Sunday, January 21, 2018

Books Read in December

I had planned to catch up on my backlog of reviews in early January, but illness, holidays, and various crises got in the way - still, this is better than the past few months for me with my monthly summary! Baby steps...

Even with the hectic holiday season, December was a great reading month for me, with some nice variety. Here's what I read:


  • The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag - middle-grade graphic novel


I read 7 books total in December - not bad for a busy month! One was nonfiction (finishing off my November Nonfiction streak), and the other 6 were fiction. Three books were for adults, one was teen/YA, and three were for middle-graders (ah, so that's how I fit 7 books into a busy month). I listened to two books on audio, and two of my books were graphic novels. I read a nice variety last month! My favorite book of the month was American Street, a powerful and moving story of immigration and the dark side of the American dream.

Progress on 2017 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I read 3 more books from my own shelves for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge. For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, December was Read a Book from a Favorite Author, so the Jodi Picoult book fits.
I read one last classic for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge! Nothing new to add to the Well-Rounded Challenge because the categories are almost filled now. I added India and Canada for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. For my 2017 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added two last states: Michigan and Connecticut.

Finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month. I filled in 20 squares in December:





Spaces filled in:
Picking Cotton - library book, read a physical book, white cover.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - not a recent release
Pashmina - presents, travel, red cover, deity 
American Street - snow, baking/cooking, friendship tested/strengthened, car/sleigh ride
Small Great Things - beard, shelf love (TBR)
The Lotterys Plus One - audio book, play games, stand-alone
Witch Boy - free book

Free Space

And, yes, I gave LOTS of books for Christmas!

What was your favorite book read in December?  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Graphic Novel Review: The Witch Boy

I received a big batch of graphic novels for review this fall and have been making my way through them - I often have a graphic novel going on the side, in addition to my main book. Last month. I enjoyed the middle-grade graphic novel, The Witch Boy, by Molly Knox Ostertag, a fantasy novel that focuses on issues of importance to real-life kids and teens.

Aster is growing up in a magical family. Males are shapeshifters, and females are witches. As they approach adolescence, all of Aster's boy cousins are beginning to shapeshift and find their spirit animals, while the girls are learning witchcraft from their mothers, aunts, and grandmother. Not only has Aster not yet had an animal dream or even begun to shapeshift, but he's fascinated by the witchcraft the girls are learning...and when he practices it in secret, he seems to have an aptitude for it. Frustrated with the limitations put on him, Aster makes a new friend, a girl named Charlie, who is not magical, and confides in her his secrets. When disaster strikes Aster's family, and the boys are threatened, Aster wants to try his newfound skills to help his family...but he's not supposed to. Should he risk angering everyone in order to try to save the boys? And how can he convince his family to let him follow his own path?

A 2-page spread from The Witch Boy
This is a fun, fast-paced fantasy tale told with appealing, brightly colored illustrations, but it deals with problems that are of concern to regular, nonmagical kids and teens, too. Aster is struggling with figuring out who he is, finding his way through life, nurturing his natural skills against family pressure, and gender identity issues. Setting aside the shapeshifting and witchcraft, pretty much any kid can relate to Aster's challenges. The Witch Boy is an engaging and suspenseful fantasy with real-world relevance that will appeal to middle-grade readers.

213 pages, Graphix (Scholastic)


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

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

You can look at more sample pages of The Witch Boy with the Look Inside feature on this page.

Purchase The Witch Boy from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order The Witch Boy from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Monday: Favorite Movies Watched in 2017

Time for a recap of the movies I saw this past year, highlighting 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 25 movies in 2017, a few more than we saw in 2016, in a nice mix of different genres, though no family movies (kids are grown now) or documentaries last year. Nine of the 25 were book adaptations! You can see the full 2017 list below, with links to my reviews - no spoilers here!

First, some superlatives:


Best Suspense/Thriller
  
Though I'm not as big a fan of action/suspense movies as my sons and husband, we all enjoyed this one, and I especially liked how clever its plot was. Ben Affleck was excellent in this film as an autistic accountant to crime families.



Best Drama

An easy choice, though we watched a lot of good dramas in 2017. This one has everything - warmth, humor, and thought-provoking ideas plus a magnificent cast. Even better, it is totally unique.

Best Comedy
  
We only watched two comedies this year, and both were lots of fun, but this one that I watched on my own stood out, mostly because Marcia Gay Harden was just fabulous in it.


Best Sci Fi/Fantasy
  
We love sci fi movies, but this one really stood out, with excellent acting, a unique plot, amazing visuals, and mind-bending twists that leave you thinking long after it's over. I want to watch it again!


Best Musical

Granted, it was the only musical I saw in 2017, but it would be deserving of the "best" title anyway - lots of fun, warmth, and great music & dancing.


Here are all the movies we watched in 2017, listed by genre, with our favorites marked with an *

Suspense/Thriller
* The Accountant - clever, action-packed thriller
* The Circle - taut suspenseful story of social media gone mad, based on a novel
Extortion - taut thriller of family vacation gone wrong
Spectre - the latest James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig

Drama
* Before I Fall - based on a YA novel, like Groundhog Day for teens
* Captain Fantastic - warm, funny story of quirky family facing challenges 
Carol - beautiful novel adaptation about forbidden love in 1952
* Cloud Atlas - clever, complex, visually stunning film based on the novel
The Dressmaker - quirky drama filled with dark humor, based on a novel
Everything, Everything - teen romance based on popular YA novel
* The Fundamentals of Caring - warm, funny story of friendship and hope
Gold - suspenseful drama about real-life 80's gold prospector
* Hidden Figures - inspirational true story of black women behind the scenes at NASA 
Me Before You - warm, sweet romance based on the novel by Jojo Moyes
Mr. Holmes - moving portrayal of an aging Holmes with dementia recalling his last case

Comedy
Going in Style - fun, heartwarming comedy about old guys robbing a bank - all-star cast
If I Were You - fun, warm farce about infidelity

 Sci Fi/Fantasy
* Arrival - mind-bending, powerful movie about aliens, communication & being human
Mockingjay, Part 2 - action-packed conclusion to The Hunger Games series
* Passengers - long-term space journey goes awry - suspense, humor & romance
* Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - prequel to the original Star Wars movie
* Star Wars: The Last Jedi - excellent addition to the series
War for the Planet of the Apes - action-packed suspense with poignancy & humor
* Wonder Woman - suspenseful & entertaining superhero movie

Musical
* La La Land - a joyful musical romance set in Hollywood

 
Family/Animated
none

Documentary 
 none


What were your favorite movies watched in 2017? 

It's Monday 1/15! What Are You Reading?

Ahhh...back home, in my recliner near the window (though no sunshine today) and resuming "normal" life. I had an insanely busy week and even more hectic weekend. My extended family gathered this weekend for a late Christmas celebration, plus it was my youngest son's 20th birthday (yes, my YOUNGEST son is now 20 - sounds impossible to me). I spent all last week getting ready - wrapping gifts, running errands, packing, and - mostly - finishing a DVD of my son's entire childhood. It was supposed to be finished for his high school graduation, so I am 18 months behind, but that's an improvement - my oldest son got his on his 21st birthday! The DVD contains slideshows of every year, from birth through high school graduation, with thousands of photos and with each slideshow set to a medley of music. It was lots of work, but a labor of love.

He had a nice birthday with his cousins and then went out with his friends when we got home last night. It was good to see my family, but weekends like this are absolutely exhausting for me because of my chronic illness. I am normally lying down by 7pm most evenings and in bed (reading) by 9:30, but one night we didn't even eat dinner until 8:30! So, that makes it tough for me. I was very relieved to get home to my couch last night! And I am happy to be returning to normal life this morning, though I have a LOT of catching up to do. Oh, and I am still coughing and blowing my nose a lot, though I am feeling better. My husband caught that nasty virus after I did and had to stay home this weekend - he wasn't able to go to work all last week, either. It's a bad one! We both seem to be on the mend now.

Even with all that craziness, we always find time to read - our books keep us sane and provide a respite. Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished a new YA novel, The Pirates of Cologne by Dinah R. Mack (the friend of a friend). It's about a group of teen boys in Cologne, Germany, in 1942 who are part of the Edelweiss Pirates, resisting Hitler in their own ways and eventually joining the official Resistance. I know I often say I have had enough of WWII stories, but this was excellent - interesting, engaging, and suspenseful.
  • This weekend, I finally started my book group's selection for this week: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain - my chances of finishing it by Wednesday are slim! I'm about 80 pages in and enjoying it very much so far - more than I expected to. It's a novelization of the real-life story of Beryl Markham, a female pilot. I really enjoyed the first part of the novel, about her childhood in Kenya in the early 1900's with her father.
  • I am still reading a middle-grade graphic novel on the side, Cici's Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training by Joris Chamblain and illustrator Aurelie Neyret. Cici is a budding journalist who investigates mysteries in her neighborhood. It's warm and fun so far.
  • I'm still listening to Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson, an adult novel on audio. It's about a 19-year old girl who is pregnant and joins a strange sort of Utopia experiment, where a group of parents and babies all live together and bring up their children together, with the kids not knowing who their parents are until age 5. Yeah, it sounds a little weird, but it's intriguing so far. I'm enjoying it.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading a birthday gift from our son: Cephrael's Hand by Melissa McPhail, book 1 in A Pattern of Shadow and Light series. This is one of our son's favorite fantasy series, so he wanted to share it with his dad. It's 780 pages long, so it's keeping him busy! It was a good companion for a long sick week.
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, is rereading a favorite fantasy series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. He is currently reading book 3, Memories of Ice, so I assume he also read books 1 and 2 in the past two weeks. He's on winter break and making good use of his free time!
I only had time to write one blog post last week (in addition to my Monday post) - I told you I was busy! I am hoping to catch up this week and finally write my 2017 summaries of books, TV, and movies (no promises). Last week:
Teen/YA Review: America Street by Ibi Zoboi - a captivating story of immigration and the dark side of the American dream - excellent on audio

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

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Teen/YA Review: American Street

American Street by Ibi Zoboi received so many rave reviews last year - and was a finalist for the National Book Award for YA literature - that I couldn't wait to read it, so I was thrilled to get the audiobook for review. I was completely immersed in this captivating novel that combines an immigrant story with the dark underbelly of the American Dream.

Fabiola Toussaint is a 16-year old girl traveling to America with her mother from Haiti to live with her aunt and cousins in Detroit. The dreams of an exciting new life quickly come to a halt, though, when her mother is detained by immigration authorities in New York, and Fabiola must continue onto Detroit by herself. Fabiola was born in America, so she is an American citizen, but her troubles are far from over in her new home. She moves in with her Aunt Jo and her three cousins, twins Princess (Pri) and Primadonna (Donna) and older sister Chantal. She likes her new cousins, makes a friend at her new school, and is even interested in a young man that she meets. But the more Fabiola learns about her new life in America, the more conflicted she is. It seems that the ideal American life she's dreamed of comes at a price, one that Fabiola isn't sure she wants to pay. Even as she struggles with these new issues, she never stops trying to find a way to be reunited with her mother.

America Street is an engrossing story that had me hooked right from the start, and it was especially immersive on audio, with Fabiola's Haitian-accented voice (compliments of narrator Robin Miles) telling her story, sprinkled with words of Creole. The story here is complex and nuanced, focusing not only on Fabiola's immigrant experience but also on the challenges her American family faces in trying to earn a living, pay for education, and make a better life for themselves under the constraints that face many in poor, urban areas. The burdens they face and the decisions they have to make - including Fabiola who is new to all this - are shown in a way that makes it clear there are no easy answers. The novel also includes a thread of magical realism, which I don't always like, but you can take that as you wish - as magic or simply as Fabiola reading symbolism into people and events based on her voodoo upbringing. It didn't detract from the very real issues for me. I absolutely loved this powerful, thought-provoking novel and found myself rooting for Fabiola and her family.

336 pages, Balzer & Bray
HarperAudio

Here is a wonderful interview with the author, where she discusses some of the issues addressed in her novel:




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 audiobook of American Street here (highly recommended!)

You can purchase American Street from your favorite indie bookstore through this link:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order American Street from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, January 08, 2018

It's Monday 1/8! What Are You Reading?

Whew, this week passed in a blur. What I thought was bronchitis turned out to be that plus a really nasty virus, so I was down for 10 days total, though only completely non-functional for three of those days. I left the house this morning for the first time in 10 days - woohoo! I finally turned the corner yesterday and am feeling much better, though a bit stunned by the long list of stuff I intended to do last week that didn't get done! And now my husband has this virus - he's home from work today.

So, it was a bad week for just about everything...except reading! The silver lining of not being able to do anything else is more time for books. Here's what we've been reading this week:
  • I finished Only Child by Rhiannon Navin, a debut novel due out February 6 that I reviewed for Shelf Awareness. It's about a school shooting and its aftermath from the perspective of a six-year old boy named Zach. It is gripping and powerful - seeing these events and people's reactions through the eyes of a child is truly remarkable. Though he is confused and grieving himself, Zach somehow manages to bring his parents out of the depths of despair - this novel was SO good! I'll share my review as soon as it is published.
  • Next, I read a novel that was on many Best of 2017 lists: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Wow, this was another amazing novel! Good start to the new year. This is a hard one to describe: it's a quiet, gentle story that follows both the evolution of a relationship and the evolution of a new world. The new world comes about because of the sudden appearance of mysterious doors that allow people to instantly move from one place to another, forever changing the meaning of immigration. It's a moving and thought-provoking book.
  • I almost forgot - I also finished a nonfiction book I started in the fall: The Adrenal Reset Diet: Strategically Cycle Carbs and Proteins to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones, and Move from Stressed to Thriving by Dr. Alan Christianson. A friend of mine who has the same disease as me (ME/CFS, an immune disorder) said this book helped her. Some interesting science here, but I already eat pretty much this way, so maybe just a few minor tweaks I can try.
  • Now, I am reading a new YA novel, The Pirates of Cologne by Dinah R. Mack (the friend of a friend). It's about a group of teen boys in Cologne, Germany, in 1942 who are part of the Edleweiss Pirates, resisting Hitler in their own ways. I just started it last night, but it's already interesting and engaging.
  • And I am reading a middle-grade graphic novel on the side, Cici's Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training by Joris Chamblain and illustrator Aurelie Neyret. CiCi is a budding journalist who investigates a local mystery. It's warm and fun so far.
  • I started my first audiobook of 2018: Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson, an adult novel. It's about an 19-year old girl who is pregnant and joins a strange sort of Utopia experiment, where a group of parents and babies all live together and bring up their children together, with the kids not knowing who their parents are until age 5. Yeah, it sounds a little weird, but it's intriguing so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading a birthday gift from our son: Cephrael's Hand by Melissa McPhail, book 1 in A Pattern of Shadow and Light series. This is one of our son's favorite fantasy series, so he wanted to share it with his dad. It's 780 pages long, so it's keeping him busy!
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, finished one of the hefty fantasy novels we gave him for Christmas, Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw, book 1 in The Wakening series. He loved it and read its 700+ pages in a week! (again, the plus side of a sick week). He's been at his apartment all week, so I'm not sure what he's reading now - something on his Kindle, I think - but the boxes from Amazon addressed to him are piling up here, so I think he's been spending his holiday gift cards on more books!
Last week's blog posts - catching up!
Movie Monday: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, an excellent addition to the canon!

Fiction Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, an eye-opening courtroom drama

Middle-Grade Review: The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, a fun, warm story with emotional depth

Fiction Review: Artemis by Andy Weir - science, suspense & humor, just like The Martian

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

Friday, January 05, 2018

Fiction Review: Artemis

Perusing my monthly list of possible review titles from Shelf Awareness this summer, I was excited to see that Andy Weir, author of the best-selling The Martian, had a new book coming out in the fall. I was even more excited when I received it (my top choice) in the mail to read and review! His latest, Artemis, has all the elements readers loved in his first novel: science, suspense, and humor.

In this case, instead of Mars, his new novel is set on the moon, in the first-ever lunar colony called Artemis. You can read my full review of this funny fast-paced thriller at this link on Shelf Awareness.

After I read and reviewed Artemis, my husband also read it, and we both very much enjoyed  it. It's a lot of fun, and an easy - and educational! - read. If you ever wanted to know how to pull off a major theft in zero gravity and in a vacuum, now you can learn. As with Mark Watney in The Martian, Artemis features a likeable, wise-cracking main character in Jazz, a young woman who gets into more than she bargained for.

It's just a whole lot of fun and perfect for this time of year (if you think it's cold out HERE, just wait till you see what it's like on the moon!). I hope they make this one into a movie, too.


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 audiobook here (I like the sound of the narrator!)

Order from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order Artemis from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Middle-Grade Review: The Lotterys Plus One

I'm always intrigued when a popular and acclaimed author of adult fiction branches out into middle-grade or YA. In the case of Emma Donoghue (author of Room and other novels), her new middle-grade novel, The Lotterys Plus One, is every bit as good as her adult fiction. It's a fun, warm story with plenty of emotional depth about an unconventional family that I fell in love with.

Nine-year old Sumac is one of seven children, both adopted and biological, who lives in a huge house in Toronto called Camelottery, with two sets of gay parents and an unusual collection of pets. They are the very definition of a nontraditional family and practice not so much homeschooling as constant learning, with each child following his or her own interests. Her unusual family even has their own vocabulary. Each child has a designated day with a single parent called a One-to-One Lottafun, where the child chooses the activity. The two dads are known as PopCorn and PapaDum, and the two moms are CardaMom and MaxiMum. The children are all named for trees. They changed their last name when they won the lottery and bought this giant house. Into this noisy, chaotic, happy, multicultural family comes a decidely traditional new member. PopCorn's father, who has been estranged from his son for many years and whom the children have never met, develops dementia and comes to live with the Lotterys. The kids nickname him Grumps because he is not happy to be there, misses his own home, and thinks the entire family and their way of life are weird. Sumac decides he can't stay there, and sets about finding somewhere where he can be happy.

At first, with its silly names and strange ways, I thought The Lotterys Plus One was going to be a light, farcical story, but I was pleasantly surprised by its depth and heart. The novel actually delves into some complicated and serious issues about family, elder care, and aging. If you think it sounds confusing, with eleven (plus one) family members, the author does a great job of starting with four kids at first, and introducing the older three when they return from summer camp, making it much easier to get to know all of the characters as individuals. The audio book I listened to was excellent, and I had no problem keeping track of the diverse characters. The challenges the Lotterys face are very real, and I could relate since we moved my husband's dad (also a bit of a lovable grump) out here a few years ago. Donoghue successfully shows us this problem from a child's point of view and also shows that there are no easy answers (though things do turn out OK in the end). I absolutely loved spending time with the Lotterys and never wanted the book to end. I hope she will continue to write for middle-grade readers.

320 pages, Arthur A. Levine Books
Scholastic 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 an audio sample at this link.

Order from your favorite indie bookstore:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order The Lotterys Plus One from Book Depsository, with free shipping worldwide.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Fiction Review: Small Great Things

My son gave me Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult's latest novel, for my birthday this summer, and I just finished reading it. Like all of Picoult's novels, it delves deep into an important but difficult topic - in this case, racism - with realistic characters and a gripping plot. It's a courtroom drama with an eye-opening message.

Ruth Jefferson, an African-American woman, got her nursing degree at Yale and has worked for 20 years as a Labor and Delivery nurse at Mercy-West Haven Hospital. Her husband died during his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, so Ruth has mostly raised their son, Edison, on her own. Edison is an honor student who is starting to look at colleges. Ruth loves her job, and is very good at it, a compassionate and caring nurse with both mothers and newborns. Then, she encounters a kind of blatant racism she's never experienced before, when Turk and Brittany, a couple who are white supremacists, ask that Ruth be removed from their service. She's been explicitly told not to touch their baby, so when she is alone in the nursery when he goes into cardiac arrest, she must make a quick decision: does she obey her training to perform CPR and go against her supervisor's direct orders? Ultimately, this split-second decision results in a court trial and media circus. Kennedy, a white woman who works as a public defender, takes on Ruth's case, and the two women must slowly learn to trust each other.

As always, Picoult has a talent here for delving into the gray areas of an issue that seems (literally, here) black and white. We all know that overt racism of the kind practiced by Turk and Brit is a horrible thing, but what about the subtle kinds of racism - often coming from those who believe they are not racist - that Black people encounter every single day in thousands of different ways? As she did in Nineteen Minutes (about a school shooting), Picoult takes us behind the scenes on all sides of the issue, so there are chapters written from the perspectives of Ruth, Kennedy, and even Turk. Turk's chapters are absolutely chilling to read because he believes in and does such terrible things, but I suppose that's the point, isn't it? Ruth's perspective is complicated, with feelings mixed in from her own upbringing, where her mother worked as a domestic for a wealthy white family and Ruth was friends with their daughter and attended a private school where she was one of the only Black students. Kennedy's insights are equally stunning, as she slowly becomes aware of the subtle ways that she has benefited from white privilege without even seeing it. Small Great Things is a complex and suspenseful courtroom drama that keeps you guessing until the very end...and thinking for long after you finish the book.

464 pages, Ballantine Books

P.S. I was surprised this morning to turn on the TV and see a reformed white supremacist on the Megyn Kelly portion of the Today show, talking about how the movement went underground in order to become more powerful, with former skinheads trying to fit in and look more normal while still pushing their heinous agenda, and sharing the details of his former life. It was like seeing the fictional Turk suddenly turn up on a real-life talk show! That just proves what a thorough job Picoult does with her research. Click the link for a disturbing and educational interview.


Disclosure: I received this book as a gift. My review is my own opinion.

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.

Order from your favorite indie bookstore:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Or order Small Great Things from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Movie Monday: Star Wars - The Last Jedi

We saw quite a few movies during the holidays because our son was home sick this past week. But before that, we kicked off our holiday season and celebrated our sons finishing final exams and their semester with a visit to our recliner theater to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. To prepare, my husband, older son, and I rented Star Wars: The Force Awakens (my review at the link - no spoilers) on Amazon the night before, since our son had missed it two years ago - that refresher was perfect, and I think I enjoyed the new movie more with its prequel fresh in my mind.

So, The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens ended (don't worry - no spoilers here). On the Dark side, the Empire - now regaining its strength as the First Order - is under the direction of Kylo Ren, played with great complexity by Adam Driver. And on the side of the Light, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is now a part of the Resistance, under General Leia, the last role for Carrie Fisher. Finn, played by John Boyega, and Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, are both working for the Resistance as well. Rey is on a mission to find Luke Skywalker, who has isolated himself in a remote corner of the universe. She wants him to train her as a Jedi. As with all the Star Wars movies, this one is about good versus evil on a grand scale, but on a more personal level, this film zeroes in on the youngest, most powerful members of each side: Rey and Kylo Ren. The two of them, though on opposite sides, seem to have a potent connection to each other which is at the center of this story.

All four of us thoroughly enjoyed this latest Star Wars installment, and I was especially glad we re-watched the previous movie the night before. The Last Jedi has everything you expect from a Star Wars movie - big battles and light sabres, yes, but also humor, romance, and intimate moments. The acting here is excellent, both in the Star Wars old-timers and the newer additions. This movie adds Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran, as a fearless mechanic who plays a key role. The droids are always an amusing element to these movies, and here we get our new fave, BB8, plus our old friends, C-3PO and R2-D2. Chewbacca is back, along with several other strange creatures, including fox-like animals made of crystal and the adorable Porgs that populate Luke's island. Action, adventure, an intricate plot, drama, romance, and humor - what more could you want from a movie?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was just released in theaters on December 15 - this is definitely one to see on the big screen, if you can manage it! It is scheduled for release on streaming in March 2018 and on DVD in April.



Pre-Order the DVD:      Buy or Rent the Prequel:




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

Happy New Year!!

Can you believe it's now officially 2018? Sounds like something from a sci fi book, doesn't it? In fact, my husband, son, and I just watched the original Blade Runner (1982) this week, and it was set in the futuristic world of 2019! No life-like androids yet hiding among humans, but interestingly, the book and movie did not predict smart phones - Harrison Ford still had to find a pay phone (albeit a video pay phone).

We had a quiet holiday week because our older son was home sick - just a bad cold, but with our immune problems, it hits us hard. He got up off the couch yesterday and went back to work, so hopefully, he is on his way back. Unfortunately, I now have bronchitis. I don't feel too bad yet overall, but I was coughing all night long and chased my husband out to the guest room. Luckily, I had an extra Zithromax pack leftover (my son and I get bacterial bronchitis a LOT), so hopefully I will be feeling better by tomorrow.

Anyway, a lot of catching up to do after the craziness of the holidays, so here's what we've been reading the past two weeks. You can also see what books we gave and got for Christmas here.
  • I finished Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors. My son gave me this novel for my birthday this summer. Her books always focus in on a big issue, and this one is all about race. Some chapters are from the perspective of a white supremacist, and those are REALLY difficult to read - just horrifying. But I guess that's the point. There are kind and relatable characters, too. The novel is a courtroom drama that deals with both overt and subtle racism and was fascinating, gripping, and very moving.
  • My next book - and my first book of 2018 - is Only Child by Rhiannon Navin, a debut novel I am reviewing for Shelf Awareness. It's about a school shooting and its aftermath from the perspective of a six-year old boy who is unhurt but loses his older brother. It is gripping and powerful - seeing these events and people's reactions through the eyes of a child is truly remarkable.
  • I finished an audiobook, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, a YA novel that was a finalist for the National Book Award...and with good reason. I was immediately pulled into this story of a teen girl who immigrates to the U.S. from Haiti, while her mother is detained by authorities. Her story of trying to adjust to life with her American cousins in cold Detroit, while also trying to get her mother released, is powerful and moving.
  • After one audio and one book dealing with racism and other heavy topics, I needed something lighter, so I ended my reading year with one last audio book: The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, a middle-grade book by an acclaimed adult fiction writer (author of Room and other novels). I loved this fun, heartfelt story about a family with 7 kids and 2 sets of gay parents who must suddenly come to terms with a before-unknown grandfather with dementia who moves in with them, whom they nickname Grumps. This s the most unusual family you will ever meet but also the most endearing. I never wanted it to end.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading a birthday gift from our son: Cephrael's Hand by Melissa McPhail, book 1 in A Pattern of Shadow and Light series. This is one of our son's favorite fantasy series, so he wanted to share it with his dad. It's 780 pages long, so it's keeping him busy!
  • Our son, Jamie, 23, finished  re-reading a favorite trilogy, The Night Angel series by Brent Weeks, with book 3, Beyond the Shadows.  
  • Between school being out and being sick on the couch for a week, Jamie had plenty of reading time, so he dove into one of the hefty fantasy novels we gave him for Christmas, Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw, book 1 in The Wakening series. He is LOVING it so far and is almost finished with this 700+ page book that he got one week ago!
Blog posts from the past two weeks:
Memoir Review: Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan, musings on writing, family & life

Saturday Snapshot: Happy Holidays! - Christmas prep pics

Books for Christmas - what we gave and what we got!

Graphic Memoir Review - Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Books Read in November - (catching up!) - a mostly nonfiction month

Fiction Review: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers - 1940 classic in a small southern town

Graphic Novel Review: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani for middle-grade and teens

Saturday Snapshot: Christmas & After - photos of our celebrations last 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.


What are you and your family reading this week?  

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

Here's to a happy and healthy and book-filled New Year!
 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Christmas & After


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

Hope everyone is enjoying a relaxing holiday season with friends and family! Last week, I posted some of our holiday prep photos - today, the main event itself. Here are a few pics of how we celebrated Christmas and beyond this week:


Our son (in the kimono!) had to work Xmas Eve, so we ate at the restaurant where he works.

Christmas morning - never too old for stockings!

Christmas morning - the "before" picture!

Family visited for Christmas dinner

The results of our annual Cookie/Grinch Party with old friends!
The "kids" with the cookies - all grown up now!

....the same kids (plus a few extra) back in 2000 at the cookie party!
Snow this morning - very pretty, but it's been in the teens and 20's (F) all week!


Happy New Year!