Friday, December 06, 2013

Three Audiobooks - A Mixed Bag

Daddy's Gone A Hunting
by Mary Higgins Clark

Published in 2013.
Audiobook narrated by Jan Maxwell.

I read my first MHC mystery on recommendation of my sister 30 years ago while visiting my family during Christmas break from college. I was so scared that I ended up sleeping at the foot of her bed because I didn't want to be alone on the ground floor of the house. Over the years I've read almost every other MHC mystery, usually eagerly anticipating the new releases.

Unfortunately - or maybe not - I think my tastes in reading material have changed in recent years. While Daddy's Gone A Hunting was a satisfactory accompaniment to my commute over the past week or two, I found the story and the characters to be only so-so. I didn't see much that I hadn't seen before.


Al Capone Shines My Shoes
by Gennifer Choldenko

Published in 2009.
Audiobook read by Kirby Heyborne.

When my son was in fifth grade, I was the leader of one of the several book groups organized in his classroom by the teacher. One of the books we read together was Al Capone Does My Shirts. The fifth graders and I all liked it a lot.

This sequel finally made its way to the top of my to-read list - partially because of my high expectations of narrator Kirby Heyborne - and I think I liked it even better than the original. The book has great characters and exciting adventure, as well as emotional insight. Well done!


Bellwether by Connie Willis
Originally published in 1996.
Audiobook read by Kate Reading.

One of my all-time favorite books is Connie Willis's Doomsday Book. Perhaps apprehensive that I'll be disappointed, to date I haven't read a lot of her other work. I'm glad I took a chance on Bellwether.

The blurb on the back of the CD case explains that "pop culture, chaos theory, and matters of the heart collide in this unique novella." I found it delightful!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Published in 2012 by Hyperion. 339 pages.
2013 Printz Honor Book.

Code Name Verity was the pick for my October meeting with the "book lunch girls" (aka Natalie's Book Club). I was eager to read it both because I'd heard good things from several friends whose book opinions I value and because I'm all about "girl power" - and I definitely have an affinity for World War II novels. (I mentioned a number of World War II novels that I read with another book club in this blog post.)

Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting into the book and just never really connected to the characters. Maybe I missed something? I was hoping that my book club will fill me in - but, alas, only two of the other members had finished it before our meeting and, given the plot twists, we couldn't really talk about the book. I did discover that both of those that finished had listened to the audiobook - which might be related to the fact that they liked the book better than I did. Also relevant, I think, is the fact that I started the book during a week when I could only read a few pages at a time before bedtime; if I'd been able to invest an hour or two at the start, I think the whole experience might have been a better one.

Melissa Mc at Gerbera Daisy Diaries
loved Code Name Verity when she read it last year. Tricia at Library Queue had mixed feelings.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Final Read-a-Thon Post

Final Report

Time Read: 13:00

Pages Read: 892.

Books Finished: 6.

Time Blogged and/or Tweeted: 7:00

Time on Break: 4:00

Frame of Mind: I'm really pleased with the outcome - and I'm also very ready to sleep for a while!

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed: 4.

Food Consumed:
A mug of hot chocolate. Some raspberry-flavored almonds. A bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwich and a hashbrown from McDonald's. A few Pretzel Crisps. Some E.L. Fudge cookies. A bowl of honey dew melon and raspberries. A chocolate croissant. Two crab cakes with Japanese sticky rice. Two pieces of pizza with pepperoni, black olives, and mushrooms. Another mug of hot chocolate. Some Heath Pieces.

Traditional End-of-Event Questionnaire

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 19 - 1:00 a.m. in my time zone - when I finally decided to take a nap. I slept for about two-and-a-half hours - but then I resumed participation, finishing my sixth book and a little bit of blogging and Tweeting.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Young adult novels are great read-a-thon picks. Ann Dee Ellis' Everything Is Fine. and Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally were good ones for me this year.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

I thought things went quite well this year. I didn't have as many visits from either cheerleaders or other participants as I have in the past, but that's probably a function of the high number of people involved.

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

I enjoyed Tweeting and reading Tweets about the #readathon.

5. How many books did you read?

I finished six books.

6. What were the names of the books you read?
  • The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
  • Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally
  • Everything Is Fine. by Ann Dee Ellis
  • Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo and Julia Denos
  • Lulu and the Brontosaurs by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith
  • Who's on First? by Abbott & Costello and John Martz

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

They were all great - but I think my favorite was Everything Is Fine..

8. Which did you enjoy least?

Not applicable.

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

Not applicable.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

If at all possible, I will participate in the next read-a-thon - although April has been a hard month for doing that the past two years. I'd like to be a reader again - but I'm also thinking that it might be fun to try cheerleading.

Yet Another Mini-Challenge

"Turn to Page"
Hosted by Reflections of a Bookaholic

For this challenge, I had to turn to page 32 of the book I am currently reading and find the most entertaining phrase to complete the following sentence:

"I would rather read than ________ any day!"

From The Astronaut Wives Club, modifying the tense and a pronoun, I ended up with this:

"I would rather read than invite some of the wives over to my house in Stoneybrook to try out a facial mask any day!"

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Elapsed Time 16:00

Progress Report

Time Read: 9:15

Pages Read: 587.

Books Finished: 2. (I've finished Everything Is Fine. by Ann Dee Ellis and Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally.)

Time Blogged and/or Tweeted: 5:15

Time on Break: 1:30

Frame of Mind: I'm really pleased that I've read two complete books plus more than half of a third. I'm getting tired, though, and although I'm definitely a night person, I'm not so good at late nights when I've woken up before 6:00 in the morning. I guess we'll see what the next few hours bring.

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed: 3.

Food Consumed:
A mug of hot chocolate. Some raspberry-flavored almonds. A bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwich and a hashbrown from McDonald's. A few Pretzel Crisps. Some E.L. Fudge cookies. A bowl of honey dew melon and raspberries. A chocolate croissant. Two crab cakes with Japanese sticky rice.

Another Mini-Challenge

"Best of Your Reading Year"
Hosted by Lisa's World of Books

I'm all about book lists, so I'm happy to share a few of my "bests" of 2013 (so far):

Best YA Book of Your Reading Year
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
An almost perfect read, this is a gritty yet tender YA love story set in the mid-1980s (when I wasn't much older than the main characters are).

Best Non-Fiction Book of Your Reading Year
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
I was first exposed to this important book at a women's retreat I attended in 2010, and I was deeply moved when I "read" it on CD at the beginning of this year. By Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, this is a call to action I can't forget.

Best Children's Book of Your Reading Year
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
I absolutely loved this exploration of racism in the late 1950s. The main characters - Marlee and Liz - are terrific, and Marlee's "voice" is just perfect. I highly recommend this to both middle grade students and adult fans of historical fiction.

Best Fiction Book of Your Reading Year
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
I've been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver's fiction for a long time, and her most recent novel did not disappoint. It's beautifully written as well as a meaningful exploration of today's social issues.

Best Title Character of Your Reading Year
The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
Spanning 50 years, the story of Beautiful Girl - and those in her life - is a compelling tale of love, social justice, faith, and choices. I loved this one!

What are the "bests" of your reading year?

Mid-Event Survey

Now that we're almost halfway through, we have a survey to complete:

1. How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?
My eyes are starting to feel tired - even though I can't believe we're almost to the halfway point!

2. What have you finished reading?
I finished Everything Is Fine. by Ann Dee Ellis. I have two other books in progress - The Astronaut Wives Club and Catching Jordan. I hope to finish both before we're done, although I may mix things up in a little while with a trio of picture books.

3. What is your favorite read so far?
I'm enjoying everything I'm reading .

4. What about your favorite snacks?
I just finished eating two crab cakes with Japanese sticky rice. Delicious!

5. Have you found any new blogs through the readathon?
I've not taken much time to visit blogs (yet). Maybe during the second half!

Read-a-Thon Mini-Challenge

"Mad Libs"
Hosted by Mia and Jessica at Nisaba Be Praised

The paragraph I started with, from Lily Koppel's The Astronaut Wives Club, is as follows:
The seven wives hosted their ghostwriters at their homes and let them tag along as they went about their daily routines. The girls found their real selves disappearing behind Life's depiction of what it meant to be not only the perfect fifties housewife, but the perfect astronaut's wife, molded like the popular Barbie doll that had first appeared on store shelves that spring.

I asked my fourteen-year-old son for a number, a plural noun, another plural noun, a place, the name of a magazine, a noun, an adjective, another noun, a children's toy, and a season. After plugging it all in, we ended up with this:
The 43 chocolate bars hosted their ghostwriters at their recreation centers and let them tag along as they went about their daily routines. The knee braces found their real selves disappearing behind ESPN Magazine's depiction of what it meant to be not only the perfect fifties spork, but the thorny nose's wife, molded like the popular model train that had first appear on store shelves that spring.

We were mildly amused.

Elapsed Time 5:00

Progress Report

Time Read: 3:25

Pages Read: 152. (I am a little more than half done with The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel.)

Books Finished: None yet.

Time Blogged and/or Tweeted: 1:75

Frame of Mind: I was feeling quite sleepy a while ago. I didn't put in my contact lenses when I woke up - trying to keep my eyes from getting too buggy too soon as the day progresses - but I've since put them in and that woke me up a bit. Eating breakfast also helped, I think. I do want to take a break for a shower before too much longer.

Cans of Diet Coke with Lime Consumed:

Food Consumed:
A mug of hot chocolate. Some raspberry-flavored almonds. A bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwich and a hashbrown - brought to me by my husband from the McDonald's drive-thru.

Introductory Questionnaire

What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
The suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel.

Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Crab cakes. And Hershey's Heath Pieces. And microwave popcorn. And ...

Tell us a little something about yourself!
I learned to read with Dick and Jane when I was six years old, and I've not stopped since. I work with numbers in my professional life, but I love words!

If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
I've got a lot of very short books in my read-a-thon pile, including two or three picture books. I'm hoping that I can feel like I'm really making progress in my overall reading goals - which will help me keep the read-a-thon momentum going!

Elapsed Time 0:00

Here We Go!

It's dark and cold on a Saturday morning, and yet I'm awake. It must be Dewey's Read-a-Thon!

I participated in the first Dewey's Read-a-Thon in October 2007 and in most of those since. In fact, this is my eleventh read-a-thon - and I'm looking forward to a great day of books, blogging, and snacks. Good luck to the other read-a-thon participants, and a big thanks to the hosts, the cheerleaders, and all the other helpers!

If you're just stopping by and want to know more about what's happening, check out the read-a-thon blog or Twitter or Facebook page.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

By the Numbers
One-Half of 2013

Total books read year-to-date: 38.
(At this point last year, I had read 36. Sadly, though, my total for 2012 was the lowest in five years. So I'd really like to pick up the pace in the second half of 2013!)

Fiction: 33.
Non-fiction: 5.

Audiobooks: 18.
(Thirteen of these I "read" via CD during my commuting time. The other five were e-audiobooks, which I borrowed from the county library and "read" on my Kindle or on my iPod, mostly as incentive to exercise.)

On the Kindle: 9.
(I purchased four of these. I borrowed the other five from the Kindle Lending Library.)

Published in 2013: 6.
Published prior to 1990: 0.

Books by male authors: 7.
Books by female authors: 32.
(One book I read - Half the Sky - was co-written by a husband and wife, so I've got one more author than I do books.)

Books that are the first of a series: 4.
Books that are part of a series I started prior to 2013: 3.

Historical fiction: 8.

Young adult: 10.
Middle grade: 3.

Review copies: 1.

Re-reads: 1.

Read for my Teaching Through Literature class: 4.
Read with the "book lunch girls" (aka Natalie's Book Club): 3.
Read with the Book Buddies: 2.
Read with the 52 weeks, 52 books group on goodreads: 2.
(Obviously I'm not keeping up - although I had previously read another six of the titles chosen for this group.)
Read for my annual women's retreat: 1.
(I really enjoyed the discussion we had of Home by Marilynne Robinson.)

5-star rating: 6.
4-star rating: 20.
3-star rating: 12.

How is your 2013 reading adding up?

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Published in 2013 by Dutton Books. 369 pages.

Based on my reading of Gayle Forman's previous young adult novels If I Stay and Where She Went, I had very high expectations of Just One Day. Unfortunately, that may have colored my reading experience.

The novel also suffered in my comparisons of it to some of the excellent young adult books I've read. For example, early on, I was reminded of Maureen Johnson's 13 Little Blue Envelopes, but I felt that Ginny's European trip was of greater significance than Allyson's. Then, with Allyson's venture into Paris, I was reminded of Anna and the French Kiss, but I didn't feel the same chemistry between Allyson and Willem that I did between Anna and Étienne. Finally, although the book picked up for me once Allyson started taking control of her life, Allyson's search for Willem unfavorably compared in my mind to the journey undertaken by Laura Resau's "Sophie la Fuerte" in Red Glass.

That said, I did really love all the Shakespeare references in this novel - beginning with the epigraph ("All the world's a stage ...") from As You Like It. I also liked Allyson's interactions with college classmate Dee, who I thought was a terrific character. There were also several beautifully written, even poignant passages that I marked as I read:
Willem laughs again. The sound is clear and strong as a bell, and it fills me with joy, and it's like, for the first time in my life, I understand that this is the point of laughter, to spread happiness. [page 83]

I have a full life. How can I be this empty? [page 224]

I realize then it's not enough to know what someone is called. You have to know who they are. [page 310]

Maybe accident isn't the right word after all. Maybe miracle is. Or maybe it's not a miracle. Maybe this is just life. When you open yourself up to it. When you put yourself in the path of it. When you say yes. [page 367]

So despite my unfulfilled expectations, I will definitely be looking for Just One Year in October to find out what happened to Willem and to discover if he and Allyson have some chemistry between them after all.

For an eloquent discussion of the novel's weaknesses, read Priscilla Gilman's review in The New York Times. For a couple of reviews from those who loved the book, check out Madigan Reads and It's All About Books.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

Originally published in 2010 by Piatkus Books.
Audiobook narrated by Juanita McMahon.

Both tear-jerking and spine-tingling, Sister provides an adrenaline rush that could cause a chill on the sunniest afternoon — which, perhaps, the friendly company of a sister or two (or, in a pinch, a brother) might help to dispel.
          ~ Liesl Schillinger
(See the full New York Times Sunday Book Review here.)

I found Sister to be a solid mystery story, and I liked the character development, particularly the relationship between the two sisters. On the other hand, I found the structure - the character Beatrice writing a letter to her dead sister Tess about giving testimony in the murder trial - distracting and sometimes confusing. I would still recommend the book, though, and I will be looking for more mysteries from Lupton in the future.


Monday, February 18, 2013

The Lions of Little Rock
by Kristin Levine

Published in 2012 by G. P. Putnam's Sons. 298 pages.
Audiobook read by Julia Whelan.

I absolutely loved this one (which was one of the 2012 Cybils finalists)!

The Lions of Little Rock provides a great exploration for middle grade readers of racism (and to a small extent sexism) in the late 1950s. It introduces such important figures as Emmett Till, whose 1955 murder was a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, and the Little Rock Nine, the African-American students who entered Central High in 1957 - and it looks closely at the perhaps lesser-known "Lost Year" that followed the 1958 closure of Little Rock's high schools to prevent their integration and the work of the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools.

This history lesson is wonderfully presented through the eyes of twelve-year-old Marlee as she tells us of her experiences that year, the things she learns and the ways she grows, specifically through her relationships with her family and her new friend Liz. Marlee's voice was just perfect.

I "read" this one via audiobook, excellently performed by Julia Whelan - who I've also heard read the wonderful The Sky is Everywhere and the interesting Forgotten.

By the way, for those who would like to learn more about Emmett Till, I recommend Chris Crowe's Getting Away with Murder.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Son by Lois Lowry

Published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin. 393 pages.

I had hoped that Son would be my final read of 2012 - but I ended up finishing it on New Year's Day. It was a wonderful first read of 2013!

The Giver is one of my all-time favorite books. (I blogged about my January 2008 re-read via audiobook here.) Late in 2012, in anticipation of the publication of this conclusion to that story, I read both of what were previously published as "companion books" - Gathering Blue and Messenger - both of which were great.

After finishing Messenger, I tried to summarize the themes of The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger in three words, and I concluded with choosing, valuing, and healing - with the emphasis of all three being on community.

Filled with symbolism, Son brings together themes and characters from the previous novels of The Giver Quartet in a powerful and thought-provoking way. It had me contemplating the nature of good and evil, and it had me thinking about spiritual gifts. It also had me experiencing the healing properties of community and the transforming power of love - as well as considering the social and political implications of it all.

I particularly loved the portion of Claire's story that paralleled the timeline of The Giver. Oh, and I particularly loved the portion of Claire's story that immediately followed. Oh, and I particularly loved how the stories of Jonas and Gabe (from The Giver), Kira and Matty (from Gathering Blue and Messenger), and Claire came together.

Yes, I loved the entire book!


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Favorite Reads of 2012

Before we get too far into 2013, I want to post a list of my favorites of the 80 books I read in 2012. On goodreads I gave five stars ("it was amazing") to six books. I gave another 56 books a four-star rating ("really liked it"). Here are my favorites of those 62 good reads:

  • Highly- and widely-recommended book that ended up meeting my expectations: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

  • Young adult novel that made me wish I were eighteen years old and falling in love for the first time: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

  • Favorite book that I subsequently recommended to my thirteen-year-old son: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

  • Favorite book recommended to me by my thirteen-year-old son: Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

  • Best experiences with books I was offered for review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier and Return to Exile by E.J. Patten

  • Longest book I read (which was worth every page): 11/22/63 by Stephen King

  • Book I joyfully read in one sitting: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

  • Best beginning to a new series: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

  • Most hoped-for sequel: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

  • Best look at today's political climate: The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin

  • Favorite book that I was not interested in the first time I saw it: With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

  • Most thought-provoking dystopian novel: Divergent by Veronica Roth

  • Most thought-provoking memoir: Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

  • Favorite "I'm glad I finally got around to reading this one" book: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

  • Favorite re-read: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

  • Biggest "pleasant surprise" (resulting from my low expectations of a self-published debut novel): The Sand Bar by Rebecca Bryan

  • Hardest book to put down: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

  • Favorite young adult novel exploring an aspect of history I knew little about: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

  • Favorite young adult novel exploring a geographic area I knew little about: Red Glass by Laura Resau

  • Best cathartic experience: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  • Favorite scene: The "cameo" of Frances Hodgson Burnett in The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

  • Books with the biggest impact on my life: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Flunking Sainthood by Jana Riess

  • What were your favorite reads of 2012?

    Tuesday, January 01, 2013

    By the Numbers
    For the Year 2012

    Total books read: 80.
    (Sadly, for the first time since 2007 - the year I created this blog - I failed to read more books than I had read the previous year. Eighty equals my total for 2008, and in 2011 I read 93. I can't really pinpoint all the causes of the lesser output in 2012, but I think I worked more hours than in previous years. According to goodreads, I also read more pages in 2012 than I did in any year since 2007 except 2011 - so, although I know the page count isn't entirely accurate, perhaps I simply read longer books this year. No matter the cause, I'm planning for a higher count in 2013!)

    Fiction: 64.
    Non-fiction: 16.

    Audiobooks: 32.
    (I guess I've got to be glad that I can "read" during my commuting time!)

    On the Kindle: 16.
    (I purchased seven of these. I borrowed the other nine from the Kindle Lending Library.)

    Published in 2012: 12.
    Published prior to 1990: 1.

    Books by male authors: 18.
    Books by female authors: 62.

    Books that are the first of a series: 8.
    Books that are part of a series I started prior to 2012: 14.

    Historical fiction: 13.

    Biography, autobiography, or memoir: 9.

    Young adult: 31.
    Juvenile: 4.

    Review copies: 5.

    Read for my Teaching Through Literature class: 6.
    Read with the "book lunch girls" (aka Natalie's Book Club): 10.
    Read with my long-time book club: 7 (counting one that I also read with the "book lunch girls").

    5-star rating: 6.
    (These were Between Shades of Gray [a fabulous young adult historical novel, not to be confused with a certain similarly-named erotic romance], Doomsday Book [which was a re-read for me], Flunking Sainthood, Liar & Spy, One Thousand Gifts, and Unbroken.)
    4-star rating: 56.
    3-star rating: 17.
    2-star rating: 1.

    What were your reading numbers for 2012?

    What are your reading goals for 2013?