Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Monday 7/28! What Are You Reading?


We enjoyed our quiet week alone while our sons were off sailing with my mom and her husband on their annual grandkids' cruise with my niece. This year brought a new development: I didn't have to drive them back and forth to CT - they drove themselves! Wow, what a concept. My youngest son is enjoying his newfound freedom...and so am I, with no longer needing to spend all day driving him places!

We all enjoyed lots of reading last week:
  • I finally finished my second Big Book of the Summer, Emma, my first-ever Jane Austen novel. It was definitely a long one. I struggled through the first half and really hated Emma herself, but I took your advice and stuck with it, and both the novel and its main character got better!
  • I started my third Big Book of the Summer, Good Fortune by Noni Carter, a teen/YA novel about a young African girl who is stolen from her homeland and brought to the US into slavery. It is excellent so far...and moving much more quickly than Emma did!
  • My husband and I continued listening to Uncaged, a teen/YA thriller by adult thriller writer John Sandford and co-author Michelle Cook. This is book one of a new series called The Singular Menace, and it's been excellent so far, but we need more time in the car together to finish it!
  • I started - and finished - listening to Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick on audio. This is an excellent YA novel by the famed author of Silver Linings Playbook, showcasing the same talent to tackle difficult subjects with heart and humor. It's about a teen boy who plans to kill the bully who's been tormenting him and then himself. It is especially eye-opening because you start out being disgusted by what he's planning and end up feeling bad for him and wanting him to get help. Most startlingly, some people in his life suspect he may be suicidal but don't do enough to help. Haunting and compelling.
  • My husband has been reading The Hurt Machine, a Moe Prager mystery by Reed Farrel Coleman, on his Kindle. He says it's good so far.
  • Jamie, 19, finished The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy that he recently enjoyed. It was over 1200 pages and is book one of The Stormlight Archive series. He enjoyed it very much.
  • Jamie did a lot of reading on the boat! Next, he read The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin, book one of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and another hefty one at 640 pages. Too bad he;s not doing the Big Book Summer Challenge with me!
  • He is now reading The Wise Man's Fear by one of his new favorite authors, Patrick Rothfuss. This is The Kingkiller Chronicles: Day Two, and he is loving it so far, making his way through another almost-1200 page novel! He usually brings an extra duffle bag filled with books on our vacations.

Last week wasn't quite the productive catch-up week I envisioned (is it ever??), but I did write two reviews:

Review of Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer, an emotionally moving novel

Review of Gypsy Davey, a teen/YA novel by Chris Lynch


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 Unleashing Readers.

There are still 5 weeks of summer left, so plenty of time to participate in my Big Book Summer Challenge! You only need to read one book, 400 pages or more, this summer to participate, so join the fun! If you've already signed up, remember to stop back by the challenge page to link to your Big Book reviews!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Teen/YA Review: Gypsy Davey

Apparently, Chris Lynch is an award-winning YA author, but I’d never read any of his books before. So, I recently jumped at the chance to read Gypsy Davey, a slim novel about a seriously dysfunctional family and a unique boy.

Twelve-year old Davey has had a rough life, to put it mildly. His mother is neglectful and not very prone to mothering, and his father is mostly absent, though he occasionally shows up to have fun with his kids and then disappears again. Davey’s sister, Jo, has been acting like a mother to Davey since she was seven, and he was just two. But now Jo is a mother herself, at only seventeen, and seems to be following in her own mother’s footsteps, filled with anger and resentment and not much affection.

Although it is never spelled out, Davey seems to be autistic. In any case, he doesn’t interact with the world the way other people do. He tends to retreat into himself and engages in repetitive behaviors. Jo has always been his protector, but now she has her own baby to take care of. Davey does find relief and escape on his bike. He rides for hours and feels like he can think more clearly when he is moving.

Although Jo is already disillusioned by motherhood (perhaps because she has been playing the role of mother since she was 7), Davey adores his new cousin, Dennis, and is surprised to find that he’s quite good at taking care of him. That’s good because when Davey comes over after school, Jo sometimes takes off, much like their own mother did. Davey loves taking care of Dennis so much that he’s beginning to think that maybe someday he will find someone to love and have a baby of his own to take care of…and he’s pretty sure he’ll be a good father.

The chapters alternate between Davey’s perspective, which is a sort of stream-of-consciousness kind of of thing, and a third-person point of view to fill in the details of the story, often looking back at Jo and Davey’s past. I realize that it may sound like a pretty depressing book from the plot description, but Davey is a great narrator. Getting a peek into what and how he’s thinking is fascinating, despite the blatant neglect he suffers from. Ultimately, Davey is optimistic and hopeful about the future, which makes the reader hopeful as well. Lynch accomplishes quite a feat by packing such a full and powerful story into so few pages.

151 pages, Simon & Schuster

 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fiction Review: Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots

My local bookstore, The Hockessin Bookshelf, hosts a unique kind of monthly book discussion called Eat, Drink, Read, where a local chef makes food based on the selected book while the attendees discuss the book…and enjoy the fabulous food! My mother and I attended the June meeting where Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer was discussed. I’m so glad we chose that month to participate because otherwise, I may never have read this compelling, intense, and heartfelt novel about family.

Fourteen-year old Lorca has been suspended from school. Her cold, distant mother is a successful professional chef with her own restaurant and little time or affection for her daughter. At a time when Lorca clearly needs help, love, and comfort, her mother’s response is to tell her she will be going to boarding school next semester. Lorca feels alone and desperate, with no one to turn to.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, elderly Victoria is grieving and lost after her beloved husband’s death. She feels guilty, thinking she could have treated him better, and agonizing over a long-ago loss of which she and her husband never spoke. Victoria is also a chef and used to run a small family restaurant specializing in Iraqi food. She and her husband were both Iraqi Jews who fled to the United States just before World War II. Like Lorca, Victoria feels all alone in the world now.

When Lorca overhears her mother describing her best meal ever as masgouf, an Iraqi fish dish, Lorca signs up for cooking lessons with Victoria, in the hopes of learning to make her mother’s favorite dish and thus making her love her and want to keep her at home. The two lonely, aching women bond over food, while each tries to come to terms with her own personal demons.

Warm and compelling, this novel packs a powerful emotional punch, with secrets and twists around every corner. Food plays an important role in the novel (making it perfect for our lunch/book discussion!), as a source of comfort and nourishment, as well as a link to Victoria’s past. The author even includes some recipes (two of which the chef made for us).

This novel also covers some very difficult topics related to loss and love. Most difficult of all, however, is that Lorca engages in self-harm, a somewhat common but hidden practice in our world that is rarely talked about openly. The publisher never mentions this in the plot description on the book’s cover, even though it happens in the novel’s first pages, and I can understand why. This book is so wonderful and has so much to offer that I wouldn’t want people to pass it by simply because it deals with such a difficult topic. Everyone at our lunch/discussion agreed that the author handles the topic perfectly – she doesn’t make you pity Lorca or feel disgusted by her. Those passages dealing with her harming herself are difficult to read, no question, but I felt nothing but empathy for Lorca and was rooting for her to find help and the love she craved.

One reviewer summed up the novel by saying (I’m paraphrasing) that it is about the family you are born into and the family you find for yourself, and we all agreed that was a perfect summation. Despite the difficult subject matter, this is a gripping story that is ultimately hopeful and uplifting, about healing and people in need who find each other. The multi-dimensional characters have stuck with me strongly in the month since I finished the book. Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a profoundly moving novel, and I am so glad to have read it.

352 pages, Mariner Books

NOTE: The Amazon link included below includes an interesting interview with the author - 

 

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's Monday 7/21! What Are You Reading?


Another hectic week with not a lot of time for reading. We went to go visit my dad who is recovering from surgery for cancer about mid-week, and then our sons took off for their other grandparents' house for their annual week on the sailboat with them. So, long days on the road for all of us. This is supposed to be my quiet get-caught-up week, but I have an out-of-state doctor's appointment today (I have Lyme disease again) and have to renew my driver's license at the DMV tomorrow - good times!

Anyway, we did manage to squeeze in some reading last week, amidst the chaos:
  • I am still reading my second Big Book of the Summer, Emma, my first-ever Jane Austen novel. Those of you who told me last week to stick with it were right - I like it better now, and Emma herself is becoming more tolerable! I only have about 50 pages left.
  • I finished a middle-grade audio book, P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widow by Caroline Lawrence, part of a mystery series set in the Old West that I enjoyed.
  • With our sons driving in a separate car, my husband and I were free to listen to an audio book on the way to Rochester! Our sons, now 16 and almost 20, don't like to listen to books with us on car trips anymore - they are all about their music. My husband and I listened to Uncaged, a teen/YA thriller by adult thriller writer John Sandford and co-author Michelle Cook. This is book one of a new series called The Singular Menace, and it's been excellent so far. We're at least 3/4 of the way through it, and it's been fast-paced and suspenseful, a great choice for a long car ride.
  • My husband, Ken, finished reading Raylan by Elmore Leonard on his Kindle, a book based on the character from the Justified TV show, which he loves. We recently bought this novel for both of our fathers, and my dad was talking about it during our visit. It's been a big hit all around, and Ken enjoyed it, too!
  • Jamie, 19, is still reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy that he recently enjoyed. This one is over 1200 pages and is book one of The Stormlight Archive series.
 No time for writing any reviews last week, but I managed a couple of blog posts:

Summary of Books Read in June

Trailers for Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl Movies (can't wait!) 


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 Unleashing Readers.


There are still 6 weeks of summer left, so plenty of time to participate in my Big Book Summer Challenge! You only need to read one book, 400 pages or more, this summer to participate, so join the fun!If you've already signed up, remember to stop back by the challenge page to link to your Big Book reviews!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

New Trailer for Before I Go To Sleep

There are so many movies coming this year that are adapted from books! I shared the trailer for The Giver last month. The latest trailer released is for Before I Go To Sleep, a creepy thriller by S.J. Watson from last year that I actually liked better than Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn's best-seller that received more hype. Both movies look great, though!

Here is the trailer for Before I Go To Sleep, to be released on September 12:



And here's the trailer for Gone Girl, to be released October 3:



Plenty for both book lovers and thriller lovers to look forward to in the theaters this fall!

What movie adaptations are you looking forward to?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Books Read in June





Whew, where did June go? We've had a rough summer so far, with all kinds of family emergencies and extra health problems. Thank goodness we always have our books for comfort and distraction. June was an outstanding reading month for me! Here's what I read last month:

  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, fiction (NY)
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, teen/YA audio (MA)
  • UnSouled by Neal Schusterman, teen/YA novel and my first Big Book of the Summer (CO)


  • Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer (NY, Iraq)
  • Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, teen/YA novel (Dem. Republic of Congo)


In my reading journal, I mark a * next to any book that I thought was really outstanding...and every one of these books read in June got a * - a very high-quality reading month! Wow, choosing a favorite is really hard. They were all so good and all so different. Hmmm...I refuse to choose a favorite for last month - just read them all! I can tell you that We Were Liars was the most suspenseful, UnSouled the creepiest, Endangered the fastest-paced, and Tell the Wolves I'm Home and Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots were both heart-breaking but also life-affirming and hopeful.

It was an all-fiction month, with one listened on audio. Three were teen/YA novels, and two were adult novels, though interestingly, both had teen girl narrators. As you can see from the lack of links above, I am behind in my reviews - just no time for writing lately, but I hope to catch up during some much-needed down time next week.

I added just one new state and two new countries to my Where Are You Reading Challenge 2014 this month. Oh, dear - I didn't read a single book from my TBR shelves for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge in June - I am really doing poorly on that one, and my shelves are piling up! I listened to one more audio book for my 2014 Audio Book Challenge, bringing my total to 10 in 6 months, so that one's going well so far. No nonfiction books last month, and no classics.

What was your favorite book(s) read in June? 

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's Monday 7/14! What Are You Reading?


I missed last Monday's post, in the midst of a flurry of activity and travel. We were out in Oklahoma, helping my father-in-law clean out his house, to prepare to move out here in September. It's been a busy and stressful time this past month or so, and my health is worse than usual.

But we still keep reading! Three days spent in airports gave us all plenty of time to read:
  • I finished Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, a YA novel. It's about a teen named Sophie who is visiting her mom in the Congo, where she runs a sanctuary for bonobos, a type of ape. Sophie gets stuck there during a violent coup and must find a way to save both herself and the bonobos. It was wonderful - suspenseful and compelling.
  • For the past two weeks, I have been reading my second Big Book of the Summer, Emma, my first-ever Jane Austen novel. I know there are a lot of huge Austen fans out there, but I'm struggling with it. I'm a little more than half-way and feeling a bit bored with it. The character of Emma is pompous and condescending, which really turns me off, and the whole society is completely wrapped up in trivialities and gossip. I considered setting it down, but I really feel like I should read at least one Austen novel, so I am trying to stick with it.
  • I have been listening to a middle-grade audio book, P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widow by Caroline Lawrence. My son and I were huge fans of her Roman Mysteries series when he was younger (it's like Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys set in ancient Rome), and this is the third (I think) book in her new mystery series set in the Old West. I'm almost done and have been enjoying it.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton, a modern classic, and enjoyed it.
  • On our trip, Ken read Bent Road by Lori Roy, a thriller I gave him for Easter. I chose it from the bookstore shelves somewhat randomly, based on its being nominated for an Edgar Award. He liked it - said it was a bit gruesome but was suspenseful and interesting, set in Kansas, which was appropriate since we were visiting Oklahoma.
  • Now, Ken is reading Raylan by Elmore Leonard on his Kindle, a book based on the character from the Justified TV show, which he loves. We recently bought this novel for both of our fathers.
  • Jamie, 19, finished Ink Mage by Victor Gischler, a free fantasy novel on the Kindle.
  • Next, Jamie read the first of two huge novels that he carried in his backpack through all our airport adventures, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.
  • He is now reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy that he recently enjoyed. This one is over 1200 pages and is book one of The Stormlight Archive series.
Only a few blog posts from the past two weeks:

Play Summer Reading Bingo, hosted by Books on the Nightstand podcast

Review of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, a haunting and suspenseful teen/YA novel

Review of Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, a coming-of-age story set in the 80's


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 Unleashing Readers.

There are still 7 weeks of summer left, so plenty of time to participate in my Big Book Summer Challenge! You only need to read one book, 400 pages or more, this summer to participate, so join the fun!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Snapshot Saturday 7/12


Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

It's been a while since I've been able to participate in Snapshot Saturday. Most of my photos this past month have been of family stuff, as we've visited my father-in-law to help clean out his house so he can move near us and my own father who recently had surgery for cancer.

But I do have a few interesting photos snapped along the way - two of that amazing, glowing light that sometimes comes just before a summer storm (hard to capture in a photo!)  and one of the Chicago skyline from our plane, as we flew back home this week:

Eerie, beautiful, glowing light before a storm

The sky just before a summer storm

Chicago skyline from a plane


Hope you are having a great weekend!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fiction Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

When my neighborhood book group recently chose Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, I knew very little about it. I was pleasantly surprised and was pulled right into the story and characters and transported back to the 1980’s for a wonderful coming-of-age story.

It’s 1987 and fourteen year-old June adores her artistic, quirky Uncle Finn. She feels like he’s the only person who truly understands her; kids at school think she’s distant and strange. She loves everything to do with medieval times, and Finn understands that and so much more. Her 16-year old sister, Greta, feels a bit left out of their special relationship, but she seems to be wrapped up in her own friends and activities and growing apart from June.

When Finn dies of AIDS, June is devastated. Her mom, Finn’s sister, is also upset but doesn’t want to talk about it. The whole family feels the stigma of Finn’s illness at a time when little was known about AIDS and lots of assumptions were made, so little is said about it. June notices a strange man at Finn’s funeral whom her parents tell her caused Finn’s death. A few days later, June receives a package containing a special teapot of Finn’s that was meaningful to the two of them, with a note from the man, Toby, asking her if they can meet.

At first, June is cautious and suspicious of this man who has been shunned by the rest of her family, but as the two get to know each other, she realizes that he is a connection to her beloved Finn, perhaps the only other person on earth who misses Finn as much as she does and understands the relationship they had. The two grow closer, as June and Greta seem to grow ever further apart, and their parents are wrapped up in their tax business during the busy season. Meanwhile, June worries that Greta is headed for trouble but doesn’t know how to reach out to her.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a compelling coming-of-age story with a likeable character, June, at its center who is struggling to come to terms not only with growing up but also with grieving and loss. The setting and time period are like an extra character in the novel, with a fascinating look back at a time of confusion and fear as the AIDS crisis grew. Our book group had plenty of topics to discuss with this engaging, emotionally rich novel about family, friendship, growing up, and healing.

355 pages, The Dial Press (an imprint of Random House)

 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Teen/YA Review: We Were Liars

I rarely have a chance to read books soon after they are released, but I heard so many good things about We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, released in May, that I eagerly listened to the YA audio book as soon as I got it. I wasn’t disappointed. We Were Liars is a suspenseful, intriguing, wholly unique story about family, secrets, and lies.

Seventeen-year old Cadence Sinclair Easton is spending the summer on her family’s private island, as she has almost every year of her life, except the past one. She spends every summer with her cousins on the island, swimming, boating, playing Scrabble, and hanging out with their families. She is particularly close to her other two teen cousins and their friend, Gat. During her 15th summer, something horrible happened to Cadence, and she still suffers from amnesia about that summer, plus debilitating migraines, pain, and other symptoms. This summer, she is focused on trying to remember what happened, but no one seems to want to talk about it.

The four teens call themselves The Liars. That, plus Cadence’s amnesia, makes her a classic unreliable narrator. The reader can tell something isn’t quite right but doesn’t know what – ad neither does Cadence. Suspense builds as Cadence tries to piece together what happened two summers ago that culminated in her injuries. The story moves back and forth between that summer (and previous ones, too) and the current one. Along the way, the reader learns more about the inner workings of the great Sinclair family and the characteristics and flaws of each of the family members. A budding romance between Cadence and Gat adds another piece of the puzzle.

The story uncoils bit by bit, as Cadence works to unravel her shattered memory and the reader gets to know her family. The result is a completely compelling, gripping novel that grabs you right from the start and never lets go. I listened to the audio book in less than a week, which is a record for me, as I wore my iPod around the house and ignored my family. It’s a haunting, engaging story that has stayed with me in the weeks since I finished it. Don’t miss this one!

Listening Library

Listen to an excerpt:
 
    AUDIO:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Play BOTNS Summer Reading Bingo!

Of course, you should join my own summer reading fun, The Big Book Summer Challenge, but here is another way to add some fun to your summer reading...

My favorite book podcast, Books on the Nightstand, is hosting Summer Reading Bingo. Just use this link to print out a Bingo card for yourself and your friends (just hit refresh to get a new card...but no fair clicking over and over to get the one you want!). You can count anything you've read from Memorial Day weekend (May 23) through to Labor Day weekend (Sept. 1) and try to fill in 5 blocks in a row in any direction...or if you really want a challenge, try to fill in the whole card!

I've got 6 blocks filled in so far, plus my free square in the middle, but no full row yet.

Join in the fun!


Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Monday 6/30! What Are You Reading?


Running a little behind today. Things are in an upheaval around here lately, and it's only going to get worse. My dad was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma, so we went to visit him this weekend (in my hometown, Rochester, NY). Hopefully, his surgery will be scheduled this week, but we are heading out to Oklahoma to visit my father-in-law, whom we are in the process of moving out here to Delaware. And my oldest son's chronic illnesses are badly flared up. So, yeah, going through some rough times here, but hanging in there and staying optimistic.

Thank goodness for our books that provide some comfort and escape. Here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I finished Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer for a book discussion hosted by my local bookstore, where a local chef prepared foods related to the book while we discussed it. The novel was excellent - about the interaction between a teen girl who's feeling lost and unloved and an older woman who just lost her husband. Much of the book focuses on delicious-sounding Iraqi foods (both the girls' mother and the older woman are chefs), and the lunch was wonderful!
  • Now I am reading Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, a YA novel. It's about a teen named Sophie who is visiting her mom in the Congo, where she runs a sanctuary for bonobos, a type of ape. Sophie gets stuck there during a violent coup and must find a way to save both herself and the bonobos. It is great so far - suspenseful and compelling.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Martian by Andy Weir, which I gave him for Father's Day. He really enjoyed it - it's like MacGyver meets Gravity.
  • Ken is now reading a modern classic, The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton.
  • Jamie, 19, is finished reading the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson on his Kindle, finishing book 2, The Well of Ascension, and then reading book 3, The Hero of Ages. He is fortunate enough to be able to read in the car without getting sick, so he had 14 hours of reading time this weekend!
  • Next, Jamie read The Prince of Ravens, Book 1 of The Exile Trilogy by Hal Emerson.
  • Now, Jamie is reading Ink Mage by Victor Gischler, another free fantasy novel on the Kindle.



Just one post last week:



Review of  The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom

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 Unleashing Readers.



There is still plenty of time to sign up for my Big Book Summer Challenge! You only need to read one book, 400 pages or more, this summer to participate, so join the fun!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fiction Review: The First Phone Call From Heaven

My online family book group recently chose The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom. Years ago, I enjoyed his famous memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie, and his first novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. While this latest novel isn’t quite up to par with those first two books, it was a unique story that kept my interest.

The title event happens on the very first page of the novel, as a woman named Tess hears her dead mother’s voice on her answering machine. Moments later, a local police officer gets a call from his deceased soldier son. And on it goes, as all over the small town of Coldwater, MI, various people hear brief messages on their home phones and cell phones from their loved ones who’ve died. Meanwhile, Sully Harding, whose wife died recently while he was in prison, gets upset by this turn of events in his hometown. His young son keeps expecting to get a phone call from his mom, and Sully is certain this is a hoax with cruel consequences. He sets out to solve the mystery of the heaven-sent phone calls.

As the town’s residents try to decide whether to be skeptical or joyful about this strange turn of events, little Coldwater becomes a media Mecca, with radio, TV, and print media all descending on the tiny town, eager to report on the world’s first connection with heaven.  The result is chaos and fame – much of it unwanted – as the town’s residents try to live their lives and decide what all this means. Throughout the novel, which is a quick page-turner, Albom also weaves in historical facts about Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone.

Spiritual matters and mysteries are a favorite topic of Albom’s, though the insights in this novel felt a bit forced to me. The ending does bring things together nicely, wrapping things up with just the right amount of ambiguity to leave people wondering. I found the writing less polished than in Albom’s previous books that I’d read. It almost felt as if he wrote it quickly and it got little editing, and minor inconsistencies in the story kind of bothered me. Overall, though, it is a unique and engaging story that kept me reading. It’s fast-paced and a fairly quick read….just not quite as clever and well-written as The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

336 pages, Harper

NOTE: I read this novel as an e-book on my Kindle, only the second e-book I have read! I have a long list of downloaded bargain books that I need to get to.

 

Monday, June 23, 2014

It's Monday 6/23! What Are You Reading?


Whew, running late today - the next few weeks are going to be nonstop busy, with lots of stress piled on top! Just dealing with a lot of things right now in our family.

Books always provide a comforting retreat - here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I have been reading Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer for a book discussion this week hosted by my local bookstore, where a local chef will prepare foods related to the book while we discuss it. The novel has been excellent - about the interaction between a teen girl who's feeling lost and unloved and an older woman who just lost her husband. Much of the book focuses on delicious-sounding Iraqi foods (both the girls' mother and the older woman are chefs), so I can't wait for lunch this week!
  • Second week with no audio book going. I need to get one started, but I just haven't had time to download one or to listen.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Expats by Chris Pavone and enjoyed this modern-day spy thriller.
  • Ken is now reading The Martian by Andy Weir, which I gave him for Father's Day. In fact, I gave The Martian to my husband, my dad, and my mother's husband for Father's Day! It's supposed to be the it thriller of the season, about an astronaut stuck on Mars by himself with limited equipment - sort of a McGyver meets Gravity story.
  • I think that Jamie, 19, is still reading the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson on his Kindle, working on book 2, The Well of Ascension. He spent the last four days at the Firefly music festival and is sound asleep at the moment.
Not much time for blog writing (or visiting - sorry about that!) last week, but I managed a couple of posts:

Trailer for The Giver movie - coming in August - looks great! 

Review of Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven, a historical novel set during WWII

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 Unleashing Readers.


First Day of Summer was last week so there is still plenty of time to sign up for my Big Book Summer Challenge! You only need to read one book, 400 pages or more, this summer to participate, so join the fun!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday Snapshot 6/21


Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Happy First Day of Summer!! My kids have been out of school for weeks, and it was in the high 90's earlier this week, so the official first day of summer feels a bit anti-climactic.

Since we used to take a 3-week long road trip out west to National and state parks every June (back when the boys' schedules were in synch!), I thought I'd celebrate the first day of summer with a few photos of some of the amazing places we've visited on our past summer road trips.

Devil's Tower, WY

St. Louis Arch

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, SD (one of our faves!)

Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Canoe camping along the Buffalo National River, AR

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO


Shenandoah National Park, VA

New Mexico, mountains north of Sante Fe & Albuquerque

Crater Lake National Park, OR

Yosemite National Park, CA

Our sons at sunset in Badlands National Park, SD
Sunset at Acadia National Park, ME

I'm ready to load up the pop-up camper and hit the road! Too bad we have to wait for August this year for a brief 10-day trip to NH and VT.

Hope you are enjoying the official start of summer and having a lovely weekend!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fiction Review: Velva Jean Learns to Fly

When my book group first chose Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven, I have to admit I was afraid it might be too light for my reading taste. However, the fast-paced plot of the novel, the historical context, and the likable character of Velva Jean pulled me in right away. I not only thoroughly enjoyed the historical novel but I also found it interesting and thought-provoking.

This novel is actually a sequel to Velva Jean Learns to Drive, but we had no problem picking up the story and character without reading the first book. As this book opens, Velva Jean is driving her yellow truck (which she apparently learned to drive in the first book) away from her home in the Appalachian Mountains and toward Nashville to fulfill her dream of singing at the Opry. She’s actually a very good singer and even has a record of a single that a traveling music recording professional recorded of her and her brother singing a song she wrote. The catch is that Velva Jean has never left her secluded little town in the mountains and has never been on her own before.

In the first part of the book, Velva Jean settles into life in Nashville, finds herself a job and an apartment, and starts trying to make a singing career for herself. Before long, the U.S. joins World War II, and Velva Jean’s priorities change, as she learns to fly and decides she wants to become a pilot and help in the war effort. A lot happens after that, but to say any more would give away too much (no spoilers here!).

One of the inspiring things about Velva Jean is that she has been through a lot of rough times, but she still keeps smiling and pushing forward. Here, she muses on how life’s challenges affect us (many of her challenges referred to here occurred in the first novel):

“The more things that happened to me, the more I thought it was like carrying a suitcase – you kept adding things to it, like your mama dying and your daddy going away, heartbreak over your husband, heartbreak over a boy that died. You just started adding these things to your suitcase until the case got heavier. You still had to carry it around wherever you went, and even if you set it down for a while you still had to pick it up again because it belonged to you and so did everything inside it.”

I enjoyed both the Nashville and the pilot sections of the novel, though some of our book group members clearly preferred the pilot portion. That’s where the author brings a lot of real-life history into the story. Although women pilots were allowed to help with certain tasks, like transferring planes from one location to another, they were not an official part of the military and were not welcomed by many of the male pilots. Our group found the most interesting discussion material in those aspects of the novel, about the plight of newly minted women pilots wanting to help with the war effort but facing discrimination that sometimes reached dangerous levels.

Many of our book group members were delighted to hear that the author has written more novels about Velva Jean, so anyone who wants to know what happened to her next can read Becoming Clementine, about her adventures as spy in France, and American Blonde, about her time in Hollywood (to be released July 29, 2014). Velva Jean’s varied adventures set against fascinating historical backdrops make for good summer reading (and this one even qualifies as a Big Book)!

410 pages, Plume

       

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trailer for The Giver Movie

I can't wait!!

The Giver, a classic YA dystopian novel, has been adapted for the big screen, and the movie will be released on August 15, 2014. Here's a recent preview:



IT LOOKS SO GOOD! I love the Wizard of Oz-ish black and white/color thing, and it looks like they chose some great actors for the main roles.

I may need to re-read the novel before August to remind myself of the details...and maybe this will give me just the excuse I need to read the rest of the trilogy!

Are you looking forward to seeing The Giver on the big screen?

What other book adaptations are you eagerly waiting for?

Monday, June 16, 2014

It's Monday 6/16! What Are You Reading?


We had a nice quiet weekend, but now it's back to reality - long to-do list, errands to run, over 200 unread e-mails from that relaxing weekend!

We enjoyed some good books last week, though:
  • Last night, I just finished (stayed up too late!) UnSouled by Neal Schusterman, book 3 of the Unwind Dystology (yes, they created a word for it). This series is just sooo good! My son is planning to re-read book 1 this summer, then catch up on the rest of the series, and my husband and I are eagerly awaiting book 4.
  • I went a whole week without listening to an audio book - caught up on my favorite book podcasts instead.
  • Today, I am going to start Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer for a book discussion next week hosted by my local bookstore, where a local chef will prepare foods related to the book while we discuss it. Can't wait!
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading The Expats by Chris Pavone, an e-book I bought on sale for our joint Kindle account. He's enjoying it very much - he says everything is beginning to come together now!
  • Jamie, 19, finished Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb, book 1 of the Farseer trilogy.
  • Now Jamie is reading the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson on his Kindle. He finished book 1, Mistborn, and is now reading book 2, The Well of Ascension.
Super busy last week - first week of summer break for my younger son, so I spent much of my time driving him around! So, I didn't have time for writing many reviews, but I managed a few posts:

Review of The Here and Now by Ann Brashares, a teen/YA audio book

Summary of Books Read in May - a record-breaking month for me!

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 Unleashing Readers.

Remember, this is the perfect time to sign up for my Big Book Summer Challenge! You only need to read one book, 400 pages or more, this summer to participate, so join the fun!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Snapshot Saturday 6/14


Snapshot Saturday is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

My husband and I had last weekend to ourselves, so we went kayaking at a local state park on Saturday morning - it was a lovely day out on the water!

My husband kayaking.

This white duck made a beeline for my husband's kayak!

Beautiful morning out on the water.

Those logs WERE covered with turtles, but they slid into the water when I got near!

A great day out on the water!

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend!

Books Read in May





Here we are, mid-June, and once again, I am just posting my monthly summary from May! I keep thinking I will just catch up on my reviews first...and I never do!


May was a big month here at Book By Book because I launched my Big Book Summer Challenge for the third year in a row. It's still early (not even officially summer yet according to the calendar), so join in the fun! You only need to pledge to read at least one book of 400 pages or more - easy as a summer breeze.

May was also an outstanding reading month for me, with 9 books finished:
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, YA fiction (Virginia)
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir (California)
  • Popular by Maya Van Wagenen, a teen memoir on audio (Texas)

  • This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki, an outstanding teen graphic novel (Canada)
  • Velva Jean Learns to Fly by Jennifer Niven, adult fiction (Tennessee)
  • The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom, adult fiction (Michigan)



So that's 9 books for May - I think that's a record for me for one month! Four were adult books and the other 5 were for teens and YA. Three books were nonfiction, and I listened to two books on audio. And one book was a graphic novel. A very nice mix for the month! My favorite? Wow, there are so many to choose from, and I enjoyed them all. I think Wild by Cheryl Strayed was my favorite - so powerful and compelling.

I added just four new states and one new country to my Where Are You Reading Challenge 2014 this month - woohoo!  I read only one book from my TBR shelves for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge this month (and none last month!) - I really need to focus on those TBR books. I listened to two more audio books for my 2014 Audio Book Challenge, so that one's going well so far. And I also added three nonfiction books this month.  No classics - I need to get moving on that one! All in all, an excellent reading month for me.

What was your favorite book read in May?