Moominland Midwinter

Moominland MidwinterMoominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lyrical, philosophical, beautiful. I have re-read this book aloud to my boys almost every winter since the oldest was 4. This book never fails to capture the mood of winter and is a beautiful parable about accepting life as it is and not as you want it to be. What makes this book really stand out are the characters — Moomintroll’s struggle to accept winter and find his place in it, LittleMy’s chaotic energy, and Too-ticky’s philosophical acceptance of life as it comes, Sorry-oo’s longing for the unattainable and dangerous.

While many of the earlier Moomin books (Comet in Mooninland, Moominsummer Madness) are geared squarely at children, some of the later books are more melancholy and meditative — those are my favorites (Moominland Midwinter and Moominpapa at Sea).

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The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2)The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More dark and gruesome than Maze Runner, I almost put down Scorch Trials several times. The book starts off faster but then the pacing slows down and the middle of this books feels unnecessarily long. Luckily, Dashner tells a gripping story, I speed read, and I really wanted to find out the secrets. Why would Tom and Theresa subject themselves and other children to these horrible trials? How much of what we are learning is real vs lies vs fabricated memories? Is WICKED really good? What is really happening in the outside world? Unfortunately for me, this book provided very few answers

Like Maze Runner, Scorch Trials is plot-driven at the expense of character development. While we learn more of Tom and Theresa’s backstory, Tom still hasn’t changed or grown much and neither have the rest of the crew. It is hard to to connect to the characters and, therefor, root for them. When minor characters died, I didn’t feel sad, only horrified by their grizzly deaths. And the book still has a lot of telling, more showing would help the reader connect emotionally to Tom.

In writing this review, I realized that the difference (for me) between a 4 and 5 star book is whether I will reread it. I’m glad I read this book but I don’t think it is a book I will reread.

If you loved the first book, you will probably love this book. I though it wasn’t as strong as the first book, but I will read book three because there are still so many questions I want answered. (Please don’t let me down, Mr. Dashner)

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May Reading Roundup

I read 21 book in May:

    • Scriber by Ben Dobson ★★★★★ (indie, fantasy)
    • Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Walker ★★★☆☆ (nonfiction, memoir, hiking)
    • Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail by Bill Walker ★★★☆☆ (nonfiction, memoir, hiking)
    • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak ★★★★★ (fiction, historical, strong voice, YA, must_read)
    • The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin ★★★★☆ (nonfiction, historical, US Revolution, US History, YA)
    • The Bakkian Chronicles Book 1, The Prophecy by Jeffrey Poole (indie, DNF)
    • Star-Crossed Series by Rachel Higginson ★★★☆☆ (indie, YA, paranormal fantasy romance)
      • Reckless Magic
      • Hopeless Magic
      • Fearless Magic
      • Endless Magic
    • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey ★★★★☆ (fantasy, dragons)
    • Ranger’s Apprentice Series by John Flanagan (fantasy, MG, YA)
    • Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss ★★☆☆☆ (fantasy, where_was_the_plot, so_disappointing) (I’ll tackle a full review of this one next week)

Best Book?
The Book Thief. Wow. All I can say about this book is WOW. I stayed up till 3 am finishing this book. It has been a long time since a book kept me up all night.
If you like books with a strong, distinct, unusual voice you must read this book. The voice is awkward and strange; either you love it or it doesn’t work for you. Death’s awkward perspective worked for me. I found Zusak’s language poetic, not lyrical-poetic like Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races but harsh, discordant poetic:

“Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”
“They’d been standing like that for thirty seconds of forever.”
“Two weeks to change the world, fourteen days to destroy it.”
“When I recollect her, I see a long list of colors, but it’s the three in which I saw her in the flesh that resonate the most. Sometimes I manage to float far above those three moments. I hang suspended, until a septic truth bleeds towards clarity. […] They fall on top of each other. The scribbled signature black, onto the blinding global white, onto the thick soupy red.”

Make sure you have a box of tissues handy when you read this one!

Best Non-fiction Book?
The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin is thoroughly engaging historical, narrative nonfiction. I’m a huge fan of Sheinkin’s non-fiction. When I was homeschooling, I bought all three of his MG historical nonfiction books (King George, What Was His Problem?, Two Miserable Presidents, and Which Way to the Wild West?). If you don’t have them, buy them for your kids or your school library. Lively and informative, they are wonderful.
Knowing I like narrative non-fiction, our elementary school librarian handed me The Notorious Benedict Arnold as soon as we got it in and I’m so glad she did. I knew absolutely nothing about Benedict Arnold other than that he was a traitor. Who knew he was also a war hero? And such an interesting person? Even though it is written for a YA audience, I think adults can enjoy this book, too. I didn’t love it quite as much as I loved his MG non-fiction books, but it was a solid read.

Best Indie Book?
Sciber by Ben Dobson. Anyone who enjoys realistic, complex low fantasy (think Rothfuss, Martin, Sanderson) will enjoy Scriber. An intriguing and well thought out (if a little bit standard) story line. Solid writing, plotting, structure, description, world building. Interesting characters. My only (slight) quibble is that Bryndine reminded me just a little bit too much of Brienne (Game of Thrones) in both name and temperament. Well written (and edited!). A solid, enjoyable read.

The Rest of the Indie Books?
I read Higginson’s Star-Crossed series after finishing The Book Thief because I really needed some light reading to cleanse my palette. From the book description I thought this was going to be a fantasy novel with romance elements, unfortunately this was a YA paranormal romance — a genre I don’t enjoy. I have a hard time with some of the conventions of YA romance novels — helpless, naive, pretty, ditzy, girls. Hot guys with muscles. Contrived relationships. Dangerous courtships. Lots of whining. Fashionable clothes. It’s just not my cup-of-tea. I read all four books; I’m not sure why. If you like paranormal romance, you’ll probably enjoy this series because it is a reasonably well written indie.

The Bakkian Chronicles had a solid premise but desperately needed a professional developmental edit followed by a line edit. I couldn’t finish it — I gave up 2/3 of the way through the book.

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April Reading Roundup

After a reading slump in March and early April, I read ten novels in the second half of April — that’s almost a book-a-day.

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater ★★★★★ (YA, realistic fantasy, mythology)
  • Mercury Rises and Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese ★★★☆☆ (paranormal fantasy, indie, apocalyptic)
  • A School for Villians by Ardyth Debruyn (MG, high fantasy, wizard school parody, humor, indie)
  • Foiled by Jane Yolen ★★★★☆ (YA, graphic novel, fantasy, fencing)
  • The Hidden Institute by Gamblin Brand ★★★☆☆ (Sci-fi, humor, steampunk, indie)
  • The Demon KingThe Exiled Queen, and The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Chima Williams  ★★★★☆ (YA, epic fantasy)
  • Untraceable by S.R. Johannes ★★★★☆ (YA, mystery, outdoorsy, adventure, indie)

Best Book?
The Scorpio Races. But that’s hardly fair — it would be hard to put any book up against the lyric beauty of Scorpio Races. Moody and atmospheric, I felt the cold wind blowing off the sea and the fog creeping over the island reading this book on a warm, sunny, spring day. You won’t be able to put the book down.

Best Indie Book?
Untraceable. Without hesitation. S.R. Johannes writes a tight, fast moving adventure story with a strong, ourdoorsy, girl protagonist. Thoroughly enjoyable. Can’t wait for the next one.

The Rest of the Indie Books?
Mercury Rises and Mercury Falls were readable but I probably won’t read another book by Kroese because the of long, monologic, dialogs where the characters serve as mouthpieces for the author’s philosophical beliefs. These ideas are expressed over and over again until I found myself skimming large sections of the book. I enjoy a book with a philosophical undercurrent (such as Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy) but not when the ideas are spelled out for me. Repeatedly.
Also, the 70’s and 80’s pop culture jokes were so over-done that I had to stop reading to roll my eyes. What saved these books for me (and made me read both books) was that I loved the character of Mercury.

The Hidden Institute is a fun book featuring Dickensian street urchins; a dystopian, steampunk, quasi-Victorian world; bear polo; witty, Jeeves-like robot butlers; tattooed assassins; balls; intrigue; and an illegal, underground school for the upwardly socially mobile. Unfortunately this book needs polishing, tightening. The pacing needs work, as do the character and plot arcs. The storytelling is intriguing enough that I’ll give Brand Gamblin a chance with the next book he writes.

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Bone: Brief Review

Out from Boneville (Bone, #1)Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I probably cannot add much to the hundreds of positive reviews that already exist of this series, I just want to re-iterate what a wonderful, beautifully drawn, literate, and thought-provoking series this is.

My son has reread the series every few months for the last 3 years. We own both the color editions and the omnibus. I have reread the series at least once a year for 3 years. Certain phrases from the series have entered our family lexicon — my kids know that they are being particularly thoughtless when I tell them, “don’t be a stupid, stupid rat creature.”

This series is perfect for a MG to middle-school child of either gender. My dyslexic son started reading the series in 3rd grade — at first he had trouble with some of the words but he could follow the story from the pictures. As his reading improved, he could read more of the text and his understanding of the story deepened and his love of it grew. If you have a reluctant reader and don’t know what to get them — start with Bone.

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Review: The Plagiarist

The Plagiarist
The Plagiarist by Hugh Howey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

tl;dr: Buy it right now, make yourself a cup of tea, and enjoy. After reading this novella, I immediately bought all 5 books of Hugh’s “Wool” series.

Full Review:
I really struggled with rating this book… Usually I rate books relative to other books in their genre but The Plagiarist came tantalizingly close to rising above the ‘enjoyable quick-read sci-fi’ category into the ‘great, re-readable sci-fi’ category. As an enjoyable story, it rates 5/5; as a classic, it rates a strong 3 or a weak 4.

The Good:
– While the Matrix/Inception-esque plot is not new, the author puts an interesting spin on it.
– Adam is given enough depth to be both pathetic and sympathetic — he is very human.
– The world is well developed and feels tangibly real.

The Not-So-Good:
– I wish the ending had been more of a surprise or had more of a twist.
– In some places the writing felt like the author was trying too hard. In other places the language was slightly awkward and didn’t scan.

A little polishing kept this novella from being amazing but please don’t let that stop you from buying and reading it — this is one of the best independent shorts I have read. And it comes so close to being great.

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Monsterologist (Review)

The Monsterologist: A Memoir in RhymeThe Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz

I bought this book based on a mention on Poetry Friday and it has been a huge hit with my two monsters (boys, 7 & 11). The rhymes are a joy to read aloud — the language is simultaneously funny and sophisticated:

“Scientific discipline insists I should stay leery

and not assume the truth is found

when what in truth is theory.”

What really makes the book though, is the complexity and variety of the illustrations: the fold-out letters, the maps, the visual humor. Each spread is unique and rich in detail.

This book is a must if you have elementary-aged kids who love monsters.

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On the Bright Side (Review)

On The Bright Side (tween)On The Bright Side by S.R. Johannes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TL;DR: A fun, fast-paced, funny tween book with an imaginative setting and world. Great mix of romance, adventure, and true-to-life tween experiences. I’m looking forward to the next book.

The longer review:

On the Bright Side is set half in this word and half in an imaginatively-constructed ‘heaven’ where newly dead serve as guardian angels for the living. Gabby, flustered by an almost-kiss with her crush (Michael) and a crushing text from her frenemy (Angela), gets hit by a car. She goes to heaven (Cirrus) where she becomes a guardian-angel in training. She, as bad luck would have it, is assigned to guard Angela, who also has a crush on Michael. There is also a supernatural/adventure plot thread that I don’t want to give away but that gives this book broader appeal than just to tween girls.

I really loved the character of Gabby. I could relate to her struggles to do the right thing. I remember making bad decisions as a tween and then feeling that every bad decision spiraled into another one until I wasn’t sure how to extricate myself from the mess I had made. Unfortunately the grownups around me weren’t quite as understanding as Lawrence and Nephele. And I could have really used a friend like Jessica.


– The depiction of Heaven(Cirrus) is fantastic. I love the technology-rich world Shelli created. One of the hallmarks (for me) of a well constructed world is that I find myself thinking about parts of the world as if that world was real. The other day I found myself thinking about what it would be like to have a SKYfone…

– Great tween voices and characters. Jessica and especially Gabby feel real — they are multidimensional characters with unique quirks, desires, and interactions.

– OTBS featured fencing. How can you not love a book where the protagonist fences?!


There were a few cons that kept this book from being a 5.

– The punny devices and places got a little too much at times. (iPhone/SKYfone, internet/INNERnet, iTunes/SKYtunes, IM/SKYm, Levitator, etc). Sometimes too many of those references on one page drew too much attention to the world distracting me from enjoying the story.

– Michael was a little too one-dimensional. He needed more flaws to feel real.

– Angela, while believable, was a little too cliche.

** I received an advanced review copy of On the Bright Side. I am grateful for the opportunity to read the ARC, but receiving it did not influence my review. **

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Dying to Read More: Gearbox and Mom review “Dying to Meet You” by Kate and Sarah Klise

Mom: Gearbox and I want to read the 2012 Nutmeg Nominees this year so I picked up “Dying to Meet You” (Book 1 in the “43 Old Cemetery Road” series). I knew it was going to be good read because I … Continue reading

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