Thursday, November 15, 2018

Books Read in October

I can't believe I am writing my October summary on November 15, and there is snow on the ground outside! The weather has been crazy this year here. At least the books have been good! I continued to focus on the RIP Challenge in October, reading mostly dark and creepy books that I absolutely loved. Here's what I finished in October:
  • Never Best Against Occam: Mast Cell Activation Disease and the Modern Epidemics of Chronic Illness and Medical Complexity by Lawrence B. Afrin, M.D. - nonfiction (I'll review/discuss this one on my chronic illness blog)
  • The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher (UK) - teen/YA fiction
  • The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing - middle-grade graphic novel

  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Norway) - adult fiction
  • Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Scotland) - play (both print and audio)
  • The Adults by Caroline Hulse (UK) - adult fiction - reviewed for Shelf Awareness (will link up when it is published later this month - hilarious family holiday drama!) 

So, that is a total of 10 books read in October! Wow, I'm impressed with myself. Two of them were middle-grade graphic novels (and quick reads), just one teen/YA novel, one nonfiction, one play, and five adult novels. I listened to two on audio. These were all good, and I thoroughly enjoyed the four dark and creepy novels for the season, but my favorite was a complete surprise to me - America's First Daughter, a historical novel I didn't even plan to finish and ended up loving it! The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo also deserves a special mention - a kids' graphic novel so clever, fun, and funny that I immediately requested its sequel.

Progress in 2018 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges. I read 6 books from my own shelves for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge, bringing my total-to-date to 26! Woohoo! R.I.P. Challenge is always good for whittling down my TBR piles. For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, October was Old or New, and I read both: Macbeth was a classic and The Adults was a new release. I also added Macbeth for the Back to the Classics Challenge under Crime Story, and added two for the 2018 Badass Books Challenge: Macbeth again for a book I should have read in school, and The Adults  for a book set at Christmas (I got a lot of mileage out of those two!). I traveled to the UK, France, Canada, Scotland, and Norway for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge (though only Norway was a new one for this year). For my 2018 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added just one new state, Virginia. And I finished off my RIP Challenge with another seven books for a total of 14 - what a nice, dark fall! I also reviewed 3 TV shows and 3 movies for the RIP Challenge.
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 22 squares in October - a very good Bingo month for me!

Spaces filled in:
Never Bet Against Occam - read a physical book, doctor
The Killing Woods - not in a series, All Hollows Eve 
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo - costume/disguise, candy/sweets, pranks
The Woman in Cabin 10 - shelf love
The Lost Ones - heroine, in a series, road trip, kidnapped
America's First Daughter - orange on the cover, library book, love triangle, coffee or tea drinker
Macbeth - audio book, darkness vs. good
The Adults - contemporary, free book
The Unsinkable Walker Bean - child's POV

What was your favorite book read in October?  

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fiction Review: America's First Daughter

I missed our previous book group meeting and groaned to myself when I saw which book the group had selected for our next read - a 600-page historical novel about Thomas Jefferson's daughter. I was prepared to hate it. In fact, I planned on not reading the whole thing. I started my library copy just one week ahead of our meeting and figured I'd see how far I got for the discussion and then set it aside. Boy, was I wrong. I absolutely loved America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, read the entire book in record time, and then read every single page at the end - author's notes, historical notes, acknowledgements, and more. I never wanted it to end. This historically accurate novel written from the perspective of Jefferson's oldest daughter was fascinating and compelling.

The novel opens in the days after Jefferson's death, when his eldest daughter, Patsy, is going through his letters and personal papers. That frames the rest of the novel, in which each chapter begins with a real excerpt from a letter to or from Jefferson, and Patsy's story of their lives together. Her telling begins when she was just eight years old in 1781, and her family was chased out of their home at Monticello in the middle of the night, by the news that the British were coming and planning to burn their home down. They survived that crisis, but Patsy's mother died not long after, and Jefferson was sunk into a severe depression. Patsy had vowed to her mother on her deathbed to take care of her father, and she took that vow very seriously throughout her entire life, becoming his constant companion, seeing him through that depression and much, much more. She followed her father to Paris, where he was assigned as Ambassador to France and they witnessed the start of the French Revolution, just a few short years after surviving the American one. They returned to Monticello and together experienced a lifetime of trials, triumphs, and losses as Patsy married and went on to have 13 (!) children, filling Monticello with grandchildren beloved to Jefferson, while his career continued, almost to the end of his life at age 83.

I could fill this review with the fascinating story of Patsy's life with her father, but I don't want to spoil all the twists and turns this true story makes along the way. The title of the novel comes from the fact that Jefferson pledged to his cherished wife on her deathbed that he would never take another wife, so when he became President, Patsy took on the role of First Lady (Daughter), hosting parties in the President's Mansion and helping her father politically. Patsy's own life is covered in detail here, too, as the story is told entirely from her perspective - including her coming-of-age in Paris, the love of her life, her abusive husband, and all those children (and grandchildren), as well as her support of her father's political career. The novel also delved into two topics I found especially interesting: Jefferson's very complicated feelings about slavery, as the author of the line, "All men are created equal" (he was morally against it but financially dependent on it) and his complex relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, whom he seemed to truly love and fathered several children with (she was actually his wife's half-sister and looked like her!).

Patsy's story was interesting and engaging in its own right, but I was also fascinated by the historical information in this heavily researched novel that was based partly on Jefferson's own letters and co-written by a history professor. I hated history class when I was in school (why didn't they ever make it this interesting?), so I was captivated by so many of the facts included here that I kept interrupting my husband's reading to say, "Did you know...?" For instance, did you know that Jefferson and John Adams BOTH died on the Fourth of July in 1826, within hours of each other? Or that Jefferson was a redhead? This novel was a fascinating, gripping view into history, as well as an engaging look at one of the women behind the scenes of history whom we seldom hear about and an absorbing peek into daily life in the 18th and 19th centuries. I loved every page of it and was left wanting more.

580 pages, William Morrow

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.

I read this book in print, but the audio production sounds captivating. Listen to a sample here.

You can purchase America's First Daughter from an indie bookstore, either locally or online:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order America's First Daughter from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Movie Monday: Ricki and the Flash

I had a brief respite in my illness on Friday, so I made it to my local library - woohoo! Crazy times. I noticed a few people browsing the DVD section, and I realized we haven't borrowed DVDs from the library in years! Between Netflix and Amazon providing movies without leaving home, and a Redbox a couple of miles away, we'd gotten out of that old habit. So, I grabbed a couple of movies for the weekend. That turned out to be a good idea, since my improvement was short-lived. Needing a pick-me-up this weekend, we watched a fun movie with a great soundtrack from a few years ago, Ricki and the Flash.

Meryl Streep stars as Ricki (whose real name is Linda), an aging rock 'n roller who left her young family many years ago to follow her dreams in California. She did put out one album but never really hit the big-time. Now, she and her group, the Flash, are the house band for a small but lively bar in California. Her lead guitarist, Greg, played by Rick Springfield (!), is her partner in music and would like to also be her partner in life, but Ricki keeps him at a distance. When Ricki gets a call from her ex-husband, Pete, played by Kevin Kline, that their daughter, Julie, is in bad shape after her husband left her, Ricki gets on a plane. Julie is played by Mamie Gummer, who is actually Meryl Streep's real-life daughter, so their pairing on screen as mother and daughter certainly feels real. Ricki aka Linda is not exactly welcomed home by either Julie or her two grown sons, but she sticks it out and little by little, begins to repair years of damaged relationships and get to know her daughter again...and maybe even help her.

I really enjoyed this movie! Although it might sound odd at first that Meryl Streep is playing a rocker, she's actually (big surprise) wonderful in the role, completely inhabiting it, as she does all of her roles. Kevin Kline is also great (and funny) as the super straight-laced Pete, and it's easy to see that Mamie Gummer gets her acting chops from her famous mom - she does a wonderful job playing the damaged Julie who slowly comes back to life. Ricki's band plays a mix of 70's rock and newer songs, so it's always fun when they take the stage. There is also plenty of emotional depth here, as the estranged family gets to know their missing mother once again, bit by bit. It's a fun, warm, musical, and funny film that is very entertaining. A perfect cheer-up movie for my sick week.

You can stream Ricki and the Flash on Amazon, starting at $2.99, or buy the DVD (or borrow it from your library!)


It's Monday 11/12! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh...enjoying the quiet solitude of a Monday morning, though it was wonderful to see both of our sons this weekend.

I had another rough week - if anything, even worse, as this "crash" or relapse of my chronic illness continues. I felt MUCH better Friday and thought I was finally done with it but was back on the couch feeling awful Saturday. This sort of thing used to be common in the early days of my illness, but a bunch of different treatments I've found have helped me to feel better and become more functional, so this current downturn has been hard to deal with.

So, that means that I spent most of my week too sick to do anything but READ (and watch a little TV). Plus, at one point, I was waiting - and waiting - for a book to come in at the library, so I read a couple of short books, each day thinking my book group book would finally come in. Bottom line? It's a long list of books this week, all of mine focused on Nonfiction November!

Here's what we've all been reading:
  • I finished Seven: In the Lane of Hope, an inspirational memoir written by Michael J. Marini, who is my massage therapist! He and I often talk about writing while he is working the knots out of my back and shoulders, and I was thrilled to hear his book had just been published. It's about his remarkable family of 13 and particularly his seven sisters. It was poignant, moving, and funny - his family is pretty amazing!
  • Next, thinking that book group book would arrive at the library any day now, I squeezed in a graphic memoir, Hey Kiddo by Garrett Krosoczka, a National Book Award finalist this year. It was excellent, a coming-of-age story of the author's very unusual upbringing by his grandparents, with his mother in and out of prison and drug rehab and his father unknown. It's a moving story of identity, family, and growth, and the illustrations bring it all to life.
  • My book was still not in at the library and I didn't want to start anything too long, so I re-read an old favorite: the classic Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a book of essays. One of my best friends gave it to me decades ago, with a lovely inscription, and I read it back then, but I think I got more out of it now, as an older woman who has been through almost 30 years of marriage, raising children, etc. The author so beautifully captures the essence of life and our struggles for balance that I dog-eared almost every other page - this might just fill up my Quotes journal! Most amazing is that so many of her words, written in the 1950's about "modern" life, are just as applicable (maybe more so) today. It's a beautiful, thoughtful book.
  • I finally gave up on that library book (having also realized I can't go to book group this week anyway) and dug into a longer book from my huge nonfiction TBR pile: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. This book has been on my bookshelf for decades. It was published in 1994, and my mom lent me her hardcover edition, so you do the math! Do you think she still wants it back? Anyway, my husband read it way back then, and I am thrilled to finally get to it, after hearing so many accolades over the years. It's a true crime story set in Savannah, GA, and I am already enjoying the descriptions of Savannah and its quirky citizens.
  • Finally, during my long days on the couch, I made my way through The Lyme Solution: A 5-Part Plan to Fight the Inflammatory Auto-Immune Response and Beat Lyme Disease by Darin Ingels, ND. I've had Lyme before (and suspect a recurrence may be behind this horrible relapse now) and my son has been fighting Lyme plus 2 other tick infections for 10 years now. Despite all my knowledge on the subject, I learned a lot from this book. I filled it with Post-It tabs and notes to talk to our Lyme specialist and dietician/biochemist about. It's actually given me some hope for a better future for my son for the first time in many years.
  • I am still listening to Born a Crime by Trevor Noah on audio, and LOVING it!! My favorite book podcast, Book Cougars, is doing a readalong this month. Don't be put off if you don't like his TV show or often raunchy stand-up routines. This is a memoir of his childhood growing up in both apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, and it is stunning, fascinating, moving, and of course, very, very funny. His insights into race and poverty, having grown up poor as a mixed-race child in a country that was divided into white and black, are brilliant. And he is just a great storyteller, often making me laugh out loud and replay certain excerpts for my husband and son. Highly recommended.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading one of his birthday gifts from me, The Outsider by Stephen King. It's a suspenseful thriller that he's been looking forward to, and he's explained to me that since it is King, it's not just a thriller but has an element of the supernatural in it, too. He's been enjoying it.
  • Jamie, our 24-year old son, is back to his favorite Wheel of Time series. I think he finished book 12, The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, and is now reading book 13, Towers of Midnight.
  • Jamie's girlfriend has a severe concussion, and she is under strict restrictions (no screens, no reading, etc.), so they have turned to audio books (which my son normally shuns these days because he says they are too slow). They are re-listening to an old favorite from my sons' childhood, Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater, a hilarious middle-grade novel that our family has listened to dozens of times - and still makes us laugh! I also lent them She Rides Shotgun, my favorite audio book from this year (and an Edgar Award winner) and the CDs for Born a Crime.
Very little blogging last week, but I did manage two quick book reviews (trying to catch up!):
Fiction Review: The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal - great start of a new thriller series

Middle-Grade Review: The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier - graphic novel adventure series, with pirates, seas creatures, and more.

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.

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

What are you and your family reading this week? 

Friday, November 09, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: The Unsinkable Walker Bean

Pirates, sea creatures, evil bad guys, walking teapots and other strange inventions. The middle-grade graphic novel, The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier, is an inventive and slightly spooky fantasy with all those elements and more.

Like children all over the world (the world in the novel), Walker Bean grew up hearing the legend of how the evil merwitch sisters, Tartessa and Remora, destroyed the city of Atlantis and were sentenced to live underwater in a deep trench at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by a wall of enchanted skeletons that keep them apprised of life in the world above. In the present day, Walker is sitting by the side of his grandfather's sick bed, when his father bursts into the room, claiming to have one of the enchanted skulls. A ship's captain, he thinks he can sell it to a wealthy buyer across the sea, though grandfather, a ship captain himself in his better days, insists that it must be returned to the deep trench or it will cause great problems throughout the world, as it has already caused his mysterious illness. Walker stows away on a pirate ship, intending to return the cursed skull to the trench, and his adventures on the high seas begin.
Sample page - The Unsinkable Walter Bean
This is a highly detailed and creative fantasy story, filled with all kinds of creatures, made-up places, and good guys and bad guys. Walker makes a friend on board, another young boy who keeps his secret, as the ship heads toward danger, and the two friends scheme to somehow turn it around. Full-color illustrations - some on regular comic panels and some full two-page spreads - follow Walker's adventures. I found the story a bit convoluted at times, so it is probably best-suited for older middle-grade readers and maybe young teens. Kids who like fast-paced and action-packed fantasy will enjoy this entry into Walker's world, which was recently followed by a second book, The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon. In fact, I think my own two sons would have loved this series when they were younger!

192 pages, First Second

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.

See more sample pages from the beginning of the book by clicking Look Inside at this link.

You can purchase The Unsinkable Walker Bean from an indie bookstore, locally or online here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order The Unsinkable Walker Bean from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Fiction Review: The Lost Ones

Last month, I listened to an audio of the thriller The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal. This first book in a new series was dark, suspenseful, and compelling.

Nora Watts helps find people. She works in a small PI's office in Vancouver, helping its owners with cases, especially those involving missing persons, and Nora has a special talent for knowing when someone is telling the truth - and when they are lying. This case is different, though. Nora was awakened at 5 am by the people she hoped never to hear from again - Everett and Lynn, the couple who adopted Nora's newborn daughter 15 years ago. Bonnie has been missing for weeks, and the police don't seem very interested, assuming she's a runaway, but her adoptive parents are getting frantic. A loner to begin with, Nora sets off on her own to investigate Bonnie's disappearance, caring more than she means to and following the scant clues to places and people that are totally unexpected.

Nora, a mixed-race recovering addict in her 30's, is a damaged but fierce new heroine, somewhat along the lines of Lisbeth Salander of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Her past, hinted at in the beginning of the novel, affects her in the present and slowly comes to light as the story unfolds. The mystery itself of Bonnie's disappearance is complex and intriguing, with plenty of surprising twists and turns. To make matters more difficult, Nora is not used to trusting people, but she might need help this time. The tension grows, as does the danger and violence, and the foggy, dark, wet setting of Vancouver in the winter adds to the sinister tone and the suspense (plus, I enjoyed a novel set in a different place for a change). The audio production was excellent (link to a sample below) with first-person narration by Banhi Turpin that sounds like Nora herself telling you her story. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Lost Ones on audio and would definitely read another book in this new series.

368 pages, William Morrow

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 here.

Purchase The Lost Ones from an independent bookstore, locally or online:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

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

Monday, November 05, 2018

It's Monday 11/5! What Are You Reading?

Another dark and rainy day here, and I am STILL not feeling well - going on four weeks now and really getting sick of it! Reminding me of the early days of my immune disorder, but these kind of lengthy "crashes" are rare now, with all the treatments I have found. Supposed to be visiting my mom this week, for a long-planned trip and going to the theater, so fingers crossed things

Reading has been a great distraction this past week, as I finished up my dark & creepy books for the RIP Challenge and started Nonfiction November! That's quite a shift, but I am enjoying it so far. Here's what we've all been reading this week:
  • I finished Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne, a thriller set on Catalina Island in California. A man is forcibly brought into the Witness Protection Program but has no idea what he is supposed to know or have seen. It's an intriguing concept and a gripping story with lots of twists and turns and a good sense of humor, too. I really enjoyed it - you can read my review at the link.
  • I also finished a middle-grade graphic novel, The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier. It's an engaging, colorful, spooky fantasy featuring pirates and sea creatures so was also a good fit for the RIP Challenge.
  • Shifting gears to nonfiction, I quickly blew through two graphic memoirs/nonfiction that I received for review for Shelf Awareness. First, I read the memoir Flawed by Andrea Dorfman, a sweet story about how the author came to accept herself - and her flaws - while falling in love with a plastic surgeon. In an interesting twist, this story was first a film and was then turned into a book.
  • My next graphic nonfiction book was of a totally different type: Escaping Wars and Waves by Olivier Kugler, a moving and powerful reporting from 5 different refugee camps and relocation spots for Syrian refugees. The author traveled to all of these places and interviewed people, and the book includes both his interviews, with verbatim quotes from Syrian refugees, as well as his life-like drawings of the people and places, based on photos he took at the time. The result is a haunting and heartbreaking up-close picture of the plight of Syrian refugees all over the world.
  • By November 2, I was already onto my third nonfiction book. Sick days mean more reading time. I started Seven: In the Lane of Hope, an inspirational memoir written by Michael J. Marini, who is my massage therapist! He and I often talk about writing while he is working the knots out of my back and shoulders, and I was thrilled to hear his book had just been published. It's about his remarkable family of 13 and particularly his seven sisters. Poignant, moving, and funny, I'm really enjoying it so far - about halfway through.
  •  On audio, I just this morning finished How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (yes, of those Mathers). This teen/YA novel combines modern teen problems of starting at a new school and bullying with history of the Salem Witch Trials. Samantha Mather, descended from the infamous Cotton Mather, moves to Salem and discovers that history is still entirely relevant to the people in town, as teen descendants of the original witches hung in Salem make life a nightmare for her. This one included witches and a ghost, so it was a perfect way to end October!
  • As soon as I reload my iPod today, I will be starting the audio book Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. My son introduced me to both Noah's TV show and his stand-up comedy, so I've been wanting to read this one and have heard the audio, read by the author, is excellent. My favorite book podcast, Book Cougars, is doing a readalong this month, so I got a copy from my library - just in time for Nonfiction November! 
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading one of his birthday gifts from me, The Outsider by Stephen King. It's a suspenseful thriller that he's been looking forward to, and last night, he explained that since it is King, it's not just a thriller but has an element of the supernatural in it, too. Sounds great!
  • Still not sure what Jamie, our 24-year old son, is reading now, after finishing book 3 in the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer, but I will ask him when he comes home for lunch today. His girlfriend has a concussion and is on "brain rest" (something we know a lot about here), so I suspect he's been keeping her company with audiobooks.
Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: A Star Is Born - powerful story & music starring Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga

TV Tuesday: You - a romance with a dark underbelly - fun!

Fall Books & Movies - 2 of my recent Shelf Awareness columns, on fall reading and movie adaptations

Middle-Grade Review: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing - I loved this fun graphic novel!

Fiction Review: Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne - twisty thriller about Witness Protection

Nonfiction November - my plans for the upcoming nonfiction month

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.

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

What are you and your family reading this week? 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Nonfiction November 2018

Thursday this week - November 1 - I set aside my dark and creepy reading (that I thoroughly enjoyed the past two months in the RIP Challenge) and pulled a BIG stack of nonfiction off my TBR bookcase in preparation for Nonfiction November.

2018’s Nonfiction November is being hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and Sarah's Book Shelves. There doesn't seem to be a sign-up list, but you can read all about the events for the month, weekly topics for blog posts, an Instagram challenge, and more at Sarah's Book Shelves, and there will be link-ups each week.

So, here is the stack of nonfiction books I pulled off my shelves this week - there is NO WAY I will have time to read all of these, but this is the pool I will be choosing from this month:
My choices for Nonfiction November
So, that's 13 print books to choose from:
  • An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina (my son read it years ago for World Lit)
  • Seven: In the Lane of Hope by Michael J. Marini (a memoir just published by my massage therapist!)
  • Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott
  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow
  • Brain on Fire by Susannah Calahan
  • The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, and Amanda Pressner
  • Almost French by Sarah Turnbull
  • Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
  • Flawed by Andrea Dorfman
  • Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees by Olivier Kugler

From the top, that's 1 autobiography, 7 memoirs, 3 narrative nonfiction, and 2 graphic memoirs/nonfiction. I forgot to include it in the photo, but I also plan to read The Lyme Solution: A 5-Part Plan to Fight the Inflammatory Auto-Immune Response and Beat Lyme Disease by Darin Ingels and Amy Myers, MD (my son has been fighting Lyme and two other tick infections for 10 years now).

I also have a bunch of nonfiction on audio to choose from, including:
  • The Candida Cure by Ann Boroch
  • The Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge
  • The Devil's Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton
  • On Two Feet and Wings by Abbas Kazerooni
  • Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crossley
  • Happiness is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old by John Leland
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
So, oddly, I am already on my 3rd nonfiction book of the month! I read the bottom two in my stack - both fairly quick graphic novel-style reads - on November 1. I am now reading
Seven: In the Lane of Hope since it was written by a friend, and I plan to start listening to Born a Crime for a read-along just as soon as I finish my last RIP audio book. I am off to a good start!

The week's discussion topic for Nonfiction November is Your Year in Nonfiction So Far. Well, this will be a short discussion for me, since I have read almost all novels!

Here are all the nonfiction books I have read so far in 2018:
That's actually more than I thought! Of these four, the one I liked best and recommend the most is definitely Killers of the Flower Moon, a powerful, moving, forgotten story from history about a horrific series of Osage murders and how the brand-new FBI eventually solved the case. It was absolutely fascinating, and my entire book group loved it (a rarity!).

Since I read mostly fiction, I am excited for this month of exploring nonfiction (and making a dent in my TBR shelves, too).

Are you participating in Nonfiction November?

Any recommendations from among the books on my nonfiction TBR lists?

Friday, November 02, 2018

Fiction Review: Fifty Mice

My last book read for the annual RIP Challenge (so sorry to see it end!) was a twisty thriller about Witness Protection called Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne.

Jay Johnson was getting on the subway on a perfectly ordinary day when he was suddenly grabbed, stabbed with a needle, and taken away. He wakes up in a hospital bed with his fingerprints burned off with acid and two people beside him who clearly have fake names (John Q. Public and Jane Doe) and tell him that he's "in the program" now. Confused and scared, he insists they've made a mistake and asks them what they think he saw or knows, but they refuse to tell him. They explain that that would mess up the case; he needs to remember on his own. Before long, he's been taken to Catalina Island, off the coast of his home in L.A., and set up with a fake life in a nice little home, with a fake job (in a video store!), a fake name (that he refuses to use), and a fake wife and 8-year old daughter. They are named Ginger and Helen, respectively, and Jay (now Jimmy) assumes they are in Witness Protection, too. They begin to settle into this surreal world where nothing is real, while Jay attends daily "counseling" sessions to try to help him remember whatever it is that they think he forgot. Jay soon begins to figure out that almost everyone in Avalon Bay (the small town on Catalina's coast) is either a protected witness (some of them criminals) or a Fed watching over witnesses. All the Feds around Jay pretending to be jocular neighbors and friends are driving him a little crazy, as he slowly gets to know Ginger and Helen better. His previous job in a lab working with mice feels like a metaphor for his current situation, trapped in a maze, not knowing where the exit is.

I really enjoyed this original and fast-paced thriller, with surprises around every corner. It's suspenseful and action-packed but also a psychological thriller, as Jay continues to wonder why they want him or if they have the wrong guy and whether this is all a case of mistaken identity. The author also plays around with the concept of memory, with a few excerpts from psychology texts regarding the malleability of memory introducing new sections. I loved the author's amusing vision of Catalina Island as this fake world where most of its residents are witnesses or Feds. Having visited Catalina before, I found this premise to be funny and clever, and the tension of the story is eased by its sense of humor. The story truly unfolds like a maze, with dead ends, phony paths, and confusing turns, as Jay struggles to figure out why he is there - and how to get out. You will wonder, along with Jay, what is real and what is not?

285 pages, New American Library

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Thursday, November 01, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

One of my favorite dark and creepy reads in October was a middle-grade graphic novel that is the start of a series: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing. This clever, creative story, told with imaginative illustrations, is perfect for middle-grade readers who want their books to be a bit spooky without being scary.

Charles is not happy that his parents decided to move his family to Echo City, where his dad is fixing up a creepy old hotel to turn it into apartments. Charles misses his old house, his old (big) room, and his old friends. To make matters worse, one of his beloved Battlebeanz goes missing on his first day there, and he discovers a big, hairy monster living in his closet. Could this place get any worse? Luckily, Charles soon meets a new friend named Kevin, who warns him of the monster problem in the building and suggests he call Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator. Margo shows up in his window that night and turns out to be a girl about his age...but a cool, fierce girl who knows everything there is to know about monsters. She not only helps Charles with his own monster problem but brings him along on a couple of her other cases, involving a ghost disturbing some teenagers in an abandoned newspaper building and a missing ogre child named Millie.

Charles & the monster in his closet bond over Battlebeanz
I absolutely loved this book! It is incredibly original and funny, showing a whole parallel world where a wide variety of monsters live right under our noses. Margo helps both monster and human clients, especially when their problems involve the intersection between their worlds. Along the way, she shows Charles a whole world he never knew existed, including monster bars and grocery stores. In this way, Margo shows Charles - and the reader - that monsters are nothing to be afraid of, if you just get to know them and respect their different ways of life. This is, of course, a lesson that applies equally well to the human world, though this book never feels preachy. The Illustrations are colorful and full of imaginative details that will have kids poring over them for hours, especially the few pages of monster encyclopedia entries at the end of the book. This first book was hugely fun and entertaining, and I can't wait to read book 2, The Monster Mall, which was just released in September. This series will be a hit in classrooms and perfect for reluctant readers.

128 pages, First Second

To see a few more sample pages (including one of the monster encyclopedia pages from the back), click on Look Inside at this link.

You can order The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fall Books & Movies

I have fallen behind in sharing my columns and reviews published at Shelf Awareness here, so I thought today - Halloween - was a good day to catch up on a couple of recent seasonal book columns (click the links to read the columns).

Dark and Creepy Fall Reading
As you well know if you've read my blog at all in the past couple of months, I love to devote this season to dark and creepy reading and have been thoroughly enjoying the RIP Challenge (which ends today!). This column features 4 excellent choices for suspenseful novels that feature dark settings and/or plots - both my husband and I enjoyed all four of these. The spooky season might be ending today, but a good thriller is always in season!

Books Coming to the Big Screen
This column features four movies, all adapted from great books, coming to theaters this fall - several of them are already out. I want to see all of these, but at the moment am trying to find a friend to go see The Hate U Give with me - I need some of my book blogger friends to live closer to me! Set the books down for a couple of hours to enjoy these movies that all promise to be excellent.

Time for me to go finish my last dark & creepy books in print and on audio before midnight!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

TV Tuesday: You

You is a new drama on the Lifetime network (which I rarely watch) that surprised me and is perfect for this creepy season! It's a romcom that soon turns dark.

You begins as a sweet romcom when pretty MFA grad student Guinevere Beck, who goes by Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail, walks into a bookstore and hits it off with the cute bookstore manager, Joe, played by Penn Badgley. It's clear the two have chemistry and share a love of books - so sweet! Very quickly, though, we find out that Joe has a dark side, as he begins to stalk Beck to learn more about her so he can woo her. This is not just checking out her Facebook page (though he does that, too), but following her, looking through her windows, and cloning her phone so he can track her every move. Creepy? Oh, yeah...and it just gets worse. I won't ruin all the dark surprises in this show, but Joe is seriously twisted and has his heart set on Beck. And his strategy works! The two begin to date and get closer, as Joe secretly does more and more seriously dark stuff behind the scenes to remove obstacles to their relationship.

I expected a romcom, so this show surprised me, but I am enjoying it. It has a dark sense of humor, suspense, and increasing tension with each episode. Lail is adorable as Beck, and Badgley is deceptively charming on the outside as Joe, with a dark underbelly, though Beck has some secrets of her own. It's just a fun show that is completely original. I've watched six episodes so far and am looking forward to the rest of the season. And it looks like a second season is planned for 2019!

You is currently airing on Lifetime, with all episodes available free On Demand or on Lifetime's website. It is also available for $1.99 an episode or $18.99 for the season on Amazon.