Monday, January 31, 2011

It's Monday 1/31! What Are You Reading?

Well, I am very glad to say hello to a new week!  As you may have read in my last post, I spent every waking moment last week trying to resolve computer problems, so I was unable to do any blogging - reading or writing - or anything else, for that matter!  It was an exhausting, stressful week.  I think (she says hopefully) that everything is OK now - it took a 4th trip to The Apple Store on Sunday.  So far, so good, but I'm still holding my breath a bit.

Reading saved my sanity last week!!  I kept my book with me while I was sitting at the computer desk for hours at a time and read while I waited for various things to load, erase, and re-load.  Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, the novel about teens who turn into wolves and vice-versa, and ended up loving it!  A very pleasant surprise since I don't usually like paranormal romance.
  • Next, I read one of my Christmas presents from my husband, Ken: Room by Emma Donoghue.  WOW.  What an amazing book.  One of the best I've read.  I finished it on Saturday, and I'm still thinking about it.
  • Now I'm reading a middle-grade novel, Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary by Jerdine Nolen.  It's very good so far - fascinating.
  • I just moments ago finished an audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine.  It really grew on me; I enjoyed it.
  • My husband, Ken, read Gone by Lisa McMann, the last book in the teen trilogy, Wake and Fade.
  • During one of my 4 trips to the mall to fix my computer, I stopped into Borders and treated myself to some new books with my Christmas gift cards - that cheered me up a bit!  I also browsed the BOGOF clearance rack and got two for me and two for Ken.  He started one of them this week, Golf Dads by Curt Sampson, a book of essays about fathers, sons, and golf (right up his alley!)
  • He has also started Under the Dome by Stephen King, a big undertaking at 1074 pages!  We've both been wanting to read that one.
  • Jamie, 16, read The Books of Umber 2: Dragon Games by P.W. Catanese, a series he is really enjoying.  He wanted to re-read Book 1 first but couldn't find it.  Could it be we have too many books in this house??   He thinks he read another book this week but can't remember what it was.  Besides the computer problems, we had several snow days last week - things are just in turmoil around here!
  • Today Jamie started The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer, the last book in the trilogy that began with The Sea of Trolls.
  • Jamie is also reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for his American Literature class.  Definitely an American classic.
  • Craig, 13, is reading The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville, the fourth and final book in one of his all-time favorite series, The Unicorn Chronicles.
I guess that about covers it.  No reviews last week since I was without a computer for most of it, though I did have fun posting Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid on Great Books for Kids and Teens during a brief hiatus in the internet black-out.  Hopefully, I can get back on track this week and catch up on some reviews (after I finish the 400 unread e-mails waiting for me!).  Wow, this post ended up being really long.  Sorry I was so chatty - I missed you guys!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back Soon (I Hope)

I've had very limited internet access all week due to problems with my computer.  After spending many hours at the Apple Store with some great Geniuses at the Genius Bar, we've come to the conclusion that the only option left is to erase the hard drive on my beloved MacBook and re-install the system from scratch (the likely cause is some corrupted files that are now affecting the system).  I'm in the process of backing up all my files which is taking forever because of the problems.  I'm writing this from my ancient e-Mac desktop (11 years and still going!), but I'm a bit limited here.

Just wanted to let you know why I'm not posting or visiting much.  Hopefully, I'll be back in shape before too long!

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's Monday 1/24! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  Wow, last week was a long one for me.  My husband was away the whole week, the kids were off school on Monday, plus we got two snow storms with two 2-hour delays for school (and no one here to do the shoveling!)  I really felt as if I did no work last week, just spent all my time trying to keep up.  We had a very nice, well-balanced weekend, though.  I got some things done around the house and cooked some nice meals but also took some time for fun.  I played games with my sons and went out to dinner ALONE with my husband - can't remember the last time we did that!

So, here we are...Monday again, with another snow storm predicted this week...and it's not even February yet!  We all did some good reading last week:
  • I finished a book for my neighborhood book group this week, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks.  Parts of it were slow-going for me because I know nothing at all about music, but some chapters were fascinating.  I'm interested to hear what everyone else thought at our meeting Wednesday.
  • Now I'm reading Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  I realize I must be the last person on earth to read this top-seller from 2009, but I'm just not normally into the paranormal romance genre.  Despite that, I was enticed by all the amazing reviews of this book, and so far, I'm enjoying it very much.
  • I'm still listening to the audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine and enjoying it  more and more.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Broken Prey by John Sandford, a paperback thriller he borrowed from his dad.
  • Jamie, 16, re-read Leviathan this week, and then read Behemoth.  He enjoyed both very much.  He's having trouble picking his next book because there are so many here that he wants to read!  I think he and I will make a trip to Borders today to spend our Christmas gift cards.
  • Craig, 13, gave up temporarily on the Ted Bell Time Pirate series - he was just having trouble getting into it, even though he loved the first book, Nick of Time.  Instead, he started his other Christmas gift, The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville.  The Unicorn Chronicles is his other favorite series, and so far, he's really enjoying this last book in the series.
Last week, I posted a review of Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders, as well as a review of Pendragon Book 10: Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale on my Great Books for Kids and Teens blog, the final book in one of my favorite kid/teen series.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fiction Review: Year of Wonders

I was excited to hear that my library's book group was going to discuss Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders because I absolutely loved her other two novels, March and People of the Book.  I wasn't disappointed.

Like her other novels, Brooks begins with historical facts, then fills in fictional details of the people involved.  Year of Wonders takes place in a remote English village in 1666, during a break-out of the plague.  This small, isolated village probably became infected with plague through a bolt of infected cloth delivered from London.  In a surprisingly self-sacrificing act, the village decided to quarantine itself to protect the rest of the English towns surrounding it.  They eventually lost about two-thirds of their small population to the illness.

From these fascinating facts, Brooks weaves the story of Anna, a young mother in the village whose life is forever changed by the events surrounding the plague and the quarantine.

You might be concerned, as I was, that this book will just be too depressing.  A couple of people in our book discussion did feel that way, but most of us found the story compelling and Brooks' writing engaging and vivid.  Interestingly, you know right from the first chapter how things will turn out for Anna, so many of the bad things that happen come as no surprise.  The novel focuses on the relationships between Anna and the other villagers and how this disaster affects them, both individually and as a community.  It's a captivating tale of love and life, with all of its joys and sorrows, written with the same spellbinding talent as Brooks' other exceptional novels.

308 pages, Viking (division of Penguin Putnam)
Penguin Audio

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Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Monday 1/17! What Are You Reading?

Happy Martin Luther King Day!  The kids are home from school today, recovering from Craig's 13th birthday party this weekend.  My husband took them and five friends snow-tubing, then the boys all slept over.  A wild weekend with a house full of teen boys!

Now that Craig's birthday is past, our extended holiday season is finally over.  Now it feels like the new year can finally begin!  Those January birthdays are tough.

Despite all the activity, we did find some time for reading this week:
  • I quickly finished Gone by Lisa McMann.   I loved the first two books in the somewhat supernatural teen trilogy, Wake and Fade, and enjoyed this final book as well, though it was quite different from the first two.
  • I'm now reading a book for my neighborhood book group next week, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks.  I've always wanted to read something by Oliver Sacks, but this one is kind of dragging for me, probably because I'm not at all musically inclined and know very little about composing or playing music.  It's mildly interesting, but I'm craving a good bit of fiction now.  I'm sticking with it (though skimming a bit) in the interest of the book discussion.
  • I'm still listening to the audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine and enjoying it very much.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Nation by Terry Pratchett, a renowned teen sci-fi novel that our son has been telling both of us to read for a while now.  Ken is traveling this week, so he wanted a light paperback! 
  • Jamie, 16, read The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby this week and loved it.  He finished it last night and said he wishes it were the start of a series but doesn't think it is give the ending (anyone know for sure?).  I asked him what he's going to read next, and he said, "I need more steampunk!"  He's planning to re-read Leviathan so he can read Behemoth next.
  • Craig, 12 (oops - 13 now!), is doing something similar.  He set aside The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure by Ted Bell so that he could first re-read Nick of Time, the first book in the series.
I posted a review last week of The Lovely Bones, as well as a post about a reading challenge, Where Are You Reading 2011?

On my kids' book blog, I posted a review of the middle-grade/teen audio book, A Million Shades of Gray, a unique tale set in the jungles of Vietnam during the war.

What are you reading this week?

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

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Where Am I Reading Challenge 2011

I don't normally sign up for challenges, just because I don't want any restrictions or limitations on what I choose to read (aside from the two book groups I belong to!).  This is one, hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, is different, though, and I haven't actually signed up for it completely...but it just sounds like fun!

The idea is to track the location settings of the books you read this year, marking them on a Google Map.  The actual challenge is to read a book from all 50 states, plus other countries.  I'm not going to choose books based on trying to get all 50 states, but I do plan to track Where I Am Reading this year and keep my Google Map up-to-date, jut for fun.

So, you can see my map at this link.   I'm still trying to finish up some reviews from the end of 2010, so my 2011 map only has two pins in it so far!

For more information on the challenge, take a look at this post from Book Journey.  Where are you reading??

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fiction Review: The Lovely Bones

For years now, I've been meaning to read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold but just never got around to it, so when I spotted it on my mother-in-law's bookshelf during the holidays, I snatched it up.  What an absorbing novel to read while stuck in airplanes and airports all day!

As you've probably already heard from either the book or the popular movie adaptation, The Lovely Bones begins with a young girl's murder and is narrated by the girl, Susie, after her death.  The first part of the book is absolutely horrifying.  If I hadn't heard so much praise for the book, I may not have continued reading it.  In fact, during the first chapters, I thought, "I hope WE didn't buy this for my mother-in-law - she would have hated this!" (we didn't).

I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because although the book is very sad, especially from the perspective of a parent, it really is about more than violence and death.  It's also about life and afterlife.  Susie looks down upon her family members and friends from "my heaven," watching them and wishing she could communicate with them.  After such a sudden and violent death, she's not ready to move on, so she observes her family's suffering, her killer's pretense of innocence, and sees her friends and sister growing up.  She lives vicariously through them, growing up emotionally in her own way along with them, even though she will never age physically.

As I said, this book is about life - the ups, the downs, the joys, and the sorrows.  Yes, it is sad, but it is also about hope and healing.  In an odd way, it's also a coming-of-age novel, even though Susie never grows older than fourteen.  And it's about the afterlife, with the author's unique and engrossing view of what that might be like.  After we got back home, my son said to me, "Mom, that must be a really good book because you've been carrying it around with you, reading constantly."  He was right - it's a very good book really pulls you in and makes you care about the characters.  When I finished it, I just closed the cover and sat still, thinking about it.  Now that's the sign of a good book.

328 pages, Little, Brown & Company.

Monday, January 10, 2011

It's Monday 1/10! What Are You Reading?

January 10, but today feels like the start of the new year to me.  Last week didn't count because my husband was home sick most of the week, and my chronic illness was flared up, keeping me on the couch.  This morning, everyone is at school and work, the house is quiet, I'm feeling better, and NOW I'm ready to start the new year!

The only good side to last week was plenty of reading time:
  • I finished Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks for my library book discussion this week.  As with her other two novels I've read, March and People of the Book, it was fascinating and engaging.  It's about one woman's experience (and her English village) with the Plague in 1666.
  • I knew exactly what book I wanted to read next:  Gone by Lisa McMann.  The paperback arrived last week, and I loved the first two books in the trilogy, Wake and Fade.  I already stayed up way too late last night reading it!
  • I also started a new audio book, The Three Weissmann's of Westport by Cathleen Schine.  I heard about this novel last year on my favorite book podcast, Books on the Nightstand, so I grabbed it up when I saw it on my library's new release shelf last week.
  • My husband, Ken, read a lot last week, since he was stuck at home with a bad cold.  He finished Bodies Left Behind by Jeffrey Deaver and said it was good but not one of Deaver's best.
  • He also finished Roastbeef's Promise by David Jerome, an amusing road trip novel that I read last spring.
  • Ken next read Behemoth, the middle-grade/teen sequel to Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld that I recently finished.  He's also enjoying this imaginative series very much.
  • Finally, Ken read one of his Christmas gifts that he's been saving, Worth Dying For by Lee Child.  This is one of Ken's favorite authors, and he said he wanted to savor this latest release.  He just finished it last night.
  • Jamie, 16, decided to read Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins finally, but first, he re-read Catching Fire to remind himself of exactly what happened in the second book.  He was completely engrossed in it for much of the weekend, to his brother's frustration!  He's in the middle of Mockingjay now.
  • Craig, 12, is reading one of his Christmas gifts, The Time Pirate: A Nick McIver Time Adventure by Ted Bell, sequel to Nick of Time, one of Craig's all-time favorite books.
Last week, I posted reviews of Leviathan and Behemoth at Great Books for Kids and Teens, plus a review of the audio book, Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris.

I also posted a summary of my 2010 reading, for kids' and teen/YA books and for grown-up books, and I posted my lists of Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books Read in 2010 and Top Ten Adult Books Read in 2010 at Book By Book.

What are you and your family reading this week?

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

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Top Ten Books I Read in 2010

Finally, the moment you've all been waiting for.....(drum roll) list of Top Ten Books I Read in 2010!

I had a hard time making this list - I read so many good books this year.  Keep in mind these are books I read in 2010, not necessarily released in 2010 (in fact, almost none were because I rarely read new hardcover releases in adult books).

So, without further ado, here are my top picks, in no particular order:
  • Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/Girl Who Played with Fire/Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Soloist by Steve Lopez
  • The Abstinence Teacher by To Perrotta
  • The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This list includes lots of very well-reviewed books from years' past that I finally got to this year, and one I had read before - I think To Kill a Mockingbird would be on my Top Ten list every year, no matter how many times I'd read it before.  I cheated a bit by including Stieg Larsson's entire series as one item, but I enjoyed the whole series, one after the other, so that seemed appropriate.  Interestingly, nine are fiction, with only one memoir on the list - unusual because I typically read a lot more memoirs.

Here is BookPage's readers' choice of top 20 books of 2010 (not much overlap, since these were all released in 2010).  If you're interested, check out my Top Ten Kids/Teen Books I Read in 2010 at Great Books for Kids and Teens.

What were your favorite books read in 2010?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Nonfiction Review: Holidays on Ice

First, a warning to those who love to watch holiday movies on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel that bring tears to your eyes: David Sedaris' collection of holiday-themed essays, Holidays on Ice, is probably not for you.

Sedaris is his usual snarky self in this collection of essays, poking fun of our culture's unique approach to the holiday season, which tends to bring out both the best and the worst in people.  The best essay of the bunch is easily "Santaland Diaries" in which Sedaris tells of the Christmas season he spent working as an elf in Macy's Santaland.  He is at his funniest in this lengthy essay, deftly bringing our attention to the ironies of the season and the peculiarities of human behavior.

I have to admit that I didn't enjoy all of the essays in this collection.  A couple of them, especially "Season's Greetings..." and "Christmas Means Giving" were just a bit too harsh for me, bashing me over the head with their obvious points rather than making use of Sedaris' typical subtle irony, and making me cringe rather than chuckle (one of these was not actually written by Sedaris).  His best are his essays that draw from his own life, including "Dinah the Christmas Whore." 

A note on format and version:  I listened to the audio of what I presume was the earlier 1997 edition of this collection.  I love listening to Sedaris on audio because he reads his own essays.  My edition contained only 6 stories, while a later edition, the one now readily available, contains 12 essays - the additions I read about in reviews sound like very good additions, so I suspect the later edition has more of what was good (the picture above and the link below are for the newer edition).

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Books Read in 2010

New year, new books.  In January, I always like to look back at the past year in all areas of my life, including reading.  I enjoyed some great books in 2010.

In total, I read 81 books in 2010 (4 less than in 2009):
  • 31 were adult fiction
  • 3 were memoir (1 of these was on audio)
  • 1 was poetry (a first for me!)
  • 1 was non-fiction but not memoir
  • 45 were kids or teen/YA books
 One interesting trend this year - I read 5 Pulitzer Prize winners:  Tinkers, The Shipping News, The Age of Innocence, Beloved, To Kill a Mockingbird.  

How was your 2010 reading year?

I'm looking forward to some great books in 2011! 

Monday, January 03, 2011

It's Monday 1/3! What Are You Reading?


I hope everyone enjoyed a relaxing holiday week, full of reading!  We had a busy week - it seems like much more than a week ago since my last Monday post.  We flew to Oklahoma to visit my father-in-law.  There are no direct flights, so it takes a full day's travel each way.  The bright side of that is LOTS of reading time!  Between long waits in airports (our first flight was delayed 4 hours), long flights, plus a lot of quiet time at my father-in-law's (he's 85 years old and loves on his own), we all fit in lots of time with some good books:
  • I had an excellent book for traveling:  Pendragon Book 10: the Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale.  I absolutely loved the Pendragon series, and this was a wonderful ending!  At almost 700 pages, it kept me happily occupied most of the week.
  • I borrowed my next book off my mother-in-law's old bookshelf: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  I've been wanting to read this book for years and just never got to it.  Jamie remarked this weekend, "Mom, that must be a good book because you've hardly set it down!"  It was good - I finished it last night and just sat and thought about it after closing the cover.
  • I've just started Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks for my library's book discussion next week.  I loved two of her other novels, March and People of the Book, so I'm very much looking forward to this one.
  • My husband, Ken, read one of his new Christmas gift books during our trip, Breathless by Dean Koontz.  He said it was confusing at first, with lots of different story lines, but they eventually came together, and he enjoyed the book overall.
  • Now he's home sick today and reading a book he borrowed from his dad, Bodies Left Behind by Jeffrey Deaver.  I just listened to an interesting interview with Jeffrey Deaver this weekend on the Reading and Writing Podcast (this one was podcast #27).
  • Ready for this?  Jamie, 16, read four books in the first three days of our trip, then waited (rather impatiently) for me to finish mine so he could read that, too!  He kicked off the trip by finishing The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  He enjoyed it very much but said her earlier novel, Madigan's Fantasia, is still his favorite.
  • Next, he zipped through three books in one of his favorite series, Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan:  Book 5: The Sorcerer of the North, Book 6: The Siege of Macindaw, and Book 7: Erak's Ransom.  He says he's going to use the Borders gift card he got for Christmas to get Book 8!
  • Jamie breathed down my neck for the next day while waiting for me to finish Pendragon Book 10: the Soldiers of Halla by D.J. MacHale, then snatched it up as soon as I turned the last page.  He read this 700-page book in less than 24 hours on the way home!  He is truly a reading machine.
  • Craig, 12, was excited about the two books he got for Christmas, but only read the prologue of The Time Pirate by Ted Bell.  He thinks he may need to re-read the first book first.  He'll have a chance to dive into his new books now that school is starting again.
  • Finally, our family finished listening to an audio book that we started the week before, A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata, a wonderful middle-grade/teen book about a boy who wants to be an elephant trainer, growing up in the jungles of Vietnam during the war.
Now, it's back to our regular routines and more limited reading time, but I'm looking forward to lots of great books in 2011!

What are you and your family reading this week?

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