Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Play Hooky With

It's Tuesday and that means it's Top Ten day over at The Broke and the Bookish.  Stop by their blog to read all of the great lists this week!

Today's topic is Top Ten Books On My Shelf I'd Like to Play Hooky With.  This is an easy one for me!  My TBR shelves are always overflowing.  And the thought of it - an entire day with nothing to do but read! - just makes my heart go pitter-patter.  Maybe someday...

In the meantime I can dream.  Here are the Top Ten Books On My Shelf I'd Like to Play Hooky With:
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen - I've been meaning to read this for ages, but it is a long one.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern - I bought this for my mom for Christmas, and she loved it and lent it to me (the best kind of gift!)
  • Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks - a Christmas gift from my husband; I love Brooks' novels.
  • Time and Again by Jack Finney - another Christmas gift from my hubby - I love time travel plots!
  • Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand - my personal hero, since she became a best-selling writer while suffering with the same illness I have - this one has been on my shelf since LAST Christmas!
  • The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett & Amanda Pressner - a memoir about travel - perfect for me.
  • Emma by Jane Austen - yes, I STILL haven't read any Austen!
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King - dying to read this but it is a big commitment at almost 900 pages!
  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver - recommended by pretty much everyone I know.
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - the choice for our New Castle Country Reads program for April, I'm hoping to get to this one soon.
How about you?  What book(s) would you grab if you could play hooky for a day and do nothing but read?

(If you'd like to see my list of Top Ten Kids/Teen/YA Books I Want to Play Hooky With, check out Great Books for Kids and Teens.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's Monday 3/26! What Are You Reading?

What a rollercoaster week! My older son is finally doing a bit better (he's been incapacitated from his treatment for Lyme disease) and started back to school part-time last week.  He was even able to have his two best friends over this weekend, so we were all in high spirits!  Then, my younger son hurt his knee running around the yard and ended up in the ER for hours last night.  No diagnosis yet - Ortho can't see him until tomorrow - but it seems pretty severe.  The worst part?  Soccer season begins today, and Craig was so excited to be "playing up" on the high school-age team with his brother.  He's exhausted today and also pretty bummed out.

So, for the first time in months, Jamie is actually in school, and Craig is the one lying here on the couch.  I may never be alone in the house again!

Thank goodness for books to help distract us!  Last week, we read:
  • I am still reading Bill Bryson's childhood memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and loving it.  It is highly entertaining, educational, and often laugh-out-loud funny.
  • I am still listening to Marisa De los Santos's novel Falling Together.  I'm enjoying it, but it takes forever to listen to an audio book when you can only manage 10-minute increments!
  • My husband, Ken, finished Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian yesterday and really liked it.  I'm not sure what he is starting next - probably something on his Kindle after all those hours in the ER last night.
  • Jamie, 17, finished re-reading The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  He enjoyed it but said that Maddigan's Fantasia is still his favorite of Mahy's novels.
  • Next, Jamie decided to re-read a favorite trilogy, The Books of Umber by P.W. Catanese, starting with Book 1, Happenstance Found, then Book 2, Dragon Games, and he is now reading Book 3, The End of Time.
  • Craig, 14, read The Voyage of the Frog by Gary Paulsen, a sailing adventure that was right up his alley!
I didn't have any time for writing reviews last week, but I hope to catch up this week.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kids/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 3/24

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot. I took this photo last weekend, while camping at Elk Neck State Park in Maryland.

Early season views of the Elk River, looking toward the Chesapeake Bay
Hope you are enjoying a nice weekend!

Monday, March 19, 2012

It's Monday 3/19! What Are You Reading?

We enjoyed a wonderful weekend camping at nearby Elk Neck State Park in Maryland - the first time we've had our pop-up camper out of the garage in a full year!  It was just a little 24-hour getaway, but it was so nice to be outdoors (and away from the to-do lists!) in this glorious spring-like weather - we walked to the beach, enjoyed our favorite "dinner in foil" camping meal, sat around the campfire and ate s'mores....and of course, relaxed with our books!

Here's what we read this week:
  • I finished The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, an unusual novel - I enjoyed both reading it and discussing it with my library's book group.  You can check out my review here.
  • While at the library for the book discussion, I stopped by the YA section and finally - finally! - found a John Green novel to read, An Abundance of Katherines.  Thanks to all of you who've been telling me for years what a great writer Green is.  I know this isn't even one of his top, award-winning novels, but I enjoyed it very much.
  • Now, I am reading Bill Bryson's hilarious memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, which has been waiting on my TBR shelf for years and recommended by my husband.  It's wonderful so far!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, based on my recommendation, after I read it for my neighborhood book group a couple of weeks ago.  He's enjoying it.
  • Jamie, 17, had another long sick week, so he had lots of reading time.  He finished Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (for the second time) and loved it.  He recommended it this weekend to Craig's friend who came camping with us.  Jamie and I are both anxiously awaiting Book 2, Ruins, due to be released in October.
  • To Jamie's delight, Book 2 of the Beyonders series arrived from the publisher mid-week, so he first re-read Book 1, A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull, then quickly moved onto Book 2, Seeds of Rebellion.  He says it was amazing! (see the photo of him enjoying the book while we were camping).
  • Now, Jamie is re-reading The Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy.  He wanted to start with her earlier novel, Maddigan's Fantasia, but after a thorough search, we figured out that he'd lent it to a friend years ago and never got it back.  This is one of Jamie's all-time favorite authors!
  • Craig, 14, is reading Book 3 of The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney, Night of the Soul Stealer.  He's enjoying this series.
Last week, I posted reviews of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender and a teen/YA novel, Irises by Francisco X. Stork.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Jamie enjoying Beyonders during our camping weekend.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fiction Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Unusual, unique, bizarre, strange, weird.  When I went to my local library’s book discussion on The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, these were just a few of the words used to describe the novel.  The group of about eight women was split on whether or not they liked the novel; it seems that people either love it or hate it.  I was one of the ones who loved it.

At 9 years old, Rose discovers that she can taste the emotions of the cook in the food that she eats when her mother bakes her a special lemon cake with chocolate frosting (from scratch!) for her birthday, and she is so overwhelmed with a sense of despair when she eats a piece that she can’t bear to eat more.  OK, so now you understand why this book is described as unusual, right?  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Rose’s older brother, Joseph, has problems of his own, also of the unusual variety, that Rose doesn’t understand until she is much older.  Although it’s not apparent from the inside cover blurb, the novel is as much about Joseph as it is about Rose, though it is told from Rose’s perspective.

At its heart, despite its novelties, this novel is about family relationships.  Rose’s “talent” means that she learns far more than she wants to know about not only her family but strangers as well.  For instance, learning that her cheerful, loving mother is depressed and feels hollow inside is a tough thing for a 9-year old girl to deal with.  Even the school cafeteria is fraught with danger for Rose, as eating food prepared by an angry food service employee leaves her with anger she can neither control or easily get rid of.

Rose finds ways to deal with her “special talent,” but she also learns it’s best to keep it secret, so she grows up in a fairly isolated existence, making her family even more important to her.  Her mother adores Joseph, but he obviously has some serious problems of his own that keep him at arm’s length from the rest of his family.  As Rose grows up, she learns more about her brother and herself – and tries not to learn too much about her parents through their cooking.

I was surprised to find that the author focused almost as much attention on Joseph as she did on Rose in this novel, and I didn’t understand why until the very end.  Some questions are never answered, but there is a satisfying conclusion – and some hope – for Rose.  I was able to suspend disbelief and just accept Rose’s strange talent, but the bizarre problems of Rose and her brother were just too weird for some readers.  I think it is best to go into this novel understanding that it is unusual so that you can focus on the wonderful writing and the emotional depth of the story and its characters.  I am glad to have met Rose and grateful that I can enjoy my food with taking on the emotions of the cook, though it does make me wonder what my family would taste in my cooking.

292 pages, Doubleday
 P.S. One of the women in the book discussion brought in a lemon cake with chocolate frosting to share, as long as we promised not to read her emotions from it! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

It's Monday 3/12! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday!  We had a more relaxing weekend than usual, with some of the deadlines (and pressure) for financial aid for college behind us.  Not that there isn't more we have to do, but the big-pressure items are taken care of.  And this weather is fabulous!!  Supposed to be in the mid-70's most of the week here.  It's very early for such warm temperatures, but I'm not complaining!

We all enjoyed lots of good reading this week:
  • I finished a teen/YA novel, Irises by Francisco X. Stork (author of Marcelo in the Real World) last week - it was very good, though not quite as exemplary as Marcelo.
  • I am now reading a novel that's been on my TBR list for a while, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  Our local library's lunchtime book group is discussing it this week - a perfect excuse for me to read a book I've heard so many good things about.  I'm enjoying it very much (might finish it today), though it is a bit different than I expected.  I'm very interested to see how it ends.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Divergent by Veronica Roth, a teen dystopian novel that my son and I both enjoyed.  He enjoyed the story but thought that aspects of the society described were unrealistic (I agree).
  • Next, Ken decided to read the book I just finished, Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, before we have to return it to the library.  I loved the novel set at the end of World War II.  This is Ken's first Bohjalian.
  • Thankfully, Jamie, 17, got his requested book from the library very quickly last week!  Within a couple of days, he had finished the 517-page The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima (A Seven Realms novel).  He says this is a great series.  He is tortured by the fact that the next book is not due out until October!
  • Next, Jamie decided to reread a favorite of mine and his, Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card.  As with the first reading, he says it is extremely thought-provoking and wonderfully complex.  We are both anxiously awaiting book two (another one not due to be released until October!).
  • Craig, 14, was having trouble getting into the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, so he switched books and is now reading Book 3 in The Last Apprentice series, Night of the Soul Stealer, by Joseph Delaney. He enjoyed Books One and Two recently.
I posted two new reviews last week: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian and a middle-grade sci fi sequel, The Whisper by Emma Clayton.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  A kids/teen version is hosted by Teach Mentor Text.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Snapshot Saturday 3/10

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.   I took this photo yesterday:

The first crocuses!  Spring is on the way.

I loved seeing this sign of spring, though it seems that allergy season is also upon us, after this very mild winter!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Fiction Review: Skeletons at the Feast

I have read quite a few of Chris Bohjalian’s novels.  I absolutely loved The Double Blind and enjoyed Midwives a few months ago.  I thought Before You Know Kindness was just mediocre, though.  So, I was hopeful when my neighborhood book group chose Bohjalian’s Skeletons at the Feast for our February selection.  This novel set at the end of World War II was completely different from any of his other books but with his typical writing talents shining through.

Skeletons at the Feast is one of those novels where the story is told from multiple points of view, most of which eventually come together.  In this case, the reader sees the end of the war and the revelation of the Holocaust through several very different characters.  One of those perspectives is that of a Jewish man who has escaped from a train bound for one of the concentration camps and has spent the past two years surviving by wearing the uniforms of various dead soldiers and hiding in plain sight.

Contrasting that, and perhaps most surprising, is the perspective of an ordinary German family.  With the father and older sons off fighting the war on the eastern front against the Russians, the mother, teen daughter, and younger son are forced to flee their ancestral family home in northern Poland (then a part of Germany) as the Russian army advanced.  They are good people who have Jewish friends, but they are startlingly unaware of what is happening to Jews under Hitler’s command.  They feel pride in their German heritage and are just trying to survive.

Complicating matters is the family’s Scottish POW, Callum, who was moved from a work farm to help on their family farm when their sons had to leave to fight the war.  Callum and Anna, the eighteen-year old daughter, have secretly fallen in love.  Other characters move in and out of the story, including a young Jewish woman struggling to stay hopeful and survive in a concentration camp.  All of these characters come together in a mass exodus, as the brutal Russians approach from the east.

I knew nothing at all about this aspect of World War II – the varied refugees marching slowly westward, starving, freezing, and facing pockets of soldiers bent on killing them at the end of the war.  I had also never considered the plight of ordinary German citizens who hadn’t done anything wrong but whose whole national identity had been destroyed without their knowledge.  So, for me, this was a fascinating historical novel, written by an excellent author.

My book group was oddly split about this novel.  Most of us loved it and rated it between 8 and 10 (on a 10-point scale), but a few people disliked it and one didn’t even finish it.  Those who didn’t enjoy the novel cited too many different perspectives, including some that were not central to the story, or simply a sort of weariness of novels set during World War II.  One person thought that both the violence and the romance in the novel were too graphic.  Despite the differing views (or perhaps because of them!), we had an excellent discussion about the book, covering many varied topics.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel that combined historical fiction with a bit of romance. I always enjoy books where disparate characters’ stories eventually come together in unexpected ways; I guess I like that bit of serendipity.  I also like books that make me think about things from a different perspective, and this novel definitely did that.

400 pages, Broadway

Monday, March 05, 2012

It's Monday 3/5! What Are You Reading?

Monday already?  I am soooo tired this morning - I could barely get out of bed.  But here I am, up and alert and ready to go....well, I'm up anyway.

We all had a great reading week:
  • Believe it or not, I managed to finish Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian in time for my book group meeting on Wednesday...well, I actually finished the last few pages during my book group meeting!  I loved the book - set in Germany in 1945 - and will post a review this week.
  • Next I started a teen/YA novel, Irises by Francisco X. Stork (author of Marcelo in the Real World).  I'm almost finished with it and have enjoyed it.
  • My husband, Ken, started Divergent by Veronica Roth, a teen dystopian novel that my son and I both enjoyed - I love when we share books in our family!
  • Jamie, 17, read like crazy last week, including several huge bricks that I brought home from the library for him.  In preparation, he reread The Demon King, Book One of the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima.  Then he read Book Two, The Exiled Queen.  He is loving this series so much that he begged me to request Book Three from the library and has been asking me hourly if it is in yet!
  • Since he couldn't read Book Three yet, he read another library book I got him, The Lost Hero, Book One in Rick Riordan's new series, The Heroes of Olympus.  He said it was excellent, building on the Percy Jackson series with some of the same characters but with the addition of Roman gods.
  • Craig, 14, finished his Hardy Boys book and started the first book in the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, The Ruins of Gorlan.
  • Craig's English class is reading an excerpt from The Diary of Anne Frank in school, so we talked about that this weekend.
I wasn't feeling well most of last week, so I struggled to manage much writing time.  I posted one review this weekend, The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore, a teen sci fi novel.  I also posted a summary of Books Read in February.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, and a kidlit version is hosted at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Saturday Snapshot 3/3

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.  I don't usually have time for blogging on weekends, but I wasn't feeling well today so I have been trying to take it easy and relax with my laptop!

I haven't taken many photos lately (except the beach one which I've already posted here twice!), so I went outside and took this one especially for this purpose:

Snowdrops: A Hint of Better Things to Come on a Cold, Dreary Day
Spring is just around the corner.  Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Books Read in February

February was a little longer than usual this year, but it still seemed to go by quickly.  I am quite happy to say good-bye to February, since we had a lot of illness in our house and a good dose of cabin fever, despite the good weather!  Lately, I have felt like books have saved my sanity, providing an escape into other worlds when my own world seems too exhausting, chaotic, and overwhelming.

So, despite its many lows, February was a great reading month for me!  I read:
  • The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore, a teen audio novel
  • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, a novel read for one of my book groups
  • The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin, a teen novel
  • Breathless by Dean Koontz, a mystical, magical novel
  • The Whisper by Emma Clayton, a middle-grade sci fi sequel
  • Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, a World War II novel read for my other book group
It was an all-fiction month, and I enjoyed all of these novels.  I finished one audio and enjoyed a nice mix of 3 kids/teen books and 3 adult novels.  I think my favorite was the one I just finished last night, Skeletons at the Feast, though Breathless was a close second.  And it looks like I am falling behind on my reviews, so I will try to post some soon.

As for my 2012 Reading Challenges, I added 4 new states and 2 new countries to my Where Are You Reading 2012 Challenge - Colorado, Idaho (ooh, good one!), New York, Tennessee, England (London), and Germany.  I added one dystopian novel - The Whisper - for a total of 2 so far for my Dystopian Challenge.  For my 12 in 2012 Challenge, I read two books from my TBR shelf, both recommended by my husband:  The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and Breathless.  I still haven't read any memoirs yet this year, so I will try to fit one in this month.

What were your favorite books read in February?