never returned it.  His friend finally admitted he'd lost it, so Jamie bought the second book last week and is eager to get through the full series.
  • Jamie is also reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga for his World Lit class.
  • Craig, 13, is reading The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney - he's currently on Book Two: Curse of the Bane.
Not much time for blogging last week (or this week probably) because of all the holiday preparations, but I did post one review of The Songcatcher, a novel set in the Appalachians by Sharyn McCrumb.


What are you and your family reading this week?


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


Our Biggest Tree Ever!



Friday, December 09, 2011

Fiction Review: The Songcatcher


I recently read The Songcatcher by Sharyn McCrumb for my neighborhood book group.  Our discussion this week was interesting because our group was split on its opinion of the book; on a scale of 1 to 10, some of us rated it a 4 and others rated it a 7 (including me).

The Songcatcher follows multiple generations of a family, from Scotland to Appalachia, not only through the family members and their descendants but also through a song that originated in Scotland.  The story begins in 1751 when 10-year old Malcolm McCourry is kidnapped from his hometown on a small island in Scotland and taken on a ship.  On board, Malcolm learns a haunting ballad from a fellow Scotsman that sticks with him during his ocean voyages and later, when he gets to America.

The novel alternates between Malcolm’s life and the present day lives of several people in the eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina mountains.  The stories follow Malcom and his descendants’ lives until they eventually merge with the modern-day story of an estranged father in Appalachia and his daughter who has become a famous folk singer.  The ballad is the thread that ties all of the disparate tales together, as it is passed down through the generations.

I really enjoyed this novel, as did several others in our group.  I liked the multi-generational approach and found myself wishing I could trace my own family’s roots back that far.  I don’t know much about music, but I was also fascinated by the story of the song and the history of the Appalachian culture in general, as well as the historical settings throughout the novel.

Those who didn’t enjoy the book as much thought it was somewhat disjointed, bouncing back and forth between the different people and the different time periods.  Some found it hard to follow and keep track of everything.  I felt that the story pulled me in pretty quickly, so I guess it’s just a matter of taste – that’s what makes a book group so interesting! 

321 pages, Dutton

NOTE:  One of our members listened to the book in audio format, which included a recording of the ballad. We all agreed we would have liked to hear that, though the book would probably be harder to follow in audio.  Another member has seen the movie adaptation and said it was entirely different than the book!

 

Monday, December 05, 2011

It's Monday 12/5! What Are You Reading?


We are now in the midst of the busy holiday season!  I haven't even thought much about the holidays yet - other than some online shopping - because it is also college application season.  That has been occupying our time and attention - it's like having an extra full-time job!

We are still squeezing in reading time, though:
  • I finished The Songcatcher by Sharyn McCrumb for my neighborhood book group this week.  It's the story of an old ballad that is passed down through generations of family, from 1700's Scotland to present day Appalachia, including, of course, the stories of those family members.  I enjoyed it very much.
  • I usually read a kid/teen book after an adult one, but I have another book group meeting next week, so I figured I better read that book first.  We are reading She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a memoir about James becoming Jennifer, so I'll start that today.
  • I'm still listening to Breadcrumbs, a wonderful, magical middle-grade novel written by Anne Ursu.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Stephen King's new release, 11/22/63: A Novel, about someone who time travels back to 1963 to try to prevent Kennedy's assassination.  It's a hefty novel, and he keeps laughing out loud at King's spot-on descriptions of ordinary people (one of his many talents!).
  • Jamie, 17, started a new teen dystopian series by Robin Wasserman, The Cold Awakening trilogy, starting with Book One: Frozen, but he gave up with only 30 pages to go!  He said it's well-written, but he suspects it's meant more for girls, with very little action in the first book.
  • Jamie said he was more in the mood for fantasy than dystopian books, so he switched to an old favorite, The Great Tree of Avalon by T.A. Barron.
  • Jamie is also starting The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga for his World Lit class.  It was hard to find a copy because there's a local book group reading it right now, as well as his entire senior class!
  • Craig, 13, is still enjoying The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney, so he moved onto Book Two: Curse of the Bane this week.
  • Craig has also been reading an excerpt from Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes for his English class - it's one of my favorite books and so sad!
Last week, I posted two reviews: Midwives by Chris Bohjalian and  Goldstrike by Matt Whyman, a teen thriller.  I also posted a summary of my Books Read in November.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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


Friday, December 02, 2011

Books Read in November 2011

Wheee!!!  December already and moving quickly toward the end of the year.  End of the year??  How is that possible?

November was a busy month, so I only read 5 books (I'm including a picture book, LOL!):
  • Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich - a bit of fluffy fun!
  • The Roar by Emma Clayton, a dystopian sci fi middle-grade book
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, a classic picture book
  • Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
  • Goldstrike by Matt Whyman, a teen thriller
So, that's 2 grown-up novels, 2 novels for kids/teens, and 1 picture book.  I enjoyed them all.  I guess my favorite from last month is The Roar, a book my son has been telling me to read for months - he was right, as usual!

Where Are You Reading 2011 Challenge Update:  I updated my map to include another 2 London locations (The Roar and Goldstrike), Vermont (Midwives), and New Jersey (Smokin' Seventeen), so that brings my 2011 total up to 17 different U.S. states and 8 countries.


View Where I Am Reading 2011 in a larger map

For my Fall Into Reading Challenge, I have read 5 of my list of 10 grown-up books and 5 out of 10 kids/teen/YA books. With only 3 weeks to go on the challenge, it looks like I may come up a bit short!

What were your favorite books read in November?


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Fiction Review: Midwives


Thanks to the Fall Into Reading 2011 Challenge, I finally got around to reading a novel my neighbor lent me over a year ago, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian.  This one was different from the other Bohjalian novels I’ve read; it’s basically a courtroom drama about a midwife accused of involuntary manslaughter when one of her clients dies in childbirth.

Sibyl is a sort of stereotypical midwife, living in rural Vermont with her husband and daughter.  She and her husband were hippies in the 60’s and settled down a bit when they had their daughter, though Sibyl still retains some of her innate hippie-ness, wearing peasant skirts and driving a beat-up old station wagon, and, of course, firmly believing in a mother’s right to give birth in her own home.

The novel is told mostly from the perspective of her daughter, Connie, looking back at the year her mother was charged and tried when Connie was only fourteen years old.  It begins in the courtroom, just before the jury reads their decision and backtracks to gradually fill in the details of what led to the trial.  Sibyl was trying to help her client, Charlotte, give birth when a severe ice storm hit northern Vermont, leaving the roads impassable and making it impossible for Sibyl to transport Charlotte to a hospital when things began to go wrong.  When she believed she had lost Charlotte, she performed an emergency c-section right there on the bed to save the baby, but the prosecutors claim that Charlotte was not yet dead and that Sibyl killed her with the primitive surgery.

It’s a suspenseful courtroom drama, and Bohjalian provides enough background on Sibyl and her family that you come to care for them and hope they survive this disaster intact.  The story is especially poignant told from the perspective of Connie, at such a vulnerable age when her life is torn apart by this tragedy and looking back on it from adulthood.  I enjoyed the novel and read it fairly quickly. Although I didn’t find it quite as compelling as The Double Bind (still my favorite of Bohjalian’s books), it was suspenseful and thought-provoking.

372 pages, Vintage Contemporaries

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Monday 11/28! What Are You Reading?

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!  We drove about 8 hours to spend the weekend with my extended family in Rochester, NY.  It was a full weekend, with a large gathering each day with a different part of my family.  It was tiring but lots of fun - it was great to see everyone.  I've included a photo below of my sons with some of their cousins.  To me, that's what holidays are all about!

So, I had no time at all for blogging last week, after my Monday posts, but we still found time for reading:
  • I finished Goldstrike by Matt Whyman, a teen techno-thriller and the sequel to Icecore.  The fast-paced suspense novel was perfect for a busy week.
  • Now, I am reading the next selection for my neighborhood book group, The Songcatcher by Sharon McCrumb, about a song that has been passed down through generations from Scotland to the present-day Appalachians.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading Unwind, Neal Schusterman's amazing teen dystopian novel.  He said the premise was super-creepy (yup), but he enjoyed the novel.
  • We stayed with my dad and his wife this weekend, and my dad lent Ken Stephen King's very new release, 11/22/63: A Novel, about someone who time travels back to 1963 to try to prevent Kennedy's assassination.  It sounds SO good!
  • Jamie, 17, was home sick early last week and then had 16 hours in the car, so he read a LOT.  He continued re-reading a favorite series, the Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan, with Book 5: The Sorcerer of the North, Book 6: The Siege of Macindaw, Book 7: Erak's Ransom, and Book 8: The Kings of Clonmel.  He enjoyed the series very much (again).
  • Now, Jamie is reading a new teen dystopian series by Robin Wasserman, The Cold Awakening trilogy, starting with Book One: Frozen.  He and I really loved Wasserman's middle-grade trilogy, Chasing Yesterday.
  • Craig finished Revenge of the Witch, Book One in the series The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, and loved it.  I haven't seen him this excited about a series since Charlie Bone and The Unicorn Chronicles a couple of years ago.  We can't find Book Two - I think we lent it to a friend - so I need to check the library for him today.
  • I started a new middle-grade audio, Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, last week.  Anne is a great author and a friend of mine, so I've been looking forward to this one.  Her trilogy The Cronus Chronicles was great!
  • We also started another middle-grade audio during our car ride, Wildwood by Colin Melot.  Mostly, it was just Ken and I listening.  I was disappointed that the boys weren't interested in listening to an audio book on this ride, despite the variety I brought along!  They preferred to listen to their iPods and read their own books.  I guess they are getting older...sigh...
What are you and your family reading this week?

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


Monday, November 21, 2011

It's Monday 11/21! What Are You Reading?

I'm a little late posting today.  I went to my son's middle school this morning and gave presentations about reading, books, book reviews, and writing to two 8th grade English classes.  I go back tomorrow for two more.  I had to promise not to embarrass my son!

Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished Midwives by Chris Bohjalian last night.  It's basically a legal drama about a midwife being tried for the death of one of her mothers and was very good.
  • Today, I plan to start Goldstrike by Matt Whyman, a teen techno-thriller and the sequel to Icecore which I really liked.  I'm in the mood for some fast-paced suspense.
  • My husband, Ken, realized halfway through Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld that he'd already read it!  That's not the first time one of us has done that!
  • Ken is now reading Unwind, Neal Schusterman's amazing teen dystopian novel - I've been bugging him to read it for ages!
  • My 17-year old son, Jamie, is re-reading a favorite series, the Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan so that he can read his latest one, Book 8: The Kings of Clonmel.  So far, he has read Books 3 and 4 (we think we lent Books 1 and 2 to a friend).
  • 13-year old Craig is reading Revenge of the Witch, Book One in the series The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney and enjoying it very much.
 Last week, I posted a review of The Roar by Emma Clayton, an awesome middle-grade/teen dystopian/sci fi novel filled with action and suspense.

I also posted two lists -  Top Ten Unread Books on my Shelf and Top Ten Unread Kids/Teen Books on my Shelf - and movie trailers for the upcoming adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games.  Both look so good!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

P.S. One question stumped me this morning at school.  A lot of the 8th grade girls enjoy Sarah Dessen's books, and I'm embarrassed to admit I've never read one!  Anyone have suggestions of other books/authors for teens who like Dessen's novels?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Top Ten Unread Books On My Shelf

It's Tuesday, and that means it's Top Ten day over at The Broke and the Bookish.  Head on over there to link to lots of great blogs and lots of fun lists.

Today's topic is Top Ten Unread Books On My Shelf.  This was a very easy list for me - I could have listed 20 or 30 Unread Books on My Shelf easily!  So, I decided to go with the spirit of the week's topic and focus on the REALLY old books on my TBR shelf - those I keep meaning to get to but never seem to...
  • Emma by Jane Austen - this had to be #1 because I've been meaning to read something of Jane Austen's for years and bought this book a very long time ago.
  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut - ditto 
  • The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant - my mom lent this to me years ago.
  • Peony in Love by Lisa See - another one my mom lent me.
  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson - I got this for Ken as a gift one year and have been meaning to read it ever since; Bryson is a favorite.
  • The Counterlife OR Exit Ghost by Philip Roth - I've never read a Roth novel and both of these are waiting patiently on my shelf.
  • Breathless by Dean Koontz - I don't read many Koontz novels these days, but Ken says this one was great.
  • Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand - a special author for me because she has the same illness I have.  It's been on my shelf since last Christmas.
  • Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver - my friends have been recommending this to me for years!
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos - I saved this one for last because it has probably been on my TBR shelf for 10 years or more!  Both my mom and Ken keep saying I must read it.

sigh....so many good books and so little time...

How about you?  What books have been sitting on your shelf waiting to be read?

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Movie Trailer

I had the TV on this morning while reading my e-mail when I was surprised by a movie trailer for the U.S. version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Take a look:



I think it looks pretty good, and the casting looks pretty good (though the actress playing Lisbeth is too tall, a common Hollywood mistake), but I really think it was totally unnecessary to remake this movie because the Swedish version was excellent (with even better casting).  I guess some people won't watch a movie with subtitles.

Anyway, it is due out on 12/21/11 (much sooner than I expected), and I will definitely go see it, since I loved the books.

What do you think?

(NOTE:  I also posted the new movie trailer for The Hunger Games adaptation on Great Books for Kids and Teens.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's Monday 11/14! What Are You Reading?

(I just tried to publish this very long post and somehow managed to delete most of it instead!!  Let's try this again...)

A bit of a rough week here last week, with both my son and I down with a flare-up of our chronic illnesses.  We had a nice weekend, though, and enjoyed a visit from my mom and her husband.  All that downtime last week left lots of time for reading:
  • I finished The Roar by Emma Clayton, a teen sci fi novel that my son recommended and enjoyed it very much.  We are both hoping there will be a sequel!
  • I read the classic picture book A Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes for the library's book discussion but then wasn't able to go to the meeting.
  • I referred to my Fall Into Reading Challenge list to choose my next book and settled on Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, a novel my neighbor lent me a very long time ago!
  • My husband, Ken, brought one of his birthday gifts, The Affair by Lee Child, on his business trip with him last week.  He'd been saving it for a time when he needed some light, fun reading.  I asked him last night how it was, and he said, "Candy!"
  • Ken is now back to reading Behemoth, the second book in the Leviathan trilogy, by Scott Westerfeld.
  • Jamie, 17, was home sick, so he plowed through a lot of books, including all of the new books he bought at Barnes & Noble the week before (gotta love a kid who spends several weeks' allowance all on books!).  He read  Book Four: Necropolis of the series, The Gatekeepers by Anthony Horowitz.
  • Next he read Book 8: The Kings of Clonmel of the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, another of his favorite series.
  • Jamie read The Demon King, a Seven Realms novel by Cinda Williams Chima and loved it.  he wants to read more by this author.
  • And he is finishing Graceling by Kristin Cashore, author of Fire which he also enjoyed.
  • Craig, 13, is reading Revenge of the Witch, Book One in the series The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, based on recommendation from his brother and a friend.  he says it is good but too scary to read at bedtime!
Despite being sick, I had a busy week at both of my book blogs.   I posted:


What are you and your family reading this week?


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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memoir Review: Trail of Crumbs

 When I heard that Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim Sunée was a memoir, focused on food, of a woman who grew up in New Orleans, I knew I had to read it – I love memoirs, food books, and New Orleans!  I mostly enjoyed this thoughtful story of a young woman searching for her identity, though it had some flaws.

Kim Sunée had an interesting start in life.  She was abandoned at the age of three in a market in Korea, adopted by an American couple, and grew up in New Orleans.  That would probably have been enough for an interesting memoir, but she also traveled all over the world, in search of her roots and her self, living in Sweden, France, and northern Africa and eventually visiting Korea.  Throughout the very different chapters of her life, food is a common thread of comfort and pleasure.

Growing up in New Orleans, you can’t help but see food as an essential ingredient to life and love, and Kim had loving grandparents whose cooking filled her childhood with happy memories.  Despite that love, she still felt like a misfit growing up, like she was different from all those around her (even her adopted sister, also from Korea), with an empty space inside where her history should be.  To fill that emptiness, she left home as a young woman, living in Sweden and France, going to school, and working as a translator, all the while searching for home and her own identity.

Much of the book focuses on her relationship with Olivier, a wealthy, older French businessman (founder of L’Occitaine) with an eight-year old daughter.  They meet in Sweden and live first in his country house in Provence and later in an apartment in Paris.

What I loved about this book was its focus on food. From the traditional Cajun/Creole dishes her grandfather makes to the Swedish food of her adopted father’s culture to the sensual pleasures of French meals, Sunée’s descriptions of food are enticing, and she includes recipes for a wide variety of dishes.  I was especially taken with her depictions of the landscapes of Provence and the southern French coast, as well as the fresh, seasonal foods cooked simply for their friends and family; I would love to have been a guest at their large wooden table in Provence!

More than halfway through the book, however, I found her narrative becoming a bit tiresome.  After she leaves Olivier, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery.  There’s nothing wrong with that on the surface – she felt trapped by his wealth and expectations and was, after all, only in her 20’s.  She needed to find some purpose to her life, which is completely understandable, but she falls into a pattern of self-pity, melancholy, and aimlessness that is far less interesting to read about.  Although she is somewhat happier by the end of the book, there is not a lot of resolution.  I would have liked to hear how she transitioned from that directionless state to her current role (as I read in a bio) as food editor of Cottage Living in Birmingham, Alabama.

All in all, I was glad to have listened to this memoir. However, this is one of those books where I’m torn over whether to recommend the audio or the paper version.  The author read it herself, which I felt added to the experience of hearing her unique story.  On the downside, listening to a recipe isn’t very helpful; it would be nice to have the hard copy for the recipes (though some of them included such exotic ingredients that I probably couldn’t make them myself anyway).  All in all, a mostly worthwhile read for those who enjoy memoirs, travel, and food writing.

400 pages, Grand Central Publishing; audio by Books on Tape, Inc.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Books Read in October

The months just fly by this time of year, now that Halloween is past.  I'm a bit behind in summarizing October, but better late than never, right?  That's pretty much my personal credo these days!

I read seven books in October, a bit more than usual for me but one was a picture book!
So, that's 3 teen/YA books, 1 picture book, and 3 grown-up books: 1 novel, 1 nonfiction, and 1 memoir.  A very nice mix!  And, look at that, I wrote reviews for almost all of them already (I plan to do the last one tomorrow) - unheard of for me to be that caught up!  So, my favorite book of the month?  Ooh, tough choice because they were all so very different, and I enjoyed them all.  I can't choose - it's between Linger, Forever, and The Eleventh Plague (all the teen novels).

Where Are You Reading Challenge Update: I already had a pin in Minnesota for Shiver.  The author Trail of Crumbs has lived in Korea, Sweden, and France, but I put the pin in New Orleans, where she spent her childhood because it is also near and dear to my heart!  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie takes place in a fictional English town, but there is a reference to nearby York, so I stuck the pin near there.  Since The Eleventh Plague takes place in a post-apocalyptic U.S., it's hard to tell where the characters are, but they mention a nearby Fort Leonard, and I found one in the existing state of Missouri, so that's where I stuck that pin.  That brings my total tally up to 15 different states and 8 countries outside of the U.S.:


View Where I Am Reading 2011 in a larger map

For my Fall Into Reading Challenge, which is already at the halfway point, I have read 4 of my list of 10 grown-up books and 4 out of 10 kids/teen/YA books.  So, maybe a little bit behind there, but not too bad.

How was your reading month?  What was your favorite book read this past month?


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fall Into Reading Challenge Question #7 & Update

You may recall that I have joined the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted over at Callapidder Days.  She is posing a question each week, and this week's question is:

Is there a book that has had a tremendous impact on your life? One that made you look at life in a whole new way, or caused you to completely change something in your life?

You know, there is a book that had a tremendous impact on me, but I'm almost embarrassed to admit it because it was such a buzzed-about book for so many years.  In my late 20's, based on a colleague's recommendation, I read Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.  It was almost a joke at the time because this colleague, a man about 30 years older than me, was a good friend and was totally obsessed with Stephen Covey, so much so that another friend and I used to jokingly refer to him as Saint Stephen in our friend's presence.  But my friend lent me a set of audio tapes of Stephen Covey, and I have to admit, I was hooked.  I then devoured every word of the best-seller.

Based on the title, I expected a self-help book about business success, but the seven basic "habits" he discussed were so much more; they were about treating people with kindness and respect.  It was really a revelation to me.  It's not that I was a mean person or anything - more just self-absorbed and somewhat oblivious, like most young people!  Some of Covey's habits - like Be Kind To Those Not in Your Presence and Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood - literally changed my way of looking at the world and interacting with people.  In fact, I haven't read the book in over 20 years, and it's probably time to read it again.

Katrina over at Callapidder Days says today is also about the half-way point for the challenge and time to report on our progress.  Of my list of 10 grown-up books to read in fall, I have so far read 3 of them.  Several of the books on my list are book group selections, with the meetings coming up soon, so I know I will get through the rest soon.  I'll post a separate update (and a separate answer to the question) at Great Books for Kids and Teens.


What book has had a tremendous impact on your life?



Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Top Ten Books That Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone

It's Tuesday, and that means it's Top Ten day over at The Broke and the Bookish.  Head on over there to link to lots of great blogs and lots of fun lists.

Today's topic is Top Ten Books That Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone I had no trouble making this list because in the past seven years, I have a read a lot of books for my various book groups that I never would have chosen on my own.  I’ve focused here on the ones that I was pleasantly surprised by! 

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – I just recently read this for one book group and never would have chosen a book about the Vietnam War on my own, but it was well-written and powerful.
March by Geraldine Brooks – I’m a huge Brooks fan now, but I used to think I didn’t like historical fiction, until my neighborhood book group chose this one, and I loved it!
River of Doubt by Candace Millard – again, a selection by my neighborhood book group, nonfiction about Teddy Roosevelt’s trip down the Amazon, at a time when I rarely read nonfiction.  Absolutely fascinating.
The Lost Years by KristinaWandzilak and Constance Curry – read for a book discussion at a local bookstore.  It’s a memoir by a mother and daughter about the daughter’s spiral down into drug addiction – not a topic I would typically choose.
The Innocent Man by John Grisham – I love Grisham’s novels but probably wouldn’t have read this nonfiction book about an innocent man on death row on my own, until my book group read it.  Enlightening and eye-opening.
The Nine by Jeffrey Toomis – a nonfiction book about the Supreme Court?  Yawn!  But I read it for my neighborhood book group and found it very interesting.
Still Me by Christopher Reeve – I don’t normally read celebrity memoirs, but Reeve was an amazing and inspirational person.
Holy Skirts by René Steinke – Funny story with this one.  It was the very first book I read for my neighborhood book group, which had been together for about 10 years before I joined.  Every single person in the group hated it and thought the main character was a pervert – except me!  I liked the book.  Happily, they let me stay!
Shattered by Debra Puglisi Sharp – the very disturbing true story of a local woman who was kidnapped and held captive for days, after her husband was murdered.  One of our book group members is friends with the woman, so we read it and she came to our meeting.  The book was compelling, and I was surprised to find I could relate to the author.
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant – another historical novel that I would never have read on my own, but I found myself getting drawn into it and ultimately enjoying it.


So, that's my list!  I had a tougher time making my list of Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books That Took Me Out of My Comfort Zone - check it out over at Great Books for Kids and Teens.
How about you?  Which books took you out of your comfort zone?

Monday, November 07, 2011

It's Monday 11/7! What Are You Reading?

October is my favorite month, and it seemed to just fly by this year!  Here we are in November already, with the calendar seeming to move faster and faster toward the holiday season.  We are so overwhelmed with the college application process, I don't know how we fill find time for holiday preparations as well!

I didn't feel well last week, and then we had visitors for the weekend (my dad and his wife), so I had very little time for blogging last week but hope to catch up with all of you and with my own reviews this week.  It was a great reading week, though!
  • I finished Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich - lots of good laughs and light-hearted fun.  Stephanie and Lula (and Grandma) just crack me up!
  • I finally gave in to Jamie's urging to read The Roar by Emma Clayton, a sci fi novel that he said I would love.  He was right, as usual - it is very good so far and I'm staying up too late each night reading it!
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian author who has been compared to Stieg Larsson.  He enjoyed it very much.
  • Ken is now reading Behemoth, the second book in the Leviathan trilogy, by Scott Westerfeld.
  • Jamie, 17, read Book 3: Night Rise of the series, The Gatekeepers by Anthony Horowitz.  He really likes this series.
  • Jamie also finished reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for his World Lit class.  He thought the book was OK, but he didn't like the main character and the way that he treated his best friend.
  • Craig, 13, started a new marking period and a new book.  He took advice from his brother (!) and is reading Revenge of the Witch, Book One in the series The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney.
No new reviews last week, but I did post a discussion about plot versus character for the Fall Into Reading Challenge.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Fall Into Reading Challenge Question #6

You may recall that I have joined the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted over at Callapidder Days.  She is posing a question each week, and this week's question is:

When it comes to fiction, are you more of a “plot person” or a “character person”? If you had to choose, which concept would win out when it comes to picking and loving a book: plot or character?

Oh, man.  This is like asking me to choose between my kids!   Of course, I prefer novels that have BOTH plot and character, and a lack of either one can make me dislike a book.  I enjoy certain types of thrillers, where the focus is on a fast-paced plot, and I also enjoy slower, character-driven novels where the characters are well-drawn and interesting.  The absence of either can ruin a book for me.

I may be risking banishment with this, but I am not a fan of America's #1 best-selling author, James Patterson.  I'll admit I have only read one of his books, but the characters seemed so flat and one-dimensional that I have never picked up another one, despite the fast-moving, suspenseful plots.  On the other hand, I have read so-called literary novels that bored me to tears because nothing seemed to really happen...though I think this is especially true for me if the plot-less novel is also depressing.  I don't need a happy ending, but I do need at least a glimmer of hope.

I just finished reading a Stephanie Plum novel, which is pure fluffy plot-driven fun, but Janet Evanovich has created great characters - I feel like I know Stephanie personally.

Sorry, I just can't choose!  Can't I have my cake and eat it, too?

How about you - which is more important to you - good plot or in-depth characters?

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Monday 10/31! What Are You Reading?

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Like many of you, we actually saw snow this weekend, in October!  Crazy!  Fortunately, we only got a dusting and didn't lose power - my thoughts are with those of you in New England without power.  Hope you have a roaring fire in the fireplace and a nice stack of books to keep you warm.

We love Halloween here, so today is a busy day.  We carved pumpkins last night and (finally) came up with costume ideas....kind of last-minute!  Even though our sons are teens, they still enjoy trick-or-treating, and our whole family gets into the fun.  Jamie decided to dress as Thing 1 for school today (with a friend as Thing 2), so Ken immediately started in on a Cat in the Hat costume for himself.  I have to hit the store today for a nightgown so I can be Cindy Lou Who.  A bookish theme for Halloween - fun!

Meanwhile, we did find time for reading last week:
  • I finished The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch, a newly released teen/YA post-apocalyptic novel that my husband recently read.  I really enjoyed this multi-dimensional novel; you can read my review here.
  • I decided to keep up my October theme of fun, quick reads, so I am now reading Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich.  I just love Stephanie Plum and was already laughing in the first chapter!  Sometimes, you need a little light-hearted fun.
  • I finished listening to Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love and the Search for Home, a memoir by Kim Sunee.  Though it dragged a bit in the middle when she was suffering from depression, I enjoyed it overall.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading a thriller I gave him for his birthday, The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian author who has been compared to Stieg Larsson.  He says it just gets better and better and has a very intriguing plot.
  • Jamie, 17, finished Blood Red Road by Moira Young, a much-anticipated new post-apocalyptic novel and loved it.  That one is high on my own TBR list, though Jamie has made me promise I will read Roar by by Emma Clayton next. 
  • Next, Jamie re-read the first two books in a favorite series, The Gatekeepers by Anthony Horowitz, so he could read the third book which he recently purchased.  He read Book 1, Raven's Gate; Book 2, Evil Star; and Book 3, Night Rise.  He says this series is great!
  • Jamie is also reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for his World Lit class. 
  • Craig, 13, is almost finished with Woodsong, a memoir by Gary Paulsen, author of one of our favorite novels, Hatchet and its sequels.
I posted two reviews this week, of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley here and of  The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch at Great Books for Kids and Teens.

I also posted a discussion of skimming books versus reading every word for the Fall Into Reading Challenge.


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

Hope you have a great Halloween and a good reading week!  Any other book-inspired costumes out there?

Ready for school! (Their hair is blue, though it doesn't show here)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fiction Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie


For years, I’ve been hearing rave reviews of Alan Bradley’s mystery series that starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and I finally had the chance to read the first novel myself.  It’s a fun little mystery that reminded me of my childhood days immersed in Nancy Drew books.

Although this series is for grown-ups, the main character is an 11-year old girl named Flavia who – in true Nancy Drew fashion – stumbles upon a mystery and goes about solving it before the police can figure it out.  Flavia is the main attraction in this novel.  She is quite precocious, a delightful young loner who is picked on by her older sisters and happiest when she is spending time in her home chemistry lab and learning more about poisons.

The novel takes place in the English countryside in 1950.  Flavia’s distant, stamp-loving father has a mysterious midnight visitor who ends up dead in the cucumber patch the next morning.  The only other clue is a dead crow left on the doorstep with a stamp stuck in its beak.  To give you an idea of Flavia’s unique joie de vivre, here is what she thinks when she finds the dead body in the garden:

“I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t.  Quite the contrary.  This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

The story proceeds as most mystery novels do, with the young detective following clues, taking risks, and slowly unraveling what happened.  As you can probably tell even from that brief quote above, Flavia adds an extra layer of interest, and the author uses a subtle sense of humor to enhance the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this clever novel – it was a pleasant diversion during what was a difficult week for me.  I don’t know whether I’ll read more of the series or not.  I’m not normally a hug fan of British mysteries – I enjoy one now and then but don’t normally seek them out.  But if I was to read another novel of this genre, Flavia certainly adds an extra appeal to the story, and I would enjoy seeing where her sleuthing leads her.

You can watch a brief video preview of the book here.


370 pages, Delacorte Press

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall Into Reading Question #5

You may recall that I have joined the Fall Into Reading Challenge hosted over at Callapidder Days.  She is posing a question each week, and this week's question is:

Do you skim? Or are you faithful to read every word?

Well, I tend to be a very thorough reader.  I guess it's that streak of perfectionism I keep trying to get rid of but never do!  I generally read every word.  The only times I can think when I may have skimmed something would be either re-reading a book (like before a book group discussion of something I read a while back) or perhaps skimming a nonfiction book that I only need certain information from.  Even when I read magazines, I read them from front to back thoroughly!  I know, it's a sickness.

I try to choose my books carefully, so I rarely dislike one so much that I can't finish.  I have - rarely - read a book for one of my book groups that was so bad I couldn't finish it, but usually I give it a try.

How about you?  Do you skim or read every word?

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's Monday 10/24! What Are You Reading?


Well, it is now truly fall here - the weather has cooled down, and it seems as though the tress suddenly turned from all green to a riot of colors.  I love this time of year!  We made our annual trip to the pumpkin farm this weekend to pick out our pumpkins and gorge ourselves on still-warm, homemade donuts and fresh cider....oh, my gosh!  I forgot I have a leftover donut....ah...that's better! Mmmm...cinnamon-sugar donuts and typing don't mix well.

OK, I'm back.  Anyway, here's what we read last week:
  • I finished The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's like Nancy Drew for grown-ups.  I want to be Flavia when I grow up.
  • I am now reading The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch, a newly released teen/YA post-apocalyptic novel that my husband recently read.  I really like it so far.  It's a bit like The Road, only not nearly as dismal and hopeless.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading a thriller I gave him for his birthday, The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian author who has been compared to Stieg Larsson.  He likes it so far, though he says the translation is sometimes a bit rough.
  • Jamie, 17, finished his Dad's old favorite fantasy series, The Belgariad by David Eddings with Book Five: Enchanter's End Game, the last book in the series.
  • Jamie was home sick all last week, so he treated himself to a book he's really wanted to read, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.  He loved the Mortal Instruments series and has been looking forward to this prequel series.  He and I listened to the beginning of this book on audio, but he said he preferred to read it.
  • Now, Jamie is reading Blood Red Road by Moira Young, a much-anticipated new post-apocalyptic novel.  He says it's good so far, though he doesn't like the author's convention of not using quotation marks for dialogue.  This one is on my TBR list, too.
  • Craig, 13, is reading Woodsong, a memoir by Gary Paulsen, author of one of our favorite novels, Hatchet and its sequels.  He's enjoying it, though he says it's not as good as Paulsen's fiction.
Last week, I posted a review of a new picture book, M.O.M.: Mom Operating Manual at Great Books for Kids and Teens.  I don't normally review picture books anymore, but this one was unique!

I also posted a recap and photo from my book group's meeting with author Rachel Simon, which we all thoroughly enjoyed, and a discussion of how many books we have in our house, with pictures of our overflowing bookcases!

What are you and your family reading this week?

Ooh...now I have a bit of a sugar-rush headache from that donut, but it was so worth it!

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