July 31, 2014

July 2014 Wrap Up

I don't know about you, but the end of July pretty much marks the end of the summer here in Kansas. The girls go back to school on August 12th, and while I've got my John Green book club through the end of the month (the 3-5th grade one died, unfortunately), my responsibilities at work are kind of pulling back. Though I've got a project in the works that hopefully will be Fun and a lot of people will want to participate. More later.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time watching movies -- both Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings with A; Say Anything with C; Howl's Moving Castle with K; Godzilla with Hubby -- and a lot of time at the pool, so I didn't get much reading done. I am thinking, though, that I'm due for a good dose of non-fiction. Maybe as the weather starts cooling off..

I didn't really have a strong favorite this month, but I did thoroughly enjoy this one:
The Glass Sentence
 it really was a wonderful world and a gripping story (once it got going; it really is slow to start).

As for the rest:

Middle Grade
A Horse Called Hero
Loot: How to Steal a Fortune
Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: The Case of the Time Capsule Bandit (audio)
The House of Pooh (audio)
The Lost
The Bitter Kingdom
Keeping the Castle (audio)
The Summer Prince
I read two John Green books, but I didn't feel a need to re-review them.

Graphic Novel:
Cleopatra in Space
The End of Your Life Book Club
What were your favorites this month?

July 30, 2014

The End of Your Life Book Club

by Will Schwalbe
First sentence: "WE were nuts about the mocha in the waiting room at Memorial Sloan-Kittering's outpatient care center."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's really nothing. It's a very adult book in its sensibilities, but there's no reason a teenager -- especially a bookish one -- couldn't read this.

This book has been on my radar for a little while; it made the rounds at the bookstore when it came out and many of the staff and regulars loved it. But I didn't get around to reading it until a good friend of mine suggested it for our book group.

If you haven't heard about this one, it's basically the story of Will's mother as she goes from diagnosis for pancreatic cancer through her final days. The two of them are both avid readers, and they formed their own small book group during her chemotherapy sessions. It's one part book-lovers book, and one part death and dying story.

I liked the book-lover part better, mostly because it was something I could grasp. I hadn't read (or even heard of) a good number of the books they talked about, but Schwalbe was enthusiastic and thoughtful about enough of them that I'm interested in checking several of the books and authors out. I highlighted quite a few quotes about books and reading, ones that resonated with me.

As for the death and dying part, I was touched by Schwalbe and his mother's story. She was a remarkable woman, who did remarkable things in her own small way. I had one of those "if I could only be as awesome as she was" moments. And you could tell the affection that Schwalbe had for his mother. I know that sometimes in these sorts of books the dead person gets "sainted", but I never felt that his mother was. By framing the book around the books they read, Schwalbe gave this book a grounding -- and a broader audience -- that you don't usually find in cancer books, something which I appreciated quite a bit.

I don't think it was my favorite book ever, but I am glad I finally got to read it.

July 28, 2014

The Bitter Kingdom

by Rae Carson
First sentence: "We run."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers
Content: It's a pretty complex book, full of politics and machinations. But, even with all the fighting and killing and wars (and some brief sexytimes), it's not a graphic book. It's in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I think a strong younger reader would enjoy it as well.

Queen Elisa is in a terrible predicament. Her country has been taken over by an ursuper, Conde Eduardo. The man she loves and the commander of her Royal Guard has been kidnapped by traitors. And she only has a few friends she can count on. The problem is that she needs to head into Invierne and convince them to stop invading her country. And figure out how to deal with her newfound power from her Godstone.

That doesn't even begin to touch this complex and fascinating ending to a complex and fascinating trilogy. I've always loved the religious element to this story, how God plays a role in Elisa's life. I really enjoyed the way Carson pitted the Joyans and the Inverinos against each other; both think they are right, and both think the other is wrong. It's really a book about compromise and understanding, and I loved that.

Elisa has become, for me, one of my favorite heroines. She's not kick-butt fighter, but rather a savvy, clever, and fascinating character; someone who uses her brain rather than her fighting skills. Carson also gave us Hector's point of view a few times in this book, something which I appreciated. While I've loved seeing Hector from Elisa's point of view, it was interesting to be inside his head and to know a little more how he works.

I do think that the only thing I would have done differently with this series is wait until they were all out so I could read them one after another. I think the experience of this story would be that much better if I had read it all in one gulp.

July 26, 2014

A Horse Called Hero

by Sam Angus
First sentence: "Wolfie stopped, distracted by the stacks of sandbags and newly dug trenches."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There's really nothing objectionable for the target audience, though there are letters written in cursive, and I know my 3-5 graders would have problems deciphering those. There's also several intense situations, so if you have a sensitive child, you might want to shy away from that.

Dorothy and Wolfgang Revel -- they go by Dodo and Wolfie, however -- are children in London the winter of 1940 when the German bombs start dropping. Their father is called up to serve in the army -- he was a celebrated commander during World War I -- and they are sent off to Northern England to live with strangers. They're doing okay, until word comes back that their father was arrested for desertion. Then, they are outcasts in this strange place. That is, until they're taken in by the school teacher. Whereupon Wolfie chances across a horse being born and adopts it for his own.

If you can't tell my my enthusiastic summary of the first 50 pages (which is really all that is; this book covers an enormous amount of time), I am not a horse person. And, alas, this book did nothing to help with that. I kind of had hopes that this would be Inspiring and Uplifting and help me see what people find in horse books, but... no. I was bored. The basic plot revolves around Wolfie's love for Hero The Horse and the kids' concern about their father. There was an incident when Hero saved them after they got trapped in the bog, and another when Hero helped Wolfie get out of a mine after an explosion, but by then, I was so Bored because of the lack of Real Plot (and the extended time; Wolfie was 5 or so when it started, and 14 by the end), I was just skimming.

I am sure that there are kids who would Love this one, but I am not one of them.

July 20, 2014

10 Great Audiobooks

For quite a few years, I've gone to the library and picked out a few (sometimes upwards to a dozen) audiobooks to choose from as alternatives to music or movies in the car. This time, we got to talking about books we've listened to (and liked) over the years, and that prompted me to come up with a list of our favorite audiobooks. I've added a few of my personal favorites as well.

1. The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex; read by Bahni Turpin. This is one we still rave about; it's absolutely captivating and Turpin is fantastic as a narrator. In fact, we love it so much, we're kind of worried about the changes that they're making with the movie. Though we agree that Jim Parsons is perfect at J. Lo.

2. The House at Pooh Corner, by A. A. Milne; read by a whole cast. As I was going back through my records, it turns out we listened to this one before. Doesn't matter; we were still captivated by the voices (particularly Geoffry Palmer as Eeyore) and you can't go wrong with the Pooh bear stories.

3. The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander; read by James Langton. I think hubby and I enjoyed this one more than the girls did. They complained there were too many characters and it was confusing. Perhaps, they were just too young. Langton, however, was a perfect narrator.

4. Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man by Donald J. Sobol; read by Greg Steinbruner. Another one we rave about, still. The girls have asked, on multiple occasions, if we can get more of these, but I haven't found any yet. We loved listening to the stories and trying to solve along. And Steinbruner was excellent.

5. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis; read by Michael York. If you haven't noticed yet, we tend to pick classics to listen to while we road trip. Partially that's because we want to expose our kids to them, but also because I think they're more interesting when read by a good reader. This is certainly true for Lewis's books. The ones we've listened to have been fantastic.

6. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman; read by the author. The only thing I have to say is that if you've never heard Gaiman read one of his books, you're missing out. I'd listen to him read a tech manual and be hanging on every word. It helps, of course, that he's a great writer and storyteller as well.

7. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor; read by Khristine Hvam. Taylor's a beautiful writer, and Hvam captures her characters perfectly. Especially Brimstone. It was one that I just listened to on my own, but she had me hanging on every word.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; read by Sissy Spacek. It's one of those that everyone should read, and Sissy Spacek's perfect southern drawl compliments Lee's words quite nicely.

9. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson; read by Peter Altschuler. Often, when listening to an audio book, the reader makes or breaks the experience. In this case, the reader made it. He captured everything perfectly, and I had a better experience than I think I would have if I had just read the book.

10. One Summer: America, 1927, by Bill Bryson; read by the author. Much like Neil Gaiman, Bryson's books are better listened to. He's got an incredibly dry sense of humor, and that suits his writing quite well. They're chock full of information, though, so don't be surprised if you end up checking out the print book as well.

What have been some of your favorite audio books?