Thursday, March 22, 2018

Books Read in February

I skipped my movie and TV reviews this week after a mini vacation so that I could catch up on book reviews and post my February summary before the very end of the month - I'm making progress!

February was a short month but an excellent reading month. Here's what I finished last month:
  • Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala (D.C.) - adult novel - reviewed for Shelf Awareness (I will post the review here when it is published)
  • The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Australia) - YA novel on audio
  • The Fold by Peter Clines (CA) - adult sci fi novel

  • Maurice by E.M. Forster (UK) - classic novel
  • The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo & Dice Tsutsumi - middle-grade graphic novel

Eight books in all is a very good month for me, especially for a short month! I read one nonfiction book and seven novels, in a wide variety of genres, and an excellent variety: 1 YA, 2 middle-grade, 2 graphic novels, 5 adult books, 1 classic, and 2 books on audio. I enjoyed all of them very much. It's hard to compare them and choose a favorite when they are all so different! I guess A Piece of the World is the winner (if I must choose just one), but I would recommend them all.

Progress in 2018 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I added 3 books from my own shelves for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge. For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, February was A One-Word Title, so Maurice by E.M. Forster fit well. That also counts in the same category (one-word title) for the Back to the Classics Challenge. For my new 2018 Badass Books Challenge, I added A Book That Will Make You Smarter (Killers of the Flower Moon), and A Book Based on a True Story (A Piece of the World)I added Australia and another UK for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. For my 2018 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added four new states - DC, OK, PA, and ME.
Finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month. I filled in 17 squares in February:

Spaces filled in:
Speak No Evil - free book, detective/police, forbidden love
The Lines We Cross - audio book
The Fold - new to you author, shelf love, travel in time/space
A Piece of the World - actual famous person
Killers of the Flower Moon - nonfiction
Swing It, Sunny! - made you laugh, less than 400 pages
Maurice - library book, one-word title
The Dam Keeper - read a physical book, in a series, start a series
Free Space
What was your favorite book read in February?   

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Graphic Novel: The Dam Keeper

The Dam Keeper is an unusual graphic novel, in part because of its unique genesis. We are used to seeing book-to-movie adaptations, but this story was originally an animated short film created by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. Last year, the two teamed up to adapt their 2015 Oscar nominated short into a series of books. I recently read the first book in the series and found the original dark fairy tale compelling.

Pig is the dam keeper, like his father before him. Still just a kid in school, Pig carries a huge responsibility: to keep the dam in working order to hold back the black fog that threatens to engulf their small, peaceful town. His mother died, and his father - the previous dam keeper - walked off into the fog and was never seen again. Pig leads a lonely existence, except for his best friend, Fox. She is popular and lives a normal life with a loving family, but she doesn't tease Pig for his unusual circumstances, like the other kids do. After Pig's calculations show that the fog is returning with an alarming frequency, the two friends - along with the local bully, Hippo - are washed from the dam and outside of the town in the biggest wave of dark fog yet. Now, they need to find their way back...AND figure out how to save the town.

Sample pages from The Dam Keeper

Although the animal characters are cute and are clearly kids themselves, I intentionally left off an age-range here, because I think The Dam Keeper is great for all ages (its product details recommend 7 - 11 years). In fact, the many dark and sinister scenes of the fog might be a bit frightening for the youngest kids. Many of the pages that don't show the dark fog, though, are colorful and cheery, providing a sharp contrast to the danger that threatens the town. The characters are endearing, and Pig's struggles - other than the fog - are things that all kids can relate to. My only complaint (which is really a compliment) is that this engaging book was over too soon, leaving me wondering what would happen to Pig, Fox, and Hippo next on their journey. I guess I have to wait for book 2 (due out July 10, 2018) to find out!

155 pages, First Second

You can watch the Oscar-nominated animated short The Dam Keeper for $1.99 on Amazon. My husband and I just watched it, and it was very good - though the plot was quite different than the book, which is setting up a longer adventure story.

Or you can purchase the book from an indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fiction Review: A Piece of the World

I read and enjoyed Christina Baker Kline's novel Orphan Train a few years ago for a book group, so I was excited to hear that book had been chosen as our All-County Reads book for 2018, and that Kline would be coming to town in April for an author talk (these are fun events, and I try to go every year). I had heard that her new novel, A Piece of the World, was based on a painting, and although I know next to nothing about art, the artist, Andrew Wyeth, is from our area, which added some local interest for me. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this historical novel that tells the fictionalized story behind the subject of the painting Christina's World.

The novel opens in 1939, with Christina working on a quilt in her old family farmhouse in coastal Maine when she first meets the painter Andrew Wyeth, who is dating her young friend, Betsy, and wants to paint a picture of her house. Christina and her brother, Alvero, live in the big farmhouse on their own now, both in their 40's. In the next chapter, the timeline jumps back to 1896, when Christina was a small girl living in the same house with Al, their parents, and her beloved grandmother. There was something wrong with Christina's legs (possibly polio?) and she was in constant pain, but she was frightened of being sent away from home and so refused medical help when her parents suggested it. She adapted to life with a pronounced limp and chronic pain and learned to get by. Meanwhile, additional brothers were born, her grandmother eventually died, and Christina grew up in the house.

The story moves back and forth from the present (in the 1940's) to the past, gradually building the story of Christina's life as a child, teenager, and later, an adult. There is love, tragedy, pain, and the simple pleasures and hard work of rural life. In the present, Christina gradually gets to know Andrew as her house becomes his favorite place to paint when he's in the area each summer (he lives the rest of the year here near us, in Chadd's Ford, PA). Kline provides details in both time periods that paint a vivid picture of life at that time, through two world wars and countless other events, both big and small, that affect Christina's life. Against the historical backdrop, we follow the highs and lows - and mainly the small everyday struggles and joys - of Christina's life, which is not easy, even when things are going well. Eventually, the story leads to Wyeth making the famous painting of the house with Christina in the foreground (see below). The audio book was captivating (you can listen to a sample below), feeling as though Christina herself is telling you her story. Building on both historical facts and creative fiction, Kline has created a moving, distinct story of one strong woman whose life was forever captured in a painting.
Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth
352 pages, William Morrow Paperbacks

A brief summary of the fascinating historical background of Andrew's meeting of Betsy and Christina and the paintings he made of them.

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Listen to a sample of the audio book A Piece of the World (of the scene when Christina meets Andrew Wyeth for the first time)

Purchase from an indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or order A Piece of the World from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fiction Review: The Fold

Last May, while attending Booktopia at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, I chose a book from their sci fi section based on a shelf talker with a rave review from one of the booksellers: The Fold by Peter Clines. I gave it to my husband for Father's Day, and he enjoyed it. I finally found time to read this mind-bending novel last month and found it fast-paced and intriguing, with an original plot.

Mike is living a quiet life as a high school English teacher in a small town in Maine, but his friend Reggie knows he could be doing much, much more. Mike is super-intelligent and has eidetic (sometimes called photographic) memory, and Reggie has a project that needs his unique talents. Reggie works for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and has a team of scientists that have made an astounding discovery, something that will allow teleportation for the first time in history. But the scientists are far too secretive about what they've developed, and now there are hints that maybe something has gone wrong. Mike is intrigued enough to agree to spend his summer vacation at the top-secret research facility in California, but the more he gets to know the team and learns about their invention, the more concerned he becomes. This project could actually destroy them all - and maybe even the entire world. It comes down to Mike's unique talents to unravel the mystery of what is actually going on.

This fascinating story grabbed my attention almost immediately. It reminded me in some ways of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, one of my favorite reads from last year, with its suspenseful sci fi plot and thought-provoking "science" about bending time (and more). The Fold, however, is unique, with its own jaw-dropping twists and an action-packed narrative. In fact, that might be my only criticism of this novel - toward the end, it becomes very focused on action, with several violent battles. For many sci fi fans, that's a plus (my son loves battles in his fiction!), but I prefer more thoughtfulness (of which there is plenty) and less hostility. That's a minor quibble, though, as overall, the novel kept my attention rapt and my brain marveling over the possibilities, which is what I like most about a good sci fi story.

375 pages, Broadway Books

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Purchase from Northshire Bookstore, like I did:

Or order The Fold from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Movie Monday: The Big Sick

I'm a bit behind in my movie reviews, but it's turned out to be timely, with the Oscars just last week. Back on New Year's Eve, my husband and I watched The Big Sick, an original, warm, and funny romcom that is based on a true story.

As the movie opens, Kumail, played by Kumail Nanjiani, is doing his stand-up comedy routine and hanging out with his other comic friends. After the show, a pretty blond grad student named Emily, played by Zoe Kazan, talks to Kumail at the bar and tells him how much she enjoyed his set. The two start dating, and for a while, it's a typical romcom story, with two attractive main characters who are gradually falling in love. But Kumail is originally from Pakistan, and his parents - though very nice - are very traditional and expect him to marry a Pakistani girl. In fact, he has to sit through yet another set-up every Sunday, as his mother invites one eligible Pakistani girl after another to meet him at their weekly family dinner.

Eventually, Emily gets angry that Kumail won't introduce her to his family, and the two break up. Soon after, though, with both still upset over the break-up, Emily gets very sick and is admitted to the hospital, while doctors try to figure out what is wrong with her as she rapidly deteriorates. Suddenly, Kumail finds himself at Emily's bedside, facing down her parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Ramano, for the first time, who know that he's the guy who broke their daughter's heart - awkward!

The Big Sick won 16 different awards - many for "Best Movie" or similar - but was passed over for an Oscar last week, much to fans' disappointment. It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a recognition of which it was worthy. The backstory adds to its attraction, as Kumail and the real Emily (V. Gordon) wrote the screenplay based on their own real-life love story. As you can imagine, with a stand-up comic writing the script, it's a very funny movie, but it is also very warm and moving, too. Kumail and Zoe are both very good in their roles, as are the supporting cast and especially Kumail's family. As always, Hunter and Romano are fabulous. We both enjoyed it very much.

An Amazon original movie, The Big Sick is available free streaming on Amazon Prime or on DVD.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


It's Monday 3/12! What Are You Reading?

Bit of a rough week last week, and another one coming up, but it had some good moments, too. Just a lot of medical appointments last week - replacing a broken filling, cutting out a really bad ingrown toenail (sounds trivial but it's really painful) - and this week, I get to repeat both of those on the left side! But I just came from my massage therapist, and that was a good kind of medical appointment - my neck and back problems have calmed down, so that's really good news. In between all that, we got over 10 inches of snow in Nor'Easter #2 last week (which means a snow day here, where we rarely get more than a few inches) - check out my Saturday Snapshot photos. It looks like we will probably get just the edge of Nor'Easter #3, hopefully just a bit of rain here. We had a decent weekend, with our younger son and my father-in-law over for dinner Friday night, and our older son here for breakfast & lunch on Sunday - I can always lure them home with food! And we met our oldest friends for dinner Saturday night, to celebrate their 30th anniversary, at our favorite authentic New Orleans restaurant (hard to come by up here!) - good memories of the years the four of us spent there.

I was feeling out of sorts last week - overwhelmed by all the writing projects I want to tackle and my limited time/energy. But yesterday, I booked a mini getaway for my husband and I next weekend (the location is a surprise for my husband - shhh!), and that perked up my spirits considerably! This time of year always gets to me with a bit of cabin fever - itching to get the camper out again - so getting out of town for a couple of days should help.

Meanwhile, as always, we are all enjoying our books:
  • I am still reading my next book group selection, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, a Christmas gift from my husband (I suggested it to the group). Since I just read my first-ever Atwood novel last year (The Handmaid's Tale), I am glad for the chance to read more. This is a historical novel, based on a real-life woman in the mid-1800's in Ontario who was sentenced to life in prison for murder. The question of whether she is guilty or innocent is central to the story. I am down to about 60 pages left, and I'm still not sure! Should be a great discussion this week.
  • I have been listening to The Freakling, book 1 of the Psi Chronicles by Lana Krumwiede, a middle-grade/teen/YA fantasy dystopian novel that I downloaded free from SYNC last summer. Somehow, I keep forgetting that fantasy isn't one of my favorite genres...but this novel has been interesting and engaging so far, about a society where most people have telekinesis powers and those who don't are sent to a colony, where they have to do horrible things like feed themselves with forks, tie their shoelaces, and pick things up to move them! It's an intriguing concept.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading NightSun by Dan Vining, a novel I recently reviewed for Shelf Awareness. It's a detective story set in 2025 that combines mystery, suspense, and dystopia.
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, is reading book 6 in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, Lord of Chaos. He loves this epic fantasy series. He spent all of his Christmas gift cards on books, so he has stacks and stacks of new books waiting! His reading time is limited right now, as he finishes his last semester of college and looks for a job.
Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Red Sparrow - Russian spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence

TV Tuesday: 11/22/63 - historical drama about a man who goes back in time to stop JFK's assassination, based on a Stephen King novel - a must-see!

Fiction Review: Maurice by E.M. Forster - a classic about two gay men in early 1900's England

Middle-Grade Review: Swing It, Sunny! by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm - warm, fun, and thoughtful graphic novel

Teen/YA Review: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah - two teens caught on opposite sides of immigration controversy in Australia

Saturday Snapshot: A Tale of Two March Storms - pics from high winds & heavy snow

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 follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.  

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday Snapshot: A Tale of Two March Storms

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

Like everyone else on the East Coast, here in Delaware, we were slammed with 2 Nor'Easter storms in a row recently...with another coming this way on Sunday and Monday! We got mostly rain and sleet in the first one, but with incredibly high winds (gusts up to 50 mph). Sadly, we lost most of a tree in our front yard. The second Nor'Easter brought LOTS of snow - over 10 inches, which is a lot for us. Here's a photo recap:

High winds in storm #1 brought down most of our tree.

Yikes - no coming back from this one :(

Storm #2 brought a lot of wet snow - nice day for a walk!

Our house in the snow.
About 10 " fell & everything was covered in white...

...just 3 hours later, that scene looked different - blue sky & snow melting!

This garden had snowdrops in bloom & daffodil shoots coming up just a few days ago...
Hope you are enjoying a nice weekend!

Friday, March 09, 2018

Teen/YA Review: The Lines We Cross

In February, I listened to a teen/YA audiobook that I'd been hearing great reviews of: The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah. This very relevant  story of two teens on opposite sides of the immigration issue was engrossing and eye-opening.

Michael lives a typical teenage life, going to school and hanging out with his friends, playing video games and basketball. On weekends, though, Michael's parents bring he and his brother along to anti-immigration rallies. His dad has started an organization called Aussie Values, and both of his parents feel strongly about "protecting their democracy." Michael isn't as passionate about the cause as they are, but a lot of what they say makes sense, and he knows his parents are both good, caring people. More pressing in Michael's mind is that his dad plans for him to follow in his footsteps, become an architect, and join his business, but Michael wants to be a graphic designer. How can he tell his dad and bust his dreams?

On the other side of the latest rally, Michael spots a beautiful girl with long, dark hair who immediately captures his attention. At school on Monday, he discovers that her name is Mina, and she is a new scholarship student at his exclusive private school. And Mina is a refugee from Afghanistan, her family representing exactly the kind of immigrants that Michael's parents rail against. Mina has her own problems, trying to fit in at this new school, helping in her step-father's restaurant, and helping her parents face increasing venom - and violence - against them in their new neighborhood. Even as Mina and Michael begin to get to know each other, Michael can't even begin to imagine what Mina has been through in the past. How can Michael balance what his parents believe against what he is learning from Mina and his own research? And where does he stand?

I was surprised to learn that Australia is struggling with the same kinds of divisive issues that we are seeing here in the U.S. This story is made all the more interesting because both sides of the issue are presented as three-dimensional and with good intentions. The reader sees the immigration issues from the perspective of both Michael's family and Mina's and feels the struggle within Michael between what he is experiencing and what the rhetoric says. With fully-formed characters and an intriguing plotline, this compelling and thought-provoking novel feels very current and real, even more so on the audio, read by two different narrators.

400 pages, Scholastic Press

Scholastic Audio

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

You can listen to a sample of the audio at this link.

Purchase The Lines We Cross from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or order The Lines We Cross from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: Swing It, Sunny

Brother-sister team Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm bring readers another wonderful book about 10-year old Sunny Lewin. Their second graphic novel about Sunny, Swing It, Sunny, has all the elements that made Sunny Side Up engaging and endearing - warmth, humor, colorful, realistic drawings, and tackling serious topics - with a hefty dose of 70's nostalgia that adds another layer of fun!

In this second book, Sunny is back home in Pennsylvania after her summer spent with Gramps in his Florida retirement community (chronicled in Sunny Side Up). She is just starting middle school, which she's finding a bit stressful, hanging out with her best friend, and is still struggling with her older brother's problems, which came to light in the first book. She has brought a new love of comics back home from Florida with her, and she and her best friend enjoy dressing up in her mom's old clothes, watching 70's sitcoms together, and keeping up with General Hospital. She misses her brother, who is away at boarding school, and looks forward to phone calls from Gramps, though it's not the same as being with him. Along the way, a new girl moves in next door, the fall/winter holidays come and go, and she looks for ways to help her brother.
Images from Swing It, Sunny showing the joys of middle school

As with the first Sunny graphic novel, this one uses a fun approach and colorful drawings to depict Sunny's life but doesn't shy away from darker topics and struggles. Swing It, Sunny also integrates LOTS of story and picture portrayals of classic life in the 1970's. Everything is recreated in detail, from the clothes to the family room with shag carpeting to the TV shows. Pet rocks, Woolworth's, and pot holder making kits also make an appearance. Kids will probably find all of this funny, but I found it wonderfully nostalgic, bringing back great memories of my own childhood spent watching The Six Million Dollar Man, playing dress-up, and even the neighbor with the ever-changing array of plastic animals and yard decorations! I thoroughly enjoyed this trip down memory lane and getting to know kind, worried Sunny better as she finds her way through life's struggles and joys.

217 pages, Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic)

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Purchase Swing It, Sunny from an Indie Bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or order Swing It, Sunny from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Fiction Review: Maurice

E.M Forster was on my list of classic authors I have never read, and I recently bought a copy of one of his most famous novels, Howards End. Before I got to that, though, my favorite book podcast, Book Cougars, hosted a read-along of one of his lesser-known novels, Maurice. Since I love communal reading and discussing books, I joined in the fun and borrowed the slim novel from my library. I enjoyed this engaging story about the life of a gay man in the early 1900's and am now looking forward to reading more from Forster.

The author doesn't state the exact time period that the novel takes place, but he wrote it in 1913-14, and it feels set at about that time in England. We follow a young man named Maurice (apparently pronounced like "Morris" in England) through his early school years to his college years at Cambridge. He is kind of just sleep-walking through college, hanging out with his old high school friends, when he meets a vibrant young man named Risley, who is alive and different in a way that Maurice can't quite figure out but is attracted to. Through Risley, Maurice meets Clive, another young man who immediately grabs Maurice's attention and wakes him out of his stupor, a constant state of "pretending" that he was vaguely aware of but thought was normal for everyone. Maurice and Clive fall in love, and Maurice's world opens up. They understand it is a forbidden kind of love, and their relationship remains mostly chaste physically, but they both feel more alive when they are together.

The novel follows Maurice through his college years and into his working life, through ups and downs with Clive and more. Throughout that period, Maurice struggles against his nature, even seeking out a hypnotist to try to "cure" him. My heart was breaking for these poor men who worked so hard to deny their true feelings and were told repeatedly by every facet of society that people like them were abominations. The novel is beautifully written and makes you feel as if you are there with Maurice, in the English countryside. It's a very sad story, but there is hope at the end for a better, happier future for Maurice. In a "Terminal Note," Forster explains that he was inspired to write the novel after meeting two gay men in 1913 who were not only happy but full of life and vibrancy. He wanted a happy ending for Maurice, but alas, that was the reason why this novel was never published until 1971: it was unthinkable that a novel about men wrestling with their evil, dark side should have a happy ending (and not one where they are converted!). The novel itself and this backstory are thought-provoking, inspiring musings of how far we have come as a society...and how far we still have to go.

255 pages, W.W. Norton & Company

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

To purchase Maurice from an Indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or order Maurice from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

TV Tuesday: 11/22/63

I couldn't wait to tell you about 11/22/63 - we LOVED this show!! Both my husband and I loved reading the novel by Stephen King, about a man who time travels back to 1960 in an effort to stop JFK's assassination (yes, King write more than just horror). We couldn't wait to watch the TV miniseries...but it was on Hulu, which we don't have. So, I gave my husband the DVDs for Christmas, and we took advantage of the hiatus of our favorite shows during the Olympics to watch it. Wow. This immersive, suspenseful historical drama was well worth waiting for. It's definitely one of my favorite TV shows.

James Franco plays Jake Epping, a high school English teacher going through a heart-rending divorce in a small town in Maine (naturally - it's a Stephen King story). He eats every day at his favorite local diner, marvels at the cheap burgers, and becomes friendly with the owner, Al, played by Chris Cooper. One day, visibly unwell, Al asks him to stay after he closes up for the night and shares a terrible secret with him: Al is dying of cancer and needs Jake to finish an uncompleted mission for him. He shows Jake a weird time fissure in the back of his closet, where Jake sees for himself that walking through it brings him to that same spot in 1960. Al has devoted the past years, since he discovered this time rift, to figuring out how to stop JFK's assassination. He's done a lot of research and figures out that things in the modern world started going downhill after that event. He wants Jake to complete his mission for him - go back to 1960, travel to Texas, find out if Lee Harvey Oswald was acting alone in killing JFK, and if so, stop him. After some convincing and Al's death, Jake takes on the mission, with a stop-off in 1960 Kentucky to fix another more personal horrific event from the past first.

We were completely engrossed in this mini-series and binged it over a week's time. It's a movie-quality show that perfectly recreates the 1960's, down to every last detail (in fact, a "making of" extra on the DVD explains how they did some of that). The plot - tracking down Oswald, watching him, and trying to figure out if he was acting alone - is riveting and suspenseful, but the scenes of ordinary life are just as engaging. Since he has to stay in the 1960's for three years, Jake has to establish an identity and a cover, so he finds a job teaching English in a small-town Texas high school, where he meets a lovely school librarian named Sadie, played by Sarah Gadon, who significantly complicates his mission. The entire show is so immersive and the writing and acting so good that you forget you are watching James Franco and come to see him as Jake. I also found myself constantly thinking about the show in between episodes and for days after we finished it. I always find time travel plots fascinating for that reason - the convoluted cause-and-effect - plus King's assertion (as with many time travel stories before it) that time resists being changed. It all makes for a gripping, engrossing TV mini series that is well worth your time.

King's novel was outstanding, and this TV series brings it to life perfectly. If you are a King fan, watch for small winks to his other stories interspersed throughout the show!

11/22/63 is a Hulu original, so it is available for streaming free on Hulu, but it is also available on DVD, for purchase or through your local library system. You can also stream it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $14.99 for the entire season.


Monday, March 05, 2018

Movie Monday: Red Sparrow

My husband and I had a nice treat this weekend - dinner out and a movie at our local recliner theater. Our son had given us a Fandango gift card for Christmas, so we saw bought 2 tickets for the recliner theater on a Saturday night...all for $1! We'd been waiting for Red Sparrow to come out (it was just released on Friday), and though we were disappointed to hear some critical reviews, we still wanted to see it. We're glad we did! We both enjoyed this exciting Russian spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Lawrence plays Dominika, the star of the Russian ballet whose career is cut short by a horrible accident. As a prima ballerina, Dominika and her mother were supported by the state, which paid for their apartment and all of her mother's extensive medical bills. When Dominika's career ends, her (evil) uncle Ivan tells her that the state will continue to support her and her mother if she does something for them. She is supposed to just change out a man's cell phone for another one, but things go horribly wrong and soon Dominika finds herself facing a far worse choice: die for what she knows or join the ranks of Russian spies. With no other options, she joins the Sparrow program, a humiliating and intense program the Russians use to train young spies to use their bodies to manipulate people. After her training, she is assigned to get close to an American CIA agent named Nate Nash, played by Joel Edgerton, in order to find out who is the CIA's mole in the Russian government.

That's just the set-up of this complicated, twisty plot. Filled with fake-outs, double-crosses, and other staples of the spy genre, this gripping thriller kept us glued to the screen, wondering if there was any possible way for Dominika to come out of this alive and intact. On the downside, there is a LOT of violence in this movie, including sexual violence and two horrific scenes of torture. I had my eyes covered several times! The plot was gripping, though, and the acting was good. True, Jennifer Lawrence is clearly not Russian, but let's face it - in real life, Russians don't talk to each other in Russian-accented English, either - you just have to suspend disbelief a bit and go along for the ride. And what a ride it is! The plot twists keep you guessing until the last moments of the film, with plenty of action, intrigue, and suspense along the way.

Red Sparrow was just released March 2, 2018, and is out in theaters now. Check Fandango for showtimes and theaters near you or to buy tickets. It is planned for release on both DVD (pre-order now) and streaming through Amazon in June 2018.