Monday, July 30, 2012

It's Monday 7/30! What Are You Reading?

Well, my week of quiet solitude is over!  On Saturday, we picked up our two teen sons from their week of sailing with their grandparents.  All of them were exhausted when we met up with them!  Though I wasn't happy to have the TV on all day yesterday, it is nice to have the boys back home.  Now it is almost August, and school starts four weeks from today - the summer is flying by!

We all enjoyed some good books last week:
  • I am still reading Sharp North by Patrick Cave, a teen/YA dystopian novel and one of my Big Book Summer Challenge choices.  It's interesting and engaging so far, a unique story set in the UK years after disastrous flooding has changed the world.  My son, Jamie, loved it and recommended it to me.
  • I am still listening to Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, a middle-grade audio book that won the Odyssey Award for Audio Book Excellence...with good reason!  It is wonderful, and I am enjoying it very much.
  • I also read Book 5: Prince of the Elves in the popular Amulet graphic novel series.  The drawings were good, but I had no idea what was happening throughout the entire book - obviously the result of starting with Book 5!  From what I've heard, it's been a bestseller, so we will have to try starting with Book 1 to see for ourselves.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings, Book 2 in this popular series of huge books!
  • While on the boat last week, Jamie, 17, read The Rogue Crew by Brian Jacques, part of the Redwall series which was Jamie's favorite when he was younger.  He's not sure how he missed this one, but he thoroughly enjoyed this bit of comfort reading!
  • When he returned from the boat, I convinced Jamie to try Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  He read for hours yesterday and is LOVING it (as I knew he would!).  It's just such a fun, unique novel, filled with 80's pop culture references that I knew Jamie would enjoy.
  • Craig, 14, took a break from reading while on his trip, but yesterday he reluctantly started his second required book for the summer, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  He has been dreading this one!  To him, it looks like a "girly" novel.  According to the Amazon description, the story goes "...from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture," so hopefully, he can tolerate the hair ribbons and crushes parts and enjoy the action and suspense!
Even though the kids were gone last week, I still had a very busy week with not nearly as much time for writing as I'd hoped, so I posted just one new review: Liesl and Po, a wonderful middle-grade audio book.  I also posted a link to a hilarious blog post, where a writer mom asked her 6-year old daughter to explain what various classic novels were about, from looking at their covers - lots of fun!

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.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Judging a Book By Its Cover

Photo by Sunny Chanel at Strollerderby
It turns out you CAN judge a book by its cover!

In this blog post from Strollerderby, the author, Sunny Chanel, presents some classic novel covers to her 6-year old daughter and asks her to explain what she thinks each book is about.  The results are hilarious...and sometimes startlingly insightful!

Hope you enjoy this bit of Friday fun!

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's Monday 7/23! What Are You Reading?

Today is my birthday!  Happy Birthday to me - ha ha.  I am celebrating by relaxing alone at home - ahhhh!  My sons are off on their grandparents' sailboat for a week, so my husband and I are enjoying a rare bit of peace and quiet.  Life is so easy with just the two of us - we haven't run the dishwasher in 2 days, and it's still not full!

My 8th birthday!

We had a good reading week:
  •  I finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and I LOVED this unique novel!  It is just so much fun but has some depth to it as well.  I found myself thinking about the characters days after I'd finished the book - always the sign of a good novel.  I can't wait to listen to the book discussion of it on The Readers, one of my favorite book podcasts.  And my husband and son will love this book, too!
  • Now I am reading Sharp North by Patrick Cave, a teen/YA dystopian novel that has been sitting on my TBR shelf for far too long.  My Big Book Summer Challenge motivated me to finally read it.
  • I am listening to Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, a middle-grade audio book that won an Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audio Book Production.  I can see why it won an award - I am loving it so far and hoping to have more time to listen with the kids gone this week!
  • I also read another graphic novel that Scholastic sent me: Drama by Raina Telgemeier. I really enjoyed this story about a middle school musical production, especially since my son had the lead role in his middle school's musical this spring!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings (Book 2).  He wants to read Ready Player One before I return it to the library but is too immersed in this hefty tome for now!
  • Jamie, 17, finished The Sapphire Rose, Book 3 in David Eddings' Elenium Trilogy.  He really enjoyed this fantasy series that his Dad recommended.
  • Jamie told me on the phone this morning that he is now reading The Rogue Crew by Brian Jacques.  He LOVED the Redwall series when he was younger and just discovered this one title that he'd never read before.  It was his first-ever purchase at his college bookstore!  And he loves to read books about sailing or the ocean while he is on the sailboat.
  • Craig, 14, finished the first of two required summer reading books this week, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  He found it interesting, and is now enjoying a break from reading during his vacation (yes, I have one son who brings an extra bag full of books on vacation and another who doesn't read at all on vacation!).
I posted two reviews last week:  The Postmistress by Sarah Blake and Cardboard, a middle-grade graphic novel by Doug Tennepel.

My Big Book Summer Challenge is well underway, but there is still time to participate if you have a big book (or two) that you'd like to read this summer.  Check out the challenge and the links to some big book reviews!

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 at Teach Mentor Texts.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fiction Review: The Postmistress

Summer is usually my no-book-group time, when I have no reading obligations because both of my regular book groups take the summer off, but my library’s pick for its July discussion prompted me to set aside my Big Book Summer Challenge for a while.  I’m glad I did.  The group read The Postmistress by Sarah Blake; I enjoyed both the novel and the discussion very much.

The Postmistress is set at the very start of World War II, before the United States has gotten involved.  I’ve read a lot of novels about World War II, but this one covered aspects I knew little about – the U.S.’s apathy at the beginning of the war , the extensive bombing of London, and the world’s ignorance of what was really going on.

There are three main characters at the heart of the book, whose stories are initially separate but gradually come together (I love that in a novel!).  Iris James is the Postmaster in Franklin, MA, a tiny town on the tip of Cape Cod.  She’s been single all her life but now is falling for Harry Vale, the town mechanic who worries they may be in a vulnerable position if the Germans cross the Atlantic.  Emma Fitch has just moved to town, newly married to the town’s doctor, and feeling happy for the first time in her difficult life.  And Frankie Bard is an American woman, reporting live on the war from London.  Emma, Iris, and Harry – as well as the rest of America – all listen to Frankie’s lively radio reports.

Frankie is in the midst of nonstop bombing by the Germans.  I knew London had been bombed during the war, but I had no idea of the extent of the bombing nor how long it went on.  Frankie and other London residents spend every night in underground shelters (many of them just Tube stations), huddled on the hard ground with a blanket and listening to the bombing above.  They emerge each morning to discover whole sections of the city gone.  Frankie tries to convey to her American audience not only the severity of the bombing but also the significance of the war and what is happening to the Jews; she wants the United States to wake up to what is going on in Europe and get involved.

The story unfolds from all three women’s perspectives as the war worsens and their lives each begin to unravel in unforeseen ways.  Eventually, their lives entwine, as one of them waits desperately for news and the other two find themselves unable to deliver a critical bit of news.  The action alternates between Frankie’s observation of (and involvement in) the horrible things going on in Europe and the ordinary lives continuing in the U.S. as if nothing is happening.

I really loved this book, especially the way the disparate stories slowly came together.  The historical backdrop was fascinating, the characters were interesting and sympathetic, and the plot was unique and surprising.  This is an excellent book group pick; our discussion was in-depth and covered many diverse topics, from details of this period in history to the ethics of certain characters’ actions to the parallels with what is happening in the world today.

318 pages, Amy Einhorn Books

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Monday 7/16! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another crazy busy week.  I literally had appointments every single day last week - run, run, run!  Fortunately, all that time in waiting rooms gave me some extra reading time...a silver lining!

Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished The Postmistress by Sarah Blake...almost in time for the book discussion at my library!  I had 10 pages to go when it was time for the meeting, so I finished it right afterward.  It was a good book, and it sparked some great discussions!  I'll post a review this week.
  • Although I normally alternate between kids' books and grown-up books, I had another library book/discussion book that I couldn't wait to read!  I am reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline to prepare for a book discussion on one of my favorite podcasts, The Readers.  I've been hearing great things about this novel since it was published a year ago and am so glad I finally got to it.  It is really, really good, a story about a teen in 2045 who is competing in a huge worldwide online game inside the virtual reality world where most of Earth's human residents now spend their waking hours.  The game's creator (a sort of Gates/Zuckerberg geek success) was obsessed with the 80's, so the novel - and the game - are filled with 80's pop culture references.  It's a great story and lots of fun!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings (Book 2)...and will be for a while!  He's enjoying this hefty book.
  • Jamie, 17, is busy with school work but found time to continue reading David Eddings' The Elenium Trilogy.  He finished book 2, The Ruby Knight, and is now reading book 3, The Sapphire Rose.  He seems to be enjoying this series by one of his dad's favorite authors!
  • Craig, 14, is still reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, one of his required reading books for the summer.  He's enjoying it and finding it interesting, but he'd rather be out with his friends than reading!
I lugged my laptop along to several appointments last week, so I also had time to catch up on a few reviews while sitting in waiting rooms!  I reviewed two of my Big Book Summer readsOutlander by Diana Gabaldon and Blood Red Road by Moira Young, a teen/YA post-apocalyptic novel.  I also posted a summary of Books Read in June (better late than never!).

There are eight of us now participating in the Big Book Summer Challenge, and reviews are being posted, so check it out.  There's still plenty of time left in the summer to read a big book, so join the fun!  And if you are already participating, be sure to add your own big book review links!

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fiction Review: Outlander

For years – and years! – I have been hearing good things about Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and its sequels. I bought myself a copy a very long time ago, and it sat on my bookshelf collecting dust. I really did want to read it, but it’s hard to find time for an 850-page epic.  That’s the beauty of my Big Book Summer Challenge; with both of my regular book groups taking the summer off, I have no reading obligations and plenty of time to tackle hefty books like this one that I have been wanting to read. 

I read Outlander over a 3-week period while we were on vacation, and it more than lived up to all the hype I’d heard.  It was perfect vacation reading: the story pulled me in and kept me reading – yes, through all 850 pages!
It’s the story of a young British woman named Claire who, in 1945, is vacationing with her husband, Frank, in Scotland after the end of the war.  Frank worked in intelligence during the war, and Claire worked as a nurse, so they are reuniting after a long separation.  Frank is into genealogy and is taking advantage of their time in Scotland to gather more information about his ancestors.  
The excitement begins when Claire visits an ancient stone circle in the area and is somehow pulled into the past: far into the past.  Stuck in the 1730’s, Claire does her best to survive and blend in.  She meets one of her husband’s ancestors whom Frank had been studying, Jonathan Randall, and he turns out to be a nasty, sadistic British officer.  She also meets a young Scot named Jamie who has inadvertently made himself Randall’s greatest enemy.  Of course, Claire’s modern medical training is extremely useful in the 1730’s, though as a woman, she is viewed with suspicion as much as gratitude. 
This is an epic novel, filled with battles, castles, warriors, heroes and villains, and romance.  It is also a very graphic novel, with some exceptional violence and explicit love scenes (and, disturbingly, sometimes the two intersect).  In fact, my husband read Outlander a few years ago and found a scene toward the end just too disturbing – that kind of ruined the book for him.  As for me, I’m no fan of violence, but I enjoyed this compelling novel in spite of its graphic nature (I do understand that violence was a part of life during that time in history).  I came to really care about Claire, caught between two worlds, and I was rooting for her.  I often enjoy time travel stories, but this one is also so much more.  I think I need to find time to read book 2!
850 pages, Bantam Dell

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Books Read in June

Me and my two sons in Badlands National Park

We spent most of June on a 3-week long cross-country road trip (and the week before that immersed in graduation festivities), so it was an unusual month in many ways, including reading and blogging.  I did pretty much no blogging at all, and my reading was concentrated on a few long books, in line with my Big Book Summer Challenge.

Here's what I read in June:
  • Blood Red Road by Moira Young, a teen/YA dystopian novel.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, a sweeping epic of a time travel novel.
  • Revived by Cat Patrick, a teen/YA sci fi/romance audio book.
And that's it!  The first two books were part of my goals for my Big Book Summer, at 459 pages and 850 pages, respectively.  Outlander was my favorite book of the month and lasted me through our entire 3-week vacation!  That brings my mid-year total up to 33 books.

For my 2012 Challenges, I added one state, Nebraska, and one country, Scotland, to my Where Are You Reading 2012 Challenge, which brings my mid-year totals to 18 states and 5 countries. I added Blood Red Road to my Dystopian Challenge, bringing my total to 4 dystopian novels so far this year.  For my 12 in '12 Challenge, I read another book off my TBR shelf, Outlander, bringing my total to 4 for the year so far (though this one should count for more than one, since it is so long and it has been sitting on my shelf gathering dust for so long!).  I better get crackin' on this challenge!

And my own first hosted challenge, the Big Book Summer Challenge, is in full swing.  There is still time to join the fun - you only need to read 1 book over 400 pages before Labor Day to qualify, so check it out!

What was your favorite book read in June?

Monday, July 09, 2012

It's Monday 7/9! What Are You Reading?

I'm a little late posting today - spent all morning running errands and going to appointments.  Whatever happened to the lazy days of summer??

In fact, I was insanely busy all last week - post-vacation catch-up!  I am making progress, slowly but surely.  I am down to just 100 unread e-mails now (I started with 1000!).  So, little time for either reading or blogging last week, but I am hoping to get back to normal this week. 

Here's what we read last week:
  • I finished Outlander by Diana Galbaldon.  I enjoyed it very much and would definitely read another in the series...when  have a few weeks to devote to it!
  • I am diverting briefly from my Big Book Summer focus to read a novel for my library's book group, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.  I don't know if I'll be able to finish in time for the discussion on Wednesday, but I am enjoying the book.
  • I started a new audio, the middle-grade novel, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.  I have only finished disk 1, but I am loving it already.
  • In a few spare moments (OK, I admit it, in the bathroom), I read a new middle-grade graphic novel, Cardboard by Doug Tennapel.  I liked it more than I expected to - it's a unique premise and a very clever story about magic cardboard that gets out of hand.
  • My husband, Ken, finally got his turn with George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings (Book 2) now that our son finished the first three books!
  • Jamie, 17, had to get back to work upon returning home (he still has 2 classes to finish this summer), so he's not reading as much as he'd like to, but he is continuing to enjoy David Eddings' The Elenium Trilogy with the second book, The Ruby Knight.
Two more bloggers signed up for the Big Book Summer Challenge last week - welcome!  Join the fun - there's still plenty of time to read a big book this summer (or two).

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a middle-grade/teen version hosted by Teach Mentor Books.)

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Snapshot Saturday 7/7

At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot.

This is a photo from our recent cross-country road trip, of a storm approaching at sunset in Badlands National Park in South Dakota.  We were out hiking (it was too hot to hike during the day!) among the amazing rock formations - we love the Badlands!  We got back to our pop-up camper just in time for the storm to hit.  And what a storm it was - we thought our camper would blow away!  In fact, the next morning, we found that the wind had blown our gas grill several feet and had blown the wooden chocks out from under the tires of the camper.

All in all, it was a great trip!  Hope you are enjoying your weekend.

Monday, July 02, 2012

It's Monday 7/2! What Are You Reading?

No, don't worry, I didn't enter Witness Protection.  I disappeared for a few weeks because we were on vacation!  Our vacations are mostly tech-free - long road trips cross country, camping along the way.  We drove to South Dakota's Black Hills - one of our favorite places on earth! - to visit family and enjoy all the amazing scenery, and we made lots of fun stops along the way.  Although I did miss interacting with friends online, I have to admit that I didn't miss all the obligations and responsibilities - of course, now I have 950 e-mail messages to wade through!

So, we read lots of great books over the past 3 weeks (it's actually been a full month since my last Monday update).  We read far fewer than usual, though, because all of us were focused on some really BIG books - perfect for my Big Book Summer Challenge!  Here's the run-down:
  • Before we left, I finished Blood Red Road by Moira Young, a teen dystopian novel and my first Big Book of the summer, at 459 pages.  It's an unusual novel, written in a unique style, but it grew on me - the story was gripping.
  • During our trip, I read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  At 850 pages, it lasted our entire trip (and I am still working on finishing it!).  I am loving it - it is just as good as everyone has told me for years - an epic story about a woman in Scotland in 1945 who gets sent back in time to the 1700's.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.  He loved it but very kindly held off on starting Book 2 because he knew our son would fly through both books (he was right!).  
  • Next, Ken read Running Blind by one of his favorite authors, Lee Child.
  • Jamie, 17, started the trip by reading and enjoying The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, a recent re-release by favorite author Nancy Farmer, while he waited (rather impatiently!) for Ken to finish Martin's novel! 
  • Next, as predicted, Jamie flew through George R.R. Martin's series, reading A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords (which we gave to Ken for Father's Day while we were away!).  He loved the series and can't wait to read Book 4!
  • After polishing off those three enormous novels, Jamie delved into the duffel bag of books he brought with him (he reads a LOT on our trips!) and started The Diamond Throne by David Eddings, Book 1 of The Elenium trilogy.  Eddings is an old favorite author of my husband's, so he picked up two of his trilogies at the used bookstore for our son before we left.
  • Craig, 14, started his assigned summer reading for school while we were gone with Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and was surprised to find it fascinating!
  • In the car, we listened to a new teen audio book, Revived by Cat Patrick, a creepy sci fi/romance about a girl who is part of a secret government program to test a new drug that can revive people who have died.  Ken and Jamie thought there was too much romance and not enough action, but we all enjoyed the intriguing and unique story.
So, that's about it.  I did manage to post two new reviews before we left:  The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern and The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez, a teen memoir.  I also posted a summary of Books Read in May...and now it's already time to summarize June!

It's still early in the summer - plenty of time left to sign up for the Big Book Summer Challenge if you haven't yet!  It's an easy-breezy challenge - you only need to read one big book (over 400 pages) this summer to participate.  Sign up today and join the fun!  Here are a few pictures from our trip.  If you are interested, you can see more at our trip blog.

Ken and I at Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, SD

Craig and Jamie at Mount Rushmore

All of us at Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin