Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Fiction Review: The Child Finder

After hearing rave reviews since its 2017 release, including from my husband, I finally read The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld last month for my annual dark and creepy reading season and the RIP XIV Challenge. Now I understand what all the fuss is about! This unique novel is a suspenseful, fast-paced mystery but with emotional depth and thoughtful prose.

Naomi is a private investigator who specializes in finding missing children, so Mr. and Mrs. Culver call her in desperation to look for their daughter, Madison. She disappeared without a trace from the dense Skookum National Forest in Oregon while the family was looking for a Christmas tree. The biggest problem? Madison disappeared three years ago, when she was just eight years old, so the trail and the case are as cold as the frozen Oregon mountains. Naomi sets out to investigate, leaving no stone unturned and no person unsuspected. This case, like many of them she has been involved in, brings back memories of her own past. Naomi herself was a lost little girl whose life--and memories--began with her escape from her mysterious captors. Now, as she walks through the Oregon forests and follows clues to find out what happened to Madison, nightmares from her own escape haunt her nights and begin to bring back long-lost memories. Naomi is very good at what she does, but she never knows if the child she finds will still be alive or not. The reader, though, knows that Madison is still alive because parts of the novel are narrated by her, recounting her experiences through her own eyes from her disappearance three years ago to the present.

These differing perspectives woven through the story are part of what makes this novel such a unique thriller. We follow the investigator as she tries to unravel the mystery of Madison's disappearance, but we also get the first-hand perspectives of the little girl being held captive and even of her captor. In this way, the author provides insights into how the little girl copes with her captivity (imagination and fairy tales play a large role) and how her captor came to be a child predator, as well as Naomi's perspective as both investigator and past victim. It's an intricate and engrossing web that immediately pulled me in and kept me captivated. The mystery/suspense aspects are excellent as well, in the isolated setting of the snowy forest, as Naomi uncovers scattered clues (that everyone else missed). The author kept me guessing and suspecting one person after another. The Child Finder is a very satisfying read on several levels, providing in-depth characters, complex emotions, and a thoughtful and twisty plot. I can't wait to read the sequel, The Butterfly Girl, which was just released on October 1, and get to know Naomi even better.

272 pages, Harper Perennial
HarperAudio


Listen to a sampleof the audio book here, from the first chapter where Naomi meets the Culvers, and/or download it from Audible. It sounds excellent on audio!

You can purchase The Child Finder from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order The Child Finder from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.
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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

TV Tuesday: Stumptown

One of the new TV shows I mentioned in my Fall 2019 TV Preview was Stumptown on ABC, and it has turned out to be our favorite new show of the fall and one of our overall favorites this season, new and old. We are loving this action-packed, suspenseful, yet warm and funny show with a great cast.

Cobie Smuldors (of How I Met Your Mother fame) stars as Dex Parios, a Marine vet in Portland, OR, with PTSD. She cares for her adult brother, Ansel (played by Cole Sibus), who has Down Syndrome. The two of them often hang out (and Ansel works at) a bar called Bad Alibi, owned by their good friend, Gray, played by Jake Johnson (familiar as Nick from New Girl). In the first episode, the head of the local Indian casino asks Dex to track down her granddaughter who's been kidnapped. Its a twisty, convoluted, and dangerous case, and along the way, Dex works with (and hooks up with) Detective Miles Hoffman, a cop played by Michael Ealy (who we enjoyed in Almost Human and The Following). By the start of the second episode, Dex has decided she wants to be a private investigator. Although trouble seems to follow her everywhere, she is scrappy and determined and feels like she could be good at being a PI. The rest of season one (so far) follows her as she trains, gets her PI license, gets in way over her head, and tackles bad guys.

Stumptown is based on a graphic novel series by Greg Rucka, and we are loving the TV adaptation so far! Yes, it's a detective show with mysteries and action in every episode, but it is also warm and very, very funny. Even better, it is accompanied by an '80's soundtrack with hilarious timing, since Dex's old Mustang has a mix tape stuck in the cassette player that starts playing at the most inopportune (and funny) moments. Smulders is outstanding in this starring role, as a bad-ass Marine who always gets into trouble but still solves her cases. The rest of the cast is great, too, also including Camryn Manheim as the police lieutenant. Dex seems tough on the outside, but her loving relationship with her brother and friendship with Gray show her softer side. There is at least one big fight in each episode and often a car chase, too, which are not typically my cup of tea, but it is all done with a sense of humor and fun. You can see what I mean in the trailer below. The bottom line is that Stumptown is one of our favorite shows on TV right now, and we look forward to each new episode and watch it as soon as it hits On Demand.

Stumptown airs on ABC Wednesdays at 10 pm, and is available On Demand and on the ABC website (looks like the first five episodes are available there right now for free). It is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the first season.



I've seen this trailer several times, but it still makes me laugh every time!



Monday, November 11, 2019

Movie Monday: Shaft (2019)

Saturday night, my husband and I watched the 2019 release, Shaft, which is a sequel to the original 1971 movie of the same name (and there were three other Shaft sequels in between). If you are as old as we are, you may remember the original movie, starring Richard Roundtree in the title role as a kick-ass black private investigator in Harlem. I never actually saw the original (since I was only six years-old at the time), and my husband doesn't remember much about it, but we are both very familiar with its funky theme song (hang on until 2:50 to hear those unforgettable lyrics) and its famous (or infamous?) main character. We thoroughly enjoyed this fun modernization of the classic. Can you dig it?

The movie opens in 1989, with John Shaft, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and his girlfriend, Maya (played by Regina Hall), caught in a shoot-out on the streets of Harlem. Shaft is cool as usual and unperturbed by the violence, but we see a baby in the backseat. That's the last straw for Maya. She cares about Shaft, but her son's safety must come first. She moves upstate with the baby and asks Shaft to stay away, for his son's protection, to prevent the violence in Shaft's life from touching him. The action then moves forward to the present, where John Jr. (JJ), played by Jessie T. Usher, is an adult, working as an FBI analyst in NYC, and meeting up his best best friends from high school, Karim, a vet and recovered addict who started a charity to help other vets, and Sasha, a doctor. When Karim is discovered dead of an overdose in Harlem the next day, JJ knows there is something more sinister going on. His friend was clearly still clean and happy with his life. JJ begins investigating Karim's death but soon finds himself in over his head. Reluctantly, he seeks out his dad, the infamous Shaft, to help him find out what happened to his friend. As the two of them team up to find out what happened, they get pulled deeper and deeper into larger conspiracies involving drugs. At one point, just before the big showdown with the bad guys, they visit Shaft's father, played by Richard Roundtree (who you'll recall played Shaft in the 1971 movie), and grandpa comes along to help with the climactic shootout.

This movie is just plain fun. Samuel L. Jackson is his usual charismatic self as the foul-mouthed, violent, self-assured Shaft. Usher does a great job as his nerdy but determined son, and the clash between the two of them provides lots of funny moments. This is, without a doubt, an action movie, and there is plenty of shooting, fighting, and other violence. That is usually not my thing (at all!), but in this case, the violence is balanced out by warmth, family relationships, and a hefty dose of humor that left me smiling and laughing for almost two hours. It was just plain fun, with a touch of nostalgia, and we both enjoyed it.

Shaft is currently out on DVD and on streaming, available through Amazon starting at $4.99. You can also stream the original 1971 Shaft for just $1.99.

I guarantee this trailer will make you smile:


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

Happy Veteran's Day and Remembrance Day. Many of my family members served in the military, and I am remembering their service today.

I know my Monday updates are starting to sound repetitive, but I had another busy week, working on editing my book. We ended up doing six rounds of editing between me and the editor I hired, but moments ago, I received back the final FINAL version. Yay! Unfortunately, I realized last week that if I go ahead and start the self-publishing process this week, that will put the release of the print book squarely in Thanksgiving week, when I'll be away and unable to promote it. So, I will focus on some preparations this week and try to get everything ready to publish in early December - that's at least six months later than I'd hoped, but I do think all that hard work paid off with a stronger book. I'll let you know when I have a release date! The book is titled Finding a New Normal: Living with Chronic Illness.

I was pretty stressed by the end of last week, but I spent Friday afternoon and evening cancelling, postponing, and otherwise offloading the things that were making me feel so much pressure. Then, my husband and I had a nice weekend together, relaxing at home Friday night, meeting friends for dinner Saturday night, and having a nice family dinner here Sunday.

Of course, books are always a big part of our lives! Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

To kick off Nonfiction November, I am reading a book that has been on my TBR shelf for a very long time, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. My husband and I enjoy the way Larson takes real-life historical subjects and tells their stories in a compelling, fiction-like way. We both loved his Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (award-winning and highly recommended), and I think I bought my husband the Berlin book many years ago. It's been sitting on my side of the TBR bookcase ever since he read it! It's the real-life story of William E. Dodd, who was appointed Ambassador to Germany in 1933, just as Hitler's power was growing. The book focuses on the experiences of Dodd and his family (especially his adult daughter who had worked in journalism) in the odd environment of a rapidly changing Berlin that could appear fun and entertaining one day and horrifying the next. It's engrossing so far and fascinating (and chilling) to know what's coming historically, when the main characters do not.

For my first nonfiction audio for November, I just finished listening to Lost Child: The True Story of a Girl That Couldn't Ask for Help by Torey Hayden, after reading an interesting review of it at Helen's Book Blog (one of my favorites blogs - check it out!). The author is an American therapist who ends up working with a little girl, Jesse, in Wales who was unwanted by her parents. The young child is unpredictable, unable to trust others, and sometimes even violent. She was brought up with no rules or boundaries, pretty much left to run wild, and is now in a home for troubled children. Hayden begins working with Jesse, which is quite difficult, since she lies a lot and behaves inappropriately. The book chronicles their time together as Hayden tries to unravel Jesse's past, as well as Jesse's journey, and the power of patience and love. It was thoroughly engrossing. Next, I am planning to listen to Becoming by Michelle Obama, something I have been greatly looking forward to! But first, I need to transfer 16 CDs from the library onto my laptop so I can download the audio book to my iPod - not very efficient but the audio CDs were available first!

Finally, for Nonfiction November, I also read a new middle-grade graphic memoir, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, one of my favorite graphic authors! I loved her memoirs, Smile and Sisters, and her graphic novel, Drama. She is a talented writer and illustrator, and her memoirs, based on her own childhood, are warm, funny, realistic, and thoughtful. In this one, pre-teen Raina is struggling with stomach pains and increasingly disruptive anxiety and fears. Her loving parents get her started with therapy, and she begins to dig down to the roots of her issues, while events in her family, at school, and with her friends continue to evolve. It was wonderful, just like Telgemeier's other books, and very insightful regarding a child's view of living with anxiety. I think that reading about kid-Raina's issues and how she coped with them will help a lot of today's kids.

My husband, Ken, is still reading The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran. It's Gran's third novel featuring detective Claire DeWitt. This is the first novel he's read in the series, but I heard lots of accolades about this particular book, so I gave it to him for his birthday. In this novel, someone is trying to kill Claire, and in order to save herself, Claire will have to revisit two old, cold cases that she was involved in years ago, in Brooklyn and L.A. The three stories, from three different periods of Claire's life, are intertwined and gradually come together. Ken says it is a little disjointed at the beginning, as he's just starting to learn about these three different situations and timelines, but the story should start to coalesce soon. There are some things he doesn't like about the writing style, but I think I would probably love this one! I enjoy novels like that with disparate threads that gradually weave together, and I hope he ends up enjoying it.

Our son, 25, finished reading a book we gave him for Christmas, Defender by Robert J. Crane, book 1 of The Sanctuary Series. It's a shorter novel than the epic fantasies he usually reads, which is probably why he didn't read it sooner. The setting and plot, though, are right up his alley: "The world of Arkaria is a dangerous place, filled with dragons, titans, goblins and other dangers." He says he really liked it. That's great news because there are at least eight books in the series for him to continue with! In fact, he has the e-books for books two and three downloaded on his Kindle already. In fact, he's already started book two - glad we found a new series for him to enjoy!







Last week's blog posts:
Nonfiction November - some of the books I might read for this annual challenge  

Teen/YA Review: Threatened by Eliot Schrefer - another powerful, captivating novel in his Ape Quartet - a must-read!

Fiction Review: Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson - super-twisty suburban thriller

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 09, 2019

Fiction Review: Never Have I Ever

For years, I have been hearing other readers rave about Joshilyn Jackson's novels but hadn't yet read one. So, I jumped at the chance to listen to her latest, Never Have I Ever, on audio last month. It starts out as a quiet suburban drama and slowly builds to a tense suspense story with lots of unexpected twists.

Amy is happy, living in a nice suburb in Pensacola, Florida, with her husband, Davis; his teen daughter, Maddy; and their baby, Oliver. It's a satisfying existence, with her best friend, Charlotte, living down the street. Tonight, Amy is hosting Charlotte's book group at her house. They have a big crowd, with 20 of their mom neighbors gathered. Usually, the group members each have a glass of wine, discuss a classic, and head home pretty early, but tonight is different. A new neighbor, Angelica Roux ("call me Roux"), joins them ... and quickly takes over. Roux is not like the other moms. She's sexy and enigmatic, slinking around the room and insinuating herself in these strange women's lives effortlessly. She pours drinks--stiff drinks--until the moms are all tipsy (and some well past that). Then she introduces a game, all thoughts of book discussion gone. She says it's her own version of Never Have I Ever and goes around the room, asking each woman to share the worst thing they did yesterday, last month, and in their whole lives. Charlotte is upset at Roux's taking over her event, and Amy is furious. She has no intention of playing Roux's game or of disclosing the worst thing she's ever done. After that first night, Roux zeroes in on Amy, hinting that she knows her secret. Amy tries to go on with normal life--caring for Maddy and Oliver and working as a dive instructor--but inside, she is roiling with emotions she hasn't felt in years, thinking back to events that occurred when she was just a teenager.

That's just the first chapter or two! This story unfolds slowly, with building tension, and heads off in directions I never saw coming. The quiet suburban neighborhood turns into a hot bed of blackmail, accusations, extortion, and so much more. Jackson narrates her own audios, which I didn't realize until I finished it. She does an excellent job of telling the story from Amy's perspective. Amy's past and Roux's true motives only gradually come to light, with delightfully twisty suspense and plenty of surprises. It's a wholly unique and engrossing thriller that kept me rapt from beginning to end. I understand this was Jackson's first thriller, but I enjoyed her writing style and look forward to reading more of her popular novels.

352 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, which was excellent, or download it from Audible. The author is narrating, and the sample is from an early chapter, a week or so after that disastrous book group meeting.


You can purchase Never Have I Ever from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Never Have I Ever from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Teen/YA Review: Threatened

I have been dying to tell you about the 2014 National Book Award finalist Threatened by Eliot Schrefer, part of his highly acclaimed and popular Ape Quartet. This teen/YA novel about an African boy who lives among chimps was just as good as his earlier novel, Endangered - engrossing, stunning, and fascinating.

Luc is an orphan, living a hand-to-mouth existence under the control of a cruel master in a run-down house with other orphans in the city of Franceville in Gabon, Africa. One day, while working in the local cafe/bar for tips, Luc meets a very unusual man who he thinks looks like an Arab. He says he is a chimpanzee researcher originally from Egypt; his name is Professor Abdul Mohammed, but people call him Prof.  Even more startling, a tiny monkey called a vervet (also from Egypt, as Prof explains) accompanies him and is named Omar. Prof pays Luc to help carry his luggage to a nearby hotel. He ends up hiring Luc to accompany him into the jungle. Luc, intent on saving some money so he can escape his situation, figures he can go along with Prof and watch for an opportunity to steal his metal briefcase. As the pair (plus Omar) venture deep into the jungle, though, Luc begins to like Prof (and the feeling is mutual). They set up camp far from any villages and begin looking for chimpanzees, which Luc is afraid of because of childhood stories calling them "mock men." But, when they find a family of chimpanzees, Luc becomes fascinated, naming them and helping Prof to observe them and remember details for his notes. Luc, Prof, and Omar become like a family themselves, and when disaster hits, Luc must decide what he'll do.

As with Schrefer's Endangered, Threatened is immediately captivating, with likable characters (including the animals) that you want to root for. It is a compelling adventure story, fast-paced and full of action and danger, but it is also an intriguing and well-researched account of the lives of chimpanzees, as Luc and Prof observe them and even live among them. I gobbled up this captivating novel in great gulps and was left wanting more (though it provides a satisfying ending). In fact, when I finished reading it, I went to my local indie bookstore and ordered Through a Window: Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall (recommended by Schrefer) because I want to know more about these close cousins to humans. I don't know why I waited so long to read Threatened after loving Endangered, but now I am eager to read the other two books in Schrefer's beautifully written, exciting, and important series. These books are must-reads - not just for teens, but for grown-ups, too!

288 pages, Scholastic

Listen to a sample of the audio book (which sounds wonderful) from the first chapter or download it from Audible. Just listening to the beginning of this book makes me want to read it again!


You can purchase Threatened from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Threatened from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Nonfiction November 2019

Friday was November 1, and that means one thing...Nonfiction November! I transitioned my reading last weekend from the dark and creepy stuff of October and the RIP XIV Challenge (which I participate in every year and highly recommend) to nonfiction.

My Nonfiction Choices:
 
For me, Nonfiction November is a great time to read all those nonfiction books (and listen to audios) that have been piling up, since I mostly read fiction. This weekend, I pulled a bunch of great nonfiction books off my over-crowded To-Be-Read bookcase so that I will have plenty to choose from this month (click photo to enlarge):



It's a mix of memoir, self-help, history, and more. I certainly won't get to all of these in one month, but I have some great books to choose from here! In addition to this big pile, I just bought a copy of Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall, which I was inspired to read after the amazing novel, Threatened by Eliot Schrefer (review to come).

On the audio side, I just got a copy of the audio book Becoming by Michelle Obama from the library yesterday, a book I have been looking forward to listening to and saving for this month! In addition, I have a backlog of many other digital downloads of audio books I am excited to listen to.


My Nonfiction Kick-off Books:

I have kicked off my month by starting to read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson, which is compelling and fascinating so far (like all of Larson's books). On audio, I am listening to Lost Child: The True Story of a Girl That Couldn't Ask for Help by Torey Hayden, an intriguing story about a therapist's experiences with a very damaged little girl. And I have already finished a wonderful graphic memoir, Guts by Raina Telgemeier. All in all, a great start to my month of nonfiction so far!



If you also want to join the fun, here are the details:


The co-hosts for Nonfiction November this year are Katie at Doing Dewey, Julz of Julz ReadsRennie of What’s NonfictionSarah of Sarah’s Book Shelves, and Leann of Shelf Aware. The event runs from Oct 28 – Nov 30.
Nonfiction November is a month dedicated to celebrating nonfiction. There will be a link-up for your posts every Monday at one of the above blogs; you can see the schedule of events below (with links):

Week 1 (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) - Your Year in Nonfiction So Far (Hosted by Julie at Julz Reads)
Week 2 (Nov. 4 to Nov. 8) - Nonfiction / Fiction Book Pairing (Hosted by Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves)
Week 3 (Nov. 11 to Nov. 15) - Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey)
Week 4 (Nov. 18 to Nov. 22) - Nonfiction Favorites (Hosted by Leann at Shelf Aware)
Week 5 (Nov. 26 to Nov. 30) - New to my TBR (Hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?
There will also be an Instagram Challenge! Find all the hosts that are on Instagram: @sarahsbookshelves@julzreads@shelf_aware_, and @doingdewey!

What will you be reading in November?

Monday, November 04, 2019

It's Monday 11/4! What Are You Reading?

I am stunned that it's November already! Where did the year go? Three weeks to Thanksgiving and then another 3 weeks to Christmas - makes my head spin! I did just have a nice surprise, though. Even though I changed all the clocks in the house Saturday night/Sunday morning, I forgot about my watch. I ran out the door this morning for a 10:00 am meeting at the library (I am volunteering for their Book Buddies program, to bring books to housebound people). I was shocked to glance at my watch when the meeting ended and see it was already noon, and the morning was shot...until I looked at my cell phone a few minutes later and remembered the time change. It was only 11 am! I got to experience that feeling of gaining an extra hour all over again.

I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I once again didn't have time for much blog visiting (or anything else) last week. My editor sent my book back for a third (and final!) edit. She said I only had to review the new changes, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist and ended up re-reading the whole manuscript one last time. She has it again now for the last changes/formatting, and I need to figure out the nitty-gritty details of how to self-publish! My first book was published traditionally, so this is new to me, even though I've been trying to learn as much as I can about the process. I am hoping to announce its release in the next two weeks. The title is Finding a New Normal: Living with Chronic Illness.

We had a very busy weekend, with a lot of work around the house and catching up. But, we did enjoy dinner out with friends Friday night and a nice family dinner here on Saturday, with both sons, one girlfriend, and my father-in-law.

As always, we also enjoyed our books! For me, last week marked the end of my dark and creepy reading for the RIP XIV Challenge and the beginning of Nonfiction November (sign-up post to come). Here's what we've all been reading this past week:

After I finished The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld on Monday, I did manage to squeeze in one last suspenseful book for RIP XIV. I read Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley, book one of his acclaimed and award-winning Easy Rawlins mystery series, which my husband enjoys. It was different than I expected, since I didn't realize this series is set back in the 40's, post-WWII. Easy Rawlins is a young black man who served in Europe during the war. He's originally from Houston but now lives in Watts, an African-American community in Los Angeles. Thanks to a reference from a friend, an older white man approaches Easy to ask him to find a woman named Daphne Monet, who looks beautiful in the photo he's shown. It feels a little shady, but Easy agrees because he just lost his job, and it's important to him not to lose the house he owns. That begins a twisty, dark, suspenseful mystery that leads Easy all over the city, as the bodies pile up. I enjoyed this fun, quick read for Halloween week.

I also finished one last dark and creepy graphic novel (I sort of fit those into spare moments here and there) for October, Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea (author) and Yana Bogatch (illustrator). It's a spooky YA story about a teen boy named Bucky whose little sister goes missing, in a town called Blackwell where all of the females are witches with magic powers. An invisible barrier prevents anyone with "magick" from leaving town, in order to preserve their secrets. As Bucky tries to find his sister, he begins to learn some of those secrets, including the town's dark history. I was immediately taken in by the gorgeous pen and ink illustrations, done mostly in shades of brown and black but with tiny, bright splashes of color here and there. The illustrations are enchanting, and the story is intriguing and suspenseful. I enjoyed it, and it was perfect for the season!

I also finished listening to one last creepy audio book, Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson. I know she is a very popular fiction author, with many fans, but this was the first Jackson novel I read or listened to. It's about a new neighbor in a typical suburban community who may not be who she seems. Angelica Roux is sexy and enigmatic as she inserts herself into a group of moms by coming to their book group. Instead of their usual quiet discussion of a classic, Roux pours the drinks freely and convinces the women to play her version of Never Have I Ever, volunteering the worst things they have each done yesterday, last week, last month, and in their whole lives. Amy, happily married with a new baby and a sweet step-daughter, wants nothing to do with Roux's games because she wants her secrets to stay safely in her past. Roux's nefarious purposes slowly become clear as she insinuates herself into the neighborhood, while Amy tries to protect herself and her family. This suspenseful suburban drama features LOTS of unexpected twists that I never saw coming. It was excellent on audio.

And then it was November 1 and time to shift gears, from dark and creepy to nonfiction! For my first read for Nonfiction November, I chose a book that has been on my TBR shelf for a very long time, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. My husband and I enjoy the way Larson takes real-life historical subjects and tells their stories in a compelling, fiction-like way. We both loved his Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (award-winning and highly recommended), and I think I bought him the Berlin book many years ago. It's been sitting on my side of the TBR bookcase ever since he read it! It's the real-life story of William E. Dodd, who was appointed Ambassador to Germany in 1933, just as Hitler's power was growing. The book focuses on the experiences of Dodd and his family (especially his adult daughter who had worked in journalism) in the odd environment of a rapidly changing Berlin that could appear fun and entertaining one day and horrifying the next. It's engrossing so far and fascinating to know what's coming historically, when the main characters do not.

For my first nonfiction audio for November, I chose Lost Child: The True Story of a Girl That Couldn't Ask for Help by Torey Hayden, after reading an interesting review of it at Helen's Book Blog (one of my favorites blogs - check it out!). The author is an American therapist who ends up working with a little girl, Jesse, in Wales who was unwanted by her parents. The young child is unpredictable, unable to trust others, and sometimes even violent. She was brought up with no rules or boundaries, pretty much left to run wild, and is now in a home for troubled children. Hayden begins working with Jesse, which is quite difficult, since she lies a lot and behaves inappropriately. The book chronicles their time together, Jesse's journey, and the power of patience and love. I'm just a little ways in so far, but it's absorbing.

And, to kick off Nonfiction November, I also started a new middle-grade graphic memoir, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, one of my favorite graphic authors! I loved her memoirs, Smile and Sisters, and her graphic novel, Drama. She is a talented writer and illustrator, and her memoirs, based on her own childhood, are warm, funny, realistic, and thoughtful. In this one, pre-teen Raina is struggling with stomach pains and increasingly disruptive anxiety and fears. Her loving parents get her started with therapy, and she begins to dig down to the roots of her issues, while events in her family, at school, and with her friends continue to evolve. It's wonderful so far, and though I usually read graphic novels/memoirs in 5-minute chunks of time, I am having trouble putting this one down!


After finishing Finders Keepers by Stephen King last week, my husband, Ken, started reading The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran. It's Gran's third novel featuring detective Claire DeWitt. This is the first novel he's read in the series, but I heard lots of accolades about this particular book, so I gave it to him for his birthday. In this novel, someone is trying to kill Claire, and in order to save herself, Claire will have to revisit two old, cold cases that she was involved in years ago, in Brooklyn and L.A. The three stories, from three different periods of Claire's life, are intertwined and gradually come together. Ken says it is a little disjointed at the beginning, as he's just starting to learn about these three different situations and timelines, but the story should start to coalesce soon. I love novels like that with disparate threads that gradually weave together, and I hope he enjoys this one.


Our son, 25, is reading a book we gave him for Christmas, Defender by Robert J. Crane, book 1 of The Sanctuary Series. It's a shorter novel than the epic fantasies he usually reads, which is probably why he didn't read it sooner. The setting and plot, though, are right up his alley: "The world of Arkaria is a dangerous place, filled with dragons, titans, goblins and other dangers." He says he's almost finished with it and has really liked it. That's great news because there are at least eight books in the series for him to continue with!






Blog posts from last week:
Middle-Grade Graphic Novel Review: The Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag - a fun third book in this series about a family of witches

Fiction Review: Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land - a super-dark phsychological thriller

Teen/YA Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro - a fun, suspenseful mystery about modern-day teen descendants of Holmes & Watson

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?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Teen/YA Review: A Study in Charlotte

Happy Halloween! One of my favorite reads this month for the RIP XIV Challenge was A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallero, a fun, clever, modern take on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries for teens and young adults (and grown-ups, like me!).

Charlotte Holmes and James Watson are descended from that Holmes and Watson (who, in this series, were real people). They are both teens at the same boarding school in Connecticut. Their families have remained entangled throughout the generations, but when Charlotte and Jamie encounter each other at school, it is their first time meeting. Charlotte is very much like her famous ancestor: brilliant, introverted, and often obsessive. She is a loner at school, though she runs an illicit (and popular) poker game one night a week. Most of the time, though, she works in her private lab, set up as an "independent study" project, and learns all she can about ... well, everything. She relaxes by practicing fencing in secret. James (who most people call Jamie, even though he prefers James) is not thrilled to be at this boarding school in Connecticut, but he's trying to make the best of it. He'd rather be at his old school in England and living with his mom, but he won a rugby scholarship here. It's also just an hour away from his father (of the Watson line), with whom he hasn't spent much time in many years. Charlotte and James meet and then are quickly thrown together when one of their classmates is murdered. He was a pushy misogynist who wronged Charlotte, and James got in a fight with him the day before he was killed. That makes them both potential suspects. The two of them begin investigating the case together to clear their names, which becomes even more urgent when another classmate is seriously injured. As they get to know each other and start to track down clues, the situation on campus gets more and more dangerous. They must figure out who the killer is before more kids get hurt or killed.

This original, smart novel works on several levels: as an intricate mystery with plenty of red herrings, as a teen drama set in a boarding school, and as a modern take on the intriguing Holmes-Watson relationship. The author ingeniously gives Charlotte and James similar characteristics to their famous ancestors, with Watson put in the familiar role of caring for and protecting Holmes when she becomes so fixated on the case that she forgets to take care of herself. The crime itself is just like a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery: intricate, twisty, and almost impossible to figure out! I kept developing and discarding various theories, and the final resolution took me by surprise. I especially enjoyed listening to this inventive and gripping mystery on audio, with both female and male narrators telling the story from Charlotte's and James' points of view. With plenty of suspense, wit, and the modern teen Holmes-Watson relationship, this novel was just a lot of fun. I can't wait to read the rest of the series! (It looks like there are four books so far.)

352 pages, Katharine Tegen Books
HarperAudio


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.
 
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Listen to a sample of the wonderful audio book, from chapter 1 (James' perspective), or download the audio from Audible.

You can also download all four novels in this series as e-books.

You can purchase A Study in Charlotte from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order A Study in Charlotte from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fiction Review: Good Me Bad Me

Continuing my theme of dark and creepy reading for the annual fall RIP XIV Challenge, I listened to the psychological thriller Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land on audio. This gripping suspense novel was the very darkest of all the dark reading I did these past two months (and that includes a Stephen King novel!).

Milly, a fifteen-year-old girl, has been given a fresh start since her mother was arrested for child abuse and murder. She has a new name, a new home with wealthy foster parents, and a new start at an exclusive private school. Her foster father, Mike, is also the therapist who is helping her prepare to testify against her mother in court. No one else in her new world, except her foster mother and the school's headmistress, knows about her past. Milly grew up in that house of horrors, abused herself and helpless (and made to watch) as her mother abused nine young children and then murdered them. That kind of upbringing is damaging to a child, to put it mildly, and Milly can still hear her mother's taunting, cruel voice in her head. As Milly struggles to fit into her new family and her new life, she secretly wonders how much she might be like her mother. As her foster family's less-than-shiny secrets are revealed and Milly is bullied at school and by her foster sister, she feels an internal fight between the good Milly and the bad Milly. Which is stronger, nature or nurture?

As you can tell by the subject matter, this is a dark, dark story about the absolute worst in human nature. It was almost too dark for me, though Milly's struggle is compelling, and the constant sense of dread throughout the novel lends plenty of suspense. The audio book was especially effective because the story is told from Milly's perspective, and hearing it narrated in her chilling voice lends an extra layer of creepiness. Milly's internal struggles kept me listening, as that sense of low-level horror keeps building. It's a thoughtful story, too, about the effects of childhood trauma. Will Milly take advantage of the new opportunities offered to her or will her horrific childhood win out? While difficult to listen to at times, as Milly remembers the events of her past, it is a captivating and original suspense novel.

304 pages, Flatiron Books

Macmillan 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.
 
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Listen to a sample of the audio, to hear that chilling narration from Milly, or purchase it from Audible.


You can purchase Good Me Bad Me from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Good Me Bad Me from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Middle-Grade Graphic Novel Review: The Midwinter Witch

I enjoyed the third book, The Midwinter Witch, in Molly Knox Ostertag's fun middle-grade fantasy graphic novel series that began with The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch. This action-filled book continues the exciting story about a family of witches.

Aster, the boy witch of the title of the first book in the series, is once again at the center of this story in which the family is traveling to the annual Midwinter Festival. His immediate family has mostly accepted that he is a rare male witch (and a good one, at that), but they are worried about what the extended family at the reunion will think. Aster wants to enter the Jolrun, a competition for young witches, and some family members are worried about how the rest of the group will respond to a boy in the traditionally all-female contest. Sure enough, some of Aster's older male cousins begin teasing him as soon as they arrive at the festival. Meanwhile, Aster's non-magical best friend, Charlie, gets permission from her fathers to go to the festival with Aster's family, and their other friend, Ariel, the newly-discovered witch from The Hidden Witch, also attends, though she is hiding a secret. Her long-lost Aunt Isabel contacts her through a dream and is trying to convince Ariel to train with her, instead of with Aster's family. She practices a dark magic, though, and Ariel is torn between the enticement of a stronger, more powerful magic and what she has been learning in her training with Aster's grandmother.
Sample page from The Witch Boy, with Aster and Charlie

As with the first two books in the series, The Midwinter Witch is filled with suspense and plenty of magical action to keep young readers rapt. However, also in keeping with the rest of the series, there are plenty of real-life issues that kids will relate to, even if they're not witches or shape-shifters! Here, bullying, gender identity, figuring out who you are, and friendship are at the center of the kids' struggles, as well as making good choices and doing what's right, without harming others. Ostertag does a wonderful job of wrapping these serious topics up in a fun, supernatural tale, illustrated in bright, eye-catching colors with realistic-looking diverse characters. She combines fantastical magic and witchcraft with the ordinary fun of close friendships. I can't wait to see what's in store next for Aster, Charlie, Ariel, and the others!

202 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.

The Midwinter Witch is available in e-book or paperback format from Amazon.

You can purchase The Midwinter Witch from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order The Midwinter Witch from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.