Monday, April 24, 2017

Movie Monday: Passengers

There were some really great-sounding movies released this winter that my husband and I just didn't have time to go see in the theater, and now they are all being released on DVD and streaming. Hurray! After a fun dinner out with friends Friday, we stopped at Redbox and capped off our evening watching Passengers, an intriguing sci fi movie that is kind of like Castaway in space.

5000 passengers and several hundred crew are traveling aboard the luxury star ship Avalon, on their way to a distant planet that houses an Earth colony. Both the ship and the colony are owned by the Homestead Corporation, and these lucky passengers will be starting whole new lives once they arrive. The hitch? The trip takes about 120 years to complete, so they are all - passengers and crew - traveling via autopilot in a state of hibernation.

Something on the ship malfunctions, though, in the first few minutes of the movie, and one of the hibernation pods stops working and wakes its sleeping inhabitant, Jim Preston, played by Chris Pratt. Jim soon realizes he is all alone on the giant ship, the only one awake, and that he has awakened 90 years too early - that means that he will die alone on the ship before he even arrives at the new colony. Things go downhill pretty quickly for Jim, with no company except a robot bartender named Arthur, played by Michael Sheen.

Fortunately for Jim, a second passenger wakes up later, and his sanity is saved. Aurora Lane, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a beautiful writer from New York who wants to write about the journey and the new colony. Like Jim was, she is upset to find out she woke up when she wasn't supposed to, but at least they have each other. Things are looking up for a while until other aspects of the ship begin to malfunction until reaching a suspenseful crisis point.

We both enjoyed this unique movie that takes place entirely on a ship and has just three actors on-screen (often, just one) for most of the film. Although much of the movie is a love story (this is not a spoiler - it's quite evident from the trailer), there is also plenty of action and suspense, first as they each try to figure out how to fix what went wrong and later as more things begin to go wrong and certain crises come up. The set is gorgeous, on this space-age cruise, and Pratt and Lawrence are both excellent in their roles. For that matter, Arthur is quite charming and amusing himself. The "science" is sometimes a bit iffy, as it usually is in movies like this - I couldn't help wondering why scientists hadn't appreciably increased human lifespan now that they knew how to do things like colonize a distant planet and induce hibernation in humans for decades. But, we were both willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride. My husband and I both enjoyed the movie, with romance, a sense of humor, and plenty of suspense. It was a fun journey on a Friday evening!

Passengers is currently out on DVD, available at Redbox or wherever you get DVDs. You can also rent it from Amazon, starting at at $4.99, or buy it digitally or on DVD there (links below). It is not currently available on Netflix.



    

It's Monday 4/24! What Are You Reading?

I always like the fresh start feeling of a Monday morning, but that is especially true today. Last week turned out to be a lost week, spent mostly lying on the couch. My chronic immune disorder was badly flared up (what we call a "crash"), probably from being exposed to all kinds of germs from my niece, nephew, and younger cousins Easter weekend! I started to perk up a little bit by Friday and was able to leave the house and even enjoy dinner out with friends, but I was still pretty worn out this weekend. Today, I am feeling back to normal...or at least my own version of normal. So, I am looking forward to a new week and a fresh start (and plenty of catching up from last week!). I kicked off my week by finally making the phone call to our health insurance company I'd been avoiding for the past few weeks. Not a good result (no mistake - we really do owe that much), but I finally made the call and knocked it off my list - a good start to a new week!

The silver lining of a sick week is that I had extra reading time! Here's what we were all reading last week:
  • I finished reading Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato, one of the authors I'll be meeting at Boooktopia. It's the story of a young albino boy named Edgar who's had a rough life so far. His father died when he was just a baby, which devastated his mother, Lucy. They live with his beloved grandmother, but things continue to get more and more difficult for Edgar, until a serious crisis hits. I'm trying not to give away any spoilers, but it was a unique, compelling, emotional novel and even included some suspense. Highly recommended.
  • I started to read another Booktopia book, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, a novel about an elderly woman walking around Manhattan on New Year's Eve 1984, thinking back over her life and her career as one of the first women advertising executives. I was enjoying it very much, but I decided to set it aside when the audio version I had requested finally came in. I am trying to fit in as many Booktopia books as I can before the event in two weeks, so I will finish this one on audio, after I finish my current audiobook.
  • With that one set aside temporarily, I moved onto another Booktopia selection, The Leavers by Lisa Ko, on my Kindle. This is the story of a boy who's torn between two families and two cultures. After spending his first 5 years in China with his grandfather, Deming rejoins his mother in NYC, where they live together happily with her boyfriend, his sister and her son. When Deming is 11 years old, his mother disappears, and he is adopted by a white family in upstate NY and renamed Daniel. The narrative goes back and forth between Deming/Daniel's childhood and his present life, at 21, and between his and his mother's perspectives. It's completely engrossing so far (I'm about halfway), and I'm enjoying it very much.
  • On audio, I am listening to another Boooktopia novel, Celine by Peter Heller, a light mystery about an older woman named Celine who is a PI specializing in reuniting families. She is hired by a woman whose father was thought to have been killed by a grizzly bear many years ago, though his body was never found. It's interesting so far - a mystery, yes, but also a character study of Celine herself and her life, while she investigates this case.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, a popular YA post-apocalyptic novel that was made into a movie last year. We've had this book in our house for years, but none of us had read it until last week! Our son just finished it, so he passed it onto his Dad. Ken is enjoying it very much and says it's a quick read. My turn next!
  • After finishing The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, 22-year old Jamie returned to reading The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin, book 2 in the Dreamblood series, and finished it, too. He loved book 1, The Killing Moon, a few years ago and was happy to have finally gotten to book 2 (which we gave to him for Christmas last year).
 Last week's blog posts - I did manage a bit of blog catch-up!
TV Tuesday: American Crime, Season 3 - another powerful, thoughtful season

My Summary of Books Read in March - a big reading month for me!

Memoir Review: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren - a moving and funny memoir by a woman scientist - my book group loved it

Saturday Snapshot: Virginia Outdoors - highlights from two beautiful state parks

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?   
Where/how I spent much of last week - extra reading time!
 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Virginia Outdoors


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

I thought I'd take a brief break from my National Park photo series to share some highlights from my recent vacation! The first week of April, my husband and I squeezed in a brief week-long trip to Virginia. Even though it's just a short drive away, we had fun exploring areas we'd never been to before. As always, we brought our pop-up camper along and mostly spent our time enjoying the outdoors - camping, hiking, and kayaking (and plenty of reading, too!). We also enjoyed one rainy day exploring Richmond (great food & fun, quirky shops!) and ended our trip with a reunion with one of my college roommates and her husband, whom we hadn't seen in 25 years! All in all, we had a great time and enjoyed a much-needed break.

We split our time between Pocahontas State Park, just south of Richmond, and Belle Isle State Park, on an island in the Rappahannock River north of Williamsburg.

Here are some highlights of the beautiful Virginia outdoors -

Lilypads on Beaver Lake at Pocahontas State Park, VA

Kayaking on Swift Creek amid tree reflections - Pocahontas SP, VA

We saw dozens & dozens of turtles at Pocahontas SP, VA!

A blue heron reflected in Swift Creek at Pocahontas SP, VA

Enjoying sunset & a campfire at Pocahontas SP, VA

Kayaking on Deep Creek at Belle Isle State Park, VA

We watched 2 osprey overhead while kayaking & saw their nest!

The Golden Hour on Mulberry Creek at Belle Isle SP, VA

Belle Isle SP - a gorgeous place!

Sunset over Mulberry Creek & Rappahannock River at Belle Isle SP, VA

Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Memoir Review: Lab Girl

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I first heard of the memoir Lab Girl by Hope Jahren on an episode of the New York Times Bookpodcast, which I listen to every week. I was intrigued by the interview with the author, so I was thrilled when my neighborhood book group chose the memoir about a female scientist. I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining memoir that also packs a surprisingly powerful emotional punch.

Hope begins her memoir in the beginning, writing about her childhood in cold Minnesota, playing under the chemistry tables in her father’s lab at a local college where he taught. She realized, after she later went out into the world, that most people were not like her reticent, emotionally reserved Scandinavian family. She felt some closeness to her father because she shared his passion for science but had a distant relationship with her mother, though she has some happy memories of working in the garden with her during the short Minnesota growing season.

When it came time for Hope to go to college, she surprisingly chose to major in literature but soon realized she belonged in science, feeling at home in the laboratory. She recounts her experiences working in laboratories in college, as well as her unique experiences working in the hospital pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, helping to make up complicated courses of chemo involving multiple drugs and absolute adherence to strict sterility guidelines. After getting her undergraduate degree, she moved onto other universities for graduate degrees and eventually, teaching and running her own labs, criss-crossing the country from California to Georgia and Baltimore and finally to Hawaii.

In between longer chapters about her life and career, Hope intersperses shorter chapters about the topic of her lifelong studies and passion: plants. She cleverly matches the topics of these interesting and informative briefs to the part of her life she is discussing: roots, leaves, wood and knots, flowers and fruit, etc. Hope also talks openly about her personal challenges, which were (and continue to be) considerable. I won’t spoil it for you with details since she delves into that topic well into the memoir, but she has dealt with some amazingly difficult things.

Her honesty and willingness to share the raw emotions of her challenges made those sections of the memoir the most powerful and moving for me. As a scientist, she approaches even those very difficult topics with a straightforward and factual voice that make her struggles all the more moving. Here, she is talking about problems in the lab, but the passage applies equally well to her personal life:

“I know damn well that if there had been a way to get to success without traveling through disaster someone would have already done it and thus rendered the experience unnecessary, but there’s still no journal where I can tell the story of how my science is done with both the heart and the hands.”

That’s exactly what she does in this book, but it is not a depressing story. Hope describes those challenges in a matter-of-fact way and never loses her wry sense of humor. Many of the sections describing her escapades with her longtime eccentric lab partner, Bill, are laugh-out-loud funny, and I read several passages aloud to my husband. I especially liked their spontaneous road trip to Florida with a group of students to see a weird roadside attraction. Whether describing her projects in the lab; her relationships with Bill, her husband, and her child; or the harrowing trials she has endured personally, Hope approaches it all with a calm, matter-of-fact style that is warm, funny, and completely engrossing. Looks like that liberal arts degree was put to good use after all.

282 pages, Alfred A. Knopf


Lab Girl
by Hope JahrenTrade Paperback
Powells.com

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Books Read in March

March was a BIG reading month for me, with a combination of book group selections, review books, audiobooks, and my first books read for Booktopia, an upcoming book event. Here's what I read last month:


  • How To Be Human by Paula Cocozza (UK), adult fiction - SA review
  • The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (NJ), adult fiction - Booktopia

Wow, 8 books - that is almost a record for me! They were all fiction, mostly for adults but with one YA and one middle-grade novel thrown in. Three were audiobooks. I enjoyed all 8 books, so it's tough to choose a favorite out of this group. I think my #1 choice would be The Sympathizer (which won the Pulitzer award), with Another Brooklyn a close second - interestingly, both of those were read for book groups, which always lead to good reads! Links above are to my reviews; I will post links to the two that I reviewed for Shelf Awareness when they are published.

Progress on 2017 Reading Challenges:
This is my favorite part of my monthly summary - updating my Reading Challenges! I read 8 books last month and not a single one was from my own shelves for my Read Your Own Damn Books Challenge! For the Monthly Motif Reading Challenge, March was Time Traveler month which included dystopian or sci fi in a very different world, so The Forgetting fit perfectly.  No classics last month for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge. I slotted all 8 books into categories for my Well-Rounded Challenge. For my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge, I added the Vietnam and read additional books set in the UK, France, and Germany. For my 2017 Literary Escapes Challenge, I added California, Arkansas, and New Jersey.

Finally, Bookish Bingo hosted by Chapter Break - not really a challenge per se, but a fun game that I play each month! Here is my Bingo card for March, with just 15 squares filled in. Almost everything I read last month was realistic fiction, so I missed some squares with fantasy elements.







Books fit in the following squares:

The Forgetting - in a series, audiobook
The Sympathizer - trust/betrayal, travel, college, recommended to you
Another Brooklyn - library book
The Last Neanderthal - spring fling, mentor/apprentice
Making Friends with Billy Wong - green on the cover, free book
The Impossible Fortress - music/bands
How to Be Human - changing habits
The Women in the Castle - engagement
Free space

What was your favorite book read in March?  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TV Tuesday: American Crime, Season 3

Although I already reviewed American Crime last year, during season 2, I wanted to review season 3 separately because - as was the case for season 1 also - it is wholly unique and stand-alone.

American Crime is a unique approach to a TV series, as each season is a completely separate story, with no connection at all to previous seasons. In essence, each season acts kind of like a mini-series. The only thing the seasons have in common is a handful of top actors, including Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, Regina King, and Lily Taylor (though they play different characters each season). Each season of the show zeroes in on one aspect of crime in America. Seasons 1 and 2 each focused on one particular crime, with complex underpinnings, including racial tensions, and many shades of gray (a home invasion gone wrong in the first season and a male rape at a high school party in the second). Season 3 varies a bit from that formula, instead focusing in on one community and looking at multiple forms of criminal activity occurring there. Several storylines deal with immigrants, while another one focuses in on human trafficking (which, of course, can also affect immigrants).

So, in season 3, there are multiple storylines that are separate but intersect in one way or another, all taking place in one community in North Carolina. In the first episode, we meet Alonzo Gutierrez, played by Benito Martinez, who has struggled to get into the United States illegally from Mexico. He is looking for his beloved son, who left home as a teenager. All he knows is that he ended up working on a farm in North Carolina. Alonzo ends up on the Hesby farm, where he finds some people who recognize the photo of his son, so he begins working there as a migrant worker. The Hesby family has run this farm for generations, but they are now struggling to survive, with pressure to continually reduce costs to preserve a small profit. Matriarch Laurie Ann, played by Cherry Jones, runs the farm with an iron fist, determined not to lose her family's legacy. As you might have guessed, the pressure to cut costs results in hiring migrant workers for less and less pay and appalling living conditions.

Meanwhile, in the city, underage teen Shae is working for a pimp, selling her body to survive. One night, a john beats her, and when the police come, she is put into the hands of Kimara, played by Regina King, a social worker who is devoted to saving kids like Shae, all while she struggles to try to get pregnant herself. Kimara wants to help her new charge, but Shae's not sure she wants to be helped.

A few more episodes in, we meet Clare Coates, played by Lily Taylor, a wealthy woman who has hired a Haitian immigrant named Gabrielle to care for her beloved son. Gabrielle doesn't speak English, but Claire hopes that she can teach her young son French. Her husband, Nicholas, played by Timothy Hutton, owns a furniture company (another classic North Carolina industry) that is also struggling to make a profit, and he thinks it's absurd to hire a nanny who can't speak English.

It might sound confusing, but these storylines are each fleshed out as the season continues, and we get to know the characters. In some cases, there are intersections between the stories, as when Kimara gives a speech to a group of wealthy families, which includes Clair and Nicholas, to explain the tragedy of human trafficking and how resources are needed to help the victims.

As with previous seasons, the production qualities are very high, with excellent acting and writing, and I soon found myself drawn into these disparate lives and caring about the characters. One of the things I like best about this remarkable series is how thought-provoking it is, digging deep into complex issues and looking at the shades of gray that are often overlooked. For instance, we see the horrible conditions of the migrant workers on the farm but also the desperation of the owning family not to lose their business. I am only on episode 5 (of 10), so I am interested to see what will happen next. These are all compelling stories with plenty of suspense and unexpected twists that make me think more deeply about the complexity of the issues facing our society today.

There are 6 episodes out so far this season, and all of them are still available On Demand (the first one comes off on May 30), and episodes 2 through 6 are also available for free on the ABC website. American Crime is also available on Amazon for $1.99 per episode or $14.99 for the entire season (and the first two seasons are also available there). So, you could pay $1.99 for episode 1 and then watch the rest for free on the ABC website.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhhaNAZAwR0

         

Monday, April 17, 2017

It's Monday 4/17! What Are You Reading?

I'm back! I missed last week's Monday update because my husband and I took a little week-long vacation to Virginia with our camper. We were home for two days and then packed up again for Easter weekend with my family - 13 people in one house! It was great to see everyone, but pretty exhausting for me. This morning, my chronic immune disorder is flared up badly, so I am lying on the couch as I type this and planning on a very low-key day.

Our vacation was relaxing, though, and much-needed! We took some short hikes, went out kayaking twice, visited Richmond on our one rainy day, and capped off the week with a visit to my college roommate and her husband (who also went to school with us) in Williamsburg - lots of talking and laughing, as you can imagine! Of course, our trip included plenty of downtime and lots of reading. Here's what we've all been reading the past two weeks:
  • I finished Lab Girl by Hope Jahren for my neighborhood book group. It's a memoir by a woman scientist, starting with her childhood playing in her father's lab at the local college. I knew I'd enjoy the science-y aspects of this, as a former chemical engineer, but it also turned out to be a very powerful memoir of some massive personal challenges she's faced. It was excellent.
  • Next, I resumed my reading for Boooktopia, an awesome annual event in Vermont, where book lovers get together with authors for an intimate weekend of discussing and celebrating books - so much fun! My mom and I went two years ago and are going again the first week of May. I am reading Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato, one of the authors I'll be meeting at Booktopia. This is a hefty book, so I'm still reading it. It's the story of a young albino boy named Edgar who's had a rough life so far. His father died when he was just a baby, which devastated his mother, Lucy. They live with his beloved grandmother, but things continue to get more and more difficult for Edgar. I'm trying not to give away any spoilers, but it's a compelling, emotional novel.
  • On audio, I am listening to another Boooktopia novel, Celine by Peter Heller, a light mystery about an older woman named Celine who is a PI specializing in reuniting families. She is hired by a woman whose father was thought to have been killed by a grizzly bear many years ago, though his body was never found. It's good so far - I'm just a  few chapters in.
  • On our road trip, my husband and I were listening to The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle, which was billed as an engrossing thriller, but we had some trouble with it and finally gave up on it on the way home. For a thriller, it is very slow-paced and not very compelling, though it does have some interesting points. It's about an elderly man named Roy who meets a woman named Betty and moves in with her. Roy is clearly lying about a lot of things, though Betty seems to take him at face value. The book goes back and forth between present and past, delving further and further back into Roy's life and lies. I haven't decided yet whether I will finish it on my own, once I finish my Booktopia audio.
  • My husband, Ken, finished The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger. As best as we can remember, he and I have only read one other Unger novel, Beautiful Lies. He likes thrillers a lot and enjoyed this one.
  • Next, Ken read a book I gave him for Christmas, Run by Andrew Grant, another fast-paced thriller. He said it was very complicated and sometimes hard to follow, but he enjoyed it overall.
  • Ken has just started reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, a popular YA post-apocalyptic novel that was made into a movie last year. We've had this book in our house for years, but none of us had read it until last week! Our son just finished it, so he passed it onto his Dad.
  • Jamie, 22, read The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, as I just mentioned. He'd forgotten his current book at a friend's apartment so finally picked up this long-neglected novel. He said it was great! I'll have to read it next.
  • And now, Jamie is back to reading The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin, book 2 in the Dreamblood series, which he got back from his friend last week. He loved book 1, The Killing Moon, a few years ago and is happy to have finally gotten to book 2 (which we gave to him for Christmas last year).
Just a couple of blog posts last week, in between trips - I will be getting back to my normal blogging routine this week. Two reviews of Booktopia books:
Fiction Review: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak - a warm & hilarious novel about a teen boy set in the late 80's

Fiction Review: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck - about 3 WWII widows in Germany after the war

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?   

Reading & relaxing by the campfire on our vacation
 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fiction Review: The Women in the Castle

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As I’ve mentioned often here lately, I have been reading books in preparation for Booktopia, a weekend event in Vermont that brings authors and readers together. Author Jessica Shattuck will be there, so I listened to her latest novel, The Women in the Castle, on audio. This moving story of three widows coming together after WWII kept me captivated.

The novel opens in a Bavarian castle in 1938, where Marianne von Lingenfels is hosting a party with her husband, Albrecht (whose family owns the castle). Her childhood friend, Connie, is there, with his new – very young – wife, Benita, whom Marianne is meeting for the first time. Despite the frivolity, guests are distracted by the Nazi regime and the new war, as Hitler sets his sights on Poland.

From there, the narrative jumps to 1945, after the war has ended and Germany is left in piles of rubble. Marianne and her children are back in the castle, which is also in poor shape after the years of fighting. Albrecht and Connie were both killed in the war, after a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. For her part, Marianne promised the brave men involved in the resistance movement and the assassination plot to do her best to protect their wives and children. So, she goes about the difficult task of trying to locate them, from a list she has kept.

She first tracks down Martin, Connie and Benita’s son, in an orphanage and then finds Benita herself, who was in the hands of the Russian army in Berlin. With those two in tow, they head back to the castle and set about trying to make a new life for themselves and heal from their various traumas. Soon, Marianne also locates Ania and her two sons, and the ragtag group forms something of a family.

The story follows each of the women and their children in those post-war years, as they try to move forward while hiding shameful secrets from the war. Some chapters flash back to their earlier lives so that the reader gradually gets a more complete picture of each woman. Marianne herself starts out as a very confident and certain woman, seeing the world in black and white, but gradually, her views are softened a bit by her experiences with the other women. The audiobook was very well done, with a German-accented narrator adding authenticity, though you have to pay careful attention to the changes in location and date.

This is an engrossing novel that follows the women and children from 1938 all the way through to present day. Like any war novel, there are many horrifying things that happen to the characters, but the story is mainly focused on healing and moving forward. With its focus on women and WWII and its span of many decades, The Women in the Castle reminded me somewhat of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which I just read in November, though that book concentrates on women’s roles during the war, while this one mainly deals with the years after the war. It was an eye-opening and engaging look at the different ways that women in Germany coped with the aftermath of the war and put their lives back together – a perspective not often examined. I'm looking forward to meeting the author.

368 pages, William Morrow

HarperAudio

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


Women in the Castle
by Jessica ShattuckHardcover
Powells.com

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fiction Review: The Impossible Fortress


If you are a regular reader of my blog, you already know that my reading this month is focused on getting ready for Booktopia, a unique event that connects readers and authors in an intimate setting for a weekend in early May. My first Booktopia read for the season was a good one: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak, a fun, warm, and very funny novel about a teen boy in 1980's New Jersey who wants to be a computer programmer.

Billy Marvin is a fourteen-year old boy who lives in northern New Jersey in 1987. He is something of a nerd and not very popular at school, but he doesn’t mind much because he has his two best friends, Clark and Alf, who are also each social outcasts in his own way. The three friends have fun eating junk food, watching TV, and riding their bikes around town. In his spare time, Billy creates his own video games on his Commodore 64, a relatively new pastime that his mother and teachers don't understand.

Life is fun and simple until the day that Alf breathlessly reports to his two friends that he has seen Vanna White's naked butt on the cover of Playboy at the local newsstand, inside an office supply store. What follows is a desperate quest for the three underage boys to get themselves a copy of the issue that everyone is talking about, through several poorly thought-out schemes that get more and more outrageous. A local troublemaker who is a senior at their school offers to help them, with a plan even more extreme than the ones the boys thought up.

In the process of carrying out these schemes, Billy meets Mary Zelinsky, the daughter of the owner of the office supply store/newsstand. Mary is the first person Billy has met who is as obsessed as he is with computers and programming. Not only is she a girl but she's an even better programmer than he is. Mary shows Billy a flyer for an upcoming programming competition for teens at Rutgers and suggests they pool their talents and enter the contest. With a first prize of a new IBM PC – with far more power than Billy's little Commodore 64 – Billy agrees.

As Billy and Mary spend hours after school programming and working on their joint video game, the boys move forward on their plan to not only obtain a copy of the coveted Playboy magazine but to sell the photos to their classmates and make a profit in the bargain. As the two storylines collide and intersect, disaster threatens, and things get worse and worse for Billy.

There is plenty of suspense here, as the boys get pulled deeper into the complicated plan with the older boy, and the deadline for the programming competition draws closer. Adding to the entertainment are ample 80's pop culture references - video games, computers, movies, and music - that make this novel a nostalgic ride for anyone who was young during the 80's (I graduated from college in '87 but could certainly still relate to all that). Topping off the fun is a wonderful sense of humor, as the teen boys act like typical teen boys. I laughed out loud frequently during this novel and was tempted to read passages aloud to my husband, but I knew he'd want to read it, too. He also liked the novel very much and also laughed out loud throughout; we enjoyed sharing the funniest parts with each other once we'd both read it. I absolutely loved this fun and compelling novel, filled with warmth, humor, and a bit of romance.

285 pages, Simon & Schuster

P.S. Although this book is marketed for adults, older teens and young adults should enjoy it as well. 



Monday, April 03, 2017

It's Monday 4/3! What Are You Reading?

Busy week last week! Our oldest college son headed to the Outer Banks for spring break, while our youngest came home. We helped set up our camper at a local state park for him and his friends - for the few days mid-week when the rain stopped! It was still pretty cool out, but they had a lot of fun, hiking and making s'mores around the campfire. It was nice to have our son around a bit last week, and I cooked a lot.

I had a nice unexpected treat this weekend when one of my cousins, who lives in North Carolina, came up here to visit with her mom (my aunt) and daughter. We quickly arranged a last-minute lunch gathering, and my other cousin (her brother) came down from Allentown with his wife and son. So, we had an unexpected mini family reunion! I rarely get to see these cousins because they don't live in my hometown, Rochester, NY, so this was a special treat, and we had a great time catching up.

At home, we all enjoyed our books:
  • I have been ramping up my reading for Boooktopia, an awesome annual event in Vermont, where book lovers get together with authors for an intimate weekend of discussing and celebrating books - so much fun! My mom and I went two years ago and are going again the first week of May. So, in preparation, I read The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak, one of this year's Booktopia authors. I absolutely loved this novel about a fourteen-year old boy in New Jersey in 1987 who is obsessed with computer programming and wants to design his own games, at a time when that was not a typical thing to do! It's filled with fun 80's pop culture references (there is a whole subplot about he and his friends trying to get a copy of the infamous Playboy Vanna White issue!), suspense, friendship, and romance, too. I really enjoyed it. If you liked Ready Player One (one of my favorite books!), you'll like this one, too.
  • I just started a non-Booktopia book - I have to fit in my book club read for this month! - Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. It's a memoir by a woman scientist, starting with her childhood playing in her father's lab at the local college. I'm enjoying it so far, especially as a woman who majored in chemical engineering!
  • In between, I am fitting in additional chapters of Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, another Booktopia author. I haven't read his first book yet, The End of Your Life Book Club, but I REALLY want to, and I can't wait to meet the author. This is a book celebrating books - what's not to like?
  • On audio, I finished another Booktopia book, The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, another of the authors who will be at the event. This novel is about widowed women living in a castle in Germany with their children after WWII ends. Although I've kind of overdosed on WWII fiction lately, this is a unique look at the aftermath of the war and the women who were left. I liked it very much, and it was good on audio.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger. As best as we can remember, he and I have only read one other Unger novel, Beautiful Lies. I incorrectly stated last week that she is from Baltimore and sets her novels there - I think I had her mixed up with Laura Lippman! Lisa Unger is a thriller writer, and we enjoyed the first one we read. Ken is liking this one so far, too.
  •  Jamie, 22, is reading The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin, book 2 in the Dreamblood series. He loved book 1, The Killing Moon, a few years ago and is happy to have finally gotten to book 2 (which we gave to him for Christmas last year). I doubt he had much reading time last week, in a beach house with 11 other young people!
Last week's blog posts:
TV Tuesday: Time After Time, a new time travel show featuring HG Wells & Jack the Ripper

Middle-Grade Review: Making Friends with Billy Wong, a fun story about friendship & family that also addresses racism in 1950's Arkansas

Saturday Snapshot: National Parks of Northern New Mexico, continuing my national park tribute

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?   

Spring has FINALLY arrived in Delaware!
 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: National Parks of Northern New Mexico


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

Continuing my tribute to National Parks and other federally managed lands, inspired by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads, this week we travel to New Mexico! This was an amazing trip (I know I say that about all our trips) where we went to Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, Jemez Falls in the Santa Fe National Forest (north of Albuquerque and Santa Fe), Bandolier National Monument, and the Jemez State Monument and Soda Dam in the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway. So many unique sights in this small region! Besides these places within the National park system, we also enjoyed Albuquerque and Santa Fe - I want to go back.

My family and I at Petroglyph National Monument, NM

One of many of the namesake petroglyphs

Our gorgeous campsite in Jemez Falls Campground in Santa Fe National Forest

Jemez Falls, Santa Fe National Forest, NM

Our sons climbing into cliff dwellings at Bandolier National Monument, NM

Looks like a sand castle but these are life-size cliff dwellings!

Jemez State Monument along Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway

Soda Dam along the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway

Amazing views from a hiking trail in Santa Fe National Forest, NM

My husband & sons hiked to a natural hot spring in Santa Fe National Forest!


Hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend.

In case you missed any, my other National Park tributes:

National Parks of New England

National Parks of the Southeast

National Parks of the Central U.S.

National Parks of South Dakota

National Parks of Colorado