Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Fiction Review: Everybody's Son

Way back in May, I mentioned I was reading Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar, to review for Shelf Awareness. My review was recently published - you can read the full review on Shelf Awareness.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by an author I greatly admire.  I loved her novel, The Space Between Us, back in 2009, as did all of my book group. That novel was about class differences and clashes in India. Her latest novel, Everybody's Son, is about class differences here in the US, as well as racism, family, and adoption.

The novel was compelling and engaging, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes fictional family dramas, especially those that explore issues of race and identity in our modern world. Check out my full review.

Have you read any novels by Thrity Umrigar? Any that you would especially recommend? I missed a bunch of them in between these two, so I would like to go back and read more!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

TV Tuesday: Gypsy

Another TV show my husband and I have been enjoying this summer on Netflix is Gypsy, an original drama about a therapist who gets too involved in her patients' lives. It's intriguing, with a slightly dark and creepy feel to it that leaves you constantly wondering what's going to happen next.

Naomi Watts plays Jean, a wife and mother who works as a therapist and seems to have a good life. She and her husband, Michael, played by Billy Crudup, live in a large and lovely suburban home with their daughter, Dolly, who is struggling with some gender issues (well, she's not struggling - she thinks of herself as a boy and is happy that way, but everyone around her is struggling with it!). Jean commutes into NYC on the train and works as a therapist, in private practice but consulting with a small group of other therapists. Michael also works in the city as a lawyer, and he and Jean seem to have a decent relationship.

What Michael doesn't know is that Jean makes a habit of lying and sneaking around and getting WAY too involved in her patients' lives. In the first episode, we see her meet with her patient, Sam, a youngish man who is having trouble getting over his ex-girlfriend, Sidney. He mentions that Sidney is a barista at a nearby coffee shop, and soon Jean is hanging out at the coffee shop, introducing herself to Sidney as Diane and befriending her, though it seems that Sidney may be interested in "Diane" as more than just as a friend. Remember, this is Jean's patient's ex-girlfriend! Another patient, Claire, played by Brenda Vacarro, is estranged from her grown daughter, and before long, Jean is seeking out the daughter to see their relationship from her perspective. She just can't seem to stop from inserting herself - secretly - into her patients' lives. Interestingly, Jean actually seems like a decent therapist - caring, thoughtful, and often helpful - though you know her creepy habits can't end well.

As Jean follows various people or meets up with Sidney or Claire's daughter or other people related to patients, she has to keep lying to her husband, her friends, and her co-workers to cover her tracks. In Sidney's case, since Jean is kind of attracted to the younger woman and enjoys stepping into her alter ego, Diane, that she created, these lies and secret running around (often in the middle of the night) become more and more convoluted.

Gypsy (Stevie Nicks recorded an acoustic version of the iconic song for the show's theme) has an unusual tone. It's a drama - sometimes about Jean and her family, sometimes about her patients - but it has a dark, slightly creepy undertone. The more that Jean lies and the more deeply she gets involved with her (unwitting) patients' lives, the more tension builds, as it seems inevitable that she will get caught out sooner or later. Sometimes, what she's doing seems downright dangerous, as with Sidney's alluring and manipulative advances, or visiting a patient who lives in a bad part of town with an abusive boyfriend. So, although I wouldn't call it a thriller, there is a growing feeling of suspense and dread. You want to keep watching to find out what happens, even as you feel an urge to cover your eyes or yell at Jean to watch out! Naomi Watts is brilliant as Jean, switching to these different personas she adopts when she's pretending to be someone else and capturing Jean's underlying feelings of discontent beneath her normal-seeming exterior.

We have watched six of Gypsy's ten episodes in its first season. As a Netflix original show, it is available exclusively on Netflix.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Movie Monday: The Circle

We've really been on a movie roll lately, seeing so many movies I can barely keep up with reviews! We kind of go in streaks, depending on how many good TV shows are on at the time - late summer is always a lull. Our college-aged son was home sick last week, so to cheer him up, we rented a movie Saturday night that we've all been wanting to see: The Circle, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. We all enjoyed this creepy movie about social media gone mad, based on a Dave Eggers novel by the same name.

Emma Watson plays Mae, a young twenty-something woman who is very sweet and a bit shy and devoted to her family. Her dad, played by Bill Paxton, has MS; her mom, played by Glenne Headley, takes care of him as his disease progresses; and Mae lives at home so she can help, too. At the start of the movie, Mae is working as an anonymous customer service rep in a dead-end job, until her best friend, Annie, suggests she apply for a job at The Circle, the huge tech/social media company where she works. Mae gets the job, and her life begins to change dramatically.

The sprawling campus of The Circle is similar to what I have heard the main headquarters for Google and Facebook are like, with employees using bikes in between buildings, beautiful landscaping, and all kinds of extras for employees, like parks and amphitheaters and play areas. Although she is still in customer service, Mae's job is much different, too, with constant electronic monitoring and a spiffy grading system that gives her instantaneous feedback on her performance. Her co-workers are also very different - pleasant and welcoming, encouraging Mae to stop going home on the weekends and spend more time at The Circle in her off-hours, too. There are parties and live bands and more right there on campus.

Soon, Mae is swept up in life at The Circle and keeping in touch with her parents only through video chats. Her childhood friend, Mercer, doesn't approve of her new job or lifestyle - he prefers the simple, unconnected life. Mae is impressed when she meets the head of the company, Eamon Bailey, played by Tom Hanks, though she is beginning to get an inkling that all of this connectedness might have a downside. When Bailey asks her to take part in a social media experiment, though, and offers to include her parents and add them to the very generous company health plan, Mae is all in. As you might guess, things don't go quite as planned as the openness and connections the company touts are taken to new heights.

We all enjoyed this taut drama. It's suspenseful - not in a horror-story way but in a I-know-this-won't-turn-out-well way that makes it very compelling. Besides the growing tension, it is also an intelligent and thoughtful look at our own modern society and how our craze for sharing our lives 24/7 could easily get out of hand. Issues of privacy, ethics, and freedom are explored. And of course, the cast is excellent, especially Watson and Hanks. The Circle is a cautionary tale that is highly entertaining.

The Circle is now out on DVD and available to stream on Amazon, starting at $4.99.



    

It's Monday 8/14! What Are You Reading?

Another very busy week here! I am counting the days until school starts again when things will slow down a bit from this summer rush (when your kids are in college the school year is a slower time, as opposed to when the kids were younger). Last week was a big one here because we hosted a potluck dinner for our local chronic illness support group. I know that probably sounds like a pretty boring party, a bunch of sick people, but it's not. It's a wonderful group of very warm and supportive people (with both sick "kids" and sick adults) who have all become good friends - we are about 50% social and about 50% support when we get together. They're my people! So, I was worried about how I'd manage a big gathering, especially on a weekday, but it went well and my husband and sons helped a lot.

This week's big event is my oldest son's 23rd birthday, so another big dinner (and cake) on Wednesday this week. Next week, we get our big 2-day vacation with our sons!

In the midst of this flurry of activity, we always find time for our books:
  • I finished reading my latest review book for Shelf Awareness, The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. I was thrilled to get it for review because I have never read anything by this award-winning author before. It's a multi-generational story set in Brooklyn, involving two families and a local convent. It was excellent - I can see why McDermott is such an acclaimed writer. It ended too soon, and I was sorry to leave the characters.
  • BUT, finishing my review book meant that I could get back to my Big Book Summer Challenge and the amazing Silo trilogy by Hugh Howey! I first re-read the endings of book 1, Wool, and book 2, Shift, and then happily dove into book 3, Dust. This series is just so compelling and immersive!
  • On audio, I am still listening to The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler, an adult novel about two boys who become friends at a Boy Scout Camp in the 1960's and the paths their lives and friendship take over the ensuing decades. I heard good things about this novel when it first came out, so I am glad to have a chance to listen to it now. It's good so far; the beginning chapters are about the boys at camp as young teens, then it jumps 30 years to them as adults, and now one of the men's sons is a main character, in 2019. I'm enjoying it.
  • My husband, Ken, is now reading another of my review books, Leona: The Die Is Cast by Jenny Rogneby. This is a new Scandinavian thriller, which he usually enjoys. I think he read another book during the week, but I'm not sure what it was, and he's not home to ask!
  • Jamie, 22, is back to The Wheel of Time series and is reading book 4, The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan. His birthday is next week, so there may be more books in his future!
Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: War for the Planet of the Apes - an exciting & poignant conclusion

TV Tuesday: The Bold Type - new show about 3 young women in publishing

Memoir Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai- moving, powerful story of a young girl speaking out for education

Teen/YA Review: Exo by Fonda Lee - classic sci fi adventure

Saturday Snapshot: Road Trip 10 Years Ago - great pics from an epic trip cross country!

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

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

Remember if you are participating in my Big Book Summer Challenge to leave links to your reviews on the challenge page (the second links list is for reviews) to share them. We only have a few reviews linked up so far, and I know many of you have been reading your Big Books this summer!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Road Trip 10 Years Ago


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

So, I haven't had any opportunities to take photos, travel, or even get out into nature much in the past few weeks - our life has been packed full of doctor's appts (before school starts), sons coming in and out, hosting a dinner for our local chronic illness support group, and my son and I both going to PT (which takes up a LOT of time!).

I am really missing our traditional family summer road trips, where we would spend three weeks driving all over the country and visiting amazing places! Our sons, now 19 and 23, just don't have the time for that anymore - in fact, our family "vacation" this summer is 2 days next week - a Tues & Wed!!. So, for today's Saturday Snapshot, I decided to reminisce and look back at our annual road trip from 2007, ten years ago. That was a good choice because this was one of our epic road trips that included some incredible places!

Blackrock Summit at Dusk - Shenandoah National Park

My sons and I on top of Blackrock Summit, Shenandoah

My son touching a waterfall in Great Smoky Mtn National Park

The TN/NC state line up high in the Smokies

Best part of camping in the Smokies: tubing down the river!

Stopped at Graceland on our way through Memphis

Canoe Camping on the Buffalo National River in Arkansas

Buffalo National River, AR - Beautiful!

Our own private campsite on a sandbar - Buffalo Natl River, AR

My sons found a turtle while canoeing!

I miss our road trips!!

Hope you are enjoying a great weekend!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Teen/YA Review: Exo

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During a couple of road trips this summer, my husband and I enjoyed listening to a YA novel, Exo by Fonda Lee, on audio. Exo is a classic sci fi adventure, fast-paced and suspenseful.

As the novel opens, it’s been 100 mostly peaceful years since Earth became a colony of an alien race called the zhree, after a period now known as the War Era. Since then, the aliens have ruled the planet, based out of various “Ring Belts,” large urban areas centered around strategic points on Earth. Some humans have accepted their position in this new world, working collaboratively with the aliens. Not everyone is so accepting, though, and rebels who call themselves Sapience still fight against the aliens’ rule.

Donovan Reyes is not one of those rebels. His father holds the lofty position of Prime Liaison within the alien government, and Donovan has been groomed to also hold a respected position one day. At the tender age of five, Donovan’s father had him hardened, imbedded with alien technology that provides armor, called an exocel, built into his human body. Now seventeen, Donovan works in the security force as a soldier/police officer, keeping the peace and looking for Sapience rebels.

Out on patrol one day, Donovan and his partner and friend, Jet, come across some rebel propaganda and get a lead on a home where Sapience are said to gather. Something goes terribly wrong in the ensuing fight, though, and the rebels actually capture and kidnap Donovan. Hours later, when they discover he is the Prime Liaison’s own son, they figure they have a key bargaining chip, but the cold leader says he will not negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son’s life.

That’s the basic set-up in the beginning of the novel, but this story is filled with unexpected twists and turns around every corner, and the conflict between the Sapience and the ruling class of zhree and humans is complicated, both strategically and morally.  In this way, the story reminded us a bit of the TV show Colony (which we love), though the details of the plot and setting are entirely original. The specifics of the alien technology are fascinating, but the ethical questions are very human and relevant to our own world. There is plenty of action and tension in this sci fi thriller that wraps up the main story but leaves plenty of questions still to be answered in a sequel.

384 pages, Scholastic

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

You can listen to a sample of the audio from Audible at the Amazon link below:



Exo
by Timothy Francis LearyHardcover
Powells.com

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Memoir Review: I Am Malala


I have wanted to read the memoir I Am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by MalalaYousafzai (with Christina Lamb) ever since its publication in 2013. It’s the story that was reported around the world, of a young girl’s courage in the face of terrifying events.

The book begins in the middle of the story, at its most horrifying point, when Malala, an intelligent and innocent young girl, was shot in the face by the Taliban. She was a young teenager on October 9, 2012, riding home in the school bus with her friends. A masked man forced the bus to stop, asked which one was Malala, and shot her in the left eye. As she slumped forward with that first shot, he continued to fire, hitting two of Malala’s classmates as well.

After that disturbing opening scene in the Prologue, the memoir then goes back to the beginning, as Malala describes her home in the beautiful Swat Valley of Pakistan, her family, and her happy childhood. Her beloved father started a school before she was born, so she grew up in schools, even before she was old enough to attend herself. She has two younger brothers and loving, thoughtful parents. She explains the central role that Islam played in her early years: the real Islam, not the twisted version we hear about from terrorists on the news.

Malala inherited her father’s love and value for education. She loved to read from an early age and was an excellent student. As the Taliban began to take over her formerly peaceful valley and enforce their own version of law, including bombing schools and barring girls from going to school, Malala just naturally joined her father in his impassioned speeches on the value of education. Eventually (though not nearly soon enough), the Pakistan military began fighting back against the Taliban, and their beloved home became a war zone.

In this BBC story from 2009, Malala is only 11 years old, but she appears with her father, speaking out for education, especially for girls, on the eve before their school is forced to shut down by the Taliban.



Soon after this news piece appeared, the BBC began to feature an anonymous diary, written by Malala, and her career as a public advocate for education was officially launched.

I was fascinated – and horrified – by Malala’s story and this compelling memoir. This little girl is so full of life and a love for education, and so similar to millions of other innocent little girls all over the world, and yet she had to endure so much just to go to school. You can see in that BBC video clip that she is just like your own daughters, nieces, and granddaughters – giggling with her friends, carrying her Harry Potter backpack, and pretending to be Twilight vampires with her friends as she entered her teen years.

Hearing this shocking story told directly from such an innocent and earnest young voice is particularly moving. Her family endured extensive horrors – daily bombings, constant and gruesome violence, even being forced from their homes as refugees – and still had to suffer through Malala’s shooting, extensive surgeries and lengthy hospitalization, and her long road to recovery in England, where they are finally safe. Despite having a co-author, the writing in the memoir is not perfect, but that is hardly the point. I Am Malala is a stunning story, told directly by an intelligent and articulate young girl, of a bravery almost beyond comprehension. Malala’s innocent and poignant words are so important in our world today, shedding much-needed light on a part of the world that most of us don’t understand. I am glad to have finally read this amazing memoir, and I can’t wait to see what Malala does in the future.

313 pages, Little, Brown and Company 

NOTE: The book has two sets of photos in it, of Malala and her family and her school, as well as news photos from the time, that I found endlessly fascinating.

There is also a Young Reader's version of this memoir, which would be wonderful for middle-grade and young teen readers.


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.

A documentary has also been made about Malala's story, available for streaming through Amazon, starting at $2.99:


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

TV Tuesday: The Bold Type

My son was home sick for about a week, so he and I reverted back to old habits - a paleo chocolate smoothie and an NCIS episode for lunch (and sometimes an extra Bob's Burgers episode if we're feeling wild). He went back to his apartment Sunday night, and I went back to my latest lunchtime girl-centric obsession: The Bold Type, a new show about three young career girls working for a fashion magazine, inspired by the life of Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief, Joanna Coles.

The magazine on the show is called Scarlet, but it's clear it is based on Cosmo, with a focus on modern, independent young women, with lots of flash and a reputation for plenty of sex. On the show, the editor-in-chief is the supremely confident, always fashionable Jacqueline Carlyle, played by Melora Hardin who played Jan on The Office. The show focuses mainly on three young women in their early 20's, just starting out in their adult lives and their careers.

Jane, played by Katie Stevens (who was apparently on season 9 of American Idol), is a staff writer at Scarlet. She's only recently been promoted to this position, and she desperately wants to be taken seriously as a writer, but she's worried she will get pigeon-holed into writing only about sex or fashion at Scarlet. No such luck yet for Sutton, played by Meghann Fahy, who is still toiling away as a lowly assistant, fetching nonstop green juices for a grumpy, demanding senior editor. Sutton has always dreamed of working in fashion, but she comes from moderate means and doesn't have the credentials. She's also secretly dating Richard, a young man who works in the corporate offices of the magazine's parent company. Kat, played by Aisha Dee, rounds out the trio. Kat has worked for Scarlet for the past couple of years as their social media coordinator, wrangling Instagram, Twitter, and the other platforms to help keep Scarlet's readers engaged.

These three bright, ambitious young woman are trying their best to move forward in their careers, while dealing with all the usual drama of the early 20's. I've found it refreshing that these characters are all well-rounded, complex, and interesting - no worn-out stereotypes here. They are also - the three main characters as well as their high-powered boss - all intelligent and ambitious without being portrayed as bitches. Hallelujah! In fact, they're all kind as well as smart. It's about time. The young actresses perfectly capture the conflict of trying to appear confident and bold when you are actually very unsure of yourself on the inside.

In addition, the show deals with some important and engaging topics. Yes, there is plenty of frank sex talk - this is, after all, meant to be Cosmo - but the show tackles a lot more than that, too. And even its sex-related topics are things that aren't usually discussed openly, like when Jane is assigned to write the monthly sex column on how to have the best orgasm, and she confides to her friends that she's never had one. Recent episodes have dealt with online bullying and shaming, racial profiling, and sexual identity.

I've watched four episodes so far (#6 airs tonight), and I'm enjoying it very much. It's full of life, joy, and love but also deals with serious issues. I also like the behind-the-scenes view of working for a big magazine (as both a writer myself and a lover of magazines). It's kind of like a modern version of Good Girls Revolt (a fabulous show on Amazon set in 1969), and it's exciting to see smart, young women getting these kinds of roles for younger girls to watch on TV and emulate. I suppose this show is probably aimed at a younger audience, but I am in my 50's and I'm enjoying it!

The Bold Type is currently airing on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), so you can watch it On Demand or you can find all episodes (free) on the Freeform website. It is also available through Amazon, for $1.99 an episode or $16.99 for the season (link below).




Monday, August 07, 2017

Movie Monday: War for the Planet of the Apes

Last week, my husband and I had a real date night treat: dinner out and a movie in the theater! Even better, we went to a theater that's been newly refurbished in our area that our son told us had real recliners. So amazing!! These theaters have been refitted with FULL recliners - the foot rests go all the way up, the backs lean back - ahhhh! Almost like being at home. For someone like me - very short and can't sit for long with my legs down due to medical problems with blood pressure & heart rate - this is a game-changer! I've been frustrated lately because lots of theaters are putting in new seats around here, but they are using huge seats with high seat backs and extra leg room. I'm too small to lean back comfortably in these giant seats, the way my husband does, and the wider space between aisles and high seat backs means I can't usually put my feet up anymore, either. I LOVED the new recliner theater and may not ever go anywhere else!

Oh, and the movie was good, too! I almost forgot, in my ecstasy over the recliners. We saw The War for the Planet of the Apes, the third and final prequel to the original Planet of the Apes movie (1968). My husband and I were big fans of the original movie, and our whole family has enjoyed these prequels. This one was just as good as its predecessors. If you haven't seen those yet, I highly recommend you go back and start at the beginning, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The War for the Planet of the Apes picks up where the last movie left off, with Caesar (the original intelligent chimpanzee who started this whole revolt) and his followers ensconced in the forest, trying to stay protected from the human armies that are trying to find them. Caesar has maintained his focus on peace (though the humans don't seem interested in that goal) and only fighting to defend themselves, never to attack the humans offensively. That all changes when a defector leads the human armies to the apes' secret cave hideouts, and Caesar (and many others) suffers a horrific loss. Once the humans have been fought off, Caesar knows that his first priority must be to get the remaining members of his group to safety and find a new hiding spot, but he is personally bent on revenge now as well.

Caesar sends the community on a journey to a new safe place they've heard about, while he and a few loyal followers head off in another direction, tracking the human army - and especially a ruthless man known as The Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson. Along the way, they pick up a deaf human girl, whom they name Nova, played wonderfully by Amiah Miller, and another ape who can talk, who thinks his name is Bad Ape because he grew up in a zoo and is voiced hilariously by Steve Zahn. The small group makes their way through snowy mountains until they find the abandoned armory (that was later used as a quarantine facility) to face off against The Colonel. The humans have plenty of high-powered weapons at their disposal here, though, so the odds are against the apes...but hey, all of this is leading to The Planet of the Apes, so we know how it ends, right?

Like the previous two prequels, this movie was filled with action and suspense that kept us glued to the screen (that and those wonderful recliners). Also like its predecessors, this film is also filled with warmth, poignancy, and plenty of humor, which is why I enjoy these movies so much. Ironically, there is plenty of human drama among the primates. Since this is the last prequel, it was also fun drawing the lines between this movie and what we know happens in The Planet of the Apes. For instance, when the group names the little girl Nova, I remembered there was a human female in the original movie named Nova. We both enjoyed this latest addition to the saga very much. Now, we are thinking of watching the 2001 remake of The Planet of the Apes, to come full-circle (and since neither of us has seen the remake yet).

The War of the Planet of the Apes is now playing in theaters. You can purchase tickets ahead of time through Fandango - Know Before You Go! Buy Movie Tickets in Advance. (look for a recliner theater near you!). The first two prequels, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (both highly recommended) are available for streaming through Amazon, starting at $2.99 or on DVD through Netflix or Amazon.




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.

First two links below are for streaming, starting at $2.99 each (regardless of what price the link shows) and the last three links are for inexpensive DVDs:

                    

It's Monday 8/7! What Are You Reading?

Whew, rough week. It ended up being another super-busy week, and I continued pushing myself past my limits (I should know better). We had a family dinner planned for Wednesday, with both sons home, but our older son came home that day sick and ended up staying until last night. Seems like "just" a virus, which with our immune disorders can trigger a bad relapse. Poor guy was stuck on our couch for most of the week. So, I cooked a lot, and my husband and I watched lots of TV with him and cheered him up with a Saturday evening movie. He and my husband also had a late-night Game of Thrones marathon, which they both enjoyed! They are both big fans of the books. I spent hours yesterday trying to get a big stack of medical insurance claims out and finally pushed myself over the edge. I was in bad shape Sunday night and am still trying to take it easy today, though I had a doctor's appointment and PT...so much for resting! The good news is that our son went back to his apartment last night - not quite back to his usual baseline but getting there.

Anyway, we all enjoyed our books, as always - and reading provided some much-needed comfort to our son. Here's what we've all been reading this past week:
  • I finished re-reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.This is a two-for-one book for me - it works for my own Big Book Summer Challenge (see below) and also for my 2017 Classics Challenge, which I am failing so far! I loved this novel just as much as I did 30 years ago and was reminded that Jane is my favorite classic heroine!
  • I am now reading a review book for Shelf Awareness, The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott. I was thrilled to get this one for review because I have never read anything by this award-winning author before. It's a multi-generational story set in Brooklyn, involving two families and a local convent.  I'm enjoying it so far (plenty of time for reading in waiting rooms this morning!)
  • I am still listening to The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler, an adult novel about two boys who become friends at a Boy Scout Camp in the 1960's and the paths their lives and friendship take over the ensuing decades. I heard good things about this novel when it first came out, so I am glad to have a chance to listen to it now. It's good so far; the beginning chapters are about the boys at camp as young teens.
  • My husband, Ken, just finished a book I gave him for Father's Day from Northshire Bookstore in Vermont: A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry, a former Booktopia author. He enjoyed the novel very much. I don't think he's had a chance to pick his next book yet.
  • Jamie, 22, loved Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, book 1 of the series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, so much that as soon as he finished it, he immediately went to a local used bookstore and bought book 2, Deadhouse Gates. He finished reading this chunkster while home sick (he thinks my Big Book Summer Challenge is hilarious since he rarely reads a book with less than 400 pages!).
  • Jamie is now back to The Wheel of Time series and is reading book 4, The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan. His birthday is next week, so there may be more books in his future!
 Last week's blog posts:
Movie Monday: Extortion - a fast-paced vacation-gone-wrong thriller

TV Tuesday: Ozark - we are SO hooked on this new Netflix series!

Middle-Grade Review: The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson (?) - a mystery with an autistic boy playing amateur detective

Books Read in June - yup, June! Catching up slowly but surely...good reading month!

Saturday Snapshot: Camping in Adirondacks

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

You can also follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page.
Remember if you are participating in my Big Book Summer Challenge to leave links to your reviews on the challenge page (the second links list is for reviews) to share them. We only have a few reviews linked up so far, and I know many of you have been reading your Big Books this summer!

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Camping in Adirondacks


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

Last week, I posted about our weekend traveling up to northern NY state for my college reunion, with a group of photos from the shores of Lake Ontario, at Selkirk Shores State Park. This week, the second part of that trip: we spent a few days camping at Higley Flow State Park, just on the northern edge of the Adirondacks, and - more importantly for our trip - just 30 minutes from Potsdam, NY, home of Clarkson University and my sorority reunion.

We had some bad weather and on and off rain while at Higley Flow, but I have a few photos, including one from our last visit there a few years ago. It's a beautiful state park:

Our sons kayaking on Higley Flow, 4 years ago

Gorgeous wooded campsites among tall trees

Blue sky! The rain cleared out!

Packed up and ready to go.

Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend!

Friday, August 04, 2017

Books Read in June

Yup, that's right - I am still more than a month behind! Everyone else is posting July summaries this week, and I just finally finished my June reviews. Hey, that's summer - too much other stuff going on!

June was another great reading month - I finished 8 books, which is a lot for me:
  • Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz (Germany), teen/YA audiobook
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, teen/YA novel & a Big Book
  • The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams (Uganda), adult novel reviewed for Shelf Awareness
  • Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart, middle-grade audiobook
  • Shift by Hugh Howey (GA), adult novel & a Big Book
  • The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson (UK), middle-grade audiobook

It was an all-fiction month for me (which is not unusual), with a nice mix of adult, middle-grade, and teen/YA novels. I listened to three audiobooks and read the other five books on paper, including one book of short stories which is rare for me. Wow, it is really hard to choose a favorite from June. All of these books were very good, and I enjoyed them all, but the three adult novels were especially good. As much as I loved Shift and Our Souls at Night, I think The Atlas of Forgotten Places wins - it is a novel by a new author that really blew me away. It was just released on July 11. My review has not yet been published on Shelf Awareness, but I will link to it from my blog when it's available.

Progress on 2017 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! Once again, only 2 of my 8 books were from my own shelves for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge - bringing my 6-month total up to only 12. That's dismal, and my shelves are getting buried! For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, June was Destination Unknown month and The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams involved a significant journey. No more classics for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge, but I am working on one now.  I slotted most of my books into categories for my Well-Rounded Challenge, but the categories are almost filled up now. For my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, I added Germany and Uganda. For my 2017 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added two more states: Colorado and Georgia. Best of all, for my own Big Book Summer Challenge, I read two Big Books (over 400 pages) in June: The Scorpio Races and Shift.

Finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! Here is my Bingo card for June, with 18 squares filled in:


Books on the Bingo Card:
Projekt 1065 - white on the cover, father/fathur-figure, audio book
The Scorpio Races - mythical creatures
The Atlas of Forgotten Places - map, free book
Scar Island - bully, exile
Shift - shelf-love book, one-word title, in a series, special/super powers
The Goldfish Boy - summer vacation, private investigator
Our Souls at Night - library book
The World to Come - accident, sassy/sarcastic
Free Space

What was your favorite book read in June?   

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: The Goldfish Boy


I have been hearing lots of good reviews of The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, a middle-grade novel, since its release in February (I am always a bit behind!). I finally had a chance to listen to the audio book in June, and I really enjoyed this British novel with its unique blend of mystery and real-life insights into a poorly understood condition.

Matthew Corbin has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and hasn’t been to school in weeks. He stays in his house – and lately in his own bedroom – with his fears of germs and his obsessive cleaning holding him captive in an environment he can sort of control. Matthew’s not bored, though. Besides his daily cleaning tasks, Matthew watches all the activity in his neighborhood from his windows and takes meticulous notes.

As the novel opens, Matthew watches and takes notes as his elderly, grumpy neighbor, Mr. Charles, is tending to his garden, Penny and Gordon Sullivan are going out for their weekly grocery shopping, Hannah and Rory Jenkins (Mr. Jenkins teaches PE at Matthew’s school) are preparing for their new baby, and Melody Byrd, a girl he knows from school who lives with her mum, is walking her dachshund, Frankie. Old Nina, the vicar’s widow who lives in the old rectory, rarely comes out, but Matthew can sometimes catch a glimpse of her, too.

Something new is happening in the neighborhood on this day: Mr. Charles’ grandchildren have come to visit, and Matthew observes as his daughter drops them off. He watches the children play in the garden over the next few days. The little girl, Casey, carries an antique-looking doll with her and isn’t very nice to her toddler brother, Teddy. At one point, Casey notices Matthew watching from his window and begins calling him Goldfish Boy because he is always behind the glass.

One day, Teddy goes missing, and Matthew was the last one to see him. He saw him playing with rose petals in the front garden, and five minutes later, he was just gone – vanished without a trace. All the neighbors join in a search, and when that fails, the police are brought in. Matthew’s entire neighborhood is upset and trying to find Teddy, but Matthew is uniquely qualified to solve this mystery because of his keen and constant observations. The urgency of the situation even draws Matthew out a bit.

Melody reaches out to Matthew through e-mail and joins him in his investigation. Much of the novel unfolds as any mystery novel would – with the two amateur detectives following clues, coming up with theories, and trying to solve the crime. However, Matthew’s OCD is present constantly and actually seems to be worsening. As his mother begins taking him to therapy and Matthew continues writing in his notebooks, the reader very gradually begins to understand exactly how Matthew’s problems started and what is the main issue behind his behavior, feelings that he has buried for a long time.

Despite its serious subject matter (both the apparent kidnapping of a toddler and Matthew’s severe OCD), the tone of the novel remains fairly light and amusing. Matthew’s condition is explained and explored in a very matter-of-fact way, and Melody’s acceptance of him and her sharing of her own secrets helps him to open up and develop a friendship with her. The mystery itself is a good one, with plenty of plot twists and red herrings, as Matthew chases one clue after another. I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful and entertaining novel with plenty of suspense that was excellent on audio.

320 pages, Scholastic

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You can listen to a sample of the audio free from Audible.

Goldfish Boy
by Lisa ThompsonHardcover
Powells.com

 Or you can purchase The Goldfish Boy from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT:
  

Or you can purchase The Goldfish Boy from Book Depository.