Friday, May 18, 2018

Books Read in April

April was a busy reading month, mostly focused on preparation for Booktopia (summary coming soon!). In April, I finished:



Wow, what an excellent reading month! I loved every one of these, and the audio books were especially good. I finished 7 books, all fiction, in April.  Six books were adult fiction and just one was middle-grade/teen. I listened to three of them on audio. They were all very good, but She Rides Shotgun was my favorite for the month - and it just won an Edgar Award for Best New Novel! Give it a try.

Progress in 2018 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges, though I didn't make much progress this month. With all those Booktopia and review books, I read only 1 book from my own shelves (again) for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge, bringing my total-to-date to only 9. Since my annual goal this year is 36, I have a long way to go! For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, April was Read Locally. Since books set in my current state of Delaware are rare, I counted the two books I read set in my home state of New York. Nothing new for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I added She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper as "an award-winning book" for the 2018 Badass Books ChallengeI added Cuba and Syria (both in Refugee) for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. For my 2018 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added two new states - SC and ME (so many NY and CA's!).
 
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 April: 



Spaces filled in:
The Immortalists - siblings, bright colors on cover, shelf love
She Rides Shotgun - girl power, road trip
Before We Were Yours - read a physical book, lawyer
Refugee - current events, one-word title
Anatomy of a Miracle - library book
The Woman in the Window - birthday, audio book
Beautiful Lies - cold case mystery
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in April?    

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: Refugee

Over the past few years, I have come to learn that I can always rely on Alan Gratz for a powerful and compelling middle-grade/teen novel. I loved both Code of Honor and Projekt 1065 on audio and was moved by both stories of boys in unusual circumstances finding uncommon strength to do the right thing. Gratz has done it again with Refugee, with a slightly different twist: this novel features stories of three different children, all refugees, holding up under horrible circumstances during three different periods in history.

Josef is a twelve-year old Jewish boy living in Nazi Germany in 1938 when a group of Hitler's stormtroopers burst into their small apartment one night and drag his father off to a concentration camp. The family has already endured being moved out of their home, and his father lost his law practice. When his father is released from Dachau six months later, it is with the condition that the family must leave Germany within two weeks. They set off with a few belongings in suitcases and board a ship set for Cuba, which is said to be accepting Jewish refugees.

In 1994, a young Cuban girl named Isabel is already starving from food shortages when she is caught in a riot in town one day. Alarmed, her parents want to take steps to keep the family - including the unborn baby in her mother's belly - safe. When Castro announces a brief period where Cuban citizens may flee without repercussions, they set off in a tiny boat packed full with their family and their next-door neighbors, hoping to reach Florida and new, free lives.

And closer to the present, in 2015, Mahmoud is a young boy living in Syria. His city is already torn apart by civil war, but when a bomb actually hits their apartment building, leaving it open like a dollhouse, Mahmoud's family must flee. Hearing that Germany is accepting Syrian refugees, they set off toward Europe on foot, planning to cross multiple countries by multiple means to reach their destination.

The novel alternates between these three engrossing stories, as each family encounters massive challenges - bombings, storms at sea, drownings, thievery, and more - just to try to find safety. This  clever interweaving of three stories set in three different time periods brings the current refugee crises into perspective: these are not new problems. Each story is suspenseful, action-packed, and poignant on its own, but taken together, they are even more powerful. As you can see from the brief descriptions, the locations of each refugee crisis are linked cleverly - the place that is the problem in one time period becomes the refuge in another, which makes these stories even more thought-provoking. Be forewarned that, as you might expect, the children in all of these stories are in serious peril, and there are not happy endings for every single character, so this might be best for older middle-grade readers and teens. The author pulls everything together at the end with some historical notes about the parts of the stories that were based on fact (most of it, even some characters). This brilliant novel combines engaging and effective stories that shine a much-needed light on a significant issue in our world today; this novel should be required reading for everyone - young people and adults alike.

352 pages, Scholastic
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.
 
Listen to an audio sample here. The three different narrators really bring these moving stories to life.

Order Refugee from your favorite Indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fiction Review: She Rides Shotgun

While listening to the Book Cougars podcast (a good one - check it out!) yesterday, the hosts were discussing the 2018 Edgar Awards, annual literary awards given to mystery, suspense, crime, and thriller books. I was excited to hear that She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper won the award for Best New Novel. I recently listened to this original and suspenseful book on audio, and I absolutely loved it.

Eleven-year old Polly hasn't seen her father in more than five years, but she recognizes him instantly when he shows up at her school at the end of the day; he has the same eyes as Polly, a faded blue color her mother calls gunfighter eyes. Nate has been in prison for years, but now - without warning - he's here to pick Polly up. It soon becomes clear that they are both in danger. Nate made some powerful enemies in prison, and now there are hits out on him, his ex-wife, and his daughter. Nate already found his ex-wife and her new husband dead in their home, so he grabs Polly and goes on the run to keep her safe. Gradually, father and daughter get to know each other, as Nate trains Polly so she can defend herself and teaches her how to rob so they can support themselves. The bond between them grows as those looking for them - both the criminals and the police - close in.

I loved every minute of this audio book and raced through it in record time. It's a fast-paced thriller, with plenty of action and suspense, but it's also a moving portrayal of the relationship between Polly and her dad. While I adored Polly and learned to like Nate from the way he cared about her, my favorite character was Polly's teddy bear, simply known as the bear. Painfully shy, Polly knows she is too old for teddy bears, but he is a friend to her. Through years of practice, she has learned to move the bear almost like a puppeteer so that he truly seems like a third person in the car and cheap motels with Polly and her dad. And the bear has a great sense of humor! This engrossing novel has it all, combining suspense, family drama, a coming-of-age story, and wit. I was sorry to say good-bye to Polly, Nate, and the bear. This is a book that truly deserved its award (and I see it also won an Alex Award - for adult novels that will appeal to teens - from the American Library Association).

272 pages, Ecco
HarperAudio

The audio version of this book was especially good - listen to this sample, and you will be hooked!

Order She Rides Shotgun from your favorite Indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order She Rides Shotgun from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

TV Tuesday: Splitting Up Together

My husband is not a huge fan of sitcoms, but there are a few that I enjoy watching on my own at lunchtime. One new one I am enjoying is Splitting Up Together, starring two favorite actors.

Jenna Fischer, who played the beloved role of Pam in The Office, stars as Lena, and Oliver Hudson, who played Adam on Rules of Engagement (a hilarious show), plays her husband, Martin. Well, technically he's her ex-husband because they split up in the very first episode. They tell their family and friends that they have the perfect solution to make sure their break-up doesn't affect their three kids. They remodel their garage into an apartment and trade off weeks - one lives in the house and handles all responsibilities while the other lives a single life in the garage, and then they swap. Sounds simple, right? Of course, it's not, and all sorts of problems crop up from Lena's inability to give up control to Martin's jealousy when Lena begins dating.

This is a typical family sitcom - light and funny - with an original concept. I adore both Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson, so I enjoy watching them both on-screen, and their three children are also played by able young actors. Diane Farr, another favorite of mine from Numb3rs, also co-stars as Lena's sister. There are plenty of unique twists in this strange situation to provide sitcom laughs, and even some warmth and heart as Martin realizes what he lost and Lena rediscovers herself as more than wife and mother. There are the usual stereotypes in the characters - the controlling mom and the hapless dad - but it's a fun show and a nice escape when I need a few laughs. Ellen Degeneres is an executive producer on the show. Check out the trailer below to sample the show's sense of humor.

Splitting Up Together airs on ABC Tuesdays at 9:30 pm Eastern time. I watch it On Demand, where most episodes are still available, and all of the episodes are available at the ABC website for free. Episode 7 airs tonight, with 8 episodes planned for season 1, and there is a season 2 planned.


Monday, May 14, 2018

It's Monday 5/14! What Are You Reading?

Whew, another exhausting weekend! We drove to Connecticut Friday evening to spend the weekend with my family for my mom's birthday and Mother's Day (fun but tiring) then rushed home Sunday in time for our son to get to work and to celebrate my father-in-law's 93rd birthday! Lots of celebrations (and cake) this weekend. It was good to see everyone and spend time together. Now we have less than two weeks until my oldest son's college graduation! Yikes - I need to plan the party, order announcements, etc.

Even in the midst of noise and chaos, we still enjoy our books. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished another Booktopia book, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review and host of its weekly book podcast. I enjoyed this memoir told through books and could relate to some of her experiences.
  • Now, I am reading Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff for one of my book groups this week. I'm not sure what to think of this one so far - it's a little weird. It's the story of a marriage, told first from the husband's perspective and then from the wife's. The narrative style is strange, though - third-person (an odd choice, I think, given the concept behind the novel) and a bit distanced. Also, I suspect that I am missing a bunch of mythological and literary references! We'll see how it goes - I'm not even halfway yet.
  • I am still listening to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah on audio, a novel I had heard rave reviews of. It's been excellent (I am nearing the end) and compelling. It starts in 1974, with a 13-year old girl as the main character, about a family that moves to Alaska. The husband/father was a POW in Vietnam and is clearly suffering from PTSD (though that diagnosis didn't exist back then) and moves the family to a remote cabin in Alaska impulsively. Things go well at first (it was summer!), but once winter begins, his mental condition deteriorates rapidly. Since he is at times abusive, parts of the book are difficult to listen to, but it's a moving, immersive, and powerful story.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Troop by Nick Cutter, a thriller I gave to my dad as a gift that was among the many books we inherited from him when he died three years ago. Ken and I both love reading his old books because he shared our love of reading, and it makes him feel close. I have heard this one is a bit gruesome, but my dad loved it!
  • I'm guessing that our son, Jamie, 23, is still reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is on book 7, A Crown of Swords, but without much reading time. Graduation is just two weeks away, so he is super busy with both school and job hunting.
Blog posts from last week:
TV Tuesday: Instinct - a funny detective show starring Alan Cumming

Author Interview & Fiction Review: My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley - insightful & funny

Fiction Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin - 4 siblings learn the dates of their deaths

Fiction Review: All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson - a twisty & suspenseful mystery set in Maine

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.  
3 generations: Grandad, Dad, and son!
 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fiction Review: All the Beautiful Lies

I discovered yet another new-to-me author among the Booktopia line-up this year, Peter Swanson, and thoroughly enjoyed his latest fast-paced psychological thriller, All the Beautiful Lies.

Harry has been called home to Maine just days before his college graduation. His beloved father has died unexpectedly, and the police think it was suicide. Stunned and reeling, Harry returns to the small town in Maine where they moved shortly before he left for college, along with Harry's new wife, Alice. Although he's always felt an uncomfortable attraction to young, sexy Alice, Harry tries his best to ignore it...until Alice begins to come on to him, getting closer in their shared grief. Meanwhile, Harry spots a mysterious young woman named Grace at his father's funeral. When he talks to her later, Grace claims to be new to the area and looking for work at Harry's father's bookstore, but Harry suspects that's not the whole truth. As Harry digs deeper to find out how his father died, secrets and lies seem to pile up around him.

I read this novel in record time, staying up way too late each night, flipping virtual pages on my Kindle, promising myself just one more chapter. The narrative moves back and forth in time between "then," delving into Alice's history and background, and "now," as Harry tries to find the truth behind his father's death, until the two timelines converge. Suspense builds along with secrets in this little seaside town, with plenty of surprises along the way, prompting me at one point to yell out loud, "What?!" If you like psychological thrillers, you will enjoy this rollercoaster ride of suspense, murder, and strange domestic situations. I'm passing it on to my husband next!

304 page, William Morrow

P.S. The author, Peter Swanson, was very entertaining at Booktopia, sharing with us some of his many scribbled down ideas that didn't make it into his novels!


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 - I bet this one is great on audio! I enjoyed the sample.

You can order All the Beautiful Lies from the wonderful Northshire Bookstore, which hosted Booktiopia.
   

Or order All the Beautiful Lies from your own favorite or local indie bookseller:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Fiction Review: The Immortalists

One of the books on the list for Booktopia this year was The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. I was excited when I saw that, since this novel has been getting so much press since its release in January, was on the best-seller list for months, and I had heard it discussed on several of my favorite book podcasts. Unfortunately, the author got sick and couldn't attend Booktopia, but I enjoyed reading the novel. It's a unique premise with a dark underbelly.

The story begins in New York City in the summer of 1969. Four Jewish siblings, living in a crowded apartment with their parents, hear about a fortune teller and sneak out to visit her. The psychic tells each of them - individually - the date that he or she will die, which is very disturbing information for a child, especially if that date predicts an early death. The novel then focuses one at a time on each of the kids, following his or her life until death. Youngest child Simon escapes to San Francisco while still in his teens, to seek a life of freedom and vibrancy. His next older sister, Klara, accompanies him to the West Coast, following her lifelong dream to become a professional magician. Oldest brother Daniel does his best to keep the world safe, as a doctor working for the Army, and Varya, who has always loved books, becomes a scientist, obsessed with the study of longevity.

It's an intriguing concept for a novel: following four characters who have been told when they will die. There is suspense as to whether the death prophecies will come true or not, as well as the fascinating question of how they live their lives with this knowledge. Obviously, this is not going to be a light, fun book, since you know from the start that each of the four sections ends with a main character dying. But I felt - as did other readers at Booktopia - that the author took a particularly dark approach with this story. It is a tragedy and also a family drama, highlighting the bonds of the siblings (even when they are far from each other). Although I would have preferred a slightly more positive, uplifting outlook, I liked the thought-provoking question at the heart of the novel: does knowing when you will die affect how you live?

343 pages, G.P. Putnam's Sons

P.S. Since I didn't get a chance to hear from the author or discuss the book much, I would love to hear what other readers thought of it! Let me know in the comments.


Disclosure: I purchased this book myself. My review is my own opinion.

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 order The Immortalists from Northshire Books (which hosted Booktopia):

   

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

Author Interview and Fiction Review: My Ex-Life

I couldn't wait to tell you about my latest author interview and book review for Shelf Awareness: I interviewed Stephen McCauley, author of the newly released novel, My Ex-Life, which is warm, insightful, and funny.

Although this is Stephen's 7th novel (and three of them were made into movies), it was the first of his that I have read. I absolutely loved My Ex-Life from start to finish. It's the story of David, a gay man, and Julie, his ex-wife, who reunite 30 years after their marriage ended, at a time when they could both use the comfort of an old friend. Stephen has a real talent for insightful writing that also makes you laugh. You can read my full review of his wonderful novel at this link.

After reading My Ex-Life, I was looking forward to interviewing Stephen and then meeting him in person last weekend at Booktopia, and I was not disappointed. He is just as warm and funny in person, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. You can read more about what went into writing this novel and Stephen's writing process in general in my interview with him.

My mother also loved his novel and developed quite an author crush on him this weekend! We are both looking forward to reading some of his previous novels (I came home with one from Booktopia). I'm so glad to have discovered this talented writer!

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

TV Tuesday: Instinct

My husband and I have been eagerly awaiting Instinct, a new TV show starring Alan Cumming (who we loved as Eli Gold on The Good Wife). We are now six episodes into this crime show with a sense of humor and are enjoying it immensely.

Cumming plays Dr. Dylan Reinhart, a seemingly mild-mannered college professor who teaches abnormal behavior, though it is revealed in the first episode that he used to be in the CIA. The show begins when Dr. Lizzie Needham, played by Bojana Novakovic, comes seeking Dylan's advice on a murder case. The killer has left a playing card at the scene of the crime, which was a theme Dylan used in his best-selling book on psychopaths, Freaks. Clearly, the killer is trying to get Dylan's attention, and Lizzie needs his help to track him down. Additional murders follow, and the two work together, running all over NYC, to find this serial killer. They do so well together that the NYPD asks Dylan to be an ongoing consultant for them, working with Lizzie when his expertise can help with a case. Dylan is reluctant at first - he left the CIA for a quieter life - but he loves solving puzzles and he enjoys working with Lizzie, so the two are soon partnered up.

As with most crime shows, Dylan and Lizzie face a new case in each episode, always involving some sort of abnormal psychology. Besides his expertise in that field, Dylan is also very observant, and he and Lizzie make a good team together. We are thoroughly enjoying this show so far. Cumming's character of Dylan is charismatic, mischievous, and very smart. Lizzie is also intelligent and likable. Best of all, the show has a great sense of humor (often bolstered by Dylan's grinning comments) - this is not a dark, brooding crime show. We look forward to watching it every week!

The first season of Instinct is airing on CBS on Sundays, with seven episodes aired so far (and a total of 13 planned for the season). We watch it On Demand, where the last four episodes are available. On the CBS website, you can watch the last 5 episodes for free or get all of them with a subscription to CBS All Access. You can also watch on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the first season (right now, you could buy the first two episodes and watch the rest for free on CBS).

I can't wait to watch the latest episode tonight!



Also, if you are a fan of Alan Cumming, check out this short interview with Seth Myers - I had no idea he was Scottish!! He does such natural U.S. accents - Chicago and now NY - that this interview blew our minds.


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.

Monday, May 07, 2018

It's Monday 5/7! What Are You Reading?

I'm back from Booktopia 2018! Wow, what an amazing weekend (again). This annual event held at the wonderful Northshire Bookstore in lovely Manchester, Vermont, and is an entire weekend devoted to books, where readers and authors talk about books, get to know each other, and even enjoy meals and games together! It's completely unique, as the authors comment every year, and a lot of fun. I will recap the weekend, the authors, and the books later this week (after I catch up a bit).

As much as I love Booktopia, it is also exhausting! My mom and I always go together (this was our third), and she said she was exhausted, too, so with my chronic illness, I am really wiped out today. In addition to the weekend, I spent all day Thursday driving up there and all day Sunday driving home - luckily, my mom's house is about in the middle of the trip, so I could stop to eat and nap. I am in my recliner now - yawning and counting the minutes until my massage therapy appointment because my back is killing me!

But Booktopia was worth it, and I can't wait to tell you all about it and share my photos. For now, here's what we've all been reading this past week:
  • Last week, I quickly finished a Booktopia book, All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson. I chose this mystery/suspense novel next because I was in the mood for something fast-paced - and this really fit the bill! It's the story of a recent college graduate who returns to his hometown in Maine when his father dies only to find his much-younger stepmother coming onto him and a mysterious young woman wandering around town who seems to be involved somehow. The lies and secrets pile up in this suspenseful novel. I enjoyed it, and the author was very entertaining this weekend!
  • Next, I started (and am still reading) another Booktopia selection, My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review and host of its weekly book podcast. I'm enjoying this memoir told through books and can relate to some of her experiences. It's been weird reading her memoir - and then seeing her this weekend - because I hear her voice in my ear every week when I listen to the podcast!
  • On audio, I finished the middle-grade novel, Posted by John David Anderson, about a middle school that bans cell phones. A boy nicknamed Frost and his three misfit friends start a trend of using sticky notes to communicate, and a new girl named Rose changes things for all of them. I enjoyed it very much, with its warm, funny, and poignant story about finding your tribe.
  • Next, on my road trip this weekend, I started listening to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (it seemed that this big trip called for a big book!), a novel I have heard rave reviews of. It's excellent so far, and easily kept my attention on that long last stretch last night! It's set in 1974, about a family that moves to Alaska. The husband/father was a POW in Vietnam and is clearly suffering from PTSD (though that diagnosis didn't exist back then) and moves the family to a remote cabin in Alaska impulsively. Things go well at first (it's summer!), but now winter is starting, and his mental condition is deteriorating rapidly. It's compelling so far, and I love the 13-year old girl who is the main character.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne, a thriller with an intriguing plot: a man has been put into Witness Protection and moved to a community on Catalina Island in CA, but he doesn't remember what dangerous information he knows. I need to ask him what he thought of it.
  • Now, Ken is reading The Troop by Nick Cutter, a thriller I gave to my dad as a gift that was among the many books we inherited from him when he died three years ago. Ken and I both love reading his old books because he shared our love of reading. I have heard this one is a bit gruesome, but my dad loved it!
  • I'm guessing that our son, Jamie, 23, is still reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is on book 7, A Crown of Swords. Graduation is just three weeks away, so he is super busy with both school and job hunting.
Blog posts from last week - just a few since I left on Thursday:
Movie Monday: A Quiet Place - unique film that combines family drama, suspense, horror & sci fi - we loved it (and I don't watch horror movies)

TV Tuesday: Rise - new show about high school drama club

Fiction Review & Author Interview: The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel - I interviewed this Booktopia author, and my mom and I both loved her novel!

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.  

 
My mom and I at Booktopia this weekend!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Fiction Review & Author Interview: The Optimistic Decade

I mentioned here on the blog that I have started writing author interviews for Shelf Awareness, and my first interview was published this week, with Heather Abel, author of The Optimistic Decade, a thoughtful novel that explores activism in the early 90's.

I read The Optimistic Decade as one of my Booktopia books for this coming weekend (and for the review), and I really enjoyed the novel. Set in western Colorado with a strong sense of place, the novel considers various members of an activist family who each choose to make a difference in the world in their own way. It is also a coming-of-age story about Rebecca, daughter of a leftist newspaper publisher, and David, her childhood friend, who both spend their summer at a Utopian camp. The novel explores a wide range of different ideas about making a difference, as well as about wilderness and land management. You can read my full review here on Shelf Awareness.

I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing Heather. It was my first author interview, so I was a little nervous, but as soon as we began talking, our conversation flowed. She's lived an interesting life and brought pieces of that into the novel. You can read my interview with Heather here.

And now I am looking forward to meeting Heather in person this weekend at Booktopia!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

TV Tuesday: Rise

On my own at lunchtime, I have started a new TV show: Rise, about a high school drama club in a small town. I'm enjoying it so far - it's kind of like Glee, only about drama and with a more serious tone.

Josh Radnor (well-known for playing Ted on How I Met Your Mother) stars in Rise as Lou, a high school English teacher in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. He volunteers to take over the drama club, which he feels has been stuck in an unimaginative rut - an opinion that the current head of drama club, Tracey (played by Rosie Perez), doesn't appreciate. The two of them end up teaming up to try to breathe new life into the school's plays. The problem is that, as in most small American towns, football is king and drama is treated as the ugly stepchild and gets little funding. Lou immediately makes waves with the principal, parents, and school board by ditching the same old tired plays and choosing Spring Awakening, a show that deals with all kinds of taboo topics relevant to teens. He and Tracey struggle to recruit enough kids to play all the parts, even convincing the star quarterback, Robbie, to try out when Lou hears his incredible voice (slightly familiar, Glee fans?). The show chronicles both the play production as well as the challenges of the families of key students. Lou's own son, Gordy, is on a wild streak and seems to have a drinking problem.

I always enjoy TV shows about high school - I was a total Gleek and absolutely loved Freaks & Geeks when I finally discovered it just last year - so I am enjoying Rise so far. It's mostly a straight-up drama, with scenes that include the kids practicing the play, and is as much about what happens outside of school as within those walls, touching on issues like sexual identity, gender identity, infidelity, divorce, single parents, teen drinking, and more. I've always liked Josh Radnor, and he does a great job portraying Lou's passion to make a difference. Rosie Perez is excellent as always, here in a multi-faceted role. The other actors playing parents, teachers, and kids are also very talented; it's a great ensemble cast. I'm interested to see where the show will go the rest of its first season.

I've watched five episodes of the 10-episode first season so far (episode 8 airs tonight at 9 pm on NBC). I watch it On Demand, and you can also catch up on past episodes at the NBC website for free. You can also watch it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $16.99 for the first season.



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.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Movie Monday: A Quiet Place

While my husband and I were on vacation recently, camping in Virginia, the beginning of the week was a bit too cold for sitting around a campfire and relaxing outside. One evening, we went into town to see a movie (once we figured out that the "late" shows in this small, rural town were at 6 pm!). We saw A Quiet Place, a unique, captivating movie that defies categorization.

Jon Krasinski (who is well-known for playing Jim on The Office in the US for many years) and his wife, Emily Blunt, star as a husband and wife, Lee and Evelyn (though I didn't know their names until just now). They are living with their three children in some sort of post-apocalyptic world, as the film opens. Noah Jupe plays their preteen son, Marcus; Cade Woodward plays their youngest son, Beau; and Millicent Simmonds is magnificent as their deaf teen daughter, Regan. It becomes obvious from the first scenes that the dangers in this new world are some sort of terrifying creatures that hunt by sound. The family takes great pains to stay silent, first at the deserted store in town where they are restocking supplies and later at their home on a farm. They are all barefoot and have even covered the paths they walk with sand so as to muffle the sound of their footsteps. Fortunately, they all know sign language because of Regan, so they manage to communicate. Right from the start, though, you notice that Evelyn is pregnant, and thoughts of a crying baby (not to mention giving birth) in this silent world add to the growing tension, even before you completely understand the dangers.

Watching this movie is a unique experience. For most of the 90 minutes of the film, it is almost entirely silent - no dialogue, few background noises, no music. You quickly acclimate to the family's silent communications, but the suspense builds as you grow to understand what a single noise could mean. On IMDb, this movie is listed as Drama, Horror, Sci Fi, and Thriller, and that sounds strange but is pretty accurate. I've heard it called a horror movie (my son was surprised that I wanted to see it), but it is as much a family drama. The tension lives up to its thriller moniker, and once you get a glimpse of the creatures, you immediately understand that they must be some sort of alien thing, hence the sci fi tag. But this movie is far more than the sum of its parts. Krasinski wrote and directed as well as starred in it, and the full cast listing includes just six people (and "man in the woods" is not on-screen for long!). To create a film with essentially just five characters and all that silence that is so compelling you can't take your eyes from the screen is quite an achievement.

As for the scaredy cats wondering if this is too horror-ish...I don't normally like horror movies, and I loved this movie. However, while it is a (very) quiet family drama delving deep into these few characters' lives (I cried at one point), the suspense and tension are high throughout, and there are a few gotcha moments that made me scream and grab my husband's arm! It doesn't take much after all that silence to feel alarmed, especially when you know the new baby will be coming soon. The few glimpses of the creatures are pretty gruesome, though the movie only gets a PG-13 rating, and there is little gore or on-screen violence (but what you imagine off-screen is enough, when it happens). In short, we were both spellbound for 90 minutes. We've told our sons they must go see it!

A Quiet Place is still in theaters, and that's definitely the best way to see it, if you can, on the big screen, with silent people around you. Chewing popcorn sounds frighteningly loud! Click the Fandango link below to find theaters and times near you - maybe you have a local recliner theater like we do. It is due to come out on DVD, Redbox, and Netflix on July 3, 2018 (link here and below to pre-order the DVD).




Disclosure: I paid for this movie myself. My review is my own opinion.

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.


Look up theaters and times:



It's Monday 4/30! What Are You Reading?

Whoa. How did it get to be the end of April already? And the temperature was in the 30's this morning! Of course, the forecast says we'll be close to 90 by the end of the week, so I guess April was still winter, and May will be summer - what happened to spring?

OK, enough weather ranting. Last week was a good productive week. I got lots of writing done - both here on the blog and for my freelance work. I was catching up after our vacation and also getting ready for another trip this week. I will be driving to Vermont at the end of the week for Booktopia 2018! It's an amazing book event that my mom and I enjoy most years, when we can manage it - there's still time to sign up, if you want to join the fun! I can't wait to spend time with my mom, see our old friends from previous Booktopias, meet the authors and spend time with them...and talk books ALL weekend!

Here's what we've all been reading at our house this past week:
  • I finished The Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles, a Booktopia selection. It's a novel written as if it were an in-depth investigative report of a true story, about a young man on the Mississippi Gulf Coast who was paralyzed in Afghanistan and suddenly just stands up from his wheelchair and walks. The book delves into many different aspects of the story - his doctor at the VA, the Catholic church's investigation into whether this constitutes a miracle, a reality TV show made about him, and the backstory of his life before. It was completely unique and very good - insightful and funny, about what it means to live in our modern world.
  • Now, I am reading another Booktopia book, All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson. I chose this mystery/suspense novel next because I was in the mood for something fast-paced - and this really fit the bill! I have been staying up way too late each night reading this story about a recent college graduate who returns to his hometown in Maine when his father dies only to find his much-younger stepmother coming onto him and a mysterious young woman wandering around town who seems to be involved somehow. The lies and secrets pile up in this suspenseful and somewhat creepy novel. I hope to finish it today - it's been a fast, compelling read!
  • My husband and I finished listening to The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, which we started on our road trip. It's sort of a modern version of the Hitchcock movie Rear Window. In this case, it features a woman named Anna with agoraphobia who hasn't left her house in 11 months. She amuses herself in part by watching her neighbors from her window, and one day she sees a horrible crime. She tries to report it to the police, but the people involved deny it happened and no one believes her, due to her unstable mental condition, loads of medications, and a heavy drinking habit. Lots of suspense over whether it really happened or not! We enjoyed it, and it kept surprising us.
  • Now, I am listening to a middle-grade audio book, Posted by John David Anderson, about a middle school that bans cell phones. A boy nicknamed Frost and his three misfit friends start a trend of using sticky notes to communicate, and a new girl named Rose changes things for all of them. So far, it's warm and funny and very enjoyable.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading a novel I gave him for Easter (books for all occasions here!), Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne. It's a thriller with an intriguing plot: a man has been put into Witness Protection and moved to a community on Catalina Island in CA, but he doesn't remember what dangerous information he knows.
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, is still reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is on book 7, A Crown of Swords. He loves this epic fantasy series. He has been slammed with make-up work and job hunting, but he has less than a month to go to graduation!
Blog posts from last week - a catch-up week!
TV Tuesday: Good Girls - a fun new show about 3 suburban moms who become criminals to save their families

Fiction Review: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn- suspenseful psychological thriller

FREE Audiobooks - SYNC Summer 2018 Begins! - free audiobooks all summer - still time today to grab the two for week 1!

Fiction Review: Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles - a unique, intriguing, funny novel about a possible miracle

Two Recent Travel Articles - links to two travel articles I wrote that were recently published

Saturday Snapshot: Southeastern Virginia in Spring - highlights from our recent trip

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.  

I'm missing those lazy vacation days with plenty of reading time!
 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Saturday Snapshot: Southeastern Virginia in Spring


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

We finally got our long-awaited vacation last week - a camping trip to Southeastern Virginia - though the weather was still much cooler than usual for this time of year! We did get a couple of nice days, though. We stayed in two state parks: Twin Lakes and Staunton River. Both were beautiful and mostly deserted at this time of year, especially in the middle of the week. We enjoyed hiking, kayaking (on the one day it was warm enough!), and exploring a few small towns. Some good food, too, but I will save that for another post. Here are some highlights from our trip - click any photo to see it larger sized.


Goodwin Lake at Twin Lakes State Park

Hiking Around Goodwin Lake at Twin Lakes SP

A Bit of Blue Sky & New Green Buds Though Still Looks Wintry!
The High Bridge of High Bridge SP - a 30-mile long rail-trail

The Appotomax River from High Bridge

Kayaking on Prince Edward Lake at Twin Lakes SP

Our Campsite at Twin Lakes SP at Dusk

A Bit Further South & More Green at Staunton River SP!

Dan River on a Windy Day at Staunton River SP

Getting Greener!

Hiking Selfie on Captain Staunton Trail

Staunton River on a Calmer Day at Staunton River SP

Dozens of Turtles Sunning Themselves in Prince Edward Lake at Twin Lakes SP

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend! Lots of catching up to do here.