Monday, January 23, 2017

Movie Monday: Mr. Holmes

Two weeks ago, with our 22-year old son home for a rare evening with us, the three of us chose a movie, Mr. Holmes (tough to find one we all agree on!). It's about an elderly Sherlock Holmes, struggling with dementia and trying to recall his last case.

As the movie opens, Holmes, played by Ian McKellen (aka Gandolf), is returning to a bucolic cottage in the country from a trip to Japan. He is elderly now and is struggling with memory loss; in fact, he traveled to Japan in search of an old folk remedy. He lives at the cottage alone but has the help of a housekeeper, played by Laura Linney, who lives next door. Her young son, Roger (played by Milo Parker), is intrigued by Holmes and has been reading the stories of his mysteries that Watson wrote. Holmes is a bit of a grumpy old man here, and focused solely on his memory problems, but he gradually grows fond of Roger.

Holmes is trying to recall and write down the details of his last case, the case that led him to retire, and the woman who was at the center of it. Bit by bit, often agonizing over his inability to remember, Holmes writes the story of this case, as small momentos or other clues bring back memories of what happened. So, while the movie is taking place in the present, where Holmes is elderly, some scenes go back to the past, recreating that last case and the woman whose memory haunts Holmes.

This film was different than we expected - with its older, gentler, struggling Holmes - but all three of us ended up enjoying both its drama and its mystery. There are hints of the classic Sherlock Holmes, both as he recalls that last case and also as he confronts a small, present-day mystery that affects Roger. Meanwhile, we watch the relationship between Holmes and Roger grow and become significant to both of them.

It was an enjoyable and intriguing movie, a quiet mystery wrapped in a family-type drama about aging, with greater emotional depth than we first expected. The actors were all excellent, and the story kept us guessing.

Mr. Holmes is out on DVD and is currently available for free on Amazon Prime (link below) or on Netflix DVD only.

It's Monday 1/23! What Are You Reading?

Ugh - had a rough weekend. Stressful, too busy, and feeling overwhelmed & exhausted! Trying to make a fresh start this morning, focusing on the positive, and not letting the overflowing to-do list overwhelm me. Thinking about books is a good start to a healthier, positive mindset!

Here's what we read last week:
  • I am in the middle of a new review book (due out in May), 'Round Midnight by Laura McBride, author of the highly acclaimed We Are Called To Rise (which I haven't read yet). This new novel is about four women in Las Vegas whose lives are intertwined. I was enjoying it but had to set it aside temporarily (which I NEVER do!). I will get back to it later today.
  • I set that one aside to read a novel for my neighborhood book group meeting this Wednesday. My library request has STILL not come in, but a neighbor lent me her copy. We are reading The Whip by Karen Kondazian, a novel based on the real-life story of Charley Parkhurst, a woman who moved out West in the 1800's and pretended to be a man in order to work as a stagecoach driver. It's been very interesting, though also heartbreaking to read about the losses she suffered.
  • I am still waiting for an audio copy of Anne Frank Remembered: the Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Glies and Alison Leslie Gold from the library (my own downloaded audio quit partway through!). 
  • In the meantime, I just started a new middle-grade audiobook, The Scourge by Jennifer Nielson. I've only just started it, but it's about a dystopian world where a disease is ravaging its citizens and one young girl learns some secrets while being held in a quarantine colony.
  • My husband, Ken, finished the latest Jack Reacher book by Lee Child, Night School, from his favorite author & series.
  • Now, Ken is reading another Christmas gift from me, The Trespasser by Tana French, the latest in her books about the Dublin Murder Squad. He loves her literary murder mysteries. I have only read the first one so far - I have some catching up to do!
  • Jamie, 22, has been reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is up to book 3, The Dragon Reborn, and enjoying it, though his reading slowed down last week as he got hooked on the TV show Quantico and binge-watched all of it! 
 I TRIED to catch up on blog posts & all my 2016 wrap-ups last week, I really did! I managed a few posts & hope to finish my 2016 summary & sign up for 2017 challenges this week:
TV Tuesday: Good Girls Revolt, a stunningly good show set in 1969.

Summary of Books Read in December - a good reading month!

Summary of 2016 Reading Challenges - win some, lose some, they were all fun!

Saturday Snapshot: Rare sunshine on a winter hike

What are you and your family reading this week?    

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.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Snapshot 1/21: Rare Sunshine!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Ugh - we had another mostly dark, dreary, and wet week here in Delaware. Enough already - I need my sunshine! We did catch a few brief glimpses of sunshine this week, and I tried to take advantage of those and get outside when I could. Last Sunday, my husband and I took a short walk at our local nature center to enjoy a gorgeous day and the winter landscape:

My husband walking down "Walnut Alley"

Bare branches and blue skies

Reflections in the creek

A hiking selfie with cattails behind us

Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Summary of 2016 Reading Challenges

 Well, it's January 19 already. I had hoped to sum up 2016 sooner, but this is still 2 weeks earlier than last year, so I'm counting it as a victory!

As in 2015, I joined 6 Reading Challenges in 2016, plus I added two shorter seasonal challenges in the summer and fall. Here's what I joined, what my personal goals were, and how I did. You can see all the details, and my lists of books on my 2016 Reading Challenges page.

Read Your Own Damn Books hosted by Estella's Revenge
I have an entire bookcase of books waiting to be read! In 2015, I managed to read 24 TBR books off my own shelves, so in 2016, I wanted to beat that and read at least 25 of My Own Damn Books.

(drumroll please)....Oh! I only read 23 TBR books from my own shelves - missed my goal by 2 books. But still, 23 books that I already owned is pretty why is my TBR bookcase still overflowing??

2016 Monthly Motif Reading Challenge hosted by Girlxoxo

I was glad to see a new challenge hosted by one of my favorite blogs in 2016! The idea was to read one book a month from each motif. This was fun! I managed to read within the monthly motifs all but 2 months, which is pretty good. I would have done even better if I'd have remembered to LOOK at the motifs at the beginning of every month :)

JANUARY- Who Dunnit?
     The Art Thief by Noah Charney
FEBRUARY- New Releases
     This Side Of Wild by Gary Paulsen
MARCH- Take a Trip
     Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Canada)
APRIL- Best of the Best
     The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (won many awards!)
MAY- Story of Survival
     Oddly, every one of the 7 books I read in May fits this motif! Here is one example: My Name Is Not Friday by Jon Walter
JUNE- Girlxoxo Recommends
      Yikes, forgot to look at this one until after June was over! But I did read The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater, and Girlxoxo recommended the first in the series, The Raven Boys. That counts, right?
     Oops - I didn't read anything even remotely funny in July! All six of the books I read were on very serious topics. Fail.
AUGUST- Genre Jumble
     Not sure if this counts, but I read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and it was only the 2nd classic I'd read all year (and very few last year).
SEPTEMBER- Steampunk, Science Fiction, and Fantasy
     Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (sci fi)
OCTOBER- Things That Go Bump in The Night
     The Drowning by Rachel Ward
NOVEMBER- Fiction Takes A Break
     When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
DEC- That’s a Wrap
Finish a series you’ve been meaning to finish or read the next book in a series you started but never finished. - Oops - Fail. I did start a new series - does that count? The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

I signed up for the Explorer level (6 - 10) & was hoping to read more than the 8 nonfiction books I read in 2015. And...I read 11 nonfiction books last year! That's quite a lot for me and definitely a win. Here are the nonfiction titles I read:
  1. This Side Of Wild by Gary Paulsen 
  2. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  3. How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide by Toni Bernhard
  4. Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx by Sonia Manzano 
  5. Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley
  6. Blog, Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho 
  7. Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi 
  8. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo 
  9. Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton 
  10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi  
  11. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

This challenge was to read one classic a month, which I definitely did NOT manage! I ended up reading 4 classics (the same number I read in 2015), but joining the challenge definitely motivated me to squeeze in those four, so it was well worth while for me. Here's what I read:
  1. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka 
  2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 
  4. Tales of Mystery by Edgar Allen Poe 

Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge hosted by Mom's Small Victories, another of my favorite blogs. I signed up for this one back in 2014, so this is a continuation - it is an ongoing challenge, rather than an annual one. I read 21 books set in other countries/cultures in 2015, and...30 international books in 2016! I really enjoy traveling through my books and learning about other places. Some of the new places I traveled this year included Burma, Bosnia, East Indies, Ukraine (where my family came from), Poland, Prussia, and more! Visit my 2016 Reading Challenges page for the full list of 30 books/places.

Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I played most months (except for January and December). I think my best Bingo month was 20 squares!

States Where I Am Reading: 
There was no official Where Are You Reading? Challenge last year, but I still wanted to track which states my books take place in (in addition to those with an international setting for Travel the World in Books, above). In 2015, I read books set in 23 different states, and in 2016, I visited 27 U.S. states through my books! That's in addition to 20 different countries in 2016 (see the
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge above).

Big Book Summer Challenge hosted by Book By Book (me!)

This summer, for my own annual Big Book Summer Challenge, I read 5 books with 400+ pages between the end of May and the beginning of September:
  1. The Marvels by Brian Selznick, 665 pages (middle-grade)
  2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, 507 pages
  3. The Many Lives of John Stone by Linda Buckley-Archer, 444 pages (YA)
  4. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater, 438 pages (YA)
  5. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, 460 pages

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (R.I.P) Challenge, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings
And, in the fall, I once again enjoyed the R.I.P. challenge and read 8 creepy, spooky books (same as in 2015):
  1.  The Many Lives of John Stone by Linda Buckley-Archer
  2.  They Are Trying to Break Your Heart by David Savill
  3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  4. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel 
  5. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
  6. The Hunt by Megan Shepherd
  7. Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
  8. The Drowning by Rachel Ward 

R.I.P. Reviews 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Books Read in December

Finally getting to my December summary on January 18th - hey, I've done much worse before!

December, of course, was super-hectic with the holidays, two trips to visit family, and my sons home from college. But I managed to read 5 books, including one Big Book left from my Big Book Summer Challenge, so it was a good reading month for me:

I finished a total of 5 books in December, capping off the year with some good ones! It was mostly an adult fiction month, with one memoir and one teen/YA novel thrown in for good measure. Two were audio books. I enjoyed all of these, though some more than others. My favorite was Orange Is the New Black. My husband and I love the TV show on Netflix, but the original memoir was excellent - moving, well-written, funny, and highlighting some important issues in our criminal justice system, too. I hope Piper will write more. LaRose gets Honorable Mention for best fiction of the month.

Progress on 2016 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I read 2 more TBR books in December for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge. For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, December was finish or continue a series - I didn't do that, but I did start a new series (The Outliers).  I read one memoir for my 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge which brings my nonfiction total for the year up to 11. No classics for the 2016 Classics Challenge. For my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, I added 2 books set in Burma 9that was a unique one) and the UK. I am also tracking the states my books are set in, even though there is no Where Are You Reading challenge this year, and I two more states - Maine and North Dakota. And To Say Nothing of the Dog was the Big Book left over from my Big Book Summer Challenge this summer (493 pages), so i am glad I finally got to that one!

Look for my 2016 Reading Challenges Wrap-up tomorrow!

What was your favorite book read in December?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

TV Tuesday: Good Girls Revolt

As I've mentioned here before, I use my lunchtime to watch shows just for me (in a house with 3 men, I don't get that chance very often!). With my sons home for winter break now, my alone time is limited (my older son and I watch NCIS at lunchtime instead), but I took advantage of a few days on my own last week and my husband's business trip to finish watching the first season of Good Girls Revolt on Amazon Prime, a new-ish show based on real-life events.

This show is SO good!! You must watch it! Hmmm...guess that's not much a a review is it? Let me try again...

Good Girls Revolt is set in NYC in 1969 and is based on a nonfiction book with the same title by Lynn Povich. The real-life story is about a group of women working for Newsweek who sued the magazine because they weren't allowed the writing jobs that men had; they were relegated only to support positions. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still fairly new and had not been applied much yet to women's equal rights.

The TV show is based on the book but fictionalized, about a group of young women working for "News of the Week." As in real life, they are only allowed to be secretaries and researchers. Even when they do much of the writing and/or editing of an article or are the creative force behind a great story, they get no credit or byline - those go solely to the men at the magazine. Though this is the way things have always been, the young, ambitious women there slowly, gradually realize that this situation isn't fair and they want more.

The show focuses on several young women. Genevieve Angelson is in the lead as Patti Robsinson, probably the most ambitious of the young women and the one who first recognizes the disparity. She is the researcher for reporter Doug, played by Hunter Parrish, whom she also has a personal relationship with. Cindy, played by Erin Darke, is a quiet, mousy young woman who works writing captions for photographs (again, secondary to a male photographer). Cindy is married but not happy; her husband expects her to be a typical 60's wife and mother, but Cindy loves her job and doesn't want to leave it. He's given her a 1-year deadline to quit work and "settle down." Jane, played by Anna Camp, is different than the other "working girls" because she comes from a wealthy family. She is also a researcher at the magazine, supporting a male reporter, but her father sees her job as just a fun lark until she gets married to the country-club boy she's been dating. There are many other young women in the newsroom, all played by wonderful actresses, rounding out the group of "girls" in the office. And I loved seeing Grace Gummer as Nora Ephron in a few episodes (she doesn't last long under the restrictions at News of the Week)!

That's the basic plot, with the first season focusing on the women pulling together and trying to get support for their cause, while keeping it a secret from the men in the newsroom. However, the show also delves into their personal lives and pulls in all sorts of different aspects of "the women's movement" that was just starting at that time: roles as wives and mothers, social unrest in the general population, and a growing awareness of sexual freedom, too.

It's fascinating to see what it was like for women in 1969 and the kinds of things we now take for granted. But that's not all. The show does an incredible job of depicting 1969/70 with beautiful costumes, scenes of social unrest in the city, and fascinating settings. It's a gorgeous, enthralling show to watch but focused on some serious and engaging issues, too.

I just finished the first season last week, and I absolutely loved it! The show really grew on me, episode by episode, until I was completely hooked. The acting is superb, the writing outstanding, and the sets and costumes perfect. Plus, of course, there is the outrage at what the women put up with, as you root for them to see what is possible and be successful in their quests for freedom and equality. All in all, it's an excellent show and highly recommended.

This is an Amazon Prime original show, so it is available exclusively on Amazon (link below). I hope there will be a season 2...and I want to read the book, too!


Monday, January 16, 2017

It's Monday 1/16! What Are You Reading?

Wow, mid-January already! Though it feels like the start of the new year to me. I spent the past 2 weeks sick with a cold (which knocked me out due to my immune disorder) and am finally feeling like myself again! I felt normal (my version of normal) for the first time yesterday and was SO productive. Happy New Year!

For us, the holiday season lasts through mid-January. Our youngest son turned 19 on Friday. We went out to a Japanese Hibachi restaurant (family tradition) for dinner and then he and his brother and a few friends headed to the Poconos for a weekend of snowboarding. Seems weird not to at least be accompanying them after so many years of birthday parties, but my husband and I enjoyed the quiet time this weekend. They come back tonight, so I have a pork roast in the crockpot and a cake in the oven! Birthday celebrations in my family tend to last a week or more :)

Anyway, lots of good books being read in our house last week:
  • I just this morning finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a book I've been meaning to read for ages (and that my husband gave me LAST Christmas). It's a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel about the stories of two young people on opposite sides during WWII and how their lives intertwine. It was excellent - just as I'd heard and deserving of all of its awards - but it also felt a little too long to me. I think I have overdosed on long WWII novels lately!
  • Today, I will start a new review book (due out in May), 'Round Midnight by Laura McBride, author of the highly acclaimed We Are Called To Rise (which I haven't read yet). This new novel is about four women in Las Vegas whose lives are intertwined.
  • On audio, I am listening to Anne Frank Remembered: the Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Glies and Alison Leslie Gold. It's a memoir, and the narrator is wonderful, with an accent and warmth that makes you feel as if Miep herself is sitting next to you telling her story. It's fascinating so far. The only problem is that my audio ended abruptly in the middle of a sentence! Something must have gone wrong with my download (I got it free from SYNC two summers ago). I was loving it and am desperate to hear the rest! Now waiting for a copy from my library system to get delivered so I can finish it.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading the latest Jack Reacher book by Lee Child, Night School. He loves this series and is enjoying the faster pace after reading The Last of the Mohicans.
  • Jamie, 22, has been reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is up to book 3, The Dragon Reborn - and flying through it! He may be done by now - I haven't seen him in a few days.
Lots of blog posts last week - these end-of-year summaries take a long time to write up! My 2016 book summary is (finally) coming this week. Here's what I posted last week:
Movie Monday: Favorite Movies Watched in 2016 - all of my 2016 reviews & my faves

TV Tuesday: Favorite TV Shows of 2016 - all of my 2016 reviews & my faves

Fiction Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis - a fun & farcical time-travel story

Fiction Review: LaRose by Louise Erdrich - a moving story about family & community

Saturday Snapshot: Cloudy Skies - from overcast to blue!

What are you and your family reading this week?    

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.

My son's 1st birthday

My son's 19th birthday (he's between his brother & his Grandad)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Snapshot 1/14: Cloudy Skies

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

We have had a LOT of overcast, dark, gray days here the past two weeks, though we finally saw a bit of blue sky & sunshine toward the end of this week (back to overcast now). Here are a few pics of the changing sky over my neighborhood this week:

Another dark, gray, gloomy day - I need sunshine!

The sky is starting to brighten!

gasp - I see tiny glimpses of blue sky!

Getting better...

Ah! Sunshine and blue skies finally on Friday!
And back to overcast & gray today as we await a tiny bit of snow. Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fiction Review: LaRose

For years, I heard wonderful things about novels by author Louise Erdrich, who won the National Book Award for The Round House. I was intrigued by descriptions of her latest novel, LaRose, and finally had a chance to enjoy it on audio at the end of the year. I was absolutely entranced by this moving, original novel about families and community.

The story takes place in a modern Native American community in North Dakota. In the summer of 1999, Landreaux Iron is out hunting for deer when he mistakenly shoots and kills his neighbor (and friend)’s five-year old son, Dusty. His own five-year old son, LaRose, was Dusty’s best friend, and the two boys often played together. Everyone, in both families, is devastated.

Landreaux, who is a recovering alcoholic, is particularly horrified by what he’s done and finally sees a path forward in a sweat lodge vision: to enact an ancient Ojibwe tradition and pay for his mistake in kind. He and his wife, Emmaline, give their son, LaRose, to their neighbors, Peter and Nola, to replace their lost son. Now, both families are full of grief and loss.

Little by little, though, LaRose begins to heal them. His new adoptive mother, Nola, suffers from depression, but caring for LaRose seems to help. His new teen sister, Maggie, is thrilled to have him in the house and enlists him to help her keep Nola from her darkest depths. His birth family still misses him horribly, but over time, healing takes place and LaRose himself comes to see what his role should be for both families.

This is an incredible novel, full of emotional depth and intricate relationships; I can see why Erdrich is such an acclaimed writer. Most remarkably, this isn’t just a story of these two families but of an entire community. Perspective switches not only among the members of the main two families but also among others in the community: the local priest, Landreaux’s childhood friend who blames him for his misfortunes, Emmaline’s mother (who LaRose is named after), and more. Within the families, we hear from not only the four parents but also Maggie and LaRose’s original siblings. There are even chapters going back to 1839, where we meet the original LaRose and learn of the family’s long history.

Erdrich weaves all of these different points of view into one cohesive, moving story that is both about an extraordinary tragedy and its aftermath and also about ordinary life. It is historical fiction, family drama, and coming-of-age stories all rolled into one. I loved every moment listening to this audio book, which is beautifully produced and makes you feel a part of the story. LaRose is incredibly compelling – its characters feel like old friends by the end. Although it starts with a tragedy, it is really about healing and moving forward and life, in all its messy glory.

384 pages, Harper
Harper Audio

You can listen to a free audio sample at the Amazon link below:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fiction Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

I love time travel plots in novels, so my husband gave me a modern classic time travel book for Christmas last year: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (published in 1998). While it has all the elements I love about time travel – considering how small changes might affect the future and thought-provoking, twisty cause-and-effect – it also has broad appeal as a well-written novel set mainly in Victorian England with a great sense of humor.

The main characters all live in the near future, where time travel has been developed, though they travel to all sorts of points in the past. They are part of a team at Oxford that has been investigating and perfecting time travel. To raise funds for their research, they have taken on a donor, Lady Schrapnell, who is quite overbearing. Her personal project is to rebuild and recreate – to the tiniest detail – Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed during Nazi bombing in WWII. All the team’s resources are tied up in traveling back to before the bombing and trying to make sure every detail of the cathedral is accurate. In particular, she has become obsessed with something called the bishop’s bird stump (which I thought was a Briticism I didn’t understand, but it is later explained in the book!).

Ned Henry is one of the time travel team members caught in the middle of this mess. As the novel opens, he is combing through Coventry Cathedral the day after the bombing, in 1940, along with several of his team members, trying to fit in with the contemporaries (or contemps, as they’re called), and searching for the mysterious bishop’s bird stump while pretending to help clear rubble. He starts to get confused and babble a bit, and the next thing he knows, he is back in their laboratory in modern-day Oxford. A nurse tells him he has advanced time lag, a condition resulting from too many time travel trips in a short period of time and characterized by exhaustion and confusion.

Long before Ned has a change to recover, he is hurriedly sent off on another mission, barely understanding what his purpose is. His boss tells him he can quickly take care of a problem in Victorian England and then rest there for a coupe of weeks, safe from Lady Schrapnell’s demands. So, suddenly Ned is at a train station in the Victorian countryside, dressed for boating on the Thames. He soon meets up with a young Oxford student named Terence and is rowing down the Thames with him.

Then things get a little complicated! They rescue a drowning Oxford professor who is fascinated by fish, Terence falls in love with the wrong woman, and Ned follows along, still unsure of exactly what he’s supposed to be doing but feeling quite sure this isn’t it. And that’s just in the first 3 chapters! Before long, Ned meets up with a fellow time traveler and discovers that she brought something back to their own time by mistake (something that isn’t supposed to be possible), and the two of them need to set things right. By now, though, Ned has caused a lot more to go off its intended path through time, so they have their work cut out for them.

I would describe this novel as a time travel farce (perhaps a new genre?), as each thing they try to do to correct the inadvertent change to the past causes many more problems, in a cascade of hilarious causes and effects. Through it all, they have no idea how all these changes might affect the future, so they keep trying to put things right. It’s a comedy of errors!

This is a completely unique mix of history, chaos theory, literary references, and Victorian life, with a hefty dose of humor. Although there are explanations of the complications of time travel, the novel never takes itself too seriously, and Ned and his time-traveling partner encounter priests and mediums, play croquet on the lawn, and learn of the advent of the jumble sale. It is absolute fun from start to finish, both for time travel enthusiasts like me and for those who just enjoy a good story and a sense of humor. Now that I’ve discovered her, I’m looking forward to reading more of Willis’ novels.

493 pages, Bantam Books

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

TV Tuesday: Favorite TV Shows of 2016

Copyright: believeinme33 / 123RF Stock Photo
Yesterday, I summed up my Favorite Movies Watched in 2016, so today it's time for TV to get its due. It was a GREAT year for TV shows! There is just SO much available now, between streaming services (we joined Netflix last year), cable channels, and networks, that it's impossible to keep up with all the amazing shows - but we gave it our best! In fact, our movie viewing fell way off last year because we were watching so much TV.

The full list of TV reviews I wrote this year (35 in all!) is included below, and these have all been added to my TV Reviews tab (along with the ones previously reviewed). They are sorted by genre. Just to be clear, I only write reviews of shows that I enjoy, so everything on this list is worth watching!

And here are a few superlatives to whet your appetite:

Best Comedy
This show is just so incredibly unique (some might say weird). It tickled our funny bones all summer. Besides being funny, it is also a sci fi story about aliens and a political drama set in Washington, DC - yeah, you just have to see it for yourself.

Best Drama
This new fall show really grabbed our attention, and we can't wait to see more! It's about a terrorist attack that destroys the US Capitol and most of the Cabinet and Congress, leaving the Designated Survivor as President, the HUD Secretary played wonderfully by Keifer Sutherland. It's a crime show and political drama all rolled into one, with a great cast and a lot of mysteries to be solved.

Best Dramedy
I had trouble choosing just one from this list of great shows, but Orange Is the New Black still rules for its originality, cast, writing, and mix of both humor and drama. We can't wait for the next season!

Best Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Again, a tough choice with so many great shows to choose from, but The Americans has stood the test of time and continues to be one of our favorite shows, year after year. Its story of a pair of Russian spies masquerading as a normal American family in the 80's is suspenseful and compelling, and we can't wait for the new season to start!

Best Sci Fi
Sci fi is one of our favorite genres, and we love all the shows on this list, but Orphan Black is Just. So. Good. It's one of the few shows our college son comes home to watch with us, and the three of us are completely hooked. It's an original premise with great acting, great writing, loads of suspense, and a wonderful sense of humor. And Tatiana Maslany deserves a whole room full of Emmys for her multiple roles as a dozen different clones.

Best Netflix Original Show
We binge-watched this show with our son this summer and loved every moment of it! An original plot harking back to the 80's in feel, look, and pop culture references, we were completely won over by this one.

Best Amazon Prime Original Show
An impossible choice! My three contenders in this category - Bosch, Transparent, and Catastrophe - are all so very different and all excellent. But season after season, Transparent brings gut-wrenching drama and laugh-out-loud humor. This is one seriously dysfunctional family, but they love each other.

In addition to the reviews listed below, also check out my post, When Good Shows Get Cancelled, a round-up of One-Season Wonders still worth watching!

KEY: Available on:
AP = Amazon Prime
C = Cable and/or Cable On Demand
H = Hulu
I = On network’s own website
N = Netflix

BrainDead (C, I, AP) - CBS
Grace and Frankie (N) - Netflix
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (N) - Netflix

Designated Survivor (C, I, AP) - ABC
Feed the Beast (C, I, AP) - AMC
The Fosters (C, I, AP, N) - Freeform (formerly ABC Family)

Dramedy (both Comedy & Drama)
Catastrophe (AP) - Amazon Prime
Freaks and Geeks (N) - NBC (now exclusively on Netflix & DVD)
The Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce (C, I, AP, N) - Bravo
Love (N) - Netflix
Orange is the New Black (N) - Netflix
This Is Us (C, I, AP) - NBC 
Transparent (AP) – Amazon Prime
Younger (C, I) – TV Land

American Crime (C, I, H, AP) - ABC
The Americans (C, I, AP) - FX
Aquarius (C, I, AP, N) - NBC
Bosch (AP) - Amazon Prime
The Catch (C, I, AP) - ABC
Conviction (C, I, AP) - ABC
Dexter (I, N, AP) - Showtime
Legends (C, I, N) - TNT
The Missing (C, AP) - BBC (UK), Starz (US)
NCIS (C, I, AP, N) - CBS
NCIS: New Orleans (C, I, AP) - CBS
The Night Manager (C, I, AP) - BBC (UK), AMC (US)

Sci Fi
Colony (C, I) - USA
Frequency (C, I, AP) - CW
Humans (C, I, AP) - Channel 4 (UK), AMC (US)
The Last Ship (C, I, H, AP) - TNT
Orphan Black (C, I, AP) - BBC America
Stitchers (C, I, AP) - Freeform (formerly ABC Family)
Stranger Things (N) - Netflix
Timeless (C, I, AP) - NBC
Wayward Pines (C, I, H, AP) - Fox

Monday, January 09, 2017

Movie Monday: Favorite Movies Watched in 2016

Copyright: yuzach / 123RF Stock Photo
Time for a recap of the movies I saw this past year and which were my favorites. You can find a full list of ALL of my movie reviews (these recent ones plus past years) under the Movie Reviews tab.

We watched a total of just 19 movies in 2016, quite a drop from the 54 movies we watched in 2015! My husband and I had a lot more free time together this past year, with our nest emptying in September, but I think our movie-watching went down as our TV watching ramped up even higher! With streaming services, cable channels, and networks, there are just SO MANY great TV shows on now that it's tough to keep up with them all. But, more on TV tomorrow, with my 2016 TV Summary.

So, we watched 19 movies, in a nice mix of different genres (see the full 2016 list below, with links to my reviews - no spoilers!). Now, for some superlatives:

Best Suspense/Thriller
Eye in the Sky
We watched plenty of good suspense/thrillers (my husband and sons' favorite kind of movie), but I think that Eye in the Sky takes the prize because of its sheer emotional power. It's very suspenseful with lots of tense moments, but it also really makes you think, about the real costs of modern warfare. You will never look at drones the same way again. This is a movie I am still thinking about, months after watching it (plus, it's just a really great film).

Best Drama

I loved the novel ROOM by Emma Donoghue, and the movie adaptation was excellent. Suspenseful and heartwarming, both my husband and I enjoyed it (he loved the book, too).  The two main actors - both the mom and the little boy - were wonderful in it.

Best Comedy
This was out last movie of 2016, watched in New Year's Eve, and one of the best. I could have fit it into other categories because this movie has it all - humor, drama, romance, and great music. It's the story of a group of teen boys - very ordinary, uncool boys - who start a band in 1980's Dublin. The movie is a lot of fun and it's uplifting, too - a great way to end the year! (or start a new one). Did I mention the music? I was listening to the Sing Street soundtrack on Spotify today, and it brought a smile to my face.

Best Sci Fi/Fantasy
Do I have to choose a favorite in this category? All three that I marked as our favorites - this one, Ex Machina, and Star Trek Beyond - were excellent. But, this is Star Wars! My husband and I both loved this return to the Star Wars world - and enjoyed seeing it on the big screen in the theater (a rare treat for us).

Best Animated/Family
Granted, it was the only family movie we watched this year, but it was worthy of the win. I had my doubts since Disney's classic animated version is an old favorite of mine, but the high-tech effects were amazing, and the casting was perfect. Bill Murray as Baloo the Bear? Plus, they left in our favorite songs. All in all, a very enjoyable evening that left us singing.

Best Documentary
Once again, the only film in the category that I watched this year! TV also crowded out the movies I usually watch on my own, including documentaries. This one was a lot of fun and completely heartwarming.

Here are all the movies we watched in 2016, listed by genre, with our favorites marked with an *

All Good Things - a creepy, psychological thriller based on true story
American Ultra - action-packed thriller with plenty of humor, about a stoner turned secret agent
Bridge of Spies - a quiet, suspenseful story based on real-life spy swap
* Eye in the Sky - a powerful, thought-provoking story about modern warfare 
* The Girl on the Train - dark, twisty thriller based on the best-selling novel

The Legend of Tarzan - a new twist on the classic jungle adventure
* ROOM - Suspenseful, heartwarming - based on the best-selling novel
* Stuck in Love - warm, funny atypical romcom about a family's loves

The Intern – light, warm, funny movie about 70-year old intern
* Sing Street - a musical/comedy/drama about a group of teen boys who start a band in 1980's Dublin
Thin Ice - a comedy/crime caper starring Greg Kinnear & Alan Arkin
A Walk in the Woods -  light, mildly funny movie based on Bill Bryson's book

Sci Fi/Fantasy
Captain America: Civil War - Avengers movie - action-packed with a complex plot 

* Ex Machina - thoughtful, suspenseful, highly-acclaimed sci fi thriller 

Project Almanac - fun, fast-paced story of teens who time travel
* Star Trek Beyond - action-packed sci fi adventure with a sense of humor 
* Star Wars: The Force Awakens – continuation of the classic epic space saga
The Jungle Book - live-action/CGI version of the classic favorite

Twinsters - charming, warm story of two possibly long-lost sisters who find each other

What were your favorite movies you watched in 2016?