Thursday, April 18, 2019

Books Read in March

Scrambling to get ready for our third trip in two weeks (Easter with family starting tomorrow), but I'm going to try to squeeze in my March summary, in between packing and laundry and cooking!

March was a good reading month for me, with one longer book so not as much quantity as lately:
  • The Den by Abi Maxwell (NH) - adult fiction for Shelf Awareness review and Booktopia (due out May 14)
  • Tangerine by Christine Mangan (VT, Morocco) - adult fiction on audio
  • My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (NY) - adult fiction

  • The Widows by Jess Montgomery (OH) - adult fiction on audio
  • A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas (UK) - adult fiction for Shelf Awareness review (due out April 30)
  • Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan - illustrated short stories, YA and adult

So, that's 6 books in all in March, which is pretty amazing for me since one of them was 600 pages long! All were adult fiction (though one is also YA), and four of them were historical fiction, so I was living in the past in March! I listened to two of them on audio. My favorite was definitely My Dear Hamilton, which I loved just as much as their first historical novel, America's First Daughter, that I read last fall - and just like that one, I was dreading reading such a long book and then was totally hooked in the first chapter! I also really enjoyed The Widows - my favorite last month on audio. I will link to the upcoming Shelf Awareness reviews as soon as they are published.

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

Mount TBR Reading Challenge - Yikes, only 1 book out of 6 was from my own overflowing TBR shelves!
Monthly Motif Reading Challenge - March was Royalty, Kingdoms, Emnpires & Governments month, so My Dear Hamilton was a perfect fit.
Back to the Classics Challenge - no classics read - again! Slow start. I really tried to fit one in, but book group reads, review books, and Booktopia had to come first.
Monthly Keyword Challenge - I didn't read a single book with any of the monthly keywords in the title...again. Maybe this one wasn't a good choice for me!
Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2019 - no nonfiction books last month.
Diversity Reading Challenge - my great progress came to a screeching halt this month, as I apparently read a LOT of books by and about white people! Just 1 book (My Dear Hamilton) had some diversity in it, as it included the Iroquis's involvement in the American Revolution.
Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge - I added two new countries: Morocco and the UK.
2018 Literary Escapes Challenge - I added 4 new states (I love the beginning of the year!): Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio.
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 19 squares in March (it was a weird Bingo month because almost every book fit almost every category I had!) - 

Spaces Filled In:
The Den - woman on the cover, coming of age, family secrets, daughter
Tangerine - character relocates, not in a series, dual POV,  audio book
My Dear Hamilton - library book, historical
The Widows - free book, luck - good or bad, female authors
A Good Enough Mother - missing person, read a physical book, green on the cover
Tales from the Inner City - shelf love, compilation

Free Space

What was your favorite book read in March?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

TV Tuesday: The Enemy Within

I'm back! My husband and I have been off on two trips this past week - a few days of camping in Virginia (very relaxing) and a long weekend in Oklahoma for a family funeral, culminating in an 18-hour trip home through 4 airports, on 3 flights, finally getting home at 2 am last night! And we leave again in 3 days for Easter with my family. Just trying to catch up and catch our breath in between!

So, I haven't been on the blog for a while and wanted to tell you about a new TV show we are loving, The Enemy Within - we even watched it on my laptop in our hotel room this weekend.

Jennifer Carpenter, of Dexter fame, stars as Erica Shepherd, a woman who is viewed as public enemy #1 and a traitor after she gave the names of fellow CIA operatives to a notorious terrorist who then killed them. Now, that terrorist, Tal, has set off multiple bombs, killing numerous people, including FBI agents. FBI agent Will Keaton, played by Morris Chestnut (who we enjoyed on Goliath and also starred on Rosewood), decides the only way to finally catch Tal is to bring Erica out of prison to help. One of the agents that Erica helped Tal to kill was Will's girlfriend, so he doesn't trust Erica, but he needs her. His colleagues, including Daniel, played by Raza Jaffrey, and Kate, played by Kelli Garner, are against this plan and consider Erica to be a terrorist herself, but Will soon finds out from Erica that there is far more to her story than was reported in the news. She shares her secret with Will but insists he keep it quiet for personal reasons. Besides wanting to catch Tal, who used to be her main target in the CIA and whom she knows better than anyone, she is desperate to see her teen daughter, Hannah, played by Sophia Gennusa, again. Erica and Will begin working together to find Tal, despite the protestations of the rest of the FBI team, while Erica is now imprisoned in a cell at the FBI. Each episode provides another piece to the puzzle of this violent terrorist.

We loved Carpenter as Dexter's sister, Debra, on Dexter and are thrilled to see her back on the screen in such an excellent thriller series. She is just as good here as Erica, as is Morris Chestnut as Will, as the two slowly begin to trust each other. Each episode is suspenseful and action-packed but also thoughtful, slowly digging deeper into Erica and Will's backgrounds as the two start to understand each other better. Erica is a brilliant CIA operative and analyst, and she slowly begins to prove her worth to the resentful FBI team, as they catch various Tal operatives, though the man himself remains tantalizingly out of reach. We've watched six episodes so far and are totally hooked. In fact, this is my favorite of the new batch of early-spring shows, and I can't wait to see each new episode. Both Erica and Will are complex and interesting characters, and I am eager to see what happens next in their joint mission to catch this notorious terrorist.

The Enemy Within is currently airing at 9 pm on Mondays on NBC (ooh, that means there should be a new episode On Demand today!). We are watching it On Demand, and also watched an episode on the NBC website while we were traveling. There are eight episodes currently available of the 13-episode season. It also seems to be available on Hulu or you can stream it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $19.99 for the first season.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Fiction Review: My Dear Hamilton

Last fall, I complained about - and then lauded - a 600-page historical novel, Americas's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, that I read for my neighborhood book group. Short story is that I dreaded reading it and thought I'd hate it but was pulled in by chapter 2, ended up loving it (see review at link), and never wanted it to end! So, this winter, my other book group chose the second book from these two amazing authors, My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, and - well, ditto. I guess I'm a slow learner because I once again wasn't looking forward to reading it and then absolutely loved it. These two women are incredibly talented, writing engrossing, fascinating novels from the perspective of the important women in our Founding Fathers' lives. In this case, the subject of the novel is Eliza Hamilton, wife to Alexander Hamilton.

The novel opens in 1777 in the wilds of Albany, when Eliza was a young woman in her parents' home during the Revolutionary War. Her father was General Schuyler, her mother was descended from Dutch New Netherlanders, and they lived in a lovely home close to where some of the Iroquois tribe lived. Known as Betsy at the time, Eliza grew up with her older sister, Angelica, and her younger sister, Peggy. Eliza loved the outdoors and felt at home both among the dignitaries who came to eat at her father's table and among the Iroquois, who adopted her and allowed her to attend Indian conferences with her father. Eliza was at the center of the founding of our country from the earliest pages of this novel, as a general's daughter, helping out as a nurse during some of the worst periods of the war, knowing Benedict Arnold when he was still an American hero, accompanying Lafayette and James Monroe to a meeting with the Iroquois to ask for their support in the war, and of course, eventually meeting and marrying Hamilton, who helped to establish and define our government in many important ways. Even after Hamilton's early death, Eliza was not only a mother dedicated to her own children but also a woman determined to help other widows and children without families through charity work and eventually establishing her own orphanages. She lived into her 90's and, along with Dolley Madison, was one of the last remaining representatives of the Founding Fathers at the unveiling of the Washington Monument.

As is obvious even from that very brief synopsis, Eliza lived an incredible, impactful life, taking part in the birth of our nation and living long enough to see it grow into a solid democratic government that was held up as a model for other nations. Most of the Founding Fathers and their wives - including George and Martha Washington - were among her closest friends. But her impact was not only in being an observer to history. Eliza played a huge role herself, both as Hamilton's wife and closest colleague in his many writings and in her own right, long after he was gone. What struck me most about this captivating book was how little things have changed in almost 250 years! The details of the controversies and issues that often separated Hamilton from his contemporaries are still being fought in politics today: federal vs. state powers, malicious media that can't always be trusted to report the facts, the electoral vote vs. the popular vote, and even sex scandals.

As with America's First Daughter, I was riveted from the first pages, by both the intricate story of an interesting and influential woman and by the historical details, which are rarely seen from a woman's perspective. For those who are bothered by historical fiction because they can't tell what is real and what is made up, the authors have written an extensive Note from the Authors in the back which details where they got their information, what is historical fact, and what they had to piece together with their imaginations - as they say, the most unbelievable stuff is the true stuff! I learned so much reading this novel - why wasn't history class in school ever this interesting? - that I drove my husband crazy interrupting his reading to say, "Hey, did you know..." But I was also enthralled, from beginning to end, by an incredible, well-told story of a strong and remarkable woman. Dray and Kamoie are talented historians and storytellers, and I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

These are excellent books for book groups to read - there is so much to discuss that I think we could have continued on for hours!

621 pages, William Morrow

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

Listen to a sample of the audio book. I read the book in print, but the audio sounds good.

You can purchase My Dear Hamilton from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
 Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order My Dear Hamilton from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

TV Tuesday: Manifest

Way back in September last year, in my Fall TV Preview, I mentioned that one of the shows I was most looking forward to was a new NBC show called Manifest. My instincts were right, and my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed every episode in the first season of this twisty, suspenseful, mysterious show.

In the first episode, an ordinary American family is returning from a vacation in Jamaica: brother and sister Ben and Michaela Stone, played by Josh Dallas and Melissa Roxburgh, their parents, and Ben's wife, Grace, and their twins, Olive and Cal. They are happy and relaxed, waiting in the lounge area for their flight home to NYC, when the airline announces (as they so often do) that they are overbooked and looking for volunteers to give up their seats and travel on a later flight. So, Mom, Dad, Grace, and Olive head home as planned, while Ben, Cal, and Michaela wait for the later flight. On that second flight, though, they hit some terrible turbulence, worse than anything anyone has ever experienced before. Finally, they get through it and continue to New York, where they land safely, though their plane is immediately surrounded by police and other emergency vehicles. After disembarking, they discover that they have been missing and declared dead for over five years. It's impossible, but there they are, all 191 people on that plane, back from a 3-hour flight. All of their friends and family have aged five years. Olive is now five years older than her twin brother, Cal. Worse, many people at home have moved onto different lives or new relationships.

There are so many intriguing pieces to this complicated puzzle.  The show is a family drama, about people readjusting to each other after a five-year absence and all the complexities that result. It's a mystery: what happened to that plane? How is this even possible? And then it takes even more of a supernatural turn, as both Ben and Michaela begin to hear voices in their heads, often telling them to do something, after returning home. It's an intriguing, convoluted, compelling story with twists and surprises - both personal and universal - in every episode. We absolutely loved it, with some of the bizarre things that happened reminding us somewhat of Lost (though perhaps with a bit more focus and purpose!). The acting is all very good, and we especially enjoyed the main characters. Jack Messina, who plays young Cal, plays a growing role as the season continues, and is excellent. All in all, we enjoyed every episode and can't wait for season two!

All episodes are still available free On Demand, if you have cable. Some of them are also free on the NBC website (looks like #1 and #12-16), while the rest need a login from your cable provider to unlock. The first season is also available on Hulu, and it looks like Amazon is trying to get it for streaming (I would check back again).  Youtube has it available for $1.99 an episode. It is available on DVD, for purchase or to borrow through your library.

Monday, April 01, 2019

It's Monday 4/1! What Are You Reading?

Last week was hectic, as we shuffled our plans around to accommodate a memorial service next week, but I think we have it all figured out now. We have three different trips in the next three weeks, sometimes with only a day in between at home, so I won't be online much! And I never did get around to all the blogs I wanted to visit last week (I just now closed the tab for last week's Monday post and didn't get to everyone who left a comment - sorry!). This week will be a semi-rushed preparation week, getting my freelance work finished early and submitted, packing, doing laundry, making plans, etc....but I do hope to do better with blog visits! I'm missing my favorites and had been doing well at visiting new blogs recently, too!

No matter what is happening, we always make time for reading, and I hope to have extra reading time with a short camping trip and some long flights coming up. Here's what we've all been reading this past week:
  • I finished A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas, my next review book for Shelf Awareness. It's a psychological thriller about a therapist who works with trauma patients. Her own young adult son is missing, and a patient comes to her who reminds her of her son and brings up all sorts of difficult feelings, as typical therapist/patient boundaries are crossed. It was an engrossing novel, with a constant sense of tension and dread that builds toward some surprises. It will be released on April 30, and I will post a link to my review when it is published.
  • Now, though I should be reading and preparing for Booktopia 2019 (just one month away!), I have one more book group obligation first. I am re-reading Mudbound by Hillary Jordan for my neighborhood book group. It's also our All-County Reads pick this spring. I first read it in 2010 and remembered really liking this novel set after World War II in rural Mississippi, but OMG, IT IS AMAZING! Populated by three-dimensional characters that I quickly came to care about, it is the story of a white family and a black family, sharing land (and success or failure) but culturally separated in the still very racially divided Deep South. A must-read, if you somehow missed it - or a re-read if you don't remember the details (like me).
  • I finished a very unique illustrated book, Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan. Tan is known for his amazing illustrations, graphic novels, illustrated short stories, and even a short film. This unusual book is a collection of short fantasy stories about animals in an urban environment, accompanied by beautiful 2-page paintings. You can read my full review at the link.
  • On audio, I finished The Widows by Jess Montgomery, which was recommended by the Book Cougars podcast (they also interviewed the author - episode 68). I highly recommend their podcast - they are friends of mine from Booktopia, and I always look forward to a new episode! Set in 1924, The Widows is inspired by the true story of Ohio's first female sheriff and tells the fictional story of two widows who are brought together by unexpected circumstances and find themselves at odds with the male leadership and corruption in their communities. I really enjoyed it; you can read my review at the link.
  • Now, I am listening to On the Come Up by Angie Thomas - finally! Like everyone else, I was blown away by her first novel, The Hate U Give, which was especially powerful and compelling on audio, and I was excited to listen to her latest. This one is about a 16-year old girl named Bri who wants to be a rap star (and she's quite good at it), but her family is struggling and she's always getting sent to the principal's office in her mostly white school. As expected, it is excellent so far and captivating.
  • My husband, Ken, finished Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson, a very good psychological thriller about a woman who discovers she is living next door to a killer - and he knows that she knows. I read it first, and my review was just published on Shelf Awareness. It's a taut suspense thriller.
  • Now, Ken is reading the third and final book in the Themis Files trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel, Only Human. He and I both LOVE this unique and thrilling sci fi series that begins with Sleeping Giants, when a giant robotic hand is found half-buried in South Dakota. It got even better with book 2, Waking Gods, and he and I have both been excited to read the conclusion.
  • Our son, Jamie, 24, has been reading the series A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail, a favorite of his. He first re-read book 1, Cephrael's Hand, book 2, The Dagger of Adendigaeth, and book 3, Paths of Air. He is now reading book 4 (for the first time), Kingdom Blades, and he's really been enjoying it.
Blog posts from last week:
Movie Monday: Lion - a moving, powerful, uplifting adaptation of a memoir

TV Tuesday: Good Trouble - a new spin-off of The Fosters, about 2 sisters starting their adult lives

Fiction Review: The Widows by Jess Montgomery - compelling historical fiction based partly on the real-life first female sheriff of Ohio

Fiction Review: Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan - a wholly unique collection of fantastical short stories about animals in cities, accompanied by breath-taking paintings

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? 

Forsythia is finally starting to bloom, but it's COLD today! Had to get my parka back out!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Fiction Review: Tales from the Inner City

I struggled with how to categorize Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan, a wholly unique book. Graphic novel? Not really. Teen/YA? Well, yes, but not just for that age group. I finally settled on "illustrated short stories," but that still is just the tip of the iceberg. Tan, well known for his drawings, wordless books, films, and illustrations, has created something that defies description but is beautiful, thoughtful, and now I'll try to describe it!

This large hardcover book contains 25 short stories, each set in a city and focused on a particular type of animal and how it intersects with humans, often in a futuristic or fantastical world. Each of these stories is accompanied with large, 2-page color-saturated paintings, sometimes just one per story and sometimes many of them. Some stories are just a few paragraphs long, some are two pages, and some go one for longer. Every story is magical, bizarre, and strange, immersing the reader in worlds that are often similar to but different than our own. There is a wide range to the subject matter: dogs' relationships to their human companions through the ages (the most realistic one); a sudden appearance of countless butterflies blanketing a city on an ordinary day; a family in a large city that fishes from the top of their building into the air and one night catches a huge, rare fish; a board meeting where all the members suddenly turn into frogs. My favorite story involves bears hiring lawyers. They are all enchanted stories accompanied by similarly dreamlike paintings.

A sample painting from the opening pages of Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan.
The stories are all very thoughtful...and thought-provoking, commenting not only on the relationships between humans and animals but also humans' relationship to the earth and to each other. Sometimes, I was nodding along and could clearly see the author's point, though other stories left me slightly puzzled...but no less captivated. The paintings are all so gorgeous and colorful that they beg to be lingered over and studied. In fact, I realized that as I've been writing this review with the book next to me, I keep rubbing my hand over the cover and the breath-taking illustrations - it's just that kind of book. I see that Amazon has categorized the book under Teen/YA, and I do think it will appeal to many in that age group, but some of the stories have deep meaning and themes that will probably be more apparent (or not!) to adults. I would only recommend the book for younger kids if an adult is pre-reading it and selecting certain stories to read aloud because some of them have an element of violence or gruesomeness. It is really an illustrated book of surreal and provocative fantasy short stories for adults - in other words, in a category all its own. It is endlessly fascinating and well worth a look - or two or a hundred.

224 pages, Arthur A. Levine Books

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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

You can purchase Tales from the Inner City from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Or you can order Tales from the Inner City from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Fiction Review: The Widows

I just (hours ago!) finished listening to The Widows by Jess Montgomery, which was recommended by the Book Cougars podcast (they also interviewed the author in episode 68). I highly recommend their podcast - they are friends of mine from Booktopia, and I always look forward to a new episode! Their recommendation of this novel was spot-on. It's a captivating mix of murder mystery, historical fiction, and family drama set in 1924 Ohio.

Lily Ross is devastated when she hears that her beloved husband, Daniel, their town's sheriff, has been killed while transporting a prisoner. She has two young children to take care of and is pregnant with a third. After Daniel's funeral, with a houseful of people, Lily is surprised when a woman she doesn't know, Marvena Whitcomb, arrives on her front porch and demands to see Daniel, unaware of his recent death. She's the widow of a coal miner from the next town over, where Daniel's half-brother, Luther, runs the mine, and she says that Daniel had promised to look for her missing teen daughter. It's clear to Lily right away that Marvena knew Daniel well...but how well? Shortly after the funeral, Lily is asked to temporarily serve as sheriff until a new election can be held. She agrees, determined to find out exactly how Daniel died and answer the nagging questions she has about aspects of the account. This will also allow her to finish the investigation that Daniel may have started into the whereabouts of Marvena's older daughter. Marvena herself is wrapped up in controversial plans to try to unionize the mine, more committed to the cause than ever since her husband (and Lily's father) died six months ago in a horrible explosion nicknamed The Widowmaker. Though the two widows are first suspicious (and perhaps a bit jealous) of each other, their similarities soon join them in shared purposes. Lily investigates both Daniel's death and Marvena's daughter's disappearance, though she is threatened not to, and Marvena continues to organize, in spite of the growing danger from the mine's owners and others in power who want to keep unions out.

During a time when women were only recently granted the right to vote, Lily and Marvena were both women in positions of power in their small communities, which was not appreciated by the men in charge. This riveting and complex story is based in part on truth: a woman named Maude Collins did become the first female sheriff in Ohio after her husband was murdered in the 1920's and was later elected to a second term. It's not clear how much of this story is based on that real-life one and how much is fiction, but it's an immersive novel that pulled me in and kept me listening. The audio book was especially good, with a narrator with a slight Midwest twang reading chapters that alternate between Lily's and Marvena's perspectives. The combination of mystery, history, and women finding their voice was engrossing. This was Jess Montgomery's debut novel, and I can't wait to see what she writes next!

336 pages, Minotaur Books
Macmillan Audio

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

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

Listen to a sample of the audio book.

You can order The Widows from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

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

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

TV Tuesday: Good Trouble

I've written here before about The Fosters, a family drama that began on ABC Family, which is now Freeform. You can read my review at the link - I still love this show and am currently watching the final season 5 on Netflix. It's my ultimate comfort TV (even better than The Gilmore Girls), about a blended family headed by a lesbian couple with a mix of biological, adopted, and foster kids. It's one of those shows where surprising plot twists happen in every episode, and this one family endures so much hardship, but it is also warm and full of love. So, imagine how thrilled I was to discover a Fosters sequel!! While my husband was out of town, I was searching On Demand for something to watch just for me, and saw a new show called Good Trouble that had just posted its first episode. It was about two sisters, just out of college, who move to L.A. and live together. I started to watch the first episode and was shocked to realize the two sisters were Callie and Mariana from The Fosters!

So, in that first episode, Callie, played by Maia Mitchell, and Mariana, played by Cierra Ramirez, are driving a rental truck to L.A. to begin their adult lives. Callie is fresh out of law school, with a job clerking for a judge, and Mariana has just graduated from MIT and is starting a software engineering job at a tech start-up. Mariana has chosen their first post-college digs: a communal living space in the upper floors of an old theater building. It's got lots of character...and lots of characters! I haven't been able to count, but they have lots of company in this cool old space, and Callie and Mariana share a room. Of course, being a spin-off of The Fosters, they run into all sorts of problems right from the first episode. Callie, who has strong liberal views (hey, she grew up in a multi-racial, lesbian-led household), is working for a conservative judge, and her first case is about a police shooting of a black boy...and one of her new roommates is involved in protesting the shooting and is getting close to the boy's mother. For Mariana, her dream job with her sparkling, impressive degree comes with racism and some serious gender bias. Her co-workers are almost all males who treat her like a second-class citizen (and an idiot). And of course, there are sister squabbles and lots of romantic possibilities and hooking up for the two of them.

Just like The Fosters, this show is packed full of crises and issues in every episode, which keeps it interesting, thoughtful, and compelling. Though the actresses playing Callie and Mariana are at the center of the action, the show features a multi-cultural ensemble cast who add in additional crises and issues, and the acting is engaging. Right from that first episode, I was surprised to see how much semi-explicit (but not graphic) sex is included in the show (this is definitely no longer ABC Family) - Callie dates a bisexual man and Mariana gets involved in a threesome in one episode! Though the Fosters' kids were always getting into trouble (including exploring sexuality as teens), this is definitely more of a grown-up nature, which is appropriate for the show's themes and ages. I am loving Good Trouble for all the same reasons I love The Fosters: great cast, good writing, exploring interesting moral dilemmas in every episode, warmth, and just the right touch of humor and lightness. You can watch this new show without watching The Fosters - they explain what backstory you need to know - but why would you? All five seasons of The Fosters is still available on Netflix, so you can begin making your way through those episodes while you wait for each new weekly episode of Good Trouble. And knowing those details just makes Good Trouble all the richer. For fans of The Fosters, Callie and Mariana's siblings and moms often make guest appearances. I am thoroughly enjoying revisiting characters from one of my favorite teen shows as adults and can't wait to see what happens next!

Season 1 of Good Trouble is currently airing on Freeform, so it is available On Demand or at the Freeform website for free (11 episodes have aired so far). You can catch up on The Fosters on Netflix. Good Trouble is also available for $1.99 an episode on Amazon, as are all the seasons of The Fosters.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Movie Monday: Lion

Last month, while my husband was traveling on business, I had a chance to watch a movie I've wanted to see since its 2016 release, Lion. Nominated for 6 Academy Awards (and winner of many other national and international awards), this adaptation of a memoir is moving, powerful, and uplifting.

As the movie opens, little Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar, is five years old, growing up with his mother, older brother, and baby sister in a small village in India. When his brother, Guddu, heads out one night to make money at the local train yard, Saroo begs him to let him come along. Against his better judgement, Guddu agrees and tells Saroo to wait on a bench near the tracks until he comes back because Saroo is so sleepy. Saroo wakes up disoriented and looking for Guddu, so he boards an empty train, calling his brother's name. He falls asleep on the train and wakes the next day to find the train is moving - and still empty. He is stuck on the moving train for days until it finally arrives in Calcutta. Saroo doesn't understand the Bengali language in Calcutta and no one understands him, so he wanders around the far-away city, searching for his family in vain. Eventually, he is adopted by a kind Australian couple, Sue, played by Nicole Kidman, and John, played by David Wenham. He grows up in Australia and has a happy childhood, alongside another Indian boy they adopt. As an adult, Saroo, played by Dev Patel (of Slumdog Millionaire fame), starts having flashbacks from his earliest years. He remembers his mother and his siblings, and viscerally recalls the anguish of being separated from them and of trying to find Guddu. Saroo begins a virtual journey using Google Earth to find his lost family of origin, a task that is made even harder by the fact that his young child memories are not entirely reliable...but he has distinct memories of his family and the tiny town they lived in, and he searches across India, along the train routes, to try to find the town. Saroo becomes obsessed with this impossible quest until it takes over his life.

This is one of those "truth is stranger than fiction" stories that you might think unbelievable if it was made up. It is true, though, and that makes it all the more remarkable. The acting here is excellent, from the tiny, adorable Sunny Pawar playing young Saroo to Dev Patel's gut-wrenching portrayal of an adult tortured by memories of his lost family. And, of course, Kidman is especially good as his loving mother who wants to support him but fears how his search will end. It's an absolutely compelling narrative (hence, its many nominations and awards for adapted screenplay), and the cinematography is jaw-dropping, especially the scenes in India and the contrast between the poverty there and the wealth he is adopted into in Australia. Lion is a poignant, heart-wrenching, and inspiring  story of one man's undeniable drive to find his lost family. It deserves all of its accolades - and more.

Lion is currently available on Netflix or to stream on Amazon, starting at $2.99, or on DVD (only $3.99 through Amazon or at your local library). I don't usually watch movies twice, but this is one I could definitely watch again and again.


It's Monday 3/25! What Are You Reading?

Last week was one of those weeks that didn't turn out quite as planned. In my writing life, I had an article rejected and found out that a regular writing gig is about to disappear. Big impact for me - I've been writing for them almost monthly for four years. On the personal side, we got the sad news that my husband's first cousin died of a heart attack in Oklahoma. He was recovering from a previous heart attack but had been discharged to rehab and seemed to be doing well, so this was a surprise. Now, we have everything on hold at home - including vacation plans - waiting to hear when the memorial service will be scheduled.

There were good parts of the week, too. We had a wonderful dinner with old friends Saturday night, including some we hadn't seen in about 20 years! We all used to work together, so it was a lot of fun to reconnect and catch up. And yesterday, my younger son and my father-in-law (with a little convincing!) came over for a nice Sunday family dinner. It was good to see them both and get together. Oh, and the big news is that last week we booked a trip to St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) for Thanksgiving week with our two sons, who are both in their early 20's so vacations together are rare now. This fall is our 30th anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate by taking them somewhere special. St. John has long been at the top of my must-visit list since most of the island is a National Park. We got decent airfares, had 100,000 frequent flyer points to help offset the cost, and booked an awesome Airbnb house overlooking the water - can't wait!

And, of course, books are always a good part of every week! Here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I finished My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. You may recall that I dreaded reading the 600-page novel, America's First Daughter, by the same authors last year but ended up loving it, and I had the same experience with this one! I thought I wasn't in the mood for lengthy historical fiction, but once again, these remarkable authors plunged me into the life of a woman connected to a Revolutionary hero, and I was captivated through every page. Eliza Hamilton lived a fascinating life, and I learned so much about U.S. history (driving my husband crazy with interesting facts while he's trying to read). This novel, in particular, is striking for how little things have changed, from the founding of our country to the challenges we are facing today - we are still arguing over the exact same issues, which is mind-blowing. If you haven't yet read either of these novels, you should! They are both perfect picks for my Big Book Summer Challenge, coming up in two months.
  • Now, I am reading A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas, my next review book for Shelf Awareness. It's a psychological thriller about a therapist who works with trauma patients. Her own young adult son disappeared (the details of that have not yet been revealed), and a patient comes to her who reminds her of her son and brings up all sorts of difficult feelings. I'm about halfway and enjoying it so far - I can tell there are some secrets and surprises in store.  
  • I am still slowly making my way through (almost finished!) a very unique illustrated book, Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan. Tan is known for his amazing illustrations, graphic novels, illustrated short stories, and even a short film. This unusual book is a collection of short fantasy stories about animals in an urban environment. Some stories are just a few lines long and others are 5 or more pages, each with at least one huge, colorful, two-page painting. They are all very weird and imaginative, about worlds that are different than ours, with a focus on the connections between animals and humans. It's almost impossible to describe briefly, but I am enjoying it.
  • On audio, I am listening to The Widows by Jess Montgomery, which was recommended by the Book Cougars podcast (they also interviewed the author - episode 68). I highly recommend their podcast - they are friends of mine from Booktopia, and I always look forward to a new episode! Set in 1924, The Widows is inspired by the true story of Ohio's first female sheriff and tells the fictional story of two widows who are brought together by unexpected circumstances and find themselves at odds with the male leadership and corruption in their communities. It's very good so far, and I'm looking for excuses to plug in my earbuds and listen!
  • My husband, Ken, is reading Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson, a very good psychological thriller about a woman who discovers she is living next door to a killer - and he knows that she knows. It's good tense suspense, and he's enjoying it. I reviewed it for Shelf Awareness and will post a link as soon as my review is published. He is very close to the end and told me last night that he thinks he figured out the twist! We'll see...
  •  Our son, Jamie, 24, wants to read book 4, Kingdom Blades, of the series A Pattern of Shadow and Light by Melissa McPhail, a favorite series of his. But, being him, he decided to first re-read the first 3 books in the series. So, he finished book 1, Cephrael's Hand, and is now reading book 2, The Dagger of Adendigaeth. He says he's enjoying it and is glad he decided to re-read because he's remembering details he'd forgotten...and the series is sooo good!
Blog posts from last week:
Movie Monday: The Edge of Seventeen - sweet, funny coming-of-age story with a great cast

TV Tuesday: The Passage - outstanding TV show based on one of our favorite book trilogies!

Fiction Review: Tangerine by Christine Mangan - dark, captivating story set in 1950's Morocco

Weekend Cooking & Saturday Snapshot: Restaurants in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

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? 

Happy Spring! A friend got me out for a hike on the first day of spring last week.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Weekend Cooking: Restaurants in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Today, I am combining Saturday Snapshot, hosted by Melinda at A Web of Stories, with Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Check out both blogs for some other great links this weekend!

My husband and I had a mini weekend getaway two weeks ago to Rehoboth Beach, about two hours away in our tiny state of Delaware (that's about as far as you can go and still be in the state!). We always try to take a little trip around late February or early March, when we are feeling sick of winter and in a bit of a rut. Usually, we try to explore someplace new (fabulous weekend in Annapolis last March), but this year, we decided to visit an old favorite. When our kids were young, we took an off-season trip to Rehoboth almost every year at this time. You can see some of my beach and wildlife photos from the trip on last week's Saturday Snapshot post.

One of Rehoboth's charms is the wide variety of wonderful restaurants it offers! I had read in the newspaper about a lot of new restaurant openings since our last visit, so we tried a few of those, along with some old favorites. These are all worth checking out:

Cooter's Brown's Twisted Southern Kitchen and Bourbon Bar
Just the name caught our attention, as one of our favorite bars when we lived in New Orleans was also called Cooter Brown's (turns out he was a real life guy who lived on the Mason-Dixon line during the Civil War), as did the menu, with a focus on classic southern dishes with a modern twist. It's located on the second floor right on Rehoboth Avenue (the main street), where Hooters used to be - this is a big improvement! They have outdoor patio dining for nicer weather and a cozy fireplace that was perfect for the cold, wet day we were there. My husband ordered the fried chicken, and I ordered a barbeque sampler. Both meals were excellent and came with our choice of sides, which were really outstanding. I had Brussels Sprouts (fried with bacon!) and collard greens, and my meal also came with toasted jalapeno cornbread. Everything was wonderful, and my favorite of the barbeque sampler was the super-tender brisket, but the sides really made the meal. My husband sampled from their extensive whiskey menu. All in all, it was a lovely, cozy meal with delicious food and good service.

Green Man Juice Bar & Bistro
It wouldn't be a trip to Rehoboth for us without a stop at Green Man for breakfast! This Rehoboth standard is located on the first floor of a house on Wilmington Avenue, just one block off Rehoboth Avenue. They're open for breakfast and lunch, every day except Tuesday, and offer a variety of healthy and delicious options, including lots of juice blends and smoothies. The breakfast menu has things like breakfast bowls, grain bowls, waffles, egg sandwich, and daily frittata and quiche selections. This time, my husband got the quiche (broccoli and cheddar), and I ordered the frittata (artichoke hearts and parmesan). Both were served with a side salad and fresh fruit and were delicious.

Note the "Can I eat now?" look!
Go Fish!
For lunch on Saturday, we took some friends who've recently moved to the area to another of our favorite Rehoboth spots, Go Fish!, a British fish and chips place with a large menu. It is owned and run by real Brits and features authentic fish and chips, shepherd's pie, mushy peas, and other British classics, as well as a wide variety of sandwiches, salads, and main dishes. Most of us ordered the fish and chips, which are delicious. The Brit-centric ambience is fun, and they also offer a nice selection of British beers. Once during lunch at Go Fish! we spotted Hoda Kotb among the diners, a Rehoboth local during summer weekends. That was a real thrill, and now we are best friends (in our minds). Note that the owners have opened a second location, Go Brit, on Route 1 near Lewes, but it is more of a take-out place (though you can eat in cafeteria style) - we still prefer the original, a half block from the beach on Rehoboth Avenue.

Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats
Dogfish Head is a well-known and nationally-respected Delaware microbrewery. They recently built a whole new building for their brewpub/restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue (next door to their old place, which is now a restaurant called Chesapeake and Maine, also run by Dogfish Head). We are long-time fans of Dogfish Head beers and food, but this was our first time in their new digs. It's a huge, 2-story warehouse-style building with a stage for live music and a casual menu, mainly focused on burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers (Chesapeake and Maine seems like it has more of a dinner menu). My husband ordered one of their wood-fired pizzas, and I had their shrimp tacos, with a side of roasted veggies. Everything was delicious and very well-prepared. The tacos were so good that I ate all three of them (I usually only eat two) and then felt stuffed when we left! The roasted veggies were probably the best I've ever eaten (and we eat them a lot). It was a great meal, but it is a loud, wide-open place, and I'd like to try Chesapeake and Maine the next time we are in town, for a cozier vibe and more dinner and seafood options.

On Sunday morning, we tried one of Rehoboth's newer restaurants, Egg. It specializes in breakfast and lunch, and its very creative menu reminded me of our favorite breakfast place in New Orleans (Ruby Slipper). So many great choices! My husband ordered a Breakfast Oyster Po' boy (a New Orleans-style riff on Eggs Benedict), and I ordered their Paleo Pleasure. Both meals were flavorful and satisfying, accompanied by their hot, rich coffee. We'll definitely go back to sample some other items on the varied menu.

Paleo Pleasure

Fractured Prune
No trip to the beach would be complete without a stop at Fractured Prune on Route 1, which serves hot, fresh donuts, custom-made to your specifications, with various glazes and toppings. They are the best donuts we have ever eaten! This stop, my husband ordered the Bacon Bomb, with maple glaze and real bacon pieces on top (on the left in the photo), and he is still talking about it two weeks later! I ordered my own specialty: maple glaze with chocolate chips and coconut. Flavor explosion! The donuts themselves are just as good as the varied toppings, with a slight crunch to the outside and hot, tender dough inside. We each ordered one extra to take home with us (20 seconds in the microwave revives that hot, fresh vibe), and they were just as mouth-watering in the evening. I see from their website that they have loads of new locations now (including one in a town we are going to on Monday!), so be sure to check them out if you are in the Mid-Atlantic region. Your life will be forever changed - they're just that good.

The Pickled Pig Pub
It was raining on Sunday, so it was a perfect day for a little outlet shopping along Route 1. Before we headed for home, we wanted a quick lunch, so we tried another new-to-us restaurant, The Pickled Pig Pub. This one was tricky to find, tucked into a small strip shopping plaza on busy Rt. 1 near Lewes, but our GPS said it was "right there," so we persevered until we spotted it! This small gastro pub packs a lot in. The decor is a surprising rustic warehouse look inside, with a long wood bar and plenty of tables. Everything on the menu sounded wonderful, though after a weekend of good food, we both chose to stick to the lighter side. The lunch menu offers a wide variety of soups, salads, apps, sandwiches, and burgers, and everything sounded delicious. I ordered the Asian Bistro Salad with Salmon on top, and every bite was full of flavor. My husband went with a basic corned beef sandwich on rye, which he said was very good - and of course, served with a hefty half dill pickle. The pub has a cozy, fun atmosphere and offers all kinds of deals throughout the week. I think all they are missing is a bigger sign!

Ah, it was a wonderful - and very tasty - weekend at the beach. Just the respite we needed. If you're headed to the Delaware beaches, all of these restaurants are worth a stop. What are your favorites in Rehoboth?

Did I mention the donuts at Fractured Prune??