Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Summer Lushness

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

Last Saturday, with a salute to California and southern Oregon, I finished my National Park photo series - click the links to take a look. I guess we need to start traveling and visit more National Parks now!

So, back to a more local focus for my Saturday Snapshot. Between travel, illness, and just being busy, I hadn't walked around my neighborhood much in the past few weeks, and I was able to get out for a couple of short walks this week. Wow, what a change! The blooming trees of spring are mostly gone now, replaced by green, green everywhere, plus some early summer blooms:

Our own purple irises in bloom

One of my poor, sickly azalea bushes - don't know what is wrong

Green trees and blue sky

Rhododendron in full bloom

Lush greenness everywhere!

Not sure what these are but they look nice!

Anyone know what these are? We had them when I was a kid.

Another pretty flowering bush I can't identify!

Hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend!

If you like to read, be sure to check out my Big Book Summer Challenge - it's the perfect way to kick off your summer!

Friday, May 26, 2017

My 2017 Big Book Summer

I have just announced the 6th year of my challenge, Big Book Summer Challenge, so I guess I should be the first to sign up!

I really enjoyed tackling some big books the last few summers, and I'm looking forward to doing it again and finally reading some of these bricks that have been collecting dust on my shelf (NOTE: for this challenge, a Big Book is defined as a book with 400 pages or more).

I don't know if I will get to all of these, but I like to have some options to choose from.  These are all currently on my shelves, waiting patiently to be read (along with many others!). I chose 6 this year because none of them are 700-1000 pages long, as in some years - these are mostly in the 400-600 page range:

My Big Book Summer!
  • The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, and Amanda Pressner (538 pages)
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (409 pages)
  • Shift (Silo Trilogy, Book 2) by Hugh Howey (570 pages)
  • Overpowered by Mark H. Kruger (423 pages)
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (599 pages)
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (562 pages)
I like to alternate between grown-up books and kids/teen/YA books, so I have three of each on this list.  Most of these have been collecting dust on my shelf for many years, so all of these qualify for my Read My Own Damn Books Challenge also.

I'm so excited for summer now!

How about you? Are you up for tackling a Big Book (or two or three) this summer?  Join me and sign up for the 2017 Big Book Summer Challenge! The rules, details, and link-ups are on that page.

Now, which one will I start this weekend...?

(Note: You don't need a blog to participate - you can either leave a comment on the Challenge page or sign up in the 2017 Big Book Summer Goodreads group.

2017 Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

About 6 years ago, I came up with the idea to use the relaxed freedom of summer to tackle some of the biggest books on my TBR shelf that I'd been wanting to read but never seemed to have the time for.  One of my book groups takes time off during the summer, so with fewer interfering commitments, I declared it The Summer of the Big Book and really enjoyed delving into some hefty tomes, like The Passage and Pillars of the Earth.

It was so much fun that five years ago, I created this challenge so that YOU can join me! And here it is Memorial Day weekend again and the unofficial start of summer 2017. So join in the fun!

The Details:
Hey, it's summer, so we'll keep this low-key and easy!

  • Anything over 400 pages qualifies as a big book.
  • The challenge will run from Memorial Day weekend (starting May 26 this year) through Labor Day weekend (Labor Day is September 4 this year).
  • Choose one or two or however many big books you want as your goal. Wait, did you get that?  You only need to read 1 book with over 400 pages this summer to participate! (though you are welcome to read more, if you want).
  • Choose from what's on your shelves already or a big book you've been meaning to read for ages or anything that catches your eye in the library - whatever peaks your interest.
  • Sign up on the first links list below (or on Goodreads if you don't have a blog).
  • Write a post to kick things off - you can list the exact big books you plan to read or just publish your intent to participate, but be sure to include the Big Book Summer Challenge pic above, with a link back to this blog (no blog? No problem - see below).
  • Write a post to wrap up at the end, listing the big books you read during the summer.
  • You can write progress posts if you want to and/or reviews of the big books you've read...but you don't have to!  There is a separate links list below for big book reviews or progress update posts.
That's it!  Go check out your shelves and your TBR list and sign up below!

(Don't have a blog? No problem! You can still participate in the challenge - just leave a comment in the Comment section below, stating your goals for the Big Book Summer Challenge or sign up in the Goodreads group.)

Check out my own list of books to read for the challenge.

I also started a group on Goodreads for the 2017 Big Book Summer Challenge, where we can talk about Big Books and our progress on the challenge. If you don't have a blog, you can also use the Goodreads group to sign up for the challenge, post updates, and show which Big Books you are reading!

At the end of the summer, there will be a Big Book Giveaway! After Labor Day, I'll select one name from among the participants (bloggers who leave a link below as well as those without a blog who leave a comment to announce their participation or participate through the Goodreads group) and will offer the winner a choice from a selection of Big Books from my own shelves - probably most of the titles I read this summer and perhaps a few others to choose from.

And help spread the word on Twitter with #BigBookSummer (you can follow me at @suebookbybook).

Be sure to include a link to your kick off blog post (not your homepage):   



Come back to this page during the summer to add a link whenever you review a Big Book or post a progress report:



Fiction Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

I know it’s hard to believe, since I like science fiction, but I have never read a novel by Margaret Atwood (only her nonfiction book on science fiction). At the top of my must-read list was The Handmaid’s Tale, and I bought a copy in our local used bookstore many years ago. I couldn’t wait to read it, but like so many books at my house, it was soon overshadowed by review books, book group books, books given to me as gifts, and books lent from friends and family. So, I was thrilled when one of my book groups chose it for our May read, and I finally had an extra push to read this modern dystopian classic.

The novel jumps right into the story, as an unnamed narrator, a young woman, remembers her days in some sort of training center with other scared young women, as she sets out to go shopping from her current home. We soon learn that she, who has been renamed Offred in her new home, is a Handmaid in a world where fertility has become a crisis. The head of her household is the Commander, a man of high standing in the community. He is married, and his Wife runs the household, which includes two servants, known as Marthas, in addition to Offred.

As a Handmaid, Offred’s job – and entire function in society – is to bear children for the upper-level Wives who are unable to on their own. Despite this strange set-up with two women in one household, it is a curiously Puritan society, run by men. The Commander is only allowed to have sex with Offred during a Ceremony, a horrible experience where the Wife holds the Handmaid in her arms while her husband “plants his seed.” The Handmaids, dressed in red, are only allowed to go out for the daily shopping, paired up with another Handmaid.

Amidst this very controlled and limited life, Offred remembers her old life in flashbacks, what life was like “before.” She had a college education and a job she enjoyed and was happily married with a five-year old daughter. There were signs of the changes that were coming, but most people failed to take them seriously or take any action. By the time they realized that their family was in danger, it was too late.

Offred’s story in the present day moves forward, with monotonous routine but plenty of surprises along the way for the reader. Meanwhile, we learn of her previous life and her time at the Red Center (training for Handmaids) bit by bit, through her memories. Finally, at the very end of the novel, some of the “history” of this period is revealed in a clever way so that we finally get some information about how all this came about.

If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale before (many people read it in school or when it first came out in 1985), you have probably been hearing about it lately. Hulu recently launched a new TV series based on the novel that has gotten rave reviews and has helped to boost the original novel to the top of the best-seller lists (along with most other dystopian classics). The story is peppered with phrases and events that have parallels in today’s world, making you wonder whether Atwood was prescient, having written this novel in the 1980’s.

We had a very interesting discussion in our book group. Normally, we avoid talking about politics, but it was pretty impossible in this case, and our discussions of the novel often came back to what is happening in the world today. The group was split in their overall opinion of the novel. Some, including me, enjoyed reading it and thought it was well-written. Others didn’t enjoy it as much, either because they found it depressing or because they didn’t like the narrative style. One thing we all agreed on, though, was that it was incredibly thought-provoking and especially relevant today. 

This passage particularly struck me, as Offred reflects on her life “before,” and how things came to change so drastically:
“Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now.

We lived as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

I know that I am guilty of ignoring, just because I get so worn out by the relentless bad news. Despite the differing opinions in our book group, we had a lively and in-depth discussion on a wide range of topics that are introduced by The Handmaid’s Tale. This dystopian classic from the 1980’s not only holds up today but is especially relevant – and chilling – in its picture of a society bent on regulating morality and subjugating women, all in the name of religion. I’m glad to have finally read the novel, and now I wish I could see the new TV show – we might just have to sign up for Hulu!

311 pages, Fawcett Columbine

P.S. Has anyone seen this 1990 movie adaptation (link below)? Is it any good?

The Handmaids Tale
by Margaret AtwoodTrade Paperback

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Booktopia 2017

I've been babbling away about Booktopia for the past several months, so I thought I'd give you a little recap of the weekend event - what it is, which authors attended, and what we did.

First, the basics. Booktopia is an annual event held the first weekend in May in Manchester, VT. It was started by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, the hosts of an amazing book podcast called Books on the Nightstand (it is now off the air, but you can still download old episodes). My mom and I went to Booktopia in 2015, the last year that Ann and Michael hosted it. Happily, the wonderful independent bookstore in Manchester, Northshire Bookstore, decided to keep up the Booktopia tradition on their own. My mom and I again attended this unique event this year.

I say that Booktopia is unique because it isn't like any other book event - every single author who attends mentions that! This is not simply a reading by an author or a book trade show, like BEA, but an intimate gathering of book lovers and authors, together for the whole weekend. There are sessions where the authors each speak about their books and perhaps read a short passage, but those sessions are interactive, with lots of Q&A from the readers in attendance. As one author mentioned in surprise, "Everyone here has already read my book!" So, it's more like a weekend filled with book club meetings with the authors in attendance.
Author Victor Lodato discussing his novel with readers.
Here is the line-up of authors that attended Booktopia this year and their books that were highlighted:
My reviews are at the links. As you can see, I read most of them (in time for Booktopia!). I have Our Short History on my Kindle for review and will get to it next month. The World To Come is a book of short stories, and I have read several of the stories and will finish the rest soon. The amazing thing is that every one of these was a great book! That's because they are hand-picked by the booksellers at Northshire Bookstore.

After the Yankee Book Swap - readers and authors with their new books!
Besides sessions with the authors (you sign up ahead of time for the sessions you want to attend), there is a big dinner for everyone - readers and authors - on Friday night. Jessica Shattuck sat next to me at dinner, and it was great to get to know her better. After dinner, we played some fierce rounds of literary trivia (lots of fun) and had a Yankee Book Swap. The photo above shows some of our table after the book swap (including two authors on the ends), and below is a photo of my mom and I with our new books!
Happy with our book swaps!
The booksellers at Northshire kicked off Booktopia on Friday morning by sharing their book recommendations with us. Since each registration fee included a $50 gift card for the store, those recommendations were much-appreciated! The weekend wrapped up on Saturday evening, with a big group session for all attendees, where each author spoke for 10 minutes.
Author Lisa Ko giving her wrap-up talk
All in all, it was an exhausting but very fun and rewarding weekend. Besides meeting the authors, you spend the whole weekend with other book lovers! Many of the same people return to Booktopia every year, too, so there are lots of happy reunions with bookish friends as well as new friendships forged.

If you can't get to Booktopia, at least make a trip to Manchester, VT, (a beautiful New England town) to spend a day wandering around Northshire Bookstore.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

TV Tuesday: Occupied

Last week, I wrote on my TV Tuesday post about being in-between TV seasons right now - the spring shows that are just wrapping up and the ones we are waiting to return this summer. We hit that conundrum again this week. Our 22-year old son is home sick from college, and we finished the two shows we've been watching with him - Colony and Travelers (both highly recommended - reviews at the links). So, we searched the streaming services for something new to try that all three of us might like.

We found Occupied, a Norwegian thriller set in the near-future. Climate change is the biggest challenge in this future world. The U.S. has become energy-independent and pretty much stick to themselves. Europe is running out of fossil fuels and starting to panic. In the midst of these challenges, Norway has decided to do something unprecedented. They have developed a way of producing clean energy using Thorium (a real element and a real, though distant, possibility for fuel production). In response, with their giant new Thorium energy plant open, they have decided to halt all production of oil and gas in the Black Sea. The EU and Russia are not too happy about this development because they aren't yet ready to give up fossil fuels. They threaten Norway with sanctions.

In the first episode of Occupied, the Prime Minister of Norway, who is in the Green Party, announces to the world that they have halted oil and gas production. There is swift action from the EU and Russia, and Russian forces quickly enter Norway and take control over the oil rigs out in the Black Sea. Ostensibly, the Norwegian government is still in place, but little by little, it becomes obvious that Russia has more control over their country than first appeared.

Against this backdrop, the show focuses not only on the Prime Minister and his cabinet but also on two families involved. Hans is one of the Prime Minister's guards - a Secret Service-like position. His wife has just been appointed a judge, and they have an adorable little girl. Thomas is a reporter for a small newsmagazine and an old friend of the Prime Minister's, though they now run in very different circles. Thomas is determined to get to the bottom of what is really happening in his country with the Russians. His wife, Bente, runs a failing restaurant that could be saved by new wealthy Russian patrons. They have two children.

We've only watched the first two episodes so far, but we are eager to see more. Much of the dialogue is in Norwegian (and some Russian), with subtitles, though there is some English spoken, too. The plot is intriguing, and there is plenty of suspense in seeing how the situation will escalate. In this early part of the show, the entire country seems precariously balanced between independence and being occupied (you know which way that will go just from the name of the show). The actors are all engaging and interesting. We're all enjoying it so far and can't wait to see what happens next!

Note that we are also enjoying another Norwegian show, Lilyhammer, that is equally good though much lighter, about an American mobster relocated to Norway as part of Witness Protection.

The first season of Occupied is available on Netflix. You can also purchase Occupied on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $11.99 for the first season.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Monday 5/22! What Are You Reading?

I'm very late with my update this Monday because I took my son to his quarterly appointment with our Lyme specialist out of state today. It's normally a 90-minutes drive each way, but today we had torrential downpours the whole way there and back, plus roads closed for construction and detours. Yeah, not a fun drive! I did all the driving since he's not feeling well today, and he and I both went right to bed when we got home at 2:30 pm! So, NOW, I can start my week...

It will be a busy week here, with my two sons finishing their last final exams and moving back home, but then they're headed out to help their grandparents get their sailboat in the water for the season, so my husband and I will have a very quiet holiday weekend to ourselves. I hope to read a lot! And, remember, Memorial Day weekend (end of May) means...the start of my Big Book Summer Challenge! Watch for a kick-off post on Friday, and in the meantime, do what my husband and I did this weekend, and look through your bookshelves or your want-to-read list for any book longer than 400 pages. I have my stack all ready to post on Friday!

Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I bought this book at least 5 years ago and have been meaning to read it ever since. I'm glad my book group finally gave me the push to move it up the list! It was just as amazing and powerful as I'd heard, and we had an excellent discussion. We all agreed it was especially chilling given what's been going on in the world today. Hard to believe she wrote it in the 1980's! Now, I really want to see the new TV show on Hulu, but we don't subscribe to it.
  • I started my next book group pick for this Wednesday, The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III, a nonfiction book. I'm only about halfway, so I hope I finish in time. It's interesting so far, especially since we have family in South Dakota in the Black Hills region and visit the area frequently, but it's kind of slow-going. I don't normally read much nonfiction.
  • I finished listening to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on audio. It's a YA novel about a black teen girl whose friend dies in front of her after being shot by a white police officer. It was absolutely incredible - powerful and compelling. Listening to it on audio was particularly moving - Starr and her family and friends felt like real people, and I could feel their pain and their indecision about whether to move out of the neighborhood.
  • I tried to go back to The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle to finish it, I really did. My husband and I started this audio back in April on our road trip, but what is billed as a"superb thriller and a truly engrossing read" wasn't either one for us. I tried to go back to it last week, but I found it was still a real slog and just not interesting. I gave up officially at about the halfway point and deleted it from my iPod!
  • I needed something completely different, so now I am listening to a YA novel on audio, The Baby by Lisa Drakeford, about a teen girl who unexpectedly gives birth on the bathroom floor at a party. It starts as one of those stories you hear in the news once in a while about a young woman who didn't even realize she was pregnant, but it's quite in-depth emotionally and tells the story from five different points of view. It's good so far and kept me riveted driving through the rain today while my son slept!
  • My husband. Ken, finished a novel I put in his Easter basket: The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron. When I heard this mystery series is about an ex-game warden in Maine, I knew he'd like it (we both love the outdoors and Maine!). He's says it was very good, and he'd like to read more books in the series.
  • Ken is now reading Little Green by Walter Mosley, one of his Easy Rawlins mysteries. I got Ken hooked on Mosley after I read one of his novels for our All-County Reads program a few years ago. He's enjoying this one.
  • Jamie, 22, finished Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard last night, a chunkster at over 1000 pages! He read it in one week. To say he is an avid reader is a significant understatement!
  • Jamie turned to some comfort reading today, since he isn't feeling well. Looking through all the books in his room, he realized he never read the last book (that would be #6, I think) in the middle-grade Tunnels series by Roderick Gordon, so he is re-reading the entire series! It won't take him long; he is already almost through the 500-page first book, Tunnels, after reading in the car today. He laughed when I told him about my Big Book Summer Challenge - he said he never reads books shorter than 400 pages!
Last week on the blog:
Movie Monday: Arrival - an amazing sci fi film as much about humans as about aliens - a must-see!

TV Tuesday: Coming Up in Summer 2017 - the shows we can't wait to come back and a few new ones we are looking forward to.

Fiction Review: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Katherine Rooney - a captivating journey through an elderly woman's long life in NYC.

Nonfiction Review: Books for Living by Will Schwalbe - warm, witty, thoughtful essays on lessons learned from books.

Saturday Snapshot: National Parks in California & Southern Oregon - last of my NP series.

Coming up this week on the blog: My summary of Booktopia, the kick-off for the Big Book Summer Challenge (this link is to last year's page in case you want to get ready!), and of course, more book, TV, and movie reviews!

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

You can also follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: California & Southern Oregon National Parks

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

After a brief hiatus, I am finally getting back to my National Park photo series. I think this will be my last National Park post for a while because I have covered all of the parks we have visited across the U.S.! Click on the link to see the rest of the photos.

So, this week is devoted to the far West - California and Southern Oregon. Though we usually take long road trips, that year - the summer before our oldest son's senior year of high school - we decided to go all out and fly out to California for an extra-special trip. We used my aunt's house in Sacramento as our home base and spent the first week heading north into southern Oregon, where we visited Crater Lake National Park and Lassen Volcano National Park. I have no photos from Lassen because the park was still closed due to snow - in late June! - so we didn't see anything past the entrance and a huge field of snow. As you'll see from my photos of Crater Lake, there was still a LOT of snow around. They'd gotten over 60 feet of snow that winter, and when we visited in late June, they still had over 40 feet of snow and had only cleared 1 mile of the park road around Crater Lake!

For our second week, we rented a small RV and visited the National Parks in central California: Yosemite, Sequoia, and King's Canyon. King's Canyon doesn't get much attention, but it is a beautiful park. We spent our last week in San Francisco and driving down the coast along Route 1 (no National Parks in that portion of the trip).

So, here are a few photo highlights of the National Parks we visited in California and southern Oregon:

Crater Lake late JUNE!

Over 40' of snow still remaining (my son is almost 6')

Family pic in front of lovely Crater Lake

Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite NP

Half Dome in Yosemite NP

View of the entire Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

My son & I w/General Sherman tree at Sequoia NP

Close-up & personal with a sequoia in Sequoia NP

King's River & mountains in King's Canyon NP

Hiking in King's Canyon National Park

Family pic in King's Canyon NP - river was REALLY high!
Hope you are enjoying a great weekend!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Nonfiction Review: Books for Living

Will Schwalbe became a best-selling author with his book, The End of Your Life Book Club, which described how he and his dying mother discussed books together, as a way to connect. I have not yet read that book, but it has been on my want-to-read list ever since I first heard of it. Schwalbe’s latest book, Books for Living, is a similar exploration of books, a collection of essays describing life lessons he has learned from various books. I was fortunate enough not only to read this wonderful, inspiring book but also to meet Will in person at Booktopia recently.

Books for Living is divided into chapters, with each one referencing a single book and a life lesson that it taught the author. The list of books itself is surprisingly eclectic and not the books you might immediately think of as inspiring. They run the gamut from children’s books to classic literature, from self-help books written more than 80 years ago to popular novels of today. My own copy of the book is filled with dog-eared pages: book titles I want to read myself, inspiring quotes I want to write in my Quote Journal, and moving insights from the author.

For example, there is a chapter on the classic children’s book Stuart Little, written by the renowned E.B White. This chapter is titled Searching, as that is the crux of the lesson that Schwalbe learned from reading the book. He describes his experiences reading Stuart Little as a child, how deeply he connected with the main character (in case you haven’t read it, Stuart is a smartly dressed, polite, adventurous mouse whose parents are regular people…a fact that is barely even mentioned). He writes about the writing of the novel, about E.B. White’s own thoughts on it, and finally what he (Schwalbe) learned from it. Here is an abridged excerpt from those last paragraphs, on the lessons one can learn from Stuart:
“Try not to run away but to go in search.
Try to remain polite when possible, as Stuart always does, and to accept what can’t be changed…
Try to be as brave as Stuart, and as resourceful as he was when he piloted the model boat to victory.
But more than anything: Try to be as cheerful and optimistic as you can be in the face of whatever comes next.”

In other chapters, Schwalbe explains how The Girl on the Train taught him about Trusting, how David Copperfield taught him about Remembering, how Gift from the Sea taught him about Recharging, and how Reading Lolita in Tehran taught him about Choosing Your Life. In all, there are 26 chapters/essays on 26 very different books and the lessons they taught him. Each essay and lesson is entirely unique, and the reading list is wonderfully diverse.

My favorite chapter/essay is the final one, What the Living Do, on the lesson of Living. In it, he recounts the moving story of a wife who finished reading her husband’s big stack of unfinished books after his death, and how that brought her closer to him. Of course, Schwalbe himself wrote an entire book about how books brought he and his mother closer together, as she was dying. This short chapter brought me to tears – and again when I was describing my own experiences to Schwalbe at Booktopia.

I lost my father almost two years ago, and one of the things I miss most is sharing books with him. As a child, he and I (and my mom, too) passed the latest Stephen King novels between us (this was when King was a newly best-selling author). As an adult, I loved to pick out books for my father as gifts – for holidays and birthdays and later, when he was battling cancer, just because. He still loved mysteries, thrillers, and horror – and still loved Stephen King – and I enjoyed finding new books and authors for him to try. When we got together, he’d excitedly tell us about the books he’d been reading. After he died, my husband and I inherited his extensive collection of Stephen King and Dean Koontz books, along with a few other of his favorite thrillers, and seeing that bookcase filled with my dad’s favorite books (in many of which he wrote the date that he read or re-read them) in our bedroom makes me smile and feel closer to him.

Here’s what Schwalbe says on this subject:
“Books and people are bound together. I can’t think about certain books and not about certain people, some living and some dead. The joy I’ve had from these books and from these people, and all I’ve learned from them, merge into one stream in my mind.

We can’t do much for the people we’ve lost, but we can remember them and we can read for them: the books they loved, and books we think they might have chosen.”

I found that entire chapter incredibly moving. As you can probably tell, I absolutely loved reading this thoughtful, special book about books. Schwalbe has a talent for condensing profound wisdom into accessible pieces. This book is not only moving and insightful, it is also warm and witty, like talking about books with a favorite friend. I can’t afford to buy many books for myself (I make generous use of my local library!), but I bought this one, and I know I will turn to it again and again. It’s a lovely reminder of the importance of books in our society, and how even the simplest books can enrich our lives and teach us something.

257 pages, Alfred A. Knopf

Note: This blog contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me at no extra cost to you.

Link to Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, which hosted Booktopia:

Books for Living
by Grof, StanislavHardcover

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fiction Review: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Last week at Booktopia, I got to meet Kathleen Rooney, who wrote the book Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. This unique title has within its covers a unique novel, the story of an octogenarian's life, as told over the course of a very long walk through Manhattan in a single night.

The novel takes place on New Year's Eve 1984. Lillian Boxfish, who says she is 84 but is really 85, is preparing to go out for dinner, to the same place she goes every New Year's Eve, Grimaldi's, near her apartment. But Lillian isn’t very hungry this evening, and so, after a quick stop at Grimaldi's for tradition's sake, she sets out on a long walk through Manhattan, hoping to work up an appetite. Along the way, she passes landmarks of her long life in New York and remembers various times from the 60+ years she has lived there. Lillian also talks to everyone she meets, in an open way that is envious; she never makes assumptions about people and takes an interest in everyone from cab drivers to security guards.

Lillian is not just any old lady. She was once the highest paid woman in advertising, starting her career in 1926 as an assistant copy-writer for R.H. Macy's, inspired by a series of railroad ads from her girlhood. There, she worked her way up, becoming not only well-paid but also well-known for her clever, witty ads. She also wrote poetry, light verse that conveyed unusual, slightly dark sentiments for a young woman of that time. Along the way, she eventually married (in spite of her reputation as a "sneerer of love"), had a son, and later, grandchildren, and encountered some serious personal challenges.

As Lillian's evening unfolds and she walks, her entire life unfolds in her memories, linking to the places she is seeing and the people she is meeting along the way. It's an ingenious way to tell the story of her long life, with the narrative moving seamlessly from the present to the past and back again. Lillian herself is charming, acerbic, and witty, as here where she describes her poetry editor:

“His expression was sheepish enough to supply a Highland village with wool and milk.”

She is also thoughtful, and her musings often delve into deeper issues than just simply the events of her past, including the difficult periods of her life, friendships, and love. In fact, Kathleen Rooney explained at Booktopia that Lillian is based on a real person, Margaret Fishback. The basic details of her life – her career, her family, her place on the society pages, and even her challenges – form the basis for Lillian, and the author fills in the rest, including Lillian's thoughts and feelings. Rooney even read some of Fishback's light verse aloud at Booktopia for us.

I was completely entranced by this novel - and by Lillian herself - from start to finish. I began reading the book but switched to listening to it on audio, and the narrator was wonderful. It felt like I was listening to Lillian herself tell me about her life, and I could hear her voice in my head for days after finishing. Lillian not only tells the story of her own life but also the story of her beloved New York, from the excitement and shine of the 1920's to signs of decay, the growth of hip-hop music, and the AIDS crisis in the 1980's. It was a captivating journey that I was happy to take by Lillian’s side.

284 pages, St. Martin's Press

This link takes you to Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, where Booktopia was held: 

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen RooneyHardcover

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TV Tuesday: Coming Up in Summer 2017

(NOTE: you can link to my past reviews of all of these shows at the links provided below).

It's that time of year again - that between-seasons time on TV. Most of our favorite spring shows have wrapped up for the season (or will soon): The Americans, Blindspot, The Catch, Quantico, and Colony. I have also recently finished up several of the shows I watch on my own during lunchtime: American Crime, No Tomorrow, and Chewing Gum.

My husband and I are filling our evenings catching up on our favorite streaming shows: Bosch, Catastrophe, and Lilyhammer. And I suspect we will be watching a lot of movies through the rest of May!

But what's up next?

Here's a sneak peek at some of our summertime favorites, with the dates they come back, plus some new shows we want to check out...and a couple of sad cancellations!

We might as well get the bad news out of the way: 

NBC has cancelled Aquarius, the crime show about Charles Manson in 1969, starring David Duchovny as an LA detective. It won't be returning for season 3. If you missed this show, you can watch season 1 for free on Netflix or catch both seasons on Amazon Prime for $1.99 an episode or $21.99 a season. It was excellent. You can see my review here.

It looks like BrainDead won't be coming back, either, but it's one season last summer was original and hilarious and very much worth checking out. It's free on Amazon Prime (at the link), and you can read my review here.

I enjoyed Feed the Beast last summer, but AMC cancelled this drama starring David Schwimmer after just one season.

And Fox seems to be still on the fence about Wayward Pines, a show that my husband, son, and I all enjoy. No word yet on whether there will be a season 3.

Here's what we are looking forward to and when the new seasons premier:

June - The Last Ship, season 4 - I couldn't find a specific date, but this excellent post-apocalyptic action drama is supposed to return in June.

June 4 - The Next Food Network Star - my guilty pleasure when I get an hour to myself at lunchtime!

June 4 - Fear the Walking Dead - I'm not so much into zombies, but my husband & son will be tuning in again.

June 5 - Stitchers, season 3 - my husband and I enjoy this unique blend of crime show and sci fi

June 9 - Dark Matter, season 3 - another sci fi show we enjoy

June 9 - Orange is the New Black, season 5 - We can't wait!! My husband and I LOVE this amazing prison drama that is one of the highest-quality TV shows ever. Season 4 ended with a giant cliff-hanger, so we are on pins and needles waiting to see what happens next. The best news? Netflix has renewed the show for a total of 7 seasons!

June 10 - Orphan Black, season 5 - BEST. SHOW. EVER. Seriously, this show is amazing in every way - my husband, son, and I love it. If you haven't seen it yet, you are missing out! Check out my review at the link and catch up (details at the end of my review on where to find it). This will be the final season.

June 28 - Younger, season 3 - one of those shows I like to watch by myself (in my male-centric home!) when I get some time alone. It just gets better & better.

A couple of notes:

Two past summer shows have moved to fall 2017 premier dates for their new seasons: Mr. Robot (10/1/17) and Stranger Things (10/31/17 - perfect) - can't wait!

New shows we want to check out in summer 2017:

 The Mist is based on a Stephen King short story and will air on Spike starting June 26. The trailer (below) looks like it might be a bit violent for me, but I am willing to give it a try. It reminds me a bit of Under the Dome, another TV show based on a Stephen King novel, and it looks like something my husband will definitely like.

Gypsy is starting on June 30 on Netflix. It's a thriller series about a psychologist who gets too close to her patients - looks and sounds very creepy!

Salvation begins on CBS on July 10. It's a sci fi thriller about an asteroid on a collision course with Earth in six months. Looks like a good one!

The Sinner will premier on USA Network on August 2. It's based on a best-selling thriller novel about a young mother who commits horrific acts of violence and has no idea why, starring Jessica Biel. Another one that looks violent but also compelling.

Whew, that's quite a line-up for summer!

What new or returning shows are you looking forward to this summer?

And please let me know if you have any recommendations for shows we can stream (on either Netflix or Amazon Prime) during May, while we wait for all these great shows to start!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Movie Monday: Arrival

Every once in a while, a book or movie just so blows me away that I am tempted to write a one-sentence review: "You must read this book/see this movie!" That's the case with Arrival, a movie my husband and I watched Saturday night and that I have wanted to see ever since its release to theaters last November. It more than lived up to my high expectations.

Arrival focuses on a linguist named Louise Banks, played wonderfully by Amy Adams, who lives by herself and teaches at a university. As the movie opens, we see her at home and at school, with a voice-over addressed to her daughter about beginnings and endings while we see images of her with her daughter, from her birth to her premature death from an incurable disease as a young woman. On this day, though, Louise doesn't even get to begin her class on languages because a worldwide crisis has occurred that has the attention not only of her students but of everyone else on the globe. Twelve identical-looking alien ships have arrived on Earth in various, wide-ranging locations. They are just hanging there, in mid-air just above the Earth's surface, with the whole world wondering what they want and why they are here.

Colonel Weber, played by Forest Whitaker, comes to Louise's office. He's familiar with her talents in linguistics because she previously worked on a military project with him, helping to translate in a difficult situation. He's come to her now because the U.S. military is looking for a linguistics expert to try to communicate with the aliens and find out what they want from humans. She quickly packs a bag and is raced to the site of the alien ship, in Montana. There, she is joined by Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner, a theoretical physicist. Each of them is given a team of specialists to guide, and the pair are quickly taken to the alien ship to "meet" their visitors up close.

I won't give away any more because this movie is filled with fascinating, breath-taking twists and turns. Suffice it to say that, as you might expect, the aliens have an entirely different way of communicating than humans do, and learning to converse with them is a serious challenge. Adams, Renner, and Whitaker are all excellent in this film, and it is filled with suspense, as the scientists race against time.

As a science fiction movie, Arrival is wonderful, with truly creative and unique aliens and alien technology and language. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. This is mainly a movie about humans and about communication. As Louise and Ian struggle to communicate with the aliens, all kinds of miscommunications occur between the humans located around the globe, all working on the same project. In addition, Arrival delves deep into issues of memory, time, and what it means to be human. Toward the end, you encounter some truly mind-bending surprises that are wonderfully thought-provoking - something I always enjoy in a movie.

I absolutely loved this unique and thoughtful movie that is also suspenseful, and my husband did, too. I was disappointed that our DVD didn't contain any extras because I wasn't ready to leave this world, but I later read that you should patiently wait after the end of the movie because there is a "making of" documentary that rolls after the credits. I wish I'd known that before! I could watch the whole movie over again today.

You must see this movie!

Arrival is now out on DVD (we rented from Redbox) and is available from Amazon to rent for just $3.99 (or you can purchase the DVD).


It's Monday 5/15! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday! Ahhh...the house is silent. I love the start of a new week.

Hope all the mothers out there had a wonderful Mother's Day! I spent the day on boring, must-do tasks - refilling medications for the week, paying medical bills, etc. - but then enjoyed a lovely evening with my two sons and my husband. We had a delicious dinner out, came back to the house for ice cream, and I opened a pile of thoughtful gifts. My sons hung around for a while, and we watched some favorite, funny TV shows together. Best of all? Both of our college-aged sons agreed that the more they see of other people's families and parents, the more they appreciate ours. Isn't that sweet? Made my day!

It was a busy week, but of course, we made sure we had plenty of time for books! Here's what we are reading:
  • I finished my next review book for Shelf Awareness, Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar, due out June 6. I requested this one special because I loved the author's earlier book, The Space Between Us, and her latest novel lived up to my high expectations. It's about a young black boy from the projects who is fostered and then adopted by a wealthy white family in the suburbs...but there is a whole lot more to it than that. It was compelling and thoughtful - I loved it. I'll post my SA review when it is published.
  • Next, I turned to a book group pick for this week: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I bought this book at least 5 years ago and have been meaning to read it ever since. I'm glad my book group finally gave me the push to move it up the list! It is just as amazing and powerful as I've heard, and I am totally engrossed. Now, I really want to see the new TV show on Hulu, but we don't subscribe to it!
  • I am still listening to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on audio. It's a YA novel about a black teen girl whose friend dies in front of her after being shot by a white police officer. It is just as powerful and amazing as everyone has been saying. Listening to it on audio is particularly moving - Starr and her family feel like real people.
  • My husband. Ken, is reading a novel I put in his Easter basket: The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron. When I heard this mystery series is about an ex-game warden in Maine, I knew he'd like it (we both love the outdoors and Maine!). He's says it's very good so far. 
  • Jamie, 22, says he is on a science fiction kick. He is now tackling Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard, a chunkster at over 1000 pages! He was surprised when we told him Hubbard founded Scientology, but he is enjoying this sci fi classic.
  • Craig, 19, never reads, but it was a momentous occasion this weekend when he had to drive to Atlantic City and asked me where our old audiobooks were kept! He wanted to listen to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but alas, it is on cassette tapes, which he can't play in his car. He settled on The Lightning Thief, another old favorite, but then forgot to bring it. Last week, he re-listened (for about the 20th time) to our old family favorite, Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater. If you have kids and have never listened to this audiobook, you must bring it along on your next road trip - it is hilarious and wonderful! 
Blog posts from last week:
TV Tuesday: No Tomorrow - a fun romcom with a unique premise

Fiction Review: Celine by Peter Heller - a mystery with plenty of depth & character development

My Summary of Books Read in April - just 4 books but all great!

Saturday Snapshot: Delaware Beach and Vermont - pics from my latest trips

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

You can also follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page

My family & I out to dinner for Mother's Day