Monday, December 02, 2019

It's Monday 12/2! What Are You Reading?

December? End of the year? Christmas season? Yikes, how did that happen?!

We just returned Saturday night from our dream vacation, renting a house for a week in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Two-thirds of this 20-square mile Caribbean island is a National Park, so it was right up our alley! This was our celebration with our sons of our 30th wedding anniversary this fall. We had a great trip. The scenery was breath-taking, the snorkeling was the best we've ever experienced (sea turtles, rays, tropical fish, moray eels, barracuda, and even sharks just yards off the beach!), and it was wonderful to spend time together, just the four of us. Our sons are now in their early 20's, so we are very fortunate they still want to spend a week's vacation with us. All in all, it lived up to our high expectations, and we made some great memories.


Now, it's back to reality! I have not only the usual re-entry catch-up to do (big pile of mail to sort, over 600 e-mails, etc.), but all of a sudden it's Christmas season! I'll have to make this post quick (and put off blog visits for a couple of days) to get my Cyber Monday shopping done today.

I hope everyone in the U.S. had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family. We took a guided kayak/snorkeling trip Thursday and then enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving dinner - grilled steaks and watermelon!

As always, we all enjoyed our books, too! I'm in the odd position of being in the middle of reading three different books right now, plus an audio (I normally just read one in print at a time, with an audio on the side). I made the ultimate reader mistake of packing my current book in my checked baggage when we flew out - ugh! Airports and planes are prime reading time. Luckily, I had my Kindle with me, but I had to start a new book. Then, toward the end of the week, reality hit, and I realized I had book group this coming week, so I switched again!

Here's what we've all been reading the past two weeks:

I finished Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott for one of my book groups this week. I have enjoyed Lamott's memoirs and novels in the past so was eager to read this one. It's a memoir about mercy: what it means, how she finds it in her life, and its relationship with grace. It's all a bit ephemeral and musing (and a bit wandering), but I enjoy thoughtful books. It falls back strongly on Lamott's well-known experiences getting (and staying) sober, her religious beliefs (and those of others), and the need for "radical kindness" in our world. I missed the book group discussion, sandwiched in between a trip to my mom's to help her after surgery and our vacation. I received this book in a Yankee Book Swap at Booktopia a few years ago from a good friend and was pleased to open it up two weeks ago and realize it was signed by the author!


Next, I read another book for Nonfiction November that has been on my shelves for years, ever since my son read it in high school, about 9 years ago! I am so glad I finally got to An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography by Paul Rusesabagina, with Tom Zoellner. This is the man and the true story that inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda (which I now want to watch). It is a stunning account of how this ordinary hotel manager in Rwanda's largest city, Kigali, opened his hotel to refugees during the horrific, devastating genocide in 1994. With military, rebels, and even normal people murdering friends and neighbors in the streets, Paul steadfastly protected over 1200 people and used his considerable negotiating skills to call in favors to keep the hotel and its occupants safe for the duration of the 90-day horror, putting his own life at risk. My son and I discussed the book and its hero while I was reading it; it is a shocking, amazing story of how an ordinary man did something extraordinary. It was also an important history lesson for me. Highly recommended.

That was the book I mistakenly packed in my checked bag at the airport last Saturday, so I was without it at the airport and on the plane. I first read through Eyewitness Travel's Top 10 US and British Virgin Islands: Your Guide to the 10 Best of Everything, to find out more about where we were going and what we might see and do while there. Then, I looked through my Kindle to see what other absorbing nonfiction options I had available. I settled on The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, all about his mother's treatment and decline with cancer and how she and Will discussed books together as a way of connecting. I absolutely loved Schwalbe's Books for Living, which I read for Booktopia several years ago, and also loved meeting him in person and getting to know him a bit. I thoroughly enjoyed starting this book on the plane and can't wait to get back to it, but once we were settled in our vacation house, I went back to the book I had been reading. I really don't like reading multiple books at once; I am a monogamous reader!


After finishing An Ordinary Man, I started Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall, since this was my planned "vacation book." This 1990 book (with an 2010 updated preface from Jane) describes her thirty years spent researching, observing, and living among the chimps in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. She alternates between sharing details of chimp research findings and studies, her own life in studying them, and narratives of the lives of the chimps themselves, each as individual and unique as humans are. It is a fascinating book that reads sort of like a chimp soap opera in parts! The reader gets to know the chimps as individuals and follow their lives through births, adolescence, battles for primacy among the males, and tragedies. I was inspired to read this book after reading Threatened, a YA novel about an African boy who lives among chimps in Gabon, and was really enjoying it and up to about page 110 (in the middle of the chapter on Sex!), when I had to set it aside because...


...I realized I had book group in a few days! I had completely forgotten about it while on vacation and towards the end of the trip, I was thinking about what to make for dessert for the book group on Wednesday, when I remembered, "Oh, right - there's a book to read, too!" So, I made an abrupt shift back to fiction and started The Woman I Was Before by Kerry Fisher (luckily, I had thought ahead at some point and downloaded it onto my Kindle!). I wasn't enjoying it at first because I found most of the characters unrelatable--phony and inauthentic--though it is growing on me. It's a bit lighter than our usual book group choices. The novel focuses on the differences between what people post on social media and what their real lives are like, which seems like a good topic to explore. But, at first, the women in the novel are just plain lying on Facebook. For instance, one will have be upset with her husband and then post a staged photo and #besthubbyever on Facebook. Who does that? So, as you can tell, I was annoyed with the characters at first (except for one who has a real reason for hiding her true self). I'm about 70% of the way through now, though, and I am liking it better. The women seem to be evolving and growing, so that's a plus. There are some surprising plot twists, too. I'll finish soon and get back to the chimps, who don't use Facebook!


On audio, I am still listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama, which is just as wonderful as everyone said it was! The early chapters cover her childhood in Chicago's South Side, her family, and her early friendships and education. Then, it moves into her career, meeting Barack, having children, and, of course, the election. I am about halfway, where they have just moved into the White House. She is honest, open, and warm, bringing the reader into her world and sharing not just the facts but also her thoughts looking back. It paints a picture of her as a person but also of the times she has lived through and the culture of the world around her. She is close to my age, so I can relate to much of that. As I heard from many people, the book is especially good on audio, read by the author in her lovely, familiar voice, and I am enjoying every moment of it (it's a long one).


My husband, Ken, finished the YA post-apocalyptic thriller, The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey. This is book 2 of the trilogy that begins with The 5th Wave, which my husband, son, and I all loved (we still need to watch the movie adaptation). I read this second book in the series for my RIP XIV Challenge this fall, and I definitely want to read book 3. My son liked book 2 even more than the first book (he liked the emphasis on action and less romance - ha ha). If you enjoyed other YA post-apocalyptic thrillers like the Divergent trilogy, you should definitely give this one a try. My husband enjoyed it, too, and we are all looking forward to reading book 3, The Last Star.

Now, Ken has moved onto a birthday gift I gave him, The Witch Elm by Tana French. We are both huge fans of this Irish mystery/thriller author. Ken has read almost all of her Dublin Murder Squad series, and I recently read (and loved - review at the link) The Likeness (book 2) this fall. This is an unusual one for her, as it's a stand-alone suspense novel that was on lots of Best of 2018 lists. It's about a man, Toby, who is beaten and left for dead by some thieves one night. While recovering, he moves to his family's ancestral home to care for an aging uncle. Inside a tree in the yard, a human skull is discovered, and the police are called, as Toby realizes his past may not be exactly what he always thought it was. Ken is enjoying it so far.

Our son, 25, has been immersed in The Sanctuary Series by Robert J. Crane. While on vacation, he finished reading book 2, Avenger; book 3, Champion; and just this morning finished book 4, Crusader. He loves epic fantasies, and is enjoying this series very much. We gave him book 1, Defender, for Christmas, but he was turned off because it was only 269 pages (the longer, the better for him). He finally read it last month and loved it, and was off on a new series! The books are getting progressively longer, with book 4 weighing in at almost 600 pages, so he is thrilled with that. He loved it and is eager to read the rest of the series.
During vacation, he also read The Blood King by Gail Z. Martin, book 2 in the Chronicles of the Necromancer series. He told me he read book 1, The Summoner, years ago and really enjoyed it. He actually started book 2 back in 2015 but set it aside for some reason so was glad to get back to it now. It's a fantasy adventure series, of the type that he loves. He finished it on vacation...and he bought a book at the airport, too. He loves to read (obviously) and did not at all mind the three hours spent waiting in the airport and the four-hour flight home on Saturday. In fact, he offered to swap to a middle seat in the back so a mother could sit with her special needs child, and his brother reassured her, "Oh, it's no problem. He won't even notice he's in a middle seat - he'll just read all the way home." ha ha Yup, that's our son!


Blog posts from two weeks ago:
Fiction Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a wonderful epic family drama set in Korea and Japan

My Summary of Books Read in October - a record reading month for me!

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, November 21, 2019

Books Read in October

Brilliant fall color in October!
Whew, it's taken me a while to write my October reading summary because I read SO many books last month and finally finished reviewing all of them! It was a mostly dark reading month, for the RIP XIV Challenge. Here's what I finished in October:

  • Threatened by Eliot Schrefer (Gabon) - YA suspense/thriller
  • Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land (UK) - adult psychological thriller on audio
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Korea, Japan) - adult novel






Thirteen books?? I don't think I've ever read 13 books in a single month before (though, three of them were quick graphic novels) - no wonder it took me so long to review them all! With the focus on mystery, suspense, and thrillers, it was a very fun reading month. Of the thirteen, four of them were YA, two were middle-grade graphic novels, and the rest were adult books. I listened to three books on audio and read the rest in print. I enjoyed every one of these - so hard to pick a favorite! I really loved Pachinko, The Child Finder, A Study in Charlotte, and And Then There Were None, but if I have to pick a single favorite, I think it would be Threatened by Eliot Schrefer, about an African boy living with chimpanzees in Gabon. I was so engrossed and fascinated by this novel that I immediately got a copy of one of Jane Goodall's books for Nonfiction November!

Progress in 2019 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - The RIP Challenge is always great for my TBR Challenge! I added eight books from my own shelves last month - woohoo!
Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - October was Tricks and Trades month, and the characters in The Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag are witches!
Back to the Classics Challenge - I finally read a classic last month, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. That brings my grand total for the year so far to ... 4!
Monthly Keyword Challenge - After eight months without meeting this challenge even once (clearly, not the best choice for me), I finally had one keyword for September and hit it again in October with The Midwinter Witch.
Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2019 - No nonfiction last month.
Diversity Reading Challenge - Five books last month had diverse characters.
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I read several books set in the UK (nothing new there) but added Gabon, Korea, and Japan (and learned a lot about those places!).
2018 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added two new states, Florida and Oregon.
RIP XIV Challenge - Twelve of my thirteen books last month were for this challenge - so much fun!
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 20 squares in October:

Sorry for the bad photo!

Spaces Filled:
Miracle Creek - not in a series
The Infinite Sea - squad/friends, future setting, immortal creatures
And Then There Were None - read a physical book
Threatened - shelf love
Good Me, Bad Me - free book
A Study in Charlotte - romance, in a series
Pachinko - historic setting, library book, candy
The Midwinter Witch - holiday, vacation, shifter creature
Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl -  Non-human on the cover
Never Have I Ever - audio book
The Child Finder - kidnapped
Devil in a Blue Dress - reluctant hero

What was your favorite book read in October?

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Fiction Review: Pachinko

I can't recall the first time I heard about the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a National Book Award finalist released in 2017, but it's been nothing but accolades from all of my book friends ever since then! The Book Cougars podcast, hosted by two of my Booktopia friends, interviewed Min Jin Lee, and it seems like all of my friends from Booktopia were talking about Pachinko the past two years. I finally had a chance to read this outstanding, epic novel myself when my neighborhood book group chose it last month, and it received one of our highest ratings.

Pachinko begins in Korea in 1910, when Japan annexed Korea. A disabled but hard-working young man named Hoonie has been raised by his parents, his father a fisherman, in a village on a small Korean island. Against all odds, the village matchmaker finds Hoonie a bride, a lovely girl named Yangjin, from a poor family. After three miscarriages, Yangjin gives birth to a baby girl named Sunja. The small family runs a boarding house, and after Hoonie dies of TB, mother and daughter continue to run the business, allowing them to stay in their home and survive during the Depression. As a teenager, Sunja falls in love with a visiting Japanese businessman, who professes his devotion to her. When she gets pregnant, though, he admits that he is already married. Instead of accepting the shame of becoming a mistress, Sunja marries one of their boarders, a kind though sickly minister named Isak who's been convalescing in their home. The two of them--and soon, Sunja's baby son--establish themselves in Japan, living with Isak's brother and sister-in-law. They are happy with Isak's family, as their own family grows, but Koreans have a very hard life in Japan, treated cruelly and with great prejudice and limited in many ways by the biased laws that don't recognize them as Japanese citizens, no matter how long they stay or how many generations of their family live there. Sunja's earlier decision to leave her baby's biological father also has long-lasting repercussions that no one could have predicted.

Despite so much great feedback on this novel, I wasn't looking forward to reading it last month. I was in the midst of my fall reading challenge and thoroughly enjoying my immersion in suspense, thrillers, and such. However, as soon as I started reading Pachinko, I was immediately immersed in its characters and its world. Lee creates full characters with emotional depth that I came to care about. The setting itself was also fascinating to me. I had no idea of the history of this region at that time. I didn't even know that Japan occupied Korea nor the long, rich, and highly unjust history of Korean immigrants in Japan. I was completely ignorant of the biased laws that continue to this day, preventing even Koreans whose families have been in Japan for many generations from becoming citizens or getting a Japanese passport. The focus of this story, though, is on the microcosm of this one family, against that historical backdrop, which extends from 1910 to 1989. And it is an engrossing, vivid story, showing how one decision or set of actions can reverberate through multiple generations. I was captivated by this novel from start to finish and, despite its almost-500 pages, sorry when it ended. These characters have stayed with me since I finished it a month ago. Luckily, this talented author wrote an earlier novel, Free Food for Millionaires, which I plan to read (Book Cougars did another interview with Min Jon Lee recently about this earlier novel), and she is at work on a third novel. I can't wait to read more from Min Jin Lee!

479 pages, Grand Central Publishing


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 sampleof the audio book here and/or download it from Audible.

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

It's Monday 11/18! What Are You Reading?

I am late with my post today and typing this from the waiting room of my mom's physical therapy in Connecticut! I drove up here last night to spend a few days with her to help her out post-surgery (and enjoy some time together, too!). I won't be posting on the blog (or, alas, visiting other blogs) as much as usual in the next two weeks. Once I get back from my mom's, my family will be enjoying a nice vacation to St. John (USVI) - my husband's and my 30th anniversary gift to ourselves and our sons! So, life has been very hectic lately (also trying to get my book ready to publish when I get back and hosted dinner for our local support group this weekend), but there should be some rest & relaxation at the end of it all!

Here's what we've been enjoying reading this past busy week:

To kick off Nonfiction November, I finished a book that had 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 was completely engrossing and fascinating (and chilling) to know what's coming historically, when the main characters did not.

Now, I am reading (almost finished with) Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott for one of my book groups this week. I have enjoyed Lamott's memoirs and novels in the past so was eager to read this one. It's a memoir about mercy: what it means, how she finds it in her life, and its relationship with grace. It's all a bit ephemeral and musing, but I enjoy thoughtful books. I'll see what the rest of my book group thinks! It falls back strongly on Lamott's well-known experiences getting (and staying) sober, her religious beliefs (and those of others), and the need for "radical kindness" in our world. I received this book in a Yankee Book Swap at Booktopia a few years ago from a good friend and was pleased to open it up this week and realize it was signed by the author!

On audio, I am listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama, which is just as wonderful as everyone said it was! I'm still in the early chapters, about her childhood in Chicago's South Side, her family, and her early friendships and education. I listened during my car ride last night, up to where she just graduated from Princeton and moved onto Harvard Law School. She is honest, open, and warm, bringing the reader into her world and sharing not just the facts but also her thoughts looking back. It paints a picture of her as a person but also of the times she has lived through and the culture of the world around her. She is close to my age, so I can relate to some of that. As I heard from many people, the book is especially good on audio, read by the author in her lovely, familiar voice.

My husband, Ken, just finished 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. There were some things he didn't like the novel (including the different storylines), so he didn't fully enjoy it. I think I would probably like it, though, because I enjoy novels like that with disparate threads that gradually weave together. Ah, well, you win some, you lose some!

Ken has now started reading the YA post-apocalyptic thriller, The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey. This is book 2 of the trilogy that begins with The 5th Wave, which my husband, son, and I all loved (we still need to watch he movie adaptation). I read this second book in the series for my RIP XIV Challenge this fall, and I definitely want to read book 3. My son liked book 2 even more than the first book (he liked the emphasis on action and less romance - ha ha). If you enjoyed other YA post-apocalyptic thrillers like the Divergent trilogy, you should definitely give this one a try. We are looking forward to reading book 3, The Last Star. (Oh, that's weird - I just noticed my husband's last two books both start with "The Infinite..."!)

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! Last I heard, he was already well into book 2, Avenger, and enjoying it, too. I'm sure he will be loading up his Kindle this week for next week's vacation!


Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Shaft - a sequel to the 1971 classic starring Samuel L. Jackson - lots of fun!

TV Tuesday: Stumptown - our favorite TV show! Action, suspense, warmth, and humor.

Fiction Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld - suspenseful thriller but with lots of emotional depth

YA Graphic Novel Review: Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch - dark and atmospheric, with gorgeous, enchanting illustrations

Fiction Review: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley - the first in the renowned mystery series starring Easy Rawlins

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 15, 2019

Fiction Review: Devil in the Blue Dress

The last book I read for the fall RIP XIV Challenge last month was Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley, the first book in his popular and award-winning Easy Rawlins mystery series. This was the first Mosley mystery I have read, after loving his novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, and hearing him speak for our All-County Reads program in 2015. Until then, I had no idea he had such range, writing mysteries, science fiction, YA, and even family dramas (with a slight sci fi twist), like Ptolemy Grey (highly recommended!). I enjoyed Devil in a Blue Dress, with its likable main character and twisty, suspenseful mystery.

In 1948 Los Angeles, black WWII veteran Easy Rawlins has just been fired from his job at a defense plant. He's in his friend Joppy's bar, when a white man walks in. It's odd enough to see a white man in Joppy's, but this man is especially pale, with pale eyes, and is wearing a white linen suit and Panama hat, making him stand out even more. He offers Easy a job, saying that Joppy recommended him: to find a white woman named Daphne Monet, whose photo shows her to be a beautiful young woman. Normally, this sort of thing would sound too shady for Easy to get involved in, but he did just lose his job, and he needs to make his mortgage payment in order to hang onto his house, which is very important to him. He reluctantly agrees to look for Miss Monet and begins to make discreet inquiries around town. He's not discreet enough, though, because soon, people around him begin to die violent deaths. Easy follows the clues, not only to find Miss Monet but also to save lives, including his own.

That begins a twisty, dark, suspenseful mystery that leads Easy all over the city, as the bodies pile up. Through it all, Easy survives getting arrested, beaten, crossing paths with organized crime, and yes, finding Daphne, as well as a suitcase full of money. His local friends in Watts, an African-American community in LA, help him, as well as some old friends from Houston, where Easy grew up. This unique, intricate mystery kept me captivated through all of its fast-paced action and tense suspense. It also kept me guessing, not knowing who was behind the crimes and the violence until the very end. I enjoyed this first adventure with Easy Rawlins and look forward to reading more.

263 pages, Washington Square Press


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 sampleof the audio book, from the start of the first chapter, here and/or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Devil in a Blue Dress from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or you can order Devil in a Blue Dress from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

YA Graphic Novel Review: Grimoire Noir

I read the YA graphic novel Grimoire Noir by Vera Greentea and Yana Bogatch for the fall RIP XIV Challenge this year. It was especially dark and atmospheric for that spooky season, with gorgeous, enchanting illustrations that kept me staring at the pages.

Blackwell is an unusual town because all of the females there are witches and have magical powers. The town has a special protective barrier around it so that none of the girls or women can ever leave, in order to keep the town's secret. Fifteen-year-old Bucky Orson is upset because his sweet little sister, Heidi, has disappeared. His mother is even more upset, which is a problem because when she's sad, it rains, and their house--and the whole town--is beginning to flood. Chamomile, who levitates a foot or two off the ground, used to be Bucky's best friend. It's unclear at first what happened between them, but Cham is upset about Heidi, too. Bucky's dad is the town sheriff, but since he is somewhat limited by his vow to protect all those with magical powers, Bucky takes on his own investigation. As he travels through town (now in a boat, due to the flooding) and follows clues, he learns some deep, dark secrets about the town's history and its present residents.

Sample page from Grimoire Noir (click to enlarge - and check out Cham's eyes!)


Grimoire Noir has interesting characters and a unique, gripping plot, but the star here is its illustrations, that invite the reader to linger over its pages and study the drawings. I know very little about art, but I will try to do these incredible drawings justice. They look like mostly pen and ink drawings, done mainly in shades of gray and brown, with some touches of watercolor. They have a depth to them that adds a sense of realism. While the dark color palate fits the tone, the illustrations are highlighted with tiny splashes of brilliant color, often in the character's eyes or lips, that bring them to life. I found myself entranced by the gorgeous drawings and spending extra time just gazing at them, pulled in by those real-looking eyes and the muted landscapes that recreated the rainy days so beautifully. The suspenseful and intriguing story also kept me rapt, and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this spooky book during Halloween week, though I think it will be popular with readers any time of year!

275 pages, First Second


Listen to a sample of the audio book here and/or download it from Audible.

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

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

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?